Paris hot air

June 3, 2017

So evil Donald Trump is going to kill the planet and even the Chinese are signed up to save it. Not quite.

The Paris Treaty commits the USA and Europe to making big changes to their energy production systems at great cost. The result of Paris will be to significantly increase the energy costs of industries in both the US and Europe. The Chinese are fully supportive of this. They are supportive of this because under the same Paris Treaty China can continue to increase its CO2 emissions until 2030. Currently China is building hundreds of new coal fired power stations. As the chart below shows Chinese CO2 emission now far outstrip US emissions, and that while US emission are declining (mostly as the result of switching to fracked gas generation) Chinese CO2 emissions are growing explosively fast. And under the Paris Treaty they can continue to grow until 2030. You can see why the Chinese are so supportive of the Paris Treaty, it pushes up the energy costs of their competitors, lets them bask in diplomatic approval, and they can continue to build coal power stations in the hundreds and vastly grow their own CO2 emission unfettered by any of the treaty restrictions. From their point of view it’s a superb win-win. For the USA, now sitting on the world’s largest reserves of fossil fuels (the US is now the world’s biggest producer of oil and has the world’s largest coal reserves), Paris was a mechanism that was going to increase its industrial costs and reduce its ability to exploit its mineral wealth. A lose-lose.

Chinese CO2 emission (orange) are now higher than US emissions (grey) and growing explosively fast

But what about the planet? The Paris Treaty is essentially a massive irrelevance, a way to spend a huge amount of money (money that could for example be better spent bringing electricity to the world’s poorest people) to change the earth’s climate by a tiny fractional amount.

The commitments of the Paris Treaty are estimated to cost $42 billion to $176 billion every year until 2050, according to an analysis prepared by Columbia University. Even if all the promises made in the Paris Treaty for action by 2030 were met by all its signatures, including the USA, then by 2100 global temperatures would be reduced by just 0.048ºC. If all the nations signed up to Paris extend and fulfil these promises for another 70 years until the end of the century the reduction in the temperature increase would be 0.170ºC. So the lowest estimate of the cost of just reducing the increase in earths temperature by less than a tenth of degree by 2050 is going to be around $1.3 trillion.

In a world where over a billion people live without access to electricity is this the best way to spend $1.3 trillion?

Anonymous June 3, 2017

Interesting Tony and fills out similar points raised by a Danish ecologist on News Night.

But surely the issue is one of the direction of travel?

The Paris Accord at least makes a start and could be built on whereas Trump’s withdrawal seems to remove the issue from the table completely for the US and I don’t think Trump will invest any savings in providing electricity for the poor!

Tony June 3, 2017

It all depends I suppose on how much one considers human caused warming to be a problem worth spending trillions on. I have spent years looking at a huge amount of evidence on this issue and I would say the following statements are not only true but I cannot find any evidence to refute them.

The earth’s climate over the last few thousand years has gone through cycles of warming and cooling, each lasting several hundred years. The last (and actually quite severe) cooling episode ended only about 200 years ago and since then the earth has, as one would expect, warmed.

Most of that warming happened before there were significant levels of human CO2 in the atmosphere and so most of the warming in the last 200 years was naturally caused.

There is no agreed theory in climate science about what caused the various recent natural warming and cooling episodes.

CO2 definitively does add some warming to the current background natural warming but how much of the warming is caused by human CO2 and how much by nature is not clear.

Even if all the recent warming is caused by human CO2 the actual changes that have occurred over say the last 50 years in the earth’s climate are very trivial.

The earth is not now exceptional warm, and is cooler than several periods that have occurred in the last 10,000 years (i.e since the earth emerged from the last ice age)

Humans generally thrive during warmer periods and suffer during cooling periods.

Fossil fuels are fantastically beneficial to human welfare and are the basis of almost all human material progress, both now and in the medium term future.

Looking around the world I cannot see any – and I do really mean any – adverse effects on humans caused by the recent trivial increase in average temperatures.

I cannot see any evidence that if current warming trends continue (something I do not think is guaranteed) that humans will be significantly adversely effected.

Trying to slow future warming, which is a trivial threat, by a very costly energy change program will definitively both cost really a lot of money and significantly slow economic growth.

Given that despite all the progress made in recent decades there is still a billion people living without electricity (including cooking over open fires, something that destroys the lungs of tens of millions of mostly women every year) then there are many much more important issues to spend both trillions of dollars and vast political and diplomatic effort on.

Climate change is both trivial and something that humans might not be able to do anything about except for adapting to it.

Norman Ellis June 3, 2017

Chances are you can name more sources than I can, Tony, but did think (still do) that the vast majority of scientists do link global warming to C02 emissions and the greenhouse effect.

As for consequences, unless we are all being lied to by an eco-conspiracy, there is increased desertification and drought in Africa, melting ice caps, a thawing tundra and threatened flooding of low lands such as Bangladesh and at least the suggestion of a general increase in storms and flooding.

Just looking at the graphs you show and the billions of metric tons now released into the atmosphere from just 2 major polluters has me worried and I think there are things we can do to stop this, which may well be more likely to bring electricity to the developing world than ever decreasing and polluting fossil fuels.

Tony June 3, 2017

I have deliberately avoided writing about climate change in this blog because it is so hard to discuss the issue, most people are deeply committed to their opinions and I don’t think discussion will change many minds. I think the whole thing will be decided empirically over the next two to three decades because I am absolutely certain that humans will continue to increase CO2 levels and either dangerous warming will occur or it won’t. I think it won’t but time will prove me wrong or right.

Briefly on the worries you expressed – because I want to focus on the issue of scientific consensus – the UN Intergovernmental Conference on Climate Change (the IPCC) conducted a massive study of extreme weather trends and in summary found no discernible trends. There are no increased drought, flood or hurricane trends. The rise in sea level is trivial, a few inches a century, and has been constant for many centuries, sea level rises are not accelerating. Sea ice has declined at the north pole but ice has increased at the south pole where it is now at record high levels. Melting sea ice at the north pole won’t effect sea levels (because it is floating) and as we have only managed to measure north pole ice extent using satellites since 1979 nobody really knows what sort of cyclical expansions and contractions takes place. We do know that the climate at the north pole was several degrees warmer than now 7000 years ago and that the northern forests extended much further north into what is now tundra as recently as the medieval warm period (from carbon dating old dead tress in the tundra). Plus of course if the north pole ice cap did melt away (and I would wager my pension on it not melting) it wouldn’t harm anybody. The reason the people of Bangladesh are vulnerable to cyclical flooding disasters is because they are poor peasant farmers living on a very low lying flood plan. If you want to protect them from flooding disasters then help them get richer and help them stop being peasant farmers That means supply them with cheap, reliable and abundant electricity.

The entire issue of climate change is bedevilled by spurious claims, hysteria, intolerance and attacks on anyone who expresses even a mild scepticism about the wilder claims being made. It’s a form of modern Lysenkoism. The claim that 97% of scientists agree with the claims about dangerous climate change is a good example of the ghastly stuff that is going on. These sorts of claims of massive scientific support are all based on two things:

a) The professional pressures on sceptical scientists to keep their mouths shut. Expressing scepticism about climate alarm is a guaranteed way for a scientist to blight their career, just see the disgraceful recent witch hunt and attacks on Professor Roger Pilke.

b) A series of short papers claiming to have surveyed scientific opinion. The first paper (and the papers that followed have all been similarly flawed) was by Doran and Zimmerman and was a study of 77 climatologists. It claimed 97% supported a claim that dangerous human caused warming was real. Except it didn’t – not really. The headline grabbing summary of the paper made the 97% claim and it is this story that gets repeated over and over again but if you look at the actual paper and the actual data it contains a different picture emerges. My general advice on all things to do with climate change is to skip summaries in the media and find the original data and papers and to make your own mind up.

The raw data from the Doran and Zimmerman survey was only published long after the headline impacting results were announced. In that data it is clear that the way the survey questions were constructed was designed to shoe horn the participating climatologists into giving yes/no answers to just two questions that could be packaged in a neat 97% consensus result. The questions were – in summary – “has the earth warmed?” and “have humans contributed significantly to that warming?”

But the participating climatologists were allowed to make free comments about the topic of climate change attribution and the appendices of the paper includes all these free comments and they reveal anything but certainty and consensus. There are many, many comments from the climatologists in the appendices and I strongly suggest you have a look yourself because what is clearly revealed are the profound uncertainties about the impact of CO2, about how the climate system works and what is driving climate change. Nobody reading the comments of the climatologists could think for one moment that the science is settled.

Here are just a handful of the comments from the climatologists contained in the appendices, to give you a flavour of the real level of uncertainty in the scientific community. These are actual comments by the participating climatologists.

▪ “ “I assume you mean ‘substantial’ rather than statistically ‘significant’… It is possible that we have provided 5-10% of the change, but I am not sure if that is what you would define as ‘substantial.’ “I believe human activity is a contributing factor, it’s the term ‘significant’ I’m unsure about.”

▪ “I do not know what you mean by significant. I believe humans are affecting the climate, I am not sure how and to what level.”

▪ “I don’ know how to distinguish the effect of human activity from other controls, and I don’t know how you define ‘significant’.”

▪ “I think human activity is a significant component, but I do not know if it is 10%, 25%, 50% or more.“

▪ “The way that you phrased the question implies that human activity has to be a significant contributor. I think that the data indicates we are contributors but I’m not sure that we understand the background cycles/changes well enough to know how small or how huge our impacts are.“

There are many such comments. Please have a look at the study yourself – its here – and make your own mind up.

I could do a similar critique of the other paper claiming 97% consensus but would it really make any difference to what people think? Somehow or other belief that humans are causing dangerous climate change has become a central, in fact defining, part of left of centre opinion. Because climate change now matters so much in terms of defining where one stands in the political spectrum people who know almost nothing about the science or the data that underlies this issue have passionately strong beliefs on the matter. And the whole thing is strongly self reinforcing because if every right on person thinks one thing why would anyone question it?

At one point I was going to devote a section of this website to the science and data issues around climate change but I decided life was just too short. As I said nobody wants to debate this issue using evidence and nobody is really open to changing their mind so I didn’t bother.

I almost regret posting the item on Trump and Paris.

Josef June 4, 2017

don’t regret it Tony! you have every right to post what you posted, and to reply to contributors. this contributor happens be slightly more worried on the climate change spectrum than you, but also believes that climate change has unjustifiably overshadowed pollutants/ pollution/ species extermination (for instance) as key social dangers.

Josef June 4, 2017

” this contributor happens be …” obvs. should read “happens to be…”

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