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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 05/11/2009

Scientists Suggest Re-framing Emissions Goals

By Andrew Freedman

* Cool and damp, but dry weather to return: Full Forecast *

"Climate scientists have begun to feel like a bunch of Noahs - thousands of Noahs," University of Victoria in British Columbia climate scientist Andrew Weaver told the British science journal Nature, in an article in its April 30 issue. Weaver was alluding to a building sense of frustration, perhaps bordering on desperation, regarding the continuing gulf between research that shows there is an increasingly urgent need to reduce climate disrupting emissions in the next several decades, and the slow pace of climate change policy making to ensure such reductions are achieved.

As several articles and studies in that edition of Nature discuss, perhaps this disconnect can be overcome by re-framing the issue. Up to now, most scientists and policymakers have framed the challenge of mitigating climate change as a matter of trying to limit the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to below a particular target, described in terms of parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent (carbon dioxide is the most important human-produced greenhouse gas ).

Keep reading for more on the challenge of how to frame emissions goals...

The current concentration is about 387 parts per million, and targets that are commonly discussed range from between 350 to 550ppm. Policy solutions, such as so-called "cap and trade" plans, one of which is currently the subject of considerable debate in Congress, or carbon taxes, are being designed with versions of such thresholds in mind.

The targets approach was legally enshrined in a 1992 U.N. Treaty that committed the global community to limiting greenhouse gas concentrations to a level "that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [man-made] interference with the climate system."

But as the recent edition of Nature spells out, a more effective way to think about the problem, both from a climate science and public policy perspective, may be in terms of how much more greenhouse gas emissions humanity can emit before guaranteeing "dangerous" climate change. In other words, instead of telling policy makers to design solutions that would keep atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations to a certain, safe level, scientists instead would help define a safe budget of how many future emissions we can afford.

A critical distinction between this approach and concentration targets is that an emissions budget would take into account the considerable scientific uncertainty regarding how the climate system would respond if greenhouse gas concentrations were to climb to, say, 450ppm and level off there for many decades or more.

A computer modeling study published this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by NOAA scientist Susan Solomon and colleagues showed that, once greenhouse gas concentrations are stabilized at particular concentration levels, the climate system could require more than a thousand years to bring global average temperatures back down again.

The main reasons it takes so long for the climate system to recover are the inability of natural processes to rapidly cleanse the atmosphere of many long-lived greenhouse gases emitted, and the delayed heat response of the oceans, which warm up slower than the air does.

As Nature writer Richard Monastersky described it, "A focus on total carbon emissions rather than concentrations... wipes away that problem because it demands that concentrations go up and -- eventually -- come back down, never stabilizing at a particular level. So the climate never reaches equilibrium and the uncertain- ties about its long-term response do not matter as much."

Framing climate change mitigation as a greenhouse gas emissions budget problem could be more effective at driving home the point that Weaver and other climate scientists feel they have not succeeded in conveying well enough yet: there is only so much more fossil fuel energy that humanity can use if we hope to avert "dangerous" climate change.

The problem with this re-framing, however, is that the industrialized world, particularly the United States, has not exactly shown a knack for balanced budgets lately. Given current technology, there is no way to implement a 'carbon bailout' if we exceed the emissions budget. And it won't be Wall Street that will judge Washington, but rather Mother Nature, who can be even more unpredictable and vengeful.

As Monastersky wrote, "Unfortunately, the world is behaving as though it expects to be able to arrange a large overdraft. And researchers can only come up with so many ways of presenting the gravity of the carbon problem to the rest of the world."

By Andrew Freedman  | May 11, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Freedman, News & Notes  
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I know that you and all of the other AGW believers will ignore this argument, but I'll ask anyway. What do you think of this argument, which I think thoroughly debunks the myth/scam known as catastrophic man made global warming. The author is correct, the ocean heat just isn't there. That fact completely destroys the current AGW hypothesis.

Even though I am certain that catastrophic man made global warming is a complete scam, I am willing to take some mitigation action just in case I am wrong. Long time readers will know that is nothing new as I have stated that fact in the past. I propose that we begin phasing out coal fired power plants and replace them with nuclear power plants. They emit zero CO2.

I would think that asking someone who is pursuing a degree in climate change POLICY for their opinion on what should be done to reduce CO2 would be opening the flood gates to a slew of recommendations. That hasn't been the case in the past, and I suspect my question will again be met with silence, but it can't hurt to try.

What policies do you propose the United States adopt to reduce our CO2 production, Mr. Freedman?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | May 11, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

And before someone responds with the usual "adopt the Kyoto accord" reply (which I invariably get whenever I ask this question), go read the Kyoto accord. It is a treaty which sets goals on CO2 reduction. It does NOT propose how adopting countries achieve those reductions. And that is what I am asking. How does Mr. Freedman propose we reduce our CO2 output.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | May 11, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Hey, weren't we just talking last week about the possibility of another "Maunder Minimum" in the sunspot cycle??? Perhaps man-made greenhouse gases and the next Maunder Minimum will just about cancel out each other...while the "Mr. Q's" of the world take credit for the resulting relative long-term climatic stability.

Frankly, I'll go with a new Maunder Minimum coupled with two or three strategically timed/placed volcanic blowouts. It's the only way we might be able to get a run of sufficiently snowy winters down here in the Metro D.C. area!

Posted by: Bombo47jea | May 11, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Well, Mr. Q, look like you were met with the same thing as Dr. Pielke; crickets. When you start bringing in facts it's amazing how silent AGW proponents become. Keep fighting the good fight!

Posted by: octopi213 | May 11, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Thanks octopi213. I'll keep plugging away, time permitting.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | May 11, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

In response to the Dipuccio comment:

Posted by: StatGuy | May 12, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

yeah, i checked out that pielke link. i saw an analysis of that paper somewhere other than realclimate where they showed how the projected temps "error cone" was based on a more recent starting point than when the projections were made - making it look like the actual temps had been WAY below the projected temps.

if we're lucky pielke will try to publish that paper and subject it to a thorough scientific review. not holding my breath for that. tamino also does a great job showing how easy it is to lie with statistics.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | May 12, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

pardon...i meant dipucci ought to try to publish it....

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | May 12, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

I will save anyone interested in Statguy's comment the trouble of following his link. Gavin Schmidt over at realclimate made the following comment in response to DiPuccio's argument - "Too short trends with unknown degree of natural variability with a brand new measuring system. - gavin"

That's it. Seriously. That was his big rebuttal. Go check for yourself if you like.

Notice that he did not dispute DiPuccio's statement that the heat in the oceans is DECREASING.

Notice that he did not dispute DiPuccio's statement that ocean heat should be increasing according to the AGW theory.

Notice that he did not dispute DiPuccio's logic that decreasing ocean heat proves the man made global warming theory to be FALSE.

He didn't dispute any of that (but how could he). No, he said it was too short a trend?!?! What the heck?????

It is a fact that if the man made global warming theory were true *AND* if we were experiencing man made global warming, according to their theory the ocean heat would be INCREASING. And it isn't.

And there isn't any upper atmosphere temperature increase as predicted by their theory either.

But pointing those two facts out to the true believers won't matter one hoot. They will just go right on believing. And I really wouldn't care at all what they believe if their beliefs didn't affect me. But they intend on taking their erroneous beliefs and creating legislation that will affect me and everyone I care about. That's the problem. A very, very, very BIG problem.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | May 12, 2009 11:57 PM | Report abuse

A Ph.D. candidate in Atmospheric Chemistry and Applied Mathematics at Harvard thinks it is okay to lie about man made global warming in order to get political action and MORE FEDERAL $$$'s.

Our education system is producing a doctoral candidate who believes it is okay to lie about the science! Holy crap! Some days are truly depressing.

Our education system is failing us. It needs more than an overhaul. It needs to be completely scrapped and rebuilt from scratch.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | May 13, 2009 12:25 AM | Report abuse

Why is it that a person who is pursuing a master's degree in climate change policy at Columbia University can NOT say what his recommended policies are for reducing CO2 output? Does anyone else find that odd?

Is it because he has no recommendations?

Or, is it because he dare not tell the public what his recommendations are?

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | May 13, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

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