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Archive for the ‘Climate’ Category

Last night, I was lucky enough to get a personal tour of the California Academy of Sciences from Dr. Brian Fisher, a taxonomist specializing in ants.  He’s doing some amazing work trying to help Madagascar prioritize and save the 10% of native rainforest they have left.  It’s reminiscent of Willie Smits‘ work in Borneo, though focused on preservation rather than revitalization.  But it has the same feel of getting the local people committed to managing their own ecological resources.

You can donate here (I gave them $500), but make sure to write “For the Fisher Madagascar Project” in the “Comments” field.  Otherwise, you’ll be paying for the building lights.  Go ahead and leave the “Allocation” field at the default, “Campaign for a New Academy”. Update: Forgot to mention that if you donate $2,000 they’ll name a new species after you or whomever you designate.

It’s hard to do justice to what I saw last night in a blog post, but here goes…

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Specifying a Climate Bet

As I mentioned in the comments on this post, I am currently in the process of negotiating a bet on Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) with another blogger. The challenges are interesting, so I thought I’d give you a peek inside the sausage factory.

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Stephen Salter wants to build a fleet of ships that will churn up seawater to create whiter, fluffier clouds that will reflect more sunlight away from the sea surface. The cost for the first 300 ships that should turn the clock back: $600 million.

Other ideas include spraying sulfur dioxide 65,000 feet up through a fleet of Zeppelins and firing 840 billion ceramic frisbees into orbit to block the sun’s rays. But this article also suggests that a rich “Greenfinger” could unilaterally do some Geo-Engineering without world consent and with disasterous consequences.

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Normally, I don’t debate random bloggers on Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW).  However, I made an exception for Robin Hanson.  For those who don’t already know of him, he was both an early proponent of decision markets and has a reasonably well known journal article on why two Bayesian rationalists can’t agree to disagree. I’m a fan of his work and have been reading his blog for years.

Yesterday, he put up a post titled CO2 Warming Looks Real.  He’s not an expert. Like me, he has an economics background and did some detailed research.  Yet from the title and body of the post, I though he must have reached a very different conclusion than I did. So I thought I’d try to engage him to find out where we differ. The results were interesting.

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In order for you to believe we should do something about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) such as impose a carbon tax, you really need to believe all of these things:

  1. CO2 causes a direct temperature increase
  2. Positive feedbacks amplify the direct temperature increase several fold
  3. The effects on humans of the total temperature increase are significantly bad
  4. The cost of reducing CO2 emissions is less than the bad effects we can avoid

Nearly all scientifically literate skeptics agree with (1). Most typically argue against points (2) and (4). Indur M. Golakny has a nice series of posts over at Watts Up With That that looks at (3).

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First, let me say how honored I am to be contributing to this blog and to the complex systems web community in general.

A New York Times Magazine article raises an issue I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

If you are, as I am, a scientist concerned about global climate change, you may find yourself asking, “What kind of research could I be doing to best contribute to a solution?”

According to some, it may not be to study the climate itself. We may not know enough to predict exactly what will happen when, but we do know that drastic changes are coming whose magnitude will be determined by the actions we take now. It may not even be to study technologies such as alternative energy or policies such as cap-and-trade that can help combat global warming. Because while these policies and technologies are surely necessary, global warming is a problem created by human behavior, and our behavior will need to change if we are to make the individual and group decisions necessary to mitigate it, including the implementation of these policies and technologies. It may therefore be that the most important scientific questions in the fight against global warming are questions about humans, human behavior, and what we can do to change it.

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As I’ve made clear before, I remain skeptical that carbon emissions pose a significant marginal threat of climate change. The likely climate sensitivity to CO2 is substantially less than the natural variability over human timescales.  Seeing as how temperature trends over geologic time scales are currently downward, I don’t think it’s worth wasting much effort on CO2 reductions.

However, let’s assume for a moment that I’m wrong.  What should we do? I don’t think we can actually decrease our energy usage very much and support our civilization. So we have to find non-petroleum energy sources.  Biofuel technology doesn’t look very good at the moment.  Scaling will require major land use changes that I contend are probably a net negative environmental impact. The cost-benefit for solar does look better, especially in certain geographic areas. But it seems to me the only massively scalable solution at our current level of technology is nuclear fission.

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