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Timescales and timeframes

March 7th, 2012

One of the issues in the debate over CSG and fracking is the timeframe over which the global warming potential of methane (in the form of leakage from both conventional and unconventional natural gas projects) should be assessed. The leading critics of fracking, Robert Howarth and his team at Cornell have used a 20-year time-frame. Since methane has a much shorter residence time in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but has a greater warming potential over that time, the use of a 20-year time frame makes methane seem more serious than if a timeframe of 100 years or longer is used.

The original justification put forward by Howarth for the 20 year timeframe was that this was the likely life of a project. This is nonsensical, and (to me at least) undermines Howarth’s credibility. The world is still warming as a result of coal burned in power stations that closed decades ago, and no one suggests that we should not worry about this.

Howarth has now adopted a new justification that, on the surface at least, is more plausible. Most attention in the debate over climate change has been based on the assumption of a gradual increase in mean global temperatures, equilibrating to a new higher level some decades after concentrations of greenhouse gases have stabilized, with effects that will then play out for centuries. Since stabilization is unlikely to be achieved before 2050, that implies that we should be looking at timeframes of 100 years or even longer.

However, there is also a risk that we will pass some tipping point, after which the entire process will be irreversible. We don’t know much about tipping points, but, as Howarth observes, “”the world runs a high risk of catastrophic climate change in the period of 15 to 35 years from now.””

That’s true, but unfortunately for Howarth and for us, it doesn’t help his case.

The one thing we do know about tipping points with reasonable certainty is that they will be reached when the global mean temperature reaches a sufficiently high level and stays there for some time. So, what matters is the peak temperature reached for a given trajectory of emissions.

The unfortunate fact is that, no matter what we do, global temperatures are going to keep rising for several decades to come, simply because of the greenhouse gases we have already emitted. If we reduced all emissions to zero immediately, the peak (apart from the long-run adjustment of oceans) might perhaps be reached in 20 years (that’s what the IPCC uses to estimate transient climate sensitivity, a point used, rather misleadingly by Howarth).

It’s obvious that this won’t happen. Still for someone campaigning, like David Spratt, for an all-out “Climate Code Red” state of emergency to eliminate all fossil fuels as fast as possible, it might make sense to focus on short time frames.

But in the context of practical possibilities, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are going to keep rising for decades. If there is a tipping point 20 years in the future of our current trajectory, then we are going to reach it, and whether there is more or less methane in the atmosphere at that time won’t make a difference one way or the other.

To put things slightly differently, no remotely likely course of action is going to stop global mean temperatures rising by 2 degrees relative to the pre-industrial level and staying that high for some time to come. If there is a tipping point between 1 and 2 degrees (where we are likely to be in 20 or 30 years time) we, and the global climate, have already exhausted our luck.

On the other hand, if we can stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases below 450 ppm (CO2 equivalents on the standard 100-year timeframe measure) by 2050, and then gradually reduce them, there is a good chance of avoiding a rise of more then 2 degrees by, say 2100. That’s why a 100-year timeframe makes sense.

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  1. Chris Warren
    March 7th, 2012 at 08:00 | #1

    Greenhouse gases are going to increase. End of story.

    My take on the timeframe is a little different. Significant CO2 emissions commenced from the Iron Age and particularly with the deforestation and wood-burning from the Tutor period.

    The same phenomena spread through medieval Europe.

    Population and agricultural increase all caused early CO2 emissions, and second effects.

    We only see the effects now, because it is in the nature of exponential growth that the early stages can be almost invisible for a long lead time, but the erupt apparently abruptly.

    A good source on early deforestation is:

    “Deforesting the earth: from prehistory to global crisis”; Williams, Michael, Univ Chicago Press (2003).

    450 ppm is a dream.

  2. Hermit
    March 7th, 2012 at 09:55 | #2

    I wonder if we have already passed a climate tipping point but failed to recognise it. For example people can’t seem to see that recurring ‘once-in-a-hundred-year’ floods could be a clue. If anything the disconnect is getting stronger with Wayne Swan and others excusing increased fossil fuel export shipments through our irreplaceable Great Barrier Reef. The UN can see the downside but evidently not our own government. Despite floods the protracted La Nina has been a net benefit to farming so few are complaining. Inevitably there will be a dry cycle in the next few years most likely coinciding with high energy prices. Then the public will demand action.

    I’ll feel sorry for today’s kids who will have to solve problems like extreme weather and $200 oil. These problems have been created by the selfishness and myopia of baby boomers and gen Xes. As they sit out violent storms and immobility in their old age perhaps they will reflect on their inaction.

  3. John Quiggin
    March 7th, 2012 at 10:10 | #3

    It’s worth getting some perspective on this, Hermit. $200 oil means it would cost as much to run a hybrid as it does now to run a reasonably economical small car. This really isn’t a problem. Climate change, on the other hand, could be a really big problem. That’s why i keep on pointing out that Peak Oil is a Good Thing.

  4. Jim Birch
    March 7th, 2012 at 10:40 | #4

    That’s why Peal Oil is a good thing, but there’s a next step problem that it makes extraction of the reserves of shale oil and tar sands economic. Hopefully carbon-free energy and carbon pricing can cut in from the other side to prevent that massive carbon store from being liberated.

  5. Sam
    March 7th, 2012 at 10:51 | #5

    @Jim Birch

    @John Quiggin
    On the other hand, peak oil makes it less economic to log forests far from towns. It makes amazonian highways less attractive. Heli-logging in Papua New Guinea becomes impractical. Since forests are a carbon sink, this is a climate positive. I don’t know the scale of this effect, but it’s worth thinking about.

  6. Hermit
    March 7th, 2012 at 12:04 | #6

    Hybrid versions of semi trailers and farm tractors don’t seem to be readily available. That covers the growing of food and getting it to supermarkets which will be greatly affected by the oil price. I suspect in a lacklustre economy the best selling cars will be under $20k which appears to exclude hybrids. We won’t see too many casual cleaners and security guards driving hybrids to night shift. Note in the US production of the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt has paused due to poor sales.The CSG connection is that many people think natural gas cars can be affordable which may mean less gas for power stations, given that the global tonnage of oil is about double that of gas.

    I agree that Peak Oil may slow down coal demand so we may see emissions cuts along with GDP cuts. China the world’s biggest coal consumer may have hit a domestic coal production peak which can explain their insatiable desire for Queensland coal. However we can’t go close to meeting the deficit. A knock on effect could be reduced sales of other commodities like iron ore. When/if we move to an ETS with hopefully few giveaways in 2015 the carbon price could be well under $23 if the global economy is weak. I suggest our coal and LNG exports should be included in an augmented CO2 cap so our customers share our pain.

  7. may
    March 7th, 2012 at 12:54 | #7

    first the cry was non fossil energy didnt work’.
    but that wasn’t true.
    then non fossil energy cost too much.
    but prices keep coming down and localised grid input measurably decreases fossil energy use.
    then non fossil energy grid input causes grid breakdown.
    so 20thC infrastructure overhaul is a huge investment and job honeypot?

    and so on.

    the change-over is inevitable,the only unknown is how much damage to the air and water will be inflicted by the fossil energy industry in lash out survival mode.
    it’s not as if fossil resources will disappear given the amount of plastic being churned out,even the disappearance of plastic bags wouldn’t make much difference.

  8. March 7th, 2012 at 14:11 | #8

    Everyone is familiar with the various “sides” to the climate change “debate”. Especially the contorted and often contradictory “denier” positions (eg: -it isn’t happening, -it’s always changed, -AGW is tiny/non-existent, -volcanoes, -warmer is good, etc..).

    Is there anyone who is outright and openly making an argument along the following lines:

    “Yes CO2 and other emissions are warming the climate, land clearing and other practices are contributing to it, burning fossil fuels is the biggest single input, peak oil is upon us, our entire economic system requires unending growth, money runs everything along with military might, extreme/catastrophic warming is probably locked in already and is certain under business-as-usual, the results are most likely to include a lot of destructive weather and droughts, loss of food production, loss of biodiversity, extinctions and sea level increase. All of this is almost certain but any real change to our economic system as currently structured is an unacceptable alternative and we will therefore continue as we are and most importantly produce and burn the largest volume of fossil fuels we can. No alternative will be countenanced and we will back this position with whatever force is needed.”?

    Because that seems to me to be the reality, just that everyone seems to beat about the bush.

  9. Sam
    March 7th, 2012 at 15:26 | #9

    Agreed Megan. One gigaton worth of CO2e is called a climate wedge. People I’ve heard talk say that in order to stabilise at 450 ppm we need to reduce current emissions by 7 wedges. Because of our current trajectory, that means about 18 wedges below business as usual. Given current political realities, it doesn’t look at all like we’re going to get even close.

    I advocate a Marshall-plan scale roll-out of contraception and family planning facilities across the developing world. That should be good for about 2 wedges of easy reduction below BAU, and maybe another two of more expensive reduction. Ocean iron fertilisation should also be tried at supertanker scale, and if the results are positive (as they probably will be), expanded. This should be good for another 2 wedges. Beyond that, there’s rainforest protection, renewables, energy efficiency, and public transport. Also, we should hope for better technology.

  10. Ratee
    March 7th, 2012 at 16:31 | #10

    Agreed Megan. We are facing the most connected, cooperative and advanced group which benefits from the status quo – us. We need to see it for ourselves before we do something.

    Nothing I see in the world seems anywhere like a pre-cusor to the utterly massive societal economic change that would be needed to halt the impact of GHGs on the climate or the impact of population on the ecosystem. But perhaps the French aristocracy had no idea of the revolution that was brewing either.

    It may be that awareness will grow well after it is too late to act.

  11. Freelander
    March 7th, 2012 at 19:31 | #11

    To my mind argument about ‘timeframe’ amongst the general populous, albeit entertaining, is a waste of effort.

    Methane has properties which climate modellers would be aware of and climate modellers would also be aware of the rate of dissipation. Roughly, the higher CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere, presumably the higher the long run equilibrium (if that level were to be maintained). As methane dissipates much faster, and if no thresholds are broken triggering the release of CO2 or methane from the various stores that have been posited, that methane may well dissipate long before some peak global average temperature is reached. However, the rate at which the average tempurature increases at a point in time, probably relies on the difference between the long run equilibrium temperature consistent with the current level and the average temperature at the current time. More methane, by increasing CO2 equivalent in the short run over what it otherwise would be, would accelerate the rate of temperature increase in the short run. Whether it would lead to a higher long run temperature who knows? And without modelling who would be so silly to be definitive. That without significant work the answer isn’t clear might suggest caution.

    True that the gas from CSG would substitute for other existing energy sources including coal, but so what.

    Adding CSG into the mix would lower the price of all existing energy sources and lead to a greater aggregate use of the dirty sources (if CSG is counted as one of those sources). By making dirty sources (relatively and absolutely) cheaper it would also make new clean technologies relatively more expensive, slowing their deployment and investment in their development.

    I would bet it would be highly unlikely that there would be a consequent reduction in greenhouse gas emission from allowing this new and speculative dirty technology. But because of the impact on energy output from dirty sources, which would need some modelling to estimate, who really knows.

    If there was a binding global quota on greenhouse gases and a satisfactory regime in place, then substitution would be the relevant factor. But there isn’t, so it isn’t.

    When politicians wake up, a lot of the investment in dirty technologies will have to be rapidly slapped into reverse. Seems silly, at this time, to be opening a new frontier of climate filth.

    The logic in your piece, JQ, is faulty. The fault being the fallacy of the excluded middle. It is not a question of timeframes, 20 years or 100. (For starters, there are many timeframes in between.) The question is one of modelling the two senarios, with CSG and without. And the same holds for your tipping point argument. We don’t know where these are, and accelerating the rate of temperature increase right now is unlikely to help, even if we don’t know exactly the extent to which it may hurt.

    The problem with debating these issues, finding flaws in opponents arguments, and things, they say that, damage their credibility, or don’t help their case, is that that approach is all very well in a court of law or for reality tv, where outcomes are not decided by who is right and who is wrong, but they are no help when dealing with nature, because nature doesn’t listen to the quality of the arguments anyway; nature does not listen to the arguments at all, and hence can deliver a verdict which can accord with the dunce.

    In this type of situation, where for the most part its all speculation, I prefer good judgement to clever argument. And sometimes the person with the better judgement is often not the most clever.

  12. Freelander
    March 7th, 2012 at 20:55 | #12

    Hermit :
    … For example people can’t seem to see that recurring ‘once-in-a-hundred-year’ floods could be a clue. …

    And how the hundred years keep flying by… and bye.

    If this is what it is like without yet having hit 1.0 C, what will it be like with 1.5 C or 2.0 C, which we will now find it very hard (impossible) to keep the increase to?

  13. Ikonoclast
    March 8th, 2012 at 07:35 | #13

    Prof. J.Q. is simply avoiding the key issue. CSG emissions are and will be (on all current investment projections for coal development and heavy oil development) IN ADDITION to other fossil fuel emissions not instead of them.

    Where has Prof. J.Q. argued or demonstrated cogently and convincingly that GSG use will reduce coal and/or oil use? He is arguing about tenuous and trivial side issues when the central part of his case is refuted.

    “The study by Myhrvold and Caldeira is consistent with findings by the National Center for Atmospheric Research that in summary: “show that the substitution of gas for coal as an energy source results in increased rather than decreased global warming for many decades…” – Climate Code Red.

    Plus the facts on the ground (increasing investing and mining of coal) indicate that CSG shows NO promise of being a substitute for but instead is and will be a clear addition to coal and heavy oil. This is a clear empirical fact. Prof. J.Q. has in functional public debate terms moved himself into the AGW denialist camp by giving succour to one of their key obfuscation strategems.

  14. Ken Fabian
    March 9th, 2012 at 09:07 | #14

    I’m not convinced that “…whether there is more or less methane in the atmosphere at that time won’t make a difference one way or the other.” And the assertion about tipping points – that “… they will be reached when the global mean temperature reaches a sufficiently high level and stays there for some time” seems overly simplistic. There are several known possible tipping points and possibly some unknown ones and whether there is more or less methane in the atmosphere could be very relevant beyond the 20 year time frame Howarth focused on, particularly if the growth of methane emissions continues through and beyond that period. At this point in time I find it difficult to see growth in CSG is replacing coal in any significant way and where it is, the infrastructure is presumably intended to have a working life far beyond 20 years. I’d like to think that renewables will continue to thrive and become more competitive but gas power stations, once built will not be quickly scrapped and strong investment in renewable plants intended to do so will be difficult to raise. I see diminishing, not growing support for renewables and the external costs – the climate costs – are being forced into the background to be passed over and ignored. Not just by the Right who seem to think by ignoring those costs they can go away, but by the energy sector which continues to drag their feet if not support outright denial. I sort of expect it of them, that they buy into and promote the idea that significant early action – the minimum that is absolutely essential – is beyond the realms of the possible. I’m dismayed, Professor Quiggin, that you seem to share that view. The success of the messages of Doubt, Deny and Delay is ingrained and pervasive that I see people who supposedly accept the reality and seriousness of the climate/emissions problems leaping to the defense of an expanding fossil fuels sector.

    Elsewhere Trade Minister Craig Emerson has accused Greenpeace of living in “fantasy land” and throwing up the spectre of global recession as why restraint is dangerous. That too is expected; Labor is as much taken in by the “what’s good for exports is good for Australia” line as the Liberals. I’m not pleased that someone who has been a voice advocating action on climate can believe that allowing the rapid expansion of exploitation of coal by other means will lead to reduced direct use of coal or be readily hauled back when it’s use becomes entrenched.

    Let’s be a bit more honest about this – it truly is a code red emergency and the legitimacy lent to delay via manufactured doubt and denial, and economic fears, by mainstream politics is fundamental to prevention of timely action.

    The most crucial tipping point, a different kind of tipping point, and an essential one – that of mobilising public determination to do what’s necessary to preserve the security and prosperity for our future is one that we’ve already failed to pass. Without that the tipping points the article refers to look more like inevitabilities.

  15. Troy Prideaux
    March 9th, 2012 at 10:41 | #15

    Ken Fabian :
    Elsewhere Trade Minister Craig Emerson has accused Greenpeace of living in “fantasy land” and throwing up the spectre of global recession as why restraint is dangerous. That too is expected; Labor is as much taken in by the “what’s good for exports is good for Australia” line as the Liberals. I’m not pleased that someone who has been a voice advocating action on climate can believe that allowing the rapid expansion of exploitation of coal by other means will lead to reduced direct use of coal or be readily hauled back when it’s use becomes entrenched.

    Well, I suppose as “Trade Minister” you’d expect him to advocate these views in the interests of his portfolio. He’s also a passionate believer in the Oz-US FTA which even the Libs are giving up on. He’s been advising governments to take an extreme economic rationalist approach since the Hawke years.

  16. Hermit
    March 9th, 2012 at 11:56 | #16

    I think the government’s condescension and threats towards Greenpeace show why they face a hard sell with the carbon tax. The obvious question for Australians is why should they practise restraint when other countries have unfettered access to the same coal and gas. Even Tony Abbott can see the illogic of an expanding coal and LNG export industry when Australia has pledged to reduce global emissions.

    No doubt Swan and Emerson have convinced themselves other countries intend to cut back on carbon fuels. However if you look at the latest Chinese reaction to the EU airline carbon tax or the Tata CEO’s opinion on imported coal it is quite clear China and India have no intention of cutting back anytime soon. Why indeed when Australia gives them all the cheap carbon they want. Alas I fear getting 2.5 bn people to Western affluence will ultimately fail.

    On another tack I’m mystified by the sudden silence of Australia’s aluminium smelters who now say they are happy to hang around. I wonder if they’ve been slipped some bulging envelopes under the table. If true it would add to the litany of double dealings by this government.

  17. Freelander
    March 9th, 2012 at 12:22 | #17

    Its painfully clear nothing of any significance is going to be done on climate change until the public starts screaming at the politicians.

  18. Ken Fabian
    March 9th, 2012 at 15:46 | #18

    Troy, the rhetorical dissociation of what is done for the ‘health’ of the economy and the longer term costs and consequences of emissions is a disturbing example of the effectiveness of economic fear as a preventative to rational pre-emptive action on emissions. The costs of such action are presented as both economically damaging and as optional. The view that that they are forced upon us by economically illiterate and irrational ‘greenies’ is successfully being promoted and those external future consequences are being successfully ignored into irrelevance.

    Hermit, that ‘they aren’t so why should we’ argument has a lot of potency and it’s helping to ensure Australia remains a big contributor to the problem and it’s domestic energy policy’s are thinly applied greenwash. China and India will not treat the issue with genuine seriousness when nations that supposedly do like Australia and the USA dissociate themselves from the consequences of their own failures and, worse, have the temerity to blame those nations for the problem’s intractability.

    Australia reveals it’s true position on fossil fuels by it’s actions – China and India are no more than one of a raft of convenient excuses those who don’t want to face the reality and seriousness of the problem use to cloak their own unwillingness to do what the problem demands of us.

  19. Freelander
    March 9th, 2012 at 16:03 | #19

    The west made the mess. It’s a bit rich expecting the east to fix it for us at their cost!

  20. Hermit
    March 9th, 2012 at 16:35 | #20

    @Freelander
    Perhaps China and India shouldn’t have let their populations get so large. 2.5bn is far too big for their domestic resource base. Therefore they are largely the architects of their own misfortune when their aspirations don’t materialise. No doubt the middle class in the West will have to become more frugal and meet the global average somewhere in the middle. lf world population was just 1bn then burning fossil fuels would be a distant problem.

    Whether the present distribution of wealth is fair or unfair it seems reasonable to share the pain from now on. If we have to cut coal use so should they. If not perhaps we should double our baby bonus so as not to fall so far behind. I think that means we all get more.

  21. Freelander
    March 9th, 2012 at 16:53 | #21

    Yes. You’re right to have populations that large they ought to have followed the European approach and invaded the rest of the world and taken their lands and resources first.

  22. Freelander
    March 9th, 2012 at 17:01 | #22

    I think Europeans exceeded their domestic resource base a while ago.

  23. Freelander
    March 9th, 2012 at 18:33 | #23

    Here is an interesting US site with information on fracking: http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/home

  24. Sam
    March 9th, 2012 at 20:43 | #24

    Not surprisingly, I agree with Hermit against Freelander here. Mao embarked on a deliberate policy to breed as large an army of communists as possible. They are now paying a high price for that decision. India has still not reached replacement fertility and will have a much less pleasant 21st century than they could have.

    It’s quite patronising towards those in the East to blame the West for all the world’s problems. It suggests that A$!@ns are incapable of making decisions that for better or worse influence their own or the world’s future. The ability of humans to make terrible decisions either as leaders or individuals cuts across racial lines.

  25. Freelander
    March 9th, 2012 at 22:26 | #25

    The build up of the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is not a legacy that can be blamed on the east. Those gases were put into the atmosphere to build up the capital stock and standard of living we in the west enjoy today. It is decidedly rich to think that we should think that we can get away with having all that for free, and now expect the east to bear a much higher price to build up their capital stock and standard of living.

    In the end, as the US demonstrates again and again, might is right. Unfortunately for us, in the future, might will increasingly lie in the east and will increasingly suggest that the east will be right.

  26. Sam
    March 9th, 2012 at 22:58 | #26

    Freelander :
    The build up of the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is not a legacy that can be blamed on the east.

    True, but the certainty of future high emissions caused by a great many people in the East living even frugal lives is.

    Both the West and the East made irreversible decisions in the past that will inevitably worsen the environment of tomorrow. The difference is, the West’s decisions also improved it’s own standard of living. Pro industrial development policies cause a tradeoff between GDP per capita and the natural world. Pro natalist policies just make everything worse for everybody. Yes, it’s going to be harder for the East to develop now, but that’s partly their own fault.

    The past is passed. Moralising won’t help, and anyway there is blame on all sides. The practical fact is, not everyone can live like we do in the West now, the world can’t cope with it. Our only two choices are: contract and converge, or face disaster.

  27. March 10th, 2012 at 00:24 | #27

    “The ability of humans to make terrible decisions either as leaders or individuals cuts across racial lines.”

    I think this comment makes my point. There is no “us” or “them” if you are talking about individuals or countries. There really is only “us” and “them” if you are talking about power.

    To “blame” anyone in one country or region for the decisions of the powerful is folly. Only the powerful are blameworthy for the effects caused by their decisions. That they have been warned over and over again against those decisions only goes toward judging their negligence or culpability.

    By their very position they are unaccountable to citizens of the imaginary north, south, east or west.

  28. Freelander
    March 10th, 2012 at 00:44 | #28

    The reality is that our free emissions is represented in a larger than otherwise capital stock and higher than otherwise standard of living. The east can quite rightly tell us in the west to ‘get real’ if we expect them to share the burden of restraint equally with us from now on. If we want restraint from them they can quite justifiably say: “Well pay for it”.

    We have more to lose than they do. We haven’t done them any favours, and should expect any from them in return.

  29. Hermit
    March 10th, 2012 at 05:55 | #29

    According to Wiki world energy consumption is 15 terawatts. Divide by 7 billion and that’s a little over 2 kilowatts per person. Yet some of those people have heated swimming pools, big screen plasma TVs and accumulate frequent flyer points. Somebody must be missing out. The world gets 80% of its energy from fossil fuels yet world oil production and Chinese coal production have levelled out and at some point will go into irreversible decline. Therefore the chances look slim of say doubling world energy output to achieve a more equitable distribution.

    Examples of what I mean by ‘sharing the pain’ include carbon taxing coal and LNG exports, imposing carbon tariffs on energy intensive imports or rationing fuel exports in line with a CO2 cap. Since carbon tax is meant to be revenue neutral China and India can ask for the revenue to be paid into a green fund. Again the chances look slim with China threatening to cancel Airbus orders if the EU airline tax goes ahead.

    Australia can do this because going to other suppliers won’t be easy. We have the most developed coal and gas export infrastructure in the Pacific basin. Disappointingly the US is now cashing in on coal exports to China. That’s where the carbon tariff comes in. It shares the pain because Western consumers face higher prices and Asian manufacturers face lower demand. When and if they go low carbon the tariff can be dropped.

  30. Freelander
    March 10th, 2012 at 07:57 | #30

    Of course, we are in a position to punish them. I think not. We didn’t share the gain. But now you think we will share the resulting pain. White man’s burden that the non-White don’t understand the equity of White man’s justice.

  31. Freelander
    March 10th, 2012 at 08:21 | #31

    I think we have just seen why outrageous greed amongst the haves means that expecting climate change to be addressed seriously anytime soon is a pipe-dream. Those who are consuming more than their two kilowatts simply point to those consuming even more and are unwilling to make any concessions, and expect those in the developing world to ‘tighten their belts’.

    Lets hope the east doesn’t do to the west what the French did to the haitians.

  32. Hermit
    March 10th, 2012 at 09:15 | #32

    Richard Heinberg essay suggests China has no intention of cutting back on 3.5 bn tonnes a year of coal burning
    http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-03-09/china-coal-update
    provided alternative supplies can keep up. According to Messrs Swan, Emerson, Palmer et al this is a good thing. That’s until China runs out of puff but the floods keep coming.

  33. Sam
    March 10th, 2012 at 13:41 | #33

    @Freelander
    I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’ve engaged yet with my point. Per capita emissions aren’t the only important measure, since that ignores deliberate policies in the past to increase the population.

  34. Freelander
    March 10th, 2012 at 15:18 | #34

    I’m not aware that, other than a certain totalitarian church, and a certain 20th century German government that there has been a policy yo increase populations .I do know that both India and China have had policies to reduce population.

  35. Freelander
    March 10th, 2012 at 15:35 | #35

    1. Where is the evidence that Mao embarked on a breeding program?
    2. If so, where is the evidence that it caused more to be born than otherwise?
    3. Or that the effects were not overwhelmed by the one child policy?

  36. Freelander
    March 10th, 2012 at 15:39 | #36

    4. Or that they net effect was greater than western breeding programs?
    5. Or that this ‘issue ‘ is in anyway relevant?

  37. Freelander
    March 10th, 2012 at 15:47 | #37

    The invasion by the West of the “New World” was a deliberate policy to increase population.

  38. Sam
    March 10th, 2012 at 18:00 | #38

    I don’t want to get into any kind of acrimonious debate here Freelander, but I wish you would have a cursory look at the evidence before you start belligerently dismissing my assertions. This stuff is actually common knowledge and uncontroversial among students of modern Chinese history. I don’t want to set off the moderator by giving you links, google this stuff yourself. I will give some quotes though.

    1) Hu Yaobang, secretary of the Communist Youth League reasoned that, “A larger population means greater manpower…the force of 600 million liberated people is tens of thousands of times stronger than a nuclear explosion.”

    In 1949, the Communist Party of China (CCP) condemned birth control as well as banned the import of contraceptives.

    On August 1949, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson authored the China White Paper, in which he expressed his doubts about China’s ability to feed itself. He wrote: “The first problem which every Chinese government has had to face is that of feeding its population. So far, none have succeeded.”

    In direct response to this, a defiant Mao retorted: “Even if China’s population multiplies many times, she is fully capable of finding a solution; the solution is production.” He also famously stated that a large population is “a very good thing … Of all things in the world, people are the most precious.”

    He saw a high population as the best way to protect China from the ravages of nuclear war.

    Mao told a visiting Yugoslav in 1957, ‘We aren’t afraid of atomic bombs. What if they killed even 300 million [Chinese]? We would still have plenty more–China would be the last country to die‘.

    2) I think we can be reasonably certain that banning or resricting birth control caused more people to be born than otherwise.

    3) It is true that the one child policy will eventually have the effect of curbing population. Demographic momentum however, means it will take time, and the initial explosion is ongoing. The population has still not peaked. The OCP is a very good thing, but it has come too late to prevent all problems.

    4) The total population grew from 450 million in the late 40s to over 1.3 billion now. Plus, there is India, whose TFR is still 2.5, and heading for 2 billion people by 2050. By contrast, the whole of Europe is only 750 million, and is mostly below replacement TFR. I should add that I’m also critical of Western breeding programs, but they haven’t added anywhere near as many people as Eastern ones. This isn’t only the fault of government policies either, patriarchal societies and the individuals within them are equally responsible for viewing women only as reproductive vessels. This all needs to change, and fast.

    5) RE relevance; Have you not heard of the expansion of the Gobi desert, disastrous river diversion projects, declining ground water in India? Your comments read like that of a person who has not the slightest familiarity with the issues involved.

  39. Freelander
    March 10th, 2012 at 21:45 | #39

    Other than an undocumented quote where is the evidence. Even that, if believed is that Mao banned birth control at a time when a ban on birth control was not unknown in some western countries and is still being promoted by the Pope. India had many birth control programs and the one child policy which has been in China for quite a long time now has slashed the birth rate.

    Europeans expanded their populations massively by invading, killing inhabitants and taking their lands. All of North and South America and Australia.

    Anyway, the issue is irrelevant.

  40. Mel
    March 10th, 2012 at 23:03 | #40

    Freelander @33:

    “I’m not aware that, other than a certain totalitarian church, and a certain 20th century German government that there has been a policy yo increase populations .I do know that both India and China have had policies to reduce population.”

    Type Mao encouraged population growth into Google and you’ll get about 50 million links. It isn’t in the least bit controversial and is general knowledge for reasonably intelligent and educated persons. On the whole, Mao’s policy was a success with the Chinese population rising from about 550 million to 900 million people. What makes this even more impressive is that Mao’s disastrous policies caused the deaths of at least 50 to 60 million people according to conservative estimates.

    Sam @37:

    ” Your [Freelander] comments read like that of a person who has not the slightest familiarity with the issues involved.”

    Rather obviously, Freelander isn’t terribly bright or well informed. It might be best to ignore his tedious and ill-educated rants.

  41. Freelander
    March 10th, 2012 at 23:51 | #41

    The point is that a few pronouncements about the desirability of having a large population to withstand a nuclear attack is not is not in itself a policy to expand the population. Neither is ‘having a policy’ any indication that it was in the least effective. India only had policies to restrict its population growth yet its population has grown considerably more than China’s, hence the net impact of any initial population growth policy must have been overwhelmed by the one child policy.

    But as I have repeatedly stated the whole issue is irrelevant.

    Nice as it is to blame the foreigner for our problems, it is the West that built up and benefited from building up the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The idea that the Chinese do not have a right to exist or to have what we have without paying for our mistakes is not really defensible.

    Of course morality is simply the story one tells oneself to make oneself feel good while doing wrong.

    But we can moralise all we wish about how the Chinese ought to curl up and die and let us continue on our polluting ways, the reality is they won’t. And in a world where might is right and nothing else matters, China is becoming mightier by the day.

    So even if your ‘moral’ arguments wash with the great unwashed in the West, they won’t wash in the East.

  42. Sam
    March 11th, 2012 at 00:42 | #42

    @Mel
    I think I’ll take your advice Mel, and give up on this conversation.

  43. Hermit
    March 11th, 2012 at 06:52 | #43

    The de facto position seems to be that China and India can burn all the coal they want while Europe, Australia and others practise restraint. Major capital goes along with this in the hope that the West will buy ever expanding quantities goods manufactured with little regard for labour laws or greenhouse emissions. Not only does this suit business but our own politicians endorse it, despite warnings of problems like coal ship damage to the Great Barrier Reef.

    The trouble with this theory is that our own middle class may not see it that way. Australia may lose both its steel mills and most of the six aluminum smelters. When power bills go up substantially in just a few weeks time it will be hard not to notice China and India get all the Australian coal and gas they want without any restrictions. These countries will gain at our expense, not because they have physical resources just a lot of people willing to work cheap without regard for the environment.

    This view is at odds with those who say that this time next year we’ll have come to accept carbon tax. If we slide backwards while others prosper using our resources that’s unlikely to be the case. I predict carbon tax will not go smoothly and major changes will be made.

  44. Ken Fabian
    March 11th, 2012 at 08:12 | #44

    The ongoing failures to engage the climate problem in China and India are down to the same fundamental problem – failure to appreciate the full seriousness and urgency of the problem.

    Australia’s inadequate and compromised domestic ‘action’ is overshadowed by it’s absolute support for expanding fossil fuel mining and export. Internationally, which element of Australian policy will be seen as genuine and what will be seen as a PR exercise in mollifying voter concerns? The leading political voice of US commerce and Industry – the Republican Party – will not put up a candidate for President who is not openly a climate science denier. If the wealthy developed world spends more effort to avoid having to do what’s necessary on emissions than in efforts to avoid catastrophic climate change, how can a global effort be expected to gain strong global support? The best we can expect from China and India is the same kind of greenwash intended to appear to be addressing the concerns whilst having no impact on fossil fuel usage.

    That essential tipping point in acceptance of the problem – as something that has mainstream bipartisan support and that’s worth some short term economic sacrifice if that’s what it takes to deal with – looks further away than it was 2 decades ago. Giving a green light to the exploitation of coal that’s uneconomical to extract by other means – CSG – is proof that we are embracing failure and disguising it by calling it a step towards success.

  45. Freelander
    March 11th, 2012 at 09:33 | #45

    Australia will just have to adapt to annual once in a hundred year floods ( in every state) .

  46. Freelander
    March 11th, 2012 at 09:38 | #46

    Insurance? Furgeta bout it.

  47. Donald Oats
    March 11th, 2012 at 15:18 | #47

    Arguing over whether CSG is better or worse than something else, is a little missing the point. We need actual reductions in total GHG emissions per annum, and we’re apparently incapable of rousing ourselves to do it.

    Dr James Hansen, in this talk, makes it abundantly clear that every year we wait means a much larger percentage reduction is required. His example is that if we had started five years ago, it required a 3% emissions reduction per annum; now, it is 6%pa; in 10 years from now, it is 15%pa. Hansen’s point is that subsidising fossil fuel industries simply means it is economic for them to exploit every available fossil fuel resource, with all of the environmental consequences it implies. Assuming that James Hansen is correct, it puts talk of timescales into sober perspective.

  48. Donald Oats
    March 11th, 2012 at 15:20 | #48

    Er, reductions being made to stabilise climate and (hopefully) avoid reaching one of the key tipping points. Should have made that clearer.

  49. Peter T
    March 12th, 2012 at 11:18 | #49

    OK. So avoiding 2 degrees is impossible, and science suggests that the consequences may be more serious than first thought (ie floods, droughts, invasive species, spread of disease, moderate sea level rise, loss of fisheries…). So it might be helpful if our host started building a movement within the economic expert community on the sorts of policies that might make sense in this changed world. If the global politic framework is insufficiently strong to engineer a global solution, does free trade make sense? We will need local expertise and skills to transition to a different economy – probably a much more constrained one in real terms. We will need to intensively manage our ecosystems – can we do that if we adhere to market-dominated agriculture? We may need to disperse population. We will certainly need to invest heavily in revamped transport (rail is much less vulnerable to climate extremes than road) – can we do that if we keep privatising? In short, how does the present economic consensus hold up if we need to promote social cohesion, move to greater self-sufficiency, and have a greater government role in the economy?

  50. Hermit
    March 12th, 2012 at 12:24 | #50

    You’d think that recent events would be a call to action. In Australia we’ve had floods in the east and record heatwaves in the west. Much of the UK is in drought despite a severe cold snap. However it seems moves to carbon tax airline fuel are regarded as extreme.

    Meanwhile many river bank towns are to stockpile portable flood levy panels perhaps kept next to the bushfire evacuation centre. Sea level rise is set to restrict coastal development. No doubt before long another China bound coal ship will grind its way into our iconic barrier reef. At some point we might ask how much adaptation is enough.

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