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January 11th, 2016

A new sandpit for long side discussions, idees fixes and so on. Discussions about climate policy and related issues can be posted here, along with the usual things.

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  1. tony lynch
    January 12th, 2016 at 08:11 | #1

    JQ seems to me remarkably sanguine when it comes to our efforts at dealing with GHG production, and especially when it comes to what really matters.

    So look at this from Tamino https://tamino.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/co2-increase-2/#more-8027

    “CO2 in our atmosphere is still increasing. Last year the annual average amount has passed 400 ppmv (part per million by volume) for the first time in a long time — at least a million years.

    The reason: we’re burning fossil fuels like oil, coal, natural gas. When we do, it turns that long-buied carbon into carbon dioxide, which ends up in the atmosphere. It’s as simple as that.

    Lately, though, more and more are talking about reducing our emissions of CO2. So, how is planet earth doing? We haven’t stopped increasing atmospheric CO2, but is there any sign that at least we’ve slowed down?”

    Answer: “The rate of CO2 growth has been increasing (we knew that) so CO2 concentration has been accelerating. Unfortunately is hasn’t yet shown any sign that the acceleration has stopped.”

  2. Ikonoclast
    January 12th, 2016 at 08:53 | #2

    To misquote T.S. Eliot, I think neither optimism nor pessimism will save us. I am not sure what is the correct or most helpful personal attitude to adopt to all this. I guess we have to keep trying on the off chance we might actually save a bit of civilization.

    “Think neither fear nor courage saves us.
    Unnatural vices are fathered by our heroism.
    Virtues are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
    These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.” – T.S. Eliot

    The third line is very apt. New virtues will be forced upon us by our impudent crimes against the climate and the ecosystem. Wasteful consumer capitalism will collapse. Those who survive will be forced to be thrifty and very ecologically conscious in an entirely new economic paradigm. There will be little margin for error for the remnant civilization. If remnant humanity survives a few more hundred years and retains a good history of these events they will much wiser than we are currently. The lessons will be hard and well burned into race memory as it were.

  3. Ivor
    January 12th, 2016 at 11:29 | #3

    @tony lynch

    Yes, there is now no point in getting too worked up over climate change. It is now too late and the required changes to our lifestyle are far to radical to be even proposed.

    CO2 will continue to increase, possibly even accelerate, until past 2020 and the Third World and the developing world, quite rightly, will demand the right to use fossil fuel to the same per capita rate as anyone else.

    So there will be one almighty climate catastrophe in our future and this could even jeopardise life on earth. Don’t be too surprised, this was the original state of the earth before the Carboniferous period.

    This is all based on the solid science of greenhouse effects.

  4. January 12th, 2016 at 22:43 | #4

    Tony, the rate at which humanity is adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is no longer increasing. 2014 showed a very small increase, while 2015 should show a modest but real decline. This is a long way from the very large cuts in emissions that are necessary to avoid climate related disasters on a scale civilisation has never seen, but at least things are proceeding in the proper direction, though not as fast as prudence would dictate.

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    January 13th, 2016 at 01:13 | #5

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  6. January 13th, 2016 at 09:58 | #6

    @tony lynch

    It seems to me that much less effort would be required of humanity to remove the threat of global warming than the effort required of humanity after 1939 to remove the threat it faced from the Third Reich and its allies.

    If our forefathers were able to accomplish that in 1945, then it would surely take far less effort in 2016, on the part of capable global leaders with good motivations, to overcome the threat of global warming.

    A first step would be for our governments to take back our sovereignty from the purported ‘free market’. This sovereignty was given away after 1983 by the supposed Labor government of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating and other like-minded governments around the world. This was formalised in the Hilmer Report of 1993 which was endorsed by both sides of parliament.

    The so-called ‘findings’ of the Hilmer Report, even if not explictly stated, are the ongoing justification for the waste of human effort and our finite natural resources and the ongoing degradation of social structure and our global life support system. Only when this is recognised and the ‘free market’ and ‘small government’ dogmas are repudiated, will we be able to overcome global warming and other threats faced by humanity.

  7. Ivor
    January 13th, 2016 at 10:04 | #7

    @Ronald Brak

    You miss the point.

    Particular year on year emissions can decline and have in the past. Obviously a world in recession will emit less carbon than otherwise.

    The underlying trend is the relevant trend – not annual variability.

    In 2014 the world suffered the greatest amount of CO2 emissions on record for Fossil Fuel/Cement emissions and Land-use change, totalling 10.95 GT/Carbon.

    There may or may not be a decline in 2015 – this could be just irresponsible thinking. There have been several instances of declines in the past at CDIAC but this do not impact on the overall ongoing climb.

    We are now adding more than 2ppm CO2 into the atmosphere according to:


    Spinning yarns based on annual variability is like examining trees when the forest burns.

  8. tony lynch
    January 13th, 2016 at 12:31 | #8

    Thanks for that, Ivor. One good thing about Tamino is that all this is there, and clearly discussed.

  9. January 13th, 2016 at 15:24 | #9

    Ivor, I don’t know what is more to the point of informing Tony that the acceleration in greenhouse gas emissions has stopped, at least in 2015, than pointing out that the acceleration in greenhouse gases has stopped.

    If there is a point I have missed, could you please tell me what it is in a single sentence. I am not very good at communicating and unless things are kept at a very simple level they tend to go right over my head. If you communicate with me as if I am ten years old I will probably manage.

  10. ZM
    January 13th, 2016 at 17:20 | #10


    It is my understanding there is a 30-40 year lag in the accumulation of carbon emissions in the atmosphere, so CO2 levels in the atmosphere are not up to date with carbon emissions.

    I think shorter lived greenhouse gasses like methan and nitrous oxide accumulate more as they are emitted without such s long lag, which is why they are good sources to cut in the near term to reduce the effects of climate change. Of course carbon emissions need to be cut too – but this won’t take effect til 30-40 years I suppose given the lag.

  11. Ivor
    January 13th, 2016 at 17:43 | #11

    @Ronald Brak

    The first point you missed is the need to provide evidence.

    The second point you missed was the fact that year-to-year variability does not represent the underlying trend.

    The third point you missed was that it is the underlying trend that is the problem.

    The fourth point you missed is that the current rate of CO2 increase at over 2ppm is greater than previous decades.

    The fifth point you missed is that CO2 emissions can be impacted by economic boom and bust cycles.

  12. ZM
    January 13th, 2016 at 22:44 | #12

    The Australian had another positive take on universities divesting from fossil fuel companies, saying “With the Paris Accord now signed what started as a trickle is likely to turn into a tsunami”

  13. January 13th, 2016 at 23:04 | #13

    Ivor, that’s five sentences. I specifically asked for one.

    Anyway, I’ll address your first sentence: “The first point you missed is the need to provide evidence.”

    No, I didn’t miss a point by not providing evidence. These are comments on a blog. There is no need to provide evidence in a blog comment, although it is polite to provide evidence if asked. Otherwise things can get very bogged down. You see, I don’t know what other people care about. For example, I could provide a link to an article on commenting ettiquette to provide evidence that it is not necessary to provide evidence in blog comments, but if you are not interested and don’t follow that link, it was a waste of my time to put it there. So it is quite common for people not to provide evidence for statements made in blog comments and operate under the assumption that if people are interested they can either look it up themselves or ask for evidence.

  14. tony lynch
    January 14th, 2016 at 09:01 | #14

    Ronald, I began with a link. You might click on it.

  15. MartinK
    January 14th, 2016 at 09:07 | #15

    @Ronald Brak
    Ronald you are wasting your time. Tony and Ivor’s heart are in the right place but they don’t have the technical nous(*) to understand half of what you say. They don’t understand the difference between a decrease in CO2 and a decrease in CO2 production rate. They don’t see why short term variability (short term as in over a few years) in global temperatures doesn’t apply to CO2 levels – which should not vary at all. (And ZM is completely wrong about the 30-40 year lag where does the CO2 hide before it gets into the atmosphere?)

    (*) I’m sure I have picked the wrong word here, but I think the meaning is clear and I don’t have a clue how to spell it.

    Tony, Ivor I’m happy to be shown wrong – just explain one of the above to us.

    My reaction is to say these sort of uninformed arguments are self defeating, they would seem to stifle productive discussion. But sadly, in our political climate, I think these sort of terrier-to-a-rat responses are needed against our even less informed and incoherent skeptics.

  16. Ikonoclast
    January 14th, 2016 at 09:24 | #16

    Ivor and Tony Lynch are essentially correct in my book. As Ivor said,

    “The underlying trend is the relevant trend – not annual variability.”

    Ronald seems to be arguing about human CO2 emissions (which perforce are estimates). Ivor and Tony are referring to the data from the series “Recent Monthly Mean CO2 at Mauna Loa”. The latter is clearly the net result of the entire CO2 cycle of the biosphere including human activity. It is this net result that will drive warming while it is rising (and maybe even during early falling due to lag effects). This net result as measured at Mauna Loa is still rising. This is what really counts. If this is still rising while human emission estimates are creeping downwards a very little then it might well call the accuracy of those estimates into question. Either that or other non-human sources are going up and/or natural CO2 “scrubbing” is declining (the latter very likely due to human induced damage anyway).

  17. Ivor
    January 14th, 2016 at 09:43 | #17


    The face at the bottom of the well is your own.

  18. John Quiggin
    January 14th, 2016 at 10:21 | #18

    The post by Tamino is interestgin as always, but the Mauna Loa data gives a noisy signal about the aggregate amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. If you are trying to measure small changes in the rate of change (that is, acceleration or deceleration in the rate of growth) of a variable this is not the kind of data you want to look at.

    We have pretty good data suggesting deceleration (that is, a reduction in emissions) in 2015. This is the first time such a deceleration has been observed in a non-recession year.

  19. Ivor
    January 14th, 2016 at 12:01 | #19

    @John Quiggin

    Again – no evidence. This just sows seeds of confusion.

    Most people will realise that if economic activity growth slows over several years, that CO2 emissions will fall.

    The growth trend is the blue line here:


    This is clearly understood by those who are calling for degrowth.

    Growth and CO2 emissions are linked.

    However the growth rate of CO2 in 2015 was the highest ever (except for 1998).

    Data is:

    2012 2.40 ppm Annual global growth rate
    2013 2.51
    2014 1.90
    2015 2.73

    If you look at the data you will see plenty of instances where annual growth rates fall eg 1979-82, and 1987-92.

    But still atmospheric CO2 increased and growth reaccelerated but at a higher level.

    Data is at US NOAA Global Monitoring Division website.

    www . esrl.noaa . gov / gmd / ccgg / trends / global . html

  20. Ikonoclast
    January 14th, 2016 at 12:14 | #20

    @John Quiggin

    I agree that the Mauna Loa data is a noisy signal. On thinking about your next point, I understand and accept it too. “If you are trying to measure small changes in the rate of change (that is, acceleration or deceleration in the rate of growth) of a variable this is not the kind of data you want to look at.”

    Your next point is “We have pretty good data suggesting deceleration (that is, a reduction in (human generated) emissions) in 2015.” I hope can validly infer you meant “human generated”.

    How good is “pretty good”? How good are these estimates in your opinion and what is their margin of error? Is the margin of error in these estimates small enough to allow us to in turn declare statistically valid the “small change in the rate of change”?

    I remain sceptical, in the genuine sense of the term, about the accuracy and comprehensiveness of these emission estimates. I suspect they might have a lot of their own “noise” but I admit I don’t know this. Then there are the issues of categorisation and method. Are the Indonesian bushfires’ CO2 emissions attributed to humans? In Australia are planned burns human-attributed but lightning strike burns non-human-attributed? How is habitat destruction handled? Etc. etc.

    It would be neat if someone could provide a link to the detailed method for estimating human CO2 emissions. I guess it is in the IPCC reports somewhere.

  21. ZM
    January 14th, 2016 at 12:17 | #21

    Martin K,

    “And ZM is completely wrong about the 30-40 year lag where does the CO2 hide before it gets into the atmosphere?”

    I have read about the lag several times. but maybe I was wrong and maybe the lag is only in warming effects rather than in CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere.

    “The full warming potential of greenhouse gases takes decades to be realised, and there is already enough gas in the air to take Earth’s average surface temperature to 1.5 degrees by mid-century.” Tim Flannery 2015 http://sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/fake-debate

    It might not be because of CO2 accumulating more slowly in the atmosphere though, but about the oceans taking so long to heat up. Sorry if I got mixed up.

    ” The Earth’s average surface temperature has already risen by 0.8 degrees C since 1900. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing at the rate of 2 ppm per year. Scientists tell us that even if CO2 was stabilized at its current level of 390 ppm, there is at least another 0.6 degrees “in the pipeline”. If findings from a recent study of Antarctic ice cores is confirmed, the last figure will prove to be conservative [ii]. The delayed response is known as climate lag.

    The reason the planet takes several decades to respond to increased CO2 is the thermal inertia of the oceans. Consider a saucepan of water placed on a gas stove. Although the flame has a temperature measured in hundreds of degrees C, the water takes a few minutes to reach boiling point. This simple analogy explains climate lag.” Sceptical Science 2010, http://www.skepticalscience.com/Climate-Change-The-40-Year-Delay-Between-Cause-and-Effect.html

  22. John Quiggin
    January 14th, 2016 at 12:54 | #22

    Ikon. Here’s a link which you could pursue if you want,

  23. Ikonoclast
    January 14th, 2016 at 14:38 | #23

    @John Quiggin

    Short report by a very amateur researcher (me). The link is to a Guardian Article. The full article needs to be read to get context, conditions and caveats. At the time of the article, the projected fall is just that, still a projection. Mention is made of a number of factors, like India’s rise, which could make this a one-off fall IF it is a fall at all. The estimate for real outcome is not yet in to the best of my knowledge.

    The important link in the Guardian Article is to the Nature Climate Change site commentary article “Reaching Peak Emissions” by Robert B. Jackson et al. This makes clear that the 2015 number is a projection. A post-peak 2015 number would be consistent with the flattening trend in years just prior. Whether this is the ultimate peak or the penultimate peak (for example) could only be known, with reasonable certainty, several years from now.

    From there, I found the Global Carbon Project site. In “Global Carbon Budget
    Highlights (full)” it still talks about 2014 as the last analysed (i.e. unprojected) year.

    “Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels and industry increased by 0.6% in 2014, with a total of 9.8±0.5 GtC (billion tonnes of carbon) (35.9 GtCO2) emitted to the atmosphere, 60% above 1990 emissions (the Kyoto Protocol reference year). Emissions are projected to decline by -0.6% in 2015 (range -1.6% to +0.5%). ”

    Please note the error range goes up to +0.5%. So I was correct to raise the estimate error issue. Contributing uncertainties to this estimate would include I think examples like;

    “Uncertainty of the global fossil fuel CO2 is estimated at ±5% (±1 sigma bounds based on the 10% at ±2 sigma bounds published by Andres et al. 2012).”

    In summary, yes we are near peak CO2e, I accept, in historical terms. But it is too early to know yet if 2015 is the year. I suspect we will know the real peak, to a good degree of certainty, only in a retrospect of 5 years or so. My own estimate is that the real peak could be anywhere from 2015 to 2025. In turn, this would mean we might not know the real peak to a good degree of certainty until 2030. Then again, we might know pretty well by 2020.

  24. Ikonoclast
    January 14th, 2016 at 14:42 | #24

    To supplement my above post, this page is interesting.


  25. John Quiggin
    January 14th, 2016 at 15:50 | #25

    Plenty of uncertainty, and plenty left to do. But a peak by 2020, needed for a reasonable chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees, seemed unlikely in 2009, seems likely now


  26. MartinK
    January 14th, 2016 at 17:18 | #26

    ZM. Yes it is the warming affects that are delayed (as far as I understand), that is what is being said in your quoted text.
    Sorry to be brash in my posting (to Tony and Ivor as well) that wasn’t my intention, at times I get frustrated by some of the discussions.

  27. ZM
    January 14th, 2016 at 19:21 | #27

    MartinK, no worries 🙂 I never studied science above about year 9 so any clarifications and corrections are welcomed

  28. James Wimberley
    January 15th, 2016 at 22:13 | #28

    Ivor: where was the recession in 2014-15? The inflection of GHG emissions – attested by three reputable sources, links here – took place during a period of normal growth. It reflects major policy changes in China, where the leadership feels threatened by massive air pollution. Among a host of other anecdotal evidence, Arch Coal in the USA has just filed for bankruptcy and Adani has shelved the Carmichael coal mine. I don’t see why you won’t believe the report. The Mauna Loa CO2 measurement is the gold standard, but you would expect a lag.

  29. Ivor
    January 16th, 2016 at 12:03 | #29

    @James Wimberley

    There is no inflection of CO2 in your link.

    However the growth rate of CO2 in 2015 was the highest ever (except for 1998) judging by

    Annual mean carbon dioxide growth rates based on globally averaged marine surface data.



    The Mauna Loa data does not appear to show any variability due to recessions – so it is long-run economic growth that is the problem.

    We should ignore ups and downs due to booms and busts.

  30. Ivor
    January 16th, 2016 at 12:04 | #30

    @James Wimberley

    There is no inflection of CO2 in your link.

    However the growth rate of CO2 in 2015 was the highest ever (except for 1998) judging by

    Annual mean carbon dioxide growth rates based on globally averaged marine surface data.



    The Mauna Loa data does not appear to show any variability due to recessions – so it is long-run economic growth that is the problem.

    We should ignore ups and downs due to booms and busts.

  31. January 17th, 2016 at 13:38 | #31

    Tony, I read the link you provided. Perhaps you should inform the author what I told you. It might cheer him up.

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