Guest Post by Thomas Fuller
It is not often that I get called a ‘denialist’ and a ‘troll’ for the dark forces of Al Gore on the same day, but it does happen.
It’s because I am a ‘lukewarmer,’ one who believes that the physics of climate change are not by theselves controversial, but who believes that the sensitivity of the earth’s atmosphere to a doubling of concentrations of CO2 is not yet known, but is likely to be lower than activists have claimed.
I suppose it should bother me that I am getting slammed at activist websites such as Only In It For the Gold, Deltoid and ThingsBreak because they think I don’t go far enough, and slammed again here and at The Air Vent because I go too far. Although I want to be liked as much as the next fellow, it doesn’t, because the reasons given for slamming me never seem to match up to the reality of what I write.
Critics here have focused on a lack of substance, so I’ll try and address that in this post. I’m a bit amused at one commenter who yesterday said I understood nothing of energy. (Shh! Don’t tell my clients–I just delivered a 400-page report on alternative energy, and they’ll be ticked off…)
And I’m equally amused that I have to acknowledge that Michael Tobis (at last) got one thing right in a comment yesterday, when he wrote that the real problem we face is coal–and Chinese coal at that. (More on that in a minute.)
The LukeWarmer’s Way
The operation of CO2 as a greenhouse gas is one of the least controversial ideas in physics. The calculations that show a temperature rise of between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius if concentrations double is also widely accepted, including by all skeptic scientists without (AFAIK) exception.
We don’t know the sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of CO2, so the effects of feedbacks are not know. Activists think it is 3 degrees or higher. Contrarians think it is very low–1, maybe 2, tops, some thinking it is even lower.
If activists are right we have a very big problem on our hands. If contrarians are right we don’t. If both are wrong, there is a lukewarmer’s way.
If you believe that about 2 degrees of warming is headed our way this century, it will be a problem–probably not for those reading this, because of our fortunate geography, but for those in the developing world, who will have to add droughts, floods and heatwaves to their current long list of miseries. And it’s not really the size of the temperature rise that worries me, although having a 2 degree average means it will be greater in some places, and again, probably in the least fortunate locales. But it’s really the speed of change that will make it tough to adapt to.
So as a lukewarmer I believe that if there are ‘no regrets’ options, by which I mean things that make sense for us to do no matter what happens to the climate, that we should move quickly to do them in hopes that it will a) help prepare for whatever temperature rise comes our way and b) may serve in some small way to lessen the total temperature rise and its impacts.
The devil is in the details, obviously, and a bigger devil lies in who should decide and how much authority we give them. And we probably don’t get to pick and choose at the right level of detail.
For example, I have no problem with the EPA actively encouraging power plants to shift from old coal configurations to combined cycle natural gas. It’s not a permanent solution but it’s a quick win. But I do have a problem with them classing a school with 3 buses as a major emitter of CO2 and getting them involved in the bureaucratic nightmare of emission control.
I do not want Maurice Strong to control our approach to the world’s environmental issues. I’m reading his book right now (‘Where On Earth Are We Going?, with a foreward by Kofi Annan), and it is horribly bad, and horribly wrong. I’ll give it a full review later, but suffice it to say that I wouldn’t trust him with any responsibility at all.
But there are some in both government and science who I do trust. And I’m willing to work towards helping them get to where we need to go. If a panel composed of both Pielkes, Judith Curry, Mike Kelly, John Christy, Richard Lindzen and a few others were to work on proposed solution, I’d be pretty happy. I might be alone in my joy, I realize.
Another no regrets option I’d like to see is a review of building planning, permitting and insurance in areas that are already vulnerable to tropical storms and floods. We are in the silly situation right now where middle class workers in the Midwest are subsidizing rich people who rebuild ruined but rich second homes in Florida or Malibu Canyon.
We could also allow planes to use modern technology to choose the most fuel efficient routes, descend directly rather than in stages and unblock no-fly spaces left over from the Cold War.
I’d like to see greater use of X prizes to stimulate innovation, as it did with private spacecraft. I’d love to see prizes for utility level storage or better use of composites for distribution, or improvements to HVDC transmission. Prizes almost always work.
I’d like to see more base research done on superconductors, for example, and other technologies that are threatened with being trapped in the Valley of Investment Death.
And I don’t think that list of no regrets options is too controversial, either here or with the activists. (I’m sure I’ll hear about it if it is.)
But the real problem is counting to 3,000. Because a straight line extension of energy consumption gets us to 3,000 quads (quadrillion BTUs) by 2075, with 9.1 billion people developing at present trends and GDP growing at 3% per year.
If those 3,000 quads are supplied by burning coal, we’ll choke on the fumes, no matter what it does to temperatures. China has doubled its energy use since 2000, it may do so again by 2020, and 70% of their energy is provided by coal. The massive traffic jam into Beijing a couple of weeks ago, 90 miles long and lasting three or four days, was composed primarily of small trucks bringing coal into China’s capital. And the pollution and soot that is caused by China’s coal travels–to the Arctic, hastening ice melt and over the rest of the world, as small particulates and just general haze.
So I also advocate pushing for renewable and nuclear energy. I think we’ll need them both. Nuclear is ready to roll right now, but it’s expensive and time consuming to put up as many plants as we’re going to need. Solar is on the verge, and I’d like to give it an extra push. Natural gas is a temporary solution in terms of emissions, but at current prices we can’t ignore its advantages.
We also need to push piecemeal solutions that will not solve our problems by themselves, but are important contributors at a local level, such as geothermal power, or small hydroelectric and run-of-river installations.
No matter what you or I believe about climate change, we face an energy issue that we need to address today. Our coal plants are dramatically cleaner than they used to be. China’s are not. If we don’t want the air we breathe to taste of China’s coal, we need to work on better solutions.
And the worst of all possible worlds is where we don’t do the right thing on energy because we are at war with each other about climate change.
I’m a firm believer in markets, and I like free markets better than the other sort. I also think they work better with light regulation. I think it’s legitimate to nudge the energy market in the direction we want it to go, without giving the reins and the saddle to government bureaucracy. And I do think it can and probably will work.
So I’m not a ‘denialist.’ I’m not a ‘skeptic.’ I’m a lukewarmer–and I’m right.
Thomas Fuller http://www.redbubble.com/people/hfuller