Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Cyanobacteria's Friend and Obama's Second Speech

Ray Pierrehumbert writes about President Obama's speech in Slate

One should be grateful for a president who is willing to stand up and declare—as President Obama did in his speech Tuesday announcing his long-awaited climate action plan—that global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions is a serious problem requiring serious measures, and that “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.” After all, as presidents go, we could have done much worse. President Obama is working under serious constraints in the form of a completely uncooperative Congress, and insofar as there is no real substitute for congressional action, there are limits to what he can be expected to do. One can always hope, but anybody hoping for a miracle in the unveiling of Obama's plan will be severely disappointed.
concluding that
So, the decarbonization measures in Obama's plan are good and constructive steps. They include a number of other sensible ideas beyond what I have already discussed, such as worldwide efforts to eliminate perverse subsidies for fossil fuels, substantial reduction of financing of foreign coal-fired power plants, and measures to increase the use of renewables and to improve energy efficiency. But all these measures still don't add up to anything like what is really needed, and nobody should succumb to the illusion that they do. The good news, however, is that Obama has brought the dialogue around to the nature of the solutions to the decarbonization problem. The solutions are many and various, mostly boring and prosaic—and not frightening. They are not precisely painless and risk-free, but neither are they the sort of challenges that Americans have shied away from in the past. President Obama has made a start on leading the nation and world down this path. Where he actually leads, and how much following he picks up, will make all the difference.
In reply (well, sort of) President Obama continues in his Saturday radio talk (text below)

Ray, and Obama are correct.  There is much work to be done first to shift the Overton window, the center of discourse, so that it no longer offers a picture window view of the Flat Earth Society rallies.  Unfortunately, the US has come to the point where such shifting is a necessity for any action on the challenges of climate change.

Here is Obama's talk
Hi everybody.  A few days ago, I unveiled a new national plan to confront the growing threat of a changing climate. 
Decades of carefully reviewed science tells us our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on the world we leave to our children.  Already, we know that the 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15, and that last year was the warmest in American history.  And while we know no single weather event is caused solely by climate change, we also know that in a world that’s getting warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by it – more extreme droughts, floods, wildfires, and hurricanes.
Those who already feel the effects of a changing climate don’t have time to deny it – they’re busy dealing with it.  The firefighters who brave longer wildfire seasons.  The farmers who see crops wilted one year, and washed away the next.  Western families worried about water that’s drying up. 
The cost of these events can be measured in lost lives and livelihoods, lost homes and businesses, and hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief.  And Americans across the country are already paying the price of inaction in higher food costs, insurance premiums, and the tab for rebuilding.
The question is not whether we need to act.  The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.
The national Climate Action Plan I unveiled will cut carbon pollution, protect our country from the impacts of climate change, and lead the world in a coordinated assault on a changing climate.
To reduce carbon pollution, I’ve directed the Environmental Protection Agency to work with states and businesses to set new standards that put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants.  We’ll use more clean energy and waste less energy throughout our economy. 
To prepare Americans for the impacts of climate change we can’t stop, we’ll work with communities to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure to protect our homes and businesses, and withstand more powerful storms. 
And America will lead global efforts to combat the threat of a changing climate by encouraging developing nations to transition to cleaner sources of energy, and by engaging our international partners in this fight – for while we compete for business, we also share a planet.  And we must all shoulder the responsibility for its future together.
This is the fight America can and will lead in the 21st century.  But it will require all of us, as citizens, to do our part.  We’ll need scientists to design new fuels, and farmers to grow them.   We’ll need engineers to devise new technologies, and businesses to make and sell them.  We’ll need workers to man assembly lines that hum with high-tech, zero-carbon components, and builders to hammer into place the foundations for a new clean energy age.  We’ll need to give special care to people and communities unsettled by this transition.  And those of us in positions of responsibility will need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of our children. 
If you agree with me, I’ll need you to act.  Educate your classmates and colleagues, your family and friends.  Speak up in your communities.  Remind everyone who represents you, at every level of government, that there is no contradiction between a sound environment and a strong economy – and that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.
We will be judged – as a people, as a society, and as a country – on where we go from here.  The plan I have put forward to reduce carbon pollution and protect our country from the effects of climate change is the path we need to take.  And if we remember what’s at stake – the world we leave to our children – I’m convinced that this is a challenge that we will meet.
Thank you, and have a great weekend.


raypierre said...

A small correction: I would not, strictly speaking, describe myself as "the cyanobacteria's friend," though of course I am grateful to them (aren't we all?) for the air we breathe. I think that the cyanobacteria took a very grave risk by ignoring he cautionary warnings of the Interplanetary Panel on Changes in the Oxidation States of Planets. The fact that they lucked out, after two billion years or so and a safe transition to the Phanerozoic (hey, what's a few Snowball Earths among friends?) does not justify the enormous risks taken.

Anonymous said...

How do people get away with the lie of exaggeration about climate change?

Intellectually, they must know that the forcing and temperature change are minor.

They must know that fossil fuel use, carbon dioxide, and a warming planet all have large benefits for humans ( albeit temporarily until the earth reclaims the air borne amount ).

How do they continue to convince themselves and others of calamity?


Hank Roberts said...

In other news, natural gas has become too cheap to pay landowners for:

EliRabett said...

The cyanobacteria's press secretary?

EliRabett said...

Eunice, Eli takes it that you are planning to live for a thousand years or so, the next couple of hundred underground?

The issue is do something now or be prepared to wait out the four horsemen of climate change, war, famine, Monckton and Bast.

Hank Roberts said...

Eunice, jellyfish sandwich?

About a decade ago, Canfield (1) offered a very different possibility—that ventilation of the deep ocean lagged behind the GOE by more than a billion years, resulting in a vast, deep reservoir of hydrogen sulfide, but long-held presumptions about photosynthetic life in the surface waters remained untouched. In the first comprehensive biogeochemical model of this “Canfield Ocean,” Johnston et al. (2) in a recent issue of PNAS present a stunningly different take on those early photosynthesizers—one in which the upper, light-containing layers indeed drove biological production but without the expected concomitant release of oxygen. And it is this feedback that may explain a troubling uncertainty about the Canfield Ocean and this time interval in general—exactly how oxygen in the biosphere remained at only a fraction of modern levels for so long after the GOE.

Russell Seitz said...

be prepared to wait out the four horsemen of climate change, war, famine, Monckton and Bast

Have the last two ever been seen on a horse?

EliRabett said...

The one they came in on.

Anonymous said...


"...they must know that the forcing and temperature change are minor"

What is you basis for this assumption? References? Evidence? Comparisons?

"They must know that fossil fuel use, carbon dioxide, and a warming planet all have large benefits for humans ( albeit temporarily until the earth reclaims the air borne amount )."

What are the "benefits" to the planet of warming and of carbon dioxide, relative to the harm? References? Evidence? Comparisons?

Curious people would like to know.

Bernard J.

Hank Roberts said...

Wrong Eunice, I think.

Russell Seitz said...

Oh no!, mister Eli !

Watched the video, and it sounds like 44 has taken over from 43 as lead spokesman for Big Switchgrass.

Anonymous said...


the last third century of observations exhibit a warming trend of 1.4 C per century. That rate is lower than even the 'Low Scenario' of the IPCC and far less than intimated scenarios.

Humans ( and other inhabitants of the planet ) have evolved through numerous glacial cycles. It is in our genes to cope with far more than what we've seen.

The temperature change is the easiest to measure but the claims of secondary 'climate change' identifiable as a problem are growing weaker.

Use of cheap, readily available fossil fuel is a huge benefit we take for granted ( until gas prices surge ).

CO2 is of course a potent plant fertilizer increasing plant growth and crop yield.

Other benefits may be marginal ( as the detriments may be ) but it is worth remembering that human mortality strongly peaks in the cold season and strongly troughs in the warm season.

It's also worth remembering that the 'cradle of civilization' took place when orbital variations gave Mesopotamia ( and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere ) much hotter summers.

Global warming is real, all right, I just wonder how the exaggeration persists.


observer said...

"Humans ( and other inhabitants of the planet ) have evolved through numerous glacial cycles. It is in our genes to cope with far more than what we've seen."

Your problem is, that you don't understand the problem.

We are not facing extinction. Of course mankind lived through numerous glacial cycles.

But first of all you don't know how many of them died because of those climate changes back then. One reason that Neanderthals became extinct may very well be those climatic changes with which they could not cope as well as other branches of humans.

And second of all and more importantly:
You are evidently not aware, that just "surviving" is not our goal. We will survive as a species even if 6 billion people would die. So what do you propose? Burn as much fossil fuel, because some people at some places in the world will survive anyway and about the rest we shouldn't give a rat's ass?

You are aware, that all our agriculture is based on the current climate? You are aware that our farmland is located at those places, where temperatures, precipitation and so forth are well-suited for farming? You are aware that farming developed entirely during the Holocene and never lived through a glacial cycle? You are aware, that all our crops therefore are all bred in a way that they are suited for our current climate?

You are aware that many of our big cities are located at sea level, because they have ports. You are aware, that warmer temperatures entail higher sea level and that we therefore would have to constantly move and rebuild a lot of infrastructure during that transition?

You are aware that people have settled mainly there on earth, where climatic conditions are so, that living and farming is suited in this area. Most people don't live in deserts or the arctic. Big changes (and 2-3°C would be a huge difference, having in mind that the difference between glacials and interglacials is only about 4°C) in climatic conditions would also bring big changes to where people can live on this planet. So, people would have to move, and not a few thousand, but in a big way, i.e. hundreds of million of people. You are aware, that most countries and societies on earth will not be happy, if they would have to share there country suddenly with millions of foreigners, that want to come there because their country is a loser of climate change and the other country might have gained an advantage or just not be hit as hard?

So, that does not mean, that our climate is the optimal climate under all conditions. But it does mean that our climate is the one, to which our agriculture, infrastructure, country borders and societies are adapted to. A changing climate will also change and affect all that things that are based on it. And if that change it to rapid, that will cause enormous economic, social and political problems. The problem is therefore not, that we might get extinct. The problem is, that many people (especially in the poorer countries that are less able to adapt to climatic changes) might die because of the things mentioned above and that we (in the western world) have reached a certain quality of life and wealth, that we don't want to lose, just because some people don't get the problem we are facing!

Anonymous said...

Observer, you've given me a lot to work with but most of it is exaggeration, starting with temperature assessments twice as high as the observed century rate of 1.4C.

"You are aware, that all our agriculture is based on the current climate? "

Is not really true.

Corn started in central America and while it has been selected, it exhibits a fairly wide tolerance.

No one really knows what changes will occur, but heat is exaggerated in effect. Dynamics determine largely when and where precipitation falls and that is a determined largely by fairly constant rotation of the earth, orbital variation, and the location of the oceans and continents.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous misses some crucial aspects about farming:

" Dynamics determine largely when and where precipitation falls."

Temperature affects absolute humidity, which determines how much precipitation falls.

Rib Smokin' Bunny