Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fate of the World - PowerFlip 2036


Dano writes to Eli

“I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.” – Blaise Pascal

Two things the bunnies may have noticed about recent denialist complaining: the recycling of the “models can’t predict” talking point has grown quite loud, assertive and certain, and of course the increase in noise of the “no warming since 1998” talking point. We’re not here at the bar, sharing a carrot juice, to give these serious consideration - except for background to the following, in the context of head bunny Eli’s revealing recent posts about RP Jr/Revkin, and why denialists deny.

First a little background for the journey.

Bunnies may have read Michael Mann’s recent SciAm article about the climate danger threshold. Basically, he calculated when the tipping point would be depending on likely Equilibrium Climate Sensitivities (ECS). The headline of this SciAm piece said it would be the year 2036 – in many of your lifetimes. A good chance not mine, but maybe yours. Mann also said that if the Faux Pause is robust and continues, the tipping point/threshold is extended ~10 years.

As the chorus of voices saying ‘we should do something’ grows louder, getting close on dates (‘by when’) is important (and perhaps the motivation behind the increasing number of disinformation transmissions about “models can’t predict”).

Recently Eli shared with us some of the interesting backgrounds of a couple dwellers in the Wegmanesque Web of so-called “honest brokers”, who want you to believe we shouldn’t rush into things let we upset the delicate confidence of the rentier class job creators. As the bunnies know, the longer we wait the greater the future costs (and less hit to profits next quarter). The last press releases on costs if we start now are a mere annual reductions of global GDP of 1.7% in 2030 and 4.8% in 2100 compared to a baseline growth of 300 to 900% in the century.

This amounts to an annualized cost of 0.06% compared to baseline growth of 1.6 to 3% per year.  In other words, the cost, IF WE START NOW, is in the noise (cue collective gasp from the usual suspects) – this doesn’t comport with the soothing sounds from the honest brokers. And having a date in the near future makes honest brokering seem specious. But golly, maybe it’s too late anyways and so all our money should go into adaptation. So what to believe?

Well, maybe first we should have a better dialogue on what are these ‘thresholds’ or ‘tipping points’ or ‘inflection points’, depending on your discipline – I say “tipping points” in ecological contexts or “a-ha moments” if talking about social diffusion.

What is a tipping point in ecology/society? It is merely this: a point that indicates a change of state to a new state or condition. A “flip” in state, if you will, to a new state. A new system takes over, with new drivers and new outcomes. That’s it.

Depending on the system, that “point” might have a time scale of a year, a day, a decade. The important thing is that there will be a new state, with new drivers, new energy flows, new reactions to disturbance. Biota – living things – now have to react to new inputs, new flows, new  changes in nutrient cycling for which they may or may not be adapted (or have the ability to adapt to).

Since there has been no large-scale state change since the end of the last ice age, human societies have no record to draw on for guidance on how to go forth in this new state (or, also a possibility, transitional state). Doubly troubling – the climate’s temperature has been quite steady since stabilizing after the last glaciation, a rarity in the global record as we understand it.

Is this a “catastrophe” and should the denialists start screaming CAGW!! or what? We don’t know. We’ve never done this before. Risk managers, generals, and some leaders might not like the chance that society as we know it – constructed on $trillions of sunk costs – might change on large scales and some of that investment in society will be literally sunk.

To me, most importantly, we’ve never grown food in a system that’s flipped to a new state – and nested in other systems that may or may not flip, further increasing uncertainty and fostering emergent conditions (that’s ecologyspeak for ‘surprise”). This article on the challenges to adapt food systems to human population and diminished terrestrial resources in 2050 seems to me to have an undercurrent of system brittleness to it, and doesn’t really mention climate disruption to a realistic degree. Pile on the fact that we’ve only just begun to urbanize and we are nowhere close to figuring out how to get along and trade fairly with one another, and the challenges are daunting.

But that is not to say this is a “catastrophe”. There will be monumental changes. There will be risk. And loss. And disruption. And less – there will likely be much less if the population sustains only a small hit. We will have a hard landing or a soft landing, but that depends upon us. Can we actually learn to get along with each other in order to continue after the disruptions?

Maybe the denialists deny because they know they do not get along well with those outside their tribe and they will have to after the tipping point. I won’t give them that much credit for thinking it through, though, and will stick with: denialists deny to protect their self-identity.

One other thing: two interesting recent articles were published in the wake of all this recent publishing and posturing, about our ability to conceptualize and face what’s coming. One from an old, hard environmental activist and one from an environmental history `professor, both saying about the same thing. More pop psychology, anyone? Me, I’ll have another carrot juice from that bartender with the very shiny fur. Mmmmmmm.

28 comments:

atomic spambots with military boots at large said...
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Em Soares eu Creio os ministros que Abril nos deu são piores que Hitler e Mussolini ou agente leu mal? said...
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it's nice plowshare the ukranian top soil and you're fine said...

you don't like the plowshare effect

Rattus Norvegicus said...

Man, you are infested with bots...

Somewhat off topic, but maybe not. Tonight's episode of Cosmos has the story of yet another industry funded attempt to spread FUD, this time about the dangers of lead in the environment. It is a great story about C. C. Patterson who discovered that lead in the environment was coming from lead in gasoline. Well worth a look if you have the time. It is currently on the front page, but the name of the episode is "A Grave Threat".

http://www.cosmosontv.com/

Susan Anderson said...

Yes, that Cosmos effort was excellent (but I still dislike the graphics). Fascinating on Fox!

Bernard J. said...

Inaction in the rapidly diminishing period of "almost too late" (a period which I am convinced is actually already into negative value territory) reminds me of some of my students when they approach an assignment/essay/report deadline.

They start off with "oh, there's plenty of time" and progress to "gee, it's getting close but I'll make it" and thence to "shit, I'd better hurry". Then at the eleventh hour they commence a frantic attempt to complete the task before the blade falls. They beg for extensions and seem amazed when none is granted. Sometimes benevolence is their friend and they are lucky, but then they catch the 'flu/break their leg/succumb to acute simultaneous idiopathic bradyphrenia and akinesia, their house is crushed by a falling tree/burns down/flies to Kansas in a Cat 11 tornado, their dog/grandmother/conjoined twin dies, their computer fries/is hacked by Russian mobsters/reverts to its 1901 settings/stolen by aliens, and/or any of a range of other predictable and not-so-predictable occurrences intervene.

If they really did try they manage to get the marks they deserve, and may even scrape through to a High Distinction. If they didn't properly fulfill their responsibilities given the time and the warnings that the admonishments that were provided a prior, they still get the marks they deserve, but they are never happy with their well-earn Fail.

Currenty the global community of politicians and corporate bosses - along with their supporting electors and share-holders - are lining up with the classic I-spilled-my-sugared-coffee-on-my-homework-and-the-cockroaches-ate-it-whilst-it-dried-overnight excuse. They might fool their dumb-arse classmates with such nonsense, but Nature and her laws are implacable graders, and the global community will get what it deserves.

Which on the present trajectory is one of those big fat Fails, because even if an extension is miraculously granted those forseeable and unforseeable confounders all need to disappear, and there's no way in a parsimonious universe that that is going to happen.

Bernard J. said...

...a priori...

Anonymous said...

Error 404 on the links...

Bernard J. said...

...well-earned...

...currently...


[Grade: pass. Could do much better...]


And to rub salt into the wound Recaptcha gloats "confixi could"...

And Then There's Physics said...

This amounts to an annualized cost of 0.06% compared to baseline growth of 1.6 to 3% per year. In other words, the cost, IF WE START NOW, is in the noise
I think this is an important point. It really does seem to be in the noise that it should be regarded as essentially zero. Unless, I've done my sums wrong, in 2070 a world with no climate change and no mitigation would be 5.3 times richer than we are now. If we mitigate and it reduces growth by 0.06% per year, it would be 5.1 times richer.

EliRabett said...

Fixed the links, cursed the Gates/Jobs.

Russell Seitz said...

Is there a tipping point that will stay the usual suspects from returning to the same mountaintop every Tuesday?

Anonymous said...

"The dramatic nature of global warming captured world attention in 2001, when the IPCC published a graph that my co-authors and I devised"

Anonymous said...

My god, what dreadful, vacuous comments. At least the extreme environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth had something provocative to say.

Yes, he has thrown in the towel and actively grieving the loss of the natural world past the tipping point. While, I am not there yet, the tipping point will crush the children of our children and nobody seems to give a damn. Sad us. Sad display of emotions. More reasons our children and certainly our grandchildren will learn to hate us.

Read Paul Kingsnorth's piece and look your young family members in the eyes and tell them you missed the turning point somewhere back there. Sorry!

John McCormick

Para a Posteridade e mais Além said...
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than there's lack of logic said...
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EliRabett said...

OK had your fun. Game is over

-the Management

Anonymous said...

Tipsy points?

Aaron said...

Since there is a ~50 year lag in the system, I thought that MM might have been saying that the system had tipped circa CO2 @ 350 ppmv.

Then, after 50 years the feedbacks would accumulate and become obvious, and we would have our a-ha moment.

Ever the optimist, I think that sea level rise will cure denial. I find that treading water enhances clarity of thought.

Russell Seitz said...

"I find that treading water enhances clarity of thought."

It has been known to have the opposite effect on the water.

Deech56 said...

Any thoughts to giving Dano a by-line? It would be nice to have his musings in one place rather than scattered in various blog comments sections.

EliRabett said...

Well yes. As Eli said, he writes to Eli

Chris_Winter said...

Just for perspective (and to pummel a possibly moribund equine):

There is always funding for a recognized crisis (recognized by the political leadership, that is). What was the cost of the War in Iraq, as a percentage of America's GDP? Spreading Joseph Stiglitz's estimate of $1 to $3 trillion as the cost of the war over five years, and using the World Bank figure for 2012 GDP ($16.24 T) I calculate it as 1.2% to 3.7%.

Both the total cost and the five-year span may be disputed, but even more conservative estimates will probably leave the war's economic impact well above that projected for climate-change mitigation. My point is that ideology strongly affects the importance given to crisis response.

The cynical old adage also applies: "There's never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over."

FrankD said...

OT, but BernardJ's post reminds me of a story my father used to tell. He was working full time, studying architecture part time and about to become a father for the first time.

He had just finished work on a medium-sized assessment piece due that afternoon when Mum went into labour. He arrived at the university the next morning to hand in the work, only to have his professor (feared and revered in equal measure) growl "no extensions".

"But, Professor, my first child was born last night!"
"So congratulations. But you've known that was going to happen for months. No extensions!"

And that was that. Dad managed to scrape enough marks on other work to pass the subject, but neither he, nor anyone else, even bothered to ask that professor for an extension on anything, ever.

"Sometime it's your role in life to serve as a warning to others."

If Nature is Professor Janeba, I can only hope that we, colelctively, manage to get enough marks to scrape a pass. But I doubt that's where the smart money is.

Russell Seitz said...

"The cynical old adage also applies: "There's never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over."

This may be less a cynical old adage than the current neocon view of The Thirty Years War

Dano said...

"The cynical old adage also applies: "There's never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over."

A truism.

My buddy who retired from the US Navy says it this way: "there's never enough time and money to do it right the first time, but there's always enough time and money to do it right the second time."

Best,

D

ok, you had your fun? said...

fun? this is a very sad thing the b-loki

Hank Roberts said...

> the second time

Yeah. For Earth, we're the second try. First try, the dinosaurs failed to get a space program working soon enough.

This time, well, status report:
https://royalsociety.org/events/2013/climatescience-next-steps/
(they're .mp3 files, just audio)

http://downloads.royalsociety.org/events/2013/climatescience-next-steps/lequere.mp3 (jump to around 25:00)