Thursday, November 05, 2015

Steve Koonin: One of America's Worst Humans


Credit xkcd
Eli's attention in the comments has been drawn to a rather superficial analysis of the situation the world finds itself in by Steve Koonin whom the bunnies have met before. Koonin appears not to have taken Andy Lacis' advice to spend time to understanding the physics of climate change better and that small changes in the wrong place are what brings prosperity to undertakers. As Lacis said about Koonin's belittling the effect of small changes in global temperature
. . it is also well known that a seemingly small change (up or down) in absolute body temperature by only 1% (3.1 K, or 5.6 F) would make one sicker than a dog, and, that a 2% change in body temperature (up or down by 6.2 K, or 11.2 F) will virtually guarantee a dead body. From this, it should be sufficiently clear that, when viewed in absolute energy terms, the viable margin between life and death in the Earth’s biosphere is remarkably narrow – so much so that a seemingly insignificant 1% to 2% change in the total energy of the global environment will invariably result in serious disruption of the established infrastructure of life in the biosphere.
However, give the lad credit, Koonin is only worried about the next 80 or so years, by which time he is certain to be not worried. As Eli pointed out long ago we lost time to those clowns when they opposed the Montreal Protocols, we lost time to those clowns when they opposed actions on climate change, and we are about to lose more time when they try and tell us that nothing can be done so sit back and enjoy the ride, which is, of course, what Koonin has now graduated to. 
These scientific and societal realities compound to make stabilization of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, let alone its reduction, a distant prospect. As a result, even as the world struggles to reduce emissions, human influences on the climate will not be decreasing for many decades. Thus, adaptation measures such as raising the height of sea walls or shifting to drought-resistant crops become very important. Fortunately, adaptation is on the table in Paris to complement emissions reductions.
Adaptation is not the only choice. You can die. Your family can die. Your situation can deteriorate to the point it is not worth living (see Somalia, Syria, dystopia, etc.). Happens frequently to individuals during major changes. Adaptation is not a magic wand that makes everything good again, and sometimes it is not possible, certainly not for individuals, and often enough, not possible for populations.

Advocates of adaptation frequently think that it is a strategy for others and they will not have to take part.

Simply to say adapt and go not further is a response of the ethically challenged. Adapt how, at what cost, in money and lives and quality of life. Avoiding situations where dire choices have to be made is advisable, but evidently not to those who would rather not confront necessary changes to their own behavior.

Eli is not a big fan of adaptation.

Even so, being a bunny of good will, gentle reader, allow Eli to accept the idea that human influences on the climate will not be decreasing for many decades.  This of course, misses the reality that if the nations of the world accept Steve Koonin's advice, human influences on the climate will be INCREASING for many decades, which brings us to J. Willard Rabett's four laws of climate change
1. Adaptation responds to current losses.
2. Mitigation responds to future losses
3. Adaptation plus future costs is more expensive than mitigation,
4. Adaptation without mitigation drives procrastination penalties to infinity.
Steve Koonin figures he won't be around to pay the procrastination penalties, but he doesn't want to pay mitigation costs today for the damage he has done.

34 comments:

Russell Seitz said...

Eli is not a big fan of demography.

What ever do the hundreds of millions of evil people who have moved uo-isotherm towards the equator in the last 80 years think they are doing ?

Embracing their inner climate demons ? Pursuing happiness ? Going south to oogle all the tropical biodiversity ?

It just isn't fair to the Inuit, innit?

izenmeme said...

I find it difficult to discover examples of significant forward planning, the mitigation of future harm in the historical record of human governance.
Policy most often seems to made on a purely reactive basis. Good Adaption is therefore a valued quality for governments.

There is one root example of mitigation in the collective history of human societies. Unfortunately it describes the rise of autocratic rule, the dispossession of the general populace of their land, crops and freedom, eventually being forced into a slave workforce.
All on the word of an expert at predicting the future who told a power-hungry leader how to have total control with a seven year plan.
No science required to trigger a totalitarian takeover in that case, just a technicolor dreamcoat.

Mal Adapted said...

"Eli is not a big fan of adaptation."

I presume that's because it's just another excuse for lukewarmers to keep externalizing the climate costs of their own comfort and convenience. Many of them know that "adaptation" means millions of people lose their homes, livelihoods and lives, but those people mostly aren't like us, so what's the problem?

To be fair, there's ample historical precedent for that attitude.

Russell Seitz said...

There is one root example of mitigation in the collective history of human societies. Unfortunately it describes the rise of autocratic rule, the dispossession of the general populace of their land, crops and freedom, eventually being forced into a slave workforce.

Little do those who move to the Sun Belt suspect what lies in wait for them.

JonnieG said...

As much as we all may not be fans of the adaptation solution, adaption is fast becoming the reality with the argument being to what degree and what kind based upon how much we do now. Forget worrying about mass migrations and wars in other countries which will likely be bad enough. What galls me is that I (or rather my children and grandchildren, etc.) will be asked/required to pay the big bucks in taxes necessary to relocate/subsidize in the US those (private and businesses) with expensive properties on coastlines, in areas marginally habital due to excess heat or lack of water, and who knows what else. Think Miami, New York, New Orleans, Boston as examples. The diversion of capital to pay for nonproductive adaptation activities will have a substantial impact on economic viability locally, nationally and internationally. Or, maybe not if we require those who don't react now pay and get out of the way, use their equity to pay their full share when the bill comes due.

izenmeme said...

@-JonnieG
"Forget worrying about mass migrations and wars in other countries which will likely be bad enough. .... Think Miami, New York, New Orleans, Boston as examples. The diversion of capital to pay for nonproductive adaptation activities will have a substantial impact on economic viability locally, nationally and internationally."

Alternatives.
1- All the necessary adaption work will create full employment, invigorate the economy and prove to be a massive boost to the capabilities of human societies.
2- The mass migrants from wars, drought and floods will obviate the need to develop autonomous robot drones to build all the seawalls and adaptive infrastructure.
Might need the autonomous robot drones to make them work though...

Nick said...

Koonin: "Fortunately, adaptation is on the table in Paris to complement emissions reductions."

'Fortunately?' Was adaption a last minute add-on, Steve? Almost left off the agenda through through sending a unproofed draft to the printers?

I've never understood how anyone could fail to see fundamentally that mitigation is adaption, anyway.

Hank Roberts said...

> Adaptation without mitigation drives procrastination penalties to future

is what you mean there, mere decades are enough for the more short-sighted/selfish.

Bernard J. said...

"Eli is not a big fan of adaptation."

Nor is Bernard J., and thus it has been for years.

As Prof Rabbet and others note, there is a Law: that adaptation is what you do after you've done everything else. Otherwise you're just painting over the rust spots while that sea spray continues to sugar-coat one's ironwork.



Adn Russell says:

"What ever do the hundreds of millions of evil people who have moved uo-isotherm towards the equator in the last 80 years think they are doing ?

Embracing their inner climate demons ? Pursuing happiness ? Going south to oogle all the tropical biodiversity ?
"

I presume that the spaces preceding the question marks are to allow for the logical fallacy that you've placed implicitly in every sentence.

You're a smart man Russell: surely you can grok why you're comparing apples to durians?

Aaron said...

I trust Karma.

I expect Koonin will have to explain his actions to friends and family. What he has written and done will haunt his memory until the end of civilization. I hope that someday his heirs will go back and chisel the truth on his tombstone -- "He was stupid!"

The Nazis and the Khmer Rouge are lucky. Currently, they are high on the list of villains of history. They will be eclipsed by the folk who delayed and hampered actions to control global warming.

Altogether, the Nazis and Khmer Rouge did not come close to killing 50 million people. A few years delay on actions to avoid the worst of AGW could kill billions and cost us civilization.

Some will accuse me of being over dramatic. However, I remind them that the models being used by the IPCC and for the Paris Agreement do not include carbon feedbacks from permafrost or clathrates, or the discontinuous processes in ice sheet collapse.

NOAA's attribution of the California Drought is silly. It assumes that our weather system at 350 ppm CO2 and competent Arctic sea ice behaves the same as the system at 400 ppm CO2 with fractured Arctic sea ice. In fact, the drought is weather, determined by current, short term conditions. If we use the short term CH4 equivalent of CO2 forcing (~80), and all other AGW greenhouse gases then the current forcing is closer to 600 ppmve. That is the forcing that needs to be plugged into a regional climate model to see if current weather is being driven by AGW. These days, AGW affects all weather. It make the droughts drier, the rains heavier, the snows deeper, and the heat waves hotter. And, AGW results in "blocking" events that cause weather to linger.

The driver for the record CA drought is the same as the driver that allows month after month to be warmer than the 20th century average for that month. The certainty is as high as the odds that we could get 240 consecutive months that were warmer than than the average of the respective month in the 20th century. (warmer, equal to, or cooler; e.g., 1/3 ^ 240). One problem is that academic reticence does not allow for that level of certainty. The other two problems are that folks at NOAA (and other agencies) have not realized how much the world has already changed, and that folks like Koonin facilitated that change.

http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_you_ve_ever_seen

Russell Seitz said...

Bernard, adaptation to a delta T of 2 degrees is what you every time you travel 200 km north or south,
Adaptation to a delta T of 5 degrees is what folks do when they move from Boston to DC or Frisco to LA
Adaptation over a range of 40 degrees is what our species did before the invention of the steam engine led to the homogenization of the biosphere by colonial flora and fauna transplants.

Your innate conservatism does you credit, but that such changes transformative are often transformative does not make them existential threats, especially to people that don't exist yet.

I suspect Steve Koonin doesn't grok why you don't grok the thermal mass of the hydrosphere:

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Ok, Russel, how well do you grapple with existential threats, then.

Will you personally be able to adapt to me, personally, when I get pissed off? It's a small world. Let's see how that concept works out for you, theoretically. You exist, I exist, everyone in the world exists, right now. And from the looks of it, they're all pissed off.

Brian said...

What I want is adaptation paid for by a price on carbon. Years back I asked RPJr, then on a tear about adaptation, if he'd support that and he was indifferent.

Beyond that, I think the political will to do some mitigation is often correlated with the will to adapt. Cf California and North Carolina approaches to climate and sea level rise. But adaptation without mitigation is a recipe for dunces and disaster.

Speaking of Koonin's article, this "even if global emissions could be reduced by a heroic average 20 percent from their “business as usual” course over the next 50 years" is ridiculous. What's heroic about a 20% reduction by 2065? Heroic but achievable would be OECD countries at net neutral emissions by 2050, and the whole world moving to net negative by 2065.

Bernard J. said...

"Bernard, adaptation to a delta T of 2 degrees is what you every time you travel 200 km north or south,
Adaptation to a delta T of 5 degrees is what folks do when they move from Boston to DC or Frisco to LA
Adaptation over a range of 40 degrees is what our species did before the invention of the steam engine led to the homogenization of the biosphere by colonial flora and fauna transplants.
"

Actually, no.

When one moves to a different region on the planet one is adapting to a place with a different mean local temperature but with the same mean global temperature. Raising the mean temperature of the entire globe is very different than simply going to a new locale and adjusting to the temperature there.

And as far as ecosystems go, a few degrees difference is all the difference in the world. It's why we have ecotones, and indeed sharp boundaries such as snow lines and nothofagus forests abutting sclerophyll forests, for example. A few degrees difference in mean ambient temperature matters to species and to ecosystems as much as is does to humans who aren't clothed and huddled in artificial sheltered heated/cooled by the juice from several hundred million years of compressed leaves and dinosaur carcasses.

It has nothing to do with conservatism, Russell, and a lot to do with thermal ecophysiology. An organism's response to ambient temperature is not the same at different time scales, because so many factors are involved both in how species and ecosystems respond to temperature fluctuations of different duration, and because an increase in the mean global temperature will result in vastly different temperature profiles and local scales of space and time.

I'm surprised that a person as intelligent as you, and as exposed to basic ecology as you must be having read various scientific blogs for years, doesn't understand the fundamental logical fallacy in which you engage when you compare walking from the bottom of a mountain to the top with raising the temperature of the planet to something not seen since before mammals were a glint in evolution's eye.

John said...

I'd suggest that the word "adaption" was chosen not so much as an accurate description of an approach to climate change but more as a Luntzian-crafted strategy in language twisting to promote the ends of those who push it.

"Adapt" has a passive, long-term, almost automatic, aspect presumably inculcated from its generally incorrect use in description of biological evolution.
( Lysenkoism aside.)

At best, a policy of adaption implies only reaction to unavoidable problems but specifically precludes preparation for same. (Although there will still be those who say: "before consideration of the NEW seawall, we must to be sure that our observed 'hiatus' in sea level rise, in former lower Manhattan, is not followed by our predicted steep fall, etc., etc., etc. ... ")

The effects of ACC thus become far better than hysteria about the USSR, terrorism, or even the dreaded anchor babies (!!!) in promoting the apparently preferred state of perpetual crisis.

John Puma

Russell Seitz said...

Bernard, I'm surprised you've never looked at the degree to which the tangled banks around you reflect the adptav=bility of ecotremes-- all of them have survived a degree of climate change in the last few human generations, during which humanity as expanded in range and numbers in proportion to its economic prosperity.

The greatest educational opportunity COP paris affords is the exposure of those attending to the doceur du vivre of a nation thriving on an abundance of nuclear power.
Check itout !

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Russel is still pushing the meme that human heat prostration is going to be the big problem in the future. But I know that Russell says this stupid crap in order to defend his brother's legacy, and Russell knows that his and his brother's legacy will only be indefensible when both Russell and his brother are gone. What Russell doesn't understand is that there are already seven billion pissed off people in the world, and it won't take much climate pressure to really piss them off more.

10 to 12 billion pissed off insane religious nutjobs. What a concept.

cog said...

Adaptation is always for the future humans not for us in the now. Somehow we in the present are unable to adapt even a little by changing our habits ever so slightly but they will be able to handle massive changes with little difficulty. If we start adapting now by mitigating our emissions our economy is doomed but our grandchildren will be much more willing to sacrifice and will certainly not kick the can even further down the road because it is too hard.

Bryson said...

Not to beat a dead horse, but Russell seems to imagine that our various sources of food supply and other essential services would survive being transported from temperate, moist regions to hotter, drier conditions (and possibly places where most precipitation takes the form of sudden, intense storms instead of periods of gentle, steady rain). I gather he didn't grow up on a farm...

Russell Seitz said...

Bryson, Africa is largely fed by a crop transported to its hotter , drier climes from the moist temperate uplands of Central America, and Russia's bread still largely comes from the warmer, drier Ukraine.

Random number's latest screed is as incoherent as his handle- my brother's metier is tennis photography.

Bryson said...

Diminished yields and droughts don't worry you? Sea level rise is no problem? Political instability and refugee crises may spread, but brave Russell will lead us into the valley of a new and increasingly unstable climate and he shall fear no evil! (And the big fool said to push on...)

Russell Seitz said...

Bryson, to a first approximation, the tropics have been marching north by a degree or two per century since the Industrial Revolution began.

Next spring, go to the middle of the Kansas corn belt, or the wheatfields of Nebraska, and walk north for a week , and what do you see?

Get back to us when you've pushed on to where you see something completely different, and tell us how many degrees of latitude you had to cover to achieve that change of scene.

Do you know of any serious GCM scenarios that project that number of degrees of warming?

Kevin O'Neill said...

Russell writes: "Do you know of any serious GCM scenarios that project that number of degrees of warming?"

A facile argument that has been answered before. It does not take the tropics to move into the mid-latitudes to make significant changes happen.

The ice-on/ice-off dates for freshwater lakes in the central US moved northwards by 100 miles from 1975 to 2004. Spring is arriving a couple of days earlier every decade and winter arriving later. Just the timing issues alone can cause severe consequences for plants and animals and ultimately humans.

It is also the case that as some crops become unviable on their present lands, one simply cannot move north and grow them. There isn't always arable land available further north. Southcentral Wisconsin and southcentral Minnesota are two good examples. The northern third of each of those states is unsuited for farming.

There is the additional burden of new insects and animals that can migrate north into new areas as the temperatures increase. Native plants do not always have built-in resistance to foreign invaders. Global warming has been cites as one of the factors that has led to the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic.

The net gain/cost for any particular area for a specific degree of warming is a complex calculation where many of the variables are not just known unknowns, but probably contain quite a few unknown unknowns as well. Pretending otherwise is akin to wearing an ostrich costume - and Halloween is over. You just look silly.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

"Next spring, go to the middle of the Kansas corn belt, or the wheatfields of Nebraska, and walk north for a week , and what do you see?"

You will see ... corn ... where previously there was biodiversity.

That's Russell's view of ... life on Earth. Corn. Humans. Awesome.

I can't wait to see the look on Russell's face when the hand he feeds, bites him.

Bryson said...

Russell, it's hard to take your seriously, but I'll try. As Kevin says, there are many factors involved, from geography to pest life-cycles to precipitation patterns, crop sensitivity to high temperatures and more. The impact of climate change proceeding at rapidly accelerating rates is not comparable to moving south in a stable climate with crops, humans and their geographic needs and wildlife adapted to that climate. Worse, climate change to come is proceeding much more rapidly than climate change past. So the pretense that this is all trivial and nothing to worry about is just plain silly.

Russell Seitz said...

Bryson: your argoment is less with me than the English language>


While all of our contemporaries may not be living in the same time , we all exisit in the same present, one in which the climate system's response to radiative forcing has been anything but exponential.

However much faith you plce in global systems models , they remain metaphysical, and after four decades of resetting the doomsday clock, it's time to acknowledge, that the dystopic future delta T's predicted for now in the '70's and every decade since are reckoned to remain generations away even by those who made them:.

The future is coming , but not everyone is surprised that the physical world remains sullenly linear in its response to the thermodynamic reality of radiative forcing., or terrified by the rate of CO2 rise- be climate change to come is proceeding much more rapidly than climate change past. physical solutions, photovoltaic and nuclear, to the problem of fossil fuel burning have existed for fully two generations past, and continue to be developed. much more rapidly than climate change is unfolding.

When, not if , the energy economy is decoupled from past accumulations of solar energy by systems that enjoy the economic advantage of not requiring enormous material input streams , over those that do,

The technological acceleration of history that remains the hallmark of our times renders your assertion that "climate change to come is proceeding much more rapidly than climate change past. " as absurd as its abuse of tense is ngrammatical.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

"enormous material input streams"

Sure, Russell, solar energy routinely burns up whole mountains and lays waster to entire tracks of land, just to provide some brief and temporary personal gratification, for you. I get that now. How could I have missed that!

Russell Seitz said...

Random number continues to amaze-- the reference is to coal , oil and gas : as " past accumulation of solar energy"

Burning mountains and laying waster to 'entire tracks of land' is, IMHO, too very expensive a proposition to compete with nuclear, solar or fusion power in the long view.

Russell Seitz said...



Let me say it again once more- without the tying errors:

However much faith you place in global systems models , they remain metaphysical,: after four decades of resetting the doomsday clock, it's time to acknowledge, that the dystopic future delta T's many adduced in decades past have been passed by by history, and are reckoned to remain generations away even by those who made them, Ehrlich included.

The future is coming , but not everyone is surprised that the physical world remains sullenly linear in its response to the thermodynamic reality of radiative forcing.. It's hard to stay terrified by present rates of CO2 rise when physical solutions, to the problem of fossil fuel burning have existed for fully two generations past. and nuclear and solar poer continue to be developed more rapidly than climate change is unfolding.


I expect the energy economy to be eventually be decoupled from past accumulations of solar energy by systems that enjoy the economic advantage of not requiring enormous material input streams - because quite apart from their externalities, mining and deep drilling are very expensive endeavors.

The technological acceleration of history that remains the hallmark of our times renders the assertion that "climate change to come is proceeding much more rapidly than climate change past. " as absurd as its abuse of tense is ungrammatical.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

So in other words, the future world will just be ok with exponential population growth and exponential atmospheric carbon dioxide growth, as long as the 10 to 12 billion religious nutjobs have free corn and free electricity. Good luck with that biosphere, Russell. But you're good, because you know that you won't be around to see it happen anyways.

Bryson said...

It seems to me, Russell, that using the present participle is a reasonable way to characterize a process that's occurring now and is projected to continue. But grammatical snobbery was never my forte. For the rest, I take serious economic studies from Stern and others more seriously than techno-cargo cult predictions of miracle cures, and I take IPCC and other projections of climate change in a BAU scenario to give strong support to the claim that climate change is accelerating.

Russell Seitz said...

Why in the name of Mumbo Jumbo are you expecting technological progress to stagnate or stop ?

Bigger and better great iron birds have been delivering a hell of a lot of cargo since John Frum's day and the six order of magnitude difference in energy density between fossil and nuclear fuel remains to be exploited on a global scale.

Has your faith inspired you to place any bets on the GIss delta T ten years from now exceeding 10% of the average between the current IPCC best and worst case scenarios for 2100 ?

E. Swanson said...

Russell wrote:
Why in the name of Mumbo Jumbo are you expecting technological progress to stagnate or stop ?

How about the Law of Diminishing Returns? Newer technologies tend to be more complex and thus more expensive than that which they replace. And, as population increases, there will be less high entropy material available for each person, as the easiest to develop resources have already been recovered and consumed.

Funny that you should mention "John Frum", referring to the Cargo Cult in Vanuatu. As fate would have it, that area experienced what has been called one of the greatest volcanic eruption in the past 10,000 years, as the island of Kuwae blew apart. That eruption had major climate impacts soon after the 1452-53 event. The cooling which resulted appears in many proxy climate records and has led to claims that the Little Ice Age (LIA) began at the time.

Denialist who point to the LIA don't like to mention the short term impacts of volcanic events, instead claiming the LIA was a long term cooling period of global extent. That the LIA may have been due to increased volcanic activity unlike that seen in more recent times remains outside their talking points, such as the idea that the LIA led to the disappearance of the Greenland Norse. The Western Settlement in Greenland vanished earlier than the more southerly Eastern Settlement, perhaps the result of the "1259 Event" seen in ice core sulfate records.

Think of it this way. If single volcanic events produce such large impacts on climate, that would suggest that the feedbacks in the climate system are net positive, thus increasing the sensitivity to any perturbation, such as anthropogenic greenhouse gases.

Russell Seitz said...

E. Swansn

I sailed into a bay opposite Kuwae in 1975, when it was still part of the Condominium of he New Hebrides.

Stratospheric volcanic aerosols produce rapid negative forcing transiently raise Earth's albedo, but while this set Crutzen thinking , it scarcely pertains to abrupt warming- tropospheric dust rans out too fast.

Are you asserting that Cinchon and Pinatubo induced water vapor feedbacks, ? I don't recall seeing any reports on such effects.