Monday, November 30, 2015

The Magic Moment

 “In every big transaction,” said Leech, “there is a magic moment during which a man has surrendered a treasure, and during which the man who is due to receive it has not yet done so. An alert lawyer will make that moment his own, possessing the treasure for a magic microsecond, taking a little of it, passing it on. If the man who is to receive the treasure is unused to wealth, has an inferiority complex and shapeless feelings of guilt, as most people do, the lawyer can often take as much as half the bundle, and still receive the recipient’s blubbering thanks.” - Kurt Vonnegut in God Bless You Mr. Rosewater
There is a type whose mission in life is to place themselves in the middle of any transaction and rip off a piece for themselves.  The farther that they can keep the two sides apart, the larger their share.  Some time, a decade ago almost to the day, Eli pointed out that this was the Honest Broker game.  Indeed, this is the sine qua non of climate policy sharks and the journalist pilot fish flossing about them.

Scientists, well most, are unused to wealth and power, suffer from imposter's syndrome and have shapeless feelings of responsibility especially if their studies lead to dour and distressing places.  Facts are value neutral, obvious implications not.  True the receivers don't suffer from any of these, but if they can be kept separated from the source, why opportunities are boundless.

And the middlemen, well in the couple of decades that Eli has been in the blogging business, there are quite a few, but always new ones.  They tend to come from political science and economics, have a weak grasp of the science, or at least are not very concerned with it if ignoring advances their persona, but hunger for access.  New ones pop up now and again.

Oliver Geden is the most recent entry.  Eli has spent some tweets and posts on him, and ATTP, well there is not much left to say after the latest deconstruction.  Geden has opened up a vein to Nature but it is a weak one, based on the idea that it's all a hall of policy mirrors, scientific knowledge is besides the point.
so one should not trouble a bunny's pretty little ears because 2 C is a bridge too far
Paul Price at ATTP had a good summary of who deserves the credit
Yes, let’s admit that limiting to 2ºC is already very difficult but that does not mean that the pragmatic policy is to give up on 2ºC. It should mean that the alarm is ringing very loudly to say that the ‘honest brokering’ of policy advisors like Geden has entirely failed to move policy in the direction of actually achieving the emission cuts necessary. This latest article is just another attempt to evade the culpability of ‘advisors’ like himself for this ongoing policy failure. Shooting the messenger, he wants to blame climate scientists for pointing out inconvenient truths: so much for his integrity as a policy advisor. It’s hard to see Geden’s article as anything more than another prolonged effort to keep reality from intruding on his own political preferences for climate inaction.
Still, besides the obvious intent to kidnap, there is an important point here that everybunny is missing.  The 2 C target came from the good Nordhaus, not the BTI one, early on when there were a few decades, not right now or else conditions, but willy nilly it has been adopted as a boundary, a place beyond which there be tygers, but staying inside provides at least a modicum of safety and more time to get back to 350 ppm or less.

It would be impossible and foolhardy to renegotiate this goal now.   

There simply is not time, it would open too many possibilities for delay and mischief.  2 C is simple and straightforward and easy for a policy maker to understand.  Meeting the goal will be hard, maybe even impossible, but it is a goal and the closer the world can get to the goal the better.  The further away the more catastrophic.


Russell Seitz said...

Lawyers from Madison Avenue to K Street agree that avoiding a two degree rise is worth at least twice the billing of not avoiding the one degree rise that happened before anybunny much noticed.

Bernard J. said...

I think that we probably left behind about a decade ago any capacity to stay below two degrees. Most people in politics, business and laiety around the world still haven't really grokked what it means in ecological/social/geopolitical terms when that threshold is crossed, so I've started telling some of my unaware contact this:

...the probability of nuclear war will likely increase exponentially with every 0.1 °C that we warm the planet, once the consequences of that warming and resultant climate change are manifested.

That seems to get their attention. And that probability will interact (in an upward direction) with the limitations of resources occurring as a result of non-climate pressures.

Martin Hellman estimates the lifetime risk of dying from a nuclear war at around 10%. Whether or not this is an accurate reflection of the figure it is certainly non-zero, and anything that escalates the risk of nuclear war over a human lifetime should be met with concern, even if the risks of the escalating factor itself are blithely ignored.

We've put ourselves into a very big handbasket...

EliRabett said...

Gonna have to wait til Christmas to open Elis package

Aaron said...

How much carbon feedback will we see over the next 30 years as a result of crossing the the 390 ppmv CO2 mark back in the 1990s?

The 2C goal is based on inadequate models.

With what we know now, we should set a goal that protects tundra and clathrates - call it 350 ppmve CO2. Meeting that goal is hard, and perhaps impossible, but it is a simple and straight forward goal, and the closer the world can get to that goal the better.

A goal of 2C as calculated by current models is not protective of permafrost, clathrates, or ice sheets on a 50 year planning horizon from time of crossing the 1C mark.

The models missed the changes in Arctic Sea Ice in the first 1C of warming. Now there is more water vapor in the atmosphere over the Arctic than there was 20 years ago. Water vapor is latent heat, and latent heat acts as a powerful greenhouse gas in the summer, and keeps everything warmer in the fall. This is the first step to a Arctic with a warm ocean.

I no doubt that enough feedbacks have kicked in that we could cease all human carbon emissions today, and over the next 50 years we would still see the Earth warm to more than 2C as it comes to thermodynamic equilibrium with the forcing from 400 ppmv CO2 and all feedbacks. If we really want the 2C goal, then we needed to stop emitting carbon 50 years before reaching the 2C mark. Explain that to your policy makers!

In 1970, Jay Forrester told us that explaining "lags" to policy makers would be our most important and most difficult task.

BBD said...

There simply is not time, it would open too many possibilities for delay and mischief.

Which is why we will assuredly see strenuous efforts to move the 2C goalposts.

Russell Seitz said...

Bernard, re: "..the probability of nuclear war will likely increase exponentially with every 0.1 °C that we warm the planet,

For the benefit of non-lawyers, what might that exponent be?

Kevin O'Neill said...

Sorry Russell, I tried to calculate it but Excel just up and quit on me. I didn't know Excel could laugh. Really rather odd.

Dano said...

Observing how poorly we conduct ourselves in large groups, I have no idea how we can change our very natures and all work together in one common goal to launch a number of Apollo Projects to right this ship.

Yes, yes, yes we have a number of good frameworks in which to work. But we've never come close to doing anything like this before. War bonds and Victory Gardens isn't even close. IMHO.




Hank Roberts said...

2C is not a goal.
Not, not, not.

2C is like a line painted on the highway -- along the edge of the driving lane we're traveling in. Maybe it's like a rumble strip, if we're in a rich county.

Run over that very carefully, with good attention to recovery -- ok.

Cross it inattentively and overcorrect -- not, not, not ok.

Of course our politicians don't drive themselves, do they?
So they never took a driver training course teaching foresight, eh?

They trust the chauffeurs -- the honest brokers.

Pity, that.

jrkrideau said...

One assumes Oliver Gedon would negotiate the force of gravity as he or his client is being tossed over a cliff.

I am sure his he or the client would be happier with less acceleration and a better terminal velocity.

Stephen Leahy said...

"It would be impossible and foolhardy to renegotiate this goal now."

But that's what is under debate in Paris and COP 21. A majority of countries -- 108 -- want the guard-rail to be less than 1.5C. Includes German and France. Saudi Arabia objects. The 1.5 is in the latest (Dec 5) draft Paris Climate Accord but is contested.