Thursday, May 10, 2012

James Hansen Doubles Down

In an op ed in today's New York Times, James Hansen doubles down.  Pointing out that the amount of carbon in Canada's tar sands, if completely exploited are the CO2 equivalent of twice what has been burnt to date Hansen tries to help Barack Obama evolve (Eli knows, this is today's INTERNET tradition) on climate change.  Hansen sees the world on a path to Pliocene conditions

That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.
and getting there will be no fun
That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.
If this sounds apocalyptic, it is. This is why we need to reduce emissions dramatically.
  The paragraph where the usual suspects are going to try and wedge out an attack is about recent heat waves
The global warming signal is now louder than the noise of random weather, as I predicted would happen by now in the journal Science in 1981. Extremely hot summers have increased noticeably. We can say with high confidence that the recent heat waves in Texas and Russia, and the one in Europe in 2003, which killed tens of thousands, were not natural events — they were caused by human-induced climate change.
Eli's POV on this is rather simple.  If you have natural variability on top of a rising base, then the hotter extremes are going to get hotter and you don't need a degree in meteorology or statistics to figure that out, so the Bunny is with Hansen.  If you want to argue that it is going to cool like crazy Roy in the next decade, well, good luck with that, but Eli has a slightly used Sky Dragon to sell you complete with its own play time lawyer. 

Hansen's policy recommendation with a bit of economic analysis thrown in is
We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny. This market-based approach would stimulate innovation, jobs and economic growth, avoid enlarging government or having it pick winners or losers. Most Americans, except the heaviest energy users, would get more back than they paid in increased prices. Not only that, the reduction in oil use resulting from the carbon price would be nearly six times as great as the oil supply from the proposed pipeline from Canada, rendering the pipeline superfluous, according to economic models driven by a slowly rising carbon price.


Anonymous said...

I think Hansen was the guy who made midnight adjustments to the temp dataset to cool the past. He made it so it looks like temps are going up. Who can you trust anymore?
Hardy Cross

Jeffrey Davis said...

Hardy Cross, accuse or don't.

jyyh said...

Plenty of choices here: Pliocene - Miocene - Eocene - Paleocene maximum (PETM)- Permian extinction - (Venus?)

I've understood some of the blue-green algae types can manage temps up to 70 deg, and still do synthesis, but they produce very little that would be of substance to us.

sub-arctic bunny

Anonymous said...

Hardy Cross.

So, was it Hansen who mirrored the same warming signal in multiple independent datasets?

Was it Hansen who single-handedly melted the Artic, and glaciers around the globe?

Was it Hansen who conspiratorially connived to have the biosphere reflect warming in its phenologies, and in its thermal ecophysiologies?

Was it Hansen who, in an inverse of Knut, convinced the world's sea-leve to rise?

I think the only midnight adjustment here is the one that you impose on yourself in the privacy of your own dark room. And frankly, I learned decades ago not to trust those who so indulge, especially when it's an intellectual* indulgence in that vein...

Bernard J. Hyphen-Anonymous XVII, Esq.

[*I use the term generously.]

Anonymous said...

And now Hardy Cross learns that he needs to include a sarcasm tag in his posts... (that is, I read it as a sarcastic comment, though maybe the rest of the bunnies are right that it was literal)


Alastair said...

Hansen seems to know as much about economics as Roy Spencer and Mike Tobis put together. Jim wrote:

We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny.

What does he think that people will do with the money if it is given to them? They'll spend it on
buying the same amount of fossil fuels at the higher price! If you let the government spend it, then they will spend it on hiring people who will spend their wages on fossil fuels. If you take the money out of circulation then the economy will go into recession.

The latter is what you have to achieve: an end to growth. But that is not politically acceptable. Greece and France have just shown that :-(

Cheers, Alastair.

Jeffrey Davis said...

I have no idea who Handy Cross is. Both irony and sarcasm demand some kind of "tell" to be effective. The internet obliterates that. Even "A Modest Proposal" would have its defenders.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Alastair. We're not all alike and we're not all in the same circumstances anyway.

Of course there are _some_ people who'd do nothing except spend the extra money on increased power bills. But most people would change some if not all of their spending.

The people who would change most of all are the power providers. If they can get power from sources that don't attract the carbon price, and is thereby cheaper, they'll buy it. It doesn't automatically follow that retail prices would decrease - though the experience so far in the USA is that states with more renewables in the mix have a lower rate of increases in power prices.

As for homeowners and businesses. Insulation, rooftop solar and all sorts of other energy saving/ transforming options become more attractive. When there's either cash in the pocket or easy options available to reduce or offset increasing costs, people will spend on those options.

The fact that not everyone will spend, save or invest in the same way is not an argument against doing it.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Jay Cadbury, phd.

"If you have natural variability on top of a rising base, then the hotter extremes are going to get hotter and you don't need a degree in meteorology or statistics to figure that out, so the Bunny is with Hansen."

I could agree with that but I do not know if there is a clear definition of natural variability, and how far are we going to go back in the historical record?

J Bowers said...

For Jay.

Natural Variability and Climate Sensitivity

Sou said...

@Alastair - we'll find out soon enough what people spend it on.

Australia is starting a variation of that proposal this July. The top 500 or so polluters will pay up. Some of the funds will go to low and middle income earners and much of the rest to developing renewables. Electricity costs will rise and will flow into a rise in the cost of other goods and services.

Some people have installed solar so are pocketing the extra funds and will spend it or save it or whatever. Some people will cut their power use. Some will just spend the money on the more expensive electricity.

I expect a couple of studies on the impact and effects. I also expect one of the effects is a further shift to clean energy. Not fast enough probably, but something.

Anonymous said...

Hardy Cross is among the happy few who realize the world is completely controlled by a single professorial bunny named Hansen.

Alaska has been distributing a tax levied on fossil fuels to its citizens for decades. They spend a lot of in bars where they go to complain about the weather while drinking ethanol that might otherwise go into their gas tanks.


Could Jay Cadbury 's assertion that he is 27 years old be a euphemism hiding a slightly retarded pair of 14 year old twins?

Alastair said...


Well it will be interesting to see what they spend it on, but if they spend it then it will result in the burning of more fossil fuels. Even if they spend it on taking foreign holidays that means burning fuel in air transport. If the stay in Oz, then they will be burning fuel to reach their destination, and more fuel as the boat takes them out to the Great Barrier Reef, or tows their water skis.

Even is they spend it on solar heating, the construction of that will use fossil fuels and the saving they make will be spent on goods and services provided as a result of fossil fuels.

So what I am saying is the Australian scheme will not lead to a reduction (or even pause in the growth) of fossil fuel consumption there.

Unless general consumption decreases, i.e. people become poorer, then CO2 emissions will continue to rise. Of course we will have to wait and see whether I am correct. In the mean time Australia deserves to be congratulated on embarking on such a radical experiment.

Cheers, Alastair.

Anonymous said...

Hardy Cross,

Check out my facebook page:

--caerbannog the anonybunny

Laser Tysons Corner VA said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Miguelito said...

Hansen is being disingenuous, unfortunately. Or maybe he doesn't understand the difference between bitumen-in-place and recoverable resources.

So far, it's estimated that only 170 billion barrels of the oil/tar sands are recoverable (the vast bulk is deeper underground and can't be mined, but drilled for and produced out of wells, which leads to much lower recovery). Even if those reserves doubles thanks to some improved technology, it's only about a third of what humanity has already burned (a big chunk still, but not even close to the impact Hansen suggests).

But, I get it: the oil/tar sands are the Osama bin Laden of hydrocarbons. Never mind that, if you stop Osama, you have a whole bunch of lieutenants that will take his place (tight oil, Venezuelan heavy oil, etc.) and the problem persists.

While I recognize there's a dire need for a real carbon policy that drives down carbon use, I cannot stand the double standard being applied here. Hansen has taken information out of context and twisted it to suit his purposes and nobody on his side calls him out on it. Meanwhile, cretins like Watts and his ilk do the exact same thing and are, rightfully, shit on by those who can spot the falsehoods.

We have a real carbon problem in this world and these half-truths only serve to discredit proponents for change (myself included).

Anonymous said...

Hansen is being disingenuous, unfortunately. Or maybe he doesn't understand the difference between bitumen-in-place and recoverable resources.

Hansen has disappointed me here. He definitely needs to distinguish what's in the ground from what is likely to be extracted and put into the atmosphere.

Even if the Canadian tar-sands alone aren't enough to send us back to a hothouse climate, the economically recoverable coal/non-conventional-oil deposits worldwide *are*.

So there's no need to claim that Canadian tar-sands alone will cause a climate catastrophe. The major danger in exploiting the tar sands is example it sets -- if tar-sands in Canada are fair game, than so are unconventional fossil-fuel deposits globally. *That* is the recipe for disaster.

There are enough recoverable fossil-fuel deposits to send us back to the Eocene (not just the Pliocene).

Dr. Hansen needs to make that his message.

--caerbannog the anonybunny

Hank Roberts said...

> Laser Tyson's Corner

What, you're publishing terrorist threats now? When did they get space lasers?

Oh, wait, it's just a spambot.

Anonymous said...

Gonna walk back what I had to say above (after reading what Hansen actually said).

From Hansen's piece (emphasis added):

If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now.

Now *this* is absolutely true -- and like I said above, if we were to exploit fully all economically-recoverable fossil fuels, we'd send the climate back to the Eocene, not just the Pliocene.

So while Hansen could have worded things a little more carefully (i.e. distinguishing total deposits vs recoverable deposits in Canada), he was definitely referring to global total fossil fuels, not just Canadian tar-sands.

--caerbannog the anonybunny

Sou said...

@Alastair - first off, the system in Australia is not radical. Plenty of countries have placed a price on carbon emissions in one form or other. It's a market-based pricing system to reduce pollution - where the polluter bears some of the cost of cleaning up. It's commonly used in all sorts of situations.

Secondly, progressively replacing fossil-fuelled electricity with cleaner electricity means that more and more cleaner energy systems are manufactured using cleaner energy. (My solar panels were made using mostly nuclear-powered electricity and the inverter was made with about 18% renewable energy at the time. These days the inverters are made with about 20% renewables.)

The electricity generated by my solar panels means less energy is required from coal-fired power plants to provide power to our household and others on the grid.

You seem to be assuming that a shift to renewable energy cannot lead to an increase in the proportion of electricity from renewable sources. This doesn't make sense. As coal plants shut down and are replaced by wind and solar, for example, then more goods and services are produced using wind and solar power, including the manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels.

Eventually most if not all electricity and transport will be powered using renewable sources of energy or at least much cleaner sources. Hopefully within the next three or four decades.

Anonymous said...

I think Hansen dilutes his message and plays into the politicians' hands by advocating specific policy.

His voice would be more powerful if he said something to the effect of "it's a huge problem, and we need to do something about it immediately, and I'll leave it to all you engineers and economist types to figure out exactly how we're going to escape this predicament that my colleagues and I have warned you about."

Many of the denialists think climate change is a Trojan horse conjured up to let socialism in the door; if you put on your right-wing hat and read Hansen's comments about taxes and what have you, it's not hard to see how they come up with that.

I'm not saying Hansen is wrong, I'm just saying he's squandering his authority by acting like an expert in fields he's no expert in. Why does he care how we get to 350? All he should care about is that we get there.

Hansen testified against the cap and trade bill... the only climate legislation we've ever almost had. How is this guy who's so bad at politics one of the figureheads of a movement?

Hansen op-eds are a dime a dozen... how will this latest one that says all the same s*** change anything? This young maus wants to know.

/frustration. Goodnight.


susan said...

Good for the NYTimes - they do seem to be pressing a bit on the climate front on the front pages.

Glad to see RealClimate has anatomized the McIntyre nastiness (hard to keep the McI's straight).

Russell, I hope you will forgive me for a shoutout (awful Palinian locution) on RC open thread. Your creativity on Heartland's latest is terrific if I may presume to say so.

Jeffrey Davis said...

"I think Hansen dilutes his message and plays into the politicians' hands by advocating specific policy."

Nuts. Scientists are citizens, too.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the only way to prove Hansen wrong is to wait and see...if the ice sheets melt and sea level rises 50 feet and 50% of species are pushed to extinction.

Of course, there are those who are more than willing to do just that (on the hope that Hansen's legacy will be rubbed in the dirt by future generations of UC Boulder profs, for example)

Hansen is speaking out the way he is because he perceives that the politicians (including Obama) are basically doing nothing.

He calls it as he sees it because he believes that humanity (and the rest of the world's species) won't get a second chance to get it right on the climate issue.

It's very easy for scientists (and others) to just do their day to day job and leave everything else to the politicians.

Brian Dodge said...

Elirabbet says "If you have natural variability on top of a rising base, then the hotter extremes are going to get hotter "

Jay can't agree 'cause "I do not know if there is a clear definition of natural variability..."

Someone also clearly does not know that the definition of variability doesn't matter; if natural variability is Gaussian, it is easily demonstrated what the effects of shifts in the mean, or variance of the distribution would be, since a gaussian is well defined. If the distribution is asymmetric, or has long tails, the principle that "hotter extremes are going to get hotter" is still true; if you use Gaussian statistics to predict how much, your answer may be inaccurate (e.g, 8 degrees instead of 10 degrees hotter), but not wrong (cooler). Since Clausius Claperyon says humidity increases exponentially with temperature, water vapor is a potent GHG, and rainfall event cm/hr intensity and total amount increase with humidity, the tails of natural temperature & rainfall extremes are biased by fundamental physics towards hotter and wetter. I will leave it as an exercise for those readers actually interested in the science to redo the analyses presented at with a long tailed distribution towards hotter and wetter. This may help you to determine whether or not our goose is cooked. (Hint - it's actually a Black Swan, in a rather steamy convection oven &;>)

"...and how far are we going to go back in the historical record?" Well, we could look at what the global temperatures and CO2 were since civilization developed, or we could go back to when CO2 differed by 100ppmv from the ~280ppmv we've had, look at global temperatures (~8 degrees cooler @ 100ppmv less), and use that as a basis for guestimating how much warmer it will be at equilibrium with 100ppmv more CO2 we have today, and 200ppmv, 300ppmv,... more as we continue to pollute the atmosphere with fossil CO2. The good news is that climate models show each additional 100ppmv causes less temperature change than the previous 100ppmv; the bad news is that the modeled and observed changes with the additional and accelerating CO2 increases are already putting a lot of stress on the system.

Anonymous said...

Two examples:
Coal off the coast of Australia is now being extracted by e.g. gasification in places we thought were impossible to mine only a few decades ago.

An oil field in the Netherlands with thick heavy oil is producing again using steam injection decades after production had stopped while people thought the remaining oil was too thick to be extracted.

Therefore Hansen is right in including the deep bitumen in his calculations because current mining technology is simply not the correct benchmark to compare against.


Miguelito said...


For the oil/tar sands, these recoverable numbers already consider steam injection. It's about the only way to get alot of this out of the ground and it's called steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), another variant called cyclic steam injection. And, like conventional production, they're only going to be able to get so much of it out of the ground if you can't mine it.

Further, gasification works in coal seams because it creates caverns, which means the injected gases can cycle very well and convert coal to hydrogen and then methane. But, you can't do that in these bitumen deposits (the bitumen is trapped in pore spaces, so the reservoir is about 70 to 80% sand grains and injected gases won't circulate well). Plus, the overlying rock is pretty weak and probably wouldn't be able to be a good roof for a cavern.

Hansen is still really wrong. And at least some other climate scientists (real ones) have called him on it (though not enough have).



It's hard to quarrel with the recycling of observations one made a generation ago:

"Bear in mind the beaver. Without benefit of godhood, its mindless industry acting over eons has transformed the Canadian landscape into a wilderness of lakes. Likewise ,creating a brave new world with an atmosphere transformed by the total depiction of fossil fuel is a labor of generations yet unborn.

We cannot govern the actions of posterity, but we can teach by our example. We can plant trees and stay the hand of mindless deforestation. We can value the richness of biological diversity and recognize the intellectual poverty of sullen indifference to the majesty of nature. But any pretension to oracular foreknowledge of how, over the next quarter century, the earth will respond to our presence lies in the realm not of science but of intuition.

And just as surely, any denial that unrestrained C02 injection can transform the world within five generations lies beyond the pale of both-especially if China's vast coal reserves are exploited at a per capita rate approaching that of the U. S. today.

-- A War Against Fire

The National Interest Summer 1990

There are coal measures in Manchuria 100 meters thick..

Anonymous said...

The civilization we know is already doomed. Endless growth is no longer possible and permanent contraction is likely, our economic system cannot cope with no growth.

The next hundred years are going to be nasty, but something better may eventually rise up out of the ashes.

However if we keep going as we are, then humanity is at risk. The extinction event we have unleashed may end up including ourselves.

A rising carbon tax sends the right market signals. Gives us a better chance of salvaging something to pass on to future generations.

Rabid Doomsaying Little Mouse

Anonymous said...

Hansen is well aware of the issues involved with estimating recoverable fossil fuels.

Here's what Hansen has actually said on that issue

"Fossil fuel emissions so far are a small fraction of known reserves and potentially recoverable resources, as shown in Figure 1. There are uncertainties in estimated reserves and resources, some of which may not be economically recoverable with current technologies and energy prices. But there is already more than enough fossil fuel reserve to transform the planet, and fossil fuel subsidies and technological advances will make more and more of the resources available."

The Figure 1 referred to is in Cowards in our Democracies

Hansen does not name names, but he refers to our current politicians as "cowards."

Pretty accurate, in Horatio's humble opinion.