Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Why Jim Hansen Worries

Back in 1988, in the original GCM, Hansen summarized the situation going forward.  The most important part of this figure is that grey band, and the implication that the world would soon enter that region,

as indeed it has.  The top end of the gray Eemian is well below 2 C  pre-industrial, something that scared Hansen thirty years ago, because he knew what that meant for the world.

A couple of days ago Jim Hansen laid it out for Australian Broadcasting in detail.  You can listen to Fran Kelly's interview, or read it at Rabett Run.  Eli reserves the right to inject a word or two here and there.  Kelly (in italics) introduced Hansen who was at the 2015 Conference on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants and inquired why he refused to sign the Nuclear for Climate Declaration from the  conference.  Hansen pointed out it was not that Declaration he refused to sign

That's regarded by most as being the safe level of climate change and it's the same goal that will be on the table at Paris later this year at the UN Climate Talks. . . .  The top US climate scientist James Hansen thinks says the goal is a nonsense and the world is on the wrong track thinking that two degrees of warming is safe.  . . . James Hansen you have long been a supporter of nuclear power because it can significantly limit global warming but you are refusing to sign this Nuclear for Climate Declaration

No, someone has misinformed you.  What I refused to sign the Vatican Declaration which had the 2 degree limit and the reason I do not sign that is that the 2 degrees is actually a prescription for disaster. That’s actually well understood by the scientific community.

We know that the prior interglacial period about 120,000 years ago – it’s called the Eemian in Europe –but it  was less than 2 degrees C warmer than pre-industrial conditions and sea level was a least 6 to 8 metres higher, so it’s crazy to think that 2 degrees Celsius is safe limit.

The only thing you can argue is that, well, it might take a while for the sea level to rise that much, but we know that it would happen because once the fossil fuels are burned to reach that level they are not taken out of the systems for millennia, and it does not require millennia for the ice sheets to disintegrate.

If you say it would be crazy to shoot for two degrees but that is exactly what we are going to be shooting for in Paris at the global climate talks

That number (2 degrees) was chosen because it was convenient and thought that well that will give us a few decades so we can set targets for the middle of the century.

Actually what the science tells us is we have an emergency, this is actually a global crisis and the science for that is crystal clear. It’s not obvious to the public because the climate system responds slowly, the ocean is 4 kilometres deep, these ice sheets are 3 kilometres thick. They only respond over timescales of decades to centuries, but once the processes are started it’s going to be extremely difficult if not impossible to stop them.

So what the science actually tells us is that we should reduce emissions as fast as practical, bearing in mind the economic consequences, but in fact the actions that are necessary are not economically harmful. You just have to make the prices of fossil fuels honest

I just want to stay with reducing emissions as fast as practical. Is that why generally the global community including what is on the table at Paris is looking at two degrees because that is what is practical

That's what they would argue but they are talking about ways of doing it which are extremely ineffectual like the Kyoto protocol. This cap and trade with offsets, it is very ineffectual.  What you actually need to do is make the price of fossil fuels honest instead of subsidizing them. It's been shown with economic studies that if you add a gradually rising fee to carbon collected from fossil fuel companies at the source, the domestic mine or the port of entry, and distribute that money 100% to the public, an equal amount to all legal residents  it will actually spur the economy and increase the GNP and allow you to phase down emissions  much more rapidly than with these screwy cap and trade with offset schemes

So you are saying that is much simpler kind of system than a cap and trade or what Australia had

A system that's designed for the public not for special interests.  In the United States we had a bill introduced 3500 pages of give aways to every special interest that could lobby Congress and get its favorite thing in there.  But that is not what you need. You need a simple honest system which would require one or two pages.  But that's what politicians have not come up with yet

Eli:  The laws and procedures for levying, collecting and distributing that tax would require much more than one or two pages.  Much, much more. Hansen is either being naive or political here. 

You are right that's what politicians have not come up with, but the scientists, the IPCC they are still talking about a 2 degree limit.  The assessment report five that came out of the IPCC last year predicted sea levels will rise between 22 and  86 centimeters by the end of this century.  You are actually saying  it will rise much more than that and even more quickly

The paleoclimate evidence indicates the ice sheets are much more sensitive than the glaciologist, the modellers of ice sheets have indicated and furthermore we now have satellite data over the last 12 years that confirms that ice sheet disintegration is a non-linear process that should not have been surprising, and I have been saying that for 10 years, but now this satellite data confirms that.

The ice sheets are losing mass faster and faster with a doubling the of about 10 years. If that continues, we would get sea-level rises of several metres within 40 to 50 years.

So we really do not want to continue forcing the system at the rate we are doing now

So spell that out for us James before we move on, sea level rises of several meters in forty years, what would that look like in terms of our lives

The consequences are almost unthinkable. It would mean that all coastal cities would become dysfunctional, some parts of the cities would still be sticking above the water but they would not be habitable, so the economic implications are incalculable. We really cannot go down that path, this is an issue of intergenerational injustice.   It’s a moral issue because the current generation is burning the fossil fuel and getting the benefits and creating a situation that for young people, our children and grandchildren and future generations is going to have enormous consequences.

James Hansen a report from the UK Grantham Institute this week makes it clear that based on current pledges and targets the world is not even close to delivering on a 2 degree goal which you say is not enough.  Does that mean that we have to be looking elsewhere, seriously at some sort of negative emissions technology, drawing down atmospheric or  ocean carbon what may that technology be.  Is that answer nuclear.  A emergency requires emergency actions.

I hate to sound like I am disagreeing with all the scientists but that's not true that we are necessarily beyond 2 degrees, we could actually come in below 2 degrees.  We could actually come in well under 2 degrees.  But it does require beginning to phase down  fossil fuel emissions and that requires two things.  The most fundamental is making the price of fossil fuel honest and that would encourage alternatives.  But those alternatives are going to have to include technological advances

You mentioned that I have been supporting nuclear power for decades but that is not actually true.  It is only in the last several years as I have begun to look at the energy situation and see what is actually happening.  You hear all this stuff about renewables.  Solar are becoming very cheap and they are taking over.  Well, in fact, non-hydro renewables are providing only 3% of the energy even though they have been subsidized heavily for several decades.  They are an important part of the solution but not an adequate part.  

Eli:  Those subsidies are beginning to pay off big time with huge decreases in the cost of solar and wind power as economies of scale and research advances begin to bite.  Whether these will be enough to save the day without nuclear power is a debate between Hansen, Barry Brook and Joe Romm.  Eli's POV is somewhat intermediate, that nuclear to carry the entire load requires new reactor designs, but today's reactors can contribute.

Nuclear power is the one thing that could help give us carbon free electricity, and if we get carbon free electricity as Sweden has right now, then the problem can be quickly solved.  

The only thing that would be required in addition is liquid fuels but you can make non fossil fuel liquid fuels, but you can do that with energy from electricity.  So if we have carbon free electricity the problem is solved. 

And that's a doable thing.  But it does require technology development as well as a rising fee on fossil fuels.  

As you say you have been sounding this alarm for a long time now and many others have too.  But for some years there the whole argument descended into a debate between the so called climate skeptics and the so called global warmists.  Are we through that yet and what do you think the voice of the skeptics vs. the others 

On the surface that appeared to be what was happening but in reality the contrarians were representing the conservative side who felt that liberals are going to use this as a method to raise taxes and increase control over their lives and that's exactly what they do not want and I don't blame them.  But they were simply denying the science because they did not want those political consequences.  It did not really have much to do with science and it still does not.   and we really do need to get the conservatives to understand the situation because they need to be part of the solution and I think that they will be but it needs to happen pretty quickly.

Eli: Hansen underestimates the role that the fossil fuel company rat-fuckers have played.


Barton Paul Levenson said...

I agree with Eli more than Hansen on these points.


In parvo :
Climate contrarians are not conservatives

"in reality the contrarians were representing the conservative side who felt that liberals are going to use this as a method to raise taxes and increase control over their lives and that's exactly what they do not want and I don't blame them. But they were simply denying the science because they did not want those political consequences. It did not really have much to do with science and it still does not. and we really do need to get the conservatives to understand the situation because they need to be part of the solution"

John said...

Eli underestimates the role of the rat-fucker consumers (and addicts) of the liberating, and woefully underpriced, products of the fossil fuel company rat-fuckers.

John Puma

Steve Bloom said...

That's the distinction between conservatives and reactionaries, Russell. But there's a very large overlap.

Ambulator said...

The law for levying, collecting and distributing that tax could indeed be written in one or two pages. The procedures could not, but that's what the executive is for.

My main disagreement with Hansen is that I think a seven meter sea rise over a few centuries is more an annoyance than a catastrophe. I only see potential catastrophes in drought and ocean acidification.


E. Swanson said...

With all due respect to Dr. Hansen, his carbon tax with rebate is a bad idea, IMHO. That's because the response of the economy will be that businesses will pass on the extra cost to the consumers in the form of increased prices and, over time, the consumers will demand higher wages, etc. The net effect is inflation, which will erode the effectiveness of the tax, so the level of taxation must increase faster than overall inflation to have the desired result. Worse, rebating the tax back to the consumer would soften the impact, as the consumer would know the actual cost of the carbon emissions would be less than the price at the pump or in their electric bill.

As I've suggested in other forums, the only other approach would be an immediate rationing of carbon to the consumer, the amount declining with time. This would surely tell the consumers that they were facing a growing shortage in their level of emissions, which would provide considerable incentive to switch to non-carbon energy sources.

To make such a system actually viable, I would provide a white market for allocations at the consumer level, not the business level as implemented in cap-and-trade schemes. I would force the business community to purchase their allocations from the white market, which would be fed by some fraction of the total allocations to prime the market. This approach would benefit those industries which quickly cut their emissions, as their retail prices would tend to be lower.

I would also make the allocations expire after some period, thus placing unused allocations into the white market. The consumer would be credited with the current market price of those allocations, thus they could immediately purchase any extra allocation from the market, for example, if they had taken a vacation over a weekend when their allocations expired.

Energy use is a flow problem, not a stock problem. The current energy market in the US tends to focus on the amount in storage, not the supply/demand relationship. The long term impacts are lost in the discounting process that forces decisions based on this week or this month's data. The latest car sales data shows a switch in buyer preference from smaller cars toward larger SUVs and trucks as gasoline prices declined. Such is to be expected, given the barrage of propaganda about fracking and how that will produce "energy independence" for the US or that the US will soon be able to export crude and NatGas, while the reality is a sharp decline in the amount of new drilling necessary to keep the game going.


Hansen may be correct that 2 C isn't safe, but the reality is that there appears to be no way to actually change things in time. Just a few days ago, Spencer and Christy released their version 6 analysis of the MSU/AMSU data, which they claim to show even less warming than their previous incantation. Sorry to say, I don't see any way to stop the carbon train before it goes off the cliff...

Steve Bloom said...

"incantation" Brilliant. :)

Fernando Leanme said...

I'm a revolutionary trying to overthrow the Castro dictatorship. The reactionaries who support the regime are pro establishment Marxists with a Stalinist streak. We shall overcome.

Aaron said...

Everyone considering a career in science or public policy should spend a few years cleaning up a former nuclear reactor site or reactor fuel production site or spent fuel site.

Given that climate change is going to drive extreme weather events, it will be very hard to design nuclear facilities that will withstand unpredictable weather. Thus, we can expect climate change to drive failure of radioactive containment.

Do we really want to put very expensive technology into a very unpredictable environment? It is very likely to fail prior to expected lifespan, and we will have wasted a lot of money.

Fernando Leanme said...

Aaron that's pretty silly. Global warming won't be allowed to exceed a plants design basis. I would worry more about the Cumbre Vieja slide.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

ES, I disagree. A tax _is_ rationing, via the price mechanism. By rebating it to each household equally, it prevents the burden from falling excessively on the poor. I would welcome a carbon tax, or a cap-and-trade scheme, over rationing. Rationing breeds black markets, supply-demand mismatches, and resentment.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Forgive my off-topicness, but my 2nd article in a peer-reviewed science journal will appear this month:

Levenson, B.P. 2015. Why Hart Found Narrow Ecospheres--A Minor Science Mystery Solved. Astrobiology 15, 327-330.

Anonymous said...

E. Swanson, what does your proposal achieve over a carbon tax, except introduce unnecessary complexity and administrative costs?

In the worst case scenario, you could expect something similar to what happened in the European ETS: due to political concerns, the rationed quantity will start out too high to make those carbon credits worth much in real terms; there will be plenty of room for speculators to have fun fooling around with these exotic new financial toys; the resulting volatility will swamp the any signal that was meant to be conveyed to the consumers; and in the end, the resulting debacle will be used as yet another example of how governments can't solve the climate problem.

With a tax, you have a clear price signal that will increase predictably over time, so anyone pondering that choice between an SUV and a more efficient car will be able to know which is the better investment. More importantly for the long term, anyone developing (or investing in) new technologies will know that there is a reliable advantage to creating low-emission alternatives, so we will be better prepared to lower our emissions in the future. When the price signal is swamped by speculation, developing cleaner technologies entails more risk, so fewer people will do it.

EliRabett said...

BPL, want to tell us what it was about?

Kevin O'Neill said...

Eli - Google is your friend: http://www.bartonpaullevenson.com/N.html

"What masses are suitable for the primary of an Earthlike planet? Hart (1979) is of the opinion that ultraviolet flux from stars of type earlier than F7 would preclude life ever colonizing the land. This would correspond to an upper mass limit of about 1.2 Solar masses.

The lower limit is trickier, and depends crucially on the debate over the width of "ecospheres." This term, coined by Strughold in 1955, has recently been replaced by "Continuously Habitable Zone" or CHZ (Hart, 1978) ....

EliRabett said...

Eli was really looking for a guest post. Offer is open

E. Swanson said...

BPL said:
"A tax _is_ rationing, via the price mechanism."

That is an assertion often heard. However, in this situation, given the fact that energy is the fundamental driving force of the world's economic system, I think there's a problem. That's because every product is the result of using energy and the cost of materials paid by the maker is passed on to the ultimate consumer in the sales price. Thus, the tax will be passed on to the consumer as well. Sounds great for a system in equilibrium, but the fact that the added tax must be large implies a steep price increase, aka, inflation. The tax would not be in constant dollars (or euros or other currency), so the tax must increase in nominal terms as prices rise, just to have the same effect.

But, the tax would need to increase in terms of constant dollars, since it likely would not be applied at full force initially, but increased further to encourage further reductions. That seems to me to be a recipe for failure, as it is a form of positive feedback, which would destabilize the economic system.

BPL also said:
"I would welcome a carbon tax, or a cap-and-trade scheme, over rationing."

The system I proposed includes trading via a white market, thus there would be no incentive for a black market. Putting a time limit on the allocations would inhibit speculation and hoarding. BTW, a cap-and-trade system is also an allocation system, accept that it is top down focused, not bottom up as I've proposed.

E. Swanson said...

"Birdbath", please read my reply to BPL. With a tax, it would be necessary to structure the amount in constant dollars, which would result in a positive feedback.

Perhaps you are too young to have experienced the impact of the Arab OPEC step increase in oil prices and the resulting "Stagflation", a situation repeated after the Iranian Crisis in 1979. Remember the efforts of the Fed to kill the inflation with crushing interest rates about 1981? And, those situations were temporary "shocks", whereas price increases resulting from steadily increasing taxes would need to be permanent.

David B. Benson said...

Eli --- I assure you that nuclear power plants could, alone, power an entire electricity grid, even while having all the reactors running 100%. The only question is what to do with the excess power when not wanted by the grid.

One could simply use electric resistance heaters and throw it away. But low cost electricity could find uses such as desalination, making ice overnight or making synfuel for reformulation into transportation fuels.

While new reactor designs will be forthcoming, this is not a requirement and no reason to wait before deployment.

David B. Benson said...

Aaron --- I encourage you to explore, rather fully,
for a forthcoming design without any of the consequences you appear to fear.

Hank Roberts said...

> what to do with the excess power
> when not wanted by the grid

Cooling lasers.

Fernando Leanme said...

Nuclear power using current reactor design isn't a solution either because we lack enough uranium. You also fail to address the financing of 2376 nuclear plants they would need in third world nations. Including Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Myanmar, and Somalia.

BBD said...

False claim:

Nuclear power using current reactor design isn't a solution either because we lack enough uranium.

Someone working in the extractive industries should know better, Ferdy.

You also fail to address the financing of 2376 nuclear plants they would need in third world nations. Including Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Myanmar, and Somalia.

DBB said that a nuclear fleed could power "an entire electricity grid". He did not argue that nuclear alone *should* be used to power the world. So roll up your strawman and stuff it.

Oale said...

the cooling laser would need to get the energy it needs to work from the CO2 band for the effect to be maximized, no? set to emit on some remaining atmospheric window. jumping to scifi, fe. warming up Mars by cooling lasers on Venus is an idea I haven't seen on the ~4 shelf meter of scifi I've read.

Unknown said...

ES: inflation is not necessarily a consequence of Hansen's idea. As producers change to low carbon production, they will gain a competitive advantage and be able to undercut their carbon intensive competitors. This should lead to a reduction in the carbon intensity of the economy, so at a constant tax level the stimulus for inflation will drop with time.

Barton Paul Levenson said...


Thank you for the opportunity! It's not really germane to climate change, but I'll write up something short.

Unknown said...

ES: The pass-through of the carbon tax is a feature, not a bug: it’s what is supposed to reduce consumption.
How much inflation would this produce? That depends on two things.
One is the speed with which the supply of low-carbon substitutes is ramped up.
The other is the marginal rate of technical substitution between the old high-carbon goods and services and the new low-carbon substitutes; what the second point means is that in some respects by giving up carbon we would really be giving something up for future generations, and that would result in a higher cost of maintaining a certain material standard of living today.
Note that both of these problems concern the cost of supplying low carbon alternatives, and they would still be there if you used quantity rationing rather than price rationing for carbon.

Unknown said...

Eli - I can't seem to post using my Wordpress url. I'm told this may be because you haven't enabled a feature which commenters to post with a username and URL.

Jim Eager said...

Eric: "That's because every product is the result of using energy and the cost of materials paid by the maker is passed on to the ultimate consumer in the sales price."

Exactly, the cost (and the consequences of emissions) is passed on to the people who actually consume the energy. And the problem with that is?

It's not the fossil fuel and power generation industries that use the power, it's us who do, either directly or embedded in the products we consume. Expecting the solution to not crimp our consumption is naive.


Why isn't Fernando in the Sierra subsisting on slipper orchids and bully frog's legs as he awaits the day he can charge down San Juan Hill to heckle Fidelito ?

David B. Benson said...

Fernando Leanme --- Actually there is enough uranium but this is hardly the best forum to repeat what is already well stated elsewhere. Briefly, there have been, so far, only two rounds of exploration for uranium ore so there is plenty more waiting to be found. Finally, one can extract uranium from seawater.

But most important the uranium can be used over 60 times more efficiently in fast reactors. There are several designs but only in Russia is there use of a fast reactor. With further research it should be possible to increase to over 140 times more efficiently.

Unknown said...

Another thought on taxing carbon: if it is matched by equitable reductions in other taxes, then it sends the signal without any inflation at all.

Aaron said...

Is there anyone here that has actually put high level rad waste into safe eternal storage? Not a storage cask or a fuel pool, but eternal storage? Even when you reprocess spent fuel for reuse, there is a significant high-level rad waste stream.

Who wants to tell me how to do it without violating RCRA Land Ban? So you want to put a loophole in RCRA! Ever take a hot rad site apart? A loophole in RCRA would be a very slippery slope.

Twenty years after the basis of design for the Hanford Repository, we are seeing weather that is outside of the basis of engineering design used in the repository. And, it will be another 40 years before the Repository is filled and sealed.

Thus, for the next 40 years we will be putting rad waste into a facility that we know has inadequate design. Long afternoons of arguing with a roomful of my bosses taught me that this is the way the nuclear industry works.

The way to dispose of rad waste is to "burn" it to to short lived isotopes in a fast flux facility - but oops, we shut our test facility down and it is going into the Hanford Repository.

EliRabett said...

With all due respect, and Eli has friends who have worked on technology for cleaning the tanks at Savannah River, eternal storage for wastes is a chimera.

Better would be to reprocess, reduce and reuse.

Aaron said...

I suggest that given full life-cycle costs, it is much easier, and much more resource effective to reuse, recycle, and reprocess materials from other energy sources than from nuclear. Salesmen for the nuclear power plants are not required to give full disclosure. You have to do the numbers yourself. Buyer beware!

Over all, conservation is the cheapest source of energy. A small, local (solar/whatever) generator is better than a big (coal/nuclear) generator, far away where most of the power generated is dissipated by the transmission lines.

Do you want a little nuclear plant every 20 miles? Or do you want a few big nuclear plants so the long distance transmission lines are kept humming?


Actually Aaron, I expect to see high Tc superconducting power lines in at least short haul high current use before temperatures rise a degree.

Brian Dodge said...

According to http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Power-Reactors/Heavy-Manufacturing-of-Power-Plants/, the total world capacity for heavy forgings required for building nuke reactor vessels is 34 per year; 12 in Japan, 14 in China, and 8 in Russia. If the US bought all that capacity for the next 9 years, we could replace our coal fired electrical generation with "clean, safe, carbon neutral nuclear power". Of course, to get all those forgings, we would pay a premium price, bidding against China, India, and other carbonizing third world nations. Plus, since these presses aren't sitting idle, nor are they producing their maximum output of nuclear reactor parts, we'd be paying a premium for the offset of other production displaced. We could build our own capacity, but (there's always a "but") -

"In recent years, the Ellwood Group considered expanding its large heavy-forging capacity. The company, which produces heavy metal sections for the oil and gas, mining, metals processing, and power generation industries, among others, calculated how much investment it would take to compete internationally.

The projected investment totals were staggering. According to Kamnikar, the tab started at $1 billion.

"You're talking about a lot of money in equipment," says Kamnikar. "The biggest expense of all is the melt shop, which has to be capable of making a 600-ton ingot. Those are capable of making nearly a million tons of steel a year. But only about 70,000 tons are required to make all the huge forgings in the U.S. So what do you do with the rest of the steel?"

There is also the element of patience that must be considered. According to B&W's Hanson, nearly four years can pass between the time a company puts forth the money to upgrade its facility and its first orders are ready for manufacturing." http://www.industryweek.com/environment/us-cedes-capability-largest-nuclear-forgings

Japan Heavy Industries invested about a billion dollars to increase productivity by 3 reactor forgings per year, so maybe we could invest another 10 billion to up capacity to 30 per year, and then we'd only have to figure out what to do with 829,000 tons of steel per year - or just pass the cost on to the nuclear facilities. At $15 billion apiece already, nobody would notice a few extra billion here or there.

David B. Benson said...

Brian Dodge --- Those forgings are only required for large PWR. A small PWR does not require such forgings:

Mark said...

I've had this argument on ice sheet collapse recently. The opponent as it were, a prominent environmental activist said that the scientific community timeline was bullshit. He expected a full WAIS collapse and I assume melt was decades away. Apparently so does Hansen. They are on the fringe with such an opinion. Eric Steig said that 200-1000s of years was more likely even if, as some say, the collapse has already started. That sounds right to me but makes for less of a sensational story and more to the point, immediacy of action, whatever form that may take, currently nothing.

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