29 July 2019

People seem generally to have the climate backwards

I think a lot of this is the fault of the official projections.

It's not "we've got twelve years to save the planet" or "twelve years to save civilisation" or something like that.

If you go look at the available science, we're right solidly into "everybody dies".  Every available indicator says "the Arctic Amplification Hypothesis is correct, it's happening, it's been happening for awhile"; that means we get between 8 and 12 degrees (Celsius degrees; 14.5 to ~22  Fahrenheit degrees) of warming and it doesn't take all that long.  Remember that we're into "agriculture is busted" by 2050 per the conservative IPCC projections, and the immediate meaning for the arctic amplification hypothesis is that those projections are massively optimistic.

The best present understanding is that the Arctic tipped in 2005 or so.  It's absolutely not reversible unless the Culture shows up in a benevolent mood.  Sequestration and geoengineering aren't materially feasible options.  Regenerative agriculture and planting deep-rooted prairie biomes and reforestation aren't all that feasible; we know how to plant trees but we don't actually know how to restart a biome.  People have been trying with a short grass prairie since not too long after it got ploughed and haven't succeeded.  They've conserved some species but they haven't make the prairie live again.  In the time of angry weather, this is a much harder problem.  It won't hurt to try but it's not anything you could call a solution even should it succeed perfectly.

I do not (oddly enough) counsel giving up.  There are things we can do.

Stop fossil carbon extraction, completely, without exception, by 2025.  If people die, this is better than everybody dying.

Get an every-nerve-and-sinew effort going to produce an industrial toolkit that can make a boat, a greenhouse, and a heat pump (refrigerator, freezer, A/C; all the same thing with different design objectives) with zero fossil carbon inputs, which can power those things somehow, and which doesn't need more than a million people to run.  (Wireless communications and anaesthetised dentistry would be nice, too; that's the absolute floor of stuff we have to keep.)

Replace the housing stock; it needs to be more than 50 metres above sea level, it needs to shrug off tornadoes, and it needs to have drainage for a metre of rain in an hour.  A surprising amount of this is doable with hand-work, but the parts that aren't (sanitary sewers! potable water pipes! windows!) are part of the every-nerve-and-sinew effort.

Every bio-accumulating (= gets into the food chain in increasing concentrations) or persistent (it doesn't go away) thing being dumped today stops being dumped.  That includes most pesticides and it includes anything in the way of packaging or plastic or shoes or whatever that doesn't rot or recycle.  ("reduce" is not a bad idea, but in practice this is an argument that it's OK to have your testicles in a vise so long as whoever turns the crank turns it more slowly.)  We're part of the food ecology; we need to remember that.

But, anyway; it's not "save the planet"; it's "save us".  We're well into "everybody dies" and if we work real hard we can maybe get into "not everybody will be accounted an excess death."


Austin Friestman said...

"every-_never_-and-sinew" is really growing on me as a turn of phrase.

Graydon said...

+Austin Friestman -- thank you! fixed!

heron61 said...

I'm actually slightly hopeful about some of the recent carbon capture efforts (if we also work hard at drastically lowering CO2 production), but I'm very curious why you don't think geoengineering will work. Oceanic iron dumping is unproven, but high altitude sulphur dioxide spraying will definitely block sunlight, and it seems exceedingly practical. It's also a terible idea, in that you get large-scale acid rain and similar problems, but it would keep temperatures down, and any single large nation could manage it on a worldwide scale - so it seems likely to be a less terrible idea than not doing it.

Graydon said...

The problem is the forcing, not the temperature.

This is in part because we're already committed to between 8 and 12 C of temperature rise (if the Arctic Amplification Hypothesis is correct, and so far it's doing much better than the IPCC projections) and in part because what we want is "no excess deaths".

"no excess deaths" means "agriculture keeps working" first; "no lethal temperature excursions" isn't, long-term, an option and we have to deal. (Agriculture won't keep working, either, but we're talking food-source transition timelines here. If we haven't transitioned food provision before agriculture breaks, that's it.)

Dumping sulfur dioxide doesn't keep agriculture working; it creates additional forcing by creating cooler spots in the lower atmosphere. This makes the weather even less predictable. That makes agriculture more difficult.

"geoengineering" is only useful if it sequesters atmospheric carbon. (REALLY sequesters; geological time scales.) We don't know how to do that any quicker than the natural processes work. (scales of hundreds of thousands of years.) It's an extremely tough problem. Appeals to "geoengineering" have the same function as the endless argument about "sensitivity"; we knew going in that a 100 PPM swing in atmospheric carbon loading is enough to produce an interglacial. The sensitivity is obviously pretty high. But the official position for just ages was that the sensitivity was an open question (until the decades of work to constrain the range with live data got done) because that allowed people to push a view that there was no urgent need to change the status quo.

The only possible survival outcomes require a completely different status quo. The folks with power in the current system would, quite literally, rather die.

Mr Wiggles said...

Unconvinced about the Arctic Amplification feedback cycle having been triggered.

Yes, atmospheric methane is oddly high. But this seems like a side-effect from fracking.

I also think people underestimate the social and political impact of 3-4 degrees C of warming. Under a million refugees from the Syrian civil war have created a political ‘immigrant crisis’ in Europe in the last decade. 50 million climate refugees is the low end of the likely number. Jared Diamonds ‘Collapse’ reminds us over and over that ecological collapse leads to political crisis, which typically leads to denialism and short-term-ism that makes the ecological collapse worse.