caution and climate change

Stephen Hsu wrote about Epistemic Caution and Climate Change and I mostly agree with him, in particular his first sentence: "I have not [..] invested significant time in trying to understand climate modeling." (*)

Faced with the uncertainties of climate change, a conservative approach would (try to) minimize the output of CO2 (and methane) in order to minimize (potentially catastrophic) risk. However, this comes with significant economic costs and the debate of how to share those costs globally - in other words politics. Another layer of uncertainty and the main reason this issue is such a mess imho.

My hope is that new technologies will save us once again and indeed solar cells are rapidly improving and prices are falling quickly. But a big problem is the storage of electricity and progress there (from flywheels to new batteries) has been slow.

Perhaps the next "climate accord" should focus on funding of research and development of such new technologies, instead of setting limits on CO2 emissions; an approach which has not worked so far.

added later: (*) He got some interesting comments, e.g. here, and Steve Carson linked to his own blog.


CapitalistImperialistPig said...

"I have not [..] invested significant time in trying to understand climate modeling." (*)

The first clue that the author won't say much interesting. The most important point is that climate modeling (the big predictive numerical models) is still only one relatively weak tool for understanding climate. It's far more important to understand the basic physics of climate, and something of the history and geology.

We still can't build hydrodynamic models that reliably get Supernovae to explode, but explode they do.

wolfgang said...

I don't think it is too surprising that neither Steve nor I would be able to say something about climate change that you would find interesting.

However, the "basic physics of climate" only gets you to the ~1C per CO2 doubling as Steve points out and the question about positive/negative feedback comes with significant uncertainties and this seems to be true also for analysis of the history and geology.

My point is that a conservative approach would see those uncertainties as risk which should be minimized. However, due to the economic cost and the resulting political mess the best approach might be to agree on funding of research and development of alternative energy sources and in particular solving the problem storing electricity.
Some sort of global Manhattan project...

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

The physics is also pretty unambiguous about the water vapor and albedo feedback. It's pretty clear that there would be little water vapor in the atmosphere without CO2 (it would rain out and mostly freeze, except in the extreme tropics.

Lee said...

>> My point is that a conservative approach would see those uncertainties as risk which should be minimized.

I think that a great many people, at least people that I know, view uncertainties in modeling as somehow meaning that there is nothing to worry about. At the same time uncertainties in their own personal lives are perceived as risk. I don't understand how human populations work at all. It is my guess though that a Manhattan type project has a higher probability of being accepted by populations than limitations on CO2 emissions have. I am often wrong.

wolfgang said...

I think human beings are in general bad at dealing with risks several years in the future.

The best example is tobacco smoking imho. I assume most smokers know very well the risk of cancer etc. and what it would mean, but it is many years in the future, so it is abstract enough that they continue to smoke.

The time scale for global warming would be even longer and the risks are less certain and not as drastic as cancer.

I guess this is a result of our evolution; the longest time scales we can handle somewhat are seasonal changes, i.e. a year. But even hurricane season is discounted to some extent when people buy homes in Florida in winter or spring ...