Climate change challenges

My first encounter with climate change came when I was a kid in Wisconsin. We talked a lot about the Ice Ages and went on field trips to the nearby Kettle-Moraine State forest, where you could see the physical evidence of the ice age. The last Ice Age, in fact, is named the Wisconsin. It ended only 10,000 years ago. Until then, my native state was covered with glaciers. Then it got warmer and Wisconsin became the green and pleasant place it is, at least part of the year.

The Ice Age created most of our lakes and gentle hills. Glaciers did not cover Southwestern Wisconsin with its long hills and coolies. A coolie is a narrow valley formed by the scouring of melt water from the glaciers. Grand Coolie in Washington is a big example, formed when melt water broke through an ice dam, flushing everything before it from what is now Idaho all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Nothing like that happened in recorded human history.

Human history is a short time. We have just about 5000 years of history, i.e. when records were kept and there was no history in this sense in much of the world until much more recently. This means that our recorded human experience with climate change is very short and we recorded nothing as profoundly important as the rapid global warming at the end of the last Ice Age. But lots happened.

The Sumerian civilization, the people who first invented writing, were probably wiped out by a prolonged drought that lasted a couple hundred years. The Egyptians were driven into the Nile Valley by the encroaching Sahara desert. Mycenaean Greek & Hittite civilizations were destroyed at least partially by "climate refugees," who moved in from places suffering rapid changes. The Philistines of Bible fame were probably among them.

On the plus side, Roman civilization flourished during the first and second centuries because of a generally warmer climate that pushed the boundaries of Mediterranean style agriculture and lifestyle into Germany and what is now the UK. This happy time ended in the fourth century and the sixth century had lots of especially nasty cool weather that brought with it famine and sickness.

We enjoyed another warm period in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This was the period of the high Gothic, when European civilization flowered. It was significantly warmer in Europe, producing ample harvest and general prosperity. This ended with the onset of the little ice age. Frosts came earlier and lingered longer.People starved. The Black Death came around this time. While Black Death was not caused by climate change, the more desperate conditions caused by the cooling exacerbated it and hastened the spread.

None of these fluctuations in climate were evidently the result of human activity, but they had profound effects. I cannot point to a situation where climate was the only cause in the flowering or destruction of a civilization, but it was a big contributor to the rise and fall of Rome and the civilization of the high middle ages, mentioned above. There is an interesting speculation about the spread of the Indo-European language group found from India all the way to Ireland. Nobody has been able to find the original "homeland." The closest many scientist come is Anatolia near the Black Sea. Some have speculated that it is UNDER the Black Sea. In prehistoric times, the theory goes, the Black Sea was much smaller and a fresh water lake divided from the salt sea of the Mediterranean by a narrow land bridge in what is today Dardanelles and the Bosporus. This eroded through, quickly filling the basin with salt water and pushing people up and out in all directions. The relatively rapid desertification of North Africa and the Middle East pushed people into river valleys (the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates) and in that respect contributed to the rise of the first civilizations. It is also important to recall that no climate change in recorded history has been as extreme as the end of the last ice age.

I don't know if history should be a comfort or a terror when confronting today's climate change. The earth has been much colder than it is today and much warmer than it will be in the next century with even the direst predictions. However, civilizations have risen and fallen on the backs of changes of smaller magnitude than we may soon experience. The difference is that changes in the past came as a surprise. People in the ancient Middle East may have noticed that game was becoming scarcer and the land drier, but given their short life spans and lack of good record keeping, it fell more into the realm of legend. We will be able to make increasingly accurate estimates of what is likely to happen. Nevertheless, we will be faced with the same choices our ancestors had. We can adapt in place or move.

Human civilization - ALL human civilization - flowered in the Holocene. This was an usually tranquil time in geological history. Some people have advocated that we call our most recent epoch the Anthropocene because it is so influenced by human activity. Certainly future centuries will merit that moniker. We have choices to make. We can look back on our history and earth history and see that it has been a series of upheavals and we have adapted to each of them. This tells us we can adapt to the next and we should do it sooner rather than later.

Posted by Christine & John at December 5, 2012 3:17 PM
Comments
Comment #358167

At least you didn’t go the Gore route and totally blame man and greenhouse gases for our current warming. History of drastic cyclical changes to our planet don’t seem to register with him and his followers.
A switch to natural gas in the near future is smart. Conserving ground water is smart. Developing more efficient desalinization techniques is smart. Maybe buying inland a bit further is smart. Listening to Gore is dumb.

Posted by: John Johnson at December 5, 2012 4:28 PM
Comment #358168

C/J wrote; “My first encounter with climate change came when I was a kid in Wisconsin. We talked a lot about the Ice Ages and went on field trips to the nearby Kettle-Moraine State forest, where you could see the physical evidence of the ice age.”

I too grew up in Wisconsin and took the same school field trips. The one constant over the eons is strangely enough…change. Civilization has changed as has climate. I don’t worry about either unlike our liberal brethren.

Fretting over climate change is an exercise in futility. I have asked liberal MMGW worriers to point to a time in the geological history of the world where the climate was perfect and suitable for them. What climate period would they be satisfied with? No response so far.

And yet, these same folks merrily foster the utter destruction of this country in the near future with out-of-control spending. They worry about something over which they have no control and ignore the peril which is nearby and truly…Man Made. Go figure.

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 5, 2012 4:39 PM
Comment #358175

No one questions that climate changed in the past. Those past changes can be explained by natural cycles. They can be detected by numerous kinds of evidence, including studies of air bubbles in ice to reveal atmospheric concentration, studies of fossils to match types of plants and insects with known temperature tolerances, dendrochronology, and so on.

Today, no natural cycle explains the warming. Yet something is warming the climate, changing it beyond natural variations. All the evidence points to the same conclusion: human activities are warming the planet.

So far, we’ve only seen about one degree of warming, with predictions over the next century ranging from two to four degrees. Yet even a one degree increase causes big changes. It has NOTHING to do with what may be the ideal climate for human beings. It has EVERYTHING to do with the effects of change. For example, a higher sea level might somehow be a benefit, but Battery Park under 10 feet of water is NOT beneficial, and the financial costs of relocating mankind away from the coasts would be enormous, to say nothing of the lives lost due to increased atmospheric moisture (warm air carries more moisture) as storms grow more powerful.

The problem with this (relatively) rapid change is that Climate Change can be very expensive and very deadly, far more costly than the expenses of stopping production of CO2 intensive industrial activities that cause it.

Natural gas ameliorates US contributions to atmospheric CO2 (and by the way, there are other major greenhouse gases, cuch as methane). It does not solve it. Other economies, such as China and India, continue their expansions using coal and oil.

Posted by: phx8 at December 5, 2012 5:39 PM
Comment #358177

Phx8

No reason to talk in the subjunctive. We WILL have these changes. We need to adapt and the sooner the better.

You make a good point re the rapid nature of climate change, but Royal makes a good point about the optimal climate. The natural climate has been very bad, as in the ice age, and very good, as in the warm periods during the Roman Empire and high middle ages.

When I studied ice ages, we are always told that the next ice age was overdue. If human induced warming keeps that horrible scenario at bay, I think that is a good thing.

So I just don’t know and none of us do. Our climate today is more favorable for us than it was 500 years ago during the little ice age. Climate has not remained stable for any extended period. If we arrested a disastrous cooling trend, we may have done good.

In any case, we need to adapt to the change. U.S. CO2 emissions have dropped faster than anybody thought possible, but - as you say - China and others are much more than making up for it. They are not following our example, as the wishful thinkers told us they would.

If you want to stop the rapid CO2 rise, you need to talk the Chinese. They already emit about twice as much CO2 as we do and in 2020 will probably emit as much as ALL the world did in 1990.

Royal

Please see above.

Posted by: C&J at December 5, 2012 5:52 PM
Comment #358180

Well gee golly phx8, lets just eliminate them them there pesky humans. That way there the climate can straighten it’s self out. Another voice from the Owl Gore crowd.
Just how are we causing this warming y’all claim is going on?
Are we driving to much?
Are we keeping to warm in the winter?
Or to cool in the summer?
Are we eating to much?
Or maybe we’re just breathing to much.
When I see these tree huggers selling the vehicle[s]. Turning off their heat and air conditioning, cut down to 1 meal a week, and quit breathing. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll start listening to them.
The biggest hypocrisy I ever saw was some years back when some guy from CBS or one of them other MSM networks was interviewing the leader of the Audubon Society at his home. Here’s this nut case talking about how we need to quit cutting down the red woods while sitting on his red wood deck.
And y’all wonder why folks don’t listen to ya.

Posted by: Ron Brown at December 5, 2012 6:11 PM
Comment #358181

My first experience from climate change also came from explorations of Glacial topography near my parent’s house in Massachusetts. The most fascinating thing for me has always been the kettle hole. A short bike ride from my parent’s house is Walden Pond, which is perhaps the most famous kettle hole in the world, but for literary rather than geologic reasons.

It is certainly true that the climate always changes. However, our economy is not built in a way that enables it to easily adapt to those changes. I’ve used this example before, but it bears repeating: One of the places most vulnerable to anthropogenic global warming is the Ganges River Delta in Bangladesh. It is perhaps one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world, but higher sea levels would put that it to an end. On the other hand, Siberian Taiga might become more fertile to compensate. The problem is that we currently have infrastructure designed to handle rice exports from Bangladesh, but not wheat exports from Siberia. Also, there is a large population in Bangladesh to support the labor intensive farming practices there, however that population cannot simply get up and move to Siberia in order to adapt to the warmer climate. In the past, many wars have been provoked by peoples who are forced to migrate in the wake of changing climate and the scenario could repeat again.

Lastly, the evidence is abundantly clear that the climate is currently warming and that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gas are the overwhelming source of the warming. There currently is no natural explanation for the warming. In fact, many natural forces on climate seem to indicate a cooling trendcooling (Milankovitch forcing for example)

Posted by: Warren Porter at December 5, 2012 6:22 PM
Comment #358182

C/J wrote; “When I studied ice ages, we are always told that the next ice age was overdue. If human induced warming keeps that horrible scenario at bay, I think that is a good thing.”

Actually, we are still in an ice age. Much evidence exists of varying climatic ages over millions of years yet little concrete knowledge of the exact causes that trigger the event. I agree with C/J, I will take a warming earth over a cooling one.

From NOVA…

” The nature of ice ages

Ice ages are times when the entire Earth experiences notably colder climatic conditions. During an ice age, the polar regions are cold, there are large differences in temperature from the equator to the pole, and large, continental-size glaciers can cover enormous regions of the Earth.

Ever since the Pre-Cambrian (600 million years ago), ice ages have occurred at widely spaced intervals of geologic time—approximately 200 million years—lasting for millions, or even tens of millions of years. For the Cenozoic period, which began about 70 million years ago and continues today, evidence derived from marine sediments provide a detailed, and fairly continuous, record for climate change. This record indicates decreasing deep-water temperature, along with the build-up of continental ice sheets. Much of this deep-water cooling occurred in three major steps about 36, 15 and 3 million years ago—the most recent of which continues today.

During the present ice age, glaciers have advanced and retreated over 20 times, often blanketing North America with ice. Our climate today is actually a warm interval between these many periods of glaciation. The most recent period of glaciation, which many people think of as the “Ice Age,” was at its height approximately 20,000 years ago.”

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 5, 2012 6:25 PM
Comment #358183

Artic Reportcard Update for 2012

Posted by: Adrienne at December 5, 2012 6:26 PM
Comment #358186

Are you suggesting we humans can do something about all this, Adrienne, or just pointing out the circumstances that sadden us all.

Posted by: John Johnson at December 5, 2012 6:55 PM
Comment #358187
Actually, we are still in an ice age.

It is true that the current climate regime is much cooler than the one that existed in the Mesozoic or Paleozoic Eras, however this isn’t terribly relevant to the discussion unless you are simply pointing out the simple fact that life can and will survive a warmer climate. I will even go one step further and posit that humanity will continue despite climate change, however the costs of adapting to the warmer climate exceed the costs of preventing it so I believe it is most prudent to opt for the prevention route.


Adrienne, thank you for sharing that link. We are very fortunate to have men & women who are devoted to studying our cryosphere. It will not be very long until sea ice in the Northwest Passage becomes a purely seasonal phenomenon. Hopefully, we will mitigate climate change before the Greenland Ice Sheet melts. Cheap natural gas seems very promising in the near term as long as the issues regarding damage to ground water are sorted out; however, the ball is now in the court of the developing world (especially in Asia, aka China & India). China in particular has expressed a desire to become a world leader and exercise influence around the globe, let this be their chance to set a good example to other developing nations.

Posted by: Warren Porter at December 5, 2012 6:56 PM
Comment #358188

I wonder why, if we are truly facing rising ocean levels, we continue to rebuild low lying metro areas when they are devastated by storms. Why do we continue to build anew in areas that are susceptible to storm damage if we believe they will only get worse? Why are we allowing more population increase in areas we deem threatened?

Can we not plan for a future of warmer climate at less cost than trying to stop climate change with little chance of success? Will my liberal friends support ending federal subsidies that enable folks to continue to live in those places they predict to be dangerous in the future?

If dramatic sea level changes are coming I suggest we get out of the way of danger now, rather than to try and reverse global warming.

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 5, 2012 6:58 PM
Comment #358190

Warren, I appreciate your optimism regarding global cooperation in reducing the possible threat of global warming.

Do you really expect such cooperation to occur? I can not lay my finger on the last time we had anything resembling global cooperation on anything.

We continue to have wars all the time in diverse places. Hunger continues unabated around the world as does preventable disease. Tell me about this cooperation you envisage.

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 5, 2012 7:04 PM
Comment #358192

I have to make the snarky comment that President Obama claimed that he could stop the sea level rise. Another thing he has failed to do.

Royal

I think we really do need to plan ahead.

We have fantastic capacity to discern even small differences in elevation and soils. Yet we steadfastly refuse to draw the proper policies. In fact, we do it completely backwards. We subsidize building in dangerous areas by subsidizing flood insurance and rebuilding in the same places after storms.

One of the fastest and most effective ways to help move development to more appropriate places would be simply for government to stop subsidizing folly.

Posted by: C&J at December 5, 2012 7:14 PM
Comment #358194

One of the fastest and most effective ways to help move development to more appropriate places would be simply for government to stop subsidizing folly.
Posted by: C&J at December 5, 2012 7:14 PM

Absolutely correct.

Over the next century or more we could encourage movement away from areas that some predict will be imperiled. Would it be more expensive to offer incentives to move or to stay? Staying only invites risk of inadequate preparation while moving doesn’t. Threatened huge metro areas along the seacoast can protect just the infrastructure dependent upon close location to the sea and the majority of population can gradually move inland.

I know, some will argue that it’s just not “fair” for them to have to move. Well, if the threat is real then it is fair. If the threat is imaginary…then it isn’t fair. You decide.

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 5, 2012 7:28 PM
Comment #358196
I wonder why, if we are truly facing rising ocean levels, we continue to rebuild low lying metro areas when they are devastated by storms. Why do we continue to build anew in areas that are susceptible to storm damage if we believe they will only get worse? Why are we allowing more population increase in areas we deem threatened?

Can we not plan for a future of warmer climate at less cost than trying to stop climate change with little chance of success? Will my liberal friends support ending federal subsidies that enable folks to continue to live in those places they predict to be dangerous in the future?

If we had a carbon tax or a cap & trade scheme implemented then the implicit subsidies would be negated. However, it seems to be the Right, not the Left that seems to defend these sorts of subsidies.

Do you really expect such cooperation to occur? I can not lay my finger on the last time we had anything resembling global cooperation on anything.
Never before have we ever faced a problem quite like climate change. China will ultimately come to its senses because they will likely suffer many of the ill-effects of unmitigated global warming. The only other option for them may be a takeover of the Russian Far East, but I surely hope that Chinese leadership is competent enough to decide to not enjoin such a strategy.

Maybe I am simply being naive, but I reserve that right. I’ll have plenty of time to be crabby and cynical when I am older.

We continue to have wars all the time in diverse places. Hunger continues unabated around the world as does preventable disease. Tell me about this cooperation you envisage.
Actually, recent history has been probably one of the most peaceful periods of all recorded history. It has been 67 years since a hostile army crossed the Rhine, I doubt you can find a similar period since Pax Romana. The 20th century brought unimaginable suffering embodied in madmen such as Hitler, Mao, Stain & Pol Pot. However, nowadays those defunct ideologies have been relegated to history’s dustbin. Today, we fret over puny adversaries such as Iran & North Korea (or a bunch of guys in a cave in Yemen or Afghanistan), but these are real pipsqueaks. I guess you could throw in Zimbabwe, Venezuela or Cuba, but that is a stretch. There certainly have been a bunch of regional and civil conflicts in the last few decades as a result of decolonization, but fortunately, most of those conflicts are currently waning. Our media like to magnify a few conflicts beyond proportion, but this clouds the wider picture: Since the fall of Communism, the world has been relatively peaceful. Obviously, we are not conflict free, but today’s world is certainly a better place than it was 25 years ago. Posted by: Warren Porter at December 5, 2012 7:44 PM
Comment #358197

Warren, I will take your characterization of my age related “crabby and cynical” with just the smile of contentment for I am neither.

You are not yet a student of history it would seem. You believe that human nature has changed recently when, in fact, it has not and will not. Take a look of the alignment of nations in the UN. Do you honestly believe that any consensus of mutual cooperation and equitable sharing of cost could be obtained on an effort to curb global warming. That would be magical thinking on steroids.

And, from what I understand, we have about as much chance of changing climate by our puny efforts as we would have of stopping a volcano from erupting with a cork.

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 5, 2012 7:55 PM
Comment #358199
Are you suggesting we humans can do something about all this, Adrienne, or just pointing out the circumstances that sadden us all.

Both.

And, from what I understand, we have about as much chance of changing climate by our puny efforts as we would have of stopping a volcano from erupting with a cork.

Then they better not be puny efforts, yes? Because in fact, humanity has no other choice. There’s really no point in thinking pessimistically either — who needs that? Nobody. Ever. What we need is smart, creative thinking and unwavering determination — and we need to try our best to seek as much cooperation as we possibly can going forward.

Posted by: Adrienne at December 5, 2012 8:36 PM
Comment #358200

Adrienne

The initiative has moved to the Chinese and others. We Americans have reduced our CO2 emissions remarkably since 2005. We are down to 1992 levels and it is likely that we will soon exceed the requirement we would have had with Kyoto. In other words, we have done what they said couldn’t be done and we did it w/o having to do all those Kyoto things. Did it help?

In 2020, China alone will emit more CO2 than the whole world did in 1990. Let the magnitude of this sink in. China already emits almost double the CO2 that we do and while we are going down, they are going up.

So actually reducing CO2 emissions mostly consists of getting the Chinese and some others to limit their emissions. We have had little success in getting the Chinese to do anything they didn’t already want to do. They talk the talk about environmentalism, but they build a new coal plant every thirteen or fourteen days.

I am sure President Obama would like to figure out how to convince the Chinese to follow the American example, but so far he has enjoyed no success. What leverage does he have?

Now consider the simple science, even assuming we can get the perfect political solution. CO2 persists in the atmosphere for a long time. The world has lots of CO2 emitting infrastructure. Even if we invented a nearly free and carbon free energy source tomorrow, CO2 concentrations will continue to rise for twenty or thirty years. The horse is out of the barn and we can close the barn door now, but it won’t change the outcome. We will need to adapt to the changes.

I am not thinking pessimistically. I think we can adapt. Realistically, however, there is no way to stop warming in our lifetimes. We should get to the business of adapting.

Posted by: C&J at December 5, 2012 9:11 PM
Comment #358201

What makes you think we can adapt if we do nothing? I think that Sandy should be a wake up call, because that was just a little taste of a lot more to come if we don’t try to seriously act.
Like I said, smart, creative thinking is what we need, which is why I’m interested in how a lot of scientists are currently working to develop microscopic organisms that have the ability to eat large amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere, the way that many bacteria already do in the oceans.
Also, and in the meantime, it appears that growing large bamboo carbon sinks is proving to be a very good way to remove heavy amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere as well.

Posted by: Adrienne at December 5, 2012 9:37 PM
Comment #358203

Ron Brown,
People may behave like hypocrites when it comes to Global Warming, but that does NOT change the nature of the problem. People may attempt to personify the problem in the person of Al Gore and then dismiss it on the basis of politics, but that does NOT change the nature of the problem either.

Human beings are causing Global Warming. Is there something about the science you disagree with? There are no credible alternative explanations for what is going on.

C&J,
Adapting to Global Warming after a two to four degree increase would be a very poor solution. I’ve never thought Cap & Trade would be the solution; more likely, it will involve a technological innovation, maybe something we can’t even imagine today.

Adrienne,
Sandy was a wake up call, and it will probably take more of the same to really spur action. There are a lot of possibilities, as well as a lot we can do in the meantime.

Posted by: phx8 at December 5, 2012 10:28 PM
Comment #358207

It is politics phx8. Even if there was a problem the politicians have hijacked it for their own personal and political gain. Once politicians get a hold of something it gets turned into a political football to keep them in office.

Posted by: Ron Brown at December 6, 2012 12:28 AM
Comment #358210

Adrienne

I am in favor of doing a lot. We should - and HAVE - reduced our CO2 emissions. I advocated the increased used of natural gas in the short term - which produces 60% less Co2 than the coal it replaces and significantly less than oil - and it is working. I advocate increased use of nuclear which produces no CO2 and search for alternatives in the long run.

I also advocate eliminating subsidies for flood insurance and zoning rules that work. In fact, I am probably the most active across the board advocate of adaptions AND mitigation on this blog.

The difference between me and you is that I am trying to do things to solve the problem and you just like to tell us how bad it could get. Yours is the first step. After that you need people like me.

Re bamboo - bamboo is a type of grass. It grows rapidly and dies rapidly. It can indeed take CO2 out of the air, but so do trees and plants in general. Among the many things I have advocated - and in this case done - is to plant rapidly growing trees to offset carbon. The trick here is to keep the carbon sequestered. If the wood decays,as is natural, carbon returns. Bamboo is nothing special except it grows fast.

phx8

Sandy is not a wake up call for global warming. It is a weather event. Hurricane seasons have been very calm since 2006. Would that be the snooze button? You run risk when you extrapolate. I think that is one reason fewer Americans think climate change is a problem than they did a few years ago. People oversold weather events as climate change and when we had no similar ones the next year, you turned people off.

I think that we should “spur action”. What do you suggest to get those Chinese to change their dirty ways? What should President Obama have done earlier?

BTW - the best thing President Obama can do during his time as president is to do more to encourage natural gas exploration and substitution for coal and oil. Gas has capacity to complement wind power in a way no other does.

I would also point to the costs. Even if solar cells were free, the cost of installation and maintenance would still make them a higher cost alternative to most fossil fuels.

Posted by: C&J at December 6, 2012 5:19 AM
Comment #358212

C&J
The reason fewer folks think climate change is a problem is because it isn’t. There is no evidence other than a movie made by Owl Gore [who has made millions buying and selling carbon credits] that there is a problem. That and maybe some so called studies done by some far left wacko scientist that most likely actually believe that the world is gonna end on December 21.
Your so right about solar cells. I had some put in back in the early 90’s to heat water. Not only did they cost an arm and a leg to buy and install, I still had to have a back up water heater. I could have bought and operated 5 or 6 waters heaters for what it cost every year in maintenance. I finally ripped the things out.
I’m all for cleaning up the air, water, and all. Anyone that doesn’t believe that the air is polluted in a lot of places just needs to drive into Atlanta on a calm summer day. You can see the pollution miles away. This does need to be fixed. And Atlanta doesn’t have it near as bad as Los Angeles.
But there’s no way anyone is gonna convince me that we’re all gonna burn up someday. After all the Mien calender runs out on Dec. 21. We’re all gonna explode.

Posted by: Ron Brown at December 6, 2012 8:35 AM
Comment #358216
The difference between me and you is that I am trying to do things to solve the problem and you just like to tell us how bad it could get. Yours is the first step. After that you need people like me.

Why are you always trying to put me down while puffing yourself up? You really don’t know all that much about me, yet you often try to act as if you do. It’s really silly.

Re bamboo - bamboo is a type of grass. It grows rapidly and dies rapidly. It can indeed take CO2 out of the air, but so do trees and plants in general. Among the many things I have advocated - and in this case done - is to plant rapidly growing trees to offset carbon. The trick here is to keep the carbon sequestered. If the wood decays,as is natural, carbon returns. Bamboo is nothing special except it grows fast.

You’re wrong. Bamboo has very unique qualities aside from the fact that it grows incredibly fast. It absorbs four times more CO2 than a similar sized stand of trees, and releases 35% more oxygen. A single acre planted with bamboo isolates up to 40 tons of CO2 every year — and the thing is, it’s super easy to grow. It needs hardly any water, doesn’t need fertilizer, and unlike trees which once cut need replanting, bamboo grows new shoots straight from its own root system. Also, unlike wood, bamboo does not rot quickly so it sequesters CO2 almost permanently. And because it’s super strong, and far more moisture and termite resistant, it makes great material for building construction, not to mention furniture, household items, cloth, you name it.
I’ve read that if the U.S. wanted to sequester all the CO2 emissions we currently produce we could simply plant 174 million acres (about the size of the state of Texas) of bamboo and actually get the job done. And, if we did that a little over five times all over the globe, we could absorb the entire human produced CO2 output of the entire world. We could definitely do this — and it would be really easy too.
I know you grow trees and therefore feel a need to defend your forests Jack, and that’s fine — but it would be really dumb to dismiss bamboo when we talk about global warming.

Posted by: Adrienne at December 6, 2012 12:27 PM
Comment #358218

Adrienne

I apologize for putting you down. I think we have moved beyond the brainstorming stage. Many of the things you suggest are things that people have tried and we have feedback. Sometimes what you suggest are actually things I have studied or even tried. You are correct that I don’t know much about you, but I am reasonably certain that you have not worked with or invested in many of the technologies of methods you advocate. As with Stephen, I believe that most of your information comes from secondary sources untested by your own systematic experience. Am I wrong about this? I am a boots on the ground type of guy. I like to see, touch and maybe smell things before I make judgements.

Re bamboo - there is a simple relationship. Plants absorb CO2 to the extent they turn it into plant tissue and, in the case of trees and bamboo, cellulose. Bamboo indeed grows fast and it can be an important crop. But is also is an invasive species in much of the world. It tends to make poor habitat for native wildlife. Beyond that, bamboo does indeed require fertilizer if it is grown in plantations. It is also water intensive when it is growing, which is presumably what you want it to do.

It is true that I grow trees. I could grow bamboo or short rotation trees and probably make more money. I prefer not to do this because of a commitment to the environment and I just love my forests. Would you really like a bamboo monoculture the size of Texas?

Bamboo is actually part of a bigger debate in forestry. Some people think they can make a lot of money from short rotation crops, among them bamboo. It has many of the advantages you state. Others include hybrid poplars, cloned willows &eucalyptus But if you have a short rotation, it means you are in the woods a lot more often with your harvesting machines. It upsets the wildlife and can compromise water resources. You also have the problems of monoculture.

Responsible forestry protects wildlife resources, biodiversity, water and soils. Short rotation monoculture, of which bamboo is one, do not accomplish those things well.

Another consideration about any biomass is that it sequesters carbon only as long as it remains in its form. If you want merely to sequester carbon, you should use lots of paper and wood and then put it into some kind of storage so it never decayed.

I apologize if I give you a hard time. Many of your ideas are good, but they are incomplete. It seems to me that you express them as big ideas that nobody has tried. It is true that almost any idea we can come up with has been tried and if it is not being used there is often a good reason.

Posted by: C&J at December 6, 2012 2:01 PM
Comment #358224

Adrienne
If bamboo is everything you say I have to wonder why it’s not being used. Here’s something that can help clean up the air and still be sold as a cash crop. It would seem to me that the government would be jumping all over it.
LA sure could use bamboo. They could plant a few hundred, or thousand, acres of it and get rid of their smog problem and put money in the till at the same time.
But I reckon that government doesn’t like doing things the easy way. The more complicated it is and the more expensive it is the better it likes it.

Posted by: Ron Brown at December 6, 2012 4:20 PM
Comment #358225

Ron Brown wrote; “The more complicated it is and the more expensive it is the better it (government) likes it.”

Yup…that’s right Ron, it is more about spending money and funneling it to supporters, than rectifying the problem.

I can prove it easily. With $16.6 Trillion in debts, we are approaching a so-called fiscal cliff if we don’t authorize more spending authority. What problems have we actually “solved” with all those trillions. NONE. What problems have we created…MANY.

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 6, 2012 5:04 PM
Comment #358227

I’d say this. Climate change has always been an issue for human civilization. This time, though, it will be our own fault. The evidence for this claim had not even remotely been contradicted in substance by the evidence presented by the critics. All they do is sow doubt by way of nasty rhetoric.

Some of it is “baked-in” as some would say. But the upper ranges of what is predicted depends on humanity’s future carbon emissions, not just what we have released up to this point. While our uncertainties, both theoretical and data-wise might hide an already inevitable catastrophic runaway climate change, There is a good chance we can do what no other human civilization has ever done: deliberately dodge a climate bullet. Or at least get grazed, rather than shot.

The word I would use to describe the implications of what climate change might otherwise do is “Fractal”. I don’t use it as a buzzword, but to describe the complicated, chaotic relationship between cause and effect that the changes in climate represent.

We can start with coastlines. Look at the contour maps of elevation, and you might perceive that the consequences of water rising will be surprisingly alien to the maps we know today. But it goes elsewhere. What places will be parched of water, that once had rain? What places will get drenched that once went dry?

What about El Nino, and that kind of climate variation? Already we see more cycles of a certain kind than we once saw, to the point where what was once rare has become the new normal

What climate change does is it changes the margins, the boundaries, the thresholds at which things happen, and the very uncertainty and surprise, and the fact that the system probably won’t settle from its change for quite some time to come will cause economic damage in and of itself.

It already is causing damage. We set up our civilization, our cities and towns, the farms and reservoirs that support them for a certain set of weather patterns. Just as nomads in ancient time were surprised by the dessication of the Sahara, forcing them into the Nile Valley or to the margins of the Mediterranean, we too can be surprised by the speed and ferocity of the change. It took less than 200 years, according to one source I read, for this change to take place.

We need to get our act together now, or we will be forced to get it together, if we’re capable at all of doing so, at greater price. A stitch in time saves nine.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 6, 2012 5:34 PM
Comment #358229

“A stitch in time saves nine.”

In this case, a thousand stitches saves nothing.

Posted by: Royal Flush at December 6, 2012 5:41 PM
Comment #358230

Stephen

Step 1

MUCH more use of natural gas. Nobody who believes climate is a serious issue has any justification oppose this.

Step 2

Deploy more nukes. Get the Germans and the Japanese etc to give up their silly plans to phase them out.

Step 3

Continue work on alternatives, but don’t expect anything very soon.

So let’s do it.

Posted by: C&J at December 6, 2012 5:50 PM
Comment #358241

C&J-
Much? Depends on how you define that. I’d go for a mix. Take advantage of the bounty, but don’t lean on it like a crutch. As for Nuclear power? There are a couple things about that. First, Uranium is not an extraordinarily common commodity, and they’re talking about it having its own peak soon. Second, Fukushima scared people for a good reason. When things go wrong with a Nuclear plant, they go badly wrong. People are rational to consider that risk. It’s not a bet you want to get on the wrong side of.

So, you have a lot of convincing to do, if you want people to take advantage of Nuclear power, and you have Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima to argue against.

This is one problem with the anti-regulatory fervor with which some defend it. It’s all fine to defend the safety of something that’s not failed publically, but people look at Nuclear energy, and they see a number of failures, two of which with Western Reactors, including a kind we have here. So, “Y’all are being worrywarts” doesn’t really reassure people. It’s happened.

As for work on alternatives? My sense is that we must set goals, not merely sit around with vague sentiments of “don’t expect anything very soon.” I mean, we’ve already seen tremendous growth in wind and solar, and those are cheaper in the long run than any process that requires fuel. Look at the projects in my home state. It’s actually to such a point that they need new power lines to grow any faster!

I think your sensibility is too cautious, too influenced by those who don’t want their day in the sun to be over.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at December 7, 2012 10:15 AM
Comment #358252

Stephen

Re uranium – “and they’re talking about it having its own peak soon.” Are “they” the same pinheads who told us about peak oil and peak gas? There is no peak of anything in the practical sense. It depends always on prices and technologies, which change rapidly.

In any case, if you really care about global warming, you need not concern yourself with the long term availability of uranium any more than the drowning man worries about the long term composition of the life preserver. The question to you is, do you really consider global warming the most urgent environmental problem or not?

Re alternatives –“My sense is that we must set goal” set all the goals you want, but recognize that our technological knowledge will grow and expand in unexpected ways and that the experts who set the goals will be wrong. Nobody anticipated the natural gas boom. I know that there will be lots of liars who will go back and claim they saw it coming, but they are wrong. Expert opinion, as late as a decade ago, saw diminishing supplies. In fact, some of these people talked about peak gas.

I have been working a lot lately with high tech research. We have been encouraging connections between researchers and checking into how innovation really works. Putting lots of money can work, if you do it right. Government has trouble doing it right. Actually, there is a problem of scaling up. As you put more money into something, it gets less useful. It just takes time to create networks of scholars and it takes time for discoveries to be turned into innovation.

We are fooled by “crash” programs like the Apollo moons shot or the Manhattan project. These produced rapid results, but aimed at specific ends, which were much smaller than changing the energy mix of an entire society AND they were established within existing intellectual ecosystems. Look at the results too. We went to the moon a few times and have not been back since. We developed bombs which after the first two times were never deployed (thank God). Our energy future is much more complex than either of these things.

In the long run, I am very optimistic. We are a scientific society and we can produce great innovation. But we need to look at what is possible in the shorter and medium run. The savior of the short run is natural gas and conservation. In the medium run we need to work on nukes and in the longer run … nobody knows.

I also urge you to go out and visit some research labs and firms. Many very intelligent people are working full out on the energy solution and many firms want to cash in on the bounty that new and clean energy would produce. The challenge is that we are not sure what we want or how to get it.

Let me add one more thing – and I hope this doesn’t bore you. When I was in business school, we used to use the case study method, i.e. we would take actual situations and then come up with “real world” solutions. It always seems pretty easy to “solve” the problems, and we were always surprised that the people involved in the actual cases could not see what was so obvious to us. I understand things differently today. It is indeed easy to solve many problems when you enjoy information set up for you and you have the problem laid out. In real life, we don’t have those things. We are working toward a goal of cheap and clean energy, but what does that mean? Our answers will change. In the 1970s, cheap and clean meant something very different. CO2 was considered a harmless byproduct. In fact, if we could have produced energy with only CO2, we would have considered that we found the Holy Grail of energy. Things changed. Yesterdays solutions are often tomorrow’s problems.

I would add re our German and Japanese friends. IF they want to phase out nukes at this time in history, they are telling us that they don’t consider climate change the most urgent problem.

Re Fukashima - people died because of the tidal wave and hurricane and related normal accidents. Nobody died as a direct result of this being a nuclear plant. There are estimates that 1300 people might die of cancer who otherwise would not, this over a course of a lifetime. This is bad, but recall that one year alone 1,307 people died from falling down the stairs.

As for Three Mile Island - more people died in Teddy Kennedy’s car than died in that accident.

Posted by: C&J at December 7, 2012 6:12 PM
Comment #358275

“Nobody anticipated the natural gas boom. I know that there will be lots of liars who will go back and claim they saw it coming, but they are wrong. Expert opinion, as late as a decade ago, saw diminishing supplies. In fact, some of these people talked about peak gas.”

C&J,

Nonsense! Please cite some expert opinion that “saw diminishing supplies” of natural gas as late as a decade ago. The targeted R&D of government/private industry along with well head tax credits initiated in the late 70s had paid off big time by the 2000s. Tax credits had already phased out by that time and were no longer needed as private capital flowed into natural gas production.

“In the medium run we need to work on nukes and in the longer run … nobody knows.”

Well, you can forget about the nukes for the medium run. It ain’t going to happen. Our nuclear power plant inventory, which produces 20% of our electrical power, is aging fast and needs to be replaced. Almost all the power plants have long outlived their commissioned life cycles. The NRC has kicked the can down the road by re-commissioning these plants for double and triple their planed life cycles. It can’t go on for very much longer. Consider that some of the re-commissioned plants are of the design that failed in Japan.

The German decision to phase out nuclear and to concentrate its resources on clean alternatives is a practical decision that we will come to appreciate within the next decade. The reason is simple: there is no alternative. It is politically and practically impossible to replace the current inventory of aging nuclear plants. The public fears them. The private sector won’t fund them without enormous government economic support and indemnity. According to Wikipedia, “as of 2012, “nuclear industry officials say they expect just five new reactors to enter service by 2020.” There are 104 nuclear plants that need to be replaced!

The fact of the matter is that we do need to set some goals for alternative energy development as Stephen has pointed out. We won’t have the luxury of nuclear power for the intermediate term.

In the late 70s we knew that we had abundant untapped natural gas but didn’t have the technology to exploit the reserves. We invested in the R&D. It paid off. We know today that there are abundant clean alternative sources of energy, e.g., solar. We need to invest in the R&D to exploit those resources. Sure, not all efforts will pay off. But, Edison didn’t invent the incandescent light bulb in one try either. The sooner we begin a vigorous R&D effort, the sooner we will get to cleaner abundant energy production. We really have no choice.


Posted by: Rich at December 7, 2012 9:34 PM
Comment #358276

Rich

Don’t be silly. Don’t you have any memory.

Okay. I did a fast google.

Time 2003 Why is the U.S. Running out of Gas
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,464406,00.html
Natural Gas Crisis
http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/062303_nat_gas_crisis.html

Or this from Jimmy Carter

The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are running out.

Because we are now running out of gas and oil, we must prepare quickly for a third change, to strict conservation and to the use of coal and permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power.

- Jimmy Carter April 18, 1977

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/carter-energy

TODAY many people claim they knew that there was lots of gas out there. Maybe you think you did too. If you think that, the question is, are you rich? Anybody who “knew” this in 2003 should have picked up mineral rights in Pennsylvania really cheap.

Re “The German decision to phase out nuclear and to concentrate its resources on clean alternatives is a practical decision that we will come to appreciate within the next decade.” - This tells you the Germans don’t really believe warming is urgent.

Re what we knew in the 1970s - why do people talk about “peak oil” or “peak gas”?

Read my earlier article about fracking - http://www.watchblog.com/republicans/archives/008271.html#more

It is easy to predict success after it happens. That is why many people are rich in theory but not in practice.

Re R&D in solar - you need to get around more. We are doing all sorts of R&D. The Germans spent a large fortune on solar development. We can copy that. In fact, solar cells are getting very cheap. The problem is the cost of maintenance and installation. These prices don’t come down.

You also may not have considered some of the side affects of solar. Are you fond of trees? A solar rooftop means no trees nearby.

Let me share some personal experience with solar. When I was in Iraq I pushed solar. It is always sunny. Makes sense, right. Not. There is a lot of dust. The dust makes the solar cells inoperative. So you need to hire somebody to dust off the cells every day. Even is solar is free, the cost of having these guys do the cleaning makes it impractical compared with alternatives.

I am in favor of alternatives. But I am also familiar with them.

I see the world in terms of probabilities. I don’t say anything is impossible but some things are much more likely than others. The wonder of our system is that everybody gets to invest in what they think are the winning mixes. I invite you to do just that. If you are right, you will get rich quick. If you are not interested in money, you can shift this to charity etc. But don’t tell me that you knew back in the 1990s that there would be a natural gas boom ten years later unless you are now controlling large swaths of gas producing real estate that you acquired before us ordinary people figured it out.

Posted by: C&J at December 7, 2012 10:28 PM
Comment #358278

And anyone using Chernobyl as a reason why the US shouldn’t pursue nuclear power doesn’t know enough about how nuclear plants work…

Chernobyl was a combination of a) a very faulty design that the US has never and would never allow and b) people being rushed to finish a test under severe penalty for not completing it.

The number of US citizens who have died as a result of nuclear power? 3, that we know of at an Army Nuclear Power Plant, SL-1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1

There have been many nuclear power plants running in the US for decades and those are the only deaths as a result. There are around 104 plants running now providing about 20% of our electric power. The US is also the worlds largest supplier of nuclear electric power.

In addition, there are many naval ships that are powered by nuclear power as well.

We have developed a very safe design (term is failsafe) and the ONLY reason we don’t have more is because of the chicken little scaremongers who don’t actually understand the technology.

Interestingly enough, most of the very same people will tell you that they only adhere to science and scientists (which we should) but for some reason abandon that when their fears come to the surface.

Rhinehold —-> Former Naval Nuclear Reactor Operator.

Posted by: Rhinehold at December 7, 2012 11:39 PM
Comment #358368

Thanks Rhinehold

I think the interesting paradox among some so-called environmentalists is that they tell us that global warming is the most important danger in human history and that if we didn’t act five years ago there would be dire consequences, including widespread death and destruction.

Then they tell us that we need to phase out nuclear power, including what we already have deployed, despite that fact that it is non-CO2 producing and has been safe.

So they are liars or idiots. If warming is indeed such an urgent problem, you certainly should reach for whatever means will help. The same goes for how some oppose natural gas.

IMO many of these guys just dislike modern civilization. They love the idea of warming and see it as an opportunity to force redistribution. When we propose solutions that work, like gas or nuclear power, they are not happy. They want to problems solved ONLY in their particular ways and prefer no solution to those that would preserve the essential structures of Western Civilization and free market capitalism.

Posted by: C&J at December 8, 2012 5:35 AM
Comment #358376

Rheinhold and C&J,

You can make all the arguments you want about “failsafe” nuclear plants, the promise of fast breeder reactors, the potential of thorium reactors, CO2 emission control, etc. You may be correct. But, it won’t make any difference. The Japanese disaster has sealed the deal against nuclear.

We haven’t had a major construction start on a new nuclear site since Three Mile Island. There have been some additional reactors on existing sites but no new major initiatives. There will not be any. The public is afraid of nuclear. The private sector will not finance nuclear without enormous government financial support and indemnity. Even with the generous support offered by the Bush and Obama administrations, the private sector isn’t rushing to nuclear.

But, you say this is all nonsense. Nuclear reactors are failsafe. This is all the fault of a bunch of chicken little scaremongers. You say “Chernobyl was a combination of a) a very faulty design that the US has never and would never allow and b) people being rushed to finish a test under severe penalty for not completing it.” Not a problem for us. But, it is not just Chernobyl that people are concerned about. The Japanese reactors that failed are US design, were constructed and commissioned for operation in the US, continue to be operational in the US and have even been recommissioned for additional life cycles. That despite clear evidence of their danger known to the NRC decades ago. Nobody wanted to pull the plug on the design for economic reasons. We should trust them now?

In any discussion of nuclear, it might be wise to remember the final thoughts of Admiral Rickover on nuclear:

“I do not believe that nuclear power is worth it if it creates radiation. Then you might ask me why do I have nuclear powered ships. That is a necessary evil. I would sink them all…..Every time you produce radiation, you produce something that has a certain half-life, in some cases for billions of years. I think the human race is going to wreck itself, and it is important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.” (Economics of Defense Policy: Hearing before the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, 97th Cong., 2nd sess., Pt. 1 (1982)

Posted by: Rich at December 8, 2012 11:08 AM
Comment #358377

Rich

I understand that people don’t want nuclear power. I also understand that if so-called environmentalists really thought that global warming was the foremost and most urgent threat, they would be working hard to convince people that it was a necessary step to address global warming.

The phase out is very bad from the global warming point of view. If indeed warming is such a urgent threat, increasing CO2 emissions by closing down nukes is a very irresponsible thing to do.

So again, the question is whether global warming is a urgent problem that will affect billions of people and must be aggressively addressed five years ago, or if we have the luxury to shut down non-CO2 producing power stations because we speculate that they could be dangerous sometime to hundreds of people in the future.

It is like meeting a man who claims to be starving. You offer him some food, which he rejects because he doesn’t like some of the spices you used.

Posted by: C&J at December 8, 2012 11:20 AM
Comment #358393

“It is like meeting a man who claims to be starving. You offer him some food, which he rejects because he doesn’t like some of the spices you used.”

C&J,

Not quite. More like he rejects the food because it contains a poison.

The point is simple, you can’t count on nuclear power in the future. Perhaps, that is wrongheaded. But, it is a fact. Better to spend the money on clean alternative research and development. That is the bet that the Germans are making.

I might also add that the nuclear power industry and government regulatory agencies have been their own worst enemies. Who would have thought that the Japanese and the US would have allowed the construction and operation of reactors known to be not failsafe and potentially dangerous? That revelation was devastating to the Japanese people. If those very same reactors in the US had failed in a similar manner, I think that we would have quickly adopted the German program of phase out and vigorously funded alternative research and development.

Admiral Rickover was successful with his nuclear programs because he feared nuclear. He thought of it as a necessary evil that should be eliminated ASAP. He was also skeptical that others were not sufficiently fearful to take the necessary safety precautions. I think that he would be highly supportive of substantial R&D for alternative clean fuel sources and a strong advocate for increased safety standards for current nuclear power generation plants. That is the type of approach that most people could buy. Unfortunately, there is no strong advocate for that today.

Posted by: Rich at December 8, 2012 7:13 PM
Comment #358398

Rich

We don’t have to count on nuclear power far into the future. But we have already deployed nuclear power that can last another 20-30 years. So far, it has killed nobody. If people believe climate change is so urgent, surely this risk is worth it.

The Germans can continue to work on their cleaner alternatives; in fact, they can continue to do this even better by investing the money they save by running their nuclear plants to their useful life.

I just think that people who want to shut down nuclear energy really do not believe that global warming is a very urgent problem or else they just have not thought it through.

Posted by: C&J at December 8, 2012 7:25 PM
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