Climate change: A short note

Posted on December 16, 2015
Posted By: Ferdinand E. Banks
 
Many years ago, interrupting my return from Sydney to Stockholm, I stopped in Brisbane (Australia) to give a half-dozen amateur and half-baked lectures on environmental economics. In my mathematical economics classes in Sydney I usually walked up to the podium or whiteboard with a smile on my face, ready and able to deal with anyone who thought that they had a lesson to give my good self, while in Brisbane I was in unknown territory, because my knowledge of this subject (environment and climate) was probably only marginally superior to that of the less alert members of my audience.

When I wrote the above lines, in the charming university town of Uppsala (Sweden), and also Stockholm, hundreds or maybe thousands of persons were forming ranks in preparation for a Climate March (or demonstration), while gorgeous Paris (France) was in the process of opening its arms, hearts and restaurants to politicians (and their advisors) from 140-150 countries, who were scheduled to occupy the front line of perhaps the largest climate/environmental conference in history.

I will not play any part in any these gigs, because I consider the Paris ‘event’ a lie and a show. I won’t have anything to do with the Parisian extravaganza although I was offered a round-trip, all-expenses paid invitation, because I am too smart to waste my valuable time listening to the fractured wisdom launched by distinguished conference attendees with less than a minuscule insight into climate/environmental/energy matters.

Just as important, I am not interested in trying to explain to them the elementary thermodynamics required to understand technical matters of the kind found on the business pages of their local newspapers, or perhaps in the comic books of their children or grandchildren.

What I will do however is to tell them and anybody else how I am attempting to expand my slender knowledge of climate/environmental issues. First and foremost, on that subject, I am only interested in the writing and thinking of dedicated researchers, preferably superstars. This practice, incidentally, is not necessary for making the most of your future courses (or reading) in calculus, economics, strength of materials, ballistics, or e.g. history – because eventually I was beautifully taught these subjects at my engineering school in Chicago by members of the academic rank and file. By way of contrast, DEDICATION is absolutely necessary in order to obtain what all of us need to obtain from this topic (climate/environment), because otherwise you expose yourself to the most grotesques varieties of pseudo-scientific nonsense. Put less dramatically, YOU EXPOSE YOURSELF TO AN OVERDOSE OF WILD GUESSES AND LIES!

And who are these superstars? Well, John von Neumann was often called the best brain of the 20th century, but after finding out what I have found about him I would not have attended his lectures if he paid me. He may of course have had something to offer in his papers and conversations, but to me lectures provide the measure of a scholar. (Let me note however, that no one who knew von Neumann wasted any time criticizing him, because as a mathematician that gentleman was strictly in a class by himself.)

For the purposes of the present discussion, I am going to nominate Freeman Dyson as Your Man of the Year, Your Chief Dedicated World Class Scholar, Your Main Man, and suggest that if you want to know more about him than the few comments below, you should turn to Google. The thing about Dyson is that you can find his work in virtually every kind of publication, and the respect for this work is impressive. Dyson also accepts that anthropogenic (man-made) global warming exists, and even accepts that it is the result of burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal. However he does not accept the mathematical models that are supposed to provide precise answers to the development of global warming. It may be the case though that he wants answers from these models that mathematics cannot provide.

In addition, he may – may – be on what I consider to be the wrong side of the nuclear discussion, because when discussing clean energy, nuclear should be at the top of the list. In case he isn’t, please let me apologize, because despite all the lies and misunderstandings that teachers of energy economics like my good self must confront on virtually a daily basis, in 2014 nuclear power generated about 60% of the carbon-free electricity in the U.S., though its contribution to total power generation in that country is only 19-20%. Readers might also find it useful to know that James Hansen, the American scientist who became famous raising the alarm about climate change, is today in Paris urging the expansion of nuclear power.

Professor Dyson is a signatory of a letter to the UN criticizing the IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), because of their intolerance of views that are outside the mainstream of scientific opinion on climate change. What he fails to understand here is that as with football (soccer) the issue is not just truth but money and ‘perks’. Some of most preposterous suggestions ever concocted have been made by international organizations that are trying to gain acceptance for their ignorant efforts at superfluous international conferences such as the one now taking place in Paris. (The IPCC investigates scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to risks that might occur as a result of human-induced climate change. I once regarded their activities as useless, however I was recently informed that they too now accept that nuclear has a great deal to offer, so now perhaps they deserve my attention.)

Dyson has correctly argued that political efforts to reduce the causes of climate change distract from other global problems that should take priority. He says that “I'm not saying the warming doesn't cause problems, obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it. I'm saying that the problems are being grossly exaggerated. They take away money and attention from other problems that are much more urgent and important. Poverty, infectious diseases, public education and public health. Not to mention the preservation of living creatures on land and in the oceans.” Since taking interest in climate studies, Dyson suggests that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could be controlled by planting fast-growing trees.

He calculates that it would take a trillion trees to remove all carbon from the atmosphere, which is interesting, although I would like to know how many would have to be planted every year to prevent carbon dioxide levels from increasing, and perhaps where they should be planted. In any event, as all intelligent women and men know, planting trees costs money, and many of the persons making decisions about planting trees (and crucial matters like the quality and quantity of primary and secondary education in their countries) are more interested in ‘running off at the mouth’ at conferences in places like Paris.

Finally, I say a few words about environment and climate in my new book ENERGY AND ECONOMIC THEORY (2015). But just a few mind you, because neither I nor anybody else knows what we should (and probably) could eventually know about this increasingly important topic. Perhaps you can help us some day, but even if you can’t, you should make as much effort as possible to convince yourself and your friends and neighbors that instead of meaningless conferences in exotic surroundings, more attention should be given to improving the quality of education at all levels, especially for those of us like myself who – like myself – were once informed that we were “hopeless”.

REFERENCES

Baltscheffsky, Susanna (2009). Koldioxidutsläppen når rekord höjder. Svenska Dagbladet. (December 3).
Banks, Ferdinand E. (2015). Energy and Economic theory. Singapore, London and New York: World Scientific.
Banks, Ferdinand E. (2010). ‘An unfriendly comment on another Green Fantasy: Roadmap 2050’. 321 Energy (April)
_____(2004).‘Economic theory and a faith based approached to global warming.’ Energy and Environment: Volume 15, No.5.
_____ (2000) ‘Energy Economics: A Modern Introduction’ Kluwer Academics New York.
_____.(2000). ‘The Kyoto negotiations on climate change: an economic perspective. Energy Sources (Volume 22, July).
Barbier, Christophe (2009). ‘Jean-Louis Borloo: Obama doit nous emboiter le pas’. Lexpress (13 Decembre).
Bell, Ruth Greenspan (2006). ‘The Kyoto Placebo’. Issues in Science and Technology: Resources for the Future.
Festraets, Marion (2009). ‘Jean Jouzel: 3 ou 4oC plus, ca change tout’. L’express (13 Decenbre)
Goodstein, David (2004). Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil. New York and London: Norton.
Harlinger, Hildegard (1975). ‘Neue modelle für die zukunft der menscheit’. IFO- Institut Für Wirtschaftforschung, Munich.
Roques, Fabien and William J Nuttall, David Newbery, Richard de Neufville, Stephen Connors, (2006), ‘Nuclear power: a hedge against undertain gas
and carbon and carbon Prices’. The Energy Journal (No. 4). Rose, Johanna (2010). ‘Drömmen om rentkol’. Forskning & Framsteg (March).
Yohe, Gary W. (1997). ‘First principles and the economic comparison of regulatory alternatives in global change’. OPEC Review. 21(2): 75-83.
Victor, David G. and Danny Cullenward (2007). ‘Making carbon markets work’.Scientific American (2007).
______. and Varun Rai (2009). ‘Dirty coal is winning’. Newsweek.
Zimmerman, Martin (1981). The U.S. Coal Industry. Cambridge: MIT Press.
 
 
Authored By:
Ferdinand E. Banks (Uppsala University, Sweden), performed his undergraduate studies at Illinois Institute of Technology (electrical engineering) and Roosevelt University (Chicago), graduating with honors in economics. He also attended the University of Maryland and UCLA. He has the MSc from Stockholm University and the PhD from Uppsala University. He has been visiting professor at 5 universities in Australia, 2 universities in France, The Czech University (Prague), Stockholm University, Nanyang Technical
 

Other Posts by: Ferdinand E. Banks

A Nuclear Energy Update - March 13, 2015
Helpful Thoughts About Coal - December 10, 2014

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Comments

December, 17 2015

Richard Vesel says

Fred, IMHO, the four things you need to know as background for this topic:

1) Understand what blackbody radiation is, just to know what is the (mainly visible wavelength) radiation input curve from the sun, and how the earth reradiates infrared energy (IR) back into space at the nominal, and extreme low/high surface temperatures, in order to maintain a thermal input/output balance.

2) Water and CO2 are the primary pre-industrial greenhouse gases, and they keep the earth about 60 deg-F (33 deg-C) warmer than if there were none of either in the atmosphere. Pre-industrial CO2 at 280ppm contributes about 3% to this overall amount of warming (1.8 deg-F or 1 deg-C).

3) Understand that CO2 strongly absorbs and re-emits IR at several wavelengths, but the critical one is at a wavelength of 15 microns, squarely within ALL the blackbody re-radiation curves of earth. This is the bad boy GHG in the picture.

4) Annual average CO2 levels have increased during the industrial age from ~280ppm to now 400+ppm, and it is climbing annually & increasingly, currently about 0.7%/yr at this point. The evidence that it is entirely due to our combusting of fossil fuels is the changing in the relative concentrations of carbon isotopes C12 v C13 found in the overall atmospheric CO2 composition. Plants preferentially absorb a bit more C12 than C13 when they use CO2 in photosynthesis. C12 is increasing in the atmosphere, with the same curve as the overall increase in CO2, since 1800, as we release the slight excesses of C12 that were captured by the plants that formed fossil fuels. This is the "smoking gun" so to speak.

Temps will rise. The physics is undeniable. How they will rise is a complex question to answer, based upon how much energy enters the sea and the atmosphere, and how those two carry out their complex interaction. But, with the additional energy absorbed in either/both, our climate will become more and more "energetic", both in temperature and in variability.

If you would like more details, let me know.

Regards, RWV

December, 17 2015

Richard Vesel says

What Professor Dyson is missing, is the momentum of human behavior does not afford us the opportunity to study, study, and study some more, to derive wholly accurate models he would like to see, while we continue on our merry way to 550ppm (in less than 40 years), and to 1000ppm in 85 years, while we study and refine some more. Let's hypothesize that it takes until 2050 to achieve an appropriately refined model, and it confirms what our comparatively rudimentary ones are already saying. What then? By that time, we will have an ingrained habit of pouring 70B tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (double today's figure). At that moment of enlightenment, will we suddenly stop all emissions? Hardly.

At this point, with just enough evidence in, it will take the next half century to cease most emissions, with great effort and change of habit, fighting entrenched interests all along the way.

If an alcoholic had started out with one or two drinks a day, and gradually increased to one bottle per day, would we grant that person the opportunity to reach their own conclusion, unassisted, that they are an alcoholic? Would we let them proceed merrily on to two bottles a day, in the strange hope they might think more clearly along the way? We as a species have moved along a similar path in our reliance upon fossil fuels. Letting our habit double, as we ponder the consequences of our already exorbitant addiction doesn't seem to be the least bit prudent, OR scientific.

Moving on to Dyson's tree planting: We don't want to plant enough trees to remove ALL the carbon from the atmosphere, just 1/3 of it, to restore the pre-industrial conditions that humanity matured in. So that is now ~350B trees, or 50 for every person on the planet. I can sponsor 100 new trees for $100 at carbonfund.org. So can anyone else. At a $1 per tree, it seems a lot cheaper than all the other proposed solutions (as long as we simultaneously reduce fossil fuel combustion.). That $350B is about one third of the USA's ***annual*** defense+security budget, just to put in in perspective.

RWV

December, 22 2015

John K. Sutherland says

'There is a scientific consensus...' 'The physics is undeniable'. How many times have I not heard those same statements from a host of others. The witchdoctors of the IPCC would like everyone to think so too. Paris COP 21 was the twenty-first failed effort to railroad society.

Do I see a gradual shift in your stance Fred? Welcome to the ranks of the informed and skeptical.

December, 22 2015

Darby Hanson says

Mr Vesel, I have a question. What was the atmospheric concentration of CO2 about 1000 years ago? If we are discussing climate, then shouldn't we be reviewing data that is a bit longer term than a couple of hundred years? How far back can we accurately estimate the atmospheric CO2? I guess that was three questions. Thanks in advance for the answers.

"Advances are made by answering questions. Discoveries are made by questioning answers" - Bernard Haisch

December, 27 2015

Malcolm Rawlingson says

The sight of tens of thousands of people desending on Paris who care so much about CO2 emissions that they all boarded planes to get there is nothing short of comical. The very act of having this idiotic meeting dumped thousands of tons of CO2 into the atmposphere. I am sure that few if any of the "delgates" actually walked there. Even that means of transport produces CO2.

I think, as does Fred, that their motives were nothing at all to do with climate and much more to do with the perks they received. Sad really.

Besides, climate change is irrelevant to me except that nuclear power will be the great beneficiary of the hype. Only nuclear power can replace coal oil and gas.The Chinese know that and are building big nuclear plants at an amazing pace. They just announced 8 new plant orders from 2015 to 2020...that is 48 1GW reactors on top of the 20 or so already in operating and the 25 or so under construction. In Japan Takahama 3 is being loaded with fuel as we speak with Takahama 4 soon to follow to join Sendai 1 and 2 aleady in commercial operation. Ikata 3 will be joining them soon. All have passed the strict NRA requirements. Watts Bar 2 owned by TVA is also loaded with fuel and ready to go into production in early 2016.Vogtle's 2 new units are moving ahead and will be in operation by 2018. Barakah (4 x 1.2 GW) in the UAE will start operations in 2018 - 2020.

That is just the start. As the realisation sinks in amongst the attendees at COP21 that wind farms and solar panels cannot replace coal or oil or natural gas in any meaningful way the penny will drop that nuclear is the only viable solution.

I hope that no-one is contemplating the planting of a trillion trees. If that is what it takes to remove all CO2 from the air we will all be in deep trouble as there will be no CO2 left for the plants that feed us.Stupid idea.

It has been a balmy Christmas here in eastern Canada. Not a flake of snow to shovel. Wonderful weather. El Nino is being kind to us this year.

Malcolm

December, 28 2015

Malcolm Rawlingson says

Oh well. I spoke too soon. It is snowing today. Thankful I do not have to clean my roof top solar panels of ice and snow since I don't have any. Lights are still on though thanks to OPG and Bruce Power. Great supporter of solar panels...but not in Ontario or Northern climes. Best suited to sunny places like deserts. Malcolm

January, 06 2016

Richard Vesel says

Mr Hanson, Sorry I missed your question of a few weeks back. Here are some sources to verify the answer I provide. 1000 years ago, CO2 levels were 270-280ppm, about 30% lower than today's figure of 400+ppm. At today's pace of fossil fuel combustion, we are adding about 3ppm per year and accelerating rapidly. Business as usual will have us at 550+ppm by 2050.

Places you may look for the source of this historical figure, which has been verified to have been at or below that level for at least 800,000 years by ice core data:

http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/co2/ice_core_co2.html

https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/paleoclimatology-data/datasets/ice-core

RWV

January, 06 2016

Richard Vesel says

Mr. Sutherland,

You should look at the four items I have provided, and if you are capable, make an attempt at a scientific, not a rhetorical, rebuttal. As of now, the physics IS undeniable. We are retaining more solar energy flux per year, and it is energizing the oceans and troposphere, the two elements which have the greatest affect on our climate.

RWV

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