Friday, May 17, 2013

The Worst that Could Happen

You know: a long time ago I swore off blogging about Global Warming because it's like blogging against witchcraft or against alien abduction.  That is: it's not so much that the ideas are false or corny or crazy but that the people you have to convince they are wrong are actually the ones who give the internet a bad name. You wind up fighting over things which are simply irrelevant to the actual question which have to be answered.

But: I think I have one last magnum opus on this subject to spill out, and I'm posting it today.  bookmark for future reference.

The Next Big Thing in the Climate Change discussion is this video, the author of which has expanded his ideas into a self-published book. It's titled "the Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See."  have a look ...


Right?  The critical moment in the video is this one, right around 4:28:


For those who didn't watch the video, or those who can't make out what's going on here, Greg Craven has put up a simple risk/benefit analysis of the question of Global Warming.  I'll clean it up for you, here:


Greg's point, at the end of it all is that the risks of the 4th quadrant outweigh the benefits of all the other quadrants.  That is: effectively, the worst possible outcome if we are wrong is far worse than the best possible outcome if we are wrong.  He's literally saying that if we do nothing, and Global Warming is true, it is the end of the world and we will all suffer and/or die.

My first observation is this: I suspect that Greg is vaguely acquainted with Pascal's Wager -- because plainly: this is a type of it.  So my first question for the person pointing to Greg's book/video is this: if we your point is that this is convincing regarding Global Warming, do you accept the same argument in favor of the existence of God and what you should do about that.  If their answer is any version of, "well, no ..." then I'm not sure why I should accept Greg's argument here for the worst case scenario.  Logic should be portable and convincing, not convenient.

But let's assume that we're all sure that this kind of reasoning is valid enough for the sake of solving the problem.  That is: we can use a risk analysis like this to size up our options and take the most prudent option -- even if we know that it might be wrong, it's the one where the risk of loss is minimized and the cost is therefore worth avoiding the worst case.

Is Greg's table a fair representation of the circumstances we find ourselves in?

Well, I'm willing to concede to him everything except the block in yellow, below:


Is the cost of making the right-sized correction Globally to fix the carbon emissions problem "only" Global depression?  Well, that begs the question: "What must we do, exactly, to make the correction?"

It's an interesting question, and if you search the internet, there are a lot of places with a short list of things you can do to "help."  For example, About.com has a helpful "top 10" things list for those of you who are friends of the trees.  When you put it that way, of course it's only a mere inconvenience to fix GCC.

But it turns out that people we are really concerned about this have a different view.  The "short list" for those things will only slow the encroachment of the changes -- not stop them.  The Audubon Society says this:


And as a correction to that scenario, they say this is what we must do -- and pay attention to the list:


The clear, primary item we must accomplish to this objective is to stop burning things for the sake of producing energy.  In case you don't understand the effects of that prescription, they line it out for you in the ORANGE highlight: running vehicles, heating homes, running factories, lighting cities.  In case you can't interpolate, that also means running the internet, watching TV, having cell phones (or any kind of phones), and running medical equipment. EarthEasy.com has a great list of stuff they think will matter.

Now: to be fair to these folks, they do say they only want us to "decrease" our use of this stuff.  But let's ask a fair question: how far do we have to "reduce" the use here in order to meet the goals needed to impact the change in climate due to carbon emissions?

Here is where it gets very interesting.

Some of the more-moderate voices say that it's just a shift in technology away -- and we don't really need to bother with the math.  I think it turns out that Greg Craven is one of those guys.

But let me link you to the an opinion which is less third-way, from ThinkProgess.org:
The fact is that, as RealClimate has explained, we would need “an immediate cut of around 60 to 70% globally and continued further cuts over time” merely to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of CO2 – and that would still leave us with a radiative imbalance that would lead to “an additional 0.3 to 0.8ÂșC warming over the 21st Century.” And that assumes no major carbon cycle feedbacks kick in, which seems highly unlikely. 
We’d have to drop total global emissions to zero now and for the rest of the century just to lower concentrations enough to stop temperatures from rising. Again, even in this implausible scenario, we still aren’t talking about reversing climate change, just stopping it — or, more technically, stopping the temperature rise. The great ice sheets might well continue to disintegrate, albeit slowly.
I think you can see where I'm going, but let's walk this off so there are no fuzzy edges.  Let's assume 3 things for the sake of not making this view of things looking as bad as possible: (1) that Zero is an over-estimate, and the right number is 65% (the middle of 60-70%, as above) cut in carbon emissions, (2) the cut in emissions is a one-for-one cut to the Global economy, expressed as a percent, and (3) all values are adjusted to 1999 international dollars.

Here's the best-case scenario, using that sort of thinking: the global economy has to shrink from its current level of about $71.8 trillion down to about $25.13 trillion, which is the same as it was in 1987.  The problem with that, however, is that while that doesn't seem that bad, in 1987 there were "only" about 5 billion people in the world -- and now there are more than 7 billion.  That squeezes the GDP per capita in the world down from its current $10,261 to $3211 per capita.

That's not merely a "Global Depression."  That means what our friends at the Audubon Society says it means: reducing the use of cars, heating, factories, lights, medical equipment -- the whole lot -- by 65%.  This about the world using 65% less medicine, and warming 65% fewer homes in cold weather.  It mean using all vehicles 65% less immediately -- right now.  AND: we would have to sustain that reduced use for 300 years -- simply to avoid any further warming.

What it means is demonstrated graphically by this video, by Hans Rosling -- who is no friend of Climate Skepticism:



Scroll to about 3:05 and look at the world by nation in 1985 -- and mentally, draw a line at $3300.  Here's what that looks like:


Look at the nations below that line and ask yourself: is that the standard of living we are able to adopt, world-wide, and call that merely a 'depression'?"

So the right version of this chart looks like this:


It's not a choice between inconvenience and catastrophe: it is a serious and sober choice between believing in a mistake which costs us everything, and a mistake which, let's face it, will cost us everything.

Oversimplifying this question doesn't solve it, and minimizing the voodoo on either side of this argument doesn't help us at all.  If we are going to talk about this problem is any way, we have to do it is a way which reflects the real stakes in the outcome.

5 comments:

Paul Reed said...

Global warming is told to us by the same scientists who tell us that an ape can give birth to a human. I think it can be safely dismissed.

trogdor said...

This is good, and even overly generous to the "we have to act NOW" side. How? The same catastrophes also would occur in the bottom left quadrant - if you slash global GDP by 65%, those same things will result even if GCC is true. Oh, and the entire left side would also have the catastrophe of the tyranny required to bring about such drastic changes, which is what this is really all about.

Gary Good said...

The last chart is wrong. The bottom left box should be the same as the top left and bottom right boxes. It's just trading one set of economic, political, sociological, environmental, and health catastrophes for another. The only "happy" box is where we do nothing and global warming is false.

Gary Good said...

Actually, the bottom left box is the worst quadrant. Realistically, we wouldn't be able to slash the global GDP by 65%. We would end up slashing it enough to cause devastating results, but not enough to prevent the devastating results of global warming.

Frank Turk said...

Gary -- I'm giving the fellow in the video the benefit of the doubt. The truth is: if Global warming is true, all the choices on the bottom are a complete disaster. Unrecoverable.

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