Thursday, November 09, 2006

Global Warming and the Stern Report

Human Activity, Causation and Global Warming…and the Stern Report

‘The problem is that we are intoxicated with the idea of individual freedom. But this understanding of freedom is so impoverished that it amounts to little more than a greedy egotism of dong whatever you want whenever. We understand freedom largely in terms of shopping and mobility- we’re restless and like travel of all kinds. …I don’t blame politicians so much as all of our collective madness.’
Adapted from Madeleine Bunting, Guardian 6/11/06

The 579 page Stern Report, published Tuesday 31st October 2006, was commissioned by the UK Treasury; in other words by Gordon Brown. Immediately some skepticism was expressed by the perennial group of climate change nay-sayers. Nobody disputes any longer that the world is warming up but there is still argument over the causation, whether the basic premise of the argument- that human activity is causing rising temperatures (Anthropogenic Global Warming, AGW).

The Scientific Argument on ‘Greenhouse’ Gases
It is an obvious fact that the earth receives its warmth from the sun. However, certain gases within the earth’s atmosphere-CO2, methane, ozone - have been crucial in helping retain the sun’s heat over the billions of years life has been evolving. Some of the sun’s heat is reflected back into space but the retention of a portion of this heat, absorbed by the gases, has enabled the earth to achieve a temperature ideal for supporting life. Indeed, without such gases the average temperature of the world would have been -15 C instead of 18C.
The first person to make the link between climate and greenhouse gases was the Swedish scientist Svante Arrherius in 1898. He calculated that a doubling of CO2 would increase world temperatures by 5-6C. Other scientists observed that volcanic eruptions of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, which reflects sunlight, causes a degree of cooling. Some have attributed global warming to the lack of volcanic activity in the 20th century. In 1988 the UN established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC).

Human Activity has Caused Global Warming
The IPCC’s latest estimate is of a warming of between 1.4 and 5.8C by 2010 depending on what is done to curb gas emissions. As well as the IPCC the thesis of manmade global warming-AGW- is supported by the national academies of all the G8 countries plus those of Brazil, India and China. The US government refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and remains ambiguous on the role of human economic activity but the causation argument is accepted by the:
a) US Academy of Sciences in its 2002 report to Bush and subsequently.
b) American Meteorological Society
c) American Geophysical Union
d) American Association of Advancement of Science
e) Several states on eastern seaboard plus California where Arnold Swarzenegger accepts the argument without cavil.

Evidence Adduced in Support of AGW

1. Gas bubbles trapped in ice provide a record of temperature back almost a million years. This shows that CO2 and temperature rise and fall tightly together.
2. Recent rises of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is greater than any during this period and is human caused as the origin of CO2 is clearly derived from fossil fuels.
3. Climate change attribution studies find that warming over last 50 years is caused by human activity; solar change alone cannot explain the increases.
4. Experiments using climate models only reproduce this trend when greenhouse gases are included.
5. There is a massive scientific consensus on the above.
6. There is too much risk not to take precautions- if we get it wrong the result could be the end of life on earth.
7. If warming continues much more it will release into the atmosphere much of the CO2 and methane stored in perma-frosted land in Siberia and the Far East.
8. Emitting 33 trillion tons of CO2 each year into the atmosphere must have a big effect on delicate ecosystems
9. There is much about the atmosphere and biosphere about which we are ignorant; it is quite possible the interaction of such manmade changes might make matters much worse in the future.

Evidence Adduced by Opponents
1. Climate change models do not take account of our ignorance of cloud physics.
Just because temperatures have been rising since the Industrial Revolution does not mean that this event has caused temperature increases.
However some scientists attribute warming to ‘urban heat islands’- cities which have increased temperature compared to ambient areas.
2.Consensus may be caused by scientists being frightened to state their views; there is a group of scientists who benefit from propagating the theory, hence their enthusiasm for it.
Solar and Volcanic activity cannot be predicted so neither can warming.
3, Sunspot activity has a major effect on warming and we cannot influence that.
4. Warming result of low altitude cloud cover, say opponents, resulting from decreased ‘galactic cosmic rays’ comprised of materials entering the outer atmosphere from far away in space.
5. Global warming theories are similar to the global cooling theories in the 1970s and are equally alarmist.

Opponents also argue that:
a) Future scientific advances will counter the effects of warming;
b) A small amount of warming will be beneficial as more CO2 will benefit plant life.
c) Increases in GDP correlate positively with those in greenhouse gases so diminishing might cause decreases. This argument is used in USA by those who claim global warming is a European ruse to hold back the US economy.

Some Scientists who Oppose Consensus
Richard Lindzen, MIT, who says:
"We are quite confident that [the] global mean temperature is about 0.5 degrees Celsius higher than it was a century ago… [but] we are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast what the climate will be in the future..." [1]. He has also said "Indeed, if all else were kept equal, the increase in carbon dioxide should have led to somewhat more warming than has been observed.”
Robert C. Balling, Jr., director of the Office of Climatology and an associate professor of geography at Arizona State University: At this moment in time we know only that: (1) Global surface temperatures have risen in recent decades. (2) Mid-tropospheric temperatures have warmed little over the same period. (3) This difference is not consistent with predictions from numerical climate change.
Fred Singer, Professor emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia: "The greenhouse effect is real. However, the effect is minute, insignificant, and very difficult to detect." (Christian Science Monitor, April 22, 2005) "The Earth currently is experiencing a warming trend, but there is scientific evidence that human activities have little to do with it."
Robert M. Carter, researcher at the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University in Australia: "The essence of the issue is this. Climate changes naturally all the time, partly in predictable cycles, and partly in unpredictable shorter rhythms and rapid episodic shifts, some of the causes of which remain unknown."

Monbiot’s Critique
On 9th September, George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian that ExxonMobil, the world's most profitable corporation, funds a number of agencies avidly seeding and reinforcing the doubt we are possibly so keen to be justified in feeling. He also reveals that the PR firm-ACPO- hired to fight global warming scientists was the same one used by Philip Morris to rebut US Government concerns about passive smoking. ACPO set up a fake 'grass-roots' body The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) which has extended its remit to include global warming. Monbiot shows how the tactics used to deny the harmful effects of passive smoking were applied identically to the denial of global warming; how anything which supported the thesis of harm was labelled 'junk science'(with an influential website in support) and anything which rebutted it declared 'sound science'. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are equated with 'nazis, communists and terrorists'
Maybe one should not be so surprised at the success of the lobbyists who have sought to spike the guns of those urging action. After all, the latter are seeking to wean the world off things to which we/they have become addicted: cheap comfortable car and air travel and a general uncaring prodigality about consumption. All the former have to do is to sow the seed of doubt in the minds of a jury which is very keen to stay out. They hope they can acquit themselves of complicity in the destruction of the world in which their children and children's children must try to make lives for themselves. It's rather like saying to a hopeless alcoholic that they are not addicted and do not need treatment: they yearn desperately to believe such sophistries.

Finite Resources of the World
Sceptics seem so determined to be thick they would probably find reasons to deny the other major reason for cutting emissions and generally reining back economic activity. Back in 2002 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) produced a report detailing the excessively high consumption of raw materials from the earth caused by the voracious appetites of modern day living. The report warned that the human race is plundering the planet at a pace that outstrips its capacity to support life. In a damning condemnation of Western society's high consumption levels, it adds that the extra planets (the equivalent size of Earth) will be required by the year 2050 as existing resources are exhausted.
Naturally, western countries consume more and deal out more damage to the environment than developing nations. America's consumption 'footprint' is 12.2 hectares per head of population compared to the UK's 6.29ha while Western Europe as a whole stands at 6.28ha. In Ethiopia the figure is 2ha, falling to just half a hectare for Burundi, the country that consumes least resources.

It seems clear that the weight of scientific opinion lies on the side of the AGW argument but a small vociferous minority continue to argue that the case is not proven. However, the ‘precautionary principle’ plus the need anyway to husband diminishing resources, make a change of lifestyle both inevitable and essential.

Stern Report
Source of greenhouse Gases (GHG)
The report listed how the use of fossil fuels for energy produce the biggest source of GHGs (24%); transport (14%); buildings(8%) and agriculture(14%); plus chopping down forests(18%).

Chief Emitters of GHGs(Mill tons)
USA- 6.9; UK-654; Germany-1K; Brazil 851; China-4.9; Russia-1.9; Japan1.3;Australia-491;India-1.9.; Indonesia 503.

Impact on Planet
a. ‘Warming may induce sudden shifts in regional weather patterns such as the monsoon rains in South Asia or the El Nino.’
b. Dry areas will become dryer while wet areas will get wetter.
c. Glaciers will shrink or disappear.
d. Initially crop yields will increase but after 3-4 C will begin to fall when large parts of the world would see falls of 15-35%.
e. Extra CO2 dissolving in seas will make them more acidic and prevent sea animals from forming shells and skeletons from calcium carbonate.
f. Seas will rise by 20-80cm if warming is 3-4C increasing risks of flooding and storm surges. Extreme weather will become more frequent as seas get hotter eg more typhoons and of greater intensity.
g. Many species will be unable to adapt or move to better conditions eg polar bears and seals in Arctic.
h. 2C rise would threaten 15-40% of land mammals threatened; half the tundra and a quarter of conifer forests would disappear. 3C would threaten 20-50% of land species.

Impact on People
a) Population growth plus 2C+ would cause 1-4 billion to be desperately short of water.
b) Most of these problems would hit Africa, Middle East, South America first.
c) Melting glaciers will threaten water supplies to 1 billion people.
d) 2-3C+ will cause hunger to up to half a billion people; WHO claims warming has already claimed lives of 150K since 1970s.
e) Heat waves more dangerous in cities with more pollution.
f) Sea level rises would make 200 million people displaced. Cities like Cairo, London and New York might disappear.

Impact on Economy
1. If nothing is done about climate change there will be a global reduction in per capita consumption of 5%, representing a fall double that of the worst year since 1945. The cost however could be much higher and the US economy could reduce by 25% as during the depression in the thirties. Allowing for all this and other factors the impact on individual per capita GDP could be as high as 20%.
2. Every ton of carbon emitted is calculated to cost in terms of economic damage, $85.
3. India might find GDP reduced by some 10% by 2010 with maybe an additional quarter of a billion people forced to live on less than $2 per day.
4. If temperatures continued to rise up to 3C there would be 3 million dying of malnutrition and 40% of species facing extinction.
5. 4C and half of Arctic tundra disappear.
6. If 5C Glaciers in the Himalaya disappear; London, New York and Tokyo disappear and mega problems caused by mass migration.

Carbon Trading Scheme
Stern argues that there needs to be an appropriate price for carbon. This could be done via taxation, tougher regulation or by carbon trading; a mechanism whereby companies or nations would pay for the tight to pollute. As the Guardian comments:
‘Once people were faced with the full social cost of their actions, they would switch from high-carbon goods and services to low carbon alternatives.’

As Will Hutton in the Observer 29th October observed:
If it becomes clear that the risk of climate change is overstated, the price of carbon will sink, but if it is as bad as some fear, the price will rocket. Markets will signal the risks.'
The idea of an international market is that each country would have a number of permits for sectors such as energy generation, metal production, cement, bricks, pulp and paper etc. Rich countries would then be able to buy up the permits of poor countries thus enabling them to invest in low carbon energy sources. Stern was especially concerned about aviation:

‘The level of the carbon price fixed for aviation should reflect the full contribution of emissions from aviation to climate change. The impact of aviation is two to four times bigger than the impact of the CO2 alone.’

Policies Supporting Low Carbon High –Efficiency Technology
It will be necessary to develop such technology to nurture the market in low carbon emitting alternatives. He calls for $20bn annually worldwide p.a. to effect this.

Together with other actions Stern calculates that expenditure of 1% world GDP now would prevent the shrinkage of production which would result from doing nothing.

UK Plans: Blair and Brown both feel strongly on this and hope to persuade the G8 countries to act by 2008 to achieve: a global scheme for stabilizing CO2 emissions, a global scheme for carbon trading, a global investment scheme for new technology and action to stop deforestation. The idea is to include the three Kyoto non involvers: USA, India and China. Stern says essentially, ‘it’s now or never’.

Public Opinion: a poll in The Guardian 6/11/06 suggests the public is very receptive to the green message. It reveals public feel that ‘concern for the environment’ should be the chief priority of business over ‘next few years’; feel ‘more information about ethics would influence what I buy’; and feel strongly that companies should have a responsibility to be aware of the social impact side of their business activities. Surprisingly, perhaps 77% said they had recycled items in the past year. The big question is whether this sympathy with the cause can be translated into willingness to act when such acts deny pleasures we have become used to and on which we rely eg cheap holiday flights abroad.

Economist, 4th November 2006
As so often this excellent journal manages to sum up the problem rather well:

‘Just as people spend a small slice of their incomes on buying insurance on the off-chance that their house might burn down, and nations use a slice of taxpayers money to pay for standing armies just in case a rival power might try to invade them, so the world should invest a small proportion of its resources in trying to avert the risk of boiling the planet. The costs are not huge. The dangers are.’


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