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back to article What's the cost of global warming?

Let us assume global warming is happening. Let us assume too that it is doing so at a rapid pace. What should we do about it? There are two very basic approaches. Either we can attempt to mitigate the problem by direct or indirect means, or we can go with the flow, and adapt to a warmer world. Let's examine the costs and …

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Boffin

Nigel Lawson should know better Chaos hit him on Black Wensday

He points out that in reality, climate change is gradual, and therefore easy to adapt to, and argues that non-directed market driven adaptation as crises occur is the by far the most logical and economical approach.

This does not match with the scientific data. Ice cores from Greenland have shown that average temperature increases of 5C can occur in as little as 1 to 3 years. If this happened you could say good buy to the Greenland ice sheet and with it low lying cities such as New Orliens, Los Angeles, New York and London

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Anonymous Coward

56 pence per kg of CO2

Well 1 litre of petrol is 2.32 kg co2, so if we reduce our co2 by 1 kg we also SAVE 56 pence.

So the cost is negative, we simply use less fossil fuel by efficiency means and save 56 pence per kilo of petrol used. Yes? So fixing our CO2 problem is double plus good, saves us money and helps the environment.

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Thumb Up

Thank you.

It is always nice to see a level headed, reasoned approach to the subject.

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Flame

Another great article

When are people going to start getting rational over climate change? Maybe not for a long time...

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Pirate

NEO (not either or)

What's wrong with trying to increase energy efficiency, reduce consumption, support the industrialising world and fix the worst problems as they arise?

Reminds me of the BBC discussion of how north sea oil revenues should be spent: education and housing, better pensions, developing new technology, or whatever. In the end, the presenter, aged with make-up, concluded from far-future 2010 that Britain had just muddled through.

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Go

Good Article

he Global Warming myth goes on and on and on. We waste billions every year tryign to prevent a natural cycle when we could spend those billions actually changing peoples lives.

Down with all envirohippie mentalists.

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Boffin

Gradual climate change

In contrast to Lawson's claim that climate change is gradual, evidence suggests the onset of the Younger Dryas event may have been as little as a decade. Greenland was rather suddently 15°C cooler. The average temperature in Britain dropped to 5°C. The end of the Younger Dryas was similarly abrupt. 10°C warming in three decades, perhaps less.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038%2F34346

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038%2F362527a0

There is no strong evidence that this was a global event, but it certainly had interesting consequences for Europe. If such "tipping points" exist, we may not have time to sit around hoping a technological solution will materialise, but I certainly don't have one in my garage. Anyone else?

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Anonymous Coward

I'm baffled - frankly.

Prosperity is based on consumption - a capitalist principle?

Simplistically - More (people (and/or) prosperity) = (consumption)**e.

Consumption requires energy to produce, use, dispose and replace that which is consumed.

Energy derived from fossil fuels releases CO2 and other "Global Warming" gasses.

IF humanity accepts Adverse Global Climate (AGC) change is derived from "Global Warming" gas release and it wants to do something about it then a reduction in at least one of people/prosperity/consumption is required. Pricing is crude but works and only the rich - barring war - make out.

Changing from fossil fuels as the energy source to an effective sustainable source (My clue is that waves cover 7/10s of the Earths surface!!) could help.

It may be that AGC change is not human influenced. If so I'll probably not be around to find out but my Children might. However my retirement is likely to be a lot less comfortable in any event.

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Stop

Technological Solutions

"Perhaps the problem can be bypassed instead by present or yet-unknown technology. It is difficult to speculate about what such an advance would be, since the nature of the future is that it is unknown."

With Kyoto, many people are searching for this technology because it will make big piles of cash.

When Pollution = Cost, Technological Solutions to Pollution = Save Big Money.

If you pump all the money into short-term charity items, then people will be pumping money into family planning drug development etc. because that is where the money is - and this future unknown technology will never take off because no-one cares about it (and the genius scientist who was going to develop the technology that saves the planet is instead making some miraculous family planning drug).

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Anonymous Coward

Peak oil will fix it

World oil production:

http://www.eia.doe.gov/aer/txt/ptb1105.html

2005 =73.81, 2006 =73.54, 2007 =73.27

i.e. production is dropping even as demand is rising.

Non conventional oil from stuff like Canadian tar sands is increasingly buffering it:

Canadian production 2001 - 2005 (from same eia data):

2,738.41 2,868.79 3,029.47 3,056.80 3,014.31

And the drop off is brutal, see US production for details of that:

U.S. production from 2002 to 2007 (x1000 barrel per day) continues to collapse:

5,746 5,681 5,419 5,178 5,102 5,064

So lets get real here, we're past the peak of conventional, and in the not to distant future we'll go past the non conventional peak. US$ will collapse (too much debt and too inefficient in it's use of oil), and the climate will be just fine.

So pretending that we can't afford to reduce CO2 ignores the reality that we WILL reduce CO2 because WE HAVE NO FRIGGING CHOICE.

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Go

Not that simple

I disagree with the notion, that the problem can be reduced to a degree Celsius here or there (even if that may turn out to be a dramatic experience for some boffins in Great Britain - start growing gills NOW!). We should rethink in general how we want to use / waste the fossil fuel we have and upping the price a bit may be in order to trigger smarter use.

But then, whom am I talking to? We managed to increase the price of energy just fine without government intervention. Go, SUV, go!

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Flame

Oh God

Let's quote a Tory hate figure and a Green hate figure to back up our arguments. Let the flames begin!

This is becoming ridiculous. Where's the troll icon?

I'll only take these articles seriously if you try and get James Hansen on to explain the discrepancies in his temperature data.

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Coat

Start your panic here

The world's average temperature has risen 1 degree in the last 100 years? Oh my giddy aunt! What are we going to do? I can't remember there every being a rise in the world's temperature by this much! That's impossible! If the temperature has fluctuated by this much then maybe something worse will happen like giant volcanos appearing in London and New York, or is Earth on a collission course with the sun?

1 degree in 100 years? Hang on, that's not even enough for me to save a few pennies on my central heating bill. What a con! I'm outta here.

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IT Angle

(neo-)Malthusianism?

Isn't the Malthusian argument that, all things being equal,*agricultural* output becomes unable to keep pace with population growth? I read the section a few times but I'm still scratching my head to figure out what "Stern's Malthusianism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy" is supposed to mean. Yes, we can forsee that climate change will impact on available arable land, but Stern's position in favour of Kyoto-style co2 reduction would surely (a) work to reduce, not increase, the likelihood that agricultural land is lost to climate change, and (b) penalise agri-business much less (and possibly actually encourage it) than it would more polluting industries like manufacturing and construction? Is the point the article is trying to make simply that denying developing countries entry into the marketplace of heavier, more-polluting industries and technologies will reduce prosperity and lead to higher birth rates? If that's the case then calling the position "Malthusian" only applies to a subset of the economic issues at play, and the wrong ones at that (ie, industrial as opposed to agricultural).

I do agree with the perceived sentiment that (neo-)Malthusianism is bunk, though. As pointed out in the article, prosperity puts a natural halt to unbridled population growth, so that there is no "Malthusian event horizon"--it's just a groundless fear with no basis in reality.

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Free Money

"why is there a choice between fixing global warming and helping alleviate poverty and malaria? How about this instead: Let the super rich countries of the west do both"

The US already does this. We have a $300,000,000,000 trade deficit with China. ( Its ok though, we'll just print more of it).

So if the total cost to "alleviate poverty and malaria" is only 2.4 billion, I think China can handle it themselves.

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IT Angle

More one-sided nonsense

Where is the other side of the equation ? The lengthened growing season, the fewer winter deaths ? Never mind, answer already known......

Can we have a Chicken Licken icon plese ?

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Stop

@Andy Pryke

Go read Lomberg's work before you spout off on one. It's clear you have little to no clue what you are blathering on about. Lomberg is a top draw statistician who has written an incredibly well researched and detailed book on the state of the world, including climate change.

Regarding your rubbish about chaotic systems, you need to think through the rubbish you are spouting before you spout it. The ice core (and general geological) record tells us that there are plenty of periods in the past where the earth has been both a lot warmer than now, and a lot colder than now. If there were natural mechanisms that reinforced this (positive feedback), then the earth would never have got back to it's current state. There has to be natural mechanisms of negative feedback to have a stable climate system. The climate is stable since it has stayed in a pretty narrow band for a hell of a long time. Any Engineer understands this. If your point about stable attractors were true, the fact that the earth has been both hotter and colder than now would have tipped us to one of these before - so I'll call bollocks on that as well.

Final point of note. Do you actually know what traps the most carbon in the Earth's crust. I'll give you a hint, it is neither biomass, nor fossil fuels. In fact it's limestone. Go and read Lomborg, then go and read his sources (multiple thousands of them by the way), the try and write a decent referenced refutation of them. Other people have tried and failed.

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Go

Let Us Be Equal-handed

Let us assume global warming is wrong:

http://www.junkscience.com/

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Go

Space-based solution

Why not simply chuck up some form of solar shade and vary the temperature when we feel like it ?

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Anonymous Coward

Thanks for the thoughtful comments

"This does not match with the scientific data. Ice cores from Greenland have shown that average temperature increases of 5C can occur in as little as 1 to 3 years. If this happened you could say good buy to the Greenland ice sheet and with it low lying cities such as New Orliens, Los Angeles, New York and London"

Yes, it is theoretically possible that such swings could occur (to land surface, not sea). But for the ice to melt, the change would have to remain "changed" for many years and not be just a blip, which is far more likely. We have not seen a change of that magnitude as far back as we can measure directly or via proxy. (Last year's drop in global temperatures was quite precipitous but was only around half a degree C.)

"What's wrong with trying to increase energy efficiency, reduce consumption, support the industrialising world and fix the worst problems as they arise?"

Nothing at all. I advocate and endorse such a general approach--provided always that it does not include measures that will slash world economic growth by up to half.

"With Kyoto, many people are searching for this technology because it will make big piles of cash."

Or without Kyoto, for that matter.

"If you pump all the money into short-term charity items, then people will be pumping money into family planning drug development etc. because that is where the money is - and this future unknown technology will never take off because no-one cares about it"

The point is that these "charity" items (investments, really) pay off in terms of greatly increased wealth and growth, to say nothing of the humanitarian benefits. That in turn translates directly into increased technological growth.

"So fixing our CO2 problem is double plus good, saves us money and helps the environment."

That depends on the cost. A hefty percentage of world growth is directly related to increased use (and low cost) of energy.

Sure, a silver bullet would be terrific. And it may happen (or not). But until then, here we sit.

I am disappointed by wind and solar--I would have thought they'd have done much better by now. But, sad to say, so far they simply haven't.

"So lets get real here, we're past the peak"

I think that the chokepoint is political rather than geological. Folks are making the same basic error that the Club of Rome made (and for much the same reasons).

Peak oil: Peek and ye shall find!

"We managed to increase the price of energy just fine without government intervention."

As one wit put it:

All we have to do the solve the oil crisis is to repeal the law.

Of Supply and Demand.

"I'll only take these articles seriously if you try and get James Hansen on to explain the discrepancies in his temperature data."

Lord know, I've tried (sob) ... He never calls ... He never writes ...

@Frumious Bandersnatch:

Yes, as Malthus himself was big enough to admit, all thing are NOT "being equal".

"So if the total cost to "alleviate poverty and malaria" is only 2.4 billion, I think China can handle it themselves."

Unfortunately it's Africa that has the problem. China is still struggling to emerge from "non-affluence". Half of their population remains mired in "peasantry". China is therefore not willing or even able to lay out billions for that.

It's on us. As the Spider-Man says, "With great power comes great responsibility."

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Why not indeed?

"Why not simply chuck up some form of solar shade and vary the temperature when we feel like it ?"

Funny you should say that. Like so totally. (Actually, I mentioned this in the original submitted version of the article). A one-time $trillion+ expense beat 1% of GWP per year. It's also a lot less risky than futsing with the atmosphere, because once done, that cannot be undone. And that sort of tech pays off in all sorts of indirect ways (cf the moon shot).

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Reg Bias??

The Register seems to love posting Global Warming sceptic stories. I like the 'bad science' angle, which is valid, but I'm dubious about the motives.

I'd have more faith in Nigel Lawson and other economists views if they were in their 20s and therefore likely to live with the consequences of what they are suggesting now.

Lest we forget Lawson also presided over a previous economic bust in the UK, so why should we trust his economic views.

As for 'everything may be sorted out by an unknown technological advance' - and the housing boom was going to end with a soft landing too.

The one thing that is supposed to distinguish us from animals if foresight, yet it seems that people believe that the 'invisible hand' of the market is somehow better still. I think recent events show how dumb that line of thinking is - correction can be catastrophic.

Although of course it's always fine when you're a member of the international plutocracy.

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@Andy Pryke

Dear Anonymous Coward,

My original comment appears to have disappeared. Perhaps because I referenced two articles which deconstructed the arguments of Lawson and Lomberg?

Your point about chaotic systems is the same as mine. In the past the earth has had (for reasonably long periods of time) different climates. A combination of positive and negative feedbacks help to keep the climate stable in these states. When you intervene and change one of the variables in a system (e.g. CO2 content of the atmosphere), you risk moving into a new stable state.

Nice to know my original comment did appear, if only for a short time.

Any feedback from the eds as to why it was removed?

Andy

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Stipulations

"Let us assume global warming is wrong:"

Only too glad to! #B^1

(But that's extra.)

Point is that EVEN if it's NOT wrong, the Kyoto/Stern cure amounts to:

Patient: "Doctor, it hurts when I do that. "

Doctor: "So don't do that."

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IT Angle

Eh?

"agriculture benefits from warmer temperatures" - nice blanket statement - tell that to African farmers. Some regions benefit (mostly Canada, Russia), some lose (mostly hot, poor countries). (Also projected gains tend to ignore water issues - dealing with those can be done but costs money, which again hurts the poor if food prices go up.)

Some good points, but really, was the guy who said "a level headed, reasoned approach to the subject" being sarcastic??

Question is basically who pays to reduce the risks to a reasonable level (bearing in mind the many non-climate-related costs/benefits to be had from various courses of action). Should be the rich countries and especially the rich in them (those who didn't lose their shirts last week, ha). That's not going to happen, so the burden of the risk is going to be spread unfairly, either in the near future via mitigation (poor countries, poor/middle-class taxpayers in rich countries) or distant future via adaptation/loss (ditto). Most likely both.

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Wonderful Miracle Limestone

"Final point of note. Do you actually know what traps the most carbon in the Earth's crust. I'll give you a hint, it is neither biomass, nor fossil fuels. In fact it's limestone"

And how quickly does limestone grow?

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"Thanks for the thoughtful comments"

For some reason the post entitled as such is credited to "Anonymous Coward", but in fact it was posted by me. (P.S., I am NOT the AC.)

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What grows? Who pays?

"agriculture benefits from warmer temperatures" - nice blanket statement - tell that to African farmers. "

Well, there's a paper out that world biomass over the last seventeen years has increased by 6% (close to the amount of CO2 increase, by the bye), and that increase has occurred primarily in the tropical rain forests.

The problem with African farmers is African farming. Modernity can (and doubtless will) fix that in a (historical) jiffy.

"Should be the rich countries and especially the rich in them (those who didn't lose their shirts last week, ha). That's not going to happen,"

Yes and Yes. And it has already been happening for a number of decades, to varying effect. The question is not "who", but "how". (And the Kyoto/Stern approach ain't it.)

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Boffin

@56 pence per kg

"1 litre of petrol is 2.32 kg of CO2"

Huh? Given that the specific gravity of gasline at 60 F is 0.739 (from http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/specific-gravity-liquids-d_336.html) then a litre of it would mass approximately 739 g, or slightly less than 3/4 of 1 kg. Most of that is carbon.There is a bit (by weight) of hydrogen in there as well, but practically no oxygen. So for that to be able to contain more than three times its mass in carbon dioxide is totally ludicrous.

Now, if you want to talk about the amount of CO2 produced by BURNING a litre of "petrol," in the presence of oxygen, that is another story entirely. How much oxygen? How complete is the combustion? What is the octane rating? Any other compunds present in the petrol? What happens to the exhaust afterwards?

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"It's in there"

"Where is the other side of the equation ? The lengthened growing season, the fewer winter deaths ? Never mind, answer already known......"

Page 2 ...

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Heart

@ Julian's political correctness

"The Register seems to love posting Global Warming sceptic stories. I like the 'bad science' angle, which is valid, but I'm dubious about the motives."

You owe me a new keyboard.

Do you apply your political correctness test generally? For example, say a publication exposes fraudulent accounting / Windows security hole / virus / etc. Are you dubious about the publication's motives then, too?

Since when was debunking bad science conditional?

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Boffin

The Space Sunshde

OK, so who gets the shade? If you make it big enough to cover the earth, it has to be bigger than the moon in diameter. If you don't make it that big, it won't cover a lot of the earth, so who gets to have night in the day?

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Happy

@ AC

>I'll only take these articles seriously if you try and get James Hansen on to explain the >discrepancies in his temperature data."

>

>Lord know, I've tried (sob) ... He never calls ... He never writes ...

I did say 'try', ya sarcastic, anonymous bastard!

Seriously, why not try? If he says feck off then we all know where we stand...

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Made in the Shade

"so who gets to have night in the day?"

It doesn't come to that. And everybody gets it. Think multiple satellites (possibly supporting a mylar-type shield(s) in solarcentric (or not), pole-to-pole orbit.

Of course, the cost would be enormous--perhaps about two years' worth of Kyoto/Stern!

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Anonymous Coward

ACs don't RTFA

"agriculture benefits from warmer temperatures"

@AC: Yeah, that statement really needs a peer-reviewed scientific

Compare biomass in Finland vs biomass in the tropics. But now you're really pulling unsupported statments out of your backside. Why stop there?

"Some regions benefit (mostly Canada, Russia), some lose (mostly hot, poor countries)."

Hot countries are already used to be hot. With continued economic development, which the Global Warming crowd are trying to stop, they'll get the water infrastructure they deserve.

"That's not going to happen, so the burden of the risk is going to be spread unfairly, either in the near future via mitigation (poor countries, poor/middle-class taxpayers in rich countries) or distant future via adaptation/loss (ditto). Most likely both."

The biggest burden faced by developing countries is Nicholas Stern flying in telling them not to build fossil fuel power plants.

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You Can Get Anything You Want . . .

"Do you apply your political correctness test generally?" (@Julian)

You sign in, you get , PROspected, PROjected, PROtected, COnnected, and COrrected . . .

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Boffin

Well, how a litre of petro can contain three times its mass of CO2 ...

Its called combustion.

Oxygen from the atmosphere enters the burning cycle and forms CO2 with the burning petrol, thus forming more reactant mass, consequently it is possible for a litre of gasoline to form several times its own initial mass of CO2.

Having said all that, I'm pretty sure its still a huge hoax or at the very least a statistical misinterpretation of data.

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Silver badge

Profitable Production

Good article from no matter which side of the debate you are on.

My only caveat to that would be the "profitable production" bit... history has proven that profitable production can often result in terrible short/medium term consequences. For example I'll submit any of the Super Fund sites and throw in the massive GE (General Electric) contamination in Berkshire County Massachusetts...

Yes emissions markets are stupid, yes Kyoto is skewed (for lots of reasons), yes global warming may be overhyped and yes, it might be financially cheaper to do nothing, but using "profitable production" as a justification for very tangible bad shit is a lame argument. Your argument is that it's OK to get away with something terrible, as long as the press doesn't get wind of the fact that what you're doing may be as bad as what you are avoiding. i.e. Poisoning the planet, even though it may not contribute to Global Warming is not acceptable and using "profitable production" makes it sound like that's OK.

Somehow I don't think that was the point the Author was trying to make, but that's why I thought I'd bring it up. He's sailing down a river with no end with that argument.

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ils ne passerant pas

"Seriously, why not try? If he says feck off then we all know where we stand..."

Many have. You can read some of his "feck off" letters at the dreaded Climate Audit. He did do a code dump last year (archaic FORTRAN, no instructions or manuals) that Mac & crew have been trying to de-reconstruct.

It is interesting to note that both NASA/GISS and HadCRUT get their raw data from NOAA/GHCN. GISS takes the adjusted data and adjusts it further. No one knows what HadCRUT does, they shroud it in alchemic mystery. Yet the two series do not coincide.

If you want to play it safe, go with UAH and UAH (lower troposphere). At least one avoids the numerous, obvious, serious (and a few less complimentary -ouses) issues with the surface stations. For sea temps, go with ARGOS.

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Other Planets?

Global warming seems like this mountain of speculative conjecture built on top of an unproven what-if?

Has it not been observed that the other planets of the solar system have been a wee bit warmer than usual these past several years as well? (Pointing the finger at the sun as source cause instead of automobile exhaust.)

Anybody ever manage to explain that away without undoing the man-made side of the Earth global warming question?

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Joke

Two Bob Experts

I can't believe how a helluva lot of people think they are experts in an incredibly complex area of science. I've got a degree or two in this stuff, but right now I'm not spending a large chunk of my life analysing the problem in collaboration with people who actually know what they are talking about, so, I'm going to have to trust the experts. There's no good alternative to putting in a sustained effort on big complex questions. What we see in this article and it's comments thread what humans do when presented with a problems that are way more complex than their brains can absorb in an hour or day or two: grab a few feel-good factoids and fashioning them into a narrative.

I guess you guys wouldn't baulk at redesigning your car engine to improve fuel efficiency or building a jet plane for your next holiday? Or would you trust the people who have put in years of actual training, data collection, sustained analysis and collaboration. Why do you bother going to a doctor when you're seriously ill, consult a lawyer if you need a watertight contract or even get a electrician to wire your house?

When your DIY heart surgery goes well, I might trust you as an instant climate expert. Climate is tougher.

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Anonymous Coward

"Space-based solution"

I agree, and have thought about that in the past. It is the perfect solution (except it would be hard to implement, and expensive, but probably cheaper than other solutions)

@Mark: the shades would not have to very big. They would not cause nightfall, only less light, as in cloudy day, also they do not have to be solid they could let in some light.

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Pirate

Shortsighted

Cynically all the people life's you saved will further pollute the environment.

If we want the environment to sustain more people we have to live 'cleaner'.

But why would people do that if they can't see an immediatte effect?

In my opinion this article is missing the point.

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Boffin

save mony?

" Well 1 litre of petrol is 2.32 kg co2, so if we reduce our co2 by 1 kg we also SAVE 56 pence.

So the cost is negative, we simply use less fossil fuel by efficiency means and save 56 pence per kilo of petrol used. Yes? So fixing our CO2 problem is double plus good, saves us money and helps the environment."

saves yuo money yes BUT if you sdo not spend it then the garage makes less and the oil companys make lass and they can not pay there pepol who can not spend it on what ever you sell (or whoever pays your saliery sells) and you have less mony so spend and eventuley noboady can spend anything cos we are all sitting on our economic hands

economics is not that simple

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