Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Global climate change: start here

A starting point for knowledge acquisition:
RealClimate Start here

We've often been asked to provide a one stop link for resources that people can use to get up to speed on the issue of climate change, and so here is a first cut. Unlike our other postings, we'll amend this as we discover or are pointed to new resources. Different people have different needs and so we will group resources according to the level people start at.
See also responses to contrarian arguments. We should all be reading RealClimate. My own thoughts, for what they're worth, follow below.

The classic contrarian positions have been:
  1. The earth's climate is not changing beyond the norms of the past 1000 years.
  2. Warming is not substantially impacted by human greenhouse gas production.
I think both positions have been marginalized, though nature abhores a certainty. The current contrarian positions are:
  1. The earth's climate will not warm beyond the norms of the past 150,000 years before we stop using fossil fuels or within a time frame we can make sense of (100 years).
  2. The net effects of climate warming, from a human perspective, will not be significantly negative.
  3. The costs of limiting greenhouse gas emissions are extremely high and any conceivable action at this point will have limited benefits.
  4. We should focus limited resources and energies on adaptation rather than amelioration.
These remain the current rationally defensible contrarian positions. It is true that many who hold them are in retreat from less defensible positions, but that's how humans are. The fall of prior contrarian positions does not mean all are incorrect. NASA's current director probably holds to #1 and #2 for example -- even though his beliefs may be perverse they have not been proven false.

My guess is that #3 and #4 are incorrect and that #1 is probably incorrect but, even if correct, would not substantially change the discussion. I suspect we can get near universal agreement that we need to better estimate #2, which means Bush/Congress need to come up with a NASA funding and direction that supports earth surveillance as a core mission.

So from a political perspective we can probably get agreement with rational contrarians that:
  1. We need to fully fund earth surveillance and climate research.
  2. We need to invest mightily in technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The rational debate is now about the timing and magnitude of economic measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions through changes in human behavior that may reduce simplistic measures of economic output. In other words, measures that involve perceived sacrifices.

My bias is that upside risks of warming are substantial enough, and the other (political, economic, social, etc) benefits of reducing fossil fuel use are high enough, that we should be putting carbon and gasoline taxes in place that will move the price of gasoline to the $10/gallon mark (2007 dollars) within 10 years. I suspect this will have minimal impact on our economic output and would actually increase our ability to manage economic turbulence, so it would not reduce America's "security" even when that is measured in the most simplistic terms.

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