Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 0: The alternative is humanity’s self-destruction

[I am retroactively inserting this entry in the series for the sake of completeness. Much of the content has been previously posted.]

What happens if we fail to take the following actions to reverse emissions trends starting in 2009?

  1. Start a cap-and-trade system that sets a serious price for CO2.
  2. Launch most of the 14 to 16 major mitigation strategies (wedges) described here.
  3. Begin a global effort to ban new coal plants that do not capture and store their carbon, an effort that quickly brings in China and other developing countries.

Failing to do that, we are headed to 800 to 1000 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The idea of stabilizing at, say, 550 or 650 ppm, widely held a decade ago, is becoming increasingly implausible given the likelihood that major carbon cycle feedbacks would go into overdrive, swiftly taking the planet to 800 ppm or more. In particular, the top 11 feet of the tundra would probably not survive 550 ppm (a point I will be blogging about soon) and two other key carbon sinks — land-based vegetation and the oceans — already appear to be saturating. That said, even if stabilizing at 550 ppm were possible, it would probably bring catastrophic impacts and in any case requires implementing some 10 wedges starting now.

At 800 to 1000 ppm, the world faces multiple miseries, including:

  1. Sea level rise of 80 feet to 250 feet at a rate of 6 inches a decade (or more).
  2. Desertification of one third the planet and drought over half the planet, plus the loss of all inland glaciers.
  3. More than 70% of all species going extinct, plus extreme ocean acidification.


I listed only three catastrophes that would probably occur at 800 to 1000 ppm because I think those are the most serious and most inevitable. Climate scientists don’t spend a lot of time studying 800 to 1000 ppm, in part because they can’t believe humanity would be so self-destructive as to ignore their increasingly dire warnings and fail to stabilize at well below 550 ppm.

The IPCC notes that if equilibrium CO2-equivalent concentrations hit 1000 ppm, the “best estimate” for temperature increase is 5.5°C (10°F), which means that over much of the inland United States, temperatures would be about 15°F higher.

This increase would be the end of life as we know it on this planet. Interestingly, 5.5°C is just about the temperature difference between now and the end of the last ice age, the difference between a livable climate for human civilization that is well suited to agriculture and massive glaciers from the North Pole down to Indiana.

Is it 100% certain that 1000 ppm would result in the three major impacts above? Of course not. Such certainty is not possible for a climate transition that is completely unprecedented in the history of the human species. That said, the impacts are probably more likely to be worse than not. The catastrophes we can’t foresee may be just as serious, given that, for instance, no one foresaw that at a mere 385 ppm, warming would help spur an infestation is wiping out essentially every major pine tree in British Columbia (see here).

Importantly, even a 3% chance of a warming this great is enough to render useless all traditional cost-benefit analyses that argue for delay or only modest action, as Harvard economist Martin Weitzman has shown. Yet, absent immediate and strong action, the chances of such warming and such effects are not small, they are large — greater than 50%. These impacts seem especially likely in an 800 to 1000 ppm world given that the climate appears to be changing much faster than the IPCC had projected.

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets already appear to be shrinking “100 years ahead of schedule” as Penn State climatologist Richard Alley put it in March 2006. Indeed, a number of peer-reviewed articles have appeared in the scientific literature in the past 18 months supporting the real possibility of a 6-inch-a-decade sea level rise.

As for desertification, “The unexpectedly rapid expansion of the tropical belt constitutes yet another signal that climate change is occurring sooner than expected,” noted one climate researcher in December. As a recent study led by NOAA noted, “A poleward expansion of the tropics is likely to bring even drier conditions to” the U.S. Southwest, Mexico, Australia and parts of Africa and South America.”

In 2007, the IPCC warned that as global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5°C [relative to 1980 to 1999], model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe. That is a temperature rise over pre-industrial levels significantly exceeding 4.0°C. So a 5.5°C rise would likely put extinctions beyond the high end of that range.

And these horrific impacts are certainly not the worst-case scenario. As NASA’s James Hansen explained in a 2004 Scientific American article:

The peak rate of deglaciation following the last Ice Age was … about one meter [39 inches] of sea-level rise every 20 years, which was maintained for several centuries.

Imagine sea level rise of nearly 20 inches a decade lasting centuries — a trend perhaps interrupted occasionally by large chunks of the West Antarctic ice sheet disintegrating, causing huge sea level jumps in a span of a few years. And imagine that by 2100, we lose all the inland glaciers, which Are currently the primary water supply for more than a billion people. Now imagine what future generations will think of us if we let it happen.

A year ago Science (subs. req’d) published research that “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest” — levels of aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas to California. And they were only looking at a 720 ppm case! The Dust Bowl was a sustained decrease in soil moisture of about 15% (“which is calculated by subtracting evaporation from precipitation”).

Even the one-third desertification of the planet by 2100 scenario by the Hadley Center is only based on 850 ppm (in 2100). Princeton has done an analysis on “Century-scale change in water availability: CO2-quadrupling experiment,” which is to say 1100 ppm. The grim result: Most of the South and Southwest ultimately sees a 20% to 50% (!) decline in soil moisture.

You may be interested in how fast we can hit 1000 ppm. The Hadley Center has one of the few models that incorporates many of the major carbon cycle feedbacks. In a 2003 Geophysical Research Letters (subs. req’d) paper, “Strong carbon cycle feedbacks in a climate model with interactive CO2 and sulphate aerosols,” the Hadley Center, the U.K.’s official center for climate change research, finds that the world would hit 1000 ppm in 2100 even in a scenario that, absent those feedbacks, we would only have hit 700 ppm in 2100. I would note that the Hadley Center, though more inclusive of carbon cycle feedbacks than most other models, still does not model any feedbacks from the melting of the tundra even though it is probably the most serious of those amplifying feedbacks.

Clearly, 800 to 1000 ppm would be ruinous to the nation and the world, creating unimaginable suffering and misery for billions and billions of people for centuries to come. No one who believes in science and cares about humanity can possibly believe that adaptation is a more rational or moral policy than focusing 99% of our climate efforts on staying far, far below 800 ppm and far away from the tipping points in the carbon cycle.

And that means current CO2 levels are already too high. And that means immediate action is required. So our choice is really to stay below 450 ppm or risk self-destruction. That’s why climate scientists are so damn desperate these days. That’s why a non-alarmist guy like Rajendra Pachauri — specifically chosen as IPCC chair in 2002 after the Bush administration waged a successful campaign to have him replace the outspoken Dr. Robert Watson — said in November: “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” That’s why more than 200 scientists took the remarkable step of issuing a plea at the United Nations climate change conference in Bali. Global greenhouse gas emissions, they declared, “must peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years, so there is no time to lose.” The AP headline on the statement was “Scientists Beg for Climate Action.”

That is the position of the true “scientific realists.” If the scientific realists (and others) convince the political realists it should be their position, too, then humanity has a chance. If the political realists remain stuck in the past, then we do not.

In Part 1, I explore the immense scale of energy challenges involved in stabilizing at 450 ppm or lower.


73 Responses to Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 0: The alternative is humanity’s self-destruction

  1. Raven says:

    Temperatures have been basically flat or falling for 7 years yet you expect people to believe that disaster is coming because the planet is warming?

    Yes I know that it could be just a blip due to weather but it also could be evidence that the scientific community has overestimate the effect of CO2 on temperature. Nobody really knows.

    Prudence requires that policy makers wait and see what happens over the next 5-10 years or so before implementing any radical policy changes. If you are right we should see some rapid warming by 2015 which should still leave lots of time to introduce more aggressive policies. In the meantime, we need to focus on finding technically and economically feasible alternatives to carbon-emitting energy sources.

    BTW – If you really think that disaster is coming then why aren’t you calling for limits on the number children that people can have? Adopting a strict one child per couple policy world wide would likely accomplish more than any of your so called wedges. Forget about pricing carbon – we should price the right to have children. We could set up a birth-credit trading market where couples can sell their right to a have a child to others.

    Obviously, that would require that governments trample on a number of important individual rights but if the we are talking about ‘saving humanity’ after all. Based on the other policies that you advocate you don’t seem to have a problem having governments trample on peoples rights in the name of ‘saving humanity’. So I would really like to know why you spend so much time coming up complex and implausible ‘solutions’ while you ignore the elephant in the room: too many people.

  2. Joe says:

    If you want to be taken seriously here, you should 1) avoid the standard denier talking points, such as the declining temperatures nonsense when the clear scientific evidence says otherwise, 2) avoid trying to foist arguments on to me that you know I don’t hold.

    Your population policy, which I certainly don’t support, wouldn’t do much good even if it were practical which, as you know, it isn’t. China has a one child policy, and most industrialized nations, who have the highest per capita emissions, are keeping population flat or declining.

    No, I’m afraid the population ship has largely sailed — that’s why I proposed the wedges I do.

    If you think I am wasting my time coming up with solutions you claim are complex and implausible — then you are obviously on the wrong website.

    I actually believe most of my wedges are going to happen one way or another, because at the end of the day, I don’t think humanity will destroy itself — unless people like you, who I take it is either a conservative or libertarian stops the rest of us from taking the necessary actions out of some misguided belief that there is a right for everybody to do whatever it is they want even if it ruins things for our children and the next 50 generations.

    You write: “Based on the other policies that you advocate you don’t seem to have a problem having governments trample on peoples rights in the name of ’saving humanity’. ”

    Please identify any “rights” my proposals trample on — and do be specific about which proposals — or stop making such absurd claims.

  3. Cliff says:

    There are already food riots happening. As we “wait and see,” we may see social unrest spreading. If we got to a point where, for example, we see mass migrations happening from drought-ravaged areas or catastrophically flooded regions, the political and military problems will take all of the attention, leaving less for figuring out solutions to the climate problem.

    I rarely see much mention of social domino effects from climate impacts, but we have plenty of history to show us how chaotic thing may become. We haven’t got time to wait and see. We’re supposed to be using these great brains we’ve evolved to understand that.

  4. hapa says:

    sovereignty… collective punishment… freedom of religion…

  5. Joe says:

    … baseball … motherhood … avacados.

    I embrace them all!

  6. Raven says:

    Joe says:
    “Please identify any “rights” my proposal trample on or stop making such absurd claims.”

    Many of your proposals involve artificially increasing the cost of energy which will create serious hardships for many people. Prices for everything from food to healthcare to increase even faster than they would otherwise and this will cause poverty will increase and life expectancies will go down. I see policies that are designed to increase poverty as policies that trample on peoples rights. Such costs could be potentially justified if we knew that a catatrophe is a likely outcome. Unfortunately, we don’t. All the science tells us is that more CO2 will mean a warmer world. We don’t know how much warmer nor do we know whether the consequences will be significant enough for us to notice.

    Your arguments for not addressing the population issue are reasonable except for immigration. Allowing a person with a small carbon footprint to immigrate to a country like the US causes their carbon footprint to increase dramatically. This has been noted by some environment groups before the controversy forced them to back pedal. Limiting immigration to rich countries would likely result in a significant reduction in carbon footprint too. Why not include that in your solution?

    When it comes to your wedges – I think some of them are as plausable as Dubya’s Iraq invasion plans circa 2003. For example, carbon sequestration would required an extensive network of pipelines made of steel – steel that is in short supply and requires a lot of energy to produce. It takes decades to get pipelines built for commodities that have intrinsic value like oil or gas. I can’t see anyone investing the billions required for a pipeline that could end up being worthless if the CO2 scare goes the way of the population bomb.

    That said, some of the other wedges will likely happen anyways due to the rising price of oil. This also means that no special policy response is required.

    Lastly, the nearly flat recent temperature record is a fact that cannot be denied. I realize that it could be a weather blip – but it might not be. Calling people “deniers” for pointing out the obvious simply undermines your own credibility.

    If you really want to convince people who have not already joined the choir you could start by being pragmatic and acknowledging that the science could be completely wrong and that it is possible that a catatrophe will not occur. Unfortunately, this argument will make it impossible for you to push your WW3 meme but it would help getting some reasonable policies adopted. For example, the NIMBY attitude has stalled many alternative energy projects from wind to nuclear. Accomodating the concerns of people living near the projects is important but at some point governments need to make sure these projects get built.

  7. Lamont says:

    Raven, print out the chart of global temperature over the past century and give it to a hedge fund manager’s technical analysts. Tell them its a stock chart, tell them the timeframe is weeks instead of years, and ask them what they should do. All of them should be able to easily look at the chart and determine that the long term uptrend is intact and that after the pullback from the 2001 highs that the “stock” is a “good buy”, any technical analyst worth their salt would never advise you to short a short a stock chart that looked like that.

    More scientifically, 1998 was a very strong el nino year where the pacific ocean dumped a lot of heat back into the atmosphere. The previous strong el nino year was 1982-1983. If you look peak-to-peak between those years there’s clear uptrend. If you compare the la nina years of 1999-2000 with the current temperature (also affected by la nina) you get a trough-to-trough comparison where there’s still a clear uptrend.

    Comparing a year where a massive el nino was warming the atmosphere with a year where a moderately big la nina was cooling the atmosphere is comparing apples-to-oranges — unless you believe that the ENSO is being radically changed somehow and we’re not going to ever get another el nino year again or something — but there’s absolutely no evidence of that (at least not in the direction which helps).

  8. Kiashu says:

    Joe, I give you the same advice I give everyone: whatever you think of the importance of freedom of speech, that’s for public places. A blog is like a restaurant, a place which looks public but in which people are in fact your guests. That means their freedom of speech and action is constrained by rules you set down.

    In a restaurant, we think about whether each guest adds to or subtracts from the atmosphere, the purpose of the place – to have a pleasant meal. In a blog, the purpose is discussion, exchange of ideas and advancement of understanding. So you have to consider whether the presence of the person adds to or subtracts from or distracts from the discussion you want to have.

    Once you’ve accepted that silencing some would improve the discussion, you have to decide whether to err on the side of letting their comments through, or on the side of stopping them. That’s up to your judgment, but the guideline I use is: “have they said anything new?” Typically all they have to say is in their first post, you can let that through and bin the rest without losing any actual content.

    On topic, I am not hopeful about your wedges. Each seems to require global agreement and action. I’m more hopeful about measures which individual countries can take despite others’ inaction. Obviously things work better when everyone works together. But waiting for everyone to be ready to work together will definitely take us past 2012 before anything is actually done

    I think it’s probably better for an individual country to just step on up and do things, and then to make a treaty with just one or two other countries to continue doing it, then others can sign on. Machiavelli said that while a large group will never be able to come up with a definite decision, if one’s presented to them then they’ll see the good ense of it and follow along. He was talking about constitutions, but treaties are much the same.

  9. Raven says:


    I said the last 7 years – since 2001 which happens to be the baseline for the 4AR projections. I am not including the 1998 El Nino. Temperatures have been flat or declining depending on which dataset you use. I have repeatedly said that 7 years could be a blip due to weather, however, it is long enough to raise some questions about the reliability of the IPCC predictions. We can afford to wait another 5 years or so to see what happens.

  10. Robert says:


    The argument that temperatures are “flat or falling” looks very weak when you look at the graph in this piece. The blue lines are 8-year averages plotted for every year for the last 30 years or so. You have to go back to the 1980’s to find a year when the gradient was negative. In all recent years the 8-year averages have stongly positive gradients.

    However, I do agree with your comments about population. Every day another 200,000 people beam down to the planet, a growth rate of 1.8%. This means that we have to reduce per-capita CO2 by 1.8% just to stand still, ignoring all the other factors which are pulling in the opposite direction. I have no time for people that argue that the planet can support more and more people. The reality is that the industrial revolution has expanded the number of people living in extreme poverty from 700 million (200 years ago) to over 3 billion today. If it was any other species we would just have done the decent thing and organised a cull! A one-child-per family policy would be infinitely preferable to the default methods that nature reserves for species that over-populate:

  11. Bob says:


    The seven-year trend is due to a beginning strong El Nino and an ending strong La Nina – the long-term trend is AGW.

  12. Lamont says:

    Go back a year or two and include temperatures since 1999/2000 which was the last trough in the uptrend (and actually coincident with the la nina event).

  13. Lamont says:

    Go back a year or two MORE and…

  14. Bob says:

    The strong El Nino was in the late 1990s. The La Nina continues today.

  15. Tom says:

    I’m young–just 21 years old–and recently I’ve come to understand the sobering enormity of our environmental calamity. While it is reassuring, I suppose, to know that we have the potential of addressing it, I start feeling ill when I think about this country’s ability to politically enable the measures we need. What do you think the future holds for 2009? I’m always favored optimism to doomsaying (which I think is generally pretty self-satisfied), this time around…I don’t know. Real change just seems impossible. I’m losing sleep over it.

  16. Bob says:


    I enjoy the discussions – especially AGW solutions.

  17. Bob says:

    Individual countries will not solve AGW on their own in a vacuum.

  18. Tom says:

    Of course they won’t. But if the United States does nothing, than I feel pretty bleak about the global outcome.

  19. Bob says:

    The US should lead based on our per person emissions. The Bush administration has been a failure on AGW and in many other areas.

  20. Tom says:

    But do you have faith is the US doing so in a meaningful way by 2009? That’s what I was asking.

  21. David B. Benson says:

    Raven — Look at this graph:

    and then this one, on emissions:

    and then this, a quick analysis:

  22. Bob says:

    Faith – like Bush faith-based, not on your life. None of the presidential candidates even push back on corn grain ethanol.

  23. Tom says:

    So there’s no hope for the future then? We’re done for?

  24. Bob says:

    No – Bush is history and the new president will shift the discussion/solution. Joe lays out an option. The US must preserve its energy security and mitigate AGW. We must also secure water, food, etc., and the war on ….. has been a distraction.

  25. Joe says:

    We have a choice. It is now in the hands of the voters, and then the next President, plus the leaders of China.

  26. Raven says:

    David Benson,

    Your link to the document by Dr. Svalgaard is amusing because Dr. Svalgaard intended it as a satirical comment on how alarmists see patterns when there is none. Here is his comment on CA:

    He also indicated on Tamino’s blog that he felt the relationship between CO2 and temperatures in the last 50 years is being overstated.

  27. Bob says:

    And, not just China – all leaders>

  28. Bob says:


    As you well know, the climate science and empirical data, which increases by the day, do not support you. You toss out distractions – and why?

  29. civilbehavior says:

    I don’t need any convincing that AGW is real. I live in West Palm Beach IN the Gulfstream. The wind has been non stop here for the past three winters and what I’m reading gives me pause to think that the heat is moving the wind. It causes the pressure and moves it………..constantly here in the North Atlantic Current.

    I’ve also been looking at the sea ice images that show the lack thereof at this time of year.

    I’m not a scientist. I’m a well read elder who has a real uncanny knack for “feeling” that what I’m reading is being played out in the very nature that I am living in.

    Call me a pessimist but I am convinced now that we are already past the point that the feedbacks have now taken over from the forcings and we are headed towards a very bad end.

    I am doing all I can to cut back more and more and more but unless the big kids start making better choices, well……….you get my drift.

  30. Raven says:

    Bob Says:
    “As you well know, the climate science and empirical data, which increases by the day, do not support you.”

    I have looked carefully at the empirical data and have discovered that it simply does not support the predictions of catastrophe circulated by many. If it did I would not be a skeptic.

    New science is appearing everyday that does fit the empirical data and it suggests that the role of CO2 has been overstated. For example, Roy Spencer’s work on the role of clouds:

    We simply do not know enough about climate today to know whether CO2 really plays the dominant role claimed by the IPCC. For that reason, prudence is justified as long as the climate fails to follow the trends predicted by the IPCC.

  31. Hugh says:

    Robert says:
    “However, I do agree with your comments about population. Every day another 200,000 people beam down to the planet, a growth rate of 1.8%. This means that we have to reduce per-capita CO2 by 1.8% just to stand still, ignoring all the other factors which are pulling in the opposite direction. I have no time for people that argue that the planet can support more and more people. The reality is that the industrial revolution has expanded the number of people living in extreme poverty from 700 million (200 years ago) to over 3 billion today. If it was any other species we would just have done the decent thing and organised a cull! A one-child-per family policy would be infinitely preferable to the default methods that nature reserves for species that over-populate…”

    These observations miss a key point which has been pointed out by Jared Diamond. It is not necessarily the number of people on the planet, it is the amount of resources being used. An average U.S. resident uses 33 times the resources as the average Kenyan. The U.S.uses twice the resources of the average European Union resident and ten to fifteen times the amount of non-developed world. This means that 300 million people in this country use up the resources of 3 billion people on the rest of the planet. If the U.S. could reduce it’s population by 100 million then it would be saving the equivalent of the resources used by 1 billion people on the rest of the planet.

  32. Paul K says:

    You are incorrect that none of the presidential candidates even push back on corn grain ethanol. John McCain has opposed corn ethanol throughout his career. He has again voiced his desire to end corn ethanol subsidies and repeal the ban on sugar cane ethanol imports (the sugar lobby is stronger than the oil lobby) on national television in the last couple days. Both Democratic candidates have a history of corn ethanol support. Don’t believe the election year disinformation that McCain has flip flopped on ethanol. In this and other ways he is the superior candidate for climate voters.

  33. Raven says:

    It is also worth noting that it was Al Gore that created the ethonol mess with his tie breaking senate vote in 1994. He was bragging about his role in promoting alternate fuels as late a 1999.

    The ethanol fiasco is a good illustration of unintended consequences. We can expect a lot worse if the alarmists succeed in their push to make energy artificially expensive through carbon caps or taxation.

  34. Raven says:

    Hugh Says:
    “An average U.S. resident uses 33 times the resources as the average Kenyan. The U.S.uses twice the resources of the average European Union resident and ten to fifteen times the amount of non-developed world.”

    In other words, stopping immigration from the 3rd world to the US or Europe would have a positive effect on emssions. Perhaps the countries should get carbon credits for restricting their population growth?

    Per capita numbers are misleading because no one is the US or Europe is interested in living the lifestyle of a Kenyan. Furthermore, the difference between the US and Europe is partially explained by population density which makes mass transit economical and partially explained by outsourcing CO2 producing industries to China and elsewhere. The European standard of living would go down the tubes very quickly if they were denied access to cheap imported goods.

    We simply do not have the technology that would allow significant reductions in CO2 without triggering an increase in poverty around the world. The recent food price increases is pretty string evidence of the link between energy prices and poverty.

  35. Lamont says:

    “New science is appearing everyday that does fit the empirical data and it suggests that the role of CO2 has been overstated. For example, Roy Spencer’s work on the role of clouds:”

    Or Romanou, et al’s work on the role of clouds and aerosols:

  36. Jeff Green says:

    Raven says

    (New science is appearing everyday that does fit the empirical data and it suggests that the role of CO2 has been overstated. For example, Roy Spencer’s work on the role of clouds: Roy-Spencer-on-global-warming.htm#research-update)

    I looked up Roy Spencer to see what he is about. Obviously he is connected with the consevative delayers who have a history of distorting science for their own purpose. He has also been named Rush Limbaugh’s
    official climatologist. Admittedly I don’t know enough yet to argue against Roy Spencer’s points on climate warming. But my red flags are up about what his purpose is in his brand of science. It wouldn’t surprise me to see it fall apart.

    (Spencer is listed as a member of the Heartland Institute and a contributor to the George C. Marshall Institute)

  37. Raven says:

    Lamont says:
    “Or Romanou, et al’s work on the role of clouds and aerosols:”
    Spencer believes that global dimming is a natural conquence of heating the atmosphere. He has also demonstrated that natural random variations in cloud cover can cause significant swings the global mean temperature.

    Romanou claims that aerosols can explain the effect.

    Neither claim can be proven at this point. However, the Romanou theory presumes that CO2 will eventually overpower the effect of aerosols. Spencer’s theory says that CO2 induced warming will always be limited by the cloud feedback.

    Only time will tell us who is closer to the truth.

  38. Kiashu says:

    Hugh, the way I express it about population is, it’s not how big it is, it’s what you do with it.

    In the old equation that

    Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology,

    we have first a strange assumption – that “affluence” automatically means “lots of resource use and waste”. That aside, let’s take it as read. In the equation the variables are neutral. Here in the West we have 15% the population and use 50% the resources of the world; we say, “population is the problem!” The rest of the world has 85% the population and 50% the resources, and says, “obviously, affluence is the problem.”

    The truth is that both affluence and population are problems. You needn’t be very affluent to ruin the environment – Haiti is starving because they cut down all their forests to grow food and for charcoal to cook the food, but without forests they lost their topsoil and now have neither food nor charcoal – yet Haiti is neither affluent nor did it have a large population – it just seems too large now because they produce not enough food. But fifty years ago it was fine.

    So both affluence – high and wasteful resource use – and population are problems. However, resource use is easier to change than population. Each Western country could drop their resource use and emissions by 45% within a decade without any significant discomfort, added expense or new technology compared to today, just by changing to mass transit, renewable energy, less meat-eating and so on. But population isn’t going to drop 45% in a decade without one of the bloodiest wars in human history.

    The way to reduce population growth is to educate and make more prosperous the women in the poorest countries. Illiterate poor women have a lot of children; well-educated and well-off women have less. But when Westerners talk about “population control”, they typically do not mean “let’s educate the women and help them start businesses.” They don’t mean projects like microloans.

    When we reduce our “affluence” – our wasteful resource use – then perhaps we can lecture the Third World about population. Until then, we’re just making excuses.

    The world’s climate is not changing because some illiterate Ghanan woman is having her sixth child, it’s changing because of things like idiots driving their SUV half a mile to the burger drivethru.

  39. Nick says:

    Raven…”no one in the US or Europe is interested in living the lifestyle of a Kenyan”. So, that somehow renders per capita resource consumption comparisons misleading?
    ” The recent food price increases are pretty strong evidence of the link between energy prices and poverty.” I can’t make sense of this assertion. Do you mean that poor people drive the prices of food and fuel globally?

  40. Eli Rabett says:

    IEHO Joe’s post is THE ISSUE but misses THE IMPORTANT point, amplified by Raven’s distractions. The immediate problem is how to take global action that does not require global agreement, but only agreement among a few important and willing actors, which rewards early adapters and does not allow the unwilling to block action. The mechanism needs to be immune to off shoring, and be neutral between domestic and foreign producers. Eli believes that carbon trading proposals are aimed in the wrong direction. Rabett’s Simple Plan for Saving the World has the potential of meeting these requirements. It differs from any of the other proposals that I have seen in those ways.

  41. civilbehavior says:

    Why is it that in none of your posts Raven do you mention the thoughtless, shameless, egregious consumption of finite resources by Americans that has been going on for at least two centuries, merely I might add, for their own selfish pleasure and profit.

    It starts with Americans who at 4% of the worlds population and having selfishly consumed 25% of the worlds resources, making a committment to steward and conserve and yes, sacrifice to achieve a more equitable balance of the use of resources in all its forms so that all may participate in a more sustainable way a standard of living by allocating the basic dignities of life.

    If you don’t choose to do so, and very soon, Mother Nature is a harsh mistress. She will not stand by and continue to be abused and exploited. This isn’t like man’s dominion over others. She will exact her just amount of due. And it is coming due.

  42. civilbehavior says:


    A P.S. for you.

    Roy Spencer espouses a “biblically balanced stewardship” of earth resources along with such luminaries as Dr. Charles Colson, Dr. James Dobson, Rabbi Jacob Neusner, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, and Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy (all of whom we know are climate experts) who preach their non profit status as said experts as follows:

    —-environmental policies should harness human creative potential by expanding political and economic freedom (emphasis political and economic)

    —-we should respond first to firmly established risks in ways that are cost-effective and have proven benefit. (emphasis profit and more profit)

    Their call to action follows the money. The Holy Grail for all things earthly. And hey, if that doesn’t work then surely they will be among the saved when the Rapture happens.

    Roy Spencer………Ha.

  43. David B. Benson says:

    Raven wrote, among other thiings, “He also indicated on Tamino’s blog that he felt the relationship between CO2 and temperatures in the last 50 years is being overstated.” Then he is wrong. Gives a good fit for a climate sensitivity of about 3 K. While Lief Svalgaard might have intended it as satire, first few of the graphs do illustrate important points. It degenerates starting with using SET.

    However, that CO2 is a global warming (so-called) greenhouse gas is well established physics. Starting with John Tyndall in the 1850s.

    As for ‘poverty without CO2’, go learn something about bio-energy. There is plenty of potential available.

  44. Bob says:

    Eli – Your approach has interesting possibilities. We should be discussing approaches like Joe’s, yours, and others NOW – BUSH & OTHERS do not want to have those discussions. We have a basic scientific understanding of AGW on which to have policy discussions (recognizing that we still have a lot to learn scientifically – forcing, feedbacks, impacts, ect.). Empirical climate data continue to support that understanding. The most recent IPCC assessments of our technical understanding (the peer-reviewed literature) are conservative and a bit dated as a result of the assessment process, a possible reason empirical data indicate we appear to be progressing more rapidly down the path of AGW-related impacts. Unfortunately, our global emissions of GHGs are also increasing at a rate at the high end of IPPC assumptions.

    Also, if you (Paul K) think McCain will not back continued ethanol support in the upcoming election and be a champion for renewable energy – check out his recent Congressional record with LCV and the states he must win. McCain wants to be president and that doesn’t incude cutting ethanol support programs in the corn belt or being too green on renewable energy.

  45. David B. Benson says:

    Raven — Try

    entitled “Human warming hobbles ancient climate cycle”, although it isn’t human warming, directly, but rather the excess CO2. Still, well done for a MSM article.

  46. Bob says:


    We have been well-served by having peer-reviewed science inform public policy debate e.g., health. The Bush Administation/corporate interests (and their hired guns – most of which are not peer reviewed-science grounded) want to distract the AGW policy discussion for their own self-interests and even disallow agency scientist to speak on the peer-reviewed science when contrary to stated Bush policy. Most of what you put forward is not in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

  47. Robert says:

    Eli Rabett

    Have you considered where all the EAL money would go?

    It would go straight into the public sector, which would then spend it as if emissions didn’t matter (because the extra tax would come straight back to them).

    So…more air miles for public servants. More lights and computers left on all night in public buildings. More empty trains and buses going round in circles.

    Over to you.

  48. David B. Benson says:

    Robert — I would put the funds into growing, collecting and then preparing biomass for burial deep underground. And also burying it in abandoned mines or carbon landfills.

    Biochr from pyrolysis, torrified woody materials, or biocoal from hydrothermal carbonization should all work, with the last named process being the most permanent.

  49. Eli Rabett says:

    Robert, do you have a better way of costing the externalities of carbon based fuels, or are you just anti any tax? Taxes, of course, are the cost of civilization. Somalia has a very low tax rate, other than that it costs about 40-50 % of GDP to run a country including retirement and health. The US has a total tax rate (federal, state, local) of about 30% with about 14% for health care. Civilized countries with national health care and retirement programs run, as I said 40-50% GDP (see Statistical Abstracts of the United States, for example).

    As to your specific issues. The EAL was constructed so that government revenues stay constant. What part of that did you miss? OTOH government itself will have to adopt to the higher costs of carbon fuels integrated into flying, car travel, etc. Please comment on what was proposed.

  50. Robert says:


    Up to a couple of years ago I was in favour of a carbon tax. After all, it is the obvious way to internalise the externalities. The problem is that the public sector would not heed the price signal, because the tax recycles directly back into the public purse. It could only work if the public sector was capable of making tough decisions about what they use the tax for, and traditionally hypothecation of tax just never happens (there is only one example of a hypotecated tax in the UK, and that’s the BBC license fee).

    The way I figure it, the only system that is guaranteed to work is a global treaty to limit and then steadily reduce the amount of fossil fuel we extract, eventually leaving most of it in the ground. We would also need an agreement to halt any further incursion into wilderness/rainforest areas.

    Whatever is done needs to be very simple, transparent, global in its scope and easy to monitor. Complex financial instruments are none of these and, even if they were implemented, would not stop us mining all available oil, coal and gas reserves.

  51. Robert says:

    Eli – In the UK we have an enormous carbon tax on petrol and diesel. We are paying over $8 / US gallon and it makes absolutely no difference to anyone – we just moan and drive all over the country anyway! The only thing that would actually reduce consumption would be a forced shortage, translated into ultra-high prices. This could be politically acceptable if part of a global strategy.

  52. Eli Rabett says:

    Robert, I believe that UK/EU fuel economy is slightly under 30 mpg while US is about 20 mpg, so there is a difference. OTOH, as I recall from the 80s, many Brits have company cars that are available for private use and there are some fuel benefits associated (all I know is that it is very complicated, but on the surface this is an incentive to use cars).

    My principle reason for favoring a tax is that it is technology neutral and less subject to gaming than targets/carbon markets

  53. Robert says:

    Eli, In the UK they now tax company cars and fuel as a “perk” so heavily that many people don’t take up the option and run their own cars privately instead. Liquid fuels have so much intrinsic value that people will pay heavy tax and use as much fuel as they want almost without considering the cost. Traffic in the UK is mainly limited by congestion, especially round London – it can take 3 hours to go 50 miles round the M25 on a Friday night!

    Where a carbon tax might help is in things like domestic fuel which taxed at just 5% (VAT) in the UK instead of the usual 17.5%. People would figure it made sense to spend a bit more on insulation and a bit less on fuel.

    The real problem though is that absolutely everything we do is based somewhere along the line on fossil fuel use. A tax in one country would tend to squeeze the carbon emissions over to some other country with no tax. Even things like PV panels and wind turbines require highly carbon intensive manufacturing, deployment, maintenance and decommissioning processes.

    The only way a carbon tax could work at all would be if it was applied at a global level on all primary fuel sources. But then you still have the problem of what to do with the revenue to ensure it doesn’t generate yet more carbon.

    No. The more I think about the more I think the world needs to set limits on extraction and reduce these each year. This issue needs to be addressed head-on, not by time wasting complex financial instruments that achieve nothing.

  54. Paul K says:

    Eli Rabbett,
    Direct taxes on carbon like those you propose are a non-starter. They are specifically not recommended by Joe. Even thinking about them is a distraction.

  55. Eli Rabett says:

    Tax or cap or pray. Your choice.

  56. Paul K says:

    Cap and trade is beguiling because of the acid rain success. I’m not sure if the situations are analogous. SO2 was emitted by limited, easily identified and regulated sources. The market cap/trade created was narrowly defined. It did not require global implementation. Cap/trade is ripe for gaming. The best government policy for replacing fossil fuel is the elimination of capital gains taxes on alternative investments.

  57. Earl Killian says:

    Paul K, how is that going to shut down a full-depreciated coal plant? We’ve got enough emissions to ruin the atmosphere. Even if renewable technology were suddenly to replace all new investment, the old plants would do us in.

  58. Paul K says:

    Earl Killian,
    The conundrum is that no coal plant will be shut down unless there is an alternative up and running to replace it. I’m looking at every possible way to maximize alternative investment. This is a 40 to 50 year process. The older dirtier power plants will become increasingly obsolete over time. The cost of energy from new plants vs. paid for plants is problematic and something we should talk about more. I certainly don’t have an easy answer.

  59. John McCormick says:

    Paul K

    You said:

    [The older dirtier power plants will become increasingly obsolete over time.]

    Sure. But, when?

    I compared 2003 kwhrs and CO2 emissions from all fossil fired plants against 2007 data….more than 3300 units.

    I sorted by increased kwhrs and the top 250 units running harder in 2007 were all coal fired and had an average age of 34 years. Their on line factor was above 70%. These are old base loads running harder to keep up with increased demand and cost of NG.

    Their costs come down to fuel and O&M.

    I have more precise data if you are interested.

    Why would management want to shoot their cash cows?

    We’ve got a very serious problem here and no remedy.

    John McCormick

  60. Earl Killian says:

    Paul K, John McCormick said it well. Unless you have a plan to shut down such plants before their owners would find it economically advantageous to do so, you don’t have a plan that solves AGW.

  61. Paul K says:

    Earl Killian & John McCormick,
    I’m not looking to solve AGW, but to replace fossil fuel use over time. It is you who propose to shut down coal plants and you that should come up with a plan. My sense is that the only way it can be done is to have replacements available. Therefore I am for those policies which maximize alternatives like wind and solar. I think the emphasis should be one bringing down initial costs as the best way to make them competitive. If, as John says, there is no remedy perhaps we should be thinking of some way “around the problem”. I have no idea what that way might be. You both are far more expert than I in these matters.

  62. Earl Killian says:

    Paul K, there is a plan, but you keep suggesting is unnecessary for unknown reasons. It involves putting a price on GHG emissions (e.g. cap-auction-rebate or many other schemes).

  63. Paul K says:

    Earl Killian,
    I am not opposed to CO2 cap/trade although I have doubts about about how it would function globally. I do oppose direct taxes on carbon as does Joe. I was a bit rushed when making my last comment and the tone may have seemed less friendly than intended. My main complaint about raising the cost of fossils is the effect on the consumer as higher prices multiply throughout the economy. We are seeing that now from increasing oil prices. Until last week when you brought up the old dirty power plant issue, I hadn’t really considered this rather large fly in the ointment. Waiting for obsolescence may be uncertain and frustrating, but absent the political consensus to end coal power (e.g. Kansas) what else is there? The way I see is to maximize the build-up of alternatives – CSP looks really good – so that by 2050 when the plants that are 30 to 50 years old now are ready for the scrap heap, something will be there to take their place.

  64. Jon says:

    It is interesting to me that no one in this discusion has talked about the other sources of heating that are a result of the present increase in CO2; the feedback loops, deforestation, open water at the poles becoming heat sinks, increases in tropical cyclones moving more heat toward the poles, the oceans abilities to soak up CO2 slowing, all of these and many more, more important at a level of CO2 at 450 ppm, in causing increased warming than the CO2 level itself. As I understand it, once the temperature has reached a point to set off multiple tipping points and feedback loops, the CO2 level could drop while global warming continued a pace, or even increased in intensity. We have a collision of factors that will occur with unmitigated disaster, similar to what is now happening to the US and World Economy, where it is now no longer possible to stop the disaster by controlling inflation, or creating jobs, or strengthening the dollar, but it will require a huge combination of treatments to stave off a collapse of the World Economy!

  65. 1000 ppm =EXTINCTION
    Environmental policy = energy policy
    Energy policy = environmental policy
    because Global Warming
    can lead to Hydrogen Sulfide gas coming out of the oceans.

    Hydrogen Sulfide gas will Kill all people. Homo Sap will go
    EXTINCT unless drastic action is taken.

    October 2006 Scientific American

    Impact from the Deep
    Strangling heat and gases emanating from the earth and sea, not
    asteroids, most likely caused several ancient mass extinctions.
    Could the same killer-greenhouse conditions build once again?
    By Peter D. Ward
    downloaded from:
    ………………..Most of the article omitted………………….
    But with atmospheric carbon climbing at an annual rate of 2 ppm
    and expected to accelerate to 3 ppm, levels could approach 900
    ppm by the end of the next century, and conditions that bring
    about the beginnings of ocean anoxia may be in place. How soon
    after that could there be a new greenhouse extinction? That is
    something our society should never find out.”

    Press Release
    Pennsylvania State University
    Monday, Nov. 3, 2003
    downloaded from:
    “In the end-Permian, as the levels of atmospheric oxygen fell and
    the levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide rose, the upper
    levels of the oceans could have become rich in hydrogen sulfide
    catastrophically. This would kill most of the oceanic plants and
    animals. The hydrogen sulfide dispersing in the atmosphere would
    kill most terrestrial life.” is a NASA web zine. See:

    These articles agree with the first 2. They all say 6 degrees C or
    1000 parts per million CO2 is the extinction point.

    The global warming is already 1.3 degree Farenheit. 11 degrees
    Farenheit is about 6 degrees Celsius. The book “Six Degrees” by
    Mark Lynas agrees. If the global warming is 6 degrees
    centigrade, we humans go extinct. See:

    “Under a Green Sky” by Peter D. Ward, Ph.D., 2007.
    Paleontologist discusses mass extinctions of the past and the one
    we are doing to ourselves.

    THE EXTINCTION OF US HUMANS. 32 countries have
    nuclear power plants. Only 9 have the bomb. The top 3
    producers of CO2 all have nuclear power plants, coal fired power
    plants and nuclear bombs. They are the USA, China and India.
    Reducing CO2 production by 90% by 2050 requires drastic action
    in the USA, China and India. King Coal has to be demoted to a
    commoner. Coal must be left in the earth. If you own any coal
    stock, NOW is the time to dump it, regardless of loss, because it
    will soon be worthless.
    I have no financial connection to the nuclear power industry.

  66. superyumancrew says:

    What to do? Bury global warming –

    Scientific AmericanCan we Bury Global Warming?

    With one further wrinkle –

    University of Hawaii – Flash Carbonization of Biomass

    Biomass plus sequestration can actually take carbon out of the biosphere and inject it deep into the earth. We need to nationalize the coal fired power plants, and convert them to carbonized biomass power as in the article from U. of Hawaii. Convert these power plants also to oxy-fuel combustion and sequestration by deep injection, as in the Scientific American article above. Convert all other fossil fuel power to carbon capture, except for vehicles, which could run on electricity. Install massive wind and solar networks.

    And do it really fast.

    Would that stop it? Maybe not, but it would give us a chance.

    It’s technically possible to fix this thing, I think, but not with the massive amount of psychological denial taking place in the general population. We need to seize the coal fired power plants, for starters, and build a political constituency that will force every government on earth to do this.

    Otherwise, we are doomed, I think.

  67. msn nickleri says:

    Paul K, there is a plan, but you keep suggesting is unnecessary for unknown reasons. It involves putting a price on GHG emissions (e.g. cap-auction-rebate or many other schemes).

  68. We need to nationalize the coal fired power plants, and convert them to carbonized biomass power as in the article from U. of Hawaii. Convert these power plants also to oxy-fuel combustion and sequestration by deep injection, as in the Scientific American article above. おまとめローン

  69. Rav says:


    This might sound mad, but I think we need a clearer, more emotive explanation of the world 1000ppm+ would create. The phrase “humanity’s self-destruction” is effective, but the idea of “sea level rise of 80 feet to 250 feet” is not scary in the way that “New York underwater” would be. I understand reluctance to make specific predictions; but I often find that when I read descriptions of life in a 5-degree or more warmer world, I find myself thinking, “that doesn’t sound too awful.”

    Is there any level of warming where the actual extinction of human life becomes likely? If not, would it be possible to estimate an overall “death toll” for, say, 6 degrees of warming?

  70. Day Trading says:

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  71. Dave says:


    When will the people who claim that they are concerned about global heating begin to scream for a rapid build-up of new nuclear capacity? Even at this late stage of the game, I barely hear whispers.

    I find it difficult to take seriously climate control advocates who either completely discount or only half-heartedly endorse a massive replacement of fossil-fired power plants with nuclear plants.

    The existing capabilities of “green” power alternatives just don’t cut it. Nuclear’s the only technology available to meet energy demands without breaking the bank and baking the planet.


  72. Mr [is it Mark?] Raven is an example of why I want to be involved with my local school board. If every high school student was required to take 4 years of physics, 4 years of chemistry, 4 years of biology and 8 years [double classes] of math, we would not have problems like Mr. Raven. We need laboratories in all high schools good enough to enable/require every high school student to repeat the 1850s research on the optical properties of CO2. Having done the experiment himself, Mr. Raven would understand the role of CO2 in global climate. He would also understand the difference between science and rhetoric. Namely that you don’t argue with Nature. [Insert margarin commercial concerning the hazards of trying to fool Mother Nature.] Nature is always the one who determines the right answer, never you. Mr. Raven’s arrogance amounts to blastphemy against Nature.

  73. Joe Romm: The tundra has not survived 387 ppm CO2 which is 430 ppm equivalent due to the other greenhouse gasses. Those tipping points turn out to be already crossed and only draconian action can save us, if it is still possible. I mean really extreme action is necesary to avoid the extinction of Homo Sap. Tipping points already crossed:
    Tipping Point 1. Reference: “With Speed And Violence” by Fred Pearce, 2007. Mr. Pearce has seen formerly frozen peat bogs in the tundra in Siberia that are now lakes outgassing so much methane that they don’t freeze over in Siberian winter. There is enough methane in tundra peat bogs to raise the global temperature by 18 to 21 degrees Fahrenheit. Reference: “Six Degrees” by Mark Lynas. Another 10 degrees Fahrenheit will surely cause our extinction.
    Tipping Point 2. Methane is bubbling out of the Arctic Ocean. This methane is coming from the methane clathrates that are frozen at the bottom of the ocean. [A CLATHRATE is an ice thing that traps methane.]
    Tipping Point 3. Loss of ice on the Arctic Ocean. The dark ocean water absorbs sunlight. Ice on the ocean reflects sunlight. A change in the amount of ice tends to run away.
    We are about to cross Tipping Point 4. 450 parts per million [ppm] CO2 equivalent. We are at 387 ppm CO2 but when you add in the CH4 [methane] and the other greenhouse gasses, we Are at 430 ppm equivalent and rising fast. “The vanishing Face of Gaia” by James Lovelock, 2009, page 153 says that paleohistory shows a sudden 9 degree rise at 450 ppm equivalent. The physics is not stated. We are almost there. Note that climate does not change in a continuous, linear fashion. The climate lurches. The climate has in the past made many sudden and unexpected changes. There seem to be stable states. In between stable states, the climate jumps back and forth between the stable states.
    Arctic ocean ice makes as much difference as 70% of the 386 ppm of CO2. Source: “The vanishing Face of Gaia” by James Lovelock, 2009. With Zero CO2, the earth average temperature would be at, if memory serves, [don’t depend on my memory] 18 degrees below zero Centigrade. Actual earth average temperature is 15 degrees centigrade above zero. That is a 33 degree centigrade difference. Melting all of the Arctic ocean ice adds 70% of 33C which is 23 degrees centigrade or 41.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Add 20 degrees for the methane coming out of the tundra peat bogs and 20 degrees for the methane coming out of the Arctic Ocean clathrates. That makes 81 degrees of temperature rise. If the land temperature is above 75 degrees F, it turns into a desert because of fast evaporation. Source: “The vanishing Face of Gaia” by James Lovelock, 2009. The sum of the 3 tipping points that we have already tipped is 8 TIMES what is required to make Homo Sapiens extinct.
    We not only have to shut down ALL coal fired power plants NOW. We also have to cover the peat bog lakes and the Arctic Ocean with some kind of reflective surface so that they can freeze over again. We have to collect the methane that is coming from the bog lakes and the ocean and use it as fuel because methane is such a powerful greenhouse gas. I don’t know how to cover all of that surface, so here is a silly idea: Cover the ocean with ping pong balls. I don’t know how to collect methane from such a wide area either.