Warren Buffett: “Doubling the carbon dioxide we belch into the atmosphere may far more than double the subsequent problems for society.”

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"Warren Buffett: “Doubling the carbon dioxide we belch into the atmosphere may far more than double the subsequent problems for society.”"

http://www.economy.com/dismal/graphs/blog/warren_buffett.jpgOkay, the NYT op-ed by the sage of Omaha, “The Greenback Effect,” is almost entirely about our economic crisis.  Still, it’s nice that one of our top economic gurus  understands global warming is nonlinear — and thinks enough people might understand that point so he can use it as a springboard for discussing monetary policy:

IN nature, every action has consequences, a phenomenon called the butterfly effect. These consequences, moreover, are not necessarily proportional. For example, doubling the carbon dioxide we belch into the atmosphere may far more than double the subsequent problems for society.  Realizing this, the world properly worries about greenhouse emissions.

[Yes, Buffett may be confusing CO2 emissions with CO2 concentrations -- join the club -- but it's impossible to tell from this short hit.]

The butterfly effect reaches into the financial world as well. Here, the United States is spewing a potentially damaging substance into our economy “” greenback emissions.

The article’s final mention of climate impacts is, however, quite lame:

Unchecked carbon emissions will likely cause icebergs to melt. Unchecked greenback emissions will certainly cause the purchasing power of currency to melt. The dollar’s destiny lies with Congress.

Note 1 to  Buffett:   Likely???  What do you think is already happening?

Note 2 to  Buffett:  It is land-based ice that humanity needs to worry about, not sea-based icebergs.  Kind of  surprising actually that the editorial page editor of the NYT let that one go by.  “Icebergs” should have been replaced by “glaciers” or “ice sheets.”  I suppose this just shows that even the most sophisticated opinion makers don’t really understand the basics of this issue.

Still, it’s a start for Buffett, who hasn’t been known for sagacity on this issue:

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    10 Responses to Warren Buffett: “Doubling the carbon dioxide we belch into the atmosphere may far more than double the subsequent problems for society.”

    1. ecostew says:

      Another reason to get rid of coal-fired generation.

      The USGS released a study today that assesses mercury contamination in fish, bed sediment, and water from 291 streams across the nation, sampled from 1998 to 2005.

      The report, along with a press release, podcast, and summary of major findings can be accessed at http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/mercury/ .

      Scientists detected mercury contamination in every fish sampled in every stream. About a quarter of these fish were found to contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of people who consume average amounts of fish, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). More than two-thirds of the fish exceeded the EPA level of concern for fish-eating mammals.

      Atmospheric mercury is the main source to most of these streams — coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the United States — but 59 of the streams also were potentially affected by gold and mercury mining. Since USGS studies targeted specific sites and fish species, the findings may not be representative of mercury levels in all types of freshwater environments across the United States.

    2. JIm Edelson says:

      It’s very NICE for Mr. Buffett to TALK about his concern for the climate. But he has been plainly unhelpful in taking actions.

      Buffett is the largest shareholder of Berkshire, which owns MidAmerican Utilities. Mr. Buffett refuses to weigh in on the aggressive coal plant development policies of MidAmerican and its subsidiary PacifiCorp.

      MidAmerican is also one of these most unhelpful players in the climate bill debate in Congress.

      Mr. Buffett will leave a sad legacy when it comes to the climate crisis unless he comes forward soon in a leadership role.

    3. paulm says:

      Tides turning.

    4. Omega Centuri says:

      I don’t want to rain on your nonlinear parade, but the basic forcing from CO2 (or any other line dominated GHG) is logarithmic. This means that the nonlinearity wrt. concentration works in our favor, four times the concentration is only twice as bad as two times. An increase of 40% (roughly where we are now is half as bad as a doubling etc. So at least in this fairly narrow sense the damage from adding the Nth atom of CO2 is less than that of adding the first.

      Now don’t get me wrong, I place a high priority on reducing emissions. Unlike our opponents, I also place a high priority on truth and accuracy.

      [JR: The issue isn't the "fairly narrow sense" as you describe it -- it is whether the damage function is linear, and it most certainly isn't, as I have blogged many times.]

    5. jorleh says:

      It`s very annoying a man like Buffet, however, seems to be rather ignorant as to the question much bigger than some phoney economy.

      We have still a long way to go, with so short a time.

    6. paulm says:

      Interesting article….the debate is over.

      Most in mining industry believe climate change is already hurting operations
      August, 19, 2009 – 11:59 pm Weber, Bob – (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
      http://news1130.com/news/business/more.jsp?content=b194297627

      A new survey suggests ….

      The foundation surveyed 42 attendees at the 2008 prospectors and developers conference in Toronto and also conducted 62 phone interviews with a series of people working directly at mine sites across Canada.

      About 48 per cent of the attendees and 34 per cent of the telephone respondents said the warming climate has already affected their operations.

      Only 25 per cent of those in executive positions, however, shared that belief.

      “The data suggest that respondents with direct operational responsibilities expect future climate change to affect company operations,” the report says.

      Those effects include prematurely melting ice roads, more frequent forest fires and more severe storms.

    7. Climateer says:

      MidAmerican Energy has the largest utility-owned wind generation capacity in the country.
      They have sizable hydro capacity through the PacifiCorp sub. and run 17,000 miles of nat. gas pipeline.
      They don’t much care for cap-and-trade.
      Where’s the photo credit?

    8. gmo says:

      Agreed, perhaps it is a positive to have something out of Buffett. The “cause icebergs to melt” thing is pretty bad though. Could have saved words and just said, “unchecked carbon emissions will cause the purchasing power of currency to melt” considering how, among other things, dealing with a drastically changing climate figures to be a drain on our remaining resources.

      To echo Joe’s reply to Omega Centauri, the logarithmic forcing of GHGs is not what matters, rather it is the results. The damage function as Joe calls it may be much worse than linear, perhaps exponential.

      Suppose doubling CO2 concentration increases global average temperature 5F. It is correct that one doubling from pre-industrial temperature to 5F warmer would take only half the CO2 that the next doubling from 5F warmer to 10F warmer would require. IOW, it would take twice as much CO2 to go from +5F to +10F as to go originally up to +5F. However in terms of effects on the biosphere and humans, the negatives might be 4 times as bad in going from +5F to +10F as just up to +5F. In that way the Nth atom would be _more_ damaging than the first.

      I do not like the “stay below this exact threshold or bust” mentality I perceive from many, but I do agree it is vitally important to put the brakes on as hard as possible because the more extreme we make the forcing the much worse the results will be.

    9. Chris Winter says:

      Omega Centuri wrote: “I don’t want to rain on your nonlinear parade, but the basic forcing from CO2 (or any other line-dominated GHG) is logarithmic. This means that the nonlinearity wrt concentration works in our favor, four times the concentration is only twice as bad as two times. An increase of 40% (roughly where we are now is half as bad as a doubling etc. So at least in this fairly narrow sense the damage from adding the Nth atom of CO2 is less than that of adding the first.”

      Let’s look at your data points.

      CO2 Badness
      40% 0.5
      100% 1.0
      200% 2.0
      400% 4.0

      This is very close to linear. Except for the first step, it’s exactly linear. I’m not saying you’re wrong about the logarithmic nature of CO2 forcing — only that the numbers you chose don’t show that.

      But that’s all beside the point if CO2 concentration rises exponentially, as it seems to be doing. Please refer to these graphs:

      http://www.globalwarmingart.com/wiki/Carbon_Dioxide_Gallery

      And even if it had been linear, the growth of China and India (not to mention the rest of the world), plus the likely amplifying feedbacks, would soon change that.

      [JR: Missing the point again. The impacts are not linear. Beyond certain thresholds, Greenland goes and so does the tundra methane.]

    10. Thanks Buffet for a small start.

      Those who hold fame have a responsibility to speak up. Not just mumble.

      Bill Gates totally ignores AGW – possibly because he wants to stay connected to carbon businesses.

      Oprah Winfrey seems to pay a quick lip service to global warming if there is a movie star or famous person involved. But she won’t really touch the issue itself. Maybe it is because of advertisers

      Rupert Murdoch wants all his media productions to have a zero carbon footprint… but he refuses to exert editorial influence

      Kudos to David Letterman for a 10 minute rant that shows he gets it… now he reverts back to comic relief.

      Fame means nothing if history itself is crumbling.