Though not enough. And for the wrong reasons. But this is still good news.

Somewhere around 1990, but you could justify an earlier date if you like, science knew enough about global warming, the increase in the planet’s surface temperatures caused by human release of greenhouse gas pollution and other human effects, to have initiated meaningful action to shift our energy supply away from fossil fuels. We didn’t know exactly what would happen, but we knew stuff would happen. How long has it taken for this science to turn into effective policy to address global warming? We don’t know, because, while some things are happening now, not enough. We are not doing what we need to be doing decades after we should have started doing it.

The main reason we have avoided effective action is because of bought and paid for denial of the science supported mainly by the industries that stand to lose the most if we eliminated our reliance on fossil fuels. These industries could have done something very different. They could have started to develop and deploy clean energy solutions, and dissolve their fossil fuel based assets. But they didn’t. So we are in a bad situation right now.

Meanwhile this systematic and effective denial of science has kept public opinion confused, with many people failing to accept the reality of global warming. But now, we are seeing a major shift away from denial and towards accepting, if not fully understanding, the science, and getting on board with a shift in policy.

That is a good thing, though it is slightly annoying that a) recent lackluster opinion has resulted from the incorrect perception that an expectable slowdown in warming means global warming isn’t real (it doesn’t actually mean that) followed by b) an uptick in global warming’s effects caused by short term exacerbation from the current, now winding down, El Nino.

The last time there was a big uptick in US public concern about global warming was in association with the most recent major El Nino, and now, with this new major El Nino, concern has risen again, according to Gallup.

Hunter Cutting has a piece on Medium exploring this in more detail. He asks if the current uptick in concern is a tipping point in public opinion.

He notes,

For the past year there have been hints of a significant shift in the U.S. political landscape on the question of climate change. Now, new polling numbers just out from Gallup confirm not just a shift, but a seismic shift, in public opinion on the question. The shift is so dramatic that we may have passed a key tipping point in the politics of climate change.

But he further notes,

The political landscape must change still further before federal action can take the next big steps forward on climate change. Despite increasing agreement that climate change is a problem, most still don’t see the problem as a pressing concern calling for immediate action. But U.S. politics are notoriously non-linear. Political change often happens fast once the ball gets rolling.

If a Republican is elected to the White House, and both houses of Congress stay Republican, expect anywhere from a half decade to a decade of delay in acting meaningfully on clean energy policy. Yes, the markets are already heading that way, but don’t underestimate the ability of a nefarious petroleum fueled anti-change government to slow that down or even reverse it. This is why this November is the most important election in American, and global, history. Please don’t blow it.

Comments

  1. #1 Russell Seitz
    March 18, 2016

    Think of it as the thick cultural tail of the League of Nations report on the Arrhenius Effect.

  2. #2 SteveP
    March 18, 2016

    Russell. That sounds profound. Is that anything like the Pauli Effect?

  3. #3 RickA
    United States
    March 18, 2016

    I find this poll odd.

    CO2 emissions stayed flat from 2015 to 2016.

    The increase in temperature is due to natural causes (el nino).

    So I put this poll movement down to an advertising effect – probably from the Paris talks.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    March 18, 2016

    RickA: For one thing, what happens over a two or three year period is really irrelevant. Second, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel stayed flat. CO2 in the atmosphere spiked more rapidly than we have ever seen over that period. Third, the total amount of CO2 added by human pollution to the atmosphere is this big:

    =============================================================================================================================================

    The difference between one year and the next is this big

    .

    Finally the combination of El Nino and Global Warming, but MOSTLY Global Warming, is responsible for the chaotic weather that is getting people’s attention.

    We are done with the denial.

  5. #5 Brainstorms
    March 18, 2016

    RickA stalls his car on a train crossing…

    A freight train is bearing down on RickA, sitting in his car.

    RickA realizes that no train has hit him in the last minute he’s been sitting there on the tracks.

    Someone runs up to RickA’s car and warns him about the train and implores him to do something to save himself…

    RickA concludes that because there’s been a recent “hiautus” of no trains crossing the road, there is no danger to himself.

    RickA instead begins to pontificate to the Good Samaritan about his doubts regarding train crossing accident statistics…

    ::Wumpff!!::

  6. #6 RickA
    United States
    March 18, 2016

    Brainstorms #5:

    Using your analogy, I am stuck on the railroad crossing.

    However, instead of getting hit by a train I get hit by a stampede of wild buffalo.

    Nature versus human.

    The “chaotic” weather is caused by el nino – which is 100% natural.

    The flooding in Texas and California is natural.

    Lake Shasta rising 37 feet in 2 weeks – 100% natural.

    El ninos happened before humans emitted CO2 and they still occur – moving heat from the ocean into the atmosphere, and changing the weather from dry to wet for Texas and California.

    Nobody knows what percentage of the recent warming is el nino versus global warming – but if I had to guess, I would put el nino at 75% of the warming and global warming at 25% of the warming (at least over the period of the el nino).

    So the latest el nino is about 1/6 of the total warming over the last 135 years (about .2C of 1.2C) – in just a few months.

    Natural variability is larger than we thought, which makes CS smaller than we thought.

    Yes humans are warming the world.

    But how much of the warming since 1880 is caused by humans and how much by nature?

    We still don’t know.

    However, we now know that 110% of the warming since 1950 is not caused by humans – because el nino caused a good bit of it.

  7. #7 dean
    United States
    March 18, 2016

    Jesus Christ, is RickA going to whip out his never-ending list of lies and lack of willingness to learn an effing thing about science again? What an amoral dick.

    The survey results are interesting reading, especially this part of the summary:

    Concern about global warming has increased among all party groups since 2015, although it remains much higher among Democrats than Republicans and independents. For example, 40% of Republicans say they worry a great deal or fair amount about global warming, up from 31% last year. The percentage of independents expressing concern has also increased nine points, from 55% to 64%. Democrats’ concern is up slightly less, from 78% to 84%.

    Democrats and independents also show double-digit increases in the percentages attributing warmer temperatures to human activities. Republicans show a more modest uptick of four points on this question.

    The difference is striking: 38% of Republicans who attribute it to us, 68% of Independents do, and 85% of the Democratic group do. The changes for Independents and Democrats from last year are outside the margin of error, but the increase for the Republicans is right on it – so, essentially, no change in opinion in that group.

  8. #8 Brainstorms
    March 18, 2016

    You’re right about one thing, RickA: I should have made it an avalanche — purely natural, right?

    And you’d be standing there, mired in your self-serving stupidity, saying, “But we still don’t know if it will bury me and kill me.”

  9. #9 Brainstorms
    March 18, 2016

    Dean, the Republicans’ brains are on hiatus… a hiatus from thinking.

  10. #10 Russell Seitz
    Squibnocket MA
    March 19, 2016
  11. #11 Marco
    March 20, 2016

    Dean, Brainstorms, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. RickA does not want to ‘drink the water’. It would rattle his personal beliefs so much that he’d have to rethink all he holds dear. So, when I would, for example, ask him how ENSO has caused the oceans to warm since 1950, I cannot expect any other answer than “we don’t know” or “too much uncertainty”.

  12. #12 Brainstorms
    March 20, 2016

    Marco,
    “You can lead a man to data, but you can’t make him think.”

    Some are absolutely determined not to. For their ideology tells them so.

  13. #13 John Hartz
    USA
    March 20, 2016

    The broadcast news media in the US are consumed by Donald Trump’s quest for the White House. All other significant news tends to get swept uner the rug. Perhaps record heat this summer will grab the media’s attention. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out.

  14. #14 Donal
    Baltimore
    March 21, 2016

    Frankly I don’t expect much more from a neoliberal Democratic administration. FiveThirtyEight linked to a paper, Unleashing Innovation and Growth – A Progressive Alternative to Populism from the Progressive Policy Institute, which they linked to the Clintons. Many parts of the paper read like Republican Lite, and although PPI gives lip service to climate change, their solution is mostly a carbon tax.

    “In light of the economic and security benefits, Democrats can only lose credibility with the public by parroting green activists who exaggerate the dangers of fracking or demand that America’s shale windfall be kept “in the ground.””

    It’s a 72 page PDF:
    http://www.progressivepolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/2016_PPI_Unleashing-Innovation-and-Growth_A-Progressive-Alternative-to-Populism.pdf

  15. #15 Chris O'Neill
    March 21, 2016

    RickA:

    we now know that 110% of the warming since 1950 is not caused by humans

    An assertion (false btw) masquerading as knowledge.

    You’re a compulsive liar RickA.

    Compulsive liar:

    “A compulsive liar is defined as someone who lies out of habit. Lying is their normal and reflexive way of responding to questions.”

    “For the most part, compulsive liars are not overly manipulative and cunning (unlike sociopaths), rather they simply lie out of habit—an automatic response which is hard to break”

    That’s RickA.

  16. #16 RickA
    United States
    March 21, 2016

    Chris #15:

    And you are wrong (as usual).

    The el nino has warmed the Earth by moving heat from the ocean to the atmosphere and is not caused by humans.

    Just the warming from el nino is enough to drop us below 100%.

    So I am afraid I am correct and you are not.

  17. #17 dean
    March 21, 2016

    So I am afraid I am correct and you are not.

    Wow. Responses don’t get any more “I have my fingers in my ears and can’t hear you” than that.

  18. #18 Brainstorms
    March 21, 2016

    RickA, you forget to tell us how all that extra heat for El Nino got into the oceans in the first place…

    I’ll help you: “That extra heat DID come from humans, specifically by being trapped by having too much CO2 in the atmosphere, which humans have been adding.”

    Now RickA can admonish us all to reduce our CO2 emissions to help mitigate the problem he has just elucidated for us.

    (You can take your fingers out of your ears now, RickA. And please stop humming, too.)

  19. #19 Windchaser
    March 21, 2016

    “The el nino has warmed the Earth by moving heat from the ocean to the atmosphere and is not caused by humans.”

    Did they not have El Ninos in the 1950s?

    Compare an El Nino from back then to one today. Why is the one today so much warmer? It can’t be because it’s an El Nino; we’re already comparing two El Ninos.

    The point is, when you compare the warming with like-against-like, you get a rough idea of the actual warming of the Earth’s surface. And it’s that warming that is what we mean when we talk about global warming, and which is ~110% caused by greenhouse gases.

  20. #20 Windchaser
    March 21, 2016

    If you use the actual normal definition of climate, of 20-40 years of data, then El Ninos and La Ninas already average out and this becomes a moot point.

    Done properly, you don’t even need to consider whether we’re in an El Nino or La Nina; those differences wash out on a 20+ year timespan.

  21. #21 John Hartz
    USA
    March 21, 2016

    Something for RickA to chew on…

    “Though El Niño is the proximate cause of many of this year’s weather records, its effects are an upward wiggle on top of the slow-rolling steamroller of climate change. Unofficial data from February show that it likely beat January’s record for the most unusually warm month ever measured, and initial data from the first few days of March are even more alarming. Expect global temperatures records to continue being shattered for several more months.”

    El Niño’s Disastrous Worldwide Consequences Are Just Getting Started by Eric Holthaus, Slate, Mar 7, 2016

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/03/07/el_nino_and_extreme_weather_will_be_a_theme_of_2016.html

  22. #22 RickA
    United States
    March 21, 2016

    Brainstorms #18:

    The heat the el nino is moving from the ocean to the atmosphere came from the sun.

    Some indeterminate percentage of the sun (depends on CS) is not escaping the atmosphere because of extra CO2.

    But this is a number which is in dispute – is CS 1.5C or 4.5C or somewhere in between?

    We don’t know the answer to that question yet.

    This means we don’t know how much of the warming from 1880 (or 1950) to present is caused by humans or is natural.

    It could be 50/50 (human/natural) or 75/25 or some other number.

    We have warmed quite a bit over the last 20,000 years – enough to raise sea levels 120 meters. Where did the energy come from to do that?

    Answer: The sun.

    All el ninos energy (no matter what the current global temperature is when they start) comes from the sun.

    Joh Hartz #21:

    Yes – that is what I am saying – the proximate cause of many of this year’s weather is caused by El Nino – not by humans.

    The different in global temperature between the start of the el nino and the peak caused by el nino can be attributed to a natural event (on top of a partial natural/human global warming).

    I think we agree.

    So subtract the el nino warming from the global warming from 1880 and then figure out how much of the remaining warming is caused by nature and we are in business.

    The problem is we currently do not have an answer to how much of the warming from 1880 to before el nino was caused by nature. It could be 100% human caused , but it could be 50/50 (human/nature). We don’t know.

  23. #23 John Hartz
    USA
    March 21, 2016

    RickA:

    El Nino events occur within and are influenced by the Earth’s climate system. Therefore, human activity that change the Earth’s climate system also impact El Nino events. A strong case can be made that manmade climate change is causing El Nino events to become more intense over time.

  24. #24 Windchaser
    March 21, 2016

    The problem is we currently do not have an answer to how much of the warming from 1880 to before el nino was caused by nature. It could be 100% human caused , but it could be 50/50 (human/nature). We don’t know.

    Hi RickA,

    I recommend reading the IPCC’s exhaustively comprehensive discussion on the subject of attribution. There have been thousands of papers written on the subject, and tens of millions of man-hours spent on researching it.

    http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_Chapter10_FINAL.pdf

    Our best estimate is that without human influence, the Earth would have cooled slightly. So mankind is most likely responsible for about 110% of the observed warming. That could be as high as 160% or as low as ~60% with equal probability, but we’re pretty damn certain that it’s higher than 50%.

    What you can’t do is say “well, we could have caused only 60%, so it doesn’t matter”. Sure, it could have been 60% – but it’s equally likely that we caused 160% of the warming. If you accept the uncertainty in one direction, you have to accept it in the other direction as well.

  25. #25 Marco
    March 22, 2016

    Windchaser, I think RickA has made it abundantly clear that he does not believe whatever the IPCC says, and rather makes up his own version of reality.

    And thus one can show that the earth should have been *cooling* over the past 65 years, and still RickA will still believe that his own version of reality (“it’s the sun!”) is much more likely. Why? Because that hypothesis, however wrong it may be, soothes him. “See?! It isn’t us!”

  26. #26 RickA
    United States
    March 22, 2016

    Windchaser #24 and Marco #25:

    I have read the IPCC reports.

    I do take them with a grain of salt.

    We haven’t managed to narrow the range of CS from 1.5C to 4.5C since 1990 ish.

    I also don’t buy that without human influence the Earth would have cooled slightly over the last 65 years.

    Doesn’t pass the smell test (to me).

    We know the sun was the most active in centuries during most of the 20th century.

    We know there was great warming from 1905 to about 1945 (before the 1950 magic cut off).

    We know that without human influence we would not have passed the clean air act – which provided a cooling effect – so without human influence that cooling effect disappers.

    We know that without human influence we would not have emitted CO2 from 1950 to 2015 (that has a warming effect).

    Netting those out – I don’t buy a net cooling effect – just makes no sense to me.

    We have been warming for 20,000 years – we warmed after the LIA – we warmed from 1905 to 1945 – why should I believe we would start cooling all of the sudden (absent humans)?

    Sounds like wishful thinking to me.

    But believe what you like – that is ok with me.

    I look at the evidence and evaluate it and see an ECS of 1.5C ish – I am sure you guys evaluate it and see 3C or 4.5C – and that is fine.

    But don’t pretend you know what the answer is – nobody knows what the answer is yet.

    We have to wait to see.

    In the meantime – lets go nuclear – that will help no matter who is correct.

  27. #27 dean
    March 22, 2016

    just makes no sense to me.

    Whether due to your lack of intellectual ability or simply your desire to reject reality, the fact that it “makes no sense to you” is immaterial.

  28. #28 Marco
    March 22, 2016

    “Doesn’t pass the smell test (to me).”

    Of course it doesn’t! It is contrary to your desires and ideology!

    This isn’t even DK, but outright motivated reasoning by RickA.

  29. #29 Windchaser
    March 22, 2016

    We have been warming for 20,000 years – we warmed after the LIA – we warmed from 1905 to 1945 – why should I believe we would start cooling all of the sudden (absent humans)?

    I disagree. The Earth had generally been cooling for the last 5,000 years or so.

    http://www.realclimate.org/images//Marcott.png

    The general trend was downward. Of course there were wiggles up and down within that, as solar or volcanic aerosols varied up and down. But orbital mechanics has us heading towards another glacial period.

    In reality, we have a rather loose grasp on the aerosol forcings of the 19th and 20th centuries. That’s why the uncertainty is so large. And it’s part of why we have a hard time constraining ECS.

    Solar activity, though, was dropping after 1950, so we would have been cooling since then. (At least, if you buy the sunspot — solar activity connection).

    I look at the evidence and evaluate it and see an ECS of 1.5C ish – I am sure you guys evaluate it and see 3C or 4.5C – and that is fine.

    I think you have to disregard >95% of the evidence to get to an ECS of 1.5C.

    If you cherry-pick juuuuuusst a teeny-tiny amount of the evidence, and ignore the rest, you can get to an ECS that low. Ignore that humidity naturally changes with temperature, ignore that this low ECS is inconsistent with paleoclimate changes, ignore the lack of any physical basis for such a low ECS, etc., etc.

    Sorry. Not trying to be rude, I just don’t think the evidence is there. Not even close.

    In the meantime – lets go nuclear – that will help no matter who is correct.

    Ayep. That we can agree on!

  30. #30 zebra
    March 22, 2016

    Windchaser,

    “that we can agree on”

    You are agreeing with someone who is just as ignorant/confused about how electricity works (despite claims of being an EE as I recall) as about climate science. Not to mention the economics of the whole thing.

  31. #31 dean
    March 22, 2016

    I just don’t think the evidence is there.

    That’s the issue Windchaser: RickA has repeatedly demonstrated he doesn’t care about evidence, only about his “smell-test” judgement.

  32. #32 John Hartz
    USA
    March 22, 2016

    RickA:

    I recommend that you read the advanced version of the Skeptical Science rebuttal article, “Sun & climate: moving in opposite directions” and watch the appended video from the Denial101x – Making Sense of Climate Science Denial- MOOC.

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/solar-activity-sunspots-global-warming-advanced.htm

  33. #33 cosmicomics
    Danmark
    March 22, 2016

    #26
    “In the meantime – lets go nuclear – that will help no matter who is correct.”
    #29
    “Ayep. That we can agree on!”

    I don’t expect RickA to know anything. Discussing with him, her or it – we don’t know – is like flogging a dead horse. The following remarks are directed to Windchaser, who recognizes the reality of climate change, but not the urgency of addressing it.

    There are a number of things regarding nuclear that should be considered. The first is nuclear’s vulnerability to climate change. Most nuclear depends on water cooling. (Other forms of cooling are more expensive and raise the the price of an already overly expensive, non-competitive energy source even more. One might ask why climate septics reject wind energy based on cost, and then support nuclear, which costs considerably more. One might ask why reactionaries, who reject government regulation, support the energy form that requires the greatest degree of government involvement.) As water cooled plants need to be situated near a body of water, both flooding and droughts, both of which are consequences of climate change, are threats. If the water temperature is too hot, the intake may reduce the plant’s efficiency, and environmental problems caused by discharge could result in a shutdown.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028138.200-the-climate-change-threat-to-nuclear- power.html?full=true
    http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/energy-and-water-use/infographic-energy-water-collision.html

    Other than being largely incompatible with a warming climate, nuclear projects have been beset by delays that mean they could not be scaled up quickly enough to limit the threat. In addition, nuclear has been beset by cost overruns, is so economically risky that financial institutions no longer invest in it, and in every way is losing out to renewable sources.

    “…the impressively resilient hopes that many people still have of a global nuclear renaissance are being trumped by a real-time revolution in efficiency-plusrenewables-plus-storage, delivering more and more solutions on the ground every year…

    Every year that passes reveals a widening gap between what is happening with the nuclear industry (forensically laid bare by successive Status Reports) and how so-called alternatives become a new paradigm…

    Twenty years on, not one of the Generation III reactor designs is yet in service. And the kind of reduced costs that were being talked about at that time have been proved entirely illusory: by 2013, the projected costs of Generation III designs had increased eightfold. As the WNISR authors put it: “By May 2015, there were 18 reactors of designs claimed to meet Generation III+ criteria under construction. Only two were still on time, and the rest were two to nine years late…

    Undaunted by this grinding reality, the nuclear industry is now increasingly active in talking up the prospects for Generation IV reactor designs, which will (we are told) address all the same
    problems that Generation III designs were supposed to address. Right now, for instance, there’s an outspoken lobby making the case for Small Modular Reactors – an idea which is readily badged as Generation IV but actually goes back to the 1960s. Then the 1980s. Then the 1990s. Then the early 2000s!..

    For those who’ve now somewhat given up on Small Modular Reactors and other so-called “advanced nuclear reactors”, there’s always the promise of an entirely new nuclear value chain based not on uranium but on thorium – another proposition that has been around for more than 50 years. And what’s remarkable here is that even the keenest advocates of thorium acknowledge that it couldn’t possibly make a substantive, cost-effective contribution to the world’s need for
    low-carbon energy for at least another 20 years.

    The consistent history of innovation in the nuclear industry is one of periodic spasms of enthusiasm for putative breakthrough technologies, leading to the commitment of untold billions of investment dollars, followed by a slow, unfolding story of disappointment caused by intractable design and cost issues. Purely from an innovation perspective, it’s hard to imagine a sorrier, costlier and more self-indulgent story of serial failure.”
    http://www.worldnuclearreport.org/IMG/pdf/20151023MSC-WNISR2015-V4-LR.pdf (Foreword)
    https://will.illinois.edu/nfs/RenaissanceinReverse7.18.2013.pdf
    http://www.carbonbrief.org/new-nuclear-finlands-cautionary-tale-for-the-uk

    The following shows what an energy policy that’s based on wind can achieve:
    http://www.vox.com/2016/3/12/11210818/denmark-energy-policies

    Note that onshore wind is the cheapest source of new electricity. A new report shows that wind is reliable:
    http://awea.files.cms-plus.com/AWEA%20Reliability%20White%20Paper%20-%202-12-15.pdf

    Finally, here’s an analysis showing how the U.S. could be completely powered by renewables, without nuclear, by 2050:
    https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/USStatesWWS.pdf

    On what do you base your enthusiasm for nuclear?

  34. #34 RickA
    United States
    March 22, 2016

    cosmicomics #33:

    You ask on what do I base my enthusiasm for nuclear?

    First, it is not intermittent, but can provide power when it is not sunny and not windy. Therefore it is grid friendly – while solar and wind over a certain threshold (I think 30% ish) is not grid friendly.

    Second, it does not emit CO2.

    Third, it can provide power in a very compact space, compared to wind or solar, and it can be located in places where it is not windy or not very well suited to solar (like Minnesota).

    Fourth, if we build a few recycling nuclear power plants we have spent fuel laying around which is considered a problem in most places, but which is free fuel which can run a bunch of nuclear power plants for a very very long time.

    The downsides to nuclear is that it is more expensive than fossil fuel and there is a lot of political opposition to nuclear power. But there is nothing technical which prevents widespread deployment of nuclear power, to generate as much power as we need in the United States, should we choose to do it.

    There will also be opposition to moving spent fuel around to get it to the recycling reactors – but no real technical issues to do so.

    I recommend reading Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Energy Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey Sep 19, 2008 by William Tucker.

    I found this book very interesting.

    As for your concerns about open loop water availability and site location – there are closed loop passive cooling designs which eliminate that concern.

    See http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/te_1474_web.pdf

  35. […] People finally concerned about climate change, Greg Laden’s Blog, Mar 18, 2016 […]