So over at Keith Kloor’s place, we see Keith read a comment of Michael Tobis’, (read it for your self here) in which he says: “Adaptation is crucial” and “adaptation and mitigation are not a tradeoff. They are two faces of the same coin.” along with a whole bunch of, typical for Tobis, nuanced and intelligent points.
What does Keith want his readers to take away from that? That Michael Tobis is a hypocrite who does not really care about suffering humanity and his whole schtick is “the typical zero-sum talking point, that mitigation (curbing carbon emissions) has to take precedence over adaptation”.
So, okay, Keith has jumped the shark, the question is will he admit it and jump back? I strongly advocate allowing people to err in public as long as they simply acknowledge they were wrong and move forward. Let’s watch and wait for that one…
[update: As happens when you are late to the party, by the time you catch up, you are already behind again. Keith walked this back 6 days ago here:
5. The charge: That I distorted a comment from Michael Tobis in one of my threads and used it as ammunition in a separate post where I called him hypocritical.
Answer: I'm going to cop to this charge-but not the assertion that I did it willfully. I've thought about this a lot since that post appeared and have concluded that I should have been more careful in my choice of words. I happen to think that there are worse things than being called hypocritical (such as evil or deceptive), but I'm now inclined to agree that I treated Michael unfairly in that post. I made a poorly constructed argument for hypocrisy and in doing so made some leaps I shouldn't have, and for that I apologize to Michael.
Well done, Keith.
Yes, that is pretty boring, cut and dried soap opera fare. But as usual the good stuff is in the comment threads because for whatever (probably temporary) reason, Collide-a-scape attracts lots of interesting people. I found the exchage between Judith Curry and Michael Tobis quite interesting. For your convenience, and assuming an interest, here are quotes of and links to that exchange (this enterprise got bigger than I anticipated, oh well can’t stop now). The general topic is the Russian heat wave, the Pakistani floods and the idea that this is something more than just weather flukiness:
Extreme events having the potential for catastrophe (e.g. floods, droughts, hurricanes, heat waves) have always been with us and always will. Paleoclimate records suggest that the last 100 years has been a particularly benign climate in terms of drought and hurricanes. Given our vulnerability, floods, droughts, hurricanes, heat waves already produce much damage and suffering. Even over the course of natural variability, such extreme events might get worse. Even in a cooler climate, we will still have plenty of disastrous droughts, floods, hurricanes (big heat waves are less likely, but more people actually lose their lives from cold).
Kevin Trenberth is very fond of attributing a % of a particular disaster to global warming: it was 7% for Katrina and I think I saw 5% for the Pakistan floods. Even if you think this attribution is convincing (I don’t), well what about the other 95% of the Pakistan flood waters? Etc.
Adaptation to reduce vulnerability to extreme events isn’t just about expensive infrastructure, that only the developed world can afford. Its also about getting some advance warning of the particular disaster (10 days or even 5 days is a huge help) and having an emergency management plan in place to evacuate people, their livestock, their seeds, and anything else that their future livelihood depends on. If you didn’t read Webster’s paper on Bangladesh when I posted it earlier, here they are again.
So the Pakistani floods were the worst in 800 years? Yeah, that global warming 800 years ago must have caused alot of problems. An understanding of what is going on with this year’s weather is provided by Sir Brian Hoskins in the Economist. Its a blocking pattern. The heat wave in Russia, which is expected once a millennia, might happen once in 100 years with global warming.
There are some good arguments for CO2 mitigation, but even if successful it would not prevent extreme weather events. If our primary vulnerability is to extreme weather events rather than slow creep issues like sea level rise and ocean acidification, then adaptation should have a front and center place in our strategies. And the very fact that adaptation measures are local helps garner local political support for them, since the affected communities can clearly identify their own common interest in these adaptation measures.
A successful CO2 mitigation program isn’t going to help that much with floods, droughts, or hurricanes (will help with heat waves, but again more people die in the cold), we will always have them. We just need to get over that idea.
[did she really say "So the Pakistani floods were the worst in 800 years? Yeah, that global warming 800 years ago must have caused alot of problems."?? Unbelievable. I expect that from lay people unfamiliar with this kind of discussion but this is her field. If it were any other working climate expert than Judith Curry I would assume that she knows something and there was an extreme flooding event 801 years ago, but let's consider her record on blog postings!]
The question is whether this blocking pattern was available to the system before the recent changes to climate forcing at all.
For one thing, once you start talking about a 10,000 year heat wave, as some people are doing, you are abusing the concept of climate, as you start getting into the time scale of large natural climate changes. The quasi-equilibrium we usually start our conversations with simply doesn’t correspond to reality.
For another, a claim that event X is the largest in 800 years is a different claim than that event X has an 800 year mean repeat interval (in a quasi-stationary climate). One often sees them conflated as in “what happened 801 years ago?” It should be made clear whether one is talking about a statistical construct or an actual historical event. Did something actually happen in Pakistan in 1210 AD? Or is “800″ a statistical artifact, or for that matter a SWAG?
For a third, once climate forcing really gets going, we lose the quasi-stationary assumption altogether. Repeat intervals (“100 year floods”, “500 year heat waves”) become meaningless as the mathematical concept of climate breaks down altogether, and we find ourselves just in a massive transient adjustment (like the Younger Dryas period).
Putting all this together, the idea that events like the present disasters in Asia are not attributable to climate change (or, more correctly, to rapidly changing anthropogenic climate forcing) becomes highly problematic. We see a blocking pattern that has never been seen before. OK, a curiosity. That blocking pattern persists for ten weeks and counting. Now that is something that is need of an actual dynamic explanation. How can a pattern be so stable this year when it has never been seen before as far as anyone can tell? The simplest explanation is that something in the boundary conditions has changed. Now what might that be?
And this raises the problem that Lazar just raised on my blog. We can only adapt to phenomena we have already seen or have a very strong reason to suspect are coming. With a year’s warning, Moscow could easily have built heat/smoke refuges that could have dramatically reduced mortality and injury. Presumably, once the dust settles (literally) they will do so. But who could have foreseen this exact bizarre event? How could anyone have allocated the resources for such a scheme?
What would the response have been? “Please! It hardly ever gets to 25C in Moscow! Heat refuges, the idea! And those particle filters, what arrant nonsense! Please, I have a city of ten million to manage, I have trouble even keeping the plumbing working, kindly don’t bother me with fantasies!”
So it would be good at the least to have “adaptation” clearly defined in a context of rapid climate change. How high should the levees be? How deep inland should the evacuation routes go? What exactly should we adapt to?
While weather disasters are not going away, the claim that “a successful CO2 mitigation program isn’t going to help that much with floods, droughts, or hurricanes,” is not remotely obvious or certain. Current events clearly weigh against this assertion.
Michael, we have good weather analyses for maybe 60 years. We have pretty much no idea what blocking patterns might have occurred prior to say 1950. And what about the record cold in South America? Should we blame this on global warming also? Lots of lives being lost among the indigenous peoples who have little shelter. Lots of very big floods have occurred in other regions over the past several centuries. I agree that the Russian heat wave is an exceptional event.
Climate isn’t stationary. We have pretended that it is for the latter half of the 20th century, with engineers having their little tables based on one in 100 year events, etc. The fact that this worked at all is a testament to the benign climate we had in the latter half of the 20th century. Natural climate variability has provided plenty of catastrophes in the past and will do so in the future. Whether (and which of) these will be worse in a warmer climate is not known very well. Climate models simply don’t make any kind of reliable hurricane projections. Climate models are also lousy at precipitation, and they are generally lousy at extreme events (on the tail). As Brian Hoskins says in the Economist, we have no idea whether such blocking events would be worse or not with global warming.
I’m saying we just don’t know. But as I have said over and over, we need to pay alot more attention to the plausible worst case scenario (and figuring out what it actually is), as a combination of both natural variability and anthropogenic warming. Then figure out what our vulnerabilities are (and these are local). Then factor all this into some sort sensible and supportive combination of polices. Using two extreme events linked to a single weather pattern as an argument in favor of CO2 mitigation policy just isn’t convincing. These extreme events are a wakeup call for how we should actually be imagining the plausible worst case scenarios for the next century. But they only factor into the overall reasoning about policy options as I described at the beginning of this paragraph.
The emotional impact of Hurricane Katrina and the dread of such future events really helped turned the tide of public awareness and support for global warming, for the first time they understood that 1-2 degrees warming could have a catastrophic impact. But the public has matured (for the most part) beyond buying each cold wave as disproving global warming and each heat wave or devastating landfalling hurricane as proof of the need for CO2 mitigation. Using the events in Russia and Pakistan to kick start carbon stabilization policies just isn’t going to work, because people still remember how cold it was last winter. You need a better argument than this.
It is not impossible for unprecedented cold outbreaks to result from unprecedented hemispheric flows, so while it would be abuse to language as well as sense to blame cold temperatures in South America on “global warming”, it’s not impossible that it is a response to anthropogenic climate change. Now it may be revealing of my own prejudices and those of the people I follow that I know less about the South American event than I do about the Asian one. So I don’t actually know what happened meteorologically. Judith, if you do, please fill me in.
Entre nous, let’s acknowledge that “global warming” is a very bad name for what we are doing to the system, anyway.
Otherwise, I am totally with you until you get to “Using two extreme events linked to a single weather pattern as an argument in favor of CO2 mitigation policy just isn’t convincing.” Then you start to get into what will or won’t convince the public of this or that, and generally into the journalistic horse-race mentality and the whole Colorado “politically impossible therefore not to be advocated” paralysis. This whole line of reasoning is murdering the democratic process, and I reject it.
Let’s talk about what’s true, and what’s possible and what’s unlikely. Let’s talk about how to explain it to the public. Let’s talk about how to digest it into informed policy. But let’s not talk about what sells. Therein lies the problem, not the solution.
In fact, the two extreme events linked to a single weather pattern have changed my own thinking about the problem. This is an event of a different nature than, say, a single thosand year flood in middle Tennessee. There are at least thousand places the size of the part of Tennessee that got a thousand year flood, so we expect such a thousand year event on average annually, somewhere.
We only have two hemispheres. A once-in-a-thousand-year configuration (sort of, we really don’t know the repeat interval for the reasons you mention; Rob Carver comes up with over 15,000 years with plenty of caveats attached) of the jet stream is something to at least make a person sit up and take notice. Whether this wake-up call is or isn’t convincing to others is not an issue that I think is worth discussing. Whether or not I am correct to find that it changes the picture is much more interesting.
By the way, as a result of related discussion I have learned that there are global reanalysis products going back as far as 1869. Here is the project and here are their data.
Michael, public opinion doesn’t matter very much on global warming policy. Yes, they are voters, but climate change etc doesn’t rank in the top 10 issues on too many voter’s lists. So all these efforts to convince the “public” are pretty much a waste of time. What you need is to convince the policy makers, and that ain’t going to happen until some politically patalable policy options emerge.
Yes I am familiar with the new reanalysis project going back to 1969. I served on Gil Compo’s thesis committee about 15 years ago, and I have been aware of this project for a long time. It is a brand new data set, it has not yet been scrutinized and assessed for its plausibility in getting upper air circulations correct.
Whether what happens in one locale is a one in 1000 or one in 15,000 event doesn’t make a difference to my critique of your argument. We have no way of attributing this event to CO2. And global warming wasn’t happening 15,000 years ago.
I’m still saying you need a better argument. I use global warming interchangeably with AGW; climate change can be associated with range of factors, so I don’t use that word when referring specifically to AGW.
[She did it again! "And global warming wasn't happening 15,000 years ago." Does she not understand probabilites? "One in 15000" does not mean "once every 15000"]
It’s IPCC not IPGW for a reason. Human activities dominate contemporary climate change, but in a context (discussing hostirical or paleo evidence) where it matters, one can say “ACC” rather than “AGW”.
Global warming is just a symptom. We aren’t forcing the surface temperature, we are forcing the radiative transfer; the inputs via aerosols and the outputs via greenhouse gases. To talk about this or that event being caused by “global warming” artificially limits and distorts the conversation in my opinion even in informed circles. It has led to endless and excessive fascination with the minutiae of global mean surface temperature.
The reason to focus on CO2 mitigation over other greenhouse forcings in public discussions is that CO2 mitigation is necessary and difficult and expensive and slow. So the public has to get solidly and permanently behind it. Of course we should be going after other greenhouse gases ASAP, but this is not as politically difficult.
The likelihood of some other form of energy replacing fossil fuels that is cost-effective requires a change in relative costs. As a first step, direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels must stop. Probably direct subsidies to alternatives must start. If people don’t understand the necessity of this they experience the short term costs and not see the long term benefits. They will punish the party that does it and reward the party that refuses.
That’s why the public needs to understand the problem. There really is no alternative. Even in the unlikely event that some carbon-free fuel cheaper than coal emerges, the coal interests will be jockeying to twist the market in their direction. Actual industries have more political power than potential industries. The only way out is through telling the truth.
Michael, you are dead right on this one:
“As a first step, direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels must stop. ”
This is an AGW policy that even the libertarians can love.
And I will wrap it up there, as usual I was too late to the party for there being any point to chiming in. Personally, I suspect Judith Curry is a libertarian and this is what motivates her to undermine climate change policy initiatives as she does.