I guess one has to go into the book to dissect this stuff, but several fail a smell-test, for me at least:
Is climate change really not making natural disasters worse? Depends on the disaster of course, but with regard to storms I thought that was fairly clear.
Carbon Emissions decline in western countries is a red herring. This is true, but as anyone who has sat with Dieter Helm for more than 10 mins will have drilled into them, it’s just been an offshoring of emissions (so manufacturing and other more carbon intensive industries have moved away from developed countries, but have been recreated in developing nations, while less carbon intensive stuff is left/developed in UK, Germany, etc.,)
Netherlands becoming rich while adapting to life below sea level is sort of a dumb argument. There were lots of other drivers of Dutch success over the centuries, but in terms of land-use what the Netherlands did was reclaim land from the sea, i.e. took land that used to be below the sea, and grew their footprint. This is quite different to taking land currently above the sea and having the sea level rise and inundate it. (When there were dike-bursts those were seen as bad, not windfalls: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Sea_flood_of_1953 )
Food surplus rising as the world gets hotter is not at all obvious, and logically it has to have a limiting point.
Habitat loss is a problem? But earlier on we’re told land-use for meat is declining and it’s our biggest category. Also, on meat, even if it’s declining we could save yet more land by switching away from meat.
Wood fuel far worse than fossil fuels? Again, this has to be qualified. It’s all about things like quantity, place, efficiencies, etc.,; So in urban environment, burning wood, even in stoves, is worse than gas boilers, or electric heating, for air quality. The CO2 impact depends on the type of wood, the type of forest, etc., In fact talking just about wood is a bit misleading since you could burn miscanthus pellets which have a very good CO2 calculation. Biomass would be a better term. What I believe does probably turn out to be bad in the round is stuff like what Drax is doing, utility scale burning of recently harvested wood. Good report here: https://ember-climate.org/project/the-burning-question/ ; but that’s totally different to a relatively small number of rural homes doing heating and some cooking using an efficient stove burning sustainably managed (and well seasoned) timber. That may be better than incurring the infrastructure cost of bringing those dwellings some other fuel source.
Preventing pandemics requires more “industrial” agriculture? well I’m curious what he means here, and why industrial has scare quotes. What would reduce the risk of pandemic (and disease burden overall) would be less animal-system based agriculture (certainly bird and mammal). The animals we farm can develop diseases that can affect humans, and by creating huge reservoirs of animals there’s an increase of risk. But even without that, the use of antibiotics in these production systems is huge, and contributes to overall development of antibiotic resistance.
I’ve gone into meat topic a couple of times above: Of course I’m a hypocrite on this as I still eat meat regularly. However it really doesn’t make much sense to do so, sure because of environmental impacts, but more hyper-locally because of the impacts on the human organism: it’s just not very good for you to eat much.
Some evidence of increased storm intensity. No evidence of increased storm frequency. Some scientific arguments have been made for reduced storm frequency – stronger shear winds potentially decapitate tropical storms in formation over water. I’m going to hazard an educated guess that destructiveness of natural disasters has much, much more to do with economic conditions in the location affected than any warming-induced intensification. That makes the question of carbon reduction vs. economic growth relevant. (I’m not suggesting – yet – that the two are necessarily in conflict).
That is true. It has also been an unparalleled boon for workers in those offshored industries. The amount of people lifted out of poverty as a result is unprecedented in human history.
Not true. One third of the Netherlands is below sea level. Only half that amount has been reclaimed from the sea or lakes. The Dutch have been pumping water with windmills for nearly a thousand years. They’re not called the Netherlands / Pays-Bas / Low Countries for nothing. It’s classic low-lying river delta. Even the above-sea-level parts are peat marshes and floodplain silt. People are known to have been paddling canoes around it for 10,000 years. As such it has been subject to regular inundations since before the dawn of history. Around the low-lying areas of the North Sea basin in general, the historical devastation from combined high tides and storm surges is immense – about a hundred thousand lives lost each century for the last ten centuries that we know of. That’s a Hurricane Katrina every 20 months for a millennium! The last sixty years have been the safest ever, thanks entirely to economies affluent enough to build effective defences.
It may not be obvious, but Malthusians have been wrong so often that it’s hard to take predictions of doom seriously. I’m afraid I don’t have it to hand but I did have a science paper from around 2000 that predicted crop failures due to regional warming in West Africa would devastate economies and lives. Instead, agricultural yield went up 25%. There are many, many similar examples. The science has been so consistently wrong that you wonder why we don’t see more in the way of post mortems to improve methodologies.
Who wants to switch away from meat, though? It’s delicious and nutritious. And as someone said, “if God didn’t want us to eat animals he wouldn’t have made them out of meat”.
More seriously, land use for cattle farming peaked globally around 2000. It has declined by about half a million square miles since. (I’m quoting from Shellenberger’s book, the article may have said the same thing). Part of it is because of increased efficiency. A lot of it is because of beef being overtaken by chicken. Chicken production has increased 14-fold in sixty years, way more than beef. Pound for pound, chickens take about an eighth of the food energy inputs needed to raise beef. So we don’t necesarily have to switch away from meat, but maybe to different meat.
This all sounds very nice and pleasant. However, the example that Shellenberger (whose book I am reading) actually had in mind was Congo. 90% of domestic fuel for a population of 82 million is wood. It’s 98% in the region of Gomo, a city of two million people. They are using the resources around them. Do you want them to cut down all the forests to grow miscanthus? Well-meaning environmentalists actually introduced wood pellets and hydro-electricity, but it was too expensive for most of the population to afford. Congo has plenty of hydrocarbons as well as mineral resources. Exploiting them equitably would undoubtedly be life changing for the population. Unfortunately they have a problem which no amount of enlightened development nor colonial environmentalism can solve – a government which is among the most corrupt in the world.
The scary diseases tend to be the viral ones, to which antibiotics are irrelevant. They also tend to have multiple species vectors, with mutations occurring in the cross-species jump. And the species sometimes include both wild and domestic ones. So yes, more “industrial” farming with better separation of species could help. So could the elimination of eating bush meat. That would save endangered animals from being killed for food and reduce the disease threat. Replacing all bush meat consumption with “industrial” farming would only increase global land use by 1%.
I’ll preface by saying my original tour through these points was because I felt the author of the article/book was inconsistent…
If your storm damage rate increases, it acts as a drag on your economy through the damage repairs, and through protective work that is done, diverting resources from elsewhere.
Right now, the benefits of fossil fuel use accrue over a narrower range of the earth than the damages are likely to accrue. It could be locally beneficial for e.g. us to pursue that, but the earth overall could be nett denuded.
I’m not arguing it’s not desirable to do the emissions in poorer areas (CO2 emissions at least have global impact, and minimal local impact, so since poorer region will suffer the emissions effect one way or another, they might as well get the benefit from the industry). However, to only point to reduction of emissions in western countries without mentioning the fact that they’ve just been offshored and the overall emissions are steadily up, is either misleading or uninformative.
I know this, I’ve travelled in NL and lived in Belgium. But my point was that being on land that is inundated is (all other things being equal) is not as good as being on land that is not subject to inundation. In the Netherlands, they’ve always been subject to that and have accrued wealth over a period of time against that background. But if I took any prosperous region and waved a wand to make it now subject to inundation, that would be detrimental to local prosperity.
So what is the point of this to the OP’s original thesis
The true counter factual is could the food yield be even higher if the warming had not taken place.
I’m not saying that it’s impossible to increase food yield against the background of warming. However, most agricultural systems and most living organisms are optimised for and adapted to (within the parameters of current technology) current climate conditions.
Simply to state that as climate warms food production will increase is a bold assertion.
Citing one paper isn’t necessarily super helpful, especially without the reference. It is frustrating if no retrospectives are done on methodology, but perhaps they are but it is not your or my area of expertise. I know for sure that when we do energy yield analysis for projects, there is a look-back after 5 years to determine whether the project has performed as expected, and any deviation (good or bad) is identified and quantified.
god made people out of meat too of course…
Chickens take a lot less to produce, I know, and before you get to beef you can have some roast pork, or sheep on rough grazing. The differential growth in chicken versus beef is in large part because of the differences in resources required and the relative cheapness of chicken.
But my bigger issue was the inconsistency. The author seems to say here that habitat loss isn’t a problem? My point was why is the author pointing earlier at habitat loss as problematic, while also talking about agricultural use of land declining.
Of course not, that’s a straw man argument…
Anyway, you can read the report I linked to see where the Miscanthus reference arises.
where did the “hydro electricity” go? Normally I would say that hydro is a decent approach for a developing country if they have the resource and can get the project built. The upfront costs are large, but it gives cheap power afterwards.
We’re talking apples and oranges here, and I’m not promoting colonial environmentalism. Interesting though how we get another low-countries (at least Belgian) connection via Congo, and the 19th century colonialism has a lot to do with the problems in Congo these days.
What does Shellenberger propose as an alternative for the burning of wood for this group?
Mostly in energy circles, when people talk about burning of wood, the discussion pivots around using biomass (a nominally renewable resource) as a low carbon replacement for current fossil fuel consumption in some use case. The biomass is often treated as carbon-neutral, but this almost always runs into problems with accounting when you look more closely (e.g. full life-cycle emissions including transport and fuel treatment, land use changes (e.g. old forest replacement with plantation) that lead to a nett carbon emission, carbon emission today (Burn the tree) while the recapturing of the carbon takes decades, and so on). It also hits scale problems quite quickly (how much arable land do you need for rapeseed to replace the diesel in UK with biodiesel? more than all the arable land in the UK). Drax is a really good edge case as you’ve this 2.6GW generation station burning biomass (alongside 1.2GW of coal), and basically hoovering up timber from the US that is shipped across the Atlantic.
Of course Drax’s big-pitch is that they’re going to stick CCUS onto that power plant and turn it into a giant carbon sink (trees trap CO2, get burned in Drax, and then the emissions sequestered)
It’s not all about viral pandemics. Widespread antibiotic resistance makes bacterial infections harder to treat, and forces earlier use of last line antibiotics. Sufficiently bad antibiotic resistance will make surgery much more dangerous than it currently is (for example). There’s a tendency to overlook just how scary bacterial infection was prior to antibiotics.
I’m fully aware that antibiotics do not treat viruses. However, complications of viral infections can often include secondary bacterial infections, and for that reason even when managing a viral disease situation antibiotics can have a role to play.
We’d do far better on all sides to move away from meat consumption though.
As far as hurricanes are concerned, here are the issues I mentioned – possible increased intensity, possible reduction in frequency due to shear winds aloft:
As usual, science gives us hints as to consequences of increased atmospheric carbon. It does not tell us what we should do about it. Our resilience to climate change depends on the economy which, today, is heavily reliant on fossil fuels. I’m glad to see you acknowledge that by agreeing that some people benefit more than others. So, should we damage our own resilience in the developed world, or should we try to help everyone become more resilient? You say you take a utilitarian point of view. I say the utilitarian answer is staring us in the face.
Solar and wind power – the primary renewables that are technologically proven today – are growing at a fast pace and that is an unqualified good thing. But energy use overall is growing much faster than is being added by renewables. Oil demand grows relentlessly at 1.5% per annum, as it has for decades. Reliable electricity has the power to utterly transform lives for the better. South and East Asian countries responsible for almost all the increase in fossil fuel consumption know this. They do not so much scoff at western guilt-tripping (although they do some of that) as recognise that they must grapple with their own pollution problems as best they can. In China, that means a huge build out of LNG import facilities on the south coast to offset coal burning. That is the same way that the US and Europe have reduced their carbon emissions over the last twenty years. Both China and India are also involved in experimental nuclear programs which ideological Green loonies in the west have eschewed.
The short summary is that energy use is going to increase because people everywhere want the improvements in living conditions that it brings. That process is inexorable so we might as well quit wringing our hands over it and get down to coming up with technological solutions. In the West we have become so used to this being an argument between lefties and righties that we haven’t noticed the train has left the station without us. The world will be using 50% more energy in 2050 than today. The users of that energy need it to be reliable and affordable. Renewables will be an important part of the mix but there is simply no prospect that they will be the majority of it. We are going to need novel nuclear and carbon capture technologies. The good news is that we’re working on both.
Dieter Helm also argues for increased use of natural gas. That’s good. I much prefer a pragmatist to a handwringing Green loonie.
You talk about the global effects of CO2 but of course the developing world suffers from local smog and particulate pollution too. They are neither stupid nor masochistic. They have a strong vested interest in cleaner technologies as much as the rest of us.
The point is that places subject to inundation are able to thrive. Ergo, it will be possible to deal with rising sea level where that is necessary. It’s ironic that you talk about waving a wand to make places subject to inundation. That’s actually what has happened. The hundreds of millions of people in the world threatened by rising water levels – ubiquitously and erroneously blamed on climate change in the media – are the victims of shortsighted local human activity. These are the people living on the world’s largest river deltas which are rich in resources but fragile and easily damaged. The combination of ground water extraction and culverting of streams means that the land sinks and soil replenishment stops. This is actually avoidable by – you guessed it – the application of technology. In the worst-affected places like Jakarta (sinking at up to 25 cm per year) the cause is – you guessed it again – poverty. Lack of access to piped water means that people are digging their own wells to access aquifers. There is also huge inequity. Even in Jakarta, developers build sea-front luxury apartments. There is no reason in principle that the Indonesians can’t be like the Dutch.
I realise that mentioning one paper without a reference isn’t helpful, but it’s definitely one I’ve posted elsewhere on this thread. I just have limited time to rake back over all the spectacularly wrong predictions of doom that I’ve come across while investigating climate change for myself.
You are right that organisms are adapted to current climate conditions but you obviously know that there are regional climate variations with organisms adapted for each. That means that within limits we can alter local crop production to suit the changing climate. Another specious science paper that springs to mind was one that analysed the effects of climate change on the world’s grain belts by 2100. It completely ignored that those regions suitable for wheat would expand north and south. We will adapt or die. Even the XR nutcases acknowledge that. They just have more emphasis on the dying bit.
Yep, and animals have been eating us since time immemorial, until we developed the technology to mostly subdue them. You are mixing your messages. Should we stop or reduce meat consumption to avoid cancer, to avoid killing animals, or to avoid despoiling the planet? I’m sure those are all laudable goals but none of them is absolutely compelling (to me, at any rate).
Again, you’d have to read the book to get all the nuances. A big part of it is agricultural productivity. Piecemeal land clearances in Brazil have fragmented forestry which means habitat loss without corresponding benefit to farming. There are also large areas of Brazil that could be more intensively farmed without anything like the old growth forest loss. These are the Cerrado – equivalent of the North American prairies.
The particular project in question was a mere 4 megawatts from a river in Virunga national park, a gorilla and wildlife refuge. The Congo river itself could generate electricity for half of Africa. But as you astutely observe, these are capital intensive projects. Another case of the already well-off being more resilient. The chance of Congo getting access to the capital while run by a bunch of warlords is remote.
You’re right. Most people have no clue about the economics of biomass harvesting. Unless the fuel is harvested close to point of use, the economics don’t work. Biofuels are one example of what I refer to as evil Green policies. Except I can’t really blame the Greens on this one because it’s actually usually more a case of large farming interests sucking on the tit of the State. In many places the use of fossil fuel-based fertilisers make even the carbon reduction argument nonsensical, quite apart from increasing food prices for everyone else.
To answer your question about Congo, Shellenberger points out that they have extensive hydrocarbon resources. But again, the Congo question is really more of a political one than an environmental one. There is no point discussing environmentalism when people are living brutal hand-to-mouth existences.
Just as a matter of interest, are you ok with increased pesticide use to enhance crop production? Nothing we do as humans has zero impact on the world we live in. Sometimes I think these arguments stem from a new “environmental original sin” concept according to which we are a blight on the landscape instead of dwellers and owners of it.
I’ll see if I can respond later… There’s a huge volume in the post now and I almost abandoned my last reply due to the horror of keeping quoting straight.
Some very obvious points laboured above, I don’t know if because you think I’m unfamiliar or because they are novel to you. (Maybe I’ve done that too.)
I don’t make claim to be an expert on whole field, especially climatology. However I do work in the area (about to meet officials to ask for umpteenth time if there’s any clarity on ETS and CPS post Dec 31!)
We’ve managed to achieve 2% to 4% emissions reduction between 2005 and 2020. The target was 20%, so we’ve already had to fork out €200m to buy carbon credits. The target for 2030 is a 50% reduction compared to 2005 levels. Not a ghost of a chance but, hey, lets hammer the economy to make reparations. Mea maxima culpa, and pass the collection plate.
I think I mentioned last year that our entire emissions cuts since 2005 amounted to one month’s increase in coal consumption in China. Note: just the increase, in one fuel, in one country, in one month.
In reality, all western countries have exported their pollution (CO2 is not a pollutant) to Asian countries, so these issues are for those countries to resolve unless “the west” decides to take back the manufacturing facilities, while ensuring good pollution controlls.
I wonder how much he was paid to switch sides, will we get to hear a deathbed confession similar to the one we heard recently from a pro choice advocate who switched to Pro life totally abandoning her previous principles.
How do you reckon it’s dispassionate? To my eye it looks – to use Mallen Baker’s term – “more like campaigning than science”. He paints Shellenberger’s points as either correct, ambiguous or irrelevant … almost none of them wrong. You would expect a much stronger rebuttal if Shellenberger was completely contradicting the science. If anything it is saying merely that Shellenberger is not sufficiently alarmed. I presume this author wouldn’t agree with my view that extreme alarmism is what is crippling the climate change debate. In any case, if you’re claiming to be scientific then report empirical facts – not what you think is an appropriate level of alarm. And by the way, this reviewer unironically asks how the Dutch will deal with two metres of sea level rise, which itself is out and out alarmist twaddle. It also seems that the reviewer has read the article but not the book, which provides extensive references.
If you haven’t looked at this video I posted, I recommend it. Having watched him extensively I have come to view Mallen Baker as a truly dispassionate voice on climate change issues. I’ve seen him take people to task on both sides of the debate. His analysis of a “scientific” review of Shellenberger’s article makes a reasonable case for believing the review is biased, if not exactly a hatchet job.
The most persistent conspiracy theories also seem to be the stupidest. I don’t know if that reflects the cognitive abilities of their adherents, but let’s be optimistic and assume it doesn’t necessarily mean a low IQ. In that case, I recommend getting outside the echo bubble of conspiracy theory videos, and maybe take a science or technology class.
Your question is diversionary rhetorical bullshit as usual, el_diablo. We’re talking about the video you just posted, titled “The Greatest Existential Threat to our Humanity”. The opening statement, in case you’re hard of understanding is:
Official sources continue to claim that the jet aircraft trails which linger, spread, and fill our skies with sun blocking haze, are just condensation. But that narrative is a lie. Atmospheric particulate testing has now conclusively proven that the jet aircraft dispersed trails and haze in our once deep blue skies is not condensation as we have been told.
Yeah, that’s utter nonsense on stilts, promulgated by liars for consumption by thickos like yourself.