What if “Climate Change” is the next “Y2K”?

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:36 am by Administrator

There is a growing debate about whether or not mother earth has pressed the “pause” button on global warming.  Reputable publications such as The Economist are raising the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the climate scientists haven’t got it quite right.  The main exhibit in this trial by fire is the following combination of cause and (lack of) effect: between 2000-2010 about 25% of all the CO2 ever generated by human activity was injected into the atmosphere and yet the average surface temperatures did not rise at all.

There are, of course, retro-active explanations – deep-sea energy storage being the flavour of the month.  But the fact remains that none of the extremely sophisticated (read filled with complex mathematical calculations based upon many assumptions and sparse data) climate models predicted this outcome.

It reminds me of the models that were run at the turn of the century which predicted economic ruin.  Y2K computer bugs would surely lead to nuclear plant shut-downs, major disruptions in global trade and untold other negative impacts.  Literally billions of dollars were spent on consultants hired to prevent the cataclysm.

At the time I was running a 5 year old computer with the Windows ’95 operating system.  I dutifully downloaded a piece of software that told me that I would absolutely have to upgrade my BIOS and do other software upgrades to the point where maybe I should just buy a new computer.  I ignored that advice, got up on January 1st, 2000, reset my computer’s clock (which had reverted to some date in the 1970’s) and that was it.  No other actions were required.  That computer still runs just fine 13 years later.

So here is the thing.  What if the arctic ice sheet starts growing again? What if cool springs in Europe and North America become the norm?  What if it becomes harder and harder for the public to be able to see any impact on the weather other than it is becoming even more impossible to predict? (And by the way, the weather prediction models we use are much more sophisticated and incorporate many more actual data points than climate change models).

The phenomenon formerly known as “Global Warming” has been rebranded as “Climate Change”.  But let’s get real here.  The scientific community has been uniformly claiming that CO2 added to the atmosphere will increase the “greenhouse effect” which will inevitably lead to warming of the atmosphere.  That added energy can lead to other side effects like increases in variability, changes in precipitation patterns, and more extreme weather events.  But in the end more retained heat has to result in higher temperatures.  There is no getting around that.  So what the last decade is probably telling us is that we really don’t have a solid understanding about what is going on with this incredibly complex planet.

If the public begins to doubt the reality of “Climate Change” or that it is caused by human activity the backlash could be pretty intense.  In a thousand ways taxpayers and ratepayers have been footing a large bill to reduce the burning of hydro-carbons and they may not feel inclined to keep paying such a heavy price.

As far as I am concerned that would be a real shame.

Oil and gas will run out.  Probably not while I am still breathing but quite likely during my children’s lifetimes.  So we need to kick the hydro-carbon habit.

Although we are making good progress on developing affordable and renewable energy technologies we do need to alter course somewhat.  Renewables without energy storage are, quite frankly, useless unless we are prepared to do without electricity on calm nights.  It is time to redirect a large portion of the subsidies currently going to solar panels and wind turbines to energy storage research and a number of other measures and technologies that will help us move to a sustainable energy environment.  I have listed many of these in my Sustainable Energy Manifesto.

We don’t need to drag out the “Climate Crisis” Powerpoint deck in order to justify building a sustainable world.  We just need to honestly admit that the way we are powering our prosperity at the moment won’t work over the long term.  No drama required. Just a bit of consideration for future generations.  Let’s leave them with a planet and a way of living that are even better than what we have had the good fortune to enjoy.

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  1. didymous said,

    July 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Excellent post. However, what if (as is seeming more & more likely) we have sufficient very cheap extractable hydrocarbon resources (shale gas, shale oil, methane hydrates etc) to last many hundreds of years. Why not wait till technology develops (as it will) to enable even more “sustainable” energy” in the future and focus now on getting cheap energy and clean water to the world’s poor.

  2. Administrator said,

    July 7, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    This is an excellent and yet disturbing line of thinking.

    You are very correct in pointing out that this is a “zero sum” game. Everything that we put resources into takes away from something else. In terms of focusing some attention on non-renewables you might find this posting of interest http://debarel.com/blog1/?p=170.

    There are many pressing problems around the world that need to be addressed. I think we do need to find a better balance than we do with the current approach which seems to be about scare tactics and herd mentality. And do not discount the very powerful roof-top solar and wind lobbies that now exist in many countries but particularly the U.S.

    One approach that would help both European energy independence and the North African economy is the planned building of Concentrated Solar Plants in the Sahara (see http://www.pv-tech.org/news/cif_provides_us660_million_for_revised_north_african_and_middle_eastern_1.1). If Thermal Energy Storage is included as well as PV Solar and an expanded transmission system to Europe this could become a very important component of the Euro zone renewable portfolio.

  3. lorenzo said,

    July 15, 2013 at 1:37 am

    What if you are wrong? We can’t discard the planet as
    Easily as We can throw away a nonfunctioning computer.

  4. Administrator said,

    July 15, 2013 at 4:18 am

    As I state quite clearly in my posting I don’t think it matters whether or not “Climate Change” is caused by human activity or not. Our actions aimed at eliminating the burning of hydro-carbons should proceed as quickly as possible and should NOT be tied to reducing CO2 in order to reverse “Climate Change”. That is the point of my posting. If we continually link the two then if short-term evidence indicates that global warming is not happening then we risk losing public support for the development of renewables. That is what I want to avoid. In my opinion we need to continually frame the debate as sustainability without using the threat of climate change.

  5. wally11 said,

    April 20, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Since I just saw this linked from LinkedIn, I’ll comment….

    First, the Y2K example is being misused. With the Y2K issue, we all knew exactly what the problem was, we knew exactly how to fix it, and we spent quite a bit of money before the end of 1999 fixing the problem. The fact that nothing really happened is a tribute to the hard work everyone put in to fix the problem. It could have been worse if we had done nothing.

    Second, you mentioned that taxpayers and ratepayers are footing a large bill for renewable energy? How so? You also mentioned subsidies for wind (I can’t address solar). There are very few subsidies and people are paying what they choose to pay when they select their utility company. Have you seen the tax incentives that the fossil fuel industry gets? You can’t mention tax incentives for solar and wind and not mention tax incentives for fossil fuels.

    Third, I want to address didymous’ comment when he said, “…what if (as is seeming more & more likely) we have sufficient very cheap extractable hydrocarbon resources (shale gas, shale oil, methane hydrates etc) to last many hundreds of years.” So what if we do? Who said that our generation gets to use most of it up? There are hundreds of generations yet to come, and it belongs to them as much as it belongs to us. I believe we’ve already taken more than our share. It’s time to stop it.

  6. Administrator said,

    April 21, 2014 at 12:40 am

    @wally11 – Thanks for your comments. The comparison with Y2K is perhaps not a great one I will admit. The point I am trying to stress is that we need to look beyond the “hype” around climate change – whether it be selective emphasis on particular data points, climate-gate, or claims that climate change is entirely normal. As you point out we simply don’t have the right to use up existing hydrocarbon resources at the rates we currently do regardless of what is going on with the climate. So let’s focus on sustainability rather than debating climate change is the principal reason we should change our behaviour when it comes to energy consumption.

  7. wally11 said,

    April 21, 2014 at 6:25 am

    I agree completely with that.

    The biggest problem is that everyone is thinking of “climategate” or “climate change” as one single issue that you either believe in or you don’t.

    There are two MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE aspects to the issue. First, there’s the science of climate change — what the data tells us. Here, the debate is over. The vast majority of the people who are qualified to have this debate are in agreement. Everyone who lacks the qualifications to debate this need to sit down and we all need to continue to communicate what the science says. Science should ALWAYS inform ALL of our discussions.

    Second, there’s the policy — what do we do about it. The debate here will go one for a long time, and you may be right with regard to this aspect. I think I agree with you that we should stop debating how the science “might” hurt us and get on with trying to do something about it. Whether this problem is man-made or not, there are things we must do to try to preserve our existence. The most important thing we must do is stop allowing fossil fuel companies to make money from deliberately exacerbating the problem.

    But you and me and everyone else who cares about this issue must help people see that the two aspects are completely separate issues and they must be discussed differently.

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