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Why I'm Not Worried About Climate Change

In Norway, where I live, there's a lot of focus on climate change in the media, and it seems many people have a negative view of the future because of this, and I fear this situation might not be unique to Norway.

According to the media, there's a scientific consensus that humans are the main cause of global warming and climate change, and if we don't reduce our CO2 emissions drastically, there will be enormous negative consequences.

It is true that human CO2 emissions are causing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to rise, and with CO2 being a greenhouse gas, I'd say it's very likely that this is causing the average global temperature to be higher than it otherwise would be. Most of us can probably agree on that.

Then there's the question of whether the measured increase in temperature over the last century is caused mainly by human activity or not. I wouldn't be surprised if the answer to this is that yes, human activity is the main cause. However, scientists might not be as convinced about this as the media is telling us.

One oft-cited paper that supposedly shows that almost all climate scientists think humans are the main cause of global warming is Cook et al. (2013), titled "Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature." Cook et al. have gone through the abstracts of thousands of climate science articles and for each abstract noted what view, if any, is expressed about the role of humans in regards to global warming. The paper itself does not claim that 97% of climate scientists believe humans are the main cause of global warming, but that's how it's been interpreted, and Cook, the lead author, was co-author of another paper (Bedford and Cook (2013)) which claimed that

Of the 4,014 abstracts that expressed a position on the issue of human-induced climate change, Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97 % endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.

David Friedman, an economist who checked the numbers and wrote a blog post about it, notes that "John Cook surely knows the contents of his own paper. Hence the sentence in question is a deliberate lie."

What Cook et al. actually found, based on their own data, was merely that "Of the approximately one third of climate scientists writing on global warming who stated a position on the role of humans, 97% thought humans contribute [at least] somewhat to global warming." And it found that the number of climate scientists who believe humans are the main cause of global warming is 1.6%.

These numbers were calculated based on opinions expressed in paper abstracts, and not interviews with the scientists, so the real number is probably a lot higher than 1.6%, but that could not be shown based on the data included in the Cook et al. paper.

Whether humans are the main cause of global warming or not is not that important, though. Whether mainly caused by humans or not, the consequences of global warming will be the same.

An important question to ask at this point is whether a higher average global temperature is mostly good or mostly bad. People who worry about climate change tend to focus on the negative effects, while the other side may tend to focus too much on the positive effects. Naturally, there are both positive and negative effects, but quantifying them is hard, so determining whether global warming will be good or bad on net is not feasible.

According to Matt Ridley, the most important positive effects of global warming include "fewer winter deaths; lower energy costs; better agricultural yields; probably fewer droughts; maybe richer biodiversity." More CO2 in the atmosphere also leads to a greener planet since more CO2 makes plants grow faster. If we also include very low probability events, there's a theoretical chance that more CO2 in the atmosphere can prevent another ice age.

Another question to ask is whether the measured temperature increase over the last century is correct. Measuring global temperature is harder than you might think, and although we have gotten better at it, the uncertainties in the average global temperature are still quite large, at least 0.46C, according to this 2010 paper. According to the paper's abstract, this means that the rate and magnitude of 20th century warming are unknowable. There probably has been an increase in temperatures, but we cannot know exactly how fast temperatures are rising.

But let's assume the official numbers are correct and that humans are indeed the main cause of global warming. Should you be worried? I actually don't think so.

Take a look at this graph from The Economist:

The graph shows that, since 1900, the number of deaths from natural disasters has plummeted. This is extremely good news, and if we take into account that the population has risen by about a factor of 5 over the same time period, this means that your chances of dying from natural disasters has decreased five times more than the graph shows.

What might at first glance seem worrying, though, when you look at the graph is the steep rise in the number of natural disasters. However, what's important to realize is that this is the number of reported natural disasters, not the actual number of disasters. I don't think there are many people who actually believe that the annual number of natural disasters was almost zero in 1900, while today it's several hundred. A higher percentage of the actually occurring natural disasters are obviously being reported today than previously, so the graph isn't really telling us anything meaningful about the trend in the number of natural disasters.

What it does hint at, though, is that the number of reported deaths from natural disasters - like the number of disasters - may have been underreported in the past. If that's the case, today's number of deaths from natural disasters are even lower compared with a century ago.

The reason for this huge increase in safety from natural disasters is that we are richer and more resourceful than in 1900 - our technology is better, so we can more easily protect ourselves from nature.

Technological progress is exponential, and so improves faster every year. This means that if there are no one-off huge disasters like volcanic eruptions, we should expect the number of deaths from natural disasters to continue to decrease in the foreseeable future.

What this also means is that it will be easier - and thus less expensive - to influence the global climate in the future than it is today, since we'll have more capable technologies in the future.

Reversing global warming could thus be possible and feasible in the future. However, at the present time, doing something about it on a global scale is extremely expensive. So, another important question to ask is whether the potential problem of global warming should be solved globally; or locally by adapting to the changes. According to the 50 to 1 project, the global solution is about 50 times more expensive than adapting to a changing climate. They (claim that they) made the calculations based on data that's accepted by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Also, bear in mind that global warming will have positive as well as negative effects. If we allow global warming to continue, we will definitely reap some benefits from it. In addition, by adapting instead of trying to stop or reverse global warming, we save trillions of dollars that can be used for other (hopefully better) things: To cure disease and aging, alleviate poverty, clean up the world's oceans, educate the uneducated, et cetera.

But wouldn't it be good if renewable energy sources could take over for fossil fuels? And don't we need politicians to regulate our behavior for that to happen? Actually, we don't. This is going to happen regardless of politics. Ray Kurzweil, the famous futurist who works on artificial intelligence as a lead engineer at Google, recently gave a speech 1) at a technology conference in Norway. When asked about climate change, he replied:

Well, I mentioned that renewables - solar in particular, but also wind and geothermal - are growing exponentially. If you add them all together, it's only 5 or 6 doublings from 100% at about 2 years per doubling. So we're not far from [them] really being able to provide all of our energy needs, and they'll be subject to this very significant deflation rate, so it'll be relatively inexpensive, and the sunlight is free. As I mentioned, we have 10,000 times more [sunlight] than we need to meet all of our energy needs. So that is happening. I've talked to people responsible for the, for example, Saudi Arabian fund. Their view is that they have 20 years. I think that's actually optimistic, but they do realize that that business model of exploiting fossil fuels is not going to last forever.

That renewables are going to take over for fossil fuels may be hard to believe for many people, but take a look at how the price of solar energy, and the amount of energy we get from solar, have evolved over the past decades:

As the price has come down, the amount of energy we get from solar has gone up. Today, in sunny parts of the world, unsubsidized solar is actually the very cheapest form of energy, cheaper than any fossil fuel, including natural gas and coal. And now that we don't even have to subsidize solar for it to be competitive, the market forces have taken over and the rise of solar just cannot be stopped!

Although CO2 is taken up by plants and oceans, most of the CO2 we produce will linger in the atmosphere for a very long time, so even if we stop emitting it, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere might almost not go down. My very unscientific opinion is that that's probably not a big problem. But let's assume that it is a problem, as K. Eric Drexler, author of Engines Of Creation - The Coming Era Of Nanotechnology (1986), thinks.

If it does turn out to be a big problem, it will be much cheaper to fix it a few decades into the future than to fix it now, even though the amount of CO2 we have to remove is larger in the future. The reason is, again, that technology advances exponentially. We'll have much more capable technologies, and so the price of accomplishing these things will also be much lower. Here's Drexler:

[T]o have the the 21st century have a planet that resembles what we've had in the previous human history will require taking the CO2 levels down, and that is an enormous project. One can calculate the energy required - it's huge, the area of photovoltaics required to generate that energy is enormous, the costs are out of range of what can be handled by the world today.

But the prospects with a better means of making things, more efficient, more capable, are to be able to do a project of that scale, at low cost, taking molecular devices, removing molecules from the atmosphere. Photovoltaics produced at low cost to power those machines can draw down CO2 and fix the greenhouse gas problem in a moderate length of time once we pass the threshold of having those technologies [...] We now have in hand tools for beginning to build with atomic precision, and we can see pathways from [here] to a truly transformative technology.

Drexler is a nanotechnology pioneer, and what he's saying is that we'll be able to use nanotechnology to build machines at the molecular level - with atomic precision. These can be mass produced at extremely low cost, and some of those machines can be designed to capture CO2 from the atmosphere. Capturing enough CO2 to matter from the atmosphere today would be prohibitively expensive, but by using the molecular machines Drexler envisions, it could be done much more cheaply, especially if we have enough almost free solar energy to power the process.

Conclusion

  • Climate change may not be as big a problem as the media is telling us
  • Humans may or may not be the main cause of global warming
  • We cannot know whether the net effect of global warming will be good or bad
  • The number of deaths from natural disasters has plummeted
  • Adapting to climate change is probably a lot less expensive than trying to "fix it" on a global level
  • Renewables are going to take over for fossil fuels during the next two decades

And if climate change turns out to be mostly bad, it will be possible and relatively cheap to remove CO2 from the atmosphere with nanotechnology in the future. Also, the more pressing a problem is, the more resources will be spent on trying to solve it, so, in my opinion, climate change (or global warming) is not a threat to human civilization, and I don't think you should worry about it.


1) Unfortunately it's behind a paywall.

8 kommentarer

Klimaforsker

16.11.2017 kl.09:32

Du sprer feilinformasjon gutt!

Klimaendringene er tidens strste problem, s slutt med hplse forsk p inflatere dekningen.

Klimaendringene vi ser de siste 100 rene er menneskeskapte, ingen kan si imot det om de har lest rapportene.

Vi vet om masseutryddelser, menneskedd, sult og flukt som konsekvenser av forandringene. Det blir jvli ille.

Ja, fordi vi blir flinkere til ta de serist. Verden gr fremover, ikke bakover.

Det koster mer og er mer langsiktig for alle, ikke bare en selv.

Forhpentligvis vil den fornybare fronten f den sttten den trenger.

Fjern dette innlegget gutt, det er feil og en urett mot menneskeheten.

Hkon Skaarud Karlsen

16.11.2017 kl.11:26

Jeg kommer ikke til fjerne innlegget - begge sider br komme til orde. Men du kan gjerne prve overbevise meg om at du har rett.

Kaiser Derden

21.11.2017 kl.10:50

Great article with one small flaw ... Which makes the entire premise mute ... There is no coorelation between CO2 and climate change ... There is no coorelation between temperature and CO2 ... None, zero, nada ...

erling pedersen

05.10.2018 kl.22:47

Klimaforsker.Dit indlg giver indtryk af,at du er mere spmand end klimaforsker.Fremlg venligst dine beviser

erling pedersen

05.10.2018 kl.23:15

KLIMAFORSKER:Klimaforandringer vi har set de sidste 100 r er menneskeskabte? Fremlg venligst det bevis som du m vre i besiddelse af.Du er jo "klimaforsker".Masseudryddelser.Skyldes de klimaforandringer? Menneskedd?Ethvert menneskeliv p jorden ender med dden.Skyldes det ogs klimaforandringer?Sult og flugt som konsekvenser af forandringerne.Det blir jvli ille.benbart er du ogs spmand.Tiden vil vise om du er bedre til det.I dit indlg har du ikke underbygget en eneste af dine pstande.Det har vi set fr fra den kant

Jan Hansen

07.10.2018 kl.23:42

I would advise Haakon to take a trip to Cicero. I am sure they would welcome him.

Halvard Heggdal

08.10.2018 kl.14:43

'Whether humans are the main cause of global warming or not is not that important, though.'

This is not true. If human activity causes global warming, then we can do something about it.

Halvard Heggdal

Hkon Skaarud Karlsen

08.10.2018 kl.20:09

We can probably do something about it in either case, but with our current technological capabilities it's very very expensive.

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