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So now it’s a war? Climate change perspectives are… changing

Well, okay. Venkatesh Rao at the Atlantic says that the only chance we have at dealing with climate change is to treat it like a war. Here are two similarly well-thought out declarations in the same video:

Rao writes, “Precedents in public health, civil engineering, epidemiology, and public safety offer clearer examples of technocrat-led revolutions. But those transitions were far simpler, technologically, than a retooling of global energy infrastructure.

Properly qualified, there is only one successful precedent for the kind of technological mobilization we are contemplating: the mobilization of American industry during World War II.

The proposed climate change war—and no other term is suitable given the scale, complexity, and speed of the task—requires a level of trust in academic and energy-sector public institutions (including international ones) comparable to the trust placed in military institutions during times of war.
The significant political difference is that climate change offers up no conveniently terrifying dictator, against whom to rally the troops and general population. Without a sufficiently charismatic narrative, casualties will go largely unacknowledged, like the victims of the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 (which caused about twice as many deaths as World War I, but is barely remembered today outside of public-health circles).”

To which I respond, if you are correct we are doomed. Not because of climate change–but because of your solution.

War has been declared on cancer, poverty, drugs and almost every other ill imaginable. I hate to break the news to Mr. Rao, but we lost them all.

War is what happens when reason fails. War is what happens when it’s root hog or die. War is always evidence of failure at the highest level of government.

Bringing that mindset to climate change will do just as much good as it has done to marijuana. None to speak of.

How will we know when we’ve won? When the climate no longer changes?

Why don’t we treat climate change as a long-term policy issue of the same magnitude as eradicating malaria or ending poverty worldwide? I’ll be that would work a lot better.

My advice to Mr. Rao–do as we did in Vietnam. Declare victory and go home. Worked for this guy:


My New Book Gets Its Own Website

Stairway Press has created a website for my recently published book “The Lukewarmer’s Way–Climate Change For The Rest Of Us.”

You can visit it here. It has a brief bio and an ordering form if you want to get the hard copy, which I believe will be out on October  7th. It is doing quite well on Kindle and I’m curious to see how many people will want the hard copy.

I am hoping that it will make my promotional efforts less burdensome on visitors to this site. I will still mention it occasionally, but there’s enough going on in the climate world that I prefer to focus on it.

But here’s the cover again–I like it.

Book Cover

Climate Change For The Rest Of US #2: Update and Excerpt

Well, the first 24 hours were excellent for my new book “The Lukewarmer’s Way.” Expectations were high, given that the book I wrote with Steve Mosher 5 years ago (Climategate: The CRUTape Letters) was released in the middle of a media feeding frenzy about Climategate.

We didn’t sell as many copies on our first day with the new book, but we are now a very respectable #8 in books about weather on Kindle and #17 on books about ecology there. Still waiting for our first review, though, which isn’t good.

Book Cover

Here’s a teaser from the book:

As I have said throughout this book, I believe global warming is occurring and that we need to both address the causes and the effects. I’m also aware that the process of species loss occurs in slow motion, as well. Which is why it’s clear that anthropogenic climate change to date cannot be held responsible for large scale loss of species, because global warming is so recent in its inception. Scientists date the beginning of human-caused climate change to around 1945.

Meanwhile, the abandonment of scientific perspective by some Alarmists in order to join the crusade to climate Jerusalem gives tacit permission to continue to those who are causing the real damage via habitat loss, pollution, lax procedures that allow invasive species to be introduced inappropriately, and over-hunting.

Anthropogenic contributions to climate change are recent. Anthropogenic pressures on biodiversity have been going on for millenia. I have no doubt that we can chart many species already feeling additional pressure because of climate change. That’s a given, because that’s a constant. The climate always changes and it always puts pressure on vulnerable species. Anthropogenic climate change will do the same.

Global warming will have a negative effect on some species, perhaps many. Species loss is currently a real problem. The two facts don’t have much to do with each other.

My thoughts about preserving the biodiversity remaining on this planet are fairly simple:

  1. Policy that encourages urbanization density. Right now, over half the people on this planet live in cities that cover 3% of the land surface. This should be considered a good beginning, especially as most projected population growth is expected to be absorbed by the cities. However, given that only 2% of the population is required for modern agriculture, there should be room for improvement. Policies that make 3rd world cities more liveable, safe and sanitary can decrease pressure on the land.
  2. It is time to renegotiate the law of the sea. Let’s appoint conservators for individual fish species that have czar-like abilities to establish fishing regulations that keep the health of the fish paramount. Establish a multinational compensation fund that helps countries wean themselves off of their over-supplied and over-mechanized fishing fleets and just put them out of business slowly.
  3. Focus some element of scientific research on creating best practices and standards for sustainable fish farms. Create sustainable certification standards and labeling. Focus more on rewarding winners than punishing losers–many bad fish farm practices are the result of poverty more than anything else.
  4. Introduce best of breed agricultural practices to insure that needed agricultural product comes from better practices, not more land coming under the plough. Start at the geographic margins and work inwards, as it is at the margins that expansion of farms into new territory happens. Refine the food distribution system to reduce wastage, introduce GMOs liberally, etc.

If you want to protect other species, you must start by removing the need to harm them by improving the lot of the species that is threatening them. That would be us.

This Lukewarmer believes greenhouse gases may help cause temperatures to be about 2 degrees C warmer than otherwise would be the case, which will cause damage in many regions around the world. As it’s an average, some regions will be affected more than others.

Although this will not be a civilization buster (especially for the U.S.), we will be spending money–either to prepare for and so minimize some of the effects beforehand, or to fix some of the damage afterwards. The first of these two is easier and cheaper than the second.

Whatever you call Sandy, whether hurricane or tropical storm, you can look at it as something we will see more of in a warmer world. I don’t think Sandy was caused or strengthened much by current warming, but I think it’s currently an outlier that may look more normal in the future.

How close to the shore should we build? What offshore structures should we erect to soften storms’ impacts? How much cheaper are seawalls than extensive infrastructure repair? How does our current insurance system interact with public wishes and natural disasters to guide rebuilding?

We also might visit other societies impacted by storms at sea, from Japan to the Netherlands, to see if we can benchmark best practice.

Climate Change for the Rest of Us–The Lukewarmer’s Way is Now Available on Kindle

The Kindle version of The Lukewarmer’s Way is now available on Kindle. If you are considering buying it, please remember that early sales are most helpful to an author, as signs of success push a book up the charts and make it visible to other prospective customers.

Book Cover

The book is divided into three sections:

  1. The Lukewarmer’s Way
  2. Why I am not an Alarmist
  3. Why I am not a Skeptic

“For myself and those other Lukewarmers I am in regular contact with, our position is not just the adoption of a mid-range between Alarmists and Skeptics. Examination of the data available from the same sources used by Alarmists and Skeptics have steered us to a different conclusion.

Here are some of the data points that have informed my view. I examine them in greater detail in the second and third sections of this book:

  1. Climate models have projected more warming than has occurred through 2014. Although they do a good job at charting the broad sweep of climate over the years, they do not get the fine level of detail needed to inform planning.
  2. A pause (or slowdown) in temperature rises has occurred just at the time that human emissions of CO2 have exploded. Almost one third of all human emissions have taken place since 1998, but warming has slowed dramatically during that same time frame. This is an argument against a high sensitivity of the atmosphere.
  3. Recent calculations of atmospheric sensitivity to increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are based on observations and provide values for sensitivity that are much lower than previous versions that were based on models.
  4. Sea level rise has increased from 2mm a year to 3mm a year in the past two decades. However, sea level rise shows no sign of accelerating beyond that and some indications are that it is returning to the 2mm annual increase of prior years.
  5. The physics-based approach to calculating climate change leaves calculations vulnerable to large biological or chemical responses to warming. Vegetative cover on earth has increased by 7% recently—how much additional CO2 will this draw out of the atmosphere? Physicist Freeman Dyson is frankly dismissive of models’ ability to capture the interaction between the various inputs into models.
  6. Temperatures estimated from before the modern record do not seem reliable, although part of the problem may be due to inappropriate statistical treatment of the data.
  7. Advocacy of an active policy response does not seem to rely on a confident view of science. Rather it suggests that Alarmists rely more on dismissing the opposition as ‘deniers’ and exaggerating the modest findings of climate science, precisely because the results of science to date are not alarming.

Here are reasons why I am not skeptical of human-caused climate change:

  1. The physics underlying the basics of climate science are utterly uncontroversial, over a century old and broadly agree with observations. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, it does interact with infrared radiation at certain wavelengths and prevents heat from escaping the atmosphere.
  2. Temperatures clearly have risen since 1880 by as much as 0.8C.
  3. One of the key predictions of climate science, that the Arctic would warm much faster than the rest of the planet, has come true. Arctic temperatures have climbed by 2C.
  4. Sea level rise, almost all ‘steric’ (expansion of the water caused by heat) has increased from 2mm to 3mm per year.
  5. Human emissions have grown from 236 million metric tonnes of carbon in 1880 to 1,160 in 1945 to 9,167 in 2010.
  6. Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere have grown from 280 ppm in 1880 to 400 ppm in 2014.
  7. The rate of increase in CO2 concentrations is increasing. The volume of CO2 in the atmosphere grew by 0.75 ppm annually in the 1950s. In the last decade it has increased by 2.1 ppm per year.
  8. Growth in energy consumption is skyrocketing with the development of Asia and Africa. My projections show that we may use six times as much energy in 2075 as we did in 2010.
  9. Other impacts of human civilization, such as deforestation and other changes to land use, pollution and black soot landing on Arctic snows also contribute to warming.
  10. Published plans for construction of renewable energy infrastructure and nuclear power plants fall far short of what is needed to appreciably reduce emissions.
  11. The two principal drivers of emissions are population and GDP growth. Both are projected to rise considerably over the course of this century.”

Many thanks to the crew at Stairways Press for their work in bringing this book to life.

Stairway Press Will Publish ‘The Lukewarmer’s Way’ by Thomas Fuller

More details will follow.

The book will lean heavily on research done for posts here and at my companion blog The Lukewarmer’s Way.

It will be divided into three sections:

1. Why I am not an alarmist

2. Why I am not a skeptic

3. The Lukewarmer’s Way

Wish me luck. I’ll try not to bombard this space hyping the book but you can expect the occasional nudge to buy it. I’ll let readers know when it’s available in bookstores, on Amazon and Kindle, etc.

Sobering statistic for the day:


How Efficient Can We Get?

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration projects that our energy consumption will increase by 10% between now and 2040. Because it also projects robust growth in population, GDP, miles driven, home starts, size of new homes, etc., a 10% growth over 25 years seems low.

The justification for such a low increase is their projection that the efficiency of energy consumption will increase dramatically. Sadly, they have overestimated improvements in energy efficiency in 93% of their forecasts

For example, they expect miles per gallon for passenger cars to increase from the 2014 figure of 30.7 to 46.8 mpg by 2040. I don’t say that’s impossible–there are cars capable of getting that mileage today. But that level of improvement has never been achieved in our history.

Similarly, they expect a total increase of 56 billion square feet of commercial floorspace between now and 2040. But they expect total energy consumption to drop from 213 thousand BTUs per square feet to 191.8 thousand BTUs per square feet, so total energy consumption in the commercial sector only rises from 17.78 quads to 20.88 quads by 2040.

The same is true for every category they examine. At the end of the day, they expect energy intensity, as measured by thousand BTU per 2005 dollar in GDP to drop from 6.79 to 3.99 between now and 2040.

That’s an improvement of 2% per year. Is that possible?

Well, we’re certainly off to a good start. The EIA’s chart starts in 2011, when energy intensity was rated at 7.30–that’s well above 2% a year.

But if you look back a ways, it gets a bit dicier. About half the time, rates of decarbonization are below 2%, and half are above. But the half that are above 2% include the most recent economic unpleasantness, which the EIA specifically does not forecast for the next 25 years. They also include dramatic fuel switching to lower intensity natural gas.


The real problem for decarbonization as a strategy is that the easy stuff gets done first. Decarbonizing becomes progressively more difficult.

Globally, there is scope for dramatic improvements. Every time a villager in India quits burning dung and starts using even as dirty a fuel as coal, he contributes to decarbonization.

In fact, I would hazard the guess that historical improvements in decarbonization have been driven primarily by fuel substitution.

Making a dollar of U.S. GDP in 2009 took 60% less oil, 50% less energy, 63% less directly burned natural gas, and 20% less electricity than it did in 1975. But in an advanced economy such as the American one, we’ve already taken the easy steps. Much recent improvement is down to switching from coal to natural gas, which has proven to be a blessing–but unless coal is completely retired, has little in the way of further improvement to offer. As the DOE projects coal usage in the U.S. to increase (very slightly) between now and 2040, they don’t seem to think we’ll move much further down that road.

As with last year’s report, I also think they don’t pursue their own assumptions very rigorously. If climate change is going to make the U.S. Southwest significantly warmer, and if more Americans are going to move there (for a variety of reasons), then why don’t they show air conditioning rising by more than they do? If vehicle miles traveled are going to rise so dramatically, by almost one trillion miles, why is so little thought given to congestion and the waste energy it causes? They show no sign of projecting major construction of roads and freeways.

Do I think decarbonization at a 2% annual rate can be achieved between now and 2040? Yes. Do I think we are on the road to doing so? No.

I think we will make good progress in some areas–but not all. And I think we will define good progress as coming in short of the EIA projections.

Which is why  my projection for U.S. energy consumption in 2040 is 120 quads.

The DOE’s Ten Percent Solution

With apologies to Arthur Conan Doyle, of course.

The Department of Energy estimates that American energy usage will grow only 10% in the 25 years to 2040. As noted previously, this is despite a projected near doubling of GDP, a 20% increase in population, a 30% increase in vehicle miles traveled and much more.


They expect the number of households to increase from 115 million to 143 million, a 25% increase. They expect the square footage of new houses to climb from 1,686 sq. ft. to 1,858. But they expect residential energy consumption to climb by less than one quad, from 20.73 to 21.48 quads.

The DOE expects the industrial and agricultural sectors combine to grow from $6.616 trillion to $10.994 trillion by 2040, a 60% increase. But they expect energy consumption in the two sectors to grow from 26.81 quads to 33.53 quads, only 25%.

The explanation is simple, if not entirely credible. They expect energy intensity, as measured by thousand BTU per 2005 dollar in GDP to drop from 6.79 to 3.99 between now and 2040.

I hope to post soon on the plausibility of this.