Mitigation or Adaptation?

I know that I promised a post on the continuing debate between Judith Curry and Gavin Schmidt, but I am travelling, and away from base. All being well, that post will appear at the end of the week. Today I am offering a glimpse at a current article in the Wall Street Journal about ‘climate change’ which you can read in full here. Its title is ‘The Climate Change Agenda Needs to Adapt to Reality’, it was written by Edward P. Lazear, and the reality it refers to is embodied in the title of my post: mitigation is not working, and is not going to work, and human societies need to take adaptation to extreme weather events quite seriously. Since I have been saying the same for some years I feel somewhat chuffed.

I ought to make clear the the WSJ, unlike the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times (that city possesses 97 other newspapers in many languages), is not a diehard supporter of the orthodoxy in climate science, and it has been ticked off by the orthodox leaders for publishing ‘error-filled’ and ‘misleading’ material. Some say that it has this attitude because Rupert Murdoch owns it. Maybe that’s the reason. Maybe it sees the billions going out to combat climate change as deleterious to good business practice.

Anyway, I liked a big chunk of this article, which seems common sense to me. The author is talking about the various options for mitigation, and how ineffective they are. You can replace American examples with Australian — the point is the same.

Feel-good actions won’t make a dent. For example, it is fashionable to favor locally grown produce in part to reduce the carbon from transport. But transport from producer to retailer is a trivial part—less than 5%—of energy used in the life cycle of produce. Almost all of the emitted carbon is associated with production, which means that growing a tomato bound for Chicago in an Illinois winter hothouse rather than outdoors in Florida is not a carbon-saving strategy.

How about using public transportation, driving carbon-friendly vehicles, living closer to work, or biking instead of driving? Suppose that the U.S. completely eliminated carbon emissions from transportation over the next four years. The IEA data show that world emissions would still rise because the reduction from the U.S. would not cover the increase in carbon emitted by the rest of the world. Without world-wide changes, there is limited gain, even from dramatic action by the world’s second-largest emitter.

The economics also work against a major transformation in the technology of producing power, either mobile or stationary. Coal is cheap. Natural gas is becoming even cheaper, but its carbon emissions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, are still half those of coal and three-quarters those of gasoline per unit of energy produced. Although a switch to natural gas for many power uses would help, and accounts for recent drops in U.S. emissions, it cannot change the carbon arithmetic enough to prevent the world from exceeding “safe” levels.

Unless an economical low-carbon source of power generation becomes available, it is unrealistic to expect that countries, especially developing ones, will accede to any demand to produce power in a higher-cost manner merely to emit less carbon.

Very high carbon taxes or severely restrictive cap-and-trade policies might provide substantial motivation to conserve. These could reduce carbon-intensive consumption and motivate a switch to lower carbon power sources like nuclear. But these actions are undesirable because of their adverse effects on the economy. Australia instituted a $22 per ton carbon-dioxide tax in 2012. It repealed the highly unpopular measure this July, mainly because of its economic costs and perceived ineffectiveness. Research and development are worthwhile. But they can be wasteful and ineffective—recall Solyndra [a  US company making solar panels that received half a billion dollars form the Obama administration in the form of a government-backed loan, and then went bankrupt — DA] and if R&D is to be government sponsored, all developed countries should participate in funding.

Given these limitations on mitigating carbon emissions, it is important to study how to adapt to climate change. There are myriad possibilities for adaptation, including the obvious, like building dikes in low-lying areas, and planting heat-tolerant crops and trees in cities. Some adaptation will occur naturally. For example, economic incentives will induce people who are setting up new households, businesses and farms to move to areas that are less severely harmed by warming temperatures.

Organizations like the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have pushed adaptation as a complementary strategy to mitigation. Still, adaptation has received little attention by the Obama administration and is hardly mentioned in public discussion. Proponents of strong anti-carbon measures seem to believe that even considering an alternative to mitigation will weaken the public’s willingness to bear the costs of mitigation.

Who wrote this? Here is the footer describing him: Mr. Lazear, chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (2006-09) and head of the White House committee on the economics of climate change (2007-08), is a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and a Hoover Institution fellow.  The President referred to here is of course Mr Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Mike says:

    If you consider the start of efforts to mitigate greenhouse gases as being 1988 that
    is when James Hansen made his famous speech to Congress in the US you must say that it has had a history of failure since then.

    Since then CO2 has increased by 50 ppm that is that is an eighth of all CO2 in the atmosphere has been added in those few years. Some will argue that is not all about just CO2 I’m sure the same applies for the other gases methane etcetera as well, besides CO2 does make up 77% of these gases. That is the figure from the IPCC fourth assessment report 2007 and no doubt the proportion has risen since then. So all the fuss we have endured over the years about how we should stop using fossil fuels and we should start using renewables has come to nought. Yes there has been a little bit of renewables at great cost but it pales in comparison to coal oil and natural gas.

    The failure to mitigate after nearly 30 years indicates to me that the advocates of this course of action are not being honest. They must realise that humans will adapt to changes in the climate by necessity. But if they accept that and just give up on mitigation what role do they have? Similarly if they were to accept nuclear power as a solution then the problem is solved and again they have no role.

  • Gus says:

    “>>Who wrote this?<<"

    Yes, George W. Bush, like John Howard, fell for it, for the CAGW scenario. Neither is a scientist. Mr Lazear is not a scientist either, unless you consider economics a science, in which case it can only be a dismal one.

    It ought to be remembered that the scientific realization that the CAGW theory is not without fundamental flaws downed gradually. I would mark the publication of the 2009 Gerlich and Tscheuschner paper on the unphysicality of greenhouse effect as being a turning point. It really drew the attention of many, especially in the world of physics and earth sciences. This is not to say that IR-active gases do not affect energy transfer in various complex ways, they do, but this is not as described, hand-wavingly, in popular literature, or, let's say, in enviro-propaganda. The *net* warming effect of CO2, for example, averaged over the diurnal cycle and over the seasons, is by no means obvious, and even less so in the presence of other complicating factors.

    After the Al Gore's "desktop demo" professional physicists looked at the experiment more closely and they found that if you use IR-inactive Argon in place of IR-active CO2, the bottle warms up even more! See Wagoner, Liu and Tobina in American Journal of Physics, May 2010, doi:10.1119/1.3322738. As Gerlich and Tscheuschner pointed out in their paper, what happens in greenhouses and, in this case, in the glass bottle, is caused by suppression of convective mixing. The IR-absorption effect is minimal compared to convection, which is way more important. Al Gore's demo is a fraud.

    The same error is made by climate modelers whose codes don't do convection, because they lack the resolution to do it properly. To make things worse, climate codes are so heavily over-parameterized, with parameters lacking any real physical justification that any result, it turns out, can be produced by shuffling the parameters. This is Illustrated in a recent paper by Tomassini, Voigt and Stevens, in Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, doi:10.1002/qj.2450. Another paper published in the same journal showed that one of the climate codes violated the second principle of thermodynamics, doi:10.1002/qj.2404.

    Now, a guy like Lazear, who is an economist, would not know or even understand any of this. He buys what IPCC serves, in its political summary, because he does not have qualifications to scrutinize the product. Then he builds his economic recommendations on this basis. Many other economists do likewise, some have made good living of it.

    But there is now an official document, The US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Minority Report, "Critical Thinking on Climate Change, Empirical Evidence to Consider Before Taking Regulatory Action and Implementing Economic Policies," that offers very severe criticism of the US Government National Climate Assessment, criticism based on sound, empirical, science. In this report we read: "An addendum was added to provide examples of how the Obama Administration’s National Climate Assessment report ignores critical scientific evidence when submitted by top researchers and scientists." They also point to Australia's repeal of carbon tax and to the current investigation regarding corruption of temperature record, in Australia, to artificially produce a warming trend that does not exist.

    The authors conclude: "Given these facts, the basic opening assertions of the new U.S. Climate Change Assessment are about a hypothetical world, not a real world, and must be taken as a "what if" rather than "what is". Therefore the dire consequences forecast in the Assessment cannot be taken as reliable, nullifying many, if not most, of the ecological and biological implications the Assessment makes heavy use of."

    For more, see the report itself, which can be downloaded from

    http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressRoom.PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=965A39AE-F2A3-32BD-D277-148218B2517C
    In summary, even Mr. Lazear's recommendations may be too much fuss over something that does not really exist. See my earlier comments on what constitutes a racket.

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