Dangerous Climate Change

January 30th, 2006

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs has released online a new book (here in PDF, 16 MB) titled, “Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change,” which is a collection a papers presented at a meeting of the same title early last year. We commented on the meeting last year here and here.

I have just read Rajendra Pachauri’s (head of the IPCC) introductory chapter which was based on remarks that he gave at the conference. Not much new in it, but I thought that the following passage from Dr. Pachauri’s chapter provides a telling indication of how a narrow focus on human-GHG-caused climate change tends to warp the thinking of otherwise smart people about issues that involve much more than just human caused climate change:

In Mauritius, a couple of weeks ago, there was the major UN conference involving the small island developing states. In discussions with several people there, I heard an expression of fear based on the question: suppose a tsunami such as that of December 26 were to take place in 2080 and suppose the sea level was a foot higher, can you estimate what the extent of damage would be under those circumstances? Hence, I think when we talk about dangerous it is not merely dangers that are posed by climate change per se, but the overlay of climate change impacts on the possibility of natural disasters that could take place in any event.

So by 2080 society is going to experience changes probably far greater than from 1930 to 2005 and he is talking about the difference in impacts between a 25 foot and 26 foot wall of water? In this case, he probably would have been on solid ground by saying that patterns of coastal development over the next 75 years are far, far more important than an extra 12 inches of sea level rise, rather than trying to link climate change to tsunami impacts. But as we’ve argued ad repeatium here, this is the kind of thinking that necessarily results from Article 2 of the FCCC.

I’d welcome comments from anyone who has read parts of the book. I am sure that it is a pretty accurate preview of what we should expectin IPCC AR4 next year.

15 Responses to “Dangerous Climate Change”

  1. Benny Peiser Says:


    I haven’t read the Exeter proceedings yet, but I did attend the stage-managed Met Office meeting in early 2005 and listened to most of the presentations.

    That the disaster festival at Exeter would most probably facilitate the tone of the forthcoming 2007 IPCC report was quite evident to most observers present at the time.

    In my short conference report shortly after the meeting, I wrote:

    “Yet in spite of these political shenanigans, the key message emerging from the Met Office conference seems absolutely clear to me: the debate has now been pressed forward from a discussion about the science of climate change to the prediction of global catastrophe. Evidently, the next IPCC report will be far more alarmist than any of its antecedents. IPCC chairman, Dr Pachauri, who opened the Met Office conference together with Margaret Beckett, stressed only two weeks ago: “The world has already reached the level of dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and immediate and very deep cuts in the pollution are needed if humanity is to survive.” The apprehension of looming disaster was the general mood of fretfulness and despair at the Exeter conference.”

    So, the next IPCC report will most likely feature a lot of prophecies of fire and brimestone. But here’s the rub: I’m not sure that the international community and its key political decision-makers will be overly concerned, let alone guided by the next IPCC report.

    Never mind the censure of the IPCC by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs. Britain’s chief science adviser, Sir David King, appears to have dissociated himself from some of the more alarmist conjectures of the Exeter proceedings.

    According to today’s BBC report, David King seems to have second thoughts about the new climate disasters “consensus:”

    “For achieving the two Celsius target with a probability of more than 60%, greenhouse gas concentrations need to be stabilised at 450 ppm CO2-equivalent or below,” conclude Michel den Elzen from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and Malte Meinshausen of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research. “A stabilisation at 450 ppm CO2-equivalent requires global emissions to peak around 2015, followed by substantial overall reductions in the order of 30%-40% compared to 1990 levels in 2050.”

    But, speaking on Today, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor Sir David King said that is unlikely to happen. “We’re going to be at 400 parts per million in 10 years time, I predict that without any delight in saying it,” he said.

    “But no country is going to turn off a power station which is providing much-desired energy for its population to tackle this problem – we have to accept that. To aim for 450 (ppm) would, I am afraid, seem unfeasible.”

    King’s surprising realism contrasts sharply with his previous, rather alarmist stance he expressed at Exeter just under a year ago. I venture the guess that his ‘rethink’ is above all the direct result of the political change of direction Tony Blair has embarked upon since his advisers botched to sway the US administration in the run up to the G8 meeting in Gleneagles last summer.

    This conjecture is borne out when one reads Tony Blair’s much-hyped foreword to the Exeter proceedings. The most interesting facet of his latest pronouncement on climate change policy isn’t the usual rhetoric. Much more remarkable – although unsurprising – is Blair’s conspicuous reticence regarding the future role of the Kyoto treaty, let alone the future of the IPCC.

    As far as the PM is concerned, it would appear that he regards the G8 and the Asian-Pacific Pact countries as the only players left in the only game in town when it comes to future international climate policy-making. There is a nice German word for Blair’s pragmatic policy approach to climate change: Realpolitik.


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  3. Mark Bahner Says:

    “So by 2080 society is going to experience changes probably far greater than from 1930 to 2005 and he is talking about the difference in impacts between a 25 foot and 26 foot wall of water?”

    To me, it seems almost inconceivable that, by 2080, all the coasts of the world won’t be protected by tsunami warning systems.

    I’d guess that 90 percent of those who died in the 2004 tsunami would have been saved with 30-60 minutes of warning.



    Imagine the year 2080, when every single person has a cell phone (or even a brain implant) with an always-on Internet connection. Suddenly, every cell phone on the beach starts to sound a tsunami alarm. An hour or two later, the tsunami hits.

    There might still be significant structural damage, but very few lives would be lost.

    This is part of why it’s so presumptuous to attempt to avoid problems anticipated 80 years into the future.

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  5. Dano Says:

    Benny ‘I spam’ Peiser would have a better FUD outlet if it weren’t for the fact that many readers here are familiar with his…er…work.



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  7. Mark Bahner Says:

    From the (unintentionally) hilarious BBC report:

    “But Myles Allen, a lecturer on atmospheric physics at Oxford University, said assessing a ’safe level’ of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was ‘a bit like asking a doctor what’s a safe number of cigarettes to smoke per day.’”

    So, the “safe” level of CO2 in the atmosphere is 0 ppm? Apparently, nowhere in any of his schooling did he learn that plants need CO2 to survive.

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  9. Rabett Says:

    Throwing the chaff to the floor, the interesting question is why does anyone think it CERTAIN that changes are going to be far greater in the next 70 years than in the last? Or is this merely a rhetorical flourish?

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  11. Jim Clarke Says:


    Check out any book by Ray Kurzweil or his website: http://www.kurzweilai.net/

    Mr. Kurzweil is certainly an optimist, as his vision of the future makes most science fiction drab in comparison, however, his analysis of human and technology advancement is difficult to argue with. While he readily admits that a major nuclear war or other such catastrophe would slow the advancement of technology, it will not stop it. If we avoid such a major disruption, the future looks bright indeed.

    The key is information! Knowledge is becoming readily available for all who seek it. Suppression of knowledge (and of thought) is becoming more difficult. We have seen an explosion of information in the last 15 years with the creation of the Internet. The next step will be a ‘quality control’ process where all the useless information is rapidly weeded out, and valuable information will rise to the top.

    This synthesis of good information will not be the product of governments or corportations, but spring from the demand of individuals. This website, and many others, are part of this process which is still in its infancy, but may reach maturity in less than a decade. That is how fast things happen now. Problems that were tediously solved with slow correspondence and massive chalk boards in the past, will be delt with in a fraction of the time, as the best minds can be instantly linked together. On the other hand, charlatans will be exposed in record time.

    That is why the next 70 years will see far more progress than the previous 70 years.

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  13. Rabett Says:

    Jim, having written many grant proposals (some in nanotechnology) permit me my cynicism. Considering that things were relatively static from about the year dot to ~1750 (and that includes China and India)I see no inevitability about continued progress.

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  15. Dano Says:

    Eli, lots of wishes and dreams are based on the ideology expressed in Jim’s post.

    Lots of actions are based on those wishes too: “technology will clean up our mess – full steam ahead!”. When one treads on ideology, people circle the wagons.



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  17. Anders Says:

    Dano, what will clean up or mess then? Taxes? (I know, you can correlate taxes and cleaner air in Europe and the US. Just leave out technology, because all you need is a correlation….)

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  19. Mark Bahner Says:

    Dano writes, “Eli, lots of wishes and dreams are based on the ideology expressed in Jim’s post.

    Lots of actions are based on those wishes too: “technology will clean up our mess – full steam ahead!”. When one treads on ideology, people circle the wagons.”

    Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

    The key to science is this: One person makes one prediction, another makes a different prediction. Then we wait to see who was right, and who was wrong.

    Roger Pielke, Jr. wrote that “change” (presumably including wealth generation) would be greater in the next 70 years than the previous 70. Jim Clarke wrote that he agreed.

    You and Eli SEEM to disagree, but you’ve made no commitments.

    I’ve done significant analyses on how per-capita GDP can be expected to change over the next 70 years, as compared to the previous 70.


    Based on Brad DeLong’s work, the world per capita GDP in 1930 (in 1990 dollars) was $1134, and it increased to $6534 (again, in 1990 dollars) in the year 2000.

    That’s a factor of 5.76 growth in 70 years (from 1930 to 2000).

    I say the growth factor from 2000 to 2070 will be approximately 50.

    In other words, if the world per capita GDP in 2000 (switching to year *2000* dollars) was $7200, it will be approximately $360,000 in 2070.


    Specifically, here are my world per-capita GDP estimates for every 10 years from 2000 to 2070 (in year 2000 dollars):

    2000 = $7,200
    2010 = $9,500
    2020 = $13,000
    2030 = $19,000
    2040 = $31,000
    2050 = $62,000
    2060 = $130,000
    2070 = $360,000

    NOTE 1: If the 70 years from 2000 to 2070 created “only” a factor of 5.76 in growth, the world per-capita GDP in 2070 would be “only” $41,500.

    NOTE 2: Even if this is the case, Roger and Jim would STILL probably be right…there’s a much bigger “change” going from a per capita GDP of $7,200 to $41,500 than there is going from $1,134 to $6,534. In other words, both $1,134 and $6,534 are still very poor…whereas $41,500 means that the average person in the world would be approximately middle class by U.S. standards.

    Dano, why don’t you and Eli make YOUR predictions for world per-capita GDP every 10 years, from 2000 to 2070? Then we’ll see who is right and who is wrong.

    Or is that too much science for you two?

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  21. Jim Clarke Says:

    Rabett & Dano,

    The idea that technological advancement will continue or accelerate is not based on wishes and dreams, but observation.

    I must disagree with the comment that “…things were relatively static from about the year dot to ~1750.” Despite much knowledge being lost in the first few 100 years A.D., technology continued to advance in most areas from there. While this was slow by today’s standards, it was advancement none-the-less. Architecture, Astronomy, travel, warfare, agriculture, metallurgy, art, and so on, all made steady technological progress over those ‘dark’ times.

    What really started the ball rolling was the creation of the printing press, which allowed for cheap and widespread sharing of information. As information technology continues to accelerate rapidly, it is only logical to expect other technologies to benefit and move forward as well. The idea that technology will stop advancing is contrary to all of the available evidence!

    If we look at the arguments closely, we find that it is those with the pessimistic predictions that are 1. generally wrong, 2. not grasping the dynamics of the situation, and 3. have a more ‘faith-based’ perspective than those who are deemed foolishly optimistic.

    I do agree with Dano when he says: “When one treads on ideology, people circle the wagons.” But I think that the ideology of today is one of tremendous and irrational pessimism. We live in a world in which people like Paul Ehrlich are praised as great thinkers and visionaries, even though they are constantly wrong, and people like Bjorn Lomborg are crucified for having the audacity to point out some encouraging news straight from the available data!

    Since fear-mongering drives the grant process which, in turn, drives science, is it any wonder that the ideology of science today has grown increasingly pessimistic? Take global warming for example: despite all the evidence that a cooler globe ‘restricts’ the biosphere, while a warmer globe produces a more robust ‘Gaia’, we are asked to believe that nothing good will come from future warming. Cost/benefit analyses of AGW don’t even address positive aspects of warming, only the costs of implementing a regulatory system to the ‘benefits’ of no (or less) temperature change. The positive aspects of warming are not even part of the discussion, or are simply dismissed as ‘wishful thinking’ despite all the evidence to the contrary.

    While I find Kurzweil’s timeline for future progress a little too fantastic to believe, at least he is basing his predictions on the available evidence, and not the gloomy cosmology that sprang from the disillusionment of the ’60s generation!

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  23. Dano Says:

    False premise in Jim’s comment:

    “Since fear-mongering drives the grant process which, in turn, drives science, is it any wonder that the ideology of science today has grown increasingly pessimistic? ”

    Why my ‘ideology’ and ‘wish’ point was made. This is a clue to disregard the points made.

    BTW, usu. I say ‘wishy-wish’ to put it in proper context, but I like to modify my tone according to site.



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  25. you-know-who Says:

    Congratulations Dano, you haven’t written “mendaciousness” yet.
    Keep doing your talky-talky.

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  27. Dano Says:

    I haven’t written ‘ploppedness’ in a while, either. You’ve moved on to different tactics, such as distracting away from argumentation using false premises.



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  29. Hans Erren Says:

    As for ploppedness, how about referring to 200+ page documents you didn’read ?

    BTW, How is your 1954 computer doing?