Monday, April 26, 2004

Climate Change...yes, again
Jung, Emmerlich, Mastrandrea, and Biodiesel

Carl Jung coined the term, synchronicity, and defined it as "The coincidence in time of two or more causally unrelated events which have the same meaning."  I don't have a lot to say about Jung, since I could never understand what he wrote.  I also don't believe that there is a particular significance to it, when two things happen at the same time, even if they do have the same meaning.  But, every once in a while, there is a coincidence that is too remarkable to ignore.  This example has to do with the coincidental publication of an article about the new Roland Emmerich movie, and one about a new analysis that shows climate change is only 45% likely to cause any actual danger to the USA. 

Found via a Bloglines search, on BottleOfBlog, is a mention  of a NYT article.  Excerpts from the actual article  are posted here:

April 25, 2004
NASA Curbs Comments on Ice Age Disaster Movie

"Urgent: HQ Direction," began a message e-mailed on April 1 to dozens of scientists and officials at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

It was not an alert about an incoming asteroid, a problem with the space station or a solar storm. It was a warning about a movie.

In "The Day After Tomorrow," a $125 million disaster film set to open on May 28, global warming from accumulating smokestack and tailpipe gases disrupts warm ocean currents and sets off an instant ice age.

Few climate experts think such a prospect is likely, especially in the near future. But the prospect that moviegoers will be alarmed enough to blame the Bush administration for inattention to climate change has stirred alarm at the space agency, scientists there say.

"No one from NASA is to do interviews or otherwise comment on anything having to do with" the film, said the April 1 message, which was sent by Goddard's top press officer. "Any news media wanting to discuss science fiction vs. science fact about climate change will need to seek comment from individuals or organizations not associated with NASA."

Copies of the message, and the one from NASA headquarters to which it referred, were provided to The New York Times by a senior NASA scientist who said he resented attempts to muzzle climate researchers. [...]

The initial efforts by NASA headquarters to limit comments angered some government researchers.

"It's just another attempt to play down anything that might lead to the conclusion that something must be done" about global warming, one federal climate scientist said. He, like half a dozen government employees interviewed on this subject, said he could speak only on condition of anonymity because of standing orders not to talk to the news media.

Along with its direct criticisms of a Bush-like administration, the movie also could draw attention to a proposed Bush budget cut. [...]

So the executive branch of our government wants to muzzle scientists.  That is not exactly news.  Just two days before the NYT article was published, the journal Science  published an article about climate change.  A subscription (or a trip to the library) is required to see the full article; free registration gets you to the abstract:

Probabilistic Integrated Assessment of "Dangerous" Climate Change
Michael D. Mastrandrea1* and Stephen H. Schneider2

Climate policy decisions are being made despite layers of uncertainty. Such decisions directly influence the potential for "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." We mapped a metric for this concept, based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment of climate impacts, onto probability distributions of future climate change produced from uncertainty in key parameters of the coupled social-natural system—climate sensitivity, climate damages, and discount rate. Analyses with a simple integrated assessment model found that, under midrange assumptions, endogenously calculated, optimal climate policy controls can reduce the probability of dangerous anthropogenic interference from 45% under minimal controls to near zero.

1 Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Environment and Resources, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.
2 Department of Biological Sciences and Center for Environmental Science and Policy, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.

Just as the USA is split between the Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate for president, the probability for "dangerous" climate change is close to 50:50.  Actually, according to Mastrandrea and Schneider, it is slightly more likely that there will not  be dangerous climate change.  The question is, what does this mean?  I have already commented  on the flippedy-do-floppedy-da-floop that our Dear Leader has performed on this subject.  In fact, it was the first post of mine that generated any significant traffic.  But today I am not going to heap any more criticism on politicians.  This is about science, since there is a light green background.

I would say that a 45% risk is pretty significant.  The risk posed by Iraq was much less than that, and we went ahead and spent $100 billion dollars to try to squelch the risk.  So what keeps us from spending the same amount to forestall climate change?  Is it the economy?  Consider these economic facts:
  • Money spent on warmaking does not produce salable goods.  All the helicopters, bullets, etc. that are expended, are things that never will be sold.  This means that there is more money in the economy, but fewer goods that the money can be spent on.  This increases inflationary pressure.
  • War takes some of our most productive citizens and sends them abroad, where they produce nothing that can be sold.  This decreases economic productivity.
  • War kills people.  Dead people can't make anything. 
  • War does help the unemployment figures, since someone has to replace all those soldiers who used to be working here at home.  But when they all come back, you get a sudden tightening of the job market. 
  • War increases energy demand, and reduces supply, thus increasing energy costs.  This drives up prices.  It also makes it harder for poor people to afford to get to work. 
If you spend the same amount to develop technology to combat climate change:
  • New industries could be developed, increasing the number of desirable jobs in the USA.
  • Energy prices come down, as industry becomes more efficient.
  • No one is killed; in fact, the overall health of the population is improved, since there is less pollution.
  • The USA demonstrates leadership, and is in a position of power, relative to other countries.  Power is derived when you have something that someone else wants.  Other countries, as they become more industrialized, will want the technology that we develop to control pollution and increase efficiency.
Am I talking about castle-in-the-sky technology?  If so, my whole argument is bo-o-o-gus.  Consider these examples:
  • Biodiesel fuel:  Instead of burning fossil fuels, which release carbon into the atmosphere, we could use carbon derived from plant sources.  Then, every molecule of carbon dioxide produced contains one carbon atom that was removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis.  There is no net increase in carbon dioxide.  My liberal friends might crucify me for saying this, but we could genetically modify corn to produce a large amount of high-grade corn oil.  The corn oil would be used to make biodiesel.  The frankencorn also would produce sugar, which would be fermented into alcohol, for gasohol; and the cellulose could be diverted to use in engineered wood products.  This would be extremely efficient and have a small ecological footprint.   Almost every molecule in the entire plant would be used for some purpose.  We would not have to pay farm subsidies, since the farmers would all be busy growing the stuff.  And the trend toward urban sprawl would be reduced, since the need for farmland would be increased.
  • Organic LEDs(1 2).  LEDs are already extremely efficient, but they are too expensive to use to light up a house.  Recent research has found ways that could lead to an efficiency close to 100%. (S Coe et al. 2002 Nature, 420:800).  The editorial in that issue of Nature  indicated that it seems feasible to mass-produce LEDs that could produce bright white light at a very low energy cost.  Although they would cost more that light bulbs, the energy savings would be enormous.  This is true especially when air conditioning is being used, because the LEDs would not produce any significant amount of heat. 
  • Improved automotive technology.  Ford and GM are working on a six-speed automatic transmission.  The next step would be a continuously-variable transmission.  Coupled with hybrid technology and biodiesel, automobile efficiency would be increased greatly.
There are many more examples, but this is getting long and it is late and you are getting bored.  The point is, there is a much better cost-benefit ratio spending money on technology to combat climate change, than spending it on war.  And it is better for the economy.  And it is not just science fiction, like a Roland Emmerich movie.