Common Ground On Climate → Washingtons Blog
Common Ground On Climate - Washingtons Blog

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Common Ground On Climate

Preface: I studied global warming in the 1980s at a top university. My environmental credentials are solid by any measure. I have no dog in the climate debate, other than to do what is best for the people and the planet.

The American people are deeply divided on climate change.

An April Rasmussen poll found:

When it comes to global warming, 47% of voters say climate change is primarily caused by long-term planetary trends. Thirty-six percent (36%) disagree and believe human activity is more to blame. Ten percent (10%) are undecided. While more voters have blamed planetary trends since January 2009, this is the widest gap between the two since July of last year.

There is a huge and perhaps unbridgeable gap between global warming activists and skeptics (using the terms the various groups themselves use). Each side continues to make arguments about how the other is uninformed, corrupt or plain stupid (just look at the comments to this article). Counter-productive measures are being contemplated, but we are too busy arguing to notice ... or to take effective action to demand something smarter.

Unless we agree on common ground and demand that our politicians take constructive actions, no positive policy changes will be made and - instead - ineffective or even harmful policies will be enacted.

A Window of Opportunity

A few weeks ago, one of the largest coronal mass ejections ever observed reinforced dire predictions by NASA and other government agencies that heightened solar activity in the next couple of years could knock out power grids throughout many parts of the world and lead to numerous nuclear meltdowns.

Many scientists were also worried that increased solar output could warm the Earth. As I wrote 5 years ago, after explaining in detail the affect of carbon dioxide on climate:

Scientists have also found that cosmic rays linked to global warming are increasing. The sun is simply getting hotter. Indeed, solar output has been increasing steadily ever since scientists have been able to measure it.

Not impressed yet? How about this: there is evidence of global warming on Pluto, on Mars, on Neptune's moon, and on Jupiter.

And guess what? The next "solar maximum" -- the 12-year peak of solar activity -- might be a really big one (see also this article).
However, just this week, scientists from the US Solar Observatory and the US Air Force Research Laboratory have discovered - to their great surprise - that the sun's activity is declining, and that we might experience the lowest solar output we've seen since 1645-1715. The Register describes it in dramatic tones:
What may be the science story of the century is breaking this evening.
Scientists who are convinced that global warming is a serious threat to our planet say that such a reduced solar output would simply buy us more time ... delaying the warming trend, but not stopping or reversing it.

On the other hand, scientists who are skeptical about global warming say that the threat is a new mini ice age. (Remember that scientists have been convinced in the past that we would have a new ice age, and even considered pouring soot over the arctic in the 1970s to help melt the ice - in order to prevent another ice age. Obama's top science advisor was one of those warning of a new ice age in the 1970s. And see this.)

Common Ground Number 1: Use the Reprieve to Harden Nuclear Reactors or Decommission Them

Whatever you believe about climate change, if you are a person of good will you presumably can agree that a period of reduced solar output gives us some extra time to harden our nuclear reactors from the risk of a power outage. If you are not familiar with the extreme danger, please read this.

In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the near-miss in Alabama, and the still-fluid situation in Nebraska, we should count the lower solar output is a blessing in terms of giving us the time to preventing global nuclear problems during the next mega-solar event.

Common Ground Number 2: Authoritarian Rule Is Never Justified

Noam Chomsky and James Lovelock (environmentalist and creator of the "Gaia hypothesis") have both said that they would be okay with an authoritarian approach to tackling global warming.

But whatever one might think about climate change, all people of good will can agree that fascism is never justified.

Common Ground Number 3: Let's Not Do Something Rash Which Makes Things WORSE

Currently, "government scientists are studying the feasibility of sending nearly microscopic particles of specially made glass into the Earth's upper atmosphere to try to dampen the effects of 'global warming.' " Others are currently suggesting cutting down trees and burying them. Other ways to geoengineer the planet are being proposed.

The harm caused by many of these methods have not been thought through ... and they could cause serious damage to our health and our ecosystems.

So - whatever you think about climate - you can obviously agree that we should approach climate change from the age-old axiom of "first, do no harm", making sure that our "solutions" do not cause more damage than the problems.

Common Ground Number 4: Reduce the Carbon Footprint of War

As Harvey Wasserman notes, continuing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will more than wipe out any reduction in carbon from the government's proposed climate measures. Writing about the escalation in the Afghanistan war, Wasserman says:

The war would also come with a carbon burst. How will the massive emissions created by 100,000-plus soldiers in wartime be counted in the 17% reduction rubric? Will the HumVees be converted to hybrids? What is the carbon impact of Predator bombs that destroy Afghan families and villages?

[See this for proof that the military is the biggest producer of carbon.] The continuance of the Afghanistan, Iraq, Libyan and others wars completely and thoroughly undermines the government's claims that there is a global warming emergency and that reducing carbon output through cap and trade is needed to save the planet.

I can't take anything the government says about carbon footprints seriously until the government ends the unnecessary wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. For evidence that the Iraq war is unnecessary, see this. Read this for evidence that the U.S. could have taken Bin Laden out years ago and avoided a decades long war in Afghanistan. And for proof that the entire war on Muslim extremists is unnecessary for our national security, see this.

War is also very harmful to the economy. See this, this and this.

So whatever you think of climate change, all people can agree that ending the wars is important.

Common Ground Number 5: Reduce Soot

Without taking a position on carbon dioxide (which I've been reading about for 30 years), I have extensively discussed that soot has been discovered to be a leading cause of snow and ice melting in the Arctic and the Himalayas, and soot has a much faster influence on temperature than CO2. It is also relatively easy to reduce soot.

In addition, breathing soot is horrible for people's health, so reducing it is a win-win.

So all people of good will - whatever your view on climate - should agree that reduction of soot is a worthy goal.

Common Ground Number 6: Abandon Cap and Trade

The proposed solution to global warming being pushed by the powers that be - cap and trade - is a scam. Specifically:

  • The economists who invented cap-and-trade say that it won't work for global warming
  • Many environmentalists say that carbon trading won't effectively reduce carbon emissions
  • Our bailout buddies over at Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and the other Wall Street behemoths are buying heavily into carbon trading (see this, this, this, this, this and this). As University of Maryland professor economics professor and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission Peter Morici writes:
    Obama must ensure that the banks use the trillions of dollars in federal bailout assistance to renegotiate mortgages and make new loans to worthy homebuyers and businesses. Obama must make certain that banks do not continue to squander federal largess by padding executive bonuses, acquiring other banks and pursuing new high-return, high-risk lines of businesses in merger activity, carbon trading and complex derivatives. Industry leaders like Citigroup have announced plans to move in those directions. Many of these bankers enjoyed influence in and contributed generously to the Obama campaign. Now it remains to be seen if a President Obama can stand up to these same bankers and persuade or compel them to act responsibly.
    In other words, the same companies that made billions off of derivatives and other scams and are now getting bailed out on your dime are going to make billions from carbon trading.
So if cap and trade is not the answer, what is?

Decentralization of power generation and storage. That would empower people and communities, produce less carbon, prevent nuclear disasters like Fukushima, reduce the dangers of peak oil, (and thus prevent future oil spills like we had in the Gulf), and have many other positive effects.

Conclusion: Let's Use This Window of Opportunity

The dramatic shift this week in scientist's forecasts for the sun's output gives us a window of opportunity to make sane policy choices.

Let's use it.

Both global warming activists and skeptics can agree on the 6 points of common ground discussed above. Whatever we may disagree on, we should all demand from our politicians that they adopt policies in line with these 6 points which are win-win for everyone ... and the environment.


  1. Firstly, the astronomers involved, including Dr. Hill, have publicly stated that they are not projecting a little ice age. They are projecting solar activity. Secondly, the Little Ice Age and a true ice age have entirely different forcing mechanisms.

    The Little Ice Age was produced by a combination of low solar activity and hugh volcanic activity which spewed smoke and ash into the atmosphere, blocking sunlight. Estimates of the temperature anomaly range from 0.3 to 1 degree Celcius,

    A true Ice Age is initiated by Milankovich Cycles, changes in the earth's obliquity, precession and the eccentricity of the planet's orbit. These cycles happen over periods of 31,000 and 100,000 years. Earth is currently IN an ice age, as parts of the planet continue to be dominated by ice. The conditions we are currently experiencing (a planet largely free from glaciers), in which our civilization developed, is referred to as an interglacial. It began approximately 12,000 years ago, and the current Milankovich Cycle will not end it for another twenty thousand years.

    The studies you reference have not even been through the peer-review process, and a number of respected solar physicists have stated their reservations about the research. But even if a Grand Minimum were to occur, it is unlikely make a significant dent in increasing temperatures over the 21st century. Feulner & Rahmstorf 2010 examined this exact scenario, concluding the likely temperature impact to be no more than -0.3 degrees C, against an anthropogenic temperature rise of 3.7-4.5 degrees C.

  2. I think you fundamentally misunderstand the issue.

    Scientists will gladly tell you that they are roughly 90% certain that global warming is linked to human activity. (You can read excerpts of the statements of the various scientific organizations here. That means that there's a 10% chance that there is some other explanation, including random noise. They will likewise tell you that there's something like a 90% chance that if we do nothing, the temperature will rise roughly 5 degrees.

    Now, if we do nothing, and it turns out that global warming is being caused by carbon dioxide, methane, etc. released primarily by human activity (90% probability), then the costs are trillions of dollars and potentially billions of lives. The cost of remediating global warming is estimated at a couple hundred billion. So, if we take steps against global warming and it turns out that the theory is wrong (10% probability), the cost is, let's say, $250B. But it turns out that there are benefits as well. For example, reducing coal burning directly reduces acid rain and damage to human lungs (you note this point by mentioning soot). Reducing auto emissions reduces the lung damage inflicted by NOx and fine particles. We could easily recoup the investment simply in reduced costs to human health.

    And depending on how one defines the precursors to global warming, the savings might be much bigger. Nuclear actually contributes heavily to global warming through mining and the energy intensive process of refining, shipping, handling, and storing nuclear fuel. The Daiichi nuclear plant cost Japan many billions of damage. Replacing nuclear power with wind and solar would reduce those costs.

    Germany has shown us that alternative energy is feasible. Their target is 80% by 2050. If Germany, with its northern climate can achieve 80% in 40 years, we ought to be able to reach that level sooner.

    While I always encourage talking with people with whom we simply disagree, there's no common ground between the overwhelming number of scientists who understand the climate change data and those who are in denial. We are facing the destruction of the planet due to the lies of the oil and coal industries. There's no sugarcoating it. The people who are leading this campaign of lies are not in disagreement with us. They are the enemies of every living being.

    One additional point: distributed generation makes sense for some applications (e.g. rural communities) but makes no sense as a national strategy. Parabolic collectors + boiler are already in operation are are near current market breakeven. By contrast, putting solar panels on every roof means lots of use of potentially toxic materials, relatively high costs, and many other downsides.

    I appreciate the amount of reading you do for your posts. I think this one exhibits some fundamental misunderstanding on how scientists think about climate change.


    "hundreds of nuclear power plants on Earth, which are now at increased risk from severe solar flare activity in 2012, are effectively huge, atomic "suicide bombs" against which humanity has absolutely no protection."

    ""The unavoidable fact is that if we wish to survive we must abandon nuclear power, along with the tradition of putting the pursuit dollars above the concern for all life on the planet. Meier proposed that we rapidly develop deep geothermal energy as a certain way to meet 100% of our energy needs."

  4. Common Ground Number Seven ~ Reduce or Eliminate the hot air coming from one former US Senator and Vice President!

    Let's not buy any more of this bullshit from Mr. Al "I invented the Internet" Gore and his carbon trading Ponzi Scheme.

    I mean the guy lives in a mansion that's 100,000 square foot! Talk about an opportunist and hypocrite of the nth degree..

  5. Thanks tor the valuable info.

    Cap and trade is a scam and if it became the chief method for reducing effluents it would make "the debates over"; Al Gore the worlds first carbon billionaire. ... Never let a good crisis go to waste. Or in this case, manufacture the evidence to allow Global Governance and increased fleecing of the commoners.

    See: Global Warming, Climate Change Or Something Else?

    And: One Year Ago we asked: When it comes to global warming, where’s the truth?


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