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Fri Nov 29, 2019, 10:39 AM

Nature Commentary: Climate tipping points -- too risky to bet against?

The commentary I'll discuss in this post comes from the prominent scientific journal Nature: Nature 575, 592-595 (2019)

In the title of this post I have added a question mark that is not included in the commentary, which is not to say that I question the point, but since the commentary is written by European climate scientists and is written about or to inspire government policy, it is increasingly clear, from simple measurements of carbon dioxide concentrations in the planetary atmosphere, that the public does not take the risk even remotely seriously.

Even on the middle class and upper class left, where we nominally accept the science - one cannot "believe" in science, since scientific facts do not depend whether or not the majority of people are intellectually or emotionally equipped to "accept" them - we think that we can continue to live in our sybaritic ecstasy if only we embrace electric cars, and continuously cheer for the vast areas of the planet being destroyed to build industrial parks for wind "farms," while mining, often under appalling conditions using appalling processes, vast amounts of chemical elements for transmission lines, solar cells, and other useless junk misnamed "renewable energy."

So called "renewable energy" did not work, it is not working and it won't work to address climate change.

This is experimentally observed: World Energy Outlook, 2017, 2018, 2019. Data Tables of Primary Energy Sources. If one accepts science rather than "believes" in science, or particularly if one is trained in science, one understands that if one has a theory, and the experimental results conflict with the theory, the theory is wrong, and not the experiment.

The results of the multi-trillion dollar so called "renewable energy" experiment are in: The use of dangerous fossil fuels and the accumulation of dangerous fossil fuel wastes - only one of which is carbon dioxide - is now at the highest rate ever observed in human history, with the 1st derivative of such use and accumulation also being at the highest rate ever observed and the second derivative is uniformly positive.

From what I can tell the commentary is open sourced, and I will only excerpt a few brief passages, before making some remarks on the public perception of the all important topic of risk.

From the first few paragraphs:

Politicians, economists and even some natural scientists have tended to assume that tipping points1 in the Earth system — such as the loss of the Amazon rainforest or the West Antarctic ice sheet — are of low probability and little understood. Yet evidence is mounting that these events could be more likely than was thought, have high impacts and are interconnected across different biophysical systems, potentially committing the world to long-term irreversible changes.

Here we summarize evidence on the threat of exceeding tipping points, identify knowledge gaps and suggest how these should be plugged. We explore the effects of such large-scale changes, how quickly they might unfold and whether we still have any control over them.

In our view, the consideration of tipping points helps to define that we are in a climate emergency and strengthens this year’s chorus of calls for urgent climate action — from schoolchildren to scientists, cities and countries.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) introduced the idea of tipping points two decades ago. At that time, these ‘large-scale discontinuities’ in the climate system were considered likely only if global warming exceeded 5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Information summarized in the two most recent IPCC Special Reports (published in 2018 and in September this year)2,3 suggests that tipping points could be exceeded even between 1 and 2 °C of warming (see ‘Too close for comfort’).

The commentary begins with the word "Politicians." I note that two of the authors come from countries whose governments have endorsed and support the offshore drilling of dangerous fossil fuels, Denmark and Great Britain, and another comes from a country that has absurd and extremely dangerous energy policies, Germany.

A few other excerpts:

...Research in the past decade has shown that the Amundsen Sea embayment of West Antarctica might have passed a tipping point3: the ‘grounding line’ where ice, ocean and bedrock meet is retreating irreversibly. A model study shows5 that when this sector collapses, it could destabilize the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet like toppling dominoes — leading to about 3 metres of sea-level rise on a timescale of centuries to millennia. Palaeo-evidence shows that such widespread collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet has occurred repeatedly in the past...

I referred to some of this palaeo-evidence elsewhere in this space:

The amplitude and origin of sea-level variability during the Pliocene epoch

...The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an accelerating rate3. It could add a further 7 m to sea level over thousands of years if it passes a particular threshold. Beyond that, as the elevation of the ice sheet lowers, it melts further, exposing the surface to ever-warmer air. Models suggest that the Greenland ice sheet could be doomed at 1.5 °C of warming3, which could happen as soon as 2030.

Thus, we might already have committed future generations to living with sea-level rises of around 10 m over thousands of years3. But that timescale is still under our control. The rate of melting depends on the magnitude of warming above the tipping point. At 1.5 °C, it could take 10,000 years to unfold3; above 2 °C it could take less than 1,000 years6...

Future generations...as if we gave a shit.

...Ocean heatwaves have led to mass coral bleaching and to the loss of half of the shallow-water corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. A staggering 99% of tropical corals are projected2 to be lost if global average temperature rises by 2 °C, owing to interactions between warming, ocean acidification and pollution. This would represent a profound loss of marine biodiversity and human livelihoods.

As well as undermining our life-support system, biosphere tipping points can trigger abrupt carbon release back to the atmosphere. This can amplify climate change and reduce remaining emission budgets...

In 30 years of personal research, I have convinced myself that the only viable solution to address climate change is nuclear energy. It is the only technology with a high enough energy to matter density to slow the first derivative, change the sign of the second derivative, and perhaps create a negative first derivative for the presence of at least one dangerous fossil fuel waste, carbon dioxide, although the latter change represents a vast engineering problem that cheap carny barkers like, say, Elon Musk, engaged in marketing ersatz "solutions," are far too ignorant to comprehend.

Smoke another joint Elon...

The world now has well over 17,000 reactor years of commercial nuclear operations.

There have been three major failures, two of which involved the release of volatile radioactive components to the environment. I hear about them all the time, generally from people with a clear and obvious inability to think straight, and they are all more famous than the 7 million people who die each year. They are, chant after me: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

A fourth putative "disaster" is the Hanford nuclear weapons plant in Washington State, to which I am often directed by stupid people to consider - even though I have clearly considered this plant on a far deeper level than most of these dumbbells who raise the point with me - my favorite and most memorable such occasion being an ignoramus who told me that I should be OK with 7 million air pollution deaths each year because a tunnel collapsed on the Hanford site with "radioactive materials" in it.

Thank God DU has an ignore function. The anger such ignorance raises for me is not good for my health.

The causes of all three of the major nuclear reactor failures can be, in a straight forward way, engineered away, and all technology is subject to failure, and any technology involving the use of high energy is subject to failure involving a loss of life. The issue is whether, on balance, a technology saves more lives than it ends.

For many years, I heard that the "solution" to the variability of so called "renewable energy" was transmission lines, made of copper sheathed in polymeric species suspended from steel towers. Now California, which bought heavily into the "renewable energy will save us" theory, which has failed to address climate change, has experienced vast destructive fires from an extensive network of, um, transmission lines.

Does this issue get as much coverage, or any coverage, comparable to Fukushima, the latter being an issue that any man or woman on the street is aware?

Three major failures of nuclear reactors do not impress me. The experimental probability of a major failure is observed to be 3 failures/17,000 reactor years = 0.02%. The experimental probability of a reactor failure resulting in the release of significant quantities of radiation is 2/17,000 = 0.01%. Again, these failures show us a path to engineer away their risks. I have made myself familiar with almost all of them.

Another widely employed engineering product is aircraft. It is well understood by simple appeal to deaths/passenger km (or mile) that flying is far safer than driving a car, or even riding a bicycle where cars exist. Nevertheless, deaths from aircraft accidents greatly exceed deaths from nuclear reactor failures and what we do when such deaths occur - as detailed in the wonderful engineering show on the Smithsonian Channel, "Air Disasters" - is to engineer away the risks. We do not as a culture, declare air travel too dangerous. But the real risk of air travel is contained in the fact that it is powered using dangerous fossil fuels., the waste of which is proving intractable.

The overwhelming share of posts I make on this political website refer to the primary scientific literature, and of these, the overwhelming share is devoted to issues in climate change, either the reality of climate change or to possible engineering processes to address it, or, are directed at debunking, with appeal to scientific research and scientifically collected data, the incredible and deadly popular enthusiasm for proposals that have not worked, are not working, and will not work to address the extreme risk of irreversibly destroying the entire planetary biosphere, or at least rendering it unrecognizable to cognizant species.

Does the general public understand this risk? I think not at all. All day yesterday and most of the night, I walked through one of the world's largest and most prominent cities, lit up with electronic signs selling stuff, some of them as high as 50 meters. No where was there any reference to climate change, although there were many ads encouraging people to buy plastic stuff, metal stuff, or to take aircraft to remote regions of the planet for fun.

Are the risks of climate tipping points to risky to allow to continue? The answer from the world seems to be "stuff it."

I hope you're enjoying the Thanksgiving weekend.

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Reply Nature Commentary: Climate tipping points -- too risky to bet against? (Original post)
NNadir Nov 2019 OP
eppur_se_muova Nov 2019 #1
NNadir Nov 2019 #2

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Fri Nov 29, 2019, 04:56 PM

1. To split a tiny hair -- "the real risk" of air travel you refer to is the risk to the *public* ...

... /planet at large; the more intensely perceived (slight, but also real) risk is the danger of a crash, which scares the bejeezus out of people because it affects them directly and immediately, so they know damned well to worry about it. The less immediate, less proximate risks are protected by an SEP field.


"Somebody Else's Problem", an effectively-magical field that obscures things you think aren't relevant to you, such that even though you see them (or hear them or read them) you don't actually *notice*, and quickly forget.

More generally, the phenomenon that causes people to ignore issues that they know about but think of as either not something they can do anything about, or not personally relevant to them right now. This can result in something that's very important to a group of people being ignored by every individual member of that group.

Popularized by Douglas Adams in the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" series, in which Ford Prefect describes it as:

"An SEP is something we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem.... The brain just edits it out, it's like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won't see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye."

In that series, a strange object can be effectively hidden from view while out in plain sight, by an "SEP field", which "relies on people's natural predisposition not to see anything they don't want to, weren't expecting, or can't explain."

It's just been sitting there all day, hundreds of people have walked by, and nobody said anything or even turned to look! It's like it's got an SEP field around it.

#sep field#psychology#douglas adams#hitchikers' guide#paying attention


Emphasis added.

The late Douglas Adams knew a thing or two about human nature. Mostly correct, sadly.

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Response to eppur_se_muova (Reply #1)

Fri Nov 29, 2019, 08:04 PM

2. I understand entirely what you are saying, but perceived risk is not the same as real risk.

It it were, climate change would not be a problem at all.

I believe that if one looked into it, the death toll from aircraft generated air pollution would greatly exceed the death toll from aircraft accidents.

The same is assuredly true of the automobile.

I agree though that Douglas Adams had a very sharp mind and could see human nature clearly.

I know many people who are afraid of flying, but less afraid of driving, which is just plain silly.

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