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View Diary: CO2 edges above 400 ppm (151 comments)

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  •  I don't think CO2 means anything at all (14+ / 0-)

    to most people. Me included.

    Scientists have to have this stuff translated in terms of economic disruption, insurance rates, and government mitigation spending. For myself, it also would be effective in terms of what animals and plants I won't have access to anymore, but that's just me.

    The whole problem is being washed away in a sea of basic data that is mind-numbingly complex, and ultimately doesn't express the human tragedy that is unfolding. [And I don't say any of this to be dismissive; I realize it is incredibly hard. Certainly the most important problem ever in the history of human civilization.]

    •  Scientists can't really do that (14+ / 0-)

      And to the extent that they can, they largely won't.  Here's why:

      Let's say you want to know how much it'll cost to relocate the people who are living in what will eventually be ocean.  To do that, you have to know the following:

      The atmospheric CO2 trendline.
      How atmospheric CO2 concentrations affect global temperature averages.
      How sensitive major ice reserves are to those temperature changes.
      How quickly ice melt results in sea level rise at the target location.
      Elevation data to determine flooding.
      Economic and political numbers to determine buyout/relocation costs.

      Every one of those steps probably involves different people. The research team studying the CO2:temperature relationship are probably not also experts on the mechanics of sea level rise, and are certainly not experts into the political costs of forced relocation.

      And, on top of that, if you followed all those steps above? You still get the wrong answer. For one thing, I skipped a bunch of steps. Global average temperature? Sure, that's good to know, but the temperature increases aren't uniform and so neither are their effects. Plus, there are all the steps we don't know about. Five years ago, that was compounding factors like permafrost biomass and methane clathrates. Five years from now, we'll look back with additional hindsight.

      And even that ignores the possibility of single large events introducing noise. Major volcanic eruptions may slow warming through atmospheric particulates. A theoretical catastrophic undercutting and collapse of the Pine Island Glacier would advance sea level rise dramatically (to the tune of a meter or so).

      Things are going to be bad. It is increasingly likely that things are going to be very bad. You want to know what that'll do to your insurance rates or property values? The first one will go up. The second will either go up (if your location is out of the line of fire) or approach zero (if it will be underwater). But specific numbers? Way outside any margin of error; they're just not possible.

      And no, I don't know what to do about the fact that large swathes of the public are thus content to ignore things entirely.

      "All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others." -Douglas Adams

      by Serpents Choice on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 11:22:54 AM PDT

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      •  Which, btw, explains a lot of resistance. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PatriciaVa, New Rule, WarrenS, drofx

        People are smart enough to know they stand a good chance of being hurt -- seriously hurt -- by efforts designed by people who really don't give a damn about them or their families.

        LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

        by dinotrac on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 01:51:01 PM PDT

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      •  Not really (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        WarrenS, drofx, mystique mist, Karl Rover

        The way to approach that is to consider infrastructure as related to population in the same way rising sea levels are related to rising temperatures which are related to greenhouse gas emissions which are related to population.

        Its basically Malthusian; only in pure mathematics can exponential curves go to infinity, in social systems they invariably break down.

        Rebuilding the 90 % of our urban infrastructure that is located near river mouths a few hundred miles inland so as to allow not just for what we will be facing by the end of the decade for which sea walls and levees may suffice, but the 6 degrees C /6 m sea level rise scenarios in which we get methane releases and other tipping points before 2050 will cost us our civilization and economy.

        That's how much it will cost, everything you have and then some, and if you have to ask you can't afford it.

        Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

        by rktect on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 02:19:54 PM PDT

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        •  The problem with this IS a marketing one (8+ / 0-)

          People in general, especially ones that aren't used to working with numbers outside the scope of their everyday lives, have a lot of difficulty with very big or very small numbers. That's one of the reasons we get into so much trouble with popular opinion on the debt and various aspects of government spending.

          That even applies when there aren't, strictly, numbers involved. If you say (and rightly, because it would) that a 6m sea level rise results in the collapse of modern civilization, including the economy, that won't get you play with people who don't already grok what's going on. There's just no context for what we even mean by a "collapse of civilization". And the media uses "economic collapse" like the words had no meaning; at the outside, a lot of people probably conjure up images of Greece in response to that phrase.

          And the other side of the same problem is that all of this is happening in the future. The attention span of the crowd is grim. The Sandy Hook shooting was in December, and already the effects of that tragedy on popular support for gun control are starting to recede. That's less than 6 months. Hardly anyone has five year plans anymore. It approaches impossible to get the public concerned about costs and disasters 10, 30, 50, 100 years away ... especially when we cannot quantify them, and when the projections keep changing (whether they change for the better or, usually, the worse).

          Of course, iterative revision of forecasts is how science works, but large segments of the population are distrustful of science and authority, because there's been 20 years of effort put into well-poisoning anti-intellectualism. But at the same time, most of those people still have a optimistic faith in future science, a belief that the problems of 50 or 100 years down the road will be solved by the inevitable "miracle breakthrough" just around the corner.

          I don't know how to fix it. I don't know how to make the popular dialog include a genuine concern for the future, and for the next generation. Fixing the wealth curve would help; people in difficult situations are by necessity concerned about now, not later. And doing something to make science education our national strength again.

          But, obviously, we're running out of time. Really, it's likely that we are already out of time to avoid a great deal of societal disruption. The worst part of it all may very well be that reactionary right-wing policies play best in the milieu of disaster -- even the ultimate global disaster, and even when it was in no small part of their own making.

          "All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others." -Douglas Adams

          by Serpents Choice on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 04:54:43 PM PDT

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          •  Lets run some numbers (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            drofx, mystique mist, METAL TREK, adrianrf

            Our GDP is about 17 Trillion a year. That's about what it would cost each year for 25 years to move our cities back from the rising sea levels we might see over the next 25 years and of course its going to continue to get worse for the next couple of centuries.

            That's based on rebuilding after a natural disaster like hurricane Katrina might run $150 billion. I'm figuring that moving a city and its suburbs back from the ocean over a period of 25 years might run 150 Billion a year for 25 years which is about the period of time most large urban renewal projects take.

            Multiply that by about 100 cities between Brownsville Texas and Portland Maine with populations over 100,000 and you get $15,000,000,000,000 (15 trillion dollars a year for 25 years or a total of $375,000,000,000,000 (three hundred and seventy five trillion dollars)

            I'm not taking into account the rising costs of energy, the decreasing availability of water to grow crops, the increasing cost of transporting them to market, the increased costs of trying to keep people alive as temperatures on the east coast rise 20 degrees F, and the disruption of all that to business.

            Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

            by rktect on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 05:54:40 PM PDT

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    •  This is why the approach is a good one. (17+ / 0-)

      Take a key number and make it totally recognizable, make it mean something.  350 means Earth Normal.  350 means we're okay.  Over 350 means storms and floods and droughts, Miami and Bangladesh under water, drowning polar bears.  Simplistic, maybe, but we have to do that with some key numbers and concepts.  Give people some commonly shared hooks to hang their understanding on.

      --------------------- “These are troubling times. Corporation are treated like people. People are treated like things. …And if we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now.” -- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

      by Fiona West on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 11:28:30 AM PDT

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      •  that's what is so striking.. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ginny in CO

        they set 350 as a tipping point, and we're already pushing 400?

        What will 500 and 600 look like..?

        This Rover crossed over.. Willie Nelson, written by Dorothy Fields

        by Karl Rover on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 08:22:51 PM PDT

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        •  Not sure if we have an image. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Karl Rover, left of center

          Or that you would want to know. The point is, we should have gone with Carter instead of the fossil fuel developers and investors.

          We will not see the restoration of earth any time soon, if ever. What we want to see is an all out effort to mitigate the damage, massively decrease the overpopulation* and the number of climate refugees - while finding the ones joining that unhappy club somewhere else to live.

          *Around 50% of the world's population was born in the last 28 years. One estimate that I use as a reasonable guess/goal  is that the earth may be able to sustain 2 billion at around a European standard of living if we get there no later than 2100. And cut the carbon emissions, etc.

          If you don't remember, one of the big reports that came out from major climate scientists cited overpopulation as the basic reason for the whole problem.

          I will refrain from commenting on the contributors to that stupidity.

          "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone. " Audrey Hepburn "A Beautiful Woman"

          by Ginny in CO on Fri Apr 26, 2013 at 01:48:06 AM PDT

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    •  How about this? (13+ / 0-)

      Your civilization will end and your children are going to die if we don't do something.  

      I think that talks of insurance rates and economic disruption   underestimate how bad it could get.  

      •  You may have put a finger on the message (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ice Blue, New Rule, Barton Funk

        we need to hear.

        The labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce. Clayton Act, Section 6.

        by Ignacio Magaloni on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 01:38:11 PM PDT

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      •  The problem is not what you say, but what people (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        New Rule, Calamity Jean


        Your civilization is going to end and your children will die so that my children can have nice cushy lives. Sucks to be you.

        LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

        by dinotrac on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 01:52:04 PM PDT

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      •  How about this (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'm basically pretty optimistic that it will be some decades yet before everything that walks or crawls, swims or flies will have finished dying miserably.

        Its in our nature that we all try the best we can to survive, so that buys us enough time to pull the plug on our modern western civilization with its overpopulation, pollution and war.

        There is a chance that if we could do that we might start getting serious about the problem before we kill off all the organisms that provide our oxygen.

        A few survivors might even be able to preserve a record of where we went wrong and a warning for our replacement killers.

        Should we choose to do so, there is a chance to try again in good Atlantean fashion, and if we don't it will only be a few millenia before Mother Nature cools off enough for the bacteria to begin mutating into multi celled lifeforms again.

        Live Free or Die --- Investigate, Incarcerate

        by rktect on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 02:35:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  not "mind-numbingly complex," really (4+ / 0-)

      the basic Keeling Curve is pretty easy to grasp. It goes up.

      An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

      by mightymouse on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 12:12:33 PM PDT

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    •  Okay. You're assignment is write diaries about (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Barton Funk

      the issues you think folks can best relate to.  :)

    •  Too many people hear global warming and think... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Barton Funk, mystique mist

      Great!  No more winters and we can have tropical weather without having to move!  I hear it everytime it snows or dips below freezing.

      What they fail to see is how we need winter and all seasons and that life on earth is a delicate balance.

      Every time it rains, my wife complains but she loves to look at the beautiful flowers of spring.  I tell her if it was not for the rain, there wouldn't be any flowers but she always responds that she wishes it wasn't raining "NOW".  Even during a drought people complain about rainy days.

      I think that is how most people see climate change.  They want warmer weather "NOW" and they will just deal with the consequences later.

      "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

      by Buckeye Nut Schell on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 04:20:21 PM PDT

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      •  Except the heat spikes of summer will kill crops. (2+ / 0-)

        And no, Canada won't make up for it.

        As a response to the original comment, imagine from now on for every two parts per million the CO2 level of the atmosphere goes up, you'll have to pay an additional 10 cents on everything in the grocery store.

        So 402 ppm will result in a 10 cent increase, 404, the price is now 20 cents higher, at 406, 30 cents, etc.

        Then we hit Peak Food.

        That's just a rough method of thinking about it, but Peak Food is inevitable some time in the not so distant future. Might even be as soon as mid century with the occasional natural respite in the pattern giving people false hope with the occasional lucky bounty.

        But then, maybe I'm just a spoil sport.

        Physics is bulls**t. Don't let them fool you. Fire IS magic.
        (Facts brought to you by the Party of the Future - the GOP)

        by Pescadero Bill on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 08:22:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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