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The world's weather is going haywire
July 3, 2003 4:38 AM   Subscribe

The world's weather is going haywire. So says the World Meteorological Organisation. "The unstable world of climate change has long been a prediction. Now, the WMO says, it is a reality." Where is the Kyoto Protocol when you need it?
posted by jonvaughan (53 comments total)

 
Kyoto Protocol? The current White House will not even admit that

"Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment"
posted by magullo at 5:05 AM on July 3, 2003


From this link...

Of the Democrats now running, only Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has stated, "the US must ratify the Kyoto Protocol.".

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean has sided most closely with the Bush administration, endorsing the National Governors Association policy, which opposed the Kyoto Protocol unless it included mandatory emissions cuts for developing countries. The policy recommended that the United States "not sign or ratify any agreement that would result in serious harm to the U.S. economy."
posted by insomnia_lj at 5:52 AM on July 3, 2003


Link to the W.M.O.

Someone please put me straight on Koyoto. Was there ever any chance that it would pass Congress, even with the aggressive partisanship of President Gore? Am I correct in assuming it would have had to be passed by Congress to become law? Just tell me I'm too cynical.
posted by grahamwell at 6:01 AM on July 3, 2003


global warming? in america we have air conditioning ... it the rest of the world would ever get its sh*t together and quit hugging trees they'd be ok too.
posted by specialk420 at 6:02 AM on July 3, 2003


Where is the Kyoto Protocol when you need it?

The French quietly killed it.
posted by gd779 at 6:05 AM on July 3, 2003


All I know is it's been raining like a bitch in the D.C. area since April... as in, a friggin' crapload of rain. More dadburn rain than I've ever seen, EVER. Approx. 4-6 rainy days a week... including every weekend (of course). It really has been insane.
posted by Witty at 6:09 AM on July 3, 2003


gd779

"Tech Central Station is supported by sponsoring corporations that share our faith in technology and its ability to improve modern life. Smart application of technology – combined with pro free market, science-based public policy – has the ability to help us solve many of the world’s problems, and so we are grateful to ExxonMobil, AT&T, Microsoft, and General Motors Corporation for their support. All of these corporations are industry leaders that have made great strides in using technology for our betterment, and we are proud to have them as sponsors . However, the opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of the writers and not necessarily of any corporation or other organization."


Nice try, pal.
posted by magullo at 6:25 AM on July 3, 2003


Where is the Kyoto Protocol when you need it?

The French quietly killed it.
posted by gd779 at 6:05 AM PST on July 3


When you read an economic article with the words "Old Europe" in it, as well "Who did it? France, of course" it ceases to be unbiased. It becomes Fox News.

George W. Bush retired the Kyoto treaty.

So, Where is the Kyoto Protocol when you need it?

My guess is Howard Dean's back pocket.
posted by the fire you left me at 6:31 AM on July 3, 2003


gd779: that's ridiculous, the French and the Scandinavians refused to go with the Carbon sink fraud, to placate the irresponsible US/Japanese stance, and it's their fault that Kyoto went down? That's a specious argument.
posted by talos at 6:32 AM on July 3, 2003


Very interesting links, thanks to you guys. I'll add one more link to understanding Photosynthesis (thanks to Talos for pointing out the carbon sink "fraud"). Btw, for the casual reader, Photosynthesis is the way your plants live so if you have even a small garden you may want to look at that link.
posted by elpapacito at 6:47 AM on July 3, 2003


Climate change is real. 35 Celsius in Geneva cannot be normal.
posted by 111 at 6:59 AM on July 3, 2003


"Am I correct in assuming it [ Kyoto ] would have had to be passed by Congress to become law? Just tell me I'm too cynical."
posted by grahamwell at 6:01 AM PST on July 3

grahamwell - You're not being cynical but, rather, simply factual. Most Republicans are dug into the position that - regardless of what they believe concerning Global Climate Change - Kyoto will be bad for business. This is taken as Gospel truth, as a priori fact. So Kyoto currently doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of passing Congressional muster.

Meanwhile, the Earth's climate system - a hellishly complex nonlinear equation - may be entering into the sort of 'chaotic' state which precedes a phase shift to a new equilibrium state. To rephrase, in plain English - the Earth's climate may be entering the period of destabilization which precedes a jump to a different world climate with different temperatures, different weather patterns, and so on. If this happened slowly enough human civilization would be able to cope (with some difficulty) if not, well...........
posted by troutfishing at 7:05 AM on July 3, 2003


Thanks trout. My cynicism leads me from the two premises above to the conclusion that Kyoto was negotiated in bad faith by the Clinton administration who knew it would never be passed - it was intended as a sort of booby trap to make the Republican congress look bad under a Gore presidency. Of course that didn't quite work out.

The real losers from unstable climate change are likely to be the British who depend on the gulf stream to make our island habitable. Winners - well, could the weather in the Gulf get any worse?
posted by grahamwell at 7:11 AM on July 3, 2003


Global warming. Ha! Bring it on. (Sorry, this is my answer to everything today.)
What really scares me is the Giant chunks of polar ice breaking off. That's so real. The president says we shouldn't do anything that might hurt the economy, but that's so awfully short-sighted a stance, and it probably wouldn't anyway. Would you rent an apartment in a burning building and ask you kids to move in?

Witty, same here, rainiest spring by far in my experience in Japan (8 yrs), so the transition into rainy season was hardly noticeable. Raining hard in kyoto right now.
(Controllable downtown Java webcam here. Click animated cam at lower right to take control. Oh, great, the pervs are using it to peek in windows again.)
posted by planetkyoto at 7:11 AM on July 3, 2003


I am surprised that for so many intelligent posters out there it has not occurred that climate changes have been the histopry of the planet, and to link global warming with Kyoto may be misleading, not that Kyoto might not be a good thing. There has alsways been massive shifts in climate. The age we call The Ice Age did not come about through an American president not signing on to some treaty.
posted by Postroad at 7:19 AM on July 3, 2003


The US refusal to ratify Kyoto was not a product of Republican opposition. After Clinton signed it, the US senate voted 95 to 0 urging the president not to submit the treaty to the Senate as written. That kind of unanimity on a major policy issue was unprecedented, and shows that Kyoto never had a chance of passing.

Clinton had a habit of signing treaties that he knew would never pass the Senate (even a Democrat controlled one) like the military tribunal treaty. These actions made his administration popular in the 'world community' in the short run, but exposed the US to ridicule when the whoever was the next president had to deal with the realities of the senate. Think of it as a form of diplomatic deficit spending ...
posted by Jos Bleau at 7:19 AM on July 3, 2003


If any of you would just read the Miracles You Will See In The Next Fifty Years thread above, you'd realize that all of these weather problems can be solved by simply spreading oil over the ocean and setting it on fire.
posted by vraxoin at 7:23 AM on July 3, 2003


What really scares me is the Giant chunks of polar ice breaking off.

More ice melt.
posted by the fire you left me at 7:36 AM on July 3, 2003


like the military tribunal treaty

(Repeatedly bangs head againts desk)
posted by magullo at 8:11 AM on July 3, 2003


I am surprised that for so many intelligent posters out there it has not occurred that climate changes have been the histopry of the planet

I am surprised that so many live in denial of the fact that we have royally screwed up this planet. I doubt very much that the climate changes seen during the ice age took place over the same time frame that the current climate changes are taking place.

We elect people to look after our interests and the interests of our children, instead they are only looking out for the interests of big business.
posted by twistedonion at 8:14 AM on July 3, 2003


There has alsways been massive shifts in climate.

Postroad, you crack me up. I guess you understand the world's meteorology better than the World Meteorological Organization. I can just see you a few years from now, standing around calmly as simultaneous earthquakes, volcano eruptions and acid-hailstorms send everybody else running in a panic:

"Where are you going? This is nothing new! How do you think the continents were formed???"
posted by soyjoy at 8:40 AM on July 3, 2003


"Kyoto will be bad for business"

Hah! And global climate change won't be bad for business? When the breadbasket of America becomes too hot to grow wheat and corn, it's not going to have an economic impact? When the coastal cities go beneath the rising tide, it's not going to have an economic impact? When the Ogallala aquifer dries up, it's not going to have an economic impact?

Feh.

Kyoto may be bullshit and all, but I know one thing for damn certain: if the global climate changes much at all, we're fucked. I'd rather we tried to do the right thing and failed, than do nothing and fail.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:01 AM on July 3, 2003


"better than the World Meteorological Organization"? Well, poastroad could hardly do worse than them. soyjoy, do you really think that the people who can't tell you what the weather will be like to better than a +/- 5 degrees Celsius margin next week, can tell you what the weather will be like to within a fraction of a degree 100 years from now? Of course, lots of dire predictions might get the members of the WMO more funding and more prestige and better advance thier existing political beliefs, but they wouldn't let that influence them now, would they?

For a look at climate change in one spot, look here, and for more of Europe, look here.

You'll see that climate is always changing, and that times in the relatively recent past have been much warmer than now.
posted by Jos Bleau at 9:05 AM on July 3, 2003


I guess you understand the world's meteorology better than the World Meteorological Organization

According to the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, more than 17,100 basic and applied American scientists have signed a petition decrying the theory of global warming and urging Congress to reject Kyoto. The qualifications of the signers can be evaluated here.

talos:

Please tell me that you're kidding. To combat the carbon sink "fraud", you link to the volunteer-written People's Review of Nepal, which argues that: "They fiercely using sinks as a remedy for a absorbing CO2 has not scientific grounds and carry a lot of damaging impact on environment as economic interests for money making are more involved than environmental concerns." No support for that assertion is provided.

Then you link to the much more respectable BBC, which points out that "Will Steffen, of Sweden's Royal Academy of Sciences, says the problem of sink saturation was barely known even a couple of years ago, when the forests were assigned an important role under the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement on tackling climate change".

So the validity of Carbon Sinks, while relevant to the discussion going forward, was apparently irrelevant to the political maneuvers behind the death of the Kyoto treaty, because the science wasn't yet known.

*sigh* I admit that I'm no climatologist, and that I mainly threw out that argument about the French so as to see if it could or would be refuted. But, man, was I disappointed by critical thinking skills of a number of people in this thread.
posted by gd779 at 9:05 AM on July 3, 2003


soyjoy: The WMO doesn't speak for everyone. Furthermore, you (and others on this thread) imply that there's a consensus where none exists.

On preview: What gd779 said.
posted by trharlan at 9:11 AM on July 3, 2003


All I know is it's been raining like a bitch in the D.C. area since April... as in, a friggin' crapload of rain. More dadburn rain than I've ever seen, EVER. Approx. 4-6 rainy days a week... including every weekend (of course). It really has been insane.

Indeed. This morning I heard on the radio that, for the first time in history, it's gonna start raining men.
posted by Epenthesis at 9:29 AM on July 3, 2003


It's entirely possible that Postroad is right and the earth has undergone precipitious changes in global climate that were, by the geological scale, virtually instantaneous. We don't know how quickly the earth reverses its magnetic poles, for instance, but we do have a good bet that each time it does it temporarily ruins our magnetosphere and lets terrestrial species get bombarded with radiation. What effect that has on climate -- who knows? But it may be extremely rapid.

But the point is that such episodes routinely decimate the earth's species. In other words, just to say something is "normal" in geologic terms isn't to say it wouldn't cause a staggering degree of human misery, if not extinction.

And there's no way to know if the planet wasn't already due for some sort of cataclysmic change anyway. Temperatures have been steadily rising since the "little ice age" of the 1400's anyway. Who's to say that, on its own, a rise in temperatures wouldn't have melted the polar ice caps and caused the ocean to release its store of CO2?

The history of the planet is one of cataclysm, with perilous results for species. Life on this planet has been threatened with utter extinction many times; our own species is so vastly improbable as to stagger the mind. I'd sign the Kyoto Protocol, I suppose, but to say that the earth would be stable and human-friendly but for Vile Industrialists is just as silly as a children's book.
posted by argybarg at 9:32 AM on July 3, 2003


Oh, and I suppose that I should credit Dean Esmay for my links on this subject.
posted by gd779 at 9:34 AM on July 3, 2003


Of course, lots of dire predictions might get the members of the WMO more funding and more prestige and better advance thier existing political beliefs, but they wouldn't let that influence them now, would they?

Oh, of course. The world's meteorologists are the ones who have a conflict of interest in evaluating climate change, not our big-biz-funded government. My apologies.
posted by soyjoy at 9:48 AM on July 3, 2003


"You'll see that climate is always changing, and that times in the relatively recent past have been much warmer than now."
posted by Jos Bleau at 9:05 AM PST on July 3

Jos Bleau - While it's correct to say that, it does not follow that humans are therefore incapable of causing the Earth's climate to change. Speaking of natural climate shifts, the important story underlying the WMO's concern is the fact that it has been recently shown that the Earth's climate is inherently unstable. The current fear is that human pressure could set off such massive, rapid shifts (with onsets as fast as a year or two) as have been identified in the earth's recent past.

aargybarg - Actually the prevailing opinion among scientists in relevant fields (such as Paleoclimatologists) is that without the increase in atmospheric CO2 attributed to human activity, the Earth would be gradually settlng into a new Ice Age.

gd779 - Your cranky little "Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine" does no research which is relevant to Climate Change or weather.

In fact, it bills itself as the only institution currently doing research on fallout shelters, and it makes a lot of money selling a Christian home schooling curricula which uses a 1913 encyclopedia as a primary source text . This is an "ad-insititutem" attack, yes, but.....

The petition you cite has been roundly condemned by scientists in relevant fields.
posted by troutfishing at 9:51 AM on July 3, 2003


Jos Bleau:
do you really think that the people who can't tell you what the weather will be like to better than a +/- 5 degrees Celsius margin next week, can tell you what the weather will be like to within a fraction of a degree 100 years from now?


You might want to look up the difference between weather and climate.
posted by electro at 10:11 AM on July 3, 2003


Am I correct in assuming it would have had to be passed by Congress to become law?

Yup. It would have to have been ratified by the Senate -- and to do that, it would have to get past one Jesse Helms.

Was there ever any chance that it would pass Congress, even with the aggressive partisanship of President Gore?

No chance whatsoever. Even if Helms had let it through to a vote, it was DOA.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:15 AM on July 3, 2003


Me, I don't see Kyoto as a big loss because it was always going to be useless in the long run. It didn't address emissions from third-world countries, including China and India.

The predictable consequence of this is that lots of low-value-added carbon-producing industry, like steel production, would just relocate there and keep pumping out carbon, likely in higher amounts if they're freed of most other environmental regulations.

Beyond that, it always struck me as pointlessly short-sighted. What's the point of a plan that doesn't address the future when China and India are driving around a billion and a half cars and running a billion air conditioners? While I'd like some plan to deal with greenhouse emissions as much as the next guy, the only ones that will work will be the (much, much harder) ones that deal with growing economies and increasingly widespread affluence, that talk about how we get from *here* to a *there* with China and India and Indonesia and Brazil and Nigeria and Mexico rich like the US now and Europe and North America 4--10X richer than now, but with long-term sustainable emissions (or some other way to deal with the problem).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:24 AM on July 3, 2003


ROU_Xenophobe: maybe, just maybe, your assertions are off-base. Apparently, China has grown economically while shrinking its carbon emissions. In the meantime, the US, the largest carbon polluter in the world, not only increased its emissions, but is also bent on pushing in the developing world even more fossil fuel-based carbon-emitting energy projects, instead assisting the local push to curve emissions.

Then again, this policy might be short-sighted, but not entirely pointless for some.
posted by magullo at 10:57 AM on July 3, 2003


ROU_Xenophobe: maybe, just maybe, your assertions are off-base.

Maybe so; that would make me happy.

Economic statistics from China are always problematic, since they're produced by the state and seem to have more relationship with ideological goals than with reality. And it's probably pretty easy to reduce emissions if you're moving from very low tech to any degree of monitoring and control.

In any case, the article you linked to only talks about years like 2010, and that's still exceedingly short-term AFAIC. What do we do about 2050 and 2100 and 2200? How do we find a map to a world with an average per-capita consumption of energy that's, say, twice as high as American levels now?

Kyoto never dealt with hard issues. It always struck me as being just a symbolic gesture that wouldn't really fix much. Or from a line of thinking that goes something like this: We've got to do something, and this is something, ergo we must do it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:30 AM on July 3, 2003


magullo: not only has China lowered its emissions, but they have avoided the deadly SARS virus!
posted by trharlan at 12:03 PM on July 3, 2003


Of the Democrats now running, only Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has stated, "the US must ratify the Kyoto Protocol.".
The devil of course is in the details. While Clinton was pushing Kyoto, the scuttlebut from the international press was that the Clinton administration was doing its best to make Kyoto into little more that a publicity oportunity, a hollow treaty incapable of encouraging real change.

Incidentally, most of the push in Europe comes from countries who project that combining conservation and renewable energy resources will make them even more competitive.

The proposal I would like to see made is for the government to do with conservation what it did with aerospace and engineering in the 50s and 60s and the internet in the 70s and 80s. The federal government is one of the largest consumers in the world. By throwing its weight into the development of improved energy production and conservation technologies it could jumpstart the sluggish market for those technologies.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:04 PM on July 3, 2003


kirkjobsluder: if neutrons didn't make baby Jesus cry, the feds could just shift towards an energy system like France's and build* lots of big honkin' reactors, and shift to breeders in the future. Given France's example, it's probably more of a PR problem and a willingness-to-tell-people-to-get-bent problem than anything else.

Build enough of the damn things, and you can start running electric cars, with power-supply rails buried in the roads to get around battery-life problems.

*or allow to be built, or make it harder to prevent being built, etc.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:18 PM on July 3, 2003


Cheer up!
posted by samelborp at 12:26 PM on July 3, 2003


ROU_Xenophobe - I feel your argument - that the Kyoto Accords do not address developing world greenhouse gas emissions - is deeply disengenuous. You may not intend it as such, but that argument has been cleverly framed to confuse the public: "equity" - oh yes. Equity is a good thing. And (so the argument goes) there's no equity in the Kyoto Accords.

Well where was the equity in colonialism? slavery? - precious little equity there and, leaving those issues aside, the developing world has every right to industrialize, just as the rich nations of the world once did, and the developing world will continue to industrialize regardless of the dictates of the Kyoto Accords.

Politicians in countries such as in China and India, and indeed everywhere, are under fantastic pressure to do so. And who is the developed world to tell them to stop? After all, The US, Europe and Japan, and so on - the developed world - built it's rich economies through burning wood, then coal, and then oil - while doing a lot of deforestation in the process. The developed world was responsible for the major "carbon pulse" given off by the first industrial revolution.

We've made our fortunes. Who are we to tell the world's poor that they cannot do the same?

Kyoto could not possibly stop the developing world from industrializing (and releasing vast amounts of CO2 in the process) any more than the US government could, short of declaring world on much of the world peoples (China, India, etc.). It was acknowledged years ago that trying to shape ther Kyoto Accords to control greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world was a "nonstarter". The developing world would never sign on to such an argeement.

Consequently, the only realistic way to prevent this next, even greater "carbon pulse" is for the developed world to help the poor developing nations build their economies with energy and resource efficient technologies. It's in our own best interest.
posted by troutfishing at 1:10 PM on July 3, 2003


In case I haven't made this clear enough before now, I'm not actually endorsing anything I say in this thread. However...

troutfishing:

First of all, the credibility of global warming is harmed not by the proclamations of a single think tank - however credible or crazy - but by the jointly-held opinion of 17,000 scientists that global warming is poorly understood or even false, and that Kyoto was a bad idea.

Even so - it's true that the people behind the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine are a little crazy, but it's also true that they're a little brilliant. The Institute's founder, Dr. Arthur Robinson, started his career as an assistant professor of chemistry at UC-San Diego, where he was mentored by and partners with Dr. Linus Pauling, the only man in history two win two separate Nobel awards. When the partnership came to an end (apparently the result of extreme political and personal differences between the two academics) Dr. Robinson started the Institute. Other board members include: Dr. R. Bruce Merrifield, former professor at Rockefeller University in New York and winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Dr. Martin Kamen, professor of chemistry at the University of California-San Diego, best known for his 1939 discovery of artificial radiocarbon, which is used as a "tracer" to study various complex biological processes; Dr. Fred Westall, former director of laboratory work at the Salk Institute, and others. His petition on global warming was endorsed and promoted by Dr. Frederick Seitz, former president of the National Academy of Sciences.

The dishonesty (which requires, in return, more dishonesty, thus breeding ideologues from those incapable of separating rhetoric from reality) in this thread and in much of the larger "environmental" debate, is tiring for me. I think I'll put my energy elsewhere.
posted by gd779 at 2:05 PM on July 3, 2003


People that believe in global warming hate freedom.
posted by drstrangelove at 3:15 PM on July 3, 2003


gd779: About that petition....
The excerpt from "Trust us we're experts" states the following about Dr. Robinson:
""Robinson is hardly a reliable source," observes journalist Ross Gelbspan. "As late as 1994 he declared that ozone depletion is a 'hoax'-a position akin to defending the flat-earth theory. In his newsletter, he told readers it was safe to drink water irradiated by the Chernobyl nuclear plant, and he marketed a home-schooling kit for 'parents concerned about socialism in the public schools.'""

I'm sorry if i wasn't clear as to why the carbon sink idea is a fraud: it's not that increasing the forest areas of the world isn't a good idea. This FERN article summarizes the main issues. As for the Nepalese article: I was googling for a third world based organization to show that it isn't just cranky Europeans who think the carbon sink ideas are preposterous.
The BBC article quotes professor Steffen saying that "was barely known even a couple of years ago, when the forests were assigned an important role under the Kyoto Protocol". The article is from 1999 which means that Dr.Steffen is referring to 1997. The year when the carbon sink proposal was made by the Clinton administration was 2000. I will refrain from commenting on the critical thinking (counting?) skills of some of the participants in this discussion.

trharlan: The link you posted was against the IPCC a UN supported panel (with arguably the best scientists in the world in it). The WMO is the world meteorological association, a tottaly different animal. It is the professional assosiacion of meteorologists and meteorological services around the world.
posted by talos at 4:16 PM on July 3, 2003


talos:

First of all, I apologize for my earlier... crankiness. My tone wasn't called for.

Eh. You're right, didn't see the date on that BBC piece.
posted by gd779 at 5:01 PM on July 3, 2003


... by the jointly-held opinion of 17,000 scientists that global warming is poorly understood or even false...

Regarding the "crazy but brilliant" categorization of the OISM, take note that Dr. Linus Pauling's theories on Vitamin C are disproven. The man took a positive personal experience and extrapolated crazy and unfounded theories from it. Absurd.

Pauling was a brilliant chemist but a lousy health practitioner... just as, I'm sure, most of the 17000 you keep harping on about are brilliant whatevers, but lousy climatologists.

Find me hundreds of climatologists who say Kyoto is a fraud, and I'll start to question it.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:04 PM on July 3, 2003


gd779: I get passionate about this thing, really, because the issue isn't just global warming but the creation of public mistrust towards science through PR and the advertisment of minority opinion in the sciences. It's like someone insisting that there is no consensus in cosmology and that 1435 "scientists" have signed a petition in favour of the Steady State theory. Science should affect public discourse, where relevant, not be affected by it.
posted by talos at 5:12 PM on July 3, 2003


I feel your argument - that the Kyoto Accords do not address developing world greenhouse gas emissions - is deeply disengenuous. You may not intend it as such, but that argument has been cleverly framed to confuse the public: "equity" - oh yes.

It would be disingenuous if I had ever once used the word "equity" or made use of any related concept.

I don't think Kyoto is inequitable because it didn't deal with emerging and future economies. I don't think it's inequitable at all.

I think Kyoto is an empty gesture because it doesn't deal with emerging and future economies. It's not inequitable as far as I care, it merely fails to address the problem.

I think that if it were enacted, you'd likely see steel production shifting from more energy-efficient processes in the US and Sweden and Japan to plants in China and India that are less energy efficient *and* get that energy from more polluting generators to boot.

It's not an equity issue to me -- I don't mind if the steel industries in the west sink; they've been sucking on the public teat long enough as it is. And as far as I care, people in India and China and Mexico can have good jobs too.

But what's the fucking point of creating incentives to shift production in ways that actually increase the amounts of greenhouse gases emitted, in the name of reducing them? What's the point of creating incentives to increase the amount of CO2 emitted to produce a ton of steel? Do people honestly believe that the Sinister Voices of Global Capitalism aren't going to go where they can produce and skirt the treaty?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:18 PM on July 3, 2003


"I think that if it were enacted, you'd likely see steel production shifting from more energy-efficient processes in the US and Sweden and Japan to plants in China and India that are less energy efficient *and* get that energy from more polluting generators to boot."...


First of all, the reduction of greenhouse gasses tends to translate fairly directly into energy savings, so manufacturing costs can also go down. Currently, the cost of electricity generated from wind power has dropped to within a fraction of the price of energy generated from the burning of coal. Regardless of this fact, labour costs are still less in the developing world and so manufacturers will tend to move their facilities to where labour is cheaper.

A lot of steel production has already moved from the developed world. You are right in suggesting that Kyoto could accelerate this trend, but there is a much larger issue at play here:

If we don't soon get a dialogue going about the world's destabilizing climate, we're screwed. The Kyoto Accords amount to the initiation of that dialogue and also, crucially, the first binding world legal agreement on greenhouse gas emissions.

For this reason, above all, Kyoto is not an empty gesture.

But if you can think of a better approach to the problem, please let me know.
posted by troutfishing at 9:03 PM on July 3, 2003


I get passionate about this thing, really, because the issue isn't just global warming but the creation of public mistrust towards science through PR and the advertisment of minority opinion in the sciences. It's like someone insisting that there is no consensus in cosmology and that 1435 "scientists" have signed a petition in favor of the Steady State theory. Science should affect public discourse, where relevant, not be affected by it.

I quote the above, talos, because it bears repeating. In principle, I totally agree.

Sadly, however, it's somewhat impractical. After all, isn't it true that scientists often seek larger grants by inflating the importance of their research? Aren't they more likely to get money if they propose climate models that get attention - that threaten the earth, that make headlines, that make people concerned? So science cannot be trusted to simply affect the public discourse, because science is not unbiased.
posted by gd779 at 11:26 PM on July 3, 2003


The Kyoto Accords amount to the initiation of that dialogue and also, crucially, the first binding world legal agreement on greenhouse gas emissions.

I don't see it as binding. It's just a treaty; nations can and do abandon treaties all the time.

The only things that are really binding on nations are their own self-interest and other nations' force liberally applied.

But if you can think of a better approach to the problem, please let me know.

Suck it up and build lots of nuke plants. Wait a hundred years or so for the really nasty short-lived wastes to die off and dump the rest into active subduction zones; it's still mildly radioactive 50,000 years later, but it's radioactive somewhere in the mantle. Provide plants to power third-worlders to get them off fossil fuels to the max extent possible. Do the tide-power and wind-power and geothermal where you can reasonably, sure, but I don't think that will be enough for five billion air conditioners.

Write up some sort of document that offers aid for passage through to an industrial or postindustrial economy with a minimum of carbon emissions, with carrots and sticks. Point out to the various developing countries that it's a lot easier to agree to the package than to be bombed to hell, invaded, and have the puppet government we install agree to the package. Point out to the folks back home that it's a lot cheaper to just pay them to do it our way than to bomb and invade them, and plus that way Little Billy doesn't end up as goo on a foreign landscape. At any rate, be willing to force and bribe, in some convex combination, the rest of the world to jump straight to cleaner techs and to skip the nasty phases we went through.

My beef with Kyoto is that it doesn't do any of this -- it doesn't talk at all about how we get to a world full of rich people without wrecking the atmosphere. It sounds nice, but if it takes momentum away from dealing with the bigger long-term problems, then it's worse than doing nothing.

And, of course, educate women, he says, channeling Sen.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:47 PM on July 3, 2003


Aren't they more likely to get money if they propose climate models that get attention
Ah but gd779, that's the beauty of the peer review process. If you screw up, if you propose something that bears no relation to reality, you are bound to be called on it sooner or later. And if you are caught falsifying, or even misrepresenting the data, you are pretty much sent off.
The PR industry with its panels of experts and "experts" weakens this process. They are offering money (and high position and media exposure) to anybody that will tow an industry's line.
So the climate change proponents are really screwed professionally if they are caught and thus have a greater (practical) incentive to be honest. The industry-backed people have less of an incentive.
And, yes, if the Nuclear energy industry's PR teams get involved with the climate change side of the debate that would be scientifically disastrous too.
posted by talos at 1:50 AM on July 4, 2003


Kyoto ... didn't address emissions from third-world countries, including China and India.

The argument I heard is that Kyoto gives the more wealthy nations some incentive to develop clean, non-carbon technologies. It would force us to find better ways to do things. The new technologies would evolve to become more attractive than burning coal, and eventually be adopted by the rest of the world.

There have always been massive shifts in climate.

Yes, there's some evidence that massive, sudden shifts have happened many times. And yes, it's possible that one could happen no matter what we do. Increasing global atmospheric carbon dioxide by 50% is going to have some kind of effect though, and all the models we have point to it being a destabilizing one.

I'm no climatologist, but the fact that the climate is given to sudden shifts makes me think that precipitating one by making big changes in the composition of the atmosphere seems like a really Bad Idea.
posted by sfenders at 5:43 AM on July 4, 2003


"After all, isn't it true that scientists often seek larger grants by inflating the importance of their research?...science cannot be trusted to simply affect the public discourse, because science is not unbiased." (gd779)

(echoing Talos' comment)

gd779 - You articulate this objection far better than most, but it still boils down to a charge that scientists are biased and sensationalist.

In fact, scientists - as a group - tend to be far less biased and sensationalist than most, both in terms of their claims and their rhetoric. They tend to make statements which are heavily qualified by conditional terms such as "possible", "likely","potentially","statistically probable", and so on, and also tend to tallk in terms of "ranges of scenarios" (especially when talking about climate prediction).

And you miss - I think - a crucial aspect of the scientific process: "Peer Review". Peer review is not a perfect process but, as many scientists have noted, "it's the best thing we've got" for moderating scientific claims and enforcing honesty. Sure, results and data can be faked but such fakery tends to get exposed sooner or later and the reputations of those who have published fraudulent research are, without fail, destroyed.

The Peer Review process works quite powerfully to enforce scientific honesty. Here's how it works - a research paper, before being published, is circulated among a group of acknowledged leaders in relevant fields who then make critiques. There is then a back and forth process - the scientists reviewing the work make objections and it is up to the study's author/s to provide satisfactory answers to these objections. If serious enough questions as to the empirical validity of the research in question are raised and cannot be adequately addressed, the study is not published.

You seem to be challenging ther very basis of modern science, of it's ability to conduct unbiased, empirically driven research. But the effectiveness modern scientific methods cannot be questioned - look at the results.

It is impossible to completely eliminate bias from science, sure. But I do not know of any group whose opinion I would trust and rely on more than that of professional scientific researchers - with a track record of published peer-reviewed research works - when they are speaking within their area of expertise. Who should I trust more than that group - politicians? advertising execs and PR flacks? Oil company execs?

Your well articulated comments are representative, I feel, of a sorry decline in American faith in the objectivity of science, a phenomenon I would call the "New American Solipsism", or the "New American Skepticism": this is a movement whose arguments tend to be generated by advertising professionals who are hired to undercut public trust in science --by ad-hominem attacks on scientists and by casting a cloud of doubt over the ability of the scientific process to inform public policy-- in any areas in which corporations have a significant financial stake.

The petrochemical and auto industries have spent millions over the last decade to so disinform the public, and their campaigns have been brutally effective - now, it is taken as received wisdom by many Americans (and especially those on the right) that scientific research on health and the environment is biased and that all research which shows that human activity, and industrial processes and products, have a negative impact on health or the environment are part of some great conspiracy to brainwash the public. On the part of many right wing evangelicals, this "conspiracy" is even assumed to be a pagan plot.

All of this would be quite ridiculous (and it is that, for sure) if it were not the case that humans do actually influence their environment on global scale, that the Earth's resources are not unlimited as some "Flat-Earthers" claim, and that the world's climate is now destabilizing, mostly as a result of human influences.

Here is what the US National Academy of Sciences has to say about this (also, here, for an NAS overview on Global Climate Change. These two books, free online, are among a wide range of reports which are published by the National Academy Press (under the auspices of the NAS) - authored by the top experts in relevant fields - to inform the US Congress on matters of public policy which involve scientific questions. Here, also, is a quite alarming (justly so) bit of news from the Director of the Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute, on the growing threat of rapid climate change (also see the "Ocean and Climate Change Institute", and here is one sample research paper from the field) .
posted by troutfishing at 7:37 AM on July 4, 2003


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