Foreign views on climate

On the eve of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, the Brussels Business Group on Risk of Climate Deal, issued the statement, Reported in the New York Times, December 12, 2015:

“Unless other regions increase their level of ambition now in line with what the E.U. is already doing, it will not be enough to solve the climate challenge. As long as the E.U. is doing a solo run, our competitiveness remains at risk.”

That statement reveals much about the current international situation regarding "climate change" (aka "global warming", with which it is often conflated).

What the E.U. is already doing is not much. Nowhere near the ambitious goals of the Climate Treaty. France is committed to nuclear power (until they have an accident). Germany has announced they are phasing out nuclear power and going to wind or solar. We'll see how that works out with their climate. It has also just announced a deal to accept natural gas from Russia via pipeline, which produces greenhouse gases at the Russian end, unlike U.S. frack-derived natural gas we could deliver by ship to their ports as LNG at a comparable cost.

In only a few countries is it possible to enforce international treaties in domestic courts. The U.S. is one, but even there the treaty must not require government officials to exercise powers not delegated to them by their constitutions. The rest are mostly the northern members of the E.U. or the UK. In these countries it seems accepted that national sovereignty can be transferred to a treaty-created organization. That is not the case with the U.S. The only way provided for the U.S. to expand is by the admission of new states.

Nevertheless, the Climate Accord was nearly derailed by the use in its language of the imperative word "shall", and delegates yielded to demands that the word be changed to the hortatory and aspirational word "should", as though the treaty might be considered to have legally-binding effect. This is typical of treaties (or would-be constitutions) negotiated in the European diplomatic culture. See the so-called "Constitution of the European Union", which was rejected by French voters, for good reason. It was not a true constitution, which has to be a supreme law, defining specific powers, duties, and rights, enforceable in courts.

What is happening in climate science?

I read and understand the scientific literature personally. I used to write computer programs to model climate. So is the science here "fake" or a "hoax". No, but it is certainly "herd" science, workers in the field huddling into the herd and avoiding nonconformist positions. Is that in part ideological? Yes, I'm afraid so. That doesn't make all the conclusions or warnings wrong. Herds can also come to correct positions. But in this field the degree of uniformity is at least troubling. If we can't trust scientists to come to divergent positions, and then debate them, then scientists are not doing their obs. The herd is just too tight.

So what is the correct conclusion? The strongest evidence for human causation is the isotopic profile of atmospheric CO2, that is consistent with the burning of fossil fuels. Whether it comes more from coal-fired power plants or from motor vehicle emission is less clear. There is also a component from things like timber cutting and burning, and from soil tilling and runoff down streams. One must also account for vulcanism, which is still a contributing factor.

There is also the issue of changes in solar output (insolation). There is evidence of warming on Mars. The ice ages are thought to be the result of earth orbit changes, or changes in solar activity with long cycle times. There is reason to think that but for global warming, we might be headed toward another ice age, in which case it could be a good thing.

Human caused?

So is global warming human-caused? Probably, in large part. Could dire effects of global warming be imminent? Yes, they could. They might also be hundreds of years further into the future. But short-term weather events are almost certainly not indicative of the long term. Weather, like climate, changes.

It is the willingness to attribute short-term events to global warming that is the strongest indication of the politicization of the climate field. The other is to leap from finding it to be human caused to be treatable by treaties and laws.

 Human treatable?

There is a distressing tendency for national leaders who attend diplomatic conferences to either pretend or believe that the treaties they make are either magically self-enforcing or that they have the power to enforce them. The answer is neither. They can debate all they want, but in the end what they produce is likely to only be a scrap of paper. Unless people can be fined or imprisoned, there is no enforcement, assuming everyone can be found to fine or imprison. The fact is that violations do not happen at the higher levels of government, but by millions of individuals in every region and at every level, most of whom cannot be found much less punished. Governments and laws are not as effective as some would like to think.

Shut down a few power plants? All that would do is reverse more than a century of industrial progress. Some radical environmentalists might think that would be a good thing. They are wrong. It is only that industrial progress, in a few enlightened nations, that avoids having the world descend into general warfare and chaos. War is not good for the environment, either.

If human caused, so what?

The difficulties of enforcing any Climate Accord have already been examined, but the surest sign of climate science being politicized is the way analysis of the causes of global warming leap to making recommendations for how to treat it. Most of those recommendations are for the industrial countries to de-industrialize. They don't call it that, but that would be the practical effect. Of course no such recommendations are made to the industrializing countries, like Brazil, Russia, India, or China (BRIC). (it seems strange to include Russia in that group, but by comparison to North America, Europe, and Japan, it is not very industrial. Of course, such countries are not willing to retard their own industrial expansion, and more likely to ask for foreign aid to pay for their compliance. (Which would be more likely to be spent on scenic resorts for those countries' leaders. Never underestimate human corruption.)

So regulatory solutions won't work. What about new, competitive, energy technology? The main contenders are nuclear, solar, wind, and geothermal. There are two kinds of nuclear: uranium and thorium: Only the first is in use, but it is dangerous and enables proliferation. Thorium needs to be developed, fast, and China is working on that. The costs of ground-based solar are coming down, but they still need expensive batteries for when the sun isn't shining. Space solar power is promising, but the systems are vulnerable to coronal mass ejections and solar proton flares. They could be sited on the moon, but would need a system off fast-closing shutters to shield them from solar emissions.

In principle it should be possible to extract geothermal energy almost anywhere on Earth, but the costs in most locations is high.  Biofuels are mainly an indirect variant on solar.

The solution is not regulatory suppression of greenhouse emissions, but the development of alternative forms of energy extraction that can compete in the market.

  1. The Road to a Paris Climate Deal
  2. How G.O.P. Leaders Came to View Climate Change as Fake Science
  3. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels
  4. Geothermal energy — clean, abundant, but not everywhere.
  5. The articles Vacuum Energy and Zero Point Energy emphasize the difficulties of extracting usable energy from the background, but Revisiting the EmDrive: Quantum Vacuum Fluctuations Harnessed in a Propellant-less Engine Tested by NASA, suggests the idea is not dead. There are rumors that a black project has solved the problem, but is not disclosing that solution.
  6. Shield Act, H.R.1536 — 115th Congress (2017-2018). Provides for protecting the U.S. power grid from coronal mass ejections and EMP attacks. But it neglects to protect other electric and electronic equipment vital to our economy.
  7. Environmental degradation illustrated by Hispaniola. It is also instructive to examine the map of the island of Hispaniola from space, divided by a national boundary between overpopulated Haiti on the West and the Dominican Republic on the East. The border can be easily seen from space. To the west the land is largely denuded of vegetation. To the east the land is covered by forests, and there is even a national park.  The nearby waters are largely devoid of fish, Do the people of Haiti not understand their predicament? Many of them do, but they can  do nothing about it, other than to try to survive one more day.