Global Warming Policy Concepts
Strategies flow from goals, and tactics flow from strategies. Policies are essentially political implementations of tactics by setting up rules. The political agents setting the rules in the policies can be government, corporate, or organizational.
Think about how the goals set the stage for the strategies. For example, if the goal is to understand the causes of global warming, the strategy will be different than if the goal is to avoid global warming, and different again if the goal is to reduce the effects on humans of global warming.
Strategies to understand the causes of global warming call for tactics of climate research. Who can do this work? Scientists. Who defines the tactics? Scientists. Who defines the policies of research? Groups of scientists.
Strategies to avoid global warming invoke tactics to reduce excess greenhouse gasses. Who can do this work? Scientists, technologists, economists, business people, ordinary people, politicians. Who defines the tactics? Anyone with a good idea. Who defines the policies of reducing excess greenhouse gasses? Any group who chooses to do so for their own members, including politicians for their jurisdictions.
Strategies to reduce the effects of global warming on humans invoke tactics to reduce of greenhouse gas emissions, to adapt to rising temperature and sea level, geoengineering tactics, tactics involving alternate energy sources, educational tactics, migration tactics, etc. Who can do this work? Everyone. Who defines the tactics? Everyone. Who defines the policies on reducing the effects? Everyone at different levels.
Personal policies, group policies, corporate policies, government policies are all sets of rules governing the members of the group. The only goal that in any way truly restricts who sets the strategies, tactics, and policies is the goal of understanding the causes of global warming. That can only be done by scientists or people carrying out scientific research. The other goals are broader in scope and can be addressed by a much bigger group of people, and in the case of reducing the effects on all of us, we can all set the policies or influence those who would set the policies, because they all affect all of us and we all have equal logical authority to suggest what might work and what might not work to reduce the effects on us. These can be at the personal, local, regional, countrywide or global levels.
Understanding the goal you set predetermines who is doing the work and who sets the policies. Within the goal of reducing the effect of global warming on humans, essentially anyone at any level can logically, appropriately and legitimately set or influence the development of policy.
So who sets the goals? We all do. We do it at our own personal level, we do it in our non-governmental organizations or charity groups, we do it by writing letters to our politicians and voting in government elections at all levels. In this debate, if you don’t want to reduce the effects of global warming on people, then your strategies will be different from mine, and so will your ideas about what policies should govern our actions.
Is the earth going to turn into a cinder? No, of course not, but is it going to get hotter and will the sea continue to rise? Yes. Will arguing over conspiracy theories help us in any possible way? No. We need to move on innovative ways to bring down the CO2 emissions and we need to do it now. Is global warming the only problem and the only cause of future human challenges? No. Pollution, increased population levels, non-sustainable farming techniques, loss of biodiversity, shrinking fresh water supplies, poverty, and many others also demand our attention.
Let’s deal with global warming and all the other issues in a sensible and intelligent manner instead of arguing while real world problems need our sensible attention to find solutions in a timely manner.
But how do we do this in an informed and logical fashion while considering as many of the variables as possible? What would the team look like? What should the goals be? We need to set those before we know who we need on the team.
Setting the Goals for Global Warming Policies
Goals are always set in a context. Global warming policies will be no different. What is the context?
First: is there scientific reality to global warming and how confident are we of the scientific basis?
Second: What are the effects of global warming on the physical, biological, human (economic, health, safety, cultural, agricultural, life-style, etc.) environments and how serious are the consequences of these effects?
Third: How confident are we that these effects and the consequences are actually going to take place and when will they occur?
And finally: Do we care enough to do anything about the consequences?
Is AGW Real?
The first part of the context is to make sure we are confident enough that anthropogenic global warming is the most likely explanation for the observed global warming. Annual global surface atmospheric temperature has been rising for the last 100 years in fits and starts. The average annual sea surface temperature has also been rising since 1900. The average annual heat content of the ocean has been rising since measurements began in the 1950s. The average extent of sea ice in the Arctic has been declining since measurements began in the 1950s. The average amount of snow cover in the northern hemisphere has been declining since the 1920s. The sea levels are rising steadily since at least the mid-1800s.
Is all this the result of anthropogenic excess emissions of carbon dioxide beyond what the world can naturally absorb? If CO2 is not acting as a greenhouse gas, and if the reason the earth is warming is from the sun warming us directly, then both the upper and lower atmosphere layer should be warming at the same rate. If by contrast, excess CO2 acting as a greenhouse gas is the cause of global warming by trapping the heat and not allowing it to escape into the stratosphere and on into space, then the only the lower atmospheric layer (troposphere) would be warming and the upper layer (stratosphere) would be cooling. In fact, the upper layer is cooling and only the lower layer is warming.
Over the last 20,000 years, the earth has warmed up from the last ice age and in the past 8,000 years the temperature looks to be on a constant trend line showing a slight cooling from about 4,000 years ago, but with some pretty big variations up and down.Examining the past 8,000 years, there is an obvious trend to cooler weather. So it looks like the trend was in fact headed for an ice age. However, that all changed about 150 years ago. “What’s different is the rate of change,” said Shaun Marcott, a paleoclimatologist at Oregon State and lead author of the paper. “What we’ve seen over the past 150 years is much greater than anything we saw in the past 11,000 years.”
The science, with close to 96% confidence, predicts that if we continue to emit CO2 and other GHGs at the rate we are now or even faster, the lower atmosphere in which we live will continue to rise in temperature reaching between 2C and 4C higher and sea level rises between .6m and 2m higher than it is now by the year 2100. It will not stop magically at 2100 either.
Despite the attempts to find the climate scientists guilty of fraud and the science fundamentally flawed, the real world is getting warmer and the real oceans are rising. The human consequences of this are serious threats to our collective health and societal well-being. It is just plain stupid not to innovate alternate energy sources based on such things as solar and wind energy, nuclear power (with substantially improved safety and disposal systems), and others to replace fossil fuels as quickly as possible. It is much smarter to invest in and improve effective means of removing carbon at the emission sources, legislate its removal, and store it. It doesn’t take many brains to understand that with the observed rates of rising sea level, and the threat of land-based glaciers melting faster than expected, people who live near the coasts will need to take action to either move to higher ground and abandon their current infrastructure or attempt to find ways to defend the shore line temporarily. For those who live in very low-lying or below sea level areas, the storm surges will only get worse because of the higher water. Freshwater sources near the ocean will be invaded (and are now being invaded) by sea water causing a shortage in drinking water. As the number of people increases to a predicted 9 billion, the extra 2 billion people will need to be fed on agricultural land that does not now exist. In our area (Canada), the vast forests are seriously threatened by invading insects that these trees have never experienced before and against which they have no immunity.
What are the effects and how serious are they?
The direct effects of anthropogenic global warming include increased levels of CO2 and methane, rising temperatures in the ocean and in the surface atmosphere, rising sea levels, melting ice in the Arctic and eventually the Antarctic as well as in high mountain glaciers, increases in extremes of weather such as storms, droughts, and rainfalls.
Indirect effects include all of the consequences of each of the above factors. Increased CO2 and methane could benefit agriculture. Rising sea levels will decrease the available land area, especially near low-lying coastal areas destroying infrastructure and forcing migration of people (potentially millions of people), animals, and plants, inundating freshwater supplies, and requiring adaptation to reinforce barriers against storm surges. Melting land-based ice will add to the sea level rise. Loss of glacial ice packs will severely restrict or diminish the supply of fresh water in areas that rely on seasonal melt — this affects literally millions of people. Melting ice in the Arctic will affect the primary ice-requiring species and the fisheries that rely on them. Increased extremes of weather will severely tax or overwhelm many of the systems that were built years ago. Even recent storms in highly developed countries like the US (New Orleans and New York for example) have suffered thousands of deaths and many billions of dollars in damages from storms that may have been slightly worse because of sea level increases that have already occurred, but which will certainly be worse in the future. Rising temperatures will (and already have) allowed insects, pests, and disease vectors to move into higher altitudes and what was cooler regions. Once in these new areas, often the existing plants, animals, and people do not have immunity and suffer major health, safety, and economic consequences. Agriculture will find a net reduction of available area and old productive areas will no longer support the productivity they once did. New more northerly areas will open up requiring adaptation to the new agricultural potentials.
How confident are we these effects are going to take place – and when?
The climate science underpinning the observations and correlations of temperature increases and sea level rises, etc. very strong. Climate models are also increasingly capable of predicting outcomes based on scenarios of what people do to their behaviour regarding carbon release. Climate models in general require about a 30 year span of time to deduce trends in climate. Less than that period of time is influenced greatly by ephemeral events such as el Ninos and La Ninas, volcanic eruptions, aerosols, and clouds. A small minority of climate scientists are uncertain of the anthropogenic cause of global warming, but most think AGW is the most likely explanation (with about a 97% confidence limit). Ecologists and evolutionary biologists routinely see changes in the distribution and behaviour of animals and plants that uniformly confirm the global warming effects. People responsible for the health an safety of others such as regional planners, health officers, insurance companies and businesses that would be directly affected are all including global warming in their planning. So are we confident this is happening, and that the effects are serious – a resounding “YES”.
Other than the minority of climate scientists who are not certain, who else does not think anthropogenic global warming is occurring? The most vocal are those that have a personal or financial stake in wanting to avoid the consequences of AGW (ideological or economic). The two major foci of the counter arguments is not a competing climate model. Instead there are conspiracy theories that claim the data have all been faked, that the scientists have created the hoax, that some sinister world government movement wants to enslave us all, and many others. There are also a small legion of scientists and pseudo-scientist who work for or are supported by fossil fuel interests who claim that the effects are either not real or have been grossly exaggerated.
Is there a possibility that these people are correct? Yes, but it is not likely. Even if they were, the most serious consequence of implementing the corrective measures would be a safer world from rising sea level, cleaner processes of producing energy (fossil fuels will eventually run out anyway), and adaptation strategies implemented earlier rather than later. Some people express Fears of an economic meltdown directly as a result of implementing such things as alternate energy sources or penalty payments for the use of carbon. Of course if expensive and inefficient mitigation and adaptation mechanisms are implemented with no support for moving to alternate energy or carbon capture and storage techniques at the emission sources, this would be poor policy and might result in economic hardships that are unwarranted. The key is not to make these obvious mistakes, and picking the team carefully will ensure a measured response with safeguards is implemented.
Do We Care?
This is the critically important question as far as implementing policy is concerned. Do we care? Or perhaps more important, how much do we care? Given that the science suggests that AGW is the best explanation for global warming, and given that the predictions about the direct effects are increasingly confident as more data rolls in, and given that the consequences of the known predicted effects are serious — albeit reaching crisis levels only for our children and their children — why would we not care?
What makes people care about solving a problem and who is willing to step up and do something?
First and foremost people care if the problem affects them both personally and significantly. AGW will be trivial for most people alive today in the developed world. A few will suffer or are suffering specifically – people in very low-lying or below sea level diked coastal areas, farmers in drought prone areas or foresters invaded by pest insects or plants moving into what was cooler regions, victims of increased disease vectors, victims of excess rainfall or storm surges, and so on. But most will just read about the people who are harmed by global warming and won’t be afraid for themselves. So most people will want some other reason to be concerned.
Most people’s children and grandchildren will likely suffer directly. For most people that is a reason to be concerned. Even for many of these people, however, there is often a tacit assumption that technology will solve the problems as they arise – essentially a wait and see attitude based on adapting to the conditions when they arrive, but not until they arrive.
For others, not so much. They feel it is important that their descendents solve their own problems, perhaps unaware that the problems their children will face are being created by their parents right now. The very people who want the children to fend for themselves are making it more difficult for them.
The cost of dealing with mitigating the CO2 excess is seen as expensive, a severe interruption of the current lifestyle, and because of the constant lobbying and information campaigns, many people are not at all certain the suggested policies will be effective. Nobody wants to pay for something unless it is a good deal.
And then there is the usual feeling that an individual can’t make a difference, so let’s wait for the government to make the policies before taking any individual action.
Lots of reasons not to care enough to step up and do something. So who is left to do something?
Those who know enough to be scared of the consequences. What would a team of people look like if it were composed of people who know enough to be scared of the consequences?
The Global Warming Policy Team
Members Must Accept Goal
When forming a team to meet a goal, everyone on the team should be able to understand and accept the goal as the task to be addressed. It is important that everyone be aware of the context, the rationale for the goal, and any shortcomings in the underpinnings for achieving the goal if indeed there are any. But it does not do the goal setting and achieving any good to have someone on the team who does not accept the goal. For example if the goal is to understand the mechanisms of climate change then anyone who can do this research and who accepts the goal of understanding the mechanisms of climate change is potentially a member of the team. If the goal is to develop strategies to reduce the effects of global warming on humans, then all members of the team must first accept as a working hypothesis that global warming is real and the effects predicted by science are real and will happen more-or-less on schedule.
What should the policy team do about people who vehemently claim the science is incorrect or faked? For sure they do not belong on the team. What will be important, however, is to counter those arguments in all the relevant forums so that decision-makers are not left unaware of the effects in the real world as a result of global warming. At present these non-evidence-based counter arguments do seem to be effective — for all the wrong reasons — in stalling both the development of the science and the development of policies to deal with the effects of anthropogenic global warming. For a team to be effective in setting effective policy recommendations, part of the effort must be to counter the incorrect or dishonest anti-AGW efforts while paying close attention to valid criticisms of the potential policy recommendations.
Only climate scientists can bring “climate science” to the policy table. They are best qualified to counter the arguments that are based on false science or poor interpretation of the evidence and that claim anthropogenic global warming is not happening. They are also best qualified to define the limits of the predictive models used to present different scenarios of potential global warming effects in the future – scenarios based on different degrees of green house gas emissions, estimated effects of land and sea ice melting, the amounts of volcanic activity, el Nino and La Nina effects, and so on. They are also best qualified to review evidence that does not fit the various circulation models and that is not coincident with the observed co-relationships in the past. These and other uncertainties provide guidance on the limits of confidence with which each prediction or projection is made.
The key aspects climate scientists will be dealing with on the team are evidence for and predictive modelling of the degree of global warming and its consequences in physical terms such as temperature regimes of the ocean and atmosphere, circulation patterns that affect the moisture regime of the planet, and so on.
Scientists and experts from other fields can use their observational evidence from different fields as sources of testable hypotheses about the effects of global warming. If these tend to corroborate AGW theory (as most seem to just now), that is further evidence that the time is now to start developing policies in many areas to mitigate or adapt to what we see happening around us, and what we can logically predict will happen in the future.
One of my areas of expertise is ecology. Ecology can observe the distribution of plants and animals, for example, and ask if these correlate to the climate scientists observations and predictions. Ecologists can also make informed predictions. For example many disease vectors, agricultural pests, and forest damaging insects are moving north and up mountains following the retreating cold isotherms. These are not just theoretically harmful effects, they are real harmful effects and they are happening right now. In my area, the controlling cold seems to be a sustained period of -30C. Once we don’t have that cold period, many more southerly insects can survive and are moving in (emerald ash borer, pine bark beetle, west Nile virus in mosquitoes etc.). As a biologist, I understand that humans as a species and many other species will probably survive global warming quite handily. As both a sapient and feeling human being, however, I also understand that the consequences of the many factors facing us (global warming, increasing drought and desertification, increased rates of pollution in some key areas, reduced proportion of arable land to population, rising sea level, loss of biodiversity, and many more) will potentially cause much conflict and hardship, including probably many unnecessary deaths.
Agricultural experts are already altering their techniques to account for the shifts in moisture and temperature. For example, Eugene Takle and Don Hofstrand predict that significant changes in rainfall will occur over the next 50 years and note that because of the existing carbon emissions nothing we do now will change the effects for the next 50 years.
1) The central U.S. will likely experience a modest decrease, particularly in the Great Plains,
2) Mexico and Central America will likely experience a significant decrease. This decline in precipitation is a feature of all global climate models. Because of the magnitude of this impact on our neighbors to the south, our U.S. national policy makers should monitor climate change over this region through the coming years.
3) Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina might see an increase in rainfall that likely will be beneficial,
4) Southern and eastern Europe likely will see a substantial decrease,
5) Central Africa likely will see an increase and southern Africa a decrease,
6) India probably will experience an increase.
7) China and East Asia will probably experience an increase. However, the likelihood of extreme increases in precipitation in these areas may be detrimental to agricultural production.
8) Australia is projected to see an increase in the east and a decrease in the west. Regions with a long history of cereal production, such as Australia, are already facing new challenges. Six continuous years of drought have reduced Australia’s rice crop by 98 percent and has shut down processing plants.
Regional planners can observe and are observing the effects of increasing sea level beginning to invade freshwater supplies, and beginning to push up against the infrastructure close to tourist beaches and coastal cities. Indeed may regions now have preliminary adaptation plans. In Canada’s Northwest Territories, sustainable development systems are being planned Yongyuan Yin, Stewart Cohen and G.H. Huang (Global climate change and regional sustainable development:
the case of Mackenzie Basin in Canada, Integrated Assessment 1 (2000) 21–36) to deal with:
(a) changing opportunities for agriculture and forestry, and how these might affect aboriginal communities;
(b) changing ecosystems, and how they might affect wildlife co-management and aboriginal land claims
(c) the increased risk of erosion from permafrost thaw, and its implications for transportation, mining, buildings and other engineered structures; and
(d) potential changes in hydrology and water demands, and their implications for interjurisdictional water management
These kinds of new strategies will be necessary for most areas of the world, although some are more urgent than others.
Technologists and business people have already seen that alternate energy sources are increasing in popularity and as the industry gains expertise, the prices will come down to rival or beat fossil fuels. Fossil fuel industry experts are already broadening their horizons, although most still assume, probably quite correctly, that there are still many decades for the fossil fuel industry. In our project the focus will of course be on reducing the impact of carbon emissions. That can be done a wide range of options to reduce carbon emissions, to capture carbon at the emissions sources, to switch to non-carbon based energy sources, and so on. Al fo these are as much business opportunities as they are potential business burdens, but in almost all cases, they will involve change. Change is not always easy for an established business format.
In our lifetimes we accrue wisdom as well as knowledge; for scientists it is an admixture of scientific knowledge and understanding with worldly human experience. Wisdom does not come from sterile thinking in a pseudo-intellectual vacuum. The best of intellects use much more than pure logic; they can combine moral values, philosophical thinking, an array of cultural and social experience, to arrive at considered conclusions. While such wisdom is not often enough part of political and social decision-making, adding the best scientific intellects to that capacity will enhance the final resulting decisions. Decisions are almost never left in the hands of scientists, technologists and experts. In fact, I doubt scientists or experts ever really make important decisions on their own. On the other hand they can and do influence serious decision-making. In the end however, no matter what the other experts recommend, the politicians and business leaders must make the final large-scale decisions. The better the recommendations they receive the better are their decisions likely to be.
Leaders know that there are times in the human condition when knowledge and understanding of potential dangers is more than just numbers on a chart or reasoned conclusions from a predictive model. There are times in the human condition when risk is an important element of the altruism we take in protecting future generations.
I review an article by eminent scientists who want to have direct access to final decision-making at the political level: Authors Kinzig, Ehrlich, Alston, Arrow, Barrow, Buchman, Daily, B. Levin, S. Levin, Oppenheimer, Ostrom, and Saari, Social Norms and Global Environmental Challenges: The Complex Interaction of Behaviors, Values, and Policy. BioScience Vol. 63, No. 3, March 2013. Here they propose “Government policies are needed when people’s behavior fail to deliver the public good” and that they as scientists should take action to warn people in critically influential positions of the dangers of inaction and what policies can be implemented not just to correct the problem but using behavioural science to suggest policies that will modify people’s behaviour to do as the government wants (including imposing penalties and burdens). They want to do it by having a unique voice in the policy formulation. I think there is a danger in going too far.
Instead, the idea of a full team including the scientists, and all the others together with the politicians makes a great deal more sense in ensuring the best balance of ideas comes together. The big hurdle will not be finding potential team members but in ensuring that somehow the great policies get implemented. The paper by Kinzig, Ehrlich et. al. suggest some of the mechanisms by which that could happen.