Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Climate Catastrophe Policy: Triage - 13

More than just a saying
This series is about the contrast between what is called "normalcy bias" and its evil twin "worse case scenario bias."

It is also about the legitimate debate in the context of risk management.

There are old adages related to the issue, such as "better safe than sorry" and "the sky is falling."

In terms of global warming induced climate change, the issue involves what some call "alarmism" and its evil twin "false comfort" (see e.g. Which is worse alarmism or false comfort).

The bottom line is that there is a proper time for alarm, and a proper time for comfort, so in today's post let's ponder how these concepts should be applied when considering this announcement:
One of the nation's most recognizable names in climate science, Dr. James Hansen, released a new paper this week warning that even 2 degrees Celsius of global warming may be "highly dangerous" for humanity.

The paper, which will be published online in the European Geosciences Union journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion later this week, projects sea levels rising as much as 10 feet in the next 50 years.
(Former Top NASA Scientist Predicts Catastrophic Rise In Sea Levels).It should be noted that there were "16 co-authors" who are well known climate and/or cryosphere experts (e.g. Dr. Eric Rignot).

Dr. Hansen was quoted further in another newspaper:
The bottom line conclusion, he says, is that sea level rise is “the big impact of human made climate change.
(Washington Post, emphasis added).  Is this, then, a "better safe than sorry" scenario or a "the sky is falling" scenario?

Catastrophic sea level rise (SLR) has happened in the U.S. even within the short time frame of human history:
" ... meltwater pulse 1C (8,200-7,600 years ago) left traces at numerous locations in the United States ... The torrent of around 100,000 cubic kilometers unleashed within a few years or less amounted to barely a meter rise in global sea level ... the stratigraphic record preserves vestiges of this relatively minor pulse."
(NASA GISS: "The Great Ice Meltdown and Rising Seas", emphasis added). There was no world civilization connected by sea ports back then, so it was a "relatively minor" SLR event.

Today, such an event, a pulse or surge of 1 m / 3 ft. of SLR, would put civilization as we know it now severely at risk.

For one thing, because of the importance of sea ports in international commerce (The Surge: A Forgotten Aspect of Sea Level Rise).

Professional, mature risk management does not decide the case until after the evidence is acquired and analyzed, so reactions before that time are unprofessional and immature.

The only debate remaining in the SLR context is: "when will x meters or feet of SLR happen?"

To scientists, it is not a matter of "if," rather, it is a matter of "when" and "how much."

The "sea levels rising as much as 10 feet in the next 50 years" is in contrast to the latest IPCC projection of about 1 meter, about 3 feet, in the next 85 years.

Basically, Hansen, Rignot, and the other scientists involved in the paper are saying that SLR will happen sooner, and it will be a higher SLR than the IPCC report indicates.

That is not news, in the sense that many scientists over the years have criticized the IPCC habit of underestimating SLR, even though the IPCC has accurately projected other aspects of global warming induced climate change.

Hansen, et al. have published papers already in the scientific journals, which have estimates that are close to the upcoming paper:
The reasons have been explained by Hansen, Sato (2012) in an update, where, not having the use of Cryosat-2 satellite data, they wrote:
The increasing Greenland mass loss ... can be fit just as well by exponentially increasing annual mass loss, a behavior that Hansen (2005, 2007) argues could occur because of multiple amplifying feedbacks as an ice sheet begins to disintegrate. A 10-year doubling time would lead to 1 meter sea level rise by 2067 ... 2045 ... for 5-year doubling time and 2055 ... for a 7-year doubling time.
(Hansen, Ice Melt, emphasis added). The absence of Cryosat-2 data has now come to an end.
(The Question Is: How Much Acceleration Is Involved In SLR? - 2). The new paper has incorporated the advantage of now having Cryosat-2 and other data, so an update of the "doubling" phenomenon is entirely appropriate.

The risks posed by SLR are greater than previously estimated, so the risk analysis is also in need of updating.

In the previous post of this series, I mentioned a social custom we practice in the context of risk management.

I had in mind our custom of having an insurance policy even when the risks are quite low:
A blogger, commenting on the prudence of having insurance, wrote: "[as] far as frequency you could figure that 0.317% of households ... 0.276% of housing units had a fire in the year."

Nevertheless, fire insurance is not only required for mortgages, it is also a custom of our culture to have fire insurance, and in fact even with those very low odds (less than 1%) that our own fire insurance protection will be used in the context of catastrophic circumstances, as a society we still practice "better safe than sorry" insurance ideology.
(New Climate Catastrophe Policy: Triage - 12). The same can be said for vehicle insurance.

The heart and core of risk management is that we need to know the risks well, or we won't ever have a chance of "managing" those risks well.

Regular readers know that Dredd Blog sees the risk in the same light that Hansen, et al. do ("sea level rise is the big impact of human made climate change").

That issue has even been discussed in recent posts (Why Sea Level Rise May Be The Greatest Threat To Civilization, 2, 3, 4).

Note that the word "civilization" has several meanings, and that a particular and specific meaning is used in Dredd Blog posts.

The "global civilization" or "world civilization" composed of global trade, global commerce, and global economy is the main focus (e.g. What Do You Mean - World Civilization?, 2; Confusing "Civilization" With "Species", Petroleum Civilization: The Final Chapter (Confusing Life with Death).

We are not talking about extinction of species here, instead, we are focusing on extinction of world civilization in its current configuration.

The key infrastructure of this current world civilization is sea ports (Weekend Rebel Science Excursion - 44, The Agnotology of Sea Level Rise Via Ice Melt).

I have described SLR as an invasion that the military cannot defend against (Greenland & Antarctica Invade The United States, 2, 3; Why The Military Can't Defend Against The Invasion),

I have also said that SLR is non-discriminatory (The 1% May Face The Wrath of Sea Level Rise First).

In closing today's post, let's reconsider the denialist sarcasm-propaganda such as "the sky is falling" mixed with the smear based "climate change alarmists" campaign.

And, let's do it by remembering that, historically, the question "which is worse alarmism or false comfort" (asked at the top of today's post), has been clearly answered:
"In other words, a society does not ever die 'from natural causes', but always dies from suicide or murder --- and nearly always from the former, as this chapter has shown." 
(A Study of History, by Arnold J. Toynbee). History teaches us that in every case civilizations of the past failed to heed the alarmed ones among them who warned of danger and demise.

Be alarmed, because as go the sea ports, so goes current world civilization (which depends on one thing: leave the fossil fuels in the ground or drown trying not to).

The previous post in this series is here.


  1. Another great post, Dredd. You make so many good points here!

    i couldn't believe Hanson said "MAY be" with regard to 2 degrees C rise in global avg temp when we're ALREADY experiencing HUGE problems all over the world (and in the oceans and at the poles) and it hasn't even reached 1 degree yet! Geez Louise, man - don't be so conservative! Even 1 degree is already catastrophic - there are crippling droughts in Sao Paulo, and Doha has like 3 days of water left, not to mention that some towns in CA have NO water now due to their drought. And this is just talking about the effects on HUMANS. The redwoods are dying, whole swaths of Canada and Siberia are burning (as is Washington state), and there are so many dead trees in Texas and CA now due to drought that it's hard to get one's head around it. i could go on, but you get the idea.

    Now - on to sea level rise. If the projection is for 10 feet in 50 years, we can linearly scale it back to get an idea of impact, ie. 2 FEET in 10 YEARS or more than 1/2 way to the magic 3 ft catastrophe level in the next decade. i think this is being overly optimistic and that we'll probably see 3 feet in the next 5 years due to Greenland and the Arctic ice cap melting away rapidly. We most definitely are NOT prepared for this (in fact i know of no plans for anything at all related to sea level rise mitigation).

    You're right to point out that we aren't talking about (our) species extinction here (yet), but instead the collapse of civilization as we know it. It most likely won't be much longer after that, anyway. Various reports and articles i've read lately indicate that this is just ONE of many (perhaps half a dozen or more) vectors that are impinging on our longevity, so it's reasonable to conclude that before that 10 year span is up, we will be in some SERIOUS [ie. life threatening] trouble, not to mention the many other species which will be impacted in the worst possible way.


    1. Tom,


      "One thing is for sure on the subject of global warming induced climate change: if there was ever a time to err on the safe side, it was long ago." - Dredd (Quotes Page)