2010-08-13 21:18:04Basic rebuttal No.12: It won't be bad
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Effects of Climate Change

Argument No.12: The effects of climate change won’t be bad

Here’s a list of cause and effect relationships, showing that most climate change impacts will confer few or no benefits, but may do great harm at considerable cost.

Agriculture

While CO2 is essential for plant growth, all agriculture depends also on steady water supplies, and climate change is likely to disrupt those supplies through floods and droughts. It has been suggested that higher latitudes – Siberia, for example – may become productive due to global warming, but the soil in Arctic and bordering territories is very poor, and the amount of sunlight reaching the ground in summer will not change because it is governed by the tilt of the earth. Agriculture can also be disrupted by wildfires and changes in seasonal periodicity, which is already taking place, and changes to grasslands and water supplies could impact grazing and welfare of domestic livestock. Increased warming may also have a greater effect on countries whose climate is already near or at a temperature limit over which yields reduce or crops fail – in the tropics or sub-Sahara, for example.

Health

Warmer winters would mean fewer deaths, particularly among vulnerable groups like the aged. However, the same groups are also vulnerable to additional heat, and deaths attributable to heatwaves are expected to  be approximately five times as great as winter deaths prevented. It is widely believed that warmer climes will encourage migration of disease-bearing insects like mosquitoes and malaria is already appearing in places it hasn’t been seen before.

Polar Melting

While the opening of a year-round ice free Arctic passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would confer some commercial benefits, including improved access to energy and mineral resources, these must be balanced against the negatives. Detrimental effects include loss of polar bear habitat and increased mobile ice hazards to shipping. The loss of ice albedo (the reflection of heat), causing the ocean to absorb more heat, is also a positive feedback; the warming waters increase glacier and Greenland ice cap melt, as well as raising the temperature of Arctic tundra, which then releases methane, a very potent greenhouse gas (methane is also released from the sea-bed, where it is trapped in ice-crystals called clathrates). Melting of the Antarctic ice shelves is predicted to add further to sea-level rise with no benefits accruing.

Ocean Acidification

A cause for considerable concern, there appear to be no benefits to the change in pH of the oceans. This process is caused by additional CO2 being absorbed in the water, and may have severe destabilising effects on the entire oceanic food-chain.

Melting Glaciers

The effects of glaciers melting are largely detrimental, the principle impact being that many millions of people (one-sixth of the world’s population) depend on fresh water supplied each year by natural spring melt and regrowth cycles and those water supplies – drinking water, agriculture – may fail.

Sea Level Rise

Many parts of the world are low-lying and will be severely affected by modest sea rises. Rice paddies are being inundated with salt water, which destroys the crops. Seawater is contaminating rivers as it mixes with fresh water further upstream, and aquifers are becoming polluted. Given that the IPCC did not include melt-water from the Greenland and Antarctic ice-caps due to uncertainties at that time, estimates of sea-level rise are feared to considerably underestimate the scale of the problem. There are no proposed benefits to sea-level rise that we are aware of at this time.

Environmental

Positive effects of climate change may include greener rainforests and enhanced plant growth in the Amazon, increased vegetation in northern latitudes and possible increases in plankton biomass in some parts of the ocean. Negative responses may include further growth of oxygen poor ocean zones, contamination or exhaustion of fresh water, increased incidence of natural fires, extensive vegetation die-off due to droughts, increased risk of coral extinction, decline in global photoplankton, changes in migration patterns of birds and animals, changes in seasonal periodicity, disruption to food chains and species loss.

Economic

The economic impacts of climate change may be catastrophic, while there have been very few benefits projected at all. The Stern report made clear the overall pattern of economic distress, and while the specific numbers may be contested, the costs of climate change were far in excess of the costs of preventing it. Certain scenarios projected in the IPCC AR4 report would witness massive migration as low-lying countries were flooded. Disruptions to global trade, transport, energy supplies and labour markets, banking and finance, investment and insurance, would all wreak havoc on the stability of both developed and developing nations. Markets would endure increased volatility and institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies would experience considerable difficulty.

Developing countries, some of which are already embroiled in military conflict, may be drawn into larger and more protracted disputes over water, energy supplies or food, all of which may disrupt economic growth at a time when developing countries are beset by more egregious manifestations of climate change. It is widely accepted that the detrimental effects of climate change will be visited largely on the countries least equipped to adapt, socially or economically. 

2010-08-14 20:03:52Great summary
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
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Graham, this is a great summary of a huge amount of information. Very readable, well done!
2010-08-14 20:21:30
Ari Jokimäki

arijmaki@yahoo...
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I agree that this is well written text. The intermediate version of this argument has separate sections for environment and economy that are not mentioned here. I think both sections might have some things worth including also to this basic version (oxygen poor ocean zones, decrease in phytoplankton and billion dollar damage for example).
2010-08-14 23:06:09Revision notes
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
81.152.239.255
Thanks for prompting me Ari - now added those sections with some beefed up text. Still a reasonable length, I hope.
2010-08-14 23:18:50
Anne-Marie Blackburn
Anne-Marie Blackburn
bioluminescence@hotmail.co...
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Excellent work - good to get so much information and yet still keep is simple. Might add some material to my posts - I've been trying to keep them very short but maybe that's not necessary
2010-08-14 23:31:27
Ari Jokimäki

arijmaki@yahoo...
91.154.102.68
Thumbs up.
2010-08-15 03:54:06Really nice
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
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I'm impressed that this piece acknowledges such potential for benefit as may exist instead of simply being a litany of ill-effects. It's more persuasive as a result. Good work.
2010-08-15 05:56:41Credit where its due
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
81.152.239.255

Thanks Doug, but it was John's original item that contained the table of positive and negative effects - I just cribbed it, that's all.

2010-08-15 06:46:36hate to say this
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
142.162.181.139
I hate to be the downer of the group but im a little concerned about how long it is. I think that there arent that many non-sciency people who will read that much information... very well written and readable though
2010-08-15 08:39:10Entropy
doug_bostrom

dbostrom@clearwire...
184.77.83.151

Regarding length, these topics will be more or less compressible. I've been noodling on a mitigation and/or adaptation post for a while and compared to the various components of the physics problem here the minimum payload is absolutely baroque, loaded w/detail which if eliminated ends up leaving too much ambiguity.

IMHO, :-)

2010-08-15 15:25:14On length
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
81.152.239.255

I do not share the view that the basic rebuttals should be short (or long). In my opinion, the point of the basic rebuttals are to cut density and technical information, so that lay people may find them more approachable. In fact, it is sometimes the case that when we simplify things, the explanations get longer, there's more beating around the bush, analogies etc.

I haven't concerned myself with length when writing my rebuttals. What I've focused on is whether I've presented a clear and complete picture, albeit a simple one. I also become concerned when we make certain assumptions about readers. I think people will read the length of material appropriate to the task - assuming it is written well enough. Although I wrote this item myself, when I review it I find it reads as a compelling (and unnerving) list that carries the reader forward with a growing sense of dread and approbation - exactly what I want to achieve.

I would hope we might all invest in the best qualities - reason and application - of our readers, not presume short attention spans and fickle interest, else we are in danger of being a little patronising. The whole thing is 824 words - the standard length of a Guardian on line article - and to assert that 'non-sciencey' people lack an attention span of that duration is a generalisation I cannot agree with.

2010-08-15 16:34:08Comment
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
142.162.181.139
gpwayne,
I did not mean to offend with the sciencey people remark and I apologize for that. It was a generalization to some degree but I do feel as though unless a person is really very interested in the science that they may find it quite long. That all being said I understand not trying to be patronizing either.

correction Detrimental effects include loss of polar bear habitat, increased mobile ice hazards to shipping.

perhaps put an and between the two.

I think adding a heading for conflict is an important one as that is something that maybe people are worried about
see http://www.youtube.com/user/greenman3610#p/u/6/cqBURjOdOG8

another line   
Given that the IPCC did not include melt-water from the Greenland and Antarctic ice-caps due to uncertainties at that time, estimates of sea-level rise are feared to considerably underestimate the scale of the problem.

May I suggest    Given that the IPCC did not include melt-water from Greenland and Antarctica in its sea level rise estimates, Glaciologists fear that potential Sea Level Rise has been considerably underestimated.

Cheers,
Sorry if im a little blunt.
2010-08-15 21:25:45Response to Robert
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
81.152.239.255

Hey Robert - no offence taken at all old bean - really! I just didn't agree, that's all. Here's a couple of points:

You suggest that "unless a person is really very interested in the science that they may find it quite long". The odd thing is that I see the content very differently. I don't think the post is about science, it is about the effects of climate change on culture, on society, on order, on our way and quality of life. Everyone is interested in these things, I believe, and the length of the piece is, to a certain extent, part of its dramatic value, because it isn't padded out to make things seem bad - it really is bad, all of it.

I chuckled about putting in a heading for conflict, immediately after discussing the length issue :) But seriously, the conflict projections have no basis in science, and cannot have. Everything else (pretty much, anyway) has some basis in the literature, models etc. Conflict, while likely, is purely speculative and cannot be predicted, the combatants identified in advance, the reasons for the conflict or its location determined, nor a probability put upon any of it happening. I put a few mentions in because of the economic impact, for example, but further than that seemed to me outside the remit. I'm happy to consider alternative views on this, however, but a section on conflict will need a bit more substance to be convincing, so the piece will get even longer!

2010-08-15 21:46:56Revision 2 notes
gpwayne
Graham Wayne
graham@gpwayne...
81.152.239.255

I did realise that Antarctic ice cap melt didn't get a mention, so I changed the 'Arctic' section to 'Polar' and put in a line about Antarctic sea level rise contributions.

Robert - I put in the 'and' (thanks) but your change to the line about the IPCC removed the remark about uncertainties. Personally, I would leave that in because otherwise it might be construed the IPCC just forgot, or something. They did the decent thing, and didn't guess but left it out, and we should not be defensive about saying so in my view.

2010-08-16 02:12:23thumbs up
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
142.162.181.139
thumbs up
2010-08-16 02:18:55Conflict
Robert Way

robert_way19@hotmail...
142.162.181.139
Pertaining to the conflict section idea. I do believe that it isn't as easy to say because its more of a social science than actual science but i think its got factual basis as droughts in subsaharan africa have been linked with refugee situations where conflicts have arisen. That being said an excellent book on the topic is Climate Wars by military historian Gwynn Dyer. He interviews all kinds of scientists and intelligence experts and such. Furthermore, as shown in the video link I posted, there are many generals and such who really feel this is a potential threat. I would treat that the same as any other expert in the field making a claim that we would give credence to, so why not them? That all being said yes it is funny that i suggested put in a conflict heading while suggesting it be shortened. I didn't really want to see less headings really, my original complaint was that I found too much information was getting crammed into each paragraph. Either way its decided now as I gave the thumbs up.

Overall, I think conflict should be in there, just because its something a lot of people don't realize and its something that we have generals and heads of the CIA and such all saying is a very important issue.
2010-08-16 10:20:04Great headline
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.17.49

Graham, love the "good, bad, ugly" headline. Will use that in the blog post.

Just a note to all authors - the blog post headline is actually quite a useful tool in catching people's attention. A good example (IMHO) was the recent blog post on all the many lines of evidence, titled "more evidence than you can shake a hockey stick at" which got a fair few retweets on Twitter. A bad example was Anthony Watt's recent attempt at clever wordplay, "New paper makes hockey sticky wicket of Mann 98". Urgh, what happens when non-cricketing nations attempt to use cricketing phrases, I'm guessing.

Anyway, I digress. If anyone has a creative idea for a blog post headline (that's tweetable), even on someone else's rebuttal, feel free to post your suggestion.

2010-08-17 08:50:35Gone live
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.17.49
Graham, just gone live with this one. Feel free to update the rebuttal (via the Rebuttal List) if you get any good comments to the blog post. Thanks, great article!