Summarising your contributions to a recent social media discussion about renewable energies would take far too much space to be done on the social media platform itself. I’m therefore doing it here in this article and will share a link to it in the online discussion thread.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but your response to AGW seems to be one that can be described as dismissing the science of AGW. This is based on the evidence of your own contributions, many of which I quote below, and would be consistent with your espoused view that you don’t believe in the concept of “credibility” of any sources, whether scientific or not, which would include the scientific work reported on by the IPCC and by many other credible scientific institutions.
I’ll start, however, by building on what I think you and I can agree on (but please correct me if I’m wrong in any of these perceptions of agreement).
It appears that we both accept that global warming is happening (although we clearly disagree on the strengths and proportions of the various causes, and on many of the positive and negative impacts).
We appear to agree that there are both positive and negative impacts from global warming.
You and I can, I think, agree that the greening effect from what some call “the CO2 fertilisation effect” is real and requires research. It also needs to be put into a wider context than just enhanced plant growth, and this is where your analysis seems to lack depth and breadth. I deal with this in greater detail later in this article.
In the meantime, A discussion of economics is pertinent here. There are a small number of outlier economists, including Ted Nordhaus, who think that the optimum warming above pre-industrial (ie where there would be a maximum net positive, being the difference between the aggregate of all the positives and the aggregate of all the negatives, evaluated economically) would be somewhere in excess of 3 degrees centigrade. Most economists, however, think that the optimal would be less than 1.5 degrees, and many think that we are already above optimal global temperature. To remind ourselves, we are currently at about 1.2 degrees, so quite near to 1.5 degrees already. The Paris Agreement, signed up to by almost every nation, sets a target of keeping warming below 1.5 degrees.
I think you and I agree that there are complexities in evaluating the technical feasibilities, costs and benefits of a transition to a decarbonised energy system and economy, and challenges in achieving a pragmatic implementation. These challenges are particularly important when considering an extreme option of “100% renewables without any fossil fuels and no nuclear”, which was the topic of a recent social media discussion thread.
In the discussion thread, you raised the important topics of:
Those are really pertinent topics, on which a huge amount of work is being done, and progress is being made.
For example see this article about energy storage, from Aug 2021:
“Scientists are working to develop techniques for recycling lithium and cobalt batteries, and to design batteries based on other materials. Tesla plans to produce cobalt-free batteries within the next few years. Others aim to replace lithium with sodium, which has properties very similar to lithium’s but is much more abundant.”
Materials supply and recycling are topics attracting large amounts of attention. I’ve signposted you to the works of Simon Michaux on this. An especially relevant one is Michaux (2021) “Restructuring the Circular Economy into the resource balanced economy”
and in relation to 100% replacement of fossil fuel energy, see his work (also in 2021) “Assessment of the Extra Capacity Required of Alternative Energy Electrical Power Systems to Completely Replace Fossil Fuels”
Michaux seems pessimistic about the possibilities of decarbonising the energy system and economy without running up against limits to materials supply and recycling. He therefore advocates what many people would describe as “degrowth” of our economies.
My own position is that, although his arguments have much merit, I’m not convinced that we cannot get ourselves through what While and Hagens (2020) call “the Bottlenecks of the Twenty First Century” with an approach that could be labelled “Agrowth” or “growth agnostic”, in other words, an approach where we design our systems to be sufficient for our most important needs and resilient to whether or not we have aggregate physical material throughput growth, aggregate energy growth etc.
The Limits to Growth thinking, subsequently supported by economists such as Johan Rockstrom and Kate Raworth (to name a few) can, I hope, be reconciled to what some describe as “growthists” if the links between economic success and material throughput related impacts on the environment in general (and climate change in particular) can be broken. The jury is out on such “decoupling”, with some countries (mostly developed ones) claiming to have decoupled, but many countries (mostly developing ones) failing miserably to demonstrate any significant decoupling. However, I’m cautiously optimistic that the decoupling lever is still in the game. Part of that optimism stems from UN projections that global population might well peak at about 11 billion by about 2100. If we can survive “peak everything” that is largely driven by those numbers, then there is a chance we can actually pull through the neck of the bottle, and a flourishing future awaits humanity on the other side of it (outside the constraints of the bottle).
In the discussion thread, you made a large number of claims about AGW and related topics.
Before I address those claims, it’s worth commenting on your attitude to the people you call “AGW proponents”, which actually constitutes the majority of people in most countries.
You said to someone, early in the discussion:
“You should … not get you opinions [about aspects of AGW] from global warming proponents”
You clarified, when prompted to do so, that by “global warming proponents” you meant “[AGW] proponents = one who supports the hypothesis of [AGW]”
There are surveys suggesting that the majority of people in most countries are, by your definition, proponents of AGW.
For example, see this paper from Yale:
“ based on a survey of 76,328 Re “Climate change is happening”: Respondents in Costa Rica (94%), Brazil, and Spain (both 92%) are the most likely to think climate change is happening, while respondents in Indonesia (78%), Egypt, and Saudi Arabia (both 79%) are the least likely. • Re “Climate change is human-caused”: Respondents in Spain (64%) and Italy (60%) are the most likely to think that climate change is mostly caused by human activities, while respondents in Indonesia (16%) and Nigeria (24%) are the least likely… A majority of respondents in every country and territory are worried about climate change… a majority of respondents in every surveyed country and territory say climate change should be a “high” or “very high” priority for their own governments ”
The unweighted sample sizes for each country and territory are as follows:
• Argentina (n = 2,450)
• Australia (n = 2,668)
• Brazil (n = 2,093)
• Canada (n = 2,888)
• Colombia (n = 2,040)
• Costa Rica (n = 2,464)
• Czech Republic (n = 2,431)
• Egypt (n = 1,394)
• France (n = 2,339)
• Germany (n = 2,375)
• India (n = 4,502)
• Indonesia (n = 1,377)
• Ireland (n = 1,483)
• Italy (n = 2,554)
• Japan (n = 2,747)
• Malaysia (n = 1,125)
• Mexico (n = 2,378)
• Netherlands (n = 2,495)
• Nigeria (n = 1,125)
• Philippines (n = 1,126)
• Poland (n = 2,446)
• Russia (n = 2,568)
• Saudi Arabia (n = 952)
• South Africa (n = 1,512)
• Spain (n = 2,319)
• Taiwan (n = 1,918)
• Thailand (n = 1,442)
• Turkey (n = 1,712)
• United Kingdom (n = 2,587)
• United States (n = 13,555)
• Vietnam (n = 1,263)
“… increase in climate change concern and beliefs over time is evidenced in many other countries around the world. According to data from the Pew Research Center the median of respondents in 23 countries who said climate change was a major threat to their country increased from 56% in 2013 to 67% in 2018”
“A 2016 Gallup poll found that 64% of Americans were worried about global warming, that 59% believed that global warming was already happening, and 65% were convinced that global warming was caused by human activities.”
So, if you are suggesting people should, when forming their opinions, not listen to “proponents of AGW”, you are suggesting they should not listen to at least half the world population. That seems an extreme position to take, and extreme advice for you to give.
Next, I’ll look at a number of points where you and I disagree. I set out in numbered points below some of the claims you made about AGW or closely related topics.
You claimed the following, and I include my response against each point:
1) “The point: the climate changes. If trees are good (I do like them), than we have a better environment than in the past.” Yes, climate changes, but since the industrial revolution, human activities have caused changes that are increasingly damaging.
(in fact, “climate has always changed” is the number one most popular AGW denial trope)
2) "Earth science says CO2 = beneficial (water resistant and faster growing) plants… Why would greenhouses pump CO2 into them if it was not a benefit for the plants" Debunked here:
Your response was:
“Ok. Foster the sniff test. Why would greenhouses pump CO2 into them if it was not a benefit for the plants. The cost to do so has to be less than the increased growth value.
Simple earth science is in opposition of the main premise. I think there are some words games. Too much of a good thing. . . I agree, but for CO2 it is likely 800-1,000 PPM or more. When dinosaurs roamed, CO2 was over 10%. Obviously, 100% would be bad. Very bad, but under 1,000 PPM, I am confirmable stating is ok.
I can find many links for positive plant responses with more CO2.
This paper (which is now behind a pay wall), I read that C3 crops suffer from increasing CO2.”
Your make a claim that “the cost [of pumping CO2 into greenhouses] has to be less than the increased growth value.”
The costs incurred by greenhouse operators do not currently include all the externalities of their operations, which will include impacts on the environment of use of fertilisers, water etc., sourcing and recycling or disposal of the growth substrates they grow the plants in (usually soil) etc.
Not all the planetary boundaries (as per Rockstrom, Raworth etc mentioned elsewhere in this article) are about CO2.
The Climate Central article you cite is from 2013.
There is more recent evidence.
There's more relevant material about greening in the IPCC Special Report on climate change and land (summary for policymakers) 2019:
"Future net increases in CO2 emissions from vegetation and soils due to climate change are projected to counteract increased removals due to CO2 fertilisation and longer growing seasons (high confidence). The balance between these processes is a key source of uncertainty for determining the future of the land carbon sink. Projected thawing of permafrost is expected to increase the loss of soil carbon (high confidence). During the 21st century, vegetation growth in those areas may compensate in part for this loss... The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases (high confidence). Increased atmospheric CO2 levels can also lower the nutritional quality of crops (high confidence)."
from which (2020):
“More plants and longer growing seasons in the northern latitudes have converted parts of Alaska, Canada and Siberia to deeper shades of green. Some studies translate this Arctic greening to a greater global carbon uptake. But new research shows that as Earth’s climate changes, increased carbon absorption by plants in the Arctic is being offset by a corresponding decline in the tropics.”
and this – “Humans Are Officially Greening the Earth. Is That a Good Thing?:
“It was surprising for us to find that intensive agriculture is driving so much greening in China and India because we previously thought that greenhouse gas emissions were the primary drivers of global greening through higher levels of atmospheric carbon (aka more food for plants) produced by the burning of fossil fuels. This is consistent with work from other research groups that have recently provided strong additional evidence for the connection between human land use and the greening phenomenon observed in sub-Saharan Africa and throughout Europe. Our findings have uncovered an important research gap that has not been considered until now, which is the need for Earth system models to incorporate data and processes about how humans are using land. These factors are essential for us to understand as we continue to look at the Earth’s plant cover and consider how green leaf area can help—or hinder—our efforts to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and combat climate change.”
3) “I don’t subscribe to the narritive of worse weather. Thus, net positive … I think, quite reasonably, more CO2 is a net positive. That would thus, make the “externalities” a negative number making FF even cheaper” Debunked here:
4) ““Most [AGW] proponents [ie most people] have a zealous perspective on CO2.” This is a suggestion I’ve not heard before. I’m sure some of them are zealous, but not “most” – that would have to be about 25% of the entire world population being zealous about CO2, which seems very unlikely.
5) “There is significant harm in implementing the [AGW] proponent plans.” Debunked here:
You’ve not provided any substantive evidence for your statement. I would counter it with Ekins and Zenghelis, (2021) "The costs and benefits of environmental sustainability":
"Recent evidence suggests the short-term GDP impacts of well-designed environmental action could be positive, crowding-in rather than ‘crowding out’ the drivers of future growth. This paper provides evidence that not only makes the environmental case for action, in terms of its benefits for human health and welfare, it also shows how such action can generate economic returns in terms of productivity, jobs and income and reduce the costs of meeting any emissions and resource use targets. A cost effective low-carbon, resource-efficient transition can generate a cleaner, quieter, more secure, innovative, and productive economy for all countries at all stages of development."
6) “In the scientific method the hypothesis proponent has the burden of proof that the hypothesis is correct. Please prove humans are causing climate change”
You have this the wrong way round. The science behind AGW is well established now, from multiple lines of evidence, collected over many decades.
In order to change the current scientific consensus, someone must prove (with sufficient data and other evidence) at least one of the following:
a) it is not occurring
b) it is not harmful
c) that humans do not have a significant impact on it
Many scientists who can properly be called skeptics have tried to do all of these, for several decades, and have so far failed to change the consensus. I applaud their efforts, as they show the scientific process is alive and kicking.
I, for one, would be hugely relieved if someone did "disprove it", or at least if new evidence came to light that meant the consensus changed to "actually, we needn't worry about this because ... ".
If that happened, lots of people could spend more of their valuable time addressing other important problems.
Until that point, however, I will continue to treat AGW as a problem to be solved, and to do my bit to press for a just and sustainable future consistent with, eg, global net zero carbon.
7) “Citation that we have “unprecedented” warm temps, sever storms, etc. – bamboozling” See “abrupt v slow change in:
8) “A world of energy poverty is not a future for our children”
See also my comments about a paper by Ekins and Zenghelis
9) “Bots typically throw ad hominem. That is the easiest way to ID them” I challenged you to provide some evidence to support your statement, but you haven’t responded.
10) “Who is the arbitrator of credible? Or is it simply a collective delusion?
I think the latter.” You are entitled to your thoughts. I disagree, especially regarding credibility (or lack of credibility) of sources we can each cite regarding the science behind AGW. It’s important to check credibility of sources, because there is so much misinformation and disinformation about AGW online. As a footnote on this, when someone checks credibility of sources, you often suggest that such credibility checking is an invalid “ad hominem attack”. I disagree.
11) "zero orgs/individuals are credible. Thus, if there is any credible org/individual out there that people agree on, it is a collective delusion” That is a tautological argument, and you don’t back it up with substantive evidence.
12) “make your argument with reason and logic. Lean not on authority or “credibility”” That is a similar argument to the one “skeptics are like Galileo” which is debunked here:
13) “So this point starts off with “why believe” ? That is really a theological question” [actually, it was kicked off with a statement by yourself of “I’ll believe it when I see it”, not a question, in response to the thread header article titled “Researchers Show a 100% Renewable US Grid with No Blackouts Is Possible” A valid thing to discuss, but somewhat tangential to the discussion thread, so can be seen as a distraction or diversion.
14) “What I am illustrating I do not believe them” [ie researchers who suggest a 100% renewables energy system is feasible]. Your beliefs are up to you. AGW is about science, not beliefs.
15) “We often ignore the renewables costs and exaggerate the FF side. [AGW] is one of those exaggerations.” You offer no substantive evidence supporting your claim, to counter my reference to Bielecki )2020) “The Externalities Of Energy Production”. However, you do quite rightly point out that transition to a decarbonised energy system is not without challenges, including those relating to material availability and recycling, which, as I’ve pointed out, are examined in quite a lot of detail by Simon Michaux.
16) “[CO2] under 1,000 PPM, I am confirmable stating is ok”. Debunked here:
17) "There is no way solar is cheaper than nuclear..." You point to costs of storage and talk about Levelise Cost of Energy (“LCOE”). LCOE shows most renewables with lower LCOE than most fossil fuels (depending on the approach taken to LCOE, which is a whole topic in itself). Storage is an interesting topic, and an area being developed. I’d argue that any net “costs” of transitioning the energy system should be borne by the companies that caused the GHG emissions that made the transition necessary – ie fossil fuel companies.
18) “Wind and solar suffer from a unfixable deficiency. Energy density” I challenged you to explain this and provide evidence. Your response was:
Which quotes 1,050 watts per square metre from sunlight at the Earth’s surface.
This is corroborated / triangulated easily, for example by checking to information published by NASA at:
You compare this with nuclear, from:
“The energy density of nuclear energy can range from very great 1.5 x 10 to the power of 15 J/m3 , for purified uranium, to less than half a percent of this in the naturally occurring state.”
For comparison, the same paper says energy density is 0.0000015 J/m3 for solar and 7 J/m3 for wind energy.
Despite the differences in units (watts per square metre and joules per cubic metre) it is very clear that nuclear has a massively greater energy density than solar.
The main issue that comes out of this is whether there is enough usable land space to replace fossil fuel energy generation infrastructure with solar and wind.
The Stanford paper (Jacobson 2017 “100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and
Sunlight All-Sector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World” is quite clear on the answer to this.
“The total new land footprint required for the 139 countries is 0.22% of the 139-country
land area (Table 2), mostly for utility PV. This does not account for the decrease in
footprint from eliminating the current energy infrastructure, which includes footprints
for continuous mining, transporting, and refining fossil fuels and uranium
and for growing, transporting, and refining biocrops. WWS [Wind, Wave and Solar] has no footprint associated with mining fuels, but both WWS and BAU energy infrastructures require one-time mining for raw materials for new plus repaired equipment construction.
The only spacing over land needed is between onshore wind turbines and requires 0.92% of the 139-country land area.”
19) “Even the IPCC does not state with complete confidence that the globe has warmed. They have strong confidence, if memory serves.” Not true.
IPCC AR6 (2021) says: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”
20) “Climategate. Regardless, of what was cleared, the emails are quite damning themselves” Debunked here:
21) “[AGW] is not an established theory” Not true.
The evidence for AGW is overwhelming. Backed by IPCC publications, 99%+ consensus of climate scientists and all credible scientific institutions around the world.
22) You claim (about designing for recyclability?) that "There are no benefits only tradeoffs... Laws of nature are stating that. There are only tradeoffs. [citing laws of thermodynamics] " That is a misdirection. The laws of thermodynamics do not counter the possibility of redesigning products so that they use less energy and materials to produce and are made of materials and in ways that improve recycling rates. It is true that thermodynamics will ultimately limit the proportions of materials that can be recycled, but at much higher rates than those at which most materials are currently recycled. There might be other tradeoffs, but you haven’t expanded on what you are referring to as tradeoffs or provided evidence supporting your claim of “no benefits, only tradeoffs”
You rightly point out that there are some difficulties and challenges in transitioning to a decarbonised economy.
However, your main contribution to the discussion appears to be to generously intersperse your small number of valid comments with a veritable snowstorm of well-worn anti-AGW tropes, for many of which, when challenged, you fail to provide substantive supporting evidence.
I’d classify at least half of your points I’ve enumerated above as unsubstantiated anti-AGW tropes. The rest are mostly diversionary incorrect statements, half-truths or attempts to weaken the use of credible sources, or attempts to discredit scientists’ use of the scientific method, or unsubstantiated claims that renewables are not cheaper than fossil fuels almost everywhere where a proper analysis is done.
You have also incorrectly represented the views of the IPCC on the level of confidence the IPCC has on one of its main findings.
Overall, there are two particular difficulties understanding your position on AGW.
The first is that you seem to reject all science that is associated with “credible sources”, but you don’t explain why you place any credence in scientific sources that support your view that “more CO2 is a good thing”.
The second is that the way you have engaged in the above mentioned discussion is to engage only superficially with most of the discussion points, and you quickly introduce more points tangential to the ones being discussed, without addressing fully enough the counterarguments to the points you’ve previously made.
Although this pattern of discourse appears over a few days rather than all taking place in a few minutes or a few hours, it comes across as a form of discourse called a “Gish Gallop” (or perhaps a "gish jog", given its timescales).
For its success, a gish gallop depends on the responders not having the time (or energy / patience) to respond to each and every point made by the person doing the gish gallop. The gish galloper typically thinks they’ve “won” if any one (or more) of their many points remains uncontested at the end of the dialogue. That’s one of the reasons I have a standing wording on my social media profile which states “please note that my silence does not indicate agreement”.
I'm happy to agree to disagree with anyone, on any topic, but I'm also happy to call out people for poor arguments that risk causing public harm. Dismissing the science of AGW and engaging in anti-AGW gish gallops on AGW are two examples of such behaviours, when they are carried out in highly visible channels in the public domain.
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