Thursday, September 19, 2013

If we cut CO2 emissions today...or Dunning and Kruger visit WUWT again

Sou | 8:29 PM Go to the first of 12 comments. Add a comment

Update: See below for ABC news item on the horrid but expected decision of this new government to disband Australia's Climate Commission. (The website is still up here.)

Anthony Watts has a cartoon by Josh as part of an article (archived here) telling his readers about how PM Tony Abbott has shut down the Climate Commission.  The cartoon is this one:

(you wouldn't) Credit: Josh - who suffers a serious case of the Dunning Kruger Effect
Source: Home of the DuKEs - WUWT

The object of the cartoon is Professor Tim Flannery who chaired Australia's Climate Commission.  Tim Flannery is not a meteorologist but he knows more about climate than all the deniers at WUWT and elsewhere put together.

If you read the top and bottom of the quote, you'd see that Josh (and presumably Anthony Watts) don't understand much about CO2 or climate.  As you'll see if you don't already know, Tim Flannery is, of course, correct.

One gets the feeling that Josh and Anthony Watts believe that a mere cut in CO2 would result in a drop in temperature.  That's pretty silly of them.  Any old cut in CO2 won't drop temperature.  As long as more CO2 is being added to the atmosphere than leaves it, then energy in the earth system will increase and temperatures will keep going up.  CO2 is a greenhouse gas and what it does is absorb IR radiation.  The more CO2 there is the less quickly will earth radiate energy to space.  That's why earth is heating up.

What the science says about CO2 and future temperature

I thought it might be worth writing an article about what the science says if the world suddenly stopped emitting any and all CO2 and what would happen if we started to cut emissions.

There was an article on realclimate.org a couple of years ago about this topic, based on a paper in Nature Geoscience by Damon Matthews and Andrew Weaver: "Committed climate warming." Nature Geoscience 3.3 (2010): 142-143.  The article included this diagram from the paper (click to enlarge):

Source: Realclimate.org
The flattish blue line represents what would happen if all CO2 emissions stopped, assuming all else stayed the same (ie, same aerosol emissions etc).  The oceans would stop absorbing as much as they are today and temperature would level off.

The top red line represents what would happen if we cut CO2 emissions such that the actual CO2 in the air stayed constant.  That is, if we only put as much CO2 into the air as was taken out of it.  As Gavin Schmidt of realclimate.org says:
However, constant concentrations of CO2 imply a change in emissions – specifically an immediate cut of around 60 to 70% globally and continued further cuts over time. Matthews and Weaver make the point that this is a little arbitrary and that the true impact of climate inertia would be seen only with emissions cut to zero. That is, if we define the commitment as the consequence only of past emissions, then you should set future emissions to zero before you calculate it. This is a valid point, and the consequence of that is seen in the lower lines in the figure.
CO2 concentrations would start to fall immediately since the ocean and terrestrial biosphere would continue to absorb more carbon than they release as long as the CO2 level in the atmosphere is higher than pre-industrial levels (approximately). And subsequent temperatures (depending slightly on the model you are using) would either be flat or slightly decreasing. With this definition then, there is no climate change commitment because of climate inertia. Instead, the reason for the likely continuation of the warming is that we can’t get to zero emissions any time soon because of societal, economic or technological inertia.
That is an interesting reframing of an issue that comes up all the time in discussions of adaptation and mitigation. This is because it demonstrates that adaptation (over and above what is necessary to reduce vulnerabilities to current climate conditions) is unnecessary if mitigation is dramatic enough.
However, the practical implication of this reframing is small. We are clearly not going to get to zero emissions any time soon, and even the 60-70% cuts required to stabilise concentrations initially seem a long way off. Thus as a practical matter, it doesn’t really matter whether the inertia is climatic or societal or technological or economic because the globe will continue to warm under all realistic scenarios (what we do have a possible control over is the magnitude of that warming). Thus further adaptation measures will still be needed.

In the comments, Bart Verheggen pointed out (excerpt):
I think this framing is still arbitrary, in that the CO2 emissions are set to zero, but aerosol emissions are (presumably) allowed to continue. It is thus the climate commitment of only CO2, not considering other anthropogenic climate forcings.
The warming commitment if we stop all human emissions (GHG and aerosol) is probably very substantial: The cooling effect of the aerosol will very quickly disappear, thereby ‘unmasking’ the greenhouse warming, approximately half of which has been canceled by aerosol cooling up to now.
There has been other research on the topic.  I don't know how science deniers like Anthony Watts and Josh missed it.

The warming we've had already is irreversible for at least 1000 years

Damon Matthews has recently written another article on the topic with Susan Solomon.  This was published in Science earlier this year: "Irreversible Does Not Mean Unavoidable." Science 340.6131 (2013): 438-439; DOI: 10.1126/science.1236372.  In that article they write:
The notion that there will be additional future warming or “warming in the pipeline” if the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were to remain fixed at current levels (1) has been misinterpreted to mean that the rate of increase in Earth's global temperature is inevitable, regardless of how much or how quickly emissions decrease (2–4). Further misunderstanding may stem from recent studies showing that the warming that has already occurred as a result of past anthropogenic carbon dioxide increases is irreversible on a time scale of at least 1000 years (5, 6). But irreversibility of past changes does not mean that further warming is unavoidable.

There is more here, from the reference (6) in the above excerpt, a separate paper by Damon Matthews and Ken Caldiera  (2008), Stabilizing climate requires near-zero emissions, Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L04705, doi:10.1029/2007GL032388.. This is from the abstract (my bold):
We show first that a single pulse of carbon released into the atmosphere increases globally averaged surface temperature by an amount that remains approximately constant for several centuries, even in the absence of additional emissions. We then show that to hold climate constant at a given global temperature requires near-zero future carbon emissions. Our results suggest that future anthropogenic emissions would need to be eliminated in order to stabilize global-mean temperatures. As a consequence, any future anthropogenic emissions will commit the climate system to warming that is essentially irreversible on centennial timescales.
And from this paper by S Solomon, GK Plattner, R Knutti, P Friedlingstein (2009) "Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions" Proceedings of the national academy of sciences, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0812721106
The severity of damaging human-induced climate change depends not only on the magnitude of the change but also on the potential for irreversibility. This paper shows that the climate change that takes place due to increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop. Following cessation of emissions, removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide decreases radiative forcing, but is largely compensated by slower loss of heat to the ocean, so that atmospheric temperatures do not drop significantly for at least 1,000 years. Among illustrative irreversible impacts that should be expected if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase from current levels near 385 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to a peak of 450–600 ppmv over the coming century are irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the “dust bowl” era and inexorable sea level rise. Thermal expansion of the warming ocean provides a conservative lower limit to irreversible global average sea level rise of at least 0.4–1.0 m if 21st century CO2 concentrations exceed 600 ppmv and 0.6–1.9 m for peak CO2 concentrations exceeding ≈1,000 ppmv. Additional contributions from glaciers and ice sheet contributions to future sea level rise are uncertain but may equal or exceed several meters over the next millennium or longer.

From the WUWT comments

The comments predictably include the usual lies about what Prof Flannery said - when of course he didn't.  The comments are archived here with the main WUWT article.

Rick Bradford says:
September 18, 2013 at 11:50 pm
Flannery is the man who advised the Government that south-east Australia would be in permanent drought due to AGW, so no new catchment dams should be built, and the money spent on desalination plants instead.
Outcome: South-East Australia awash with water, billions of dollars wasted on (mothballed) desalination plants, not enough catchment to prevent the kind of flooding which killed 38 people in Queensland, while Flannery pocketed a fortune.
He’s getting off lightly, IMO.
Professor Flannery has never said that south-east Australia would be in permanent drought.  That's just a denier myth.  You'll notice neither Rick nor any science denier can provide a direct quote or interview transcript that shows Tim Flannery ever said any such thing.  And I'm not sure what a desalination plant in Melbourne or Adelaide has to do with floods in Queensland!  They are separated by thousands of kilometres as well as mountain ranges!  I do know that without its desalination plants Perth in Western Australia would be in very big trouble.

John Coochey says:
September 18, 2013 at 11:51 pm
There is an article on the publicly funded warmist blog “The Conversation” I am banned from that blog but someone should ask the author Andy Pitman how long it would take the world to cool if human activity ceased tomorrow he has previously stated twenty to thirty years not the thousand claimed by Tim Flannery. When I asked Ian Chub the Chief Scientist who was right his answer was quote “I would not have a clue not a clue”. So ask Andy Pitman again and see if he has changed his tune.

Maybe I'll tell him myself, after I've published this :) (Later: I was too late, comments are closed.)

Roy Martin is a bit deluded when he says:
September 19, 2013 at 12:14 am
David Karoly and Will Steffen also went the same way as Tim Flannery.
Three for the price of one, and it is only the day after the new government was sworn into office.
Our new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, already has his staff busy drafting legislation to repeal the Australian Carbon Tax laws put into place by the previous government.
These two scientists probably got no more than sitting fees and travel expenses when doing work for the Commission.  David Karoly was never a member of the Climate Commission but he was a member of its Science Advisory Panel.  He is Professor of Meteorology and an ARC Federation Fellow in the School of Earth Sciences.  Professor Will Steffen was a member of the Climate Commission.  He is Director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University.  Tony Abbott cannot sack either of them from their academic posts.

Mike Haseler had some mixed feelings and wrote:
September 19, 2013 at 12:21 am
I saw the “sacked” and just assumed it was another sceptic losing their job. So when I realised it was an alarmist … I felt a little hypocritical for a second … until I realised that unlike sceptics it is not that the individual was being targeted, but the job was going because the organisation was (rightly) being shut down.

High Treason is calling "off with their heads" and says:
September 19, 2013 at 12:58 am
We need to put on trial all those who deceitfully spread warmist propaganda, including Tim Flannery. Those that gave the orders and those that followed the orders to deceive the people and cause economic loss must be held to account. It is unfair that the taxpayer has to fund ideology based on fraud and self interest. Just hope the cat starts to come out of the bag on the whole AGW fraud and the motivations behind it.

oldseadog says:
September 19, 2013 at 1:39 am
Oh well, I suppose that since he was only part time he has his other job to fall back on. (Unless he is a sword smith, of course.) Anyone know what the other job is?
Yes, we do.

About the now defunct Climate Commission

Let's finish with a video of one of the dozens of public forums held all around Australia by the Climate Commission:

For the time being, there are more videos here and all the reports of the Climate Commission are still on line here - but probably not for long.


This is from Australia's ABC (excerpts - my formatting: paras, bolding and italics):
The commission was set up under then prime minister Julia Gillard in February 2011 as an independent body "to provide reliable and authoritative" information on climate change.  The now former chief commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery, says Environment Minister Greg Hunt called him this morning to announce the commission's closure.  Professor Flannery, who is also a former Australian of the Year, has defended the commission's role.
"We've stayed out of the politics and stuck to the facts," he said. "As a result we've developed a reputation as a reliable apolitical source of facts on all aspects of climate change. I believe that Australians have a right to know - a right to authoritative, independent and accurate information on climate change. We've just seen one of the earliest ever starts to the bushfire season in Sydney following the hottest twelve months on record."
Mr Hunt has released a statement saying the commission was dumped as "part of the Coalition's plans to streamline government processes and avoid duplication of services". It says the commission's role will be picked up by the Environment Department.
However, Professor Flannery says he is not aware of any organisation that can do the same job - not even the CSIRO or universities. 
"The Bureau of Meteorology puts out advice and information on weather events, but doesn't cover the economics or international action happening around climate change," he said.
"There's various other groups that may or may not be able to do some of it, but having an independent strong authority that's committed to just telling the facts as they are …we're the group that was doing that. You need a well-informed public in order to make the right sort of decisions. I believe that Australians have a right to know - a right to authoritative, independent and accurate information on climate change.

Professor Flannery says the Government will have to find another way to keep the public informed about climate change. 
Other groups in the environment sector say they will be sad to see the Climate Commission close.  Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Tony Mohr says the Coalition Government threatens to undo years of work.
"It's really unfortunate that we've seen the first few steps of the new government unwind years of progress on climate change action in Australia," he said. "The Climate Change Commission has been a world-leading body in educating Australians about what climate change will mean for us."

Read more here.


  1. Unlike the NIPCC report, Josh isn't funny enough to be in the Onion.

  2. Exit Flannery and Climate Commission. So this was Abott's first action, not even cold from inauguration?
    Australia is going to burn this summer and no-one is going to know why :)

    1. shutting the Climate commission was the top of the IPA wish list, Abbott is working his way through it


    2. Oh great. Well this kinda Bush jr. administration will kill the economy in no time tops. Congratz, Aussies. I'm really gonna sit back and enjoy this.

  3. To WUWTers, Abott's dismantling of the Climate Commission is a serious blow to climate science. The distinction between scientific bodies and science itself is quite beyond their grasp.

    Is there a good source for what the Abott Plan is beyond the dismantling phase? How is this Green Army to be administered, for instance? Which Ministry will it answer to? Does anything similar already exist as a possible basis? I'm intrigued.

    1. I notice Liberal MP Don Randall in Canning WA is giving out Green Army money:

      "With help from Don Randall he has been able to secure a very large Grant from the New Federal Government
      Under a new Initiative

      Green Army for Darling Downs and Birriga Brook
      *On the Ground environmental Solutions for the Darling Downs Equestrian Estate
      *Wetlands and Waterways Rehabilitation
      *Trail Repairs and Bushfire control"

      I can't see if any Ministerial coordinating is done, or how they assess CO2 uptake - probably don't..?

    2. On the sunshine coast there is a very short window to get seedling trees planted,

      It can only be done in april which is our best rain/cool temps ratio,

      It is not just an exercise in planting and walking away, watering, weeds and pest control is required for many months and you are still not even compensating for ongoing land clearing.

      feel good for F**K all solution So yes we need to plant more trees but not pretend that it will make a difference

    3. lucyjunior : thanks, but that grant must surely have been in the pipeline for months (at least) so the 'New
      Initiative', if even genuine, ain't the Abott Plan. It's false attribution to start bigging-up what will no doubt descend into farce.

      I'm sorely tempted to refer to the Green Army as the Abott Youth, in an homage to Monckton, but too far too soon, perhaps?

  4. Is the Climate COmmission's web site going to go down, or will it be left for ongoing reference? Removing it would be a spiteful and vindictive act indeed, and a profoundly regressive one, as well as demonstrating to the world that the Abbott government is a beholden to a biocidal denialist ideology.

    This is Abbott's first step in taking Australian (and international) science to the equivalent of the gas-chambers.

    I hope that somewhere these government sites are backed-up for future reference.

    Bernard J.

  5. Ah, Josh, the quintessential example of Denial's elevation of mediocrities.

    The Trotskyite 'Direct Action' plan will achieve nothing, and isn't intended to. (Well, it's not even properly funded, is it?!)

    My prediction? A whole bunch of revegetation programs, most of which were going to happen anyway, will be rebranded as part of it.

    This really will be an example of Australia's meagre capacity meaning we're unlikely to make any difference globally! (Except this time this will be a reason to do something, rather than not to, because it won't disrupt the Corporate Welfare State! I.e. you won't hear a peep from the Murdoch Minions.)

    Some of these reveg programs will be important in biodiversity terms, and some of them may well be opportunist efforts run by incompetents (well meaning or otherwise!) and be of little benefit even there. None of them will manage to offset land-clearing in QLD alone, which the consciously schizoid feds will actively facilitate in collaboration with their state counterparts - 'getting out of the way and allowing Campbell to get on with it!' - and then refuse to notice.

    The CO2 accounting really will be a joke - I work in Landcare; you tell me how much CO2 a part tubestocked, part direct-seeded attempt at a grassy Euc. odorata woodland buffer planting is going to be sequestering in 2023! - but, again, the erstwhile-ever-vocal, hyper-scrutinous Usual-Suspects will find themselves strangely uninterested.

    Within a decade it will be evident to almost all that this election result is pretty-well the most Pyrrhic victory in the country's history, but the Apparatchiks at the IPA don't care...

    1. Bill.

      We appear to be in complete concordance:



      Bernard J.


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