Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rio: Why No One Cares

The Rio+20 Summit started yesterday -- did you notice? I just looked around -- I don't see anything on the top screen of the New York Times, or the Washington Post, or the Los Angeles Times. I'm sure they have stories somewhere, but they're not pushing them. President Obama isn't attending, nor is Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel or British Prime Minister David Cameron. But Curtis Brainard writes that "more heads of state have registered for Rio+20 than the original summit."

Conference fatigue? Maybe. You can only be told so many times that “There is precious little time to do something, to act,” as a UN co-chair said in today's NY Times, before you start to wonder how many times you've heard that already, and why nothing ever gets done.

And perhaps people are losing interest in climate change. (No, not you, you're a climate nerd, or you wouldn't be reading this blog). But what's happened since Rio 1992 is hardly worrisome; here are the numbers for warming since the last Rio Conference 20 years ago. I've put them in Fahrenheit to make them as scary as possible:

region 20-yr
change (°F)
Globe 0.7
Globe:land 1.0
NH:land 1.1
SH:land 0.6
Tropics:land 0.6
North Pole 2.5
South Pole 0.8
USA48 1.0

[Note: these numbers are just the 20-yr linear trend for the UAH lower troposphere measurements, times 20 years. The statistical uncertainties (at the 95% confidence level) are roughly 20%.]

So a warming of a degree F or less, a 2.6 inch rise in sea level, perhaps a small upward trend in tropical storms but not in major hurricanes (and while hurricanes can hurt those who live along coasts, they know they're going to get storms anyway, so are a few more that worrisome?).... I can't blame the public for yawning over this. A drought and heat wave here and there...but when haven't there been droughts and heat waves? (And who on the US east coat doesn't enjoy a heat wave in March??) The drought in Texas got lots of attention, but last year it only cost Texas about $7B in lost crops, or 0.6% of its GDP. John Fleck says it looks like Texas communities have made the necessary adjustments. I know for some there has been real suffering, but jeez, when in human history hasn't there been real suffering?

Meanwhile no one acts like this is a real crisis -- UN officials and scientists and book authors and the environmental gang still all fly all over the place. And talk of the climate problem has spread out to cover all kinds of other concerns, about poverty eradication and environmental justice and even (in the leaked IPCC 5th Assessment Report Zero Order Drafts) gender. Some people are using it for their own purposes.

So while the projections all look scary -- and, to be clear for all the Tom Nelsons who will selectively quote from this, I firmly believe that the long-term projections are scary enough, the ones 50 or 100 years out -- what's happening doesn't look scary, so far. (And with the worldwide economic crisis, it's no wonder people's attentions are elsewhere; losing one's job or house is a lot scarier than a couple of degrees of warming.) If we all lived based on scary projections, I wouldn't have had that dish of ice cream last night. But I did.


Unknown said...

well of course people have started to ignore the problem. We were supposed to have massive warming by now, more hurricanes, more droughts, sea levels that drown islands, refugees fleeing global catastrophes, but all we got was,,,,its coming soon. Most people are not stupid, and the alarmists over egged the pudding from the start. Global Warming is a dead issue, get used to it.

David Appell said...

Define "massive."

Unknown said...

First of all why am I unknown? weird.

Here is a prediction from J Hansen 1986,1812228&dq=james-hansen&hl=en

We should have at least 1.5 C by now.

Paul S said...

Unknown (I think you should stick with the name),

That story is actually from 1982. There seem to be a number of people involved but for Hansen's part he's probably referring to his 1981 paper, illustrated in this posting.

You can see, in Figure 4, the Fast Growth scenario predicts a 2.5ºC temperature rise by ~2050, which is towards the upper end of the 50-75 year range written in the newspaper article.

However, note that the temperature progression through the 21st Century is strongly non-linear and the prediction at 2012 suggests a ~0.5ºC increase, which is pretty much what we've witnessed.

(I should note that I'm not ascribing any great significance to the accuracy of this projection. There are numerous factors involved - climate sensitivity, ocean heat uptake, ghg emissions, aerosol emissions, volcanic eruptions, solar forcing - it wouldn't be unthinkable to get the right result for the wrong reasons: compensating errors.)

Papa Zu said...

David, the biggest story in Rio is why president O isn't there. If being at Rio would help his re-election, he would be there and the press would have page 1 headlines every day! It is clear that this is not the case. All these little third world pineapple dictatorships and radical NGOs have turned Rio into a bash the US fest which could only put president O in negative light.

With the NYT, WAPO, LAT and the 90+% of all media being liberal Democrats, they just aren't going report on anything that would remind enviros that the president is more talk than action and has been ineffective at these global conferences. The last thing the president needs is hanging around a bunch of discontent transnational progressives bashing Western countries and demanding that the president cede sovereignty in order to establish a centralized global authority to oversee the US emissions and thus have taxing authority over US citizens to raise money for their social justice programs. Of course this all would require the demise of the already dismal US economy as social justice requires that any disparity in wealth is an injustice.

Maybe if this weren't an election year, president O would be in Rio cavorting with these transnational progressive NGOs and the press would cover it, but it IS an election year and you'll just have be happy with coverage of Hillary fighting for the reduction of leaked methane and black carbon.

charlesH said...

why? cagw is only agw