Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Marburger Speech at AGU

John Marburger gave a speech at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting on Monday -- "Reflections on the Science and Policy of Energy and Climate Change." Here's a copy, if anyone is interested.

Ray Pierrehumbert was at the speech and has comments here on RealClimate.

It's a quite remarkable speech, though not really surprising. Some highlights:
As a scientist, I am humbled by the power of the media in this debate. Issues that should be matters of fact are lost in oversimplifications and hyperbole. Issues that are clearly matters of opinion are marketed as scientific certainties. The complexity of the phenomena far exceeds the capacity of conventional public discourse, which is not unusual for scientific matters, but rarely do such matters intrude with such amplitude into the public domain. The visibility of the issue, which is entirely justified by its importance, guarantees that it becomes an object and an instrument of politics. Many scientists have willingly participated in the inevitable simplifications that are conventional in politics, acting from the same desire that motivates us all to have our societies do what we believe to be the right thing. From my perspective, science has lost credibility in this discussion in a subtle way. Critics and advocates all stamp their positions with the brand of science. They all claim that science supports their particular views. The subtext is that science is incapable of distinguishing among their views. The latter is more likely than the former, and the distressing fact is that science is being pressed into an awkward service here, and I know I am not the only scientist uneasy about it.
One of the most important decisions governments must make now is how to balance investments in adaptation versus mitigation of climate change. The tone of current public discourse seems to be biased against adaptation, which is incomprehensible to me (and I hope I have judged the mood incorrectly). Social returns on adaptation investments begin immediately and last indefinitely. Social returns on mitigation investments are likely to be negative in the near term, and produce their positive impacts far in the future. Both, however, are necessary.
Why shouldn't the goal be simply to reduce the absolute carbon emission toward zero? Why bring in the notion of "intensity?" Because the cause of our climate anxiety in the first place – the root cause – is the overwhelming desire of people everywhere to improve their lot. That desire will not be denied. From all I have ever read or seen of human behavior, the will to better human circumstances must be accommodated in any social plan of action, and especially one designed to persist over decades, perhaps centuries. If we are to make any progress in mitigating anthropogenic climate change, it will be necessary to break the link between economic development and fossil fuel emissions. Simultaneous economic development – i.e. growth in GDP – and CO2 reduction implies reducing carbon intensity. This is a point of the utmost importance in crafting a successful global climate strategy.
In view of all these considerations, what constitutes a rational path forward? First, every major economy in the world needs to make some kind of commitment to long term emissions reduction. I do not think it is possible to force such a commitment. Each country must conclude that it is ultimately in its best interest to join in at least what has been called an "aspirational goal." Developing nations must be included in this framework. Second, technology development must focus on scalable sources – nuclear and coal, while maintaining progress in other areas such as renewable power and efficient end uses. Third, although I have not made a point of this, we need better data and agreement on data definitions and measurements that permit comparisons of energy use not only among countries, but also in different economic sectors within the same country. This is essential to the effectiveness of any international agreement. Fourth, we need some sort of international financial framework that takes into account private as well as public investments in energy infrastructure. Fifth, much, much more attention needs to be given to adaptation. And finally, increased focus on research in low carbon energy technology in all countries. Most of these points are addressed in President Bush’s recent initiative with the major economies of the world to develop a framework of action to create and achieve long term carbon emissions goals.
Someone at Bali said the mood is, they are standing around the bed of the Bush Administration, waiting for it to finally die. You can see why.

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