R.I.P. Climate Change Mitigation (1988-2011)

Richard Black came back yesterday to the Land of the Writing with the uncharacteristic words of a Climate Realist, clearly undermining the mitigation side of climate change…

No-one acknowledges the limitations of computer climate models more readily than modellers themselves, who will frequently bemoan the roughness of the resolution at which they have to work given the tools available.

How fast models’ capabilities will increase is anybody’s guess – partly because funding for new big science projects is scarce in many nations, partly because there are still big gaps in understanding of how oceans and the atmosphere work, and partly because when it comes to projecting trends such as glacier loss, the path human society takes in terms of economic development is a key factor, and that’s certainly a known unknown.

There is not enough detail to know what the impact is going to be, where it is going to hit and when. Worse, it might take a long time to go from Global to Regional level, and then even that might not be detailed enough to be “useful”, with more years still to go from Regional to a “useful” level (whatever that might be).

All mitigation efforts might be just right, or too much, or too little, just in-time, or too soon, or too late, and we simply have no clue to tell what they really are.

The problem is that climate science as it is now asked to help manage the climate risk of the year 2100 is like XVIII century chemistry being asked to develop a nuclear bomb. We know it did, eventually, and science and knowledge moved forward. We also know it would have been absurd to base any policy on what XVIII century chemistry knew about nuclear bombs. And we know that, albeit fundamental to the building of nuclear bombs, XVIII century chemistry studies would have been of very little help in that regard.

So it’s not a matter of pessimism, but (using a similar analogy) of acknowledging that we can’t go to the Moon yet if all we can build is hot-air balloons.

Richard proceeds to ask:

So what should policymakers do?

What does one do if one loses one’s sight? Await in hospital the invention of an artificial eye? Pretend nothing has happened, and try to walk as before? Or does one protects oneself against accidents (=builds up adaptation) by using a white cane, a guide dog, and all available mobility aids?

Risk management under these “blind walk” conditions has to start from adaptation instead of mitigation, building up everybody’s resilience against present and future climate (or better yet, weather) events. There are enough weather disasters already as things are, despite CO2 levels being far from the projected values, and global temperature anomaly still in the 0.7C region.