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David Hone
Climate Change Adviser, Shell Group

David Hone

David Hone is the climate change adviser for the Shell Group and vice chairman of the International Emissions Trading Association. He also works closely with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. ALL POSTS

Wheel of Fortune?

There is no doubt about the science, but what remains is uncertainty. By "the science" I mean the fact that CO2 (and other trace gases) absorbs in the infrared range, warms the atmosphere as a result and that increasing CO2 levels drive increased warming. There is also no doubt that the rising level of CO2 in the atmosphere is the result of human (anthropogenic) activity. Like it or not, we are now in what history may well label the Anthropocene Warming Period. But what does it mean? This is where uncertainty comes in.

Imagine we are in a casino and standing in front of the "wheel of fortune". Each wedge on the wheel represents a possible temperature rise outcome for the planet over this century. But the wedges aren't equal and the one that means not much will happen is so narrow that you might spin the wheel 100 times and never land on it. The next best wedge means the temperature rises by over 3 deg.C (5 deg.F) and it just gets worse after that. Seven looks scary. This doesn't feel like "wheel of fortune", more like Russian roulette with just one chamber empty. This is the wheel we get to spin if we carry on emitting without care.

Another wheel is on offer, but it requires some effort to spin - such as being more efficient, managing forests, building more wind turbines and storing CO2 underground. On this wheel there is a big wedge that says 2 deg.C (4 deg.F) but that annoying 3 to 4 is still there, although its not too big and the "not much will happen" wedge is now big enough to have some chance of landing on. It doesn't feel like Russian roulette anymore.

The science is clear on which game we need to play, but the outcome remains uncertain. Unfortunately this is a casino we can't leave until we spin one of the wheels one time.

By David Hone  |  October 14, 2009; 6:52 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg     Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: What's Really in Doubt? | Next: It's Time for Action

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It's wheels within wheels. For instance, if man had never learned to tame fire, what would the climate do? Claiming that man's use of combustion is having an effect is fine, but that effect is overlaid on change that nobody is able to predict so that the net effect of the wheel upon the wheel is uncertain as well.

Posted by: edbyronadams | October 18, 2009 2:19 PM
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Shaviv is one of the critics who at least attempts to paly by the rules, but his work remains disputed. (See quote from Henry6's reference below).

When you are looking at a short-term record, playing with lags to explain anomolies is allowing yourself too many degrees of freedom to test your hypothesis. Accepted models including solar effects show they are too small to explain the data - they come in as about the 9th strongest factor.

"Shaviv’s solar hypothesis has been disputed by Mike Lockwood and Claus Froehlich in an analysis of the sun’s output over the last 25 years. They argue that the sun’s activity has been decreasing since 1985 while global temperatures have continued to rise.[4]

Shaviv argues that Lockwood and Froehlich's analysis is flawed for a number of reasons[5]. Firstly, while sunspot activity declined after 1985, cosmic ray flux reached a minimum in 1992 and contributed to warming during the 1990s. Secondly, Shaviv argues that short term variations in radiative forcing are damped by the oceans, leading to a lag between changes in solar output and the effect on global temperatures. While the 2001 maximum was weaker than the 1990 maximum, increasing solar activity during previous decades was still having a warming effect, not unlike the lag between noon and the hottest hour of the day."

Posted by: j2hess | October 17, 2009 7:25 PM
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there are no models that show man successfully turning it around. It is impossible.

Posted by: wgbarbour1 | October 17, 2009 5:06 PM
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The computer models that are relied on for the dire predictions are wrong over and over again. The same people who make the models the basis for their draconian solutions would never invest their own money based on similarly shoddy financial models. I don't care about the conspiracy theories on either side. I just want to see a public debate of the actual science. All we ever hear is "the debate is over," or "thousands of scientists say," or "the science is clear." When will the folks making the GWG claims actually address the seams in the "consensus" science??????

Posted by: phiggits | October 17, 2009 12:42 PM
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I am a physicist and heard Nir Shaviv give a compelling talk a few months ago on his extremely detailed radiative transfer model (millions of lines, each line a Voight profile with 20 points) that shows that increased CO2 leads to cooling in the lower atmosphere. Glib statements in Hone's first paragraph are just wrong, is my vote. Climate is unpredictable. I have no real opinion on CO2, because I have no conviction I know what it will do. We are near the end of the current interglacial. My best guess is that the ice sheets will soon be coming once again. Here's Shaviv: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nir_Shaviv

Posted by: henry6 | October 17, 2009 5:32 AM
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