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20211016 – Unsettled

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea is to present the vast amount of actual data about climate change to help people understand the problems and their scales. The author makes the point that climate change is real, but its consequences are greatly exaggerated. Unfortunately, elites’ global political and financial interests drive this exaggeration to the extreme with the use of unreliable models, massive propaganda in the media, and corruption of science.  The author also presents potential solutions and a set of requirements for them. 

DETAILS:

Introduction
The introduction begins with the facts from US assessment that remain mainly unknown because they contradict the prevailing propaganda narrative:

  • Humans have had no detectable impact on hurricanes over the past century.
  • Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any more rapidly today than it was eighty years ago.
  • The net economic impact of human-induced climate change will be minimal through at least the end of this century.

The author then presents his credentials as a scientist and administrator with enough clout to convene a scientific workshop to assess the condition of climate science. Here is what the author discovered:

  • Humans exert a growing, but physically small, warming influence on the climate. The deficiencies of climate data challenge our ability to untangle the response to human influences from poorly understood natural changes.
  • The results from the multitude of climate models disagree with, or even contradict, each other and many kinds of observations. A vague “expert judgment” was sometimes applied to adjust model results and obfuscate shortcomings.
  • ​Government and UN press releases and summaries do not accurately reflect the reports themselves. There was a consensus at the meeting on some important issues, but not at all the strong consensus the media promulgates. Distinguished climate experts (including report authors themselves) are embarrassed by some media portrayals of the science. This was somewhat shocking.
  • ​In short, the science is insufficient to make useful projections about how the climate will change over the coming decades, much less what effect our actions will have on it.

Because the author is a natural and honest scientist and despite being a lifelong Democrat, he felt compelled to write this book and provide accurate information about the current condition of climate science, which is very different from the media’s portrayal.

Part l: The Science
Part I clarifies how the climate has changed, how it will change in the future, and the impact of those changes. It also offers some basics about the official assessment reports that we look to for answers to those questions.

Chapter 1. What We Know About Warming
The chapter explains both the importance and challenges of obtaining quality observations of the earth’s climate (which is not the same as its weather) over many decades; it also reviews some of the indications of a warming globe and puts them in a geological context. This chapter provides information about trends in climate via multiple graphs and pictures. Generally, it demonstrates some warming, but it is not catastrophic and even practically insignificant at the long-term scale.  Here are the essential graphs:

Chapter 2. Humble Human Influences
Chapter 2 then turns to how the earth’s temperature arises in the first place—from a delicate balance between warming sunlight and cooling heat radiation. We’ll see that this balance is disturbed by both human and natural influences, with greenhouse gases playing an important role. Because the climate is very sensitive, we need an accurate and precise understanding of those influences and how they’ve changed over time.

This chapter demonstrates the complexity of factors impacting climate, some of them causing the warming and some cooling:

Chapter 3. Emissions Explained and Extrapolated
The most important human influence on the climate is the growing concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels. This is the focus of Chapter 3—particularly, how the connection between CO2 emissions and concentration diminishes the prospect of even stabilizing growing human influences. Here is the graph of greenhouse emissions growth:

Chapter 4. Many Muddled Models
Computer models of how the climate responds to human and natural influences are the subject of Chapter 4. Drawing upon the author’s half-century involvement with scientific computing and the authorship of a pioneering text on that subject, he shows how they work, what they tell us, and some of their deficiencies. These dozens of sophisticated models are what scientists use to make their projections. What the media cites in their coverage—alas, they give results that differ significantly not only from each other but from observations (that is, they’re right in a few ways, but wrong in many others). In fact, the results have become more divergent with each generation of models. In other words, as our models have become more elaborate, their descriptions of the future have become less certain. In other words, contemporary models are far from being scientifically sound tools because they too much rely on assumptions and, most important, have little predictable power:

At the end of the chapter, the author concludes: “The uncertainties in modeling of both climate change and the consequences of future greenhouse gas emissions make it impossible today to provide reliable, quantitative statements about relative risks and consequences and benefits of rising greenhouse gases to the Earth system as a whole, let alone to specific regions of the planet.”

Chapter 5. Hyping the Heat
Chapter 5 is the first of five chapters dealing with contradictions between the science and the prevailing notion that “humans have already broken the climate,” exploring areas where the facts and popular perception are at odds (and probing the source of those discrepancies). This chapter focuses on record high temperatures in the US—they’re no more common today than they were in 1900, yet you wouldn’t know that from the misrepresentations of an allegedly authoritative assessment report. The chapter discusses the regularly occurring hype about temperature records and provides data demonstrating that it is not justified:

He concludes:” There have been some changes in temperature extremes across the contiguous United States. The annual number of high temperature records set shows no significant trend over the past century nor over the past forty years, but the annual number of record cold nights has declined since 1895, somewhat more rapidly in the past thirty years.”

Chapter 6. Tempest Terrors
Chapter 6 likewise explains why experts conclude that human influences haven’t caused any observable changes in hurricanes, and how assessment reports obscure or distort that finding. Once again, the author demonstrates that there is some increase, but not that significant:

Chapter 7. Precipitation Perils—From Floods to Fires
In Chapter 7, the author describes the modest changes seen in precipitation and related phenomena over the past century, discuss their significance, and highlight some points likely to surprise anyone who follows the news—for instance, that the global area burned by fires each year has declined by 25 percent since observations began in 1998. Here are the data:

Chapter 8. Sea Level Scares
Chapter 8 offers a levelheaded look at sea levels, which have been rising over the past many millennia. We’ll untangle what we really know about human influences on the current rate of rise (about one foot per century) and explain why it’s very hard to believe that surging seas will drown the coasts anytime soon. Similarly, to other discussed parameters, sea level is rising but not that significantly and not out of historical patterns:

Chapter 9. Apocalypses That Ain’t
Chapter 9 covers a trio of oft-cited climate-change impacts (fatalities, famine, and economic ruin), predictions of which are belied by the historical record and assessment report projections, even if it’s hard to discern this when reading the reports themselves. Nevertheless, for each of these, the author demonstrates the triviality of the impact, even for worst-case scenarios. Moreover, the actual trend in death rates is going down:

Chapter 10. Who Broke “The Science” and Why
Chapter 10 takes up the question of “Who broke it?”—why the science has been communicated so poorly to decision makers and the public. The author describes how overwrought portrayals of a “climate crisis” serve the interests of diverse players, including environmental activists, the media, politicians, scientists, and scientific institutions.

Chapter 11. Fixing the Broken Science
Chapter 11 closes out Part I by describing how we might improve communication and understanding of climate science, including adversarial (“Red Team”) reviews of the assessment reports, best practices for media coverage, and what non-experts can do to be better informed and more critical consumers of all science media—but especially about the climate. Here the author provides a list of the symptoms of science manipulation:

  • Anyone referring to a scientist with the pejoratives “denier” or “alarmist” is engaging in politics or propaganda.
  • Any appeal to the alleged “97 percent consensus” among scientists is another red flag.
  • Confusing weather and climate is another danger sign.
  • Omitting numbers is also a red flag.
  • Yet another common tactic is quoting alarming quantities without context.
  • Non-expert discussions of climate science also often confuse the climate that has been (observations) with the climate that could be (model projections under various scenarios).

Part II: The Response
Part II begins its discussion of the response story by drawing a distinction between what society could do, what it should do, and what it will do in response to a changing climate—three very different issues often conflated, even by experts. The author also provides context for society’s response:

  • Keeping human influences on the climate below levels deemed prudent by the UN and many governments would require that global carbon dioxide emissions, which have been rising for decades, vanish sometime in the latter half of this century.
  • ​Emissions reductions would have to take place in the face of strongly growing energy demand driven by demographics and development, the dominance of fossil fuels, and the current drawbacks of low-emissions technologies.
  • ​These barriers, combined with the uncertainty and vague nature of future climate impacts, mean that the most likely societal response will be to adapt to a changing climate, and that adaptation will very likely be effective.

Chapter 12. The Chimera of Carbon-Free
Chapter 12 illuminates the issue by discussing the formidable challenges in meaningfully reducing human influences on the climate, including the lack of progress toward the goals of the Paris Agreement.  Here author reviews impact of different countries on the global emissions and how it changes over time. Two graphs represent this process:

Chapter 13. Could the US Catch the Chimera?
Chapter 13 sheds some light on the could issue by discussing the tremendous changes it would take to create a “zero-carbon” energy system in the US. Here is the illustration of the challenge:

The author discusses in details policy features required to decrease emissions in the USA.

Chapter 14. Plans B
Chapter 14 completes the response story with a discussion of “Plan B” strategies that allow the world to respond to a climate changing from either human or natural causes—adaptation, which will happen, and geoengineering, which could be deployed in extremis. Here are the key points that the author makes about adaptation:

  • Adaptation is agnostic. Humans have been successfully adapting to changes in climate for millennia, and for most of that time, they did so without the foggiest notion of what (besides the vengeful gods) might be causing them. Thus, while the information we have now will help guide adaptation strategies, society can adapt to climate changes caused by natural phenomena or by human influences.
  • Adaptation is proportional. Modest initial measures can be bolstered as and if the climate changes more.
  • ​Adaptation is local. Adaptation is naturally tailored to the different needs and priorities of different populations and locations. This also makes it more politically feasible. Spending for the “here and now” (e.g., flood control for a local river) is far more palatable than spending to counter a vague and uncertain threat thousands of miles and two generations away. Further, local adaptation does not require the global consensus, commitment, and coordination that have proved so far elusive in mitigation efforts.
  • Adaptation is autonomous. It is what societies do, and have been doing, since humanity first formed them—the Dutch, for example, have been building and improving dikes for centuries to claim land from the North Sea. Adaptation will happen on its own, whether we plan for it or not.
  • Adaptation is effective. Societies have thrived in environments ranging from the Arctic to the Tropics. Adapting to a changing climate always acts to reduce net impacts from what they would be otherwise—after all, we wouldn’t change society to make things worse!

The author provides a very nice and information-intensive graph for future handling of emissions:

Closing Thoughts

In the end, the author discusses the reasons for writing this book, its descriptive rather than prescriptive character, and his belief that climate science needs improvement. He also suggests increase research into possible measures in case of unexpected climate emergencies such as geoengineering.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I like this book a lot because of its no-nonsense approach and the wealth of data presented in an easily digestible format. I also believe that humans impact the climate, and so do ants, chickens, volcanos, asteroids, and many more factors, either living or not. However, about the issue of the scale of such impact, I believe it is moderate. It creates no real danger to existence and prosperity of humanity unless the excretable part of this humanity – the global elite succeed in imposing unreasonable restriction on energy consumption and life for everybody else. Nevertheless, I am optimistic and believe that when people start feeling this impact on their wellbeing, they will respond; hopefully, they do it peacefully and use the democratic process to bring power crazies to the heel.  


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