Sunday, April 08, 2007

Global Warming

Blogging, so I've learned, comes with tags. The best is you make yourself and your blog easily classifiable. You see, people want to know what they have to expect. I would recommend you state in your side bar something like 'I am an atheistic, non-smoking, anti-alcoholic, pro-abortion, anti-war, pro-string, anti-drug, pro-evolution, anti-matter, pro-blematic, unemployed neo-liberalist '. Or the like. Ah, and don't forget to clarify sexual preferences, we don't want to confuse anybody.

The advantage is, visitors don't even have to read what you write to disagree with you.

Anyway. I recently feel like subject to peer pressure, and I am afraid I will have to proclaim an opinion about global warming. I recently stumbled across these lists of

50 things you can do to reduce Global Warming

and I just found out via Lubos that the TIME magazine had a similar list in last week's issue: 51 Things you can do to save the environment.

The present global warming debate is in my eyes very ironic. Initially, I was happy to see how fast the environmental consciousness has increased in the last some years, not only in the USA. See, all these points you find on the list like: cover your pots while cooking, take a shower instead of a bath, reuse your shopping bag, recycle your waste - this is what we were taught in Kindergarten1. When I moved to the USA I was shocked, honestly, to see how little people cared about their environment. Okay, Tuscon AZ might have been an extreme case. But folks, when you go shopping then shut off the engine of your car. And yes, better insulation in housing would significantly reduce AC and heating cost, paper can be recycled, etc, etc. Now what's new about these insights?

To come back to global warming, from a scientific point of view it puzzles me how this debate is lead. The essence has become to scare people with the potential catastrophes that global warming can have. Then tell them it's their fault because of the carbon dioxide increase they cause with every fart. The problem is this entangles several points that were better treated separately.

So, let me first state an obvious fact. The world's natural oil and gas resources are not infinite. Experts may disagree whether we will run out of oil in 30 or 100 years, but that is not the point. If our present high-tech civilizations experience energy shortening, very many things will change very suddenly. This is a huge threat for the organization of the society you live in. Since there are so far insufficient preparations in case this happens, the thing to do is: save energy. These 50 points have a priori actually nothing to do with global warming, but are about energy saving. Whether or not you think global warming is real, you should save energy.

Why? You are convinced that bio fuel is the thing to do, or hydrogen, or nuclear fusion, or you are just an optimist who hopes somebody will come up with something at some point? Gee, there is a line where optimism turns into ignorance. The important thing is called Energy Return on Investment Ratio (EROIR), that is essentially the ratio between energy surplus you get and energy you have to invest Ein. The surplus is the difference between the total energy extracted Eout and the energy that you use, that is

EROEI = ΔE / Ein = (Eout - Ein) / Ein

(In many cases, instead of the EROEI the energy return ratio is used, which is just Eout/Ein).

If we want to access new energy sources, its not sufficient to ask how much can we get out. We have to ask what is the price to pay. I am not an expert on bio fuel and hydrogen powered cars and the like, but none of these technologies is presently sufficiently advanced to replace natural oil and gas, the EROEI is significantly lower.

I am not saying this is not possible. I am saying our civilization is presently not prepared to cope with a significant energy shortage. The reason why this concerns me is that you don't have to be a seer to predict what is going to happen if energy shortage hits us unprepared. Nuclear energy (fission) is a well known, easily accessible technique with a large energy return on investment. Current nuclear reactors return around 40-60 times the invested energy [source].

And then multiply that with the fact that the generation in charge when oil runs out will not be the generation that remembers Czernobyl from first hand.

To come back to the global warming. There is high confidence that average temperature on the earth's surface has been raising by about 0.8 degrees since mid of the 19th century. There are many other indicators of a climate change: differences in temperature between summer and winter, day and night, thickness of the Arctic ice, melting of mountain glaciers, frequency of extreme weather events (floods, storms), shifts in the average days of first frost in winter, first bloom of plants, the end of animal hibernation, onset of bird migrations in spring, decline in maple syrup productivity, and so on and so forth. You can discuss any one of these points if you like (I have my doubts about the maple syrup factor), but the evidence that the climate is changing is overwhelming.

Studies also show that the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere hasn't been as high as today in the last 650,000 years. The question is of course whether the one is causally connected to the other, and I am not the one to tell you that. But even if you shrug shoulders and say: we don't know, the smart thing to do is not to mess with nature if you don't know what is going to happen.

Why? Darwin has told us the fittest survive. There is a huge number of humans on that planet that fit very good into the present environment. We adapt to changes, but evolution works slowly. If we manage to change our environment faster than we can adapt to it, well, congratulations. The whole human race will get the Darwin award for removing itself from the earth's surface by natural selection. We have the power to cause significant effects on the equilibrium of our environment, and we should be very careful with what we do, or we risk consequences that might be irreversible (we can of course debate whether or not it would be a great loss if the human race vanishes from earth's surface).

Besides this, the most pressing problem today is coping with the present changes, whether you know where they come from or not. One problem that will most likely be worsened by climate change, energy shortage and growing population is illegal immigration. Poorer countries have more problems coping with these challenges; if the situation becomes a threat to survival, people take high risk to get into richer countries - can you blame them? Whether you are in North America or Europe, look at your south borders and imagine what the situation will be like in ten years. Twenty years. Thirty years.

I am afraid covering you pot while cooking is not going to significantly change this. Scaring people with scientifically shaky statements might be effective on the short run, but isn't going to help on the long run. What scares me is how imbalanced this discussion is. I wonder if it is the connectivity and information overflow of our modern world that amplifies our concerns, polarizes opinions, and grossly oversimplifies matters. It is tempting and easy to condense the causes of problems and come up with a 50 point list. Others might argue 10 commandments are sufficient.

My mum always said they missed the most important commandment: You shall not be stupid. In fact I think this is the only one we need. The rest are details.

To summarize:

Save Energy. And support development of alternative energy sources. Whether or not you believe global warming is caused by humans.

Don't mess with nature. As long as you don't know exactly what your actions will cause, don't disturb our environment unnecessarily, and be as little invasive as possible. Whether or not you believe global warming is caused by humans.

Don't deny. Climate changes are a fact and have consequences. We have to deal with these changes. Now. Whether or not you believe global warming is caused by humans.

So, if you want to classify me: I'm a tree hugger. I'm a pro-environment, anti-energy-waste currently sick plastic-bag-reuser who worries about the next generation. I could use a little bit of global warming though. We still have snow up here.

1: I just say "Jute statt Plastik"

TAGS: , ,


  1. Bee-Complex,
    Hope you're feeling better. So Snowloo still hasnt' become Thawloo? Anyway, wanted to say that you're depressingly sensible. :-) i.e., you're saying, there are good reasons to behave in a certain way, so behave that way regardless of what you believe. Reason is the touchstone. But what would the world be like if people weren't stupid? I think you're spoiled living in the intelligent community of Waterloo!


  2. yes, you are right, I am spoiled, there is no doubt about that :-) I consider myself pretty climate resistant though; it seems over the last years I have managed to get accustomed to every temperature between -25 and +43 ° C (actual, not felt temperature, measured in the shadow)

    true, if people weren't stupid the world would be boring, and then what would I write about in my blog? it gets problematic when stupidity increases so much it proclaims itself smartness.



  3. "if people weren't stupid the world would be boring"

    Have you ever been to a Mensa Regional Gathering? Minimum IQ of 132, lots of high autists. Press your ear to any locked hotel door therein. Inept, perhaps, but not boring.

    Authority, responsibility, liability. When government or social advocacy decouples price from cost that society has committed suicide. The Seven Dreadful Sins: stupidity, insanity, fetish, religiosity, malice, irresponsibility, and mandated charity.

  4. i'm not sure an IQ > 130 guarantees absence of stupidity.

  5. Dear Bee,

    there have been several suggestions around here in Germany over the last months to reduce, or limit, the production of "carbon dioxide per kilometer" of cars. My impression is that this completely obscures the old idea of promoting fuel-efficient cars, and just creates confusion, and unwillingness in reaction to "another useless restriction".

    Of course, reducing carbon dioxide emission of cars amounts to the same thing as increased fuel-efficiency, but the idea that saving energy is a good thing should be much more intelligible for everyone, regardless whether one "believes" in global warming or not.

    Cheers, stefan.

  6. Hi All,

    What is all this hype abt Hydrogen?
    H2 comes from splitting water at high energy costs. What is the gain? (Nichts ist geschenkt!)

    In essence, an H2 motor is merely an alternative to batteries. You polute elsewhere...

    Link for GW:



  7. i'm not sure an IQ > 130 guarantees absence of stupidity.

    Bee, your commented reminded me of something a friend told me about - something called the Sally-Anne test.

    Sally and Anne are playing in a room which has an observation window. The test subject is watching them with the tester. Sally puts a marble in a basket and goes away. While Sally is away, Anne transfers the marble into a box. Then Sally returns. The tester asks the testee - "Where will Sally look for her marble?".

    My friend writes:

    "If you're over four, and are not autistic you will answer "in the basket". This has nothing to with IQ. It is hardwired in. Kids over four with Down's or other severe forms of retardation get it right. Autistic individuals, even with IQs with over 150, get is wrong very often till the age of 11. And even when they learn to get it right, it is obviously through careful logic (an acquired second language) not the way you and I work it out (there is enough evidence that we don't work it out through logic, but work it out simply because we
    can instantly put ourselves in Sally's place: our ability to pretend has great evolutionary


    i.e., it is a normal human ability to imagine Sally's state of mind/information. Someone who cannot do this, we might call stupid, no?

  8. Great article. I agree that the most pressing issue for conservation is the saving of resources due to it's finite supplies (geopolitics of acquiring oil).

    I run a blog on the subject and will include a link to your post. The blog is at

  9. Hi Arun,

    this is interesting. My problem with the IQ is that I find it very doubtful what it measures. It's not that THE IQ test measures something we have identified as 'intelligence'. It's more the other way round. We design a test to measure something that we then call intelligence. I am not sure if that makes so much sense. A good measure for intelligence I think is given by evolution. Instead of saying that evolution favours intelligence, I would say intelligence means high skill in living, alas evolutionary advantage. This is probably in conflict with many other intelligence measure, esp. those who focus on very technical aspects. As your friend writes 'our ability to pretend has great evolutionary

    Hi Klaus,

    thanks! I was looking for a table or something that lists ERoEIs for the various types of energy sources but couldn't find anything useful. Do you have a reference at hand?

    Hi Stefan,

    yes, I have followed this discussion. It bothers me a lot. Unfortunately, I have the impression that some bad media habits are getting adapted in Germany. It is pretty clear, if you write a newspaper or broadcast a show for commercial reasons, and want to make maximal profit you will try to either scare people or to entertain them. This goes on the expenses of information content, and is a very bad development. Best,


  10. A decline in Maple Syrup production?! You have totally got my vote! Yeah!

  11. Dear Bee - as usual, great post.

    Regarding your comment

    "Instead of saying that evolution favours intelligence, I would say intelligence means high skill in living, alas evolutionary advantage."

    Right, I'd agree with you. I don't think that evolution necessarily favors intelligence.


  12. Hi Bee,

    Gute Besserung!

    Abt tree hugging:

    You probably already knew :-)



  13. "Pasjalusta":

    (Russian 4please)


  14. The best is you make yourself and your blog easily classifiable.

    What if you consider your blog "a book?" Then you may see "labelling" used in a different way?

    I watched the Al Gore movie the other night.

    Here's my Thalean attempt. Sorry Lubos I have been officially converted.:)

    Now as I "look back" I look to see who was "walking the talk."

    I do raise information in relation to Germany as well there, but I have since found "some problems" with the wind mills. "Where" they put them in regards to the public, and the sound generated.

    Some of us have always been romanticist when dealing with mother earth. Even to the extent that our ancient forbears, may had seen her in a "different light" conceptually.

    That while we may talk about the sphere, GRACE may have been mapping the gravitational time variable differences, it gave us a tools to see like the "ancients shamans" possibly did?

    Positive and negative influences around this globe in the form of natural earth formations.

    Waterfalls, and volcanoes, deserts and forests lands. Mountains.

    What is the effect in relation to the weather? Maybe, an "emotive realization" of what the earth is feeling?

    Of course this information above may be to much for people?

  15. Excellent essay on the matter, Bee. And I do agree with your conclusions. But I see no harm in scaring people a bit. Perhaps it is a way to make them sensitive about the whole issue of caring for our environment.

  16. Hi Tom,

    But I see no harm in scaring people a bit.

    Yes - I guess with all that information overflow one doesn't reach anybody without being at least a bit scary. But it shouldn't go on the expenses of accuracy, even if the details are boring. It's like screaming FIRE FIRE all the time - if it really burns, nobody will be listening.



  17. Trying to stop climate change is a ridiculous waste of time, energy, and resources. Of course, we all should be responsible consumers, and most people I know personally are. But trying to intimidate and frighten people into "proper" evironmental behavior is no better than the old timey preachers who use hellfire and brimstone to frighten people into believing in Christianity. Instead of placing blame and pointing fingers this way and that, the people with influence should be doing more to provide alternatives for adaptation instead of mandating them. It's that old thing about talkers vs. doers.

    The IPCC recommends that people buy air conditioning and change insurance policies to adapt to climate change. How stupid is that?

  18. Hi RaeAnn,

    I totally agree with you. Just one remark the people with influence should be doing more to provide alternatives for adaptation instead of mandating them

    If this was really a democracy - then who are 'the people' with influence...?

    And that's where my concern lies. For a democracy to be working properly, it requires reasonable, balanced, unbiased information.



  19. Hi Klaus,

    thanks for the link regarding EROEI's. I found that table as well, but it doesn't come with any references or sources. The email address that you find under contact doesn't exist - at least I got an error message. Even though the numbers look quite reasonable to me, I hesitate to just believe them. Is there any chance you have a reference in a scientific journal or a summary that refers to reliable sources?



  20. Hi Bee,

    "If this was really a democracy - then who are 'the people' with influence...?"

    I meant the 'leaders' who make the laws and so on. Just clarifying. Thanks.

  21. Hi RaeAnn,

    thanks for the clarification. There are two possibilities: either it's a democracy then we are the ones responsible for the laws. Or it's not and the laws are made by 'leaders' beyond our influence then it's our responsibility to recover democracy. Best,


  22. ER

    30 or 100 years of petrol?

    Have you readed about the hubbart limit and ASPO?

    The idea is that when you past the middle of the actual reserves the rate of extraction slowdown and the prize (because of EORI) increase.

    Actually there is reasonable consensum that we are in the hubbart limit. So from now there will be less availabe oil in market, and it will become progesivelly spensivest.

    Certainly that is a more serious, and more certain, problem that climate change.

    About alternatives energys, well, how good that it sounds "alternatives to energy"?

    I saw a past post from you critizing the possibilitie of using microblack-holes as an energy source. Well, if it would become a priority to search energy from wherever, do you think it could be reasonbalbe to try to save the "thecnichal problems"?

    B.T.W. congratulations for your blog, it is one of the more interesting out there.

  23. I appreciate your comments and have included them on a posting about invasive species. Without mentioning it, you have clearly outlined a wicked problem.

  24. Hi Javier,

    yes, I know the Hubbert curve, but this post wasn't the place to elaborate on it. What I meant to say is, it doesn't matter exactly when it peaks, or how fast it drops, we know this MUST happen, and it must happen in the soon future.

    I saw a past post from you critizing the possibilitie of using microblack-holes as an energy source. Well, if it would become a priority to search energy from wherever, do you think it could be reasonbalbe to try to save the "thecnichal problems"?

    I believe you are referring to this post?

    I am really sorry if it didn't become clear from what I wrote that this 'idea' is complete bullshit. There is no technical problem because there is no technique. I am not 'criticising the possibility' I was explaining why there is no possibility. Sorry to say, but black hole relics (not just micro black holes, this is important) are not going to solve the world's energy problems.

    Thanks for the nice words about our blog, I enjoy writing it very much, and the feedback is often very inspiring :-)



  25. Bee,

    I think you are still thinking short... you are still thinking of a time we will have supplies of oil and the rich countries will be able to afford all of it for themselves. However, after all of it is over, the poor countries will be slightly better off.. think about it!

    And of course, I can also foresee a hell lot of rioting!

    A very good post !


  26. The advantage is, visitors don't even have to read what you write to disagree with you.

    I needed to wipe my tears from laughing, to do this comment... ;)

    (I am yet to read the post beyond that point)

  27. Bee, was this you on Lubos's blog?

    Eli Rabett-

    The material question that we scientists have is how to build the most parsimonious model to characterize a phenomena. The challenge that "global warming" and now more generally "climate change" presents us with is what are we really trying to understand and model (It is interesting to note that we are now more and more speaking about "climate change". As if global warming was not a sufficiently large question.). As a scientist I would insist that we really cannot study "global warming" or "climate change" in a scientifically meaningful way because it cannot be specified in a robust manner.

    That does not mean we cannot understand certain questions under the vast umbrella "global warming". With that said, I would like to turn to the analysis presented by Lubos. I think his analysis meets the standard of scientific reasoning. The model he offers is parsimonious and captures the most material aspect of the debate we are having today. Namely, his analysis shows the relationship between CO2 and warming (energy absorption). The model does not attempt to do anything more than show the relationship. The elegance of the presentation is that very little else is required to link it back to the phenomena that we observe. In addition, the error is small and leaves little room for materially more complex models to out perform it and still be parsimonious. Yes, this leaves many “global warming” and “climate change” scientists out in the cold.

    In reading your blog I see that you revert to name calling rather than offer a material alternative model. The criticisms you bring to bear have been addressed in this thread and thus I must say they appear disingenuous and self serving.

    As one who aspires to better understand the world around me, I ask that you reflect more deeply on what is being presented by Lubos. You stand to learn not only more about the topic at hand but also problem structuring and reasoning.


  28. Here is something else:

    Since early 2006, my family has reduced our electricity use by about a third. This has required no major lifestyle changes (although some minor ones). It cost nothing-- and, going forward, it will save us hundreds of dollars per year.


  29. Hi Arun:

    Bee, was this you on Lubos's blog?

    Definitely not, as you can very easily conclude from the (in my eyes) flawless English. Is that from a comment section? I haven't had a chance to check Lubos blog for a while, my browser keeps crashing down if I try, which is very annoying if you're online through a shaky connection. Best,


  30. Dear Arun:

    Thanks so much for the pointer. I've left a comment there clarifying this. I don't think though it was on purpose, it seems someone has just accidentally chosen the same nickname.



  31. Dear everyone,

    I want to confirm that there were two people who signed as "bee" in the thread of my blog.

    If comrade Arun has started investigation or prosecution of Sabine for her anti-socialist, anti-environmentalist opinions, this investigation or prosecution should be stopped.

    Arun should inform the general secretary of the PC police, too.

    Sabine is sometimes sensible but she's not *that* sensible and *that often* sensible.


  32. Dear Everyone,

    I consider Bee to be a friend, and does not want anyone mistaking her views for those of other bees. Motl perhaps does not understand the sentiment of being protective of one's friends.

    Since CIP and Eli Rabett had addressed "Bee" on Motls' blog, I wanted to be sure they knew that it wasn't our Backreaction Bee, and I so commented on their blogs.

    That Motl seems a bit upset that this clarification has been made makes me all the more suspicious that the use of "bee" on Motl's blog was a deliberate attempt to mislead.

    For instance, Motl could have made the clarification himself in the comment thread. Let him not come here now and pretend he's concerned about the "investigation or prosecution" of Bee's beliefs.


  33. Dear Arun:

    Yes, thanks. I think Lubos is just mocking you. But admittedly it's a general problem I have with the blogosphere. It is tremendously easy to leave a comment under somebody else's name. As long as at blogger, at least my id is password protected, but I could happily comment at Not Even Wrong under the name Ed Witten - not that I'd want to, just saying a name in a comment section is not a good identification. Best,


  34. least I can be mocked with some competence, or is that too much to ask for....

  35. Germany has launched the first coal-fired plant in the world ready to capture and store its own CO2 emissions:

    Clicking the tabs at the top of the article takes you through the details.

    This is surely the way to go, with people so unwilling to change their lifestyles. Huge cuts in emissions could be achieved this way.


COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG ARE PERMANENTLY CLOSED. You can join the discussion on Patreon.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.