Recomandations to the US Senate,Public Works comm. June, 2009

by Ginosar  

We must turn upside down our approach to fighting Global Warming

because time is of the essence.


Instead of regulating GHG to a level that may be acceptable to the public, we must reduce GHG to the maximum that could be technically and economically implementable,


Preface: GW is unlike any other technical issue because we have no previous human experience of this magnitude and it is natural to minimize its significance.
Our culture is based on hope, progress, improvements, and we reject what does not fit our image of the future. Not only that, as we see the sun rising and one beautiful day after another it is natural to inwardly reject that GW is posing a serious danger to the stability of our climate and even, possibly, to human survival. Even most serious scientists, technologists, and decision makers who understand the danger of GW have difficulties accepting GW internally.


Executive Summary-


  1. Most proposed cuts in GHG are based on IPCC AR4. However, we can not rely on the AR4 to set limits to GHG emissions since it was politically constrained, ignored potential catastrophic events, and some of its negative predictions were already exceeded. We now have more relevant data and more insight.


  1. The just released US federal report: “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States” describes considerable current impact on US weather and related economics. It also predicts more significant impacts with time, depending on global GHG reduction. This report states the obvious, that the earlier and the larger the reduction of GHG emissions the lower will be the magnitude and cost of mitigations – less human suffering.


  1. We do not know at what level we must stabilize GHG to prevent the more severe harm to the world population because the complexity of global climate is beyond our actual knowledge. Modeling, at best, is approximation. If we err, we must err on the safe side.


  1. The natural self interest of most people distorts their ability to cooperate and follow the need of the larger society. Therefore, there is considerable uncertainty how the laws enacted will effect the actual GHG emissions in the US. And we are one the most law-abiding nations.


  1. The self interest of nations and desire for power of the influentials would severely distort the compliance with global GHG regulations. Think of the oil exporting nations, as a minimum.


  1. There is some low, but not insignificant, probability that increased levels of GHG could trigger catastrophic, massive, releases of GHG that could cause significant increase in global temperatures. That possible temperature increase, beyond 10 or even 20 degrees C, could cause severe, unmitigated damage to the global climate that could render our Earth essentially uninhabitable.


  1. Because this is the only home humanity has, we can not take the risk of destroying our climate. Risk is the probability times the magnitude of the event. Even with low probabilities, the potential immense magnitude of the damage to our globe, makes the risk massive and unacceptable. We must dedicate a high percentage of our global resources to reduce GHG as fast as possible and the largest reduction possible.


  1. Humanity has never encountered a danger to its existence of this level before. We can not truly grasp the seriousness of GW. Even with all the high levels of scientific and technical powers we have, we are unprepared. We do not know what we do not know or understand.


  1. We still operate by “we vs. them” laws. This simply can not work. Global cooperation beyond any previous level is mandatory. We depend on one another, especially the US and China.


  1. We, the US, will have to “give” more than other nations. We took the “most” to date. US is 4.5% of global population, occupying 1.9% of Earth surfaces, and emitted to date 30% of all GHG.


  1. Internationally we would not be able to cover up superficial regulations and inaction by bluff and public relation superficiality, so common in our culture. Foreign governments are not likely to buy into that kind of reasoning that much of our own public does. We have to be more honest and forward in our international dealing re. GW or we will not get the crucial international cooperation required.


  1. The complexity of global climate, the significant gaps in our knowledge, the uncertainty of GHG laws, their compliance, global cooperation required, and potential high risk to our survival, put us in a dangerous territory. We do not know what the results of all GHG curtailment laws and effort would achieve. Therefore, we can not use the usual American approach: “don’t worry, everything will turn up right in the end.” We must err towards minimizing global human suffering and maximizing the chance for human survival.


  1. The initial GHG reductions that we should take now must be decisive, based on proven technologies and real knowledge, not experimental or unproven; that may or may not work. We can not take the risks since the CO2 that was not cut will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years. After we accomplish significant GHG reductions, then we can bring proven new approaches on line too.





  1. Most proposed cuts in GHG are based on IPCC AR4. However, we can not rely on the AR4 to set limits to GHG emissions since it was politically constrained, ignored potential catastrophic events, and some of its negative predictions were already exceeded. We now have more relevant data and more insight.


  1. The starting point for most regulatory activities against global warming are based on the 2007, IPCC-AR4 findings and recommendations. We owe immense thanks and respect to IPCC and the many excellent scientists that worked with great dedication to discover the data and develop this information. They did a good job alerting us to the danger of GW. Just reading carefully the details of AR4-SPM – should wake us up to realize the severity of coming impacts of GW. However, now the situation seems even graver than depicted in AR4.

Now, mid 2009, two and half years later we need to rethink our reliance on AR4 because the recommendations were: soften down by politics, did not include some relevant data, disagreed by scientists inside IPCC, ignored potential catastrophic events, and some climatic projections have been already exceeded. And most important - we have more information and insight now.


Some limitations of AR4:

  1. The latest data for AR4 was 2006, some much earlier.


  1. China data was before 2001, before the latest explosion of growth and its vast energy use.


  1. AR4 modeling did not include some known negative climatic events. For example: “Note: CO2 emissions in most models do not include emissions from decay of above ground biomass that remains after logging and deforestation, and from peat fires and drained peat soils.” AR4 SMP p21

Above decays can be significant contributors to GHG. Deforestation emits 20% of GHG and is right behind the emissions of China and US.


  1. AR4 did not cover potential catastrophic climatic events of mass release of stored GHG. They should not be ignored.


  1. AR4 was a politically controlled document and was soften by several governments, including the previous US administration, China and Saudi. Several IPCC scientists fought hard against the constrained climatic predictions. Compromises forced.


  1. Some of the AR4 negative predictions have already been greatly exceeded*. That means that in a very brief time it is already obvious that AR4 underestimated some noticeable negative impacts of GHG. And if these short term predictions are already in error so quickly, some longer term impacts may be underestimated even more severely. Longer term predictions, by their nature, have wider range of possibilities.


  1. AR4 used scientific information that was well researched, peer reviewed and dismissed unproven, although logical issues such as catastrophic events. It was: “too little, and too late.”

It is the nature of scientists to seek verifiable data, scrutinize it to understand, seek independent confirmation,  and submit to peer review. This is admirable but not possible and even dangerous when dealing with GW. We do not have the ability or the time to experiment. We can not draw on previous experience.

Science failed humanity intolerably in this area. The desire for peer respect, and sometimes fear of being considered “an Advocate” slowed down considerably alerting decision makers to the magnitude and urgency of GW. This is even continuing now. Also, no scientist wants to be considered “an alarmist” either.


- - - -


*Re. 6 above. Here is a clear example of AR4 mistaken prediction: Rapid contraction of North Pole (NP) ice. The NP  minimal ice coverage shrunk from 3.01 Million square miles in 1980, to 1.81 M sq. miles, in 2008, a 42% drop, decades ahead of AR4 projection.


To visualize the significance of this let’s look at the dimensions involved. The minimal ice coverage of the NP in 1980 was 3.01 million square miles, nearly identical to the area of the contiguous US - 3.1 million square miles. The minimal NP ice coverage shrunk to 1.81 million square miles by 2008. Picture it, the ice coverage that disappeared is almost half the size of the United States!

That means that during some of the summer, a reflective surface almost half the size of the US is now blue sea that absorbs sunlight, while previously it reflected most sunlight energy back into space.

This ice-free zone is now in a natural positive feedback mode, self-amplifying the ice shrinkage. More sun energy absorption by the blue ocean increases the region temperatures and melt more ice, and the melting continues even without any increase in GHG.



To what stable level of GHG should we aim?


Most statements about GHG levels say something similar to what Dr. Holdren said at the MIT Energy conference on 4/13/09:

“If we stabilize GHG at 500 ppm there is a 50% chance that we may stay below 3 degrees rise, and unlikely to avoid unknown critical events.

At 450, a 50% chance of staying below 2 C degrees. A much more prudent approach but not guarantee.

(My notes of the conference video).

I am not questioning Dr. Holdren remarks and I am confident he looked at the problem from many angles. But I am not sure we actually grasp what he is saying and how difficult it is to achieve these limits.

The current GHG reduction goals debated in Congress, H.R. 2454, are not likely to achieve the desired temperature target. It may be the best currently possible politically, but very likely grossly insufficient. We do not have a choice now and should support it, but it is not likely to do the job intended as explained below:


It seems to me that many professionals are basing their GHG reduction recommendations (such as 80% reduction below 2005 level by 2050) on two critical charts in AR4 SPM, Figure SPM.11.: “CO2 emissions and equilibrium temperature incarcerates..”

These charts project  possible relationships between stabilized levels of GHG and potential increase in average global temperatures.


My main concern is that, if I understand it correctly, we may be erroneously relying on these charts to set the levels of GHG emissions.

The charts indicate, and the general view is, that globally we must stay within range I:

445-490 ppm CO2-equivalent (GHG) to restrain the temperature rise to an “acceptable” level of 1.5 to 2.5 C. That level, it said, may limit the damage to the global environment BELOW the level that could cause more severe damages, even possible catastrophic, uncontrolled, mass release of nature-stored GHG.  (Dr. Holdren, above, wisely recommends below this level)


However, the left chart of SPM.11. “World CO2,”  is more likely to represent hopeful expectations but does not reflect current reality. Look at our aim, the lowest corresponding emission level :

the Green strata –I [445 - 490 ppm]; it shows a flat emission level from 2000 to 2020. This is not factual because:

  1. A. Today, mid 2009, we still have not cut GHG emissions, they slowed their INCREASE due to the bad economy, but they are not leveled. GHG is increasing.
  2. B. Under the best of circumstances GHG could not be cut noticeably for another decade since it takes considerable time to change this huge infrastructure. Also, global dependence on low cost fossil fuel is so fundamental, the global energy infrastructure is so massive, and global consumption habits are hard to change.


These two points above, A & B, indicate that we are already 20 years behind in our attempt to achieve the first and “best” target of 445-490 ppm.


Conclusions of item 1:

It seems to me that we should not follow the IPCC guidelines for GHG levels because reliance on AR4 misleads us to some tranquility and assumption that we can start with limited, easier to accept GHG restrictions, and we have time to ramp them up later. This reliance is not justified. GHG must be cut at a faster rate.


Part 1 of draft 6/26/09   Matania Ginosar          

Dr. Of Environmetal Science, and Engineering, & Electrical Engineer

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