19 Aug 2019

My Plan to Keep Greenland White

Climate Change 12 Comments

In my latest IER post, I sketch out a scenario entirely consistent with the UN reports on climate change, to show how a voluntary approach could solve any problems from a melting ice sheet. (There might be other, secondary problems, but we don’t need to worry about rising sea levels drowning London.)

An excerpt:

Now for the next component of my thought experiment, let’s further assume that humans do nothing at all about the accumulated stock of CO2 they’ve pumped into the atmosphere, and that they maintain this posture for an additional century. That is, except for whatever sopping up measures they deploy (through the private sector) to achieve net-zero emissions starting in the year 2100, humans don’t do anything extra to deal with the legacy of the past. They merely say, “From this point in 2100 going forward until the year 2200, we will just make sure that we are no longer contributingcarbon dioxide to the atmosphere, but we won’t lift a finger to do anything about what we already put up there.”

So of the 7.3 trillion tons of carbon dioxide lingering in the atmosphere[3] that is the accumulation from human emissions during the prior century, the question is: How much will natural causes alone remove, from 2100 through 2200?

Well, despite the true-but-possibly-misleading statements about carbon dioxide emissions contributing to global warming “for thousands of years,” actually about 70 percent of human-caused atmospheric CO2 would be removed naturally in a century. So of our stipulated 7.3 trillion tons of “excess” (human-caused) CO2 in the atmosphere as of the year 2100, only 30 percent—in other words, 2.2 trillion tons—would remain by the year 2200. The rest would have been dissolved into the ocean and absorbed by other natural “carbon sinks” over the course of the 22nd century.

12 Responses to “My Plan to Keep Greenland White”

  1. Transformer says:

    So your plan to stop a possible species-threatening catastrophe is to do nothing for the next 181 years and then hope the price of carbon extraction has fallen sufficiently by the year 2200 to make it viable to clean up the atmosphere at that point ?

    • Transformer says:

      To be less of a troll: Bob describes a plan that is essentially free (at least for the first 181 years) but one that carries some significant risk that it might not work (if for example market-forces alone can not achieve zero emissions by 2100.). To that extent it reinforces Nordhaus view that a relatively small carbon tax (or a Corsean-optimized equivalent) can nudge the risk of failure towards zero,

      • Dan says:

        Or it could nudge us closer to a Green new deal type plan which would be much worse than the supposed disease. You always like to pretend that the risk of doing nothing is catastrophe, but ignore the history of the state using supposed threats to grab as much power as possible with the results sometimes including the deaths of millions of people. If you want to posit that the threat of letting the free market handle it is extinction, then I’ll posit that a government solution could lead to worldwide socialism and extinction.

        So, since we are both positing that the potential downfalls of free market vs government solutions is extinction, now what?

        • Transformer says:

          Its not so much that I ‘like to pretend that the risk of doing nothing is catastrophe,’ but rather that I’d like to insure against a low but not insignificant risk of catastrophe (as well as a high and real risk of merely lowering utility for future generations) and at a time while its still quite cheap to do so. In my view its waiting til the risks (and the costs) are perceived as higher that the risks of a green new deal type plan gaining popular support becomes more real,

          I don’t know if you have noticed but the state has already got so much power that a carbon tax would be no more than an accounting error – especially if the revenue was used to reduce other taxes.

          • Dan says:

            Yeah, you just did what I said you do. You posit the risk of letting the free market handle it is extinction, but the risk of government intervention is merely lowering utility for future generations.

            No, the risk is socialism. Socialism has over a hundred million corpses underneath it. You don’t get to paint the free market as creating an environment where people could possibly allow themselves to cause the extinction of our race, and then act like the worst case in government intervention is a little less growth.

            • Dan says:

              But, hey, I’m such a reasonable person that even though I don’t think global warming is a big concern I’ll support a policy to help start addressing it. We should ban the government from using fossil fuels. They should have to go back to horse and buggies and candle light. I’ll give them a one time exemption for flying all their troops home from overseas.

              • Transformer says:

                So there is at least something we agree on then.

    • Dan says:

      Species threatening? What species? How many?

  2. Andrew in MD says:

    Darn, nobody took the “Keep Greenland White” bait.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      yikes I didn’t even think of that Andrew. 😮

      • Andrew in MD says:

        I did think the pun was a bit edgy for you, Murphy. It makes sense that it was unintentional.

  3. paul in MD says:

    I found this interesting and it made me go learn a lot more about the issues of global warming. However, I think there are a number of problems with your analysis. Here are a couple.

    First off, the approximately 300 yr decay rate on 80% of CO2 is the time the system takes to get into equilibrium. To a 1st order all the CO2 is still in the system. If you take 20% out of the atmosphere assuming the 20% 80% stays constant 16% of the original added amount will come out of the ocean into the atmosphere and 64% of the original amount will still be in the ocean. I’m assuming the very slow process of CO2 getting buried in the ocean floor is not happening, which on this time scale is reasonable. You would basically have to suck the whole 7300 Gt CO2 out of the system to get back to the original levels.

    Second, trees increase the lands CO2 capacity but again it doesn’t take all the CO2 out of the system. Trees die, they decay and CO2 is returned to the atmosphere. Obviously the system is more complex, but the basic issue has to be considered. You may reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in the short term but some, maybe a lot is going back into the atmosphere in the future.


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