The IPCC gives us good news about climate change, but we don’t listen

Summary: Now that the alarmists have had their day trumpeting the IPCC’s worst case scenario (it’s unlikely and becoming more so), let’s look at their best case scenario (hidden by journalists). The risk probabilities are asymmetric: the good news is more likely than the bad news. This is inspirational, telling people that we can make a better world.

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
— Attributed to Roy Charles Amara as paraphrased by Robert X. Cringely.

Climate Good News

The IPCC’s AR5 used four scenarios to discuss the future of climate change. These Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) describe trends for future emissions, concentrations, and land-use, ending with radiative forcing levels of 2.6, 4.5, 6.0, and 8.5 W/m2 by 2100. The worst case is RCP8.5. It assumes ugly changes in long-standing trends of population growth and technological development. It is unlikely, and becoming more so each year. But it allows climate activists and click-hungry journalists to spin useful nightmares to terrify the public.

The middle two scenarios seem likely, RCP4.5 and RCP6.0. Both would have ill effects on the world, adding to the stress from increase in pollution and population growth. Neither are Armageddon (combined with our other problems, RCP8.5 might be close to Armageddon).

RCP2.6 is the ignored orphan. It provides no sad stories for journalists and no propaganda for activists. In a sane world it would be headline news, showing us a feasible future achievable — with some work. But not like the revolution activists advocate. See the best guide to this path to a better world.

RCP2.6: exploring the possibility to keep global mean temperature increase below 2°C.” by Detlef P. van Vuuren et al. in Climatic Change, November 2011.

This paper is too complex to summarize here. Let’s look at the key points about this vision of the future, and how it is already happening.

One way to get to negative emissions by the 2020s.
From “Ecosystem Services, Land Use Change and future Emission Pathways
by Andy Wiltshire of the UK Met Office.

RCP2.6 Emissions Pathway

A decline in the use of fossil fuels after 2020 contributes most to reduced emissions, along with a shift to biofuels and carbon-capture systems.  How can that be done? In the below graph, Detlef P. van Vuuren et al. shows one path to negative emissions while energy consumption continues to grow. Like most of these projections, they assume a century of tech stagnation — so that coal becomes the fuel of the future. CCS is carbon capture and storage. There are no signs whatsoever of this happening.

Primary energy use per year (in EJ), by source.

RCP2.6 Primary Energy Sources

Explaining one of the good paths to the future.

Detlef P. van Vuuren et al. explains one path, relying on strong government policies. Low assumptions for technological progress is a prudent conservatism in the construction of the RCPs, but that is seldom mentioned by the fear-mongers that dominate the news media.

“Clearly, emissions would need to decline substantially in order to reach a level of 2.6 W/m2 by the end of the century. The cumulative emission reduction over the century amounts to about 70% and the emission reduction in 2100 to more than 95% compared to baseline. …The emission reduction rates for methane and nitrous oxide are less than for CO2. The reason is that the abatement potential for several important sources of these gases is limited. …

“Climate policy leads to an improvement in energy efficiency, more use of {carbon capture and storage (CCS)}, increased use of bioenergy, and some increase in the use of nuclear power and PV/Wind. PV/wind increase their market share in the energy system but the increase in absolute terms is only small in this scenario, caused by 1) other options (e.g. CCS) being more economic, 2) limitations associated with intermittent nature of renewables, and 3) the share of power in total energy use. …

“Both the IMAGE calculations and the current literature suggest that there are a number of key conditions that need to be met in order to achieve the required level of emission reductions.

“First of all, emissions need to be reduced rapidly (around 4% of 2000 emissions annually) over a period of decades. This requires an improvement of greenhouse gas intensity of around 5–6% per year, considerably above the historical rates of around 1–2% per year. …

“Secondly, achieving the ambitious emission reductions associated with the RCP2.6 requires sufficient potential to reduce emissions for all major emission sources. In RCP2.6, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use are reduced by a combination of energy efficiency, increased use of renewables and nuclear power, use of carbon capture and storage and increased use of bioenergy. …

“The third important condition is that non-CO2 gases are strongly reduced.”

Good news about the climate

How can we do this?

Cost of solar cells.……..

Price of solar cells
From The Economist. Click to enlarge.

There are two keys to achieving RCP2.6 without massive government policy action.  First, replacing coal as a primary source for electric generation. Second, replacing petroleum liquid fuels as a primary source for cars.

The first is already happening. Renewable energy sources (e.g., solar, wind, geothermal) are slowly becoming able to provide substantial grid power. For example, see the graph on the right showing Swanson’s Law in action, the relationship of solar cell costs to volume.

For the near future, substitution of natural gas for coal will make the most difference. Burning coal to produce a million BTUs of energy produces an average of 210 pounds of CO2; burning natural gas to do so produces 117 pounds of CO2 (see coal produced and CO2 emitted per EIA) — a reduction of 45%! For details read Coal bankruptcies point to a better future for our climate.

The second is also already happening. Volvo plans to make only hybrid or all-electric cars by 2019. Toyota plans to sell a car in 2022 powered by a solid state battery that significantly increases driving range and reduces charging time. Norway plans to allow sale only of electric cars after 2025. India is aiming for 2030Britain will ban sales of gas and diesel cars after 2040. As will France. These are just first movers in this race.

Looking further out, a host of radical new batteries are under development. For example, U Texas-Austin engineers led by Professor John Goodenough, co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery, have developed the first all-solid-state battery cells that could lead to safer, faster-charging, longer-lasting rechargeable batteries (see their press release and their paper in Energy & Environmental Science, Jan 2017).

If pushed with government policies, these measure can push us towards the RCP2.6 scenario during the 2020s. To get the rest of the way we will need breakthroughs that give us new energy sources. These are already under development. A 2015 report by Third Way describes that some have matured to the stage attracting private capital:

“The American energy sector has experienced enormous technological innovation over the past decade in everything from renewables (solar and wind power), to extraction (hydraulic fracturing), to storage (advanced batteries), to consumer efficiency (advanced thermostats). What has gone largely unnoticed is that nuclear power is poised to join the innovation list.

“A new generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and investors are working to commercialize innovative and advanced nuclear reactors. …Third Way has found that there are nearly 50 companies, backed by more than $1.3 billion in private capital, developing plans for new nuclear plants in the U.S. and Canada. The mix includes startups and big-name investors like Bill Gates, all placing bets on a nuclear comeback, hoping to get the technology in position to win in an increasingly carbon-constrained world.”

More daring are projects to harness fusion. Nature reviewed them in this 2016 article. Most interesting is Tri Alpha Energy (see Wikipedia) was founded in 1998 and has raised $150 million from hard-nosed capitalists ($500 million according to the company, $700 million per Pitchbook). Their fifth-generation reactor, “Norman”, achieved first plasma this month. An article in this month’s Scientific Reports describes how the previous generation reactor (C-2U) …

“led to the discovery of an unexpected record confinement regime with positive net heating power in a field-reversed configuration plasma, characterised by a >50% reduction in the energy loss rate and concomitant increase in ion temperature and total plasma energy.”

Animation of their previous machine at work, the C-2U.

“Watch an animation of Tri Alpha Energy’s C-2U machine in action. It is 23 meters long. The machine forms two smoke rings of plasma and fires them toward the middle to merge into a bigger FRC. There they turn kinetic energy into heat.”


Is this unrealistic? No. We need only continue current trends.

Energy efficiency has been improving for decades, as shown in this graph from “Reaching peak emissions” by Robert B. Jackson, Nature Climate Change, January 2016 (also see energy efficiency by nation from the World Bank). New technologies, such as cheaper and better batteries, can take this trend to levels we can only imagine today.

Increased energy efficiency.

Progress has been fastest in the developed nations. For example, one form of energy intensity — electricity use/GDP — has been declining in the US since 1976. Per capita electricity consumption has been declining in the US since 1999. See this April 2017 Bloomberg article for details (e.g., “most other developed countries have experienced a plateauing or decline in electricity use similar to that in the U.S. over the past decade.”).

The results are already visible — except in the mainstream news. Growth in CO2 emissions was strong during the China-driven boom years of 2000-09, but has been slowing during the past five years. Emissions were flat in 2014-15, and are estimated to have grown only slightly in 2016. This graph is from”Global Carbon Budget 2016” by Corinne Le Quéré et al in Earth System Science Data, 14 November 2016. Click to enlarge.

CO2 emissions by year from the Global Climate Budget 2016

The bottom line: Co2 levels in an RCP2.6 world

Here are predictions of humanity’s CO2 emissions in three RCP scenarios, at decade intervals. Green is RCP2.6, blue is RCP4.5, and red is RCP6.0. RCP8.5 is off this scale. In RCP2.6 CO2 emissions steeply fall in the 2020s. Graph is from the interactive tool at the RCP Database.
RCPs: future CO2 emissions

What about levels of greenhouse gasses (GHG)? This shows the total expressed as equivalent of CO2 (in parts per million). For reasons discussed above, they only decline — and slowly — starting in the 2040s. By 2100 the level is … It does not matter. That is far beyond what we can reliably predict now, any more than the people of 1934 could predict our world of today.

RCPs: future greenhouse gas levels

What happens to global atmosphere and ocean temperatures in the world of RCP2.6? Estimates vary. The rise is probably close to 2 degrees Centigrade over pre-industrial levels, a long-standing goal for limiting anthropogenic climate change.

Why we don’t hear more good news?

The answer can be seen from readers’ reaction to the 4,000+ posts on the FM website. “If it bleeds, it leads.” People want to read scary stories. They want to read exciting stories cheering our side’s angelic warriors — and hissing at our foes, satan’s minions. Good news does not get big traffic. We love scary stories. The reason why reveals a secret about America.

No Fear

For More Information

One of the best places to see the skeptical side of climate science is Judith Curry’s Climate Etc. But not all are this brave. Especially see her analysis of this issue: “Alarm about alarmism.”

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see the posts about the RCPs, about the keys to understanding climate change and these posts about the politics of climate change…

  1. About RCP8.5: Is our certain fate a coal-burning climate apocalypse? No!
  2. Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions.
  3. Ignoring science to convince the public that we’re doomed by climate change.
  4. Good news for the New Year! Salon explains that the global climate emergency is over.
  5. Good news! Coal bankruptcies point to a better future for our climate.
  6. Good news from America about climate change, leading the way to success.
  7. Stratfor gives us good news, showing when renewables will replace fossil fuels.
  8. Focusing on worst case climate futures doesn’t work. It shouldn’t work.
The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
Available at Amazon.

To learn more about the state of climate change…

… see The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change by Roger Pielke Jr. (Prof of Environmental Studies at U of CO-Boulder). From the publisher…

“In recent years the media, politicians, and activists have popularized the notion that climate change has made disasters worse. But what does the science actually say? Roger Pielke, Jr. takes a close look at the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the underlying scientific research, and the data to give you the latest science on disasters and climate change. What he finds may surprise you and raise questions about the role of science in political debates.”

26 thoughts on “The IPCC gives us good news about climate change, but we don’t listen”

  1. I have a major issue with the CAGW meme. I want to know what justification there is for any climate policy? The justification has to be on the basis of the net global impacts of climate change, not of climate change itself. The justification for the presumption that 2C warming would be dangerous is virtually non-existent – even IPCC AR5 says so in WG3 Chapter 3.

    1. Peter,

      “that 2C warming would be dangerous is virtually non-existent”

      I pay no attention to WGII and WGIII, personally. But “dangerous” is imo not a useful framing. There would be impacts, some quite large. There are a lot of papers about the effects of a two degree rise over pre-industrial.

      But you have the missed the point of this post. Two degrees is not catastrophic. Two degrees via RCP2.6 is an alternative to far larger warming — which would certainly have very large unpleasant effects.

  2. We’ve spent 30+ years arguing about the science – i.e. WG1. It’s getting us nowhere. And WG1 is not what justifies expenditures on climate policies. WG3 is needed for that. But there is no valid justification in WG3 – search for ‘damage function’ in Chapter 3.

    I realise there are thousands of studies of the impacts of climate change. There are two major issues:
    1. They are mostly not complete and not balanced in that they do not provide a fair assessment of the total benefit or damage of global warming.
    2. There is a bias towards investigating negative impacts

    My point is that there is no valid evidence to show that the net impact of global warming would be negative. In fact, it seems to me, Tol (2013) (Figure 3) shows the net economic impact of all impact sectors except energy are positive up to about 4C warming. Empirical evidence seems to suggest the FUND projection of energy from 2000 to 2100 is incorrect – should be positive economic impact, not negative. In which case, if the projection of the other sectors are correct, the impact of global warming would be beneficial to >4C.

    It seems to me 2C is more likely to be beneficial than damaging. We need to change the priority from studying science to studying the impacts.

    1. wryheat2,

      I am always amazed at people who so lightly brush away the work of thousands of scientists, conducted over generations. I’ve seen this repeatedly in the 4,000+ comments on the FM website — regards many fields. Experience has taught me not to bother responding, since these people are immune to logic and facts.

      “Dogs bark but the caravan moves on.”

  3. Pingback: The IPCC gives us good news about climate change, but we don’t listen | Watts Up With That?

  4. Please explain why it is not legitimate to ask if carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are the PRINCIPAL cause of of global warming since 1970.

    Thank you in advance.

    1. Nergui,

      This website is to discuss geopolitics. I don’t give lessons in basic science. There are hundreds of explanations of the “greenhouse effect” — by major experts — on the web. Anyone who sincerely wants to learn can easily find them. For example, Wikipedia gives a good explanation, with links to reliable sources (its big value is in the links).

      I’ve spent time on hundreds of such discussion, learning that the question is a major “troll alert.” Trolls are a pox on the web, to be dealt with promptly and firmly. See how major website operators deal with this.

    1. Nergui,

      If the extensive explanations of the IPCC. NOAA, and others won’t convince you, then you are a hard-core science denier. Join the creationist, astrologers, and flat-earthers. Please don’t be offended if you are treated like them.

  5. Pingback: Week in review – science and policy edition | Climate Etc.

  6. Pingback: Week in review – science and policy edition – Enjeux énergies et environnement

  7. 1. Would someone please get that FM troll off the page?

    2. The “settled science” of global warming has three components. First the Greenhouse Effect, normally abbreviated as GHE. This is settled science, but it is the only scientific part of the narrative. Second there are predictions, based on climate models. Because these predictions do not match reality, many skeptics would call the models a dismal failure, but I disagree. The models have been most successful in proving that humans and CO2 have very little influence on climate. Third, there is attribution of recent warming to humans. Although this warming appears to have been somewhat exaggerated, most skeptics agree that there has been warming. But to attribute the warming to humans, we would need a baseline of what planetary temperatures would have been without human activities, and this is impossible. You could try to calculate this baseline, but then you would be using the same climate models that have made such erroneous predictions. Components Two and Three are thus just speculation, wishful thinking or what some might call propaganda.

    1. Mike,

      (1) “Would someone please get that FM troll off the page?”

      I’m the Editor here. I can kick you off. You can’t kick me off. If you’re unhappy, go away.

      (2) You quite confidently say that most climate scientists are wrong. I assume you do this on the basis of your proven expertise in the relevant fields of science. Can we see evidence of this?

      After 30 years of this, I think most of us have grown weary of people speaking as if they were the Pope of Science. In this, as in so many things, activists and skeptics often sound alike.

  8. Pingback: Paul Krugman shows why the climate campaign failed | Watts Up With That?

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  10. Pingback: Good news about CO2 emissions – Progress to a better world | Watts Up With That?

  11. It’s all ridiculous….
    We have no real indication that human activity, and CO2 emissions, have any influence on climate at all. Please wake up, the CO2-content i our atmosphere has risen with great impact for more than twenty years now with no abnormal temperature rise. The fact is; the temperature is rising first and then CO2 comes as a consequence. IE, temp first and then CO2…
    All the fluctuations of temperatures on earth, with f.x. warmth in the mediaval years and extreme cold some 350 years ago, the little ice age, are not due to human activity only normal variability…

      1. Maxwell/Poisson – Kinetics of Gases and Ideal Gas Laws, 1860s. Einstein 1917 using Maxwell’s Statstical Mechanics. Wood c.1904 – no ghe, only trapped ground-heated air .
        A pretty good start, I reckon, but it takes work…..

  12. Pingback: Listening to climate doomsters makes our situation worse | Watts Up With That?

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