Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Increased Runoff


When you're conducting a massive, semiconscious experiment with the climate of the only planet you have, it's important to remember that things may possibly turn out well, for some people.

Certain "experts" argue that we're running a terrible risk, but that's only because they've focused ghoulishly on the worst-case scenario. Which tells you all you need to know about their priorities: Who but an enemy of capitalism would weigh the costs of a devastated world against the benefits of a very slightly improved one, and come down on the side of realism and responsibility?

With these concerns firmly in mind, Anne Jolis of the WSJ does something the Warmists never do. She looks at the science:

According to a 2004 paper [link added, since Jolis couldn't be bothered] by British geographer and climatologist Nigel Arnell, global warming would likely reduce the world's total number of people living in "water-stressed watersheds"...even though many regions would see increased water shortages. Using multiple models, Mr. Arnell predicted that if temperatures rise, between 867 million and 4.5 billion people around the world could see increased "water stress" by 2085. But Mr. Arnell also found that "water stress" could decrease for between 1.7 billion and 6 billion people. Taking the average of the two ranges, that means that with global warming, nearly 2.7 billion people could see greater water shortages — but 3.85 billion could see fewer of them.
According to Jolis, the IPPC emphasizes the negative scenario and "largely ignores the greater number likely to see more water courtesy of climate change."

The problem is, you can't simply balance drought here with extra rainfall there, as though they were debits and credits in some cosmic ledger. What matters is where and when droughts and rainfall and snowmelt occur, and the overall effect on ecosystems as well as population and infrastructure. As a simplistic example, more runoff (and perhaps flooding) in Turkey isn't necessarily going to make up for drought, forest loss, and wildfires in the Amazon. As Arnell himself explains:
People living in these watersheds have an apparent decrease in water resources stress, but in practice the extra water may not alleviate water stress because it may occur largely during increased flood flows.
Jolis gets her information from Indur Goklany, a cornucopian dingbat whom she claims was formerly "with the U.S. Department of the Interior" (even though his career with thinktanks like Cato and the Heartland Institute should be far more impressive in her circles). Needless to say, Goklany is neither a climatologist nor a hydrologist. But then, neither is Al Gore, so it all evens out.

Since Arnell's work provides the evidence Jolis requires in order to trash the IPCC, you might think she'd treat him with a bit of deference. But it turns out that he's part of the problem:
Mr. Arnell, who helped author the summary and some sections in the full report, told your correspondent he is "happy" with the way his work was represented. He said one reason for the omissions was "space"....The other reason Mr. Arnell cited — which he emphasized in his 2004 paper — is that increased and decreased water stress are asymmetrical indicators, and comparing them is "misleading."

"Having a bit more [water] is not as good as having a bit less is bad," Mr. Arnell explained....
Jolis complains that "Mr. Arnell's 22-page paper is rife with caveats and uncertainties," but this doesn't prevent it from being a sturdy club with which to beat the IPCC. After all, "uncertainties" in climate science always support the status quo, even when authors emphasize (as Arnell does) that they're probably understating the problems we face.

What's really sad is that some of the uncertainties in predicting water stress depend on our own willingness to mitigate or prepare for warming, which in turn depends on the extent to which know-nothings like Jolis are allowed to influence the debate.

As a working scientist, Arnell has more recent papers and more current statements on this issue, and they underscore the fact that there really isn't a "bright side" here. But who cares? All that matters is that the IPCC has taken some hits lately, and lots more mud needs to be thrown as quickly as possible. Since Goklany had a readymade complaint from several years ago, which could be recirculated with a minimum of effort, Jolis is dutifully trotting it out.

If you claim that a warmer world will be better world, readers might be tempted to leave all their lights on 'round the clock, regardless of personal expense, in hopes of making their own small contribution to human happiness. That's a slippery slope indeed, and so Jolis is careful to stress that what's needed here is not activism but complacency:
The point here is not to suggest that pollution and any resulting warming will deliver the Third World from its troubles, or that emitting ever-more carbon dioxide should be pursued as humanitarian policy. Clearly any benefits of global warming are extremely speculative — but then so are the costs.
Lovely, isn't it? When Arnell projects water decreases in Europe and North America and China, it's "extremely speculative" and therefore not worth worrying about. Meanwhile, there may be a bit more water in some areas of the Third World, for reasons and with results that don't bear going into. This is also extremely speculative, but it's still useful as a counterweight to the hysterical claims of "alarmists"...like, for instance, Nigel Arnell.

In other news, Brazil intends to dam the Xingu River.
Critics say the Belo Monte plant will be hugely inefficient, generating less than 10% of its capacity during the three to four months of the low-water season.

10 comments:

Rich Puchalsky said...

Ah yes, "warmer is better." I remember that one from one of the earliest glibertarian pieces I encountered, a paper by Thomas Gale Moore from back in 1995. I've archived some material about it for posterity here:

http://rpuchalsky.home.att.net/sci_env/moore/moore_warming.html

People should remember what kind of horrible pseudoscience dominated U.S. politics around the late 20th century and early 21st. Although, more pessimistically, this will probably never go away -- 50 years from now the denialists will be saying the same things.

PolicyWatchdog said...

Curious: Just exactly what sort of "career" did Indur Goklany have with The Heartland Institute? Does the strength of your argument really depend on such "guilt by association" nonsense?

Phila said...

Does the strength of your argument really depend on such "guilt by association" nonsense?

No, the strength of my argument depends on his clear misrepresentation of Arnell's research, which I went to some trouble to explain, and to underscore with quotes from Arnell himself.

His association with industry-funded denialist thinktanks is just the icing on the cake.

Phila said...

And incidentally, it's not a matter of establishing guilt by association so much as calling attention to Jolis' attempt at credibility by association.

When I said that her readers would probably be a lot more impressed by his links with Cato etc., I wasn't being entirely facetious.

Kira said...

Um... I don't know that you understood the article very well.

I don't think the column was "trashing" anybody or anything, just pointing out that the IPCC had presented a very one-sided, and misleading, picture of research about the impacts of climate change on water shortages. The writer doesn't seem like "complaining" about the uncertainties in Arnell's paper, but pointing out that they exist on both sides. Arnell himself was in the IPCC reviews, so it would be disingenuous to blame everything on the IPCC when it seems he had some control over how his work was used. I don't see how this misrepresents anything by pointing out the other side to Arnell's research that was left out of the IPCC docs. What's wrong with that?

Also, if you read the WSJ online regularly, you'd know that they pretty much never put in links to stuff they refer to. Only Tarant's "Best of the Web" does that, and even then, only sometimes.

Indur Goklany has written for Cato and Heartland - other than that, he doesn't seem to have any lasting affiliation either of them. I think it was most relavant to point out what position he held when he made those comments - with the Bush DoI. Heh. If that's "credibility by association" for you, go for it...

Finally, you say "know nothing," but, um, you clearly needed this article to educate yourself on this matter. Aren't bloggers supposed to be ahead of the news?

Rich Puchalsky said...

Better denialists, please. Although Phila, you must really be on their radar screen to warrant two comments by one anonymoid. Congratulations, I guess.

Phila said...

Although Phila, you must really be on their radar screen to warrant two comments by one anonymoid.

Nah. I get the occasional outburst, but it seems to be pretty random. I don't think there are enough readers/commenters here to make it worth their while. (Small is beautiful!)

Phila said...

I don't think the column was "trashing" anybody or anything, just pointing out that the IPCC had presented a very one-sided, and misleading, picture of research about the impacts of climate change on water shortages.

The article claims that there's a "bright side" to global warming as regards water stresses. Jolis does not make the case that this is true, not least because the work she cites in favor of that claim doesn't actually support it.

Accusing a scientific body of misrepresenting data may not be "trashing" it, by your definition, but it's a very serious charge and Jolis makes it frivolously. As do you.

The writer doesn't seem like "complaining" about the uncertainties in Arnell's paper, but pointing out that they exist on both sides.

Except that the risk of an overall negative outcome outweighs the far more theoretical positives. And that risk increases with warming and as a result of inaction, as Arnell points out.

Arnell himself was in the IPCC reviews, so it would be disingenuous to blame everything on the IPCC when it seems he had some control over how his work was used.

There's no "blame" to apportion, unless you find Jolis' non-expert interpretation of Arnell's work to be more authoritative than that of Arnell and his peers. Which would not be rational, in my view.

Also, if you read the WSJ online regularly, you'd know that they pretty much never put in links to stuff they refer to.

So what? If you're looking for points to challenge, why not focus on something science-based, like my claim that "what matters is where and when droughts and rainfall and snowmelt occur, and the overall effect on ecosystems as well as population and infrastructure"?

If that's "credibility by association" for you, go for it...

It isn't. But apparently, Jolis thinks it should be, which is why I mentioned it.

Finally, you say "know nothing," but, um, you clearly needed this article to educate yourself on this matter. Aren't bloggers supposed to be ahead of the news?

I have no idea what you're talking about here. I was familiar with Arnell's research before reading Jolis' misrepresentation of it. And I've addressed her misrepresentations of climate science before, so I'm familiar with her tactics.

But if you want to view Jolis and Goklany as more credible than the IPCC, even when their interpretations of a scientist's work are contradicted by the scientist himself...go for it. It's not like anything I'm gonna say will change your mind.

jaytingle said...

The "runoff" that is speculated to provide a much needed, though unwieldy, source of water to certain parts of the world can easily be contained and reserved in the immeasurably huge quantity of plastic bottles which have heretofore provided little more than clutter to our ever-contracting planet. Many of said vessels are already making their way across the Pacific, eliminating the need for costly shipping. With enough effort our emerging economy neighbors will create virtual reservoirs of precious water to be available no matter the season.

Phila said...

With enough effort our emerging economy neighbors will create virtual reservoirs of precious water to be available no matter the season.

Brilliant! I suggest you write up a grant proposal and send it to the Gates Foundation.