A Note on Climate

I am unaware of any climate change denial among my readership, but the spread of useful and correct information is important, nevertheless. So today we get a re-rendering of the infamous “hockey stick” graph from 2001, using a longer time scale, and this is what we get:

That is a lot of change in very little time. I take seriously the conjecture is that most of the risk of climate change is in the tail, so that climate change features tipping points. In network theory, phase transmission from small clusters to giant clusters (of users, or nodes) happens at a certain points when the ratio of segments in the network to nodes exceeds the value of one. It is at that point something like a mundane, erroneous video about wealth distribution becomes a “viral” phenomenon almost immediately. There is, of course, a velocity aspect to network coalescence. As they say in comedy, “timing is everything”. Some phases are easily reversible (vapor/water/ice), some are hard (political tides), and some are impossible (shattering a window). Climate change is likely the latter.

If small clusters of environmental impacts due to climate change follow the same process (which they do), then at some point climate change will cause an instantaneous jump (think geologic time) to a completely new stable equilibrium (or phase). So we have two problems:

  1. Preventing the tipping point from coming to pass. Note, this is not the same thing as preserving the exact climate we have today.
  2. Insuring against the uncertainty of the range of effects that will happen in the interim — the transition period between the two equilibria (remember, geologic time).

I am of the mind that one is pretty much out of the question anymore, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise. On number two, we are catastrophically failing as a society, and this isn’t some sort of anti-libertarian *gotcha* point. The fact of the matter is that society is organized in such a way that we have placed government in stewardship of certain aspects of society and the economy. That may not be your ideal situation, but that is the situation that we have, and it does not appear to be changing any time soon. In the interim between the present and reaching your utopia, investments need to be made in the existing paradigm. We are failing that, and dramatically increasing our exposure to risk.

After all, as a wise steward of wealth; you wouldn’t buy an income property, and then completely neglect it because it’s likely that someone else will own it at some point in the future.

Happy Friday!

h/t Kevin Drum


2 thoughts on “A Note on Climate

  1. That graph is rather misleading. It looks like they grafted an instrumental record at the end of a proxy record (a controversial procedure from the original Mann hockey stick). If you download the supplementary data for the paper and look at the Excel data, on the “METADATA” tab, it looks pretty unlikely that the proxies used have the resolution necessary to produce the graph. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6124/1198/suppl/DC1

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