Sucking the Oxygen Out of the Environmental Movement

I have written on a number of occasions that, years from now, folks who would like to see meaningful reductions in man’s negative impacts on the environment are going to look back on the global warming charade as a disaster for their movement — not just in terms of credibility, but in terms of lost focus on real, meaningful improvements.

China is a great example.  Like London in the 19th century or Pittsburgh in the early 20th, China’s air quality is a mess.  Real steps need to be taken to clean up the air, for the health and safety of its residents.  The Olympics might have been a venue for people around the world to apply pressure to China to clean up its act.

But, in fact, there is little real pressure from outside for China to clean up the soot, unburned hydrocarbons, NO2, SO2 and other such pollutants from its vehicles and coal plants.  That is because all the pressure, all the attention, is on China’s CO2 production.  But there is nothing China can do to slow down CO2 growth without killing its economy and probably destabilizing its government in the process.  So, it gives the world a big FU to such admonitions. 

Which is a shame.  Unlike for CO2 abatement, there are real technologies that are proven to be economic that can abate the worst of China’s pollution problems.  Had we instead been spending our moral capital pressuring China to take such steps, there might be real progress. 

This is all the more true as we learn that some of the problems we ascribe to CO2 may in fact be more linked to soot from Chinese industry.  John Goetz recently linked one such story:

Smog, soot and other particles like the kind often seen hanging over Beijing add to global warming and may raise summer temperatures in the American heartland by three degrees in about 50 years, says a new federal science report released Thursday.

These overlooked, shorter-term pollutants — mostly from burning wood and kerosene and from driving trucks and cars — cause more localized warming than once thought, the authors of the report say.They contend there should be a greater effort to attack this type of pollution for faster results.For decades, scientists have concentrated on carbon dioxide, the most damaging greenhouse gas because it lingers in the atmosphere for decades. Past studies have barely paid attention to global warming pollution that stays in the air merely for days.

This is consistent with other recent work that hypothesizes that increase of melting rates of Arctic sea ice may be as much due to Chinese black carbon falling on the ice  (and thereby decreasing its albedo and increasing solar heating) than from rising global temperatures.  This makes sense to me, and may help explain why melting in the Arctic sea ice was nearly as great as last year’s record, despite much lower Arctic temperatures (see below) over the last year.

Uahmsunpol

  • McIntyre

    But, in fact, there is little real pressure from outside for China to clean up the soot, unburned hydrocarbons, NO2, SO2 and other such pollutants from its vehicles and coal plants – you must have somehow not heard about the Olympics. The problems with Beijing’s air quality were given endless column inches in the run-up to the games. If you somehow fail to perceive the pressure on China, from both outside and within, to clean up the pollutants you mention, then your perception is severely flawed.

    increase of melting rates of Arctic sea ice may be as much due to Chinese black carbon falling on the ice (and thereby decreasing its albedo and increasing solar heating) than from rising global temperatures. This makes sense to me – whether it makes sense to you or not is a very poor indicator of whether it is good science or not. Science does not proceed by gut feeling. A more plausible reason for this year’s ice extent being almost as low as last year’s record was given back in April:

    As the winter extent numbers indicate, new ice growth was strong over the winter. Nevertheless, this new ice is probably fairly thin. Thin ice is vulnerable to melting away during summer. Figures 4 and 5 indicate that relatively thin, first-year ice now covers 72% of the Arctic Basin, including the region around the North Pole; in 2007, that number was 59%. Usually, only 30% of first-year ice formed during the winter survives the summer melt season; in 2007, only 13% survived. Even if more first-year ice survives than normal, the September minimum extent this year will likely be extremely low.

  • Anon

    McIntyre, I’m not attacking your comment but desire some clarification.

    Your quote indicates that 30% of first year ice survives the summer. Now in my mind assuming that the ice cap grows and shrinks every year, then assuming a perfectly balanced system and ignoring regional variations, 100% of first year ice ought to melt every summer. Logically, it formed that winter, it melts the following summer. I assume the 30% figure comes from regional variations and other factors. Some first year ice survives but in a balanced system some multi season ice melts “instead”.

    The problem therefore is not the melting of first year ice, which logically is expected to be a year long phenomena but the melting of long term ice.

    Please clarify for me.

  • Mike

    I have often made this same argument about news articles which talk about reducing CO2 “pollutants”. The problem is that technically, CO2 is NOT a pollutant. This fallacy is taking people away from the issue of real pollutants such as HC, CO, SO2 and so on. We cannot lose focus of that real harms to our, and the planet’s health.

    We know these compounds are dangerous, why focus so much of our efforts on something that is not completely understood?

  • Fred from Canuckistan . . .

    When the Olympics were happening, the Chinese did whatever necessary to have the smog go away. They took a huge economic hit – closed factories, mines and power generation to make a big political hit – the global audience needed to be shown how great China is.

    Now the para Olympics are happening, the world isn’t watching and the air quality is back to its normal terrible state.

    What is the Chinese phrase for “Potemkin Village” ??

  • Bobby Lane

    McIntyre:

    Unlike Anon, I am going to attack your posting. First, I’d like some proof of what you assert, that China is indeed being pressured to clean up its act and that said pressure is making a substantive difference. The only difference that Olympics made was to help China clean up Beijing temporarily so it could present a clean face, as it were, to the world.

    See here: http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2008/08/not-only-coal.html and here too: http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2008/08/dark-side.html

    The Chinese economy is HEAVILY dependent upon coal, and they don’t care about cleaning up their emissions one bit for the present. They only care about results, about keeping their economy afloat and their populace satiated so there are not riots that might threaten the rule of the one-party government. They are not going to change their ways so long as it does not threaten their tenuous hold on the population and their economic success.

    Secondly, there are a number of reasons for ice melt, from wind, to Atlantic/Arctic sea currents, to Arctic volcanoes. Your posting only asserts why the NEW ice is melting, the reason being given that it is thin and thus more subject to melting than thicker older ice. By the numbers you give, 70 percent of the new ice surives melting, accumulates depth next winter, and the cycle begins again but with the ice having one more winter’s advantage. Regardless of the reasons that the NEW ice is melting, there has been a lot of older ice melting, and the Skeptic is merely speculating that soot from China on the ice might be helping in the melting process. He is not alleging it is the sole cause of it, nor does he give any numbers that might be critiqued from a scientific basis (not that I think you would be able to do that anyway). It merely aids in the melting process. This is a logical conclusion with an easy scientific basis. As an example that black things attract and absorb more sunlight, while white things reflect more of it take two cars. I have a white car and my best friend has a black car. Hers is always hotter than mine, even if parked side by side in full sunlight. That is just the way it is. Basic natural fact.

    And this year’s ice extent is based on last years low ice extent, obviously. So the reason goes back further than just this year. So do Chinese coal-fired power plants. So do the varying oscillations of the wind, ocean currents, and underwater volcanic activity that affect the Arctic. And meanwhile the Antarctic is largely cooling down. This is also a natural fact. The Earth’s air-conditioning mechanisms warm one pole while cooling the other in order to provide balance. This has been noticed for over FIVE YEARS, since 2002 at least. What melting is occurring there is mostly due to volcanic activity and oceanic currents.

    See here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1752999.stm and here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1758772.stm

    So please, before you post any more scathing attacks on this man’s blog, learn a few more things before you speak out of your immeasurable ignorance. I for one would very much appreciate it.

  • cfdman

    McIntyre, your an idiot. You CAN get news from Bejing regarding their post-Olympics air quality and it has gotten much worse. This is because the air quality measures that were in place have mostly been eliminated (such as driving alternating days based on license numbers). While I do not claim to know what level of air pollution China will tolerate in the long run (hopefully they will have higher standards as time progresses), they do not give a hoot about soot pollution and artic ice, just about money and control.

  • morganovich

    mcintyre is “scientist” a troll who has recently taken to posting under other names to confuse the issue.

    i wouldn’t waste too much time arguing with him.

  • McIntyre

    Anon – there is no logical reason to think that in the absence of ‘local effects’, only first-year ice would melt. The sun shines on the whole icecap, not just the bit that formed during the previous summer. But first year ice melts more easily, so more of it melts than of the multi-year ice. The higher the fraction of the icecap that is made of first-year ice, the more of it is liable to melt during the summer, and so the higher the fraction of first-year ice the next winter’s ice-cap will be composed of, and so on. This is a good example of a positive feedback process. The rate of decline of ice area in the Arctic is observed to be accelerating.

    Mike – I did a google search for ‘pollution’, and the most useful definition given started by saying “A substance which causes an undesirable change in the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of the natural environment“. CO2 is causing undesirable changes in the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the natural environment, so technically, yes it is a pollutant.

    Bobby Lane – google is rather useful. I did a search for “China pollution international pressure” and I came up with plentiful evidence that yes, China experiences pressure from both outside and from within to reduce its pollution. I can’t quote the links because my post gets accused of being spam – but you can do the search.

    The Earth’s air-conditioning mechanisms warm one pole while cooling the other in order to provide balance – that is just pure nonsense. Sorry, but that is not how the climate works – not anything remotely like that. There is no mechanism at all which forces one pole to cool if the other is warming. Please take such spectacular ignorance elsewhere – I’m sure no-one wants to see that kind of thing here.

    cfdman – calling someone an idiot while using “your” instead of “you’re” is what is known as “shooting yourself in the foot”.

  • cfdman

    Babby La, this is a very poor definition that would also include oxygen and nitrogen. The poorness is in the use of “undesirable”.

    Get a new definition – CO2 is not a pollutant. The issue is one of amount, not the “undesirableness” of CO2.

  • cfdman

    McIntyre, Thanks for making obvious that you are avoiding the point.

    The simple fact that you think you knew what I meant (you’re instead of your), proves that my communication was flawless – and yet you choose to ignore it. As I said, your an idiot.

  • Yeti

    I googled pollution too and found this definition “the environment to such a point that its effects become harmful to human health, other living organisms, or the environment.”
    It takes 1% or 10,000 PPM for humans to notice a effect of discomfort or drowsiness.
    At levels of 5% or 50,000 PPM CO2 becomes directly toxic.
    At 390 PPM we are not even close to those level.

  • EarthScientist

    “Jane,You Ignorant Slut” Some of you boys remember Akroyds familiar phrase.
    Unfortunately ,it holds true still,and were adding names daily.
    As I sit in my ‘Suburbia farmette” The air is great,just great unless some ass is cleaning up his animal pen,or some other ass is spraying weed killer on “HIs” land and not mindful of his sensitive neighbors.
    So,since China and Us are not near neighbors and “They” are the ones who primarily have to ingest their output,wheres “Your” Beef??
    Has there “Pollution effected your GD golf game Moron?”
    Pool party being rushed indoors?
    My Humah is for you,you know who you are,the moron who has so much time on his hands with his fako degree in some idio-science field that doesnt understand that heavy particles and gases too ,seem to drop to the ground and effect the local area,but of course,you morons would have the Bush idiots completely destroy the planet with Bombs and DU and thats perfectly okay,because its okay to steal Saddams Trillions in Gold,by attacking the nation themselves and making it all the little bastard Husseins fault that he owned their gold in the first place.
    They used their little tank with the plasma weapon to “Shrink’ the heads and bodies of anyone near the facilities that held “Their Gold’ and you morons have yet to complain of the burned flesh pollution from Iraq,and shouldnt we charge them something else?
    So,when you science morons wake up and finally determine that you have been hustled,and are destroying everything in the world so you can supposedly “Stop” pollution and ‘Global Warming” by insisting that we and of course those little twtis,”The Chinese” stop living because they are destroying “Your Air” which is our air,because Earth Service designed the planet with a non -exhaustable air supply coming into the planet every hour and minute through the cymatic nodes that you “Morons” still have not went outside and seen displayed,that even my granddaughter (5) can see when Papa here shows her the gist of the system.
    There is a “Lemon Law” in most states for defective products and those of you who may be lawyers,surely can hear the ambulance,now cant you,? Surely you could protocol a class action suit to suit the Morons who are Climate Idiots or Weather Idiots or least ,but not lest,Astro physics Idiots who shall eventually claim their place in the suit against their Guru-ic Phd. that blew all of the garbage into them,with malicious intent to make the Earths Science men not just look,but be the Slowest,dumbest people in the Universe(The planetary travelers laugh constantly) and (They laugh also constantly at you Mars seeking Idiots) You have not even figured out ‘Grid Science” here yet and you “Need” to tell everyone how the whole place works and the big bang on the head you experienced to “Explain” the whole place whilst we laugh at you morons.
    And so now ,its Chinas fault,isnt it??They did it,the little ‘OrangeField’ idiots.

  • Tony Edwards

    Bobby Lane, if you want to read about a real pollutant which is completely uncontrolled, despite the damage to health and property, please go to
    http://www.dhmo.org/
    This extremely dangerous substance fills all of your definition.

  • First off I just finished a Masters in Sustainability Sciences degree. Climate science was one of my majors. On balance I believe that there is sufficient risk to justify taking action. Do I think action will actually be taken? No, we will never reach any sort of meaningful agreement on what to do, even though that is clear.

    On top of the basic science first established by Svante Arrhenius and the well understood physics of spectral radiation of CO2 and other greenhouses gases including Dihrydrogen monoxide (water), many of the earths climate systems are showing changes that are highly correlated with increasing levels of CO2. To simply dismiss these changes and the way they are occurring and the correlation with Greenhouse gases is intellectually feeble. It is a risk management exercise, pure and simple.

  • Bobby Lane

    McIntyre, my full statement was: First, I’d like some proof of what you assert, that China is indeed being pressured to clean up its act and that said pressure is making a substantive difference.” The key emphasis was on those last two words. I am sure there is plenty of pressure. Externally it is likely lip service. China is the largest or a very key trading partner with many countries including the USA. Upping their energy costs by making them go “greener” will only increase prices on their exports and cost you and I more. So I see it as lip service to the ’cause’ by any who have any real power or say in the matter. Internally the matter is probably more serious, but again the Chinese government has far too much control for the criticism to take effect. They don’t care about the popular will as long as it does not lead to riots. Chinese water and air quality is already well below international standards in many of their largest cities. It’s not that I doubt the sincerity of those who protest their pollution controls, and here is maybe where you and I diverge on our perspective. I just doubt they have great effect on the Chinese government that the people in other countries suppose. Besides, they have their own problems including the deadly and disastrous winter of 2007, numerous earthquakes, a diminishing coal supply (in terms of exports at least) and a burgeoning urban population used to the comforts they have earned over the past couple of decades. If the economy slows too much, or effectively collapses, the governments (both regional and national) stand to lose a lot of power and control. That to them is unthinkable.

    As to the others who are speaking to my “definition” of a pollutant, I did not post one here. Nor did I speak of CO2 or other gases as pollutants on my previous comment. So I am confused. I do agree that there are, perhaps, many pollutants – some natural, many man-made, that can do damage to the atmosphere and to ourselves too. I will not dispute that. If I ever said or implied CO2 itself was a pollutant, I only meant it in the sense that the “Green” movement asserts it is. As it is produced by every organism except plants that populates this planet, I hardly think it qualifies. But then I am sure his eminence, Al Gore, would disagree with me.

    Cfdman, if it one of amount, I believe Yeti answers that question admirably. We are nowhere near any kind of danger zone. Plus, the more CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, the LESS effective it is as a greenhouse gas. But, given the cold dip we are about to experience, I bet we will all be wishing for a little global warming here in a while, yours truly included.

    Tony Edwards, thanks for the link. I will check it out when I can find time. I am in the midst of taking a new position at work, moving, dating someone, and absorbing as much as I can of the current debate.

    http://www.wattsupwiththat.com and http://www.eureferendum are to great websites to get a scientific and political perspective, respectively, on the issue. Even if I believed AGW were 100% correct, I can still see it is going to cost us trillions of dollars to ‘fight’ it, and that probably not to much effect. Even the IPCC is not confident that even the most extreme reductions in CO2 would do much to cool the Earth beyond a tenth or two of a point.

    Saildog, all that means to me is that you have imbibed the latest university-bred teachings on global warming which I do not suspect are well vetted by skeptics. Normally one finds lots of government money and lots of liberals on campuses, neither being conducive to a skeptical and well-rounded mind. That said, you are welcome any time to submit evidence of your claims. Or come to wattsupwiththat.com, or the real Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit page, and produce your evidence. I am sure we’d all love to have a crack at it. And if it stands, then great! We’re not against real science. Only against science and scientists that disdain questioning of their methods and work. And that is what, unfortunately, makes up so much of the AGW crowd, especially the more politics one adds in.

  • McIntyre

    Do not presume to demand that I prove something I haven’t even claimed. The original statement was that there was little pressure for China to reduce its environmental impact. I showed that was false. Whether the pressure is having an effect is irrelevant.

    The ‘debate’ about whether CO2 can be considered a pollutant is misguided and infantile. I invite those who extol its wonderful virtues and deny any possible negative effects to spend two minutes breathing pure CO2, and then comment further.

    the cold dip we are about to experience – and from where, pray tell, did you draw this vision of the future?