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Catastrophes Book “Equivocal” About Climate Change

A recently published (serious) book about future catastrophes appears to confirm that there is nothing special about allegedly upcoming climate change disasters: to the contrary, there are too many uncertainties to put those on equal standing with, for example, the spread of new diseases.

If that is true, the oft-repeated “precautionary principle” argument (by AGW alarmists) will lose any sense it might have ever had.

The following is from the New York Review of Books, Sep 24, 2009. The reviewer is Joel E. Cohen, the book is Global “Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years” by Vaclav Smil, “a versatile geographer at the University of Manitoba” that “provides a broad, factual vision of the “major factors that will shape the global future“:

About climate change, Smil is equivocal. He acknowledges the potentially far-reaching consequences of global warming, and warns that “continued large-scale combustion of fossil fuels could increase atmospheric CO2 to levels unseen since large herds of horses and camels grazed on grassy plains of America.” He also writes that “no country will be immune to global climate change, and no military capability, economic productivity, or orthodox religiosity can provide protection against its varied consequences.” But he suggests that “this preoccupation with CO2 misses nearly half of the problem,” because other kinds of greenhouse gases, such as methane (which is emitted by livestock, natural gas, and organic decay), have more potent greenhouse effects, even if they are less abundant. And he is critical of predictions about global warming derived from complex models of climate behavior, which he considers “elaborate speculations“:

In order to forecast the additional warming that might take place by the year 2050 we must rely on a set of highly uncertain assumptions. We do not know…the future rates of fossil fuel combustion, land use changes, fertilizer use, and meat production. They will depend on the continuing increases of energy use, the extent of discoveries of new hydrocarbon deposits, the rates of penetration of nonfossil energy conversions, national land use policies, disposable incomes, and the overall vitality of the global economy“.

Perhaps as a consequence, Smil sees climate change as one of “many other worrisome large-scale environmental changes,” and does not discuss the possible catastrophes about which some climate scientists have warned

Smil appears to be an AGW Believer of the Pielke Jr/Lomborg variety: that is, not fundamentalist enough to miss the fact that climate change scenarios are simply “elaborate speculations“. And the possibility of AGW just as one of many other problems.

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  1. Rattus Norvegicus
    2009/10/13 at 03:43

    Well, for at least the last 800,000 years or so (certainly a time when at least wild horses roam NA) the levels are not reconstructions, but rather direct measurements. But you knew that, right?

    • 2009/10/13 at 06:22

      It depends on the meaning of “direct”?

      • Rattus Norvegicus
        2009/10/13 at 15:12

        Air bubbles trapped in ice cores.

  2. Rattus Norvegicus
    2009/10/10 at 02:11

    It should be pointed out that, contrary to Dr. Smil’s assertion, we already have a higher CO2 levels which exceed “levels unseen since large herds of horses and camels grazed on grassy plains of America.” CO2 levels in the atmosphere since the at least the mid-Pleistocene have been at or below 280 ppmv. We are currently at 387 ppmv and rising.

    • 2009/10/10 at 13:30

      Rattus – I wish I could share your belief in the precision of CO2-level reconstructions

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