Questions - Session II

Stephen Hamburg, David Wolfe, Jonathan Patz, Victor Kennedy, Denny Ellerman, Meredydd Evans

DR. MARKHAM: Thank you, Steve. We do indeed have time for one or two questions. Yes, there is one over here.

PARTICIPANT: (Comments off mike.)

DR. HAMBURG: The question was, I defined resilience as returning to a previous state. In the case of the spruce forest, the spruce forest didn't return, but a hardwood forest did.

I agree, and I probably slipped by something I meant to say with that. In defining resilience in this case, I want to define it in terms of the services that we would be getting from that forest, or the conditions in the case of biodiversity, maintaining certain species that we would want from that forest or that terrestrial ecosystem.

So in that case, I would argue that that forest did prove to be resilient. But that was a very small change in that forest, compared to what is projected. I would strongly question, based on my knowledge of that forest and the paleo record of that forest, whether or not, if you had the rate of change that is projected in the JCMs occurring in that forest, whether you wouldn't see a collapse and total loss in this case of extractable wood, or a very large loss of extractable wood from that forest.

DR. MARKHAM: A question down here.

PARTICIPANT: You showed this Swiss forest. That was a model study, right?

DR. HAMBURG: Right.

PARTICIPANT: It showed an initial loss of carbon that stresses the forest. I am just wondering, are there data that show that this is what will happen?

DR. HAMBURG: The question is, I showed an example of a model output for a Swiss forest and the carbon losses that follow climate change scenarios being imposed upon that forest, and whether there are any actual empirical data to demonstrate that type of losses.

As far as I know, good data, no. I would argue that part of the reason that we have had trouble with that is that in most cases, we have land use history superimposed on it, and in the temperate zone, almost the entire forest has been cut over. So we are having a little bit of a tough time pulling out the climate signal from the underlying land use signal. That is where this study that I talked about with the spruce -- we got around that by being able to get good empirical data that we could separate the land use component from the climate component.

That is why I say it is a question. Theoretically, and based on general empirical data, most terrestrial ecologists believe there will be a disorganizational phase in an adjustment of ecosystems to climate change. How much carbon might be lost is very much up in question. I don't think it would be fair to say we have a good handle on that, but there is very strong consensus that that process will take place. Now what we need to do is figure out good ways to qualify it.

Also, what becomes key is the timing, obviously. If the timing is synchronous, then we have got a big problem. If it is asynchronous, then there is a possibility that the impacts on global climate change will be relatively small.

DR. MARKHAM: Time for one more question if there is one. The gentleman just down here.

PARTICIPANT: (Comments off mike.)

DR. HAMBURG: Right. The question was whether or not the plants that I talked about would adapt to the changing temperature regimes. Certainly, some would, and I had some more slides to deal with that, but for brevity's sake didn't include that.

We know that plants have an optimal temperature range in which they can survive, and some plants are going to stay within that range. But in terms of evolution, I don't think there is any evidence in the time scales that we are talking about, which are less than a generation for most of these organisms, that we could expect the plasticity within their genome to be able to allow them to endure past the existing range that they are in. I think you will see them collapsing at the edges of their ranges in most of the areas which for the temperate zone would be approximately one-third of the area.

I just don't think there is lots of evidence to suggest that you're going to see spruce living in a five degrees or three degrees Celsius warmer environment than they do today, except in the northern portions of their area. I think there is good paleo evidence to suggest that won't occur.

DR. MARKHAM: A question for Denny Ellerman: Where are renewables in the picture, for instance, solar and wind. Also, what is the energy mix that we might be looking at over the next ten to 20 years to get us toward stabilization in the atmosphere.

DR. ELLERMAN: Let me answer the second first, because it is easier to deal with. I don't see realistically what that energy mix is. It is not clear what that would be, whether stabilization would happen. I can see that much more easily in developed countries, industrialized countries. That seems quite feasible. When you talk about the rest of the world, it is very hard to see how that is going to come about. I don't see the means to control economic growth, even assuming that were desirable, to change the energy mixes and so on.

Let's go to solar energy, because I think that is a good illustration of what I find intriguing about the interactions between information and energy use. In the past, solar taps into a highly diffuse form of energy. Its great disadvantage in the past was that it was diffuse, and the costs of collection were very large, and can't compete with the concentration of energy that you find in a ton of coal or a gallon of gasoline, or what have you to meet the sort of needs that people wanted.

What is interesting about the information changes and what I find intriguing about it, is that it may convert this reduction of the cost of information and of control and coordination, may make it possible to integrate dispersed sources, or to tap into dispersed sources that may overcome what heretofore have been the prohibitive costs of collection or of concentration; how do you concentrate this energy which is in diffuse form.

So the way that one should think about this is, you can have photovoltaic reflectors on your roof or something, which would take in energy whenever it is available, and it gets integrated into the system. This is being done in places now. So the energy when it is there is taken in, it meets the supply, and either goes out into the grid or reduces demand at the end point.

You could say, could we have done that before? Well, yes, you could, but it was very costly to coordinate the electric supply systems that were on networks with all this sort of dealing with the interruptability of these sources. It may be that one of the implications of the information revolution is going to be that we can't tap into those sources, and there is a much greater potential for dispersed generation than there has been in the past, in that it permits us to take advantage of its very dispersion and its intermittency in a way that would have significant effects upon energy demand. What we think of as the central system now becomes a residual system. The services are all the same, so people don't really care about that.

That hasn't happened. The issue would be how to -- if you get the reduction of cost and the ability to bring that energy into the system in a usable form. But solar is like any other of these technologies; there are isolated niche markets where they are economic. If the view is that we ought to tax everything else very heavily and make them economic, the question is, is that going to happen. I think it is arguable.

DR. MARKHAM: One more question at the back.

PARTICIPANT: (Comments off mike.)

DR. MARKHAM: I think the question was, how feasible are the low-emission strategies developed by IPCC working group two, particularly biomass.

DR. ELLERMAN: The low emission strategies developed by IPCC working group two.

DR. MARKHAM: Particularly with regard to biomass.

DR. ELLERMAN: I'm not familiar specifically with what working group two has developed. It strikes me that what one can say about solar can very much be said about biomass. It is an alternative, it has niches. Generally speaking, these are not economic with today's energy supplies. Many people think of them, they will be needed in the future because current energy will be much more expensive because we will be running out of it. One should put a big question mark at that point. Or we are going to be taxing those forms because of global warming at a level that would make them viable.

If the costs can be reduced and they can be collected and brought to market, the question is what is keeping them today. You do see some applications of these. We do have photovoltaic cells that are being used in applications. I am not that familiar with biomass to know, but I wouldn't be surprised that there are -- we do know in terms of wood chips and this that you have had applications that stand on their own feet, on their economics, without subsidy.

DR. MARKHAM: Do we have, before we get into the general discussion, a question?

PARTICIPANT: (Comments off mike.)

DR. MARKHAM: Can you repeat the question before you answer it?

DR. EVANS: The question is looking at district heat. One of the slides I had mentioned residential gas boilers. The question is, isn't district heating a positive thing. I would say that yes, in many cases, district heating is, but not in all cases. One of the problems with district heating is that while the efficiency of the production of energy may be more efficient than localized boilers, by the time that you have transmitted it, sent it through the steam pipes or the hot water pipes, -- and also, in district heating systems, you would have to basically account for the person who is going to be the coldest. You can't easily adjust the system.

PARTICIPANT: (Comments off mike.)

DR. EVANS: But the problem is that in many of these countries, they don't have any controls whatsoever. So when you try to compare the cost of installing radiators everywhere, I think that is one of the fundamental problems, is the lack of controls.

DR. MARKHAM: Jonathan, and then we will go into the discussion session.

PARTICIPANT: (Comments off mike.)

DR. MARKHAM: The question is on energy pricing, particularly with reference to China and the very large reliance of China on coal, which is very much subsidized coal.

DR. EVANS: Actually, China has recently freed their coal prices. I don't know the latest -- I think it is just in the past year or so that they have done that, so I don't know the latest of what impact that has had on their energy use. But you're right, in China, coal is by far their energy of choice. That is creating a lot of problems in terms of their carbon emissions.

I agree with you. I don't quite know how to respond, other than that.

DR. MARKHAM: Thank you, Meredydd. We have half an hour left for a general discussion session. What I would first like to do is get the three previous speakers, Steve, David and Jonathan, to come back up here and take a chair, because otherwise they won't be able to be heard on microphone.

I have a few questions here on cards. If people want to ask more questions, please jot them down on a card and if you wave your hand around, someone will come and collect the card from you and bring it up to me.

The first question that we have, which I am not sure if anyone actually knows the answer to, is, where and when can we get copies of the IPCC documents, particularly all the good pages as well as the summaries for policy makers.

As far as I know, the IPCC documents won't become public until after March next year, when they will be published. I think that is the date at the moment.

DR. HAMBURG: The summary has been released. The summary for policy maker was -- I know Working Group Two was released right after the plenary, and I believe Working Group One similarly. I am assuming that, since that just took place. But certainly the summaries are available through the technical support units at least, if not on the Internet; I don't know.

DR. MARKHAM: I know that the Climate Action Network, which is a nonprofit network here in the U.S., is distributing a summary of 15 pages of what they regard as the good pages. Everyone has their own ideas about what those would be. The full chapter reports I don't think will be available for all working groups until early next year.

PARTICIPANT: (Comments off mike.)

DR. MARKHAM: So they are on their way.

MR. WAGNER: Dr. Bolin left me a copy of Working Group One's executive summary. I am going to copy that tonight. It will be available for distribution here tomorrow.

DR. MARKHAM: So now I will come to the next question. Could one of the panelists comment on the impacts on animal protein sources, i.e., cattle or fish and other marine protein sources, of climate change. Maybe we should take -- who wants to comment on that? David, would you like to talk about that?

DR. WOLFE: About the only comment I would have eon that is that many pasture grasses tend to be C4 plants, so they are not going to be in that group that benefits a lot from the higher CO2. That is about all I know on that topic.

DR. MARKHAM: We have been involved recently in a Southern Africa impact study, where we looked at potential implications of increased drought in some of the Southern African countries. It does appear that there will be a move toward small stock like sheep and goats and away from cattle, because cattle tend to be less resistant to drought, and also some move towards wildlife farming as an alternative to cattle farming, multiple use systems rather than single-stock systems. So that is just from one region.

DR. HAMBURG: The chapter on rain plants in the Working Group Two IPCC report concluded that unmanaged pastoral systems would be very sensitive to climate change impacts, in part because of protein ratios within the grasses themselves and the effects of drought, lower nutritional quality impacting the ability to effectively manage those systems. Highly managed protein sources in domesticated animals was felt to be less sensitive, because you could use agricultural feed stocks to make sure they got sufficient quality nutrition.

DR. MARKHAM: Do you have anything to say on fish?

DR. HAMBURG: No, I don't have anything to say on fish.

DR. PATZ: If he doesn't have any information on fish, I would just like to say we need more information on fish, because a large proportion of coastal populations depend on fish for their protein. To the extent that climate change may impact fisheries, that would be important. Right now, the impact of over fishing would be much more than that of climate change.

DR. MARKHAM: Another one on agriculture. David, you talked about adaptation in terms of inputs and change in crop varieties. What about changes in farming practices, for example, tillage, as illustrated in the posters. Disclaimer, I don't know the author of the poster. Could this be an example of analogs to energy efficiency, something we should be doing anyway. In other words, a win-win situation.

DR. WOLFE: With regards to the poster out there on tillage, I think it is talking about the actual contribution that agriculture can make in terms of the greenhouse gasses that are given off in agricultural production, and tillage practices can affect the CO2 released. Agricultural practices also have an impact on methane, rice production and other animal production, in some cases.

So I think that is what that poster is about. The author is probably here and can comment on that in the audience somewhere.

DR. MARKHAM: Anyone want to make a comment on that?

PARTICIPANT: (Comments off mike.)

DR. MARKHAM: Thank you very much. The next one is on ecosystems. This one is for Steve. What is the potential for human management to help ecosystems change into new self- sustaining ecosystems without collapsing?

DR. HAMBURG: I guess I am concerned that the potential is not that great for the unmanaged portion of the ecosystems of the world. Obviously, for ones that we are already managing, if the rate of change is sufficiently slow, then we have a high probability of being able to manage that in that changing environment.

For unmanaged systems, we have a pretty poor track record of being able to manage them in a way that retains the integrity of the characteristics of that unmanaged system. So I would say that spreading seeds in anticipation of future climate conditions to make sure the proper yields are present in a place where they might not naturally occur, though sounding simple, is probably not going to be a very effective means of insuring the future viability of the system. Remember, these systems will disaggregate before they reaggregate. Systems don't move in their entirety, so I am not optimistic that we have the knowledge nor the resources probably to be able to do that for the unmanaged portions of the terrestrial biosphere.

DR. MARKHAM: Thanks. On that point, some of the things that Steve talked about was the rate of change being very important. Also very important is the fact that most of our ecosystems have been highly fragmented. It is becoming clear that highly stressed ecosystems or fragmented ecosystems will be less able or less likely to be able to adapt to climate change.

So what we have been looking at at World Wildlife Fund is some of the issues surrounding, for instance, protected areas management and climate change. While you may not be able to manage well to help species or ecosystems adapt, there may be ways of buffering them against some of the impacts.

So if you take a protected areas system as a whole in a country like the U.S., then you might be looking at increasing the resilience of that system, perhaps by increasing the size of areas, keeping more redundancy amongst that system of protected areas, and perhaps having corridors between areas to allow species to migrate. But again, as Steve says, we don't have very much information about how that actually works in practice. There is a great deal of doubt as to whether even migratory corridors would be very helpful. So we need to look much more into that in practical field experience rather than just in the theory of conservation biology.

The next two questions I have are for Dr. Ellerman, on energy. The first one was one that I expected. Do you believe nuclear energy is a viable alternative to carbon-based systems? I thought you answered that to a certain extent in your talk, but if you would like to add anything to it.

DR. ELLERMAN: My point is, the need for reconsideration of -- to my mind, the biggest issue in nuclear power is the cost of operating -- one of the major problems with its economic viability is the cost of operating the systems as it ages. There is evidence that it requires major maintenance expenditure, that would destroy the major economics compared to other fuels, or the competition.

I can't claim to be an expert. My sense is -- and you certainly have societies that believe that the problems with nuclear power can be handled in terms of the disposal, the technical sort of issues which suggest that it would be viable.

I guess my sense is that if we are considering a major change away from carbon-based fuels, the notion is that all the non-carbon-based fuels are also unacceptable, you are probably describing an impossible situation. I think that is the implication of trying to engineer at least in a quick move away from carbon-based systems -- you do have to reconsider the limits that we may have placed on carbon-free systems currently in existence, whether it is hydro development or nuclear.

DR. MARKHAM: Thanks. The follow-on to that is, granted that the challenge for energy supply is to decouple energy from carbon, how do we get there. The questioner goes on to say, you were doubtful about whether government backing of certain developments was perhaps the way to go, in other words, subsidies, more research and development, in which case, what should be the way to go? How do we get away from that, and what should we be backing?

DR. ELLERMAN: The issue here is one of how you induce certain forms of technological change. I think it is the sort of deep issue of technological development in this area.

I don't know how you make that happen. I think we do have a fair number of cases in history where we can think that we have been able to include certain forms of technological change in certain directions. The issue here is, we want technological change which would be less carbon intensive. So how do you direct development in that direction?

The evidence with respect to government support is simply not encouraging. I think the answers lie in political economy and the tendency to exploit the political system for private interests and private agendas that don't lead anywhere. That is the basic problem. But I think we need to think about how does a society organize and set up, to where you do promote these sort of developments. It may be consciousness raising, industrial ecology, educational practices that you are now seeing. But I think that is a major issue, to my mind.

DR. MARKHAM: Thanks. The last question that I have is on an energy theme to Denny Ellerman or to Meredydd Evans, whichever of you wants to answer first. In light of proposed utility deregulation here in the U.S., how do you see the U.S. meeting its target or goal of reduced greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2000, getting back to 1990 levels? A tough question to finish on. Who wants to go for that? Meredydd?

DR. EVANS: I think in my view, one of the biggest problems with this is the anticipated decrease in integrated resource planning programs and demand side management programs. It is going to be a lot more difficult in the future to insure that energy efficiency plays an important role in utilities' programs.

In terms of trying to come up with efficient sources of supply, I know that certain states, for example, California and Connecticut, are trying to build into their new regulations conditions that renewables have to make up a certain percent or a certain portion of the total supply. It can be met in a number of ways by a number of companies.

That I think has a lot of potential, because it is fairly flexible and can let utilities -- I think that will be a trading aspect to it, is what some of the states are looking at, if I'm not mistaken. So utilities could meet their renewables needs in may ways, including purchasing it from other utilities.

DR. ELLERMAN: I think the whole effort to restructure fundamentally undercuts the global action plan of the Administration. The unspoken assumption has been cost recovery through the utility franchise, which means that customers do not have a choice about where they obtain their energy, and pay whatever price is made available to them, which they can take, whatever the quantities. The attitude of electric utilities to engage in voluntary agreements which do incur costs has been greatly reduced with the prospect that the regulatory structures which would guarantee recovery of those costs, may be rapidly removed. So I don't think there is much question. It doesn't look likely that we will meet the targets, but if we do, it won't be because of the assumptions that were built into the global action plan.

DR. MARKHAM: One late-coming question. What are the barriers to the use of hydrogen-based energy? Does anyone want to have an answer to that one? No?

DR. ELLERMAN: High cost.

DR. MARKHAM: High cost. That is all the questions I have. Does anyone here on the panel wish to make any last comments or statements, or ask any other panelist a question? If not, then I think I would like to thank you all very much for excellent overviews, and close the session. Thank you, and see you tomorrow.

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