Fear and Loathing on the Hockey Stick of Doom

Why was Charney so uncannily right back in 1979 when he estimated that doubling the stock of atmospheric carbon will increase global surface temperatures by 3ºC (plus/minus 1.5ºC)?

Charney.png

Since then vast armies of climate scientists have replicated the result. Study after study has found that the equilibrium climate sensitivity — how much will temperatures rise after accounting for feedback loops — to be basically in line with Charney‘s original estimate. Put simply, Charney (1979) is the most replicated scientific result of all time. Tabulated results of 142 independent scientific investigations since 2000 can be found here. Figure 1 displays the means.

metastudies.png

There is, of course, uncertainty around these estimates. A recent meta study in Nature explained that while climate scientists have not been able to narrow the confidence intervals, there is now considerably greater confidence in those intervals. In fact, the uncertainty points to catastrophic heavy tail risks. Put simply, 3ºC is the baseline scenario, it may be considerably worse. The risk we face may turn out to as effective as the expenditure of all thermonuclear weapons in great power arsenals.

Uncertainty.png

Of course, we are not dumping carbon into the atmosphere at the same rate over time. No sir, we are on the hockey stick. This means that doubling times become shorter and shorter as we ride the exponential curve up to our doom. When Charney made his calculations in 1979 we were dumping 5 billion metric tons per annum into the atmosphere. Now we are dumping 10 billion metric tons every year.

DumpRate.png

But the planet does not care about the rate of emissions. What matters is the stock of carbon in the atmosphere; that’s what governs the degree of warming. As long as more is flowing from the tap (our emissions) into the tub (atmospheric stock of carbon) than is being drained by the sink (rain forests and oceans et cetera), the water level in the tub will keep rising. And it the doubling stock of carbon that Charney predicted would yield 3ºC warming of global surface temperatures.

How fast are we adding to the stock of carbon in the atmosphere is well captured by an exponential curve with growth parameter 0.022248 per annum, initialized at 280 particles per million (ppm) in the year 1800. In the past thirty years, 1990-2020, we’ve added as much to this stock as we did in the two centuries before. And we are on course to add the same amount in the next 18 years. If we do that, planetary catastrophe is all but certain.

exponentially-fucked.png

The insidious nature of the hockey stick can be seen by looking at thirty-year additions to the stock of doom. If we keep going, we will add as much in the next thirty years as we have so far in all of human history. Because of the magic of compounding, we are in fact on course to achieve Charney‘s doubling by mid-century.

Insidious.png

Greta Thunberg is right. ‘Our leaders are acting like children,’ says the 16-year-old. Not only must we ‘do something’, the scale of the looming catastrophe is such that every other policy goal must now be subordinated to this goal. There is very little slack. This is no longer about 2100, or even 2050. We have ten years. Unless we can reach a far-reaching global accord and transform the world economy beyond recognition in the coming decade, it’s over. We will be well and truly fucked. There will simply be no way to avoid catastrophic scenarios. By 2030, only the scale and depth of the catastrophe will still be up for negotiation.

The planetary catastrophe approaching exponentially fast may be framed in many ways. All reference frames draw our attention on some issues while leaving others out of focus. We may think in terms of the Anthropocene. That leaves out the real culprits responsible for the mess. We may see this as the closing of the global frontier; as the coda of the Capitalocene. This approach allows us see how the planetary crisis is tied at the hip to questions of economic and social justice. The most advanced version of this frame may be found in the work of Alyssa Battistoni. The fact that the planetary impasse is entangled with so many other important issues only raises the stakes of the fight.

It may sound parochial and misguided at first sight, but the only way to a credible solution is all-out securitization. Specifically, given the topology of global power and the matrix of global politics, the planetary impasse must now be recognized as the principal threat to US national security. Put simply, the planetary impasse trumps China, salafi jihadism, nuclear proliferation, right-wing populism, and every other threat by orders of magnitude. It must become the lodestar of US foreign policy and the organizing principle of US grand-strategy. For the foreseeable future the goal of US grand-strategy must be to obtain a credible solution to the planetary impasse. Everything else must be subordinated to this goal. This will require the United States to forgo other interests. In particular, this will require a far-reaching modus vivendi with China. The US national security and foreign policy community needs to get its head out of its ass. Our kids can live with an authoritarian China, even one that dominates the Western Pacific. But they cannot live with a China powered by coal-fired plants.

China produces 30 percent of the world’s emissions, twice as much as the United States and as much as the US, UK, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, and Canada combined. The following table displays global contributions. The import could not be more obvious. It is mathematically impossible for the West to solve this problem on its own. That’s Toozian pessimism. Given the scale of the challenges facing the rising nations, particularly given the strength of the social forces now evident in India and China, the greatest challenge for a future social democratic administration will be persuading the rising powers to subordinate their national goals to the planetary goal. Make no mistake: This is going to be a very, very hard nut to crack. It will require tremendous flexibility — in terms of fiscal transfers, technology transfers, and geopolitical accommodation. But we have run out of options. There is no alternative to a far-reaching global accord. And this will consume every last ounce of energy of the next administration, with little bandwidth left to deal with even the most pressing of the other issues. This is as it should be. The ultimate objective of grand-strategy has always been, and will always be, survival.


Postscript. But the most important reason why securitization is the right discursive strategy has to do with the structure of political discourse in the United States. It will not be enough to win the Presidency and change the balance of power in Congress. For even after you’ve done that you will still have to fight and defeat vast forces that will be mobilized to throw a wrench in the attempted transformation. The forces opposed to any serious action are so powerful that they managed to impose discipline on the Republican party; discipline that became manifest in the party’s reversal on climate change after John McCain’s failed bid for the White House. They will mobilize their practically limitless resources. They will pay a thousands pens to write and a thousand heads to talk. Their discursive strategy can be predicted in advance: “Hard-working Americans need jobs.” That’s precisely why it has to become a question of national security. For there is no other retort to “Your plan threatens American jobs” than “It’s a question of national security.”

Only national security trumps the discourse that has long been used to shut down green initiatives. The fact that the planetary impasse is a threat to the security of all nations should not distract us from the discursive solution that was discovered by Truman. Whether or not a Cold War was necessary, the discourse of the Cold War (the reproduction of the image of the Soviet Union as a first-order threat to US national security) was necessary to get Congress to authorize and American people to pay for a military instrument called for by the grand-strategy of containment.

With the Soviet capitulation, panic set in. The diachronic pattern reveals the structure at play. ‘I am running out of demons’, wailed Colin Powell. Defense intellectuals tried ‘military sophistication of Third World dictators’, ‘weapon states’, ‘backlash states’, and the one that stuck, ‘rogue states’. The combined GDP of all “rogues” never exceeded that of New York. It’s within the envelope of this rigidity that the United States will find its own foot in 2003. The problem was obvious. The goal of the discourse disguised as grand-strategy was to defend the military instrument from Congress and the American people. Grand-strategy dictates the military instrument; not the other way around.

At the present conjuncture, securitization is over determined by (not entirely) exogenous developments in Asia. China produced more concrete in two years than the United States did in the entire twentieth century. It is perhaps only to be expected that containment would come back on the agenda. Even though Martin Wolf kicked it off splendidly, there was a problem. Was it even possible for the West to out-compete China? Wolf appealed to the liberal democratic discourse. But there was a whiff of absurdity in the air. We know that there will only be one exit from Cold War, detente, for neither great power can be eliminated. That offers the obvious prospect of using the future to discount the medium term by going straight to detente. We may call that a modus vivendi sensu stricto. 

US foreign policy in the planetary impasse calls for a wholesale reorientation of grand-strategy. There is no other solution to the planetary impasse. The question is not if but when. The United States will be eventually forced to treat the planetary impasse as the overriding national security priority. But if it does so later it will be exponentially worse off because of the nature of the hockey stick. Recall that the exponential grows faster than all polynomials of degree n for n=1,…,∞. How much worse will we be by starting off at a later time T > 0? The answer is literally exp(a*T)/a, where a is estimated to be around 0.022248=12*0.001854, as below.

Exponential Function 1800.jpg

Carbon Emissions.
Rank Nation Percent Emissions
1 China 30.16% 2806634
2 UNITED STATES 15.40% 1432855
3 INDIA 6.56% 610411
4 RUSSIA 5.00% 465052
5 JAPAN 3.56% 331074
6 GERMANY 2.11% 196314
7 IRAN 1.90% 177115
8 SAUDI ARABIA 1.76% 163907
9 South Korea 1.72% 160119
10 CANADA 1.57% 146494
11 BRAZIL 1.55% 144480
12 SOUTH AFRICA 1.44% 133562
13 MEXICO 1.41% 130971
14 INDONESIA 1.36% 126582
15 UNITED KINGDOM 1.23% 114486
16 AUSTRALIA 1.06% 98517
17 TURKEY 1.01% 94350
18 Italy 0.94% 87377
19 THAILAND 0.93% 86232
20 France 0.89% 82704
21 POLAND 0.84% 77922
22 Taiwan 0.77% 72013
23 KAZAKHSTAN 0.73% 67716
24 MALAYSIA 0.71% 66218
25 SPAIN 0.69% 63806
26 UKRAINE 0.67% 61985
27 UNITED ARAB EMIRATES 0.62% 57641
28 ARGENTINA 0.60% 55638
29 EGYPT 0.59% 55057
30 VENEZUELA 0.54% 50510
31 IRAQ 0.49% 45935
32 NETHERLANDS 0.49% 45624
33 Vietnam 0.49% 45517
34 PAKISTAN 0.49% 45350
35 ALGERIA 0.43% 39651
36 QATAR 0.32% 29412
37 PHILIPPINES 0.31% 28812
38 UZBEKISTAN 0.31% 28692
39 CZECH REPUBLIC 0.28% 26309
40 NIGERIA 0.28% 26256
41 KUWAIT 0.28% 26018
42 BELGIUM 0.27% 25457
43 COLOMBIA 0.25% 22932
44 CHILE 0.24% 22515
45 BANGLADESH 0.21% 19959
46 ROMANIA 0.21% 19090
47 TURKMENISTAN 0.20% 18659
48 GREECE 0.20% 18358
49 ISRAEL 0.19% 17617
50 BELARUS 0.19% 17316
51 PERU 0.18% 16838
52 OMAN 0.18% 16681
53 MOROCCO 0.18% 16325
54 AUSTRIA 0.17% 16011
55 Libya 0.17% 15543
56 SINGAPORE 0.17% 15373
57 NORWAY 0.14% 12988
58 FINLAND 0.14% 12899
59 TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO 0.14% 12619
60 HONG KONG SPECIAL ADMINSTRATIVE REGION OF CHINA 0.14% 12605
61 PORTUGAL 0.13% 12286
62 ECUADOR 0.13% 11977
63 SWEDEN 0.13% 11841
64 BULGARIA 0.12% 11567
65 HUNGARY 0.12% 11477
66 North Korea 0.12% 11052
67 SERBIA 0.11% 10272
68 AZERBAIJAN 0.11% 10223
69 SWITZERLAND 0.10% 9628
70 CUBA 0.10% 9500
71 ANGOLA 0.10% 9480
72 NEW ZEALAND 0.10% 9453
73 IRELAND 0.10% 9290
74 DENMARK 0.10% 9135
75 BAHRAIN 0.09% 8546
76 Syria 0.09% 8373
77 SLOVAKIA 0.09% 8366
78 TUNISIA 0.08% 7862
79 JORDAN 0.08% 7213
80 LEBANON 0.07% 6564
81 YEMEN 0.07% 6190
82 BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA 0.07% 6063
83 Burma 0.06% 5899
84 DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 0.06% 5874
85 MONGOLIA 0.06% 5683
86 BOLIVIA 0.06% 5566
87 ESTONIA 0.06% 5323
88 SRI LANKA 0.05% 5016
89 GUATEMALA 0.05% 4998
90 CROATIA 0.05% 4593
91 SUDAN 0.05% 4190
92 GHANA 0.04% 3945
93 KENYA 0.04% 3896
94 LITHUANIA 0.04% 3501
95 SLOVENIA 0.04% 3494
96 ZIMBABWE 0.04% 3278
97 ETHIOPIA 0.03% 3163
98 TANZANIA 0.03% 3153
99 COTE DE IVOIRE 0.03% 3012
100 AFGHANISTAN 0.03% 2675
101 LUXEMBOURG 0.03% 2634
102 KYRGYZSTAN 0.03% 2620
103 HONDURAS 0.03% 2583
104 BRUNEI (DARUSSALAM) 0.03% 2484
105 GEORGIA 0.03% 2451
106 SENEGAL 0.03% 2415
107 PANAMA 0.03% 2400
108 MOZAMBIQUE 0.02% 2298
109 NEPAL 0.02% 2190
110 COSTA RICA 0.02% 2116
111 MACEDONIA 0.02% 2048
112 JAMAICA 0.02% 2024
113 BOTSWANA 0.02% 1918
114 REPUBLIC OF CAMEROON 0.02% 1910
115 LATVIA 0.02% 1902
116 URUGUAY 0.02% 1840
117 CAMBODIA 0.02% 1823
118 BENIN 0.02% 1723
119 PAPUA NEW GUINEA 0.02% 1723
120 EL SALVADOR 0.02% 1714
121 CYPRUS 0.02% 1653
122 CURACAO 0.02% 1604
123 ALBANIA 0.02% 1559
124 PARAGUAY 0.02% 1555
125 ARMENIA 0.02% 1508
126 EQUATORIAL GUINEA 0.02% 1458
127 UGANDA 0.02% 1426
128 GABON 0.02% 1416
129 TAJIKISTAN 0.02% 1415
130 REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA 0.01% 1345
131 NICARAGUA 0.01% 1326
132 DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO (FORMERLY ZAIRE) 0.01% 1274
133 ZAMBIA 0.01% 1228
134 NEW CALEDONIA 0.01% 1170
135 MAURITIUS 0.01% 1153
136 REUNION 0.01% 1138
137 NAMIBIA 0.01% 1024
138 CONGO 0.01% 844
139 MADAGASCAR 0.01% 839
140 HAITI 0.01% 780
141 BURKINA FASO 0.01% 777
142 OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY 0.01% 774
143 MAURITANIA 0.01% 739
144 TOGO 0.01% 715
145 GUADELOUPE 0.01% 700
146 LESOTHO 0.01% 673
147 GUINEA 0.01% 668
148 BAHAMAS 0.01% 659
149 MALTA 0.01% 640
150 MARTINIQUE 0.01% 627
151 MONTENEGRO 0.01% 603
152 NIGER 0.01% 580
153 GUYANA 0.01% 548
154 SURINAME 0.01% 543
155 ICELAND 0.01% 541
156 LAO PEOPLE S DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC 0.01% 533
157 REPUBLIC OF SOUTH SUDAN 0.00% 408
158 MALI 0.00% 385
159 MALDIVES 0.00% 364
160 SIERRA LEONE 0.00% 357
161 MACAU SPECIAL ADMINSTRATIVE REGION OF CHINA 0.00% 350
162 MALAWI 0.00% 348
163 BARBADOS 0.00% 347
164 SWAZILAND 0.00% 328
165 FIJI 0.00% 319
166 BHUTAN 0.00% 273
167 LIBERIA 0.00% 255
168 ARUBA 0.00% 238
169 RWANDA 0.00% 229
170 FRENCH POLYNESIA 0.00% 219
171 SAINT MARTIN (DUTCH PORTION) 0.00% 200
172 FRENCH GUIANA 0.00% 200
173 CHAD 0.00% 199
174 DJIBOUTI 0.00% 197
175 ERITREA 0.00% 190
176 SOMALIA 0.00% 166
177 FAEROE ISLANDS 0.00% 163
178 BERMUDA 0.00% 157
179 CAYMAN ISLANDS 0.00% 148
180 ANTIGUA & BARBUDA 0.00% 145
181 GIBRALTAR 0.00% 144
182 GAMBIA 0.00% 140
183 GREENLAND 0.00% 138
184 BELIZE 0.00% 135
185 SEYCHELLES 0.00% 135
186 CAPE VERDE 0.00% 134
187 TIMOR-LESTE (FORMERLY EAST TIMOR) 0.00% 128
188 ANDORRA 0.00% 126
189 BURUNDI 0.00% 120
190 SAINT LUCIA 0.00% 111
191 BONAIRE, SAINT EUSTATIUS, AND SABA 0.00% 88
192 CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC 0.00% 82
193 GUINEA BISSAU 0.00% 74
194 PALAU 0.00% 71
195 GRENADA 0.00% 66
196 ST. KITTS-NEVIS 0.00% 63
197 ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES 0.00% 57
198 TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS 0.00% 56
199 SOLOMON ISLANDS 0.00% 55
200 SAMOA 0.00% 54
201 BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS 0.00% 49
202 COMOROS 0.00% 42
203 VANUATU 0.00% 42
204 FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA 0.00% 41
205 ANGUILLA 0.00% 39
206 DOMINICA 0.00% 37
207 TONGA 0.00% 33
208 SAO TOME & PRINCIPE 0.00% 31
209 MARSHALL ISLANDS 0.00% 28
210 ST. PIERRE & MIQUELON 0.00% 21
211 COOK ISLANDS 0.00% 19
212 KIRIBATI 0.00% 17
213 FALKLAND ISLANDS (MALVINAS) 0.00% 15
214 MONTSERRAT 0.00% 13
215 NAURU 0.00% 13
216 LIECHTENSTEIN 0.00% 12
217 WALLIS AND FUTUNA ISLANDS 0.00% 6
218 SAINT HELENA 0.00% 3
219 NIUE 0.00% 3
220 TUVALU 0.00% 3
Source: https://cdiac.ess-dive.lbl.gov/trends/emis/top2014.tot
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