The Weekend Wonk: Kerry Emanuel and What We Know About Climate

June 14, 2014

Climate 101 from one of the world’s most well informed experts, Dr. Kerry Emanuel from MIT.

Great for sharpening your appreciation of the details, or for sending to that smart but uninformed friend.

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9 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: Kerry Emanuel and What We Know About Climate”


  1. […] Climate 101 from one of the world's most well informed experts, Dr. Kerry Emanuel from MIT. Great for sharpening your appreciation of the details, or for sending to that smart but uninformed friend…  […]


  2. An interesting and informative talk ruined for me about an hour in where he repeats the invalid meme of renewables being too “unreliable” for baseload. He then makes it worse by having an issue with name plate capacity rating not being equal to average energy production for solar and wind. That’s a red herring if there ever was one.

    He makes a good point about tail-end risk as it relates to projected temperature rise then somehow ignores the tail-end risk associated with nuclear reactors.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      His expertise is in Hurricanes. Not to take away from his excellent talk, but there’s a certain physically irreducible cost to sequestering CO2 industrially (namely: oxidizing it is the whole reason we’re in this mess to begin with).

      So to suggest that cost could be cut in HALF and yet renewable energy’s shortcomings (which are NOT physically irreducible) remain insurmountable is suspicious. Case in point: Tesla just brought the cost of batteries down by a factor of three in just a few years. And those are MOBILE batteries. I see no material or physical constraint toward perfecting numerous technologies to bring these costs down further in the future, so the issue of baseload power is moot.

      But I’m also OK with Nuclear and certainly research and limited deployment is fine. It’s just a little weird, given the historical TRILLIONS of dollars of research money thrown at Nuclear, and the frankly historical corporate HOSTILITY thrown at solar and, after all that, to find solar triumphant and at the cusp of true energy dominance, to keep talking down solar and talking up Nuclear seems ahistorical.

      We live 9 light-minutes from the Solar Systems most powerful source of Nuclear Fusion energy. Maybe its time to start acting like it…

      • jpcowdrey Says:

        I would add that no more than eleven klicks below our feet lies a reservoir of nuclear fission energy sufficient to power civilization hundreds of times over for longer than the sun will remain a class G star.

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    Did not like this talk. In fact, I could only stand it for about three minutes of Dr E’s presentation. It was disjointed. He was using terms and figures without explanation or context and asking us to memorize them. He was using charts that were not put into context or significance, axes not explained…. I could go on.

    With all the cogent presentations out there, I don’t think I would send this on to anyone. Sorry.


  4. I think it was an excellent summary of the known science with a focus that there is no controversy about this within professionals. And ofc the seriousness of the tail risks of warming no matter how bad our models are at getting more precise predictions. The fact that he say “catastrophic” means just that, as a scientists the tail end is really that. We need to carefully consider this when doing risk management. And its not really like a single individual killed for not wearing seat belt, as the brother or son of that person can perfectly learn to use a seat belt. AGW is basically a risk that means we are all sitting without a seat belts hoping we wont crash. There is no bonus life like some arcade game…

    About the solutions, he is perfectly correct that its the carbon that is the problem, not the fossil fuels themselves as they are still a fantastic energy source. So carbon capture is really required, or just slow down the rate of burning to some way lower fraction (which isnt really compatible with the way we lead our lives today). Nuclear Power is something even James Hansen supports, no doubt because it is getting critical to reduce carbon emissions right now – but it basically requires us to actually replace coal and gas power plants with nuclear – not add them on top for economic growth. So the solutions are really here (although I prefer any renewable solution), its just this idea of “growth” that is holding us back from phasing out fossil fuels or seriously reduce their use. Good carbon capture tech will probably be the most important thing we should be work on now, considering how hard it is to turn the ship of civilization.

    PS: As a side note, fossil fuels are indeed problematic in that they are both a finite source of energy, so relying on it is folly, and they are also a security risk as you run dry and can only get to them by paying corrupt regimes. Any locally produced energy source not reliant on imported resources will always be endlessly better in the long run. Arguably, nuclear fuel can easily be susceptible to the same problems we have with our addiction to fossil fuels.

  5. indy222 Says:

    I notice he refused to comment at all on what the evidence says about cloud feedbacks, because in fact I’m not aware of any reputable studies indicating negative feedbacks, but there are indeed studies and also paleo indirect data, indicating clouds amplify global warming. It’s got large uncertainties; a very difficult problem to do computationally, but it’s unfair to wave away so much with “we don’t know”, when we do have indications. Doing so simply makes him guilty of the “binary” issue he (rightly) advises against.
    I’m also disappointed that he didn’t emphasize how the IPCC’s most quoted and most read documents – the policy statements – must be signed off by myriad government officials and volunteers who do not necessarily find it in their interest to point out how dangerous climate change will be. This is an entirely different bias beyond the normal hesitancy of scientists which he validly points out.
    The final point was on Arctic methane. It’s true that the undersea clathrates are not believed to be likely to go unstable by our current climate change, but I’m aware of many papers and paleo data showing that the permafrost methane (this is NOT undersea, not confined by pressure, or the slow rise in sea temperatures, but the rapid rise in Arctic ground temperatures) can contribute quite significantly to warming (Vaks etal 2013 in “Science”).

  6. indy222 Says:

    Another key point he did not mention – $200/ton for carbon removal from the atmosphere is NOT a “non-starter” economically. If we wait around until (if) that cost comes down to something he finds more comfortable to pay, we’ll be committed to so much climate disruption in the pipeline that the only way to un-do it is to strongly risk causing a reverse climate disaster – having to pull so much CO2 out (if that’s even possible) that we no longer have the option of trying to simply stop change and maintain the new normal. We need to stop climate change while we’re still (more or less) still in the Holocene climate regime.

    Let’s pass tax-and-dividend for whatever tax level we can politically muster, then once that policy machinery is in place, ramp that tax quickly up to $200/ton, as I’d advocated earlier in these blog responses. Tax-and-dividend gets EVERYONE working in the right direction for climate responsibility, not just some smarties in labs who’ll hope will let us have our cake and eat it too.


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