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  1. Can 2°C warming be avoided?
    Oh definitely, considering that transient climate sensitivity is about 1 K/2xCO2 and that the sink is proportional to concentration, means that in the most likely emission scenario of intensified nuclear power generation combined with new technology, the warming won’t even reach 1 degree, without much effort.

    (copied to ukweatherworld.)

    Comment by Hans Erren — 31 Jan 2006 @ 8:54 PM

  2. Does this take into account the positive feedbacks, some of which are already being triggered? Someone made the argument in the last piece that if Arctic ice is melting now, at current temperatures, it would be expected to continue melting (though at a slower rate than if we really jacked up the heat). Same with permafrost. So there’s the reducing albedo & melting methane clathrates to consider, even at current temps. Also, I understand that at some point of warming, flora might actually become so heat-stressed (or killed) that even with increasing CO2 “fertilization” their net global CO2 intake might start decreasing.

    You wrote: “But what are the odds that the climate sensitivity is actually 3.8°C or higher? The chances are roughly 20%…”

    I’m thinking 20% is worse than playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 31 Jan 2006 @ 9:55 PM

  3. What evidence is there that the calculations of climate sensitivity can be described by a lognormal distribution?

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 31 Jan 2006 @ 11:43 PM

  4. Re #1

    Considering that the world has warmed 0.8 degrees C from an increase in CO2 of 280ppm to 380ppm, the transient sensitivity for 2xCO2 would be 1.8 degrees C. Unless, of course, the denialists can come up with an enormous mysterious heat source that no-one has yet identified. (BTW, during the current transient, the oceans are taking up nearly half the CO2 thermal forcing.)

    Comment by Chris O'Neill — 1 Feb 2006 @ 12:11 AM

  5. “Considering that the world has warmed 0.8 degrees C from an increase in CO2 of 280ppm to 380ppm, the transient sensitivity for 2xCO2 would be 1.8 degrees C. Unless, of course, the denialists can come up with an enormous mysterious heat source that no-one has yet identified.”

    “…enormous mysterious heat source…?”

    Y’mean, kinda like the sun?

    You also seem to be ignoring the forcing from methane and CFCs.

    Comment by Mark Bahner — 1 Feb 2006 @ 12:18 AM

  6. What’s the basis for saying “CO2 … the sink is proportional to concentration”?

    Not plants. “…the growth of pine trees living in an atmosphere enriched in CO2 slowed down unless given a fertilizer kick” [Nature, 411, 469 (2001)].

    The oceans?

    “[Response: One impact of the PETM was an extinction of calcifying organisms in the ocean. The amount of carbon released has recently been estimated to be comparable to the fossil fuel inventory, 5000 Gton C, based on the dissolution of CaCO3 on the sea floor. Recovery of the temperature took 100,000 years or so. The analogy is apt. David]”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Feb 2006 @ 12:29 AM

  7. Re 1, 5

    We’ve been over this ground before, starting around comment 33 in Tropical Lapse Rate Quandary and really taking off around comment 39.

    Comment by Tom Fiddaman — 1 Feb 2006 @ 1:01 AM

  8. Looking at (a) in shows a peak in CO2 emissions in the year 2010. Thus I take the article to mean that unless there are massive reductions in CO2 emissions beginning in the year 2011, then the chance of avoiding a greater than 2 degrees C increase falls below 80%. Everyone can make their own judgement about the likelihood of massive reductions of CO2 emissions beginning in 2011.

    Comment by Chris O'Neill — 1 Feb 2006 @ 4:22 AM

  9. The main article said:

    > By the time that we managed to peak concentrations we could still decide
    > whether we want to stabilize at 400 ppm or closer to pre-industrial
    > levels.

    I agree with this. I think we should target 300 ppm as the long term upper bound for CO2 – we know this works for the Earth system. Any higher and we are playing Russian roulette again.

    We need to start taking large amounts of carbon out of the air. One very good way to get this going with positive environmental effects if managed properly is to grow biomass then char it and use the elemental carbon to mix in large quantities deep into soil as ‘terra preta’ or Amazonian dark earths. This has major soil conditioning properties (ie. reducing conventional fetiliser need by 50%)

    Global application could probably cut CO2 by about 40 ppm

    Comment by Philip Sutton — 1 Feb 2006 @ 9:10 AM

  10. Re: 2

    The question of positive feedback is interesting to me as we are seeing some in Northern New England this year. Even though we’ve gotten almost 40″ of snow since October, with all the rain and record warmth we’ve gotten, much of this area has been snow free for January.

    The normal January diurnal temperature range here seems to be about 20 deg, but with the lack of snowpack we’re seeing 30 to 40 degree ranges. If we have less snowpack over the Northern Tier of the US on a permanent basis, I’d bet high temperatures, especially towards February, will be more than 2 deg C higher than past normals just through solar warming of dark surfaces.

    Comment by Tom Cecere — 1 Feb 2006 @ 10:48 AM

  11. All the models are statistical models naturally but does anyone know of any comparisons with other public models. For example, we as a society take action on smoking because it decreases the probability of lung cancer by ‘x’ or we reduce asbestos use because it decreases the risk of asbestosis by ‘y’ .

    I agree with Lynn that the odds being used look pretty poor even for someone who wishes to risk suicide and Philip Sutton’s point is OK but why 300ppm?

    This is a scientific question with I suspect a scientific answer which has been dealt with elsewhere but I would rather not make decisions about my children’s and grandchildren’s future on the basis of one UK Gov adviser and one UK Gov minister who each decided that doing certain things were politically impossible. For whom I ask?

    If zero growth and a massive reduction in the burning of fossil fuels improves our survival chances by ‘z’ then where can I get the numbers please anyone?

    Comment by Eachran — 1 Feb 2006 @ 10:55 AM

  12. Point 11 begins with an error. “All the models are statistical models naturally.”

    The models generally used to project climate into the future are physical models, not statistical models.

    That said, the question is well taken. Fuzzy information is better than no information, so we ought to be able to make some more formal estimates of what the best course of action would be. The models of what we ought to do rather than on how the climate will behave really ought to be statistical.

    However, there are assumptions held by certain fields than may be inappropriate. Economists in particular apply a “discount rate” to what they consider rational decision making. This may bias the results in favor of time scales less than a decade.

    Only monetized resources are considered by economists. A policy leading to the end of all mulitcelled life forms in a thousand years would be evaluated as costing as much as the expected total wealth of humanity deflated over a thousand years. In this extreme hypothetical case, the presumption that you could make up the difference by investing in alternative growth portfolios is obviously absurd.

    What seems to be at issue is the changes we are committing the world to for decades, centuries, perhaps even millenia into the future. What are the costs of action and inaction, and where is the optimum behavior based on current knowledge?

    We don’t actually have any agreement on how to set that problem up formally. This is why I think that the numbers that Eachran seeks don’t exist.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 1 Feb 2006 @ 1:41 PM

  13. Whilst the complexity of the argument here is impressive would it be possible for you to prepare a “dummies guide” to key facts. I understood (after about an hour of skimming posts) the following from this site.

    1. Your accepted mid range reasonable scenario is ~3.6 deg C of warming over the next 100 years.

    2. Human activity is responsible for ~30% of the rise in CO2 which in turn means humans are responsible for ~3-8% of the average prediction of ~3.6 deg C noted above?

    3. Urban heat effect on measuring points have been considered and factored out of climate predictions.

    4. The hockey stick has been validated by more than 1 group of climate scientists.

    A separate short summary of key facts would be appreciated. thanks :)

    [Response: 1) or thereabouts in the absence of any reductions in emissions because of concerns about climate, 2) first half yes, second half no. (correction): Humans are responsible for all of the 30% rise in CO2, and all of the projected 3.6 deg C (or whatever) increase is from human-related forcings (since we cannot predict changes in solar or volcanic activity in the future). 3) mostly yes., 4) yes. Your idea for a summary post is a good one though. – gavin]

    Comment by sagenz — 1 Feb 2006 @ 1:52 PM

  14. Thanks Michael point 12. I understand the point about physical models but their fits to reality are statistical and there are also a number of models. It was in that sense that I was using the word – sorry not to be precise.

    I understand cost benefit analysis as do probably all of the site visitors but I get no “feel” (sorry not a scientific term) for it here. You know the sort of thing : a pre-funeral funeral party paid for out of ones remaining assets or investment in new towns on higher ground, barrages for tidal and tempest surges, mass population movements, the expansion of agriculture on fertile but currently unworked land, habitable protective bubbles, the expansion of public communication networks and a never ending list of changes to the way we live together. From an economic point of view with discount rates currently at a low level perhaps the calculation is not to horrifying : except what is the price of extinction ? Perhaps we should just do a back of the envelope, ballpark calculation.

    If I read 300ppm or 400ppm and our scientist friends tell us that’s OK I would like to know in what sense it is OK and why the decision to become decision makers on the “magic” number.

    If the Egyptians could build the pyramids than I am pretty sure that we can crack this particular problem. There are no limits (literally) to human creativity as well as no limits to our destructive power except extinction and I am not too happy about following that particular route.

    Comment by Eachran — 1 Feb 2006 @ 2:59 PM

  15. Re #13

    2. Human activity is responsible for ~30% of the rise in CO2 which in turn means humans are responsible for ~3-8% of the average prediction of ~3.6 deg C noted above?

    I am confused by Gavin’s response to this:

    2. first half yes, second half no.

    I understand that human activity is responsible for 30% of the TOTAL CO2, but essentially 100% of the RISE. I refer you to the most important graph in the entire topic, one version of which can be found at .

    [Response: Sorry, I misunderstood. Michael is saying what I meant to. -gavin]

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 1 Feb 2006 @ 4:01 PM

  16. Re #13 and Gavin’s response

    I think Gavin either misread point 2 or saw through a poor expression to the real point: (2) states “Human activity is responsible for ~30% of the rise in CO2” and Gavin agrees for the first half of the century.

    I think Gavin is describing the temperature trend, not the CO2 trend and sagenz is incorrect. 100% of the CO2 rise is the result of human activities, in fact there is less CO2 in the air than we expect due to some natural (and AIUI unknown) sinks that are ameliorating things a bit.

    As for the resulting percent attribution of warming to humans, it gets a bit more complicated. Recent research has suggested solar variation may be responsible for 10-30% of the warming trend ( )
    but as of the 2001 IPCC report, removing anthropogenic forcings from hindcasts of the last century showed an overall slight cooling, which would suggest the human forcings exceed 100% of the observed warming.

    I don’t know if there is more recent work along the lines pursued in the IPCC link above.

    [Response: I corrected my answer. sorry for the confusion. -gavin]

    Comment by Coby — 1 Feb 2006 @ 4:06 PM

  17. Re #13: IMHO this page fills the bill pretty well: . There are links at the bottom to more detailed stuff on the same site. It looks to have not been updated in about a year and so lacks reference to the most recent science, but RC has that covered.

    Comment by Steve Bloom — 1 Feb 2006 @ 4:09 PM

  18. RE #12:

    What seems to be at issue is the changes we are committing the world to for decades, centuries, perhaps even millenia into the future. What are the costs of action and inaction, and where is the optimum behavior based on current knowledge?

    If I may add to Michael’s comment without appearing to disagree, it is not only the changes to the natural world we are causing, but also to an important component of the natural world – the human built environment.

    Societies have a lot of momentum and thus take a long time to turn. The longer we quibble about action, the more resources we commit to societal infrastructure that may be inappropriate in a low-carbon future; this may necessitate further action to ameliorate, at additional cost.

    So when we talk about future costs, we must consider the additional cost to society in the action delay. An honest accounting will include a factor for infrastructure replacement due to the delay. Optimum behavior will include nonmonetized accounting for equity as well as monetized accounting for new infrastructure.



    Comment by Dano — 1 Feb 2006 @ 4:53 PM

  19. Re: #13
    I second the idea of a “summary post”! Great for giving us interested laypeople a quick and easy overview of what the consensus understanding currently is across the breadth of climate science. Ideas:

    1. Based on an updated and highly simplified IPCC Assessment?

    2. With a pointer as to the robustness of the conclusions?

    3. Summary of changes expected in various parts of the earth according to climate models, linked to observed changes occurring now (e.g. high latitude warming)

    4. Simple “myth-buster” section.

    5. How do new studies fit in and how much do they shift/strengthen/weaken the “consensus” in the relevant area?

    6. Specific links for more detailed information

    I know it sounds demanding, but I really am talking about simple, reliable information, as shown in #13 Response. A “one stop shop” would be infinitely easier than trawling the net trying to pinpoint information. I’m sure such a facility would be welcomed by a whole new section of the public. Its strength would be, that as truly representative of the understanding of climate science community, it could be used as a reliable reference with confidence – badly needed now that self-appointed climate “experts” seem to be two-a-penny!

    Comment by Rick — 1 Feb 2006 @ 5:13 PM

  20. On the subject of myth busting, particularly the myth that it’s all down to human activity, here’s a link. Not about CO2 but I think might be recommended reading for all catastrophists.
    It’s the Royal Society – and what would they know that doesn’t fit into your average eco-warrior’s agenda.

    Comment by pv — 1 Feb 2006 @ 6:34 PM

  21. On the subject of myth busting, particularly the myth that it’s all down to human activity, here’s a link

    So preliminary work, not yet published, is good enough for “myth-busting” and “fighting eco-warriors”?


    Who knew?



    Comment by Dano — 1 Feb 2006 @ 6:53 PM

  22. In response to the good questions in comment 2, where it says:

    > Does this take into account the positive feedbacks, some of which are already being triggered? So there’s the (1) reducing albedo & (2) melting methane clathrates to consider, even at current temps. Also, (3) I understand that at some point of warming, flora might actually become so heat-stressed (or killed) that even with increasing CO2 “fertilization” their net global CO2 intake might start decreasing.

    The brief answers here are: (1) Yes, (2) no and (3) to some degree.

    (1) Firstly, reducing albedo from changing ice and snow cover is summarized with a lot of other feedbacks in the (uncertain) “climate sensitivity” parameter of the used simple climate model. If it turns out that the albedo decreases more than previously anticipated due to retreating ice and snow cover in a warmer world – than this would point towards a higher likelihood of a higher climate sensitivity. Thus, the forcing of a 400ppm CO2 equivalent stabilization would lead to a 2°C warming with a higher probability.

    (2) Methane releases from ocean or permafrost methane hydrates are not taken into account in this simple model calculation. Obviously, it would be worthwhile incorporating this effect in the future. Basically, what it would do is that we were allowed to emit even less greenhouse gas emissions in order to offset the extra methane emissions from the warming oceans and/or the thawing permafrost – assuming we wanted to follow the same concentration pathway. However, the main reason, why this effect hasn’t been incorporated so far is that it seemed a little hard to come up with a (probability density) function for how much extra methane emissions from hydrates can be expected for what warming (see expert blog on methane hydrates Work in progress, so to say.

    (3) The temperature feedback on the carbon cycle is included in the above calculations to some degree, by having simply assumed the default values as in IPCC TAR. As for the methane releases, a changed assumption in this effect would not make a difference on the shown relation between a 400ppm stabilization and 2°C equilibrium temperature. However, it would make a difference in respect to how much greenhouse gases we can emit for following a particular concentration pathway.

    Comment by Malte Meinshausen — 1 Feb 2006 @ 7:02 PM

  23. In response to the comment 3:

    > What evidence is there that the calculations of climate sensitivity can be described by a lognormal distribution?

    In short, there is not much – other than the fact that the skewed shape of a lognormal distribution with its longer tail for higher values roughly represents the shape of different – observationally constrained – uncertainty distributions for the climate sensitivity S. There is as well some more fundamental reason for such a skewed shape (not specifically for a lognormal, though): observables, such as our transient 20th century temperature observations, that we can use to constrain climate sensitivity, scale approximately with 1/S not S (see presentation by Myles Allen here ). Thus, if our observables and their uncertainties are approximately distributed like a symmetric normal distribution, then our likelihood estimate for climate sensitivity will necessarily be skewed with a long tail for high climate sensitivities. See differently constrained climate sensitivity PDFs which all share the same basic shape, e.g. in figures 28.1 or 29.1 of the DEFRA report – ).

    Comment by Malte Meinshausen — 1 Feb 2006 @ 7:36 PM

  24. The one-page overview with links is a really great idea!

    By the way, there is another danger in defrosted permafrost besides the release of methane hydrates. If all the permafrost in Russian and Canada were to dry out, the peat it is composed of would be subject to catching fire, and virually impossible to extinguish. Burning it all would double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. According to “The Great Global Experiment,” an article published by Harvard Magazine covering research by various professors on global warming:

    In boreal forests, growing seasons are short, there is very little rainfall, nutrients are few, and the trees don’t get very big. But underlying the forest there is a lot of peat, the remains of moss that has been building up for 5,000 to 7,000 years. The moss grows slowly, but it accumulates because the soils tend to be saturated with water or to be frozen as part of a discontinuous permafrost. “We call this a cold desert,” says Wofsy, “because it gets only about 11 inches of rainfall a year, but the climate is cold enough that evaporation is even less.” The combination of cold and wet preserves the peat. Recently, however, the climate has warmed in this area, and there is a good chance that the peat is no longer stable over the long term.

    Why should that matter? “If you took all the peat in Canada and Russia and turned it into CO2” by burning, Wofsy says, “you would double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. It took 5,000 years to make it, but it doesn’t take much to get rid of it,” because it can catch fire. Intense conflagrations burn all of the dried peat in a forest. “Usually, just a foot or so of peat is dry enough to burn, but if all two meters dry out as climate warming trends continue,” he cautions, “the full accumulation could be released to the atmosphere over perhaps 50 years.”

    Comment by Erica — 1 Feb 2006 @ 10:33 PM

  25. I’ve belatedly noticed that coal fires may have competed with methane hydrates in past major releases of CO2. Here’s one from the first few Google gave me for “prehistoric coal fire”

    ” … prehistoric coal fires occurred predominantly during the Pliocene-Pleistocene interglacial periods (2.5-1.8 Ma), in the mean and high latitudes of Asia and North America. These fires occurred in areas characterized by rugged relief and steeply dipping coal-bearing strata. Combustion in the presence of fuel and oxygen occurred within 500 m of the surface. Prior to the Quaternary, numerous fossil-fuel horizons were isolated from atmospheric oxygen. Subsequently, tectonic activation and uplift resulted in caustobiolith oxidation and combustion. Pyrogenic landscapes, up to 1000 km2 in area, are a distinctive feature of many coal and oil basins.”

    My new word for today: caustobiolith

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Feb 2006 @ 10:35 PM

  26. If you create a one-pager for the layman on global warming, you might also want to include information on possible solutions. Nothing makes people stick their heads back in the sand faster than feeling like there is no solution anyway.

    Comment by Erica — 1 Feb 2006 @ 10:49 PM

  27. There is no one propagating a “myth” that *all* climate change is of human origin as #20 suggests. This is a pretty weak strawman argument, though surprisingly common. It is (often quite rudely) expressed something like “where were the SUVs at the PETM, you (ascription of malign political motives) (nasty epithet)”?

    There is a sort of provocative statement lurking in the referenced article, otherwise a rather poorly organized journalistic piece about a paleontologist.

    A new line of thinking, the Astronomical Theory, suggests that long-term climate change is more likely to be driven by the Earths position in relation to the sun, rather than the human activity often linked to current global warming.

    This sentence propounding the “Astronomical Theory” as some sort of alternative hypothesis to anthropogenic global warming was written by someone who had never heard of Milankovic, not by an actual paleoclimatologist. Interested novices are referred to . You will see that the “new line of thinking” dates to 1920.

    The sentence should have been edited to read something like “Long-term climate change is believed to be largely driven by shifts in the Earths position orbit around the sun, although human activity is often linked to the much more rapid contemporary global warming.” The confused reporter didn’t get the connection, which might have been something like “However, these large past shifts provide independent tests of the validity of climate models, and so have a direct bearing on the aspects of climate science that are of great policy interest. However, this is all rather off topic for Dr. Schreve’s work, and should probably not appear in the bio at all.

    I rather doubt this article was written or vetted by an FRS, anyway.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 1 Feb 2006 @ 11:23 PM

  28. A good overview of the big picture is the Wikipedia article on “Global Warming”.

    There is also very good introductory information here in Tom Rees’s FAQ:

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 1 Feb 2006 @ 11:30 PM

  29. Re #5

    The sun has not had an enormous increase in heat production.

    The forcing from other GHGs is much smaller than the forcing from CO2.

    Comment by Chris O'Neill — 1 Feb 2006 @ 11:43 PM

  30. Thanks for your response to #13. and glad you & others support the 1 pager for dummies. wikipedia is useful but still does not crystallise it.

    I am more confused now though. I gained the 3-8% from your correction of a false statement at

    ‘Therefore, the probable effect of human-injected carbon dioxide is a miniscule 0.12% of the greenhouse warming’. That’s just 0.03*0.0365 of course – but even that is calculated wrong (it should be 0.11% by my calculator). But from our numbers, it would be between 3 and 8%.

    How does that statement square with your response above that human activity is responsible for all of the 3.6 deg rise?

    Now I definitely need that summary.

    [Response: That was 3 to 8% of the total greenhouse effect today (i.e. of the ~33 deg C) – the responsibility for the rise in the future projections will be 100% human. -gavin]

    Comment by sagenz — 2 Feb 2006 @ 6:12 AM

  31. Re 27: ‘There is no one propagating a “myth” that *all* climate change is of human origin”

    There was no one, who knew anything about it, propagating the myth that we could be hit by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or that Iraq was well on the way to building a nuclear weapon. What the “experts” and governments did was to keep quiet when the media and alarmists said it was so.

    No one, whose only input on this subject is the papers, radio and TV, and that must be the majority, hears it said very often that the consensus is that a significant part of warming is natural. Nor are the huge uncertainties emphasised.

    Back in #14, Eachran said “If the Egyptians could build the pyramids then I am pretty sure that we can crack this particular problem.”

    Actually that is an appropriate analogy because they were not in the main built by slave labour but by a willing population convinced of the need to do it by the best “experts” of the day, who to be fair were amazingly advanced in many area of science and engineering. Most of us now know they were wrong not only in the basic idea but in a few of the details such as tossing out the brain as a not an unimportant part of our anatomy.

    Incidentally sea levels were likely a metre or so higher in those days.

    [Response: Two points. Let’s not get involved in arguing about analogies – stick to the actual case at hand. And secondly, global sea level was not a meter higher 4000 years ago. -gavin]

    Comment by David H — 2 Feb 2006 @ 6:59 AM

  32. Post 17 many thanks Steve Bloom for identifying the one page source (not really one page but not far off) it is very well written and has lots of useful links including on the economics of climate change by the Pew Centre which helps me on my previous questions.

    I think that Stanford along with wikipedia, this site, the IPCC reports, the links, and the usual well informed journals provide sufficient information for me to make informed judgments.

    The problem I have with another one pager is that one merely re-hashes someone else’s work which with a little effort is not too difficult to understand in any event.

    I do think that for informed opinion and as recommended by the person at Stanford, we need to get some numbers for the costs/benefits of adaption and doing nothing to prevent CO2 emissions, and in addition the costs/benefits of doing something like returning the CO2 levels to their pre-industrial state, and maybe also another somewhere in the middle. Policy makers are unlikely to do anything without numbers. Just like Mr Hansen who in one of his papers admits to being a ‘data’ person. I am too – but I am not a policy maker except for myself and sometimes my family and friends.

    I think that for policy makers the problem seems so vast and irresolvable – they are not, in general, scientists or mathematicians versed in model making. They dont have the background to make rational decisions on complicated papers on climate change. It isnt really their scene.

    Comment by Eachran — 2 Feb 2006 @ 7:04 AM

  33. #31 Mistakes or misrepresents my point in #27.

    No one, whose only input on this subject is the papers, radio and TV, and that must be the majority, hears it said very often that the consensus is that a significant part of warming is natural. Nor are the huge uncertainties emphasised.

    I said that “There is no one propagating a “myth” that *all* climate change is of human origin.”

    Global mean temperature rise since 1950 is not *all* climate change.

    It *is* likely that all or nearly all the global mean temperature increase from 1950 is anthropogenic, and it is nearly certain that at least the dominant part is anthropogenic.

    This repeats the confusion between the entire climate record and the recent change, which seems to be emerging as a standard technique of obfuscation.

    It’s never easy to tell who are the confusers and who the confused, so I try not to blame individuals, but at best #31 shows signs of exactly the confusion I referred to in #27.

    This ties in with my complaint about casually accepting the nomenclature “global warming”. It’s too slippery and facilitates this confusion.


    Something like:

    Q Are humans responsible for global warming?

    A Yes, almost certainly.

    Q All of it?

    A Probably, pretty much all of it or nearly all.

    Q Was there global warming at the Paleocene/Eocene Boundary?”

    A Yes, it was quite spectacular.

    Q Were humans responsible for that?

    A No, of course not.

    Q But you just said that humans are probably responsible for all of global warming! You people need to get your act together before you bother me any more with big policy recommendations.


    Or, as in:

    Nothing is better than eternity in heaven.

    A grilled cheese sandwich is better than nothing.

    Therefore a grilled cheese sandwich is better than eternity in heaven.


    The reason to avoid the expression “global warming” in conversation with the public is because of the danger that its meaning will shift in the middle of the conversation. Even “climate change” is now being subjected to the same treatment (see #31).

    Nomenclature is important. Contextual naming, perfectly adequate for well-intentioned conversation between well-informed people, is a powerful weapon in the hands of obfuscators.


    Comment by Michael Tobis — 2 Feb 2006 @ 10:53 AM

  34. Maybe we need another “sensitivity” stat (if it doesn’t exist now) that would be more anthropocentric. It would give some idea (at least a guesstimate) of how much GHGs are released by nature due to the warming caused by human emissions, and estimate the total warming from those human emissions. Say we emit 1 unit, which causes nature to emit 3 units, and those 4 units together cause A amount of warming, then the sensitivity would be A for every 1 unit human emissions. But it’s more complicated, because the nature units per human units would get greater & greater as we warmed more & more. And the some of the human units (along with nature’s) would stay in the atmosphere a very long time….continuing to warm, cauing more & more releases of nature’s units, causing more warming….

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 2 Feb 2006 @ 11:39 AM

  35. “Thus, to sum up: Even under the very likely scenario that we exceed 400 ppm CO2 concentrations in the very near future, it seems likely that temperatures could be limited to below 2°C with a 4:1 chance, if emissions are reduced fast enough to peak at 475 ppm CO2 equivalent, before sliding back to 400 ppm CO2-equivalent.”

    Has someone laid out a scenario for how we could peak at 475 ppm? This is primarily a social problem in the sense that we have to figure out how to deploy our technological fixes within our existing social frameworks. Is it possible to do without nuclear? Do new technologies have to come online to make it possible, and if so how soon? To me, this is the scary part: can we really get our act together and put all the pieces in place in the required time frame?

    Comment by John Bolduc — 2 Feb 2006 @ 1:13 PM

  36. Nomenclature is important.

    So is changing one’s lifestyle; i.e. – concrete actions,
    something that apparently nobody here is willing to do.

    Comment by Thomas Lee Elifritz — 2 Feb 2006 @ 1:52 PM

  37. A question please. As I understand it, carbon emissions directly correlate with world GNP. At some point, climate change will start driving world GNP down as flooding, drought, storms and crop-loss cause economic disruption. If global warming was responsible in some part for Hurricane Katrina and/or Rita, can one already credit some carbon emissions reduction to global warming? I imagine this would be hard to model accurately, but at what point does climate change-caused economic disruption start to force global carbon emissions down?

    Comment by Ketzl Brame — 2 Feb 2006 @ 4:40 PM

  38. Re 33, Michael, which bit of your ‘There is no one propagating a “myth” that *all* climate change is of human origin’ did I mistake or misconstrue?

    Show me one of the last weeks UK scare stories that said they were only talking about the temperature rise since 1950 and that every one agrees the rise from 1850 to 1940 and the fall from 1940 to 1950 were not caused by human greenhouse gas emissions.

    You say, ‘Even “climate change” is now being subjected to the same treatment (see #31)’. What treatment? Where did I say “climate change”?

    Gavin, you say ‘and secondly, global sea level was not a meter higher 4000 years ago’. I note you do not include the IPCC “likely”. Is Wikipedia now the ultimate authority on sea levels as well? What happened to our Isle of Ely? Why has our Wash shrunk? How come Troy and Ephesus are now so far from the sea? The Egyptian analogy was not mine but, since someone else raised it and you mentioned sea levels, how did they build their canal 4000 years before we did and which was in use till Roman times, if sea levels were not significantly higher?

    Comment by David H — 2 Feb 2006 @ 4:59 PM

  39. Re 36:”Nomenclature is important”
    Thomas, your choice words is ironic since if you plot concrete production (and to be fair asphalt, McDonalds etc) you get a super Hockey Stick. The vast majority of concrete (and many other things) ever made was made after 1950. Not only does concrete production cause massive CO2 emissions, it also makes urban heat islands.

    Comment by David H — 2 Feb 2006 @ 5:14 PM

  40. #38: David H – Just quickly about ‘the Wash’, I’m assuming you’re referring to the area of the UK near Peterborough. In this area the land has actually been sinking as a result of the ice cap retreating from northern England. This is known as ‘isostatic rebound’ and is a well-established mechanism for sea-level changes in particular localities to vary differently to *global* trends. Similarly, you will find areas of the globe which have been pushed up because of the collision of two continental plates. Perhaps this is happening in the Middle East, being on the edge of the Indian plate which is pushing north?

    #22 (3): As I understand it the vast majority of models used in the IPCC TAR didn’t include an interactive carbon cycle, and the Cox et al (2000) landmark paper on the positive feedback from plants/soil carbon would only have just been published in time for being included in the drafting process of the IPCC TAR [which is now ongoing for AR4]. As far as I can tell the “default value” for this in the TAR would therefore be 0 [In fact there appears to be a whole section on considering uncoupled land carbon models in which none of them see the land becoming a net source for CO2 emissions, in contrast to the Cox et al (2000) result].

    However, I also thought that the land only became a net source of CO2 when global temperatures had risen >2 degrees. We therefore reach the limits of the concept of ‘climate sensitivity’ as it is a linear concept and the climate system is non-linear.

    To give another example, once the polar ice caps have melted there will be no more contribution to the climate sensitivity due to the ice-albedo feedback. So, assuming all other things are equal [which they won’t be!], climate sensitivty woudl decrease once the icecaps have melted. In fact some models have higher climate sensitivities because they have more sea-ice in their ‘control’ state [and vice-versa].

    I imagine that the publication of AR4 would be a good time to summarise the “state of play” in climate science

    Comment by Timothy — 3 Feb 2006 @ 6:30 AM

  41. 3 Feb 2006

    I am new to this site, but wonder if there has been any reference to a paper from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (2005) that will never be mentioned by the IPCC, on the basis that any scepticism must have been paid for by Exxon.

    The author concludes that the records would indicate a cooling climate in the Arctic, and that while this does not prove that there is no global warming, “the observations available give no proof of such a warming”.

    Wibjorn Karlen, “Recent Global Warming: an artifact of a too-short temperature record.” (

    Thanks for any comment.


    Comment by Tim Curtin — 3 Feb 2006 @ 7:55 AM

  42. Re #1
    There is massive inertia in the global commitment to continued burning of hydrocarbons. Why is simple – many decades of investment in existing plant and equipment. The only available alternative that permits life style as usual, the preferred choice of the vast majority of people, would be large-scale increases in nuclear generation. But new plants require many years to enter service, design of a safe new generation is not complete, construction has yet to be started and political barriers still stand. A shift to biofuels, wind and solar is theoretically possible, emphasis on theoretical.

    Meanwhile the large scale burning of coal for electrical generation in China, India and the USA, to list the main current and future culprits, continues to increase steadily, without any practical large-scale CO2 sequestration method having been demonstrated. Again, theoretically available sequestration methods would in any case require huge construction programs that would take decades. The cost is estimated to be substantial. (Nowhere near the long term costs from global warming, but so what, up front costs are still a barrier.)

    It is painfully obvious, except in the minds of people disconnected from social, fiscal and industrial reality, that the likelihood of stabilizing CO2 levels in the atmosphere before levels pass through the 450 PPM level on their way up is essentially zero.

    Positive feedback loops are already in evidence and can only be expected to intensify.

    Hence James Lovelock’s pessimistic outlook. I wish I could find reason to suppose he is wrong.

    Comment by Don Condliffe — 3 Feb 2006 @ 9:07 AM

  43. Re #41: Tim, I haven’t been able to find a way to read that article as a non-subscriber to the journal so I can’t comment on its content in detail although it does sound to me from your brief description that its conclusions in regards to arctic temperatures are in contradiction to many, many other studies.

    Do you have any evidence for your claim that the IPCC does not mention any skeptical studies because they presume they are funded by Exxon? Perhaps what you really object to is how the vast preponderance of the scientific evidence points in a way that you don’t like, so you would prefer if the IPCC just ignored all of evidence and focussed on the few studies that point in the direction that you like?

    By the way, does your “conspiracy theory” in regards to the IPCC extend to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and to the councils of the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union, and the editors of Science and Nature…and even major energy corporations such as BP and Shell or major auto manufacturers such as Ford? All of these have endorsed the view that anthropogenic climate change is a serious concern.

    Comment by Joel Shore — 3 Feb 2006 @ 12:29 PM

  44. Re: #38 “What happened to our Isle of Ely?”
    Having lived many years not 10 miles from Ely, it’s obvious to anyone driving south along the A10 that there are three levels – the highest, the water in the River Ouse to the right, next the level of the road, and below, to the left, the drained area of the black fen. Without knowing anything about rising/falling land/sea levels, I think the answer to your question is: “They drained the Fens”

    P.S. Stunning views of the ancient water courses superimposed on present day fields can be seen on Google Earth…

    Comment by Rick — 3 Feb 2006 @ 2:24 PM

  45. Re: #14

    Bjorn Lomborg went through some of the cost benefit analysis for fixing global warming in the skeptical environmentalist. I can’t say whether it was accurate or not, but the gist of what he said was:

    There will be a significant price to pay for global warming (all of the costs assinged a monetary value and added together e.g. building flood defences, effect on agriculture, heat deaths etc. though I don’t know how you calculate the cost of killing other organisms)


    The cost a drastic measures to “fix” global warming will probably cost more.

    He came up with a ideal scenario from a study that he quoted which costs as little as possible. This involved small decreases in emissions starting now with larger ones starting in about 50 years when renewable energy becomes economically viable.

    You would need an economist to comment on the reliability of the studies he quotes.

    Comment by Ben — 3 Feb 2006 @ 4:56 PM

  46. Re #40 and 44

    I will pass on the Wash, but Ely is presently some 36 metres above sea level at its highest point and its Cathedral is on ground about 24, so even allowing for isostatic rebound it was probably high ground 4000 years ago. The Fens are now drained and pumped like many low lying areas but it is hard to believe that Ely’s name and strategic importance did not derive from its earlier island status, just as history tells us that Troy once controlled the Dardanelles. I know it is inconvenient for this debate but the literature has conclusions of warmer times and higher seas that were reached by researchers of diverse disciplines with no interest in AGW before the theory prescribed what is now acceptable.

    I will not suggest its science but I find it hard to think of how and why 5000 years ago any one would be building the Ring o’ Brodgar on Orkney if it was not a much more pleasant place to be than it now is. If positive feedback is what drives us out of ice ages an overshoot to higher temperatures and sea levels would not seem unreasonable unless in some way the system is well damped.

    Comment by David H — 3 Feb 2006 @ 6:04 PM

  47. >Sea level
    Does this look about right? It’s the clearest picture I’ve found.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Feb 2006 @ 6:49 PM

  48. From what I remember of reading the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change papers a year ago the total CO2 emissions are more important than the rate. Which is basically what all these discussions of peaking scenarios is saying; without drastic cuts in emissions so that the removal rate is higher then there will not be a peak.

    So how likley are the total emissions to be kept at a level not much higher than have occurred so far? Not very. There are still lots of fossil fuels in the ground oil is reaching its half way point, gas is less than half depleted and there is still lots more coal, not to mention tar sands, oil shales, methane hydrates and peat. As the amount of fossil fuels left in the ground goes down below 50% the price will rise and the incentives for extraction increase. Therefore we can be pretty sure that all the technically recoverable fossil fuel reserves will be extracted and used.

    It tends to be the harder to extract reserves that are left, these cost more in capital costs to develop, so there is a strong desire to maximise short term revenues. Recent oil discoveries in deep water have a much shorter life than those on land a few decades ago for this reason.

    High capital costs are the reason that the demand side will be slow to react. Coal fired power stations have a 30+ year life so to build new ones before they have paid for themselves is enormously expensive and modifications for sequestration are reportedly very difficult in existing power stations. The hydrogen economy is in my opinion not technically the best solution, but even if it were, the gigantic infrastructure changes required would take decades.

    Putting this all together I would expect future emissions to be at least twice past emissions and that they will occur in the near future and not be spread out over centuries. Economic incentives for extraction and use are very high and great political will is needed to make reductions in the carbon intensity of GDP above about 2% a year. To stand any realistic chance of limiting CO2 to 475ppm we need to reduce the carbon intensity of GDP by about 7% a year.

    Comment by Mike Atkinson — 3 Feb 2006 @ 8:07 PM

  49. For Joel Shore, re 41 and 43, here’s the paper:

    Recent Global Warming: An Artifact of a Too-Short Temperature Record?
    Although the magnitude of the greenhouse effect has been of major concern during the
    last decades, the reality of the processes involved has hardly been discussed. It has
    become common to base planning on predictions that indicate a major warming.
    Assumptions concerning the future have been repeated at numerous occasions and
    are reflected in a number of statements in the recent report, “Impacts of a warming
    Arctic” (1). The warming of the Arctic has become an important issue, because the
    prediction is that changes will be strongest and first noticeable in the Arctic and
    because of the undesirable environmental impact that might accompany the elevated
    atmospheric CO2 (2).

    The following discussion focuses on temperature observations from meteorological
    stations in the Arctic and surrounding areas. Is the temperature really rising
    at an alarming rate? Has the well documented and rapidly increasing concentration
    of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere really affected the temperatures at Arctic
    stations, where, according to the models, this effect will first will be observed?

    There are several data sets showing the temperature in the Arctic and its surrounding
    areas. One set of data, which has been made available on the Internet during the last few
    years, is the Nordklim database (3). This database includes temperature observations
    made between 1890 (or from the time when observations were initiated) and 1999, and
    has been obtained from meteorological stations in the Nordic countries (3). Information
    about changes in the Arctic climate is also reported in several papers (4, 5, 6) and
    data for many stations are available on the Internet (7).

    For the purpose of this discussion, mean annual air temperature have been used.
    Svalbard Lufthavn, located on a group of islands at 78N, is selected as representing climate
    in the Arctic. The first few years of observations from this station may have been
    affected by several shifts in the position, but this factor is not believed to have affected the record for the temperature
    maximum that was reached during the late 1930s (Fig. 1). The Svalbard temperature
    is compared with the annual mean temperature at Arctic stations. In addition,
    the temperatures of the Arctic are compared with data from Stockholm, because
    observations have been carried out there for 250 y, thus making it possible to place the
    short Arctic record in a longer perspective. The long record has been corrected for
    urban effect (8, 9). Corrections for urban effect are quite important, because it does
    influence climate even when the population is relatively small (10).

    The Svalbard mean annual temperature increased rapidly from the 1910s to the late
    1930s. The temperature thereafter became lower, and a minimum was reached around
    1970. Svalbard thereafter became warmer, but the mean temperature in the late 1990s
    was still slightly cooler than it was in the late 1930s. Svalbard is, of course, only one
    point in the vast Arctic area. However, the observed warming during the 1930s is
    supported by data from several stations along the Arctic coasts and on islands in
    the Arctic, e.g. Nordklim data from Bjornoya and Jan Mayen in the north Atlantic,
    Vardo and Tromso in northern Norway, Sodankylaeand Karasjoki in northern Finland,
    and Stykkisholmur in Iceland (3). There is also data from other reports; e.g.
    Godthaab, Jakobshavn, and Egedesmindde in Greenland, Ostrov Dikson on
    the north coast of Siberia, Salehard in inland Siberia, and Nome in western
    Alaska (7). All these stations indicate the same pattern of changes in annual mean
    temperature: a warm 1930s, a cooling until around 1970, and thereafter a warming,
    although the temperature remains slightly below the level of the late 1930s. Although
    details of the temperature fluctuations vary over time between the stations, the pattern
    of these fluctuations remains similar. Many stations with records starting later
    than the 1930s also indicate cooling, e.g. Vize in the Arctic Sea north of the Siberian
    coast and Frobisher Bay and Clyde on Baffin Island (7).

    In Stockholm, where temperature observations have been made since 1756, it is
    apparent that the temperature has been affected by the growing city. This urban
    effect has been studied in detail, and a compensation has been made for this
    bias in the data used here (8, 9). The Stockholm temperature also increased

    Figure 1. Annual mean temperature and trends for Stockholm, Sweden and Svalbard Lufthavn, Svalbard.

    between the beginning of the century and the 1930s, then reached a minimum around
    1970 and rose again, a pattern similar to the one observed in the Arctic. The 250-y long
    Stockholm record shows that the fluctuations of the 1900s are not unique; changes of the same magnitude as in the
    1900s occurred between 1770 and 1800, and distinct but smaller fluctuations occurred
    around 1825 (8).

    How can a distinct warming so often be reported for the Arctic areas when the temperature
    observations indicate variations but no consistent trend? If it was clearly stated that the warming is predicted, not yet
    indicated by empirical data, these claims could be accepted. The prediction is based on theory, but
    the empirical data used to support the theory is misleading. For example, to select a
    short period between a minimum and a high point, possibly a maximum, call it a trend
    and use it in support of a theory, is not acceptable. Obviously, neither the difference
    between two maxima nor the calculated regression during an arbitrarily selected
    period is an acceptable measure of trend either. However, either of these two methods
    is better than using nothing more than a temperature increase to indicate a trend.
    A trend showing considerable warming in northern Siberia and also in parts of
    Alaska has been used as an indication of a drastic warming in the Arctic. The temperature
    increase in Siberia is based on a record restricted to 40 y (11), a period
    following a cold period in the 1970s. The meteorological station Ostrov Dikson, located
    in this area of warming climate, has reported temperatures since 1917. Regression
    analysis of the 65-y annual temperature record after the maximum in the late
    1930s indicates a temperature decrease of 1.58C between 1935 and 1999. The reported
    increase is a result of the selected period (1960-2000). In addition, Alaska is reported
    to have experienced a rapid warming. One of the stations often referred to is
    Point Barrow on the north coast of Alaska, for which a recent study shows that even
    the small settlement (4600 persons) creates an urban effect (10). This was measured to
    be 2.28C during the winter of 2001-2002 (10).
    There is no definite period of time that should be used to study temperature trends.
    However, it is obviously wrong to start a calculation of a trend at a minimum and
    finish at a high point (possibly a maximum. The result will be misleading; from a minimum
    to a maximum there will always be an increase.
    Ostrov Dikson has experienced a very distinct decrease in temperature since the
    late 1930s. This decrease is unusually large, but a trend towards a cooling seems
    to be typical for Arctic stations, e.g. Iceland (3) 1935-1999, -0.78C; Frobisher
    Bay (7), 1942-1999, -0.88C). For other stations, e.g. Vardo (3), the cooling was
    small, 0.18C. The data do not indicate a warming of the Arctic. The cooling after
    the maximum in the 1930s occurred during the time when the concentration of carbon
    dioxide in the atmosphere had increased markedly; thus, an increase in temperature
    could be expected.
    The increase in temperature during the early 1900s is considered to be caused by
    increased solar irradiation (12). The temperature increase at several Arctic stations
    was greater and more rapid during this earlier period when carbon dioxide, according
    to models, did not contribute to the temperature. During the 50 y in which the
    atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased considerably, the temperature has
    decreased. The Arctic temperature data do not support the models predicting that there
    will be a critical future warming of the climate because of an increased concentration
    of CO2 in the atmosphere. At a few locations in Europe, temperature
    has been recorded for considerably longer than it has in the Arctic. The
    Stockholm temperature record, which covers the last 250 y, has been discussed by
    Moberg and Bergstrom (8) and by Jones et al. (9). The patterns of this record are
    similar to those from the years of overlapping data (1930s to 1999), for the Arctic
    stations (Fig. 1); therefore, it is probable that the Stockholm record can be used for
    an estimate of variations in the Arctic climate. If there is a similarity between the
    long Stockholm record, other European records (13), and the Arctic record, as the
    overlapping period of records indicate, it is likely that the recorded fluctuations in the
    Arctic temperature are short fragments of a series of fluctuations in the climate.
    The so called “global temperature” (12), frequently taken as a proof of a human
    influence on the climate, is based on a short record beginning during the cold second
    half of the 1800s and going to the warm present. Even this global temperature record
    begins during a very cold period and ends during a period that some scientists
    claim to be the warmest in very long time. Considering the 250-y record from Stockholm,
    it becomes obvious that these last 100 y of warming climate comprise only one
    section of a fluctuating climate, or, in other words, a small fraction of a series of several
    such fluctuations in the temperature. The so-called “global temperature record” covers
    too short a period and therefore does not yield empirical support for an anthropogenic
    effect on the climate, which so often is claimed.

    The frequently mentioned rapid increase of the temperature in the Arctic is based on
    a record beginning at a minimum in the temperature around the 1970s and ending
    during a period of relatively warm climate. If the time series had begun a few decades
    earlier, the records would indicate a cooling climate in the Arctic.
    This conclusion does not prove that there is no global warming, but that the
    observations available give no proof of such a warming.

    References and Notes
    1. ACIA 2004. Impact of a warming Arctic, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. (
    2. S Ogaard, H., Elbering, B., Friborg, T., Sorensen, L., Larsen, S.E., Rysgaard, S., Grondahl, L. and Bendtsen,
    J. 2004 High Arctic carbon sink identification-a systems approach. Global Change NewsLetter no. 59,
    3. Tuomenvita, H., Drebs, A., Fo¨ rland, E., Tveito, O. E., Alexandersson, H., Vaarby Laursen, E. and Jo´ nsson, T.
    2001. Klima, Nordklim Data Set 1.0, Description and Illustrations. DNMI Report no. 08/01, 1-26.
    4. Kahl, J.D., Charlevoix, D.J., Zaitseva, N.A., Schnell, R.C. and Serreze, M.C. 1993. Absence of evidence for
    greenhouse warming over the Arctic Ocean in the past 40 years. Nature 361, 335-337.
    5. Kahl, J.D.W., Jansen, M. and Pulrang, M.A. 2001. Fifty-year record of North Polar temperatures shows
    warming. EOS, Transactions 28, (1), 1-5.
    6. Humlum, O., Instanes, A. and Sollid, J.L. 2003. Permafrost in Svalbard: a review of research history,
    climatic background and engineering challenges. Polar Res. 22(2), 191-215.
    7. Daly, J.L. 2004. ( search?
    8. Moberg, A. and Bergstrom, H. 1997. Homogenization of Swedish temperature data. Part III: The long
    temperature records from Uppsala and Stockholm. Int. J. Climatology 17, 667â??699.
    9. Jones, P.D., Briffa, K.R., Osborn, T.J.,Moberg, A. and Bergstrom, H. 2002. Relationships between circulation
    strength and the variability of growing-season and coldseason climate in northern and central Europe. The
    Holocene 12, (6), 643-656.
    10. Hinkel, K., Nelson, F.E., Klene, A.E. and Bell, J.H. 2003. The urban heat island in winter at Barrow,
    Alaska. Int. J. Climatology 23, 1889-1905.
    11. Kerr, R.A. 2004. A few good climate shifters. Science 306, 599-600.
    12. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group II, Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and
    Vulnerability Summary for Policymakers. (
    13. Luterbacher, J., Dietrich, D., Xoplaki, E., Grosjena, M. and Wanner, H. 2004. European seasonal and annual
    temperature variability, trends and extremes since 1500. Science 303, 1499-1503.

    Wibjorn Karlen
    Luthagsesplanaden 3B
    SE-752 25 Uppsala,
    264 Ambio Vol. 34, No. 3, May 2005  Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2005

    Comment by Tim Curtin — 3 Feb 2006 @ 9:30 PM

  50. Oops. Slipsies.

    Two major outlet glaciers in East Greenland … remained steady during the 1990s despite progressive and substantial thinning, but have abruptly increased within the last two years, more than doubling ice flux to the ocean. … comparable 1998 speed-up of Jakobshavn Isbr in West Greenland…. Now that two further Greenland outlets have exhibited similar behavior, a common process seems likely. …. a step-change in dynamics not included in current models. We should expect further Greenland outlet glaciers to follow suit.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Feb 2006 @ 3:46 PM

  51. Re # 47 Sea Level

    Thanks Hank, I thought I was alone.

    Comment by David H — 4 Feb 2006 @ 4:32 PM

  52. We’re all alone (grin); I don’t know if that’s a reliable graph, it’s a page inside a teaching web site addressing a variety of different stories from history and myth, some of it’s fiction. I saw another reference elsewhere saying sea level hasn’t been more than a half meter higher since the last ice age, also making reference to a “climate optimum” somewhat warmer than present. But that had references to flood theology on it too. There are pages saying that the location of Eden is now under the Red Sea.

    It gets hard to tell the players from the fans.

    I ask here for the experts’ references hoping theirs are more informative than the ones I’ve found.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Feb 2006 @ 5:53 PM

  53. re: #49. … “CONCLUSIONS The frequently mentioned rapid increase of the temperature in the Arctic is based on a record beginning at a minimum in the temperature around the 1970s …

    Please take a look at annual temperature plots for McGrath AK (1942-2005) and Big Delta AK (1943-2005), at:

    The Alaska album contains annual temperature plots for 20 climate stations in Alaska.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 4 Feb 2006 @ 6:27 PM

  54. Looking at those curves that represent different scenarios reminds me of the scenarios in the back pages of Catton’s book titled Overshoot.
    I found them online here:
    Catton’s lengthy explanatory footnote explains, toward its end:

    “… in Pane D, “carrying capacity” has been represented by two different curves. A major fraction of the recent, apparently high carrying capacity for human high-energy living must be attributed to temporary resources – i.e., non-renewable fossil acreage, the earth’s savings deposits. In Panel D, it is optimistically assumed that the component of carrying capacity based on renewable resources has remained stable so far. But it is recognized that serious overshoot, induced by temporarily high composite carrying capacity, will at least temporarily undermine even the sustainable component. “Energy plantations” for example (one of the Cargoist3 proposal’s), will tend to aggravate the competitive relation between our fuel-burning prosthetic machinery and ourselves; land taken over to feed technology will not feed humans. So “temporary carrying capacity” is shown actually dipping below the horizontal line for a while, before it recovers and becomes again simply “carrying capacity”. The lesson from Panel D is that crash caused by the exhaustion of phantom carrying capacity by Homo Colossus could preclude a later cycle of regrowth.”

    “The boundary between past and future is drawn in Panel D, as in the other three panels, at a time when population appears not yet to have overshot carrying capacity. Whether or not that optimistic feature of the model is justified by current facts makes little difference if current practices have committed us to a trajectory that continues upward so that it is destined soon to cross the descending curve that represents global carrying capacity, a capacity not yet acknowledged to be finite. My own view, of course, is that the curves have already crossed.”

    “Either way, the past shown in Panel D more nearly accords with ecological history that do the pasts shown in Panels A, B, or C. The future hypothesized by Herman Kahn’s think-tank group is dangerously optimistic because it is based on the least realistic past. But the pasts shown in Panels B and C are also less realistic than the past shown in Panel D. The futures shown in Panels B and C are therefore also probably somewhat “optimistic” – although it seems necessary to enclose the word in quotation marks, because even the Panel B future seems dismal, and the Panel C future seems disastrous…..”

    That was written a long time ago; looking into it and deciding which of the assumptions made for each scenario have mattered in reality, is a good exercise every now and then. I’m still puzzled myself on some of them.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Feb 2006 @ 6:59 PM

  55. Re #49: Thanks, Tim, for the posting of that paper. I am no expert on the issue of arctic climate change…but my reading of that paper is that it is that it is a bit oversimplistic in discussing the study of arctic change and attribution of causes of that change. The issue of attribution is much more complicated than simply looking at temperature records. This site: and the references at the bottom give some discussion of this issue. I assume the ACIA report, which I haven’t read yet (see Ref. 1 of the Karlen paper) gives much more.

    Comment by Joel Shore — 5 Feb 2006 @ 6:24 PM

  56. Re #49 and #55: I think it is well worth reading what the ACIA report has to say in regards to temperature trends in the arctic and attribution of causes. In particular, see pages 34-39 of Chapter 2 of the scientific report available here:

    To quote from part of this:
    “The question is whether there is definitive evidence of an anthropogenic signal in the Arctic. This would require a direct attribution study of the Arctic, which has not yet been done. There are studies showing that an anthropogenic warming signal has been detected at the regional scale. For example, Karoly et al. (2003) concluded that temperature variations in North America during the second half of the 20th century were probably not due to natural variability alone. Zwiers and Zhang (2003) were able to detect the combined effect of changes in GHGs and sulfate aerosols over both Eurasia and North America for this period, as did Stott et al. (2003) for northern Asia (50ºâ��70º N) and northern North America (50ºâ��85º N). In any regional attribution study, the importance of variability must be recognized. In climate model simulations, the arctic signal resulting from GHG-induced warming is large but the variability(noise) is also large. Hence, the signal-to-noise ratio may be lower in the Arctic than at lower latitudes. In the Arctic, data scarcity is another important issue.”

    “In conclusion, for the past 20 to 40 years there have been marked temperature increases in the Arctic.The rates of increase have been large, and greater than the global average. Two modeling studies have shown the importance of anthropogenic forcing over the past half century for modeling the arctic climate. Johannessen et al. (2004) used a coupled atmosphereâ��ocean general circulation model (AOGCM) to study the past 100 years and noted, â��It is suggested strongly that whereas the earlier warming was natural internal climate-system variability, the recent SAT (surface air temperature) changes are a response to anthropogenic forcingâ��. Goosse and Renssen (2003) simulated the past 1000 years of arctic climate with a coarser resolution AOGCM and were able to replicate the cooling and warming until the mid-20th century. Without anthropogenic forcing, the model simulates cooling after a temperature maximum in the 1950s. There is still need for further study before it can be firmly concluded that the increase in arctic temperatures over the past century and/or past few decades is due to anthropogenic forcing.”

    Comment by Joel Shore — 5 Feb 2006 @ 6:40 PM

  57. Re #47,#48,#52

    You asked for experts references, I am sadly not an expert but I have background knowledge if that is of any use to you, if it is too basic feel free to ignore it!

    The problem with recreating sea level is that what is usually observed in proxy records is the local (isostatic) change as opposed to global (ecstatic change). Sea level is a relative term and depends upon the relative levels of the ocean and the land, so sea level can appear to rise if land is depressed etc. Several areas of the world will have seen sea levels higher than today’s during the Holocene, but this is due to isostatic rather than eustatic changes. In the UK, because of the great amount of ice over Scotland, the land was tilted with around 12-14m of depression over Scotland, and a subsequent forebulge over southern England. So when looking at UK records you have to realize that Scotland is currently bouncing up so sea levels will appear to fall even if they are stationary, and the South of England will be submerging. This is why the most reliable evidence of sea level change comes from far field sites in areas of no glacial activity and with as small as possible tectonic and uplift activity. Only then can you gather global sea level changes.

    There are good introductions to the topic of sea level change in the text books –

    Pages 53-68 in Reconstructing Quaternary Environments by Lowe and Walker, 1997 (Prentice Hall)
    Pages 107-125 in Quaternary Environments by Williams, Dunkerley, De Drekker, Kershaw and Chappell, 1998 (Arnold)

    For the definitive – what was happening in the Wash 4000 years ago, Ian Shennan and Ben Horton used over 12,000 radiocarbon dated sea level indicator points across the UK to recreate sea levels back to 16,000 years. You will sea much higher sea levels in Scotland, because of the depressed land mass, but the fenlands were all lower than today throughout the Holocene. I am not too sure how copyright things work so I don’t want to post the figure but it is available in: Shennan, I and Horton B, 2002, Journal of Quaternary Science, 17(5-6) 511-526

    If you do want to read around the topic it would be worth looking at the modeling side of things as well as the proxies, Lambeck and Peltier actively publish in the field, although their papers tend to differ on their exact interpretations. Just using google scholar will give you plenty of references.

    Hope that helps

    Comment by Ben A — 10 Feb 2006 @ 9:11 AM

  58. I was wondering whether the folks on RealClimate had anything to say about the 2005 increase in CO2. I remember that the increase for 2004 was hotly anticipated because the 2002 and 2003 increases had both been >2ppm [being the first time this had happened for two consecutive years].

    I’ve heard that the following can be said about the annual increase in CO2 concentrations.
    1. There is a long-term increasing trend which correlates very strongly with increasing anthropogenic emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel burning.
    2. After removing this trend, the remaining variability matches the ENSO variability very strongly, the exceptions being due to volcanoes and in 2003.
    3. There is evidence that links the anomalous 2003 increase to the exceptional European drought/heatwave of that year and to forest fires in Siberia.
    4. #3 is often cited as evidence that we are starting to see the effects of a [land] carbon cycle positive feedback, whereby climate change reduces the ability of the land system to absorb anthropogenic emissions of CO2.
    5. Preliminary data for 2005 suggests that drought in the Amazonia region has contributed to anomalously high CO2 increase in 2005, which can’t be explained by ENSO variability.

    Question: Could we be very close to a tipping point? Are we actually *at* the tipping point with respect to land uptake of CO2?

    If we are this would make it much harder to constrain CO2 levels to a low stabilisation level.

    Also, with regard to overshoot, there is a lot of uncertainty over how quickly CO2 concentrations might reduce if we overshot a target. I recognise that you are also considering short-lived species such as methane [and using a CO2-equivalent rate], but I think we would need to keep ‘actual’ CO2 levels below a stabilisation target, in order to be confident about meeting that target. 415ppm of CO2 looks like a very big ask.

    Note that I only think it is a big ask in a political/organisational way. Technically and economically I think it is feasible, but it would require the sort of political focus that existed in WWII, for example.

    To digress slightly, I remember learning in history class that during the early stages of the [second world] war some private companies in the UK resisted attempts to have their manufacturing turned over to armaments production, arguing that they could contribute to the war effort more effectively by “business as usual” and through economic growth and taxation on the profits of selling vacuum cleaners. This reminds me of the dichotomy between economic growth and tackling global warming that is often drawn today. Personally, I feel that the experience of WWII shows that economies can actually benefit from the stimulus created by a governement-inspired boost in demand. In WWII this was to manufacture tanks, warplanes, etc, but today it would be to manufacture wind turbines, solar panels, efficient mass transit systems and other technologies necessary to change our societies to emit less carbon.

    Comment by Timothy — 10 Feb 2006 @ 12:55 PM

  59. Stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 550 ppm will require a 70% reduction of emissions from the current annual emission rates (which are between 6 and 7 billion tons per year) to rates of about 1 or 1.5 billion tons per year. This is the rate of global emissions that existed in the late 1920s. Put another way, the 13 largest emitting countries in the world (USA, China, India, Russia, Ukraine, Japan, Germany, Canada, Australia, …) emit about 70% of the global total. So one “extreme” to reduce global emissions by 70% would be to reduce the emissions of those 13 largest countries to ZERO, and hold the emissions of all other countries in the world constant at their current rate. The “opposite extreme” would be to reduce the emissions of the 13 largest countries by at least 60%, and reduce the emissions of all of the OTHER countries in the world to ZERO. Stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 475 ppm will require a larger emission rate deduction, probably between 80 and 90% of current annual emission rates, to a emission rate less than 1 billion tons per year. And the time to stabilization will be about 400 years. Now, does anyone REALLY believe that stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations is feasible? Certainly, none of the people alive in the world today (Shirley MacLaine excepted) will live to see it.

    Comment by Chuck — 12 Feb 2006 @ 3:05 AM

  60. Perhaps you might comment on Estimated PDFs of Climate System Properties Including Natural and Anthropogenic Forcings (Chris E. Forest, Peter H. Stone and Andrei P. Sokolov, MIT). If they are correct and the climate sensitivity can be constrained to be withing 2.4 – 9.2 K with 90% confidence then the probability of breaching 2C rise is about 80% at 400ppm.

    Comment by Mike Atkinson — 12 Feb 2006 @ 5:56 AM

  61. That’s the latest of many reports on climate from MIT. The graphics illustrating their conclusion are at the back of the PDF file.

    Their summary:
    “The implications of these results are that the climate system response will be stronger (specifically, a higher lower bound) for a given forcing scenario than previously estimated via the uncertainty propagation techniques in Webster et al. (2003).

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 12 Feb 2006 @ 1:06 PM

  62. Re: #59 Chuck summed the topic of “avoiding dangerous climate change” by challenging us to think in real terms about the infeasibility of stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases at any level remotely approaching that which can prevent a 2 degree warming. As a lifelong environmental activist, I attest to being an accomplice to the failed effort and the self-appeasing approach environmentalists have taken.

    No. Renewable energy is not a solution to reducing fossil fuel-generated CO2, nor is renewable energy an alternative to base load electric generation, a substitute for imported or any other petroleum. Any of the renewable options are too little, too late and “fools gold” offered to the public and policy makers to keep them in the mitigation game and focused on an international treaty of some sort.

    Time is the enemy of our children and we ran out their clock. Pat Michaels has become irrelevant and all the skeptics are immaterial to the facts coming to light regarding temperature amplification in the arctic and sub arctic.

    Who really benefits from pursuing the international dialogue aimed at creating a post-2012, Post Kyoto, CO2 intensity agreement, clean technology and all the hand wringing efforts to lure developing countries into the mitigation tent? Only the advocates can claim victory. The climate will not.

    Winters in the wheat-growing areas of the US Northern Plains will never be the same as more of the US-Canada boundary Arctic sea ice disappears in September and yields warm sea surface temperatures to the air currents that once delivered the essential winter snows to the farmlands on the US northern border.

    Winter and summer wheat crops contribute to the world’s grain surplus and that is rapidly changing to a negative account. When the world loses access to surplus wheat, food prices rise rapidly in the poorest countries that have per capita incomes able to buy food until costs exceed their income and they drop into the class of malnourished or starving. The rest of us compete against each other and struggle to boost wheat output any way we can. Ethanol and bio-diesel are going to be in the way and quickly eliminated in this new world order of a bidding war for wheat. What happens then?

    Corn and other grain farmers find less groundwater available because diminished snow pack is not replenishing the Ogallala and other vital aquifers in the grain states. And, food is only one of the victims as unseasonable winters becomes the norm. Look at the satellite images and tell yourself we have time to dither around with climate stabilization. Its payup time and we cannot escape the reality that courageous, outspoken scientists have been trying to impart on all of us; even the saintly environmentalists who fear talking about adaptation as if that will drive them out of business.


    Measure the US federal deficit for then next 25 years and you will begin to appreciate the complexity of responding to a melting Arctic ice cap. Who and what will provide the monies needed to assure the farmers will have the soil moisture and irrigation water they will need to feed us.

    Please forgive my rant. Your page is important to the scientific discussion and others provide political pages for views such as mine.

    Arctic sea ice melt does, however, beg the question of time available to prepare for the inevitable â?? at least as far as access to affordable food is concerned.

    John L. McCormick

    Comment by John L. McCormick — 12 Feb 2006 @ 8:38 PM

  63. Do you have a comment regarding the recent statement by Professor Keith Shine head of meterology at University of Reading that the 2004 CO2 equivalent level is currently 425 parts per million and what that means for talk of getting CO2 equivalent levels below 400ppm to hold temperatures to 2 degrees C.

    [Response: Dr. Shine’s analysis is only for the well-mixed greenhouse gases which of course gives a CO2-equivelence greater than for CO2 alone. However, it does not include the main counterbalancing terms (reflective aerosols, land use change), nor a few of the minor warming effects (black carbon, tropospheric ozone). By some fluke of nature all of the extra terms cancel out (with some uncertainty), and so our best guess for the total forcing is just about equal to that of CO2 on it’s own. – gavin]

    Comment by Paul Duignan — 13 Feb 2006 @ 2:03 PM

  64. Dr. Shine is pointing out that besides CO2, there are several other gases in the atmosphere (such as methane, nitrous oxide, and certain chlorofluorocarbons, as examples) that are also mostly transparent to the majority of the short wavelengths of energy incoming from the sun, but are strong absorbers of the longwave radiation that is re-emitted back to space from the Earth. Thus, like CO2 and water vapor, their presence in the atmosphere contributes to the warming of the atmosphere, and their growing presence in the atmosphere contributes to the growing warming in the atmosphere. Taken together by doing the calculations of the wavelength-specific absorption by all of these gases (and avoiding any “double-counting” where two gases may be absorbing at the same wavelength) — one can see that this is not a trivial exercise — current estimates are that these other gases are contibuting an additional 10% or so to the warming produced by CO2 alone. Hence, Dr. Shine’s comment that the 380 ppm or so of CO2 currently in the atmosphere (annual mean) PLUS the effect of the other greenhouse gases is equivalent to about 425 ppm of CO2 alone. My comment in #59 was based solely on the CO2 component. I’m guessing that it may be even more difficult to reduce the growth in the atmospheric concentrations of some of the other greenhouse gases, especially if their sources are much more dispersed around the world and if they have longer effective lifetimes in the atmosphere than CO2.

    As an aside somewhat off-topic, let me note that the term “greenhouse effect” is a misnomer, since real greenhouses do not warm their interiors primarily by differential absorption of longwave versus shortwave radiation, but rather by supressing convective motions of the air in the greenhouse that would carry heat away. Some classic experiments about 40 years ago proving this point were published in the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences or Journal of Meteorology (I can’t remember which — I’ve got a copy of the original article buried away in some box, but haven’t looked at it for a long, long time). The author (I believe his surname was Lee) compared ordinary greenhouses to ones where the glass was replaced with rock salt on a grated surface, so that the walls of this greenhouse were porous to air motions but “radiatively correct”) and showed that it was the air restriction of the glass in the ordinary greenhouse that was more important than its weakly-absorbing radiative properties. Lee wanted to call the real phenomenon in nature the “Atmospheric Effect”, but “Greenhouse Effect” sounds better and has stuck through the decades.

    Comment by Chuck — 13 Feb 2006 @ 5:53 PM

  65. Thanks for reponse on comment 63. Further question, given the quote from the paper in comment 61 about a stronger climate system response than previously estimated and statements like, “not yet factored into the models” which seems to appear in some of the reports of recent findings; has anyone done an analysis of the trend in predictions regarding climate change effects over, say the last 15 years or the series of IPCC reports and does any informed person want to give us a guess regarding the future trend line of the predictions.

    Comment by Paul Duignan — 13 Feb 2006 @ 10:39 PM

  66. Regarding #65 and the quote in comment #61 about a paper by MIT scientists Forest, Stone, and Sokolov, they are pointing out the difficulties in defining the “climate sensitivity to CO2 concentration changes in the atmosphere”. The basic issue here is that (as others have undoubtedly noted in other threads on these web pages) since CO2 is mostly transparent to incoming shortwave solar radiation, but strongly absorbing of the longwave radiation re-radiated back to outer space from the earth AT SPECIFIC WAVELENGTHS NOT ALREADY BEING ABSORBED BY WATER VAPOR (which is the most prominent “greenhouse gas”), it follows that increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will increase the global average temperature in the atmosphere at the altitudes where the CO2 resides (at least until the CO2 level rises to a level which “saturates” its wavelength absorption bands). But how much of a temperature change per unit change in CO2? BTW, this relationship should apply for both increases and decreases in CO2.

    Some scientists (Prof. Richard Lindzen, among others) argue that the sensitivity is very low, so that large changes in CO2 will produce only small changes in global atmospheric temperature. I’ve seen estimates attributed to them of 0.1 degrees C change in temperature for a factor-of-2 change in CO2. Other scientists argue that the sensitivity is quite high — perhaps 10 degrees C change in temperature for a factor-of-2 change in CO2. The IPCC reports indicate a range of 1.5 to 4.5 degree C change in temperature for a factor-of-2 change in CO2, depending on the climate model used and lots of other assumptions.

    One way to attempt to determine this sensitivity directly is to compare the observed changes in global atmospheric temperature over a long period of time with the observed changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration over the same time period. Easy to say, not easy to do, since the exact measurement records are not that long — reliable temperature records go back 150 years or so, reliable DIRECT atmospheric CO2 measurements go back to 1957. The MIT scientists are noting in their paper that there are many other factors that can contribute to the behavior of global atmospheric temperatures in the records, such as a rather large but time-dependent cooling effect from large emissions of sulfur-related aerosols from volcanic eruptions. Since the observed temperature records is presumed to reflect all of the real warming and cooling influences on the temperature record, than the sensitivity to CO2 alone must be larger than previously calculated, because its effect on the real atmospheric temperature is being muted somewhat by the cooling effects of the aerosols.

    It’s important to note that the OPPOSITE effect on the estimation of CO2 sensitivity could be produced if one considers the warming effect of other greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide, CFCs are examples). In other words, CO2 might erroneously be given “credit” for some of the observed warming in today’s world that may actually be due to the observed increases in methane, N2O, and CFCs). I would also note that the atmosphere’s response is not instantaneous, since the very large heat sink called the ocean considerably moderates and “drags out” over time the atmospheric temperature response. Put another way, it’s not entirely clear whether the atmospheric temperature increases observed in, say, the 1990’s are due to the observed increases in greenhouse gases in the 1990’s. Those temperatures may be responding instead to changes in greenhouse gases that occured many years (decades? centuries?) before.

    My guess on what will be the trend in CO2 sensitivity estimates in future IPCC reports? I think it is most likely that the “spread” in the CO2 sensitivity estimates will increase as more is learned about other factors that influence the relationship between climate and man-made and natural factors, but that the mean of the CO2-specific sensitivity estimates will decline, as the concentrations of other contributing greenhouse gases increase. (Inherent in my guess is that global aerosol concentrations from volcanic emissions will not increase substantially in the future, but I don’t pretend to have any clue whether volcanic eruptions will be more or less prevalent in the future.)

    Comment by Chuck — 19 Feb 2006 @ 12:42 AM

  67. The notion of a human capacity to “stabilize” atmospheric CO2 at a still higher concentration has long seemed to me somewhat hubristic –

    As was written in New Scientist last year, any such goal of a stabilization above the 320 ppmv at which peat bogs globally began releasing more dissolved organic carbon to watercourses (which effect has since risen by around 6%pa) is plainly more rhetorical than scientific.

    The very framing of the debate – as being about Global Warming, Climate Change, Stabilization, is more than unhelpful – its soporific tone is downright obstructive of the problem being addressed.

    While the goal of the “stabilization” of concentrations needs to retreat to the “capping” of man’s global GHG emissions, perhaps a larger issue is the nonsense of using degrees Centigrade to describe global temperature to the layman.

    This scale is a gift to propagandists and the deluded alike, and if science is to end its dismal failure to communicate effectively with the public then it urgently needs revision.

    Degrees Aarhenius, being Ds Centigrade/100, may be the simplest replacement, but there might perhaps be a better case for using that name with a scale reflecting the known range of planetary temperature –

    I would be glad of scientists’ thoughts on these issues.


    Comment by Lewis Cleverdon — 28 Feb 2006 @ 12:42 AM

  68. Re #2: Why do we assume positive feedbacks? I don’t think anyone would deny that climate is variable in the short term yet stable in the long term. This indicates negative feedbacks, not positive ones. If one accepts the MWP and LIA as real events (and obviously not anthropogenic) then it seems to me that negative feedbacks are more likely. Surely any positive feedbacks would have been apparent with these events and we would have already seen climate spiral into a Venus like state or an ice age?

    [Response: Overall feedbacks are negative – the principle one being the long wave radiation going like T4, however that does not preclude positive feedbacks for small perturbations. This isn’t ‘assumed’, it is observed – as it gets wamer, ice melts and water vapour increases. -gavin]

    Comment by Neil Fisher — 28 Feb 2006 @ 5:43 PM

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