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  1. … “but for what it’s worth, there aren’t any models that explode as catastrophically as this.”

    If true, then there aren’t any models of the Permian/Triassic boundary. More to current, I’m curious about the status of stratospheric ozone.

    [Response:Good point, but if you clobber a model with a huge enough rock from space or some massive degassing from the Earth, it can blow up as severely as you like. It’s not clear whether the P/T was caused by an impact or by something else. I meant to say that no models explode given anthropogenic CO2 forcing. As for ozone, I believe it’s recovering, slowly, in response to the Montreal Protocol banning freons. David]

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 12 Feb 2006 @ 9:25 PM

  2. A recent study I read about in New Scientist found that statistically, experts are not very good at predicting the future in their own field of knowledge. Essentially a forest for the trees problem, knowing too much the imagination can pick a path that would not be obvious or likely to most other people, and is usually wrong.

    In addition it should be noted that Lovelock is approaching the twilight years of his life and this will certainly color his outlook on life.

    Comment by Stephen Balbach — 12 Feb 2006 @ 11:01 PM

  3. Biosphere II got screwed up because, in a hurry to close the structure, someone decided to skip the design step where they would go get mineral soil and create proper soil profiles, supporting a layer of topsoil and duff.

    They filled the damned thing with topsoil, and closed it up. Topsoil all the way down.

    Once they described what they’d done, given the fact that they were way over planned CO2 level in the internal atmosphere, a little thinking about what “dirt” is explained the mistake.

    The toposil, buried way below normal depth, mostly died — half of topsoil is critter shit, I remember learning somewhere long ago, and much of the rest is critters and fungi. Buried too deep, it died, exhaled CO2, way above the amount that would have come from a properly created soil profile — which would have been mostly mineral soil or clay or rock, below the top few inches.

    I remember a discussion on “The Well” some years back that included people coming in on telecom from inside the Biosphere II, in which this got talked about a few weeks before they announced it; I visited the place years later — that explanation was part of the standard public tour talk, given as the explanation of why the project didn’t succeed as planned.

    Control there wasn’t what was completely out of reach. Following the plan and understanding why the papers said do it that way, was out of reach for someone at the wrong time. Design, maybe OK, we won’t know because the execution was fouled up beyond hope of recovery.

    Lovelock does have a big mistake in his past — remember he is the inventor of the electron capture detector device that let people detect trace amounts, very tiny levels, of not just chlorofluorocarbons but also DDT and DDE in eggshells. His work is what got the first worries discovered about eggshell thinning, the disappearance of the pelicans from California, and many other bird issues. That is the basis from which Rachel Carson the information to write “Silent Spring.”

    But Lovelock announced confidently, quite early on, that while these CFCs were certainly everywhere, they couldn’t possibly be present in a quantity sufficient to harm the biosphere. He thought of them, at first, as handy tracers for circulation.

    Fortunately, he’d gotten other scientists interested in the stuff; they got the Nobel.

    Once you’ve been wrong that badly — whether you’re talking about the Biosphere II management, or Lovelock decades earlier about CFCs — you might want to err in the opposite direction next time a big question gets asked.

    I’m just sayin’.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 12 Feb 2006 @ 11:34 PM

  4. If we’re to talk about a world environmental catastrophe, shouldn’t we acknowledge that climate change, while a very important piece of the puzzle, is only one piece?

    For example coral reefs are dying around the world, in part probably because of warmer and more acidic oceans, but there are other man made problems that are contributing. What happens when they disappear? Fish stocks around the world are also plummeting. This probably has more to do with the strip mining of the oceans than climate change. When the only edible food coming out of the ocean is jellyfish, do we have a catastrophe?

    And what about the birds and animals that depend on the ocean, what happens then? For example; what happens when wild salmon disappear from rivers around the world? Would this be a catastrophe?

    What about biodiversity? Foreign species from around the globe are setting up shop in new areas and causing the extinction of local species. At what point does this become a catastrophe? Is this made worse by climate change stress?

    The rapid increase in mountain glacier melt seems to be surprising scientists. How many river systems are dependent on these mountain glaciers? What happens when the glaciers of the Himalayas disappear? India for one is already drilling deeper and deeper to retrieve ground water. What happens when the rivers are disrupted? How much rice is grown on rivers dependent on these glaciers? Do 3 billion people starve, especially with an already degraded environment?

    What about the forests, they are under assault by the humans, by insects and also by climate change. If we have a major loss in forests is this a catastrophe?

    When you dismiss catastrophe as a small risk, are you really thinking about all the ramifications of climate change and other environmental problems that the earth currently faces. My gut feeling tells me that a major die off is quite possible. Are you being a bit too myopic?

    Comment by PeterW — 13 Feb 2006 @ 12:20 AM

  5. I believe it was David Suzuki who said (not an exact quote):
    “The whole of mankind is in a car driving at ever increasing speed towards a brick wall, and we are busy arguing over who is going to drive”

    Comment by Stuart Blaber — 13 Feb 2006 @ 1:52 AM

  6. “My gut feeling tells me that a major die off is quite possible.” Comment by PeterW.

    A major dieoff is already happening. It’s called the Sixth Extinction. Global warming can only add to the catastrophe for many species through sea level rise and shifts northward and upward of available habitat until temperate zone conditions disappear. Many vegetative species cannot migrate fast enough to cope with changing conditions in a world sliced and diced by humanity. Another result of warming seems to be seen in the disappearance of plankton – the base of the marine food web. Another is the disappearance of mountain glaciers – the source
    of rivers in many parts of the world.
    As for “die off” – it’s already a website. The effects of post peak oil fuel scarsity and global warming will precipitate economic hardship and population attenuation like nothing mankind has seen before. Lovelock isn’t wrong. The planet is in for a correction.

    Comment by Tim Jones — 13 Feb 2006 @ 2:15 AM

  7. It’s interesting to see that reading Lovelock for the first time had a similar effect on the author to what it had on me. I thought “Wow, this is really exciting!”, and was a bit disappointed to find that he was regarded as something of an “enfant terrible” by respected scientists.

    Today, I suppose climate scientists are pretty much the “planetary doctors” he wrote that he wanted, trying to figure out how we can keep our planet healthy in an experience-based way.

    It’s reassuring that his words of impending disaster find little support by the “doctors”. However, there are other worrying things in the Worldwatch reports, to put it like that. Although climate modeling integrates an impressive variety of disciplines, we don’t know very much about how the economy will cope, how people will behave, or even such practical questions as how much oil we’ve got left. There’s plenty of room for disaster still, unfortunately, so the bad gut feeling of someone like Lovelock shouldn’t just be dismissed.

    And you didn’t. Thank you for taking my old hero seriously.

    Comment by Harald Korneliussen — 13 Feb 2006 @ 4:34 AM

  8. Totally agree with Stuart quoting David Suzuki.

    Yes it is true that James Lovelock has been wrong in the past, he is the first one to admit it. This fact though does not undermine what many see as one of the most original thinkers of the 20th Century.

    Although a trained biologist I am not a scientist, it seems to me that a braver attitude about the interpretation of the current data available will be needed to communicate effectively what is happening.

    If scientists seem to disagree, the public perception of the severity of the changes suffers.

    In this very site there are vast amounts of scientific evidence concluding how humans are systematically destroying every single life supporting system involved in the highly complex global homeostatic mechanism of keeping the planet cool and fit for life. It is now too foolish to try to deny such evidence.

    Even if we want to believe the most conservative of the scenarios of the IPCC , let us see what the new 2007 report bring us, the world is going to become a very different place within the next decades, and very hot too!

    Politicians, under the overwhelming influence of the industrialists lobbies and the business-as-usual attitude driven by short term goals of GDP and growth won’t find the courage needed to put in place a set of actions to stop the now out of control emission of green house gases, the spread of the agri-business, etc.

    Just when the planet is getting hotter, the very organisms that help to regulate the amounts of Co2, plants and photosynthetic algae are getting scarcer. It is not all about silicate wheathering it seems.

    Here in Europe there is a grownig resentment against the USA. I think that it is too late to get angry with the American administration because their negative to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. As many have argued, see, their attitude may not be as arrogant and selfish as many want us to think. The Kyoto Protocol was a very naïf and good-hearted start in a world where the hard scientific evidence that now is freely available; to anyone had yet to be produced.

    Ratifying the Kyoto protocol without involving developing countries is a no-starter, besides, reaching the Kyoto targets wonâ??t be enough to counter-balance the process that we already have started.

    The data is there, we need more brave original thinkers like Lovelock to interpret it!!

    Norwich, UK.

    Comment by phototropism — 13 Feb 2006 @ 4:45 AM

  9. Just to pick up on one of your ‘nitpicks’ – I don’t see why the idea that CO2 regulation in the longterm is primarily by geochemical / weathering processes is really relevant. If the anthropogenic rise in CO2 has been fairly short term (last 200 years) then any weathering process isn’t likely to have much chance to deal with it, so any regulation has to be via biological processes.

    [Response:Point taken. David]

    From what you’ve said, some of Lovelocks ideas may be rather extreme, but there is certainly something going very very wrong. I think he’s basically trying to put the frighteners on, and make people realise there’s a problem. The other message that comes through in his book is that it is important to question the received wisdom, something many environmentalists and greens are very poor at.

    Thanks for this site – its extremely useful to have something which an educated layperson can understand without having to wade through academic papers.

    Comment by Cathryn Symons — 13 Feb 2006 @ 6:17 AM

  10. The reason we want to damp out the glacial cycle is to reach a point of minimum potential energy, and that point is right dab in the center of the cycle. So, you do not need too much chemistry to figure that out.

    How do we get there? Trigger the greenhouse, this gets us over the hump. On the way down we start releasing carbon back into the atmosphere, sort of damp out the carbon driven oscillation. If we do not damp in time, then we hit the bottom of the cycle, then start sequestering carbon on the way back up.

    The problem with this, is that we are a carbon based species, evolved under the glacial cycle, and we may be constitutional incapable of working against the carbon cycle.

    What is our problem today? We are sitting on a time bomb. Over the ages, mankind has put some 1 trillion tons of carbon under his management, and this readily available fuel, taken out of the natural cycle, has forstalled the ice age for thousands of years by preventing green house gas build up. Now, after all these thousands of years, with 1 trillion tons of fuel under management, in the hottest, parchest time on record, with the glacial just determined to oxidize carbon; we have created a global bomb.

    We let things go to far. We should have gone greenhouse some one thousand years ago.

    Comment by Matt — 13 Feb 2006 @ 8:25 AM

  11. “We should have gone greenhouse one thousand years ago” LOL

    In the context of catastrophe or not. Consider that reproductive work is cyclical in time(whereas production is linear). Moreover, reproductive work is time compulsory, “the baby needs feeding now”. As well, as Mary O’Brien pointed out, reproductive work is necessarily social(as opposed to be socially necessary).

    We need water every day, food every week, and air every minute. We are dependent on other people for all these things. Sydney, escaped having a serious water crisis last year because the drought of the last 7 years broke enough to fill the reservoirs half full. All climate models suggest that temperate mainland Australia will be drier. How long will the next drought/dry spell last? Sydney ordered desalination plants but these have been put on hold because of protest over their environmental impact, there now looking for deep ground water to mine. Why does this remind me of peak oil?

    The point is – biological systems have quite strict constraints. More importantly, humans possess weapons of mass destruction that will inevitably be used if humanity is incapable of co-operating over this oncoming crisis.

    Sceptics on the catastrophe front are refered to “The Sheep Look Up” by John Brunner(1972?) still be far the most accurate prophecy around.

    Comment by kyangadac — 13 Feb 2006 @ 9:21 AM

  12. I should add — you do understand this, but you’ve started your book review off with that “single organism” nonsense as though it were an accurate description of the man’s work, and buried the clarification. Just irks me to see it yet again, and from someone who says he’s a teacher.

    [Response:“We believe that these properties of the terrestrial atmosphere are evidence for homeostasis on a planetary scale” Margulis and Lovelock, Icarus, 1974. “My Gaia theory sees the Earth behaving as if it were alive” Lovelock, The Independent, Jan 22 2006. David]

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 13 Feb 2006 @ 9:30 AM

  13. Oh, one error in the first post worth emphasizing, David wrote:
    > Lovelock’s bold leap was to envision life on Earth as a single unified organism …

    This one sentence is wrong in so many ways, few words are left correct.

    No leap, no vision, no single, no unified, no organism.

    He was looking for signs of life on Mars, the original task he took on for NASA, and realized — as the inventor of the device used — that could be done by analyzing the atmosphere.

    He applied the same logic to looking at Earth.

    I suspect you’ve missed one or two other important points in your review above, and that you’d do well to actually read some of Lovelock’s peer reviewed publications and patents.

    Oh, yes, “renegade” — there’s another one.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 13 Feb 2006 @ 9:22 AM

  14. Real Climate review of ‘Revenge of Gaia’
    For a far more scientific take on James Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia than my own reviews, pop over to Real Climate and take a look.  This site is excellent for explanations of climate science which are understandable by the lay reader with an inte…

    Trackback by Camden Lady — 13 Feb 2006 @ 10:32 AM

  15. OK, I’m confused.

    James Hansen and others are saying that we have a good chance of creating a world as different from today as was the world of the ice age. Climatologists’ gut feelings are that we will not suffer a major economic downturn (we, or the Bengalis?)

    It seems that if we are going to be spending loads of money moving infrastructure over a period of centuries, desalinating water, and so on, that there would be an effect on the economy.

    Please help!

    [Response:Extreme climate events such as droughts must be devastating to the local economies, so devastating that it’s not even how you describe them anymore. Sure, I do think that climate change can have an effect on the economy. My own gut feeling is not so carefree as you represent it. David]

    Comment by Karen Street — 13 Feb 2006 @ 11:16 AM

  16. Mankind seems to almost have an inherent need to prophesies and repent for an upcoming apocalypse of one sort or another. If people really want something to worry about, worry about viruses. We don’t have to look very far into the past to see that this can be a very real threat. I am not prophesizing it however, I am just pointing out that in terms of threats to mankind viruses rank as a higher probability and with higher impact than almost anything else. For example the avian flu has a 100% mortality rate among chickens (50% among humans). There are something like 13 billion birds in China for this virus to evolve amongst. The flu virus is messy and fragile and mutates extremely easily. A virus that emerges from this that spreads from human to human with say a mortality rate of say 10% would be absolutely devastating. And if such a virus were to occur it would all be over in a couple of years.

    Comment by Ian — 13 Feb 2006 @ 1:02 PM

  17. “The strong Gaia hypothesis raises issues of altruism and cooperation among different components of Earth’s biota.”

    To me it sounds indistinguishable from Aristotle’s teleogical model for the explanation of physical processes, which has been discredited for centuries. The real problem seems to be that the strong Gaia hypothesis is not a scientific theory, since no specific mechanism for these processes is suggested. Until a mechanism is identified it’s all just a nice “vision,” as you put it.

    Comment by Lars Marius Garshol — 13 Feb 2006 @ 12:30 PM

  18. Psst.

    Comment by David Weman — 13 Feb 2006 @ 2:40 PM

  19. You state exactly the confusion I’m referring to: confusing “acts like” and “acts as if” with “is.”

    Let’s not argue about what the meaning of “is” is (wry grin).

    Lovelock states the exact problem with those words in a recent speech:

    “… near the end of the 1960s ..William Golding… suggested the name Gaia….

    “[after the first statement of the hypothesis] .. with the biologist Lynn Margulis … We restated the hypothesis as â��â��The Earthâ��s atmosphere is regulated by life on the surface so that the probability of growth of the entire biosphere is maximized.â��â��

    “I now realize that both statements were misleading. Worse, enthusiasts of the idea began to speak of the Earth as a living organism â�� not as we said, â��â��The Earth behaves like a living organism.â��â��

    The point of looking at living systems as changing climate is robust.

    A couple of quite recent examples:
    “Palaeocene/Eocene thermal maximum … The aftermath of this rapid, intense and global warming event may be the best example in the geological record of the response of the Earth to high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and high temperatures … an intensified flux of organic carbon from the ocean surface to the deep ocean and its subsequent burial through biogeochemical feedback mechanisms.”

    See also: Schmitz, B., 2000. Plankton cooled a greenhouse. Nature, v. 407 14 September 2000, p. 143-144.

    Enough from me on this. I just wanted to make the point that understanding what the man is actually saying and has been — all along — makes it easier to take him seriously. He, like Rachel Carson, was the target of a lot of skepticism well funded by interests his discovery was putting at economic risk. Science does that.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 13 Feb 2006 @ 4:13 PM

  20. Revenge of Gaia is a highly emotive term and not very scientific by the looks of it. Needless to say that as any system is “pushed” (the Bisosphere of earth being such a system) then any sufficiently complex system (again the Biosphere is such a system)) will begin to exhibit behaviour (weather) that is potenitally very different from what we get now. Tipping Point and Abrupt have been mentioned and appear to allude to the fact that points of no return and flipping of the climate can possibly take place due to a forcing of the system away from equilibrium towards potenital scientific stochastic behaviour. No one knows at the present time what will happen but rest assured if we use up our 44 years of Oil and 60 years of Gas and 200 years of coal in the appropriate time then we are more likelly to experience sudden and dramatic climate change.

    Comment by pete best — 13 Feb 2006 @ 4:17 PM

  21. If Gaia is happiest in a glacial state, why are they punctuated by D-O events? I thought Gaia aimed for stability?

    Comment by William — 13 Feb 2006 @ 4:22 PM

  22. Hi Dave: I’d like to cast my vote with Peter W (#4) and Tim Jones (#6), the catastrophe is already occurring. As a comedian once said we humans are the most self-important species there is.

    Just a sampling:


    [Blaustein] Blaustein and Dobson, â??Extinctions: A Message From The Frogsâ?? Nature 439, 143-144, 12 January 2006

    Bees and betterflies:

    [Giles] Giles, Nature News, â??Transgenic crops take another knock, Shift in weed species hits bees and butterflies, Published online: 21 March 2005.

    More amphibians:

    [Pound] Pound et al., â??Widespread amphibian extinctions from epidemic disease driven by global warming,â?? Nature 439, 161-167 (12 January 2006)


    [Schmittner] A. Schmittner “Decline of the marine ecosystem caused by a reduction in the Atlantic overturning circulationâ??, Nature 434, 628-633 (31 March 2005)

    More Pollinators:

    [Vamosi] Vamosi, Knight, Steets, Mazer, Burd and Ashman, â??Pollination decays in biodiversity hotspotsâ??, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, January 24 2006, vol. 103, no. 4, 956-961

    Just about everybody else:

    [Thomas] Thomas et al., â??Extinction risk from climate changeâ??, Nature 427, 145-148 (8 January 2004)

    Us humans cannot survive without pollinators, forests, coral reefs, ocean fish, amphibians and phytoplankton. And Ken Deffeyes now says we are past peak oil. And I know we can’t survive without the prize, which actually makes for two very real, very now catastrophes.

    Just my gut but I think we’ve past several tipping points.

    Comment by Tony Noerpel — 13 Feb 2006 @ 4:32 PM

  23. re: response to 1. [… I meant to say that no models explode given anthropogenic CO2 forcing. As for ozone, I believe it’s recovering, slowly, in response to the Montreal Protocol banning freons. David]

    So, there are no models that explode like Lovelock’s gut. Maybe the reason they don’t is that the modelers are only running them out a century or two. What happens when you run the models out 10K? It seems that maybe Lovelock’s gut is on a longer time scale than the modeler’s scenarios. Did Lovelock say when the approaching catastrophe
    will become a catastrophe?

    [Response:On timescales of tens of thousands of years, the released CO2 will be absorbed by dissolving rocks, so that’s a good thing. The clathrates and peats could release carbon, which would mostly affect climate as it accumulates as CO2. That could maybe double the climate impact from the human CO2, according to my model (for what that’s worth). ]

    Several climate stations in KY and TN show Jul-Aug warming trends for avg daily minimum temperatures. I’m on the side of approaching catastrophe.

    I hope you’re right about ozone. The stratosphere is getting colder with global warming of the troposphere, right? A colder stratosphere results in more ozone depletion, right? It’s a good thing freons were banned, but is having done that enough?

    [Response:There is some coupling like that, yes; I don’t remember in which direction it goes or how strong it is. Look, I’m not trying to poo-poo Lovelock’s gut. I would never do that. It was a very disquieting read. ]

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 13 Feb 2006 @ 6:18 PM

  24. Lovelock is worth listening to , but of course his ideas go back to people like Vernandsky and Winogradsky, who proposed concepts of nutrient cycling and showed how microorganisms can play dominant roles in these cycles (denitrification returns aqueous nitrate to nitrogen gas in the atmosphere, as described above). The robust nature of microorganisms means that even if a massive meteorite strike or volcanic event acidified the oceans, or if ocean anoxia set in, there would still be vast microbial activity in the oceans. Eventually, the oxygen-based photosynthetic system would recover (based on the fact that it always has.)

    It is interesting that atmosphere and ocean scientists were reportedly most interested in Gaia, while geologists tended to be much less forgiving, with biologists having a variety of viewpoints. At worst, Gaia was considered teleological (religious?), particularly among evolutionary biologists who saw no selective evolutionary ‘forces’ that could affect global-scale phenomena. Atmospheric scientists on the other hand were happy that they had reasonable explanations for the mysterious composition of our atmosphere.

    Today many once separate disciplines have been lumped together in the ‘Earth System Sciences’, which is a way of recognizing the many tight linkages between the hydrosphere, the biosphere, the geosphere and the atmosphere. These are all very complex systems and it seems that the ‘stong Gaian hypothesis’ is not accepted widely, but rather the view is that living systems can ‘buffer’ physical and chemical forces in many ways (as can non-living systems and effects). Perhaps the theory needs a new name; I would humbly propose “Pele Theory” after the somewhat destructive Hawaiian goddess of volcanos. Or would that be another deplorable example of how science and religion should remain as friends, not lovers?

    The danger to human society posed by global warming is far greater then the danger to life on Earth, which has survived far worse. If we reduce the total productivity of the biosphere within a hundred years when we already rely on 40% of that productivity, not including the one-time extraction of fossilized hydrocarbons, then it is hard to imagine the kind of life we can expect to live. An erratic climate, higher sea levels – all mean a reduction in food production for an ever-growing human population. A collapse into pre-industrial agrarian lifestyle, with even reduced ability to support large populations, etc., seems possible. Extinction rates would skyrocket as humans struggled to survive on any arable land they could find.

    Still, it seems that the technologies and knowledge exist to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels and the world could endure a limited amount of climate change (which it will have to anyway, apparently). The problem is the need to build trillions of dollars worth of renewable energy infrastructure (including new kinds of electrical grids, with power plants dedicated to storing and releasing intermittent energy feeds), while voluntarily halting use of fossil and nuclear fuels. Sustainable agriculture concepts will then be critical to growing food and other materials.

    The stumbling blocks seem to be economic and political – which is certainly better then fundamental physical barriers to change. I suspect that if the Earth had only inherited a third or so of its actual fossil resources, we would already be running everything with solar, wind, and water power, as well as with biofuels like ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen.

    Analysis of the economic and political situation is a tedious and unpleasant business for scientists who would rather work on renewable energy or climate science, and who are interested in seeing some positive change. So, try doing this yourself. Go to yahoo finance and find out who the major institutional holders are in fossil fuels (ExxonMobile, ChevronTexaco, etc.) and do the same for major media companies (TimeWarner, Viacom, etc.). Notice that the same investment banks are majority shareholders in these businesses. Now, ask why these investment banks are not investing in renewable energy technologies? My guess is that renewables are going to turn out to be far less profitable then fossil fuels, just on basic physical considerations. Investors in oil and energy have come to enjoy very high rates of return on their investments, and they are loathe to give that up. But then, this is all economics and politics, and I really haven’t a clue.

    Comment by Ike Solem — 13 Feb 2006 @ 6:29 PM

  25. 1, 19
    Anyone at NASA with primary sources? What I find is old but discouraging; there was also something in the latest AGU Abstracts (I emailed to the hosts here, the appropriate topic is closed)– that one saying even contemporary appearance of recovery may be due to a solar cycle, not an improvement locally).

    Below is from 2000, NASA (Google cache, can’t find an original) “… estimates that it will be several decades before an increase in the amount of total overhead ozone (called “total column ozone”) will be detectable.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 13 Feb 2006 @ 7:18 PM

  26. Lovelock had a short article summarizing his book in “The Independent” a few weeks ago; I think the main issue with his analysis is that he assumes we won’t respond on a scale sufficient to meet the challenge. Maybe he’s right on that – but there are at least some signs the US is finally starting to turn around on climate change…

    Comment by Arthur Smith — 13 Feb 2006 @ 7:36 PM

  27. I have read most of the book and must say that I am not surprised that he fears billions of people could die – when I look at summaries of the IPCC reports and the Millenium Report next to each other and also at scenarios for the loss of snow-fed river water once glaciers dry up, I, too, find it hard to see how the world would be likely to support at least two billion more people by 2050.

    What I cannot quite see is where Lovelock gets his optimism from that the Earth will stabilise after rapid warming to match the PETM and eventually recover its former health. He says that temperatures could rise as much as they did during the PETM, even though we have done a lot more harm to the planet’s regulatory systems and to the bisosphere than global warming did on its own 55 million years ago, but that there will be a stable system with life at the end of it. At least that sounds hopeful, although it would be nice to know which mechanisms he believes will stabilise the system eventually.

    There is one thing, however, which Lovelock keeps stressing but which I have not yet read about elsewhere: He emphasises that the sun is now considerably stronger than it was in the geological past. Obviously, the sun would have been much fainter billions of years ago, however he states that it is measurably stronger now than it was 55 million years ago. Is it generally accepted that the sun gets continuously warmer over those periods, or could it fluctuate and not matter too much unless you look hundreds of millions of years back? If so, does it mean that a similar carbon release to the PETM or even to the Permian extinction event would therefore lead to higher temperatures now, ie that equivalent CO2 concentrations in the past would have meant lower temperatures than now? This would make for an even bleaker forecast than one that only compares us to the very, very distant past – and it makes it even harder to understand how Lovelock thinks the earth could stabilise itself even in a worst-case scenario! Is he right (as regards the sun), or are other scientists less certain about this?

    [Response:I believe it warms steadily, from 25% lower intensity 4.5 billion years ago, so 55 myr is maybe 1% lower. That means it would have taken a higher CO2 concentration to keep the temperature warm. The silicate thermostat is what the process is called. Turn down the sun, the earth gets colder, weathering rates slow down, volcanic CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere until it warms back up). I think the science about the sun warming is pretty settled. Gravitational collapse as hydrogen converts to helium. ]

    Almuth Ernsting

    Comment by Almuth Ernsting — 13 Feb 2006 @ 7:40 PM

  28. There really are three steps here: climate change drives a change in economics that drive a change in politics. If you want disaster scenarios it’s the last term you should look at even if they are outside the scope of this blog. One possibility is that climate change will force large migrations, and that these migrations will lead to war, possibly involving WMD:s. (If you need a new country for your population any weapon that can depopulate another country is useful, and they are equally useful to get rid of massive floods of refugees).

    Another possibility is that people will be so scared/disgusted with technology that we will see luddites become a dominating force. Unfortunately it’s impossible to sustain the current population without technology so that too will lead to a massive dieoff. We shouldn’t assume that people will react to climate change in the most rational way, and this may seriously reduce the amount of change our civilization can handle.

    Comment by Thomas Palm — 13 Feb 2006 @ 7:46 PM

  29. Thanks for the “Revenge of Gaia” preview. I do like the holistic approach Lovelock takes, considering everything (to the best of his knowledge) — and how things are pretty much interrelated. GW is only one among many environmental (& other) problems harming us, but it’s got to rank there near the top. The social sciences also talk of the “superorganic” – human sociocultural system that is sort of analogous to an organism in some ways — societies can get “sick” (probably our situation today). And, of course, the human sociocultural-psychological system is also a part of “Gaia.” But if humans are like an incipient brain, then we must be asleep at the wheel.

    “Catastrophe” is a matter of definition, like genocide. What is genocide – the murder of 1 million? Certainly. What about 10,000? Or, 1,000? Isn’t 100 people a lot, as well, esp. if you knew all of them.

    If WHO estimates 160,000 per year are dying from GW now, is that eco-genocide? Shouldn’t we do a cumulative count – like the 6 or 10 million during the whole of the holocaust? And what about the others dying from all our other environmental harms — sometimes from the same actions – like buring fossil fuels, causing GW, local pollution, acid rain, etc.

    Assuming the numbers of deaths from GW per year will increase, how many would have died from GW by 2100? 2200? Would it be eco-genocide? And since some GHGs have long life-times, and the warming we’re causing now may trigger positive feedbacks & spiralling warming, then we may be causing this genocide right now…

    I think we don’t even need catastrophes beyond a slow marching, mid-projection warming to label our actions (GHG emissions) as eco-genocide. Beyond that, the higher-end disasters of GW amount to…super-genocide? I’m trying to think of a word. There isn’t one. This is a first in human history.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 13 Feb 2006 @ 7:55 PM

  30. RE #23:

    An acquaintance of mine attended a conference in late 2003-early 2004, put on and hosted by the US government for disaster-preparedness officials, sharing the military’s scenarios for just what you describe. The scenarios were generally Lovelockian.

    If the demographers are correct, the planet will have 3B more humans on it in 2050, and these mouths will require ~3.8M sq mi [1B ha] of land for food. Certainly Lomborgian entreaties to pay attention to these things are important, but climate is a component of our current agriculture and that needs to be paid attention to as well.



    Comment by Dano — 13 Feb 2006 @ 8:28 PM

  31. Dano, you usually cut to the chase and climate is THE essential component of our current and future agriculture. Lester Brown and few others track the world’s grain surplus and report their alarm to a public hardly aware of the source of their lettuce and strawberries.

    The Ogallala aquifer is already heavily mined and diminished snow pack in the Northern Plains this winter spells hardship for wheat farmers this coming season and perhaps further mining of the aquifer in seasons to come. Can anyone assure the ethanol and biodiesel advocates there will be adequate crop yield to feed our autos and beef/poultry industries to feed a growing population of +/- 3 billion people in the next two generations?

    Tipping points are best defined after they occur. The receding Arctic ice cap is measurable and given likely temperature amplification in the arctic and sub arctic (a recent topic of this web page) there is evidence we haven’t begun to feel the real impact of the abrupt climate change being documented by satellite images. Adapting to climate change impacts on US and world agricultural productivity is reaching a critical moment. Augmenting water resources for irrigation will take time and billions of dollars and international cooperation on scales that far exceed mitigation agreements.

    John McCormick

    Comment by John L. McCormick — 13 Feb 2006 @ 9:58 PM

  32. Regarding #1 on the status of stratospheric ozone and the various chlorinated and bromiated hydrocarbons that contribute to the destruction of stratospheric ozone over Antarctica during the austral spring, I consider the most up-to-date source of information to be NOAA’s Climate Modeling and Diagnostics Laboratory (now merged into the Earth Systems Research Laboratory). The lab’s annual reports provide a detailed discussion on measured trends in these gases (CFCs, HCFCs, Halons, etc). The chapter about ozone in the most recent report can be found at

    My quick read indicates that the total amount of “ozone depleting chlorine-equivalent compounds” in the atmosphere did peak in the last few years and has started to decline, with most of the decline so far attributed to reductions in the bromine-containing compounds (halons and especially methyl bromide). The original “Freons” — CFC-11 and CFC-12 — have just recently started to decline very slowly, but their replacements (in equipment such as auto airconditioners and refrigerators)– HCFC-22, HCFC-141b, HCFC-142b and HFC-134a are increasing at likely a fast enough rate to counterbalance those other declines. I remember hearing a presentation by the NOAA-CMDL lab director a few years ago which suggested that a noticable reduction in the size of the Antarctic stratospheric ozone hole would likely take another 75 years to emerge from the year-to-year noise, all other things being equal. WHY the methyl bromide concentrations have decreased so dramatically since 1999 is not entirely clear. Perhaps it will be discussed at this year’s ESRL annual review, scheduled for 26-27 April at their headquarters in Boulder, Colorado (USA).

    Comment by Chuck — 13 Feb 2006 @ 10:00 PM

  33. Thank you Chuck.

    Here’s one off the wall, courtesy of too much free time and an available browser this afternoon. It’s an alternative yet also dismal future.

    Anyone have anything on this? I can’t find any mention of it but this one web page I’m quoting from here:


    “Recently the astronomer Khabibullo Abdusamatov of the Pulkovo Astronomic Observatory in St. Petersburg declared that the Earth will experience a “mini Ice Age” in the middle of this century, caused by low solar activity. Temperatures will begin falling six or seven years from now, when global warming caused by increased solar activity in the 20th century reaches its peak. The coldest period will occur 15 to 20 years after a major solar output decline between 2035 and 2045, Abdusamatov said. This view is shared by the Belgian astronomer, Dirk Callebaut, who expects a “grand minimum” in the middle of this century, just like the Maunder Minimum (1650-1700), a period during which the Thames, the Seine and the Dutch canals were frozen in winter.”

    The writer of the above: “Hans Labohm, co-author of Man-Made Global Warming: Unravelling a Dogma, recently became an expert reviewer for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

    I’m going to see if the groundhog has a spare room …

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 13 Feb 2006 @ 10:41 PM

  34. David,

    Thanks so much for your comments about James Lovelock’s “Revenge of Gaia”. I did e-mail Real Climate at the time of “The Independent” article, suggesting this as a topic of disussion. I haven’t yet read the book, but will certainly do so. I am also glad you mention Lynn Margulis, who should have a lot more recognition for her contribution to Lovelock’s work. What intrigued me particularly was how James Lovelock’s theories stood with “ordinary” climate scientists, and what they made of his “holistic” approach to the Earth’s goeostasis. ( I don’t know if there is such a word as geostasis, but I am using it as a corollary of the human’s homeostatic systems). What I was particularly hoping to read that despite James Lovelock being an 89 year old scientific eccentric, that he was going to be taken seriously, as his credentials dictate, and I am so pleased to see this. I suspect that James would know that he doesn’t have long in this world, and that he has a particular obligation, in view of the obvious major concerns he has about human interference in the worlds geostatic systems, to make a final and fearful warning, like a Jeremiah, I suppose. However, I have to say, in the deafening silence of the media here in NZ in regard to his dire predictions, he might as well have farted in the breeze.

    Along with many of the people posting here, and I know Real Climate is trying so hard to keep to he science of the matter and we probably shouldn’t be posting here, I see an increasing agreement that there is something fundamentally and seriously wrong happening with humanity’s relationship to the planet which sustains us. From Jared Diamond and Ronald Wright, James Lovelock, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Sir David King, Colin Campbell (of “peak oil”), biologists, ecologists, climatologists like you, astronomers, Nobel Prize winners, the Club of Rome, James Hansen, and countless others, we can understand that there is fast approaching a concatenation of environmental circumstances related to overpopulation, oil and other mineral depletion, desertification, global warming, loss of species and habitat, deforestation, etc., that will, whether we like it or not, revolutionise our society worldwide. Whether this revolution will be an opportunity or a catastrophe is entirely up to us.

    Was it George Bush senior who said “The American way of life is not negotiable”?. But most of the developed and developing world now lives “an American way of life” and he was talking about politics, international disputes, economics. But he didn’t mention nature. Whilst, of course, he was talking nonsense in any case, when we think whether nature is going to negotiate our way of life, then he was talking lunacy. There is no negotiation with nature, nature will always win on its own terms, whether we understand or like them or not.

    Real Climate’s self-professed job is to present the science of anthropogenic climate change in an intellectually and factually consistent way, using reliable data to inform, to point out the limits of this data, to prognosticate, but not to predict or politicise. But the problem isn’t just climate change, though that in itself is bad enough, it’s that concatentation of problems I and others have mentioned. It is in other forums, especially the political one, where those who are most concerned are going to have to act, as their conscience dictates.

    In the meantime, Real Climate, thanks so much for the work you do. Your site is one of my most frequently visited, and whilst you don’t yourselves wish to get involved in politics, the fact is that the information you supply is so vital and urgent, it will be used by others who do wish to change the world, for the better. It will continue to be an invaluable part of their argument and their armament.

    Comment by John Monro — 13 Feb 2006 @ 11:11 PM

  35. So much good stuff & so little time !

    I have two notes to leave (I`ll restrict myself to them; lots more to comment on tho)

    1) Glacial Gaia

    There is some evidence that the cycle of glaciation has some connection to changes in the orbital dynamics of the earth, primarily the wobble of the rotational axis over a period of ~100Kyrs; we shouldn`t ignore this when dealing with cycles on these time scales

    2) Biosphere II

    As Hank Roberts (#3) notes, the Biospherians rushed to close & thereby “sealed” the fate of their experiment. I will note that one of the MAJOR reasons for their “problems” was that they failed to cure the concrete before they brought in the soil etc.

    Curing concrete requires HUGE amounts of oxygen and their recorded drops in oxygen levels closely match, I have been told, the amount of oxygen that would be absorbed by the concrete as it cured (which it continued to do, of course, after they “sealed”).

    Too bad the experiemnt won`t be rerun under more “adult” conditions !

    Thanks everyone

    “The only barrier to a successfully sustainable planet is ignorance.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

    Comment by daCascadian — 13 Feb 2006 @ 11:31 PM

  36. Re # 4: “The rapid increase in mountain glacier melt seems to be surprising scientists.” As a layman, I get the impression that global climate change is proceeding pretty much as climatologists expect, but various local and regional effects (glacier melt, permafrost melt, arctic ice melt, etc.) are still a surprise, at least in terms of speed and intensity. My question for the panel is: Is this a fair description of the reality of the situation? And if so, is it primarily due to (a) the fact that global temperature change is easier to predict than localized byproducts, (b) the statistical fact that if a lot of things change some of them are likely to be outliers, (c) psychological effects (i.e., “I know I predicted it, but it’s still surprising when I actually see it”), (d) all of the above, (e) none of the above, or what? If it’s only a result of sensational journalism, well, then, never mind.

    [Response:The ozone hole was a surprise, and there are inexplicable events documented in the past, abrupt and huge changes that we can’t explain. But so far, my impression is that climate change is proceeding pretty much according to predictions. David]

    Comment by S Molnar — 13 Feb 2006 @ 11:31 PM

  37. In case anyone is curious about the academic training of the aforementioned recently appointed expert reviewer for the UN IPCC, I offer the following biography.

    From the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Web page, Hans Labohm’s credentials:
    Advisor to the Executive Board
    Hans H.J. Labohm was born in 1941. He studied Economics and Economic History at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. After military service, he joined the Ministry of Defence and was posted at the Dutch Permanent Representation to NATO, Brussels. In 1971, he entered the Dutch Diplomatic Service and was posted at the Dutch Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1974, he returned to the Netherlands, where he held various functions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague. From 1978, he was Deputy Head of the Policy Planning Staff, being responsible for, among other things, long-term in-depth analysis and speech-writing. From 1987-1992 he was Deputy Permanent Representative of The Netherlands to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), and Standing Member of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD in Paris, France. In September 1992, he became Senior Visiting Research Fellow and Advisor to the Board at the Dutch Institute of International Relations, Clingendael, The Hague. Over the years, he has published many books, articles and papers, mainly in Dutch, but also in English, German and French, on a wide range of issues, primarily in the field of international economics and politics. He frequently gives lectures to (foreign) students at universities and other educational institutions in the Netherlands and abroad. He also conducts special seminars and workshops for business audiences.
    He is a regular contributor to various Dutch quality newspapers, such as Het Financieele Dagblad, NRC Handelsblad and De Volkskrant. Moreover, he is a regular commentator on radio and tv. He also publishes frequently on internet.

    John McCormick

    Comment by John L. McCormick — 13 Feb 2006 @ 11:38 PM

  38. Thank you John. If anyone knows more about his report of a Russian prediction that the sun will begin cooling off in the next few years, please, make a thread for it.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 14 Feb 2006 @ 2:18 AM

  39. Hank Roberts (38)>”…If anyone knows more about his report of a Russian prediction that the sun will begin cooling off in the next few years…”

    here is what I found through a short Google search :

    “Today, I was able to find the book “Multi-Wavelength Investigations of Solar Activity: Proceedings of the 223th [i.e. rd] Symposium of the International Astronomical Union Held in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 14-19, 2004,” edited by Alexander V. Stepanov, Elena E. Benevolenskaya and Alexander G Kosovichev. Pages 541-542 had the article “About the long-term coordinated variations of the activity, radius, total irradiance of the Sun and the Earthâ��s climate” by Habibullo I. Abdussamatov,1 Pulkovo Observatory, Saint Petersburg, Russia…”

    scroll down to February 10th here for several entries w/quite a bit of commentary

    “Proof depends on who you are. We’re looking for a preponderance of evidence, and some people need more of a preponderance than other people.” – John Kantner

    Comment by daCascadian — 14 Feb 2006 @ 4:08 AM

  40. I personally am unsure regarding the GAIA hypothosis as it seems to be suggesting that in some way the earth is “alive” as opposed to there being life on earth that is intrinsically linked to the planet thus appearing that the earth is “alive”. Our understanding of holistic/complex systems is limited at the present time as reductionist science has been our forte in the main. The climate and its effects on life due to it being purturbed by deforestation, destruction of habitat and fossil fuel burning is unknown at the present time, however I agree with most commentators that it is unlikely to be good and few peoples if any are likely to benefit.

    Comment by Pete Best — 14 Feb 2006 @ 5:30 AM

  41. Relating to 38 and 39, the following link: have all of the Solar flux graphs from 1954. I cannot see any correlation between solar flux and warm years, for example 1998 was hot, however the solar flux shown in the graphs was low, as were previous years (1997..96…). In any case a general global dimming has been measured due to pollution. I suspect a spoiler at work trying to create confusion regarding global warming.

    If anything, I feel that the official figures for warming seem to be so small? From my own observations and that of people I speak with, the warming seems to be much more than the published figures. For example, I own a property just south of Canberra (Australia). To the east of my property is a hill called Mount Campbell (1180 meters), the original owners of the land have said that before 20 years ago the Hill was snow covered for much of the winter. Now however, you are lucky to see snow on it for half a day per winter. This is exactly the same sort of thing I hear from many locals. For example Nimmitabel (150 km south) hardly gets any snow, when it used to be common. The Bridabella snow line seems to be going up about 100 meters a year!
    Is the raw data being massaged to severely, that is, removing high data? The maximum temperatures seems to be now occuring later in the day, often after the “offical” maximum temperature time (15:00 est). We do not seem to get Cold fronts moving through here any more, we just get these wimpy throughs, as thay are called. There was a time we did not need air-conditioning in Canberra! We at least used to get relief from the summer heat at night, not any more!

    Comment by Lawrence McLean — 14 Feb 2006 @ 9:05 AM

  42. Hank Roberts And Dacascadian “…If anyone knows more about his report of a Russian prediction that the sun will begin cooling off in the next few years…”

    Ditto that, I can’t find anything substantive, given the take of TCSDaily I am immediately in ‘this is trash’ mode as my former scepticism about GW was based on such trash.

    The nearest I can find to something substantive is Rob’s summary on the UNSpace Blog: “To summarize the paper, Dr. Abdussamatov is stating: The “main cause of climate change” is change in the solar output. (p 541) The solar output varies with cycles of 11, 80, and 200 years. (p. 541) The current global warming is due to a recent increase in solar output. (pp. 541, 542) The current global warming is normal. (pp. 541, 542)”

    And finally we get to the meat of it. “The current global warming will end “in the nearest future” (p. 542)” I’d like to know the reasoning behind this statement, although given the above statements my ‘trashometer’ is still bleeping away.

    WRT Lovelock, interesting book, I got a copy the weekend prior to it’s UK release date. Read it in 1 day, not a heavy read. Disagree with the ‘few remaining breeding pairs’ stuff, but he has some interesting points. Civilisation doomed? Possibly, OK all things considered (not just Global Ave Temp) we’re probably in a nose dive. But a ‘Maunder Minimum’ until we hit the tail end of peak oil would be propitious. A Thing like that could even make suspect there’s a God after all. ;)

    Comment by Chris Reed — 14 Feb 2006 @ 9:21 AM

  43. re 36.

    Excerpt: Snows Of Kilimanjaro Disappearing Glacial Ice Loss Increasing

    “In 2002, Thompson and his colleagues shocked the scientific community with their prediction that the ice fields capping the mountain would disappear between 2015 and 2020, the victims, at least in part, of global warming. Returning to his campus office last week, he admits that nothing has happened to alter that prediction.

    In fact, the mountain’s ice fields may disappear sooner.”

    Feb 13, 2006

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 14 Feb 2006 @ 9:54 AM

  44. I guess I am a bit late to comment on this thread. I feel that Lovelock never (or at least in the beginning when he proposed it) argued the “Strong” Gaia hypothesis. As I understood it, the self regulation was a result of the numerous feedback mechanisms among living systems on the planet. He also demonstrated this using the “daisyworld” models where no “self-regulation” is explicitly programed into the equations but emerges as a result of the feedback. So the self regulation could be called an “emergent property” of a living system.

    Am I wrong to understand it in this way? I feel the strong “Gaia” hypothesis has been used by opponents of Gaia to undermine the hypothesis as a whole (strong and weak).

    [Response:It’s all very slippery. Lovelock often writes that Gaia as a self-aware entity is just a metaphor, but on the other hand, the conclusions I cited, about methane hydrogen balloons to the stratosphere and urine as plant fertilizer, are his not mine. David. ]

    Comment by Sameer Marathe — 14 Feb 2006 @ 10:37 AM

  45. Re 37:

    Labohm entitles himself as an expert reviewer. As far as I know he ‘reviews’ the IPCC only from the outside. Over here in the Netherlands he is known as a person criticizing ‘global warming’ by all means.

    Comment by Henk Lankamp — 14 Feb 2006 @ 11:45 AM

  46. > slippery
    Don’t go there, you won’t slip. Look at the math, always look at the math, when someone’s English is subject to misinterpretation. Especially in this area of climate

    Search “daisyworld” — here’s one discussion; math at the site:

    “… coming from a reductionistic Darwinian paradigm, he is reluctant to accept a teleological perspective. Yet ironically, many have criticised his hypothesis on precisely these grounds.

    “In response to the accusation of teleology, Lovelock introduced in his book The Ages of Gaia, the metaphor of “Daisyworld,” a “drastic simplification” of the Gaia hypothesis….”

    If we don’t make the math our keystone, we end up with the religious-based argument that word “theory” should be inserted after all mentions of the Big Bang or evolution, and the word “model” should be inserted after every mention of “ocean” or “ice” or “atmosphere” or “temperature” when they used by any of the climate modelers discussing their modeled results. People aren’t that precise with English.

    People use English, scientists use math, we come here to get people who understand the math to try to explain in English (grin). I know it’s not easy. I believe it’s vital not to accept vagueness and poetry by interpreters when the original author was trying very hard to write science. Don’t listen to their words alone, check the math. Tell me if it’s right — I need your help for that.

    None of this is arguing against what I take your intended point to be — that Lovelock’s latest book is not intended to be science. I’ll take your word for it that he has no mathematics and no published science to support the conclusion you report, that the global climate is going to go out of bounds and we should expect a failure of the climate system, a major excursion — on the order of those in the past that took tens of thousands of years for recovery.

    People have been saying for quite a while that humanity’s impact was equivalent to a major asteroid strike, as far as consequences. I don’t know of anyone questioning that.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 14 Feb 2006 @ 12:12 PM

  47. I have read “Revenge of Gaia” and found the book very disapointing. Lovelock seems to have no appreciation of the interconnectedness of problems like globals warming, peak oil, food production, reduction in wild caught foods, forest destruction, capital investment, etc.

    The worst bits are his attacks on “Environmentalists” and the energy sources part. He is very much against wind, and very much for nuclear fission. Even with a crash program fission could not supply enough electricity to make a dent in CO2 production for 20 years. Wind can actually be deployed much faster, and probably much cheaper as well. His objections seem to be mainly aesthetic, although he does introduce some other invalid objections. How can anyone say the problem is urgent then propose a solution that can’t take effect for 20 years?

    He dismisses the Uranium supply problem by:
    “Another flawed idea now circulating is that the world supply of Uranium is so small that its use for energy would last only a few years. It is true that if the world chose to use Uranium as its sole fuel, supplies of easily mined Uranium would soon be exhausted. But there is a superabundance of log-grade uranium ore: most granite, for example, contains enough Uranium to make its fuel capacity five times that of an equal mass of coal.”

    There are two flaws in this, most of the uranium is not “burnt” in conventional (slow) reactors (only 3-4%) so the energy available is much less. Secondly, the granite would take more energy to mine and process than the energy it contains, even if all the uranium were “burnt”.

    Finally he does not seem to appreciate that 2/3 of energy usage is not electricity. Without solving transport generation of CO2 the levels will not come down.

    Jared Diamond’s “Colapse – why civilizations choose to fail” is much better. The question is will our civilization choose to fail.

    Comment by Mike Atkinson — 14 Feb 2006 @ 1:27 PM

  48. re 41.


    I think the global temperature averaging by NASA and NOAA NCDC is good.
    I think the reason we’re seeing more rapid snow and ice melting and warmer overnight conditions is due to higher humidity. Melting rates are enhanced by condensation on ice and snow. Higher humidity makes us feel warmer and slows atmospheric cooling at night.

    In plotting average minimum daily temperatures for the two warmest months in the U.S. using climate station data (1895-2005), I found that Jul-Aug of 2005 average daily min temps were the warmest of record at 1-3 stations in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Florida.

    Energy use for air-conditioning is bound to go up drastically, Canberra, the U.S. and elsewhere. People will not tolerate hot humid nights without air conditions if they can help it. I think your observation that maximum temperatures seems to be now occurring later in the day seems reasonable for a more humid atmosphere. I suspect part of the reason for delayed winter cold and earlier spring thaws is also related to a more humid atmosphere.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 14 Feb 2006 @ 6:13 PM

  49. I’ve been lurking on RealClimate for a while now, content to soak up the debate, but since you’ve mentioned Jim Lovelock I’ve been inspired to break cover. I have every admiration for Lovelock’s insight into planetary systems, but when he talks about my area of expertise, wind power, he borders on the irrational, talking about hundreds of thousands of turbines needing to be installed in the UK alone (when 4,000 will provide about 10% of Britain’s power). Consequently, I find my judgement of his ‘Revenge of Gaia’ conclusions coloured by his inability to see beyond the local (he is an admitted anti-wind NIMBY: see ) despite his planetary-scale vision.

    [Response:He has some strong things to say about nuclear energy as well. He’s not a man for wimpy opinions. David]

    Comment by Gordon Edge — 14 Feb 2006 @ 7:15 PM

  50. Hello Gordon,

    In regard to figures of wind power etc. Certainly Lovelock has gained some notoriety in regard to his new enthusiasm for nuclear power. But there are indeed major issues in regard to obtaining enough uranium to power them. Recently George Bush in his State of the Nation address is pushing for a new nuclear programme involving the use of plutonium, and the Union of Concerned Scientists has already put out a statement highly critical of this. In regard to wind. It depends what you’re looking at. If this is purely for electricity generation then the UK’s power output in one year is about 350 TWh. One three megawatt wind generator will, if one is really generous at about 30% usage efficiency, provide about 9 GWh power p.a Thus to power the UK’s total electricity output with wind would need 39,000 three megawatt wind generators. (which is similar to your figure) But of course electricity is only part of the energy equation. Much fossil fuel is used in transport and industry and domestic heating (80% of the latter) . Electricity generation is only about 17% of total energy consumption in the UK, so crudely (because I have difficulty accessing reliable figures in regard to total energy usage) to provide the UK’s total energy needs by windpower for instance would require six times 39,000, or 234,000 three megawatt wind generators. In other words, James Lovelock is correct, it is a truly daunting (? impossible) task to replace the UK’s current energy needs with renewable energy resources – certainly wind, and the last time I was in the UK, there wasn’t a great deal of sunshine!

    [Response: 39,000 wind mills sounds a lot to a lay person – but Germany currently has 17,500, most of them built within the past 10 years. At peak time, more than 2,000 were installed per year. The potential to supply Europe completely with renewable electricity (including hourly-resolved wind fluctuations, and costs of the required infrastructure) has been analysed in detail in this paper. Their conclusion is that it is completely feasible, if you position your power stations at the best wind and solar sites around Europe and build a trans-European grid to distribute the electricity. -stefan]

    [p.s. In the 19th Century Germany had over 40,000 wind mills.]

    Comment by John Monro — 14 Feb 2006 @ 10:21 PM

  51. I was disappointed as heck to find environmentalists faulting wind turbines because they kill birds. I’m as fond of birds as the next citizen, but all energy sources have some environmental impact, and wind is a lot cleaner than fossil fuels and a lot less dangerous than nuclear. Most people are very properly not willing to give up modern technology in order to preserve the environment. I consider myself an environmentalist, but I’m not a raving nutbar about it.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 15 Feb 2006 @ 10:31 AM

  52. Re #51 [BPL]:

    I agree, Barton, but perhaps this is a case of ‘we can do better’ rather than ‘this is good enough’.



    Comment by Dano — 15 Feb 2006 @ 2:00 PM

  53. Re #51:

    The issue wasn’t first raised by “environmentalists” but rather biologists who study raptors. I first learned of the problems at the Altamont Wind Farm from the retired ex-head of all USF&W National Wildlife Refuges in California and Nevada, for instance. By then USFWS biologists had dubbed the turbines used there as “raptor blenders”.

    If all windfarm installations were as deadly to raptors as Altamont, the impact would be very large.

    The dispute heated up in part because of the attitude of wind power supporters who seemed to feel that their favorite technology should be above criticism. As an early wind power supporter myself, as well as a conservationist working to preserve our nation’s biological heritage, I found that attitude most annoying. They fought, for instance, against raptor surveys at potential wind farm sites back in the 1980s.

    However, things have come around. We know that damage to foraging and migrating raptors can be minimized by a combination of careful siting, by changes in design (the older turbines at Alamont were supported by derrick-style towers, which provide convenient perches for species like red-tailed hawks that perch-hunt, a really bad idea), by manipulating the operating schedule, etc. The wind power industry, much to their credit, now accepts the need for pre-siting bird surveys and for monitoring after a wind farm is installed. The more we learn, the better we can do to have our cake and eat it too.

    Interesting to see biologists and conservationists who are concerned with impacts on raptor populations being called “raving nutbars”. We were called the same when DDT was banned…

    Comment by Don Baccus — 15 Feb 2006 @ 2:44 PM

  54. Are You an Optimist, a Pessimist, or a Realist?
    Someone responded to Stu’s recent blog with the following quote. The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist thinks it will change; the realist adjusts the sails. — William Arthur Ward I think it’s a great quote, and it got…

    Trackback by weblog — 15 Feb 2006 @ 3:53 PM

  55. Okay, Dano, you have a point, certainly. Let’s erect iron cages around the turbines or something to protect the birds. But I fear some really do want to eliminate human use of energy on a modern scale. Not most, I know.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 15 Feb 2006 @ 3:59 PM

  56. I need someone to explain to me how the mountain glaciers are melting. The Ohio State paper goes into excellent detail on what is going on at Kilimanjaro but does not explain the mechanism. It seems to me that it is a stretch to say that a small, seasonal temperature change, even over a long time, would cause all of that. And Pat Michaels claims that there is no record of a temperature increase in that specific area.
    I personally went to Alaska and saw a Kenai glacier where signs indicated its annual reach for several centuries of withdrawal well before “global warming” started. Then I went to Glacier Bay and saw a dramatic ice calving that many say had to be another manisfestation of global warming. However, only about 30 miles away we went ashore to see another glacier that was actually growing! The naturalist on the tour (a grad student in glacier study) said that glacier variability is due more to precipitation changes rather than to temperature. I have seen this explanation confirmed in papers on both the Antarctic land mass and on interior Greenland glaciers(yet Greenland is supposedly warming).

    Granted that global warming could change precipitation cycles; so could many other things. Yet glacier melt is cited everywhere as evidence of GW. Would someone please explain these contradictory observations and offer a mechanism? Thanks.

    Comment by TopsyT — 15 Feb 2006 @ 4:25 PM

  57. RE: #53:

    Yessir, and some Wiccans want to have sylvan druid theocracies too, but they are outliers and do we give them prominence in our political rhetoric?

    The ‘they wish to return us to the days of Neandertals with spears’ is a classic constructed narrative – I’ve never met anyone who wants to return us to horse and buggy days, nor have I met anyone who knows these people, nor do I know anyone who knows of someone who has heard of someone that has an acquaintance who knows…

    I think the point is reducing our impact on ecosystems, as ecosystems are the source of our economies and our life support; if we can rationally reduce our impact, lets. Reducing the cuisinartization of our energy sources is a good thing in the long run, as tweety birds eat bugs that eat our food and eat bugs that give us West Nile virus. Pointing out the externalities might create a market demand. I can’t look up the arty right now, but I recall a professor at Berkeley who recently was up in the Altamont Pass studying how a little noisemaker he put on the end of a blade scared away birds, reducing mortality. Now here is a market opportunity waiting to happen.



    Comment by Dano — 15 Feb 2006 @ 5:53 PM

  58. Humidity, condensation increase melting (48.), and more rainfall vs snowfall.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 15 Feb 2006 @ 5:58 PM

  59. The number of bird deaths from wind turbines is a very small percent of the number of bird deaths caused by house cats, or collisions with automobiles, or collisions with buildings, or high-tension wires, or pesticides, or numerous other human causes, and would likely remain so even with a massive expansion of wind power generation. In addition, unrestrained anthropogenic global warming and consequent climate change would themselves likely lead to large numbers of bird deaths, and indeed the extinction of entire species of birds.

    And the already low bird mortality from wind turbines can be further reduced by appropriate design measures, such as taller towers, slower moving blades, noisemakers, and avoiding critical bird habitat or migration sites. The owners of the wind farm in Altamont Pass that has killed a large number of birds (including protected species) are being sued for refusing to implement fairly simple and relatively inexpensive mitigation measures.

    I am an animal rights activist and insistent that everything possible be done to reduce bird mortality from wind turbines to an absolute minimum, but having said that, the issue of bird deaths from wind turbines is greatly exaggerated by some people who, for whatever reason, like to raise objections to wind power. Many, many more birds will be killed by a “business as usual” approach to electricity generation than would be by a rapid and large scale conversion from coal, natural gas and nuclear electricity generation to wind and photovoltaic generated electricity.

    Comment by Doug Percival — 15 Feb 2006 @ 6:33 PM

  60. Interglacials as fevers? When in point of fact, the larger glacials in which they reside may be unprecedented against the backdrop of Earth History? Does your admission of affinity for Gaia suggest a bias?

    If an interglacial is a fever, than I must say I am proud to be part of the infection.

    Comment by Steve Sadlov — 15 Feb 2006 @ 11:39 PM

  61. To Stephan

    Thanks for your comment about renewable power generation and for your reference, which I will read more thoroughly later. I have seen a somewhat similar paper , advocating combined desalination and solar generation plants in North Africa with transmission to Europe, which would allow up to 60% renewable electricity generation in Europe. I have on my own web site a proposal for an entirely renewable electricity generation for New Zealand. With our hydro and geothermal recources, we used to have over 80% renewable, but with increasing economic activity, and particular a fast growing population, partly related to high immigration levels, this is now down to about 60-65% . Wind power, energy efficiency and solar hot water and passive solar heating can easily though fill the balance. In regard to electricity generation I am sure renewable resources are feasible. However it is when you consider the fact that electricity generation is only about 1/5th of total energy needs, in particular the amount of fossil fuels used for transport, in industry and agriculture etc., that one starts to see the sheer scale of the difficulties, and although I haven’t read James Lovelock’s book yet, I imagine this is what he is talking about. You will, if you read my article, see that I think even this is feasible for NZ, with our relatively low population, (4 million on an island the size of the UK) but when you consider the highly populated areas of Europe one has to wonder how this could be done. Whilst we will have to deal with this matter, oil depletion will mean this, and whether global warming is taken seriously or not, it will require a revolutionary change in industry, commerce and investment, and in political and social will, to do this – our present institutions are, I believe, entirely unable to cope. I say somewhere on my internet site, I forget where now, that to overcome the twin problems of oil depletion and global warming (and other ecological problems) will require an international investment of effort and money to the same order of magnitude as was required by the allies to fight the Second World War. It could be done, but will it?

    Comment by John Monro — 16 Feb 2006 @ 2:09 AM

  62. Re Steve Sadlov, 60:

    ‘Interglacials as fevers’ is obviously a human perspecctive; Earth has
    been in one glacial or another for most of humanity’s existance. I
    suspect most dinosaurs from the late Cretaceous would find Earth of today
    inhospitably cold, except in the tropics.

    However, the Cenozoic glacial cycles, the most recent series of
    glaciations, are *not* unprecedented; there were probably 3 or 4
    previous major glacial periods; see for example the wikipedia ice age
    article: , or, which gives
    an overview, and references at the bottom.

    Comment by llewelly — 16 Feb 2006 @ 2:35 AM

  63. Re 59 and wind turbine debate:

    James Lovelock has a nightmare vision in which the remaining intact ecosystems of the world are sacrificed to make way for industrial-size wind farms and bio-fuel fields. This could wipe out biodiversity and key ecosystems (including rain forests and peat swamps) as certainly as global warming and with dramatic consequences for CO2 emissions from drained peat and deforestation. The fact that biofueld production is becoming a major cause of tropical peat drainage in south-east Asia and of deforestation there and in the Amazon shows that we cannot dismiss Lovelock’s fear. In Scotland, the largest onshore windfarm proposed (I think it might be the largest onshore windfarm in Europe – on West Lewis Peatland)would be built on a rare peat bog, an area with strong habitat and wildlife protection, and would destroy the main remaining breeding grounds for several endangered bird species. Building it would set a precedent to open up highly protected nature reserves to development if required for electricity production and it could push bird species into regional extinction.

    Unlike Lovelock, I do not believe that a renewable energy revolution and a strong and growing wind energy sector have to lead to this nightmare scenario. I believe that a good national strategy, careful siting, incorporation into urban designs and agricultural land, and good environmental impact assessments could ensure that renewable energies (particularly wind) can reduce our impact on the planet. Birdlife International ( have done a lot of work on this. They warn of potential bird deaths (and warn that the sea eagle population of Norway may be endangered by a badly sited off-shore windfarm), but they also advocate such a strategy to massively expand wind energy. I think we should keep Lovelock’s worst-case vision in mind and look carefully at proposals by organisations like Birdlife International on how to expand renewables and make sure it does not come true.

    Almuth Ernsting

    Comment by Almuth Ernsting — 16 Feb 2006 @ 5:08 AM

  64. Re #53 and “Yessir, and some Wiccans want to have sylvan druid theocracies too, but they are outliers and do we give them prominence in our political rhetoric?
    The ‘they wish to return us to the days of Neandertals with spears’ is a classic constructed narrative – I’ve never met anyone who wants to return us to horse and buggy days, nor have I met anyone who knows these people, nor do I know anyone who knows of someone who has heard of someone that has an acquaintance who knows…”

    For your information, pal, I am someone who knows such people and has read their work. It isn’t something I’m making up or lying about, and I resent the insinuation that I’m merely repeating a stereotype. Just because YOU haven’t run into such people doesn’t mean I haven’t.
    They’re real, as the victims of the Unabomber found out. I never said they represented even a sizeable minority of environmentalists, and I don’t like the implication that I’m talking about a nonexistent problem. Back off.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 16 Feb 2006 @ 10:24 AM

  65. “I think he’s basically trying to put the frighteners on, and make people realise there’s a problem. ”

    But if that’s what he’s trying to do, he goes too far. If Lovelock is right, there’s nothing we can do; we’re simply all going to die soon. We might as well emit all the greenhouse gases we want and have a good time waiting for the end of the world–or maybe keep our plans to move to the South Pole secret so we end up as one of the few who live!

    To actually get people to take corrective action, you have to get them to walk a tightrope between complacency and despair. If you think the catastrophe is avoidable, you have to convince them that it’s avoidable and that they have to do something to avoid it. If you convince them of certain doom, that provokes a different reaction, one of either suicidal despair or survivalist lifeboat-ism: to hell with you, Jack, I’m going to be king after the Great Crash.

    Comment by Matt McIrvin — 16 Feb 2006 @ 11:08 AM

  66. > survivalist lifeboatism … king after the Great Crash

    Perhaps it’s only a coincidence:

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 16 Feb 2006 @ 12:42 PM

  67. Re #59: The number of bird deaths from wind turbines is a very small percent of the number of bird deaths caused by house cats …

    House cats don’t kill many eagles or hawks. I’ve seen this cut-and-paste snippet from a pro-wind power site before, and while they do provide a bunch of good information, the “wind turbines don’t kill as many birds as cats or pesticides” line makes me cringe.

    DDT didn’t kill a particularly high number of birds, you know? However those species that DID suffer from eggshell thinning, species like peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and osprey nearly became extinct in the lower 48. The fact that species with large populations like the house sparrow weren’t affected is of little consequence …

    I really wish the website you poached that bit from would remove it and stick to the more positive things they have to say regarding the importance of siting and turbine design …

    Comment by Don Baccus — 16 Feb 2006 @ 1:44 PM

  68. RE #64 [BPL]:

    Ahem. Apologies. I didn’t mean for that to come off that way. I’ve asked my editor to pay closer attention to my metaphors.

    But my point is that, for purposes of marginalization, we commonly see conflation/assignation of fringe thought to mainstream thought, esp. wrt environmental groups [and political leanings but I’ll leave that off here]. The issue is not whether fringe thought exists or does not exist or in what quantity (which I screwed up in my metaphor), but that it is used to tar a different group with the same brush.



    Comment by Dano — 16 Feb 2006 @ 5:06 PM

  69. Re #67: Don is correct that house cats don’t kill raptors. However, the other things that Doug referred to in #59 do, and in larger numbers than well sited wind turbines – for instance I remember reading that one of the key causes of mortality of owls is overhead power lines (read some years ago, I’m afraid I don’t have a source). We in the wind industry like the cats line because it can personalise the issue for people, giving them a means to measure impacts alongside the points about cars, buildings and power lines. It provides a means to move people from ‘wind turbines kill birds and are therefore bad’ to ‘many things kill birds and in the scheme of things wind turbines are relatively benign’.

    With regard to the wider issue of wind farm siting, the industry is excruciatingly aware of the need to site in minimal impact areas. Since the early experiences at Altamont and Tarifa, we know that if even a tiny handful of raptors are killed we will be as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. Where there is some doubt about the ability of a wind development to coexist with wildlife with acceptable impact, then planning systems are there to judge, as will be happening with the Lewis project cited by Almuth in #63 – I expect there to be a very thorough public enquiry before a decision is made about that.

    Comment by Gordon Edge — 16 Feb 2006 @ 6:25 PM

  70. Re #69: The cats line is ridiculous. [rhetoric removed – moderator]

    When I first saw that line, I must admit I almost didn’t bother reading the rest of the pro-windpower site that used it because I figured “if they’re this dishonest on page one, they’re probably equally dishonest elsewhere”. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the site wasn’t entirely full of dishonestly misleading statements of that sort, but you nearly lost me. It certainly encourages me to examine any information provided me by windpower spokespersons extremely closely and critically.

    The quality’s right up there with’s “debunking” of AGW.

    So Altamont taught you that “even a handful of raptors killed will be as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit”? Why? Altamont has killed far more than “a handful”. Altamont taught industry that killing large numbers of raptors is unacceptable, not handfuls.

    Your attitude, which seems to be that your industry’s being forced to improve siting and turbine design because of a bunch of unreasonable conservationists and biologists, that you wave off with ad hominem attacks, is kinda unhelpful.

    Raptor biologists and biology-minded conservationists have worked with the windpower industry to help determine why poorly designed and poorly sited projects kill raptors. Improvements in both areas have been the result. After, of course, the requisite bitching and moaning by the industry, and the labelling of those who’ve brought forward concerns as being (among other things) “anti-environmental”. I had to admit I was thoroughly amused when my organization, one of the largest conservation organizations in Oregon, was so labelled by windpower representatives a few years ago.

    [Response: I would urge the participants commenting here to please not get personal and stick to the issues. Light not heat should be the watchwords. – gavin]

    Comment by Don Baccus — 16 Feb 2006 @ 10:45 PM

  71. Wind power obviously has great advantages over nuclear, it is a lot cleaner, however, why is no-one mentioning the cleanest energy supplies, Geothermal (where cold water flows into the earth and comes back up hot and turns turbines in a never ending cycle. Similarly with tidal power. There is no fluctuation in the temperature of the earth or with the flow of the tides. Hence no “volitility” in the supply. Wind is dependent on when the wind decides to blow… and it doesn’t always, supply becomes slightly more “volitile” (or erratic – not dependable). Energy supply MUST be dependable AND devoild of volitility, as well as sustainable and free of harm to the inhabitants of our planet.

    Wind power generation comes a very low third in the scheme of clean, sustainable, safe (for animals), energy production. And solar is tainted with the same brush as wind… the energy and metal/plastics/raw compenents required to produce the cells, batteries and wind towers BEFORE any energy output is achieved, leaves these two options in the dark in comparison to geo-thermal or tidal energy production.
    As far as nuclear power goes, well let’s just not even think about going there.


    Comment by bgloa — 17 Feb 2006 @ 1:00 AM

  72. “Energy supply MUST be dependable AND devoild of volitility, as well as sustainable and free of harm to the inhabitants of our planet.”

    Which doesn’t preclude wind and solar from being a significant PART of said energy supply, despite its intermittent nature.

    Comment by Roger Smith — 17 Feb 2006 @ 2:52 PM

  73. Re 65:
    Matt suggests that Lovelock is frightening people and giving the impression that it is not worth doing anything because most of us are going to die anyway. Some of the press coverage certainly was along those lines. However, the book states many times how absolutely crucial it is that we do our utmost to reduce emissions and that this would lead to less warming less quickly. He also states that he would expect life to bounce back as it did after catastrophic events in the distant past. Indeed, his suggestion that 500 ppm of CO2 would commit us to the irreversible melting of Greenland sounds rather optimistic compared to James Hansen’s announcement.

    But I agree that some of the press coverage (as opposed to the book) was completely fatalistic and might not inspire people to cut back on emissions.

    Almuth Ernsting

    Comment by Almuth Ernsting — 17 Feb 2006 @ 3:15 PM

  74. I actually have to give a presentation on climate change to my Union next month and this wonderful website is making me quite nervous, especially in light of Lovelock’s predictions…

    One thing that has not been mentioned yet (and I have not read the book yet either) is Lovelock’s ability to step outside the overwhelming and very human myopia of seeing our own lives and our own cultures as the alpha and omega of the terrean biosystem. If we pollute our own bed than we will have to lie in it. And it does seem polluted.

    Geothermal, wind, and even nuclear power shifts may not be enough to continue our upward spiral to Aynrandian utopia, but life will continue on the planet. Or is there some doubt about this?

    As far as humanity goes…what can we do to best weather the coming changes and how can we deal with the effects of this …contamination …of our biosphere that will outlive us all anyways.

    At least Lovelock is trying to start that debate.

    I don’t know what to say to my Union brothers and sisters. I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, but after decades of work trying to convince Americans to look beyond their own selfish interests (and of trying to walk my talk in my own life too), I kind of feel that it may be too late to ignore the obvious…and nature is now up to bat (even more fearsome than the Damon/Ramirez/Ortiz trio I am afraid.)

    Whose team is she on?

    Comment by G. Sotir — 17 Feb 2006 @ 4:36 PM

  75. Glaciers wax and wane — I just finished reviewing what I needed regarding glaciology, for a climate related project. Here goes a quick summary. Snow turns to ice, increasing a glacier above the “snow line”, above which the snowline survives the winter. Increasing (local) temperature raises the snow line, but more important is the snowfall. Raising the local temperature may increase the snowfall.

    The glacier ice moves downslope under its own weight. Below the snowline it begins to melt. The melting is often neglictable until near the terminus. Sometimes the melt water runs under the glacier and lubricates it so that it moves faster. This depends, in part, on the summer temperatures.

    So a surging glacier may or may not be shrinking. Determining whether it is appears to require extensive instrumentation.

    I hope this brief summary is helpful. I am reminded of a quotation attibuted to
    J.Pierpont Morgan when asked what the stockmarket would do. “It will fluctuate,” was the response.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 17 Feb 2006 @ 11:04 PM

  76. RE: # 75. Essentially, what you have correctly described is the confluence of snowfall and gravity. I was “classicially trained” regarding glaciers in a few courses I took way back in the stone age. I read through some of the above and was shocked to find “climate scientists” arguing that a surge meant a melt. I suppose in rare cases it’s possible, but historically most surges came after a series of high snowfall years. And certainly the combination of high snowfall years and colder than average conditions helped even more. Read the accounts of glacier surges in Iceland during the LIA. Telling.

    [Response: Some surges are associated with basal melting and thinning of the glacier (i.e. most of what is being reported in Science today (Rignot et al)). Though you do also get surges after high accumulations in previous years (such as in Norway after the high NAO period in the 1990s). When you have a surge (faster moving ice) and a retreat of the calving front you have serious melt going on. – gavin]

    Comment by Steve Sadlov — 17 Feb 2006 @ 11:33 PM

  77. I have begun investigating the climate change issue as it relates to business and found this site. The global mechanism is beyond our direct control because of scale and the 200 or so governments around the world. I am of the opinion that by the time the scientists come up with a conclusion (scientifically measured) the correction, whatever it will be, will be happening. We (humans) do enough to reduce population (war and disease and Darfur) such that the correction, unless it is the true end of a climate epoch, will only be one of the problems that lesser developed countries struggle with. It will only be different in that the developed countries will be involed.

    Comment by james — 18 Feb 2006 @ 11:30 AM

  78. Belatedly, on Biosphere 2’s problems — carbon dioxide is absorbed when concrete is in the process of curing — they had a lot of new concrete and it was taking up CO2; before they caught that problem the CO2 levels were too low for a while. Later, the deeply buried excess topsoil as it began dying off bumped the carbon dioxide level, faster, up.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Feb 2006 @ 1:35 AM

  79. oops.
    This URL is being broken by the editor here — it’s removing backslashes from 2 places
    to fix the URL, put a single backslash between these letters: _22_and_ym_

    Looks like this:
    hypothesis was that microbes were using oxygen to metabolize the excess organic matter … if microbes were responsible for the observed drop in oxygen, the CO2should have reached 40,000 ppm or more….
    With every plausible theory dashed on the rocks of experimentation, … he said, ‘What about the concrete? Maybe the concrete is absorbing the CO2’ Sure enough, we took cores of concrete, analyzed them, and found that they were very rich in calcium carbonate, about ten times richer in calcium carbonate than concrete from outside the structure.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Feb 2006 @ 2:55 AM

  80. Re #79 Hank Roberts >”…put a single backslash between these letters: _22_and_ym_…”

    There is no such place in the string you posted “DOC=vc22mymy2_biosphere.html”

    I keep getting “No document” messages no matter where I put the slash

    Place quotes around the URL to get around the broken editor behavior

    “…You either wear the tinfoil shiny-side-out, or shiny-side-in…” –

    Comment by daCascadian — 19 Feb 2006 @ 4:11 AM

  81. #75#76- The snowline is not a fixed feature it shifts daily seasonally and annually. Yes above it the glacier is covered with snow. At the end of the summer season the snowline-annual equilibrium line does have importance. Warmer temperatures can cause an increase in snowfall, but in Western North America and particularly the North Cascades, Washington what is notable is that despite an increase in winter precipitation, April 1 snowpack is down considerably, 25% in the last 50 years in the North Cascades. Warming also increases winter melt and winter rain events. Surging is seldom directly related to a particular climate shift.

    Surging is more typically related to a tipping bucket mechanism. Where the glacier must thicken to a certain point increasing the force on the bed, and changing the hydrostatic pressure. Changes in water pressure increase and decouple the glacier and the bed. This tends to happen periodically and is influenced by climate but is not directly controlled by it.

    Comment by Mauri S. Pelto — 19 Feb 2006 @ 9:35 AM

  82. >Re #79 Hank Roberts >
    >”…put a single backslash between these letters: _22_and_ym_…”
    >in the string you posted “DOC=vc22mymy2_biosphere.html”
    put a backslash between “22” and one between “ym” where marked

    I’ve tried to indicate exactly where (I”m seeing the ‘comment’ typing field in Courier but the Preview in Arial, so besides editing out characters it’s hard to line up a pointer, but I assure you there is a “22” and a “ym” in the string, put a backslash between each of those pairs and it’s a working URL that leads you to the paper.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Feb 2006 @ 11:59 AM

  83. re #33 Hank Roberts – The TCS article you quote suggests that the sunspot minimum predicted by Dirk Callebaut would consequently lead to the sort of conditions experienced during the Maunder Minimum (coincident with “The Little Ice Age”) – thus rendering the notion of global warming nonsensical, and it implies this is a view shared by the author. This is most definitely not the case.

    The abstract of his paper “A grand solar minimum inducing a temperature decrease on Earth” PDF or Google HTML (apologies as I can’t ascertain if this is the original or a translation) – makes it clear that his concern is that any decrease caused by such an event would in fact mask the ongoing rise caused by anthropogenic global warming, and underpin the arguments of those who discount such a rise. An excerpt:

    “The grand minimum will lead to a temperature decrease which according to various estimates may beabout 1 degree. However, with the global warming up this decrease will be partially masked. Neverthelessthe resulting minor decrease may be wrongly interpreted as if the global warming up by pollution is notreal, only a fluctuation. The global warming up may thus be strongly underestimated, preventing necessarymeasures to be taken, and thus leading to a very strong global warming up, which by the end of the grandminimum, will even get a supplementary push”

    I suspect that he did not realise that his work would already be being abused in such a way long before the predicted minimum has even occurred.

    Comment by Barney Lewis — 19 Feb 2006 @ 1:29 PM

  84. Gaia’s Revenge —

    I don’t buy Lovelock’s opinion. Looking at a graph of the ocean temperature for the entire Cenezoic, page 175 of Macdonald’s “Frozen Earth”, it seems clear enough that Gaia has been suffering a cold for the last few million years and needs to warm up.


    Comment by David B. Benson — 19 Feb 2006 @ 3:56 PM

  85. Not so fast and not so much.

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 19 Feb 2006 @ 4:47 PM

  86. > TCS …. work would already be being abused in such a way.

    Thanks for spotting the misreporting by TCS, that’s par for that course.

    “The DCI Group, LLC is top Republican lobby and PR firm … publishes the website Tech Central Station….”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 19 Feb 2006 @ 6:42 PM

  87. Re: 84, David Benson:
    ‘the last few million yeas’ covers the entire past existance of homo sapiens, and a few of our ancestor species.

    Comment by llewelly — 19 Feb 2006 @ 7:21 PM

  88. Re: 84 & 87:

    How fast is fast? I’ll just treat sea stand, since this is the only data I know even moderately well. The estimate for the increase in sea stand during the 20th century is 0.3 mm/yr. In comparison, one estimate for the increase while the LGM ice melted back to its current volume is 4 mm/yr. An estimate of for the maximum rate of increase during this time is 160 mm/yr.

    How high is high? If I knew when the last time the earth had as high a level of CO2 as today it might be possible for me to say something.

    I don’t actually understand the Gaia hypothesis of Lovelock and Margulis. But think it is some form of ’emergent property’ in which all life, working together, tends to preserve the conditions on the face of the earth necessary for life. So Gaia works to overcome the effects of volcanos, space rocks, etc.

    But clearly Gaia doesn’t care about mere genera or even families. So Homo Sapiens Sapiens is simply of no interest to Gaia.

    That said, Homo Sapiens Sapiens is clearly highly adaptable, having evolved during, and survived the end of, the most recent ice age. I have little doubt that Homo Sapiens Sapiens can survive some additional global warmth.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 19 Feb 2006 @ 8:43 PM

  89. Re #82

    Thanks, I got it finally

    the first few times I got the No Document error message & then the site went down for some work (back up etc I assume)

    I`ll parse through it soon

    “All animals except Man know that the ultimate purpose of life is to enjoy it” – Samuel Butler

    Comment by daCascadian — 19 Feb 2006 @ 9:42 PM

  90. Re #84:

    The biggest problem with Gaia is that the major climate regulation processes are geophysical, not biological. Perhaps the most fundamental process is the recycling of the Earth’s crust by plate tectonics. But this process has an interesting side effect – it changes the configuration of the continents, which affect ocean currents and thus the Earth’s climate. In the present configuration we have an island continent over the South Pole (to draw down sea level and reflect sunlight), long continents to interfere with ocean circulation, and an almost enclosed Arctic Ocean. Worse, there are large land masses around 60 degrees north, perfect for growing large glaciers and melting them again, giving us climate instability.

    This unusual situation has resulted in the past few million years being colder than 90% of the Earth’s history. Indeed, Gaia has caught a severe cold. I do not understand Lovelock’s perspective. Did Gaia move Antarctic over the pole because she knew the sun was warming? Why does Gaia prefer ice ages, with their larger deserts and reduced tropical rainforests. Rather, it appears clever Gaia has come up with an organism that metabolizes fossil fuels into carbon dioxide, allowing her to return to her happier, more normal warmer state. As with most Gaian biological processes, the organisms are behaving for their own immediate benefit, with long run results that may cause problems for those organisms. But Gaia is happy to dispense with a species or two, if it comes to that.

    Comment by Blair Dowden — 19 Feb 2006 @ 10:51 PM

  91. Re #88

    I have little doubt that Homo Sapiens Sapiens can survive some additional global warmth.

    I too don’t doubt humans will survive. But I disagree that this is a relevant yardstick. Presumably we would like to continue thriving, not just surviving, and this is what is in jeopordy. As fun as it is to think of ourselves as masters of the planet and above all the other life forms around us, the fact is we are completely, 100% dependent on them, and the coming global mass extinction event will take its toll on our species, whether we survive in the end or not.

    Comment by Coby — 19 Feb 2006 @ 11:57 PM

  92. Or to put it another way, Gaia might be happier with a lot fewer of us.

    Comment by Blair Dowden — 20 Feb 2006 @ 8:18 AM

  93. Re #90 and then #91

    Indeed, Gaia is limited to only biological processes (as I understand it). So Gaia has to cope with changing positions of continents and changing geochemistry. I will point out the Gaia is capable of modifing the latter: consider all the limestone, etc., and the result on ocean chemistry.

    The mass extinction ‘event’ is already upon us according to some
    biologists: The Sixth Mass Extinction.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 20 Feb 2006 @ 2:54 PM

  94. RE: #90. I think you will find that many here want to downplay what you have written. At least that’s what I found on another thread. Of course there are sources to back up such downplaying. But there are also sources that bolster our own perspective. Personally I’d prefer a return to conditions before the Pleistocene, however, in spite of all the noise stating that such an outcome will come to pass, I seriously doubt it. Call me a skeptic!

    Comment by Steve Sadlov — 21 Feb 2006 @ 3:17 PM

  95. RE: #92. You might be interested in the following website:

    Comment by Steve Sadlov — 21 Feb 2006 @ 3:18 PM

  96. Alternatively, there’s the contemporary research (from the current AAAS meeting)

    “The symposium features research highlights from a global effort, coordinated by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP), to locate and monitor Earth’s “vital organs,” those locations and processes that regulate the functioning of the entire planet. Human-induced changes to the planet, now occurring at an unprecedented rate, could alter these processes ….”

    “….A new generation of Earth System models that help assess the consequences of these changes, and a new internet-based databank “Collaboratory” linking global and local land-use knowledge, also will be presented.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 21 Feb 2006 @ 10:07 PM

  97. Dear Ms’s/Srs,

    Perhaps Sir James Lovelock’s position will not seem so extreme or incomprehensible if one examines the e-mail posting of NASA on 2-21-06. They enclose the tale of a correction to nitrate mappings in which a Mr. Joaquim Goes discovers the possibility that phyiplankton blooms in the Arabian Sea might release overwhelming amounts of nitrous oxide. The narrative of Mr. Goes’s discoveries is quite charming. That laughing gas might constitute a forcing has caused me many smiles, After many re-readings of elegant earlier discussions concerning forcings and feedbacks, my vaporous short-term memory still tries to condense itself around a well-defined concept and then overheats again with such tales as those of Mr. Goes.

    Comment by Juola (Joe) A. Haga — 23 Feb 2006 @ 5:07 AM

  98. Here’s a mention of a Goes article, in Science last year; is there a more recent report you can point us to?

    “In a paper published in Science [2005, 22 April], Goes’s team shows that the amount of phytoplankton at the surface of the Arabian Sea has been gradually increasing every year since the late 1990s.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 23 Feb 2006 @ 11:00 AM

  99. Here’s an earlier summary from 2001 and what appears to be an extensive online collection
    == Journal of Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 23 Feb 2006 @ 11:04 AM

  100. The Stop Global Warming Virtual March is a non-partisan effort to bring all Americans together in one place to prove that global warming is here now… and, it is time for us to do something about it.
    One person can can change the world. Over 275,000 people have already joined. Imagine what millions of marchers can do! Together we will be heard.
    Join the March Now!
    Its easy! – No cost, No hassles. There is every reason in the world to become a virtual marcher. Why? Because it affects our public health, our national security, our economy, our planet’s future.
    On Earth Day 2006, the March will arrive in Washington, DC and use the strength of our numbers to urge 1) Our government to join the rest of the world in addressing global warming, and 2) American business to start a new industrial revolution on clean energy products that reduce our dependence on oil and other global warming pollution.

    Comment by the singularity — 23 Feb 2006 @ 3:10 PM

  101. In re Mr. Hank Roberts comments #98 and #99. Sir, you are much abler than I to turn up more on Mr. Joaquim Goes and team. What I suspect happened, to account for the NASA e-mail feed and the marvellous linkage of phytoplankton nitrous oxide emission to the drying of the Himalayas, was that the gnomes of NASA, emboldened by Mr. James Hansen’s tantrum, perhaps with the permission or even collaboration of Mr. Goes, decided to let it all hang out. You, Sir, are at perfect liberty to dismiss the above as paranoid ravings or the appropriate fancies of a bar-stool occupant. However, I assure you, I DO want more than anything (we-ell, almost anything) else to get the measure of the fascinating processes which entwine with us in the processing by which we talk of ourselves as a species. You may read that I find it painfully unsatisfactory to imagine myself giggling, laughing, and belly-aching on nitrous oxide into a death rictus,–without due measure. As much deficient is the imagining of Gaia and her eunuchs poofing methane from their hookahs at the bottom of the northwest corner of the Black Sea and then going to the Siberian outhouse for explosive relief. So, as an aid and comfort and warm-up device before I try lapping the pool again, I intend to re-read L.A. Coldispoti et alii multi, “The oceanic fixed nitrogeon and nitrous oxide budgets: Moving targets as we enter the anthropocene?”SCIENTIA MARINA, March, 2001 for its simplified chemical reaction diagram and its numbered cautions against spraying iron across the seas as a quick “cure”. That last some of our mob of yahoos have been hustling with an enthusiam which swept me up, too, until I read Coldispoti. I am sorry that I can not be of help to you. I guess that like the other 6.8 billion we’ll have to hang upon events. Joe Haga

    Comment by Juola (Joe) A. Haga — 24 Feb 2006 @ 8:24 AM

  102. I would not presume to comment on the accuracy of Lovelock’s scientific prognosis of a BAU growth of GHG emissions.
    Where I would differ with him is in his wild and emotive assertions that it is “inconceivable” that a sufficient international treaty will be negotiated and implemented –
    and also in his grossly counter-productive generation of public apathy by such a statement. – Few people will take radical action without a substantial confidence of success.
    I would observe that the status quo is just as content with apathy due to hopelessness as it is with apathy due to uncertainty.
    Indeed, proselitysing that hopelessness is very probably the next propaganda-of-inaction in the long sequence we have observed.
    All the more reason for other scientists to make known their views on the necessary structure and sufficient goal of that future treaty.


    Lewis Cleverdon

    Comment by Lewis Cleverdon — 26 Feb 2006 @ 12:40 PM

  103. I have to admit that I didn’t read all of the comments herewith, but definitely get the gist of what is going on.

    As a geologist I, and my fellow geologists, tend to look at things a little differently than most since the time frames we deal with (millions of years) are largely beyond the scope of climatological studies (a couple hundred years if you’re lucky). Most “global warming” arguements are based on a very very limited data set when viewed in geologic time. As with all geologists, I am aware that the earth has been far warmer (and colder) in the past than it is today. The climate of the earth is always changing. I remember the early 1970’s when everybody was talking about “global cooling”, and how catastrophic that was going to be. My how times have changed in just 30 years.

    The common thread in all of these doomsday arguements is that the activities of man are the cause. Funny how some of the most dramatic climatological changes we have record of happened long before man existed. I’m not saying that we can’t have an impact on the climate of the earth, I just think that we overestimate just what that impact is.

    As for treaties, Kyoto was a joke. If I remember correctly China and India were exempt…only about half the population of the planet.

    [Response: People who work on paleoclimate modelling and verification against geological data would find your comment bizarre. I myself work on some features of climates 4 billion years in the past, and find plenty of data to argue about. As for Kyoto, it may be imperfect, but it does apply to the bulk of current CO2 production, if not the bulk of the world population. Similar controls will eventually have to apply to China, but meanwhile Kyoto gets some signals in the market that push development of the right technology. By the way: guess which country has reduced coal usage in the past 5 years, China or the US? (hint — it’s not US). –raypierre]

    Comment by Lee Perkins — 26 Feb 2006 @ 7:02 PM

  104. Global warming is not a science but a politics. The GW politics will be used to develop nuclear energy instead of oil.

    Comment by A. Inoue — 27 Feb 2006 @ 12:03 AM

  105. Regarding how much ideas have changed in 30 years (comment 103), I’m surprised that they haven’t changed more. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but the Gaia hypothesis hasn’t been modified much. Similarly, some would say that the idea of AGW started in the 1860s with Tyndall (some would say earlier and some would say later?). With more and more data collected and available for analysis, and more and more computing power and statistical sophistication, I suspect that climatology has been improving roughly exponentially, as has understanding about AGW. The claim that “everyone was talking about global cooling” in the 70’s is going to make William upset, but if we allow it for a second, who would consider climatological predictions from 30 years ago on an equal footing with those of today?

    Comment by Steve Latham — 27 Feb 2006 @ 1:54 AM

  106. Re #104 by A. Inoue
    Setting aside the issue of GW as science or politics for a moment, the idea of developing nuclear energy to replace oil and presumably coal as the predominant energy source in the US is very interesting.

    There is no doubt that the first attempt to do so over the past several decades has been terminated, mostly due to the psychological impact of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, The China Syndrome, waste storage, etc. and the linkage of nuclear power to nuclear weapons.

    Will there be another attempt? A proposal that I find attractive is to use the data from our previous experiment to implement a STANDARDIZED design for nuclear power plants of the future to minimize the engineering, materials and operational weaknesses of the previous designs. This should make them less expensive to construct and also provide a basis for continuous improvement of the design, including retrofits.

    The psychological issues, however, are likely to be the show stoppers.

    [Response: Or simple arithmetic: at the AAAS meeting last week, a nuclear industry representative proposed a plan to stop global warming with the help of nuclear power, and concluded that to achieve that, 9,000 new nuclear power stations should be built by the year 2040. That means erecting about 300 nuclear power stations worldwide every year. Not too many people would find this either feasible or desirable, considering the safety, terrorism security, waste and nuclear proliferation issues involved. Especially once you consider which countries have the rapidly growing energy demand, i.e. where you need to build those nuclear power stations.
    Oh, and he gave the electricity generating cost of nuclear power stations as 4-5 cent/kWh – good windpower sites already undercut that today, and prices are falling rapidly in the wind sector. -stefan]

    Comment by Henry Molvar — 27 Feb 2006 @ 10:31 AM

  107. Comment on #50 and others: Potential of wind energy

    There have been some doubts if wind could potentially deliver considerable parts of our energy.

    In “The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years”

    James Lovelock writes “We could grow enough to feed ourselves on the diet of the Second World War, but the notion that there is land to spare to grow biofuels, or be the site of wind farms, is ludicrous.”

    Despite this “apodictic” statement actually the wind energy potential is huge. According to different sources the kinetic energy in the winds worldwide is between 3*10^7 and 3.8*10^7 TWh/a. Comparing these Figures with the world-wide global horizontal radiation of 8.3*10^8 TWh/a at earth surface level we find that between 3.6% and 4.6% are converted into wind energy. If we roughly estimate the world-wide electricity consumption to be about 15 000 TWh/a we see that we would only have to use between 0.04 and 0.05% of the wind energy potential. This is a simple estimate which shows us the relations.

    David W. Keith did study the question a bit more detailed. He computed what would happen if one would use 10% of the world-wide land surface (distributed on Europe, USA and China) to produce about 10 times (17 TW * 8760 h/a = 148,920 TWh/a) the today’s world-wide electricity generation (as mentioned approx. 15,000 TWh/a today) from wind energy (This is considerably more than the total annual world-wide primary energy consumption.). Following his research outcome even on this small part of the land surfaces (10% of the earth’s land surface almost entirely without offshore areas, altogether – with offshore – only about 3% of the earth’s surface) this is possible without bigger climatic problems. The largest part of the surface lies within Europe. Thus here the calculated production would clearly be above 10 times the European consumption. Altogether the additional dissipation at ground level caused by the wind power utilization (with approx.. 6 TW) would be 0.7% of the total actual dissipation of wind energy at ground level. (about 1/4 [850 TW or 7.4*10^6 TWh/a] of the entire world-wide atmospheric wind power [which always will be dissipated somewhere naturally] is dissipated at the ground level.) This can be found in

    The influence of large-scale wind power on global climate

    In “Wind power and climate change”

    David Keith writes:

    “Indeed, our initial results suggest that the (very small) climate changes due to wind power may slightly reduce the much larger impacts of climate changes due to global warming. It is possible that wind power provides a double benefit both by reducing global warming and by creating additional climate changes that slightly reduce the impacts of that warming.”

    In a phone call David Keith said that a world-wide wind energy use of 50 TW could be seen as being a quite sensible estimation. This would be

    50 TW * 8760 h/a = 438,000 TWh/a

    or nearly 30 times the actual world wide electricity production. Here again the huge offshore potentials have not been mentioned. What is clear is that no problematic climatic changes would result if we would produce our total electricity from wind power (By the way, about half of the CO2 Emissions are a result of our electricity production.). Much higher potentials are available.

    See also following e-mail of David W. Keith

    The Influence of large-scale wind power on Global Climate

    Comment by Gregor Czisch — 27 Feb 2006 @ 11:09 AM

  108. Response to your response to 103 Raypierre.

    I am not sure why you say geologists would find my statement bizarre. You must walk in different geological circles than I do, or be studying a different planet, or both. I guess we can agree to disagree on whether the earth’s climate has been warmer in the past than it is today. Personally, I find it bizarre that anyone with any knowledge of even the Mesozoic, much less other periods of geologic time could say that the planet is anywhere near as warm today as it has been in the past.

    [Response: No one is claiming that the Earth was not warmer at some points in the past. What is bizarre is assuming that people working on modern climates have no knowledge of deep time climate change. Both Ray and I have published on Cretaceous, PETM, Snowball Earth etc. -gavin]

    As far as the Kyoto treaty goes: [not in this forum – gavin]


    From what I have read, man contributes about 0.4% (point four of one percent) of the greenhouse gases produced on earth. One good volcanic eruption effects the planet’s climate more than a decade of man’s activities. “Global warming” may be occurring, and it may not. If it is, it is most likely not because of man’s activities. We give ourselves entirely too much credit.

    [Response: Rubbish. Read this post for both the source of that (incorrect) number and why the actual amount is around 30%. -gavin]

    Although fiction, Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear” very nicely illustrates my view of the global warming “movement”. The nutshell version can be found here: if you care to read it. Bottom line, science and politics should not be mixed in large quantities.

    [Response: I agree, science and politics can be treated separately – but the sine qua non of doing so is properly representing the science. The distorted, misleading and frankly highly politicised take that Crichton presents is the antithesis of un-politicised science. – gavin]

    Comment by Lee Perkins — 27 Feb 2006 @ 11:28 AM

  109. RE: #103. My finding is that most geologists are with you (and me). There are, however, a faction who are not. I know this because I am a former member of said faction. An anecdote. I was doing my undergrad studies. There were about 5 or 6 of us on our way back from some field work, in the same Carryall. So, me, being the young, romantic Gaia worshipper (this was back when I was young, dumb and impressionable) blurted out one or another stock radical Green comment. Sitting next to me is this “country boy” fellow geology candidate, probably the son of a geologist, raised some place geologists of that day tended to live. He called me a “quaternary urbanite.” I remember seething at the time, and thinking he was some sort of “fascist, on the take from Big Oil.” Of course, time, age and wisdom intervened, and now I can see the fool I was back then. However, how many other people who were young Greenies back during the “Greenhouse: It WILL Happen In 1997” / Earth First heyday did not grow up, as I *thankfully* did?

    Comment by Steve Sadlov — 27 Feb 2006 @ 2:40 PM

  110. Re 107

    James Lovelock writes “We could grow enough to feed ourselves on the diet of the Second World War, but the notion that there is land to spare to grow biofuels, or be the site of wind farms, is ludicrous.”

    Lovelock’s partisan perspective on technical “solutions” to the GHG problem appears to undermine his credibility as a scientist.

    While Onshore Wind power can, obviously, co-exist with agriculture, its failings in terms of lack of return to the host community, of intermittency of supplly, of aesthetic intusion, and of bird-kills, etc, have yet to be resolved.

    That we cannot afford to re-dedicate farmland for biofuels’ production does seem patently obvious, particularly in the light of growing food insecurity due to climate destabilization, to population growth, and to the commercial encouragement of meat-eating.

    Yet these factors do not apply to the globally massive areas of uplands and hill lands that are of only marginal agricutural value, and hold very great potential for Forest energies.

    As with any power source the desirability of Forest Energy’s use depends on the ethic governing the detail of its development. That said, if it is sustainably managed, this could provide a supply of fuelwood, charcoal, woodgas,(CO+H2), methanol (CH3OH0 & derivatives, power-on-demand, and surplus heat.

    That Forest Energy has the potential to provide these without interdicting food supply, with some potential for carbon sequestraion in new woodlands, and could provide additional rural employment practically wherever trees grow well, would appear to make it a prime option for development.

    Yet rather like say Geothermal and Wave-energy, it is ignored by Lovelock (and most commetators) in favour of a sterile and commercially convenient debate of Nuclear versus Onshore Wind + Agri-biofuels.

    I would suggest that Lovelock’s views on the energy options are thus irrelevant to their serious discussion.



    Comment by Lewis Cleverdon — 27 Feb 2006 @ 3:35 PM

  111. Re 106 and nuclear power

    There simply is not enough minable uranium to supply 9000 stations, even once.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 27 Feb 2006 @ 4:04 PM

  112. Re Raypierre’s response in #103:

    By the way: guess which country has reduced coal usage in the past 5 years, China or the US? (hint — it’s not US).

    This is quite hard to believe (not that the answer isn’t US, but that China is). The US Dept. of Energy
    says that coal usage in the US has increased 5.3% while coal usage in China has increased 14.0%, using the latest available 5 years of data (1999-2003). To get a decrease from 2001-2005, the two years of data not yet available would have to show a greater than 12.9% decrease for China to show reduced coal usage, which would be difficult to reconcile with the upward projections through 2025. (For instance, from 2001-2010, a projected 70% increase for China vs. 16% increase for US).

    However, coal usage as a percentage of total energy appears to be decreasing in China, if that’s what you mean. The US DOE sums it up as follows (as of Aug. 2005), “China’s demand for coal is rising rapidly as its economy grows… Over the longer term, China’s coal demand is projected to rise significantly. While coal’s share of overall Chinese energy consumption is projected to fall, coal consumption will still be increasing in absolute terms.”

    Comment by J. Sperry — 27 Feb 2006 @ 4:57 PM

  113. Response to Gavin in 108

    Gavin: “No one is claiming that the Earth was not warmer at some points in the past.”

    Thank You

    Gavin: “What is bizarre is assuming that people working on modern climates have no knowledge of deep time climate change.”

    I never said that ALL of the people working on said subject, just most…. In addition, the public discourse regarding GW seldom (I would say never, but….) mentions anything about todays temps as compared to those of past eras. Any public discussion that I have heard simply says we are getting warmer (warmer than what?), and we are the cause. I am sure you are aware of the Holocene maximum which ocurred during man’s existance, but before industrialization. You certainly don’t have to go back to the Cretaceous to see evidence of higher temps.

    Gavin: “not in this forum” (Kyoto treaty)

    Sorry to hear that. If this forum is going to discuss that proposed phenomenon of man made GW, the proposed solutions would seem to have some import.

    Gavin: “rubbish”

    So is this I suppose:

    [Response: Yes, this too is rubbish. See the post “Calculating the Greenhouse effect” for details. -gavin]

    Gavin: “I agree, science and politics can be treated separately”

    Can be? Hmm. I would go a step further, and say SHOULD be. Whether that is possible with this subject is another matter altogether.

    Gavin: “The distorted, misleading and frankly highly politicised take that Crichton presents is the antithesis of un-politicised science.”

    I’m thinking that perhaps you missed the point, at least as I see it. The point he is making is that we have enacted policies, as nations, in the past based on scientific suppositions that were, at the time, supported by many revered institutions, and prominent scientists only to find out later that those suppostitions were false. Further, these rash actions caused untold misery, and even death, for millions of people. He simply does not want to see us go down the same road again. He who does not study history is destined to…..

    What I, and others on “the other side” of this discussion see is a general PUBLIC acceptance of a scientific supposition that is far from conclusive given what we know of the earths past. The widespread acceptance of same has the potential to lead to bad policy; policy that can needlessly cause undue human suffering.

    Kudos to Steve #109 and J. Sperry #112.

    Comment by Lee Perkins — 27 Feb 2006 @ 7:06 PM

  114. “In the scientific community, there is no question that the Earth will be warmer in the future. The remaining questions are how warm, and what climate surprises we might expect.”
    Managing Global Warming Risk

    Earth ‘on fast track’ to warming
    By Paul Rincon
    BBC News science reporter, St Louis
    “The findings came from probing sediments on the ocean floor Greenhouse gases are being released 30 times faster than the rate of emissions that triggered a period of extreme global warming in the Earth’s past.”

    Ocean Warmer Than A Hot Tub
    by Staff Writers
    St Louis MO (SPX) Feb 20, 2006
    “Scientists have found evidence that tropical Atlantic Oceantemperatures may have once reached 107°F (42°C) “about 25°F (14°C) higher than ocean temperatures today and warmer than a hot tub.”

    St. Louis Independent Media Center

    Comment by Pat Neuman — 27 Feb 2006 @ 7:42 PM

  115. Has anyone besides Lonnie Thompson focused specifically on the kind of event he’s been talking about —

    As far as I know he doesn’t have a cause, but says he sees a clear effect signaled in the ice cores, something happened rather suddenly 5200 years ago, perhaps a brief up-spike of solar output (I’d wonder if it might also be a dust cloud crossing the solar system, or something else, that could show up in the ice cores).

    It seems a quite specific description — yet I don’t hear it talked about. Perhaps because with only one event, there’s no way to say what the heck happened?

    I guess the “skeptics” don’t want to talk about his findings because he says people are doing now what some natural event did 5200 years ago — causing a sudden warming spike.

    But how about the climatologists — is he by himself in this particular concern? Are there discussions anywhere looking at his material?

    It fits with Lovelock’s comments to me, because it sounds like Lovelock is saying humans have taken up all the slack in the climate system, putting us out at one extreme, where if we aren’t just lucky Earth can’t recover easily from what we’ve done, let alone from another natural sudden change if one comes along.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 27 Feb 2006 @ 7:56 PM

  116. That would have been almost in the middle of the Holocene maximum, which is the hottest period in human history. I don’t think anyone knows for sure what caused it, but solar activity would certainly be plausible.

    [Response: Not solar activitiy, but orbital forcing (see Schmidt et al, 2004 for some discussion) – but be careful that you don’t overextrapolate undoubted northern high latitude warmth to global warmth – Kim et al (QSR, 2004) show good evidence that it was cooler in the tropics. Thus the global mean change is somewhat ambiguous. Models suggest either very minor changes in the global mean or a slight cooling (assoiciated mainly with the minor reduction in GHGs compared to the more modern pre-industrial). -gavin]

    Comment by Lee Perkins — 27 Feb 2006 @ 9:04 PM

  117. NOAA claims to understand the Holocene pretty well and their conclusion is that it was not a pervasively warmer period than today, basically due to orbital changes in insolation, it was only warmer during summers in the northern hemisphere.

    Comment by Coby — 27 Feb 2006 @ 9:40 PM

  118. So Thompson is suggesting a unique event on top of an orbital forcing, if I understand it, one that was enough to tip the climate to change? I realize the modelers may not be working at the resolution he’s describing finding in ice cores.

    I know the Sun’s not particularly prone to flares or sunspot minima that we know of, but I can imagine those, or a dust cloud in the solar system’s path, being the sort of unique extra kick at the climate system.

    Or something like a flock of these hitting the Sun:

    (link is to a cached HTML version; original is a Word .DOC file accessible from the linked page).

    Just speculating, trying to guess what Dr. Thompson is suggesting might’ve happened to make a brief sudden excursion (presumably the models would ‘average that out’ if it’s not put in explicitly?)

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 Feb 2006 @ 12:21 AM

  119. Re #113

    I’m thinking that perhaps you missed the point, at least as I see it. The point he is making is that we have enacted policies, as nations, in the past based on scientific suppositions that were, at the time, supported by many revered institutions, and prominent scientists only to find out later that those suppostitions were false.

    At the risk of straying too far off topic, what are you refering to? The only time I hear this is from people who do not believe in the Ozone Hole and/or mistakenly believe that DDT is banned for use against malaria.

    As for missing Crichton’s point, I thought his point was that Global Warming is a hoax perpetrated by a powerful and corrupt environmental movement on the populace as a way of becoming rich and more powerful. It is also clear that he has no understanding of the scientific basis for AGW.

    Comment by Coby — 28 Feb 2006 @ 12:47 AM

  120. Coby: “The only time I hear this is from people who do not believe in the Ozone Hole and/or mistakenly believe that DDT is banned for use against malaria.”

    Any time you hear what? That the best science is done outside of the public, and political arenas? That govenments should not inact policies that have potentially adverse effects on their citizens based on the science of the day? The best science I know of is done without a preconceived outcome, and without outside opinionated influence. The best governmental policies are based on science done in that environment.

    It is apparent that people get different things out of what Crichton is saying.

    The book, of course, is fiction, and should be viewed as such. Most works of fiction that deal with real life issues skew their portrayal of those events in one direction or another (read: dramatization) for entertainment value. What I am referring to is his statement found here which is entitled “Why Politicized Science is Dangerous”. If you believe that the issue of GW has not become politicized you must have been on a very long vacation in a very remote place. If you think that the politicization of a scientific issue is beneficial….well, I just don’t know what to say to that.

    Regardless of what side of this issue you are on, as scientists, we (at least most of us) loath the the fact that GW has become such fodder for politicians, and the media alike since the facts so often get lost in those arenas. Unfortunately, bad science is more likely to be done in environments such as this. A good example of the politicization of this issue, and the less than desirable effects of that politicization can be seen in the testimony of Patrick Michaels before congress when he showed only one of three curves from a graph that Jim Hansen had presented in order to try and discredit Hansens testimony (to Gavin: from your update on that curve, it looks like we may be tracking C).

    It may surprise you that the example I use here shows how a global warming OPPONENT altered data to suit his needs, but, in my opinion, it makes no difference on which side that type of behavior occurs, it’s wrong. I am sure there are plenty of examples I could find for both sides of this discussion.

    [Response: Any science that is policy relevant will likely be politicised to an extent which, as Roger Pielke Jr is fond of saying, is because it is easier to cherry-pick (uncertain) science results that fit your policy agenda, rather than argue about your values. This is one reason why governments set up agencies like the IPCC or the NAS to give more considered summaries and assessments than simply asking individual scientists what they think. By and large that works as well as can be expected. However, the only time that people start jumping up and down and complaining that the ‘science is poiticised’ is when they disagree with the consensus opinions, which is just another level of ‘scientizing’ the policy debate. Having seen Crichton in action, there is absolutely no doubt that his sudden concern about politicisation is simply because he doesn’t like the answer that scientists are giving. One of the roles of scientists (and here on RC) in this case is to point out where people are misusing science studies (which happens across the spectrum) and explain why the mainstream position is what it is. Crichton is a notorious abuser of science results, and as such loses credibility when decrying the ‘politicisation’ of the science. Everyone agrees that is bad, but when the worst offenders start pointing the fingers, methinks they protest too much…. – gavin]

    Comment by Lee Perkins — 28 Feb 2006 @ 12:07 PM

  121. Re Stefan’s response to #106
    “…nuclear industry representative proposed a plan to stop global warming with the help of nuclear power, and concluded that to achieve that, 9,000 new nuclear power stations should be built by the year 2040.”

    I do not envision nuclear power as the only weapon in our arsenal to stop global warming. Wind, solar, bio-fuels, etc. are all very attractive in this pursuit and should all be encouraged. Adding a safer and more efficient standardized nuclear power plant design to these others is what I had in mind.

    Re # 111
    A new standardized design would eliminate this constraint if it were the fast-neutron type.

    Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste. William H. Hannum, Gerald E. Marsh and George S. Stanford, Scientific American, December, 2005
    Fast-neutron reactors could extract much more energy from recycled nuclear fuel, minimize the risks of weapons proliferation and markedly reduce the time nuclear waste must be isolated.

    Comment by Henry Molvar — 28 Feb 2006 @ 12:33 PM

  122. Comment on #71, #72 and #110 and others: Volatility of wind energy

    There have been some concerns about the fluctuations of wind energy which I would like to comment.

    Some people see a insolvable problem in the volatile nature of wind energy. Looking a one single wind mill nature of wind seems to be very problematic. Wind does not switch on if I switch on my hot plate. Everybody can approve this. But the approach is a bit too simple. Not everybody switches on his hot plate at the same time and no wind mill sees the same wind as the other. Here is a key for, how to come to very high shares of wind power in the electricity supply.

    The bigger the area where wind energy is used for a common electricity supply the less volatile the common production. In my paper

    “High wind power penetration within huge catchment areas shown in an European example”

    Bernhard Ernst and I present our studies about this topic comparing the smoothing effects of wind power production beginning with two wind mills near each other, smoothing the production for timescales of about one minute and ending with distances of some thousands of kilometres. Latter prove to be able to smooth out even seasonal variations.

    In my internet presentation

    Global Renewable Energy Potential – Approaches to its Use

    I furthermore show on a very simple example how one could use the smoothing effects of wind power spread over huge distances combined only with existing storage hydro power to provide the electricity supply for western Europe. This begins with “Folie 50”

    and ends with “Folie 65”. Only a small part of 1.4% of the electricity is not delivered at the time it is asked for. Therefore this would have to be delivered from another backup system.

    A detailed study of a totally renewable electricity supply for Europe and its neighbours I have done for my scenarios. It is an approach which searches for the cost optimumof our future electricity supply including production and transmission of electricity where the supply of the electricity demand is an unavoidable side condition. Details of my scenarios you find in publication

    Low Cost but Totally Renewable Electricity Supply for a Huge Supply Area – a European/Transeuropean Example
    Here you find a description of the approach, some results of different scenarios (costs of electricity, security aspects, comparison of the costs with national economies, transferability of the results…) and a short description of the most important input parameters and assumptions. As an overview I would recommend the chapters

    – Abstract
    – 1 Overview
    – 6 Scenarios: Cost-Optimised Electricity Supply Entirely with Renewable Energies
    – 7 Conclusions Drawn from the Scenarios

    In chapter 6 findings are presented which show that a totally renewable electricity supply with today’s technology at today’s costs (investment and O&M) for all system components utilised is possible and could deliver electricity at about 4.5 ct/kWh to Europe and its neighbours. An international system for producing and transmitting renewable electricity is found as the best solution. In the economic optimal case 72% of the electricity is produced from wind energy. Remarkable, only 4% of the possible production from wind energy can not be used since they exceed the actual demand. Some details you find in the article. The scenarios can be understood as solid basis for further decisions since they are calculated on a very conservative basis, even with respect to the economic implications. They demonstrate the affordability of a renewable electricity supply. They demonstrate the possibility to overcome the intermittency problem. They demonstrate the economic reasonable solvability of the CO2 problem (az least in the electricity sector which actually is responsible for about 50%).

    The rest is “just” politics. ;-)

    PS: Some further information on the intermittency “problem”. You find within:
    Tackling The Intermittency Myth (Corin Millais, EWEA Chief Executive)

    Comment by Gregor Czisch — 1 Mar 2006 @ 11:58 AM

  123. I have not read Lovelock’s new book, but a few points in to chew on related the the general notion or “gut feeling” that something nasty is ahead as Gaia has her “revenge”.

    If you look at the balance of atmospheric and geological forces from the perspective of Chaos theory…Lovelock’s gut feeling is quite justified. He doesn’t have to know exactly what is going to happen nor have any theory to explain it with precision. When you take a delicately balanced system and suddenly interject chaotic elements into it…you can simply know that “something” chaotic will happen. For example, set slow trickle of water from a kitchen tap until a stable flow is happening. Then simply stick your finger in that flow so that the water splashes about and runs in a chaotic manner down your finger. You did not know and could not predict exactly what sort of splashes and chaotic flow would occur, but you could have a gut feeling that something chaotic was about to happen. Exactly the same thing now with the even flow of Gaia’s natural balances that human induced rapid change is about to disrupt. Human’s are sticking their “fingers” in the flow of Gaia’s natural atmospheric and other cycles. We can’t possibly know exactly what will occur, even with our most powerful supercomputers as the future will be a chaotic event…suffice to say, that if an even flow has been good for developing human civilzation, the chaotic events ahead (of which Hurricane Katrina type events may be a early taste of), will not be considered as friendly to human comfort or survival. In sum, we have not yet learned to apply Chaos theory most effectively to the grand experiment we are conducting to the planet…but as we stick our fingers in the flow…we can be certain that this indeed could be viewed as Gaia’s revenge.

    [Response: I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding of both chaos, and of the dynamics of the climate system. You don’t go around “injecting” chaos – what would this mean? You might, perhaps, change the forcing and move the dynamical system towards an unstable state… but there is precious little evidence for that – William]

    Comment by Randall Simpson — 4 Mar 2006 @ 1:56 PM

  124. To William’s response to my comment:

    Anyone who is a trained scientist reading my post can quickly probably see that I am not a “trained” scientist, but I disagree about my general understanding of both Chaos Theory and the dynamics of the climate system. Humans are the finger in the steady flow of this “system”. We are disrupting the system and this “experiement” and its results are quite in line with tipping a system into a chaotic and unpredictable period. Of course there are not chaotic elements that you introduce. Just like a finger itself in the steady flow of water from a faucet is not “chaotic” in itself, it “tips” a steady and predictable system into chaotic behavior that is not predictable. Scientists I feel will be quite frustrated by attempts to predict the future climate by any standard models or theories. Specific events during Chaotic episodes are by their nature unpredictable.

    Comment by Randall Simpson — 5 Mar 2006 @ 1:18 AM

  125. I read this regarding the new mars orbiter:

    “Present-day Mars is dry and cold with large caps of frozen water at its poles, but scientists believe the planet once was warmer and wetter eons ago — conditions that might have been suitable for life.”

    I knew this, but it seems to disagree with the idea that the sun has been getting hotter (and Gaia fighting to remain cool). Why has mars become so cold (or why was it so warm before)? Oh, I just checked your global warming on Mars ( — it’s the eliptical orbit interaction with the axis of rotation to the sun thing. But does this mean that its ice caps melted every 170,000 years?

    Comment by Steve Latham — 10 Mar 2006 @ 8:21 PM

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