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  1. “no policy or politically related questions are fielded.”

    NO end of frustration for the journalists.

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 6 Dec 2010 @ 4:26 AM

  2. I would be very interested in how many queries AGU gets, and from which media companies. Hopefully those who are at Cancun are better journalists than the norm and will make use of this service.

    Comment by Sou — 6 Dec 2010 @ 5:47 AM

  3. Well done to the AGU for offering this service, plus there is now no excuse for a journalist not to seek X-pert scientific opinion, as opposed to X-Factor scientific opinion. I’d humbly suggest the AGU email responses also contain an embedded link to Spencer Weart’s book at the bottom. You never know, a few journos might begin to investigate the subject in-depth.

    Comment by J Bowers — 6 Dec 2010 @ 6:22 AM

  4. The banner on the linked AGU Q&A page still says Copenhagen. I wonder if that will cause journalists to wonder if the service is defunct.

    Comment by Imback — 6 Dec 2010 @ 10:44 AM

  5. Does AGU offer the service of proof-reading articles (by trained scientists), to help journalists recognize errors that they may not even realize they’ve included? After all, they can actively look for help if they know they need it, but they may often not realize that they do.

    If so — if proof-reading is available — it would be good to have a standard “seal of approval” to put on the article, like a bit of verbiage at the end that says something like “This article has been vetted with the AGU Question and Answer Service for Climate Science Questions, as a free validation service for journalists, and no technical issues were identified at the time of the review.”

    You’ll note that I was intentionally vague, leaving open the possibility that either a reviewer missed something (always possible), or the science could change over time (so a review done a year ago might have missed something that would be noticed today), or that the article could have been changed after the review (without resubmission/reproofing), which apparently has already been a problem in the past year with certain articles.

    This verbiage serves two purposes. The first is to let readers know when they can trust something. The second is to let both readers and journalists know that this service is available, and to begin to distrust (or at least view with healthy skepticism) articles which do not make use of the service.

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 6 Dec 2010 @ 11:14 AM

  6. As seen in the previous post here at RC, the still “popular hobby” of beeing sceptic or even denying whatever scientific findings, this webpage is a perfect source for anybody:

    Comment by Kjell Arne Rekaa — 6 Dec 2010 @ 11:45 AM

  7. Google has new cite/source tags available:

    This might be useful for the scientists and science bloggers, when mentioning a story — a way to identify the actual publisher and writer who talked to the scientists.

    Once a story is quoted or paraphrased or excerpted, readers may not know for sure _which_ text the scientists actually looked at.


    “How It Works: Source attribution metatags
    Share Comment Print

    “Google News indexes tens of thousands of articles a day, but not all of them are original. Publishers can now use two metatags to help us determine us which URL we should consider the original version of an article:

    syndication-source indicates which URL is the canonical version of a syndicated article.

    original-source indicates which URL should be credited with breaking a story….”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 6 Dec 2010 @ 12:28 PM

  8. Since I’m not a journalist, I’ll just ask my question here and hope for some appropriate feedback. I have seen very little published on the intersection of peak oil and climate change. The little I have seen suggests that the need to reduce ghg’s for purposes of reducing climate change is much more urgent than the need to reduce fossil fuel use to address peak oil. Can anyone point to some literature that would cover what seems to me a fundamental question for both crises?

    Comment by Doug — 6 Dec 2010 @ 12:31 PM

  9. I second ‘Bob (Sphaerica)’s’ suggestion, in #5.

    This kind of vetting service could move mountains (without the removal of their tops… ;-) ).

    Comment by Jaime Frontero — 6 Dec 2010 @ 12:37 PM

  10. As an AGU member, I’m sure that AGU is always open to suggestions — and I’m also sure that they will take suggestions more seriously if they are made directly through the Union web site and come, signed, from AGU members, rather than from some anonymous individual who’s taking pot shots at them via a third-party web site.

    Comment by DrCloud — 6 Dec 2010 @ 12:47 PM

  11. DrCloud @10 –

    If you are an AGU member, why don’t *you* submit the idea proposed in #5 then? It’s a good one.

    The idea of public scientific review of science journalism is long overdue. There’s the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval… heck, there’s even the Comics Code Authority. Why /shouldn’t/ the public be informed not only of the debate (if one can be said to exist, where AGW is concerned), but of the veracity of those debating?

    As for your anonymous pot shot directed at ‘Bob (Sphaerica)’, well…

    Comment by Jaime Frontero — 6 Dec 2010 @ 1:51 PM

  12. Doug @8, from memory peak oil will mainly mean prices going up quite a lot, and lots of knock on infrastructure issues – remember that peaks of other resources that we have already passed suggest the peak usually comes around half way through extraction of commercially viable sources, and as the price rises people are priced out of the market and find alternatives or cut back as necessary, so the market will naturally resolve the issues of peak oil over the next few decades as production slowly reduces as new finds slowly run out.

    The issue with climate change is that sources of coal in particular could last probably for 100s of years as there is so much of it in so many places in the world, and due to the Tragedy of the Commons, the market will not deal with the issue economically, and therefore action is needed from politicians on a global basis, which is a very difficult thing to achieve as there economic advantages to be had trying to game any potential agreement.

    Comment by Stuart — 6 Dec 2010 @ 2:22 PM

  13. At first I liked 5 Bob (Sphaerica)’s idea, but there are 2 problems:
    1. The editor will change the article AFTER the approval is given, giving the approval to false articles. You have to have approvals that self-destruct if the article is altered.
    2. The scientists could wind up writing the article.

    Peak Oil and climate only works if coal and gas to liquid fuel is forbidden. They are already working on coal to liquid.

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 6 Dec 2010 @ 3:21 PM

  14. Where are the cop15 Q & A’s? Surely the journos should read them first.

    Comment by Iso — 6 Dec 2010 @ 5:03 PM

  15. Bob’s idea of having articles vetted for scientific accuracy sounds good at first… but then when you think about it, it’s the equivalent of asking that every piece of science-related journalism (that is seeking this stamp of approval) gets peer reviewed! And who the heck has the time or the inclination to do that, unless you pay them for it? And then, what’s to stop the process from being subverted by, for instance, paying someone off? In other words, who watches the guards?

    Besides, as others have pointed out, it’s too easy to game the system by changing the article after the fact. At first I had the thought that you could MD5 hash the article as a digital signature that it was authentic. But if even a single space is inserted when the article is published on the web, as will happen with dynamic HTML web publishing software, it will not hash to the same value… so that shoots that idea down in flames.

    Comment by Steve Metzler — 6 Dec 2010 @ 5:34 PM

  16. Oh, wait… just had an idea that would work: before you make the MD5 hash, strip *all non-alphanumeric characters* out of the article. That means all white space, punctuation, HTML formatting characters, etc. Then make an MD5 hash of that, and save it (i.e. the person that approves the article runs it through a piece of software that does this automatically).

    After the article is published, even if it’s across 5 HTML pages on a web site, anyone can copy and paste the text and run it through the same piece of software. If it hashes to something different, then you can take a closer look to see what has changed since it was approved ;-)

    Comment by Steve Metzler — 6 Dec 2010 @ 5:58 PM

  17. > “The idea of public scientific review of science journalism is long overdue.”

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, please. Though it’s not a cure-all – we’ll still have journos who’ll stress some uncertainties and unmention others (thus nothing in their article is actually incorrect, except the impression readers come away with) – and/or imply that uncertainty is reason for inaction.

    As a test case, how would our AGU review service evaluate this column (link)?

    Re Edward’s “there are 2 problems” – good point, re Point #1; I guess the “approved” AGU seal could be a link to a page that included a wiki-like “changes to text” comparison? And the seal would say “Reviewed”, not “Approved”…
    Yo, Craig Newmark, or Knight Foundation – could you please fund this?

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 6 Dec 2010 @ 6:21 PM

  18. I would like to suggest that there is another way, in the spirit of the AGU Q&A program, for scientists to promote the right science.

    Climate science is often being discussed by non-scientists. This is the case on climate blogs on both sides of the AGW issue. Often the available information is limited, i.e., to the abstract and press release, with the paper itself being behind a paywall.

    Somebody who knows the issue could improve the dialog, while staying out of the fray, by anonymous submissions of helpful links, with minimalist descriptions, i.e.:

    …Includes a literature review:
    …An author’s other paper on the same subject:
    …Also see:
    …This paper was discussed here:
    …For general discussion, see:

    Comment by Same Ordinary Fool — 6 Dec 2010 @ 7:19 PM

  19. Regarding the vetting of climate articles by scientists:

    This could be valuable, but only as a voluntary thing on the part of both the journalists and scientists. If a journalist *wants* to get it right and wants someone who knows the subject cold to fact-check him then it’s a win.

    There’s no way to make it mandatory, or to put a ‘climate scientist seal of approval’ on it.

    I think the first would be a great thing; attempting the second would generate no end of controversy.

    Comment by David Miller — 6 Dec 2010 @ 8:34 PM

  20. > approvals that self-destruct if the article is altered.

    That Google tag might work — does the AGU service archive a copy of the text as approved?

    “syndication-source indicates which URL is the canonical version of a syndicated article”

    Can the AGU add that tag themselves to text as reviewed so it goes along with the original file? Publishers should be glad for the help. Unless, er, the tag gets copied and pasted into derivative work. I wonder how Google handles that?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 6 Dec 2010 @ 8:44 PM

  21. Isn’t AGU the outfit that claims “the earth’s climate is clearly out of balance“? Perhaps this new service could begin by explaining exactly when, in the past 6 billion years, the earth’s climate was clearly in balance. And define what AGU imagines a ‘balanced’ climate might look like, should anyone ever see one.

    [Response: No need to bother ’em, I’ll do it. There have been vast stretches of time throughout earth’s history of relative climate stasis–throughout huge parts of the Mesozoic for example. But that’s largely irrelevant anyways because we know for sure that GHG’s absorb, and emit, in the infrared. Increase their amount substantially and you just “unbalanced” the radiative balance, AOFBE.–Jim]

    Comment by Jack Maloney — 6 Dec 2010 @ 9:01 PM

  22. Wow, I’m a little taken aback. Stuart, thank you for your response, but I’m afraid you have an overly optimistic view of peak oil. Peak oil is not a problem that the markets will fix as we gradually slide down the backside of Hubbert’s peak. It will be much more of a crash, and it’s not far away. Our consciousness of it (and that is really the big issue short term) will in all likelihood happen within the next five years. Many say that we have already passed peak oil in absolute numbers.

    This is an article recently written by Sharon Astyk for the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO-USA).

    It is a matter of continuing surprise to me that these evil twin problems haven’t been seriously discussed anywhere. Sharon writes about them and Bill McKibben mentioned them in his most recent book, but I haven’t seen any real research. Of course the climate change deniers have come up with another meme, this one that peak oil will take care of climate change. I don’t for a minute believe that’s true, but without research we don’t really know what the intersection will look like.


    Comment by Doug — 6 Dec 2010 @ 9:13 PM

  23. Doug, please, PO has been discussed; use the search tool. Over 100 hits here.
    The AGU service hasn’t been discussed here, this is our first chance for this.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 6 Dec 2010 @ 10:17 PM

  24. “There have been vast stretches of time throughout earth’s history of relative climate stasis–throughout huge parts of the Mesozoic for example.” Jim

    Are you suggesting that climate stasis=climate balance? Or that the Mesozoic, with temperatures sometimes averaging 10°C. higher than today, might be AGU’s idea of a balanced climate?

    [Response: I’m suggesting that based on your two posts, you are interested in playing games and have no real desire to understand climate change and its causes. Way, way too busy to play along, sorry.–Jim

    Comment by Jack Maloney — 6 Dec 2010 @ 11:18 PM

  25. JM 24,

    In brief, if solar input from a planet matches thermal IR output, you have climate balance. Right now we’re emitting less than we’re getting in–“radiative forcing”–so the climate has to warm up.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 7 Dec 2010 @ 5:52 AM

  26. Where is the button to post this to facebook?

    Comment by Jeff — 7 Dec 2010 @ 8:22 AM

  27. On the “seal of approval” issue, and the vetting… I think people here are showing their geeky/science/engineering side! It can’t work like a computer, or a machine. It’s people, and journalism. Systems and processes that involve people are fuzzy, not exact.

    What AGU is doing right now is providing a very, very valuable and laudable service to let journalists improve their understanding if they so choose. Yet it’s the journalist’s choice whether they ask, and what they ask, and even then, you can lead a journalist to knowledge, but you can’t make him think. They can still get it wrong.

    Vetting articles would just be taking the service one step further; offering to read what they produce, and validate it, which is valuable both for them and for the readers.

    The “seal of approval” is more of an advertising mechanism, both among journalists, and readers.

    Will it be abused? Certainly, eventually. Then the AGU can refuse to ever give that journalist, editor or periodical approval again. If you want, if it gets to that point (I don’t think it would) you can create a blacklist page identifying articles that abused the service.

    I also suspect that you can make them sign a piece of paper wherein they submit the final version of the article, and are given permission to use the seal on only that version. If they don’t you file the law suit, then drop it, after first making sure that its public knowledge and everyone knows that journalist/media outlet abused the service.

    No one is ever going to stop the Jonathan Leakes of the world from doing what they do. But we can at least help others, and maybe start to help the readers to recognize the Leakes (who never, ever get their work vetted) from the real journalists.

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 7 Dec 2010 @ 9:15 AM

  28. Response: I’m suggesting that based on your two posts, you are interested in playing games and have no real desire to understand climate change and its causes. Way, way too busy to play along, sorry.–Jim

    No games. This thread is about AGU’s new Q&A service, and I am raising a serious question about AGU’s position on climate change.

    Their statement implies that there can be such a thing as a “balanced” climate. Given the earth’s long and continuous history of changing climate, the manifold forces that shape climate, and the uncertainties in climate science today, what is the basis for AGU’s implied climate “balance”? What could it be like? When did it exist?

    I have no doubt that earth’s climate is changing (it always has), recently warming, and that anthropogenic GHGs are having a deleterious affect on our climate today. But AGU’s implication that there ever has been or can be a ‘balanced’ climate, IMHO, is certainly questionable.

    [Response: Then why don’t you go investigate more fully what the AGU is likely to have meant with whatever statement you vaguely, and without reference, are referring to? Barton, Bob, Ray and I have now all answered your “serious question”.–Jim]

    Comment by Jack Maloney — 7 Dec 2010 @ 11:15 AM

  29. 28 (Jack Maloney),

    You are playing word games. In one breath you say “I have no doubt that earth’s climate is changing” and “anthropogenic GHGs are having a deleterious affect on our climate today”. Then you say the climate can’t have a balance.

    Um, perhaps balance doesn’t need to be razor sharp and whisker thin? Perhaps the climate can have a balance within a degree C or so, that can last for a few millennia or tens of millennia? Perhaps long term natural forces can push the climate out of that range, towards a new equilibrium point, on time scales of millennia? So “balance” is a question of perspective, and degree, and time frame? And as you point out, the climate is changing rapidly (on time scales much, much less than millennia, and beyond 1C) and the cause is anthropogenic.

    Of course you know all this. But word games are fun to play.

    AGU “balance” topic closed. Now back to talking about the great new AGU service (and how desperately journalists need it), rather than trying to undermine the discussion by pursuing a pitiful attempt to denigrate the AGU.

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 7 Dec 2010 @ 12:02 PM

  30. Jack Maloney wrote: “Isn’t AGU the outfit that claims ‘the earth’s climate is clearly out of balance’?”

    Yes, the Earth’s climate is clearly “out of balance” — by definition, because we can clearly observe that the Earth is rapidly warming.

    So your point is?

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 7 Dec 2010 @ 12:10 PM

  31. So… From AGU’s statement, “Members of the AGU…collectively have special responsibilities:…[including] to educate the public on the causes, risks, and hazards…”

    But does AGU’s Q&A “don’t ask us about policy” limitation _include_ “don’t ask us whether uncertainty==ignorance, or whether uncertainty==cause for inaction”?

    Because the next Tree Lobster move after denial is to focus on uncertainty & imply it means we don’t know enough yet to act, & it’d be nice to move the “public understanding” ball forward enough to make a practical difference.

    I’ll contact the AGU folk & ask a) if they’ll consider vetting articles/columns upon the author’s request (as suggested above) & b) whether they address the risk-of-action-vs-risk-of-inaction weightings.

    If they don’t, what reputable body does, that could also do a similar Q&A?
    (The Climate Science Rapid Response Team is one, but are there also official ones? National Research Council maybe?)

    Do we have other Qs for AGU re the Q&A service?
    (and would someone who’s an AGU member – I’m not – like to ask them & report back?)

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 7 Dec 2010 @ 1:04 PM

  32. Re the \seal of approval\ & possible subsequent revision, be aware that this *has* happened with textbooks. RayPierre is listed as a reviewer, in the Calif. middle school McDougal-Littel(sp?) earth sciences text (James Trefil of George Mason U. was its Head Science Consultant), and the copy he reviewed&approved (with reservations) contained much more info on climate change than the California textbook has.

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 7 Dec 2010 @ 1:10 PM

  33. p.s. Suggestion to AGU; it’d also be good if you provided an AQ (not just FAQ) page, listing Qs journos have asked your service, and the answers it gave.
    (*if* the Q&A was done in writing; if it was over the phone, the suggestion is moot)

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 7 Dec 2010 @ 1:36 PM

  34. Jack Maloney, on the off chance that you might actually be interested in learning, I think that you need to remember that we are discussing CLIMATE here, and thus timescales longer than 30 years. As such, the climate is in balance when energy-in (from Mr. Sun) and energy-out (from IR) are roughly the same integrated over said timescales.

    The concern is not the balance. Were we in an ice age, a warming trend would be welcome. Instead, we are a complex, integrated global economy that depends critically on a relatively stable climate to provide for a global population that is already beyond the ability of the planet to sustain. Does that help, or shall we draw a map for you?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 7 Dec 2010 @ 1:41 PM

  35. …and perhaps a list of the journalists who’ve used the service, since readers might like to know who the diligent ones are.

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 7 Dec 2010 @ 1:48 PM

  36. Ray and/or Hank,

    If you get a chance, I need help with something. Please look at this comment on the Coldest Winter thread (and any subsequent comments, if need be) and let me know if you can answer the riddle.


    I’ve never seen Tree Lobsters. The bookmark now lives beside xkcd.

    The list of journalists who’ve used the service (whether Q&A, or vetting) is a good idea.

    Comment by Bob (Sphaerica) — 7 Dec 2010 @ 2:23 PM

  37. Jack @ 28,

    I understand what your getting at. A quick look at proxy records demonstrates climate has changed on just about all time scales, sometimes abruptly. Something must have forced it, thus the climate is very sensitive to external forcing (because how else would it change by itself?)

    It’s a climate thing, they always have it backwards.

    Ray @ 34, we are in an Ice Age (Interglacial).

    Comment by Iso — 7 Dec 2010 @ 4:27 PM

  38. > iso … proxy records …. sometimes abruptly

    Yeah? Which proxy records do you consider reliable?
    Which ones have you looked at in the science journals?
    Do you know how long the PETM took? the rate of change then? and now?
    Why do you believe what you post? Who are you trusting as a reliable source?
    Need help looking stuff up in the science journals? Librarians are there to help you. Do find one and ask how to check what you believe.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Dec 2010 @ 6:13 PM

  39. Iso@37: NO. Definition of integlacial:

    period between ice ages: a period of warmer climate separating two periods of glaciation and displaying a characteristic sequence of changes in vegetation. The term is used especially for several such periods that occurred during the Pleistocene epoch, lasting from 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago.

    Also, climate scientists–you know, the ones who know how to analyze and interpret the data–have looked at paleoclimate and used it to estimate climate sensitivity. Guess what. It agrees with the other sensitivity estimates.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 7 Dec 2010 @ 6:34 PM

  40. Ray!!! Backwards again!!

    Definition of Ice Age: A cold period marked by episodes of extensive glaciation alternating with episodes of relative warmth.

    Based on best data available, we are in a ice age right now….

    Comment by Iso — 7 Dec 2010 @ 6:46 PM

  41. First of all, let me thank all of you for your overwhelming interest in AGU’s Q&A service. There are a few clarifications about the service that I’ve been asked to provide.

    1. The Q&As from last year’s pilot program that took place for 9 days during the Copenhagen Conference are not publicly available (nor are this year’s Q&As). This is to protect journalists and their stories. Participating journalists have indicated that they will not use the service if there is a threat that their story may be “scooped” by another journalist and posting Q&As on the website could result in this.

    2. Journalists working on a story are always welcome to contact the AGU’s Scientist Referral Service ( ). The AGU’s press office will put the journalist in touch with a scientist who can assist with their article/story. This includes everything from answering questions to doing interviews to vetting articles. However, many journalists have restrictive deadlines and the Referral Service is not intended to provide quick responses, so it may be limited in terms of “article approval”. The issue of “correcting” articles that may have unintentionally inaccurate information is something that has come up before and the AGU (along with other professional scientific organizations) is attempting to address this – a plan is currently being developed.

    3. The issue of clarifying specific scientific terms, such as “uncertainty”, is not a strategic objective of the Q&A Service. The Q&A Service is meant to answer journalists’ questions. Should a question about uncertainty arise, we would be happy to discuss it in detail. At this time, unsolicited statements/clarifications about common points of confusion in climate science will not be produced.

    It should be stated that the Q&A service is staffed entirely by volunteer scientists. The only requirements are that the scientists be AGU members and have a PhD in a climate science-related field. The 700+ scientists that have volunteered are generously donating their time to respond to the questions that we’ve received. Expanding the service to include more duties and responsibilities would provide an added burden to our volunteers. As such, it is unlikely that any drastic changes will occur between now and the end of the extended pilot program (third week in January), but we welcome any suggestions that you may have for feedback.

    Journalists, please send your questions to

    All other inquiries about the service:

    Comment by Jeff Taylor, AGU Q&A Project Manager — 7 Dec 2010 @ 7:18 PM

  42. Q for Hank et al, re his response to Iso’s \proxy records …. sometimes abruptly\

    (Hank: \Yeah? Which proxy records do you consider reliable?
    Which ones have you looked at in the science journals?
    Do you know how long the PETM took? the rate of change then? and now?\)

    But there *are* abrupt paleo climate changes, right? & I’ve wondered about how that fact reconciles with the assertion that \we’re changing the climate faster than it’s changed naturally\ – & I assumed it’s because the \abrupt naturally-caused change\ records are local/regional, not global.

    Or do I need to adjust some other part of my thinking?

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 7 Dec 2010 @ 7:21 PM

  43. #28 Jack Maloney

    Since I don’t know which statement you are referring to either, I will make a random stab at addressing your concern with my random thoughts on the topic:

    Climate balance may be reasonably used as a relative term to describe the associated relative balance that occurs under a certain set of conditions in the climate system in a given period with regard to relevant conditions and time period considerations.

    For example, the Holocene has experienced a relative balance (or relatively balanced thermal equilibrium) based on the forcings that occurred during that period of time.

    The climate system responds to changes through land, atmosphere and ocean temperatures, seasonal variation, albedo and other associated system feedbacks in the carbon sink, ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns.

    Recent changes such as land use, and increased GHG’s due to human/industrial processes have caused an imbalance in the form of a positive bias to the radiative forcing.

    If such increases were halted, the system would eventually find a new balance based on the conditions as the interact and settle in with natural influences of the climate system; albeit at a higher temperature.

    Hope that helps clear things up for you.

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    Comment by John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation) — 8 Dec 2010 @ 7:07 AM

  44. #42 Anna Haynes

    Consider that other than asteroid impacts. Large methane hydrate releases or volcanoes, the typical climate shift occurs over thousands of years based on a multitude of factors, but most recently (last 5 million years) is more generally regulated by Milankovitch cycles re glaciation/deglaciation stages. SHorter scale natural variation is also in play.

    The current rate of change is estimated to be around 15,000 times the natural cycle change rate. I think it was University of Leicester that reported on this about 5 years ago, but I did not follow up on other confirming studies to the rate. I don’t remember what they were seeing the rate change in though.

    Comment by John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation) — 8 Dec 2010 @ 7:21 AM

  45. John, I think news like this 2001 USA Today account (link) is what’s confusing –

    “…”ice cores changed out image of climate,” [Sigfus] Johnsen says. “Before we had though that climate needed 10,000 years to change. We found it could change in 10 to 20 years; it could switch from very cold to very warm. This shook everyone.””

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 8 Dec 2010 @ 1:17 PM

  46. In case anyone overlooked it (as I did) – Jeff Taylor of the AGU did respond to our questions, in Comment#41 above.

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 8 Dec 2010 @ 2:12 PM

  47. #45 Anna Haynes

    I see what you are saying and as always context is key. One could hypothesize that the rapid changes may have to do with radiative forcing changes that may swing the climate around as it goes through longer term changes due to fast and slow feed backs.

    It does get confusing when one thinks about it.

    There is still a lot to learn. The Milankovitch forcings can take some time to swing in and out of ice ages. Natural variation is likely to have odd perturbations during forcing changes. It’s a good idea to try and add the contexts to when they mean fast change, there were notable climate shifts. But were they global, hemispheric, or regional?

    Lot’s to learn though. I think the important thing here is to make sure we separate the natural from the anthropogenic, which is the attribution, while still recognizing that natural variation is a player on shorter time scales than ice ages to warm periods.

    Context is key.

    Comment by John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation) — 8 Dec 2010 @ 2:44 PM

  48. Re abrupt natural climate change, I guess I’m still confused.
    From Richard Alley (SciAm, 2004; link) –
    “Hollywood disaster thriller The Day after Tomorrow…
    …Are overwhelmingly abrupt climate changes likely to happen anytime soon, or did Fox Studios exaggerate wildly? The answer to both questions appears to be yes. …Sudden, dramatic climate changes have struck many times in the past, and they could happen again. In fact, they are probably inevitable.”

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 8 Dec 2010 @ 7:12 PM

  49. 48

    Re abrupt Natural climate change has always, and will always be out of our control. Whether we change anything or not does not change this fact. The Holocene has been relatively stable because of a lack of ice, the lack of ice has nothing significant to do with humans (although some extremists argue the opposite), so nobody knows how long the stability will last.

    At the end of the day, AGW could be beneficial, as noted by deniers such as Lindzen. Or it could be detrimental.

    [Response: So he’s an AGW denier, but AGW effects could be beneficial eh? Interesting–Jim]

    I’m with Lindzen.

    Comment by Iso — 8 Dec 2010 @ 8:53 PM

  50. Good one Jim.

    P.S. Stick to plant science.

    Comment by Iso — 8 Dec 2010 @ 9:28 PM

  51. #49 Iso

    And the band played on…

    Comment by John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation) — 8 Dec 2010 @ 10:17 PM

  52. Illegitimi non carborundum, Jim.
    And check the IP numbers for sock puppets every now and again.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Dec 2010 @ 10:34 PM

  53. “Many components of the climate system—including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons—are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th century.”
    “During recent millennia of relatively stable climate, civilization became established and populations have grown rapidly. In the next 50 years, even the lower limit of impending climate change—an additional global mean warming of 1°C above the last decade—is far beyond the range of climate variability experienced during the past thousand years and poses global problems in planning for and adapting to it.”

    What part of that is “AGU’s implication that there ever has been or can be a ‘balanced’ climate,…” or is “certainly questionable…” ?

    Comment by Brian Dodge — 8 Dec 2010 @ 11:04 PM

  54. Clearing up my confusion – some kind person recently linked to NASA’s “uncertainties” page, which says this about [past, natural] abrupt climate change:
    “climate scientists often discuss “abrupt climate change,” which includes the possibility of “tipping points” in the Earth’s climate. Climate appears to have several states in which it is relatively stable over long periods of time. But when climate moves between those states, it can do so quickly (geologically speaking), in hundreds of years and even, in a handful of cases, in only a few decades. These rapid ‘state changes’ are what scientists mean by abrupt climate change. They are much more common at regional scales than at the global scale, but can be global. State changes have triggers, or “tipping points,” that are related to feedback processes. In what’s probably the single largest uncertainty in climate science, scientists don’t have much confidence that they know what those triggers are.”

    Comment by Anna Haynes — 8 Dec 2010 @ 11:40 PM

  55. “At the end of the day, AGW could be beneficial, as noted by deniers such as Lindzen.”
    “I’m with Lindzen.”
    “P.S. Stick to plant science.” Comments by Iso

    Sticking to the plant science, I’d like to point out that field observations have already confirmed that AGW is detrimental to rice yields –
    “Here we report that annual mean maximum and minimum temperatures have increased by 0.35°C and 1.13°C, respectively, for the period 1979–2003 and a close linkage between rice grain yield and mean minimum temperature during the dry cropping season (January to April). Grain yield declined by 10% for each 1°C increase in growing-season minimum temperature in the dry season…”

    as predicted by plant scientists in 1983 – ‘Climate Change and Rice’, S. Peng K.T. Ingram H.-U. Neue L.H. Ziska (Eds.)
    “There is a large body of literature on the individual effects of CO2 and temperature on rice physiology.”
    “For tropical areas, increased temperature leads to faster crop development (Nishiyama 1976), higher respiration rates (Munakata 1976), spikelet sterility (Yoshida et al. 1981; Mackill et al. 1982), and reduced grain yield (Imai et al. 1983).”

    When did Lindzen predict global warming would be beneficial? Hows that working out for him?

    Comment by Brian Dodge — 8 Dec 2010 @ 11:48 PM

  56. #54 Anna Haynes

    That’s an excellent link. I started an uncertainties page a while ago and at the moment the only thing in it is that link. I will have to get back to it soon and add more contexts.

    What the NASA quote is saying is what I was trying to say in my post #47:

    “Natural variation is likely to have odd perturbations during forcing changes.”

    That could be causing the rapid shifting that was observed in the ice cores. Sort of like upsetting the apple cart, so to speak, by changing the path.

    Relative thermal equilibrium seems more stable and possibly more predictable than when larger forcing changes are occurring due to the total energy content of the system combined with how that might affect natural variation oscillations along with slow feedbacks.

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    Comment by John P. Reisman (OSS Foundation) — 9 Dec 2010 @ 12:51 AM

  57. Iso 49: AGW could be beneficial…

    BPL: What part of “rapidly increasing drought will crash harvests all over the world and civilization will end without food” do you not understand?

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 9 Dec 2010 @ 6:33 AM

  58. I read a funny book awhile back. In it, there was an afterlife — Heaven, if you will — but it wasn’t really eternal. You did everything you ever wanted to do. You enjoyed every pleasure imaginable. Etc. Eventually, though, you were satiated and satisfied. Existence was ok, but a bit too much in the end. So having exhausted every possibility, finally, you simply willed yourself to fade out. And that was that. No anxiety. No recriminations. No memory.

    What was funny was that the last people to let go were academics. English Lit, I believe. As long as someone were willing to argue the contrary, they were there, heels dug in. If the author were going to update the last chapter, I think he’d recast the last group with AGW deniers. (Assuming Heaven is far more forgiving about some things than we expect.)

    Comment by Jeffrey Davis — 9 Dec 2010 @ 11:56 AM

  59. Ron Crouch mentioned in the Cloud Feedback post comments, Spencer has pretty much issued a challange to the AGU Q&A Service, maybe someone could arrange to help him eat that foot?

    Comment by flxible — 13 Dec 2010 @ 12:09 AM

  60. Iso illustrates the sort of ignorant complacency that challenges any sort of risk mitigation effort:

    Scientists have identified several specific threats–some potentially severe–arising from climate change. Iso merely asserts that there might be benefits–totally unspecified–of the changes.

    Iso, that isn’t how risk mitigation works–or science for that matter. Threats and putative benefits must be specified as narrowly as possible so that costs/benefits and probabilities for them can be estimated. If all you want to do is reassure yourself and pull the covers over your head, fine. Just don’t make any pretense that your attitude is scientific and let the adults deal with the problem.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 13 Dec 2010 @ 5:36 AM

  61. Anyone who has published nonfiction and has an agent, could you please ask them if I could contact them? And if so, give me contact info? I just got “The Case for Global Warming” turned down by Universal [sic] Publishers. No response from the agents I’ve contacted directly.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 13 Dec 2010 @ 9:25 AM

  62. Re #49

    If AGW includes rising sea levels, more severe alternating droughts and floods as well as continually record breaking storms in both summer and winter occurring more frequently than in the past, how exactly is this beneficial? Are we supposed to assume that rebuilding cities away from the coast, elevating infrastructure, cleaning up after storms and relocating populations and/or burying the victims is beneficial because it stimulates the economy?

    Sure, AGW could be beneficial – in the same way wars are beneficial to people selling guns.

    Comment by Tim Jones — 2 Jan 2011 @ 4:51 PM

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