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  1. Hi,
    The video link on energy futures discussion does not work and I would like to see it if possible.


    [Response: Fixed. thanks – gavin]

    Comment by Sarah — 29 Aug 2008 @ 9:18 PM

  2. Re: Electricity without carbon: capture the sun and it can be done

    The obvious question, asked by many before, is why renewable energy hasn’t been made available on a large scale. In answering this question we must always remember that, also obvious, energy development still generally follows profitability. Imagining a renewable energy future-scenario is implausible when the profit motive dominates decision-making.

    Comment by Matthew Clement — 29 Aug 2008 @ 9:31 PM

  3. see Carlos Pascual and Strobe Talbott oped at WASH POST. “7 years left to fix claimate change”

    Comment by danny bloom — 29 Aug 2008 @ 11:14 PM

  4. I would like to touch on the CO2 and climate forcing thread – but in a deep time way. I work on mass extinctions, and have had the chance this summer alone to look at late Ordovician strata in Nevada, Frasnian-Fammenian (Devonian) strata in Nevada and Australia, and KT boundaries in Montana and North Dakota. My question: all three times had putative CO2 higher than 1000 ppm, following Bob Berner’s GEOCARB model estimates. All three seem to show rapid sea level changes that suggest rapid ice melt/ice formation. How high can CO2 be and still allow ice caps? Is there any literature out there on this?

    Comment by Peter Ward — 29 Aug 2008 @ 11:20 PM

  5. Regarding the Friday roundoup blurb about the problems of news coverage of AGW: i.e. why most citizens of the U.S. don’t get it. Here’s a recent example of the problem in a recent news story about the coast guard and others preparing for the opening of new arctic shipping lanes because of the loss of the artic ice cap due to global warming.

    Taken from the article: The head of the Coast Guard, Adm. Thad Allen, carefully avoids the debate over climate change. It’s too early to say what the Coast Guard’s future operations here will be, but Allen is certain his agency will have a key role as the Arctic landscape is transformed by higher temperatures.

    “I’m agnostic to the science and the debate about what the cause is,” Allen said. “All I know is there’s water where there didn’t used to be.”

    That pretty much sums it up. It appears that Admiral Thad Allen can’t be seen admitting to global warming. Why? Retribution from his superiors? Teasing from his buddies? The absolute polarization of the debate by our government and he being a public employee?

    Comment by Andrew — 29 Aug 2008 @ 11:39 PM

  6. The real reason that renewables have not been developed is that the fossil fuel corporations and their paid-off cronies in politics have deliberately attacked and undercut renewable energy proposals for decades now.

    This is why there are thousands of pharmaceutical research programs in the U.S., and only a bare handful of renewable energy reserach programs. For whatever reason, the NSF decided to leave all issues surrounding research into clean energy to someone else, namely the Department of Energy.

    Has anyone ever looked at the DOE budget? A rough synopsis is here:

    The bottom line is that they spend almost nothing on real renewable energy programs – their budget for the “DOE Legacy Project” is twice that for solar research. Thier budget for nuclear weapons research is around 9 billion dollars, I think.

    As far as why the press doesn’t cover this? Well, it must be that the people who own the press and hire and fire journalists and editors also have significant holdings in fossil fuels, and so they routinely refuse to cover stories on the energy issue.

    We can predict that the American press will continue to refuse to link extreme weather events to global warming. That’s a very noticeable trend – American press reports on heat waves, massive floods and giant hurricanes always leave out any mention of the role that global warming might have played.

    The reason is really simple – if there really is an association between global warming and fossil fuel emissions, and there is, then that means that the fossil fuel companies could be held liable for damages – but only if they could be shown to have tried to to hide the truth from the public, as the tobacco companies did with their products.

    That shouldn’t be too hard to show, should it?

    Comment by Ike Solem — 30 Aug 2008 @ 9:44 AM

  7. Hi Gavin

    I have a problem of understanding for the Lunt et al 2008 paper.

    When they write:

    “suggest Eocene atmospheric CO2 of the order of 1,000 p.p.m.v., falling to levels as low as 200 p.p.m.v. in the Middle Miocene,”

    Why could Greenland avoid a glaciation when the CO2 was only 200ppm?

    For them, in the Pliocene, the fall from 400 to 280 ppm was sufficient and a fall from 1000 ppm to 200ppm in the Miocene was not?
    (I believe it was sufficient for Antarctica glaciation)

    can you explain me?

    [Response: Fair point – I don’t really know. However, judging from figure 6.1 in the IPCC report, it’s clear that the estimates for CO2 through the Cenozoic prior to the ice core records (including the Pliocene and Miocene) are pretty uncertain. – gavin]

    Comment by Pascal — 30 Aug 2008 @ 10:28 AM

  8. Dr. Ward, great to see your question. I dropped a couple of recent abstracts on CO2 levels (papers that you’re likely well aware of already) at the end of the ‘Are geologists different?’ thread.

    On your query, I hope our hosts would consider a topic limited to people who know something about it (paging Figen, and others, who actually cite sources they’ve understood). It could go on for months or years if it attracted the people working on that one big question.

    Lunt et al.’s Nature paper is of course paywalled (trip to library for me). Their supplementary info is available:

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 30 Aug 2008 @ 10:48 AM

  9. We have enough nuclear fuel for FIVE THOUSAND YEARS

    according to “Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy”, by B. Comby. “Breeding”
    fissionable fuel and recycling nuclear fuel greatly extends the supply. We have
    many possible uranium mines that we haven’t started mining. The reasons we are
    not doing so are political and psychological. Most people have an irrational fear
    of anything nuclear caused by coal industry propaganda.

    Everything, including yourself, is made of atoms. All atoms have nuclei. You
    have many atomic nuclei inside yourself since you are made of atoms. The
    simplest nucleus is one proton. That would be a hydrogen atom. An oxygen
    atom has 8 protons and either 8, 9 or 10 neutrons in its nucleus. All other nuclei
    also have neutrons. Uranium has 92 protons and either 143 or 146 neutrons. If it
    has 143 neutrons it is U235. If it has 146 neutrons, it is U238. Nuclear fuel is
    only 2% to 8% U235, the kind that fissions/divides, providing energy. The rest is
    U238 that doesn’t fission. A nuclear reaction happens when a neutron is captured
    by a nucleus. If a U235 nucleus captures a neutron, the nucleus and the atom split
    approximately in half and 2 or 3 neutrons are released because the 2 smaller
    nuclei don’t need so many neutrons. If a U238 nucleus captures a neutron, it
    ejects an electron and the neutron becomes a proton. The U238 thus becomes
    Plutonium 239. Plutonium is fissionable, which means that plutonium is a good
    fuel. If you add Thorium to the fuel, you can make more fissionable uranium. If
    a Thorium atom nucleus captures a neutron, it ejects an electron and the neutron
    becomes a proton. The Thorium atom thus becomes U233. U233 is fissionable.

    Depending on the design of the reactor and the mix of the fuel, the fuel % in the
    reactor can either grow or shrink. It is kind of like the fuel gauge can go either up
    or down, but it is more like the reactor can run hotter or cooler over time. The
    temperature is kept constant by adjusting the control rods. A breeder reactor is a
    reactor designed to make the fissionable part of the fuel load grow rapidly.
    In the US, fuel is left in the reactor for about 10 years, or 10% of the fuel is
    replaced each year. The reprocessing step sorts out the fuel and puts the
    percentage of fissionable fuel back to the starting percentage. In the process,
    plutonium may be removed and either wasted or used as fuel. If we add thorium
    to the fuel, we can make more uranium than we put in. Since the earth contains
    more than twice as much thorium as uranium, it would be wise to make thorium
    into uranium. By reprocessing nuclear fuel, we get an enormous, many centuries
    long fuel supply. The products of fission are also removed when fuel is
    reprocessed. These are just other ordinary atoms that are no longer useful as fuel.
    The quantity is very small. We should reprocess fuel to keep the fuel load at the
    correct percentage of fissionable fuel for the particular reactor design. Instead, we
    go through the expensive process of making more “virgin” fuel for each new fuel
    load. This greatly increases the price you pay for electricity. We are not
    reprocessing nuclear fuel for political reasons. France reprocesses fuel and France
    has a nuclear waste repository.

    I have zero financial interest in nuclear power, and I never have had a financial
    interest in nuclear power. My sole motivation in writing this is to avoid extinction
    by H2S gas. H2S is how global warming kills everybody if we don’t act.

    Coal is almost pure carbon, except for the URANIUM, ARSENIC, LEAD,
    MERCURY, Antimony, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Selenium, Barium, Fluorine,
    Silver, Beryllium, Iron, Sulfur, Boron, Titanium, Cadmium, Magnesium,
    Calcium, Manganese, Vanadium, Chlorine, Aluminum, Chromium, Molybdenum
    and Zinc that are coal’s impurities. Coal smoke and cinders are commercially
    viable ORE for the above elements.
    Chinese industrial grade coal is sometimes stolen by peasants for cooking. The
    result is that the whole family dies of arsenic poisoning because Chinese
    industrial grade coal contains large amounts of arsenic. Coal varies a lot.
    You have to analyze it not only mine by mine but even lump by lump.
    by Alex Gabbard
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory
    Oak Ridge, TN
    Selections from the 19th Annual Conference
    March 14,15,16, 1996
    Nashville, Tennessee

    Published by the
    Edited by Jack D. Arters, Ed.D.
    Conference Director
    The truth is, all natural rocks contain most natural elements. Coal is a rock.
    The average concentration of uranium in coal is 1 or 2 parts per million. Illinois
    coal contains up to 103 parts per million uranium. A 1000 million watt coal
    fired power plant burns 4 million tons of coal each year. If you multiply 4
    million tons by 1 part per million, you get 4 tons of uranium. Most of that is
    U238. About .7% is U235. 4 tons = 8000 pounds. 8000 pounds times .7% =
    56 pounds of U235. An average 1000 million watt coal fired power plant puts
    out 56 to 112 pounds of U235 every year. There are only 2 places the uranium
    can go: Up the stack or into the cinders.
    Since a reactor full fuel load is around 11 tons of 2% U235 and 98% U238, and
    one load lasts about 10 years, and what one coal fired power plant puts into the
    air and cinders fully fuels a nuclear power plant.
    Compare 4 Million tons per year with 1.1 tons per year. 1.1 divided by 4 Million
    = 2.75 E -7 = .000000275 =.0000275%. Remember that only 2% of that is
    U235. The nuclear power plant needs ~44 pounds of U235 per year. The coal
    fired power plant burns coal by the trainload. The nuclear power plant consumes
    U235 in such small quantities yearly that you could carry that much weight in a
    See also:

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 30 Aug 2008 @ 10:59 AM

  10. #4 Peter Ward

    Depends on the “Faintness” of the sun (e.g., some things going on during the Ordovician), elevation, latitude, and other things. There’s probably a rather large range due to the logarithmic curve between temperature and CO2. I can’t imagine Greenland surviving in a 1000 ppmv world today (allowing for a sufficient response time), keeping all other Holocene variables constant. Antarctica would take a bit more than Greenland, and there’s also uncertainty in both climate sensitivity and the sensitivity of ice sheets to temperature change (they’d also get precipitation change as well).

    Comment by Chris Colose — 30 Aug 2008 @ 11:40 AM

  11. Re 4 – I think newer research suggests a dip in CO2 level around the time of the late Ordivician associated (and largely caused by) the chemical weathering of the Appalachian mountains.

    I didn’t think there was much ice at all around the time of the K/T impact.

    Don’t know enough about the Devonian to comment on that one.

    But generally, my understanding is that the three most intensive periods of glaciations in the Panerozoic – late Ordivician (right?) (brief), late Paleozoic (Permian? did it extend into the Carboniferous as well? not sure off hand) – (an extended period), and the later portion of the Cenozoic (~now) – these are all (including the new research I refered to above) associate with relatively low atmospheric CO2 levels.

    Comment by Patrick 027 — 30 Aug 2008 @ 12:42 PM

  12. One of the more annoying aspects of newspaper science reporting
    (I’ll pick on the NY Times because I read it every day) is the lack of
    informative links within a story. Two articles from August 26th and
    27th hopefully make the point.

    “Carbon Footprint: Savings at home” (Aug. 27th) contains nine
    html links — one to a previous NYTimes story and eight to public and
    non-public sites where the reader can find information pertinent to the

    “Wind Energy Bumps into Power Grid’s Limit” (Aug. 26th) contains
    eight html links — every one of them to a previous NYTimes story or
    such interesting tidbits as Bill Richardson’s biography and 334 news
    articles containing Gov. Richardson’s name. None of these links point
    me to one bit of information about the nation’s power grid!

    When I am done reading many newspaper science/technology articles,
    I frequently spend a lot of time searching Google for flesh to put on
    the bare bones of the article.

    By the way, the Columbia Journalism articles have great web links.

    Comment by BillS — 30 Aug 2008 @ 2:01 PM

  13. Re 5 and 6, it’s sad to see conspiracy fantasies rearing their heads in a scientists’ blog.
    What’s next? ‘911 Truthers’, ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’.
    The public debating square is messy. The general public needs visible, imminent danger.
    The casual, scientific literate person, looking at global temperature vs CO2 graphs over the
    last 130 years has a great deal of difficulty linking the two in any calamitous way.
    Steady warming in the 1980s and 90s – not much of anything in the remaining 110 years.
    It’s a tough sell!

    Comment by Fred Jorgensen — 30 Aug 2008 @ 2:50 PM

  14. When ‘natural gas’ burns, does it not produce CO2? Isn’t it just another ‘fossil fuel’, a global greenhouse climate changing fuel? Why all the excitement about increased use of natural gas in the US?

    (I probably know the answers, but I think the media does not.)

    [Response: CO2 emissions per Joule of useful energy are much less with natural gas. Still, it is a fossil fuel and only looks good relative to coal or oil. – gavin]

    Comment by catman306 — 30 Aug 2008 @ 4:29 PM

  15. re 13 Fred Jorgensen – just what graphs are you lookin’ at?

    Is less ice => more sunlight absorbed => warmer air over Greenland => more melt => sea level rise => bad news for New Orleans, Miami etc
    too hard for the average Joe to grasp?

    Comment by Brian Dodge — 30 Aug 2008 @ 4:29 PM

  16. “…That shouldn’t be too hard…”

    Yes, chasing, demonizing, and — My! Oh! My! — prosecuting bogeymen is always hard.

    Comment by Rod B — 30 Aug 2008 @ 4:31 PM

  17. Edward Greisch says in comment 9

    Most people have an irrational fear of anything nuclear caused by coal industry propaganda.

    The cupidity of many of our civil servants (and other tax beneficiaries) is influential. This is because their income is in large part hydrocarbon tax revenue, and nuclear energy makes that revenue go away.

    This being so, citizens don’t have actually to be paranoid about nuclear energy; all we have to do is be silent while our rulers falsely impute this error to us. Polls say different, suggesting Greisch has credulously slandered the public.

    … Since the earth contains more than twice as much thorium as uranium, it would be wise to make thorium into uranium.

    Maybe, but there’s no rush.

    … By reprocessing nuclear fuel, we get an enormous, many centuries long fuel supply.

    Actually, many centuries of uranium supply are about as certain as anything in nature, even with a once-through fuel non-cycle. Projections based on known reserves at current prices (ca. US$0.4 per mmBTU) are misleading in two ways.

    One, known reserves have been increasing at about ten times the rate of use. Two, current prices reflect an exceedingly low energy cost of extraction. A tonne of uranium now-a-days yields enough electricity to pulverize two million tonnes of hard rock, and pulverization is the bulk of the energy cost in extracting a very dilute mineral, such as the 2.2-to-2.8 ppm uranium in average continental crust. Thus, if much richer ores were not being found, one mass U could now-a-days, if richer ores were not being found, power the extraction from country rock of five masses.

    Comment by G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan 'til ~1996 — 30 Aug 2008 @ 5:39 PM

  18. Peter, you want DeConto and Pollard. See also this paper (Berner co-auth) and this related commentary, and this one (link to actual paper under the graphic) focused on the Ordovician. I’m confident there’s more in the pipeline.

    Comment by Steve Bloom — 30 Aug 2008 @ 5:44 PM

  19. When one is discussing these topics, one needs to keep in mind the position of the continents as well.

    The more the continents are weighted toward the poles, the cooler the average temps on earth.

    Put lots of continents together at the poles or one of the poles and we have snowball earth.

    What was North America’s location 2.5 million years ago versus today and versus 5.0 million years ago. +/- 200 miles means ice ages versus no ice ages.

    Comment by John Lang — 30 Aug 2008 @ 6:49 PM

  20. Molnar’s Law strikes again. (I’m not saying it’s necessarily off topic on this thread, but I’ll take credit where I can.)

    Comment by S. Molnar — 30 Aug 2008 @ 7:27 PM

  21. #17–

    What was the % yield on the U238 to Pu239 conversion in the reactors at Calder Hall? How much fissionable plutonium can one make from five masses of uranium derived from country rock?

    All things being equal, there may be no necessary connection between development of nuclear energy and development of nuclear weapons–though this has not been established….not by a long shot.

    But all things are never equal, and throughout its history nuclear power has been much more about getting people to do what you want them to without asking their opinion than it has been about providing electricity at low cost.

    Compare to wind and solar, which are inherently more egalitarian, both because they are available to everyone without cost and because they are much less useful in the context of centralized power grids.

    Comment by A.C. — 30 Aug 2008 @ 7:36 PM

  22. > middle Miocene (Pascal, Gavin)
    Something complicated may have been going on for a while in there

    Orbitally-paced climate evolution during the middle Miocene …
    online version, at doi:10.1016/j.epsl. 2007.07.026. References. Abels, H.A., Hilgen, F.J., Krijgsman, …

    And always, a reminder, the planktonic organisms predominating may varied a lot under selection pressure as the climate and atmosphere were changing; I don’t know about that particular time. That’s a feedback far more variable and less repeatable than say geological weathering.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 30 Aug 2008 @ 8:51 PM

  23. re natural gas: another reason besides GW natural gas is pushed (T.Boone Pickens e.g.) is very little is imported. Pickens’ idea is to build wind farms to shift the power utilities use of natural gas to transportation (direct use or production of hydrogen) thereby reduce our need for oil, much of which is imported and out of our control.

    Incidentally, would someone inform Nancy Pelosi that natural gas is a fossil fuel? Shockingly, she thinks it is not!

    Comment by Rod B — 30 Aug 2008 @ 9:04 PM

  24. Brian (15) says “…Is less ice => more sunlight absorbed => warmer air over Greenland => more melt => sea level rise => bad news for New Orleans, Miami etc
    too hard for the average Joe to grasp?”

    Yeh, pretty much.

    Comment by Rod B — 30 Aug 2008 @ 9:08 PM

  25. Clarification: The commentary actually refers to this paper on the relationship between Miocene climate, vegetation and CO2 levels (and is a big advance on what was known at the time of the AR4, noting Gavin’s response to #7).

    Comment by Steve Bloom — 30 Aug 2008 @ 9:12 PM

  26. What is the yield? (Energy recovered compare with energy input)I asked a friend in the department of energy a quarter century ago. The answer was below 1, when you consider waste disposal. Helen Caldicott’s book (she is an adamant anti-nuke) also says this. I don’t know that it’s true but I am not convinced that nuclear power — as least the uranium phase of it — yields energy (keep in mind it’s been government subsidized, including the supposed permanent waste disposal — which has yet to happen and won’t for at least 10 years.) Plus there are the massive environmental damage (pitchblende tailings) and accident risks (said to be less than 1 in 10 million years before Three Mile Island).
    I am so far from convinced nuclear is any kind of solution. Greisch’s discussion is an argument with selected numbers, not the whole picture. Lawyering.
    I have not studied how the conversion to plutonium changes the energy yield. (A minuscule amount of plutonium is deadly, making it an ideal terrorist weapon, or choice poison).
    What I think is, somebody should do the end-to-end energy yields, and the economics and throw in environmental considerations — on every energy choice, including nuclear.

    Comment by veritas36 — 30 Aug 2008 @ 9:30 PM

  27. From Sarah Palin, McCain’s new VP pick:

    What is your take on global warming and how is it affecting our country?

    “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.”

    Thought you all would be interested in this…and McCain’s one who, for all his faults, actually knows the human contribution to climate change. Won’t get my vote…now doubly won’t.

    Comment by wittgenstein — 30 Aug 2008 @ 9:45 PM

  28. In response to an interview question about global warming, Sen. McCain’s running mate Gov. Sarah Palin replied: “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.” This denialist formulation is at odds with what her state’s own Alaska Climate Change Strategy web site says about attribution.

    Comment by Yeti — 30 Aug 2008 @ 9:50 PM

  29. Re 15: Brian Dodge. You show a pretty dramatic graph in the Woodfortrees link,
    but try this:
    Slight rise until 1980s, then rise, then plateau from 1998. (And not so Wow!)
    (CO2 doesn’t show back to 1880, but we know has had a pretty steady rise)
    It’s tempting to mix axis and scales to fool the unwary [edit]
    where honest data is presented with mixed scales and ranges for dramatic effect!

    Comment by Fred Jorgensen — 30 Aug 2008 @ 11:23 PM

  30. “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.”

    Naw, shooting wolves doesn’t change the environment. Naw, her new victory over banning of mining that may directly and negatively impact a huge native salmon run won’t lead to harmful mining activity that will change the environment and put fishermen out of business. Naw, nothing we can do will change the environment negatively.

    Comment by dhogaza — 30 Aug 2008 @ 11:34 PM

  31. On the endless nuclear debate:

    When I think of endless field of windmills or solar collectors, terrorism doesn’t come to mind.

    But when it suggested than we build large numbers of nuclear reactors, the hair does stand up on the back of my neck…

    Comment by Jim Eaton — 31 Aug 2008 @ 1:48 AM

  32. Re #27 and #28, no, it cannot be, a republican not believing in AGW, surely not !!!!! :)

    Lets get this straight. John McCain might believe in AGW but his strategy for dealing with it is hardly comprehensive. More like lip service.

    Comment by pete best — 31 Aug 2008 @ 5:13 AM

  33. It seems another tipping point has been reached:

    Comment by wam — 31 Aug 2008 @ 5:39 AM

  34. Republican vice-presidential candidate Palin’s denialism goes beyond climate science; she also advocates teaching creationism in science class.

    Comment by tamino — 31 Aug 2008 @ 6:58 AM

  35. Another denier (do you think this magazine – Skeptic – is worth considering?)

    [Response: We’ve discussed this ad nauseum in the comments (concluding here). It’s nonsense from conception to execution to conclusion. – gavin]

    Comment by José M. Sousa — 31 Aug 2008 @ 7:49 AM

  36. Re 33.

    I went to that site. Release of methane really scare me too. Theoretically, CO2 emissions can be controlled, but I can’t imagine any way of preventing emissions from permafrost, on land, or coastal shelves, or of methane from hydrates on/in the sea bed…

    However, one commentator (Al) says hydrates could only be liberated by volcanic activity, and increasing vegetation will mop up emissions from permafrost, and that global warming isn’t happening anyway…

    This is the big problem that the layman, and the public in general face. Who to believe ?

    Common sense says to me that the precautionary principle should be followed. If the deniers are right, nothing irretrievable has been lost. If the deniers are wrong, we’re all stuffed and cooked.

    Comment by CL — 31 Aug 2008 @ 8:26 AM

  37. The Independent (UK newspaper) is running the story on the NW and NE passages opening up simultaneously around the Arctic –

    The article states that this hasn’t happened in 125000 years, is this figure correct? Just want to make sure as the Independent has hyped things up a little too much at times. If true this should help shock some climate change sceptics out of their complacency – at least some of the ones I know.

    [Response: It’s likely true for recorded modern history (say since the 1700s) – but statements regarding longer time periods are highly speculative – it might be correct, but how would one know? These particular details are very subtle changes (unlike the large scale trends which are not subtle at all), and the proxy data for past climates doesn’t generally have this kind of granularity. – gavin]

    Comment by Kieran Morgan — 31 Aug 2008 @ 8:31 AM

  38. there may be no necessary connection between development of nuclear energy and development of nuclear weapons–though this has not been established….not by a long shot.

    It was established at Hiroshima.

    Comment by G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan 'til ~1996 — 31 Aug 2008 @ 9:19 AM

  39. Fred #29, surely you can do better than that?


    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 31 Aug 2008 @ 9:28 AM

  40. I started reading the CJR articles, and when I got to how the media have not explained the carbon cycle well enough, I thought what about our educational system???!!! I learned about that in basic science classes in junior high school, required of ALL students. I mean, that’s right up there with “the earth, as we now understand it, goes around the sun (and not the more obvious converse).”

    I also learned about the natural greenhouse effect, but that may have been in a more advanced course not required, or my own independent reading (I can’t remember). So I was well-primed decades later to understand global warming.

    I have this sinking feeling now that we somehow reached the pinnacle of education in the 60s, and it’s been downhill ever since. We’re slipping into the Dark Ages.

    Of course, there were kids even back then (during the 60s pinnacle of education) who didn’t pay attention to the science teacher, or promptly forgot whatever they learned — and I seriously doubt they’d pick up knowledge about the carbon cycle from the newspapers, even if it were frontpage every day. And they probably don’t even watch TV news.

    As for the young people today, who are probably being forced to learn creationism along side evolution (and I think this IS the case, since I teach anthropology in college and the students don’t really know much about evolution, say it isn’t really taught), I suppose there’s no hope at all for a decent education….or an understanding of global warming. I know a high school teacher (of English, not science, thank goodness) who adamantly opposes the idea of global warming.

    It’s like we’re entering into perhaps one of the worst problems humanity has ever faced, with harms to our life support systems (including a decline in agri) — unwittingly, unknowingly. [A problem we could ameliorate by our actions cost-effectively to a 2/3 reduction in GHGs.] So we’ll blame our woes on illegal immigrants, or terrorists. We’ll die a dog’s death.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 31 Aug 2008 @ 9:36 AM

  41. Good grief, folks, must you bring this endless nuclear argument to every new thread opened here?
    Can’t you keep it in one place instead of taking over every single topic as soon as it’s opened?

    [Response: I concur – no more nuclear power discussions on this thread. Thanks. – gavin]

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 31 Aug 2008 @ 9:38 AM

  42. Re: #34 Tamino says:
    “Republican vice-presidential candidate Palin’s denialism goes beyond climate science; she also advocates teaching creationism in science class.

    I wonder how she’d feel about teaching the Big Bang Theory of the creation of the Universe in a Bible study class?

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 31 Aug 2008 @ 9:39 AM

  43. [no more nuclear please]

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 31 Aug 2008 @ 9:48 AM

  44. Gavin, don’t you think a comments policy should be designed rather than improvised? How nice of you to declare nuclear comments off-topic after Edward Greisch eating up half of the thread’s space for spelling out at kindergarten level some of the basics of nuclear fission. Anybody thinking we needed that is unequipped to have any opinion on the level that matters.

    Forgive me for believing for a moment that because one such un-thought-through and potentially disastrous idea for “fixing” the climate crisis, geoengineering, was even worthy of a post, that commenting on other such ideas, and on how interested parties are trying to lobby for them under the global warming prevention flag, would perhaps be remotely relevant too. Dr Strangelove is alive and kicking. Ugh.

    [Response: Look, I’m happy to have pretty much anything discussed in a moderate fashion (and it’s not worth my time to get any more directed than that), but Hank is correct, this continual hijacking of threads with the same discussion over and again is tedious for all concerned. Remember the definition of a fanatic? someone who can’t change their mind and won’t change the subject? Well, I’m changing the subject. You will undoubtedly get future opportunities to discuss this. – gavin]

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 31 Aug 2008 @ 10:46 AM

  45. …but Hank is correct, this continual hijacking of threads with the same discussion over and again is tedious for all concerned

    Oh, I agree. Just criticising your timing.

    …and is that me you’re calling a fanatic? A thread hijacker? You know my commenting history.

    [Response: Indeed. But you know who I’m talking about. – gavin]

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 31 Aug 2008 @ 11:35 AM

  46. “someone who can’t change their mind and won’t change the subject”
    That’s a cool definition of a fanatic :)

    [Response: Churchill. – gavin]

    Comment by Figen Mekik — 31 Aug 2008 @ 11:50 AM

  47. Fred Jorgenson posts:

    The casual, scientific literate person, looking at global temperature vs CO2 graphs over the
    last 130 years has a great deal of difficulty linking the two in any calamitous way.
    Steady warming in the 1980s and 90s – not much of anything in the remaining 110 years.
    It’s a tough sell!

    And that’s an example of why casual perusal of graphs doesn’t always tell you very much. Statistical analysis of trends might be more helpful.

    Although when I look at the NASA GISS or Hadley CRU temperature curves for the last 120 and 150 years, respectively, it sure does look like an exponentially rising curve to me.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 31 Aug 2008 @ 12:12 PM

  48. Lynm re #40

    You are correct.

    How is it that people that use cell phones can deny science. Don’t they understand that phones are proof that science works?

    On a freshman chemistry exam (1971), as an extra credit question, we were given production statistics for halogenated hydrocarbons. Based on what we had about free radical chemistry, we were expected to predict in a few minutes the ozone hole that would be detected in the mid 1970s. With all due respect to the climate modelers, predicting gross AGW is not that hard.

    However, in 1991, I worked in a large engineering firm. One of the tasks I was assigned, was clipping and circulating articles on global climate change, because some of the very technically sophisticated members in our group “just did not get it.” In 2001, some of those guys still “did not get it.”

    Some strong believe system allowed these guys to do complex engineering on a daily basis, and still not accept the calculations and even observations of AGW. Now, I believe that some people can do the science and accept AGW, and other people have deep rooted aversions to accepting AGW. I think that is a matter not of better education in atmospheric science, but a matter for psychologists, biologists, and anthropologists as to why some people cannot accept AGW.

    Comment by Aaron Lewis — 31 Aug 2008 @ 1:02 PM

  49. Re #34, sounds like the new republican movement to me. All science is dross unless it is allowing us to defend our realm. Obama must surely win this time around otherwise the 10 years to a different path will become six.

    Comment by pete best — 31 Aug 2008 @ 1:18 PM

  50. After reading that Nature article, I have to wonder. It’s as if you asked someone to design an agricultural system capable of feeding a billion people and they handed you back a list of crops you could possibly grow: corn, beans, sugarcane, wheat, soybeans, pineapple, coconut, lettuce…

    The energy mix issue is a lot more complicated, and could be presented much more coherently.

    First, let’s break energy supply into two forms: fuels (liquid, gaseous, or solid) and electric current.

    Electric current is the most adaptable and useful energy source – a flow of electrons from high potential to low potential. There are many ways to generate current, but it is more difficult to store electricity. Typical sources of electric current include nuclear reactors, natural gas- and coal-fired power plants, hydropower from dams, geothermal plants, biomass-fired power plants, and solar and wind power. The only long-term sustainable versions (century scale) are solar and wind.

    Fuels are used for heating and to drive combustion-based machinery, from internal combustion engines to steam boilers for generating electricity. All carbon-based fuels that we use were originally formed by photosynthesis, using atmospheric CO2 as the raw material – this is true for coal, oil, natural gas, and all biofuels.

    Liquid fuels have a special advantage over all other energy sources in that they are relatively easy to transport across long distances. The other advantage that fuels have over electricity is that they can easily be stored for use on demand. Electrical storage devices leak and have low capacity and are very expensive in comparison – but it is easy to charge up a battery using a gas-fired generator; it isn’t easy to convert CO2 to petroleum using electricity.

    How do this relate to plants?

    What plants actually do, at the biochemical level, is use sunlight to generate an electric current at a the nanoscale. Electrons are stripped off water, excited by light, and then the flow of electrons from high to low potential through the so-called electron-transport protein chain generates the raw materials for fuel production: ATP and NADPH. At that point, the plant has succeeded in converting solar energy to electrical energy to chemical energy – something that we humans still struggle with.

    The most promising long-term future energy supply system is to take the photosynthetic energy-conversion system and replicate the essential details using durable materials like silicon, industrial catalysts, and the like.

    One major step towards this goal might have been reached recently:

    Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera’s lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun’s energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

    The key component in Nocera and Kanan’s new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity — whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source — runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

    This solves the main problem with wind and solar energy, the intermittent delivery. In this model, large-scale solar PV or wind farms would convert any excess energy into stored chemical energy, which could be converted back to electric current as needed.

    The long term hope would be to replicate the entire plant process, from capture of sunlight to fixation of CO2 to the level of hydrocarbons (fatty acids, biochemically speaking), in an industrial setting. Such a device would use sunlight and water to generate activated chemical intermediates, which would then be used to pull CO2 out of the air, just as plants do, and synthesize a stream of hydrocarbons. In goes sunlight, water and air, and out comes a stream of golden-yellow atmospheric carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuel, C6-C12 or so – gasoline.

    P.S. Nature repeated the old mantra of nuclear fusion solving all energy problems for the future. Say we did build some massive fusion reactor somewhere. There are a lot of problems with this notion, however. First, how much water would it take to cool it? It would operate on the standard boil-water-and-spin-a-turbine-to-generate electricity, right? Second, how would all that electricity be distributed to the end user? Third, you would need another,uranium or plutonium reactor to generate the heavy isotopes of hydrogen needed for the process, as well. The claim that “nuclear fusion will solve everything” has been repeated so many times that nobody even bothers to think about how it would work in practice.

    Comment by Ike Solem — 31 Aug 2008 @ 1:36 PM

  51. I don’t mean to launch an off-topic discussion of electoral politics, but perhaps it is appropriate in a “weekly roundup” thread to note that in perusing several online discussions of Republican VP selection Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, I have observed an upsurge of comments from energized, even ecstatic, climate change denialists.

    They are all cheering Governor Palin’s comment about global warming and climate change that “I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made” and supporting statements from officials in her administration that she believes “the jury is still out” on the anthropogenic causation of global warming.

    One comment after another cites the familiar celebrities of the denialsphere and familiar long-discredited talking points while praising Governor Palin for bravely standing up to the vast conspiracy by liberal climate researchers, perpetrating their great global warming hoax in order to destroy capitalism with windmills and compact cars.

    I would not be surprised to see a rising tide of the most tiresome, repetitious, grotesquely ignorant, yet supremely confident bordering on triumphalist, global warming denialism swelling over the shores of this site during the next two months.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 31 Aug 2008 @ 2:12 PM

  52. Thanks Gavin. FYI and FWIW, I never paste my comments from boilerplate. Ever.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 31 Aug 2008 @ 2:58 PM

  53. Ike (6), about half of DOE’s $26B budget goes to reduce dependency on oil and/or support climate concerns; this does not include their $9B lo-an program toward the same ends. Also 2/3 of their $9B regular nuclear program goes for already incurred liabilities of maintenance, security, and cleanup. Where does your seemingly misplaced criticism lay?

    (I admit the referenced link was not easily read — clearly written by public relations, not accountants, so I might have erred. Do you have any other source for your contention?)

    Gavin, thanks for the spam tip.

    Comment by Rod B — 31 Aug 2008 @ 3:16 PM

  54. RE some of the “buttons” Dan Gilbert says GW & its effects are not pushing.

    1. We respond to faces & people (he had pictures of Hitler, et al.), and GW doesn’t have some single, evil antagonists to fear and fight. However, there are evil-doers who have been obstructing the scientific knowledge of GW from escaping NASA & NOAA & EPA — they get my blood boiling.

    2. GW doesn’t violate our moral sensibilities the way disgusting food choices or immoral sex does — it’s just not indecent, repugnant, disgusting, or dishonorable. I disagree here; I consider it all those things to kill poor Africans, which is precisely what we are doing by causing them increased and more intense droughts through GW. Not to mention killing & harming people and other life forms through all the other GW effects. A good & funny podcast on religion & the environment, GOD IS GREEN, asks if carbon is the new sex – )

    3. We respond to immediate threats, not future threats (at least not as well). In my books GW IS an immediate threat, since we may be very close to the runaway tipping point of no return, in which we will have plunged humanity and the rest of the world over the cliff of massive death and destruction. It’s just that people seem not to be aware of this. The tipping point is perhaps near, but the death and destruction would go on for maybe 100,000 years, and it could get very bad even within this century. Still that’s a hard point to tell people so they’ll do something soon. And I think this point of responding to immediate, not future, danger was well understood by certain presidents — and that’s perhaps why they plunged us into certain wars….bec we were getting too concerned about GW, and they needed to distract us (maybe this is too cynical, but it did cross my mind).

    4. The brain is sensitive to relative and fast change, not absolute and slow change. We don’t see gradual change (Gore made that point in AN INCONVIENT TRUTH with the frog in heating water). Gilbert made the great point that if people of the 1940s could see the environmental harm of today — the polluted water, air, etc., they’d be horrified. But bec these have happened very slowly day-by-day, we just aren’t aware of them. We’ve come to accept the polluted world as is.

    And likewise we don’t perceive the increasing effects of GW, bec they are happening so slowly — the increasing droughts, storm intensities, wildfires, heat spells, floods. These are perhaps considered “that’s just the way it is,” by most people.

    However, I sort of think that these harms are escalating even faster than the scientists were predicting 20 years ago, and the scientists are totally shocked by the alacrity of these intensifications, and even a part of the public is noticing that this is not just the way the world is. The Republicans are shaking in their boots over Hurricane Gustav; they know the current admin failed on Katrina, and that many people are perhaps blaming Republicans for doing nothing re the GW that is spawning more intense hurricanes.

    OTOH, maybe Gilbert is right, and GW & its horrible effects will become “that’s the way the world is” in the minds of people, even if they are aware it’s human-caused. The next “do-nothing” strategy of the powers that be. Yes, GW is happening, and yes we are causing it, and yes it is very harmful, but “that’s just the way it is – get used to it.”

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 31 Aug 2008 @ 7:13 PM

  55. Thanks for the great responses to my query about CO2 and icecaps – as a life-long Cretaceous worker dabbling in other times, and very worried about our future, I am perplexed by late Cretaceous sea level changes – really fast in the Campanian/Maastrichtian, suggesting ice cap melting/freezing, but high CO2. Is there a general model of when ice caps can and cannot form relative to CO2 levels that goes beyond Royer, Berner, and others cited in this thread. I do not want to take up valuable space here, but surely a predictive point of view using the past might help us understand how much time we have before high tide.

    Comment by Peter Ward — 31 Aug 2008 @ 7:19 PM

  56. Ike Solem #50

    First, how much water would it take to cool it? It would operate on the standard boil-water-and-spin-a-turbine-to-generate electricity, right?

    A lot, but no more than any other technology producing the same energy using boiling water.

    Second, how would all that electricity be distributed to the end user?

    Copper wire. And when the copper runs out, aluminium wire ;-)

    Third, you would need another,uranium or plutonium reactor to generate the heavy isotopes of hydrogen needed for the process, as well.

    No, why? The reactor produces a high flux of neutrons which are used to convert lithium to tritium. Deuterium is stable and can be extracted from sea water.

    The neutron flux is the only residual waste problem, as it would activate the reactor structure, limit its age and have to be disposed of. But it’s orders of magnitude less than with fission.

    Another problem non-existent for fusion would be weapons proliferation due to civilian and military technologies being joined at the hip. It is true that inertial-containment fusion and directed-energy weapons are similarly connected, but the latter are hard to use offensively.

    The prospect of a planetary nuclear gangland is no prettier than any of the climatic scenarios we are trying to avoid, but apparently it is easier for folks like Hansen and Lovelock to see the threat they deeply understand than the one they do not. It would become them to acquire such insight before speaking out :-(

    The biggest problem with fusion though is just getting it to work in the first place.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 31 Aug 2008 @ 9:38 PM

  57. Re: 51
    “They are all cheering Governor Palin’s comment about global warming and climate change that “I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made” and supporting statements from officials in her administration that she believes “the jury is still out” on the anthropogenic causation of global warming.”

    What does she attribute GW to- Divine Intelligence? It’s good to hear her non-authoritative opinion on this matter, but it’s pure BS! Red meat for the far right.
    If she thinks “the jury is still out” wrt the human factor , she hasn’t been anywhere near the courtroom lately,in fact not in a long time.

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 31 Aug 2008 @ 9:57 PM

  58. SecularAnimist wrote in 51:

    I don’t mean to launch an off-topic discussion of electoral politics, but perhaps it is appropriate in a “weekly roundup” thread to note that in perusing several online discussions of Republican VP selection Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, I have observed an upsurge of comments from energized, even ecstatic, climate change denialists.

    They are all cheering Governor Palin’s comment about global warming and climate change that “I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made” and supporting statements from officials in her administration that she believes “the jury is still out” on the anthropogenic causation of global warming.

    She is into creationism as well:

    The volatile issue of teaching creation science in public schools popped up in the Alaska governor’s race this week when Republican Sarah Palin said she thinks creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the state’s public classrooms.

    Palin was answering a question from the moderator near the conclusion of Wednesday night’s televised debate on KAKM Channel 7 when she said, “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.”

    ‘Creation science’ enters the race
    GOVERNOR: Palin is only candidate to suggest it should be discussed in schools.
    By TOM KIZZIA, Anchorage Daily News, Published: October 27, 2006

    … which is bound to get cheers out of many of the same people.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 31 Aug 2008 @ 9:59 PM

  59. “If the deniers are right, nothing irretrievable has been lost. If the deniers are wrong, we’re all stuffed and cooked.” The latter is self evident – but the “if” is pivotal. To the former I say “not quite”. An overreaction to a perceived threat followed by a series of reactionary decisions on economic policy could result in a loss of the US’s status as a preeminent economic and military power. Some may cheer at this prospect but I ask them: “If not the US then who would you like to see in the driver’s seat”? The wrong choice could lead to irretrievable consequences for civilized society as we know it. IMHO.

    Comment by John Melnick — 31 Aug 2008 @ 10:55 PM

  60. The epistemologist in Gavin might be interested in this:

    [Response: Curses! Philosophical theorizing yet again proves global warming can’t be happening or if it is nothing can possibly be done. Back to the drawing board then… But as an aside, how do you feel about medical advice? Do you still smoke? How’s your cholesterol? weight? And why should anyone be concerned about these things? Let’s see how consistent your philosophy is. – gavin]

    Comment by Tom Stark — 31 Aug 2008 @ 11:11 PM

  61. Looks like the UK press have gone a bit mad on geoengineering solutions today after the Royal Society released some kind of statement/report decrying the state of CO2 emissions and what we are doing to curtail them (er nothing to be fair) and hence we must engineer a solution or adapt.

    So for all those who think that carrying on as usual is best then it looks like for the present at least you are suceeding. Apparantly the frustration is starting to get to some people as they see literally nothing being done on a large scale to combat AGW especially in the USA I guess.

    Comment by pete best — 1 Sep 2008 @ 4:48 AM

  62. Re #55: Peter, I think this recent Hansen et al paper (supporting material here) is exactly what you want.

    Specifically on the Maastrichtian, see the detailed discussion in this submitted Climate of the Past paper. The authors state that their next step is a paper addressing the details of the glaciations. The Hansen paper discusses why the relationship between CO2 levels and glaciations during this period is probably not a very good guide for our immediate future, however.

    Note finally that Gavin and co-authors have a new paper out on the Greenland ice sheet. It would seem that it’s probably not long for the world.

    [Response: Actually, the paper is about the Laurentide ice sheet (greenland only gets a small mention). – gavin]

    Comment by Steve Bloom — 1 Sep 2008 @ 5:21 AM

  63. 59, John Melnick,

    “An overreaction to a perceived threat followed by a series of reactionary decisions on economic policy could result in a loss of the US’s status as a preeminent economic and military power. Some may cheer at this prospect but I ask them: “If not the US then who would you like to see in the driver’s seat”? The wrong choice could lead to irretrievable consequences for civilized society as we know it.”

    John, you have a point, re economic effects, but I was looking at the situation from a biological perspective.

    I don’t, personally, attach importance to nationality. The chance event of being born in a particular locality doesn’t seem to me, to be a rational basis for identity. We’re all in the same boat, and if it sinks, we all go down.

    As for having American imperialism in the driving seat…isn’t America the major cause of the problem, both historically and on-going ? Who else ? Well, maybe Sweden, or Bhutan.

    As I see it, it’s not a choice between good or bad. It’s a choice between mitigated catastrophes or the disappearance of human civilisation.

    Comment by CL — 1 Sep 2008 @ 7:05 AM

  64. SecularAnimist posts:

    They are all cheering Governor Palin’s comment about global warming and climate change that “I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made” and supporting statements from officials in her administration that she believes “the jury is still out” on the anthropogenic causation of global warming.

    I understand she wants creationism taught in public-school science classes too. It’s just two issues, but it looks a lot like she’s a scientific illiterate.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 1 Sep 2008 @ 7:06 AM

  65. Isn’t it curious how certain attitudes seem to cluster together ?

    I wonder, if her child had a headache, and the spec-ialist doctor said “It’s a brain tumour”, she’d say “No, it isn’t, I know better”. I mean, she’s not a climates scientist, nor even a scientist, so she has no expertise or insight into the matter to be able to make an informed judgement.

    But then, you don’t need to actually know anything about anything to qualify as a politician.
    As Kruschev said, “When it comes to gathering popular support, a politician will promise every village a new bridge, even where there are no rivers”

    I find the ‘cut off the left foreleg’ quite barbaric. It reminds me of King Leopold’s Belgian Congo, with photos of enormous piles of hands and ears, severed from natives who refused to obey the rubber tappers.

    reCaptcha says ‘Yield SEVERED’. Hmmm.

    Comment by CL — 1 Sep 2008 @ 8:15 AM

  66. Getting back to the initial discussion of why people find it hard to react to the threat of climate change, I think the analysis ignored the fact that people seem to respond strongly to the threat of eternal damnation, although they have little evidence for it from their daily experience. It is all based on what someone else has told them about what may happen to them after they die. Although there are many departures from what religious leaders teach people, they are still extremely successful at governing behavior. Whole societies have been in the past and continue to be today motivated by hypothetical threat, which can never be proven.

    So what explains the difference. Why are many people in the US, for example, regularly motivated by what they think may happen to them after death, but don’t seem to be specially concerned about what may happen to their children and grandchildren because of their actions today, where there is some good evidence, if not certainty.

    Perhaps if we understood the difference, we might make more progress getting people to modify their behavior so that we could minimize the effects of climate change.

    Comment by Leonard Evens — 1 Sep 2008 @ 8:42 AM

  67. Re #60 Tom Stark

    From what little search I have done, there doesn’t seem to exist a clear constitutionally valid definition of ‘religion’. But in a common sense sense, this kind of solipsistic libertarianism unshaken by mere fact very much is a religion — and a fundamentalist one to boot. With potentially interesting legal consequences…

    Reminds me of some Marxists-Leninists I used to know. Religion that, too. As my old friend Vladimir Ilyich used to say: useful idiots.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 1 Sep 2008 @ 9:49 AM

  68. I threw out a passing mostly humorous comment about Nancy Pelosi, planning to just let it lay. But some of the posts here bring it back to unexpected relevance. Everyone is going gaga and piling on Gov. Palin’s comments on AGW (and throwing creationism in for good measure.) This is understandable. What is curious is why these same posters who are criticizing Palin’s scientific illiteracy, are not jumping all over Pelosi, someone already in power with significant authority to directly affect the outcome right now (and only two heartbeats away from the Presidency) , for showing explicit and unarguable sandbox-101 scientific illiteracy by stating a number of times “natural gas is not a fossil fuel”. Is there “good” and “bad” scientific illiteracy in the minds of scientists?

    [Response: Ignorance is curable. Denial, not so much. Pelosi was obviously confused and is wrong. If she ever says the same thing again (now that she’s no doubt been informed about the true origin of natural gas), then I’ll both be surprised and more critical. The sad fact is that most politicians mis-speak out of unfamiliarity with the details of scientific (and other matters) – my experience is that politicians know much less than we often give them credit for (and that is very true for climate change). Their staff and advisors are another thing entirely – they are usually very well informed indeed (with the possible exception of Inhofe’s). – gavin]

    Comment by Rod B — 1 Sep 2008 @ 10:40 AM

  69. Getting back to the subject, one item in the Lunt et al paper caught my eye. 400 ppm. I thought we were at the highest level of CO2 concentration ever in the last 2 million years. Could you please post a graph of what Lunt et al say was the CO2 concentration over the last 2 million years. (I really don’t have the luxury of spending my money to download scientific papers.)

    [Response: The Pliocene is more than 2 million years ago. – gavin]

    Comment by Gary P — 1 Sep 2008 @ 11:33 AM

  70. Rod B (#53),
    I had a look at the 2008 Appropriations Bill for the DOE Budget, and the numbers are different from what you quoted. I lay no claim to whether these percentages are good or bad for the US in the long haul, but I thought that some folks might be interested:

    The 2008 budget was $28.1 Billion and it breaks down as follows:

    Defense related: $15.4 Billion, or 55% of the budget
    Nuclear (non defense): $ 1.9 Billion, or 7% of the budget
    Fossil Fuels: $ 2.1 Billion, or 8% of the budget
    Alternative Energy: $ 1.8 Billion, or 6% of the budget
    Power Plants/ Dams $ 1.4 Billion, or 5% of the budget
    Science $ 4.0 Billion, or 14% of the budget

    Of course, the percentage devoted to science research should be bumped up, but that’s the only pitch I would make!!


    Comment by Jeff — 1 Sep 2008 @ 12:14 PM

  71. 59, John Melnick,

    “… in a loss of the US’s status as a preeminent economic and military power.”

    Some food for thought, John, as to how that notion looks from the outside.

    Comment by CL — 1 Sep 2008 @ 1:10 PM

  72. Everyone is going gaga and piling on Gov. Palin’s comments on AGW (and throwing creationism in for good measure.) This is understandable. What is curious is why these same posters who are criticizing Palin’s scientific illiteracy, are not jumping all over Pelosi

    I live in the state of Oregon. I will be voting for Vice President. I will not be voting for or against Pelosi, because I don’t live in her district in California. Only something like one of thirty-five Californians are eligible to vote for or against her.

    Perhaps it will become a campaign issue. It would certainly be legit given the rules of the game. But I doubt I’ll never know, because I rarely pay attention at all to Congressional races outside my district. The last Congressman in California I cared about was Pombo, because of his seniority and constant attacks on the environmental protection act (among other things). Now that the Dems have control, I don’t even know if *he* is still in.

    Comment by dhogaza — 1 Sep 2008 @ 1:13 PM

  73. While browsing online, I happened upon a book entitled A History of Atmospheric CO2 and Its Effects on Plants, Animals, and Ecosystems, by authors J. R. Ehleringer, T. E. Cerling, and Maria-Denise Dearing (2005). You can read excerpts of this book online: Atmospheric CO2 data from ice cores: four climatic cycles

    In this article, they talk about the lead versus lag issue in the Antarctic ice cores, and propose an explanation that I hadn’t heard before. The authors acknowledge that CO2 lagged the temperature increase in Antarctic ice cores by 800 ±200 years, but say:

    The rapid glacial-interglacial temperature increase in Greenland obviously lags the rise in CO2 and the Antarctic temperature increase. Greenland temperature and the global CH4 signal change in concert (at least for the main features over the last termination). Therefore we can regard the CH4 signal recorded in the Vostok ice core as a proxy for Greenland temperature. If this analogy holds, the CO2 increase over the last four glacial-interglacial terminations has always occurred before a major temperature increase in the Northern Hemisphere (Pépin et al. 2001). In summary, the CO2 increase probably lags the Antarctic temperature increase by a few hundred years but precedes the Greenland temperature increase by a few millennia as does the Antarctic temperature.

    I don’t think that climate scientists have emphasized enough that the Antarctic temperature record does not represent the global temperature record. I know that there are passing references to this in past RealClimate articles, but they were not worded very strongly, to the point that I did not even remember them being discussed until I went back and had a look. My questions are:

    (1) What constraints do we have on global temperatures for the last four interglacials, including ice cores and other proxies?

    (2) Does temperature really lag CO2 in the Northern Hemisphere during the last four glacial/interglacial transitions?

    The notion that CO2 would lag temperature in the Southern Hemisphere makes sense to me, given that Milankovitch forcings initiated the transitions from glacial to interglacial conditions. CO2 degassing from oceans would occur over hundreds of years, and since most of the oceans are in the Southern Hemisphere, that hemisphere should warm first. I can also see methane rising about the same time that ice sheets were melting in the Northern Hemisphere, due to trapped methane reservoirs in permafrost. Is that a fair analysis?

    My last question would be what happened to the Southern Annular Mode, such that temperatures could warm in the Antarctic?

    Comment by Jeff — 1 Sep 2008 @ 1:39 PM

  74. > Pelosi

    Telling the outdated story is disingenuous.
    You could have looked this up and reported the correction issued a week ago.

    “Update: “She knows it [natural gas] is a fossil fuel but includes it because compared to other fossil fuels (coal and oil) it burns more cleanly,” said Pelosi’s spokesman, Brendan Daly. “Also, it is plentiful domestically and cheaper.”

    Natural gas really does get treated differently than any other fossil fuel, certainly in California. Check your local building codes, I’ll bet it does where you are also, nowadays.

    Why? Natural gas is much less lossy in transmission than electricity over long distances.

    I recently checked into replacing our old gas hot water heater, installed 32 years ago.*

    Transmission losses for electricity are estimated by the city building office at 40 percent, and energy efficiency of the housing stock longterm is a criterion. They permit switching from gas to electric hot water heat only after assessing attic and underfloor insulation, and adding either solar hot water boost or a heat pump system, to recapture that efficiency loss in retrofits.

    By contrast, a replacement of a gas hot water heater with a new one (better insulated, better flame control, electronic ignition) is a simple no-problem permit. The gas hot water heaters available now are well insulated, pizeo ignition, and flame controls. (As of next year our area will join the LA area in also requiring a nitrogen oxides control system standard on gas hot water heaters).
    We’d looked into it because electric is easier to later upgrade to solar boosted (except in our city you have to do the whole installation at the same time, as above). An electric hot water heater can just have its bottom heating element removed and replaced with the heat exchange loop directly, both for solar boost and for a heat pump boost, and can use a long-lived plastic tank instead of a glass-lined steel tank. So for new construction it makes sense to do it all at once.
    “… While a refrigerator pulls heat from inside a box and dumps it into the surrounding room, a stand-alone air-source heat pump water heater pulls heat from the surrounding air and dumps it—at a higher temperature—into a tank to heat water. You can purchase a stand-alone heat pump water heating system as an integrated unit with a built-in water storage tank and back-up resistance heating elements….”

    (What I want is a way to have our kitchen refrigerator’s waste heat captured to a holding tank to prewarm cold water for our hot water heater. An addon heat pump to add to a hot water system is about the same size and costs a thousand dollars — while the refrigerator sits in the kitchen blowing hot air on your feet yearround. Anyone going to invent this?)

    Summing up, for local politicians and building/zoning people, natural gas is thought of as very different. Yes, it’s a fossil fuel (I’m sure Pelosi wasn’t pushing the abiogenic methane theory).

    * How to get more years of service from a hot water heater:
    — add a long curved dip tube, that swirls the water at the bottom of the tank, reducing the tendency of crud to adhere and insulate right over the flame; add and replace the optional addon corrosion protection rod every decade or so; flush out the sediment from the bottom of the tank, running a few gallons of hot (HOT! CAREFUL) water out the lower drain valve every three or four months as recommended (not turning it off and draining it, just letting the incoming cold water flush the sediment out the drain valve).

    Our plumber says we are the only customers he has who listen to him; he gets comparable long service out of his gas hot water heater. If your gas hot water heater makes ‘bumping’ noises, look into the above before the pounding puts little cracks in the inside enamel and it starts to rust out.

    Oh, and buy a “Leakfrog” too, it’s precautionary good sense. You know how to find this stuff.
    reCaptcha: prudence There

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Sep 2008 @ 2:29 PM

  75. Gavin et al. Re. “…the onset of the quaternary glaciations…”

    I’m confused. During the the quaternary glaciations, didn’t the Milankovitch cycles change from strong 40,000 year pulses to 100,000 year cycles?

    CO2 shifts couldn’t explain this, could it?…or what is the latest thinking on why the cycles changed from 40,000 to 100,000?

    Comment by Richard Ordway — 1 Sep 2008 @ 2:39 PM

  76. The subject of religeon seems to have been brought up more than a few times in the replies above, which raises the question, was the biblical quotation ‘And the meek shall inherit the earth’ actually refering to Jellyfish?

    I’m not convinced that there is a growing culture of denial about climate issues, but I think there is a qrowing fear of public panic and civil unrest. The wearing of the ‘bag for life’ supermarket T-shirt is just about all the vast majority of people can actually do about, and whilst the recycling is over-filling the media is claiming that the US’s best year for hurricanes, has got nothing to do with it, it’s not really in the public interest to know that, it’s likely that ‘the end is nigh’.

    A couple of years the UN security council upgraded climate change to a global security issue, they seem now to expecting wars over land, water, food resources etc.

    Would it be best for the majority of people (general public) to be left to stockpile the excess carrier bags, in green T-shirts, whilst those that can, do something about it, then hopefully no-one will notice there was a problem in the first place, and no-one goes out of there minds, although the problem is, it’s likely they won’t.

    Comment by Schmert — 1 Sep 2008 @ 4:08 PM

  77. On the 40- (or 41- or thereabouts) to 100 (or so) thousand year change — that question’s called the “Transition Problem”

    Search within RC, it and much else about this addressed before, particularly inline by Gavin in responses.

    More generally search: +Milankovitch +”Transition Problem”

    “The “Transition Problem,” for example, asks why, prior to a million years ago, cycles occurred at 41,000-year intervals, but after a million years ago, they occurred only at 100,000-year intervals.”

    Short answer: complexity, including evolution changing primary productivity feedbacks, continental drift changing circulation patterns. Much more if you run that suggested search.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Sep 2008 @ 4:17 PM

  78. Jeff in 73 says:

    In this article, they talk about the lead versus lag issue in the Antarctic ice cores, and propose an explanation that I hadn’t heard before. The authors acknowledge that CO2 lagged the temperature increase in Antarctic ice cores by 800 ±200 years, but say:…

    Setting aside which hemisphere follows which, I hope you don’t mind if I focus on the lead vs. lag.

    Rant follows…

    Lead vs. lag — in a system subject to positive feedback, the central questions are: “What is the forcing?” and “What is the feedback?” Orbital forcing causes increased solar insulation (absorption of solar radiation), gradually raising the temperature of the ocean, resulting in a reduction in its capacity to retain gases — including carbon dioxide. This raises the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, making the atmosphere more “opaque” (sorry, Hank!) to thermal radiation. (I could show you infrared images of it doing exactly this over western and eastern seaboards of the US due to higher population density, traffic and carbon dioxide emissions.) Given that energy continues to enter the system at the same rate but escapes the atmosphere at a reduced rate, the temperature of the climate system must rise until the temperature to the power of four (thermal emission of radiation in accordance with Planck’s law) rises enough to compensate for the increased opacity of the atmosphere to infrared radiation, and the rate at which energy leaves the system is equal to the rate at which energy enters the system. This basically follows from the conservation of energy. So in this case — what we predominantly see in the paleoclimate record — the increased solar insulation is the forcing, carbon dioxide the feedback — and we would not be able to explain the extent to which the temperature rose simply by means of the increased solar insulation alone.

    However, there are other points in the paleoclimate record where carbon dioxide or methane rose first, before temperature, and temperature followed carbon dioxide. Good case in point: the Permian/Triassic extinction. A supervolcano in Siberia erupted for over a million years, with lava releasing methane from shallow water methane hydrate deposits. The opacity of the atmosphere climbed first, then temperature. So it is false to say that carbon dioxide (or methane) always follows temperature. We see both. Temperatures may increase first or greenhouse gases may increase first. For the most part the climate system doesn’t really care where the forcing comes from — whatever the forcing thatinitially results in an imbalance in radiation going out vs. radiation coming in, the results will largely be the same.

    But not entirely the same… Initially, increases in solar insolation will tend to raise the temperature of both the troposphere and stratosphere as visible light gets absorbed at the surface and ultraviolet by ozone in the stratosphere. In contrast, increased opacity of the atmosphere due to greenhouse gases will lower the amount of thermal radiation that is able to reach the stratosphere, cooling the stratosphere while the troposphere warms due to the reduction in the rate at which thermal radiation is able to escape it. Thus you have a signature of global warming due to greenhouse gases. It has been observed. There are others. For example, increased solar insulation would tend warm days more than nights, but an increase in the opacity of the atmosphere due to greenhouse gases would tend to warm nights more than days. This has also been observed.

    Basically what the denialists are counting on are people being gullible, unable to realize that there is such a thing as positive feedback.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 1 Sep 2008 @ 4:56 PM

  79. Timothy (78),
    Perhaps you miss the point of my questions. I don’t dispute that CO2 can be a forcing or a feedback, and that it was certainly a feedback during glacial/interglacial transitions. In fact, I agree with everything you wrote. Your response does not, however, answer the two questions that I pose. What I am postulating is that it is in fact wrong to say that CO2 lags temperature during the last four interglacials, because Antarctic temperatures are not representative of global temperatures. If Greenland’s temperatures didn’t start rising until thousands of years after CO2 started to increase, how can one say that CO2 lags (global) temperature? Perhaps by mentioning Southern Hemisphere and Northern Hemisphere I was only causing confusion. What is necessary, however, is a globally averaged temperature record before one can even discuss lead versus lag. I find that this concept has been missing from all discussions.


    Comment by Jeff — 1 Sep 2008 @ 7:41 PM

  80. Two excellent articles on the Beeb site:

    — Rigor mortis sets in on the cosmic ray-climate connection.

    — The Hockey Stick is back! Mike and team have updated it with the multitude of new available proxies. Unsurprisingly, things remain flattish. Expect a paroxyxm of bile from the usual sources.

    Comment by Steve Bloom — 1 Sep 2008 @ 7:50 PM

  81. Fusion!?
    I am 73 years old. I can remember reading in Popular Mechanics or Popular Science or Science Digest (remember that one?) or Scientific American in the mid-’50s that unlimited virtually free electric power was only twenty, repeat-20, years away.

    Guess what kids? ‘Tis been 20 years away ever since!
    According to researchers at a demonstration reactor in Japan, a fusion generator should be feasible in the 2030s and no later than the 2050s.

    Comment by ChuckG — 1 Sep 2008 @ 7:58 PM

  82. Schmert, 76, said

    “…whilst those that can, do something about it…”

    Thing is, who are ‘those that can’?

    The vast majority, who are pre-occupied with the problems of their daily survival ?

    Or, the few, who are vastly rich ? Or the powerful political leaders ?

    I heard a quote, ‘An avalanche is built of snowflakes’…

    IMHO, we, as a species, have reached the greatest crisis in human history. We should stop calling it ‘climate change’; we should start calling it climate crisis, or climate chaos, or climate cataclysm…

    Maybe it’s the people I contact, but I don’t know of any serious, educated, informed person who is not deeply apprehensive.

    It is possible that the super-wealthy elite, the 6000 or so mentioned in the link above, believe they can insulate themselves and ride out a crash in global population, rather than make the changes that would address the roots of the problem.

    Personally, I think most politicians and CEOs are stressed, harried individuals, who have no time or leisure to look at our predicament in a long-term eco-historical perspective. They see red lights flashing, and pull levers, without a clue as to where we are going to end up…

    Maybe we’ve just exceeded carrying capacity, and are due for a population crash, and there’s little we can do to avoid it.

    I mean, commentators in ancient Rome could foresee collapse of that empire, and analysed the causes correctly, but still could do nothing effective to prevent it from happening.

    What can I do ? What can you do ?

    Comment by CL — 1 Sep 2008 @ 8:12 PM

  83. dhogaza Says:
    1 September 2008 at 1:13 PM

    The last Congressman in California I cared about was Pombo, because of his seniority and constant attacks on the environmental protection act (among other things). Now that the Dems have control, I don’t even know if *he* is still in.

    Dems brought in someone specifically to get rid of him. He has a lot in common with the new VPpotential (R-AK). ‘Twas a happy day when he lost.

    Comment by ChuckG — 1 Sep 2008 @ 8:13 PM

  84. RodB:

    Ike (6), about half of DOE’s $26B budget goes to reduce dependency on oil and/or support climate concerns; this does not include their $9B lo-an program toward the same ends. Also 2/3 of their $9B regular nuclear program goes for already incurred liabilities of maintenance, security, and cleanup. Where does your seemingly misplaced criticism lay?

    The general categories in the DOE budget request are:

    Nuclear Security: $9.385 billion
    Environmental Responsibility: $6.344 billion
    Scientific Discovery: $4.398 billion
    Energy Security: $3.123 billion
    Management Excellence: $0.629 billion

    Where might the solar, wind and biofuel research money be hiding?

    Scientific Discovery might be a good place to look, but the wording is extremely vague in the subsections. Here are the only two possible places in that section:
    Biological and environmental research………..$0.531 billion
    Basic energy sciences………………………$1.498 billion

    There is no mention of solar or wind energy in the descriptions of those programs, and very little mention of biofuels.
    (There is also half a billion directly earmarked for fusion research)

    How about Energy Security?
    Yes, there it is, under the subheading “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy”:

    Biomass and biorefinery systems R&D……………..$0.179 billion
    Solar energy………………………………….$0.148 billion
    Wind energy…………………………………. $0.040 billion

    There is also an Office of Nuclear Energy in this section, $874 billion. There is no Office of Wind Energy, or Office of Solar Energy, or Office of Biofuel Energy.

    So, that’s it in the overall budget, according to this document:

    So, how does the solar money work?

    Through the Solar America Initiative (SAI), the Solar Program is accelerating the market competitiveness of solar electricity as industry-led teams compete to deliver photovoltaic (PV) systems ($137.3 million) that are less expensive, more efficient, and highly reliable…. In addition, the Solar program is working with industry to lower the cost of concentrating solar power technologies ($9.0 million) and to develop thermal storage capabilities that will enhance its value to utilities and allow solar to compete in large-scale centralized generation markets.

    It’s not about funding basic science at the university level. The details are at:

    The teams selected for negotiation have formed Technology Pathway Partnerships (TPP), which include companies, laboratories, universities, and non-profit organizations to accelerate the drive towards commercialization of U.S.-produced solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. These partnerships are comprised of more than 50 companies, 14 universities, 3 non-profit organizations, and 2 national laboratories. DOE funding is expected to begin in FY’07, with $51.6 million going to the TPPs.

    However, this is a cart-before-the-horse program – because there are no basic renewable energy research centers of note, outside of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory – which may be involved peripherally in the solar research. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, oddly enough, is managed by a joint partnership between Bechtel, noted pipeline constructor and nuclear contractor, and Battelle Memorial Institute, the non-profit research corporation that is also leading the public-private FutureGen coal capture project. Back in 1997, they canceled their research into what most people would agree is the highest-yield-per-acre biofuel source, algal biodiesel. The 1998 wrap-up report is here:

    So, that’s why you don’t see large scale renewable energy research projects at the nation’s universities and National Laboratories. There is no federal money available to do it, and the private contractors that manage the DOE energy program are not at all interested in developing replacements for coal, oil and nuclear power.

    We could look to privately funded efforts to do renewable energy (“public-private partnerships”), such as Stanford University’s “Global Climate and Energy Program”, GCEP, which has several hundred million in private funding. The lead donors are ExxonMobile and Schlumberger Oil Field Services, along with Toyota and General Electric. They each have a representative on the committee that makes the final decisions over which projects get funded – but don’t worry, Stanford has a seat at the table as well – and a vote, just like the others. The private partners also get an exclusive extendable 5-year patent control clause.

    Exxon is also very excited about seeing its profits collapse as electric cars take over the market, and so is Toyota. Schlumberger wants to do less business, not more, and GE wants to shut down their entire nuclear division. There is not a single conflict-of-interest issue that needs airing here. And so on.

    Hope that clarifies things a little bit.

    Comment by Ike Solem — 1 Sep 2008 @ 8:17 PM

  85. Dems brought in someone specifically to get rid of him. He has a lot in common with the new VPpotential (R-AK). ‘Twas a happy day when he lost.

    Oh, thanks for that, no wonder he hasn’t done anything bad recently!

    And I meant Endangered Species Act above, I brain-farted.

    Comment by dhogaza — 1 Sep 2008 @ 8:48 PM

  86. Re 84 – that’s maddening.

    Re 73,75,77,78,79:

    CO2 feedback mechanisms are more complex than the simple ‘warm water dissolves less gas’. They have to be, because, while a temperature drop increases the ratio of concentration of a saturated solution of gas to the partial pressure in the overlying air, the change in partial pressure of the air that occurs is too great. Also, if the total organic C content of vegetation and soil declines while atmospheric C declines, that also has to go into the ocean somehow.

    Of course, gas dissolved at depth in the ocean (below the mixed layer) might stay dissolved regardless of atmospheric partial pressures (?)

    But with CO2, it is important to remember that it’s more complex than a physical reaction of going into or out of solution. It also gets converted to carbonate and bicarbonate ions. It affects the PH. The abundance of cations (like Ca ions) affects this. PH affects the abundance of cations (by affecting the stability of CaCO3 solid in the water). The ions affect how much CO2 can be taken up from the air. etc. I don’t know exactly how it all works.

    Other mechanisms I am aware of:

    fertilization of plankton by wind-blown dust (or whatever other mechanism?) – some fraction may fall to the deep ocean. While some fraction may be oxydized there the CO2 produced in the deep ocean may stay there until reaching an upwelling region (PS perhaps increased phytoplankton by upwelling nutrients would thus be ineffective at loading the deep ocean with CO2, considering where the dead plankton would be falling?).

    Change in deep ocean currents, thermohaline circulation – because how much CO2 that goes into or stays in water (aside from decay from plankton falling into it at depth) is affected by the chemistry of the water and the regional climate where the water was last in the mixed layer, and the chemistry of the water is affected by where it comes from and what the conditions were like, for example, when it was at the sea floor over some carbonate minerals and dead plankton (?) – I think.

    Also, when an ice sheet forms, wouldn’t it form on top of the soil before pushing the soil out? So maybe some cold organic C stays in the soil and then gets released from moraines as the ice recedes – or gets washed into the ocean (or lakes), and then see above (more speculative ideas on my part).

    There may be some other points – see also Ruddiman – “Earth’s Climate Past and Future”


    Over long periods of time, geologic outgassing (including oxydation of organic C in sedimentary rocks – not sure how big a source that is relative to directly inorganic geologic CO2 emissions) must tend to balance chemical weathering and organic carbon burial (from memory, I think organic carbon burial is typically ~ 20% of the total rate of geologic sequestration of carbon).

    chemcial weathering:
    CaSiO3 (for example) + CO2 (slightly acidic rainwater) -> SiO2 (for example) + CaCO3 (or another carbonate mineral)

    net photosynthesis (focus on C) CO2 -> O2 + organic C.

    geologic outgassing (inorganic):

    CaCO3 + SiO2 under heating (I think) -> CaSiO3 (in magma, then lave, then rock) + CO2

    oxydation of organic C – no need to show formulas there…

    organic burial on land is favored by flat areas (no erosion, poor drainage) with wet (warm, I think) climates, I think.

    chemical weathering is enhanced by warmer and wetter conditions and by rapid mechanical weathering. A tropical mountain range in the path of monsoon rains helps (Himalayas – Tibet itself affects the Asian monsoon) (sure, there isn’t much if any chemical weathering under the mountain glaciers, but in a steady state, glaciers continually deliver rock fragments to their edges, where they may be carried down to warmer wetter conditions, etc…)

    These are all generally slow processes, hence the negative feedback that chemical weathering provides by tending to remove CO2 faster in warmer conditions – this doens’t overwhelm the positive feedbacks of shorter term glacial-interglacial transitions. If the Earth got stuck in one state or the other long enough, and all other factors were right, the chemical weathering feedback could initiate the end of either state – but I don’t think recent 100,000 year timescale climate variations are long enough for this to be important (and there’s Milankovitch cycles).

    Interestingly, repetitive glacial-interglacial variations may, over time, produce an average increase in mechanical weathering and affect chemical weathering that way (I think) – so maybe the interglacials and glacials together have a cummulative effect on CO2 that a prolonged glaciation wouldn’t have (??)

    Continental drift, exposed land area, and in particular, the formation and location (and mineral abundances) of mountain ranges affect chemical weathering. Changes in geologic outgassing can force changes in CO2 over long time periods, changing the climate until the CO2 removal by chemical weathering responds fully, at which point a new (long-term)equilibrium is reached.

    The chemical weathering feedback helps explain the reduction of CO2 over Earth’s history while the sun has gotten brighter, but changes in geologic outgassing rates, geography, and biological evolution also have their roles.

    The negative chemical weathering feedback suggests that a prolonged period of elevated methane would tend to reduce CO2 (perhaps relevant to the later portion of the Archean in particular?). It also played (or would have played, depending) a role in the Paleoproterozoic Snowball Earth episodes – with the Earth in a frozen state for millions of years, CO2 would continually build up from geologic outgassing (meanwhile the very slow but not nonexistant water cycle would have time to produce and build land glaciers and ice sheets). Upon thawing and melting, the positive albedo feedback would have created a ‘carbonic acid sauna’, and the CO2 would have been quickly (much faster than typical rates) drawn out the atmosphere (with the help of newly-exposed and moistenned glacial debris).


    The timing issue – Milankovitch cycles do not repeat exactly over time – over hundreds of millions of years the moon has drifted away from the Earth, the Earth has slowed it’s spin and its equatorial bulge has shrunk, and that certainly affects precession and obliquity cycles. Over shorter time periods, the ~ 100,000 year eccentricity cycle is modulated (or occurs on top of?) a ~ 400,000 (or is it closer to 450,000 or 500,000 – I forget) year eccentricity cycle, so that, for example, we are approaching a lower eccentricity value than we’ve had for a few glaciations and interglacials.

    But in as far as the change in climate response around – 700,000 or 900,000 years ago, something like that – is concerned:

    The precession cycle is modulated by the eccentricity cycle – the effect of precession is simply to change the seasonal timing of the effect of eccentricity, so when the eccentricity is low the precession cycle’s effect is weak. The three cycles work together to vary the climate forcing, which is mainly a seasonal and latitudinal redistribution of sunlight (the global and annual average top-of-atmosphere solar forcing changes very little) – which at times may favor ice sheet growth or shrinkage – depending on the overall climate state of the globe, at some high latitudes, depending on ocean currents and land distribution, etc, there could be regions where, when the Milankovitch forcing reduces the seasonal extremes in regional solar heating, mild wet winters may have enough snow accumulation that the mild summers cannot melt it all – whereas greater seasonal extremes could lead to greater summer melting, and maybe less winter accumulation (?). The precession cycle also affects low-latitude monsoons, which may in some way have an effect on ice sheet growth and decay through global circulation and moisture and temperature fluxes, though I’m not sure how important that would be (?).

    There is threshold behavior – at any given location, there is a threshold that must be crossed before an ice sheet can form, and a threshold that must be crossed (not the same threshold, due to ice-albedo effects, and to ice surface elevation, among possible other things) to start destroying an ice sheet – although I’d expect the threshold is made fuzzy by the albedo feedback itself – even if snow cover doesn’t last all year, the longer it lasts, the greater cooling effect it would have – and as air circulates, the cooling effect would affect nearby areas.

    But it still involves some thresholds (as does the precession effect on low-latitude monsoons). If one devised some sort of glaciation-favorability index based on the Milankovitch cycles, one would see crests and troughs that are not all equal – some are higher or lower than others. Thus, depending on where the thresholds are, it may sometimes be that not every crest could start a glaciation, and/or not every trough could cause a ‘full’ (except Greenland and Antarctica) deglaciation. Thus, it’s concievable (at least before examining the actual match up of Milankovitch forcing to glacials and interglacials – I’m not sure exactly what that would reveal – does anyone here know about that?) that the change in behavior sometime aroung 900,000 to 700,000 years ago may involve a shift in the thresholds, perhaps due to a longer-term decline in CO2 (although if that were the case one would be able to draw it out of the ice core records, I would think)…

    But another way to change the threshold, at least for deglaciation, is to change the rate at which the ice sheets flow under their own weight? How might one do that? By removing underlying lubrication. One idea is that, for a time, ice sheets had been forming on top of loose material, and so would spread out faster, but after a number of glaciations, they had scraped down to bedrock, so the next ice sheet would not flow so fast – and so would build up thicker. This generally leads to a higher surface elevation for a given mass of ice. A higher surface elevation will be colder, and so it will then be harder/take longer to melt the ice sheet.


    Re 78 – just a couple of technicalities here (which you may already be aware of and just decided for brevity’s sake not to go into)- the fourth power of temperature relationship would only be strictly true for a grey gas. The stratosphere cools not just because there is less LW radiation from below but also because it is more opaque and thus cools more effectively to space. The effect on the LW radiation from the troposphere and surface is reduced as the troposphere and surface warm up, so I’d expect initial stratospheric cooling to be greater than the equilibrium cooling.

    Also, you had a typo, refering to insolation as solar insulation. I only mention this for the sake of third parties who might be confused (as you also had used ‘insolation’) – insolation refers to solar (SW) radiation, specifically to incoming solar radiation.


    Re 19 – the arrangements of continents certainly has important effects on climate, but it is not so simple. A clustering of continents closer to the equator will tend to raise the overall albedo of the Earth (magnitude of effect depending on whether or not land plants have evolved, and other things (effect on cloud cover, etc.)) and can have a cooling effect that way. One idea is that a clustering of continents at low latitudes makes the negative chemical weathering feedback less sensitive to high-latitude cooling, and if sea ice built up close enough to the equator, the albedo feedback could then cool the Earth faster than the negative chemical weathering feedback would warm it, eventually leading to a runaway ice-albedo effect – and then a Snowball Earth state.

    Continents at high latitudes provide a platform on which to build an ice sheet (if other conditions are right), but moisture supply can be an issue. A warm ocean current running by cold land would be nice. Problems can occur if the land area is too large – larger land masses tend to have larger seasonal temperature changes, and larger seasonal temperature extremes (depending on the annual average) tend to be unfavorable to growing an ice sheet. A larger continent tends to be dryer in the center – if a supercontinent were centered at high latitudes, then the moist edges might not be at high-enough latitudes for an ice sheet to develope.


    Re 55 –

    “late Cretaceous sea level changes – really fast in the Campanian/Maastrichtian”

    I take it too fast to be explained by rifting and continental collisions or any other tectonic process? Asking just to be clear – certainly not to imply that I know anything at all about the Campanian/Maastrichtian.

    PS Are you the same Peter Ward who wrote (or cowrote- I forget) “Rare Earth”?


    A wild off the wall question – would the effect of ice sheet or mountain range volume have an effect on global average greenhouse forcing? – higher elevations have less air mass above, part of the reason why they are colder on average (in terms of temperature – in terms of potential temperature, a different story – hence solar heating can drive an upslope wind…) (another potential contributor being adiabatic cooling of the air, if and when the wind is blowing up and down slopes) — BUT mountains and ice sheets displace air, and so increase the local air mass above sea level. I’m wondering if there’s any averaged effect (guessing it’s subtle, I’m just curious – Even more subtle, the existence of low pressure systems requires regions of higher-than average pressure – since low pressure systems tend to be cloudy, a greater amount/number/area of low pressure systems might conceivably increase the overall average greenhouse forcing even if the average effect on cloud cover (at any given level) itself is zero – very subtle, I’m guessing, but interesting).


    Re 36,59,63 –

    I’d be careful about ‘even if it’s not true’ arguments. In essence it’s a matter of economics – For each combination of mitigation+adaptation, there is some cost and benifit. The goal is to find the combination tha maximizes benifit-cost. The problem is how to measure costs and benifits (I’m not just talking about what is traditionally considered to have monetary value in some time period) – I’m talking about anything of any value at any time – in fact, this economic issue is also a moral issue, because it involves figuring out what we should consider to be of value), and how to deal with uncertainty (we can only try to find a likely approximate maximum).

    There is also the matter that there are other variables which may choose to influence or not – population growth, for example. A greater expected future population changes the result of the calculation. If, for an INDEPENDENT reason, we were resigned to have zero population after some time, we might devalue future consequences – although at the same time it would become less costly to mitigate as well as to adapt… well you see where that goes (even if you are only concerned with ‘inteligent life’ – people – there is still the matter of what record of our civilization we might leave behind to the next inteligent species (so that they might benifit and that we might take comfort in leaving a decodable trace of our existence) to evolve (or to the alien archeologists that may arrive on our planet)…

    Maximization requires (in this case, large scale) planning (it’s harder to enjoy a meal if you find yourself eating pizza with french toast – unless that’s your thing), but at the same time, the mechanisms of planning have costs.

    One interesting point to make – the greater the climate change forcing, the greater the uncertainty in the resulting climate, the greater the uncertainty in regional effects, etc, and uncertainty itself has a cost (but also a benifit, for those who like excitement, but we’ve got enough excitement – the times are interesting enough already, why melt the ice caps when you could go chase a tornado!)

    Anyway, without any carbon tax, solar power is cheaper than oil now, so why waste money looking for more oil (yes, you technically have to include the increase in cost for electric or hybrid cars if that’s what we’re doing, and the time frame – does it take 10 years to develop a new oil field? How long does it take to build solar cell or other solar technology factories? How will the costs of solar cells/etc. change with changing market size (it should generally decrease, at least up to a point)? How long does it take to bring a new car to market? Etc.)

    Comment by Patrick 027 — 1 Sep 2008 @ 11:51 PM

  87. dhogaza Says:
    1 September 2008 at 1:13 PM

    The last Congressman in California I cared about was Pombo, because of his seniority and constant attacks on the environmental protection act (among other things). Now that the Dems have control, I don’t even know if *he* is still in.

    Environmentalist and former Republican congressman Pete McCloskey came out of retirement at age 78 to run against Pombo in the primary but lost. Pete then endorsed Democrat Jerry McNerney who beat Pombo 53% to 47%. McCloskey since has registered Democratic.

    Comment by Jim Eaton — 2 Sep 2008 @ 12:49 AM

  88. I suspect it’s more a case of, whilst the wealthy do something about reducing their fuel bills, in order to safeguard that wealth.

    To convert an existing vehicle to EV would cost around $30k, and whilst the term ‘Government Subsidy’ is bandied around to assist the ever increasing price of oil, a general recall of all vehicles, to be serviced correctly, would probably do more to reduce fuel consumption and short term CO2 emmisions.

    It’s curious the Nuclear power is now considered ‘Eco’ friendly, whilst an article in last weeks New Scientist, reported that Wind Turbines are killing the useful pesticide of bats……

    Comment by Schmert — 2 Sep 2008 @ 1:36 AM

  89. Jeff wrote in 79:

    What I am postulating is that it is in fact wrong to say that CO2 lags temperature during the last four interglacials, because Antarctic temperatures are not representative of global temperatures. If Greenland’s temperatures didn’t start rising until thousands of years after CO2 started to increase, how can one say that CO2 lags (global) temperature?

    Ok. Let’s try this…

    Scientists dryly pronounce:

    … In summary, the CO2 increase probably lags the Antarctic temperature increase by a few hundred years but precedes the Greenland temperature increase by a few millennia as does the Antarctic temperature.

    Member of the reality-based community proudly proclaims:

    See! The temperature in Greenland lags CO2.

    Member of the Exxon-sponsored denialist community steps forward and states:

    … but just as we have been telling you all along, temperature rises first — in Antarctica. Things were already warming up before CO2 began to rise.

    Joe Public sighs, then says:

    I’m so confused… But it looks like the second guy is right: temperature rises first, CO2 follows.

    But the only problem is that this is wrong. There are times when methane or CO2 rise first, e.g., the Permian/Triassic extinction. And by trying to focus on Greenland’s temperature lagging CO2 which lags Antarctic temperatures, you simply serve to put a spotlight where it doesn’t help — and moreover, rather than explaining the actual, very well understood physics, you serve to make the relationship between temperature and CO2 appear purely empirical — as if the only evidence for such a relationship were the paleoclimate record, and we were entirely lacking any theoretical understanding of the matter.


    Jeff wrote in 79:

    What is necessary, however, is a globally averaged temperature record before one can even discuss lead versus lag. I find that this concept has been missing from all discussions.

    From what I know, we have a fairly accurate temperature record going back about half a million years — due to ice cores. But those are found primarily in the very high latitudes: Greenland and Antarctica. So it will be difficult to come up with a global average temperature record when those two diverge. In either case, if temperature rises first at one of the two poles prior to the rise in greenhouse gases, that is all that a denialist will need to argue that temperature always rises first, and that the rise in the levels of greenhouse gases are the effect, not the cause of rising temperatures.

    Or at least that is my take on the subject as a computer programmer in a completely unrelated industry. In any case, I don’t mean to be dismissive, and I apologize if I came off that way.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 2 Sep 2008 @ 1:51 AM

  90. Hank #74,

    Semi-seriously, Pelosi was more right than she knew herself :-)

    It is possible to convert natural gas to hydrogen and CO2 at the well, a process called ‘reforming’. Then the CO2 can be pumped down the well to get out the last dregs. This is already now a feasible process, and carbon neutral.

    So yes, natural gas is a fossil fuel, but used in this way not a greenhouse gas…

    (BTW looking forward to Palin’s correction statements. Surely she has access to competent science advice)

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 2 Sep 2008 @ 2:46 AM

  91. Timothy Chase@58,
    I hear Palin is also in favour of “healthy debate” with regard to the origin of babies: are they the result of sex between the parents, or are they brought by the stork?

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 2 Sep 2008 @ 4:32 AM

  92. “If not the US then who would you like to see in the driver’s seat”? – John Melnick@59.

    Ideally, a democratically elected global assembly. In the interim, the UN Security Council, preferably modified by removing the veto power of the permanent members, and adding India, Japan and Brazil as additional permanent members. In any case, no single power.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 2 Sep 2008 @ 4:45 AM

  93. Re #92 – I omitted to say that UK and France should be replaced by the EU as a permanent Security Council member.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 2 Sep 2008 @ 8:03 AM

  94. I remember a few years ago there was a scientist running around claiming the CH4 wasn’t a fossil fuel, that most of it had just bubbled up from a core source in the earth itself. This was from before the AGW in the News Era so I don’t know what happened to him or his theory.

    [Response: Thomas Gold, and though there might be some abiotic CH4 production, it’s not thought to be an important factor. – gavin]

    Comment by Jeffrey Davis — 2 Sep 2008 @ 8:08 AM

  95. Gavin, much of what you say is valid, but (and I’m not really looking to get into a lengthy unproductive discourse) Pelosi’s statements are still stunning. Misspeak? She repeated the assertion that natural gas is not a fossil fuel a number of times on the same Sunday talk show (Meet the Press I believe), and not just in passing but in response to on-topic questioning. Ignorance? Holy Cow! She arguably is in the most real-time authoritative position as anybody in the country to affect and effect global warming and alternative (read non-fossil) fuel activities. She personally and solely took the vote on off-shore drilling off the table. And she doesn’t know which fuels are fossiliferous??!!? You rationalize her statements as not being the bad “denialism”, but just ignorance. That’s astounding. To use the oft-used doctor analogy: your neighbor denies that you’re showing certain systems = bad (and it is); your doctor has no clue what you have, suspects it’s a broken foot’s that causing your headaches and is going to amputate — this is not a problem because it’s “just ignorance”?? I think it’s magnitudes worse.

    [Response: If Pelosi was a scientist, I’d be appalled. But she isn’t. This is the kind of thing that can be corrected with a small word in her ear (which I’m sure has already happened). Having dealt with the high-level politicians on a few occasions, you have to remember how many issues they are juggling at the same time and how shallow their knowledge is likely to be on 90% of the topics. That’s not an excuse, it’s just a reality. It’s on a par with McCain imagining a border between Iraq and Pakistan – a slip that is amusing for commentators but unlikely to have any impact on policy. I do make a distinction between that and Palin’s denial of the science of climate change – though this too might soften once McCain’s staff have a word. – gavin]

    Comment by Rod B — 2 Sep 2008 @ 10:37 AM

  96. Re Martin #90

    Thanks for an explanation of reforming.

    Is it possible for you or others to give a quantitative description of the heat losses in making the CO2 and the heat (or electric energy and heat) available from the hydrogen, compared to the heat that would have been produced from direct combustion of the natural gas?

    Comment by Jim Bullis — 2 Sep 2008 @ 10:49 AM

  97. Hank, I had heard that Pelosi’s first response was that her dog ate her notes :-P . Fortunately her staff came up with something a tad bit less fatuous, but politically the best available — what you referenced.

    Comment by Rod B — 2 Sep 2008 @ 11:16 AM

  98. Re 94 – where abiotic hydrocarbon production could have had great importance is in the origin of life (before that, of course, abiotic production was the only game in town).

    Comment by Patrick 027 — 2 Sep 2008 @ 11:45 AM

  99. Re 92,93: Nick Gotts:
    So we should rely on a modified UN rather than the US for superior wisdom and exercising international power for the common good?
    Should the global assembly be elected globally by individual citizens? Since at least 3/4 of the world is ruled by tyrants, that’s pipedream #1!
    Should the global assembly be elected by national governments, many like North Korea, Sudan, and Egypt? That’s pipedream #2 for human rights and the
    common good!
    Among nation states today we have civilized anarchy! The squabbling EU members, like the UN security council, have little power and diluted principles.
    The US is the most free and least evil of nations in the world. That’s my preference for the best cop on the block!

    Comment by Fred Jorgensen — 2 Sep 2008 @ 12:04 PM

  100. “The US is the most free and least evil of nations in the world. That’s my preference for the best cop on the block!”
    Apart from saying this is really off topic, I take serious issue with blanket statements like this. It requires an enormous amount of knowledge and evidence that other nations are not as free or wise as the US. This line of discussion can get pretty offensive fast. My two cents.

    [Response: Agreed. This is not the place for national p**ing contests. – gavin]

    Comment by Figen Mekik — 2 Sep 2008 @ 12:14 PM

  101. “…the US for superior wisdom and exercising international power for the common good.”

    Eh ? I think some people, (including me), would question the veracity of that extraordinary remark, (perhaps we could have ask the whole 6.75 billion on the planet to vote on it ?) but, as it’s way off topic, best not to pursue it further.

    Nick Gotts, you might find this link interesting if you have not come across sociocracy before. I hadn’t myself.

    reCaptcha : profits contracts

    Comment by CL — 2 Sep 2008 @ 2:15 PM

  102. Whoops, forgot the link, here it is:

    Comment by CL — 2 Sep 2008 @ 2:18 PM

  103. Regarding the many comments linking Palin’s creationism and climate denialism: I suspect the connection between the two to be quite real. Apart from the obvious link–the dismissal of scientific concensus in preference to ideological prejudice–there appears to be some sort of cultural link as well. For example, if you randomly survey some of the “conservative Christian” sites out there, you will run across more than your daily quota of contrarian rantings.

    And, of course, there is always the example of Roy Spencer, who famously hosts both the “climate contrarian” and “Intelligent Design” meme-sets–I have long thought that it is no coincidence that his website has a strong tendency to introduce supposedly scientific points with the formula, “I believe.”

    [Response: While there is certainly a coincidence of argument styles among proponents of ID and climate contrarians (and anti-vaccination campaigners, homeopathy, 9/11 truthers and other assorted pseudo-sciences), there is no automatic link between people who hold these various beliefs. There are plenty of Christians who understand climate science, and I assume, climate contrarians who think homeopathy is nonsense. Getting into discussions about how correlated the groups are tends to only lead to generalisations that end up offending pretty much everyone by the time you are done. Thus, your point is noted, but no more discussion on this please. There will be lots of real climate science issues coming up in the next few days. – gavin]

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 2 Sep 2008 @ 3:06 PM

  104. Re #91: “I hear Palin is also in favour of “healthy debate” with regard to the origin of babies: are they the result of sex between the parents, or are they brought by the stork?”

    Nick, when I read this I couldn’t help but immediately think of the “Yorkshire” segment of the last Monty Python film. :)

    Comment by Steve Bloom — 2 Sep 2008 @ 3:47 PM

  105. Oops! I hope you’ll allow a clarification. I wasn’t trying to say that “All (or most) Christians are climate denialists” or that “All climate denialists are Christians.” (I should perhaps note that where I live–the Atlanta area–one of the more helpful groups in creating positive change around the AGW issue has been the “Georgia Interfaith Power & Light” group–predominantly, though not exclusively, composed of Christian congregations.)

    Rather, it seems to me that there is a population–relatively small, I hope!–out there for whom both AGW and Darwinism are deeply troublesome emotionally, and strongly rejected intellectually–probably along with a number of other “modernist” positions. If so, perhaps one could better understand the “visceral” rejection of the AGW message exhibited by some?

    Comment by Kevin McKinney — 2 Sep 2008 @ 3:47 PM

  106. There are also plenty of Christians who are not evolution deniers. The ID/Creationists have worked hard to create the illusion that their particular brand of fringe Christian literalism is representative of Christianity as a whole, just as global warming deniers work to create the illusion that a handful of fringe contrarians are representative of an imaginary mass of scientists questioning the reality of global warming.

    And there certainly is not a perfect correspondence between evolution deniers and global warming deniers. Still, it does seem that some people, through disposition, political bias, or inadequacies of education, are particularly vulnerable to the kinds of deceptive arguments that are used by pseudoscientists of every ilk.

    Comment by trrll — 2 Sep 2008 @ 4:31 PM

  107. “There will be lots of real climate science issues coming up in the next few days. – gavin”

    Its fall and time for hockey season again!
    Global warming greatest in past decade

    #4 Peter Ward, if the “Rare Earth” and “Gorgon” Peter, thanks for commenting on RealClimate. I would recommend any of his popular science books. The deep-time climate stuff is interesting. If I recall right Raypierre had a post about antarctic ice caps during much warmer periods.

    [Response: Indeed – and more! – gavin]

    Comment by Joseph O'Sullivan — 2 Sep 2008 @ 5:07 PM

  108. ‘Big Dry’ turns farms into deserts
    By Nick Bryant
    BBC News, Australia

    In the once-lush fields of South Australia, on land that borders the state’s world famous Lower Lakes, farmer Nigel Treloar rounds up the herd with the help of his off-road motorbike.

    It is one of the few things that has got easier as a result of Australia’s worst drought in 100 years.

    That is because he used to have 800 cows and now he only milks 250. There is not enough irrigation water from the nearby lakes to sustain a bigger herd.

    Nigel took me to nearby Lake Albert, to what used to be a vast expanse of water. But now its waters have receded and much of it resembles a moonscape.

    The pump and pipeline that once irrigated his land now lie in the open-air rather than underwater. He has been chasing the retreating water and has been losing the race.

    “We’d be up to our waist in water here and it would be navigable,” Nigel told me, after we had walked out 100 metres from what used to be the shoreline.

    “You could come out here with boats. All the fishermen would be up and down with their fishing gear and pulling in the catch.”

    “But this is the middle of winter and it looks like a desert.”

    There are puddles of water but they are brown-tinged and unwelcoming. The cows will not drink it. So high is the salt content that it stings and burns their mouths.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 2 Sep 2008 @ 6:22 PM

  109. Re 103,105,106 – and there are some people who accept evolution but who deny AGW. (Not to generalize a whole group – my impression is some such people can be found among libertarians – and Objectivists)

    Re 107 – ” If I recall right Raypierre had a post about antarctic ice caps during much warmer periods.” – Thanks for mentioning that, I’m going to look for it.

    Comment by Patrick 027 — 2 Sep 2008 @ 6:30 PM

  110. I thought that you might be interested in an exchange of emails that I had recently with Richard A Muller, the author of “Physics for Future Presidents,” and reviewer of climate data for the NAS. I wrote:

    Hi Richard,

    I would normally be quite loath to contact the author of a book that I had just finished, but one thing kept nagging at me so that I have put my feelings aside and have sent you this short note.

    BTW, as a graduate in physics from UCSC, I quite enjoyed your book and your approach.

    But, pages 292-295 just didn’t seem to match up to the standards that you set in the book re evidence, and the concerns that you raised in the pages just previous to this section, “The Hockey Stick.”

    Re the last paragraph on page 2954 through 295.

    From here:

    Basically then the MM05 criticism is simply about whether selected N. American tree rings should have been included, not that there was a mathematical flaw?

    Yes. Their argument since the beginning has essentially not been about methodological issues at all, but about ‘source data’ issues. Particular concerns with the “bristlecone pine” data were addressed in the followup paper MBH99 but the fact remains that including these data improves the statistical validation over the 19th Century period and they therefore should be included.

    8) So does this all matter?

    No. If you use the MM05 convention and include all the significant PCs, you get the same answer. If you don’t use any PCA at all, you get the same answer. If you use a completely different methodology (i.e. Rutherford et al, 2005), you get basically the same answer. Only if you remove significant portions of the data do you get a different (and worse) answer.

    There is also further discussion of the issues of the source of that data, the Medieval warming period, and Eurocentrism here:

    Does it matter that you are wrong (or appear to be wrong) about the “hockey stick” being wrong (it is quite difficult to follow exactly which “hockey stick” and which wrong we are all referring to)? The “hockey stick” appears to be basically correct, and that no one, not Al nor the Canadian government are in error to have taken that actions that they took.

    To me this means very simply, that I’m not sure that you have done the physics correctly, and that may mean that you’ve not done it correctly in other areas of the book. So we have a conundrum when it comes to providing advice to say, “Future Presidents” who are relying on us (you) to do it right.



    He wrote back:

    Dear Davis,

    There is no doubt about the hockey stick being wrong. The National Academy reviewed this issue, and I was a referee for the National Academy report. They did a very good job. Their conclusion is that the climate is now warmer than it has been in the last 400 years. We have known that for decades. The hockey stick conclusion, that it is warmer than it has been for 1000 years, is simply not supportable by the scientific evidence.
    If you have not read the National Academy report, I recommend you do

    Richard Muller


    I replied:

    Hi Richard,

    Not to be a bother, and my last word on the subject (because really it is about the physics and not about the climate) but I would say:

    “No Doubt” and “wrong” are perhaps a bit strong. In all aspects wrong? Or just one? Is there still reason for doubt and controversy, genuine scientific controversy?

    More recently, the National Academy of Sciences considered the matter. On June 22, 2006, the Academy released a pre-publication version of its report Report-Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years,[27] supporting Mann’s more general assertion regarding the last decades of the Twentieth Century, but showing less confidence in his assertions regarding individual decades or years, due to the greater uncertainty at that level of precision.

    “The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes … Based on the analyses presented in the original papers by Mann et al. And this newer supporting evidence, the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium. The substantial uncertainties currently present in the quantitative assessment of large-scale surface temperature changes prior to about A.D. 1600 lower our confidence in this conclusion compared to the high level of confidence we place in the Little Ice Age cooling and 20th century warming. Even less confidence can be placed in the original conclusions by Mann et al. (1999) that “the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium” because the uncertainties inherent in temperature reconstructions for individual years and decades are larger than those for longer time periods, and because not all of the available proxies record temperature information on such short timescales.” [28]

    Nature reported it as “Academy affirms hockey-stick graph – But it criticizes the way the controversial climate result was used.” [27]

    “Array of evidence”

    The report states: “The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes both additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators, such as melting on ice caps and the retreat of glaciers around the world”.

    Most researchers would agree that while the original hockey stick can – and has – been improved in a number of ways, it was not far off the mark. Most later temperature reconstructions fall within the error bars of the original hockey stick. Some show far more variability leading up to the 20th century than the hockey stick, but none suggest that it has been warmer at any time in the past 1000 years than in the last part of the 20th century.

    Anyway, I only bring up this point to illustrate that you may have overstated the case in your book. You feel differently, I assume from what you have written below, but as I physicist (junior grade) I will rely on the evidence and not the authority.

    Thanks again for your wonderful book.


    His reply:

    In all aspects wrong? Or just one?

    What was wrong was the conclusion that drew all the attention: that the world-wide record, when analyzed in a way less biased than had been done before, showed the hockey-stick pattern over the last 1000 years. That conclusion was based on a mistaken computer analysis, and is absolutely wrong.

    That does not mean that future analysis might show the absence of the medieval warm period. What is wrong is the statement that the analysis of Mann and colleagues demonstrated that it did not exist. They had made two mistakes. The first was the bug that caused them to emphasize the Western US. The second was a gross underestimate of their uncertainties.

    A correct PCA of the data shows that a hockey stick exists in the third (I think) principal component. What that indicates is that there is a subset of the data that shows that behavior. Of course, we already know that the western US shows that behavior, so that is an expected result. What is wrong is the conclusion (by Mann et al.) That the world record shows that behavior.

    The National Academy concluded that the data were not sufficient accurate or independent to be able to lead to a definitive conclusion about the medieval warm period. We know it existed in Japan, and I believe there are good records that show it also existed in Japan and in the South Pacific. But the National Academy did not review that work; they only reviewed the PCA analysis of Mann, and the conclusions that could be drawn from that data.

    There is no controversy here, because the published conclusion by Mann was based on incorrect analysis. That is beyond dispute. Mann is now claiming that his analysis was correct, since the hockey stick shows up in a higher order analysis. But his original conclusion — the one that got the world’s attention — was that this represented the overall behavior of the world.

    And thank you for the kind things you said about the rest of the book…

    Richard Muller


    Davis Straub
    Jackson Hole, WY, USA

    [Response: Very interesting. However, much as I liked Muller’s ‘Physics for Future Presidents’ column, he is seriously misstating the facts of this case. First of all, the MBH99 paper that dealt with the AD 1000 reconstructions was larded with caveats and uncertainties and made no claim to definitively prove anything. In claiming otherwise Muller is erecting a strawman. The actual statement was that ‘it was likely’ based on that evidence that northern hemisphere temperatures (not the world) had not exceeded the late 20th Century values over the millennium. Statements such as the ‘hockey-stick’ is wrong are incorrect simplifications devoid of any meaning. What makes a record a ‘hockey-stick’? What bit of it is ‘wrong’ (as opposed to uncertain)? And why does the existence of the ‘hockey-stick’ imply the non-existence of the MWP? The idea that MWP was global was undermined long before MBH99 came along. Muller is conflating two very different things – though he is hardly the only one to do so. On one point logically, he is correct, the concluding statement could be true regardless of what MBH99 did. However, his claims that MBH99 was “absolutely wrong” are absolutely undermined by getting the same results if you do the PCA analysis in a different way (as reported in Ammann and Wahl (2007)). It is therefore a difference without a distinction. My conclusion is that Muller is a little out of his field here, and is being far more absolutist (to the point of being plain wrong) than the circumstances or evidence warrants. But stay tuned… more hockey stick discussion soon! – gavin]

    Comment by Davis Straub — 2 Sep 2008 @ 8:59 PM

  111. Here’s one for the paleo people.
    Anyone looked for a correlation between magnetic pole flips and atmosphere/ocean gas and mineral ratios?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Sep 2008 @ 9:10 PM

  112. Re: 107. Yes, same me, and the RealClimate commmunity can be of great help to me. I am writing a book I originally called Earth 2.0. Stupid title because it is really Earth 10 to the nth. I then retitled it The Rising, and then my book company (Basic) decided to call it Our Flooded Earth (ouch – since my title is accurate, and theirs has not happened (yet)).
    I am trying to write about the real effects of rising sea level on things from geology to biology infrastructure and agriculture, not about Noah. While I try to use the various estimates, my thesis is that there is no stopping the loss of the continental ice caps this time around – and sooner or later view property will be waterfront property. I am also trying to get a grip on past warm climates with ice caps, if indeed they existed, and the posts add to my sense that there are still giant unknowns about hothouse climates – which of course we are heading for. Maybe there is hope – hothouse with an ice cap this time? The great work by you RealClimate guys, especially the post last January about the Cretaceous taught me so much. You folks deserve the Nobel Prize.

    A final odd story. I had the honor, or so I thought, to address TED this past March, about deep past climate change, and with Al Gore in the first row next to smart Hollywood and rich Silicon Valley and Seattle (Bezos and Allen sitting next to Robin Williams and the Google guys, etc.) I talked about the ultimate killing that could come from extended climate change, if we get to the point where the chemocline hits the photic zone, following Lee Kump. I introduced my work on potential H2S at the Permian and TJ mass extinctions, and the work of Mark Roth on how H2S turns warm bloods into cold bloods – which might explain some of the selective survival at PT, and at the same time, will revolutionize critical care – all of us may end up getting a sniff of H2S on some wild ambulance ride after a heart attack, stroke, or other pleasant, old age experience, which allows docs to cool us down way colder than otherwise possible and thus buy time- human tests are already underway, with all of this funded by DARPA to try to save soldiers in Iraq – the April edition of Seed Magazine has my editorial and work on this. Since the talk, for some reason, TED has refused to release my talk. No reason given. Al Gore showed no interest to learn the worst possible consequence of global warming – an H2S extinction – guess he has indeed moved on. I tried to get through his body guards and just got the stone face. Pretty depressing experience. TED says it could never happen as suggested by the past. Sensationalism. Maybe they are right. maybe.

    So – if from time to time I ask the community stupid questions, please bear with my ignorance. Steep learning curve. Long way from ammonites and nautilus to hockey sticks. And wish Eric Steig and me luck as we commandeer an icebreaker this February to go to James Ross Island, Antarctica, to look together, with Joe Kirschvink, at that pesky Cretaceous hothouse for a month.

    Comment by Peter Ward — 2 Sep 2008 @ 9:31 PM

  113. Peter Ward (111) — The big ones are called ice sheets, not caps. Caps come in big and small sizes, here is a paper about Penny Ice Cap, oone of the big ones:

    with lots of nice maps.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 2 Sep 2008 @ 10:00 PM

  114. re:112 There may be real suppression of the darkest doom scenarios.

    Or at least the more expressive presentations. It might be because to embrace that notion deeply leads to sudden, deep, fundamental changes to human value system. Beyond civilization. Most of what we interact with would be of trifling importance by comparison.

    Comment by Richard Pauli — 2 Sep 2008 @ 10:51 PM

  115. I look forward to reading the Canadian author Gwynne Dyer –
    Military historian and modern military strategist

    “They’re scared, they’re really frightened. Things are moving far faster than their models predicted. “You may have the Arctic ocean free of ice entirely in five years’ time, in the late summer. Nobody thought that would happen until about the 2040s – even a couple of years ago.” Dr Dyer says there is a sense of things moving much faster, and the military are picking up on that. He also says we will be playing climate change catch-up in the next 30 years.

    Speaking about his latest book, Climate Wars, he says there is a sense of suppressed panic from the scientists and military leaders. “Mostly it’s about winners and losers, at least in the early phases of climate change,” he said.

    Comment by Richard Pauli — 3 Sep 2008 @ 12:05 AM

  116. Dr. Ward,

    I’ve been debating whether I should build a dock here in my Davis home or if the H2S will get me first. As you may recall from your time here, despite being 75 miles (120 km) inland, UC Davis is only about 52 feet (16 meters) above current sea level. But I suppose either option will be beyond my time.

    I hope many of you are familiar with Peter Ward’s Under a Green Sky, but he has written a number of fascinating books, including Rare Earth, Gorgon, Out of Thin Air, and Future Evolution. It could be my bias having endured geology summer field camp, but I really enjoy Dr. Ward’s descriptions of his time in the field (and he has spent a lot of time in the outdoors). Like some great conservation biologists I know, Dr. Ward’s extensive time looking at actual physical evidence, as well as his time in the lab, allow him great insight into how our world works.

    Check out his books. And if any of you can help him with his questions, our knowledge of paleoclimate will be all the better for it.

    Comment by Jim Eaton — 3 Sep 2008 @ 1:13 AM

  117. Jim Bullis #96

    Surprisingly hard to find solid numbers. I found this for steam reforming:

    pointing to 65% – 75% efficiency. That agrees with what I remember about fuel cells: a hydrogen-oxygen cell has 80% efficiency, dropping to 60% for one using natural gas, which contains a reforming stage. That gives a 75% efficiency figure for the reforming process.

    What makes it worthwhile is the use of CO2 for extraction. There are some projects ongoing:

    …and note that a comparison with direct combustion is not very meaningful actually, as that guarantees a lower efficiency: burning is about the worst thing you can do with hydrogen, whether in a heating element of in an internal combustion engine. The whole idea is to drive fuel cells, for, e.g., space heating use heat pumps at 200-300% heating “efficiency”. The loss fraction of 25% could be made useful too as low-grade heat for space heating, although all that requires infrastructure investments.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 3 Sep 2008 @ 2:37 AM

  118. Fred Jorgensen@94 “The US is the most free and least evil of nations in the world.”
    Garbage on both counts. It was you who introduced this topic, I don’t think this is the forum to argue the issue, so I simply make this bald denial of your bald assertions.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 3 Sep 2008 @ 3:22 AM

  119. Sorry this is way OT, but some people can make smiley faces with shades, some have ones with red teeth or mouths or whatever, the only one I know how to make is this :) What’s the secret?

    [Response: If you really need to know… gavin]

    Comment by Figen Mekik — 3 Sep 2008 @ 4:33 AM

  120. Thanks Gavin! :lol:

    Comment by Figen Mekik — 3 Sep 2008 @ 6:19 AM

  121. If this global circulation model is good enough to show that shifting currents and cold water could not have caused the last extensive glaciation, how come they cannot predict the weather today?

    [Response: Huh? That’s like asking why if your Chevy can take 4 passengers on holiday why can’t it compete in a formula 1 race. They’re both cars right? -gavin]

    Comment by maxwell — 3 Sep 2008 @ 9:11 AM

  122. Reefs will be dead within 30 years, expert warns
    September 01, 2008

    THE world’s reefs, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, will be dead within 30 years unless human activity changes quickly, a leading researcher says.

    Addressing the 11th international River symposium in Brisbane, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said it was crunch time for the world’s reefs.

    “Let’s say we delay another 10 years on having stern actions on emissions at a global level, we will not have coral reefs in about 30 to 50 years,” he said.

    Professor Hoegh-Guldberg, from the Centre for Marine Studies at the University of Queensland, said rising CO2 levels and melting ice caps meant the ocean was becoming uninhabitable for reefs.

    This worldwide change in climatic conditions was in addition to land-based pollution spilling from Queensland’s coastal river systems, a symposium session into the impacts of river systems on the reef was told.

    “We’re rapidly rising to (CO2) levels which will be unsustainable for reefs in the very near future,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.

    “If you ask the question, `Will we have coral reefs in 30 years’ time?’, I would say at the current rate of change and what we’re doing to them, we won’t. But it’s all up to us right now.

    “We’re at the fork in the road. If we take one road – the one we’re on right now – we won’t have coral reefs.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 3 Sep 2008 @ 10:56 AM

  123. McIntyre is unsubtly insinuating that Mann cherry-picked proxies for the recent paper:

    “I identified 33 non-tree ring proxies with that started on or before 1000 – many, perhaps even most, of these proxies are new to the recon world. How were these particular proxies selected? How many proxies were screened prior to establishing this network? Mann didn’t say.”

    How many kittens has McIntyre molested and ritually killed whilst exploring the boundary between speculation and libel? McIntyre didn’t say.

    Comment by kevin — 3 Sep 2008 @ 12:34 PM

  124. Re Richard Pauli @ 115; I’ve been reading Gwynne Dyer’s columns for years and have several of his books on my shelf. I, too, look forward to reading Climate Wars.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 3 Sep 2008 @ 1:51 PM

  125. Re Maxwell @ 21: Yawn. Yet another thoroughly unoriginal and vacuous drive-by. I’m sure the meaning of Gavin’s analogy will be totally lost.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 3 Sep 2008 @ 2:29 PM

  126. Please forgive my cunctation. I’ve been rather indisposed lately, but a good musician never blames the instrument, I know.

    Gavin wrote: > Curses! Philosophical theorizing yet again proves —

    Allow me to interrupt you a moment here, rude as it is, to quickly point out that proof supplants theory. It would therefore be more accurate to simply say “Philosophy yet again proves …” Prolixity, while not quite a vice, is a very bad habit, as I’m sure you know.

    Gavin wrote: > … proves that global warming can’t be happening or if it is nothing can possibly be done.

    Yet again? But when was the first time? And who, besides you, says philosophy has “proved” global warming can’t be happening? You will, I think, search my words in vain for that proposition. And who, besides you, says that “nothing can possibly be done”? You’ve evidently misread — or, to be more precise, not read at all the follow-up article.

    Gavin wrote: > Back to the drawing board then…


    Gavin wrote: > But as an aside, how do you feel about medical advice?

    I feel very good about it, in general. Unless, of course, that advice gets in the way of my lifestyle.

    Gavin wrote: > Do you still smoke?

    Still? Well, yes, I admit. But only in the bedroom.

    Gavin wrote: > How’s your cholesterol?

    Sir, I’m a muscular mid-thirty, and my cholesterol — at least, as of six months ago — hovers majestically around 150.

    Gavin wrote: > weight?

    Soaking wet, 140. Also, I have a twenty-nine inch waist; I’m 5’9 and compulsively fit. I once ran a four-minute mile. Absolute truth.

    Gavin wrote: > And why should anyone be concerned about these things?

    Why? But isn’t it obvious? “As the body without the spirit is dead, so too is the spirit without the body dead.” And nothing, as Voltaire said, is greater than life.

    None of which, just as obviously, presupposes government compulsion and mercantilism. My goodness, that’s one hell of a leap you make. Nor does it “prove” that bureaucrats, centralized planners, and government bureaus are therefore more qualified than we ourselves are to live our lives. Nor does it entitle these political bodies known as governments to make our decisions for us. Quoting the polymathic Wilhelm von Humboldt, friend to both Goethe and Schiller:

    Any State interference in private affairs, where there is no reference to violence done to individual rights, should be absolutely condemned. To provide for the security of its citizens, the state must prohibit or restrict such actions, relating directly to the agents only, as imply in their consequences the infringement of others’ rights, or encroach on their freedom of property without their consent or against their will. Beyond this, every limitation of personal freedom lies outside the limits of state action (Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Limits of State Action, 1791). Indeed, long before public smoking was outlawed and demonized in this country, the number of smokers was steadily dropping — voluntarily. There is no political bureau and no governmental bureaucracy in the history of the world which has ever proved itself consistently more capable of running the individual’s life than the individual herself. Besides which, no one — and I mean no one — can talk a user out of using, a smoker out of smoking, or a drinker out of drinking; rather, that person must choose to do it — i.e. decide for herself. (Force is the antithesis of choice.) But even if, as you wish, you could force a person out of it — by, for instance, imprisoning her for the crime of smoking, or eating too much cholesterol — it hardly justifies the legitimacy of that kind of massive state coercion and governmental compulsion. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The legitimate functions of government extend only to such acts as are injurious to others.” And “rights can be violated only through acts of aggression” (Notes on the State of Virginia).

    Gavin wrote: > Let’s see how consistent you are.

    Integrity, I promise you, is in my world a primary virtue. If, therefore, you’re genuinely curious to know how consistent I am — and I frankly have doubts — you need only read this.

    And this.

    And this.

    The origins of government are not, perhaps, quite as you suppose.

    Nor are centralized planners quite as capable and efficient as you evidently imagine them to be.

    In short, Sir, I believe very consistently that the government should stay completely out of business and the bedroom, just as it should stay completely out of things religious and noetic, and for the exact same reasons.

    [Response: All very interesting I’m sure, but your opinions on the role of government have absolutely nothing to do with the role of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, the microphysics of aerosols and clouds, the circulation of the oceans, retreating sea ice or stranded polar bears. Instead you have the reflexive knee jerk reaction (shared by many, it is true) that dictates that if a proposed solution to a problem is not to your liking, you automatically assume the problem can’t exist. This is Denial 101. I spend no time on this blog discussing my political philosophy or preferred policy options – mainly because they aren’t that much more interesting than anybody else’s opinions. We talk about science here because we have got privileged information and our opinions count for a little more than the average persons. If you want to talk about science and about what we know and how, then stick around. If you want to use this as a soapbox for political venting, take it elsewhere – we’re just not interested. Let me throw out a little advice (no doubt on to stony ground) – if you don’t like a policy, get involved with policy-makers to craft ones you would be happier with – because the problem it isn’t going to go away. You claim to be a ‘thinking man’ – prove it. – gavin]

    Comment by Tom Stark — 3 Sep 2008 @ 5:06 PM

  127. Tom Stark, Ideology does not trump physical reality. If indeed you would like to avoid government intervention to address climate change, then I would recommend that you develop a realistic (look it up) plan for addressing the threat without the heavy hand of government being necessary. All you do by denying good science is cede your spot to those who believe in the role of government.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 3 Sep 2008 @ 8:19 PM

  128. Jefferson would approve of the science being done today.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Sep 2008 @ 8:38 PM

  129. Re Tom Stark: Wrong forum. The physical reality known as climate cares not one whit about political philosophy, nor about economic systems, whether they be libertarian or centrally planned. CO2 is a greenhouse gas whether it comes from a smokestack in Detroit, Sudbury, Magdebrg, or Shanghai. Physics predicts that more of it in the atmosphere will make the climate warmer, with numerous nasty side effects. Political philosophy and economics will not change that. Deal with it.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 3 Sep 2008 @ 9:19 PM

  130. Tom Stark quoted Tom Jefferson: “The legitimate functions of government extend only to such acts as are injurious to others.”

    Well, based on that aphorism, it would be an entirely “legitimate function” for the government to order all coal-fired power plants to be shut down immediately, since the “act” of continuing to operate them is demonstrably “injurious” to everyone on Earth.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 4 Sep 2008 @ 9:57 AM

  131. I think your philosophical musings have their place, Tom (not likely to be here), and I think you are entirely in order to address the epistemology of science, and, by extension, that of climate science. On your website you write:

    “And yet it’s many of these same AGW scientists who, today, under the insidious influence of postmodernism, assure us that there are no absolutes in science – ‘science doesn’t deal in truth, but only likelihood,’ to quote a certain climate scientist from

    “Truth is only relative, you see.”

    But this is to my mind a significant distortion of the epistemology of science—to equate probability (one of the epistemological foundations of science) with postmodern forms of relativism. To suggest that “AGW scientists” are under the “insidious influence of postmodernism” is quaintly amusing. (I teach a 200-level philosophy of education course. Had this argument shown up in a student paper, I would not be favorably impressed.)

    You then follow up with this syllogism, suggesting it represents the “global warming position”:

    “Global warming is man-made. Man is ruled by governments. Therefore, government bureaus, centralized planning committees, and more laws are the only solution.

    “In philosophy, this is called a non-sequitur.”

    Indeed, it is a non-sequitur (it’s also a silly argument in its lack of sophistication). But it is also terribly misleading (not to mention naïve), I think, to suggest that this syllogism represents the position of those who argue the reality of AGW.

    I agree with the others: take it elsewhere, Tom.

    Comment by Charles — 4 Sep 2008 @ 11:39 AM

  132. Tom Stark – I went to a couple of your links out of curiosity. This isn’t the place but I can’t help it:

    1. – your link “centralized planners” merely takes me to a list of quotes that are meant to make it seem as if environmentalism is a “cult of death”. But

    a. I can’t help but wonder if some of these quotes were taken out of context. For example, there is a difference between a matter-of-fact consideration of what is (that humans are damaging ecosystems)and preaching would should be.

    b. This is just a subset of everything said by every environmentalist. Extremists in a group don’t prove a group to be extremist – certainly I don’t believe all libertarians to be paranoid xenophobic ignoramuses.

    c. Much motivation in environmentalism comes about from wanting to alleviate human suffering while at the same time maintaining some human population – not just now but in the future.

    d. Mao Zedong, communist, is not an environmentalists’ hero by far. It would be interesting to compare Mao Zedong to George W Bush and John Stossel.

    2. Your link to “capable and efficient” –

    a. Why on earth would anyone want to be in charge of all that? Maybe some environmentalists would – I for one would not. But – isn’t it okay for murder to be illegal? That is a government regulation on the economy, for surely you must realize that someone might profit from it. There are different forms and degrees of regulation and policy, that need not take the form of tyrannical micromanaging.

    b. “But the next time an environmentalist tells you to “bicycle more and save the planet” think of I, Pencil, by Leonard Read.” … “Because I promise you that all the filthy, hardcore industry that goes into the manufacturing of one simple pencil is multiplied a thousandfold just to make and transport a single bicycle to you there in Boulder, Colorado, or Moab, Utah.”

    Um, the idea is not to replace 1 pencil with 1 bicycle. The idea is to use a bicycle instead of a car sometimes (which doesn’t necessarily entail buying a new bicycle or selling a car).

    “If something is economically tenable, governmental compulsion is never required.”

    What degree of regulation constitutes a compulsion? With a fossil carbon fuel sales tax, for example, my economic incentives have changed, but I would still have the freedom to drive when and where I wanted to, provided I have the resources to do it. The constraint on freedom of choice by limited available choice, including of ‘resources to do it’, may change shape but it is not invented wholly by government.

    The market economy is 1. a signal processor – an information processor – a computer model of itself – that communicates information – information that is used to make decisions (which themselves communicate, or result in the communication of, information.
    2. a learning algorithm that evolves to be more efficient in the rearrangement of resources to add realized value.

    The economy extends far from money and goes all the way into decisions about what to think about. The entire ecosystem is part of the economy, but the economy in it’s entirety evolved out of the biosphere, via human biological and cultural evolution, the later depending on the former’s ability to produce a species that has the capability to have a complex culture, etc… The economy is in fact an ecosystem.

    You must be aware of externalities?

    If their is miscommunication (externalities), that can gum up the system.

    What also about negotiating power? What happens when private businesses become so powerful that they are like corrupt governments themselves? What happens when businesses act to maintain a supply of cheap labor by exploiting people who have few options, in such a way as to maintain their impoverished state?

    There are costs and benefits to any policy or design. We might eliminate externalities by privatizing all aspects of ‘the commons’. This may work in some cases, but in others the act of privatization may denude the value of the commons itself. The very existence of public goods has value. Human nature as it is now (maybe it could be different in some distant future?) would feel suffocated by being surrounded by privately owned parcels of air, privately owned plots of ocean water, privately owned sunsets and flocks of birds… the aesthetic and scientific components of the value of nature itself depends on it being natural.

    Government regulation and policy also has a cost and benefit. The costs may be a tendency to corruption, as businesses themselves again try to become dictators… but that isn’t a necessary outcome. A well designed policy may be less vulnerable to corruption. An enlightened electorate would also help – of course, that too, has a cost, the cost of the resources (time and effort) taken for so many people to become enlightened – although there are additional benefits to that as well, just as geology can prosper from the demand for fossil fuels, and the demand that drives the mining of one substance can increase the supply of another. … Anyway, some government involvement might be a bad idea, some might be a good idea – I’m not going to write it all off one way or another.

    Urban planning. Planning. Long-range planning. Planning by individuals. Group planning. There is a benefit and a cost to planning at any given level … Anyway, for more of that, see my comments at: see also my comments at: ,

    (one of which has far more comments than the other but I’m not going to check which right now),

    and 2 of my comments on August 27 here:

    One cost of government involvement may be some loss of some freedoms, but we might gain some other freedoms, and anyway, our freedoms were never absolute, and cannot be so long as we interact with others, directly or indirectly (through environmental or property or social/economic effects), and even without that, the laws of nature… It’s costs and benefits.

    Comment by Patrick 027 — 4 Sep 2008 @ 1:45 PM

  133. Try it yourself:

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Sep 2008 @ 1:48 PM

  134. Charles, Methinks you are being WAY too kind. To equate the use of likelihood in science with postmodernism represents a level of scientific and epistemological illiteracy so profound that it surpasses the ridiculous.
    Tom, READ.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 4 Sep 2008 @ 1:59 PM

  135. Uh, oh. Anyone know if this is from the telephone interview being misunderstood, or an actual claim from the paper in Science?

    … Tad Pfeffer of the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, whose study was published in the journal Science, said in a telephone interview….
    Previous projections of 20 feet or more of sea level rise by the end of the century do not seem to be supported by solid evidence, Pfeffer said.
    ——–end excerpt——-

    This misunderstanding about the time required — not “this century” — for a sea level rise from melting both of the polar icecaps — had been, I thought, long since beaten down. But it’s back.

    I wonder where it got into the story.

    ReCaptcha: floats Canoe.

    [Response: See the next post. – gavin]

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Sep 2008 @ 7:47 PM

  136. Gavin, thank you very much indeed for your misbegotten response. I trust that you will allow me one final retort before I exit out from beneath these garish lights.

    Gavin wrote: > You have the reflexive knee-jerk reaction that dictates that if a proposed solution to a problem is not to your liking, you automatically assume the problem can’t exist.

    Actually, that’s not true — in your language, “that’s simply incorrect” (it’s also “not very interesting”). Ignoring your atrocious pleonasms, I neither assume that, nor do I believe it, and I’m not quite sure where you’re getting your misinformation. As I said once before, you will search my words in vain for a passage of mine that states these ideas you (mis)attribute to me.

    Gavin wrote: > I spend no time on this blog discussing my political philosophy or preferred policy options (emphasis mine).

    No time, Gavin? That’s a fairly remarkable statement. It sounds like Denial 101 to me (and I would know). It does, however, perhaps explain in part why you didn’t address any of my political points, anent, in particular, your wild notions concerning smoking, cholesterol, and the necessity of government intervention in those arenas. In response to your parting words to me: “The raven chides his own blackness.”

    [Response: Well, I must grant you amazing powers of mind-reading because, a) I did not write that post, b) calling out Heartland as a purveyors of spin and disinformation is not a statement of political affiliation, more like one of mere observation. But if you think my politics are so transparent perhaps you’d care to guess when and for what party I voted for the last time I did? $10 amazon book token if you get it right. – gavin]

    Secular Animist: You raise a good point, one I’ve thought much about. The Thomas Jefferson quote, for the record, was specifically made in context of the initiation of aggression against the individual, but you are absolutely correct that tort law is the proper way to deal with so-called externalities, like pollution: no person, company, or corporation may rightly poison another. Coal-fired power plants, however – and there is legal precedent for this – are not exactly a direct use force, and in criminal law the motive of the “aggressor” must obviously be taken into account, to say nothing of actual proof of wrongdoing, malicious intent, degree, and so forth. There’s a fine article about that here, if you’re at all interested.

    Ladbury: I thank you for your hostile and uncivilized tone-of-voice. It tells me much about you. Clearly, you’re a man of great delicacy and refinement. Indeed, you are correct: ideology does not trump reality, as you sagely say, and pretty much everything in your comment 127 is true (especially your charming parenthetical) — insofar, that is, as anything can be true (and there does seem to be some real question about that, as Gavin will be the first to tell you). So it’s nice that we agree, although considering the source I’m afraid I can only be so complimented. I have, for the record, noted in the past, both here and elsewhere, that a number of your comments reference “those of us who actually work in science.” I’ve wondered — and perhaps you can answer this now — are you referring to your job as a particle physicist, or are you referring to your full-time job of commenting on AGW blogs, without which your life would evidently not be complete? Many of us, not just me but people with whom you work, have indeed noticed your inordinate preoccupation, and I think, Sir, with all due respect, you would do well to remember that a secret is no longer a secret when more than one person knows about it. Now, then, in response to your stern admonishment to me — READ — would you believe me if I told you that I’m not only familiar with Helen Quinn’s well-written article, but (unlike Gavin) I agree with most of it? One thing only do I significantly disagree with her on, and that is her fatuous claim that knowledge is not, as she says, “very different from a belief” — i.e. faith, which is a connection she herself makes. That’s obviously preposterous. I’ve written a good deal about this same subject myself.

    Charles, you started off courteous and seemed likewise receptive to courtesy, and I was frankly disheartened by the sour note you ended on. I do, however, want you to know that the initial kindness you’ve shown me, and which Mr. Ladbury chides you for, did not go unnoticed or unappreciated, and let me also be the first to congratulate you on your 200-level philosophy credentials! That’s awesome. Please, though, before scoring me too low on my thesis, have a quick look (Ladbury: you too, since this notion, in another of your unconvincing overstatements, “surpasses ridiculousness” READ) at this closely reasoned book, as well as Dr. Stephen Hicks excellent book on this same subject, reviewed smartly here, and of course physicist David Harriman’s The Philosophic Corruption of Physics. As far as your use of the word “quaintly” is concerned, Charles, I honestly don’t know; but “amusing” … well, for that I thank you, wish you life.

    Jim Eager: You’re right: I was over-eager; and in many ways, that’s the story of my life. I do apologize to you. I will, as you politely suggest, make every effort to “deal with it.” Thank you. Keep me in line, would you?

    And thank you, Patrick, for your fine comments. I liked them. They were smart. Thank you also for clicking through some of my links. In answer to your question – What degree of regulation constitutes a compulsion? – any degree, provided it infringes upon the property or person of the individual. Fundamentally, freedom is one thing: the absence of coercion. This means of any kind, to any degree. Incidentally, those quotes were not taken out-of-context; on the contrary, you may easily verify them yourself, for I’ve cited the sources inside the text. But more significantly than that, I promise you that those quotes I’ve listed are only a tiny, tiny sampling: over the years, I’ve collected reams of such environmentalist quotations, and there’s no doubt that environmentalism is infected with a deep strain of neo-Marxist ideology, with an icepick at the core.

    Patrick wrote: > Um, the idea is not to replace 1 pencil with 1 bicycle.

    I agree. And that’s precisely why I didn’t say it was.

    Back to you, Charles, because you said it best: Take it elsewhere!

    My only regret: I’m not part of all these high-fives.

    Comment by Tom Stark — 4 Sep 2008 @ 8:13 PM

  137. as a wild shot…

    John Kerry in Kerry vs. Bush??

    [Response: No. But that wasn’t really a call out for all and sundry to suddenly discuss my politics (so no more guesses please). My point is simply to point out that acknowledging the reality and danger of future human-driven climate change does not define a political program. – gavin]

    Comment by Chris Colose — 4 Sep 2008 @ 9:28 PM

  138. Re 136 – (just to continue the out-of-place discussion two minutes longer and then I’m done) –

    We likely vehemently disagree on some things but thank you for your politeness and acknowledgement at least to me.

    It may cost (in totality) too much to correct some externalities, but some are grave enough and have effective enough solutions to justify their correction. And such an externality, I think, could also be considered coercive and limiting to freedom, as can lack of some planning, etc, – by limiting our options. One might argue here that two wrongs do not make a right (although three rights do make a left!), but I don’t see it in general as being right or wrong without considering what the consequences would be.

    Long term planning is, I think, more efficient than a hoard of time-travelling trial lawyers (that’s meant in humor, not insult) (of course, smart people should be aware of the future legal liabilities they may take on by their current actions, but they may have no way to pay by that time, and in the case of global warming, …)

    I don’t mean to suggest that we should give up freedoms lightly, but that by overzealously guarding some of them, in some cases we lose out in the long run (the very act of supporting a government that defends our rights requires limiting our rights to the limits imposed by the respect of others’ rights – and it’s not quite exactly as if each of us individually freely chose ‘to sign the social contract’). While the same argument could be used to justify warrantless wiretapping (to keep our country and thus our freedoms safe), there are differences between that and a carbon tax, so it’s not necessarily the case that the values which would justify one would justify the other.

    (emissions tax revenue could be used for some combination of the following – targeted incentives to efficiency measures that are particularly slow to react to market pressures (buildings and durable goods, cars), energy and efficiency tech R&D and incentives, equal per capita refund, replace revenue lost by a cut in some other taxes, pay for climate change adaptation costs * (including crop R&D, net property value loss compensation – but careful not to simply encourage people to stay in harm’s way or farm in an inefficient manner, the policy must be structured so as to help people adapt and pay for the cost of adapting, not to pay for the loss incurred by not adapting). I would now mention a website where I had some comments about how to deal with the international aspect of this issue (I’m well aware of China and India, etc.), but I can’t find the website anymore.

    Comment by Patrick 027 — 5 Sep 2008 @ 1:19 PM

  139. Tom Stark, 136

    “…and there’s no doubt that environmentalism is infected with a deep strain of neo-Marxist ideology, with an icepick at the core.”

    Huh ? Is that wishful thinking to provide a grip for opposition ? Or just a fantasy you enjoy ? I find it a bizarre conclusion. My own environmentalism comes from reading as much as I could about ecology, which I always understood to be a branch of biology, no ?

    It probably derives from reading The Natural History of Selbourne, as a small child, with strong influences from guys like Aldo Leopold along the way. I find the attempted smear rather insulting, Tom Stark. Perhaps that’s what you intended.

    ‘Slush anywhere’.

    Comment by CL — 5 Sep 2008 @ 2:10 PM

  140. “… economics and ecology are now in the process of being combined into ecological economics….

    “… I might like to rob banks, but I am unwilling to allow other citizens to do so. So most of us, acting together, pass laws that infringe on the individual’s freedom to rob banks. … think of what is happening to the freedom to make withdrawals from the oceanic bank of fishes….”

    “… Numeracy demands that we take account of the exponential growth of living systems, while acknowledging that resources, when thoroughly understood, will prove to be definable by numbers that are relatively constant…. –for example, the laws of thermodynamics ….

    To judge from the critical literature, the weightiest mistake in my synthesizing paper was the omission of the modifying adjective ‘unmanaged.'”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Sep 2008 @ 3:33 PM

  141. Re 139, 140 – nice job.

    “Aldo Leopold”

    Of course!

    I should have thought to mention Teddy Roosevelt, Gaylord Nelson, and John Muir – although I am not as familiar with the last one. But for that matter, RFK Jr., Al Gore, and K.T. Tunstall – I’m quite sure they are not death-cult socia lists.

    A brief note on nature, evolution, humanity:

    Earlier I mentioned the value of nature, as if apart from human activity and significant influence, yet I also mentioned how the human economy, along with everything else human, evolved from and is a part of the biosphere (except when we go into space, although maybe we could be acting like potentially interplanetary spores in that case?).

    In support of free market capitalism, some (such as Michael Shermer) will point out how functional complex systems emerge from biological evolution – although Michael Shermer himself points out a distincting (one just happens, the other is managed by protection of property rights and that kind of thing*) – still there is a good analogy to be made there (other distinctions of course – are there predator-prey relationships in the economy? Hmmm…)

    First, though, evolution does not work for some purpose but for itself and whatever it produces. The economy could be the same way if we let it, but we might want to treat it as a tool we use to benifit ourselves. And in some cases we might find the hammer and nail of free market capitalism not to be the right tool for the job…

    What would justify that? Well, our moral values of course (to which there is an economics of morality – the moral value costs and benifits, which can include how a decision shapes the moral costs and benifits of other people’s choices (both in what the options are and what they do) – the estimated moral weight of a decision being a good guide to the resources that ought to be devoted to coming up with a good approximation to the right answer, etc… just as in economics.) . Aside from that, what about the natural flow of unregulated phenomena? But, in a restrictive sense of what the economy is, it is not in a vaccuum; in a broader sense, it includes the government and human culture, etc. Regulation spontaneously arose out of human behavior. Everything we’ve done (good or bad) is natural. AGW is natural (in so far as humans are natural) – perhaps even a climate biological feedback. If we choose ‘business as usual’, that would be natural, but it would be just as natural to mitigate climate change, if it turned out that that’s what we end up doing. As with evolution, the economy will work either way – extinctions, adaptations, and all… Bottom line – trying to be natural in the deepest sense of the word doesn’t tell us what to do.

    Going way off on a tangent here, but I’ve wondered what ‘we’ might do 50,000 – 100,000 years from now – would we let the next ‘natural’ ice age begin or ‘fight’ it? It would certainly be interesting for scientists to live through such a thing…

    Well enough of that (someone might tell us to take it elsewhere) – I’m thinking of inviting people who would like to continue on these topics to ‘join me’ at – joining me in the sense that I have comments there, but I wouldn’t necessarily have the time to participate further for awhile.

    Comment by Patrick 027 — 5 Sep 2008 @ 7:11 PM

  142. I’ve been dwelling more than I should, upon Tom Starks remark.

    Strikes me as equivalent to saying that people who were concerned about the Jewish Holocaust, were suffering from infection by humanitarian ideology. I’m an environmentalist because I care.
    I frequent this blog because it’s the best place I’ve found to help me understand what is happening to the climate and what the likely results will be. Sometimes the implications are rather traumatic to consider and hard to come to terms with. But I’d rather face the bleak truth than comforting lies. And it’s got damn all to do with ideology.
    Fortunately, I’m not completely alone. This guy says:

    “As I travelled on my journey of investigation into the Problematique and the likely outcome, I realized I was going through the five stages of grieving as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. In a semi-satirical article about Peak Oil I defined the stages as follows:

    * Denial (This isn’t happening to me!) – “Those Peak Oil/Global Warming bozos are a bunch of alarmist idiots. Ignore their ravings, everything’s just fine!”
    * Anger (Why is this happening to me?) – “Those bastard Arabs are selling our oil to our enemies and using the proceeds to attack us. Let’s get ’em, boys!”
    * Bargaining (I promise I’ll be a better person if…) – “I’ve put in compact fluorescents, switched to biodiesel and I bought a bike! That will help, right?”
    * Depression (I don’t care anymore) – “Crap, the scale of the problem and the intransigence of human behaviour mean we’re screwed after all. Pass the bong.”
    * Acceptance (I’m ready for whatever comes) – “The nature of complex adaptive systems and Resilience Theory means were not all screwed, just most of us. I’m probably screwed, but my legacy will be to put in place what I can to help those who do survive.”



    ‘showers broken’

    Comment by CL — 5 Sep 2008 @ 7:19 PM

  143. Off-topic, but a reminder that the southern hemisphere is not escaping more extreme weather, either:


    Comment by David B. Benson — 5 Sep 2008 @ 7:56 PM

  144. Regarding the Lunt paper, while the contribution on the response of ice sheets to CO2 forcing is quite instructive, it’s worth noting that (1) there is real debate about the timing of Isthmus Closure, hence its relationship to initiation of N. Hemisphere Glaciation and (2) Our paper, cited as the source of the Perennial El Nino caused glaciation theory by Lunt, actually says that the timing of glaciation and the switch from low-gradient to high-gradient conditions in the equatorial Pacific are very different. The record from the tropical Pacific looks much more like a non-linear system being pushed across a threshold by a gradually cooling planet (think CO2/global boundary conditions here). We make this point in the paper. So there isn’t as much of a debate as Lunt would like there to be on these issues.

    Comment by Mike Wara — 10 Sep 2008 @ 8:30 PM

  145. 54 – Lynn, Global Warming has a monster to put on a poster. His name is, appropriately, GW Bush, and his face is perfect for the task. There’s even a ready-made slogan. Alfred E Neuman II says, “What, me worry?” As to hundreds of thousands of years of death, no way. Those who die of will die off pdq. Lovelock is the best source on this one. Lots of us will die, the rest will head to the poles, and life goes on after the slaughter. The third world poor will die off and the archipelagos and coasts at the poles will be populated by those brilliant enough to drive global warming via converting carbon into cash.

    59 – John, where have you been the last 8 years? Democracy is an easy concept. When the whole free world votes one way, the US simply tosses them the finger. GW said it best, “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.” Do you believe that the US SHOULD be the dictator of the world? Climate change is a global issue. Shouldn’t the entire (free?) world be in the driver’s seat?

    68 – Rod, Natural gas is either current or fossil. India’s villages use natural gas made in digesters. Japan captures cattle exhaust. The US taps landfills. Pelosi’s comment was just speaking of fossil natural gas being a better alternative than oil and coal (not completely true – natural gas leaks!), but the future of natural gas is non-fossil. Besides, it’s natural to think of the corpse (fossil) being the solid or liquid thing on the ground, even though the smell coming off it is also fossil.

    81 Chuck, your fusion is 20 years away comment reminds me of solar PV. Proponents always say it will “halve in price every 3-5 years”, yet for the last 20 years or so PV has cost $5 a watt.

    Gavin: I don’t understand why the moderators allow so much through. Perhaps put the poster’s name and [edited out, please repost appropriately and on-topic] or whatever to mark the deleted comment. It’s hard to not respond, so you end up with threads getting bloated with not just garbage, but responses to the garbage.

    Speaking of off-topic, just as we got into methane lifetimes in the atmosphere, the thread was closed. Thanks for the info on 10x concentration -> double lifetime – I’ve been looking for the relationship for a long time (I didn’t trust the single source I got the initial bit from) My guess used to be that OH scavenging on CH4 would leave less OH for other scavenging. If CH4 is typical in GHG power of OH scavenged molecules, then it would all come out in the wash, and the false linear relationship would still work. How close is reality to that simple model? (Bet I get a “not very” answer)

    Comment by RichardC — 25 Sep 2008 @ 10:44 AM

  146. 09/26/2008 Governor Schwarzenegger Highlights California’s Global Warming Accomplishments on Eve of AB 32 [2-year] Anniversary

    Serious speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.

    About arguments over who goes first — California did. Others are joining.

    Governors (worldwide) climate summit in California in November: to form a broad international alliance so when the Kyoto negotiators start their work in December they will have our summit as a framework.

    “We know that Washington is asleep at the wheel. We cannot look for leadership there,” … “We are not waiting for the federal government.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 26 Sep 2008 @ 10:20 PM

  147. Gas hydrate observation:

    “Gulf of Mexico Gas Hydrates Seafloor Observatory Project

    LOTS of pictures, fascinating stuff.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 21 Oct 2008 @ 2:21 PM

  148. Good news on the Antarctic education front:
    “truth showing” says ReCaptcha

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Nov 2008 @ 11:52 PM

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