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Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

Filed under: — raypierre @ 16 February 2006

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809. The events commemorating Darwin’s birthday anniversary last Sunday, together with the recent conclusion of an important court case concerning the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) in public schools prompts me to some musing concerning the relation of the Evolution/ID dialog to similar issues arising in connection with anthropogenic global warming. The age of the two theories is similar as well: Darwin introduced his theory in 1859, whereas Fourier initiated the study of the effect of atmospheres on climate with his 1821 treatise, stimulating the chain of developments leading to Arrhenius’ enunciation in 1896 of the theory that human influences on the atmosphere’s CO2 content could change the climate.

I don’t propose to wade into questions of religion, or the question of whether or in what form ID could be taught in public schools. However, the discussion surrounding ID is significant because it has focused a lot of public attention on the question of : "What is science?" A Nov. 5, 2005 letter to the Chicago Tribune by one Mr. Ross Williams makes the connection explicit: In his letter, Mr Williams implies that the Theory of Global Warming is more like ID than it is like Evolution. Referring to global warming, he states: "It is no more than an idea, a notion." and goes on to say:

  • " The scientists pursuing this hypothesis are struggling to test it and make predictions using their ideas. Thus far, they have had extremely limited success in testing, and virtually no luck in predicting–resulting in continually modified (and, consequently, less severe) forecasts. Despite this, they are spawning a whole cadre of non-scientific worry warts who are declaring that, well, really, the science doesn’t matter."

In Mr. Williams lexicon, a hypothesis is just "a notion," presumably not much better than ID. In this article, I will attempt to explain why the bleak picture painted by Mr. Williams and people of like mind is unwarranted.

Another relation between the two issues is that Evolution skeptics are motivated by ideology to deny a well-established scientific theory. In the case of Evolution, the ideological motivation is a perceived conflict between the picture of the operation of the natural world presented by the Theory of Evolution, and the tenets of certain faiths (a perceived conflict that, I am happy to see, is not shared by all people of faith, as witness the extensive "Evolution Sunday " activities ). Similarly, most Global Warming denialists are for the most part motivated not by abstract curiosity about the behavior of climate systems, but by a perceived conflict between the actions that would need to be taken to avert unacceptable climate change, and their beliefs about the extent to which economic growth and material prosperity based on fossil-fuel energy use should be unfettered. (Again, not all economists or members of the business community perceive a conflict here). In both cases, the skeptics prosecute not just an attack on the policy implications of science, but on the scientific method itself, often using similar rhetorical devices. In fact, sometimes skepticism about global warming and about evolution are combined in one and the same person, as is the case for Roy Spencer, for example (see his article on evolution here.)

Just what is the theory here?

First, we need to get straight on just what we might be talking about when referring to "The Theory of Global Warming." There’s a natural tendency to identify such a theory with the statement that "The Earth is Warming." That’s wrong because it confuses a theory with observations that might be used to test a theory. It’s also wrong because it would imply that the only reason we think that the Earth will continue warming in response to increased CO2 is that we already see it warming today; it loses the chain of physical causation. Somewhat better would be the statement, "The Earth is warming, and the warming is largely due to increases in atmospheric CO2 and other long lived greenhouse gases." This is defensible as a hypothesis, but I think it would be far better to consider this statement, too, as more properly in the domain of one of the tests we might apply to the Theory of Global Warming.

My own preferred statement of The Theory of Global Warming is this:

  • An increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 and other long lived greenhouse gases requires the surface temperature to ultimately increase so as to maintain a balance with the absorbed solar radiation. The increase is amplified by water vapor (also a greenhouse gas), which increases with temperature in such a way as to keep relative humidity approximately constant. Melting of ice will further amplify the warming, particularly in high latitudes. The resulting widespread warming corresponding to a doubling of CO2 will be large enough and rapid enough to be well outside the range of past experience of the human species, by an amount comparable to the difference between a glacial and interglacial climate. Changes in atmospheric cloud properties may somewhat reduce or increase the sensitivity, but do not substantially alter the conclusion.

The last part of the statement of the theory is, of course, the hard part, and the most uncertain.

I have deliberately left the matter of the severity of the impacts of such a climate change out of the hypothesis. Theories regarding the impact are nascent and in many regards still rather ill-formed, in comparison to the theory dealing with the physical dimensions of climate change. Also, insofar as there are uncertainties about the severity of the impacts of climate change, it is a matter for the political apparatus to decide how to deal with the uncertainties, and the extent to which one should pay attention to the worst case vs. the most likely case. The question of how to factor in the uneven distribution of harms (and possibly benefits) across the peoples of the Earth, and between human societies and natural ecosystems, is also at heart a matter of ethics and values. These are questions that can be informed by science, but they are not themselves scientific questions.

Finally, one must be careful not to be confused by the usage of the word "theory" in common everyday English. Statements like, "Oh, that’s just a theory, not a fact" have little to do with the scientific understanding of the word "theory." Linguistic confusion goes the other direction as well: Scientists often talk about "believing" in a theory, but this expresses a judgement of whether the balance of tests of a theory against observations lends sufficient support to the theory to rely on it in drawing further inferences. It does not declare that subscribing to the theory or not is an article of faith, to be left to one’s conscience. If I say that I "believe in" quantum theory, that is expressing a different kind of judgement than if I say I "believe in" the tenets of Buddhism.

Judge Jones on "What is Science"

Judge Jones (a George W. Bush appointee, by the way) of the Middle District Court of Pennsylvania, presided over the case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, which dealt with the constitutionality of an attempt to introduce some limited teaching of Intelligent Design into science classes. His decision that teaching ID in public school science classes would be an unconstitutional establishment of religion, is a masterpiece of wit, scholarship and clear thinking. Most of the decision deals with application of tests (such as the "Lemon Test") of whether a government action constitutes an establishment of religion. These make fascinating reading, and show Judge Jones’ wide ranging intellect, but they are not of concern to me here. What’s relevant to the point at hand is the rather extensive part of the decision devoted to the question "How do we know whether something is science?" This question wasn’t entirely central to the basis of the Judge’s decision, but he devoted a lot of attention to it because, in his words,

  • "Having so concluded, we find it incumbent upon the Court to further address an additional issue raised by Plaintiffs, which is whether ID is science. To be sure, our answer to this question can likely be predicted based upon the foregoing analysis. While answering this question compels us to revisit evidence that is entirely complex, if not obtuse, after a six week trial that spanned twenty-one days and included countless hours of detailed expert witness presentations, the Court is confident that no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area. Finally, we will offer our conclusion on whether ID is science not just because it is essential to our holding that an Establishment Clause violation has occurred in this case, but also in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us."

In other words, Judge Jones had already seen enough irreducible complexity, bacterial flagella, fossil record interpretations and panda’s thumbs to last a lifetime (maybe two), and didn’t want any of his colleagues to have to go through the same business all over again.

For the most part, the good judge takes a positivist approach to the definition of science, following Karl Popper. This approach emphasizes that a scientific theory should be falsifiable. The centrality of this notion has been challenged by Thomas Kuhn and a few other philosophers of science , but as a description of the way most of us in the trenches actually see our enterprise, Popper does pretty well, as long as we allow a little flexibility in the matter of what counts as falsifiability. The important thing is that a scientific theory should be productive. It should make predictions that can be tested against observation and experiment, the more the better. Thus, Ptolemy’s epicycle theory of planetary motion is not bad as a scientific theory: it does make predictions about where planets will be, that can be tested against data. Newton’s theory is far better, though, because it makes far more predictions over a vastly wider range of circumstances, while requiring far fewer assumptions. It’s not just that it’s more economical than epicycles. It’s far more productive of testable predictions — all of which prove true, so long as one steers clear of speeds close to that of light and very strong gravitational fields. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is even more productive, covering the extreme cases while reducing to Newton’s theory in the low speed and weak gravity limit.

Further, the notion of prediction has to be broadly construed. The fact that we can’t predict the exact weather a year out is no refutation of the basic theory of climate, any more than the fact that we can’t predict the position of Pluto in its chaotic orbit is a refutation of Newtonian mechanics. In the context of testing scientific theories, a prediction need not refer to something that happens in the future; this is important in observational sciences such as Earth science or cosmology, where one’s "predictions" often deal with things that happen in the past. A prediction in this context is any inference drawn on the basis of a theory, that can be objectively tested against observations. For that matter, a prediction need not even come in advance of an observation. Obviously, it is a more convincing test of a theory if the inference is made before the observation, since this provides some protection against the accusation of tuning unknown parameters; however, there are other ways to check whether a match succeeds only because of unwarranted tuning.

Judge Jones’ considers three basic arguments in his consideration of whether ID is science. The detailed application of each argument to ID is buttressed by numerous citations to theological, scientific and ID-advocacy writings, which are not reproduced in detail below.

The first argument is against ID as science is that science does not rely on untestable supernatural causes. Supernatural explanations are "science stoppers" which preclude further inquiry. This is, in essence, a restatement of the falsifiability (positivist) criterion. Among the many documents Judge Jones cites is a National Academy of Sciences statement that notes that the publications arguing for ID "do not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of new data, new interpretations, or demonstration of error. This contrasts with science, where any hypothesis or theory always remains subject to the possibility of rejection or modification in the light of new knowledge." The Judge declares, on the basis of the evidence, that "ID fails to meet the essential ground rules that limit science to testable, natural explanations."

The Judge notes that the preceding alone is sufficient to disqualify ID as science, but given a surfeit of evidence, he does not want to stop halfway. The next argument he produces is quite different from the positivism criterion, namely that the arguments for ID rest on a contrived dualism. "ID is at bottom premised upon a false dichotomy, namely, that to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed, " he writes. He then points out that arguments for ID based on this contrived dualism are, from a scientific standpoints, not arguments for ID at all, but merely tests of the Theory of Evolution — and hence only serve to further establish that Evolution is science. Judge Jones, in this connection, disassembles some of the arguments against Evolution made by ID proponents, but this is a matter of evaluating tests of Evolution as a scientific theory, not a matter of deciding whether ID is science. The notion of "irreducible complexity," for example, is a refutable and testable negative argument against evolution, but that does not make it a testable argument for ID. The discussion of the merit of ID proponents’ arguments against Evolution does, however turn up a point that has some relevence also to the argument brought to bear against the Theory of Global Warming. Discussing testimony on the ID case against Evolution, the judge writes: "We find that such evidence demonstrates that the ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution." (My emphasis added). The judge finds that Evolution skeptics argue by "pointing to real gaps in scientific knowledge, which indisputably exist in all scientific theories, but also by misrepresenting well-established scientific propositions." This description applies word-for-word to many skeptics’ arguments against global warming, for example to most of Richard Lindzen’s testimony to the House of Lords (discussed here)

Judge Jones’ third argument is a pragmatic one: it assumes that there is such a thing as a recognized scientific community, and that it knows science when it sees it even if it may be hard to rigorously and unambiguously define the criteria. He specifically looks to the peer-reviewed publication process as an indicator: "A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory." After some further discussion of the publication record of ID, he concludes "ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community."

Does "Global Warming Theory" pass Judge Jones’ science test?

In one sense, the Theory of Global Warming is clearly a falsifiable scientific theory: all we need to do is wait around a while until industrial activities have doubled CO2, and observe what has happened to atmospheric temperature, water vapor and clouds. This indeed seems to be the experiment that most of the world seems intent on carrying out.

However, when we talk about "verifying" the Theory of Global Warming, what most of us have in mind is doing something to test the theory right now, so that (to the extent that it is correct) necessary policy decisions can be informed by the predictions of the theory.

Earth science shares the full range of difficulties generic to observational sciences, in that we can carry out laboratory experiments testing individual basic physical principles making up our theories, but have only limited opportunities to conduct experiments on the collective behavior of the whole system. For the latter, we must do the best we can with those ready-made examples that Nature provides. In this regard, the situation of the Theory of Global Warming is rather similar to that of the Theory of Evolution.

There are indeed a great many aspects of the Theory of Global Warming that are falsifiable without waiting for the next century’s climate to come upon us. There are, to start, all the laboratory tests of basic physics, such as the infrared absorption properties of CO2 and water vapor. There are also field tests of the predictions of these basic physical theories, as is done when one measure water vapor and temperature in the atmosphere, and compares the predictions of radiative transfer theory with observed infrared radiation measured at the top of the atmosphere by satellite, or at the surface by radiation sensors. One can check the evaporation formulae used in climate models against the measured evaporation at buoys in the ocean, or the predictions of cloud models against observed cloud reflectivity. Going up the scale in complexity, one can compare the predictions of the theory against observations of recent climates, and of climates of the more distant past. General circulation models encapsulate the assumptions of the theory, and provide the tool necessary for testing hypotheses in such a complex system.

A further point regarding the positivist criterion is the the Theory of Global Warming is productive. The implied influence of CO2 (or methane) on climate can be, and has been, applied to the understanding of the Last Glacial Maximum, to Snowball Earth, to the Faint Young Sun, and to Cretaceous warmth. Variants apply also to Venus, Mars (present and past) and Titan. It is fair to say that this theory plays as central a role in the theory of planetary climate as the Theory of Evolution plays in biology. A relatied point is that the theory can be and has been challenged by data, and forced to adapt accordingly. This was the case in the precursor to the theory, when Tyndall discovered that minor constituents (CO2 and water vapor) dominated the greenhouse effect; the resulting adaptation of Fourier’s theory opened the way for Arrhenius to conclude that human influences on the atmosphere could change the climate. A more recent adaptation was the incorporation of aerosol effects in the late 1980’s which was forced upon the theory by the inability to explain the pattern of 20th century climate change with greenhouse gas increases alone. Contrary to the assertion in Mr. Williams’ letter to the Chicago Tribune, revisions to the theory have not led to any systematic downward revision of the appraisal of the magnitude of the thread caused by doubling CO2. Indeed, some discoveries, notably the prevalance of abrupt climate change in the past record, have raised concerns that the current understanding may underpredict the magnitude of the response.

What of Judge Jones’ other two criteria applied in the Kitzmiller case? The false duality issue does not arise in the judgement of Global Warming Theory itself, since the theory has never been argued for on the basis of such a stipulated duality ("The world is warming, and if it’s not the Sun, then it must be CO2!"). On the other hand, a false duality has often been invoked in arguing against the Global Warming Theory. This typically takes the form of pointing out some aspect of the observations that Global Warming Theory doesn’t explain, and then jumping to the conclusion that the observed warming must be due to the local skeptic’s favorite cause: maybe solar variability, maybe some unspecified sort of "natural variability." Often such arguments involve holding Global Warming up to unreasonable standards of proof ("If we don’t understand everything about climate, then we understand nothing about climate."), and often, like ID proponents arguing against Evolution, the arguments offered against Global Warming are at best distortions of scientific truth. In this regard, Global Warming plays the role of the Theory of Evolution, with the Global Warming Skeptics playing the role of ID advocates.

On Judge Jones’ final criterion (presence in the peer-reviewed literature) the Theory of Global Warming gets an easy and obvious pass. Here, the Global Warming skeptics are in a somewhat better position than the ID advocates, in that a very few of the skeptics arguments have appeared in the peer reviewed literature. This doesn’t make them right, but it does mean that to some extent, some of them are playing by the rules of science. Still, the relative paucity of skeptics arguments being played out in the peer reviewed literature suggests that they may not be as wrong as the ID advocates, but that they are not as right as the vastly greater number of researchers who have published in support of the Global Warming Theory.

To what extent is "Global Warming Theory" verified?

The basic physical principles upon which the Theory of Global Warming is based include the notion of interconvertibility amongst forms of energy (introduced by Fourier in his formulation of planetary energy balance), thermodynamics (air cools when it rises), thermodynamics of phase change (cold air holds less water), quantum theory (absorption and emission of infrared by CO2 and other greenhouse gases), blackbody radiation, and Newton’s laws of motion. Each of these components has passed literally thousands of tests in the laboratory. There is essentially zero uncertainty in the validity of such things, which form the basic physical underpinning of the Theory of Global Warming. If any of these parts of the theory didn’t work, neither would microwave ovens, computers, steam engines, infrared remote controls, and any number of other everyday devices.

Tests of the collective behavior of the Earth’s climate system are somewhat harder to come by, but there has been substantial progress here as well. I would highlight the following, which is far from an exhaustive list:

  • Reproduction of the temporal and spatial pattern of 20th and 21st century warming. To be sure, models with varying assumptions about clouds and aerosols can fit the observed warming equally well, indicating that the job is not complete. However, no quantitative model based on physical principles can match the 20th century warming without incorporation of a substantial warming component from greenhouse gas increases.
  • The rapid increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases should throw the Earth’s radiation budget out of balance, because the ocean has not yet had time to warm up to restore balance. The expected imbalance has been observed. (Hansen et al. 2005)
  • The planet’s energy imbalance has implications for the pattern of subsurface ocean warming. The predicted pattern has been observed. (Discussed here.)
  • Satellite observations indicate that mid-tropospheric water vapor is indeed increasing with temperature, as the theory requires and as models predict (Discussed here).. Note that the water vapor assumption I included as part of the statement of the Theory of Global Warming is not itself built into the general circulation models used to predict climate change. It is an emergent property that is deduced from more basic assumptions made in the models. In this regard, the statement regarding the presumed behavior of water vapor amounts to a statement that the models capture the same processes governing water vapor in the real atmosphere. There is now a wealth of evidence (in the "large scale control" literature) supporting this viewpoint.
  • Melt-back of Northern Hemisphere sea ice
  • Nearly worldwide melting of mountain glaciers, many of which survived previous naturally occurring warm periods
  • The theory predicts that the stratosphere should be cooling at the same time the surface is warming. This pattern is observed.
  • The degree of cooling of the Tropics and Southern Hemisphere during the Last Glacial Maximum, for which there would be no explanation if we were to assume that current models substantially overestimate sensitivity to CO2. An interesting bit of history concerning this point is that in the 1980’s the tropical behavior in glacial times was considered an indication that models were wrong: CLIMAP data indicated little surface cooling in the tropics, while mountain snowlined data did show cooling. This led to all sorts of theories spun about exotic thermostat mechanisms and strange lapse rate behavior. In the end, it turned out that the models were right and that the CLIMAP data was wrong. Thus, in this instance, the models (based on theory) made a true prediction, which was verified after the fact.

The scientific community is still searching for a really good way to evaluate the nature of cloud effects, though comparisons with past and recent climates provide some reassurance that we are not too far off base with cloud effects. More importantly, there is not yet a physically based hypothesis on the table which is compatible with data and which reduces climate insensitivity to inconsequential levels. Lindzen’s "Iris" hypothesis comes closest, but it has been evaluated in the scientific literature and most of the community remains unconvinced.

Besides the ongoing problem with clouds, the general theory of Earth’s climate, like any good scientific theory, continues to be confronted by phenomena it cannot yet fully explain, and to evolve in response. Some notable problems include the tendency of many coupled general circulation models to produce double Intertropical Convergence Zones in the Tropics, inconsistencies in the prediction of the regional distribution of climate change, inability to make firm inferences concerning the effect of global warming on El Nino, and the inability of general circulation models to reproduce recurrent abrupt climate change events like D-O events or even the full magnitude of response to the Younger-Dryas event. An especially notable unresolved challenge is the inability of models to reproduce the low North-South gradient in warm climates such as the Cretaceous. In this case as well as in others (such as the problem of vertical structure of tropical tropospheric warming) the problem may lie as much in the data sets being used to test the theories as in the theories themselves.

A theory can never be definitively proved; there is always the possibility that some new observation will overturn it, and most theories are imperfect and fail in one way or another to account for some of the data. The question thus emerges as to the extent to which global warming skeptics are holding the theory up to an "unreasonable standard of proof," much as ID proponents do in the case of Evolution. Given that the intensity of interest in the Theory of Global Warming stems largely from its policy implications, it is fair to ask how the standards of proof to which global warming has been held stack up against other theories that have been used to make policy decisions of enormous consequence. "Supply Side Economics" (the theory that tax cuts pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth) is a telling example that comes to mind (to say nothing of the "theory" that Iraq had WMD).


And speaking of intelligent design, I feel compelled to remark that the CO2 molecule seems rather admirably designed from the standpoint of regulating climate. It’s a good infrared absorber even in small quantities so you don’t need to much of it, yet the radiative effect is logarithmic in concentration, so you don’t have to tune its concentration too terribly precisely to get a habitable climate. There’s plenty of it in the form of carbonates in the Earth’s crust, so you can always get more if you need some to keep the climate warm enough. Most importantly, it plays well with liquid water, so that if the planet gets too warm or too cold the rate of removal tends to adjust to reset the atmospheric carbon dioxide at a point where the climate will stay relatively equable. It has thermodynamic properties that keep it from condensing out of the atmosphere (in contrast to water vapor), resulting in it having a long enough lifetime to even out the vicissitudes of climate forcing fluctuations. How strange it is, then, that the Earth should have an abundant supply of so attractive and convenient fuel as coal. A fuel which, unfortunately, messes up the system by releasing CO2 when it is burned.

Bad design? Or just forbidden fruit?


Hansen, J., et al. 2005. Earth’s energy imbalance: Confirmation and implications. Science 308, 1431-1435, doi:10.1126/science.1110252.

255 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!”

  1. 201
    David donovan says:

    Re: 197

    Clipped from an artice in in the archive section of this site.

    “Of course, as we frequently remind readers on this site, changes in one particular region do not necessarily translate to worldwide trends. That is why the work of such groups of scientists as the World Glacier Monitoring Service, which compiles observations on changes in mass, volume, area and length of glaciers, is important. From the compilations of WGMS (and many other groups and individuals), we know that glacier retreat is in fact an essentially global phenomenon, with only a few isolated (and well understood) counter-examples, such as western Norway. The figure at right shows an example from……”

    Clipped from this post

    “Tests of the collective behavior of the Earth’s climate system are somewhat harder to come by, but there has been substantial progress here as well. I would highlight the following, which is far from an exhaustive list:

    * Reproduction of the temporal and spatial pattern of 20th and 21st century warming. To be sure, models with varying assumptions about clouds and aerosols can fit the observed warming equally well, indicating that the job is not complete. However, no quantitative model based on physical principles can match the 20th century warming without incorporation of a substantial warming component from greenhouse gas increases.
    * The rapid increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases should throw the Earth’s radiation budget out of balance, because the ocean has not yet had time to warm up to restore balance. The expected imbalance has been observed. (Hansen et al. 2005)
    * The planet’s energy imbalance has implications for the pattern of subsurface ocean warming. The predicted pattern has been observed. (Discussed here.)
    * Satellite observations indicate that mid-tropospheric water vapor is indeed increasing with temperature, as the theory requires and as models predict (Discussed here).. Note that the water vapor assumption I included as part of the statement of the Theory of Global Warming is not itself built into the general circulation models used to predict climate change. It is an emergent property that is deduced from more basic assumptions made in the models. In this regard, the statement regarding the presumed behavior of water vapor amounts to a statement that the models capture the same processes governing water vapor in the real atmosphere. There is now a wealth of evidence (in the “large scale control” literature) supporting this viewpoint.
    * Melt-back of Northern Hemisphere sea ice
    * Nearly worldwide melting of mountain glaciers, many of which survived previous naturally occurring warm periods
    * The theory predicts that the stratosphere should be cooling at the same time the surface is warming. This pattern is observed.
    * The degree of cooling of the Tropics and Southern Hemisphere during the Last Glacial Maximum, for which there would be no explanation if we were to assume that current models substantially overestimate sensitivity to CO2. An interesting bit of history concerning this point is that in the 1980’s the tropical behavior in glacial times was considered an indication that models were wrong: CLIMAP data indicated little surface cooling in the tropics, while mountain snowlined data did show cooling. This led to all sorts of theories spun about exotic thermostat mechanisms and strange lapse rate behavior. In the end, it turned out that the models were right and that the CLIMAP data was wrong. Thus, in this instance, the models (based on theory) made a true prediction, which was verified after the fact.”

    Seems to me AGW has little trouble stading up as our best theory of what is going on with the Climate. I would add to the above list that warming is the first order response that what would also expect to happen with increasing GHG on the basis of basic spectroscopy and radiative transfer. Consistency with basic physical principles as well as with an increasingly wide range of observations makes it quite unlikely we are all just fooling ourselves.

  2. 202
    Brian Forbes says:

    Who is deluding themselves.?
    Temperatures of which you can’t be certain due to urban heat are averaged with SSTs which appear to have been modified to fit your theory.
    Using this temperature you claim that it it has reached an unprecedented level which does not accord with the history or experience and apparently not taking into account or minimising the effects of variations of the sun , blame it on a 80 ppm increase in the concentration of CO2 in the air.
    Admittedly the winters were somewhat warmer here in the 1990s than for the past 50 years but there no evidence apart from the above mentioned temperatures that they are warmer than in 1930s
    (My mother used to claim that the 1930s were warmer)
    All accounts of ice conditions in the polar regions between 1890 to 1915 show that the ice extent then is similar to to that of today .
    Models which cannot be tweaked! can be used to produce scientific articles to counter reasonable objections of the intererested whatever the objection
    Their “projections” produce visions of the future which the media can use to alarm the public.
    Is it science ?

  3. 203
    David B. Benson says:

    Re 202

    (1) Climate instability: page 1 of F. Oldfield’s “Environmental Change: key issues and alternative approaches”, Cambridge University Press, 2005 points out that 11,600 years ago, in less than 50 years, the temperature rose at least 4degreesC in western Europe. From that book and other sources there was a very large meltwater pulse either then or just earlier, raising sea stand by many meters. (Does anybody have a good estimate of how many?) Of course this book along with others — I recommend W.F. Ruddiman’s “Earth Climate: Past and Future” as a starter — describes and demonstrates convincingly that the past at least 400,000 years has had many rapid and extreme climatic shifts. Why is today any different? Based on the simplest forms of probabilistic reasoning, one concludes that the climate will do something rather dramatically different next year and over the next decade. What needs explaining, imho, is the unusually stable climate of the last 10,000 years. What does not need explaining is a prediction of instability.

    (2) Most do not know point (1). So it seems sensible for the media to present the predictions of climate change, and what it means for all of us. If people view this with alarm, it is only because they haven’t heard it before. But having once heard it, perhaps like boy scouts, they’ll be prepared for the changes which may occur.

    (3) The RC moderators have pointed this out before: You have a repeated tendency to select only some of the evidence, at particular locations, to press your point(s). Further, you write you get everything from the web. Now some places in webland are reliable and very many are not. Above I recommended two books, both by now-retired professors of high repute in paleoclimatology. Reading these first may not change your opinion, but it will help you to sort the good from the trash in webland.

    (4) As others have already mentioned to you, the ice conditions at both poles are somewhat different than 100 years ago. In Antarctica, little has changed (as far as we know) sufficiently far south. However, the Palmer Penisula has recently lost ice sheets and other indications of warmth not observed 100 years ago. In the Arctic, the polar sea ice has continued to thin over the last 50 years or so, but there is no earlier data, as far as I know. Finally, as others have already mentioned to you, the iceberg count continues to decline.

    (5) Finally, and repeatedly, you should read the books first and then be constantly aware that data regarding one location does not extrapolate to the entire globe. The world is not a test tube.

  4. 204
    Harry Pollard says:

    William said he didn’t understand “quite how you failed to find any uncertainy. The TAR SPM sayeth “Over the 20th century the increase has been 0.6 ± 0.2°C” – this is an expression of uncertainty. Or try fig 5. Or… well, I just don’t see how you can have missed it”.

    Didn’t miss it and other similar reports and forecasts. The problem arises perhaps with WG3 – the Group tasked with revealing IPCC science to the outside world.

    There, uncertainty of (say) 2 to 8 degrees centigrade arrives at the media “as much as 8 degrees centigrade”. (Of course on the other side they will say “as little as 2 degrees centigrade” – and the battle begins.)

    Confidence levels help and I think WG1 and 2 have accepted them. I doubt that this translates into confidence levels for WG3.

    As I said, I thought the “uncertainty” directive from the IPCC was very good – but I don’t think it applies to WG3, but I’m ready to be brought up to date on this.

    But their job is to scare the bejabers out of the public so that appropriate political measures will be demanded.

    William and Ray jumped on my money and perks comment.

    I didn’t mention “vast” amounts of money, William. However, trips to New Zealand and other watering holes are not inexpensive. I used to enjoy tripping around when I was younger, but changing planes in Chicago at 3am lost its appeal with the years.

    Ray made his point well – but I would suggest that most of the conference attendees were not in his position.

    I do recall Schneider’s remark about the envy of scientists tied to their benches while others were giving evidence before the Senate, or being interviewed on national TV. A little bit of hubris, no doubt, but surely being part of a great effort to save the world from itself is reward in plenty for many people – even if they miss Carmen (I feel for Ray).

    [Response: I definitely appreciate your sympathy, and yes, I’d say it was definitely worth the trouble to help with IPCC. Not necessarily any fun, but certainly worth the trouble. And happily, the Lyric is doing a new production of Carmen this year, with a cast as good or better than the last one. –raypierre]

  5. 205
    Brian Forbes says:

    The point I am trying to make is that if the temperatures arwe unreliable the so also must any projection derived from these temperatures.
    Urban Heat
    This undoubtably exists and influences the GISS temperatures.
    Consider two stations
    a)listed as rural but influenced by urban heat.
    b)listed as urban but actually rural
    GISS recognises that stations such as these exist stating the temperature errors would cancel out.(email)
    But the method they use is to correct the slope of the temp graph of the urban stations to that of rural stations
    Suppose (a)has a positive slope and (b)’s slope is flat
    If (b) is corrected to (a) then a flat curve will converted to one with a positive slope incoporating the urban heat from (a).
    There is no way in which urban heat can be cancelled out

    Sea surface temperatures.
    See my previous 197

  6. 206
    Matt says:

    If oil use continued it current path, we would likely spend a hundred years of so at the 2 deg realm before oil was extremely limited.

    But our efficiency at converting newly thawed soil into carbon sinks over 200 year time spans would likely increase. Oil use eventually declines.

    So, if we can increase the efficienty and quantity of carbon sinks using oil, then we should pay a short term high temperature cost, obtain a medium term gain in carbon sinks, and a long term cost in putting another 300 gigaton of carbon into the land biomass.

    Current technology allows us to target a 40-60% recovery of emissions by biomass sequestering. North American land mass available for the task increases, probably more than temperature rise.

    What other use is the oil than to use it now to increase biomass sequestering?

  7. 207

    Re “I don’t have any problem with scientists choosing faith over agnosticism when it comes to religion, but (similar to what I was trying to say to Matt about values and stuff) that choice is not fundamentally scientific. That’s my opinion, anyway. ”

    I think your definition of “scientific” is idiosyncratic and, frankly, self-serving.

  8. 208
    Matt says:

    If we accept our mandate, we can explore this concept of planning for what man is likely to do, and thus gain some entropy advantage.

    Well, man is going to be the climate engineer for the next 270 degrees of the glacial cycle. Right away we can make some conclusions. Millennium scale planing will be the norm, carbon fluxes the scarce resource.

    Russia, Canada, and Alaska will operate the boiler room.

    So, the first thing we want is for Canada, Russia and Alaska to get together, tell us what they can do with the ice line, tundra, and northern forests. They sit at the oxidation zone and can make the most rapid changes in biological carbon movement.

    England will need special consideraion since the climate engineers would likely keep the thermohaline cycle in a delicate instability.

    And you can go down the line. India and China have been at this game the longest, and they have the carbon tax, and the great tropical agricultural preserve. The U.S. and continential Europe are swing regions.

    Some regions will compete with major nuclear energy complexes. Some will use biomass energy as a negotiating tool.

    So, if we do this right, man may choose to use more oil now, where man can get the greatest long term change.

  9. 209
    David donovan says:

    Re 205.

    Please review

    “Are Temperature Trends affected by Economic Activity?”

    which can be found in the archive section of this site.

  10. 210
    Harold Brooks says:

    Re: 204

    The only IPCC travel I ever had was to a workshop in Beijing. The invitation to speak came with no expenses paid, so it came out of my group budget (i.e., it meant that something else couldn’t be done). There may have money involved, but none of it came to me. I got nothing for contributing to the TAR, either. It’s not a way to get even a small amount of money (except for the support staff involved in putting together the report). It depends on volunteer effort and the implicit support of agencies at which scientists work.

  11. 211
    Dano says:

    RE 205 (BF):

    Google Scholar will help you get up to speed on this subject. How it works: read the abstracts, then go to a good library to learn about the subject.



  12. 212
    A. Inoue says:

    May I ask some questions about Global warming?

    Dr. Hansen from NASA says that the sea level will become 25 m higher soon. What means “soon”? How long will it take to reach the 25 m higher sea-level?

    Another question:

    He also says global warming has some effect on the Hurricane and typhoon.
    Can he predict how many hurricanes will land to USA this year? When is it possible to predict about the number and power of hurricane?

    [Response: Hansen’s latest presentation is available at . I don’t think you’ll find he said that 25m of sea level rise would happen ‘soon’. Similarly, he does not estimate the number of land-falling hurricanes. – gavin]

  13. 213
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Getting back to distinctions between science & religion…I teach anthropology & the Sociology of Religion (a sci study of relig). Here is a lecture very simply put:

    1. Science is a belief system, while religion is a belief & value system.

    2. Science is objective (the scientist (the “I”) is deleted from the equation), while religion encompasses the objective & subjective (the “I & the Thou”).

    3. Religion deals with the natural and supernatural, or at least the sacred, “the seen & the unseen”; while science only deals with the empirical natural world, what can be perceived thru our 5 (not 6) senses – including the use of aids to those senses.

    4. Science has rigorous methods for verifying results (unlike relig), and so on. Science is limited to the natural (the empirically known & knowable), but its methods make it very powerful for coming to know and understand this more limited “natural” aspect of the totality.

    There is no way one can come to religious faith through science; nor can science disprove God, since the supernatural is not its province. The greatest religious mystics would reject using the senses to come to religious faith & understanding. St. John of the Cross (who had about the best scientific education of his day in the 1500s from the U. of Salamanca, and had the highest regard for science), spoke of the “dark night of faith” somewhat in this vein. The only sense needed for faith, he suggested, is hearing, as in “hearing the Gospels.” He also said something to the effect that faith wasn’t worth anything if it relied on the senses, or even on mystical experiences, such as apparitions. That’s not faith, that’s “show me, then I’ll believe.” I’ve read sages & saints of other religions (e.g., Thiruvallavar, a Tamil mystic), and most come to this conclusion, that you have to go beyond (or ignore) sensual impressions to get to supernatural understanding or wisdom.

    Now, looking at science through religion (since relig is the more inclusive perspective), if we believe through faith (not sensory crutches) God created the universe & all in it, then that universe is sort of like another bible, if not sacred ground itself, and its theologians are the scientists who devote their lives to understanding it scientifically. It seems to me from a relig perspective they would be in sin, if they did not honestly study and analyze the world–with the well-accepted caveat that science changes according to better evidence & theories & methods of analysis. Cherry-picking evidence and other forms of scientific obfuscation (as seems to be done in ID and GW contrarian “science”) are more than bad science; they’re sins. If this is done, as in GW contrarian “science,” in the spirit of blocking efforts to save lives and avert disaster, that’s even a greater sin.

    Since ID implies some non-empirical agent, it is definitely not within the realm of science, & I think in the realm of religion it may even be an insult to God.

    When I teach evolution in anthropology, I do a chart with time on the X-axis & adaptability (ability to live & thrive in more & diverse environments) on the Y-axis. I draw the line for biological evolution of humans with a slight upward curve. Then I start the line for sociocultural evolution above the last segment of biological evolution, and draw an exponential-looking curve, saying, “culture takes up where biology leaves off; we don’t need wings to fly in the air, we can build airplanes.” Then when I get to the highest level of human adaptability at the top (present day), I mention that there’s nothing inherent in this that says adaptability will continue to increase; we could come in for a crash landing if we or something else destroys our life supports, and we could end up like this — I draw a broken line downward to the bottom.

  14. 214
    Matt says:


    We regret that we have but one extinction to give to our evolution.

    There is a worse crime than extinction. Evolution needs smooth glacial transitions. What if we are evolution’s last chance to get the glacial periods amplitude alligned with solar forcing? Or at least get control of rapid oxidation. If this is not done, the ragged swings in periods may always stymie evolution, mainly on the upswing. That oxidation phase has always been evolution’s archilles heel. Eventually a longer term geological cycle will overtake evolution, and the sun is getting middle aged you know.

  15. 215
    A. Inoue says:

    How far can it go? The last time the world was three degrees warmer than today – which is what we expect later this century – sea levels were 25m higher. So that is what we can look forward to if we don’t act soon. None of the current climate and ice models predict this. But I prefer the evidence from the Earth’s history and my own eyes. I think sea-level rise is going to be the big issue soon, more even than warming itself.

    This is the part of article by Hansenn in Independent February this year.
    I think he suggests that the sea-level will rise to 25 m higher within this century.

  16. 216
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Just read this on ClimateArk ( ):

    Sarewitz, former staff member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, [says] “the science is always contestable at some level…. Ultimately, you end up hiding behind a claim about the science to make a claim about the kind of world you’d like to see.”

    Let’s see, I’d like a wonderful world where everyone has enough to eat & is happy, into the indefinite future, soooo all I do is select the science that claims that’s how the world really is, and go marching off happily & blindly, chanting, “there are no cliffs ahead, there are no cliffs ahead.” And saying so makes it right! Wow, what a world. No reality principle, just my fantasy.

    Unfortunately, however, my particular theoretical framework is not cultural determinist (unlike some of my fellow anthropologists); nor is it biological/environmental determinist. My assumption is that all dimensions interpenetrate — environmental, biological, social, psychological, & cultural. (As a religious person, I can also throw in “spiritual,” which really changes the whole dynamic or perspective.)

    I do believe (assume) there is a real reality. So, in my view, “saying so, doesn’t make it real.” As tempting as Sarewitz’s cultural determinist view is (that you can have whatever fantasy you want), I’m afraid we’re going to keep bumping into some unpleasant reality. I suggest we’re better off humbly looking at reality, striving to get beyond our biases & culture-tinted glasses & paradigms & mindsets that make us squeamish. As Pat (I think) said above, the fall isn’t so bad until you hit the ground (or something like that). I don’t want GW harms or wish them. How could anyone want that, except some misguided sociopaths?

    I guess the contrarians are afraid that mitigating GW might threaten human freedoms, or “the sky’s the limit” wealth accumulation. Perhaps GW sort of threatens their entire world view, including their justification of social inequality (the pie is ever expanding & all are getting bigger & bigger pieces)–which is perhaps why liberals have a bit easier time accepting GW science–or their self-esteem that tells them “I’m a good person, who wouldn’t harm anyone; ergo, GW cannot be happening.”

    But we should be brave, and face the GW threat square on (hoping the scientists are wrong, but acting as if they are right, or perhaps even underestimating the problem). Maybe mitigation won’t have to be so bad (we’re smart, remember, Homo sapiens). Maybe if we don’t mitigate GW the worst nightmares that contrarians & the rest of us are trying to avoid will come true — loss of freedom & wealth & even our livelihood.

    I suggest there is a single truth about GW (regardless of whether people know what it is); it’s not just a matter of people’s personal & cultural preferences or points of view or politics or paradigms. Maybe we don’t know it completely, but I believe the science & scientists we have are doing a pretty good job figuring it out. And I trust their opinions more than those of gov people, big biz people, the man in the street, and GW contrarians. Call me crazy.

  17. 217

    Re #213 and “2. Science is objective (the scientist (the “I”) is deleted from the equation), while religion encompasses the objective & subjective (the “I & the Thou”).”

    Sorry, I reject that completely. It’s self-serving and wrong. Religion does not become “subjective” just because you don’t like it. Religions make statements about reality, not about vague feelings. You don’t have to agree with those statements, but they are no more “subjective” than yours are.

  18. 218
    Coby says:

    Subjective is not the value judgment that you have taken it as, IMO. Sure, religion makes statments about reality, but they are subjective statements. The are fundamentally a matter of personal belief, non-verifiable, and therefore subjective.

    That need not be taken as a put down.

  19. 219
    Hank Roberts says:

    Barton, Lynn isn’t stating a religious argument (nor is this the place for one). As used by Lynn,”subjective” isn’t an insult to religion — it doesn’t mean “not real” (a misuse by flamers). Most scientists I know recognize the source and are comfortable with the point made best in the original, here:

  20. 220
    Coby says:

    Re #215

    Hansen is saying we are probably comitted to 25m of sea level rise by the end of this century, but he does not say it will rise that much that fast. There will be a lag time while ice sheets respond to the higher temperatures. What he is highlighting is the very uncertain nature of that lag. Very recently, conventional wisdom said it would take 1000yrs+ for Greenland to melt. I think Hansen is just trying to highlight the inadequacy of models that come up with this figure and the historical records that indicate sea level can rise much more quickly than such slow melting would allow.

  21. 221
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    A. Inoue (#215), I agree sea rise will be very important. I think the droughts & floods & storms will be, too. By reading Mark Lynas’s HIGH TIDE, I also became aware of another very serious problem — the melting of the world’s glaciers. Many around the world depend on the glacial cycle of snow in winter staying put, rebuilding the glacier, then melting during the hot dry summer, feeding irrigation canals.

    With GW & the melting of glaciers, you will get flooding during the growing seasons. And once glaciers are totally melted, there will be flooding in winter, and no water at all during the hot, dry growing seasons. According to reports, 40% of India’s pop & 40% of China’s pop (that’s 40% of more than 2 billion people), as well as others around the world, may be put at severe risk of no water & famine. Then there is the issue of disease spread (which Ross Gelbspan covers in BOILING POINT).

    It would be wonderful if our good friend, Brian Forbes, and others who think GW is just a hoax are right. But I’m pretty much convinced we may be in for really bad times; not us rich people so much as the poor & future generations.

  22. 222
    Matt says:

    In support of delta functions.

    How on this glacial cycle did evolution end up applying a well measured co2 impulse function to the globe while instrumented?

    What a better time to do it!

    Next step. Can we engineer a fresh water impulse into the North Atlantic?

  23. 223
    Hank Roberts says:

    I wonder if any of this stuff has reached Venus?

  24. 224
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #214. I suspect not only will we have to terraform other planets, but we’ll also have to terraform this one to keep it habitable until we can truly migrate off of it. Oh, how “sacreligious” this must read to the Gaia worshippers. Truth be known, whether or not us “sinners” do something or nothing, Earth will someday be a cold frozen place. Then, later, it will be vaporized when the Sun goes supernova.

  25. 225
    Hank Roberts says:

    > when the Sun goes supernova

    Steve. Someone’s feeding you misinformation about basic science. Look that one up, eh?

  26. 226
    Matt says:

    Re 224

    Yes, let’s terraform.

    We should pick the appriopriate temperature (post oil). I guess, listening to the climatologists, they are most concerned about not picking a temperature in the non-linear range of some ocean/ice interface. The climate engineers want a temperature that allows them the greatest biological control of carbon flux. So we have to set the ice line where we get the greatest pay-off in terms of land mass and microbe control, without freaking the climatalogists.

  27. 227
    Coby says:

    But considering the destruction of the economy and the starvation of billions that will result from reducing oil consumption, won’t diverting funds to terraforming likewise kill us all?? I love these selective magic technology wands that can perform all sorts of miracles except migrate us to alternative energy.

  28. 228
    llewelly says:

    Re 224, Steve Sadlov:

    Then, later, it will be vaporized when the Sun goes supernova.

    As Hank noted, a yellow dwarf like our Sun is not going to go
    supernova; see , and
    search for ‘When will the Sun die’.

  29. 229
    Steve Sadlov says:

    That last bit about the Sun was just for dramatic effect. Indeed, the truth is, it all goes cold. So why the debate?

    [Response: So how much of the rest of your voluminous arguments on RealClimate are just for dramatic effect, rather than being based on science? Anyway, the end stages of the Sun are not the first issue Earth faces regarding habitability. As was first pointed out by Lovelock, and amplified in a follow-up by Kasting, the lifetime of the biosphere is governed mainly by the same processes that give us the Faint Young Sun problem. As the Sun continues to gradually brighten, we hit the runaway greenhouse threshold and turn into Venus. That point can be delayed if the CO2 weathering thermostat continues to operate and draw down CO2. Then, things get interesting, because during that hot, low CO2 stage, there isn’t enough CO2 in the atmosphere to support the old-style C3 photosynthesis. What would a biosphere based on only C4 photosynthesis look like? What would happen to prokaryotic algae in the ocean? (the C3 vs C4 issue connects to the Rubisco issue that came up a hundred comments back or so, too). Of course, if we’re talking about planetary engineering, we could always grow C3 plants in CO2-enhanced hothouses. Since we have a couple hundred million years to play with, we could probably also monkey with scrubbing CO2 out of the atmosphere directly, if the Urey reaction doesn’t do it for us. Maybe space mirrors, too? That kind of planetary engineering may seem farfetched, but the one part of this whole thread that is most worth holding on to is that whatever your political persuasion regarding the right thing to do about global warming, it is undeniable that we are already planetary engineers, because of our control of CO2 via fossil fuel burning. For the first time in the history of the planet, there is a sentient species that is in control of the climate, for better or worse. The question is how we will make use of this power, and what criteria we use for deciding what kind of planet we will leave to our descendants. For my part, the Hippocratic oath — “First, do no harm,” seems like a good place to start.–raypierre]

  30. 230
    Matt says:

    In terms of the cost of terraforming.

    At first, we would engage in simple extensions of agriculture, then later move to more agressive protists for the job. Simply phasing of forest management and early seeding of the tundra as it melts could, over 75 year periods, account for altering up to 50-60 gigatons, judging from preliminary reports of forest and grassland sequestering.

    There would be no tilling, or harvesting; just moving carbon in or out as the atmosphere needed it. Eventually huge lakes of algae would be nice, but they only need be a foot deep, hardly much more work than rice fields.

    This is all post oil.

  31. 231
    Chuck Booth says:

    The latest issue of Science (24 Feb.) has a news story about the Evangelical Climate Initiative, which has evangelical Christians siding with climatatologists in spreading the word about global warming. I find it curious that evangelicals would accept the science that points to global warming, yet reject the overwhelming body of scientific data that supports evolution. Any thoughts on this?

    [Response: Just like “environmentalists” are not a monolithic block (and are still less identifiable with “climate scientists”) evangelicals are not all alike. I haven’t seen any studies that say whether the same evangelicals that subscribe to the Climate Initiative are as skeptical of evolution as some of their brethren. It would be interesting to know.–raypierre]

  32. 232
    llewelly says:

    Re 231, Chuck Booth: appears to be their website. I
    could find nothing on it which states any position with respect to
    evolution. Somehow this makes me suspect these evangelicals hold a
    variety of beliefs with respect to evolution; some accept, some

    Going beyond that, it’s been my experience that any normal
    person is quite capable of simultaneously holding two (or more!)
    contradictary beliefs, although some show more talent in this area
    than others…

    [Response: The main problem comes from mixing scientific with theological arguments, I think. It would be one thing to support some kind of creationism as an article of internal faith or revelation. That wouldn’t necessarily get in the way of a proper understanding of the scientific arguments pertaining to climate change. One could just put that in a different category of knowledge. However, if one finds a need to support some kind of creationism or ID by “scientific” arguments, that requires such a deliberate distortion of the methods of science that it would be hard for the problems not to carry over to other areas where science is important, such as global warming. I’d like to think that, if there are evangelicals in the climate initiative who feel ambivalent about evolution, they are of the type who see their feelings about evolution as stemming from supernatural concerns, and don’t need bogus pseudo-scientific arguments to justify the requirements of their faith. Or, more simply, some of them may simply be “wrong” about their appraisal of the scientific evidence for the theory of evolution, but “right” about their appraisal of the scientific case regarding global warming. I’m willing to take half right. It’s a start. Finding common ground on the areas one can agree on is important, even if areas of disagreement remain. I’m happy to agree with Dick Lindzen that we ought to be doing more to help assure the Third World’s access to clean water (and I’d feel even happier if he devoted half the effort to that goal as he does to his energetic dissent on global warming). –raypierrre]

  33. 233
    Matt says:

    We need a good post on the future of carbon economics.

    If the current price of oil began to reflect its future value as an energy reserve, then bio sequestering of carbon becomes much more of a national planning issue for all countries, similiar to what Brazil does with ethanol.

    The technology that would interest nations is a technology that can seasonally sequester layers and layers of carbon in shallow lakes, praries, and flood plains. If nations had this, they would began a national sequestering plan in the hopes of being able to draw from a future biosynfuel reserve decades down the line.

  34. 234
    Matt says:

    So, let me just make the 80,000 year weather prediction, since our climatologists are stuck on 50 year projections.

    Temperature will hover around holocene plus 2 deg for 50-100 years. The CO2 spike will be followed by a man induced co2 counter spike over 200 hundred years, then there will be a continual, linear decrease in co2 until it reaches 260 ppmv, at or about 50,000 years from now. At that point, man will have errored a little, and we will see a short period around minus 2 deg, but then we will see a slow rise in temp and co2.

    Over all, the weather from 10,000 years ago to 80,000 from now will match orbital energy variations with holocene temp average, plus or mninus two degrees.

  35. 235
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re: evolution warming

    In assuming all evangelical Christians reject evolution, perhaps I painted with a broad brush, but I don’t think I was too far off the mark. In a letter to the editor of Science (July 1, 2005,,p.51), John C. Sutherland, a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian biologist who does “accept Darwinian evolution,” reported on an informal survey he conducted:
    “I wrote to ‘the Professor of Biology,’ at the 104 schools of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities listed in the CCCU’s Web site. Biologists from six schools refused to participate. Sixty-seven schools responded. Twenty-five percent of the respondents affirmed their belief in a young Earth and a 6-day creation period. Twenty-seven percent hold the theistic evolution position, which accepts the common descent of all living things and believes that God acts through natural laws. The remainder were either reluctant to take a specific stance or were what are called old Earth progressive creationists–Earth is billions of years old, but God acted creatively to bridge the gaps, i.e., between amphibians and reptiles and between reptiles and birds. Five of this group merely sent printed statements of their school’s position affirming its belief in a Creator God, but that there are multiple ways in which he might have done it.Although deeply divided in their views of evolution and creation, there is what I think is a small but significant trend among fundamentalist Christian biologists toward accepting Darwinian evolution. Hopefully, it will continue and spread to the fundamentalist public.”

    Clearly, some evangelical Christians do believe in evolution, but they would appear to be a distinct minority (and, of course, there are many mainstream, non-evangelical Christians who reject evolution and support creationism and/or ID). I would love to know where the supporters of the Evangelical Climate Initiative stand on evolution. Likewise, I would love to know where ID proponents such as Michael Behe and William Dembski stand on global warming; given that they claim to reject evolution on scientific grounds, I wouldn’t be surprised if they accept global warming on scientific grounds. I suspect non-scientists are more likely than scientists to base their decision on what to believe, or not believe, on the potential consequences of accepting scientific arguments rather than the scientific evidence itself: If, by accepting evolution, one believes he/she would be denying the existence of God and eliminating the justification for moral behavior, that person will likely reject evolution and ignore or dispute the overwhelming evidence that supports it. On the other hand, if denying the reality of global warming means that God’s green earth and all its inhabitants may face a very unpleasant future, and one doesn’t fear the economic cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (just another tithing?), a deeply religious person may be more likely to accept global warming as fact, regardless of any evidence to the contrary(For the record, I consider the evidence for global warming to be overwhelming). However, even Ph.D. scientists and other highly educated people are not immune from making decisions based on emotions (or spirituality) rather than on empirical evidence – I’m sure I’m not alone in knowing Ph.D. scientists and graduate students in the sciences who do not believe in evolution (another example: Marilyn vos Savant, who is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as having the highest recorded IQ, once wrote in her Parade magazine column that she didn’t believe that alcoholism has a genetic basis in part because treating alcoholism as a disease would have undesirable social consequences; that statement was bad enough, but she also revealed a stunning ignorance about the science of ethanol production and metabolism in nature).
    I do agree with raypierre that having evangelical Christians side with mainstream science on the issue of global warming is a positive step, but I am inclined to believe their decision is not based on a careful analysis of the scientific evidence. Rather, they embrace the scientific evidence for global warming because it happens to fit their religious worldview.

    [Response: These are very interesting and worthwhile insight, Chuck. Although we stray from the basic scientific issues in discussing why people choose to accept or deny a theory, it matters a lot to me why people believe what they do. Those of us in the scientific community working on climate change feel that we have important information to share, which is of enormous consequence. It seems that a lot of this information is not being assimilated and acted upon by the political apparatus, and it probably won’t be until there’s a grass-roots demand for action (whatever one might deem the appropriate action to be). If the impediment to our information being accepted has to do with some lack of clarity in the way we’re explaining what we do, then we just need to try harder and do a better job of explaining. However, if the stumbling block lies elsewhere, if there’s something in peoples’ belief system that makes them resistant to considering the evidence in its proper light, then something different needs to be done to “open the window” and let the light in. That’s all I want to figure out how to do — how to open the window. –raypierre]

  36. 236
    Matt says:

    Longer planning cycles?

    Biofuels are inefficient when harvested yearly, like agriculture. But the process uses all the tools of agriculture.

    Under longer term planning cycles, farmers will go decades in a process of sequestering, then they build up concentrated bioengineered peat, and the energy input drops by 90% for biofuel production, as you harvest only once every few decades.

    Then, the farmer can use a sort of crop rotation, five years of algae, then an oxidizer to seal, going back to algae. The farmer builds up value in his land, and by projecting past the oil tipping point, the farmer can compete today with oil tomorrow, his reserve increases in value as oil prices reflect future value.

    Planners will realize right away that the abundance of carbon in the atmosphere will not last, and we are likely to see a race for this “secondary” carbon market.

  37. 237

    Re #231 and Chuck Booth’s posts — Yo, I’m an evangelical Christian and I have never had a problem with evolutionary biology. Why is Booth so reluctant to accept evangelicals as allies even when they’re agreeing with him? “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes?” I think he’s letting his religious prejudices get in the way of his reasoning.

  38. 238
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: # 230 + 233: I am partial to algae, based on a coming IPO using algae for flue gas scrubbing. I am also quite interested in anaerobic bacilli bioengineered to help facilitate peat detritus. Cold pressed veg oils are also intriguing. Good thoughts, thanks!

  39. 239
    raypierre says:

    The possibility of artifically engineered peat bogs as a means of carbon sequestration is an interesting one. It’s easy to get plants to take a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere. The problem is keeping it from going right back in due to microbial respiration. Nature does this with peat bogs, so it’s an interesting thought that maybe the process could be accelerated. It’s the ultimate in recycling: dig up fossil fuels, burn, sequester the carbon in a peat bog so somebody can use it a million years down the line if they need it. I suppose there’s the question, though, whether it’s better to use the biomass to sequester carbon in a peat bog, or to use the same biomass to displace fossil fuels.

  40. 240
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re#237 “I think he’s letting his religious prejudices get in the way of his reasoning.”
    Sorry, Mr. Levenson, but I reject the notion that I have “religious prejudices,” and I don’t feel I’m letting the views of evangelicals about evolution or global warming get in the way of my reasoning about anything. If you read my post (#235) carefully, you will see that I wrote “…having evangelical Christians side with mainstream science on the issue of global warming is a positive step…” But,I am questioning their motives,yes. As an educator (biologist), I don’t care what my students believe, but I do want them to have a sound understanding of scientific concepts so they can make informed decisions about whether or not to believe in evolutionary theory, or global warming, or any other scientific concept; I am always disappointed when my students blindly accept a scientific explanation but are clueless about the scientific evidence underlying that explanation.
    So, I do find it ironic that there is a movement among some evangelical Christians to embrace the conclusions of the climatologists warning us about global warming(Science works!) while, at the same time, most evangelicals (Mr. Barton and a few others excluded) tend to reject the theory of evolution, which is arguably the most thoroughly supported major scientific theory we have (Science doesn’t work!). Likewise, I find it ironic to read op-ed essays in the Wall Street Journal criticizing evolution and embracing intelligent design while, in the same issue (and virtually every issue), articles on the front page and on the technology and business pages celebrate new developments in molecular biology and medicine that would be impossible, or at least meaningless, if evolution were fallacy. And of course there’s the supreme irony of creationist and ID proponents (most of whom likely benefit from the fruits of biomedical research grounded in evolutionary biology )vigorously denying evolution while the H5N1 avian flu virus is literally evolving before our eyes.
    As for evangelicals siding with the global warming advocates: Yes, they do help “the cause.” But, if I had the chance, I would ask them WHY they accept global warming. If they think the concept is based on sound science, that is great. But, if they really don’t care about the validity of the scientific evidence, rather, they merely adopt the conclusion because it conforms to their religous worldview, then I’m a bit worried – I’m not sure that acceptance of scientific theories (or any other established wisdom) in the absence of some understanding of those theories serves our society well.


    [Response: Actually, I’d be inclined to ask anybody else WHY they accept the evidence, not just evangelicals. I, too want people to make their moral and ethical judgements informed by sound science, and human nature being what it is there are lots of ways for ones’ belief system to prejudice the case. I’d be surprised if evangelicals as a group are much more prone to this than the general lot of humanity. I think probably ExonMobil’s opinions are more influenced by belief systems than by science, and for that matter, though nuclear energy isn’t a panacea, many anti-nuclear activists have gotten into a mindset that keeps them from even considering valid scientific issues that might change their opinion. It’s certainly a slippery slope if a group subscribes to the right “cause” for reasons that are ideologically set in stone and not subject to change in response to evidence. I don’t have any reason to believe that the evangelical climate initiative is in this category, though even if some individuals fit that description it’s still progress, since it at least opens the door to their considering the evidence. Consider it an opening to further education. Notwithstanding all that, I think that it is legit, even necessary, for ones’ value system to enter into the decision of how to deal with uncertainty. Science will always be uncertain to one degree or another. If one thinks that it would be a mortal sin to allow polar bears to go extinct in the wild, one might give extra weight to that possibility in deciding how much to sacrifice in order to head off the possibility, even if the prediction is rather uncertain. Similar considerations apply to one’s feelings about responsibility to the poor of the world, who are probably disproportionately affected by major climate change. –raypierre]

  41. 241
    Matt says:

    re 239:

    This is very interesting stuff, sequestering carbon. See this recent work:

    This group thinks that all of the cellulose can be used with the new enzymes and others are incorporating this idea into a single stage bio conversion reactor. Up to now, synfuels were limited to the seeds, and there was no process for plant fiber.

    I was not thinking millions of years to harvest, but something longer than the one year season for Brazilian sugar ethanol, hopefully something like a 10-30 year build up of biomass before it is harvested.

  42. 242
    Lloyd Flack says:

    The evidence for AGW comes from a convergence of evidence. Lots of observations such as those mentioned in posts (#34 and # 201), underlying physics which makes it almost certain there will be at least some anthropogenic warming, models which explain most of the climate trends and the lack of detailed alternative explanations. However none of the individual pieces of evidence are conclusive even though some of them are difficult to explain otherwise. It is the totality of the evidence which is difficult to disbelieve.

    So if one wishes to not believe in AGW, if one looks at the evidence seeking reasons to doubt then one can always find reasons to do so. One just has to doubt or explain away each individual piece of evidence and not look at the whole picture. Also some people are uncomfortable with arguments where no individual piece of evidence is conclusive but where to disbelieve the lot strains credibility. Some people demand simple easy to understand proofs even when Nature does not cooperate. They will especially demand them when they do not like the policy consequences of a scientific theory. In short they will argue like lawyers.

    Yes, a preference for simple explanations can attract one to a conservative viewpoint even though it is not an essential characteristic of conservatism. In fact the more thoughtful conservatives will accept messy situations and explanations. They will accept unpleasant facts.

    The rest of you, don’t be smug. People can be attracted to any viewpoint for the wrong reasons. There will be blind spots in many supporters of all political positions.

    Many of the greenhouse skeptics place higher importance on the economic costs than many of their opponents. It is a waste of time to try to get them to place a lower value on what might have to be sacrificed to minimize global warming. In fact attempts to do so will merely antagonize them. Self-righteous asceticism will get up their nose and rightly so.

    Argue that many of the costs that they fear are less than they think. (There is plenty of low hanging fruit.) Argue that some costs unfortunately have to be borne. In some cases ridicule ostentation and waste (Someone who uses an off road vehicle only in the city is a poser.)

  43. 243
    Chuck Booth says:

    Lest anyone else think my concerns about the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) are based on religious prejudice, let me assure you that I worry only about its potential influence as a political lobby group – a concern I have with ALL lobby groups, political action committees, etc., (including groups that are supposed to represent my personal interests, such as the AAAS and AAUP). According to the Science story I cited earlier (24 Feb., vol. 311, pp. 1082-3) the Evangelical Climate Initiative seems to be an outgrowth of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), which advocates traditional conservative views on a number of contemporary social and political issues:

    The NAE officially opposes embryonic stem cell research

    While the NAE apparently has not taken an official stance on the evolution/ID controversy, it is concerned that “public education now is increasingly controlled by the secular humanist viewpoint” and that the courts have “undercut and removed from the educational system … the teaching of creationism.”

    I don’t know if the ECI, or its individual members, share the views of the NAE on all scientific issues. Regardless, the ECI and NAE are certainly free to express their views (and lobby congress, I guess) on any subject they wish. And climatologists concerned about global warming are free to welcome any supporters they can find. But, it seems to me that climatologists may find it in their best interests to learn more about the ECI and its positions on other scientific issues; allowing ECI to sidle up to mainstream climatology on the subject of global warming could potentially give ECI, or its individual members, a certain credibility on scientific matters that would aid them in advancing less mainstream views on other controversial scientific issues (such as trying to introduce ID into public school biology courses, which ends up costing taxpayers a lot of money). But, that is not my decision to make.

    [Response: John — Your point is taken, and you’ve made a case that the NAE has taken a number of severely anti-science positions. Please try to remember, though, that NAE doesn’t speak for all evangelicals any more than George Bush speaks for all Americans. If I understand the NYT news coverage of the Evangelical Climate Initiative correctly, this group tried to get the NAE to sign on, but failed. So, there does seem to be some disagreement in the fold about how to approach the matter. I am trying to keep an open mind, and treat everybody who is interested in learning about climate change equally, regardless of what label they may apply to themselves. This is a very positive development here, and I’m eager to make these new friends feel as welcome as possible. It will take some time for everybody to get to know each other, and no doubt there will be some adjustment along the way. –raypierre]

  44. 244
    Matt says:

    I have some numbers that ring out from reading about the new engineered photosynthesis.

    They have modified the algae physically to promise some 5% solar efficiency, soon, within years. Algae currently get .25%.

    Others are claiming a two stage cellulose to fuel bioreactor. These cellulose bacteria must be mean, don’t want to get them in your shoes.

    Solar insolation is 342 watts/m**2 ?

    Then my numbers tell me that my back half acre, with 40 days of wet algae pond, gets me 400 hours of driving my 20 kilowatt cars and tractors.

    I assume 50% entropy loss in my garage bioreactor.

  45. 245
    John L. McCormick says:

    I’m going to manufacture a “Chatty Matty” doll. Pull the string and it spouts a wild idea about how “we” are going to re-engineer the world’s energy infrastructure in our back half acre. Or better:

    “At first, we would engage in simple extensions of agriculture, then later move to more agressive protists for the job. Simply phasing of forest management and early seeding of the tundra as it melts could, over 75 year periods, account for altering up to 50-60 gigatons, judging from preliminary reports of forest and grassland sequestering.

    There would be no tilling, or harvesting; just moving carbon in or out as the atmosphere needed it. Eventually huge lakes of algae would be nice, but they only need be a foot deep, hardly much more work than rice fields.

    This is all post oil.” Of course!

    Matt, take it to the Bozo Bin.

    2005 global CO2 concentration increased 2.58ppmv above the 2004 level. Maybe, the rest of us don’t have time for your neat ideas.

    John McCormick

  46. 246
    raypierre says:

    In response to some of Chuck’s musing, I dug around a little more on the web site of the Evangelical Climate Initiative ( Their detailed statement of mission includes a very cogent statement that there would be nothing to discuss if global warming weren’t real. They state clearly that the scientific evidence matters. They highlight a few of the basic scientific sources, and then make the statement:

    “In the face of the breadth and depth of this scientific and governmental concern, only a small percentage of which is noted here, we are convinced that evangelicals must engage this issue without any further lingering over the basic reality of the problem or humanity’s responsibility to address it.”

    In other words, they are starting from the premise that the scientific evidence matters. The rest of their statement deals with the moral imperative stemming from the scientific evidence. It’s a very cogent statement, and beautifully covers the “is” and the “ought” while keeping the nature of the arguments for each in their proper domain.

    I like this group more and more.

  47. 247
    Chuck Booth says:

    RE raypierre’s findings (#246)

    Well, then, more power to them!!! I hope the group can make an impact.

  48. 248
    Matt says:

    One thing that characterizes holocene is the mass movement of carbon from ocean to land, 650 gigatons so far. At these temperatures, it is a battle that land biomass has been losing on the margins, as we can see by the steady linear rise on CO2 since the start of holocene. The only way to safely stop this process is via mass photosyntheses to get the climate down almost a degree from holocene averages.

  49. 249
    Matt says:

    Lake mead, the largest man made lake in the U.S., could be turned into a co2 pump and get the us past peak oil. If we can fix the carbon to the lake bottom for ten years, then we just empty the lake every ten years and harvest the carbon. This is today’s technology, a few hundred million a year in operating costs. The pump would only be limited by fertilizer for the algae. After peak oil, the process would generate half the U.S. current fuel needs.

  50. 250
    Hank Roberts says:

    Darwinian — apparently directionless — evolution of online discussion tools is being looked at — with some good ideas and an invitation to a WIKI — at the current O’Reilly gabfest:

    Blogging notes taken at the session:

    Web page for the session: