Kristof on the Apocalypse

We have noted with pleasure Nicholas Kristof’s column, The Big Burp Theory of the Apocalypse (TimesSelect subscription required), which appeared in the New York Times of 18 April. This column is built around the possibility of a catastrophic methane release from marine clathrate decomposition, but at heart it is really a lament that the more conventional and better understood harms of global warming have not proved sufficient to get the attention of the White House or Congress. This column is a refreshing change from the recent spate of backlash columns by Will, Novak and Lindzen attempting to tar climate scientists with the “a****mist” epithet.

Kristof gives a generous tip of the hat to “the excellent discussion of methane hydrates by scholars at” (Thanks, Nick.) He has clearly made good use of Dave Archer’s RealClimate article on clathrates, and it shows in the Kristof’s sound discussion of the basic science. He is very clear on why a clathrate catastrophe would be a bad thing, but equally clear about the uncertainties. The column even contains an intelligent discussion of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum as a possible example of a clathrate catastrophe. taking care to point out that this event might not, in fact, have been caused by methane release. Quite a lot to get in a short column, while still managing to achieve a lively style that surely keeps the readers awake.

Perhaps closest to our hearts is Kristof’s cogently stated theme that uncertainty is in the nature of the science, and is no excuse for inaction — indeed should be a spur to greater action. “The White House has used scientific uncertainty as an excuse for its paralysis. But our leaders are supposed to devise policies to protect us even from threats that are difficult to assess precisely — and climate change should be considered even more menacing than a nuclear-armed Iran.” He concludes, “The best reason for action on global warming remains the basic imperative to safeguard our planet in the face of uncertainty, and our leaders are failing wretchedly in that responsibility.”

Kristof is a 2006 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Congratulations, Nick! We hope you keep on reading RealClimate.

96 comments on this post.
  1. Tim Lambert:

    Now, if only Kristof could get the story on DDT correct, I would be happy.

    [Response: Yes, Kristof's record has not been perfect. In his column on The Death of Environmentalism -- which was essentially a claim that the environmental movement had damaged its credibiity by hype -- he repeated the claim that everybody was on a global cooling bandwagon in the 1970's. I like to think that happened because he wasn't reading RealClimate then, but is reading RealClimate now. --raypierre]

  2. Caspar Henderson:

    Kristof is a generally an exemplar of evidence-based journalism on other topics too, such as murder in Sudan, women’s rights in South Asia and sex trafficking in SE Asia.

  3. Tapasananda:

    A very few of us, especially monks like me, are members of the low greenhouse-gas emiting, low-resource-consuming and hence,
    possibly deserving–POOR.Why reference a must pay to read article?
    Voluntary poverty is actually one of the more effective ways to deal with environmental dilemmas.There really, actually is, significant ecological relevance to such ideas as are to be found in fusty old texts like The Sermon on the Mount, Dhammapada, and Katha Upanisad.
    Support fools like us!
    Maybe we are not so foolish as would appear.

    Maybe also, one of you more affluent science types can copy , paste and send this article of Kristof’s to me at

    Swami Tapasananda

    [Response: It's a copyright issue. The NYT has a legitimate need to get revenue from its writers, so that they can afford to pay for Kristof's trips to Darfur, investigative reporting, and so forth. The fact that they felt the column was valuable enough property that they wanted to protect it behind a firewall leads me to respect their intellectual property. I'm not sure what the copyright implications would be if a reader posts the full column as a comment. Would that be fair use or not? We let this happen for Lindzen's WSJ op-ed, but I'm not sure that was cricket. If WSJ complains, we'll certainly take down that post. --raypierre]

  4. pete best:

    I believe that a large scale methane release from the sea bed last happenned some 55 million years ago during a bout of large scale global warming. Before that some 250 million years ago during the largest mass extinction event ever (90% die off of all life on earth)due to some vast volcanic activity in Siberia that raised world temperatures some 5C which then caused a large scale methane release from the ocean beds which raised temps by another 5C which caused the aforesaid mass extinction.

    If humankind could raise world temps enough (what that coul be is difficult to judge) then yes it would be a very serious issue.

    I have just now read a interesting article over at put forward by James Hansen at NASA regarding the time lines of climate change which appear to be unprecedented in history but by which analogies can be drawn with recent climate records in Antartica. is a good article.


    Time to wake up maybe.

  5. ocean:

    Re#3: I am sure there are legal copyright issues with copying and posting this article. I was also disappointed that I had to pay to read it…

  6. Joe:

    If you don’t have a TimesSelect account have access to Lexis-nexis, you can read Kristof’s column through that.

  7. Grant:

    Sorry this is off topic, but:

    I just watched the trailer for Al Gore’s new movie, An Inconvenient Truth. A must see! You can watch it here.

  8. Deech56:

    To get around the NYT firewall legally, check on-line resources at your local public library. Some have subscriptions to newspaper archives that are available remotely using your library card number. That’s how I read the Kristof column. One can sometimes Google a quote from the column – other papers may run the column via syndication, or some sites may post the entire article, but they may be infringing on the NYT’s copyright. Let the browser beware.

  9. Mark A. York:

    This is pertinent.

  10. Brian Green:

    Has the new york times or any other mains-stream for-profit press talked about the the carbonic acid build up in the oceans?

    Does anybody have good data on how many grants and how much
    money is spent researching global climate? NSF? NOAA? DOD? DOE?
    How many Phds in climate research today? Compared to defense or

    thanks for good info and this site rules.

  11. Stephen Berg:

    And then we have this garbage:

    “Aussies’ Suzuki heavier on rhetoric than on science

    Tim Ball, For The Calgary Herald
    Published: Wednesday, April 19, 2006
    Unknown to most Canadians until this week, Australians have their very own David Suzuki, a self-promoting zoologist who has garnered a large and loyal following for his sensationalist views on climate change.

    Like Suzuki, Aussie zoologist Tim Flannery has no professional credentials in the field and so blunders regularly while pushing governments to save the world from global warming.”

    I can’t believe this crap still exists, this libel or slander. Tim Flannery is most definitely qualified to speak on this matter. I heard him speak yesterday and he was definitely much more “on the ball” than Tim Ball is, despite his last name.

    These contrarians are no “Friends of Science” as they proclaim they are, but toxic to science as they are badmouthing and denegrating all true climate scientists and their reputations.

    Also, with the April 6 letter to the Canadian Prime Minister by some of these contrarians, there has been a more rational response yesterday:

    What appalls me is that certain politicians and “think-tankers” will listen to economists, mathematicians, and former mining executives (McKitrick, Essex, and McIntyre) on the topic of climate change over those who are actually climatologists (Mann, Bradley, Hughes, etc.). That’s like trusting a plumber to perform open-heart surgery on a patient. Completely irrational.

  12. Jonathan:

    I cheered when I saw Gavin in Kristof’s column!

  13. Steve Latham:

    Regarding #11, I heard Ball on the local radio station last week. Awful. I didn’t hear everything but there were a couple of callers who asked some good questions. One challenged him on an assertion about not being able to predict the weather never mind the climate and she explained that we might not be able to predict a coin flip, but should be able to do much better predicting the average results of a hundred coin flips. His answer was that weather is chaotic. [moderated]

  14. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    I’m not paying for the column. Best to (re)read David Archer’s RC article, linked above, and HIGH TIDE (Mark Lynas, esp. last chap), and WHEN LIFE NEARLY DIED (Michael Benton).

    Glad the debate is shifting to whether hysteresis (runaway, Venus effect) might happen, rather than staying bogged down in whether GW is happening; whether the effects will be bad, not-so-bad, or even good; or whether we should adapt or mitigate (why not both, using the savings from mitigation for adaptation).

    It seems to me (though I’m no climate scientist) that another factor that might make this GW episode different from past ones is the speed at which GHGs are being released. Esp. if methane were to be released really fast, it seems to me even possible this GW episode might become worse than previous ones.

    At the very least we should have the attitude, let’s stop this experiment on planet earth & not find out all the anwers the hard way.

    Then after halting this experiment (by drastically reducing GHG emissions), the contrarians can go on arguing ad nauseum that there never was any such thing as GW.

  15. pete best:

    Al Gore saves the world

    Sounds like this will be good news all round and maybe some solace for the climate doomsayers who prophesize the end of the world as we know it.

    Trouble is with no real alternatives to replace fossil fuels we must seek to mitigate CO2 levels by economically viable amounts. We are told by climate scientists that we must mitigate fossil fuels by around 65% in order to reduce serious human made climate change. I doubt that we can do that in time personally so we will have signed up to some climate change but how much nobody really knows.

  16. Brian Jackson:

    Re #11 (Stephen Berg):

    Thanks for the link to the Canadian scientists’ letter. Bizarely enough, Gordon Swaters is listed as signer on both this letter and the earlier contrarian version. Either there’s been a mistake somewhere, or that’s one conflicted guy!

    [Response: Actually, his name on the first letter surprised me because he seemed like a sensible guy when I knew him in Canadian climate circles a decade ago. But apparently he was somewhat misled about the nature of the first letter: - gavin]

  17. Mark Shapiro:

    Also, Mark Hertsgaard has an excellent piece in Vanity Fair exposing Fred Seitz, a major denialist, and others, at

    And to address the concern that reducing GHG emissions would hurt the economy, he points us to Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute. Imagine: efficiency is profitable!

  18. Matt:

    “..safeguard our planet in the face of uncertainty.”

    Try to put an objective function on this, almost impossible, I tried. What is the result of some action, X, for event of probability Y, when the corrective can cause increased damage for different event.

    Obviously we think that reduction in fossil fuel usage makes more sense than the market dictates, we want government action. But, there is a probability of a soon, sudden and drastic decline in CO2 from natural causes, has happened at the glacial minimum 225,000 years ago. If that small probability begins in the next 20 years, then our co2 emissions wouldn’t look so bad.

    [Response: Try to put an objective function on almost any decision government has to make. Live with it. At the very least we can try to put valid information into the debate (Suki Manabe, Jim Hansen) and not junk (Crichton, Milloy, and the people they champion). As for a natural decline in CO2, we may not know exactly what caused this in the glacial-interglacial cycle, but it is virtually certain that it hand to do with ocean uptake, and that just doesn't happen fast enough to be a concern over the time scale of anthropogenic input of GHG's. That's not even a red herring. --raypierre]

    [Response: To clarify that last remark, of course, significant ocean uptake of excess anthropogenic CO2 is happening right now, but I mean that the kind of naturally enhanced uptake that gives you a drop from 280ppm to 180ppm in a couple thousand years would give you plenty of warning, and anyway is probably slaved to Milankovic forcing. It's an irrelevant concern with regard to possible consequences of anthropogenic GHG's over the next couple centuries. --raypierre ]

  19. Mark J. Fiore:

    First, the SF Chronicle has had some articles on the acidification of the oceans, along with excellent coverage of the potential shutdown of the north atlantic thermohaline current due to increasing fresh water supplies from the melting greenland ice sheet.Second, a large catastrophic release of methane is already in the pipeline due to the melting of the Siberian permafrost. This will accelerate global warming to catastrophic proportions. Third, a new geologic era, manmade, is almost a certainty, see Lovelock. Fourth, reductions of 80% below 1990 levels immediately might not even stop the process. The runaway Venus greenhouse effect is a distinct possibility. Fifth, all bets are off when the buildup of co2 already in the ocean via the ocean’s limited uptake capacity, combined with the permafrost melt, and the shutdown of the thermohaline, will seal the fate of the Earth. Too bad, humans.

  20. ocean:

    # 18. I love your post. It’s consequences in a nutshell.

  21. Mark A. York:

    “I heard Ball on the local radio station last week. Awful”

    My research into thinktank deniers has led to only one conclusion on this phenomenon: they’re in the tank, and sent into the media fray to spread denial. That this guy was a climatology professor is even more distressing as with Lindzen and Michaels. They’re paid to think like this. There can be no other reason for this wingnuttery. That’s what overcame Crichton. I wish Crichton hadn’t already used the eaten by cannibals meme. I can think of a few that could join Ted Bradley on the pole.

  22. pat neuman:

    re 14. … speed at which GHGs are being released. …

    Related article:

    Ancient Climate Studies Suggest Earth On Fast Track To Global Warming
    by Staff Writers

    Santa Cruz CA (SPX) Feb 16, 2006
    Human activities are releasing greenhouse gases more than 30 times faster than the rate of emissions that triggered a period of extreme global warming in the Earth’s past, according to an expert on ancient climates.

    “The emissions that caused this past episode of global warming probably lasted 10,000 years. By burning fossil fuels, we are likely to emit the same amount over the next three centuries,” said James Zachos, professor of Earth sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    Higher ocean temperatures could also slowly release massive quantities of methane that now lie frozen in marine deposits. A greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, methane in the atmosphere would accelerate global warming even further.

  23. joel Hammer:

    Newspaper say we all die soon. Good newspaper.

    Newspaper say we may not all die soon. Bad newspaper.

    Have you guys ever listened to yourselves? Hard?

    When you start referencing movies and editorials by laypeople about climate change, you really are sounding awfully silly.

    An objective reader might even think you are more into politics than science.

    You are really overestimating how many people read the newspaper or ever care about these issues.

    When I starting telling people where I work (All B.A.’s at least, or MD.’s) about how Alaska’s temperature rose sharply years ago but has been stable for many years, the only response I got was, “I didn’t know Alaska had warmed at all.”

    I know you will say that is a reason to raise the profile of environmental news, but, how will just one more hairbrained potential catastrophe help.

    Predicting an Apocalypse is a great attention grabber, for religious fanatics, maybe. Despite numerous predictions over the centuries, the world hasn’t ended. After a while, people catch on.

    BTW, the govt cannot plan for every eventuality. Impossible, as you know. Stop being silly.

    BTW, have you noticed that most victims of global warming seem to be brown, bare foot people? Makes you think that economic development might protect people from environmental disasters.

    [Response: Newspaper makes effort to learn about science and use valid arguments -- good newspaper. Newspaper relies on distortion, fabrication, character assassination -- bad newspaper. --raypierre]

  24. Coby:

    Re “sudden” CO2 uptake.

    Don’t the drops from ~280 to ~180ppm in the glacial record take more like 100K yrs?

    Seems even more ridiculous to wait for that!

  25. Juola (Joe) A. Haga:

    Does the Gabriele Hegerl study in Nature which set sensitivity at 5 degrees mollify the rather alarmist citations of Pat Neuman in Comment #22? Professor James Hansen of Goddard and Professor Gavin Schmidt are quoted in either the Washington Post or the National Geographic as approving. But Professor James Schlesinger of Illinois is described as “wary” in the National Geographic. I have not read or heard of any studies measuring the rate of methane release from thawing permafrost or nitrous oxide release from over-happy phytoplankton which could have been folded into the re-assuring Hegerl study’s models. One does hesitate to provide governments and corporations more lee-way to dither and dawdle without good reason.

  26. Ronnie Horesh:

    “Perhaps closest to our hearts is Kristof’s cogently stated theme that uncertainty is in the nature of the science, and is no excuse for inaction — indeed should be a spur to greater action.”

    Yes, well action is not an end in itself. Neither is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions which, as this post indicates, might not do anything to prevent climate change. We must first define what combination of prevention or mitigation we want to achieve, then give incentives for people to achieve whatever climate stability goals we target, however they do so. We need diverse approaches that will adapt to our rapidly expanding scientific knowledge. My suggestion is here. Kyoto is exactly the opposite: a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach, based on fossilised science, which is very likely to be both expensive and ineffectual.

    [Response: There is no doubt whatsoever about the fact that reduction in CO2 emissions will reduce the amount of climate change. The doubt is about how damaging the climate change coming from any given level of emission will be. There is a lot wrong with Kyoto, and there's nothing wrong with a nation saying it can more effectively reduce GHG emissions some other way. Businesses are not charities, though, and so there almost certainly need to be policies put in place that provide financial incentives to reduce CO2. --raypierre]

  27. pete best:

    This morning on Radio 4 ( a UK intellectual radio station)there was a interesting peice on the ideas of how the media , in this case the environment agency (the government really) translated scientific information from the worse case scenarios predicted by UK climate scientists that was seen as “Alarmist” by the scientists but as normal procedure for the media.

    All in all, the media felt that unless terrible worst case scenarios are painted by them then the mass media and hence the general public at large will not pay attention. Predictions of 15 deg C temp rises and 11 metres of sea level rises (sinking London basically) would make people want to do something about it.

    The media thrive on hype whilst scientists do not but it would seem that scientists need to understand that if they are becomming alarmed at their findings on climate science then it needs to be reported as “alarmist” and a worst case scenario in order to gain merit with the general public.

    Headlines like “New York to disappear by 2100″ and the like I would suggest need to be the headlines in order to climate scientists to achieve their aims of reduing GG emissions by the spouted 65% required in order to mitigate climate change.

    [Response: A "worst case" scenario should be reported as such, but it is not fair to describe such things as alarmist. --raypierre]

  28. Brad Arnold:

    I was disappointed in Kristof’s article (“The Big Burp Theory of the Apocolypse”) because it labeled senarios about a massive marine methane release “alarmist” (i.e. “Since President Bush is complacent about conventional risks from climate change, such as the prospect that those of us in Manhattan will end up knee-deep in the Atlantic, let’s try fear-mongering.”).

    [Response: "Fearmongering" doesn't have all the same connotations as "alarmist," but I know what you mean. Kristof's use of the word didn't bother me much because the context in the rest of the column made it clear that the "fear" he is "mongering" is based on something that really could happen. It's not the ideal choice of word, but I don't know what I myself would use in its place to convey the same impression. Help from readers? It's important to learn how to frame these issues properly,and communicating in a scientifically respectable way the need for concern about extreme events of low or unquantifiable probability will be one of the main journalistic challenges of the coming decades. --raypierre ]

    This same paragon is followed by Kristof’s previous article “Warm, Warmer, Warmest” (NY Times, March 5, 2006). In that article, Kristof pulls his punch by describing the melting of permafrost methane hydrate (i.e. “Here’s another positive loop. The Arctic permafrost may hold 14 percent of the world’s carbon, but as it melts, some of its carbon dioxide and methane are released, adding to the amount of greenhouse gases. So more permafrost melts.”).

    Dr Angela Venters of the British Energy and Environmental Issues Team in the Office of Science and Innovation has written me to say that “The feedback loop where climate change leads to melting of the permafrost, such as in the Siberian peat bog, which itself increases the intensity of climate change by releasing methane is an important area of current research. This feedback loop is likely to have a significant impact on climate change; scientists at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research (Met Office) have calculated that, if the observed melting continues over the next 100 years, the rate of global warming could increase by 10% to 25%.”

    By the way, a large peat bog in western Siberia is proving this positive feedback loop. The peat bog is the size of France and Germany together, and is estimated to contain 70 billion tons of carbon. It has warmed 3C, and the methane level is 25 times higher.

    Aside from my opinion that the increase in global warming from the melting permafrost (est. 400 billion gTons, 50% melting by 2050/90% by 2100) is underestimated in the Hadley climate model, I would like to have seen Kristof include the word “massive” when describing the release of permafrost methane. A sudden release of 45 gTon of methane would be the equivilent of doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    In conclusion, it is understandable that Kristof wants to disarm the reader to more readily avoid cognitive dissonance. Yet, his retorical device of deaccentuating the threat of runaway global warming from a chain reaction of melting methane hydrate detracts from the legitimacy of this threat.

    Prof Sir David King said in an interview with the BBC last week that the Hadley climate model predicts a minimum of a 3C increase in temperature and a 500ppm CO2 level by the end of the century given current political realities. Kristof just won a Pulitzer prize for his articles on the genecide in Darfur, Sudan. A 3C rise in temperature would make Darfur (a conflict partially over water) look like a picnic.

  29. pete best:

    Re #24, apparantly the Amazon rainforest is going to dry out and release another huge amount of CO2 that is tied into the soilfrom around 2040 to 2100 and this along with the permafrost melt could bbe the casue of a very large +ve feedback that does sound a little bit “ALARMIST” would you not say ?

    Or could it possibly be true. And this brings us to another point about Earth Science in general, who are the people who are putting all of the peices together and giving us the scenarios of climate change, ie the big picture because no one really seems to understand the really big picture on climate science. Science is more reductionist than systemic and I am unsure as to whom is really responsible for the big picture of Gaia.

  30. pat neuman:

    re: 24

    I think it’s a mistake to downplay methane and CO2 global warming feed-backs.

    A few more excerpts (from linked article in 22.) … below.

    The gas first dissolves in the thin surface layer of the ocean, but this surface layer quickly becomes saturated and its ability to absorb more carbon dioxide declines.

    Only mixing with the deeper layers can help restore the ability of the surface water to absorb additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But the natural processes that mix and circulate water between the ocean surface and deeper ocean layers work very slowly. A complete “mixing cycle” takes about 500 to 1,000 years, Zachos said.

    “The rate at which the ocean is absorbing carbon will soon decrease,” Zachos said.

    “Records of past climate change show that change starts slowly and then accelerates,” he said. “The system crosses some kind of threshold.”

    “We set out to test the hypotheses put forward by a small group of geochemists who model the global carbon cycle, and our findings support their predictions,” Zachos said. “It will take tens of thousands of years before atmospheric carbon dioxide comes down to preindustrial levels. Even after humans stop burning fossil fuels, the effects will be long lasting.”

  31. Lewis Cleverdon:

    Pat -

    the difficulty with any such prediction is not only that there will, undoubtedly, be further surprises (such as the horribly early Siberian methane outgassing) but also that the extent of human co-operation will drastically alter the prognoses for good or ill.

    For instance, planting a gigahectare of sustainable forestry worldwide, for carbon banking and energy supplies, could both transform the rate of uptake of CO2 for a century or more, and halt the present outgassing from deforestation.

    Similarly, when the US realizes that without global co-operation in the form of a Treaty of the Atmospheric Commons its own future is mangled, the policy framework of Contraction & Convergence could, relatively rapidly, facilitate the termination of fossil fuel dependence.

    This unpredictability of political action, including that by the global individual at home, belies any serious prediction of what degree of GW will be achieved, not least because we have no means of predicting what B-A-U would consist of on the downslope of Peak Oil supply.

    Today’s WP article by Weiss epitomizes the difficulty of the refusal to integrate the politics of GW with the climate science – its claim of a credible calculation that there is “only” a 5% chance of warming reaching 14oC wholly ignores these issues.

    As such, it seems to me downright unscientific.



  32. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    #15, Pete, it can be done (we’ve reduced more than 3/4 & are saving money to boot, without lowering living standards, even raising them). I would suggest reading NATURAL CAPITALISM by Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins — — for some glimpse of how the whole world can reduce, our nation by even up to 90% (no joke).

    And if worse comes to worse, & no one wants to strain their brains about what we can do to reduce our GHGs, we could always go back to bicycles, horse & buggy, and windmills. Then we could convert all that manure into cooking gas, etc. Maybe even get composting toilets. The sky’s the limit on how much we could reduce. Whatever happened to that old American ingenuity and “can-do” spirit?

    I’m personally waiting & hoping some plug-in hybrid will come out soon, so I can do 95% of my driving off of my wind-powered electricity.

  33. pete best:

    Re #27, Well it was called alarmist due to the fact that we were talking about the very worst case scenarios, 15 C of temp rise and 11 metres of sea level. some of the scientists concluded that this will never happen unless we burn fossil fuels willy nilly for 3 centuries. Os it seems to be scientists disagreeing with scientists here and that is why the scientists consulted to produce the media report knew it would be read by other scientists and they would call it alarmist.

    you cannot win because scientists are a reserved lot as there peer review process demonstrates. Bold claims are nearly always flamed.

  34. Leonard Evens:

    For those of you who need a free version of Kristof’s OpEd piece, note that you can always read it the old fashioned way, in the newspaper. Any decent public library should subscribe to the NY Times.

    Since I have a subscription to the NYT, I got to read it hot off the presses with my morning newspaper. Of course, I could also have read it with TimesSelect since they give us determined daily delivery types free access to that.

  35. Stephen Berg:

    Re: #23, “When I starting telling people where I work (All B.A.’s at least, or MD.’s) about how Alaska’s temperature rose sharply years ago but has been stable for many years, the only response I got was, ‘I didn’t know Alaska had warmed at all.’”

    Has it really “been stable for many years”? Can you send me a link to the data?

  36. Gary:

    Re: #35, Has it really “been stable for many years”?

    The data is a little bit outdated as the study was from ’79 to ’97.

    Observed Arctic Temperature Trends
    During fall, the trends show a significant warming of 2C/decade over the coasts of Greenland, near Iceland, and in Siberia but a cooling of 1C/decade over the Beaufort Sea and Alaska during fall.

    During winter, the trends show a significant warming of up to 2C/decade in eastern Greenland and Europe and 2C/decade over Eurasia, extending north over the Laptev Sea; however, a cooling trend of 2C/decade is shown over the Beaufort Sea and eastern Siberia extending into Alaska. The cooling trend over eastern Siberia is significant.

    During spring, a significant warming trend of 2C/decade can be seen over most of the Arctic.

    Summer shows no significant trend.

  37. Alastair McDonald:

    I was amused by Ray’s response to #23 [Response: Newspaper makes effort to learn about science and use valid arguments -- good newspaper. Newspaper relies on distortion, fabrication, character assassination -- bad newspaper. --raypierre]

    I can’t help thinking that: Scientist is willing to listen to another side of the argument objectively == good scientist. Scientists who have already made up their minds, and will only argue for their own agenda — all scientists!

  38. pete best:

    Re #32, It may be possible to supplement fossil fuels to some degree but there is no way with present or technology on the horizon that present living standards can be maintained whilst avoiding fossil fuel rates of consumption. The issues are mainly centered around China and India and co where the west is investing billions of dollars per annum in manufacturing which is causing demand for fossil fuels to go up. This time last year the world consumed 28 million barrels of Oil per day, now it is 29 million, 1 million higher. Fossil fuels are energy dense relative to other forms of energy and that means it will take a long time to get off of them.

    Ok, maybe by 2050 we will have mitigated our dependence by around 25 to 50 percent but at the present time it is just wishful thinking I am afraid.

    One way to get off of fossil fuels though is to invest in alternatives and invest in efficiency gains. The USA as the current largest consumer with some thought could consume a lot less energy quite easily and pass that know how onto China and India, couple that with renewables and yer there is a chance of mitigation.

    It needs coherent international thought though.

  39. ocean:

    I worry about opinions casting scientists as “conservative”, “middle of the road”, “doesn’t believe in alarmism” or the opposite “alarmist.” Science is a search for truth through observations [data] and calculations based on those observations for future predictions [models]. And science has proven to be very good at predicting things. Just take a look at how far medicine has come in the last decade if anyone doubts that. Can science be wrong? Sure. But the “wrong” often comes from lack of data or insufficient technology. And the great thing about scientists is that they actively seek new technologies and new and more accurate data to understand nature better. Scientific facts [like global warming actually happening] are based on those data and analyses. They are not policy, speculation, opinion or belief. And the overwhelming majority of scientists are people who are very open to criticism as the rigorous peer review process for proposals and publications demands. Because the peers are scientists themselves. So they are not only people who also are trying to find the truth behind the way nature behaves, but they are also people who are competing with other scientists for funding and publication. This makes scientific results far more sound than, say, someone’s op-ed column.

  40. Chip Knappenberger:

    Re: #35&36

    More data on temperatures in Alaska can be found here.

    And/or in the recent Journal of Climate paper by Hartmann and Wendler (The Significance of the 1976 Pacific Climate Shift in the Climatology of Alaska, J. Clim., 18, 4824-4839). Here is the abstract:

    The 1976 Pacific climate shift is examined, and its manifestations and significance in Alaskan climatology during the last half-century are demonstrated. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation index shifted in 1976 from dominantly negative values for the 25-yr time period 1951â??75 to dominantly positive values for the period 1977â??2001.

    Mean annual and seasonal temperatures for the positive phase were up to 3.1°C higher than for the negative phase. Likewise, mean cloudiness, wind speeds, and precipitation amounts increased, while mean sea level pressure and geopotential heights decreased. The pressure decrease resulted in a deepening of the Aleutian low in winter and spring. The intensification of the Aleutian low increased the advection of relatively warm and moist air to Alaska and storminess over the state during winter and spring.

    The regime shift is also examined for its effect on the long-term temperature trends throughout the state. The trends that have shown climatic warming are strongly biased by the sudden shift in 1976 from the cooler regime to a warmer regime. When analyzing the total time period from 1951 to 2001, warming is observed; however, the 25-yr period trend analyses before 1976 (1951â??75) and thereafter (1977â??2001) both display cooling, with a few exceptions. In this paper, emphasis is placed on the importance of taking into account the sudden changes that result from abrupt climatic shifts, persistent regimes, and the possibility of cyclic oscillations, such as the PDO, in the analysis of long-term climate change in Alaska.

  41. Gar Lipow:

    Re: 38 (38 was basically a “There Is No Alternative” post).

    Actually we not only have the technology to get off fossil fuels now, but we have the technology today to do so at prices comparable to what we pay for fossil fuels. No one magic bullet, but a lot of little things. I noticed in 2003 that no one had done a complete bottom up review of existing technology. Since I have some qualifications in this area; I took the trouble to begin one, and completed it recently.

    1)It is true that if the poor nations are to stop being poor absolute energy use will have to increase even with efficiency improvement. The rich nations could reduce absolute energy use; but increases by the poor ones will more than make up for this.
    2)But if the world could use energy five times as efficiently as the U.S. does then that increase could be held down from using around 14 Terawatts world wide today, to using 22 Terawatts in 2050.
    3) And over the course of thirty years we could do a gradual transiton from fossil fuels to renewables – so this increase in energy use could translate into as large a reduction in emissions as needed.

    OK Let’s start by looking at two examples to see if we could really use energy five times as efficiently as the U.S. does today.

    A) Electric cars that get the equivalent of 200 mpg (provide they are powered by a non-combustion based grid) and have a range of 240 miles. Demonstrated in 1997, powered by Nickle Cadium batteries of the sort we use in hybrids today.^1 (Note that even after 100,000 miles the batteries would have 50% of their original capacity; the car would still have had a 120 mile range.

    B)Normally paint booths have to be ventilated with frequent air changes, with 100% of the input from outside air in order to avoid poisoning the workers applying the paint. This requires a great deal of filtering and treatment to prevent contamination of outside air, and a great deal of heating or cooling to maintain comfort inside the painting booth. And the workers still have to wear uncomfortable protective equipment to avoid poisoning. All the ventilation is simply to reduce contamination to the point where protective equipment is effective.

    Instead this program developed a Mobile Zone Spray Booth Technology, a small mobile cab workers can paint from inside; it is this cab that is ventilated with outside air. So now the worker is exposed to no VOCs or pollutants, and her health is less threatened without uncomfortable masks and equipment than it was before with it. Only the air inside the small cab needs to be heated or cooled. And the air outside the cab, instead of having to be ventilated constantly, can be recirculated, reducing both costs, and emissions to outside air – aside from other benefits this reduces energy consumption by 85%^2.

    These two modest examples, multipled by many hundreds of other techniques could reduce energy use by 80% or more per capita. The point here is that if we squeeze more GDP out of a unit of energy we can then afford more expensive sources, while still spending the same percent of GDP on energy as we do now.

    So what are these renewable sources? Well just to keep this post within reason, let us stick to a few electricity examples.

    Hydroelectric production won’t increase much over the current amount; what little undeveloped capacity remains will mostly be needed to make up for the loss of current capacity due to lowered snowmelt. Most economically feasible geothermal is still undeveloped; but economically feasible geothermal potential is very limited in absolute terms. Wind is competitive with coal and less expensive than every other conventional source. But as a variable source, it can only account for a certain percent of power within a grid before it compromises reliablity, or requires large additional costs to ensure reliability. What that percentage is, is widely debated; but the most common number is 20%. The latest study to come to this conclusion is:,com_docman/task,doc_download/gid,550/

    So where do you get the rest of your dispatchable power? Well there is something available now, though it does not fit the “small is beautiful” paradigm. Solar thermal electric costs about 11 cents per kWh^3. What is important about that is that heat for electricity production may be stored much more cheaply than electricity – for about $40 per kWh of capacity^4.

    That would bring the cost of solar thermal to about 15 cents per kWh, more expensive than fossil fuels (if warming costs are not counted) but about the same as light water reactors after the value of government provided liability limitations are included. And if efficiency improvements have multipled the value of goods and services we obtain from each unit of energy, total energy cost for a given result will be the same or lower than it is not. Because deserts are not evenly distributed, solar thermal plants will require high voltage D.C. lines – both to move the power as far as it will be neccesary to do, and to bridge grids that are out of phase with one another. (D.C. transmission is the one way to safely allow power to cross out of phase grids.)

    OK, this obviously a tiny percent of what would need to be done. But I think it makes the point that we have a zero regrets option for phasing out all the fossil fuels we want to get rid of . We can completely eliminate their use, at a cost comparable to that we currently pay.


    1) Energy Conversion Devices, Inc., Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. 1997 Letter to Stockholders -Commercializing Technologies That Enable the Information and Energy Industries. Dec 1997, Energy Conversion Devices, Inc., 26/Sep/2005 .

    2) Office of Industrial Technologies – Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy â�¢ U.S. Department of Energy, Mobile Zone Spray Booth Technology For Ultra-Efficient Surface Coating Operations: New Technology Saves Energy And Reduces Pollution During Surface Coating Operations. Inventions & Innovation, I-OT-489. Dec 2001, Office of Industrial Technologies – Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy â�¢ U.S. Department of Energy, 5/Sep/2004 .

    3) Otis Port, “Power From The Sunbaked Desert | Solar Generators May Be a Hot Source of Plentiful Electricity,”. Business Week 12/Sep 2005: SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc, 14/Oct/2005 .

    4) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), NREL: Concentrating Solar Power Research – Parabolic-Trough Thermal Energy Storage Technology. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), 26/Mar/2005 .

  42. Mark A. York:

    In book searches on the subject two out of three are from deniers.

  43. alisa brooks:

    Had you folks read this article? If so, what is your take?

  44. pete best:

    Re #41, 2.5 billion people will walk the planet by 2050 and by 2100 we might be back down to 6.5 billion as the world population is scheduled to fall after 2050, contraception is working.

    Maybe there is the capability to mitigate the 65 % of CO2 emissions required by climate scienists to stay off serious climate change but is there the economic and poltical will to change energy provision.

    Oil is consumed at 1000 barrels per second or 30 billion barrels per annum with a 2% annual growth forcasted. The cost of that infrastructure to provide this amount of Oil is not going to be disbanded any time before we run out of it around the year 2100. All the light crude oils (highest energy return) is half gone, around 1 trillion barrels remain, heavy oils will provide another 2 to 3 trillion barrels, and as a trillion barrels lasts 30 years then we have around 90 years worth (less energy return in non conventional oils) and hence we must find away by then. Biodiesels and the like can mitigate this further but we are getting closer to Peak Oil whereby Oil starts to become more and more expensive due to demand outstripping supply. By 2020 demand for Oil will reach around 120 million barrels a day and that will require some 3 trillon in investment so yer maybe the alternatives time has come but it can only mitigate and not replace. In order to replace Oil you are going to require ways of making hydrogen without fossil fuels but I doubt unless you get fusion that you can meet all demand so fossil fuels are here to stay for at least 100 years.

    Gas is slated to run out by around 2070 and coal for another 200 odd years. We do need clean replacement technologies but maybe we will have to wait a long time before they make a serious indend in fossil fuel use.

  45. Stephen Berg:

    Re: #40, “More data on temperatures in Alaska can be found here”

    Uh-oh. Look what we have here! From about 1997 to the last year of record, there is quite an increase in the mean annual temperatures! Looks like a significant warming is on the way!

    Just trying a “Bob Carter-ism”, but with the opposite viewpoint.

    Seriously, though, it looks like Alaska is about to become a lot warmer in the next decade or two, as it doesn’t appear as if the post-1997 trend will slow.

  46. jack keith:

    Regarding Kristof’s column on “The Death of Environmentalism” (March 12, 2005) and its effusive praise of the Nordhaus-Shellenberger essay. It also made harsh references to â��screechingâ�� environmental alarms and â��overzealousâ�� environmentalists. Maybe, indeed, RealClimate has caused him to moderate his thinking of a year ago and re-examine environmentalists’ concerns with more dispassion.

    Although I don�t catch every climate/environmental article run in the Times, the BBC science/nature webpages ( has coverage that seems to be far more comprehensive and �zealous� in its efforts than that of the Times and other mainstream media here. And lest I forget: thanks for this great source of information and debate.

  47. Ex Politico:

    Since global warming is an emerging science, I’d be interested in your take on recent notables expressing their opinions, namely Al Gore and Michael Crichton. From a lay point of view, with competing “facts” from Michael Crichton, Al Gore and a minimal amount from the news media, all one can do is ask for more information and more “facts.” The preview of Gore’s new movie is awesome! And the discussion about controlling the masses with fear in “State of Fear” is equally fearsome.

    It used to be that there would be a dialogue – in the news, in the senate, at clubs, bars and diners – and then an elective process that institutionalized the facts into law or policy. The resulting governmental action made the facts real.

    But who do you trust these days? A government where the facts aren’t? Competing notables? Hence, this expression of my own fears and interpretations (reflected in my blog) and my question to you.


    [Response: Controlling the masses with fear is indeed a time-honored government tradition, but it's not climate scientists who are doing this. I bet you can think of a few more compelling examples if you think a bit. Gore's science isn't flawless, but in a nutshell it's far, far closer to the truth than anything you'll find in Crichton. See our various posts on Crichton. We may do one on Gore after we've seen the latest. --raypierre]

  48. Dan:

    re:45. Goodness, all you need to do is simple search a the top of this page for “Crichton” and there is plenty to read and understand about his gross deception, distortions, junk science and falsehoods. “Facts” are not a part of his repertoire. ;-)

  49. John Bolduc:

    The Washington Post reports today on a new paper in Nature by Dr. Hegerl et al at Duke. The WP article is entitled “Climate Change Will be Significant but Not Extreme, Study Predicts”. The article seems to take the approach that we should be concerned but not worry about catastrophe. I don’t have a subscription to Nature, so I can’t see what the authors actually say. But it seems like they are leaving out possible events such as the “methane burp”. Wondering what the scientists think about this.

    [Response: The Hegerl study is about climate sensitivity, to which methane burps aren't relevant (in the Change = forcing * sensitivity sense: the burps are (or rather, would be) part of the forcing half of the equation) - William]

  50. Gar Lipow:

    Re 44: The will to change is indeed the question. I don’t know where you get your low population figures. Population is expected to peak somewhere between 9 and 11 billion people. At any rate if you use the expected population growth through 2050, give everyone per capita GDP equal to U.S. GDP in 2000, and assume energy is used five times as efficiently as the U.S. does, you come up with 22 Terawatts of consumption. My point is not only that we can phase out 60% to 70%, but that we can phase all fossil fuel consumption out in 30 years. Even if we have hit peak oil, (and since we’ve had a lot of years in a row with no production increase that can’t be ruled out) it means that we will have a bit less available each year. The same phasing out of fossil fuel we need for global warming purposes can phase out the use of oil faster than production declines. If we as a society (not as individuals) decide to phase out fossil fuels we can do it. While for all sorts of reasons, a PV+storage path would be far preferable if we can bring the costs down, means similar to the ones I outlined would let us start today, and reduce fossil fuel use all the way to zero with todays technology at todays prices, and spend no more overall than what we currently pay for fossil fuels. In short there is a zero economic cost path to phasing out fossil fuels with efficiency and renewables.

    I know that in practice we may not need to phase out fossil fuels completely; on the other hand, given that there are still huge unknowns in this area, I am just as glad we have the option.

  51. pete best:

    Re #49, I meant 2.5 billion more people making 9 billion by 2050 all wanting that progressive life style.

    Fossil Fuels are energy dense relative to other forms of energy provison. Maybe we can replace them but it will not be easy, mitigation is a more likely cause of action but whether we can reach 65 % CO2 reduction is not known at present but the process must start in earnest soon.

  52. David B. Benson:

    Today’s The New York Times:

    page A16: “More Satellites to Explore Clouds’ Most Intimate Secrets” report on tomorrow’s launch of CloudSat and Calipso.

    page A26: editorial “How Dare They Use Our Oil! states “That leaves the world with two options. The first is to manage energy resources better. The other is to look for another planet.”

    page A27: op-ed by D. Melnick and M. Pearl regarding forests mentions global warming.

  53. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    #47, Ex-, I’m not a scientist, so this is what I do — hope for the best, expect the worst. Hope Crichton is right, but act as if Gore is right. So we reduced our GHGs and have unsuccessfully tried to get others to do likewise. I was driven more by a “State of Love” for my fellow critters, incl. even humans, not a “State of Fear.”

    As for the various comments above re “alarmism,” I’d say apparently there isn’t enough alarmism. I mean, I just don’t see people rushing to the hills or reducing their GHGs. And there certainly isn’t enough alarmism to freeze people with fear, so they don’t go around generating GHGs in the 1st place. All I see is profligacy and gluttony as usual. So, maybe we need more alarmism. I bet those people who ignored that boy’s last cry of “wolf,” regretted not listening to him, as they were being eaten by the wolf.

    Anyone want more scary – here’s something, an article in Geology (2005, 33(5):397-400), Kump, et al., “Massive release of hydrogen sulfide to the surface ocean and atmosphere during intervals of oceanic anoxia.” Toxic death. If it happened before, it could happen again. (I got it off a link Pete Best provided above.) I’m collecting stuff for next Halloween’s “Eco-House of Horrors” (displays & exhibits, of course, are all made of reused/recycled stuff).

  54. Dave B:

    #27 hmmm, so a “worst case scenario”, when not presented with a corresponding “best case scenario”, is appropriate? assuming, of course, that it is “presented as such”?

    what about truly presenting ALL the science, not cherry-picking data to show an 11 c temp increase which NO ONE BELIEVES ANYWAY?

    read it for yourself.

    [Response: We have stated clearly in RealClimate, in connection with the study referenced above, that the 11C warming was a highly implausible case. From a scientific standpoint, it is worthy of study to help understand what processes can yield extremely high sensitivity, but such high sensitivity would be hard to reconcile with what we know about the past climate record. The press was wrong to emphasize the 11C warming case without proper qualification, and if the press release (which I haven't seen myself) contributed to that misunderstanding, it was sloppy. This is a particularly extreme case, but I do not think you are right in thinking the "best case" is as relevant as a "very bad case" with perhaps low but significant probability (as in a 4-5C warming). As I've said elsewhere, if you're designing a nuclear reactor containment vessel, do you design it for the 10% chance that the overpressure will be 10 atmospheres or the 10% chance that the overpressure will be 40 atmospheres? --raypierre ]

  55. Gar Lipow:

    >Fossil Fuels are energy dense relative to other forms of energy provison. Maybe we can replace them but it will not be easy, mitigation is a more likely cause of action but whether we can reach 65 % CO2 reduction is not known at present but the process must start in earnest soon.

    I will note that I gave some simple examples of renewables replacing fossil fuels. In general the density argument is a non-starter.

    1) Most energy consumption is in a very non-dense form. We produce large amounts of electricity in a centralized plant, then build an extensive network of lines to trickle it out in small amounts to individual pipelines. We refine oil in centralized refineries, and end up sending it out in tankers to gas stations to be distributed into individual gas stations. There is no reason more distributed source can end up at the same end points, without quite so much intermediate concentration. There are uses which do require concentrated energy; but the grid is great for doing that kind of concentration from multiple sources.

    2) Fossil fuel is not really that concentrated when you condider what it takes to extract and process it. Wind actually uses less land per kWh produced then fossil fuels. (Misleading statistics sometimes don’t take into account that wind farms only use about 15% of the land they occupy for towers and roads and such. Corn is planted right up to the towers; on range land or pasture, cattle often graze around the base.) Even solar thermal electric, one of the most land intensive renewable alternatives would require about 2% of total desert land – a lot less than has been destroyed by coal, oil and uranium extraction.

    The problem is not the technology. It is the will.

    What I’ve outlined is a kind of ‘second best’ solution we could implement now, with no technical breakthroughs. With a little investment there is no reason we could not lower the price of solar PV; with a little more there is no reason we could develop some sort of inexpensive storage solution. Solve those two pieces of the puzzle and you end up with essentially zero net land consumption. PV is not fussy whether the solar source is direct sun or indirect sunlight on cloudy days. You can cover buildings, parking lots, highway walls, and if need be roof highways to generate all the electricty using only land that is already human paved. Then send the excess to storage for use when needed. However as likely as it is that we can achieve this, I don’t believe in trying to live on “ifcome”. So again I point out that we have solutions now, not as elegant as a PV/storage solution, but quite workable – a combination of efficiency and renewables that is competive with the current cost of fossil fuels.

  56. jae:

    I think there has been a subtle shift from “Global Warming” to “Climate Change.” The phrase “Climate Change” is meaningless, since the climate is constantly changing. What is going on, anyhow? Does this phrase attempt to suggest “Adverse Climate Change?” If so, maybe that should be said, outright.

    [Response: Some would say that the term "Climate Change" is being pushed to make the change seem less threatening. It's fair to say that "Climate Change" is more descriptive than "Global Warming," since many aspects of climate other than temperature change. However, the globe does warm most places, and we are talking about a climate change associated mostly with warming, not with a glaciation. Hence, in talks to lay audiences, I still tend to prefer the term "Global Warming." Our introductory class on the subject at U. of Chicago is called "Global Warming," not "Climate Change," for similar reasons. --raypierre]

  57. David B. Benson:

    Re #56: the term ‘climate change’ is preferred in agriculture since ‘global warming’ does not sufficiently describe what worries agricultural scientists and economists. In addition to temperature change there is precipitation change. For both temperature and precipitation, quantity and variability are important in agriculture. In addition, these changes create new opportunities for pests, which require new means to control, if possible.

    While I agree that the climate is always changing, at least the agriculturists, both practioners and scientists, have only recently discovered its importance to them.

  58. Mark A. York:

    Crichton’s bibliography was extensive but he just decided to ignore most of it and go with Lomborg and conservative thinktanks. I’m still baffled by it after reading the whole book, which was farcical as a story. It plays to prejudices of those who think environmentalists, Hollywood liberals, actors and so on and scientists is where the big bucks are and the hype is a scam to get funding. Anyone who believes that needs help.

  59. pat neuman:

    re 31. … article in today’s WP article by Weiss

    Gabriele C. Hegerl of Duke University: “This still commits us to quite a bit of climate change, but it leaves the door open to avoiding the largest and most devastating consequences,”

    Weiss: … Even a few degrees increase can have significant environmental and economic impacts, but by downgrading the worst-case scenarios the new work may convince governments that it is not too late to take action, Hegerl said.

    Do they think its okay to just downgrade the worst-case scenarios by saying it? Is that a smart thing to say? Honest? An and effective strategy?

    No no no.

    [Response: Remember that studies like this, and like the ones we reviewed in the article climate-sensitivity plus ca change test climate sensitivity against climates that are rather close to todays, or are considerably colder. It is fair to say that they do not provide any positive evidence for climate sensitivities on the high end of the IPCC range, but it would be over-interpreting such studies to say that they rule out high sensitivities in the warmer world of the future. The 2xCO2 world has no real analogies in the part of the climate record that has been used to test sensitivity, and there is ample room for surprise. If Gabriele is being quoted correctly, she may be over-selling the implication of her study. Or, it may just be the W.P. that is over-interpreting the result. The claim in the WP article saying that ruling out a higher sensitivity gives governments more incentive to act is entirely bizarre. --raypierre]

  60. TonyH:

    54: The press release referred to in the comment is
    here. The 11 degree rise features prominently.

  61. pete best:

    re #55, Energy density is a major factor I am afraid. Sure we can grow corn and Ethenol and the like but it needs to be processed and shipped around just like any other fuel does and that costs energy to. Many reports have alluded to the fact that biodiesel is not going to keep us as we are now. Maybe smaller cars with 200 mpg is possible but lets get to 60 mpg first on normal fuels, this is how slow it is going to be weening ourselves off of fossil fuels.

    Solar and PV are the same, it takes fossil fuels to produce literally billions of panels that can be useful I agree and it would be great to see economically viable houses and buildings using solar/PV and microwind to get much of their power but it cannot replace it all.

    Decentralising anything costs more and takes a long time to implement to. I agree that ultimately we will need to get off of fossil fuels but for some reason I am still concerned that with the powers that be in the USA and China having access to a lot of fossil fuels and with a present infrastructure in place that works and is paid for it will be a while yet before we see a major shift to renewables.

    Take 2006, it aint happenning at present.

  62. pete best:

    re #55

    says it all at present to me.

  63. Brad Arnold:

    Caps on human greenhouse gas emissions won’t work.

    First, most nations that committed to the Koyoto protocol seem to have ignored their committment-it is one thing for politicians to promise reductions, it is another to deliver. It is unrealistic to expect that the economic infrastructure for energy from combustion of fossile fuels will disappear anytime soon.

    Second, the earth will soon be emitting far more greenhouse gases than humans-former carbon sinks that turn into carbon emitters, and increased microbial activity. In particular, the melting methane hydrate chain reaction promises to be a nasty positive feedback loop.

    I think the only solution is to remove the CO2 from the environment. This can be done by “fixing the carbon” either mechanically or biologically. Due to the volume, I think the only practical solution is biological sequestration using a genetically modified organism seeded into the ocean. For instance take a phytoplankton genetic template, then improve it. Geometric reproduction rates should fill the oceans relatively quickly after it’s introduction.

    I have suggested this approach to experts, and they object on the basis of risk, not technical feasibility. In my opinion, the more dire the global warming threat is percieved, the more likely biological sequestration using a marine GMO will be.

    By the way, call the operation “Swallow the Spider” (i.e. the fly being greenhouse gas-’I don’t know we released the greenhouse gas, perhaps we’ll die from global warming’). We should have a while to figure out what the bird is that we’ll have to swallow next to avoid depleting too much CO2.

  64. Alan:

    RE:#28 reply from ray.

    Help from readers? – Perhaps couch it in terms of risk analysis, many people (particularly in bussiness) understand the basic premise. I know the insurance industry is starting to become concerned about both GW and “peak-oil”, perhaps they have some acctuary tables?

  65. Eachran:

    Interesting report in The Guardian today : the Royal Society in the UK expressing concern that Bigoil and supporters are gearing up to sabotage any pro-warming publicity arising from the next IPCC report.

  66. Barton Paul Levenson:

    Apropos of nothing, but because I don’t know where else to post this, I found an interesting deceptive use of figures by a denialist. Does anyone remember Sherman B. Idso claiming that doubling CO2 should cause only a 0.4 K rise in temperature? I found his paper where he derives this, and he does it by plotting a straight line on a log plot between the greenhouse differences in temperature from effective (Ts – Te) on Mars and Venus and the CO2 pressure on each. The very subtle point is, for Mars, of the ten most recent available figures for the planetary bolometric Bond albedo, he chose the darkest one of the ten (0.214 from Kieffer et al. 1977), raising Mars’s effective temperature very high and thus minimizing its greenhouse effect severely. When I replotted his data using the most recent figure (0.27 from Lumme et al. 1981), I got a doubling-CO2 figure of 0.9 K, not 0.4. Interesting, Houghton (2004) puts the doubling-CO2-alone figure at 1.2 K.

  67. pete best:

    Considering that most climate research talk of a 3C rise in world tempretures by 2100 then 11C can only be attributed to one of a few things.

    Namely that of large scale methane burp I would assume brought about by some positive feedback loop such as the Amazon drying out or the permafrost melting which would potenitally release masses of additional CO2 into the atmosphere warming the oceans and invoking methane release.

    We find masses of new fossil fuels and burn them up in a much shorter time period than has been predicted.

    [Response: In the case in question, the 11C warming came from a model which simply had high CO2 sensitivity (presumably due to something stemming from cloud feedbacks, or perhaps also sea ice). It didn't invoke any additional feedback mechanisms like the methane burp. It deserves further study, but the feeling at RealClimate was that the mechanism could be checked against other climate fluctuations, the basic checks had not been done, and that the checks were likely to show that the models with 11C sensitivity (a very small slice) don't pass the tests. It's for this reason that we felt that featuring the 11C run in the press was unjustified -- not so much on the grounds that it was a "worst case," but on the grounds that the work was too preliminary to say that it could reasonably be considered a "possible case." --raypierre ]

  68. David Donovan:

    I see that the “junk man” is at it again.,2933,192544,00.html

    Now he has his own greenhouse calculator !

    The piece contains the usual amount of misstatments and inaccuracies but he does seem to be taking a more sophiciated tack than he has in the past.

  69. pat neuman:

    Response in 59. 67.

    Is it fair to say there are no studies that do provide meaningful predictions with high end climate sensitivities and that invoke additional feedback mechanisms like the methane burp?

  70. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    Re #41, I understand that electric cars run on new model lithum ion batteries can get a range of 300 miles with 15 minutes for an 80% recharge. And who wouldn’t want to stop for a 15 minute snack break after driving 5-6 hours?

    Too bad the powers that be are crushing electric cars (see ).

    The problem is not “can’t” reduce GHGs substantially, but “won’t” reduce, even if it means losing great savings, not off-setting other problems, and living poorer. People just want to be poor AND kill off the earth. There’s something more Freudian than AdamSmithian going on here.

  71. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    RE #69, Pat, I think you’re right. It seems the models just have GHGs as inputs (regardless of whether they come from nature, people, or positive feedback loops like the methane burp caused by warming). So, while “sensitivity” may be an important concept, ultimately the positive feedback loops trump it in some ?geometrical? progression until we bang our head against some constaints.

    Are there any models on the horizon that would include positive feedbacks of the GHG–>Warming–>GHG and GHG–>Warming–>reduced albedo–>warming types? My thinking is this would be very very difficult to quantify & include (too many unknowns).

  72. pete best:

    Re #70

    And where does the electricity come from. From burning fossil fuels I would assume.

  73. Grant:

    Re: #66

    When I first took a serious interest in AGW (about a year ago), I searched the web for information. Early on, I found the site ( maintained by the Idsos. Of *all* the contrarian websites, this is, in my opinion, the most ridiculous (by which I mean, “worthy of ridicule.”). In fact, I prepared a lecture on global warming in which I illustrate some of the tactics used by contrarians, and I used this site as a *textbook* case of how to “cherry-pick” data to make a false claim.

  74. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    In all the talk above about reducing GHGs, let’s remember that nearly every product, incl water, has a GHG component. So reducing water (which needs energy to pump & heat it) is a biggy. My favorite is the low-flow showerhead with off/on soap-up button. Costs $6 and saves $2000 over its 20 year lifetime (in water & energy to heat the water).

    I actually did a test. I held a bucket under the old showerhead, then the new one, for the same time – the new one used 1/2 the water AND we don’t feel any difference in the force. This has got to be much better than investing in the stock market!

    There are many many other examples. So while climate science is quite complicated & unfathomable for lay people, solving the problem is really pretty simple. You don’t need a lot of brains or rocket-science education.

    Best policy: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE! Happy Earth Day! And remember to VOTE EARTH!

  75. Gar Lipow:

    Re 61, 62: (and thanks to Lynne for dontcrush link ) I note that you don’t address any of my examples or my arguments (other than electric cars, and then you simply assert that they are not practical).

    In terms of the Science study.

    1)While poor nations will need to increase power consumption, in the rich nations efficiency can (if we have the will) reduce demand in absolute terms without making us poorer.

    2) Wind and the grid – the electric industry is asking for 50 billion in grid improvements anyway. And you don’t need superconductors. High volotage D.C. lines are a mature technology that can transport electricity long distances and across multiple grids that are out of phase with one another.

    2) Land area for solar: see efficiency above. Note by the way that a 1000 square miles is not that big compared to other forms of energy. How much land is used or ruined by coal mining, oil drilling, uranium mining? 85,000 miles of course assumes no efficiency improvements, and solar power as sole source.

    3)fossil fuels for wind genetors and so forth. Wind Generators pay pack the energy it took to make them with 18 months. There is no reason you could not use wind energy to make wind generators. (Yes I’m including steel; thanks to electric arc furnaces we can make steel with very little fossil fuel if the electricity comes from renewable sources.)

    4) In terms of transition; of course we don’t flip a switch and turn fossil fuels into renewables. But most of our energy consuming infrastrure will wear out in 30 years or less. U.S. automobiles last an average of 13 years.

    Also in terms of cars there is an intermediate step that can be done with very little infrastructure change – plug in hybrids. Take a hybrid. Replace the advanced battery with a slightly larger one. Add a plug and modify the existing battery management software in the existing on-board computer. And you can run the first 20 to 90 miles of travel each day on battery power – which is most of mileage most of us travel. You don’t get 200 mpg equivalent both because it is still a hybrid, dragging that gasoline engine and tank and associated mechanics around, and because our grid is no carbon free. But it will have half the emissions of a conventional hybrid (even with our present coal heavy grid); and of course a conventional hydrid is already at the low end of emissions for the U.S. fleet. So while we are designing advanced electric cars, and building the factories to manufacture them, as a transitional step we could insist all new cars match Plug-in hybrids for carbon emissions.

  76. Jeffrey Davis:

    I wonder what the actual climate crisis point will look like. Probably as unremarkable as Icarus falling out of the sky in the Brueghel painting/Auden poem. Many years ago, I remember seeing graphs of multi-causal crises: dogs biting, bridges collapsing, the beginnings of wars. The point of the article was how similar they all looked: slight rises on all axes and then a sudden surge to a crisis: the dog bit, the bridge collapsed, the Guns of August roared to life. There simply wasn’t a ramp up where one could flirt with the crisis or mitigate it. Points x,y,z weren’t remarkably different than points x+1,y+1,z+1. When the crisis came, it came suddenly and absolutely.

    This time will be different, of course. We’ve learned from history how to control crises.

  77. Matt:

    This peak oil study group cites a study by the core of engineers that claims the peak oil moment has arrived. This moment means that new refinery facilities cannot be depreciated over their 50 year lifetime. Oil price rises above the rate of inflation will be the norm.

    Always looking for the hidden connection, I wonder if the carboniferous epoch was equilibrium with the atmosperic co2 carrying capacity. Why hasn’t nature left us with enough oil to fry our brains?

    Anyway, peak oil means that biofuels become economically viable, it makes long term investment in energy efficieny feasible for developing countries, and, importantly, it means that only a minority of populations will have the efficiency to use the existing capacity.

    The later fact creates political incentives for the poor countries to push an additional cost on the use of atmospheric co2 by efficient economies. These poor countries will threaten mass migration of populations to energy efficient nations, which will be resisted.

    Oil producers will see greater value in future oil deliveries and add additional cost to oil use.

    The developing countries will become more intelligent, sooner, because of this and other ecological limits. The damage will be limited to a moderate catastrophe, not bad for a bunch of stupid squirrels.

  78. wayne davidson:

    70-71 et al, how about wind generator super tankers, maintaining themselves on purpose in windy sea areas, electrolysing hydrogen till they are full, other renewable energy have huge potentials, there are no excuses, we can switch to hydrogen in no time if we really want to.

    #58 Chrichton’s did some marketing, saw potential to taylor make a book for a specific audience, and produced it for profits. Follow the money as it was said, and find out that greed overpowers reasoning, even reasonable men, all the time.

  79. Gar Lipow:

    77) You are right that there are no excuse; but hydrogen is not a mature storage technology. Hydrogen may be a good storage technology in the future (I don’t think it is likely to ever be a good energy transport means.) But a lot of hyping of hydrogen is a way to avoid doing stuff we already know how to do. For example we don’t need to put wind generators on supertankers; we can put them offshore on towers and run HV lines to land to provide inexpensive wind electricity. Unless your location happens to be visible from the picture windows of the super-rich on Martha’s Vineyard; then the amount of concern about “environmental” damage by wind generators has to be heard to be believed, an environmental concern the overrides the support for these wind generators by actual environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Audobon Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Toxic Action Coalition.

  80. Jan Rooth:

    “Hope Crichton is right, but act as if Gore is right.”

    Exactly. As I heard someone put it once (regarding alcoholism) – “If you’re having trouble with your drinking but you’re not really sure you’re an alcoholic, consider this: would it be such an awful thing if you got sober by mistake?”

  81. pat neuman:

    How hot was it? … Scientists aren’t certain what caused the episode some 247 million years ago. They estimate that temperatures ranged in the low 100s year-round for thousands of years,

    Expert Says It Was Hotter 247 Million Years Ago
    April 05, 2006 – By Associated Press
    CAVE JUNCTION, Ore. “John Roth shined his flashlight on a black streak flowing through the cream-colored marble forming the walls of the Oregon Caves.

    The graphite line is graphic evidence of dramatic global warming that consumed so much oxygen that it nearly wiped out all life on the planet 247 million years ago, said the natural resources specialist for the Oregon Caves National Monument. …”

  82. Ken in Seattle:

    I wish to cite the great Doctor

    Seuss for his prescient prediction re methane burp.

    But, as Yertle, the Turtle King, lifted his hand
    And started to order and give the command,
    That plain little turtle below in the stack,
    That plain little turtle whose name was just Mack,
    Decided he’d taken enough. And he had.
    And that plain little lad got a bit mad.
    And that plain little Mack did a plain little thing.
    He burped!
    And his burp shook the throne of the king!

    And Yertle the Turtle, the king of the trees,
    The king of the air and the birds and the bees,
    The king of a house and a cow and a mule…
    Well, that was the end of the Turtle King’s rule!
    For Yertle, the King of all Sala-ma-Sond,
    Fell off his high throne and fell Plunk! in the pond!

    And tosay the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
    Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
    And the turtles, of course… all the turtles are free
    As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.

  83. Francis MASSEN:

    Re #79: Wind generators may seem a gift of God, but the increasing number makes their “CO2 replacement factor” approach zero, due to the more and more gas turbines needed to stabilize the flutuating grid: see the very interesting WINDREPORT 2005 from German E.ON NET (
    which predicts that an approx. 20% part of wind electricity will be the most a grid can bear. In my opinion every fluctuating energy source as wind or solar will need some buffer storage, and hydrogen made by electrolysis would be one solution (as would be pumping storage reservoirs where land use permits).

  84. SqueakyRat:

    #38 Your figures on world oil consumption are incorrect. Depending on how you define “oil,” it averaged about 84 million barrels per day last year, and might inch up a little this year if production can be increased — a big if.

  85. Gar Lipow:

    Re: 83 — the post you are replying to was in reply to another post. Hydrogen at the moment is an extremely expensive storage technology. 20% of an electricity grid is a good chunk. Also, you don’t need to make wind fully dispatchable to go beyond that. Add a couple of hours of name plate capacity of vanadium flow battery storage and you can smooth out the fluctuations enough to let wind safely provide half your grid at a 2 cents per kWh increase in price. (Two hours name plate capacity serves because wind generators typically average under 35% of name plate capacity; so that two hours capability is almost six hours of average production.) Even with storage, that wind is cheaper than nuclear power plants. For the other half we can use fully dispatchable sources, hydro, geothermal , and solar thermal electric with molten salt storage. If the cost of either hydrogen or flow batteries drops sufficiently then we can depend totally on variable sources with storage. But the key here is that we have means now to substitute for fossil fuels without waiting for price of hydrogen or other storage techniques to drop. If we can achieve that drop so much the better; being able to use PV and storage would avoid the need for a whole bunch of high voltage DC lines to ship power long distances across grids. It is an obvious place to put more research and development money. But in the absence of those things, we should get started on what we know how to do today and not wait for the great hydrogen breakthrough.

  86. Alan:

    Re #62.

    From the link…

    “Nuclear fission: It is not the final answer because of a shortage of uranium fuel. The proven reserves of uranium would last less than 30 years if nuclear fission was used…”

    “Wind power: These systems must operate from remote areas and the current power grids could not manage the load, the study found. New grids, perhaps using cooled superconducting cables, might be needed to harvest power from wind and solar systems.

    “Hydrogen energy: … Extracting hydrogen from water using solar or wind power is not now “cost effective,” the study found.”

    So what’s wrong with using reators as a band-aid while we pacth up the grid for wind power, thirty years is about the life of a power plant anyway. Once oil is too expensive, hydrogen, bio-desiel and/or electric cars will become more “cost effective”.

    I belive there are practical alternatives to fossil fuels both cenralised and decentralised. However even with the strongest “political will” nothing much is going to happen overnight.

  87. pete best:

    Re #84, Sorry I meant to state 28 Billion barrels per annum, it is as you say 82 to 84 million barrels per day.

    Re #86, No single renewable can be the answer to world energy demand if we expect to keep on as we are. We also require large scale efficiency gains and other energy sources besides.

    There can be alternatives to fossil fuels, it is as I have stated though, fossil fuels are the mother of all vested interests due to their infrastructure costs. As they befin to run out and hit NET and PEAK issues then we should see a move to alternatives, trouble is by then climate change could be a major issue.

  88. Hank Roberts:

    Corporations are the only “legal persons” that will still be alive in a hundred years. I’d suggest we know enough to track how much CO2 each person produces, and after a hundred years, if they’re still alive, bill them for their proportionate share of warming costs. Call it a “life tax” — only those still living after a century pick up the bill, as part of the cost of having continued to live.

    Of course, they’ll outlive us, so they have forever to change the laws in their favor (sigh).

    Odd, eh, the people (legal people) with the shortest planning horizon (next financial report) and narrowest social responsibility (shareholder value) also are the people with the longest lifespan (potentially immortal). It’s like the best we could do in intelligently designing a business/financial system was to reinvent the Norse gods and let them run things ….

  89. Dave B:

    #54…with all due respect, you are not “building” anything. the analogy is awkward at best…BUT, it does contain some irony. rather than report the raw science ACCURATELY, you come off as trying to maximize the potential downside, rather than reporting the (equally likely) minimal downside. this is exactly how environmentalists get characterized as fear mongers.

  90. Gar Lipow:

    Re: 86 – what’s wrong with using reactors is they they take longer to bring on-line and are more expensive. Note that I am not talking about shutting down existing reactors prematurely. But you can buy efficiency, wind, solar thermal electric, solar thermal space heating and cooling (and hot water heating), a limited sustainable amount of biomass all for a lower price than new nuclear plants. Increased efficiency combined with renewables can replace fossil fuels at a lower price than we currently pay for those fossil fuels. (To make it clear that there is no free lunch, efficiency plus fosisl fuels would be even cheaper; the choice of renewables over fossil fuels has to be made based on social costs even after efficiency means kick in.)

    And it is true that we won’t kick in renewables and efficiency overnight. but our infrastructure is not eternal. If start now, or even soon, we can probably phase out fossil fuels fast enough to prevent the worst consequences of global warming; we can certainl phase them out faster than oil and gas production will drop.

  91. Gareth:

    Re #88: Corporations are the only “legal persons” that will still be alive in a hundred years.

    Not a singularitarian then? Or read much Kurzweil?

  92. ocean:

    I guess I don’t understand the legal persons argument..

  93. Fernando Magyar:

    I can’t really speak to the questions of global warming but I would like to ask any skeptics if after reading this article they can still justify arguing that that status quo should be maitained.

    BTW I’m sure you all know that plastic is derived mostly from oil. If you can go to sleep at night and sleep soundly after reading the above article then I most certainly don’t want to know you!

    I also suggest spending some time in an around the ocean as well, specifically on coral reefs which if I understand correctly aren’t doing too well. I have been scuba diving in the tropics since 1975, I have seen a lot of change and certainly don’t know the reasons for it but I have an uneducated hunch it just may have something to do with human activity in some way shape or form.

    As a long time maintainer of saltwater aquariums I have a pretty good understanding of what even reletively minor variations in the reduction of PH can do to a stable contained aquarium ecosystem. The result ain’t pretty!! For a few hundred dollars any skeptic can run their own acidification experiments in a salt water aquarium in their homes, try it you might learn something practical.

    Carbon dioxide seems to be a confirmed culprit in the acidification of the oceans. Maybe it’s not directly related to coral die off. I’m sure some qualified scientist could chime in here…

    I for one would like try a different experiment than the one we are curently embarked upon.

  94. James Annan:

    FWIW, the Kristof article appears to be quoted verbatim at (I can’t tell for sure if this really is a perfect copy, since I don’t have access to the real thing). I find googling on an exact phrase (in this case, the title) to be a powerful way of finding copies of pay-to-view articles – eg, the recent Lindzen op-ed was also posted elsewhere.


  95. Brad Arnold:

    Leggett’s “putative” logical chain of events:

    - As the oceans warm, they are less able to absorb CO2.
    - Warming oceans are more thermally stable. This stability reduces the circulation of nutrients and decreases the biomass of the phytoplankton, thus further damaging the ability to absorb CO2.
    - Ultraviolet radiation from the damaged ozone layer, particularly severe in Polar Regions, further damages the phytoplankton. The net ecosystem balance between respiration (CO2 emitted) and photosynthesis (CO2 used) now tilts toward respiration, and more CO2 is released into the atmosphere.
    - As the temperature rises, Arctic tundra melts and releases huge amounts of methane. Under certain conditions, wet, flooded soils can release 100 times more methane than dry soils.
    - At this point, drought in many areas from warming and associated climatic changes further retards photosynthesis.
    - Changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere deplete the cleansing hydroxyl reservoir that oxidizes methane and other greenhouse gases.
    - Ozone in the troposphere, a greenhouse gas at lower levels of the atmosphere, is increased as a result of carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide from growing automobile exhaust.
    - The Arctic ice cover begins to thin and retreat. This thinning reduces the albedo (the net reflectivity of the planet), thus leading to further warming.
    - Finally, huge amounts of methane trapped in the Arctic continental shelf in the form of methane hydrates are released from under the permafrost and in shallow Arctic waters.

  96. Pacific Views:

    The Melting Permafrost…

    Dkos writer oxon wrote today about the melting permafrost and how lakes in Alaska are now boiling due to the release of methane gas. The story he references from Science Daily mentions that researchers are now finding methane bubbles rising……