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Consensus as the New Heresy

Filed under: — group @ 3 January 2007

Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann, David Archer, Stefan Rahmstorf, William Connolley, and Raymond Bradley

Andy Revkin, who’s one of the best journalists on the climate beat, wrote a curious piece in the NY Times discussing the ‘middle stance’ of the climate debate. It’s nice to see news pieces on climate that aren’t breathless accounts of a new breakthough and that take the time to point out that the vast majority of relevant scientists take climate change extremely seriously. To that extent, the message of this piece was a welcome one. The curious part, however, was the thread running through the piece that this middle ground is only now emerging, and even curiouser, that this middle ground can be characterized as representing some sort of ‘heresy’.

Heresy, is commonly defined as ‘an opinion or doctrine at variance with the official or orthodox position’. So where does this idea come from, and why is it now ‘emerging’?

It has often been remarked upon that scientists and academics make their reputations by breaking down orthodoxies and by challenging previously widespread assumptions (but it will only work out well if they’re right of course!). Nobody makes much of a name for themselves by agreeing with all previous thinking. Indeed, to be thought of as a radical new thinker, one must assume the role of the heretic, challenging the stale orthodoxies of the past. And given some of the scientific iconoclasts in our pantheon (Galileo, Einstein, Wegner etc.), we see this as a completely natural state of affairs.

However, there is a big difference between really challenging the majority opinion and simply stating that you are. We are all often ‘contrary’, but here at RC we also generally find ourselves firmly in the mainstream on many of the central scientific points: e.g., our views on the most probable value of the climate sensitivity (around 3C), the likelihood of the imminent Gulf Stream reversal (zero), or the possibility of Venusian-style runaway greenhouse effect happening this side of a billion years (extremely small). That these positions are in line with conclusions drawn by IPCC is no surprise, because those reports result from intense discussion and peer-review involving a large fraction of the community, thus they reflect the views of the climate science community very well. Most scientists present these widely shared conclusions when speaking to the public, and where their own views diverge from it, they make it clear that these are their own conclusions rather than a generally accepted view.

In reading about the new ‘heretics’ then, one might have expected that associated with them would be statements that would contradict IPCC or that we (as mainstream scientists who do not claim to be heretics) would otherwise find objectionable. So let’s consider the specific tenets of the ‘new heresy’ mentioned in the article:

  • From Carl Wunsch: ‘It seems worth a very large premium to insure ourselves against the most catastrophic scenarios. Denying the risk seems utterly stupid. Claiming we can calculate the probabilities with any degree of skill seems equally stupid’. Agreed.
  • “Many in this camp seek a policy of reducing vulnerability to all climate extremes while building public support for a sustained shift to nonpolluting energy sources”. Sensible.
  • There is “no firm evidence of a heat-triggered strengthening in storms in recent years” (our emphasis). Well, what the WMO statement to which this assertion is attributed actually said was (first bullet point): “Though there is evidence both for and against the existence of a detectable anthropogenic signal in the tropical cyclone climate record to date, no firm conclusion can be made on this point.” We agree with that statement – this particular subject is definitely in a state of flux.
  • “Recent increase[s] in the impact of storms was because of more people getting in harm’s way, not stronger storms”. Again, the WMO report did not state this. What it stated was (third bullet point of statement; emphasis added): “The recent increase in societal impact from tropical cyclones has largely been caused by rising concentrations of population and infrastructure in coastal regions”. These are not quite the same. Once again, we agree with what the WMO actually said. Interestingly, the second bullet point of the WMO statement, not mentioned in the article, “No individual tropical cyclone can be directly attributed to climate change” was voiced by us more than a year ago.
  • “Global warming is real, it’s serious, but it’s just one of many global challenges that we’re facing,”. Of course.
  • From Mike Hulme: “I have found myself increasingly chastised by climate change campaigners when my public statements and lectures on climate change have not satisfied their thirst for environmental drama,” he wrote. “I believe climate change is real, must be faced and action taken. But the discourse of catastrophe is in danger of tipping society onto a negative, depressive and reactionary trajectory.” Agreed. And we said much the same thing when commenting on the ‘Climate Porn’ report.
  • “It is best not to gloss over uncertainties”. Duh!
  • “efforts to attribute recent weather extremes to the climate trend, though they may generate headlines in the short run, distract from the real reasons to act”. We couldn’t agree more, and have stated as much before.
  • “‘An Inconvenient Truth’ may push too hard”. Perhaps at last, there is a (moderate) difference of opinion. We agree with Eric’s review of the movie earlier this year, i.e. while there were a few things to quibble with, Gore got the science basically right.

The only substantial disagreement, then, is over a movie review. On all other points of substance the ‘heresy’ and the old orthodoxy are the same.

We’ve emphasised over and over that the science that should inform policy should come from thorough assessment processes like the IPCC and the National Academies. The views of individual scientists (including us) should carry less weight – partly because of our specific biases (due to the field we work in or our personalities), and partly because a thorough discussion and peer review process (like that leading to IPCC reports) will lead to more considered, informed and balanced statements than any individual could muster. Media representations of what individual scientists supposedly said should not be used for policy at all!

Much of the sensationalist talk in the public discourse (and to which the scientists in the piece, and we, rightly take exception) are not the pronoucements of serious scientists in the field, but distorted and often out-of-context quotes that can be further mangled upon frequent repetition. We have often criticised such pieces (here, or here for instance) and it is important to note that the ‘shrill voices of doom’ referred to by Mike Hulme were not scientists, but campaigners.

John Fleck suggests that Revkin’s point was that the middle stance is only now being reflected in the media coverage, which for the highly polarised US discussion could be a valid point – although Revkin’s own work in the New York Times argues against it. So does the fact that all of the scientists discussed in this piece are veterans in media coverage of the issue; their view of things can hardly be called “just emerging”.

Perhaps the real background to Revkin’s piece simply is that some like to use the age-old debating tactic of labelling other views as “extreme” in order to position themselves in the “middle”. If you divide the world into ‘alarmists’ and ‘deniers’, you can then nicely present yourself as the ‘heretic’ who wants to break the mold. But this is a false distinction.

The plain fact is that the vast majority of scientific judgement on this issue – as outlined in the IPCC documents including the AR4 coming up in February- does indeed cover the ‘middle stance’, which we would state as being in agreement with the statement of the National Academies of the G8 last year that ‘the scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action’. As Jim Hansen states in his quote – it’s still surprising that there are some people who don’t know this yet.

Further discussion on this piece is available: Matthew Nesbit, John Fleck, Roger Pielke Jr, David Roberts and Andrew Dessler. Also Joseph Romm.


259 Responses to “Consensus as the New Heresy”

  1. 151
    Hank Roberts says:

    >lower emissions
    It can happen — emissions went flat for a few years when the USSR collapsed.

    Data:
    http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/carbonemiss/chapter1.html (“collapse of the Soviet Union and the other communist governments in the late 1980s and early 1990s severely disrupted economies in the EE&FSU. For the region as a whole, economic growth did not return until the mid-to late-1990s.”)

    Bumper Sticker:
    http://www.fourmilab.ch/evilempire/ (“anticipating the obsolescence of railroad era continental-scale empires in the information age”).

  2. 152

    Re “Physics shows us that fossil fuels contain a lot of CO2 and that CO2 absorbs infra red radiation released from the earths surface by a known amount.”

    This is almost right. The hydrocarbon fuels contain carbon, and when it burns it mixes with oxygen in the air to form CO2.

  3. 153

    Re “Steve wrote in #96: “On the Brokaw television piece last summer, Hansen spoke of half of all living species going extinct due to AGW. This kind of irresponsible statement is not supported by science but becomes part of ‘consensus’.”
    Hansen’s statement was not “irresponsible” and it most certainly is “supported by science”.
    Diversity of Species Faces ‘Catastrophe’ from Climate Change
    by Steve Connor
    April 11, 2006
    The Independent / UK
    Tens of thousands of animals and plants could become extinct within the coming decades as a direct result of global warming.”

    There actually is a bit of a discrepancy here. The number of species of living organisms on the planet is estimated to be in the range 3-30 million. Most of those are probably insects, protozoans and bacteria. If Hansen meant 50% of ALL species he’s probably wrong, but he might have meant some subset.

  4. 154
    David Price says:

    About the extent of AGW I take a middle position , believing that both the Sceptics and the alarmists are wrong. One must remember that an issue like AGW can bring all kinds of cranks, alarmists and end of the worlders to the fore. It is important scientists keep their heads and publicise properly considered coverage of all the issues.
    On another issue it is often assumed that Co2 emissions will continue to the end of the century. Where will the fossil fuels come from? Oil will soon peak( and may have already done so). natural gas will follow soon after. Coal is more plentiful but if we use it for everything it will not last more than a few decades. Regardless of warming fears we will soon need another source of power anyway.

  5. 155

    Re “The scientists can show evidence about the last common ancestor — a long time ago — and how its descendants became either us or monkeys, or any of our other near relations.

    Size, brain size, jawbones, age, habitat — you can look at the differences and dates.”

    Hank has it right. The evolution of humans is actually one of the better documented ones in the fossil record, with thousands of whole or partial specimens described. There have been between 5 and 15 species of humans, all but one of which have become extinct. (Five if you’re a lumper and 15 if you’re a splitter.)

  6. 156
    Hank Roberts says:

    Feedback:
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007/2006GL027977.shtml
    Abstract

    The Arctic shelf is currently undergoing dramatic thermal changes caused by the continued warming associated with Holocene sea level rise. During this transgression, comparatively warm waters have flooded over cold permafrost areas of the Arctic Shelf. A thermal pulse of more than 10°C is still propagating down into the submerged sediment and may be decomposing gas hydrate as well as permafrost. A search for gas venting on the Arctic seafloor focused on pingo-like-features (PLFs) on the Beaufort Sea Shelf because they may be a direct consequence of gas hydrate decomposition at depth. Vibracores collected from eight PLFs had systematically elevated methane concentrations. ROV observations revealed streams of methane-rich gas bubbles coming from the crests of PLFs. We offer a scenario of how PLFs may be growing offshore as a result of gas pressure associated with gas hydrate decomposition.

    Received 23 August 2006; accepted 20 November 2006; published 5 January 2007.

  7. 157
    cthulhu says:

    Re #148
    “The IPCC range of projections, 1.5C to 4.5C
    is large. It is larger than the last thirty years
    observed century warming rate of just under 1.5C.
    If this is settled, the settling should indicate a warming around the observed.”

    -The warming in the last 30 years is a lot less than 1.5C
    -The 1.5-4.5C range of warming is for a doubling of co2 and so far co2 has only risen 35% since the industrial revolution.
    -The range is for the maximum eventual temperature rise. There is a lag time before that is reached. Ie even if you set co2 levels to 560ppm today, it would take time for temperatures to rise to the maximum.

    Taking all this into account there is no contradiction between the warming observed in the past 30 years and the (old) IPCC climate sensitivity range.

  8. 158
    mzed says:

    #141: “On the contrary, much of the current escalation of change is indeed spurred by man-made activities. That’s the point in all of this.”

    I am certainly not disputing this. I’m just saying that people are likely to misinterpret AGW claims, so it’s helpful to use very careful language when explaining it. Catastrophic language is attention-grabbing, but I just feel it often digs the trenches deeper. I’ve conceded that if you want to an AGW-affected earth a “different planet”, fine, but I still argue the phrase is not very helpful. On the other hand, describing the changing migratory patters of birds _is_ helpful.

    #144 “Global warming itself is a worst case scenario.”

    I don’t understand what you mean by this. As I understand it, some level of AGW is inevitable. The question is how much. Unless you are denying this.

    “And every mentioning of a diffrent planet is a negative, because species cant adopt fast enough this means everything will colapse.”

    This is what I’m talking about. “Everything will col[l]apse”–what on earth does that mean? I doubt, for example, that global warming would turn the planet into a lifeless rock (and in fact nobody is saying it will). It could severely change our climate, our biosphere, our way of living, yes, and _possibly_ harm civilization itself. People just need to hear the realistic chances.

    “And your deforstation example is just wrong,as your complete reasoning is total off the road.”

    The ancient Greeks managed to deforest Greece without any industrial technology. The Romans probably did the same thing to Italy.

    “If you post here your own noobish guessing please provide a source aswell, doc.”

    Alright, if you insist: J. Donald Hughes has done the famous work on this subject. I’m not incredibly familiar with it, but I’m also not aware that he’s been refuted. However, I’d be happy to read any links you’d like to provide.

    “And you obviously dont follow the context or havening problems at last. Its the speed of Co2 emission which NEVER HAPPEN BEFORE and is accelerating.”

    Huh? I don’t deny that CO2 is being released very quickly and is speeding up. I agree that this is changing the climate, and might change it severely. All I’m saying is, popular language about AGW (usually found in the press and in politics) tends to ignore the real role that natural causes (like solar output, which _has_ played a role in 20th century warmth) _also_ play in changing climate. It’s important to make this clear, because otherwise skeptics can more easily use these facts against the claims of AGW. I’m just saying that alarmist language all by itself won’t be enough to change people’s minds. What they need are all the facts, stated clearly. (This is maybe not something our political system is well-built for.)

  9. 159
    Bryan Sralla says:

    Re #119: Mike, you replied to Steve Sadlov “[Response: The 'big picture' reveals a fairly warm winter so far for the U.S. on the whole. December numbers not in from NOAA yet, but here's what November anomalies looked like. - mike]”

    Well, here’s what the year 2006 looked like for Fairbanks, Alaska http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/News/Review06.html

    Note: January 2006 was the coldest since 1971, with low temps bottoming out at -51F. November 2006 was 10F below average. Entire year was 1F below normal, with much below normal precip. Take a look at the current numbers in Alaska on January 6th http://www.rap.ucar.edu/weather/surface/displaySfc.php?region=pak&endDate=20070106&endTime=-1&duration=0
    Temps in the interior now hovering around -40F (20 F below normal). I guess we may all take comfort that it is still winter, even in our globally warmed world, and in places it will still get very cold. Give it about 7-10 days, and this cold air will plunge south into the lower 48. Most in the northeast US will be longing for these balmy temps to come back.

    [Response: Here over the entire lower 48 (sorry, NOAA's plots don't include Alaska) , temperatures for the past month have been above normal everywhere with the exception of a couple isolated patches along the Mexican border. Here in central PA where I live, the monthly mean temperature was about 8F above normal, with daily mean temperatures averaging just under 40F, rather than the typical 32F. For what its worth, The Weather Channel sees this anomalous warmth persisting for the forseeable future, with the daily max temperatures exceeding the long-term climatological mean January maximum of 32F on each of the next 10 days (take 10 day forecasts, needless to say, with a grain of salt!). Today, incidentally, max daily temperature records are falling in a large number of cities across the eastern U.S. This segment on the Weather Channel provides a reasonable perspective regarding the potential roles of both El Nino and global warming on this year's winter, though in my view it probably overplays the role of purely deterministic factors, particularly for this single latest warm spell. But it is worth listening too. Now, lets all try to return to the main topic of the post. Thanks. -Mike]

  10. 160
    Pete Best says:

    The physics of CO2 heat absorbtion is understood and I see no one questioning it not where the additional 100 ppm has come from, us burning fossil fuels. However some may argue about the implications for the Earth system and how we model it on computers and the like due to the nature of how science is carried out. Science is generally reductionist and abstracted (to simplify matters) so that real coherent data can be gathered. The science of equilibium thermodynamics is well understood I believe (Sadi Carnot and others worked it out many moons ago) but less is known of far from equilibrium thermodynamics, perturbation of such systems (of which the earth could be one) too much could result in some very unpredictable and unforseen effects for the Earth system as a whole. The very nature of complex systems is there strong feedbacks and intereacting parts especially is they interact strongly which can upset things when perturbed to much.

    I personally would suggest that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts when it comes to stufying Earth and that could defy proper truely predictable analysis and hence this is what the new climate alarmists are counting on to get there message across James Lovelock style.

    I believe that most climate alarmists are part of this GAIA non linear far from equilibrium thermodynamics group.

  11. 161
    baal says:

    First of @mzed, i mainly replyed to you because of this statement in 137:

    I guess it’s just your point of view, so alright, we can call it a different planet…and I’m not trying to downplay the real dangers at stake here. What I’m trying to say is, climate change just happens. With or without humans.

    You downlplay this, here and your rhetoric cant hide this. The scientific consensus is that global warming is happening and that humans contribute to this.

    Catastrophic language is attention-grabbing

    Not when the forecast is catastrophic, as it is!
    Also re read comment 30, quote

    The language of catastrophe is not the language of science.

    Really? Do events that everyone recognises as catastrophic – earthqaukes, volcanic eruptions, flu epidemics, AIDS, flooding etc. exist somewhere outside the realm of science? As metaphysical constructs? Spiritual beings? Metaphor?

    AGW-affected earth a “different planet”, fine, but I still argue the phrase is not very helpful. On the other hand, describing the changing migratory patters of birds _is_ helpful.

    This goes hand in hand, because most birds will go extinct over this – the extinction again triggering other food webs and such which lead to even more extinction.

    To read more on this we need to look back into time see this link posted in comment 98, (copy past complete URL) http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-sci-climate5jan05,1,4828203.story?coll=la-news-a_section

    I don’t understand what you mean by this. As I understand it, some level of AGW is inevitable. The question is how much. Unless you are denying this.

    Again look back in time, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clathrate_Gun_Hypothesis and this is the biggest threat to the planet life forms, triggered by humans.

    1.) definition of a diffrent planet:
    This will depend on how we react now, how fast we lower emission in the next 10 years, and depending on this, there are diffrent stages of a diffrent planet from AGW.
    A worst case scenario here would look like(to me this is still optimistic):

    Within the next decade or two, Lovelock forecasts, Gaia will hike her thermostat by at least 10 degrees. Earth, he predicts, will be hotter than at any time since the Eocene Age 55 million years ago, when crocodiles swam in the Arctic Ocean.
    “There’s no realisation of how quickly and irreversibly the planet is changing,” Lovelock says. “Maybe 200 million people will migrate close to the Arctic and survive this. Even if we took extraordinary steps, it would take the world 1,000 years to recover.”

    http://www.peopleandplanet.net/doc.php?id=2900

    2.) You can allready read about problems of species all over the planet, due to the mild winter and the increasing speed of climate zones shifts to the poles.Examples from todays news: *Related to this there are allready like 20 other news from current media coverage: polar bears, fish et cetera.

    Climate change kills hedgehogs

    Climate change is being blamed as hundreds of young hedgehogs in Scotland face an agonising death this winter because they have been born out of season.

    http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/77885.html

    Italy: Climate change brings back malaria
    http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/008200701061550.htm

  12. 162
    Dan says:

    re: 159. “Give it about 7-10 days, and this cold air will plunge south into the lower 48. Most in the northeast US will be longing for these balmy temps to come back.”

    No. The pattern has been quite consistent all winter. The Bermuda High has continually re-established itself over the SE after very brief cold intrusions. And the latest model runs (ECMWF, Canadian, GFS) show that ridge will strengthen again after a reasonably short-lived cold snap. That cold air will not plunge south into the lower 48 for very long and certainly not establish itself over New England. A return to seasonable temperatures is certainly likely but that is not a “plunge”.

  13. 163
    Geoff says:

    Tom Huntington’s post #57 was indeed well put. May I suggest we put them on a scale between 1.5 and 4.5 with 3.0 being the ‘middle’?

  14. 164
    mzed says:

    “You downlplay this, here and your rhetoric cant hide this. The scientific consensus is that global warming is happening and that humans contribute to this.”

    Again, this is an example of what I’m talking about. I state a scientific _fact_, that climate change in general does indeed happen naturally from time to time. That is a blatant fact, backed up by myriad scientific studies. *Nothing* in what I said suggests that I don’t think that global warming is happening and that we are contributing to it. Nothing. In fact I _certainly do agree_ that global warming is happening, and that we are contributing to it. But instead I’m accused of using “rhetoric” to “hide” my true beliefs.

    “Not when the forecast is catastrophic, as it is!”

    Sorry for the confusion–I didn’t mean it’s attention-grabbing in a bad way.

    “Really? Do events that everyone recognises as catastrophic – earthqaukes, volcanic eruptions, flu epidemics, AIDS, flooding etc. exist somewhere outside the realm of science? As metaphysical constructs? Spiritual beings? Metaphor?”

    Again, I am not saying we can’t call global warming a potential catastrophe. I’m just saying that, as in a scientific journal, when the _evidence_ is being presented, it should be presented as calmly as possible.

    “This goes hand in hand, because most birds will go extinct over this – the extinction again triggering other food webs and such which lead to even more extinction.”

    I am not going to argue about this any more. As you can see, phrases like “different planet” can mean different things to different people. You are free to use it however you want.

    “To read more on this we need to look back into time see this link posted in comment 98″

    Sure–that’s a good example of what I’m talking about.

    “Again look back in time, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clathrate_Gun_Hypothesis and this is the biggest threat to the planet life forms, triggered by humans.”

    Sure, I agree. But no one really knows how likely this is, and in generally it’s considered an extreme scenario (and most warming models don’t suggest a warming of 5C). Of course it’s a danger, but if you don’t explain how likely or unlikely it is, people will not take you seriously.

    “Within the next decade or two, Lovelock forecasts, Gaia will hike her thermostat by at least 10 degrees. Earth, he predicts, will be hotter than at any time since the Eocene Age 55 million years ago, when crocodiles swam in the Arctic Ocean.”

    Ahem. From the same article:

    “Lovelock’s radical view of global warming doesn’t sit well with David Archer, a scientist at the University of Chicago and a frequent contributor to the Web site RealClimate, which accepts the reality of global warning.

    ‘No one, not Lovelock or anyone else, has proposed a specific quantitative scenario for a climate-driven, blow the doors off, civilization ending catastrophe,’ writes Archer.”

    I would never want to say it couldn’t happen, but I do think that scientists need to distance themselves from comments like Lovelock’s.

  15. 165
    Hank Roberts says:

    > no one … has proposed a specific quantitative scenario for a climate-driven, blow the doors off, civilization ending catastrophe …

    This is rather highly qualified to be very reassuring, however.

  16. 166
    Grant says:

    Re: mzed

    Perhaps the reception to your comments well illustrates the difficulties in communication. Indeed you never denied that global warming is real and man-made, but several readers took your posts to represent such a denial.

    I think the reason is that we’ve so often heard such phrases as, “… climate change just happens. With or without humans,” but invariably they’ve come from denialists who are attempting to minimize or deny human contribution. So, while your bare words were correct, the language you’ve used is reminiscent of denialist propoganda. Clearly this triggered the ire or some readers!

    I’m not sure I agree with your thesis. Discussing the problem in public in “pure, rational scientific terms” may not be the most effective was to motivate action. Determining the future progress of climate change is a purely scientific endeavor, but motivating populations and politicians to action is a social and psychological undertaking; we can’t expect the purely scientific approach to be the most effective technique. Consider, e.g., the rise of the Nazi regime; if Churchill had discussed the threat of Nazism in the most cool-headed scientific terms rather than spoken of a “gathering storm,” might it have sabotaged his ability to motivate public opinion?

  17. 167
    baal says:

    Well i don’t know why you refering to natural climate cycles in current debate. To me at least this is missleading. And this is widley used by oiled deniers.
    The last couple thousand years we had a balanced climate state on earth. And besides natural climate cycles we face now the consequences of our greenhouse gas emission and contributing factors.

    We talk about efffects of climate change i.e. _birds_ who become effected of i.e. born in wrong season.

    And than we talk about _predictions_ based on the data of ice cores and sediments.

    Now, i agree the science always should be calm and presented in a serious way. But it needs to address the full scale of possibilities.

    I do not agree to just present a part of the scale of consequences. And i do not understand why you or other want to distance themself from a special worst case scenario forecast, specially when everything is at risc!

    As you can see, phrases like “different planet” can mean different things to different people. You are free to use it however you want.

    This is just not right, you are not free to use it however you want!

    To quote James Hansen on this topic:

    Role of Scientists
    A. Painting a Picture: �A Different Planet�
    A few words about the role of scientists in the global warming discussion
    (Chart 9: Threat to the Planet).
    As scientists, I believe that we have ethical responsibilities, just as medical doctors have
    to their patients

    Climate Sensitivity: �Slow Feedbacks Happening Fast�
    (Chart 2: The �Little� Climate Whip-Saw)
    First, climate sensitivity. The long-standing �Charney� problem has been solved. If
    continents are fixed as at present, ice sheets are fixed, vegetation distributions are fixed � global
    climate sensitivity for doubled CO2 is about 3°C. This Charney sensitivity includes fast
    feedback processes � water vapor, sea ice, clouds. Models have inherent uncertainties, but
    comprehensive empirical data for the last ice age implies a sensitivity of about three degrees.
    The size of ice sheets for the past 400,000 years is known from sea level data, and
    greenhouse gas amounts are known for the same period. Taking these as boundary conditions, or
    forcings, shows that the same Charney fast feedback sensitivity fits the entire period. However ,
    the ice sheets and greenhouse gases are feedbacks on these time scales, driven by small forcings
    due to slow changes in the Earth�s orbit. In response to these small forcings the Earth is whip-
    sawed through dramatic climate changes. Positive feedbacks reign supreme.
    Yet these climate changes, however staggering they seem to humans, with 400 foot
    changes of sea level, and New York, Minneapolis and Seattle under ice sheets thicker than our
    tallest sky-scraper, are just the �little whip saw�. Consider the changes that have occurred on
    longer time scales, for example, global warming events such as that at the Paleocene-Eocene
    boundary, driven at least in part by methane hydrate release.
    Go back further to the greatest whip-saw of all, �snowball Earth� events in the
    Proterozoic, and the most recent one, which ushered in the Cambrian period. The Earth froze all
    the way to the equator, and after greenhouse gases accumulated and some melting began, the
    planet was whipsawed to hellish hothouse conditions.
    We live on a planet whose climate is dominated by positive feedbacks, which are capable
    of taking us to dramatically different conditions. The problem that we face now is that many
    feedbacks that came into play slowly in the past, driven by slowly changing forcings, will come
    into play rapidly now, at the pace of our human-made forcings, tempered a few decades by the
    oceans thermal response time.


    Climate Range: �The Garden of Eden�
    (Chart 3: Warm Pool Temperature for Past Million Years)
    Civilization developed during the past several thousand years in the tranquil Holocene,
    temperature hardly changing, shorelines practically fixed. Our infrastructure has been built for
    that planet. Some previous interglacials were warmer than the Holocene, but, with the warming
    of the past few decades, we are now within about 1°C of the warmest interglacial. If we follow
    business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions, the warming this century due to just the fast
    feedback processes will approach 3°C. But surely additional feedbacks would start to come into
    play, with dark evergreen forests moving poleward, tundra melting and possibly releasing
    methane hydrates, ice sheets beginning to shrink. It would be a different planet, with no sea ice
    in the Arctic, with many species of life driven to extinction, with ice sheet disintegration and
    rising sea level out of our control, more intense hot dry conditions in spreading subtropical areas
    such as the western U.S., the Mediterranean, Middle East and parts of Africa. The semi-arid part
    of the United States, stretching from West Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the
    Dakotas is likely to have more extensive droughts and be less suited for agriculture. As
    isotherms move poleward, so too will pests and diseases normally associated with low latitudes.

    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/agu_communicating.pdf

    Tell me why you want to distance science from Lovelock?

    A scientist either should present work, which shows how Lovelock is wrong, or should be quiet. Everything else is downplaying potential risc of climate forceing and has nothing todo with science.
    Yes we can argue the way how he trys to sensible the public about our “hellish” future.

  18. 168
    Ike Solem says:

    RE#164,

    Everything happens ‘naturally’ – but what you are talking about is a problem in academic science departments. Natural systems don’t make any distinction between physics, chemistry and biology – those divisions are products of the development of human scientific inquiry over the last few millenia. The atmosphere isn’t distinguishing between what photosynthetic algae, redwood trees, elephants or human beings do. A molecule of CO2 in the atmosphere is just that – CO2 molecules may have a variable isotopic composition, but they absorb infrared in a very similar manner.

    We are part of these natural systems, like it or not. We breathe in oxygen, eat photosynthetically generated food, and breathe out carbon dioxide, just like beetles, lizards, tigers and blue whales do. Unlike other animals, however, we’ve dug up buried reservoirs of organic hydrocarbons and burned them for energy (heat & work), and this has changed the atmospheric content of CO2 – which traps infrared radiation from the planet’s surface, thereby warming the planet.

    Now, if we had done this very slowly, it might have taken climate about a thousand years to change drastically – which was Arrhenius’ prediction c.1900, However, due to rapid population growth and increased use of fossil fuels for energy, we’ve increased atmospheric CO2 far more rapidly – and everything from basic physics to detailed computer models to actual real-time observations is telling us that the planet is warming very rapidly, with no end in sight uncer business-as-usual scenarios.

    If the planet had had a slightly different geological history, we might have ended up with only 1/2 of the fossil fuels that actually exist – and we’d already be running everything on solar power. However, if we take the remaining fossil fuel reserves and inject them into the atmosphere, the Lovelockian scenario is highly likely. If we stop burning fossil fuels and replace them as soon as possible with renewables, the effects will be severe but hopefully not totally catastrophic.

    I do think Lovelock’s notion of “Gaia’s Revenge” is a little silly and it also promotes the notion that humans are not part of the natural system. In fact, I think that “Gaia Theory” should be renamed. “Pele Theory” (after the notoriously unpredictable Hawaiian volcano goddess) is probably closer to the truth.. though “Earth Systems Science” is really what we are talking about, which is itself just a subset of “Planetary Systems Science”. Scientists don’t need to ‘distance themselves’ from Lovelock, however – any more then they need to distance themselves from Richard Dawkins (put Dawkins and Lovelock in one room, and you have a Punch & Judy show). Actually, anyone can be a scientist – all you have to do is pay attention to what’s going on around you – and access to a scientific education (math, physics, chem, bio, etc.) does help.

    Scientists need to focus on collecting accurate data and comparing that to theoretical (mathematical) predictions. The result of this scientific inquiry into climate over the past century has been this: we are heading into a rapidly warming climate due to human influences on the atmosphere. Scientists who work on converting solar energy (including wind and biofuels) into useful forms of energy will also be following the basic scientific approach of experimental and observational data / theory comparisons.

    What the general public needs is clear scientific explanation of this issue so that societies can mobilize the necessary resources to take the world off of fossil fuels as an energy source, and to replace energy needs using renewables and conservation. However, vested interests in the fossil fuel industry have been doing all they can to prevent this from happening because they are afraid of change, which will undoubtedly be difficult and costly. This nihilistic approach (eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die) is completely irrational – and thanks to sites like RC, and the work of many other people, the information is percolating out to the general public – and the sooner the better.

    If you want more technical details, read all the posts on realclimate, and the references & books cited here. Take a look at all the graphs I linked to in #139 on this thread, for example.

  19. 169
    Thomas Palmer says:

    Just a quick comment on the language of the NYT article. It’s clear to me that the changes that the world is facing, in terms of GW, ocean level rising, increased storm strength, et. al., are potentially catastrophic and will be debilitating (sp) to the world’s social, economic, geo-political, and natural systems. What I wanted to remark on was the use of religious terminology in the article. We haven’t seen the use of “heresy” since the Middle Ages, as if climate change, and all things related, are the New Religion.

    I know there are much greater points to discuss, and I’m an avid follower, but as an English Teacher, I can’t help but notice the words. I wonder what a Climate-Minded place of worship would look like? A scientist’s laboratory? A flooded street in New Orleans?

    I’m currently living in an area of England (West Norfolk) that has been reclaimed from the sea for the last eight centuries or so, known as the Fens. My house sits a precarious few meters above sea level, and the whole area is monitored for flooding, with warning systems in place to alert people to move to higher ground (which, in some cases, is quite a few miles away).

    I have to wonder if I should have started building my ark already…

  20. 170
    pete best says:

    The other issue that the alarmists come back to is the rate of CO2 release which is unprecedented apparantly in earths history. This rate of CO2 release is high and hence we could experience alarming consequences due to unprecedented stress being placed on earths subsystems in which they cannot cope with this rate of warming.

    I am sure that potentially the alarmists could have many valid points regarding sudden warming (by earth climate standards anyways) but at the present time the science does not appear to bear this out. Only James Lovelock seems to embrace the doom of climate change.

  21. 171

    > no one … has proposed a specific quantitative scenario for a climate-driven, blow the doors off, civilization ending catastrophe …

    What about Wally Broecker and his angry beast? He has pointed out that if we get an abrupt climate change with a world populationof 6.5 billion we will be in big trouble. See http://faculty.washington.edu/wcalvin/teaching/Broecker99.html

  22. 172
    Grant says:

    Re: #170

    I am sure that potentially the alarmists could have many valid points regarding sudden warming (by earth climate standards anyways) but at the present time the science does not appear to bear this out. Only James Lovelock seems to embrace the doom of climate change.

    I disagree. The most objective scientific evidence on the effect of sudden climate change is the distant past. The science indicates that in the distant past, sudden climate change may well have been the root cause of mass extinctions.

    This is no way establishes it as a fact! But clearly the science supports Lovelock’s gloomy outlook as a distinct (rather than remote) possibility.

  23. 173
    Craig Moore says:

    With mounting evidence of dynamic climate cycles what real effect can humankind have on interdicting Earth’s natural process? See: http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/20070004210624data_trunc_sys.shtml

  24. 174
    Hank Roberts says:

    Try this assumption: methane hydrates are currently in equilibrium — the amount in solid form is held there by current conditions, rather than having been somehow produced and locked down so it is stable and won’t convert to gas incrememtally as temperature increases.

    Add this assumption: methane hydrate will convert to gas locally, not globally.

    Add this assumption: warming is producing local extremes and spikes, not smooth change.

    I think we’ll soon be hearing reassurances to the effect that, while perhaps it’s true that local areas of gas hydrates are indeed starting to bubble out of the ocean, stirring the sea floor and exposing the remaining solid in the area to further warming, we aren’t at risk of catastrophe because it’s only small local instances where brief moments of extreme warm temperature have occurred due to temporary changes in conditions, and there is no imminent hazard because the overall average temperature isn’t that much higher.

    No, it’s not quantified.

  25. 175
    pete best says:

    Apart from the dramtic climate consequences bit this article says it all to me.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn10507-carbon-emissions-rising-faster-than-ever.html

    450 seems to be inevitable whilst 550 ppm is likely if we keep to business as usual energy burning scenarios. CO2 use must be reduced some how and that with a 50% only fossil fuel allotment, the rest coming from renewables and nuclear I would imagine.

  26. 176
    Grant says:

    Re: #173

    With mounting evidence of dynamic climate cycles what real effect can humankind have on interdicting Earth’s natural process?

    Here’s one: humankind has raised CO2 concentration to levels not seen for, oh, about 23 million years or so.

    Your claim of “mounting evidence of dynamic climate cycles” is laughable; we’ve known that there are dynamic climate cycles for over a century. It seems to me that your statement is a thinly veiled attempt to insinuate that modern climate science is woefully ignorant of the magnitude and significance of natural phenomena. Couldn’t be more wrong.

  27. 177

    0.000450 atmospheric CO2 mole fraction is not inevitable because it takes much less energy to pull a mole of CO2 from that sort of diluteness than is yielded when fossil fuel containing a mole of carbon is burned. Very little of the Earth’s land surface will be needed to zero or make negative our net rate of CO2 emission; to illustrate this I like to say that while a tropical biodiesel farm 100 miles across could support a couple million diesel Hummer clones, the same area dedicated only to CO2 capture and sequestration would not need to be tropical and could make carbon-neutral all the Hummer clones and coal-to-gasoline plants the far east is ever likely to want.

    Nuclear energy has, and will for many centuries continue to have, exceedingly low carbon dioxide emissions, so low that nuclear-powered production of hydrocarbons could readily make them net zero. Assertions to the contrary do not appear to be meant to deceive anyone, merely, like the frequently revisited idiocies of AGW contrarians, to waste time in dispute. If successful they have a similar effect of protecting governments’ fossil fuel tax income.

    As such they usually depend on one or a handful of studies that have not passed peer review, ignoring the work of genuine scholars on the same question. Despite the unwritten mandate to find against nuclear energy that is implied by a UK government charter* the UK’s “Sustainable Development Commission” did dig up those genuine inquiries, and in section 4.4 of their Paper 2: Reducing CO2 emissions – nuclear and the alternatives they say,

    The average amount of CO2 emitted by nuclear power in Western Europe is estimated at 16tCO2/MWh for a Pressurised Light Water Reactor (PWR)… several sources have made estimates around this figure… By contrast, coal emits around 891tCO2/MWh while gas is around 356tCO2/MWh…

    In section 4.7,

    … in a low carbon economy, the indirect emissions from nuclear power, along with other low carbon technologies, would be substantially reduced.

    Section 7.2 gives references, many of them web-accessible.

    * A government that takes very large fossil fuel profits from its subjects in the form of fuel consumption taxes.

  28. 178
    Bryan Sralla says:

    Re #159: Mike, thanks for the weather discussion. I wouldn’t bet on the Weather Channel’s model forecast for above normal in the northeast for the foreseeable future. Take a look at this http://www.cdc.noaa.gov/map/images/ens/t850anom_nhsm_animation.html . Usually the model predictions of cold arctic air are way underdone since a thin layer of cold air oozes out underneath 850 MB. If I were in the NE, I would get ready for a return to winter soon. Promise, no more weather talk.

  29. 179
    guthrie says:

    Cthulhu- your comparison is incredbile. CO2 “science” have avoided the point of the Damon and Laut paper, which is to show that increased solar activity is not responsible for the warming of the past 30 years.

  30. 180
    Ike Solem says:

    Re#179 and #145,

    See http://www.exxonsecrets.org/html/orgfactsheet.php?id=24 for a little background on the “Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change” – they are a public relations group funded by ExxonMobile.

    There are many other such front groups; for example the Competive Enterprise Institute recieves 9% of its funding from Exxon, and runs misleading ads as well:

    http://www.factcheck.org/article395.html
    “The business-backed Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) released two ads last week (May 2006) to “counter global warming alarmism.”

    One of the ads says research shows “The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner. . . Why are they trying to scare us?” Actually, scientists say increased snowfall in Antarctica’s interior is evidence that global warming is taking place. Scientists also say that the ice sheet is melting at the ocean’s edge and a recent report says it is shrinking overall.

    The ads drew a protest from a University of Missouri professor who says they are “a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate.” He said one of them misuses a study he published in Science magazine last year on the Antarctic ice sheet. An editor of Science also said the ads misrepresent the findings of that study as well as a second study on Greenland’s glaciers.

    The second CEI ad notes that carbon dioxide (CO2) is “essential to life,” and says, “they call it pollution. We call it life.” That ad fails to mention that too much CO2 can cause global temperatures to rise or that there is more of it in the atmosphere than any time during the last 420,000 years.”

    Note that the best records only go back 420,000 years (Vostok Ice Core) and a more probable statement is that these are the highest atmospheric CO2 levels seen in over 3 million years.

  31. 181
    David Price says:

    Re 172 Lovelock’s predictions are science fiction. They presume warming far in excess of those predicted by the models. Also Sterns report for the government. The media in Britain treat both as gospel. That is why scientists must publicise the proper data to prevent such things gaining ground.

  32. 182
    Mark A. York says:

    In my self-published memoir about the travels of a seasonal fish biologist wandering through clear-cuts looking for fish, I called for more political involvement by scientists, in order to influence the decision-makers who seem to be divorced from the facts of any matter. Recommend this course? Okay, now we’ll just do the opposite to spite you. Thanks for participating.

  33. 183
    mzed says:

    #166:

    “Perhaps the reception to your comments well illustrates the difficulties in communication. Indeed you never denied that global warming is real and man-made, but several readers took your posts to represent such a denial.”

    Exactly. I can understand _why_ this triggered the reaction, but that doesn’t mean it was justified. Just because I state the same _facts_ as agw deniers doesn’t mean I’m one of them. That goes for anyone else, too. That is one of the points I’m trying to drive home.

    “Discussing the problem in public in “pure, rational scientific terms” may not be the most effective was to motivate action…motivating populations and politicians to action is a social and psychological undertaking”

    Yes, there is nothing wrong with doing both science and policy. But that doesn’t mean they are the same thing. _Science does not imply policy._ People imply policy. I realize it is difficult to keep them separate; I’m just saying we should try.

    “if Churchill had discussed the threat of Nazism in the most cool-headed scientific terms rather than spoken of a “gathering storm,” might it have sabotaged his ability to motivate public opinion? ”

    Yes, but: Naziism was a political problem, not a scientific one!

    #167:

    “The last couple thousand years we had a balanced climate state on earth. And besides natural climate cycles we face now the consequences of our greenhouse gas emission and contributing factors…Now, i agree the science always should be calm and presented in a serious way. But it needs to address the full scale of possibilities.”

    All of this is true, and I agree.

    “I do not agree to just present a part of the scale of consequences. And i do not understand why you or other want to distance themself from a special worst case scenario forecast, specially when everything is at risc!”

    You are right, all possibilities should be presented–but you shouldn’t present a worst-case scenario as though it were inevitable. Otherwise people won’t take you seriously.

    “This is just not right, you are not free to use it however you want!”

    I meant *you personally* can use it as you see fit. Whatever you think is best. I am not arguing about it any more.

    “Tell me why you want to distance science from Lovelock?”

    Lovelock’s reasoning may be correct, but he is talking about events that would require a 5C+ rise in temperatures. Not even the worst-case IPCC scenario calls for that any more. Again, I’m not saying it *couldn’t* happen, but there is little reason to expect it.

    Re-read what I wrote: an editor of RealClimate himself distances himself from Lovelock’s comments. Ask RealClimate themselves if you want an answer, I guess.

    Do you agree with Lovelock that “We desperately need a Moses to take us to the Arctic and preserve civilization”?

  34. 184
    mzed says:

    “We are part of these natural systems, like it or not.”

    Sure, I agree.

    “Now, if we had done this very slowly, it might have taken climate about a thousand years to change drastically”

    Sure, maybe–or not. I’m just saying people need to know the likelihood in order to take it seriously.

    “However, if we take the remaining fossil fuel reserves and inject them into the atmosphere, the Lovelockian scenario is highly likely.”

    Well, that depends on how many reserves there actually are. Not that I would want to try and find out. Again, there is some uncertainty here. And of course the climate could evolve in some unexpected way. Again, not that I would want to try and find out. I’m just trying to say that we should be honest about what we _don’t_ know.

    “Scientists don’t need to ‘distance themselves’ from Lovelock, however – any more then they need to distance themselves from Richard Dawkins”

    Do *you* think we need a Moses to lead all of civilization closer to the arctic circle?

    “(put Dawkins and Lovelock in one room, and you have a Punch & Judy show).”

    Haha

    “Actually, anyone can be a scientist – all you have to do is pay attention to what’s going on around you – and access to a scientific education (math, physics, chem, bio, etc.) does help.”

    Sure, but I’m talking about professional scientists.

  35. 185
    Charles Muller says:

    In my opinion, the two basic ingredients for a dangerous warming in 2100 are
    a- high emission scenario
    b- hight climate sensitivity

    Do we have any certainty in 2007 for a and b ? I don’t think so, even without mitigating actions for a). The point a) depends on the actual oil and gas reserves, and there is no consensus on it (see Witze’s new feature in Nature this week for a recent example). It also depends more broadly on the relative cost of fossil energies compared to renewable ones. The point b) depends on climate models computation, and there is still no consensus on it. The IPCC FAR estimate of 2-4,5°C (and 3°C best guest) seems to come from PDFs of intermodel comparison, but far larger ranges have been published in 2001-2007 litterature (from 1 to 10°C). And anyway, a PDF do not tell us if the convective-radiative / circulation physics of current models is OK for analyzing lapse rate, water vapour and nebulosity feedbacks.

    So, I think it’s not “heresy” but just good sense to be cautious on these two points. From these uncertainties, adopting or not a precautionary principle inspired energy policy is no more a scientific debate. Just a political one. Why not, but is it the role of RC ? I think we should focus more strictly on climate topics.

    Happy new year.

  36. 186
    Eli Rabett says:

    Ike, the EPICA Dome C core is I think now 620K years back. They issued a challenge to modelers to predict what would be shown as they were doing the analysis, and you can see how well the modelers did by following the link (and links from the link).

  37. 187
    Pat Neuman says:

    Re: 183.

    For “anyone” to be a scientist they’d need to have at least one advanced degree in science or engineering. They’d probably also need some peer reviewed articles to be accepted as part of the team and taken seriously. It’s not what you know so much as who you know, and what you did to get where you are.

  38. 188
    sunling says:

    It’s time for a 2.0 consensus, working out diffrent scenarios depending on Co2 emission ppm.

  39. 189
    sunling says:

    Professionals …

    A lifelong inventor, Lovelock has created and developed many scientific instruments, some of which have been adopted by NASA in its program of planetary exploration. It was while working for NASA that Lovelock developed the Gaia Hypothesis.

    In early 1961, Lovelock was engaged by NASA to develop sensitive instruments for the analysis of extraterrestrial atmospheres and planetary surfaces. The Viking program that visited Mars in the late 1970s was motivated in part to determining whether Mars supported life, and many of the sensors and experiments that were ultimately deployed aimed to resolve this issue.

    During work towards this program, Lovelock became interested in the composition of the Martian atmosphere, reasoning that any life forms on Mars would be obliged to make use of it (and, thus, alter it). However, the atmosphere was found to be in a stable condition close to its chemical equilibrium, with very little oxygen, methane or hydrogen, but with an overwhelming abundance of carbon dioxide.

    To Lovelock, the stark contrast between the Martian atmosphere and chemically-dynamic mixture of that of our Earth’s biosphere was strongly indicative of the absence of life on the planet. However, when they were finally launched to Mars, the Viking probes still searched for life there. To date no evidence for either extant or extinct life has been found (though interest has recently revived with the discovery of unexpected methane in the atmosphere).

    Lovelock invented the Electron Capture Detector, which ultimately assisted in discoveries about the persistence of CFCs and their role in stratospheric ozone depletion.

    Lovelock is currently president of the Marine Biological Association (MBA), was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974, and in 1990 was awarded the first Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for the Environment by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. An independent scientist, inventor, and author, Lovelock works out of a barn-turned-laboratory in Cornwall. In 2003 he was appointed a Companion of Honour (CH) by Queen Elizabeth II.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lovelock

    Radio interview with James Lovelock, KQED San Francisco, Sep 13, 2006
    http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R609130900

  40. 190
    sunling says:

    James Lovelock at the Science Media Centre 28/11/06
    Gaia Theory Development
    How did the theory come about? Why was Lovelock ostracised by his peers?
    Rightclick and save as…
    http://www.theecologistdownloads.org.uk/James_Lovelock_28_11_06_Gaia_Theory_Development.mp3
    More, but bad quality
    http://www.theecologist.co.uk/podcasts.asp

  41. 191
    Zeke Hausfather says:

    Stefan,

    Regarding your earlier assertion that Europe could potentially meet 100 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources, you may be a tad overoptimistic. Renewable energy (specifically wind and solar) tends to be problematic at dealing with peak-load demand, given unpredictable fluctuations in energy output (e.g. clouds, calm, storms, etc.). Spacial distribution of energy production is also a huge issue, as renewables tend to require more land per unit of energy output than fossil fuel sources. They are well-suited as primary energy sources (backed up by gas turbines, of course) for rural areas, but cannot effectively supply the majority of the energy needs for densely populated urban areas barring the development of a superconducting massive electrical grid, as you pointed out. However, such a grid would likely be prohibitively expensive.

    In general, most energy models examining GHG mitigation require the utilization of a significant amount of carbon sequestration (a backstop technology) to meet stabilization targets under 550 ppm CO2e. While renewables will certainly play an increasingly important role, existing technologies alone are not enough to yield the 60% to 80% reductions in emissions over the next 50 years that are necessary to avoid a 50% or greater probability of 3 degrees warming.

    For some good general background on energy system changes necessary to meet different GHG stabilization targets, see section three of the Stern Review and the IPCC special report on carbon sequestration. Also, working group III in the upcoming AR4 should have some good information on mitigation potentials for existing technologies and projected future technological development (e.g. learning curves for renewables, sequestration, etc.)

    [Response: The European supergrid currently under discussion is not superconducting, but a conventional grid with around 10 GW capacity. The costs for this are already factored into the study I referred to, which concluded the price of the renewable electricity would be similar to current electricity prices. This study is also based on observed hourly winds, so your concern about fluctuations in wind is fully taken care of. The backup is not by gas turbines but hydro, mostly the huge Norwegian hydro capacity - again, only possible to use that if we have the high-capacity grid! -stefan]

  42. 192

    My personal 5C event

    “How scientific are numbers only?”

    Year Tmax Tm
    1960 28,8
    1961 19,1
    1962 28,4
    1963 24,3
    1964 25,8
    1965 18,9
    1966 17,4
    1967 23,6
    1968 23,6
    1969 19,1 22,9
    1970 19,9 22,01
    1971 21,0 22,2
    1972 21,8 21,54
    1973 27,9 21,9
    1974 24,8 21,8
    1975 18,9 21,8
    1976 28,0 22,86
    1977 21,1 22,61
    1978 26,2 22,87
    1979 18,8 22,84
    1980 17,6 22,61
    1981 19,4 22,45
    1982 20,9 22,36
    1983 24,0 21,97
    1984 23,6 21,85
    1985 28,9 22,85
    1986 16,4 21,69
    1987 24,3 22,01
    1988 21,8 21,57
    1989 29,0 22,59
    1990 32,7 24,1
    1991 28,8 25,04
    1992 23,0 25,25
    1993 18,8 24,73
    1994 24,7 24,84
    1995 23,6 24,31
    1996 25,7 25,24
    1997 34,8 26,29
    1998 21,1 26,22
    1999 25,3 25,85
    2000 28,2 25,4
    2001 32,3 25,75
    2002 27,5 26,2
    2003 29,3 27,25
    2004 22,7 27,05
    2005 26,3 27,32
    2006 23,2 27,07

    Tmax is maximum temperature on 24th of August in each year
    Tm is gliding mean over the last 10 Tmax
    measurement took place in Karlsruhe, Germany

  43. 193
    pete best says:

    Re #172, It is quite plausable that currently little known positive feedbacks can accelerate global warming beyond that of current estimates, however the IPCC have considered these and hence I believe that between 1 and 6 degrees C of warming is the uncertainty in the exiting models.

    The reason why lovelocks science is seen as alarmist (essentially incorrect) is because in the main lovelock is assuming a lot more positive feedback that most scienists will acknowledge at the present time. Feedbacks like the siberian tundra melting and releasing more methane by far than current projections are allowing for which in turn cause more warming.

  44. 194
    Almuth Ernsting says:

    Re 172:
    Lovelock’s predictions of 8 degree C average global warming by 2100 and of strong carbon cycle feedbacks is within the range of projections suggested by Hadley Centre carbon cycle feedback models (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/hadleycentre/models/carbon_cycle/results_trans.html) – they speak of 3 degree C extra warming over and above the 2001 IPCC projections being possible by 2100. So there certainly is a scientific basis for those claims (unfortunately he doesn’t reference his book properly, and readers have to go looking for themselves).

    Those Hadley Centre models can’t have been rejected by the IPCC in 2001 – they hadn’t even been published at the time.

  45. 195
    sunling says:

    Re comment 183

    Yes, but: Naziism was a political problem, not a scientific one!

    And science was able to stop it.

    Do you agree with Lovelock that “We desperately need a Moses to take us to the Arctic and preserve civilization”?

    See bottom link, in which Lovelock discribes exactly this, it’s a methaphor as the gaia hypothesis.

    I understand your reasoning, but your way of dealing with the issue is downplaying it. And you will always find people to disagree specialy on the most important topics. The surveival of the species. And you cant track this down on just Lovelock. One of the biggest Scientist warn about this! Hawking, Hansen, Broecker, Lovelock…
    The problem is its not rational for most of us – to face the extinction of our species in our lifetime(It is indeed a crazy, in compare to every aspect of our lifes).

    Study the above link to find out that the construct of Gaia itself is a mehaphor.
    The thing is, the weather patterns will generate temperature spikes. And when those happen during a heatwave – than will die thousands, hundred of thousand of people. We had such events to give us a taste of future anomalys. Or compare this january temperatures to summer. 7x degree in january (+30C above average), will be happen during summer too (115++). And this is just the start.

    We need to prepare, but in order todo we need the worst case examples.

    What happens if we stay on course just pumping more GHG into the air.
    What will happen if we change x% of energy to renewable.

    And actually eveerything we discuss is answered by Lovelock himself in this file:
    Radio interview with James Lovelock, KQED San Francisco, Sep 13, 2006
    http://www.kqed.org/epArchive/R609130900

  46. 196
    Mark Lutes says:

    A charitable reading of Revkin’s article is that he is muddling his way to a new framing of the debate in the post-Inhofe world: shifting from “denialists vs. believers” to “pragmatic moderates vs. alarmists”.

    But in doing so he would appear to be moving the debate one step forward and then at least one step back, by privileging the minimalist end of the response spectrum.

    He does this by, first, positioning his newly minted “heretic” minimalist response position (actually a fixture of the debate since at least the late 1980s) on the centrist high ground, rather than one end of a spectrum.

    Second, he sets them up as a reasonable and moderate alternative to the “alarmists” who give short thrift to caveats and nuance and actually make statements that might have a chance of stirring their audience out of its complacence, and support calls for urgent action to mitigate climate change.

    Anyone who tries to generate the public concern (a.k.a.: “shrill voices crying doom”) necessary to bring about significant policy shifts (and even, God forbid, emissions caps) is branded an alarmist.

    So we’ve got a situation where people like Roger Pielke and Bjorn Lomborg are presented as sensible middle-of-the-road moderates, just because they don’t deny the problem, while Al Gore and environmental groups are presented as panic-mongering and peddlers of climate p o r n.

    With the deck stacked like this, we might wish we still had Inhofe to kick around.

  47. 197
    Sashka says:

    Given the inordinate attention given on this page to the unusually warm winter in the NE USA, I wonder if anybody will take the same interest in the unusually cold weather in India:

    http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/002200701070313.htm

    No, I’m not saying that it’s a signal of global cooling. No more than cherry trees blossoming in DC signal the warming.

  48. 198
    Hank Roberts says:

    If you want something big and almost completely unknown that might give us Lovelock’s 5 degrees C warming — try Google Scholar for +pingo +methane and look at the 2003-2006 articles.

    Nobody seems to have a clear answer when methane hydrates formed or how — was it at the coldest ice age period? Was it at the deepest ocean period when the pressure was highest at any particular location?

    Nobody seems to have a clear idea when the methane comes back out of the ice either.

    Pingo?

    Nobody has had an answer for what these big conical structures and and pits are on- and off-shore in cold regions. I can’t find any geological record of them though presumably they were created along with the end of each glaciation at the warmest point, as it appears they’re characteristic of places methane ice has outgassed.

    If they only happened around the peak warm millenia after each glaciation then settled down again as the planet slowly cooled off after that peak, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of them to find in the stratigraphic work — anyone know if ‘fossil pingo’ structures are reported anywhere, like the way people find fossil creekbeds and other buried structures from prior epochs?

    If these pointy little bumps out of which methane is bubbling are indications of where and how we get methane hydrate converting to gas, that could explain why they’ve been a mystery to geologists up through the past few years. For a long time they were supposed to be something like ice heaves or hoarfrost, but apparently no.

    If in the glacial cycles of the past they were something that only happened briefly at the peak warming, then we may start finding them breaking out to a surprising extent as the planet goes into its warm excursion.

    Like an episode of heat rash.

    If this happened in past cycles only briefly, as glacial conditions resumed (because keeping methane hydrates solid is a function of both pressure and temperature —- a warm planet with deep oceans would have the high pressure of deep water at any given spot; as the planet cooled toward glaciation the depth of the water would decrease, reducing pressure and favoring release of the methane, but at the same time the temperature would also decrease, favoring keeping it a solid) — then there wouldn’t likely be a lot of pingos formed all the time.

    Just a scattering at the warmest millenia, perhaps?

    If so what’s happening now should be the tail end of a natural few millenia of leaking methane forming pingos.

    But if the last few centuries are warmer, maybe we’re getting a, um, rash of them?
    That would seem predictable as a result of the current spike in temperature, and would give us the extra jump in heat Lovelock anticipates —- because we’re getting the warmth much faster than we’re getting the increased ocean depth, so the methane hydrates should be experiencing conditions outside the normal range and more methane coming out than after any natural glacial cycle peaks. Except maybe the PETM?

    Someone competent in this field, please comment? I’m just digging around in the Google Scholar hits trying to put together some understanding of how much we know about this particular process, using weak tools like logic in the absence of any real scientific competence to understand this stuff. But it’s …. fascinating to watch happen.

    Another example from recent Google Scholar hits:
    Eos Trans. AGU, 85(47), Fall Meet. Suppl., C23A-0989
    TI: Sedimentology and Permafrost Characteristics of Pingo-Like Features (PLFs) from the Beaufort Sea shelf, NWT, Canada

    “Pingo-like features (PLFs) are rounded positive relief features commonly found on Beaufort Sea shelf, NWT. PLFs occur in water depths from 20 to 200m, are typically a few hundred meters in diameter and rise 10 to 35m above the seafloor. In the fall of 2003, an MBARI-USGS-GSC-DFO coring and geophysical study was undertaken of a number of PLFs. The crests, flanks and moats of 8 PLFs, as well as background shelf sites, were vibra-cored. Upon recovery, core temperatures of moat sediments ranged from 2.0 to -0.5 deg C and no ice bonding was observed. Sediments consisted of dark-olive-grey to black muds with shells. Sedimentary structures were rare with some finely laminated to finely-color-banded beds. Intense bioturbation, in situ marine shells and a lack of terriginous macrofossils suggest moat sediments were deposited in a shallow coastal environment. In some instances, a down core grain size coarsening was observed with higher organic content suggesting a gradational environment towards more lagoonal conditions. Core temperatures from the 8 PLFs were 0 to -1.7 deg C, significantly colder than the moat sediments. Ice-bonded permafrost was encountered within 1m of the seabed with visible ice content up to 40% by volume. Several ice-bonded intervals were preserved frozen for detailed investigation in the lab. The observed ground ice in the cores was quite unique when compared with visible ice forms commonly seen in regional terrestrial sections. The ice gave the core a vuggy texture with individual ice-filled vugs 10 to 200 mm3. Vugs were typically flattened to ovoid. When thawed, the ice produced excess water resulting in a very soft texture. In many cases the vuggy texture was maintained with sediment voids forming where the ice was. PLF crest sediments were massive silty clays with clayey silts and muddy fine sand interbeds. They generally lack sedimentary structures, although this may have been due to sediment structure loss upon thawing. The background seafloor sediments consisted of unfrozen, massive silty sands and sandy silts and were distinct from the crest and moat sediments. … Research continues to determine the origin of the PLFs and quantify the role of permafrost and ice formation. “

  49. 199
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    re: 197

    I’ve always figured that it was axiomatic that before the temperature increases of GW became large enough to be there with us always that the chief meteorological feature of GW would be an increase in weather extremes: hotter hots, colder colds, wetter wets, and drier dries. The extra energy in the atmosphere would show up first in knocking the old patterns into a cocked hat. More energy means greater variety and a greater degree of discernible detail: big rains, crippling droughts, killing heat, frosts in June. That kind of thing.

  50. 200
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Re #181, I think the models cannot tell us what the actual carbon input will be; that partly depends on what we people do and how nature responds, and is NOT some preset figure or limit. Scientists have figured a sensitivity range for 2X carbon input into the atmosphere, but the actual input could be greater than 2X, both from human emissions and nature’s emissions as the world warms & permafrost and ocean clathrates melt. Reduced albedo from melting snow/ice and land-use adding to the warming also need to be considered, re how much carbon nature emits as a response to that warming.

    So we really need to look at how much hotter it could possibly get according to past warming episodes (and even past warmings could conceivably be exceeded), which someone earlier on this site suggested was 6 degrees C. That much warming may not be highly likely by 2100, but it could be for 2200 or later, and we could reach a tipping point any time now (or may have already done so), beyond which even drastic reductions in human emissions will not stop this positive feedback, runaway (from human control) situation of increased GHG emissions from nature & the consequent increased warming (warming–>nature’s emissions/reduced albedo–>more warming–>nature’s greater emissions/greater albedo reduction–>and so on).

    6 degrees may not sound like much, but that’s the increase that made 95% of life on earth go extinct during the end-Permian 251 mya. Mark Lynas’s book SIX DEGREES will be out in March this year, and he takes us step-by-step re what each degree increase will mean in terms of harm to earth. From what I understand, even a 2 degree increase will be really horrible, so 6 degrees would be hell-on-earth.

    Once the glaciers melt 40% of India and China (& many other peoples around the world) will be at risk of starvation. The glacier melt-water is needed to feed irrigation canals, but once glaciers are melted, there will be destruction from flooding in winter, and drought with no rivers/canals during the growing season. And this is only one of hundreds of types of harms we face.

    It’s even conceivable that Lovelock may be wrong about one million people surviving; maybe humans will go extinct, esp when you consider how people tend to turn against each other when things get bad. At this point everything is on the table, including human viability. Such cataclysm (if it were to happen) might not happen this century, but it might within several centuries or millennia, with the tipping point in this century, maybe the next. Scientists can’t really say this WON’T happen with 99% certainty, and no one knows when the tipping point will be (though after-the-fact I’m sure science (if it’s still around) will be able to tell us).

    It behooves us to reduce our GHG emissions now–certainly in all ways that save money & make economic sense, but even in ways that use our “loose change.” While earlier generations unknowingly contributed to this problem, we are the generation responsible for averting it. By the next generation, it will probably be too late if we do not step up to the plate immediately and stop this. We are the “RESPONSIBLE GENERATION.”


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