The Sheep Albedo Feedback

The recognition of the role of sheep albedo opens up some fascinating new possibilities for climate change mechanisms. There is in fact an important destabilizing feedback in the system: as climate gets warmer, there is less demand for wool sweaters and wooly underwear. Hence the sheep population tends to drop, leading to even more warming. In an extreme form, this can lead to a "runaway sheep-albedo feedback," which is believed to have led to the present torrid climate of Venus. Most researchers do not think this could happen on Earth, though. In fact, Oprah and Averell Chanteur, authors of the popular "Unstoppable" series (soon to be a major motion picture) say that the warming will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, with less enslavement of domestic wool-bearing animals. The hypothesis is laid out in their forthcoming book, "Unstoppable Sheep, every five or six days," which expands on earlier popular titles in the series, such as "Unstoppable daylight, every 42 hours," "Unstoppable Summer, every 17 months, " and the ever-popular autobiographical work "Unstoppable nonsense, every two or three years."

However, Dirk Blitzen, noted researcher from Hogwartz Institute of Technology, has proposed an additional wrinkle on the sheep-albedo idea, which he calls the "sheep-Iris effect" (see Dasher et al. [4] for details). According to Blitzen, a reanalysis of Landsat images shows that as the climate gets warmer, sheep tend to huddle together less. Since wool has a lower emissivity than bare ground, the lack of huddling allows more infrared emission to escape from the ground, cooling the planet and stabilizing its climate. "Frankly, I don’t see how the climate can change much at all," stated Blitzen in recent testimony before the House of Lords, "To be honest, at this point I have a little trouble figuring out how there can even be summer and winter. In the end, I think it will turn out to be a problem with the data." Ozark Junior College satellite expert Jhon Chrystal agrees; his new analysis of MSU satellite data in fact casts doubt on the "consensus" that summer and winter have different temperatures.

But the sheep story may not be as simple as it seems. Hendreck Svampmark of the Danish Institute for Solar-Sheep Interactions notes that at the same time the number of sheep has been going down, the number of cows (which have a lower albedo than sheep) has been going up. "We believe that what is really behind it all are Galactic Cowsmic Rays, which are transmuting sheep DNA into cow DNA." Svampmark hypothesizes a currently undetected particle flux, which he calls "Cowsmic," because there is no observed trend in any of the better-known components of the Galactic Cosmic Ray flux. "We are trying to get money to put sheep in dark-matter accelerators to test our hypothesis, but there’s a hold-up with PETA. It’s all a big conspiracy to protect the consensus, I say."


[1] Noh-Watt, Ewe "Sheep-Albedo Feedback: A paradigm shift for climate change science." To be submitted to Readers’ Digest, "Humor in Uniform" section.

[2] Squeak, P.P. & Diddlesworth, I.R. 1987. The influence of ptarmigan population dynamics on the thermal regime of the Laurentide Ice Sheet : the surface boundary condition. In eds Edwin D. Waddington & Joseph S. Walder, The Physical Basis of Ice Sheet Modelling (Proceedings of a symposium held during the XIX Assembly of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics at Vancouver, August 1987), p.381-384.

[3] Benestad, a well-known spoilsport, points out that without the "optimized" smoothing out of the sheep-albedo-dip in the 1970’s, the correlation breaks down; it breaks down further if one looks at the pre-1966 record. His unprocessed version of the data is shown below:

[4] Dasher ON., Dantzer ON, Prantzer ON, Vixen ON, Comet ON, Cupid ON Donner . , and Blitzen, D.R , (2007) "Why does Rudolf’s nose glow so bright? Infrared effects of mammalian herd behavior." Bull. Tromsø Inst. Reindeer Husbandry

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206 comments on this post.
  1. Doug Lowthian:

    Problem solved. Mutton anyone? :)

  2. stephan harrison:

    Be careful… know that Melanie Phillips, Phillip Stott, Monckton and other famous scientists will all be using this in their next op-eds.

  3. Tim McDermott:

    What a cheery thing for a Sunday morning. Thank you.

  4. Teague Morris:

    My compliments on what I can only assume is a fine example of rapier sharp analysis!

  5. Charles Raguse:

    Do you suppose Ian Helmut is responsible?

  6. tamino:

    Meanwhile, former vice president All Gory has effectively refuted the sheep-albeod hypothesis with an academy-award winning documentary based on his “Hannibal Lecture.” The film, “Silence of the Lambs,” has spun more yarn than any documentary in history.

  7. Neau Watt (Noh's brother):

    Oh, you climate scientists really have been pulling the wool over our eyes!

  8. Jim Roland:

    It’s putting mutton on the barbie that’s the big problem, as today’s Mail on Sunday (UK) reported:

    Council inspectors to demand £5 ‘carbon offset’ for barbecues

    It is one of the timeless rituals of the new globally-warmed great British summer: firing up the barbecue and slinging on a steak.

    But people who choose to burn charcoal may have to think twice – as councils now have swinging new powers to force homeowners to buy ‘carbon offsets’ before they light up or face a £50 fine.

    Sign our petition here: ‘We say NO to the garden snoopers’

  9. Pat Cassen:

    Ridiculous! Eighty percent of the factors affecting sheep population dynamics are not understood.

  10. Roger Coppock:

    These results agree with the work of the late
    great I.P. Mypants, which cites the mass of
    growing stockpiles of National Graphic back
    issues as a threat to the continued spin of the
    Earth on its axis.

  11. Hank Roberts:

    Indubitably, a tippling point.


  12. Osame Kinouchi:

    But how about black sheeps???

  13. Manboy:

    I am the black sheep of my family. I warm the planet by increasing the lavaflows ! Or something.

  14. John L. McCormick:

    Ray, are you pulling the fleece over our troposphere or is this another example you scientists doing it to US flock of taxpayers?

  15. Hank Roberts:

    In related news:

  16. Allen M Solomon:

    A fine satire indeed! But, what do I tell the non-specialists who wonder if they should no longer pursue temperate zone carbon sequestration in forests because “albedo differences cancel out atmospheric CO2 differences, according to the Livermore folks”? I cannot seem to come up with either enought information on the model application (e.g., what are albedo values for forests [all forests?] and grass/shrublands [all grass/shrublands in all growing seasons?])or an educated review of the assumptions made in this set of model experiments. Help! (seriously, folks!).
    Al Solomon

  17. DJ:

    On April 1st, those who believe what they read will end up feeling sheepish.

  18. roketa:

    Luckily there are only few black sheeps. And now i finally understand what is wrong with them.

  19. Bob Reiland:

    Ewe has got to be kidding!

  20. Charles Muller:

    #8 Precisely, the existence of black sheeps wonderfully fit the new theory, alternate black-and-white dominance in sheep populations explaining most of the so-called “natural variability” of climate. That’s why there’s another implication Raypierre forgot with this ground-breaking hypothesis: a robust explanation of the famous Medieval Optimum.

    It is very likely (>90%) that Viking sheep populations initiated a decadal-to-centennal circulation change on Northern latitudes, first a warming phase (because there was probably a majority of black sheeps in the initial population, behaving as perfect four-legs black bodies re-emitting the solar radiation they fully capture), then a cooling phase (because black sheeps were probably killed by hyperthermia, so the white individuals got an adaptative advantage over them, and the sheep albedo effect strongly enhanced the re-glaciation of Greenland and all peri-arctic zone). IMO, the match is perfect, the case is closed, we must now urgently send 5 or 6 billions of white sheeps in the higher troposphere in order to stabilize climate and prevent any dangerous change in the next millenia.

  21. Sherwood Lykarays:

    It doesn’t matter. Volcanoes produce more wool annually than sheep do.

  22. Joop Varekamp:

    Thanks for a great story- your wool-climate feedback loop is equivalent to my “furst” article on this topic arguing that the historic fur trade may have been a driver for climate change: the Europeans wanted to stay warm, hunted down the beavers, the eradication of the beavers led to the disappearance of beaver ponds and that led to a greatly diminished methane flux, et voila – the Little Ice Age was born (Eos, 87, #53, 26 December, 2006). I may need the help of Dr. Frusen-Gladje to get the statistics right on that one.

    Joop Varekamp, Wesleyan University, CT

  23. RAC:

    Baa Humbug!

  24. Mark A. York:

    Hilarious Ray. Problem solved, but sheep are especially tough on streams so the affect on water quality is steep.

  25. gm7:

    So realclimate has finally gone completely insane..

  26. Lou Grinzo:


    (Comment applies to both the article and the preceding comments.)

  27. AndrewM:

    I’m amazed this made it through peer review. It’s little more than a subtle reworking of the 1977 thesis by BoPeep & Lamb, which gained great traction amongst the climate science community at the time but was completely discredited when a rigorous analysis of frozen sheep dropping cores proved conclusively that temperature rise preceded sheep population decline by some 800 days.

  28. Stephen Berg:

    Re: #25, “So realclimate has finally gone completely insane..”

    Ummm, dude, look at the date…

  29. gm7:

    @ Stephen Berg

    got you twice!?!

  30. hibiscus:

    oh, please, please, please leave this on the site. please. don’t break my link….

    [Response: Don’t worry, we will. -eric]

  31. Hank Roberts:

    If you’d like to, er, ruminate over this whole process, there’s a flash animation here. For ‘Daisy’ imagine instead a sheep:

  32. Isaac Held:

    Ray, you have inspired me to resurrect my own closely related “Ewe-nified Theory of Climate”. The warming of Pluto still presents a challenge to this framework, admittedly.

    [Response: Isaac, I hope your treatment incorporates some of the recently discussed second order terms that are ignored in the linear theory discussed here, and which are necessary to support Lamb waves. -mike]

  33. Fabien Bulabois:

    What’s the date today again? April 1st, right? Good to see you have a healthy sense of humour; it gives your work and this website even more credibility.

  34. Julian Flood:

    This subject is far too serious to be taken in this light-hearted way. Anyone with the least knowledge of the causes of global warming knows that sheep lanolin (a particularly adhesive substance which is washed from sheep’s wool) is a very potent greenhouse oil. Spreading from the sewers to the surface of the ocean, it reduces wave action, making stilling wells over-read, reducing the mechanical mixing necessary to pull down CO2 (and, by leaving the surface layer poorly mixed, also leading to anomolously high SSTs). Wave entrainment is less, particulate production is lowered and cloud formation over the polluted ocean falls — leading to lower albedos and to more warming. Upwelling suffers because of reduced evaporation and so nutrient levels fall. The last encourages C4 metabolism in phytoplankton and fools the world’s scientists into thinking that the change in isotopic concentrations is anthropogenic rather caused than by reduced fractionation by C4 plants raining out the heavier isotopes to the deep sea ooze.

    There is no part of global warming which cannot be explained by lanolin. Or maybe oil spills. Or surfactants. I forget which.

    JF for the TRUE cause of global warming. (To save time, it’s oil spills)

  35. Alexander Ac:

    Nice first april joke

    The situation is not that critical, one would think ;-)

    But still, how many sheeps to be need, to have an significant effect? ;-)

    But we don’t have to forget – the sheeps are emitting CO2 and they also eat the grass! :-D

  36. Alexander Ac:

    Maybe we should paint all the building, animals and trees :-D
    The brigther colour we use, the better!! :-)

  37. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 33, Julian, that is your opinion.

    Where did you get your information? Do you trust that information? And, lacking scientific consensus on your belief, how can government leaders propose a cap and trade program to mitigate sheep lanolin effluent?

  38. J.C.H:

    Was this shear reviewed?

  39. Paul M:

    New Zealand lamb chops have always tasted better than their counterparts in other places of the world. Now I know why.

  40. Julian Flood:

    Re 37: a consensus of scientist* at Lodge Farm Cottage is adamant that the ocean surface pollution hypothesis explains everything.

    Deniers claim that warming is caused by the insulating property of sheeps’ coverings but — wait for it, wait for it — they’re just trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

    *A level, 1964…

    (Joking aside, I do wonder about stilling wells.)

  41. Patrick Kennedy:

    How about the offsetting effects of the “bald guy” albedo phenomenon? Was that accounted for? Now that more people are living longer the planet has more bald guys reflecting radiation back into space. Surely that is more than enough to compensate for the increased aborption resulting from fewer sheep.

  42. weather tis better...:

    #10 Surely you know science has shown that if all the National Geographics stored in attics around the country were disposed of, the continent would be 6″ higher, obviously compounding the effects of warming.

  43. g dungworth:

    No doubt a few eyes will water in the US administration, when they learn how to make a U turn on Global Warming.

  44. Aaron Lewis:

    Wrong! White sheep leave black pellets behind them, net effect is zero! Black sheep absorb the extra heat, thereby needing somewhat less food and leaving fewer black pellets behind them.

  45. Jeffrey Davis:

    Enough woolgathering! Back to controversy and despair.

  46. Roy Turnbull:

    This research would also seem to confirm the canniness (that’s Scots for cleverness, I think)of collie dogs, whose job is to look after sheep. Just consider, collies are both black and white so whatever the future holds, whether global warming or the next ice age, they can argue that they are necessary. I reckon collie dogs are set to take over the world.

  47. Gareth:

    I knew Ray’s NZ trip would pay a dividend (he was even on the radio, folks)…

    However, spending all his time with our modelling community he missed out on some of the shearing-edge research being conducted by the New Zealand Wool Board and the Wine Institute – code-named the vin de mouton project. Under normal conditions, turning an old sheep paddock into a vineyard would be a climate “double whammy” – loss of sheep albedo effect made worse by the heat-absorbing canopy of a growing vineyard (see here for an example).

    The research programme began by exploring the concept of “wool offsets”, where vineyards could purchase sheep in other parts of the country to offset their warming effect, but it quickly became obvious that this would be difficult to monitor and implement. Sheep on south-facing slopes, for instance, have a much lower albedo effect than those on north-facing slopes (remember, this is the southern hemisphere). Trials with GPS monitoring of sheep movements in rolling hill country did show that the animals do seek out sunnier spots on colder days, but this was affected by fleece length (more fleece, less need for external heat) and by the animals’ need for shade in hot weather.

    Recent work has established that the only way to make the wool offset concept work is to apply it at the vineyard level. Each vineyard maintains its own flock of sheep (about one sheep to 100 vines), and they are grazed between the vines at regular intervals – good for weed control and fertilisation, though they do have a tendency to like vine leaves (especially sheep with Greek bloodlines). This can be overcome by timing the application of sheep to the vineyard so that they animals can assist with leaf pruning to expose grape bunches to sunlight. The sheep are also fed all the prunings, and early results indicate that this diet significantly reduces the methane produced compared with an all-grass diet. Feed the sheep the grape skins left after the fruit is crushed for wine-making, and the sheepmeat develops a wonderful dark colour and marvellous flavours. Vine-fed lamb is expected to begin trial marketing soon, and it is expected to be a hit with gourmets in all our export markets (except, possibly, France).

    The effect of sheep on wine quality is however a little more problematic. The flavour of sauvignon blanc – NZ’s flagship varietal – has been likened to “cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush”, and with overuse of wool offsets this can be a little more like “ram’s pee on a blackcurrant bush”. Trials with different breeds are continuing, and currently it looks as though merinos are the most benign on the basis of final bouquet.

    Perhaps when Ray returns, I might induce him to join in the taste-testing process?

  48. David B. Benson:

    I think I’ve been taken for a shearing…

  49. Brian:

    I’m disappointed. This article is far too alambist.

  50. Brian:

    By the way, I’ve heard that Channel 4 is commissioning a new documentary promoting this hypothesis. It is to be called “The Great Global Warming Spindle.”

  51. Pete:

    I have to take some moral responsibility for this problem since I’m a glutton for mutton.

    I pledge that for each sheep I eat, I will buy two credits to add to the mutton offset flock.

  52. Gene Hawkridge:

    I’m glad to see that serious thinkers can still laugh at themselves. Yes, it is April 1st, isn’t it? And it reminds us all the positive corelations do not always equal cause and effect. Still, if butterflies can cause typhoons (chaos theory), perhaps there is a subtle relationship between sheep numbers and climate…

  53. Dave Rado:

    So the Sheep and Ewes Protection Project (SEPP)were right all along, and
    Friends of Sheep (FoS) were on the Ball too, it would seem.

  54. Justin:

    But how can this be? We’ve had warming in the past when sheep didn’t exist, haven’t we?

  55. T Aust:

    So both the CO2 induced climate change hypothesis and the no sense of humour of climate xhange supporters hypothesis are in the word of the the Myth Busters “busted”

  56. fragment:

    The sheep theory relies on paleo-agricultural reconstructions based on proxy data collected from second-hand clothing stores. These are sparse and the correlation between recent warming and jersey numbers is almost certainly a result of the decline in hand-knitting rather than indicative of any connection between climate and woollen garments. When I attempted to replicate the results of the reconstructions, I discovered that they vastly over-estimate the significance of just one item: the so-called Waimate cardigan. Furthermore, the exact stitches of many of the garments are not publicly archived, nor are the sizes of the knitting needles inferred.

  57. Russ Doty:

    Ve haf yust lert to grow vool on tuna mit a gene implant and now dis! Does this mean der fish von’t need der vool? Ve ver hoping to develop a species ve could catch mit velcro and do avay mit dem nets so harmful to der dolphin.

  58. DrYak:

    I have rock-solid photographic evidence against this hypothesis –

    Everyone knows that the apparent decline in NZ sheep population is a statistical artifact based on the decision of the NZ govenment to classify certain genetically engineered sheep as full citizens after the recent tragic events cronicled in the documentary:

    Ewe have been warned…

  59. LogicallySpeaking:

    This is a ludicrous proposal.. research shows that the sheep-albedo index lags behind temperature change.

  60. Marion Delgado:

    So to beat so-called global warming all we need are more placid, unthinking sheep reproducing in serious numbers. Exactly what I’ve been saying all along, you Greenie junk scientists!

  61. danny bee:

    I call this climate candle. take a look!

  62. Richard Ordway:

    This sheepish theory is blaaaatently false. Everyone knows that there were many more sheep in England during the medieval warming than exist today… and the whole world was at least 10 C warmer then compared to today because of it.

    … And by the way, the reason that there are so few black sheep today, is that the Icelandic and Colorado crocodiles ate them to near-extinction 6000 years ago during a flood.

  63. Mark A. York:

    There was no April Fool’s reporting from 60 Minutes reporter Scott Pelly. He did a dynamite piece from Chile and Antarctica with the U. Maine scientist. It was like watching chapters from my novel being filmed.

  64. Fernando Magyar:

    An astronomer, a physicist and a mathematician (it is said) were holidaying in Scotland or New Zealand. Glancing from a train window, they observed a black sheep in the middle of a field.

    “How interesting,” observed the astronomer, “all aScottish sheep are black!”

    To which the physicist responded, “No, no! Some Scottish sheep are black!”

    The mathematician gazed heavenward in supplication, and then intoned, “In Scotland there exists at least one field, containing at least one sheep, at least one side of which is black.”

    Poster’s comment: They really should have brought in a statistician to analyze the data and extrapolate the results. Then after much debate they would have arrived at a consensus and published a paper suggesting it might be time to flip the sheep over to reduce the impact of Sheep Induced Global Warming. At least if the SIGW denialists were proven right and this resulted in the begining of a Sheep Induced Ice Age, all that would be needed is for a few mathematicians to be brought in to flip the sheep again shear them and knit woolen sweaters for everyone.


  65. Chuck Booth:

    I accidentally posted this on the IPCC Sea Level Numbers thread. So, I’ll repost it here:

    A bit off topic, but this might be of interest:

    Climatologists Secure Funding To Breed Glaciers In Captivity
    March 30, 2007

    FAIRBANKS, AK. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received a $42 million federal grant for a captive-glacier breeding project that will attempt to spawn three to five of the massive, slow-moving bodies of land-carving ice by 2020…

  66. James:

    I don’t think you all have realized the full implications of this theory yet. Sheep come in various colors, though for various genetic reasons white is dominant. So we apply a bit of genetic engineering to change the color selection ratios, and presto! We now have full control of climate.

    However, it seems that there may be another factor at work. The researchers were naturally using sheep albedo values that were measured in the lab, using clean white sheep. Sheep in the field readily pick up particulate matter, which results in a significant lowering of their albedo. Pollution control laws enacted in the latter half of the 20th century substantially decreased the amount of airborne particulates, increasing sheep albedo and thus producing the so-called “global cooling” noted in the ’60s &’70s. The recent increase in particulates from Chinese power plants has again reduced average sheep albedo (particularly in Mongolia), causing the warming to resume.

    On the subject of China, further research is definitely needed into how their occupation of Tibet has affected the closely-related yak albedo effect. Humm… Maybe it’s not too late to switch fields so I can get in on all this government grant money…

  67. Dick Veldkamp:

    Good article!

    Only I am missing any reference to seasonal influence (sheep shearing resulting in albedo change), which strongly suggests correlation (causation?) with varying CO2 concentration during the year. All the more so since both variations are very small.

    Also you do not disucss why sheep albedo is lagging CO2 concentration by 7-8 days.

  68. Trinifar:

    I haven’t had so much fun with climate science, well, ever! Many thanks for the post and the great comments.

    Since I once helped sheer 30 (white) sheep I think I’ve done my part to fight global warming.

  69. Caspar Henderson:

    You guys may poo poo the solar rays, but cosmologico-astrologico-zoodaical-zoologico-bovinical forces are definitely at work as this month we are in the constellation Aries

  70. Alastair McDonald:


    You have presented an interesting new hypothesis, but I am rather disappointed that no-one seems to have applied to it the scepticism that new ideas normally receive. Perhaps this was due the considerable reputation of its author. However, appeals to authority should not be used to justify scientific theories so I will ignore that aspect just this once.

    As I see it, your hypothesis is that global warming is due to the decline in the sheep population of New Zealand and this is justified by the correlation shown in the unnumbered figure. But correlation does not imply causation. The only time when that is acceptable is in showing that the validity of climate models are correct, where the outgoing long wave spectrum they calculate matches that measured by satellites. It is easy to show that this is justified, because it is an excellent example of where the exception proves the rule. Moreover, it is balanced by the dismissal of the satellite data which contradicts the models by showing less warming at the top of the troposphere than they predict.

    However, IMHO, it is not just your method which is faulty. The science is also wrong. Surely you are aware that global warming is controlled by the temperature of the atmosphere near the tropopause. One of the wonders of the atmospheric system is how this small layer of air at high altitude can communicate through the overturning region of the atmosphere and so directly control the surface temperature. This is achieved through the lucky effect of LTE (local thermodynamic equilibrium.) The amazing fact is that although the boundary layer is never in thermodynamic equilibrium, because of the diurnal solar heating cycle, yet like the rest of the troposphere it too is in local thermodynamic equilibrium. (BTW, I have made some calculations of this effect and LTE will indeed happen in the boundary layer for an instant twice per day, with the same frequency as a stopped watch.)

    There is another point which you seem to have ignored which is that although the albedo of the earth can be changed by the size of the sheep population, that effect will play very little part in global temperature. Most of the albedo of the earth is provided by the clouds and since we cannot model them correctly, then global albedo has to be treated as a constant. It would be wrong to use the change in albedo from sheep when changes in their population might trigger alterations in cloud density. Don’t forget that they graze nearer the clouds than other ruminants, and so will have a greater effect on the clouds.

    On a more serious note, you should realise that albedo is no longer considered an effect that is important. Long ago the global energy balance equation:

    sigma Te^4 = (1 – A) /4

    was proved to yield the wrong value for the surface temperature. It is the effect of greenhouse gases which keep this planet suitable for life. By emphasising the effects of albedo (A in the above equation) you are only bringing attention to an equation that has only survived because the sceptics cannot accept that it is greenhouse gases, and greenhouse gases alone , which drive global warming.

    Finally, on that theme of giving comfort to the enemy who doubt the infallibility of climate science, I am surprised and deeply disappointed that your views have been published. The IPCC have disregarded the possibility of a collapse of the Greenland ice sheet and the consequent rapid sea level rise, which is the only real threat to our prosperous western life style. Far from alerting us to an imminent danger, your idea is obviously a stunt to promote the sales of cardigans and jumpers, by creating sympathy for the poor sheep farmers who are being driven to extinction by AGW. Since you are obviously being funded by the New Zealand Federation of Local Enterprise and Environmental Committees for Education (FLEECE) then your ideas should be treated with the same contempt as those of other professors who are funded by the coal lobby. It is obvious that under cover of trying to keep us warm, your real intention is to fleece us!

  71. Sarah:


  72. Juola (Joe) A. Haga:

    As a daisy recently eaten by a sheep, my response to Hank Roberts’s #31 is muted(–mooted?). Without enlightenment does climate real?

  73. Barton Paul Levenson:

    I actually thought this was a real article at first, though I didn’t have to read down very far before running into clues like the names of the researchers. Boy, did I feel sheepish.

  74. pete best:

    Dr. Ewe Noh-Watt – ha ha – classic.

  75. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 43

    And while we are on the subject:

    [No doubt a few eyes will water in the US administration, when they learn how to make a U turn on Global Warming.

    How do you make a British sheep do a U turn?

    Flash a pair of Brittany shears.

  76. Terry Miesle:

    RE:59 and 67.
    Albedo must not be confused with the seasonal Lanolin Insulative Effect. After shearing, the LIE is reduced, allowing terrestrial heat to escape more rapidly to the atmosphere. Though transient, the LIE is significant.

    I refer you to Dr. Bruce’s work at the Univ. of Woolamaloo.

  77. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    Well, at least now we can get some sleep. No need to count ewe-noh-watt anymore…

  78. Alvia Gaskill:

    Scientists Debate Use of Animals as Global Warming Fix

    By OVIS ARIES, Unaffiliated Press Writer
    1 hour, 18 minutes ago

    WASHINGTON, DC – A recently issued report on global warming fixes sponsored by NASA , the National Albedo and Sheep Administration was the subject today of a tense and at times bizarre hearing of the Sen. Subcommittee on Reflective Farm Animals.

    The report, which catalogued various schemes for reducing the impact of climate change was ridiculed by ranking member Jim Imhott as a hoax and worthy of a “Golden Fleece Award,” for wasting taxpayer dollars, noting that his conclusions were based on a separate report issued last week by NAS. Imhott later admitted to reporters that the NAS he was referring to was actually the National Association of Shepherds and not the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

    Those testifying included noted livestock modeler Ken Cowdairy of the Carnation Institute who presented the results of computer simulations showing that since sheep are somewhat mobile, their impact on scattering of sunlight will depend on their location at any given time. “You heard it here first,” he said.

    Proposals were also described that involved increasing the size and shape of sheep in order to maximize the amount of reflected sunlight. Several companies already claim to have bioengineered sheep that are almost entirely flat on the top, while others said that sheep the size of small cars are only a few years away.

    Witnesses also claimed to have been seen evidence of military involvement in the projects, stating that the number of clouds resembling sheep have increased in recent years, although senators forced one advocate of the so-called SheepTrail conspiracy theory to admit he also saw clouds resembling dogs, cars and even former Golden Girls star Bea Arthur.

    A leaked document sparked much debate when it was revealed that the Bush Administration had secretly implored the IPCC to consider lifting the ban on wearing white after Labor Day while publicly arguing the contrary.

    Noted climate blog poster Alvia Gaskill said that while some of the solutions proposed are “shear nonsense,” the answer to global warming will “require more gas skill than we have ever marshalled before.”

  79. J.C.H:

    Bad ewe jokes.

    Bad mutton jokes.

    Bad shear jokes.

    I think you’re just tossing out a scapegoat here.

    Somebody mentioned the Bush administration, so I’m certain the bad “why sheep are always nervous” jokes are soon to follow.

  80. Jeff:

    Shear brilliance ;^ )

  81. Walt Bennett:

    Almost as good as Google’s Toilet (T)ISP, which was also unveiled yesterday.

    Good fun, boys, now back to work!

  82. Dave Frame:

    Nice study. Myron Ebell and pals ought to love this. Shows that global warming is entirely the fault of the European Union’s protectionist policies: the main thing responsible for the decline of the NZ sheep industry was Britain joining the EEC.

  83. John L. McCormick:

    Folks, This is for real.

    The New York Times just reported the US Supreme Court handed down its opinion on EPA regulating CO2;

    see link which includes link to the entire opinion:

    The story leads off with the following:

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ordered the federal government on Monday to take a fresh look at regulating carbon dioxide emissions from cars, a rebuke to Bush administration policy on global warming.
    In a 5-4 decision, the court said the Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars.

  84. Roger Pielke Jr.:


    Advocating for sheep as a solution to global warming, only adds further evidence that climate science is fully politicized.

  85. Zeke Hausfather:

    Yep, the new supreme court decision is pretty unambiguous in its language. On page five of the decision, we find the real kicker:

    “Under the Act’s clear terms, EPA can avoid promulgating regulations only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do. It has refused to do so, offering instead a laundry list of reasons not to regulate, including the existence of voluntary Executive Branch programs providing a response to global warming and impairment of the President’s ability to negotiate with developing nations to reduce emissions. These policy judgments have nothing to do with whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change and do not amount to a reasoned justification for declining to form a scientific judgment. Nor can EPA avoid its statutory obligation by noting the uncertainty surrounding various features of climate change and concluding that it would therefore be better not to regulate at this time. If the scientific uncertainty is so profound that it precludes EPA from making a reasoned judgment, it must say so. The statutory question is whether sufficient information exists for it to make an endangerment finding. Instead, EPA rejected the rulemaking petition based on impermissible considerations. Its action was therefore “arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” §7607(d)(9). On remand, EPA must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the statute.”

  86. Janis Mara:

    I am of course excited about the Supreme Court news, but I cannot rest until I have debunked the horrendous falsehoods perpetuated by Dirk Blitzen and his idiotic so-called “sheep-iris” effect. Clearly, he’s a Wolf in sheep’s clothing. (And unendingly grateful thanks to RealClimate for your inspired April 1 posting. Only a scholarly and thorougly credible blog like yours could have pulled off something this effective.)

    Janis Mara

  87. Dick Veldkamp:

    Re: US Supreme Court EPA Ruling #83 (McCormick) #85 (Hausfather)

    Thanks John & Zeke, interesting read.

    Question: does this mean the EPA actually has to do something, or can they now get away with some wishy-washy do-nothing-really regulations, as long as it is OK legally?

  88. Hugh:

    Sorry to be sooo OT but it appears that we’re (in England) now producing so much wine we’re risking sanctions under the CAP.

    PS. Camel Valley Brut is pretty special

  89. Chuck Booth:

    Re # 84 Roger Pielke
    “Advocating for sheep as a solution to global warming, only adds further evidence that climate science is fully politicized.”

    I don’t know about that – in my state sheep don’t vote.

  90. Phillip Shaw:

    RE # 84 & 89,

    I believe what Mr Pielke meant to say was climate science is wooly politicized. Moth ado about nothing, in my opinion.

  91. PHE:

    RE 80. I agree, “Shear briliance”. As artilces go on this website, this is one of the more plausible.

  92. Tom Fiddaman:

    Amazing – TCS already has the answer:

    Wether as Ewe Like It

    By Mikhail Fermento : BIO| 01 Apr 2007

    Discuss This Story! (0) Email | Print | Bookmark | Save

    Scientists at the Climatic Research Unit at UEA Norwich, collaborating with Monsanto, have genetically built a better sheep. By adding a gene borrowed from chameleons, they have created a wooly bugger of a different color – the new ovines can go from black to white and shades between at will. The novel creatures act like ruminant heat pumps, warming and cooling the earth by altering its albedo. The idea is that large numbers of engineered sheep would be released in climate-challenged areas so they could interbreed with wild ones (hello, Dolly!). Over time more and more of the population would carry the new trait.

    The first sheep will be expensive, but prices are expected to fall as the bioneering public-private partnership rams up breeding. Ski Dubai is exploring an early application of the technology to lower air conditioning costs, though so far researchers are stymied in the quest for golden fleece. Disney representative Shep Woolrus would not comment on rumored plans to conduct a trial at Epcot, creating a New Zealand Pavilion in the World Showcase. NASA spokesman John Merino confirmed that the agency was considering the possibility of monitoring experiments with the Sheep Weather Earth Albedo Tropospheric Energy Radiometer satellite (SWEATER), to be launched in 2017.

    CRU-Monsanto has distributed test sheep to several prominent global warming skeptics, including climatologist Richard Lambzen, who named his Personal Adaptive Quadruped “Iris,” prompting students to nickname her “iPAQ.” Lambzen noted that, “she’s warm in winter, cool in summer, and doesn’t resort to alarmism to win grants.” Tim Balkhi tried a pair and liked the stable microclimate, but had to give it up; “people started calling me ‘Little Bal Peep,’ which led to confusion about my academic credentials, and they’re all I’ve got.” Paparazzi captured prominent writer Michael Crikey consorting with ewes, though CRU-Monsanto Deputy Director Knit Briffa could not recall providing him with samples. “I’d like to have a go at those too,” commented former political columnist Mick Crowley.

  93. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    The Supreme Court ruled the EPA has the authority to regulate CO2, this is not an april fools joke.

  94. El Niño:

    I already held Master StoneHumbert in great esteem, but after this essay I cannot speak more highly of him than to declare him the Albus Dumbledore of climatology.

  95. Eli Rabett:

    Clouds are the spirit of sheep who have donated their chops and gone to heaven. Clouds have increased because the Chinese are eating more NZ lamb, thus there are less sheep, and albedo is conserved

  96. Dr. Paul Harris:

    Oh dear, New Zealand’s (well deserved) reputation as the world centre of flat earth climate change deniers will only be reinforced by this article.

    On a scientific note, please note that one means of reducing the albedo effect is to remove financial subsidies paid to sheep farmers on the basis of the size of the sheep flock each claims to have. This leads to a rapid reduction in sheep numbers (NZ went from having about 60 M sheep in 1983 to perhaps 6 million a decade later), thus mitigating the albedo effect.

  97. Craig Allen:

    Actually I think this research hints at but misses the real influence of sheep. It isn’t in temperate New Zealand that sheep are having their greatest influence, but rather is the vast arid and semi-arid landscapes of Australia next door. In addition to the direct sheep albedo effect you get an order or two of magnification caused by the fact that the hard hooves of sheep break up the dark geophyte crust (composed of lichens, fungi and mosses) that carpets the ground in ungrazed arid places. The exposed subsoil is much lighter and therefore has a much higher albedo. Furthermore, without the geophyte crust the fragile arid zone soils are prone to wind erosion, which rapidly strips the top few centimeters that contain the most organic matter. Deeper, lighter, higher albedo soils are then exposed. At the same time, all that nutritious top soil is lifted in dust storms and dumped into the Pacific. In the process some ends up on New Zealand’s glaciers canceling out their sheep albedo effect, but more importantly, the rest ends up in the ocean fertilizing phytoplankton which then sequester more carbon than otherwise. The current (possibly climate change induced) Australian drought is significantly enhancing this effect according to By Harry Butler of the University (see article here).

    The Australian Prime Minister recently agreed that climate change is real and is such a big problem that Australia should not muck around with any namby pamby solutions such as increasing energy efficiency, signing the Kyoto Protocal or supporting green energy technologies. But instead, will solve the problem by going nuclear, putting a few million into checking out the viability of implementing carbon sequestration, and making lots of money out of ramping up coal and uranium exports. In the same selfless spirit, I believe that the Australian nation should massively increase it’s sheep population and abolish national parks, thereby stripping all remaining native vegetation and exporting the remaining top soil to the Pacific. All other carbon emitting nations can thereby pay carbon offsetting fees to the Antipodeans and happily get on with burning their remaining fossil fuel reserves. I note that large numbers of developing nations in Africa, the middle east and Asia are taking the same approach and should be similarly encouraged to re-double their efforts with fiscal incentives ;)

  98. John Monro:

    I live in New Zealand and have done for more than twenty years. I am speechless, cross, envious and amazed. Here is this American scientist who has, on a brief visit to this country, with a bright flash of inspiration, seen something which has escaped me and the other 4 million denizens of these islands over generations. Disregarding Dr Paul Harris’s snide observation about this country, I have up to now, seeing the effect of the Bush adminstration on the climate debate, written America off in regard to leadership on this overwhelming moral issue. But this article brings hope, that something so revolutionary can be disovered, described and dealt with in such a short time frame (12 midnight to 12 midday on the Ist April 2007) by one American, publishing this paper under the nom-de-plume of Noh-Watt (anyone can see that’s not a real name) and his colleagues (nationality not stated, I suspect he did this all on his own) that there must be many other such Americans amongst the 300 million citizens of that once great country, who can take up the torch of progress (or is that the shears of incisiveness) in dealing with climate change.

    Thank you so much for your insight, Ray, I will never eat a lamb chop again without thinking of you and your work. (Sorry, I am actually a vegetarian.)

  99. John P. Reisman:

    I know this is a serious article, so I have a silly question. Does anyone know the current forcing per square meter with accepted +/- forcing m2 or the best source for updated estimation? Thanks :)

    PS If you ever travel to Iceland, I recommend the lamb burgers up on the north side of Whale Bay. They are wonderful!

  100. Terry:

    I stood in the middle of a flock of a thousand sheep in New Zealand and the heat being given off by the sheep’s bodies was incredible, negating any albedo effect I should think

  101. Michael L:

    # Re Re # 84 Roger Pielke
    “Advocating for sheep as a solution to global warming, only adds further evidence that climate science is fully politicized.”

    I don’t know about that – in my state sheep don’t vote. Comment by Chuck Booth â�� 2 Apr 2007 @ 2:49 pm

    Pielke is absolutely right: Here in the U.S., sheep vote as provoked by Fox’s News.

  102. Eli Rabett:

    #97, Australia has opted for the white rabbit solution. They will breed them. Every Australian will be taught in school how to pull a white rabbit out of their hats when it gets too hot.

  103. Serinde:

    Re 101: Rather like turkeys voting for Christmas. By the way, it might be profitable to broaden this debate to take account of, alas only anecdotally, the increasing number of white turkeys being produced, particularly in former sheep-rearing areas, such as East Anglia, in England. Once wool exporting counties (especially during the MWP), farmers now have started to turn their attention from sheep to turkeys, especially the white varieties, rather than the previously-common Bronze. While this might only be due to market pressure, it could be an indication of northern-hemisphere global turkey forcing.

  104. Richard Ordway:

    Well, seriously, where I work, some of us are, and have been, scared sh_ _ less for our children’s future and our society’s future by the long-term evidence and knowlege of past rapid and violent changes …and we laugh and joke like crazy…like this… just to be able to keep on doing it. Some of us fear the worst…but hope for the best. Laughter is a coping mechanism.

  105. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[Does anyone know the current forcing per square meter with accepted +/- forcing m2 or the best source for updated estimation? ]]

    I believe the forcing for doubling CO2 is about 3.7 watts per square meter, and I’m not sure on what the error bars on that are. For historical forcings, the IPCC has a table on its website for the third TAR, and I’m sure RealClimate must have reprinted it somewhere.

  106. Mark:

    Lets not get ram-bunctious folks. The extra CH4 those wooly ruminants will be spewing into the atmosphere will surely offset any benefits from increased albedo.

  107. John P. Reisman:

    Thank you Barton the +/- was because I saw a few charts with a +/- .1 variable. I will find the charts. I was looking at the chart Dr. Hansen used in his report in February and saw did not know if the chart was up to date. if it is 3.7, then that tells a different story.

  108. Aaron Lewis:

    Re # 97
    It is not the sheep in the Southern Hemisphere that are the problem, it is the sheep right here in the USA. If we did our homework, and waved it in front of Bush, he would know that, he either had to lead or be trampled by the flock. The problem is: not enough people are doing their homework and waving it in his face.

    We will have done our work, when sites like this get as many hits as the pop culture websites.

    PS. It was sheep (actually too many sheep) that caused much of the desertification across North Africa and the Middle East. Note that in this case, sheep ate (all) the grass, which lowered the albedo & lowered the ambient moisture resulting in desert and HIGHER temperatures. Thus, many white sheep acturally raise the local temperature. And, too many cattle can do the same.

  109. Alastair McDonald:

    Re #108 Aaron, do you have any proof that it was over-grazing that created the Sahara?

    Cheers, Alastair.

  110. John P. Reisman:

    I realize this may be an inappropriate point because I’m not a veterinary climatologist, so please forgive my lack of knowledge on the subject. The extent of my understanding of lamb is limited to icelandic lamb-burgers and the occasional run in with mint jelly.

    My mother used to sing to me this song: “Lambs eat oats, and doe’s eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy, a kid’l eat ivy too, wouldn’t you, wouldn’t you…

    I always thought that when she said kid, it meant human children, but in retrospect it may mean goats?

    So… in context to the conversation of the day, I am wondering if when she sang “wouldn’t you”, might she have meant “wouldn’t ewe”? Any further scientific perspective on this argument would be at the least interesting.

    Back to that other silly question. If 3.7 is a doubling, does that mean we are currently at 1.85% positive forcing in W/m2? I found a picture on the IPCC site that shows positive and negative forcing elements but it was not labeled with numbers.

    I tried to add all the numbers together from: (Halocarbons N2O CH4 Co2) +2.4, Stratospheric ozone -0.2, Tropospheric ozone +0.3, Sulphate -0.4, Black Carbon from fossil fuel burning +0.2, Organic carbon from fossil fuel burning -0.1, Biomass burning -0.2, Aviation contrails +0.1, Cirrus?, Land use (albedo only) -0.2, Solar +0.2

    Mineral dust?, Aerosol indirect effect? [I’m not sure how to add these in.]

    If anyone knows a good source link for some raw numbers that are solid, that would be very appreciated. The more current the better. I’m just trying to get a clear picture of where we are in perspective to where we’ve been.

  111. Tom Servo:

    Richard Ordway wrote: “Some of us fear the worst…but hope for the best. Laughter is a coping mechanism.”

    “Your levity is good. It relieves tension. And the fear of death.”
    Terminator 3

  112. Mathis:

    I argue that recent warming is rather related to the decline in bold headed men since the beginning of the metrosexual era in the 90s. Even though we do not fully understand the mechanisms behind it. E.g.: Richard& Malcom et al. mention a decline in dandruff related to it.

  113. Craig Allen:

    Re #109 Alistair check out Climate Change: Environment and Civilization in the Middle East (Issar & Zohar, 2004). You can read snapshots from it at this site. Unfortunately it’s a pricey book, so hopefully you can find it at your nearest academic library. You can buy it at Springer if you are feeling rich. (Yeah OK, I know that the Sahara isn’t in the Middle East, but I’m sure that its very relevant.)

  114. Aaron Lewis:

    Re # 109
    I did NOT say that over grazing created the Sahara. I said that overgrazing contributed to desertification. In the 1960â??s,a United Nations program did series of studies that pointed to overgrazing as a cause of desertification of the Sahel area between the Sahara and Nigeria. Then, six-mile square areas were fenced off and protected. While the areas were protected, the areas inside were grassland and the areas outside the fenced area were desert. This mitigates statements, that the Sahel was the victim of climate change. It was the victim of climate change; it was also the victim of a grazing commons and greed that led to too many cattle. Photographs of the areas from the air were very dramatic. Grass inside the fence, sand outside the fence. The UN money for such protection ran out in 1969 and the herders knocked the fences down within months. Now the only green left from that program is the green bound reports in the back of the UN Document Reading rooms.

    The literature on desertification by overgrazing is extensive and should be required reading for any climate modeler. The first hit by Google is: then you have, Remember when you read topics such as that over grazing will reduce the humidity of an area and thereby reduce the rainfall, creating a feedback loop towards desertification.

  115. Philip Machanick:

    This effect must of course be traded off against any increase in ovine flatulence, a well-known contributor to greenhouse gases.

  116. Chuck Booth:

    While a bit off topic, this seems the appropriate place to discuss the humorous side of climate science…such as today’s (April 3) Mallard Fillmore cartoon (
    For those of you not familiar with this cartoon strip, suffice to say it leans to the right, politically. Several recent Mallard Fillmore cartoon strips have dealt with global warming, with cartoonist Tinsley adopting the skeptical view toward AGW. I’ll him credit, though – in today’s cartoon he cites his sources for his “news,” one of which is a Feb. 28 National Geographic News story about Russian space scientist Habibullo Abdussamatov, who claims “the [NASA Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions] Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.”

    I find it interesting is that if you go to the National Geographic News homepage ( and click on the heading “Environment News”, you’ll find at least half a dozen mainstream science news stories on global warming from the past couple of months – I guess cartoonist Tinsley couldn’t see the humor in those stories?

    The other source cited in the cartoon is the report from the Danish National Space Center about a “new theory of climate change.” ( which the RealClimate crew reviewed March 9:

    What I find esp. interesting about these “news” stories is how they are played up at the the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works website:

    If you check out this site, note that the article runs under the banner “Inhofe EPW Press Blog.” Note also the blog entry from March 16: 03/16/07: “Scientific Smackdown: “Skeptics Voted The Clear Winners Against Global Warming Believers in Heated NYC Debate.”

  117. James:

    Re #110: [My mother used to sing to me this song: “Lambs eat oats, and doe’s eat oats…]

    (Sigh) I do believe you’ve misquoted your mother. It’s mares that eat oats, not lambs. Or if you prefer the classic spelling, it’s “Mairsie doats, and dozy doats…”

  118. Russell Seitz:

    I profess being deeply shocked at McDonald’s assertion that one of RC’s sainted proprietors is an agent of FLEECE– were it true,by now we would have seen a Channel 4 special on how modelers obsessed with the optical depth of fleecy clouds conspire to exclude discussion of the Lamb effect from the IPCC process. While awaiting Alastair’s recantation, perhaps you can sell a couple of cardigans to the folks appearing in

    They need to explore fashion alternatives

  119. John P. Reisman:

    That’s what I love about science sites, people know what they are talking about. Mom sang me that song till I was around 5-6. I hadn’t even thought about it again till reading these posts, funny how the brain works sometimes :)

  120. Alastair McDonald:

    Re 113 & 114 where Craig and Aaron reply to my request for proof of a man/sheep made Sahara.


    That seems a very interesting book. However, the author seems to be saying that climate created history, and not that history created the climate, i.e. the spread of pastoralism resulted in a vast desert in the North of Africa. I, unlike others, accept that man can and is changing the climate through the emission of greenhouse gases and through land use changes. It has even been postulated that man made emissions of greenhouse gases has extended the current Holocene interglacial. That I am willing to accept, but I would like to know of any historical and archaeological evidence that land use changes in the past have altered the climate.


    Over grazing happens when the population of the grazers is too great for the land. In nature this will seldom occur, because with less food the grazers will die and the vegetation can recover. Man is quite capable of arranging situations where overgrazing does happen, but then the pastoralists will move away or die out. It is only in modern society, where the tribes no longer have access to other lands because they are owned by farmers or other nations, that moving is ruled out. Moreover, strenuous efforts are made by the Red Cross and Bob Geldorf to keep the tribesmen and their children alive.

    However, these conditions did not exist in the past. So the tribes should have died out and the land recovered. It seems more likely that abrupt climate changes related to solar activity, impacts, and volcanic eruptions. Those, not mankind, were the real culprits.

    OTOH, we do know that the Dustbowl was the result of ploughing up the soils of the Mid West, and with the same cry of “the rain follows the plough”, the Australian farmers also dried out their soils. Could it be that with the initiation of the Iron Age, the farmers were then armed with iron ploughshares and so dried out their soils too. Was that was the cause of the pre-Hellenic Dark Age?

    Cheers, Alastair.

  121. P. Lewis:

    Re #117 and #119, and anyone else interested: Mairzy doats

  122. Alvia Gaskill:

    Bush Administration Still Seeking to Create Its Own Version of Sheep

    Climate and Ocean Scientists Put Under New Speech Restraints
    Any Scientific Statements “of Official Interest” Must be Pre-Approved
    By: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
    Published: Apr 3, 2007 at 08:10

    Federal climate, weather and marine scientists will be subject to new restrictions as to what they can say to the media or in public, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under rules posted last week, these federal scientists must obtain agency pre-approval to speak or write, whether on or off-duty, concerning any scientific topic deemed “of official interest.”

    On March 29, 2007, the Commerce Department posted a new administrative order governing “Public Communications.” This new order covers the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which includes the National Weather Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Commerce’s new order will become effective in 45 days and would repeal a more liberal “open science” policy adopted by NOAA on February 14, 2006.

    Although couched in rhetoric about the need for “broad and open dissemination of research results [and] open exchange of scientific ideas,” the new order forbids agency scientists from communicating any relevant information, even if prepared and delivered on their own time as private citizens, which has not been approved by the official chain-of-command:

    * Any “fundamental research communication” must “before the communication occurs” be submitted to and approved by the designated “head of the operating unit.” While the directive states that approval may not be withheld “based on policy, budget, or management implications of the research,” it does not define these terms and limits any appeal to within Commerce;
    * National Weather Service employees are allowed only “as part of their routine responsibilities to communicate information about the weather to the public”; and
    * Scientists must give the Commerce Department at least two weeks “advance notice” of any written, oral or audiovisual presentation prepared on their own time if it “is a matter of official interest to the Department because it relates to Department programs, policies or operations.”

    “This ridiculous gag order ignores the First Amendment and disrespects the world-renowned professionals who work within Commerce agencies,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Under this policy, National Weather Service scientists can only give out name, rank, serial number and the temperature.”

    The agency rejected a more open policy adopted last year by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The new policy also was rushed to print despite an ongoing Commerce Office of Inspector General review of communication policies that was undertaken at congressional request.

    While claiming to provide clarity, the new Commerce order gives conflicting directives, on one hand telling scientists that if unsure whether a conclusion has been officially approved “then the researcher must make clear that he or she is representing his or her individual conclusion.” Yet, another part of the order states non-official communications “may not take place or be prepared during working hours.” This conflict means that every scientist who answers an unexpected question at a conference puts his or her career at risk by giving an honest answer.

  123. James:

    Re #120: [Man is quite capable of arranging situations where overgrazing does happen, but then the pastoralists will move away or die out.]

    Yes, leaving desert behind them, because the vegetation does not recover – at least not with anything like the same speed that it took to degrade in the first place. Arid grasslands are self-sustaining: the deep-rooted sod holds moisture in the soil. Destroy that by overgrazing or plowing, and it does not easily regenerate. So what you get is just what we see in the Sahara: an ever-expanding desert surrounded by a ring of grazing lands.

  124. John Mruzik:

    Off topic, sorry, but I would like some help with my brother, a PhD (I’m an MD) who is a global warming deiner. I have a couple of e-mails from him that are laughable but have not the means to adequately refute him. Any way to help without quiting work and researching full time….

  125. Aaron Lewis:

    RE # 120
    More likely, there were several causes including a transition to the collection of taxes in olive oil, which resulted extensive planting of olive trees. Olive trees have deep taproots and deplete subsurface moisture and do little to prevent soil erosion. These olives replaced the fibrous rooted fruit trees and vines that had protected the hillsides from erosion. The olive groves were then over grazed, resulting in massive erosion.

    This political change resulting in a cultural change seems to have been more of a problem than any particular change in agricultural technology. One factor in the political change was an increasing population that was increasingly urban, and that wanted goods for trade rather than just food and goods for subsistence.

    If the hillsides are barren, and do not absorb the rain, then the hydrology of the fertile valley below is changed. With less useable water, food production in the valley drops. Thus, planting olives reduced food production miles away. Of course, it took 50 years after the olives were planted for the effects to be seen on the wheat production in the valleys below. By then, the soil from the olive groves had been washed away, and they could not go back to growing figs, grapes, and apples on the hillsides.

  126. J.C.H:

    I thought the Sahara was created by a change in the tilt of the earth.

  127. Janis Mara:

    I am an American and would like to respond to Aaron Lewis’ post. Mr. Lewis, a fellow American, says we must all do our homework and wave it in President Bush’s face. But what if we are not students? Ah ha HA, Mr. Lewis, got you there!

  128. CobblyWorlds:

    “At the beginning of the simulation, Daisyworld is so cold that only a few black sheep, and almost no white sheep, can survive. Whenever the planet’s temperature decreases, the black sheep tend to predominate, they absorb a little heat from the sun, which causes the planet’s temperature to rise, allowing a greater proliferation of black sheep, more absorption of heat, and so on. As the planet becomes hotter white sheep begin to breed as well, and eventually the planet reaches a point of temperature equilibrium . Any increase in temperature is combated by a greater proportion of white sheep; any decrease leads to more black sheep. ”

    Obviously Lovelock & Watson had to call the sheep something and there were too many to name individually. So they opted to call all of them “Daisy”. This choice has lead to the details of their study being inadvertently misrepresented ever since. Not a lot of people know that.

  129. David B. Benson:

    Re #124: John Mruzik — In a side bar there is a link to the AIP history of climatology. Also there is a link to the A Few Things Ill Considered site, which directly refutes the usual denialist’s arguments.

    Your brother will profit by reading both…

  130. Ray Ladbury:

    John Mruzik, do you realize that you are apologizing for going off topic from an April Fools post? You know, you can take politeness too far. ;-) Here’s a good history:

    And a blog entry–think of it as an on-line support group manual:
    Best of luck to you. What does your bro have his PhD in? If it’s engineering, I’d say you’re screwed.

  131. Hank Roberts:

    > thought the Sahara was created by a change in the tilt of the earth …

    I haven’t looked for followups, you may want to dig a bit and see what’s been said later.

  132. Figen Mekik:

    Speaking of childhood songs, here’s one my nephews sang for a long time and I had to correct the major climate fallacy in it!

    I am cow, hear me moo
    I weigh twice as much as you
    And I look good on the barbecue
    Yogurt, curd, cream cheese and butter
    Come from liquids in my udder
    I am cow, I am cow, hear me moo (moo)

    I am cow, eating grass
    Methane gas comes out my ____
    And out my muzzle when I belch
    Oh, the ozone layer gets thinner
    With the outcome of my dinner
    I am cow, I am cow, Ive got gas

  133. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    #122 — who do those gov scientists work for, Bush or us?? Who pays their salaries, Bush or us?? I think we need to fire Ewe-Noh-Hoo in middle-management.

  134. J.C.H:

    Speaking of cows, the French have Charolais while we’re sportin’ more and more Black Angus.

    We’re just so out of step.

  135. Mark Hadfield:

    “Oh dear, New Zealand’s (well deserved) reputation as the world centre of flat earth climate change deniers will only be reinforced by this article.”

    Driving into work just now listening to NZ’s National Radio I heard an advertisement for an upcoming program. “Global Warming bla bla we’re all going to fry bla bla” said the announcer, “but those who disagree with the consensus are seldom heard from.” I almost drove off the road laughing! My humour was abated by the soothing voice of Augie Auer. It’s a pity he’s so seldom heard from. When was the last time he was in the news? Oh yes, this Tuesday.

    It’s another glorious morning in Wellington by the way and the view from the top of the Melrose hills towards Baring Head is really quite beautiful. Not a single sheep in sight.

  136. James:

    Re #126: [I thought the Sahara was created by a change in the tilt of the earth…]

    Certainly there can be many factors at work in the creation of large-scale deserts. Orbital changes may play a part, but the effects of humans and agriculture are very real. An orbital shift 4000 years ago may have started turning the Sahara to desert, but 2000 years later North Africa was still the breadbasket of the Roman Empire.

    You can also see the human-caused desertification process at work elsewhere, not least in the western US. I and my neighbors even have a microcosmic version. One neighbor keeps 3 horses on an acre: their pasture is eaten to bare dirt. Another neighbor used to until a few years ago, then left their pasture alone: it grows thistles, tumbleweeds, and cheatgrass. Mine was much the same when I bought it, but each year I have planted some with native grasses and other dryland plants. It takes 3-4 years of supplemental watering to get an area established, after which it can survive on the 8-10 inches or so of natural rainfall we get.

  137. Alvia Gaskill:

    132: “Oh, the Arctic ice gets thinner”

    133: The reason the Commerce Dept. can get away, at least temporarily, with this stunt is that both NOAA and NWS are part of Commerce and NWS reports to NOAA. Any complaints from their leadership can be dealt with by Commerce Secy Gutierrez, whereas a complaint from Michael Griffin, the NASA Administrator would put him in direct conflict with the White House. Suffice to say the White House don’t need no more conflicts right now. I hope readers saw the difference between the NASA and Commerce “policies,” the primary difference being that the NASA policy appears to have been written by Griffin and the new Commerce one by a bunch of lawyers. The earlier NOAA policy seems to mirror the one from NASA.

    Note: I could not find the “NASA policy” on their website. This is as detailed as it gets. Nevertheless, since James Hansen continues to appear freely and without an entourage of minders, I must assume that NASA has not implemented a crackdown on free speech.

    Various: Creation of deserts. Large deserts like the Sahara can begin for a variety of reasons, but once they reach a critical size, they tend to control their own destiny. Thus, the outcome of the argument that goes do droughts create deserts or do deserts create droughts depends on how big the desert.

    The warming of Mars that seems to be in progress may also be explained by a surface albedo effect, according to a recent study. Winds blowing lighter colored surface matter away expose darker surface matter that absorbs more solar radiation. The increased IR raises the temperature of the Martian atmosphere and contributes to shrinkage of the ice caps.

    Of course, it could also be due to the collapse of the Martian sheep industry.

  138. Paul M:

    Are the people who run this website on vacation? There is so much going on right now with the climate and all that has been on here is this April fools joke. It was funny, but now it is bordering on unprofessional. I do appreciate this site, and my thirst for more climate updates has gotten me antsy.

  139. Russell Seitz:

    It’s time to put a stop to this Climate Wars nonsense. Send in the Merinos!

  140. Figen Mekik:

    Re #137; I like “Oh the Arctic ice gets thinner”. Thanks!! My students like to sing and occasionally harmonize this song!

  141. Peter McGrath:

    ‘SecDef, retarget the nukes at New Zealand, Wales and Yorkshire.’

    ‘It was a joke, Mr President.’

  142. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    #137, “since James Hansen continues to appear freely and without an entourage of minders, I must assume that NASA has not implemented a crackdown on free speech.”

    I wouldn’t assume that. Hansen is a senior scientist, well-known, closer to retirement. I doubt they can do much against him without there being a scandal. However, I imagine there may be junior scientists afraid of losing their jobs. I imagine there’s a real chilling effect throughout the government, even in agencies that don’t have such drastic rules. Of course, we’ll never know if people are afraid to speak out and remain silent.

    I had a distant relative who worked for the EPA under Reagan. She started out in grad school as a strong environmentalist, but understood how to advance her career in the agency and shifted to an anti-environmental stance (some lower persons in the agency who didn’t sell their soul to the devoil, commented about how she had sold-out to advance, begging to remain anonymous).

  143. John Mruzik:

    Thanks for the links, I appreciate you all,
    her is the text of my brother’s maddness…….

    All the evidence points to net benefits from warming. and catastrophe for mankind is irrational over the top political rhetoric

    without foundation..

    And the point is NOT that the left wing looks stupid if they are wrong but rather that we waste resources and halt needful

    reform and that does real harm..

    Andrew tells me there are space alien conspiracies that pose a danger to mankind. You tell me global warming is caused

    by human activity.. Your arguments are the same.. MANY people believe it. What if it really is true, you say. The

    consequences are too horrible to ignore RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.. ALL WITHOUT ANY REASONABLE EVIDENCE or REASON.

    Let me give you the SECOND point to look up. For nearly 30 YEARS, the poor old earth had a measurable, consistent,

    and widely reported net COOLING from 1940-1970+ while we had the LARGEST increase in CO2 to that point.. The vast

    left wing whacko conspiracy nuts claimed they should be elected because ONLY they recognized the onset of a new ice age

    and ONLY they could be trusted to reverse the trend by the power of their intrinsic goodness..

    No model predicted this or even now can accurately reproduce the effects. look up Navier Stokes simulations and

    CHAOS theory.because it is unlikely we will ever be able to calculate it. please read the National Academy of Science

    book I sent you. It is a good layman’s summary of model inadequacies..

    Hope all is well.



    P.S. As for the first point that more CO2 doesn’t reflect more heat but reflects it from a lower altitude. large part of

    the reason is because the effect is logarithmetic. For radiation to be absorbed, it has to make the molecule jiggle

    in some way. CO2 has a narrow band of frequencies at which it jiggles (rotates, twists, shakes, rattles, and rolls).

    These frequencies are all quantized but so dense that they can be approximated as a continuum. (similar to the

    ultraviolet-catastrophe resolution by Max Planck on black-body radiation). IN ANY EVENT, before humankind

    changed 1 air molecule in 10,000 to CO2 over the last 200 years, CO2 was ALREADY absorbing nearly 100 percent

    [that’s everything for the general public] of all possible heat loss.. Have you looked this inconvenient fact

    up yet and are ready to discuss the science? Or should we all vote on it? And by the way, this wouldn’t

    be the first time I have observed MASS HYSTERIA fostered by politicos on a weak-minded and scientifically-illiterate


    Time to get some sleep.. Best Wishes.

    —–Original Message—–
    From: []
    Sent: Friday, March 30, 2007 4:52 PM
    To: Dr. Michael R. Mruzik
    Subject: Re: Feel sorry for the public but also feel a growing contempt for stupidity…

    I guess I feel sorry for you. Since the great majority of scientist accept the fact that humans are responsible for global warming. Maybe there is some vast left-wing conspiracy to alter the peer reviewed science………… Well, we are wrong, we look stupid, if you are wrong it means catastrophe for mankind.

    —– Original Message —–

    From: Dr. Michael R. Mruzik


    Sent: Thursday, March 29, 2007 9:25 AM

    Subject: Feel sorry for the public but also feel a growing contempt for stupidity…

    It is discouraging to see otherwise educated people, who are entirely ignorant of science,

    spouting nonsense like we have global warming or WORSE, humanity is to blame. What this

    means is that they have no judgment.. So anything they say or think on other subjects is highly

    suspect as well and can be safely discounted. there is no other reasonable alternative

    Do they also believe that SPACE ALIENS fathered Anna Nicole’s baby. I wouldn’t doubt they

    believe it. what other amusing nonsense are you into these days?

    I, on the other hand, actually look at the scientific data and not the opinion polls which

    most are too busy/otherwise occupied to be concerned with.. Not on everything but on

    warming/Navier Stokes/climate models/physical processes in atmosphere like water nucleation

    (my PhD Thesis)..

    Spin/misrepresentation/selective filtering of data/flights of fancy in “op-ed” pieces is NOT

    science. believe it or not. nor are they much good for anything except if you simply

    memorize the most outrageous far-out-man opinion to shock (and unfortunately amuse) people

    at parties..

    P.S. Why don’t we lead a crusade to get the constant pi set to 3.0 instead of some ridiculous

    approximation most people can’t memorize?

  144. John Mruzik:

    His email is

  145. woodentop:

    Agreed #138 – this is a tired thread. Surely there’s science to be discussed. Otherwise people will think this whole AGW thing is an April Fool joke about sheep(seriously!).

  146. Margie:

    That was a wonderful Poisson d’Avril.

  147. Craig Allen:

    Re 144 & 145: John; ask questions, make comments, tell jokes, but for pities sake don’t paste in huge long verbatim email exchanges. Use this website as a resource and put together your own replies to your brother. Even the inane sheep jokes are more interesting than your sibling rivalry.

  148. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[For nearly 30 YEARS, the poor old earth had a measurable, consistent, and widely reported net COOLING from 1940-1970+ while we had the LARGEST increase in CO2 to that point..]]

    Right, because there were few controls on pollution, and aerosols reflected away sunlight and blocked it from reaching the ground. This was the era of mass pollution deaths at Donora PA and London. When pollution controls came in in the ’70s (remember Earth Day?) aerosols were reduced and the warming effect of CO2 took over. It is strong enough now that warming still dominates, even though India and China are producing record levels of aerosol pollution.

    [[The vast left wing whacko conspiracy nuts claimed they should be elected because ONLY they recognized the onset of a new ice age and ONLY they could be trusted to reverse the trend by the power of their intrinsic goodness..]]

    No. No one of that era ran for office on that platform. This claim is simply made up.

    [[No model predicted this or even now can accurately reproduce the effects. look up Navier Stokes simulations and CHAOS theory.because it is unlikely we will ever IN ANY EVENT]]

    The models are becoming more and more accurate with time. They can already set up based on half of detailed climate history and accurately reproduce the second half. They correctly predicted troposphere warming, stratosphere cooling, and polar amplification. As scientific computer models go, modern atmosphere-ocean coupled general circulation models (AOGCMs) are among the best ever written.

    [[changed 1 air molecule in 10,000 to CO2 over the last 200 years, CO2 was ALREADY absorbing nearly 100 percent
    [that’s everything for the general public] of all possible heat loss.. Have you looked this inconvenient fact]]

    Absorption doesn’t just take place at the center of a band, but in the wings as well, and when the band center is saturated, there is still absorption in the wings. That’s why the radiative forcing is still proportional to the logarithm of the concentration. It’s not flat. What’s more, a lot of absorption takes place high in the atmosphere where the pressure broadening is much less and the bands are not saturated. Radiation from the ground isn’t all that matters, radiation from each level has to be totalled up.

  149. phil:

    Here is a great article about how cattle emissions contribute more to greenhouse gases than transportation worldwide!!:
    Cattle Emit More Greenhouse Gases Than Transportation

    [Response:This wasn’t true when you first posted it – and it remains untrue now. – gavin]

  150. Hank Roberts:


    Looks like a contamination problem may affect this approach:

    Monitoring poisons in the environment — a woolly matter

    Heavy metals are present in variable amounts in the natural environment in the UK. Dr Jennifer Sneddon (Liverpool John Moores University) will present the results of a pilot study assessing the use of upland sheep wool as a bio-monitoring device for natural levels of heavy metals ….

  151. Ray Ladbury:

    Re 143: John, I fear you may be screwed and tatooed. Your brother is suffering from an incurable disease: Male Answer Syndrome or MAS. It is more common than one would think–as all of our wives know. Your brother seems to believe that since he has once solved tha Navier-Stokes Equation, then he must understand any nonlinear system he comes across. I fear that to admit that there are things he does not understand might be too great a blow for his ego to bear. Just keep him from voting.
    Actually, it is clear that his opposition stems from politics rather than an understanding of the science. The Economist Magazine has had some rather good pieces on climate change, and it can hardly be dismissed as a liberal mouthpiece. Unfortunately, your brother will probably dismiss it as “Eurotrash”. You might point out to him all of the politicians, businessmen and others with impeccable conservative credentials who have acknowledged that anthropogenic climate change is a threat–e.g. James Baker, most Republican Senators, many Fortune 500 CEOs and so on. It is clear that he will trust no source unless it is of a conservative bent. In fact, he may have gone so far to the right that his politics are coming back on the left again–he sounds more radical than conservative.

  152. John Mruzik:

    I am 56 year old, work 18 hours 6 days a week as a emergency physician, I am on call 24 hours a day. I guess I can quit and try to convert a GW denier who has two masters and a phD in materials science. I just wanted help. Sorry to leave a long post, perhaps you could direct me to a more helpful site. I remember now why I left the accedemic world.

  153. John Mruzik:

    Thank for the help and non-arogant response. Please direct me to a web-site that might help me repute GW deniers without quiting work and spending all day in research.

  154. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    RE #149, one solution: Stay at home and eat vegetarian. Or cycle rather than drive to the burger place, then order a veggie burger.

  155. Ike Solem:

    Now I understand that Monty Python claim in The Holy Grail of how sheep’s bladders may be used to prevent earthquakes!

    Reducing the global sheep population means that less light will be reflected to space; this will cause the ice sheets to melt, leading to ewe-static rebound and a higher incidence of earthquakes.

    Looks like Monty Python got it wrong; harvesting sheep bladders will actually lead to more earthquakes, not less. On the other hand, sheep flocks may expand due to the economic demand for sheep bladders for earthquake prevention… Perhaps we could launch the sheep into orbit; where they could more effectively block sunlight?

  156. J.C.H:

    John – I would start him with Joseph Fourier and Svante Arrhenius.

    Einstein said it would just take one scientist to prove him wrong, so ask him to find just one scientist who has proved those two dinosaurs were wrong in any material aspect of their theories.

  157. SomeBeans:

    John – I’d go have a look at Gristmill’s skeptics guide ( Its more focussed on the problem you have than here…

  158. Alastair McDonald:


    Considerable research was done in the 1930s into the art of persuasion and it was found that, for men at least, it is impossible to win an argument. Even if you persuade him with the science to agree with you, he will still harbour the thought that there may be an unknown factor which you have not considered. Moreover, if you prove him wrong he will lose face, and no man can accept that. The research was carried out by Dale Carnegie, and is recorded in his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

    The correct approach is to agree with him. Point out that he is correct. It is a well known fact that all the radiation in the greenhouse bands is absorbed by the atmosphere within the first 30m (100ft) from the surface. Thus doubling the concentration of CO2 will not affect how much radiation is absorbed, only where it is absorbed. It will then be absorbed within first 15m (see Beer’s Law,) and so it will double the warming near the surface where we live.

    Then you can point out to him that it is not the lunatic left that are publishing the IPCC FAR report. It is thousands of scientists just like him. Does he really think that they are going to admit that they are all wrong, and that their model, which predicts warming rising only with the log of the concentration, is faulty?

    Scientists are like sheep. Just as it is difficult to get a flock of sheep to go through a gate, so it is difficult to get scientists to accept a new theory. But once one has, then they all follow. However, if the theory is wrong, then it is well nigh impossible to get them back through the gate and through another. If they find it hard to accept a new theory, how much harder do they find it to reject an old one first?

  159. Dan:

    re: 153. See

  160. Ray Ladbury:

    John Mruzik, Everybody makes mistakes–and in some ways it is probably useful for folks here to see the absolute certainty some of their opponents have. Believe me, I understand your frustration. I have been tilting at windmills of those with similar denial complexes, and it is definitely complicated by the fact that the denialists take any attack on their position personally. My favorite is when they resort accuse us of ad hominem attacks–usually after implying that all climate scientists are money-grubbing frauds.
    All I can say is that if you find a strategy that works on your brother, come back and tell us about it–PLEASE!

  161. Alastair McDonald:

    Hi John,

    Here is proof that it is the scientists that are pushing climate change not the press and the tree-huggers. See

    One of the founders of the The Royal Society was Issac Newton, and George Stokes of the Navier-Stokes equation was also a fellow.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  162. Russell Seitz:

    I agree with Alastair that Martin Rees is articulating a much cleaner case than Lord May or departed RS Senior Manager for Policy Communications Robert Ward .

    So he should, but the charge of having a policy agenda to push around the wool sack floor still stands:

  163. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    RE #153, John, why not have your brother come to this site and air his doubts or beliefs. That way the scientists can respond to each one.

    I remember from 9th grade science class — the boy scout list:
    A scientist is open-minded.
    A scientist is honest.
    A scientist is objective.
    LABORATORY: follow the first 5 letters, not the last 7.
    And I learned later: A scientist is humble (or if not will soon be made to eat humble pie, or pride comes before the fall).

    If he remembers and values these, he might be swayed.

    Also, it’s important to point out that while scientists may get big grants to study things, the money mainly goes for the project and to pay their regular (not enhanced) salaries that they would have gotten even without the grant. (I also know that universities often suck up at least 1/2 of it supposedly into their general budget…and no one sees it again, poof).

    OTOH contrarian scientists are paid huge consultant fees for their denying GW, above and beyond their salaries. And there’s a lot of money from where that comes from. I’m just happy that most scientists are scupulous & have not gone over to the dark side.

  164. Chuck Booth:

    John Mruzik,
    If your brother is a scientist, he should be able to read and understand the ICPP reports – ask him to read those and explain to you which conclusions, and which peer-reviewed papers cited as evidence, he doesn’t believe. Surely, he would not appreciate a biologist, or geologist, or a climatologist, telling him that what he knows to be true in the field of materials science is flat out wrong? Likewise,he should understand that climatologists tend to get annoyed when educated people from other disciplines tell them their climate models wrong, esp. when those educated people offer explanations based on misinformation or misconceptions about atmospheric physics and climate science.

  165. Chuck Booth:

    Re 164 Oops..that would be IPCC reports.


  166. Darren McManaway:

    Been both a Kiwi and a climatologist – this really is the funnest thing I have read in years.

    Well done guys!!

  167. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    I will admit I total fell for the April fools joke.

    At first I skimmed the post and I thought it was about the land use part of climate change, and the first thing that struck me was the discussion of ptarmigan. I thought “hey there are not ptarmigan in New Zealand”, and I carefully re-read the post and had a good laugh.

    Well done! Even though there is an impending crisis, that does not mean we can not have a good sense of humor.

  168. Geoff Russell:

    WARNING: This is a serious comment.

    FAO figures show that the world produces about 570 calories per person per day
    per annum of rice — for about 60 Tg/yr of methane (e.g. Houghton “Global
    Warming — The Complete Briefing). Beef and sheep between them produce about
    50 calories per person per day — for about 90 Tg/yr of methane (again using
    Houghton’s figure).

    If the Chinese ever seriously switch from rice to beef then all the carbon
    sequestration in the world won’t save us from the methane forcings. Are
    the Chinese moving to beef? Well yes, they are, again FAO figures show Chinese
    beef and sheep consumption has gone from 11.4 cal/person/day in 1990
    to 46 cal/person/day in 2005.

    But instead of policy makers taking meat seriously as a climate issue. All
    we get, at best, are farting cow jokes. So while climate scientists, and
    others, stand around BBQs talking earnestly about arctic melt and brown
    coal, a really serious and quickly fixed (i.e., requiring no new technology)
    forcing is literally under their noses. Meat reduction is a serious issue that
    is, almost, uniformly ignored by “objective” scientists. Why? And if it
    isn’t ignored, then can you please provide references of scientists who
    have given it a mention in serious papers.

    P.S. I’ve only recently discovered RealClimate, it is an absolutely
    brilliant site.

    Geoff Russell

  169. Chuck Booth:

    Re #168 I’m not so sure this problem has been totally ignored. For example:

    A country-specific, high-resolution emission inventory for methane from livestock in Asia in 2000

    Kazuyo Yamaji, Toshimasa Ohara, Hajime Akimoto

    Atmospheric Environment,37(31), 4393-4406, 2003.

    Methane emissions from livestock in South, Southeast, and East Asia were estimated to be about 29.9 Tg CH4 in 2000 using the Food and Agriculture Organization database and district-level data on regional activity and emission factors, considering regional specificities. These emissions consisted of 25.9 Tg CH4 from enteric fermentation and 4.0 Tg CH4 from livestock manure management systems. India had the greatest production, with 11.8 Tg CH4 from livestock, primarily cattle and buffaloes. China was also a high-emission country, producing about 10.4 Tg CH4. To determine their spatial distribution, emissions at the country and district levels were plotted on a 0.5Â?~0.5Â?â?¹ grid according to weight, using high-resolution land cover/use datasets. This gridded database shows considerable emissions throughout the Ganges basin, with peak emissions exceeding 30 Gg CH4 grid-1 in the Ganges River delta. The total methane emissions from livestock increased by an average of 2% per annum from 1965 to 2000. The recent increase in methane emissions in China was especially remarkable.

    Moreover, the relative importance of cattle vs. rice paddies with regard to methane emission is well established, and methods to reduce methane production by cattle have been under development during the past twenty years:

    Finally, for what it’s worth: As most of their methane is produced in their forestomach (rumen and reticulum), I suspect cows emit more methane when they belch than when they fart.

  170. Chuck Booth:

    RE #168 Rice vs. Cattle in China

    It’s perhaps also worth noting that the FOA report to which you referred made the news in China:

    UN Report: Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than cars

    Peopleâ??s Daily Online December 01, 2006

    Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation, according to a new United Nations report released on Thursday.
    “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems,” senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official Henning Steinfeld was quoted by the Ghana News Agency as saying on Thursday.
    “Urgent action is required to remedy the situation,” he said in a statement released by the UN Information Centre in Accra…

    If you are really asking, “Do the latest climate models take into consideration predicted shifts in agriculture around the world?” I don’t know, but I can’t imagine they would ignore this. Have to check the IPCC reports…

  171. Dave Rado:

    Re. 168 and 169 – isn’t methane from cattle digestion part of the carbon cycle and therefore not a *net* affector of long term atmospheric carbon levels?

  172. Chuck Booth:

    Re 171 Bovine methane and the carbon cycle

    Well, yes, any carbon transformed within the biosphere is part of the carbon cycle. But, plants take in CO2 from the atmosphere (the level of which is rising due to combustion of stable hydrocarbons extracted from reservoirs in the earth’s crust), cows eat the plants, and the microbes in the cows’ stomachs produce methane, a more potent greenhouse gas (i.e., better absorber of terrestrial IR) than the CO2 that was in the atmosphere. I don’t have figures handy, but I think it is safe to say there is a lot more bovine biomass producing methane now than there was a few centuries ago. And this could increase further as countries like China become more developed (the original point here). This is explained in the FAO report, and in the People’s Daily news article I cited in #170.

  173. Ray Ladbury:

    Chuck, the question is how long the methane stays in the atmosphere. I believe it gets oxidized to CO2 and H2O on a timescale of years, does it not. In which case, you at least do not have the buildup like we see with CO2. And since the carbon ultimately came from plant material–and demonstrably is not fossil carbon, does it have a significant contribution?

  174. Geoff Russell:

    Re: #169. My mistake, it isn’t that there are no scientists measuring
    livestock methane or working on reducing emissions from ruminants, but
    there is, it seems a serious asymmetry in the way livestock emissions
    are approached as opposed to motor vehicle or other emissions. Every
    Government has websites telling people things they can do to reduce
    greenhouse emissions: drive less, buy a Prius, turn off lights, change
    thermostats, etc etc. I haven’t found one which advises people to eat
    less meat.

    I emailed James Hansen a while back, to ask him why this advice
    was missing from one of his papers advocating methane reduction.
    He replied: “Geoff, a very good point, which I usually forget to mention —
    thanks for reminding me.”.

    It seems everybody forgets, that’s my point.

  175. J.C.H:

    I would think that the American Bison probably produce similar emissions. Their population before Columbus can only be estimated, but I would not be surprised if there were more of them then than there are cattle today. Other than man, they have few predators.

  176. Hank Roberts:

    Looking this up: +methane +feedlot +grass

    Among the first page of hits with Google, this:

    “According to David Pimentel, a Cornell ecologist who specializes in agriculture and energy, the corn we feed our feedlot cattle accounts for a staggering amount of fossil fuel energy. Growing the corn used to feed livestock in this country takes vast quantities of chemical fertilizer, which in turn takes vast quantities of oil. Because of this dependence on petroleum, Pimentel says, a typical steer will in effect consume 284 gallons of oil in his lifetime. Comments Michael Pollan,

    “We have succeeded in industrializing the beef calf, transforming what was once a solar-powered ruminant into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine.”

    “In addition to consuming less energy, grass-fed beef has another environmental advantage – it is far less polluting. The animals’ wastes drop onto the land, becoming nutrients for the next cycle of crops. In feedlots and other forms of factory farming, however, the animals’ wastes build up in enormous quantities, becoming a staggering source of water and air pollution. ….”

  177. Russell Seitz:

    re 168

    “All politics is local”
    In the land of the bean and the Cod
    But Beefeaters here are quite vocal
    “If beans mean methane
    We’re all scrod.”

  178. Geoff Russell:

    Re: #171 and #172. Imagine a planet with plants and an atmosphere and some
    level of methane such that sources and sinks are balanced. Now breed
    up a billion ruminants which are regularly eaten and replaced. Atmospheric
    methane will rise — presumably only until it reaches some new equilibrium.
    But if you keep adding more ruminants, then it will keep rising (pending
    some change in the sinks — more hydroxyl from somewhere).
    The total carbon in the system doesn’t change, but the radiative forcing does.
    Effectively, ruminants and most other animals convert low forcing carbon
    to high forcing carbon.

  179. Alastair McDonald:

    Re 174 – Geoff,

    Jim Hansen has been advocating reducing methane rather than CO2 to combat global warming for several years now. His most recent comments can be seen and heard here.

    Since the main anthropogenic sources of methane are the paddy fields in southern Asia, it does not seem a good idea to me that half the world’s population should give up their staple food and starve, in order that US citizens can continue their way of life, which appears to consist of driving SUVs, and eating beefburgers from McDonalds. It seems that you and Jim Hansen think otherwise!

  180. Geoff Russell:

    Re: #179 – Alastair, please see my original message #168. For
    anthropogenic methane emissions see:

    The beef burgers provide very few calories per kg of methane
    compared to rice.

  181. Alastair McDonald:

    Re #180 Geoff,

    I still think there is more chance of you saving the world if you give up driving your car to the supermarket, than if you stop eating hamburgers.

  182. J.C.H:

    The world has always been teaming with plenty of ruminants.

    Right now, because of ethanol, the competition for corn is poppin’. Americans are about to pay a whole bunch more for any meat from a beast that consumed corn to gain weight. Do farm-raised catfish eat corn? Yes, they eat some corn. Chickens eat corn, so your eggs come from the same amount, by ratio, of fossil fuel. Corn brings animals to market faster, which makes the product cheaper.

    Bottom line, the fossil fuel used to produce corn (a major portion of the fossil fuel used to produce beef) is not going to be much nullified by not eating beef; at least, not until cellulosic ethanol/some other renewable becomes a reality in the market place.

    Also, if nobody in America eats beef, grass fed or corn fed, you would soon have around 100 million rotting critters. Nobody is going to feed 100 million pets. What would that do to emissions?

    Like veggies don’t require fossil fuels to produce? Find a target that has a higher net yield.

  183. Chuck Booth:

    Re 173
    According to the U.S. E.P.A. (, the half-life for methane in the atmosphere is 12 years, and levels have risen from 70 ppb in the year 1750 (based on ice core samples) to 1,745 ppb in 1998; levels were relatively stable at 1751 ppb from 1999 to 2002 (most recent data shown). The EPA methane webpage also indicates that methane reacts with hydroxyl radicals to form CH3 (not quite sure what this combines with) and water; it doesn’t mention this forming CO2. Without having read the literature on this topic, I have to wonder if increased cattle production hasn’t contributed to the rise in atmospheric methane levels over the past 250 years. The FAO report Geoff Russell referred to (and about which I quoted some comments from a news article) seems to consider cattle a problem, not only because of the methane, but also their emissions form HNO3 vapor, another greenhouse gas and contributor to acid rain.

    There are, of course, many good reasons to cut back meat consumption:

    In addition to the fossil fuels combusted in raising cattle (noted by Hank Roberts, I think), David Pimental at Cornell also estimated a decade ago that the grain fed to the 7 billion head of cattle in the U.S. (not 100 million, JCH!) could feed 800 million people. And , the replacement of rain forest with cattle ranches in the Amazon basin should be a major cause of concern.

    JHC: As for American bison, according to Charles C. Mann (1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus), the large bison herds seen by settlers in the west in the 19th century were probably an artifact of the decimation of Native American hunters over the preceeding 250 years. Prior to the arrival of Europeans on North America, hunting probably kept the herds at much smaller levels. Also, because of allometric scaling effects, a given biomass of large bison will consume less food and, almost certainly, produce less methane, than an equal mass of smaller domestic cattle. I don’t know anything about large populatations of ruminants elsewhere (e.g, Caribou in the Arctic, or grazers in Mongolia), but I suspect there are far more ruminants on the planet now than ever before; that is just a guess, though.

  184. J.C.H:

    Chuck – there approximately 100,000,000 (one hundred million) cattle in the United States. By the time I was eighteen I think I had vaccinated, castrated, dehorned, blood tested, ear tagged, and branded about half of them. I love the smell of burning flesh in the morning and the sound of bellerin’ at the saw.

    The guy says 7 billion livestock animals in the United States. I know some ranchers who would like to hire him to make head counts at the sale barn.

    I believe that India has the world’s largest population of cattle. I wonder why? A suggestion: kill theirs.

  185. Chuck Booth:

    Re 184 OK, JHC, Iâ??ll concede to your intimate knowledge of cattle: The EPA estimates that the U.S. has 100 million head of cattle, with about 1.2 billion large ruminants world wide (at least one published report cites a total number for ruminants world wide, both domestic and wild, at over 4 billion*). I donâ??t know where David Pimentel got his figure of 7 billion animals in the U.S., though I may have misread that; Iâ??m trying to track down the article from the Cornell Univ. Veterinary College that I read on Pimentelâ??s work.
    The EPA also estimates that â??Globally, ruminant livestock produce about 80 million metric tons of methane annually, accounting for about 28% of global methane emissions from human-related activitiesâ?¦.In the U.S., cattle emit about 5.5 million metric tons of methane per year into the atmosphere, accounting for 20% of U.S. methane emissions.”

    *Leng, R. A. 1993. Quantitative ruminant nutrition – A green science. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 44: 363-80.

    Iâ??ll have to ruminate on these numbers for a while.

  186. J.C.H:

    I emailed a researcher and suggested to him that India be pressed to eliminate the majority of its cattle. I think they would be entitled to significant credits if they were to do that. They have a huge number of cattle – perhaps as many as 300 to 400 million.

    I also suggested he test the methane emissions from deer. While hard to estimate, the population of deer in the United States may exceed 50 million. They’re a pest. They love to get into cornfields and eat all your popcorn. If they are producing significant methane, there is no reason to have more than a few million deer in this country.

    One thing that surprised me was the difference between grass-fed beef and corn-fed beef with respect to methane emissions. Just based upon the STUFF they produce on corn, I would have guessed a corn-fed animal would produce more methane. That does not appear to be the case. A California researcher has found dairy cows are producing about half the methane prior research, which they say was done in 1938, indicated. Dairy animals are generally full-sized, and exceptionally well fed with grains. Cow-calf operations have a large grazing component, and their animals are probably producing more methane per animal.

    I rarely eat beef. We used to have a small herd of buffalo, which we finished on corn. It’s the very best meat – very lean and manly tasting stuff.

    I do think wild ruminates outnumbered our domesticated populations in pre-European America. That’s my hunch. One thing I do know, they weren’t eating corn back then. The Indians who lived on our ranch land before the Sioux massacred them were farmers. They probably ate buffalo, but I doubt they depended upon them like the Sioux did.

  187. Nick Gotts:

    Re #186 It’s true grass-fed cattle produce more methane than corn-fed, but against that you have to consider at least three factors: the CO2 and N20 emitted in producing the corn, the ability of untilled grassland to act as a carbon sink, and the excess methane produced from manure “lagoons” as opposed to allowing the same amount of manure to degrade in aerobic conditions in a field. I don’t know what the overall balance is. Many of India’s cattle are draught animals – I don’t know how valid the stereotype of millions of “sacred cows” doing nothing useful is. Fairly simple supplementation could greatly increase the efficiency of cattle in many poor countries, in terms of units of milk/meat/labour per litre of methane. Wild ruminants in North America may have outnumbered current domesticates, though I doubt it, but they wouldn’t have been eating anything like as much – both beef and dairy cattle are fed huge amounts to produce the stuff people consume. By the same token, I’d think the amounts of methane deer produce are trivial. I found some figures from 1993 in a quick internet search, suggesting wild ruminants in total produce less than 1/10 of the methane domestic ones do.

  188. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[I emailed a researcher and suggested to him that India be pressed to eliminate the majority of its cattle.]]

    Cows are sacred in India, and killing them is sacrilege. We tend to be amused or contemptuous of this theme, but it has a very logical underpinning to it — cows pull the plows. Wipe out the cows and you wipe out Indian agriculture.

    A request to India to kill most of its cattle would be seen as offensive and would, at best, be ignored.

  189. James:

    Re #188: [A request to India to kill most of its cattle would be seen as offensive and would, at best, be ignored.]

    But isn’t this exactly like the response you get from the average American (or Western European, etc), if you suggest they give up eating meat?

  190. Alvia Gaskill:

    Just when my Global Albedo Sheep Project was about to get off the ground, our research facility is shut down for no reason. It must have been all the bad publicity here at realclimate. Thanks alot guys.

  191. Nick Gotts:

    Re #189 “Re #188: [A request to India to kill most of its cattle would be seen as offensive and would, at best, be ignored.]

    But isn’t this exactly like the response you get from the average American (or Western European, etc), if you suggest they give up eating meat?”

    No, in the sense that objecting to the loss of your livelihood is more reasonable than objecting to the loss of a luxury (in a situation where both have bad effects on others). The average American/W. European could give up eating meat without endangering their health – indeed, probably benefiting it; many Indian farmers would be destitute without their cattle, which supply milk in otherwise protein-poor diets, manure and urine to fertilise the land, and draught power. It is the poorer farmers who are cattle-dependent – rich ones can afford tractors and artificial fertilisers. Whether this mechanisation is a net plus or minus from the point of view of GHG emissions I don’t know – but measures to improve cattle productivity by supplementation (and so reduce the numbers needed) might be the best approach.

  192. James:

    Re #191: […many Indian farmers would be destitute without their cattle…]

    I think we’re arguing at cross-purposes here. I understood the suggestion to be that India kill off their excess sacred cows – the unowned multitudes that for religious & cultural reasons are allowed to roam at will – not working draft & dairy cattle.

    I think that would be the sense of Indian response to such a suggestion. The objection would be rooted in religion & culture, not in the practicalities of agriculture, and so would be no different to the average Westerner’s response to the idea that they should give up meat.

  193. Numb Nuts:

    Yikes! Methane and CO2, silent killers! Does this mean I have to stop brewing my beer and farting?

  194. Hank Roberts:

    America worships the automobile. Go figure.

  195. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[Yikes! Methane and CO2, silent killers! Does this mean I have to stop brewing my beer and farting?]]

    I’m afraid so. But whatever you do, don’t stop adding your valuable commentary to this and other web sites.

  196. J.C.H:

    So the American ox is “goreable”, but the Indian ox is “ungoreable”? They are producing about 4 times as much methane, and they have significantly more cattle than other countries that both rely on draught animals and eat meat.

    Num Nuts – you don’t have a cud, so I would say you only have to give up farting if you redrink your own beer barf.

    A reasonable population for Indian cattle would be around 40 million. If you are serious about reducing methane, the rest should be boinked in the head.

    Horses do not emit methane, or at least not much. We have a sort of religious opposition to eating horsies. For instance, as I understand it, explained to me by a European who owns a horse kill plant in Texas – in Texas you can butcher horses and you can eat horse meat, but not horse meat that was butchered in Texas. Horse meat butchered in Texas has to be shipped out of Texas to be legally eaten by a human being. He was shipping most of his meat to Europe. To eat legal horse meat in Texas, a Texan has to buy meat that was butchered somewhere else and then shipped into Texas. To me, that byzantine mess sounds sort of religious: kind of biblical like.

    So I think we could compromise. If the Indians were to reduce to 40 million cattle, we would agree to replace cow-calf operations with mare-colt operations. Their religion would take a hit and our religion would take a hit. It would be pain for all. Just imagine all the screaming little kids be drug to eat pony burgers.

    Between the two, you would be knocking off around 400 million large methane producers, which is a significant percentage of the total number of ruminants on the face of the earth.

    And guess what, most people would not know the difference. Think you haven’t chewed up some Kangaroo; think again. It’s amazing how a few Kangaroos make hamburger inventories last and last.

  197. Numb Nuts:

    Thanks for the kudos Dr. Levenson. And J.C.H., I’ll try that redrinking the beer barf routine tonight (it may be an acquired taste), but I’m not going to give up farting. I’ll pay Al Gore the Dangerous Emissions Tax before I’ll give up farting. I wonder how much that costs? What does he do with all that money?

  198. Jim Roland:

    Further to #8, a petition has now been started on the Prime Ministerial website against the proposal:

  199. Aaron Frost:

    I am new to this site and having read a bit through this I am still confused as to whether or not this is actually a serious article!

    Honestly, it may not have been necessary for this hypothesis to actually be tested since most people that have at least taken a general Earth Science course could tell you that anything light in color has a high albedo. Even if one does not know what albedo is, most know not to wear black during the long, hot summer days as to not make them hotter! So, the findings here are certainly to no surprise that masses of white sheep are going to lower temperatures a bit. So is that to say we should all adopt sheep to fight global climate change? Or perhaps we should paint all of our buildings and streets white to raise albedo too?

    It is easy to take a sarcastic view to this (a joke or not?), but global climate change is a serious matter and as you all know, the more information we can gather to understand it, even quantifying sheep albedo, the better we can fight it. So understanding the feedbacks and possibly offsets to real temperatures is important stuff! I am certainly not advocating for the sheep, since, regardless of how much we can lower temperatures by adopting them or painting the town white, we would only be disguising the raising temperatures and its associated problems by sweeping it under the rug for a period, until the pile is found by the next generation, bigger and worse than ever.

    I hope I didn’t spoil the fun :) – party on, we have to have some fun while saving the world, right?

  200. Nick Gotts:

    Re #192 I don’t have any information on how many unowned “sacred cows” there are in India. You talk about “unowned multitudes”, but my guess would be very few if any have no owner – a cow (or for that matter a bull or bullock) is a valuable asset, and can be used as collateral for loans in addition to the other uses already noted. However
    is an interesting article which supports the point that India has far too many cattle (for the amount of feed available), and that politically-exploited religious dogmas are standing in the way of remedying this.

  201. James:

    Re #200: Nor could I find any information on numbers of unowned cattle: estimates of overall cow popultation (up to 400 million), antecdotal accounts of programs to remove such cows from cities, and so on, but no good numbers.

    Still, my point (which I think your linked article supports) was about societial attitudes, not about the practicalities.

  202. Geoff Russell:

    Regarding all the cattle posts — since I posted the first one!

    Cattle in many parts of the world work for a living and to replace them
    would most likely cost far more in carbon emissions than the cattle
    produce methane. You have to build and fuel tractors etc.
    But the cattle/sheep that people eat in Australia/Brazil/US/Europe etc
    produce prodigious methane quantities, plenty of carbon emissions during
    processing, and in many countries, are the driving force behind deforestation
    and loss of biodiversity. Our Australian Greenhouse Office in the

    puts the emissions for beef at 51.7 tonnes of emissions per tonne of
    beef (carcase). Aluminium, by comparison produces 20 tonnes/tonne.
    Wheat comes in at 0.4 tonnes/tonne.

    Drive an SUV (we call them 4WD) on a round trip of 10kms to the shops.
    You will produce about 3kg of emissions — but if you buy
    1kg of beef, that’s another 50kg of emissions (well its actually quite a bit more
    because the 50kg related to carcase, not all of which is eaten).

    The SUV construction emissions are probably about 35 tonnes, but even that
    will be swamped by the meat generated emissions big red meat eating family.

    Either people care enough about the planet to make significant changes
    to their lifestyle (meat, SUVs, monster houses, etc) or they don’t. And if they
    don’t then future generations are in deep trouble. Energy use (and emissions) in Australia is
    rising faster
    than the population. The only reason we will meet our Kyoto
    targets (we haven’t ratified anything!)
    is because we have scaled back land clearing and
    planted some plantations — no other sector has made any significant
    emission reductions.

  203. Ferdinand Engelbeen:

    Just back from a nice trip to New Zealand (didn’t meet Raypierre, or I should have offered him a beer!), I observe some underestimation of the sheep-albedo effect: more and more NZ farms are switching from rising sheep to rising deer (which can be found as “venison” on the restaurant menu’s). As you may know, (brown) deer have a (much) lower albedo than (white) sheep…

    An even better response to GW may be to paint in white the bare rock which is all what rests a few years after parts of the tropical rainforest are cut or burned for agriculture/meat production…

  204. Ian Moseley:

    Since these grazing creatures require grass fields many times their own surface area, would it not be more efficient to gentically engineer white grass? Does chlorophyll have to be green/

  205. Hank Roberts:

    Chlorophyll has to be green.
    While other chemistries have been suggested,
    letting gengineered species loose that absorb different wavelengths would be really hard not to screw up. We should fix Mars and Venus first, if we’re going to experiment.

    Multicolored Photosynthetic Martian Sheep — it’s a concept

  206. SCIRE: