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Are geologists different?

Filed under: — rasmus @ 19 August 2008

rockThe International Geological Congress (IGC) is sometimes referred to as the geologists’ equivalent of the Olympic Games and is an extremely large gathering of geologists from all over the world, taking place at 4-year intervals. This time, the IGC took place in Lillestrøm, a small place just outside Oslo, Norway (August 6-14). The congress was opened by the Norwegian King (before he continued to the real games in Beijing), and was attended by some 6,000 scientists from 113 countries. Even the Danish Minister of Energy & Climate participated in a panel discussion on climate change. In other words, this was a serious meeting.

opera.jpg I didn’t attend the meeting myself, but the scientific programme for the session on climate, shows that the ‘climate contrarians’ were quite well represented. The organizers probably wanted to give room to “other views”. Together with web cast of the panel discussion on climate change (by the way, you may need Windows to view this because of the video format…), the proportion of attendees with a skeptical attitude to the notion of anthropogenic global warming appeared to be notably higher than in other conferences, such as the European Geosciences Union or European Meteorological Society, or indeed the scientific literature. So be it.

Svensmark was there, even though he’s not a geologist, and said that he didn’t understand what he was doing on the panel. He didn’t say much during the panel debate, apart from that clouds are not well described by GCMs (which is true and discussed in the latest IPCC report), and that the 90% confidence in the human influence on recent trends is derived only from models (not true). There is an irony in that, whereas detailed microphysics in clouds are not well understood (hence the uncertainties in the GCMs), Svensmark’s own hypothesis hinges entirely on the cloud response to cosmic rays (which is even less well understood).

Robert Carter said a great deal more than Svensmark on the panel. He made a point of the last couple of years being cold. But he did not appear to understand Jansen’s explanation of the difference between trends and natural variability (see here). What really struck me was not who was saying what, but the intellectual level of discussion: the debate often got stuck at misunderstood trivialities which for a long time have been regarded as solved or explained in the climate research community. When you keep starting at square one, you’ll never make much progress.

Other statements did not have a scientific basis (e.g. Morner popped out from the crowd and said that the sea levels are not rising – not true – and then saluted the panel). Thus the debate seemed to be a step backwards towards confusion rather than a progress towards resolution.

What is going on? Is there a higher proportion of geologists that have a completely different view on climate change, or was this a biased representation of the community? The thought of stifling a scientific debate by insisting on outrageous or ignorant claims also has struck me.

Update: Marc Roberts sent along this mildly relevant cartoon:

314 Responses to “Are geologists different?”

  1. 51
    Bob Carter says:

    Dear Phil Scadden,

    It’s always nice to hear from old students, and especially to find out that they are gainfully employed and doing well.

    You mention that “it is very disappointing to see his (i.e. my) current stance” regarding the possible danger of the human effect on global climate – which I would agree is certainly a topic that needs careful consideration.

    However, my current “stance” is the same as the stance that has stood me in good stead throughout my professional career. It is that matters of science need to be determined by empirical evidence, not by computer modelling – heuristically valuable though that can sometimes be.

    And as things stand at the moment, after IPCC 4AR, I am unaware of any empirical evidence that dangerous warming, or any measurable warming for that matter, can be attributed to a human causation.

    This is not so much a stance as a statement of fact. What is it about it that disappoints you?


    Bob Carter

    [Response: Thanks for stopping by. Perhaps you’d care to enlighten us on how attribution might proceed without the recourse to models of some sort? To pick a neutral topic, how about the attribution of the cooling in 1992 and 1993 to the aerosols emitted from the Pinatubo eruption? Without any quantitative idea of what would have happened with and without the eruption (which would entail two planets in the absence of modelling), it seems to be that your ‘stance’ has only one predetermined conclusion (that no attribution of anything is possible). I doubt very much whether that would stand any scientist in good stead. – gavin]

  2. 52
    cat black says:

    #44: [the climate science community has not communicated this issue in an accurate and convincing manner to people in other fields, or to the general public]

    Accurate? Convincing?!? FTW [head explodes]

    News flash: There plenty of high profile people and institutions, and the well covered IPCC report, already getting the word out *accurately* that we are in deep deep crapola. What is happening is that these voices are pit against charismatic hucksters like Crichton and Inhofe, and then the media doesn’t help by promoting a sense of “debate” because that sells papers. The debate, if there was one, ended 20 years ago.

    Scientists are largely limited to their own process for getting information and data into the hands of policy makers and the public. That process is called the scientific method, and it’s vehicle is peer-reviewed publication. It is accurate, within human limits, and convincing.

    Hucksters have no such limitations, not even ethics nor morality by the looks of it. Whores and shills, anything-for-a-buck is their method and they will do and say just about anything, to anyone, to get what they want. “Dressed as a nun and selling dope to kids” is the visual I get.

    So long as we are largely profit-driven in our thinking and risk averse when it comes to changes, we as a community a republic and a civilization are sleep walking into a meat grinder. If that’s what people want, then that is what they are going to get, in spades and with a twist of lemon, and it won’t be because climate scientists were inaccurate or unconvincing!

    — act fast decide fast —

  3. 53
    Phil Scadden says:

    #47 Gee, where do you live? Not here despite the La Nina. Especially when you compare to winter field work of 20 years ago.

  4. 54

    #43 Keith

    Don’t claim skeptics do not know anything, because if they are proved correct, then you become the new “flat earth crowd”. Be tolerate of both sides of the debate, because based upon several comments to this post, it is beginning to grow.

    Any argument that denies anthropogenic global warming without a scientific case, or even well reasoned holistic argument is irrelevant for the most part.

    In other words if what comes form left field has not relevant context than it is irrelevant.

    The case for AGW is tremendously strong. It is quantifiable. The cloud questions aside, the paleo record indicates that further warming in the past was not reversed by some magic cloud albedo. So even the few remaining scientists claiming clouds will be our saviour don’t seem to have a decent paleo record to stand on.

    There is no reason to tolerate a side of the debate that has no foundation in science or even reason for that matter. myopia is not a virtue and myopic science can not compete with holistic science as regards the aggregate of known data and substantial models as this time.

    I continue to wait for wonderful science that will prove we have nothing to be concerned about but it is not only not materializing, it is being summarily beaten into the ground of unfounded reason. Until such time, the egg will continue to cook and whose face it shall be on is now reasonably known from a scientific point of view.

    As to the likely hood that the skeptics shall win the argument? Well, I’m still waiting to win the lotto too, but form some magnanimous person that wins for me and then decides the money is best used by me rather than them, those are the odds as I see it at this point. Please do prove me wrong.

  5. 55

    #47 Russel

    Wow, thanks for solving the climate puzzle for the world, We are all thankful for your insight and wisdom. Everyone can go home now, no need to research any further. It is clear that the earth is cooling now.

    Gavin is better at commenting than I am of course.

    Russel, I’m sorry, but please do a little research before solving all the worlds problems. Climate is long term not short term. 30 years or better with a trend analysis. Looks like you got some reading ahead of you.

    Look into forcing levels too. That’s pretty important to understanding what is going on in the atmosphere. Also, it’s very important that you realize that the temperature where you are does not represent the temperature around the world. Climate is large scale and weather is local. That will help you get some perspective.

  6. 56
    Johnno says:

    I’ve noticed there is a great enthusiasm for subterranean caverns for climate mitigation purposes ranging from CO2 burial to compressed air storage. This goes all the way back to Immanuel Kant who thought that is where the tides went. Also when geologists point to earlier climate cycles they seem to blank out the issue of 6.7 bn humans with knife edge dependency on food and water.

    BTW winter this year Down Under seems to be around 2C cooler than last year, albeit after an exceptionally mild autumn.

  7. 57
    David B. Benson says:

    Alastair McDonald (49) — I believe you are mistaken in writing that climate sensitivity is derived only from models.

    Bob Carter (51) — [edit] The evidence that humans have added considerale excess global warming (so-called greenhouse) gases to the atmosphere in the last 250 years or so is abundantly clear. You can read about it in “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:

    Review of above:

    I also encourage you to read W.F. Ruddiman’s popular “Plows, Plagues and Petroleum” for his views on early anthrpogenic influences on the climate; he has a guest thread here on RealClimate.

    [Captcha reminds us “plant internment”, a good way to remove excess CO2 from the active carbon cycle.]

  8. 58
    DBrown says:

    I often reference skeptics of human induced climate warming to this site to learn the facts but that generally is a hopeless cause. While people here are generally open to new ideas and tend to trust the ‘experts’ to sweat the details after careful peer review, this will never be the case for AGW skeptics.
    That is the failing of all scientist (outside the field) that are determined to prove AGW as false. A simple fact is that most people in America are extremely superstitious (most people believe in the literal interpellation of biblical ‘facts’.) In an identical manner most of these people tend to hold onto preconceived ideas regardless of scientific facts because it threatens their other superstitions. In time, some people begin to separate their religious superstitions from scientific fact and will slowly accept AGW but this will be a very slow process. Expecting experts in other fields not to follow their superstitions is like expecting all children to be above average.

  9. 59
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 27 –
    There’s an issue of combined rapidity, manitude, and unfamiliarity. A rapid temperature change of 0.1 deg generally is no big deal. A gradual change of several degrees over millions of years is something to which ecosystems can adapt. If climate has been changing within some range, then changes that remain within the same range may be less likely to cause many extinctions or economic disruptions than changes that go into relatively unfamiliar territory.

    The sun has been getting brighter gradually over hundreds of millions of years. The radiative forcing of CO2 is roughly logarithmically proportional to atmospheric concentration. There is significant uncertainty in CO2 levels going that far back in time.

    There were plants during the last ice age, not in the same places, but they did grow.

  10. 60
    Chris Colose says:

    Bob Carter,

    I also thank you for coming here, and I hope you will continue correspondence with myself and others. I am also a student, so I’m sure it would be enlightening.

    Through watching a wide variety of your lectures, you seem to have a common set of arguments, one of which is the quality of empirical evidence over computer models. Unfortunately, in any complex system (not just climate, as a geologist you can appreciate representations of the Earth’s crust, in looking at rock behavior underground, identifying fault planes, etc) computers are necessary to solve a number of complex equations. It is not the conclusion of Climate Models: An Assessment of Strengths and Limitations (the report from the Federal Science Program) to dismiss the models, which have proven to be remarkably useful in the attribution effort, despite the deficiencies that remains to date (e.g., regional precipitation patterns). However, there are a wide variety of observations such as the overall warming trend of the 20th century, the cooling above the tropopause, the lack of significant changes in other forcing mechanisms, and the geologic record, which affirm that a) the planet is warming b) rising greenhouse gases will cause warming (with over 100 years of physics to support this).

    You continue to use the word “catastrophic” in your argument (as in, there will be no “catastrophic AGW”). Would you mind sharing with me a scientific definition (particularly in the IPCC or the scientific literature) as to what exactly this means? The usage seems to be [edit] subjective, and rather ill-defined.

  11. 61
    Phil Scadden says:

    Bob, I am disappointed at statements (eg on cooling, ice core CO2), well-refuted in literature and which I find it hard to believe that you are unaware of. I agree that the role of science is always to question, always to strive for new models – but I dont see a better model than AGW, so till one comes along, risk analysis says we act on this one.

    In 1978 or 1979, you made the point that solar insolation variations in a Milankovich cycle alone are insufficient to explain the observed changes in Pleistocene climate. Everything I have seen published since then says you were right – you need other feedbacks. Well GHGs are an excellent part of that feedback system. Do you have better?

  12. 62
    Charles says:

    I was a gardener for thirty years before returning to school recently to get a doctorate. I spent 8+ hours a day outside over that period of time. What I saw over those thirty years was that, especially in the last 15 or so, the growing season for many herbaceous plants extended by two weeks annually over that period of time; moreover, we went from a USDA climate zone of 7B to 8A. I suspect my observations have about as much validity as yours, Russell (which is to say: not a hell of a lot in the larger scheme of things). :-)

  13. 63
    Hank Roberts says:

    One question for Dr. Carter:

    If the coal and oil burned in the past century had been burned by a basalt eruption through an area of coal and petroleum — hypothetically, the same amount of fossil carbon burned in the same time, the same charts — would you have a way to address the question whether that event contributed to a change in the atmosphere and climate?

    That is, if we take out the ‘anthropogenic’ question entirely but assume the exact same increase in CO2, would you think it possible to attribute the measured temperature change to the CO2 change?

  14. 64
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Bob Carter, Empirical evidence, huh? Well, how about the fact that the stratosphere is cooling as the troposphere warms? How about the fact we are seeing the microclimates in mountain ranges changing dramatically? How about the fact that we can actually see the energy that is being absorbed in the CO2 absorption line? How about the known physics of CO2 as a greenhouse gas? Just curious, Bob, what evidence would convince you. You must have something in mind that is missing. [edit]

  15. 65
    Ken says:

    The only professor I had that didn’t believe in anthropogenic global warming was a geologist. As part of our class assignments we were to read this piece of work:

    One day he also had a quote from Steve Milloy on his overhead.

  16. 66
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Keith, Want to contribute to climate science. Great. All are welcome. All you have to do is play by the same rules as everybody else–that is publish something that advances the science in a peer-reviewed journal and present your case therein with sufficient cogency that you convince your colleagues and rivals. Simple, huh? What’s that? You don’t know enough climate science to publish such a paper? Then why in the hell should any of the experts who do give a damn what you say about climate science? Why the hell should they care what I say–it isn’t my metier? Like it or not, that’s the way science works: You study the field for 10 years grad and undergrad. You get a postdoc for another 5 years and study it some more. You get your professional position (prof, researcher…) and study it some more. And finally, after maybe 20 years, you understand it enough that you can make your own small contribution. Yes, outsiders do very occasionally make important contributions to a scientific field–but they do so after devoting years of study to their new chosen field. To think that you can do so after a few weeks perusal is sheer arrogance.

    You do have a place in this debate, but it has nothing to do with the science. Rather, it has to do with what we do to confront this threat. All you do by denying good science is leave your chair at the negotiating table vacant.

  17. 67
    Jim Eaton says:

    A geology professor of mine, Eldridge Moores, certainly is concerned about anthropogenic global warming. He is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of California, Davis, and a former president of the Geological Society of America. He and his wife Judith have been extremely active locally through lectures, field trips, and legislative action.

    Some some old geology profs get it. And they have become activists in their “retirement” years.

  18. 68
    Rod B says:

    re #52 (cb): act fast, decide fast, shoot your toes off…

  19. 69
    Danny Bloom says:

    Yes, the geology profs get it. They know what’s coming down the road.

  20. 70
    paulm says:

    Bob Carter, have a look at some of the data analysis displayed at this site…

    I find this very compelling and graphic evidence that demonstrates effectively what is happening.

  21. 71
    richard says:

    “A geologists’ consensus on a kind of rock, or mountain range formation or sea floor spreading is certainly worth listening too. But an endocrinologist’s opinion on the same thing – not so much. To each field their own consensus. – gavin”

    Are you suggesting Gavin that a trained scientist is unable to make sense of science and comment on it? I can read papers outside my discipline (biology) and understand them. Erudition is not a degree on a wall but a commitment to learning a subject area.

    [Response: Of course not. Good scientists are always capable of learning more and expanding from their original discipline. My career is completely typical in that respect (mathematics-> fluid mechanics-> oceanography->climate-> paleo-climate etc.). But getting respect in a new field is a little more complicated (and more intensive) than simply declaring that you have squared the circle, created a perpetual motion machine, or that you know that CO2 increases can’t have an effect on climate. Understanding the body of work within a field is a sine qua non of making advances, and you are wise if pay attention to what it consists of before challenging aspects of it. – gavin]

  22. 72
    Lab Lemming says:

    From a geologic point of view, carbon dioxide is irrelevant to climate. This is because the CO2 will simply accelerate silicate weathering, drawing it out of the atmosphere and eventually precipitating it as carbonate.

    While there may be transient effects, the timescale of those effects is too fine to resolve geologically, so they aren’t worth worrying about.

    As for the effects of climate on the biota, that too is irrelevant. species go extinct all the time, and when they do, something else radiates into their niche.

    So from the planetary perspective, this whole CO2 thing is just another blip like the PETM. In a few million years, it will be nothing but a curiosity. Narrow-minded activist interested in the survival of particular subgroups such as ice-dwelling pinnipeds or bipedal primates might complain, but to what end? We’re all headed for the fossil record eventually, so changing the extinction time of a particular group by a few tens of kiloyears isn’t going to be detectable in the long run.

  23. 73
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #5 & 9 “The climate has always changed in the past due to natural variability, and life on earth has survived very well.” & “It is no surprise that many of them will initially be skeptical towards claims that humans are responsible for the current changes, when they are acutely aware of the massive changes that have always taken place without humans around.”

    I call it the “geological perspective.” I’ve also noted several geologists as late as 2002 (the last time I spoke with or heard about one) totally reject anthropogenic global warming. One was a retired geology prof, one a prof at a community college where the head geology prof was an adamant denialist (knowing other community colleges I suspect they got funding from a source opposed to acknowledging AGW), and the other a Univ prof– I actually heard the latter’s argument thru a student who relayed almost verbatim the argument above.

    It’s sort of like when geneticists traced our mitochondrial DNA (of every living human today….except perhaps some neanderthals :) ) back to a single woman, an “Eve,” who lived in Africa some 200,000 years ago. Some physical anthropologists, who study the fossil remains, sort of got their noses bent out of shape, and some were skeptical.

    Another thing, geologists are not biologists or social scientists; they’ll be more focused on rocks, rather than life or human life, which will be the part most harmed by GW. I imagine rocks will fair better. I even imagine biologists are quite a bit more frantic about GW than even climate scientists.

  24. 74

    Re Greg Smith’s post — I wonder if Mr. Smith is, indeed, a geologist, as he claims. Geologists use a LOT of computer models. To criticize computer models would be shooting themselves in the foot.

  25. 75
    David W says:

    What Geologist dream about…

    I especially like the “Dino killer”

    P.S. I’m with Bob :)

  26. 76
    pete best says:

    Looking at this chart of the history of ice sheet formation and James Hansens recent paper on the subject in order to determine overall climate sensitivity I can see (work out by eye if you like) that for every 50 ppmv global SST rises by 1C. How much does that rise atmospheric temperatures by. Can Dr Carter explain that ?

    [Response: That is the combined sensitivity of climate to CO2 and CO2 to climate – you cannot use it naively to deduce the climate sensitivity without taking into account all the other things that are changing as well. – gavin]

  27. 77
    Timo Hämeranta says:

    Re 19. Ken Miller,

    please see

    Carson, Mark, and D. E. Harrison, 2008. Is the Upper Ocean Warming? Comparisons of 50-Year Trends from Different Analyses. Journal of Climate Vol. 21, No 10, pp. 2259-2268, May 2008

    “…these results suggest that upper ocean heat content integrals and integral trends may be substantially more uncertain than has yet been acknowledged. Further exploration of uncertainties is needed.”

    [Response: They were explored in Domingues et al (2008), or didn’t that come to as convenient a conclusion? – gavin]

  28. 78
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Richard, there is a lightyear of difference between being able to read and comprehend research in a discipline outside your own and being able to make a meaningful contribution to that field. I can read and understand papers on climate science–after devoting a couple of years to understanding the science. I cannot compare my level of knowledge to someone who publishes regularly in the field. I find it very hard to believe that anyone could spend >20 years learning their own field and not appreciate the value of expertise and experience. Why is that so hard for some folks to understand?

  29. 79
    pete best says:

    Re #76,Thanks Gavin for the reply but I am a little unsure about the answer you have given. Can I ask as to why does the chart show our emission levels in relation to historical ones if the chart is not seemingly accurate in relation to our abilty to have a ice free planet at the poles if we continue BAU for the rest of the century?

    If we achieve 400 ppmv then the Arctic is in danger (Greenland to I suppose) and at 500 so is the Antarctic. I mean what was responsible for taking out the CO2 from the atmosphere, colder oceans? Larger forests, weathering of rocks (Andes example). James Hansen makes this chart even more alarming with his 016 forams evidence making the case for doubling overall climate sensitivity to 6C for a pre industrial doubling of CO2.

    Maybe this explains why the Arctic sea ice is seemingly disappearing quicker than any of the IPCC models suggest ?

    Thanks Gavin.

    [Response: We discussed this in more detail a few months ago – gavin]

  30. 80
    Ricki says:

    I love the post by Lab Lemming.

    I am a structural engineer, and the comment above that civil engineers are skeptics touches close to home. Of course, I have met a few who are, but the level of interest in the engineering community is very high and there are plenty like me who are active in promoting action to reduce emissions.

    There will always be the nay-sayers, but the problem we have is that time is running out here. It takes many years to re-build the sort of infrastructure we need to change our dependance on fossil fuels.

    It is great to hear about the proposals to build large solar and wind power stations, but it is all happening too slowly. You are the ones who have the information at your fingertips. What we need is a stronger representation of that information.

    I would like to see a site where the projections are clearly presented and updated regularly. It would need to include the projected reductions in emissions that we can currently rely on (not very much at present).

    I envisage it to be a bit like the ‘clock to midnight’ but with direct values for GHG concentrations and associated temperature rises, projected into the next 50 years. The Wolfram site is a good start but only goes as far as GHG concentrations

    Its also not very user friendly for the layman (such as myself).

  31. 81
    andy says:

    Have you climate people ever thought that maybe the reason behind the sceptism might be due the lack of basic explanation how the increase of CO2 and other greenhouse gases really causes the temperatures to rise? This has been discussed here sometimes as well, and the best material provided so far has been some link to a manuscript, not yet ready for publishing.

    The finnish athmosphere experts just published a book about climate change, and the whole greenhouse effect was “explained” with a sentence or two, like “CO2 works as a greenhouse ceiling preventing radiation out of athmosphere”. Can’t really the best scientists of the world provide any good, step by step introduction which someone with high school or university level education would understand, and which would testify how the so called greenhouse effect really works.

    [Response: The desire to move beyond cliched metaphors is well understood, and there is plenty of introductory material. Try a couple of posts here (on simple models and on why CO2 is a problem), but for something meatier you are better off with a text book. Either David Archer’s book or Ray Pierrehumbert’s draft text should satisfy most people. And if you still want more, Houghton’s Physics of Atmospheres is the definitive work – that takes some time to work through though. – gavin]

  32. 82
    pete best says:

    Re #79, OK so it is uncertain but is there any legs in regard to Arctic sea ice disappering faster than models predict in relation to overall climate sensitivity or is it just too soon to tell?



    [Response: IMO, it’s a little too soon to tell. – gavin]

  33. 83
    David R. Hickey says:

    I must object strongly to the article’s implication that it may be the geologists who are the ‘denialist’s’ & least informed re GW. Being a retired paleobiologist & I’ve been around long enough to have seen quite clearly that geologists & paleontologists have been at the forefront of climate science, along w/the (then few) climatologists, since the 70s.
    Granted, much early debate was about coordination of Milankovitch cycles & the geologic record & just how long it might be before another glacial advance. But popular science literature unfortunately lead to public misconceptions of an impending ‘ice age’.
    At the same time a coalition of paleontologists & paleoecologists, palynologists, sedimentologists, biogeochemists, marine geologists & glaciologists together w/dendrochronologists, geoarchaeologists, & climatologists called CLIMAP set about to map fine-scale global climate changes in climate over the Pleistocene.
    If it weren’t for our long-term & ever-more refined & expansive knowledge of Earth history there would be little against which to compare today’s temperature & sea level & ocean acidity to test any GW hypothesis, much less the basis for an established theory. Nor would we know that future temperatures may exceed all but the Eocene Maximun. Geology is essential to the science of GW. I was fond of telling my intro students that, “they’d ‘made the wrong choice’ of required science, thinking they’d encounter no physics chemistry or biology. They’d signed themselves into all of them!”
    In my own experience, it was Kelvin Rodolfo (U of I, Chicago)who’s visionary approach to geology explicated as integrated homeostatic systems over a spectrum of time frames introduced the subject of GW in intro geology as early as 75. What a shame it was the conservative publishing industry ignorned his attempt to revise perspectives long before Lovelock’s teleologically posed Gaia.
    Still some where taught in ‘old school’ fashion. As late as 1993, (I’d been teaching a class in GW since 90 & following it for a decade), a former colleague who’s specialty was meteorology, insisted there was no difference between climate & weather: Until that is, he taught historical geology for the first time in a decade. He was stunned at the field’s dramatic revisions & graciously conceded my point.
    Within geology there certainly are distinct, often adversarial divisions between those who’s self-interests are petoleum & mining vs that of academics. Yet the lure of money has fooled ever fewer academics who’d begun their educations during or shortly after plate tectonic theory emerged. They’ve increasingly seen through industry’s propagada campaigns since the late 80s, at which time many institutions began to switch emphasis toward the environment & an Earth systems approach.
    For some reason geologists still get unfairly kicked about. I think this can be traced back to poor high school science teaching & the fact that geologists are barred from the Nobel Prize (i.e., public perception). Their minds aren’t as old & hardened as the objects they study; some were visionaries studying the future through the past & many others carry on.

  34. 84
    Bob Carter says:

    Chris (#60),

    You assert that “You continue to use the word “catastrophic” in your argument (as in, there will be no “catastrophic AGW”). Would you mind sharing with me a scientific definition (particularly in the IPCC or the scientific literature) as to what exactly this means? The usage seems to be [edit] subjective, and rather ill-defined”.

    I don’t think that I have ever used the word “”catastrophic” in the way that you assert.

    Rather, and as in my previous post, I use the phrase “dangerous climate change”. Why? Because if human-induced change cannot be demonstrated to be, first, measurable, and, second, dangerous or potentially so, then we can all get on with our lives and stop worrying.

    How do you define dangerous? Well, that’s probably the IPCC’s job not mine, and – though I stand to be corrected if there is a section buried somewhere in 4AR that I have missed – they seem to have failed to do so. Whatever: it is nonetheless widely assumed by politicians and many others, and not discouraged by the IPCC, that an increase in temperature greater than 2 deg. C should be avoided, i.e. would be dangerous.

    I am unaware of any empirical (that word again) justification for the assumption that 2 deg. C of warming is ipso facto dangerous.

    Rather, this number appears to have been plucked out of the air at a BMO-hosted meeting at Exeter in 2005, termed “Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change”. At this meeting, the argument was put that in order to get politicians to pay attention there HAD to be an actual “number of degrees warming is dangerous” that would allow climate alarmism to be marketed in a way that the public would understand. (This was, I think, the same meeting that determined the change in media usage from “global warming” to “climate change”, which was similarly promulgated for cynical marketing-the-message reasons).


    Local geological records contain countless examples of greater increases (or decreases) in temperature than 2 deg. C. The nearby animals and plants (ecosystems, if you like) did what they always do, i.e. shifted their geographic distributions and/or adapted to the different conditions. Though usually depicted as the destroyer of biodiversity, climate change is in fact nature’s most powerful engine for increasing it.

    Bob Carter

    [Response: No answers to my question above? – gavin]

  35. 85
    Richard Sycamore says:

    re #79
    That manuscript (at what stage of publication is this?) states:

    “The approximate equilibrium characterizing most of Earth’s history is unlike the current situation, in which GHGs are rising at a rate much faster than the coupled climate system can respond”

    This is an interesting conjecture. (For it IS a conjecture – unsupported by citation, I notice.) Is it that the coupled climate system is not capable of responding to fast-rising GHGs on a fast time scale, or are you simply failing to detect the fast response because you are focused on the wrong indicator, atmospheric temperature, as opposed to some other, possibly more relevant indicators, such as ocean convection or cloud formation?

    Note the tie-in to Pete Best’s #82 question about arctic sea ice melt. Presumably SSTs (affected by deep convection) have something to do with melt rate. If it is “a little too soon” to determine what is causing faster-than-predicted melt, maybe one possibility is poorly understood & modeled ocean circulation dynamics?

    [Yes, I realize it is “unscientific” to speculate on causes for model-data mismatch. I may as well be advocating flying spaghetti mosterism as a cause, right?]

  36. 86
    Timo Hämeranta says:

    Re 77. Gavin,

    interesting is only how natural variations, oscillations and cycles again and again superimpose human influences. Still waiting…

  37. 87
    Eric Swanson says:

    RE: #51

    Bob Carter has been vocal [edit] for a number of years. If one is interested in his point of view, go back 2006, when he testified before Inhofe’s Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works on 6 December.

    His presentation would appear to be serious science, which makes it difficult for the average reader to assess whether he is correct of not. In his testimony, it turns out that he relied on data from Spencer and Christy’s analysis of MSU satellite data, referencing the basic Channel 2 data, not the TLT product. The TLT product was intended to correct for the stratospheric cooling which contaminated the channel 2 data. Thus, his presentation understates the warming seen in the MSU data, a fact which has been known since Spencer & Christy first presented the TLT back in 1992. He also references Loehle’s 2004 analysis, which used deeply flawed assumptions in an attempt to project future climate.

    E. S.

  38. 88
    Mark says:

    David #75

    Dino Killer? Que est que se?

    Far far far far far far better:

    run run run run away!

    PS I think one of the problems is that geologists are being *asked* about climate changes. When your car is having problems, do you go to your heating system engineer for questions?

  39. 89
    Don Healy says:

    Re: #48 Robert Reiland

    Robert, it appears your assumption is that plants have evolved to the point that they would no longer thrive under the CO2 concentrations that existed closer to the time they evolved. I would like to know your sources for this position; perhaps it is just a supposition on your part. Hundreds of studies indicate that most plants will thrive under much higher CO2 concentrations than exist today. I refer you to:


  40. 90
    A.C. says:

    #36, Richard Pauli–
    “We all welcome novices, students and even skeptics. Denialists, ideologues, obstructionists and disruptors have no place here. And you know it.”

    If not here, where do all the liars actually belong?

    (Oh, and as for injecting economic philosophy, I meant to do no such thing.)

    “Much more significant, how much should we tolerate voices that prevent us from knowing and describing dangers to our future?”

    As far as I can tell, scientists know and have described more than enough of the dangers to our future to convince people like me that we need to consider how best to spend our money in light of climate change. And the most persuasive thing (to me at least) is that whenever an obstructer, disruptor, denier or idealogue comes in here raising some nonsense issues, these guys deal with it politely, firmly, honestly, and as transparently as possible.

    How would adopting a view of deniers such that they should be dealt with in an unnecessarily heavy-handed or murky way increase the credibility of scientists when it comes to time to persuade people like me that they (and not the obfuscators) are telling the truth?

    I think it adds much credibility to RC as a source for climate news and does much to undermine the denialist position every time an outrightly false comment is both permitted to be posted and is subsequently refuted, be it by the RC contributors themselves or by the (growing?) community of like-minded and reasonable commenters.

  41. 91
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Richard Sycamore, you are grasping at straws. First, how are greenhouse gasses supposed to change ocena convection or cloud formation, etc. if not via changes in temperature? And your attribution of ice melting to changes in ocean circulation might be more believable if the ice melt were not occurring globally. Again, you are looking to explain the unknown in terms of the unknown–that’s not how science works, especially when you have a known mechanism that has no trouble explaining the observed effects.

  42. 92
    Crust says:

    Bob Carter:
    Though usually depicted as the destroyer of biodiversity, climate change is in fact nature’s most powerful engine for increasing it.

    I guess that’s why with the rapid and dramatic climate changes at the Permian-Triassic and Cretaceous-Tertiary boundaries there were corresponding increases in biodiversity. Not.

  43. 93

    RE #27 & C3 plants doing better with CO2 rich air, and C4 doing better with CO2 meager air.

    I saw a program about this years ago (based on an experiment in a greenhouse), and what you say is true — we can expect both C3 and C4 plants to do better in CO2 enriched air; however, C3 plants do a lot better, and outdo C4 plants (which only do a bit better) as the CO2 increases.

    However the scientists pointed out that this is quite disturbing, since our food crops tend to be C4 plants, and the weeds that stifle and overtake C4 plants tend to be C3 plants!

    Also they found (as a surprise to them) that insects did more plant damage. It seems that even though the C4 plants did do a bit better in CO2 enriched air, they were less nutritious and insects had to eat a lot more of them to get the same amount of nourishment.

    So we should expect more crop loss due to weeds and insects in a CO2 enriching atmosphere.

    But this says nothing about the global warming effects of increasing heat, soil desiccation, droughts, storms, wildfires, and floods on those food crops — which should have an even greater negative impact than the CO2 enriched atmosphere.

  44. 94
    Crust says:

    Bob Carter:
    [T]he change in media usage from “global warming” to “climate change” … was … promulgated for cynical marketing-the-message reasons

    I don’t suppose one of those “cynical” reasons was that “climate change” is the more accurate description? E.g. for John Q. Public it might confusing to talk about stratospheric cooling as a part of “global warming“; the term “climate change” removes the needless cognitive dissonance.

  45. 95
    Mark says:

    Don, #89.

    These are plants with plenty of other stuff available. They didn’t have to put up with ANYTHING other than increased CO2. No stresses, no invading species, no new predators, fungi, diseases or parasites. No change in humidity, no change in temperatures.

    Even if it were doing some good, how does it replace the land that used to support people on the borders of the sahara? Are you going to let them move from the new dessert into your area because your plants are growing better when theirs are dying? Taking your jobs, homes and land?

  46. 96
    Bob Carter says:

    Dear Gavin,

    One of the reasons that RealClimate is discounted by some as a source of serious scientific comment is because of your continual allowance of unproductive ad hominem abuse.

    The first part of the comment at #87 from Eric Swanson is a typical example.

    It adds nothing to the debate, and in a properly invigilated site would have been edited out.

    Report Card: the RealClimate pupil has promise but must learn to do better in distinguishing between emotions and science.

    Bob Carter

    [Response: Hmmm…. putting aside for the moment the issue of who needs lessons in manners or in scientific thinking, I’ve edited out the offending word. I would be much happier for you to comment on the serious questions I posed above rather than getting caught up in pointless rhetorical digressions. Just so that we are clear, I am not interested in your approval, just your answers. Then we can make a Report Card on something substantive. – gavin]

  47. 97
    Hank Roberts says:

    Why is a geologist telling us the ecologists are all wrong about ecological consequences of warming?

    Isn’t there an irony meter on this thing somewhere?

  48. 98
    Hank Roberts says:

    In today’s news:

    McAfee, S. A., and J. L. Russell (2008), Northern Annular Mode impact on spring climate in the western United States, Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2008GL034828, in press.
    (accepted 22 July 2008)

  49. 99
    dhogaza says:

    One of the reasons that RealClimate is discounted by some as a source of serious scientific comment is because of your continual allowance of unproductive ad hominem abuse.
    It adds nothing to the debate, and in a properly invigilated site would have been edited out.

    Let’s all thank Bob Carter for having just sunk Marohasy’s blog, Climate Audit, and Watts Up With That …

  50. 100
    Russell Seitz says:

    Re 8

    Ice is the most common oxide mineral in the solar system, at times in the relatively recent geological past forming the bulk of the Earth’s crust, even as it does that of Europa and Enceladus today.

    Given that the average temperature of the Earth is closer to the melting point of SiO2 than H20,it seems parochial climate science should obsess on a temperature regime so narrowly centered on 300K.