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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. 301
    pete best says:

    re #300, OK but I did not diss anyone, I was just pointing out that there is a huge disparity between 80 and 30 for oil usage and its longevity. In fact if were using 80 and not 30 per annum then we could have hit the economic crunch a long time ago regardless of our analogy.

    The fact that the USA uses 20 mbpd and only produces 4.9 of its own is significant, yes but I was talking about global usage and not the USA solely although its about time the USA woke up and smelled the coffee and started driving 40 to 60 Mpg vehicles in order to prolong oils longevity because nothing will replace it within 50 years anyway even if we had something to replace it with (which we do not at the present or near future time).

  2. 302
    Mark says:

    pete, 301:

    I have this month doubled my spending. This is a huge discrepancy.

    However, the UK GDP has not changed significantly (despite this extra money of alarming proportions).

    Likewise if the cheap oil reserves last 30 years, this “huge discrepancy” changes the figures of oil dependency from 30 years to 31.

    Is a 3% change “significant”?


    So the misspeak is irrelevant to the *answer*. The only reason to continue it is to prove someone wrong.

  3. 303
    CobblyWorlds says:

    Just to make clear re the 80bbl; I had confused daily and annual figures.

    ~80million barrels per day * 365 = ~29billion barrels per year.

    But I still stand by my point and agree with Mark. The possible finds in areas like the Arctic represent no more than a blip on the supply side. Price may have dropped recently due to a recession and demand destruction, but demand destruction takes out the non-necessary usage first (in general). The people who have recently convinced me we’re at Peak and that the impacts of Post Peak will be much worse than I had thought were not making the simple error I made above in post 280.

    To correct what I stated:

    Global annual oil consumption is of the order of 30 billion barrels a year. So new finds of the order of 40 billion will be a blip on the down-slope of post-peak oil supply.

    And if I can add; the issue is not when oil runs out – we won’t get to the point where there is absolutely no potentially recoverable oil left – the economics of supply and demand and the implications of EROEI will intervene well before there’s “no oil left”.

    Sorry for leaving this with you, due to work pressures I’ve not had the time and energy to get back here in any meaningful way.

  4. 304
    Ken HT says:

    RE: Jacob Mack, #298:

    #1(“geologists can offer”), agreed. I’m one, we can.
    #2 (“those funded by the oil companies”), let’s see the data that substantiates your charge. My sense is that the body of opinion that you and I might identify as unschooled is focused both more widely and in a somewhat different direction than the one in which you point.

    - Indeed there are petroleum-geological organizations that continue to propound AGW ignorance – think AAPG.

    - But there are non-oil geological groups that are institutionally just as recalcitrant – think AIPG and AEG. Early posts in this thread do a good job of suggesting probable reasons. While I’d agree that correlations may well include employment by extractive industries, I think the key piece is the conceptual difficulty in seeing the limits to our fundamental principal of uniformitarianism. Post #24 is quite good on this, as are the implications of Andy Revkin’s (#18).

    - Most important, certain oil and oil-service companies supply some of the strongest and most consistent support to the research efforts in CO2 geological sequestration. My own employer, one of those, is not alone in making significant investments in building a business unit from capabilities in this area. We would not be doing this – nor would most of the largest international oil companies – if we thought that AGW was an idea soon to wither as the “bright light of uniformitarianism” bores into the dark corners of climate models [irony].

  5. 305
    Brian Dodge says:

    re 263 Bryan S
    “Subsidies can prop up an expensive technology for a while, but if it doesn’t stand on its own economic feet, it will be bypassed by something cheaper. That is not a conspiracy by big oil, it is simply basic economics taught in any high school civics class.”

    Unfortunately, one of the subsidies that have made fossil fuels cheap is that the costs of global warming caused by its use aren’t factored into its price. Someone, firstly but not solely the global poor, will have to eventually pay this deferred cost, and the distribution of current cost is unlikely to be proportional to prior fossil fuel use. The perception of unfairness will make conflict worse.

  6. 306
    pete best says:

    Re #302, Mark,

    Sorry but you have lost me but I am open to a longer and more explanation of your overall position.



  7. 307
    Phil Ringrose says:

    Wow – what a debate… and all provoked by some sceptical and perhaps misinformed (?) geologists at the IGC Meeting in Norway.

    Just to redress the balance a little – I was at the meeting and did not participate in the climate debate because I was too busy with the Carbon Capture and Storage sessions where another group of geologists (at the IGC) are working hard to find out how to make geological storage of CO2 work as a GHG mitigation action. So some geologists are not so sceptical to the climate debate – even ones that work in the oil industry.

    Having said that I think it is healthy that geologists contribute their long-term (Million year) perspective on climate change to the debate – and healthy too that the real evidence for anthropogenic effects on climate gets re-stated honestly and clearly by the climate scientists.

  8. 308
    Mark says:

    pete if you haven’t gotten it yet by all the analogies, you’ll never get it.

    Phil, the thing that is surprising to me is that those using geologists to “prove” GW is no A is that they KEEP missing that the geological record shows that this time it really ISN’T natural. Not in the recorded history of the planet. And it’s the gelologists who are showing this!!

  9. 309
    pete best says:

    Re #308, I just do not understand you analogies :( Sorry.

  10. 310
    Mark says:

    pete, I already said you obviously didn’t understand. Why did you want to go and say you don’t understand? If you wanted to say “I did but didn’t think them relevant” you could have done so.

    Maybe you just wanted to get the last word in. If so, I can give you the opportunity of getting the last word in by denying that allegation.

  11. 311
    Rod B says:

    Brian (305), your point is well taken, but calling the lack of “full” cost accounting in the oil industry (or any other for that matter) a “subsidy” is nonsensical.

  12. 312
    Buy Mobile says:

    Brian (305), your point is well taken, but calling the lack of “full” cost accounting in the oil industry (or any other for that matter) a “subsidy” is nonsensical.

  13. 313
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, looks like you posted twice under different IDs.
    Or there’s a spooky echo in here.

    Not counting costs — selectively, for a particular industry –is definitely a subsidy. Ask your smiling banker how happy he is about the change in accounting rules last week that keeps him appearing solvent.

    Ken wrote
    > strongest and most consistent support to the research efforts in
    > fCO2 geological sequestration. My own employer, one of those …

    Ken (and Phil who was at that meeting) — can you comment on where the research efforts on sequestration are archived and/or published? Is some kept proprietary, or are the company geologists publishing their work on sequestration?

    Publishing fails to report negative results and failure reports in most areas of science — that’s a known, big, longterm problem. It would seem awfully important, since the CO2 has to stay out of circulation for a while. How long? millenia? What assumptions are being made and tested?

  14. 314
    William Jones says:

    Water vapor is 90% of the greenhouse effect. Wrong.
    A good estimate is that water (including clouds) is up to 90% of the greenhouse effect. Not wrong.

    As Gavin once remarked:

    The overlaps complicate things, but it’s clear that water vapour is the single most important absorber (between 36% and 66% of the greenhouse effect), and together with clouds makes up between 66% and 85%. CO2 alone makes up between 9 and 26%, while the O3 and the other minor GHG absorbers consist of up to 7 and 8% of the effect, respectively. The remainders and uncertainties are associated with the overlaps which could be attributed in various ways that I’m not going to bother with here. Making some allowance (+/-5%) for the crudeness of my calculation, the maximum supportable number for the importance of water vapour alone is about 60-70% and for water plus clouds 80-90% of the present day greenhouse effect. (Of course, using the same approach, the maximum supportable number for CO2 is 20-30%, and since that adds up to more than 100%, there is a slight problem with such estimates!).

    That is quite aside from the other issues. Questions of the percentage of the 35% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide attributable to a population rise of 6,500% and their activities, the attribution of that all to the 5% rise in the anomaly trend compared to a mean global temperature of 14 C, the impacts of such, what to do about it all, and what the future holds.

    There are two things certain though. Water is the bulk of the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide absorbs outgoing LWIR and has risen in concentration in the atmosphere.

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