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Breaking the silence about Spring

Filed under: — eric @ 11 April 2009

Did you know that in 1965 the U.S. Department of Agriculture planted a particular variety of lilac in more than seventy locations around the U.S. Northeast, to detect the onset of spring — in turn to be used to determine the appropriate timing of corn planting and the like? The records the USDA have kept show that those same lilacs are blooming as much as two weeks earlier than they did in 1965. April has, in a very real sense, become May. This is one of the interesting facts that you’ll read about in Amy Seidl’s book, Early Spring, a hot-off-the-press essay about the impacts of climate change on the world immediately around us – the forest, the birds, the butterflies in our backyards.

The brilliant title of Seidl’s book was one of the reasons that it caught my attention. The other was that I have realized I need to better educate myself about the impact of climate change on everyday life. I’ve been dismissive of the idea that the average person can really detect the impacts of recent warming on, for example, the timing of the apple-blossom season, but I’ve been taken to task by several of RealClimate’s readers for this. If you are paying attention, they have argued, the changes are actually rather obvious.

Of course, Amy Seidl is not the average person. Rather, she’s a trained ecologist with a Ph.D. (as well as an avid gardener) and she’s clearly paying extremely close attention. Her book is the first one I have read that effectively brings home the tangible impacts that global warming will have – is having – on our everyday lives. “We are increasingly familiar,” she writes, of images of melting glaciers, “but how do we give them relevance in our lives? From my window I see no glaciers.” She answers her own question with a series of vignettes, some from her own experiences, many more from her extensive research (well referenced throughout the book).

Cardinals, robins and cowbirds are all arriving earlier in Vermont than they did a century ago. Kingfishes, fox sparrows and towhees are not. Why the difference? The answer, as Seidl explains, is that the former group has the ability to respond ecologically to the changes, because these birds cue their arrival to temperature. The latter, it appears, respond more directly to temporal cues, that won’t change even as climate does. It’s obvious from this example that the make up of bird life in Vermont – the species distribution – will change over time. This may not necessarily be a bad thing of course. On the other hand, it turns out that the robins are the most important host for West Nile virus; the early bird gets the worm, so to speak, and passes it along to humans.

Maple seedlings need about 100 days of below-freezing weather. As this becomes rarer, fewer maples will populate the forests. This, Seidl explains, is why species-range models predict the decline and eventual loss of sugar maple (at least in New England) in the future. But, she notes, the models don’t take into account the full complexity of the system, such as the impact of competition among different species. So we don’t really know what will happen, or how fast. What we do know is that maple-sugar farmers have noticed – and documented – an earlier maple sugaring season over the last few decades.

There are many other examples in Early Spring both of clear climate-related changes (such as the early arrival of robins), and of less clear-cut changes (the maple sugaring season). Seidl doesn’t make the common mistake of assuming that the more ambiguous examples are necessarily due to climate change. For example, she quotes a maple-sugarer who points out that technological changes have allowed them to tap maples earlier, and hence that the timing of sugaring is a weak measure of climate change. The point though, is that even rather minor changes are, after all, being noticed. And if much larger changes do occur, as predicted, they will most certainly have impacts we can’t ignore, even if we don’t live in the Arctic or in Bangladesh. In other words, Seidl tells us, listen to the farmers and gardeners, and the observations of regular people: they are meaningful.

The soberness of Seidl’s approach to the subject of climate change impacts contrasts starkly with that of many books before it. It couldn’t be further, for example, from Mark Lynas’s book, Six Degrees, which is a truly alarming read. In my comments on Six Degrees, I said that it wasn’t an alarmist book. I stand by that characterization, because – and this is what I liked about it – it doesn’t go beyond what is in the scientific literature. However, while Lynas’s book is a straightforward reading of the scientific literature, it is a somewhat uncritical one, and hence tends to emphasize what might happen in the future over what will happen; this is a point that many readers of my review seem to have missed. Seidl’s book, on the other hand, is focused on the more certain – and often less dramatic — things, and on the impacts we are likely to see in our own lifetimes.

The calm demeanor of Seidl’s book, and the very personal nature of it, could lead one to think that it is primarily just a philosophical reflection on the climate change story. Indeed, Bill McKibben, in his introduction to Early Spring, says that in the face of changes we may not be able to prevent, “one of our tasks is simply to bear witness”. Certainly, the book is partly that. But Seidl’s voice, like Rachel Carson’s before her, has the authentic and authoritative voice of a scientist, made all the more compelling for being very much rooted in the author’s own story and experiences. And she doesn’t pull punches when she has something definitive to say: “One thing is clear:” she writes, “we will not be able to manage the climate”.

Early Spring has the potential to be immensely influential, a real turning point in the popular appreciation of climate change impacts among laypersons and scientists alike. Read it.

Note that we review books on a fairly ad hoc basis. For earlier reviews of other books, see here.

347 Responses to “Breaking the silence about Spring”

  1. 101
    Mark says:

    “In most UK sheep, at least in my upland area, lambing time is all down to when the ram is put in with the ewes (which actually induces oestrus in the ewe in most cases)”

    So why is it changing?

    Hav ethe farmers suddenly thought “Hey, I could just introduce the rams to the ewes and get more lambs born earlier”???

    If it was, how did they not manage to think of that before?

    I mean, it’s kind of obvious that sheep won’t breed until AFTER they’ve tupped. What is saying so bringing to the party? That gestation follows s-e-x? Except of course in the case of Mary, mother of Jesus…

    So what new insight do you think you’re bringing? Or are you blinded by this flash of the obvious?

    Yes, ram meets, ewe and THEN junior is born.

    Why is it chaning?

  2. 102
    Blog On Smog says:

    Where I live, flower planting has been pushed back by one week over the last 20 years due to night time frost. So the planet may be getting warmer but also the weather is less dependable.

  3. 103
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Well, I got another “it’s in the 30s here in April in ___(Anytown, USA)___, so much for global warming.”

    So here is what I answered (the person ss in PA):

    There are several possibilities — (1) GW may increase wild swings in weather & perhpaps give us cold snaps late into spring; (2) the ocean conveyor is slowing, bringing less warm water up the northeast coast, so the climate there may actually get a bit cooler (tho I don’t know if that wd affect PA); (3) GW has to do with GLOBAL AVERAGE temps – if you don’t know what “average” (mean) means you can get a basic stat book and find out. Or, ask the scientists at

    I’m thinking #3 is the best answer, but not sure…..

    Anyway, after posting that, I went ahead and copied and pasted the entry above and sent it to the person…about April being the new May.

  4. 104
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #86


    I will take your question as a hopeful sign, that you at least (and at last) acknowledge the need to keep our eggs in several baskets.

    My direct answer to your question is: let’s fund as much research on that as we can. Let’s raise public/private donations toward projects which ask the question, “How can we efficiently remove carbon from the atmosphere?”

    And who knows, maybe the AHA! moment for carbon CAPTURE will emerge in that process. Maybe we can attack the problem from both ends with the same effort.

    But seriously and graciously, I want to thank you for asking the question.

    And I did make reference, either here or in the Wilkins thread, to some ideas I posted about in my blog. There are ideas out there, and ideally we would identify some that do not lead to more unknowns, such as the iron seeding idea, which scares me.

  5. 105
    Mark says:

    re 103.

    Say that there was a warmer day in December. Does that mean that that day in december wasn’t in winter?

    Weather != Climate

    And when it is a really hot day, pop back and say “so I guess you’ll be agreeing that it’s AGW, then?”

  6. 106
    Walt Bennett says:


    I’m with you down the line, let’s be doing all of that. But you know and I know, and you made clear reference to, none of that can happen in the short term. You know what you call the sort of economic upheaval you described? Revolution.

    So, for this to happen while preserving the system we have today…is gonna take some time. Certainly ten years, maybe twenty. What will happen in the meantime? BAU.

    That’s the reality we have to start from.

  7. 107
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #79,

    Bart, with all due respect and the utmost sincerity, you are coming across as completely incapable of critical thought. Is that because of some burning need to find ways to refute me? If so, how about laying down your sword and let’s just be two people talking, OK?

    Because the public is not sold on massive cutbacks in fossil fuel consumption, it will not happen in time to avoid the ice stability tipping point. Do you agree or disagree?

    Whether or not you do, it is pretty likely to be true, at least enough to where it makes no sense to rely on that as a solution. Certainly, at this point, solutions that require massive international agreement seems to be a long way from being something to rely on.

    That’s the reality we live in, is it not? That’s the starting point from where I attempt to have this discussion about, quite simply, the need to either (a) find a way to remove carbon from the atmosphere or (b) plan for several hundred years of rapid sea level rise.

    As for funding it, I have a sneaking hunch the public will follow that logic.

  8. 108
    Mark says:

    “Bart, with all due respect and the utmost sincerity, you are coming across as completely incapable of critical thought.”

    Well, it should be easy for you to recognise that in others.

    Pity the mirror won’t reflect that well.

    What WILL work without international agreement is reduction in use. The other countries won’t look at your country and think “hey, they’re not using all 92trillion barrels, we’ll but the 8trillion they’ve stopped using and burn them. For what? I dunno, but we have to make up the difference!”.

    After all, doing so means they’d be paying more money to some other country whilst your trade deficit has gone down.

  9. 109
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ike Solem wrote: “How much does a solar panel factory capable of 50 megawatt/year output cost? Answer: About 100 million.”

    Nanosolar has a production tool that “prints” 14% efficient CIGS solar cells, with a proprietary nanoparticle “ink” on rolls of flexible substrate. It has an annual output of 1 Gigawatt and cost $1.65 million. You can see a video on their website.

    Ike Solem wrote: “Do we even need 3,000 solar PV factories? We only have about three in the U.S. right now, I believe …”

    There are many more than three PV factories in the USA. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, “In 2008 domestic PV cell manufacturing capacity grew 65 percent to 685 MW and production grew 53 percent to 414 MW.”

    Walt Bennett wrote: “You know what you call the sort of economic upheaval you described? Revolution.”

    I call it the New Industrial Revolution of the 21st Century. It will indeed be a profoundly transformative revolutionary change, from an energy economy based on mining and selling and burning expensive, dirty, dangerous, scarce fuel, to one based on manufacturing and selling the technology for harvesting ubiquitous, plentiful, endless, clean, FREE wind and solar energy. The giant “energy” corporations of the future will more closely resemble Intel than ExxonMobil.

    This revolution will of course represent a massive transfer of wealth from the fossil fuel sector to other energy technologies, which is of course why the fossil fuel corporations are doing everything they can to delay it as long as possible (and have been doing so for decades, since long before global warming become a “hot” issue).

    Walt Bennett wrote: “So, for this to happen while preserving the system we have today …”

    You know, when the personal computer began to really catch on, there were people who wanted to “preserve a system” based on dumb terminals connected to mainframes. It’s a good thing they lost out, isn’t it?

  10. 110
    william says:

    Will someone explain to me why a longer growing season is bad for plants, animals and humans? I’ve always associated death and famine with long cold winters and short growing seasons.
    Also please define what year in the 20th Century was normal for the onset of spring. Any location will do.

  11. 111
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt Bennett, It looks as if you are largely favoring carbon-reduction geo-engineering solutions. In my opinion, that is the ONLY way to go for now, since that is the least uncertain portion of the models. That’s essential from the point of view of ensuring both efficacy and modeling unintended consequences.

    There’s only one catch. Our options for removing carbon from the atmosphere are quite limited. Terra Preta is a good option, but it is not clear how large a scale it can be done on. There are no carbon-eating trees at present and no pathway for getting them. That is why it is critical to lower carbon emissions in order to buy time and develop solutions. I do not consider reduction of fossil fuels to be the solution. Rather, I look upon it as a way of buying time so we can find a solution.

  12. 112
    Slioch says:

    #103 Lynn Vincentnathan said

    “Well, I got another “it’s in the 30s here in April in ___(Anytown, USA)___, so much for global warming.”

    So here is what I answered”

    Maybe the following site would be useful for that kind of enquiry, though I know nothing about its authenticity. The few times I’ve looked at it there seems to be places with both record high and record low temperatures recorded, usually more of the former.,mintemp,lowmax,highmin&s=20090211&e=20090211

  13. 113
    Hank Roberts says:

    Good grief, let’s go ’round back and count them rather than argue only from faith and belief, eh?

    There is a natural timing to this, and feral sheep are being observed by field biologists. Just as a pointer, someone else may care enough to dig further into this one:

    Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society
    Factors that affect fertility in a feral population of sheep
    Volume 95 Issue 2, Pages 163 – 174
    Published Online: 15 May 2008

    Other tidbits:

    “… Spring lambing coincides with the natural breeding and lambing seasons. With spring lambing, breeding and lambing periods tend to be more condensed, because ewes and rams are most fertile during a fall mating season.”

    “We believe we already have evidence of climate change beginning to impact on sheep farmers. Over the last five years, demand for milk replacer has extended into early winter/autumn and spring/early summer, indicating a lengthening of the lambing season.”

    The sheep ked Melophagus ovinus is a member of the parasitic Dipteran …. The ked population increase ceased at lambing…. possibly associated with climate change, and it is a notifiable disease ….

  14. 114
    t_p_hamilton says:

    “Will someone explain to me why a longer growing season is bad for plants, animals and humans? I’ve always associated death and famine with long cold winters and short growing seasons.”

    Bug larvae not getting killed by very hard freezes.

    Early blooming fruit trees get major hits in fruit production if there is a freeze.

  15. 115
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #109


    We agree almost entirely. Let me just state that “the system we have now” means private ownership of property and capital. You can’t just “take it” from them, you have to put policies in place which, over time, encourage the transfer to occur.

    And time is the enemy of the emissions reduction scenario, and that brings us back around to the reality of the situation.

  16. 116
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #111


    I sort of see it the opposite. We need geo-engineering solutions to buy us time until we can flatten emissions (they do not cause atmospheric levels to rise or fall). Hansen wants a plateau of 350 ppm, and admits we have to draw down CO2 levels “manually” to get there.

    So, we agree that both have to happen. Of the two, I have been saying for quite some time that I have zero faith in emissions reduction as a near term solution, and since we need near term solutions, that only leaves geo-engineering.

    As for lack of ideas, that is exactly why I am blaring the trumpet. We need better ideas, we need them in real time, and we need the highest levels of government to recognize this.

  17. 117
    Ike Solem says:

    “There are many more than three PV factories in the USA. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, “In 2008 domestic PV cell manufacturing capacity grew 65 percent to 685 MW and production grew 53 percent to 414 MW.”

    If you want to seriously track solar PV capacity, there are better sources:

    In particular, you might want to look at import of crystalline solar PV panels to the U.S., 1999-2007

    Then, take a look at what countries they are coming from: Japan, Germany, and China.

    It’s interesting that Australia, with one of the world’s leading photovoltaic research centers, is not on the list – but that’s because of the political power of the Australian coal lobby. The difference between Australia and the U.S. is that in the U.S. both research and production were suppressed, while in Australia it was just production – so Australian researchers are finding opportunities in China, Japan, Germany – and California, despite attempted interference by fossil fuel interests in the federal government.

    California’s renewable energy push is a lot like the growth of Silicon Valley and associated industries in Southern California – with one big difference – no support from the University of California, Stanford, and the other major academic institutions.

    The corporate takeover of the academic system is relatively new, based on Bayh Dole technology patenting and licensing laws put in place in the 1980s. Those laws allowed for exclusive control of academic patents by private “partners” – essentially turning many science departments into the equivalent of corporate research parks, and never mind conflict of interest between business agendas, trade secrets, the open flow of information, and academic freedom.

    Imagine, if you will, that IBM had major public-private partnerships with the University of California and Stanford back in the 1970s – would those institutions have played such a large role in the growth of Silicon Valley, or would they have strictly dedicated all research efforts to maintaining the mainframe model?

    Despite the claims of academic administrators and patent-bearing professors (who have clear financial incentives to promote Bayh-Dole), these “technology transfer agreements” do more to stifle innovation and the growth of new technology than they do to promote it – and there is not a more illustrative example than that of renewable energy research at Stanford and the University of California. This has now become perhaps the most important issue in ensuring that California develops a world-scale renewable energy sector – getting rid of Bayh-Dole and kicking the fossil fuel corporations and their financial sponsors out of the academic system.

    Academic institutions are officially opposed to this, and are diehard backers of Bayh-Dole. You can get a little background here:

    However, there are now some large institutions who understand that excessive patenting is stifling technological innovation, and they are battling it out with the IBM-pharmaceutical-DuPont crowd, who think they can run the world via control of intellectual property. I imagine few people have heard of it:

    On one side you have Google, Microsoft and other tech firms who find that their every move is being restricted by endless networks of frivolous patent lawsuits – including a whole lot of academic lawsuits aimed at “protecting intellectual property”. That’s actually the opposite of promoting technology transfer, which is what academic institutions use to promote Bayh-Dole. They’ve also spent the last decade or so loading up their upper administrative ranks with diehard Bayh-Dole supporters – just look at the list of UC Regents, for example. In fact, Google is behaving far more responsibly than the UC system is – they have their own independent research facilities along the Bell Labs model, they use solar panels to reduce their grid energy consumption, and they certainly do more to promote the open flow of information than does the corporate academic system, which is heading in the opposite direction – talk about a bizarre situation.

    On the other side, you have the academic institutions, drug makers, and large conglomerates like General Electric. The result is described here:

    As far as I can tell, it appears to leave a lot of it up to the courts – and Feinstein included language that will increase the royalties paid to professors and academic institutions via their taxpayer-financed patent holdings, which is not too surprising since her husband is deeply involved with the UC system.

    Fixing this problem is going to require a major political effort and a complete restructuring of the upper levels of the UC system – but it has to happen, or you’ll see steadily increasing fraud and corruption and just generally poor science.

    I wonder what the modern cynical academic would say to people like Rutherford and Thompson…

    It seems probable that J.J. Thompson sat eager young Ernest Rutherford down in the darkly paneled rooms of the Gothic Revival Cavendish Laboratory that Clerk Maxwell had founded, at the university where Newton wrote his great Principia, and kindly told him he could not serve God and Mammon at the same time… but if Rutherford gave up commercial wealth for holy science, he won the atom in exchange. He found its constituent parts and named them. – Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb

    Not that there’s anything wrong with commercial success – but not on the taxpayer’s dime, and certainly not while reclining in a tenured academic position, and we haven’t even mentioned insider trading and conflict of interest in the investment area, either.

  18. 118
    SecularAnimist says:

    Walt Bennett wrote: “I have zero faith in emissions reduction as a near term solution, and since we need near term solutions, that only leaves geo-engineering.”

    I must admit that I have not read every comment you have posted here, but in those that I have read, I have never seen you offer any argument that geo-engineering could plausibly be a “near term solution” — particularly if emissions continue to increase, and to accelerate, as they have been in recent years.

    You just keep asserting that geo-engineering can be implemented and can address the problem more quickly and more effectively than emissions reductions. You never explain how or why this would be true.

    You repeatedly assert that the world will simply not agree to take the steps necessary to reduce emissions — steps which are well understood, well known, which have numerous other environmental benefits, as well as economic benefits. Yet you simultaneously seem to believe that the whole world will unanimously agree on quick implementation of geo-engineering schemes — which are entirely speculative, whose detrimental side-effects are unknown and could be catastrophic, whose economic costs are also unknown, which don’t address all the problems caused by emissions (e.g. ocean acidification), and which might have to be sustained and carefully managed on a global scale over time scales of decades to centuries.

    Nor have you spelled out specifically what geo-engineering schemes you advocate.

    Please forgive me if I have missed something and please feel free to post links to prior comments where you have in fact addressed these points.

    But from what I have seen, your entire “argument” consists of repeated unsupported assertions that we must do anything except reduce the use of fossil fuels, primarily because you think that the international community will never agree to adopt proven, well-understood, economically beneficial steps to reduce emissions, but will quickly embrace untested, speculative geo-engineering schemes with completely unknown effectiveness, unknown side effects and unknown costs.

  19. 119
    SecularAnimist says:

    Walt Bennett wrote: “Let me just state that ‘the system we have now’ means private ownership of property and capital.”

    I really don’t know what you are talking about. The wind and solar energy industries consist of private, for-profit corporations, just like the fossil fuel industry.

    I know that ExxonMobil and its ilk like to brand their propaganda as “conservative” as though solar panels and wind turbines were some how ideologically “liberal”, because it pushes the buttons that get certain sorts of people all fired up about Al Gore.

    And they like to imply that “capitalism” equals “the fossil fuel industry”, as though the corporations that manufacture solar panels and wind turbines — like, oh, General Electric for example — were “communists” out to destroy The American Way Of Life.

    But that’s pretty silly, isn’t it?

    So what exactly are you talking about?

  20. 120
    Hank Roberts says:

    > zero faith in emissions reduction
    > lack of ideas
    > that’s why I am blaring the trumpet

    But that’s all stuff you could blare in your own blog.

    Here, looking things up, we can see how quickly people do reduce emissions, and reduce fuel use. Look it up on the California climate site, it’s documented.

    Click this, then click “Recent” and set for “2008”

    Same for ideas, there are many, and many of them are funded.

    You seem to be arguing that stuff doesn’t exist that we can point to. And the trumpeting would really sound better on your own blog wouldn’t it?

  21. 121
    Lawrence Brown says:

    Re #90: Lawrence C. says:”china is taking the lead and pushing ahead with an aggressive alternative energy program..It may well be that america will have to follow china to self sustainability”

    That’s a good sign, Lawrence. There’s an interesting op-ed in yesterday’s NY Times by Thomas Friedman on steps that Costa Rica is taking to preserve their resources.,Baby,Drill&st=cse

    It reads in part:”More than any nation I’ve ever visited, Costa Rica is insisting that economic growth and environmentalism work together. It has created a holistic strategy to think about growth, one that demands that everything gets counted. So if a chemical factory sells tons of fertilizer but pollutes a river — or a farm sells bananas but destroys a carbon-absorbing and species-preserving forest — this is not honest growth. You have to pay for using nature. It is called “payment for environmental services” — nobody gets to treat climate, water, coral, fish and forests as free anymore.”

    It goes on to say:”To pay for these environmental services, in 1997 Costa Rica imposed a tax on carbon emissions — 3.5 percent of the market value of fossil fuels — which goes into a national forest fund to pay indigenous communities for protecting the forests around them. And the country imposed a water tax whereby major water users — hydro-electric dams, farmers and drinking water providers — had to pay villagers upstream to keep their rivers pristine. “We now have 7,000 beneficiaries of water and carbon taxes,” said Rodríguez. “It has become a major source of income for poor people. It has also enabled Costa Rica to actually reverse deforestation. We now have twice the amount of forest as 20 years ago.”

    The Bush’s and the Cheney’s(and the Bennett’s) of this world would have a fit at the thought of paying for using our natural resources, yet it not helps preserve nature, but it has proven to be a source of income to the country’s poor,nullifying an argument from the right that a tax on carbon would hurt those who are poorest.

  22. 122
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt, OK, so you are advocating geo-engineering even though:
    1)No geoengineering solutions exist at present.
    2)We cannot validate the efficacy of said solutions unless they involve removing greenhouse gasses from the air.
    3)Any R&D programs instituted will not likely yield effective strategies for decades.
    4)We will continue to pump gigatons of ghgs into the air in the interim possibly pushing us well past the point of no return (e.g. once natural CO2 and CH4 sources kick in).

    Now, I ask you: How does that solve the problem?

  23. 123
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #118,119


    I see that certain members of the group have become fond of saying that I oppose emissions reduction.

    That is false.

    I simply see the reality that emissions reduction will not be achieved in enough time to avoid the ice sheet stability tipping point; certainly there is enormous doubt that it can be done, in any case.

    I observe the massive reductions being insisted upon, in a very short time frame, by developing nations. I see that BAU goes on and I see that it will go on.

    Without geo-engineering ideas, therefore, the tipping point is an almost guarantee to happen. That’t the ugly reality, but its ugliness makes it no less real.

    I have repeatedly said that there are some good ideas and that we need more of them. Do you think I should not be allowed to speak because I, personally, have not thought of them?

  24. 124
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #122

    Ray, I obviously reject your premises out of hand, especially #3.

    In fact, the tone of your comment seems to be: “We don’t know what those solutions will be, therefore we should not be looking for them.”

    I’d say there’s ample reason to believe that such an effort would yield good ideas; I’d say we’ve seen some good ideas already, and that leads me to believe there might be even better ideas.

    I’m highly confident that there are and that we will find them. Human history supports me in that belief.

  25. 125
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #120


    Nowhere have I said that we lack emissions reduction ideas. I said that we quite clearly lack the political will (based on the lack of public support) to enact those ideas. We certainly lack the will to jack up the price of basic energy. We clearly, clearly lack those things. We are far too invested in emissions-generating sources of energy to back away quickly or cheaply, and there are no visible stakeholders who are willing to shoulder that burden and forge ahead.

    This discussion has nothing, not a thing to do with emissions reduction ideas. As many of you go on and on and on about, there are solid ideas, ideas which make clear sense on a number of levels, and I have little doubt that they will be enacted, over time, as the cost of doing so can be smoothed. That’s the way we tend to get things done, not by fiat and not by rapidly increasing the cost of BAU without giving markets and consumers time to adjust.

    If this effort had been seriously underway twenty years ago, or even ten, then we would have a shot at this being the solution.

    That was so grotesquely not the case: emissions have shot up in that time.

    So let’s stick to the subject. I am not here to say “Do not reduce emissions!” nor have I ever said that. What I have clearly said is that we have finite resources and we need to allocate them appropriately. If we do not rationally analyze the prospects for success of one method versus another, we run the very real risk of disrupting social compacts in a very painful way, without even solving the problem we suffered all that pain to solve.

    What sense does that make?

  26. 126
    David Horton says:

    #113 Thanks for the useful reference Hank on sheep oestrus. The debate here has seen some misunderstanding. Some sheep breeds are more seasonal than others, and it is in the latter that you can stimulate oestrus by introducing the ram. If you introduced a ram in the middle of summer to ewes from a seasonal breed it would have no effect at all. My observations are on the breed Wiltshire Horn, one of the British Breeds in Australia. Up to about a decade ago the breed was like clockwork – ewes began to cycle about the 20 March (for a Spring lambing) and stopped some time in July (if unmated). Lambs born before about 20 August were unheard of. These days it is very common to get lambs born in July or even June. Observations are complicated by when rams are introduced, so getting figures in a domestic situation would be difficult. But I am reasonably convinced there has been a shift, and it is great to know that observations on feral sheep conform this. I presume the effect (as someone says, day length hasn’t changed) is partly the result of warmer temperatures, but there may also be an effect from pasture condition (with fewer early frosts) in Autumn. Most animal systems are very complex, so I wouldn’t die in a ditch on mechanisms, but I reckon something is happening in this area as in so many others. With climate change the devil may well be in the detail as much as in the big events.

  27. 127
    Hank Roberts says:

    There appears no question that emission of CO2 is going to be reduced. Paleo records show how it’s happened in the past, after each of the biggest emission spikes/warming events comparable to present.

    Open question: whether we’ll do it, or be done in by it.


    Mass extinctions and ocean acidification: biological constraints on geological dilemmas

    Coral Reefs, Volume 27, Number 3 / September 2008


    The five mass extinction events that the earth has so far experienced have impacted coral reefs as much or more than any other major ecosystem. Each has left the Earth without living reefs for at least four million years, intervals so great that they are commonly referred to as ‘reef gaps’ (geological intervals where there are no remnants of what might have been living reefs).

    The causes attributed to each mass extinction are reviewed and summarised. When these causes and the reef gaps that follow them are examined in the light of the biology of extant corals and their Pleistocene history, most can be discarded. Causes are divided into

    (1) those which are independent of the carbon cycle: direct physical destruction from bolides, ‘nuclear winters’ induced by dust clouds, sea-level changes, loss of area during sea-level regressions, loss of biodiversity, low and high temperatures, salinity, diseases and toxins and extraterrestrial events and

    (2) those linked to the carbon cycle: acid rain, hydrogen sulphide, oxygen and anoxia, methane, carbon dioxide, changes in ocean chemistry and pH.

    By process of elimination, primary causes of mass extinctions are linked in various ways to the carbon cycle in general and ocean chemistry in particular with clear association with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

    The prospect of ocean acidification is potentially the most serious of all predicted outcomes of anthropogenic carbon dioxide increase. This study concludes that acidification has the potential to trigger a sixth mass extinction event and to do so independently of anthropogenic extinctions that are currently taking place.

    ——-end abstract—–

    Paragraph breaks added for readability – hank r.

  28. 128
    David B. Benson says:

    Correcting my earlier posts on sequestering biochar, with current species of sea water algae one should be able to sustain about 40 tC/ha/yr. So to remove all the excess CO2 added yearly would take only a quarter gigahectare plus the extra needed for fueling all the pumps, transportation and burial of the biochar.

  29. 129
    Mark says:

    “We certainly lack the will to jack up the price of basic energy. ”

    We do????

    The companies selling electric and gas in the UK are doing it all the time. They seem to have no problem with it.

    And some of that increase is due to government raising the base price of the raw material.

  30. 130
    Mark says:

    “Will someone explain to me why a longer growing season is bad for plants, animals and humans? I’ve always associated death and famine with long cold winters and short growing seasons.”

    Where the season was right before, it will no longer be right now.

    Oranges may not grow in California if it’s too hot and too dry.

    The band of land suitable to grow them may move north, but you know what? for each degree of longitude, there’s less and less land available as you go away from the equator.

    And californians won’t like the idea of abandoning their 300-year-old towns.

  31. 131
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt, Meaningful reductions in emission can be achieved. Last year, when the city of Juneau was cut off from its normal cheap hydroelectric supply, they managed to cut energy consumption by more than 37% with no preparation whatsoever. When gasoline prices rose dramatically last year, even Americans bagan to respond rationally, reducing driving and beginning to buy hybrids and other high-milage cars. We KNOW how to cut emissions.

    In contrast, we have no idea how to proceed about sucking CO2 out of the air and sequestering it (where, exactly?). You are falling victim to the tendency to think that whatever you understand must be easy. Climate mitigation is NOT easy. Indeed there may not even be ANY good, large-scale solutions. We don’t know yet, and it’s not for lack of looking.

    I would contend that we start with what we know–emissions reductions–and as we come up with effective validated mitigations, THEN we can increase emissions.

  32. 132
    P. Lewis says:


    You appear to have an attitude and comprehension problem (as has been noted by one or two other contributors I note). Seriously: read what people say, not what you think they say!

    First, about your

    I mean, it’s kind of obvious that sheep won’t breed until AFTER they’ve tupped.

    And I mean: the tup (noun) is the ram. Tupped (verb) means the ram’s done his business, ie copulated. Tupping (verb) is copulating! Tupping is breeding in farm animals! Which kinda makes the text of that extract above nonsensical.

    Once again then.

    The farmers plan for early lambing so they can get the best price; it’s called economics of the marketplace. That’s why early lambing is happening: the high price for early-season ‘spring’ lamb (and they probably want a slice of the largely complementary New Zealand lamb market), not because of climate change.

    There’s a lambing shed a mile from me that’s at least a couple of thousand square feet in size. In January and February it is packed with ewes and lambs. They don’t (or rarely) go out until mid/late March. They took an economic decision about 4 or 5 years ago to also lamb early and built this ruddy great aircraft hangar to enable that practice.

    So, again, whether the lambs arrive in January/February or in March/April is down to when the farmer’s planned his arrivals to be, and obviously he plans for someone’s ram(s) to service (around August/September or around October/November) his ewes in order to lamb when he wants to lamb. It doesn’t happen by chance (unless by accident the ram escapes his confines and does his business in the wrong field), and it is essentially not at the whim of the weather or climate.

    And being an early lambing farmer doesn’t necessarily preclude them from being late lambing farmers, should anyone ask. Some are one; some are both. Some plan for a progression; indeed, some need to given the size of their flocks (my immediate neighbour does so, from January through to April). But other farmers plan and stick to late lambing, especially the smaller hill farms hereabouts.

    And Hank’s link to a quote from the Farmers Guardian saying

    We believe we already have evidence of climate change beginning to impact on sheep farmers. Over the last five years, demand for milk replacer has extended into early winter/autumn and spring/early summer, indicating a lengthening of the lambing season.

    from a Volac International (animal feedstuffs) sales person, should, I contend, be taken with a large boulder of salt. Not that the lambing season isn’t extending, cos it is (and note that it is extending at both ends), but that the reason for the extension is claimed as climate change is likely wrong; there is no evidence that is the reason.

    Now, that phenological effects are being seen in sheep farming in the UK is not in dispute. The advance of bluetongue is one such piece of evidence. However, there is no evidence in the farming practice of (at least) the local farmers that lambing timing per se is changing due to climate change in the UK. The management is too intense that it would likely swamp any such signal.

    Whether lambing time in the likes of the Herdwicks/Ryedales largely left to roam (sort of semi feral-like, but still managed) on the Lakeland fells/Yorks moors is subject to phenological change I can’t say, but it might be visible there first in managed stock in reduced lamb mortality. I’ll ask the Yorkshire farmer whose cottage I stay in most years for a few weeks when I go up in September, but I know most of his lambs arrive in April (at least they did in the last couple of years I’ve been, having been tupped in early November I think).

    Which leads me on to Hank’s link on feral sheep research. This doesn’t really suggest anything one way or the other. It’s too early to say anyway, but I note (my emphasis):

    Feral livestock offer an excellent opportunity [t]o study factors affecting fertility as the physiology of their husbanded relatives is well known and social and environmental influences can be studied free of man’s interference

    and that “environmental” doesn’t necessarily (but may also) mean “climate”.

    Sheep farming in most of Britain is managed by the farmer to suit the farmer (and the supermarket). That climate change will have an effect on farming of sheep is also not an issue with me. But the supposed warmer and wetter winters (of which there seem to have been a few until this year) will likely mean the sheep lambed early will still be kept indoors so that the fields are not ruined for the spring/summer grass crop, especially in my area (a point also made in Hank’s link to the Farmers Guardian).

    No more sheep talk from me unless there’s something substantively new to comment on. But more links appreciated if you’d like Hank.

  33. 133
    Jim Bouldin says:

    William (110):

    A longer growing season is NOT necesarily a bad thing. For example, ecosytem productivity and carbon storage can be increased and agronomic productivity as well, depending on crop and location. The issue with phenological changes is more related to the timing of physiological events, particularly with respect to multi-species dependencies. These can be disrupted if the interacting species do not respond to the changes at the same rate. Another issue is that if the lengthened season is associated with insufficiently cold temperatures in the winter (which it is in many cases), certain freezing or chilling requirements required for the proper breaking of dormancy in spring, and subsequent normal growth and development, may not be met. This applies both to living plants and seeds. Lastly, the advantages of a lengthened thermal season are less than fully realized if soil moisture or nutrient limitations limit potential photosynthesis. That is, thermal energy has to be the main limiting factor, which it may or may not be.

    I don’t know that you can point to any one year and say “that’s our baseline”. Mirroring temperature trends, there’s been a definite movement towards earlier springs in the latter 20th century.

  34. 134
  35. 135

    Walt Bennett wrote in 125:

    Nowhere have I said that we lack emissions reduction ideas. I said that we quite clearly lack the political will (based on the lack of public support) to enact those ideas. We certainly lack the will to jack up the price of basic energy. We clearly, clearly lack those things.

    I was wondering what you thought of Hansen’s revenue neutral approach where consumers would get back the proceeds from any tax levied on fossil fuel.

    Please see:

    Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, is one of the leading voices for a carbon tax to address climate change, rather than backing the more widely used cap-and-trade approach. In his plan, Hansen recommends levying a rising tax on fossil fuels and redistributing 100 percent of the proceeds to taxpayers – a “tax and dividend” approach [PDF].
    Hansen to Obama: Support a Carbon Tax
    Ben Block
    December 15, 2008 3:39 PM

    We know that when you tax an industry, for example, the fossil fuel industry, they tend to pass on to the consumers only a portion of the cost. Or at least that is what I was taught in an introductory course to economics. Thus if the tax really is revenue neutral, consumers could spend the dividend so that they are purchasing the same fossil fuels as before — but then would have a little money left over — or so I would presume.

    But chances are they would be spending that money differently — on alternate forms of energy which would suddenly be more competitive. Then economies of scale and further R&D would kick in and the alternative energy would be even cheaper.

    Seems to me that the only people opposed to this sort of thing would be the fossil fuel industry. Consumers would be coming out ahead right off the bat. So consumers wouldn’t have a problem with this sort of approach — or so I would think.

    But what do think?

  36. 136
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #135,


    I was highly disappointed to learn that Obama was not planning to do something along these lines. One clear benefit is that the consumer could profit by simply spending less on energy.

    With money floating around, yes for sure businesses would rise up to attract that money. Government seeding of free enterprise by putting the money directly in the hands of consumers and allowing them to choose.

    of course, my view remains: It would not accomplish nearly enough, soon enough.

    However, if somebody had thought of this twenty years ago, think where we might be today.


  37. 137
    Walt Bennett says:


    I’m not sure you realize what you did, but you repeated the same argument I already told you I did not disagree with.

    I said we have workable ideas to reduce fossil fuel consumption; I then said we won’t do enough, soon enough, for it to matter (in fact, it won’t even be close).

    That’s why, my friend, we must trek into the unknown, because we must find solutions which we have not found yet.

    Or, as I said, accept centuries of rapid sea level rise, because you know as well as I do that nature is quite comfortable leaving that CO2 up there and melting the ice. To her, it’s just another way to be.

  38. 138
    Hank Roberts says:

    Walt, can you please pick one place, point to it, and post there, not repost the same thing in every new thread started? Allow the other topics some life too.

  39. 139
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE “However, while Lynas’s book is a straightforward reading of the scientific literature, it is a somewhat uncritical one, and hence tends to emphasize what might happen in the future over what will happen.” Typical scientist sentiment. However, since Lynas is an environmentalist, not a climate scientist, he has to look at the worst that might happen (and that worst might even be worse than what the scientists are able to come up with right now).

    Think of it this way, when an engineer is designing a bridge, he has to think of the worst that MIGHT happen — like the bridge becoming weakened by various factors or over time AND a rush hour completely composed of big heavy tractor trailer trucks loaded to the brim with gold bars, AND some earthquake happening. Well, I guess they didn’t really do all that with the Bay Bridge or Nimitz freeway (I remember their collapse).

    So, who knows, we may be headed straight into oblivion, smelling the early-blooming lilacs along the way.

  40. 140
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #105 & “And when it is a really hot day, pop back and say ‘so I guess you’ll be agreeing that it’s AGW, then?'”

    Yep, that’s what I do — it’s called biased perception. Good thing there are scientists here to keep the records straight & they know their stats — like what the mean means.

  41. 141
    David B. Benson says:

    Slightly off-topic, but a well done report on the consequences of SLR for much of the Americas.

    “Americas on alert for sea level rise”:

  42. 142

    Walt Bennett wrote in 136:

    Re: #135,


    I was highly disappointed to learn that Obama was not planning to do something along these lines. One clear benefit is that the consumer could profit by simply spending less on energy.

    Well, just because he decided it this way this year doesn’t mean that he won’t try something different next year, particularly if cap-and-trade encounters as much opposition as you expect to see.

    As for myself, I don’t know how much opposition cap-and-trade will receive, but I prefer not to gamble, and I expect the majority of taxpayers/consumers to be most concerned when it comes to their own bottom line, so perhaps I am something of a cynic as well. In either case Hansen’s plan would get around that.

    Walt Bennett wrote in 136:

    With money floating around, yes for sure businesses would rise up to attract that money. Government seeding of free enterprise by putting the money directly in the hands of consumers and allowing them to choose.

    That is the way I see it.

    Walt Bennett wrote in 136:

    of course, my view remains: It would not accomplish nearly enough, soon enough.

    Well, that depends.

    For some things you are probably right. I expect to see the Arctic sea ice gone during the summers pretty much regardless of what we do — assuming we don’t come up with some geoengineering solution. And pretty much the same holds for the glaciers of the Himalayas. I believe the most recent projections were that 90% may be gone by 2030, and if I remember correctly, different emission scenarios show pretty much the same trajectory out to 2040.

    But then there is the question of whether there will still be Arctic sea ice in the fall and winter. Much of Greenland’s ice may depend on it. There is the question of just how unstable the West Antarctic Peninsula proves to be. But even assuming the West Antarctic Peninsula goes, there is always the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Or at least there could be — if we avoid higher emissions.

    Then there is the question of the methane hydrates, both shallow water deposits and permafrost.
    Not all of this is going to go all at once. And some of what happens will most certainly depend upon the emissions scenario — particularly towards the end of the century.

    It seems to me that I remember different emission scenarios mean the difference between a rise in temperature of 4°C and 8°C during the summer by the end of the century in some cities along the US eastern seaboard, for example.

    This was once you scaled things down with regional models so that you could take into account the fact that rain comes in the afternoon, when the ground is already hot, and would tend to evaporate, leaving the soil dry, reducing the rate at which it can lose heat by means of evaporation, leading to still higher temperatures and even less rain.

    A tenth of humanity lives less than 10 meters above sea level, and for each additional meter sea level rises, more cities will have to be abandoned, either because large parts of them lie below sea level, or their sewers, subways or aquifers lie below sea level. And for each additional meter, more cities will be put at risk not necessarily by the sea level itself, but by storm surge. The cost to the world economy could very well be astronomical.

    How much of the planet will be experiencing severe drought by the 2070s? 2080s? 2090s? It depends upon the emission scenario.
    But what determines the emission scenario that we will actually follow throughout much of the rest of this century?

    The investments that we are making now — as we move away from traditional petroleum and turn to either renewables or nontraditional fossil fuels — including tar sands and shale — or commit ourselves to the further development of coal, including perhaps synthetic oil made from coal. In each of these cases we will be heavily investing in infrastructure, and if it is in fossil fuels, once that infrastructure is in place it will be much more difficult to shift to renewable energy.

    Moreover, it is the very nature of the beast that with fossil fuels we will go from relatively high grade fossil fuels that are easy to get at and which result in less emissions per unit of energy to lower grade fossil fuels that are more difficult to get at and which result in higher and higher emissions per unit of energy. Whether we move towards renewables over the next decade or so or deeply invest in non-traditional fossil fuels will more than likely make a great deal of difference in the latter half of this century and for centuries to come.

  43. 143
    MarcH says:

    Early Spring…So What. Taking a long term view this has happened before and will happen again as the flux of climate changes as it always has done and always will do. Nice to know that the US DOA have had a practical system that helps farmers plan their planting. Any stats on improved production figures resulting from earlier planting?

  44. 144
    Chris S says:

    It’s certainly nice to return from Easter to find RC has devoted a post to my favourite hobby horse!

    Apologies for introducing another piece of jargon but, to me, the most probematical (potentially) effect of changing phenology could be trophic mismatch.

    Put simply, whilst certain flora & fauna use temperature (or other climate/weather related cues) as a ‘trigger’ to set of their spring phenology other species are locked in to using photoperiod (day length). Whilst the former are changing their phenology in response to changes in climate the latter will be unable to. (Trophic mismatch can be further excaberated in migratory species by differences in the rate of climate change at either end of the migration).

    Trophic mismatch is already being demonstrated in various studies. For example Arctic Caribou ( ) and Snow Goose ( )

  45. 145

    Here is another excellent book about climate change impacts (Heatstroke: Nature in an Age of Global Warming – Anthony Barnosky):

    review see here:–fwg041309.php

  46. 146
    Chris S says:

    It should also be noted that, in the UK at least, agricultural planting dates are unlikely to get any earlier than they are now as the soils are, and will be, too wet (and cold) for sowing. One of the primary crop pests in the UK however (aphids) have already been demonstrated to fly earlier with warmer winter temperatures ( ) and thus are appearing in fields at earlier, more vulnerable, stages in crop development.

  47. 147
    Alan of Oz says:

    Here in Australia the start of spring seems to be at the end of fall, we haven’t had a normal winter in Melbourne for years. The day the recent firestorm started saw 4000 flying foxes (a type of large fruit bat) simply drop out of the trees dead from heat exhaustion. This did not occur near the fires it occured in a leafy city park that sits on a bend in the Yarra river.

    To be sure land management is a problem but it does not cause city dwelling animals to drop out of trees dead, this is a taste of what the rest of the world can look forward to in the near future.

    I think California will be the next place where reality will hit home hard. The people there will have to get used to water rationing, expensive de-sal plants, dramatic reductions (50% or more) on agricultural yeilds, entire forests of 600yo trees dying of thirst, bushfires travelling at 120kmh and hot enough to melt engine blocks, etc, etc.

    The argument that we should wait and adapt to these changes when they occur is nonsense that is doomed to fail as it has here in Oz. We have already had to adapt and are still doing so but adaptation will not bring back what ‘the lucky country’ has lost.

  48. 148
    Mark says:

    “Early Spring…So What. Taking a long term view this has happened before and will happen again as the flux of climate changes ”

    And why is the flux of climate changing?

    It isn’t the sun.

    It isn’t our orbit.

    It isn’t the FSM.

    We ARE producing lots of CO2 and that can explain it.

    Remember, if you’re talking about “in the past”, in the past you were not alive. In the past, humans didn’t even exist.

    Are you advocating genocide of the human race via inaction?

  49. 149
    Mark says:

    “I’m not sure you realize what you did, but you repeated the same argument I already told you I did not disagree with.”

    You don’t accept it though.

    In fact, you seem to ignore it. The argument doesn’t seem to change your position, even though it is eminently true that if we REDUCE CO2 production NOW, we have longer to work out any other mitigation strategy we can think of.

  50. 150
    Mark says:

    “And I mean: the tup (noun) is the ram. Tupped (verb) means the ram’s done his business, ie copulated. Tupping (verb) is copulating! ”

    I know. Jasper Carrot had a song about a rooster which used the word extensively.

    You will also notice I used s-e-x. Incredible that you missed it. Especially since you accuse me of not comprehending.

    You never did answer the question “why now?”. In the old days when the shepherd sat outside with a sling to see the wolves off and there was no shed to keep them in, the rams and ewes all lived together. And they tupped when they felt like it and biology made it available.

    Taking the sheep indoors centuries later would not have the farmers change that time for tupping. No need.

    So why are sheep changing their fertile period? It’s not because rams are present earlier, since this would have made a lambing season in the past an impossibility: the ewes are always on head since they are always with the rams.

    I am glad you’ve decided to shut the fck up about it, though, since you don’t seem to have anything to add other than the completely useless statement that lambs only get produced after rams have met the ewes.