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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. 151
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mark, sorry, but you don’t know sheep.
    Neither do I.
    Let’s take some time, do the reading, and see what the field workers have to say about how this works. It may be the length of gestation that changes, for example, by a week or more depending on the timing of spring and conditions, rather than the fertility timing, for example.

    You do realize this is one aspect of the tragedy of the commons, right?

  2. 152
    Mark says:

    “Mark, sorry, but you don’t know sheep.”

    I do know farmers, though.

    If they could get an earlier lamb by putting rams amongst the ewes earlier, they would.

    If you’re the first to market, you have a short-lived monopoly. Which means higher profits.

    No need to know sheep, just need to know sheep farmers.

  3. 153
    Nick Gotts says:

    “If they could get an earlier lamb by putting rams amongst the ewes earlier, they would.” – Mark

    It’s just not as simple as that. First, sheep-meat is often imported from countries with different seasons, so you might want to avoid competition. Second, labour is often a limiting resource (and far more so now than in the past), so lambing may be timed not to compete for labour with other activities. Third, there are different breeds of sheep, which both produce different products e.g. more or less fat (which change in relative price), and have different feed and shelter requirements. Fourth, lambs are often reared to a particular stage, then sold on for “finishing”, so you need to coordinate with other farmers. I’m sure any sheep-farmer would be able to continue this list for some time. You just cannot say, if you know anything at all about farming (which you very clearly don’t), that farmers will simply prefer to produce lambs as early as possible.

  4. 154

    Walt Bennett says:

    I have been saying for quite some time that I have zero faith in emissions reduction as a near term solution

    And we’ve been saying for some time that we don’t care what you do or don’t have faith in. We need to reduce emissions, and if we can’t reduce emissions, magic-like technological breakthroughs are not going to save us.

    CAPTCHA: Interment cordial

  5. 155
    Ike Solem says:

    No comments on FutureGen, Walt? It’s about as plausible a scheme as “geoengineering the climate” is – although geoengineering might just work to reduce atmospheric CO2, if you do it this way:

    1) Eliminate all fossil fuel combustion and use wind, solar and advanced biofuels for replacement energy sources.

    2) Halt the global trend of deforestation and encourage tree planting and other reforestation schemes (as the new climate conditions allow).

    3) This leaves you with the problem of high atmospheric CO2 and possible carbon cycle feedbacks (melting permafrost, etc.). In the past, atmospheric CO2 has largely been controlled by photosynthetic carbon burial in sediments – and we can do the same in soils, as mixing charcoal with soil results in a stable situation. You would have to do this for at least a hundred years to see any kind of significant effect, however.

    Even with geoengineering, you can’t escape the need to eliminate fossil fuel combustion – but maybe FutureGen will solve all the problems – except that it is a massively fraudulent project, isn’t it? A truly ridiculous amount of money has been spent – and yet noone at DOE or anywhere else can talk about because of “intellectual property restrictions” – yes, we’ve seen that before in cases where drug companies have refused to release their drug trial data, and when it is finally made public, it shows the drug performs worse than old standbys. There’s a word for that – scientific fraud.

    In other news, many of the warm-water species that showed up in the NE Pacific during the 1997-98 El Nino are becoming more regular denizens of the region, such as Humboldt squid.

    In Ohio, there’s concern over the effect of warmer temperatures on corn harvests.

    Also, mountain-dwelling species continue to be forced to higher elevations to survive, and many populations are going extinct:

  6. 156
    william says:

    Mark #130 and Jim #133
    I you cannot define when “spring” should normally begin what’s the point of all the anecdotal evidence. If we’re just returning to normal springs now how would we know otherwise?

    Mark, as far as I knew California was pretty much a desert before politicians diverted nearly all the water they could tap down to LA and southern CA. They had plans to divert the Columbia river too. Putting 30 million people in a desert and then complaining about drought seems a bit silly. Sounds like a poor land use decision but then again we can replace all the fruit growing fields with solar panels to harvest the sun instead.

  7. 157
    Adam Gallon says:

    Re Mark comment 148
    “It isn’t the sun”
    Quite possibly it is to some extent, not necessarily any change in TSI, but possibly due to a quiet sun leading to an increase in cosmic ray levels and thus in colud.
    Leif Svalgaard’s the chap for that idea and Dr Roy Spencer’s got a paper ready to submit for publication in a peer-revued journal on cloud and their effects.
    Clouds are one area that the IPCC agrees our underdstanding is poor.

    [Response: There are hundreds of papers published on clouds every year - it's hardly a neglected subject. And you might want to check with Leif on the whole cosmic ray thing... - gavin]

  8. 158
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt, you assert that mitigation strategies are a first step. OK, where are the mitigation strategies? We need to take our first steps NOW. We are dealing with a climate system where outgassing from permafrost, the ocean, shallow clathrates, etc. could start to kick in at any moment. If that were to happen, it would probably invalidate all our efforts–either mitigation or conservation.
    If we hadn’t wasted 20 years, we might already have viable mitigation strategies. Instead, we will now have to try to buy time by emissions reductions to develop other strategies. Doing nothing on the vague promise that we may one day have a technological fix is unacceptable for the following reasons:

    1)The climate system is likely near tipping points that could complicate or even render impossible future mitigation.
    2)It means gambling with the lives and livelihoods of future generations in order to facilitate our own comfort.
    3)The mitigation strategies are still vaporware. We don’t even know if they are possible.
    4)Significant changes in our energy infrastructure are needed in any case to deal with the finitude of fossil fuels. The additional effort to address climate issues and achieve a sustainable economy is not prohibitive.

    Look, Walt, I do sympathize. What is demanded of our civilization is daunting. I’m not sure we are capable of it either. However, if we are not capable of creating a sustainable economy, then civilization will be a very short episode in the human history.

  9. 159
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #158


    I think the difference between us is that I am willing to call it like it is, and you (representing the mob mentality in here) continue to call it like you wish it was.

    I understand that you do this because you are frightened that we will fail and you can’t allow that possibility to become to real.

    I get it.

    Look, nobody here needs anybody’s “sympathy” (nor their patronizing approach to this subject).

    We need realism.

    So to answer your question: we do need solutions now, or nearly now. However, we WILL NOT REDUCE CO2 EMISSIONS FOR YEARS TO COME.

    That, Raymond, is the reality of the situation.

    What’s your plan? To continue to deny that obvious fact?

    [Response: Walt, this style of debating is tiresome. You have gone for dozens of posts without actually making one concrete point. Stop trying to be all macho about who is the greater realist and discuss specifics or I'm going to cut the whole thing off. - gavin]

  10. 160
    Nick Gotts says:

    “I you cannot define when “spring” should normally begin what’s the point of all the anecdotal evidence. If we’re just returning to normal springs now how would we know otherwise?” – william

    What bizarre nonsense. What do you mean by a “normal spring”? Average over the past century? The past millennium? The past million years? What do you mean by the “start” of spring? There is no one defining point for this. Where do you want the “normal start of spring” to be defined for? Southern Spain, or Lapland?

    The point of the phenological evidence (and no, it’s not “anecdotal”, phenology is an established scientific subdiscipline) is that it confirms, along with direct temperature measurements, and glacier retreats, that there has been marked warming over the past half-century, during which time there has been no noticeable change in solar activity aside from the quasi-regular solar cycle, indicating that the change cannot be due to the sun. Additionally, it shows that the change is large enough to have marked ecological effects. Comparison with older historical records, moreover, can potentially show just how unusual current temperatures are on a longer timescale.

  11. 161
    Ray Ladbury says:

    William, The significant issues are two-fold:

    1)Earlier springs are exactly what one would expect for a greenhouse mechanism.

    2)Systematic trends are causing imbalances in ecosystems as different species arrive at different times. If species start arriving in advance of their food sources, or if predator/prey are disturbed, that can have significant effects.

    Ecology is complicated. Small changes can sometimes significantly affect ecosystem health.

  12. 162
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #159


    I’ve been as specific as I can be. I am not surprised that you have the same attitude as the others here do. You are pursuing a path of failure, based on your own science.

    However, anybody who wants to engage me further can come to my extremely modest blog and take it up with me there.

    I do take note that the White House is approaching this with realism, so in a sense it doesn’t matter at all that the rest of you don’t get it.

    You will…

  13. 163
    william says:

    Climate is ever changing and I have not found anything persuasive in the string above to explain whether the start of springs in the 21st century are significantly different than 150, 300, 600 or 1200 years ago. Species have survived just fine over the last few million years with temperatures that have varied much more than the .6C over the last 100 years. Scientists on this string can point out that temps have been much warmer than today and I’m not even referring to the MWP.
    Based on recent cooling temperature trends we may expect to start seeing some later springs just as we saw a return to more normal sea ice extent this year.

  14. 164
    william says:

    Nature Accepted 30 June 2004
    “High-resolution record of Northern Hemisphere climate extending into the last interglacial period”

    Two deep ice cores from central Greenland, drilled in the 1990s, have played a key role in climate reconstructions of the Northern Hemisphere, but the oldest sections of the cores were disturbed in chronology owing to ice folding near the bedrock. Here we present an undisturbed climate record from a North Greenland ice core, which extends back to 123,000 years before the present, within the last interglacial period. The oxygen isotopes in the ice imply that climate was stable during the last interglacial period, with temperatures 5 °C warmer than today. We find unexpectedly large temperature differences between our new record from northern Greenland and the undisturbed sections of the cores from central Greenland, suggesting that the extent of ice in the Northern Hemisphere modulated the latitudinal temperature gradients in Greenland. This record shows a slow decline in temperatures that marked the initiation of the last glacial period. Our record reveals a hitherto unrecognized warm period initiated by an abrupt climate warming about 115,000 years ago, before glacial conditions were fully developed.

    Here is an example where temperatures in Greenland were 5 degrees C warmer than today. I would imagine springs were a whole lot earlier than today.

  15. 165
    Nick Gotts says:

    Are you trying to pack as many factoids and misleading statements into one comment as possible? If so, well done!

    To pick out a few:

    It is clear from several lines of evidence that current global temperatures are higher than at any time in the past millennium.

    “Species have survived just fine over the last few million years”
    Well actually, a vast number of species have gone extinct over that time. How many of these extinctions are due to climate change is difficult to calculate. However, over the past few million years, it was relatively easy for species to migrate (a) because change was usually slow and (b) because there were not vast areas devoted to human activities and so uninhabitable to many species.

    “temps have been much warmer than today and I’m not even referring to the MWP.”

    Yes, temperatures have been warmer than today (but not, of course, during the MWP), as those you are arguing with know very well. However, the rate of change over the past 50 years has been very rapid; and more important – we know there is a lot more rapid change to come, some from the raised concentrations of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, more from those that will be added even if we reduce emissions as fast as possible – let alone the rises we can expect if we continue “business as usual”.

    “Based on recent cooling temperature trends”

    There has been no such trend.

  16. 166
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt, the obvious fact that I see is that you are calling for immediate implementation of mitigation strategies–despite the unfortunate fact that none exist at present. None. In contrast to that one stark fact, emissions reduction is easy by comparison. All you do is increase the cost of fossil-fuel energy. What is more, this is not an artificial increase, but rather one that brings the market to reflect ALL the costs of an energy resource, including environmental. You then let people make rational decisions and the market takes its course.
    What we have now is absurdly cheap energy that allows me to purchase Durian–a quite perishable tropical fruit from Asia for the same price I can purchase locally grown apples and pears (presuming I could even find them).

    So, the question is this: Do you have a concrete plan that can be implemented now. I can even give you some suggestions:
    1)maybe terra preta based on fast-growing crops like bamboo or algae (nod to Dave Benson)

    It is not either emissions reduction OR geo-engineering. We’ve lost 2 decades of people arguing over settled science. We will have to adopt some unpalatable strategies, including reduced energy consumption, increased reliance on renewables (even at higher cost), subsidizing energy development in developing countries (including competitors like China and India), possibly nuclear power… What we cannot do is wait for a solutions. We tried that for 20 years. It didn’t help.

  17. 167
    Ray Ladbury says:

    William says “Based on recent cooling temperature trends…”

    OK, Next!

  18. 168
    SecularAnimist says:

    Walt Bennett wrote: “… we do need solutions now, or nearly now.”

    I agree. We need solutions yesterday.

    Walt Bennett wrote: “However, we WILL NOT REDUCE CO2 EMISSIONS FOR YEARS TO COME.”

    We won’t implement geo-engineering schemes for many years to come either.

    As far as I can tell, you have never offered any credible evidence or plausible argument that geo-engineering schemes can be implemented more quickly than emissions reductions, either technologically or politically. You just assert that this is true, without support, over and over.

    On the technology side, emissions reduction solutions — efficiency improvements and clean, renewable energy technologies — are ready NOW. They are already being implemented NOW, on a large scale.

    On the other hand, geo-engineering technologies don’t exist. Those that have been speculated about may or may not be effective, and have obvious and potentially severe drawbacks. In any case, unlike emissions reduction technologies, they are not ready to be implemented NOW.

    On the policy side, it’s true that there are political obstacles to implementing emissions reductions policies (as opposed to technologies) NOW. But the political processes leading towards such policies have been ongoing for decades, and we are seeing progress, at the local, state, national and international levels. If anything, the political picture seems to be improving, particularly with the new US administration willing to seriously engage the problem.

    On the other hand, there is NO political process that has even begun to look at implementation of geo-engineering schemes on the global scale that would be needed to have any plausible effect on warming. There is no reason to believe that such a process would proceed faster than the political process on emissions reduction policy has done.

    All the evidence, on both the technological and the political fronts, indicates that emissions reductions have a much greater chance of yielding results faster than geo-engineering schemes.

    So, that’s where we should be focusing our efforts NOW: on emissions reduction technologies and policies that have been proven effective NOW, not on speculative, untested geo-engineering schemes, and highly implausible notions that somehow the world community will find it easier to agree politically on global geo-engineering policies than on emissions reduction policies.

  19. 169
    Hank Roberts says:

    william, have you considered that you’re only reading blog comments, not bothering to read the references, and that your mind is made up so you _can’t_ be convinced? Or do you think it’s possible you could?

    Above you paste a familiar batch of standard talking points, ending with
    > a return to normal sea ice extent

    Why bother posting PR easily debunked, william?
    You can look all this up, if you want to get it right.

    You’d find this sort of information easily by looking:
    ” The sea ice cover is undergoing significant climate-induced changes, affecting both its extent and thickness.
    “ICESat thickness estimates: NASA’s ICESat laser altimeter estimated sea ice thickness for the late winter of 2006, 2007, and 2008.”

    “Examination of the long-term satellite record dating back to 1979 and earlier records dating back to the 1950s indicate that spring melt seasons have started earlier and continued for a longer period throughout the year (Serreze et al. 2007). Even more disquieting, comparison of actual Arctic sea ice decline to IPCC AR4 projections show that observed ice loss is faster than any of the IPCC AR4 models have predicted (Stroeve et al. 2007).”

  20. 170
    Hank Roberts says:

    Oh, and, william, if you’d prefer a picture, see:

    where he writes:

    “Monday, April 06, 2009
    Arctic Sea Ice Update from NASA
    NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center gave a press conference this morning on Arctic Sea Ice, and here is the most important graph: a sharp decline in “old ice”:

    “Old ice” is what sticks around year-after-year (here, one, two, or more years). It’s the thinner ice that melts away every year.

    As the chart shows, “old ice” is decreasing in percentage, and what’s interesting is it continued to decrease (and sharply) last year, even though 2008′s sea ice extent was slighter higher (at minimum) than 2007′s. So when climate change deniers say that sea ice area is increasing (2008 compared to 2007) and this is a sign of a cooling globe, that’s not the whole story.”
    Can you see it yet?

  21. 171
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Hey william buddy:

    “I you cannot define when “spring” should normally begin what’s the point of all the anecdotal evidence. If we’re just returning to normal springs now how would we know otherwise?”

    The point apparently is, that whatever point there is, there’s no use trying to make it to you. What do you mean by normal? You think the world’s static do you?

    “…as far as I knew California was pretty much a desert before politicians diverted nearly all the water they could tap down to LA and southern CA.”

    Well then you didn’t know very far because much of California neither is nor was a desert. But anyway, I thought we were discussing the role of language in Uruguayan indigenous customs.

    “Climate is ever changing”

    Thanks for the news

    “…and I have not found anything persuasive in the string above to explain whether the start of springs in the 21st century are significantly different than 150, 300, 600 or 1200 years ago.”

    Ostriches with their head in the ground don’t find any persuasive evidence that the sun exists until they extract their heads. You might try extracting yours.

    “Species have survived just fine over the last few million years with temperatures that have varied much more than the .6C over the last 100 years.”

    Yeah, the ones that survived “survived just fine”. The ones that didn’t survive might argue with you.

    So you want to play games and waste people’s time by asking questions and then looking for whatever “weakness” he can find in their responses. Here’s your reply: go do your own homework on the importance of timing in nature, what the evidence is in regards to the dynamics thereof and report back what you find. Here’s a starting point that will lead you to all kinds of good refs: Rosenzweig et al, 2008, Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change, Nature 453:353-

    Feel free to report on your investigations when you’re done.

  22. 172
    Jim Eager says:

    William says “Based on recent cooling temperature trends…”

    William, if there is only one new concept that you take home from your time here at RealClimate let it be that the words “recent” and “trend” form an oxymoron.

    However, Captcha predicts: continued result

  23. 173
    Hank Roberts says:

    william, Google. This could be the beginning of a wonderful friendship for you.,M1

    “… only in the southwest corner was the Central Valley dry enough to support semi-desert vegetation. Otherwise …. hundreds of species of water plants.”

    Ya see the problem? It’s you.

  24. 174
    PaulM says:

    Jim, the phrase “recent trend” occurs 8 times in chapter 3 of the latest IPCC report :)

  25. 175
    william says:

    #164 Nick and Jim #170
    You guys need to coordinate your replies. Nick argues that species can’t adapt to the .6C increase in temp over the last 150 years because of the large tracts of land now made uninhabitable to many species by humans. So I guess it’s the change in land use that does the damage. .6C in 150 years? Which species died? None that I can find yet from that increase. I’m sure many more died during the ice age. I’ll refute the rest of your comments when I can finish picking apart the flaws in Rosenzweig.

    [Response: You should be able to do that before dinner, I'm sure. - gavin]

  26. 176
    David B. Benson says:

    On ClimateProgress there is a recent thread about a power plant converting two boilers (of four) into wood burners; mitigation.

    Of course there is quite a serious limit to doing this with all coal burners in the USA; not enough wood can pssibly be grown. However, it shouldn’t be that hard to convert to burning algae, which grows very much faster than wood. Somebody might care to work up the amount of land used by algae tanks (to replace burning coal) assuming 40 tC/ha/yr in the sunny south.

  27. 177
    Mark says:

    “It’s just not as simple as that. First, sheep-meat is often imported from countries with different seasons, so you might want to avoid competition.”

    If that were true, why are they changing NOW?

    Has the competition gone away? Nope. Are the other countries running on a different planet (therefore changing season out of step with the UK, for example)? No.

    What’s changed?

    Climate has.

    Not much else, as far as a sheep farmer is concerned.

    It really IS that simple.

  28. 178
    Mark says:

    William, it isn’t when spring “should” happen, it’s when it ***is*** happening.

    And it IS happening earlier than it used to.

    This is adequately explained by climate change.

    Therefore it is another line of evidence (independent of models or science) that climate is changing.

    And what’s changing the climate?

    Fossil fuel burning will explain that adequately. Nothing else comes close without CO2 from humans being a bigger factor.

  29. 179
    Nick Gotts says:

    “Nick argues that species can’t adapt to the .6C increase in temp over the last 150 years because of the large tracts of land now made uninhabitable to many species by humans.” – william

    No, I didn’t. Try reading and responding to what I actually wrote. While there probably are species that have gone extinct due to that change (many species have never been recorded, particularly inconspicuous ones with limited range), the main concern here is about the future change that we can expect, particularly if we do not curb emissions.

  30. 180
    Chris Dudley says:

    Early spring means a longer growing season, perhaps an extra crop. But, is also means depleted snow pack and earlier spring floods such as in North Dakota this year. One of the best visuals for warming is the shift in hardiness zones shown at

  31. 181
    Jim Eager says:

    Paul, I suppose it all comes down to how you define “recent.” But we all know how William was using the word: the last 10 or 11 years.

  32. 182
    Mark says:

    It can also mean no die-back. It can also mean that the summer is too dry. It can mean that the crop is out-competed by another species or its predator.

    It isn’t always good to have a warmer time of it.

  33. 183
    Mark says:

    “Nick argues that species can’t adapt to the .6C increase in temp over the last 150 years”

    What’s your problem with that? You don’t mention any other reply which would not gel with that statement (which would therefore require coordination), so you’ve already proven you can’t think clearly nor write accurately.

    Now, if your cedar tree can handle a colder spell than the palm tree further south, but it can’t handle heat as well, then when temperatures change, the border between the palms to the south and the cedars to the north move northwards.

    Since trees can’t walk, this would have to mean that the cedar is dying off, out competed by the palm.

    If this goes on far enough, the cedar will be no more.

    (note: the above examples may not work, but the scenario is pretty true).

    Now, where’s the incredulity in that scenario, william? Personal incredulity doesn’t cut much ice.

  34. 184
    william says:

    Mark #177
    Can you link me to the study/graph which show the “start of spring” date or anomaly for the last 100, 500 or 5000 years? When you can tell me when spring should be happening then I guess we can measure if it’s early or not and have an informed discussion.

    I’m open to the possibility that the “start of spring” date varies widely over time. As an example, spring in Chicago 1888 may have started April 16th and on April 1st in 1920. Did the species living here care? They must be capable of surviving “start of spring dates” that have varied similarly or much more widely of thousands and millions of years.
    I live in Chicago and root for the Cubs Baseball team. Spring for me does not arrive until well after Baseball opening day, as many fans who have frozen their fannies off at Wrigley Field in early April will attest.
    thanks always
    William (Go Cubbies!)

  35. 185
    SecularAnimist says:

    Nick Gotts wrote: “Try reading and responding to what I actually wrote.”

    Trolls don’t do that.

  36. 186
    Fran Barlow says:

    David Benson #30

    I like the idea of using algae as the capture approach. Open raceway ponds with a mechanical agitator (wind driven turbine?) to periodically share the exposure to insolation … dry the yield and place under some inert material at the bottom of disused mines or perhaps compress and wrap in some non-permeable material which can be dumped at serious ocean depth where lack of light, pressure and low temperature can keep it stable.

    Biochar doesn’t need to be buried to remain stable of course. It’s also a pretty good soil conditioner.

  37. 187
    David B. Benson says:

    Fran Barlow (185) — One would prefer just to sequester C and keep the NPK for further growing. Phosphorus, in particular, is in somehwat short supply so should not just be buried.

    Biochar buried at typical soil conditioner depths returns about half the carbon to the active carbon cycle over a few decades. Compressed and buried deeply one has an artificial coal seam, which should last indefinitely.

  38. 188
    Jim Bouldin says:

    “#164 Nick and Jim #170 You guys need to coordinate your replies
    Not against your “arguments” we don’t. We just need to keep from tripping over each other in hitting the “post” button.

    I live in Chicago and root for the Cubs Baseball team
    That explains a lot actually. I’m reminded of a joke I heard Pete Rose tell once: God appeared to the Cubs and told them ‘Just don’t do anything until I come back’. Looks like they listened

    Spring for me does not arrive until well after Baseball opening day
    Then what the hell you asking us for definition of it for??

    BTW, spring began this year at 7:16 AM on March 18th (I was there, it was amazing). 100 years ago spring began on April 2nd at 9:19 PM, as documented in numerous photos and newspaper clippings of the time. Does that help?

  39. 189
    Lawrence Brown says:

    Geo Engineering eh. Let’s not pussy foot around. If we’re going to use this as a possible solution, we should go all out. Half measures will avail us naught.

    I believe I’ve figured out what we must do in the future. Assume it is late in the 21st century and our home planet is getting warmer and warmer. There’s barely any ice left on Earth, except for central Antarctica. The east coast of the U.S. is just offshore of Pittsburgh, where summer daytime temperatures compete with what used to be average for Texas or Arizona back in the year 2009.

    What’s needed is a solution, which I’ll get to soon, to undo the warming or we are undone as a civilization. The main problem is that the carbon dioxide levels are nearly at 600 parts per million(remember we haven’t tried to reduce our emissions,since it was regarded as too late to do so) by volume, more than twice the concentration than existed in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This doubling means that the rate of heat energy coming to the Earth’s surface as a result of the enhanced Greenhouse Effect has increased by 4.5 watts per square meter. We must somehow undo this by whatever means we have available.Preliminary calculations show that we are receiving a total solar intensity in the upper atmosphere of about 1400 watts per square meter.

    The 1400 watts per square meter we receive from the Sun at the top of our atmosphere translates to about 245 watts per square meter at the surface of the Earth when albedo(~.30) and the Earth’s rotatation is taken into account.. This assumes a mean distance from the Sun of 150 million kilometers. If the Earth were 153 million kilometers from the Sun we would reduce the 245 to 235 watts per square meter! Since a doubling of anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases the energy rate by about 4.5 watts per square meter, the 10 watts/meter^2 would erase the effects of quadrupling the CO2!

    Therefore what we need to do to offset the projected effects of global warming by the quadrupling of atmospheric CO2, would be to merely move the Earth about 3 million kilometers further from the Sun. (Don’t try this at home) I say ‘merely’ but there are some downsides to this solution. For one thing we could overshoot and one of the outcomes could be that we’d become a satellite of Jupiter!Not a very desirable result! There would also be effects from the force caused by the initial acceleration in accord with Newton’s second law. Who knows what these effects would be. Earthquakes? Seismic sea waves a hundred meters high? On second thought,this isn’t such a great idea after all. We’d probably do well to taking action,NOW like switching to alternative fuels,or heaven forfend, cap the release of carbon going into the atmosphere.

  40. 190
    Will Denayer says:

    Excuse me, this is off topic again, but did anyone read this:

    The Dire Fate of Forests in a Warmer World, by Bryan Walsh, originally published in Time.

    Best, Will

  41. 191
    Steve Reynolds says:

    SecularAnimist:167 “On the technology side, emissions reduction solutions — efficiency improvements and clean, renewable energy technologies — are ready NOW. They are already being implemented NOW, on a large scale.”

    The large scale part is very debatable, mostly because of cost, but don’t take my word for it:

    “If the question is whether India will take on binding emission reduction commitments, the answer is no. It is morally wrong for us to agree to reduce when 40 percent of Indians do not have access to electricity,” said a member of the Indian delegation to the recently concluded U.N. conference in Bonn, Germany, which is a prelude to a Copenhagen summit in December on climate change. “Of course, everybody wants to go solar, but costs are very, very high.”


  42. 192
    Garry S-J says:

    Ike #85 “And yes, we have all the technology needed to drop fossil fuels and switch to renewables, and yes, it is economically feasible, and yes, doing so will cause Warren Buffet to lose his shirt due to his large investments in tar sands oil and coal-fired electric utilites..”

    Sounds like Buffet is hedging his bets:

  43. 193
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #167

    SecularAnimist writes: “All the evidence, on both the technological and the political fronts, indicates that emissions reductions have a much greater chance of yielding results faster than geo-engineering schemes.”

    First, I would ask you to point me toward any such comparative study. To my knowledge, none exists.

    Did you read the latest report from NCAR?

    Please read it and understand it. It says that if we cut CO2 emissions by 70 percent (the story doesn’t give a time period for this to happen) will hold atmospheric CO2 at 450 ppm by 2100 instead of a BAU outcome of 750 ppm. You know and I know that 450 ppm is Hansen’s absolute limit for avoiding ice sheet collapse, and he says we have to draw down from there to 350.

    Even playing this down th middle, saying we accomplish half of that goal (which would itself be incredible), we are looking at 600 ppm by 2100, not 350 ppm.

    There is only one way to get there: we simply must draw down the CO2.

    Sec wrote: “On the technology side, emissions reduction solutions — efficiency improvements and clean, renewable energy technologies — are ready NOW. They are already being implemented NOW, on a large scale.”

    No, they’re not. They’re still much more expensive than BAU, which remains the key stumbling block. Raising the cost of fossil fuels attacks the problem by making things worse for people. The inability to forge a political solution is based in the simple fact that people vote their pocketbooks. If anything, the problem of communicating AGW as a pocketbook issue is failing more now than before AIT. That’s a bad sign. The more people learn about this topic, the less inclined they are to pay the price being asked of them.

    Geoengineering must happen or we miss the CO2 target by a long shot, under almost any conceivable emissions reduction scenario. Geoengineering holds out the hope that the cost of transitioning away from fossil fuels can be mitigate and smoothed. For example, if we could find a way to draw down 3 or 4 ppm per year, while at the same time applying gentle market forces (higher gasoline tax, for example) to lower the use of fossil fuels, and perhaps find a way to put money in peoples’ pockets to choose alternatives, we can work the problem from both directions and eventually reduce more than we put up. Since there are no ready-to-go drawdown capabilities today, the two-track approach to that would be to (1) look for short term methods of reflecting more solar energy back into space while (2) investing in projects that show potential to draw down CO2. Such projects might include biomass type projects where CO2 is stored in root systems, and perhaps later disposed of in some manner (I don’t know how practical the charcoal idea is); or perhaps the cloud-forming boats suggested in the link in the aerosols thread, which sound quite clever to me.

    The point is to recognize the need to look for such solutions. As I said to Gavin, and it’s really indisputable, emissions reduction as the primary strategy for reducing atmospheric CO2 is a path of failure, pure and simple.

    Now, I was trying to drop this subject at Gavin’s request, but I think it’s fair, if others still post on this topic, that I be allowed to respond.

  44. 194
    Mark says:

    “Mark #177
    Can you link me to the study/graph which show the “start of spring” date or anomaly for the last 100, 500 or 5000 years?”

    No I can’t william.

    However, since you’re the one who wants to know and finding out is a better learning experience than being told, you can use the global temperature records and do your sums yourself.

    Take each 30-year group of data. Take each day or month (depending on what data you actually have). Average out the 30 year temperature for that time.

    Plot over the record each 30-year average for each day/month in a year.

    See how the temperature rises earlier in the year.

  45. 195
    Mark says:

    that should be “rises to a spring-like temperature earlier”

  46. 196
    Chris S says:

    A good (if old – 2002) paper on ecological responses to climate change here:

    I’ve mentioned Kyoto cherries before, I’ve found a graphic of it which i’ve uploaded here:

    (If anyone can find one without the big red circle I’d be grateful) It gives an idea of when the onset of spring has been in Japan for the last 1300 years. (From this paper: )

    Here’s a look at 250 years of phenology in Switzerland & Burgundy: note that they “detect major changes in long-term phenological and temperature time series at the end of the 20th century.”

    And finally, 500 years of grape harvest dates are analysed here: the abstract states “the heatwave of 2003 stands out as an extreme, not only for the instrumental period, but also during the preceding 500 years”

    Hope that helps…

  47. 197
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt Bennett, it is not a matter of either emissions reduction OR geo-engineering. Negotiating this threat will require both. You yourself admit that there are no currently viable, validated geoengineering solutions. None. The closest is probably the Terra Preta solutions Dave Benson has been advocating, but it is not clear to me that these could work on the needed scale. Developing geoengineering solutions will take time, and that is time we will not have unless we find ways to reduce emissions. Plunging ahead on the BAU scenario without viable validated mitigations is gambling on the futures of our progeny.

    I think that one thing you fail to understand is that the potential consequences we are talking about go far, far beyond sea level rise. Climate change threatens the very feasibility of agriculture in much of the world. It threatens water supplies from India to Indiana. It threatens our health, our wealth and perhaps even our survival–or rather it threatens the wellbeing of every generation of humans who will succeed us. Their futures are not our to wager.

  48. 198
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #197


    I swear, sometimes it sounds like we are on the same page. If you’ve been here anywhere near as I have (or longer) then you know I don’t “miss” that there are other threats associated with CO2.

    You and I agree that both emissions reduction and drawdown are needed, and needed soon, and thus the best approach is to recognize those dual truths.

    That’s all I’ve been saying.

    I believe we are 10 to 20 years away from even beginning to reduce CO2 emissions, and perhaps 50 years away from getting emissions below 1990 levels (India REFUSES to accept binding targets; what do you suppose China’s position is?), during which time we will certainly bolt past 400 ppm. You know that the number will keep going up well past “1990″ emission levels, for a variety of reasons.

    Ray, it’s my grasp of the science of AGW that makes this clear to me. Under any conceivable ER scenario, we will fly past the tipping points that we care about defending.

    We clearly need geo-engineering solutions, and if we’re bright and dedicated, perhaps we can get some online within a decade.

    And some of them even have the potential to make money…

  49. 199
    Nick Gotts says:

    “As I said to Gavin, and it’s really indisputable, emissions reduction as the primary strategy for reducing atmospheric CO2 is a path of failure, pure and simple.” – Walt Bennett

    That’s just silly, Walt. It’s clearly not indisputable, since many people here are disputing it – and you have provided very little in the way of argument for the claim, although #193 is an improvement on your past performance. There are no “comparative studies” of the kind you ask for, because no geoengineering schemes are past the vaporware stage.

  50. 200

    Walt, if the moderators allow me a comment on this subthread, the problems people have been having with your posts on mitigation vs. geo-engineering are, I think, summarized as follows:

    –You dismiss the importance of mitigation, whereas most here see it as the first necessity in dealing with the problem (as in Hank’s overflowing tub analogy, where the first step should be to shut off the faucet).

    –This dismissal plays (albeit in slightly altered form) into a common denialist meme, namely the idea of “unstoppable warming,” which then makes it less likely that mitigation can succeed. In other words, your position is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: if mitigation is “the path of failure,” then obviously we shouldn’t try it.

    –You don’t provide specific alternatives. Basically, you are just arguing for geo-engineering in general; but this is mostly, as Ray said, “vaporware.” By contrast, the alternative energy scene is rapidly going mainstream, with really eye-popping growth rates (and investment.) This, even without the withdrawal of fossil fuel subsidies. These growth rates mean a clear possibility exists of significant reductions in emissions on a decadal timescale.

    –You speak as if we can predict the tipping points, and can assign precise concentration values for them, which is not the case. You also speak as if “ice stability” is a single entity, which is also not the case. For a more nuanced (ie, realistic) point of view, read:

    (Note that we have an RC contributor as one co-author, BTW.)

    Of course, this source acknowledges that we may, in fact, already have passed the Arctic sea-ice tipping point; some think so, but we can’t tell with certainty yet.

    –You don’t seem aware that the problems of geo-engineering are going to be multiple: political, as nations’ interests will not be identical or even necessarily congruent, making actionable agreements contentious; economic, as these schemes will assuredly not be cheap–and unlike alternate energy, where we may expect to pay “environmental premiums” to achieve our economic goals, the entire cost of geo-engineering is going to be chargeable to the “environment account,” and hence still-less appetizing; and ecological, as we struggle to avoid the law of unintended consequences.

    You seem to assume that these challenges are somehow less than the admittedly daunting challenges facing us in restructuring our energy economy. I think many here find this a very dubious assumption indeed.

    –Some here may perhaps feel that the public education effort, AKA propaganda battle, isn’t going quite as badly as you fear. You say that people’s ability to see this as a “pocketbook issue” is less than when AIT came out. I don’t agree. Particularly encouraging is that the younger generation is much more literate about the problem. We’ll see the effects of that fact playing out over the next few election cycles.

    Moreover, we are going to see continued “messages” from Nature that will, I think, continue to persuade. (See the Arctic sea-ice comment above.) And the debate is certainly going to change with the Copenhagen conference at the end of the year. Just how is not yet known, of course; but there appears to be a fair amount of political will to reach a deal that will have some real world effects in a reasonable time frame. If we can show progress, we can build political will–”yes, we can” in the climate arena. I believe–we can all have the odd “belief statement,” I suppose–that the denialist noise machine will become increasingly marginalized over the next several years, and less relevant to either reality or the political process. (To put it another way, recognizing the nonsense as nonsense is going to require an ever-lower threshold of knowledge/awareness.)

    Does all this mean that we should dismiss geo-engineering research? No. You and Ray are essentially agreed on this for the longer term, as far as I can tell. It would be highly desirable to be able to draw down atmospheric CO2 in affordable and safe ways. But you are clearly in the minority in thinking we are going to be able to do that quickly enough to make it the only arrow in our quiver.

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