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One year later

Filed under: — gavin @ 20 November 2010

I woke up on Tuesday, 17 Nov 2009 completely unaware of what was about to unfold. I tried to log in to RealClimate, but for some reason my login did not work. Neither did the admin login. I logged in to the back-end via ssh, only to be inexplicably logged out again. I did it again. No dice. I then called the hosting company and told them to take us offline until I could see what was going on. When I did get control back from the hacker (and hacker it was), there was a large uploaded file on our server, and a draft post ready to go announcing the theft of the CRU emails. And so it began.

From that Friday, and for about 3 weeks afterward, we were drafted into the biggest context setting exercise we’d ever been involved in. What was the story with Soon and Baliunas? What is the difference between tree ring density and tree ring width? What papers were being discussed in email X? What was Trenberth talking about? Or Wigley? Or Briffa or Jones? Who were any of this people anyway? The very specificity of the emails meant that it was hard for the broader scientific community to add informed comment, and so the burden on the people directly involved was high.

The posts we put up initially are still valid today – and the 1000′s of comment stand as testimony to the contemporary fervour of the conversation:

I think we did pretty well considering – no other site, nor set of scientists (not even at UEA) provided so much of the background to counter the inevitable misinterpretations that starting immediately spreading. While some commentators were predicting resignations, retractions and criminal charges, we noted that there had not been any scientific misconduct, and predicted that this is what the inquiries would find and that the science would not be affected. (Note, the most thorough inquiry, and one that will have to withstand judicial review, is the one by EPA which, strangely enough, has barely been discussed in the blogosphere).

Overall, reactions have seemed to follow predictable lines. The Yale Forum has some interesting discussions from scientists, and there are a couple of good overviews available. Inevitably perhaps, the emails have been used to support and reinforce all sorts of existing narratives – right across the spectrum (from ‘GW hoaxers’ to Mike Hulme to UCS to open source advocates).

Things have clearly calmed down over the last year (despite a bit of a media meltdown in February), but as we predicted, no inquiries found anyone guilty of misconduct, no science was changed and no papers retracted. In the meantime we’ve had one of the hottest years on record, scientists continue to do science, and politicians…. well, they continue to do what politicians do.


442 Responses to “One year later”

  1. 251
    Anonymous Coward says:

    I agree with Didactylos (#244).

    Ray Ladbury writes that we should approach collapse scientifically. But these are not hard science questions. While one can make models based on assumptions (Limits to Growth), I think a rational approach would be to gather data first. If you’re intersted in “collapse” (whatever you mean) then I think you should look at the historical cases in which collapse happened under stress as well as cases in which collapse didn’t happen.
    Can any of you famine doomers tell me which was by your estimation the most severe non-collapse historical episode you looked at? Severity could be judged (just a suggestion) by the estimated demographic impact of deaths caused by malnutrition and related causes (epidemics, violence and so on).
    But perhaps we should discuss this elsewhere. There’s already lots of electronic meeting places dedicated to doomer talk…

    I notice with amusement that kooky monetary theories seem to be popular on both sides of the “climate fence”.

  2. 252
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., I find it astounding that you can look at all the evidence constraining climate sensitivity and call the fact that sensitivities in models reflect this an “assumption”. Is the value of the gravitational constant an assumption as well? How about the value of the electron’s charge?

    Rod, rule 1 in science is that you can’t ignore evidence. I think the only thing that keeps you from being a denialist is that you refuse to even look at the evidence in the first place!

  3. 253
    Alan Millar says:

    238 Ray Ladbury says:

    ” Climate sensitivity depends on how much an amount of energy put into the system gets amplified by feedbacks. It does not depend on the source of that energy (at least to first order).”

    How true!

    238 Ray Ladbury says:

    “And as to where to look for evidence of low sensitivity…well, there isn’t any convincing evidence, really, is there?”

    How not true!

    When we try to guess the future climate sensitivity to an increase in radiative forcing why don’t we look at the most obvious, undisputed and calculable increase in radiative forcing from the Earths past and present?

    The Sun has been increasing its radiative forcing on the Earth by a measurable rate. Therefore, in say the last 500 million years, radiative forcing on the Earth has increased by about 5%. So, seeing as you state the Earth is quite sensitive to such increases, we have seen a large increase in the Earths temperature have we? Err……… No!

    We have seen no increase. In fact most scientists think that the Earth has actually cooled over that time.

    So the absolute FACT is, not hypothesis, is that the Earth has shown a negative feedback to increased radiative forcing and has done so for hundreds of millions of years.

    So, if you are going to speculate about a possible positive feedback to radiative forcing, it is you who has to give evidence to overturn this observed and unchallenged fact. When exactly did the Earths feedback sign change? What were the factors involved? What were the magnitudes? What were the various combinations and interactions?

    I hope I don’t get the usual ‘just because we don’t know everything, doesn’t mean we know nothing’ response.

    Alan Millar

    [Response: I love the way that people who spend a huge amount of time criticising attempts to work a global history of climate change over the last few hundred years suddenly presume that we know everything necessary to understand climate change from 500 million years ago. What was the global temperature then? What was the CO2 level? or methane? or surface albedo? Is it possible that just perhaps we might have more information about the ice age 20,000 years ago? Or that information from the Holocene might be more relevant for today's climate? Who knows... - gavin]

  4. 254
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Thomas Lee Elifritz,
    You do know what an Opinion piece is, don’t you?

  5. 255
    Radge Havers says:

    If we’ve learned anything from the CRU hack and years of political discourse on climate science, it’s that it’s very easy to enable the willfully thickheaded. You have to be aware that language which may seem perfectly innocuous to you is dog whistles to deniers and only servers to justify their yapping. (They are, after all, legends in their own minds.) True, you may never convince most of them of anything, but you can keep them off balance, or at least make an effort not to make fertile ground their ravings.

    Or am I the only one disturbed by the trend of this thread?

    reCAPTCHA: New Cloggs
    Oh boy!

  6. 256
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Gavin responded to Alan Miller above with a snark but, if sensitivity was more clearly defined, we would be spared much confusion.
    There is confusion over timescales (see “Hansens says sensitivity is 6C per doubling, not 3C”).
    And confusion about whether sensitivity includes carbon cycle feedbacks is also rife, on RC comment threads and elsewhere.

    Alan, it stands to reason that, over millions of yeats, atmospheric CO2 concentration might be a strong negative feedback to solar forcing. The rate at which atmospheric/oceanic CO2 is aborbed by sediments over very long timescales should be a function not only of CO2 concentration but also of temperature. I refer you to Ray Pierrehumbert’s upcoming book for instance. But this has nothing to do with sensitivity.

  7. 257
    Alan Millar says:

    253
    “Response: I love the way that people who spend a huge amount of time criticising attempts to work a global history of climate change over the last few hundred years suddenly presume that we know everything necessary to understand climate change from 500 million years ago. What was the global temperature then? What was the CO2 level? or methane? or surface albedo? Is it possible that just perhaps we might have more information about the ice age 20,000 years ago? Or that information from the Holocene might be more relevant for today’s climate? Who knows… – gavin]”

    I am not critical of work our climate scientists do. It is one of many important element in our attempts to improve our understanding of the Universe and how we might possibly influence things to our benefit.

    I am critical of some of the certanties expressed by some of them in the light of a very incomplete understanding of the total science at this moment in time.

    Climate is best understood over very long periods of time. This current short period, during which we have discovered how to measure the Earths temperature fairly accurately, will not be able to be spotted by man looking back many thousands of years in the future if he uses todays techniques. It will be invisible ‘noise’ hidden in whatever long term trend we are currently in.

    What is that long term trend? Well using you more upto date periods of the current ice age and the holocene all I see is a long term cooling trend, not warming. The glacial periods over the last few hundred thousand years have been steadily getting colder. The temperatures in the Holocene peaked thousands of years ago and are now cooler. Yes we have seen some warmer temperatures since we started to measure fairly accurately. However, that is considerably less than one degree over that time.

    Now if we had a ‘settled’ climate science perhaps we could explain that increase with some certantity. However we don’t, because if we had settled the science we could answer every single climatic question that anyone cared to raise. Clouds, aerosols, the role of the Oceans etc etc etc.

    Heck, we can’t even explain the 1910 – 1940 warming satisfactorily and we here and measuring then!

    It is not the science anw work I am critical of it is the hubris!

    Alan Millar

    [Response: The hubris is that you think that one very uncertain data point and a whole load of righteous indignation overturns every thing that the science community has actually found. And you are very wrong on this new point too - the geochemical changes that humans have unleashed already will be visible in the geologic record for millions of years (cf. the PETM). - gavin]

  8. 258
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Didactylos, While it is true that effective water management could ameliorate some of the effects of drought, such efforts depend critically on either
    1)social engineering–e.g. getting millions of land owners to reduce runoff so aquifers can (eventually over hundreds of years) recharge
    2)expensive, long-lead and disruptive infrastructure projects on a scale not previously dreamed of.

    It may already be too late for the aquifers, and when they are gone, they are gone for good. That would spell the end of farming in America’s breadbasket, the Great Plains, as well as dramatically decreasing yields in regions like the Punjab.

    And as to the building of dams, their benefit has often been far less than promised. Some, including Hoover, the Aswan, etc. have actually resulted in more water being lost. And even if they yielded all the promised benefits, is it feasible to carry out such large-scale projects on such a short timescale–and in the face of a changing climate that makes predicting their efficacy nearly impossible.

    I’m afraid I agree with Barton that the critical period for human civilization will be from 2050 to 2100 or perhaps 2150. It is not merely climate change that dictates that span. Climate change’s worst effects will likely not be felt for a couple of hundred years. Rather it is the combined effects of a population well beyond Earth’s carrying capacity, climate change, resource depletion, the end of cheap and easy energy and environmental degradation. If we don’t have a handle by 2150 on all these issues, nature will take matters in hand. Moreover, any attempts at recovery will take place in an environment where degradation is ongoing and worsening. So, I would really not say that I am more optimistic than BPL, merely that my pessimism is more delayed.

  9. 259
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Alan Millar, Wow. Just Wow. That may just be the dumbest thing I’ve seen on the Internet! Take 4.5 billion years of history of an astoundingly complicated system. Consider a single factor, ignoring huge changes in all the other factors, and draw sweeping conclusions that contradict everything that experts who actually understand the system have learned.

    The Dunning-Kurger is strong in this one.

  10. 260
    Didactylos says:

    [edit - enough is enough]

    Really?

    [Response: Yes. I am not interested in having comment threads just devolve over and again into two of three people shouting at each other. If anyone involved was actually bringing any actual data to the issue, or referencing studies or actually listening to each other it would be a different thing. Both you and BPL need to take some time off, eat some turkey or tofurkey and not spend so much time worrying about what is said 200 comments in on an RC thread. I know I will. - gavin]

  11. 261
    Alan Millar says:

    256 Anonymous Coward says

    “Alan, it stands to reason that, over millions of yeats, atmospheric CO2 concentration might be a strong negative feedback to solar forcing. The rate at which atmospheric/oceanic CO2 is aborbed by sediments over very long timescales should be a function not only of CO2 concentration but also of temperature. I refer you to Ray Pierrehumbert’s upcoming book for instance. But this has nothing to do with sensitivity.”

    Hi Anon

    I am sorry but historic evidence has everything to do with the question of the Earths climatic response to an increase in radaitive forcing. You gave some ‘might be’s’ as to what has caused the Earths negative response to long term increased radiative forcing.

    Well I certainly agree it has to be ‘something’ or a combination of ‘somethings’ as we have direct evidence as to the fact. Exactly ‘what’ is the question? If you don’t know, how do you know whether these processes have stopped or changed in some way and if they haven’t then we will surely continue to cool in the long term. We are certainly still seeing cooling in the medium term.

    We seem to have a very very short term warming but without a settled science I just cannot understand why anyone would accept that as incontovertable evidence of the Earth having a quite high positive feedback to increased radiative forcing. Seems madness to me.

    Alan Millar

    [Response: That you equate scientific results that you don't like with 'madness', is extremely eloquent. - gavin]

  12. 262
    Rod B says:

    Ray, When was the last time physics changed the charge of an electron? The CO2 forcing factor’s last change was a few years ago.

    You do negate my retort, though. It is logically impossible to challenge any of your six points if you define them as being axiomatic and sacrosanct.

  13. 263
    Hank Roberts says:

    > responded to Alan Millar … with a snark

    Alan Millar claims to define climate sensitivity with only two insolation data points 500 million years apart.

    That deserves a boojum.

  14. 264
    Alan Millar says:

    259 Ray Ladbury says :-

    “Alan Millar, Wow. Just Wow. That may just be the dumbest thing I’ve seen on the Internet!”

    Well you need to get out more Ray!

    259 Ray Ladbury says :-

    “Consider a single factor, ignoring huge changes in all the other factors, and draw sweeping conclusions that contradict everything that experts who actually understand the system have learned.”

    That ‘single factor’ is the sole, ultimate source of all the radiative forcing on the Earth! So rather important would’t you say?

    A lot of the other factors are just feedback to changes in the ‘single factor’ in any event.

    I haven’t been drawing ‘sweeping conclusions’ I have just quoted an unchallenged fact, the Earth has had a signicant increase in radiative forcing over the last 500 million years and has not warmed. My conclusion is that, over this period, it is a fact that the Earth has shown negative feedback. Do you dispute that?

    If you are one of the experts who fully understand the system perhaps you will explain with details and facts when exactly and what caused the Earth to change its feedback sign to a positive one.

    Alan Millar

    [Response: Could it possibly be that the responses to a forcing over a few decades might be different to those operating over half a billion years? Nah.... - gavin]

  15. 265
    Didactylos says:

    “If anyone involved was actually bringing any actual data to the issue, or referencing studies”

    I already brought out the evidence truck at Tamino’s fine blog. BPL wasn’t interested. But really, how much evidence do you need on either side just to accept that there isn’t any absolute certainty about BPL’s pronouncements? If he were just a little more circumspect and reasonable, I really wouldn’t have any problem about whatever he personally feels is most likely to happen.

    “or actually listening to each other”

    I’m listening. I can’t speak for anyone else. Some of the replies certainly indicate a lack of willingness to read past the preconceptions.

    “eat some turkey”

    Why on earth would I do that?

    “not spend so much time worrying about what is said 200 comments in on an RC thread”

    I considered that. I considered that very carefully, *before* opening my big mouth. And you know what? I’d prefer to squash BPL’s fantasies now, rather than wait until he turns them into peer-reviewed published “gospel”, and suddenly Fox News (and more reputable outlets) are quoting him as saying that the world is ending, and Watts and friends are having a field day with “climate alarmism”.

    You have seen how small over-statements get blown out of proportion. Do you really want to see what happens when someone totally jumps the shark?

  16. 266
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B.@262,
    No, Rod, the confidence interval for climate sensitivity tightened–meaning we know it better–the favored value remained identical. Might I suggest that if you learned the difference, you might have a better understanding of why climate sensitivity is pretty well fixed.

  17. 267
    Deech56 says:

    One year later? I remember the monumental effort by Gavin and crew moderating and responding to comments here over what for many of us was the Thanksgiving break.

    What we have learned is that the science did not change. We had a warm year and the ice melted.

  18. 268

    #257 Alan Millar

    Your don’t have enough scientific understanding and context to understand why your are epitomizing yourself as a model for hubris.

    Think about it this way, and I’ve used this style of allegory before, but it certainly seems appropirate here:

    If one person hits you in in the face and you don’t know why, and another person hits you in the face and know exactly why, just because you can’t figure out why the first person hit you does not mean you don’t understand why the second person hit you.

    Study attribution:
    http://www.ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/attribution

    The hubris is all yours (as indicated by your overconfidence in your lack of understanding) Alan, time to wake up.

    #261 Alan Millar

    Study

    Natural Variation
    http://www.ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/natural-variation

    Natural Cycle
    http://www.ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/natural-cycle

    and reread Attribution
    http://www.ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/attribution

    #263 Alan Millar

    Study Forcing
    http://www.ossfoundation.us/projects/environment/global-warming/radiative-climate-forcing

    Economics: Balancing Economies
    October Leading Edge: The Cuccinelli ‘Witch Hunt”

    Fee & Dividend: Our best chanceLearn the IssueSign the Petition
    A Climate Minute: Natural CycleGreenhouse EffectClimate Science HistoryArctic Ice Melt

  19. 269
    Susan Anderson says:

    Come on, please, please stop sniping it’s boring. In general, I find the Dr. Schmidt’s response has very little snark, while making this point:

    “suddenly presume that we know everything necessary to understand climate change from 500 million years ago. What was the global temperature then? What was the CO2 level? or methane? or surface albedo? Is it possible that just perhaps we might have more information about the ice age 20,000 years ago? Or that information from the Holocene might be more relevant for today’s climate?”

    I have been seeing a lot of attack the questioner as a method of hiding fudging and fluffing, starting long before Judith Curry, no doubt, but coming forward to my attention then. Gavin was mildly humorous, which given the provocation, seems like gentle treatment to me.

    The factual questions remain, and will continue to need to be answered, for those making boilerplate fake skeptic assertions or creating their own clever version of same, no matter how sciencey.

    On the whole, I’m with BPL, perhaps somewhere between him and Ray Ladbury (for whose critical eye I give great thanks, very helpful I find), though there are times I think the beginning of real serious consequences could be 20 or 30 years, or even less. (Full disclosure: I live 5 feet above big high tide in heavily populated Boston and have been photographing the frequent storm surges which are still quite manageable, but pretty regular now as compared to decades ago.)

    Thomas Lee Elifritz, thanks also for good words and helpful information.

  20. 270
    Susan Anderson says:

    Oh, and Kate (comment 1), your work is quite fantastic! You are 18?!!!! (link at comment 1)

    Your measured and careful comment moderation is a wonder as well.

  21. 271
    Walter Pearce says:

    Re: 242 “…just my perception.”

    In one post Rod B. advocates looking beyond the numbers, in another he wants strict numbers-based accounting. Anyone who believes words mean something can see the conflict there.

    There’s an interesting discussion to be had on how to incorporate externalities that can’t be strictly quantified. Do Rod B. or Manacker have an intellectually honest approach to climate risk they’d like to advocate?

    Not holding my breath…

  22. 272
    John Pollack says:

    #258 Ray Ladbury
    “It may already be too late for the aquifers, and when they are gone, they are gone for good. That would spell the end of farming in America’s breadbasket, the Great Plains…”

    While I’m in general agreement that droughts represent a serious part of the climate change problems, the role of irrigation is a severe overstatement. America’s breadbasket includes the Great Plains, but also the Corn Belt, extending east as far as Ohio, between roughly 39N and 44N latitude. A lot of it isn’t irrigated now. The western Corn Belt extends into the Great Plains, mostly Nebraska. That part can still be irrigated by the Ogallala Aquifer. The rest of the aquifer, mainly south of Nebraska, is being depleted rapidly. There is still irrigation, but a lot of dryland farming. The main dryland crop, and quite successful, is wheat.

    My conclusion is that crop yields will decline in the Plains as the aquifer is exhausted, but agriculture will continue. Drought itself is more of a concern, but the last serious drought to affect a large part of the breadbasket was in 1988. Droughts are actually becoming less frequent in recent decades, and flooding more frequent. e.g. http://www.inhf.org/magazines/2010/fall/2010magfall-images/INHF-Fall2010mag-Flooding-Skopec-web.pdf

    In fact, I’m troubled that the climate models generally seem to show an increase in Midwestern U.S. droughts, but the empirical trend is the reverse. Of course, it could just be some sort of multi-decadal fluctuation, but it makes me wonder if something is missing from them in this instance. Handling of convective rainfall? Underestimating narrow moist plumes entrained into cyclonic systems?

  23. 273

    Let me summarize why I keep saying collapse is coming.

    Dai et al. (2004) painstakingly collected a time series of the Palmer Drought Severity Index for 1870-2002, later extended to 2005. They used grid squares 2.5 degrees on a side extending from 75 North to 60 South, which covers 92% of the planet.

    I created a time series from that data (with Dr. Dai’s instructions). F is the fraction of Earth’s land surface in severe drought (PDSI <= -3.0). That fraction was 6% in 1870, 12% in 1970, 21% in 2005, after peaking briefly at 31% in 2003. It's a highly variable series, but the trend is clearly up.

    I showed that F is statistically related to past F, temperature anomaly, anomaly squared (that's the scary part), and SOI. I accounted for 72% of the variance 1870-2005. I used statistical techniques to rule out spurious correlation.

    I then wrote a simulation, including an SOI simulation, assuming the IPCC SPES A2 scenario (what we get if nothing effective is done about AGW), and using a climate sensitivity λ = 0.75 K/W/m^2. I ran the simulation 10,000 times to get a good sample.

    F always hits 70% in the 2050-2055 time frame. That's the threshold at which I assumed global agriculture collapse completely. Maybe that's wrong. Maybe it's 90%. Maybe it's 50%. I'd be interested in any arguments on the subject.

    My conclusions seemed alarmist even to me. Then Dr. Dai brought out an article using an entirely different method (he used an ensemble of 22 GCMs plus a drought model, I used pure statistical analysis). And he got essentially the same conclusions.

    The most immediate serious threat from AGW is drought. Harvest failure. No food.

    I say it "will" happen rather than "might" happen because A) most of the US just elected the village idiot to congress, which means two more years of inaction, delay, and rollback of pollution controls. B) China, India, and Russia also show no real interest in cutting coal use. C) We may be very close to tripping one or more of the geophysical feedbacks, e.g. methane clathrates in seabed sediments and permafrost, that will instantly make the problem so much worse we won't be able to do anything to stop it.

    So I'll continue to say that IF nothing serious is done about AGW–which is what I expect–civilization WILL collapse in this century, probably roughly around 2052.

    Deal with it.

  24. 274
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John Pollack,
    Thanks for the clarification. I agree, of course, and should have been more clear. My motivation in mentioning aquifer depletion was primarily that they are not renewable–when they are gone, water will never again flow through that rock. Also, tapping aquifers has been an important factor in expanding agriculture into marginal lands globally. I suspect that this will have a significant effect in the future just as global population crests around the 10 billion mark and as drought severity accelerates.

  25. 275
    Brian Dodge says:

    @John Pollack — 25 November 2010 @ 10:58 PM “…the role of irrigation is a severe overstatement.”

    http://www.ksre.k-state.edu/irrigate/OOW/P10/Dowgert10.pdf
    “USDA statistics show that 17% of cultivated crop land in the United States is irrigated. Yet this acreage produces nearly 50% of total US crop revenues. According to the FAO the approximate 1,260 million ha under rainfed agriculture, corresponding to 80% of the world’s total cultivated land, supply 60% of the world’s food; while the 277 million ha under irrigation, the remaining 20% of land under cultivation, contribute the other 40% of the food supplies.”

    Irrigation, or the lack thereof, has a disproportionate effect on food supply. One reason is that timing of moisture availability is critical – 2 inches of slow rainfall when a crop is sprouting, and another inch each week while it’s growing is beneficial; not enough enough water to sprout the crop in the spring followed ten inches of rain one day halfway through the growing season is catastrophic. On demand irrigation gives control over timing and rate.

    http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/full-report/national-climate-change#key4
    “In much of the Southeast and large parts of the West, the frequency of drought has increased coincident with rising temperatures over the past 50 years.”

    “Many types of extreme weather events, such as heat waves and regional droughts, have become more frequent and intense during the past 40 to 50 years.”

    “”One of the clearest precipitation trends in the United States is the increasing frequency and intensity of heavy downpours. This increase was responsible for most of the observed increase in overall precipitation during the last 50 years.”

    Intense flooding rainfall events don’t contribute much to relieving drought, and often cause reductions in agricultural output, as your link showed.

    Climate changes caused by global warming impose multiple stressors on agriculture – for instance, in addition to the drought/flood problems, warming has already been observed to decrease rice productivity by shortening the growing season. see the previous discussion at http://www.realclimate.org/?comments_popup=4881#comment-186487

  26. 276
    Anonymous Coward says:

    BPL,
    First off, let me tell you that I’m glad people are looking at the risk of massive drought. I’ve been supporting people who work on small-scale agriculture in arid regions because that’s long been a concern of mine.

    Now, as to the doomer stuff…
    What is the hypothesized causal link between the fraction of the Earths’ surface in “severe drought” and “global agriculture collapse”? What’s your definition of “global agriculture collapse” to begin with? Going by my understanding of the words, I don’t know that there’s ever been such an event so I have no idea what data you could be using.
    If we’re merely speculating, aside from the WMDs which potentially have a global effect, I don’t see what could possibly bring about a global collapse of agriculture since we’re not talking about an integrated system.

    There’s no reason to get hysterical about US elections as the “village idiot” has been elected over and over again for decades and obviously has little say in important policy decisions.
    From a nationalist point of view, China, India and Russia have currently no reason to cut on down coal use. The day the superpowers decide on a game plan, India will have to comply with whatever it’s told. China is not in a much better position. And TPTB in Russia seem to be the kind of people who would be willing to negociate.

  27. 277
    Radge Havers says:

    Anonymous Coward @ 276

    “the ‘village idiot’ has been elected over and over again for decades”

    Please fill in the gaps for me. How precisely is this not a problem?

    “The day the superpowers decide on a game plan, India will have to comply with whatever it’s told. China is not in a much better position. And TPTB in Russia seem to be the kind of people who would be willing to negociate.”

    Um, BPL’s claims may need backing up; so do yours.

    “Karl Rove – who was George W. Bush’s chief spin-doctor – boasted this year: ‘Climate is gone.’ He meant it is off the political agenda, but in time, this statement will be more true and more cursed than he realizes.”
    There won’t be a bailout for the earth

  28. 278
    Dean says:

    In years gone by, when there was a regional drought and agriculture had a very bad year in that area, the effects were mainly local. With a global food market now, a drought in any area that has enough financial resources to go on the market to fill their need, which now includes both India and China, means that the price supply and demand effects are virtually global. One serious drought in one populated region could force food prices up seriously everywhere else.

    The first result of such an experience, if it lasted a while, would be the end of the global trade in food, as countries still producing enough food would not allow their food prices to rise for long because other countries are having problems growing enough food. This could result in famine if exporting countries decided that hoarding is better than trade, as I expect would be likely.

    I read recently in Natl Geo that for the last five years per capita food production globally has been declining, by a very small amount admittedly, but it nonetheless was an important inflection point for a trend of increasing per capita food production that goes back many decades. The article did not try to attribute to population vs climate or other growing conditions.

    The global agriculture industrial system, including distribution, is very fine-tuned in a way, and very susceptible as well. I think that the tipping point is if food prices rise significantly for a couple of years. That long and exporters will probably be forced politically to start shutting down exports. And this scenario could result initially from a relatively localized shortage that otherwise might be manageable, at least in the short term.

  29. 279
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Dean,
    Historically, countries under rationing or stricken by famine have been known to export food. Governments have other considerations than the well-being of the populace. Allied governments have also been known to set up exclusive trade agreements between them. There’s therfore no reason to expect the international food trade to shut down. It wasn’t shut down on either side during WWII for instance.
    Food trade is not necessary for agriculture anyway. I don’t know what the “global agricultural industrial system” is exactly but I guess it may cease to function as it did for the past 60 years or so for any number of reasons.

    Food prices can go up and down for a number of reasons unrelated to population, climate or growing conditions (see what happened to prices in 2008).
    Grain production is currently not exclusively used for human consumption and this provdies a buffer against any moderate production shortfalls as a rise in food prices would increase the fraction consumed by humans.
    Food production is currently artifically depressed in some locales in a bid to keep prices up while subsidies are keeping prices down in others. Sometimes opposite policies apply to different foodstuffs in the same locale.
    This isn’t an idealized “free market”.

    Hadge,
    The point is that the “village idiot” thing is a structural problem unrealted to any particular election outcome. There was no “bailout for the earth” before the Dems lost so what is new?
    I’m not going to discuss geopolitics here but there’s no ground for panic on that front either. India and China were never supposed to move away from coal at this stage. It’s the US who was supposed to do so according to the original Kyoto deal (Russia is still well within its target).

    Moderators, do tell if further discussion of the potential impact of drought trade is unwelcome!

  30. 280
    Rod B says:

    Gavin (257), I am disappointed that you fell back on the old non sequitur that if one questions some aspect of climate change they are denying everything in AGW theory and therefore are prima facie wrong. It doesn’t stick. [edit]

    [Response: Why do you want to waste time imagining what I think and then criticising it? My point was precisely the opposite, that the existence of open questions (such as the faint young sun paradox) does not affect questions on which far more information is known. Does the uncertainty in who your great-great-grandmother was imply that you don't know who your mother is? People who insist that the (as yet unknown) resolution of an issue trumps all existing knowledge are behaving in an illogical way. This might work fine as a rhetorical strategy, but it has nothing to do with raising real issues. - gavin]

  31. 281
    Rod B says:

    Ray, IIRC, the UN says that if the present trends hold the world’s population in 2150 will approach half of what it is today, peaking somewhere around 2070 — predominately as a function birthrates.

  32. 282
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Anonymous Coward says, ” There was no “bailout for the earth” before the Dems lost so what is new?”

    What is new is the attitude of the majority toward science. If a party accepts empirical evidence as primary, there is hope of convincing them to act (regardless of the suppleness of their spines). If they respond to empirical evidence by launching witch hunts against the scientists, then I think prospects for gathering more evidence–let alone positive action–are rather more limited.

  33. 283
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B.,
    Best estimates I’ve seen suggest a crest in human population in the 2050-2100 timeframe. All of these estimates depend on assumptions–among which are continued economic growth, increased urbanization and increased education of women (which gives the strongest negative correlation with fertility).

    All the estimates assume fertility decreases to ~2 by about 2050 and that population crests about a generation and a half after that. None of them take into account potential population collapses due to famine, disease or decreasing environmental quality–for the simple reason we do not know how to accurately forecast these conditions. Then there is the question of how much damage we do to the planet’s carrying capaicty in supporting such a large human population.

  34. 284
    Paul Tremblay says:

    @Max 234 “The last glacial maximum can be explained quite simply by significantly colder temperatures, which cannot be definitively explained, unfortunately, due to the many “unknown unknowns” to which Dr. Curry alluded.”

    The word “alluded” brings up the very problem with Curry’s and your argument. If Curry can’t state specifically what the “unknowns” are, then she is bringing up philosophical problems, not scientific ones. Merely alluding to something means bringing in into an argument without actually exploring it in detail. Curry seems to do this a lot, bringing up supposed problems and denigrating the work of climate scientists without really thinking through her position. Posters on sites such as this one engage in such sloppy thinking all the time, but I find it shocking that a climate scientist does so. For this reason, many here don’t take Curry’s criticism too seriously.

    >>Lindzen and Spencer, have both concluded that 2xCO2 CS is well below 1C (although they disagree on how much below 1C). Both based their conclusion at least partly on recent satellite observations (rather than on long-ago paleo-climate reconstructions).

    But neither scientists does so in a peer-reviewed journal, specifically because their argument does not agree with the facts. Gavin already pointed this out. Anyone, including good scientists, can make extravagant claims outside the realm of science. Keep in mind the great Kepler believed the spheres emitted heavenly music. We don’t accept his claim simply because he was great scientist.

    So how about providing some real science to back up your claims instead of becoming repetitive, Max?

  35. 285

    What’s your definition of “global agriculture collapse” to begin with?</i.

    Geologically instantaneous loss of the immediate availability of the carbon and hydrocarbon fuels necessary to sustain it. Presumably the sun will be still shining, but any large asteroid or comet strike could disrupt that instantaneously as well.

    I don’t see what could possibly bring about a global collapse of agriculture since we’re not talking about an integrated system.

    I certainly am, since the means necessary to sustain a global human population many times the Earth’s natural agricultural carrying capacity is exclusively carbon and hydrocarbon combustion. That’s ‘integrated’.

    No fuel, no food, except for those who can produce their own. That’s far less than the seven to nine billion humans currently inhabiting the Earth. When you have layoffs of billions of people because a financial collapse has caused chaos in the markets and very few people can find viable jobs, then agriculture is almost immediately going to be rendered unable to feed them, because they will have no money with which to purchase their food and those agricultural institution requiring profits to function will fail.

  36. 286

    AC 276,

    By global agricultural collapse I mean at least one year in which nobody has a good harvest. World stored food supplies are a nice, Biblical number: about forty days. It only has to happen once for civilization to collapse.

    Think about it: Six weeks of increasingly unruly ration lines. Attempts to extend it by slaughtering all the livestock and mass-producing food from algae and weeds. Then the announcements that no more food is available. Riots. The urban squirrels, pigeons, and rats disappear overnight. Then the cats and dogs go. Then people turn on each other. We’ve got strong social taboos against cannibalism in this culture, but in severe famines, people eventually eat other people, and even, in the last extremity, themselves. There are some pretty gruesome stories from Ireland in the 1840s.

  37. 287
    Toby Thaler says:

    233, 239, 260, etc.: Concerning causes and consequences of the relationships between science, economics, politics, etc. I.e., What is the “prognosis” for our civilization?

    I think it is clear that what we call “Western Civilization” has become in essence a global system. There are very few places that are not tied in to the global economy, which is at core a capitalist “world-system.” I suggest that if people want to opine on the future of our civilization in response to and as a result of climate change (resulting in turn in large part from our economic activities—there are dozens of articles and studies on this point) they should read up on the subject. The trajectory will be determined not only by climate change, but also by how the governance systems and social structure responds. And wihtou understanding how we we got to the present moment and

    I like Emmanuel Wallerstein’s 2004 “World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction”; a concise description of the 500 year development of the capitalist world-system and how it functions today. (For other perspectives on social systems analysis, try Jurgen Habermas, Niklas Luhmann and numerous others that can be found quite easily if you take the time to look.)

    A similar exercise concerning how people tend to talk past each other on these blogs could start with a reading of George Lakoff’s classic work (e.g., “Moral Politics,” 2001), as well as Wallerstein (“Overcoming the Two Cultures: Science versus the Humanities in the Modern World-System,” 2004).

    As to the initial question, I do not profess to be more than an advanced amateur (I’m a public interest environmental lawyer and policy analyst), but it is clear to me that the benefits from following the precautionary principle would far outweigh any downsides. These actions would consist primarily of large reductions in per capita consumption of energy and other resources. And over time a reduction in the capita (population) itself. Those actions in turn would mean the end of capitalism (which is by definition grounded on unsustainable growth), and large changes in how our lives and economies are organized. They will be difficult to accomplish before “collapse” since people generally are fearful of and resistant to change. And since the end of global capitalism would mean the end to the large corporations, they are in “to the death” mode. They may be amoral (and immoral), but they’re not stupid.

    The only losers of such a paradigm shift would be the tiny percent of extremely wealthy humanity who own/benefit from the “world system” as currently constructed. And their “loss” would really not be a loss in the long run, at least not for their descendants, who might actually thank them to give up their greed sooner rather than later.

    Along with a number of other posters, I would like to chime in with a hearty appreciation to RC as well. It’s one of the few blogs grounded on the best available science, with moderators and numerous posters who are capable of countering the wrong-headed BS coming from the denialists. 113 has it right; the level of fear & anger out there is staggering, and in themselves indicate to me a serious fraying of the fabric of our social networks. Please keep it up, Gavin et al.

  38. 288
    Patrick 027 says:

    Those actions in turn would mean the end of capitalism (which is by definition grounded on unsustainable growth),

    Or those actions could save capitalism in a sustainable version.

  39. 289
    Patrick 027 says:

    There are some pretty gruesome stories from Ireland in the 1840s.

    Or post WWII, China (children were exchanged so that parents wouldn’t have to eat their own children)

    Worth mentioning that had the British rule overall some decency (or had the Irish been allowed a more diverse diet, or had the potato crop been more genetically diverse itself??, or had the potato never contributed to a population increase in the first place???) or Mao a willingness to learn about reality (or others a willingness to communicate it rather than fake pictures of impossible bounty), these famines could have been prevented or at least reduced.

  40. 290
    Rod B says:

    Gavin, I just read you 257 response differently. I have no worthwhile difficulties with your explanation in 280.

  41. 291
    manacker says:

    Paul Tremblay

    Thanks for your 284.

    Let’s go though it point-by-point

    You wrote:

    The word “alluded” brings up the very problem with Curry’s and your argument. If Curry can’t state specifically what the “unknowns” are, then she is bringing up philosophical problems, not scientific ones.

    Curry was actually quite specific in the Scientific American interview. Let me quote:

    The uncertainty lies in both the data about past climate and the models tat project future climate. Curry asserts that the scientists haven’t adequately dealt with the uncertainty in theor calculations and don’t even know with precision what’s arguably the most basic number in the field: the climate forcing from CO2 – that is, the amount of warming a doubling of CO2 alone would cause without and amplifying or mitigating effects from melting ice, increased water vapor or any of a dozen other factors.

    Things get worse, she argues, when you try to add in those feedbacks to project likely temperature increases over the next century, because the feedbacks are rife with uncertainty as well” “There’s a whole host of unknown unknowns that we don’t even know how to quantify but that should be factored into our confidence level.” One example she cites is the “hockey stick” chart showing that current temperatures are the warmest in hundreds of years. If you are going to say that this year or that decade is the hottest, you had better have a good idea of what temperatures have actually been over those hundreds of years – and Curry, along with many skeptics, does not think we have a good handle on that as the scientific community believes.

    This is pretty specific stuff, Paul.

    The “unknowns” have been specifically identified as

    · the 2xCO2 climate forcing without any feedbacks,
    · the net “amplifying or mitigating effects” from feedbacks and
    · the temperature of the past several hundreds of years

    As to Spencer and Braswell or Lindzen and Choi, I have not seen any attempted rebuttal to the former. I have seen three blog rebuttals to L+C, which we could discuss here if you would like (and Gavin would permit).

    Your point of “peer review” does not impress me too much, so let’s leave that out of the discussion.

    Suffice it to say that one of these critiques of L+C was by Spencer, who took issue with the L+C calculation method and concluded that the estimated 2xCO2 CS of 0.4C was too low (Spencer’s estimate was 0.6C).

    Max

  42. 292
    John E. Pearson says:

    291: “Your point of “peer review” does not impress me too much, so let’s leave that out of the discussion.”

    This is idiotic. Why? Because peer-reviewed papers are necessarily correct? No. Because peer review sets the minimum standard for what is worth discussing. WIthout peer review it is not science. It is blog science. Huge difference. In blog science idiots can say anything and screech and howl that they be answered. To publish in the top peer-reviewed journals you have to present reasoned arguments which are not obvious nonsense.

  43. 293
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re Max – I looked at some of Spencer’s writing once, but it’s been awhile. Dare I (as this may not be the appropriate place, but anyway) suggest – perhaps you could summarize Spencer’s evidence and logic?

  44. 294
    John Pollack says:

    Brian Dodge @ 275

    Thanks for some more specific numbers regarding irrigation. I’m after a more nuanced view of where the danger lies, and this helps.

    I do stand by my statement that and end to irrigation would not mean an end to agriculture in the Great Plains, rather, decreased yields. As one of your articles states, dryland agriculture in Nebraska has yielded over 100 bu/acre of corn in recent years. Not as good as 150-175, but enough to feed a lot of people.

    In the context of discussing famine, I think it would be most useful to talk about calories grown, rather than the monetary value of the food. The irrigated valleys of central California, for example, produce lots of high-value fruits and vegetables. The grains and soybeans grown predominantly in the central U.S. are less valuable per acre, but calorie dense. Right now, most of those calories go through animals before we get to eat them, or, in the case of ethanol, into internal combustion engines.

    Of course, it will be generally true that irrigated land will grow higher value food in monetary terms, since that’s what justifies the extra investment in irrigation.

  45. 295
    manacker says:

    Barton Paul Levenson

    Your “nightmare scenario” – one year (almost) without crops, with resulting major famines – could happen if we had a sudden major global cooling, as was feared back in the 1970s.

    Some solar scientists tell us that we are headed for another major cooling similar to that of the LIA, but who knows if they are right?

    Max

    [Response: Lot's of people know that it's wrong (or at least extremely unlikely). - gavin]

  46. 296
    Snapple says:

    The girlie magazine Pravda makes this claim about global cooling, but their “expert” is a blogger named Gregory Fagel, a 9-11 “Truther.”

    http://english.pravda.ru/science/earth/11-01-2009/106922-earth_ice_age-0/

  47. 297
    Snapple says:

    That Pravda is not the current version of the historic Copmmunist Party Pravda, by the way.

    Besides writing moronic pseudo-science about global cooling, Gregory F. Fegel publishes his a 9-11 Truther conspiracy theories in the Russian tabloid Pravda (8-22-08):

    “A preponderance of evidence shows that the highest officials of the Bush Administration, in collusion with many other officials from the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, FEMA, NSA, NORAD, New York City officials, air-traffic contollers, airline executives, controlled demolitions experts, computer graphics technicians, media executives, and others together planned and committed the horrible attacks of 9/11/2001 against the Pentagon and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The 9/11 attacks were immediately blamed on some bogus ‘Arab highjackers’, a half dozen of whom were later confirmed to be still alive, and therefore innocent, after the 9/11 attacks.”

    9-11 Truthers typically cite a lot of crackpot engineering and junk science to “prove” that President George Bush masterminded 9-11.

    Most people laugh at the far-fetched conspiracy theories of the Truthers, but lately the brain trusts in the Truth Movement have been spreading global warming denialist pseudoscience.

    Gregory F. Fegel’s Pravda article was even praised by writer Noel Sheppard in the “conservative” publication Newsbusters (1-11-09). To the non-scientist, perhaps Gregory Fegel’s article sounds like science, but what do qualified scientists who have studied global warming say about this 9-11 truther’s “scientific” theory? Do changes in the earth’s orbit (and variations in solar activity) trump all that extra C02 that is warming the earth? “Science writer” Fegel seems to assume that changes in the earth’s orbit will trump man-made warming. Is there any science to back up this assumption?

    Skeptical Science, a site that says we should be skeptical about the claims of global warming denialists, has addressed the unscientific argument that we are heading into an ice age. According to scientists:

    “The warming effect from more CO2 greatly outstrips the influence from changes in the Earth’s orbit or solar activity, even if solar levels were to drop to Maunder Minimum levels….

    …[T]here is no ice age around the corner. To those with lingering doubts that an ice age might be imminent, turn your eyes towards the northern ice sheets. If they’re growing, then yes, the 10,000 year process of glaciation may have begun. However, currently the Arctic permafrost is degrading, Arctic sea ice is melting and the Greenland ice sheet is losing mass at an accelerating rate. These are hardly good conditions for an imminent ice age.”

    http://legendofpineridge.blogspot.com/2010/06/gregory-ffegel-9-11-truther-is-on-thin.html

  48. 298
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Max excretes: “Some solar scientists tell us that we are headed for another major cooling similar to that of the LIA, but who knows if they are right?”

    We-ell, given that we still have pretty low levels of solar activity AND this year stands a reasonable chance of being the hottest on record (or at least a statistical tie), I’m gonna say probably not.

  49. 299
    Anonymous Coward says:

    BPL,
    Apparently you’re talking about a situation in which the output of global agriculture essentially drops to zero. This would require not only extreme drought in every significant agricultural region simultaneously but the depletion of all major aquifers as well as all major rivers (no more high-altitude snow and glaciers?), lakes and dams. That and little desalinization. But you aren’t projecting such a scenario, right?
    There are obviously more than 40 days of food stocks. Your data may refer to the grain stocks declared by some governments or something. The EPI claims about 80 days of grain supplies based on USDA numbers which obviously do not measure the full extent of stocks held by all actors either.
    You also neglected to consider that the onset of severe droughts affecting 70% or more of the globe (something which I am skpetical about but let’s accept it for the sake of the argument) can only be slow, allowing people to adjust their stocks. Furthermore you assume an equitable distribution of stocks, which is of course preposterous.
    Finally you went with an unrealistic scenario for how people and institutions would react to a famine. You write about “ration lines” but that is not the most efficient way to distribute food and, under rationing, even “40 days” of food supplies could last at least 4 months. By and large, people do not “turn on each other” in the face of adversity (even when they resort to eating the dead). Perhaps you should critically examine how you got to believe such a thing.

    Even if the likelyhood of a sudden and extreme shortfall of global agricultural output is extremely low (as I estimate), the problems associated with chronically insufficient output remain. In a drier world, billions could well be chronically severly malnourished (mainly for lack of purchasing power) while a large minority lives (relatively) well. Not only would that be undesirable from a humanitarian point of view but this would also create or increase a number of sanitary and security risks which could well further hamper agricultural productivity.
    A downward spiral over decades involving chronic famines, epidemics, a protracted economic crisis, all kinds of violence and a diminishing ability to invest or even maintain existing infrastructure is a serious enough risk. But, historically, such crises have generally been followed by recovery at a lower population density rather than some kind of final collapse. The mid-21st century situation will be unprecendented in a number of ways however.

    Ray Ladbury,
    You seem to be subscribing to model for interaction between science and policy that Pielke criticizes. I’m sorry for the scientists who are being persecuted but I’m afraid there are more important obstacles to effective mitigation.
    While I would rather have a dinner party with politically-correct legislators than the likes of the late senator Helms, policy and not rhetoric is what ultimately matters. My understanding is that the longstanding US policy of inaction (or window-dressing) with regards to climate change mitigation has been bipartisan and has not been based on ignorance. The Senate vote against Kyoto was unanimous. Clinton and Gore have reportedly pretty much stated that Kyoto was unacceptable. Do you think that is because US politicians at the time were singularly unaware of the scientific evidence?
    So far as I know, the Democratic Senate of 2008-10 didn’t even attempt to pass or ratify anything of consequence so I don’t know why one would have expected better from the current Senate, no matter the outcome of the election.

  50. 300
    John Pollack says:

    BPL @ 286

    Diminishing global food stockpiles are already a concern. I can see where climate change will help set up a severe shortage. Subsurface water available for irrigation is decreasing. Surface water for crops is decreasing in a lot of areas due to increasing drought and decreasing snowmelt and glacial melt available when needed.

    In addition, we could be setting up for coordinated agricultural failures through weather teleconnections. Ideally, one would want agricultural production between major surplus areas to be negatively correlated or uncorrelated, so that a failure in one area is compensated by a surplus somewhere else. However, if ocean temperature anomalies are enhanced (e.g. by increasing meltwater from Greenland affecting the north Atlantic) this could result in correlated unusual weather worldwide. Since crops planted tend to be the best for normal conditions in any area, unusual weather means lousy yields.

    That said, the global food supply pipeline is hardly uniform. It’s not as if everyone will run out at once. Poor areas in chronic deficit will go first. Rich areas with surpluses might have to switch their diet. Soy burgers and fried corn mush, anyone? That would be very difficult, but would beat going hungry.

    My guess is that the political turmoil and wars resulting from reduced supplies is what would get most people, before the food truly ran out.


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