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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. 301
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Agricutltual failure does not entail yield dropping to zero, it merely means that agricultural output falls far short of the ability to support population–both locally and globally. Look at the political unrest that accompanied the food shortages in Mexico and Africa in 2007. Now imagine that playing out with ten times the severity and on a global scale.

    Also, I am not so naive that I think Democratic politicians are friends of science. They do, however tend to support efforts to gather data, while in recent years, Republicans have been hostile not only to policy actions to ameliorate climate change, but even to gathering data (viz. the saga of the DISCOVR satellite). When you have a party where the majority reject the scientific fact of climate change, what prospects do you see for progress in climate science?

    The unfortunate fact is that politicians of both parties do not understand science. This reflects the ignorance of the electorate. However, it is beyond question that one party in American politics has been far more hostile to science than the other–be that science evolution, stem cell research or climate science. FWIW, I am not a flaming liberal. I am much more comfortable with the fiscal conservatism of old-style New England Republicans. However, I am at present unable to vote for any Republican, not matter his/her personal qualities, because the party has declared war on physical reality.

  2. 302
    Anonymous Coward says:

    I was referring to BPL’s “Six weeks of increasingly unruly ration lines. … Then the announcements that no more food is available.”. That semms to be be predicated on 40 days of stocks and output falling to zero (as well as other indefensible assumptions).
    Famines and food riots usually happen in spite of a perfectly adequate output and not because of insufficient output at the global level. Even at the regional level, since WWII local famines caused by insufficient local output have been few and far between (and political obstruction was a contributing factor).
    As pointed out by at least one other commenter, global agricultural output is currently well in excess of the the amount needed to support the population and could be increased on relatively short notice as well should governments decide to build stocks or commit to reducing malnutrition.

    You presume much when you say that politicians in general don’t understand science. While there seem to be a number of willful idiots in the profession, sticking to the scripts handed by the leadership and telling audiences what they want to hear seem to be reasonable career moves for a politician. Better to pretend you don’t understand an inconvenient fact than to tell why your patrons and colleagues would rather ignore it I guess.
    Regardless of the politicians’ antics, is any single country investing anywhere near the amount of money that the USA is investing in climate science? I don’t know but I doubt it. Does anyone have consolidated figures on who employs climate scientists (or even scientists in general) by the way?

  3. 303

    Gavin and others:

    About SwiftHack, do you have any thoughts on the arrangement of the Yamal-related stuff in the archive? It seems the contents of FOIA/documents/yamal/ were pulled together from several different sources, while the other directories seem to be straightforward data dumps.

    And, any additional context on what the data files really mean will be appreciated.


  4. 304
    Toby Thaler says:

    288 in response to my 287: “Or those actions could save capitalism in a sustainable version.”

    It’s a matter of definitions. Many use the word to describe both multi-national (or ‘world-system’) corporatism and small scale business economy. While they have similar “free market” attributes, the former leans toward fascist politics, while participants in the latter tends to be libertarian. We need to be clear as to what we’re referring to when using words with such huge and flexible meanings and associations. Control over investment of large proportions of a societies’ wealth is a key indicia of capitalism to which I refer; if the system does not have this element, then I prefer to call it something else.

    But the real bottom line argument is (I believe) that most economists agree that an essential element of capitalism is the accumulation of wealth. By definition this is not an economic model that is sustainable over time. See Wallerstein.

  5. 305
    Ray Ladbury says:

    AC says, “As pointed out by at least one other commenter, global agricultural output is currently well in excess of the the amount needed to support the population and could be increased on relatively short notice as well should governments decide to build stocks or commit to reducing malnutrition.”

    I think this betrays a lack of understanding of how agricultural yields have increased. It has a whole helluva lot more to do with prodigious application of petrochemical based fertilizers and fertilizers and tapping aquifers for irrigation than it does with government policies. And by 2050, petrochemicals and water resources will be severely strained. There is also the fact that moving food around the globe will be a lot less feasible as fuel prices skyrocket. The green revolution was essentially a way of averting food insecurity by turning petroleum into grain and soy beans–both of which also suck up LOTS of water. And with fisheries collapsing and unlikely to recover, we can’t turn there for relief.

    AC: “You presume much when you say that politicians in general don’t understand science.”

    Really? You ever talk to these guys? Most of them couldn’t write down Newton’s Laws, Ohm’s law or even tell you how DNA works. Most of them are lawyers of businessmen with neither understanding nor interest in science–as evidenced by the fact that the Congress disbanded its own office of scientific advisors the Office of Technology Assessment. I’m sorry, but when you have legislators justifying their opposition to climate science by citing the Book of Genesis or supporting teaching of creationism alongside evolution in the biology classroom, it is difficult for me to see how you can call the Congress a science-friendly body.

  6. 306
    Didactylos says:

    Okay, suppose we buy into BPL’s completely indefensible (and undefended) claims of agricultural collapse.

    Let’s look at developed countries in temperate climates:

    # Countries that produce considerably more than they consume
    # Countries that will be among the last to suffer from climate effects, and that may benefit from slightly increased temperatures and increased precipitation
    # Countries that currently consume way, way more than is needed to sustain life

    How are these countries going to suddenly collapse at the same time as countries that are in less favourable situations? It’s a complete non sequitur.

    Now, if BPL were talking about regional collapse, that might make sense. But he’s not.

    I keep searching for any hint that BPL has considered anything beyond his own drought research. Water management? Socio-economics? Trade? Positive offsets of climate change? Regional differences? Not a single hint of anything like this.

    I say it again: the actual projected effects of climate change are quite bad enough (see the Stern Review) without making stuff up.

  7. 307
    manacker says:

    @Patrick 027

    You ask me (293) for a summary of “Spencer’s evidence and logic” (presumably with regard to net negative cloud feedback with warming, clouds as a possible natural forcing factor and resulting impact on the 2xCO2 climate sensitivity).

    I’d suggest you read his studies – it’s all in there.


  8. 308
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I don’t think it is fair to claim that BPL’s contentions are indefensible or that he has not defended them. Have you stopped to consider the extent to which current agricultural productivity depends on petrochemical fertilizers, etc., and that these are going to become scarcer as the period in question approaches?

    I don’t think BPL is contending anything like simultaneous collapse. However, regional collapse coupled with significant strain in the rest of the world will have disastrous consequences in itself. As I’ve said, I cannot comment in detail on BPL’s contentions. I suspect they are perhaps a bit pessimistic. However, there can be no question that this will be the period of maximum strain on the productive capacity of a planet that is already under severe strain.

  9. 309
    Hank Roberts says:

    Didac, BPL, this is way off-topic, but I suggest you could both look at — a review of Bottleneck by William R. Catton, Jr. — then have a discussion (somewhere). After agreeing, elsewhere.

  10. 310
    Anonymous Coward says:

    I’m not going to argue with the doomer line on agriculture and oil on RC. So I’ll just give you a couple of pointers and leave it at that:
    1 – Grain markets were largely globalized at the end of the 19th century when emissions from fossil fuels were a small fraction of what they are today. Grains do not require refrigeration or just-in-time delivery. Most of the costs of food transportation nowadays involve transporting intermediary products and finished goods across large distances by trucking to save marginal amounts over the price of packaged products which are then sold to consumers at an enormous premium compared to bulk grain (by the kcal/$ metric).
    2 – The energy expended in agriculture is relatively small and could easily be sustained in the face of an energy crunch as evidenced by the fact that retail, refrigeration, cooking, catering and so on uses about 5 times more energy (a very rough figure subject to cultural differences and so on) in industrial countries. The price ratio is similar. The ratios would be much larger if you considered only grains on the one hand and products made from grains on the other as raw grain is much less energy-intensive than animal products for instance. a random up-to-date reference from the Wikipedia:

    You are for some reason imagining a false dichotomy between government policies and technology. Food availability is a national security issue. Following the world wars, many governments (and those of North America, Europe and Japan in particular) have heavily intervened in the agricultural sector which remains highly distorted (as compared to most sectors) to this day in spite of the more recent rollback inspired by free-trade ideology. In the mid-20th century, the development and the widespread application of modern agricultural technologies was a focus of government policies.

  11. 311
    David B. Benson says:

    Anonymous Coward @310 & others — Please do read
    from which I quote: “This is very alarming because if the drying is anything resembling Figure 11, a very large population will be severely affected in the coming decades over the whole United States, southern Europe, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Chile, Australia, and most of Africa.”

  12. 312
    Paul Tremblay says:

    @Manacker 291 “This is pretty specific stuff, Paul.”

    You quote Curry from the *Scientific American* article. But you dishonestly left out what came immediately after:

    ==Start Quote==

    Many climate scientists find these complaints unfair. They say the IPCC has been upfront about uncertainties all along—that the reports explicitly cite areas where knowledge is lacking. It would be scientifically irresponsible to give flat answers to questions such as “How much will it warm?” or “How much will sea level rise?” Instead the experts give ranges and confidence intervals and the like. More important, other scientists part ways with Curry over how significant those uncertainties are to the final calculation. Yes, the most basic number in climate science is not known with absolute precision, agreed Stanford University’s Stephen H. Schneider in a conversation shortly before he died in July. But it is only uncertain by a few percent, which simply is not enough to skew the projections significantly. Other effects, such as whether clouds will accelerate or retard warming, are much less certain—but here people like Schneider point out that the lack of precision is laid out by the IPCC. (Schneider was the one who persuaded the IPCC to systematize its discussion of uncertainty a decade ago.) For that reason, Curry’s charges are misleading, her critics say. “We’ve seen a lot of strawmen from Judy lately,” Schneider said. “It is frankly shocking to see such a good scientist take that kind of a turn to sloppy thinking. I have no explanation for it.”

    ==End Quote==

    I pointed out her sloppy thinking before because I had seen evidence of it when she posted on this very blog, defending a poorly reasoned book, and then claiming she made no such defense. It was pretty shocking. She has done the same thing with her accusations against climate scientists and the IPCC.

    You write “Your point of “peer review” does not impress me too much, so let’s leave that out of the discussion.” I know it would be convenient for you to dictate the terms of a debate in this dishonest way, but let me re-emphasize: Spencer’s et al.s objections do not even meet the basic requirements of peer reviewed science, which is why we dismiss them out of hand. John Pearson sums up the problem with your position in 292, and I don’t feel it necessary to repeat it.

    When Patrick027 challenged to sum up Spencer’s argument, you become absurdly dismissive. Could you please be more specific and cite real science, or are you just playing a game?

  13. 313

    AC 299: By and large, people do not “turn on each other” in the face of adversity

    BPL: I take it you were not in New Orleans after Katrina.

  14. 314

    AC 302,

    What part of “there won’t be enough food to go around” did you not understand? And it’s 80 days rather than 40? Great! So it takes 12 weeks for the world to die instead of six. Yo, the year is 52 weeks long, remember? We DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH FOOD STOCKPILES to keep humanity going once all the good farmland is gone.

    ALL of it. My prediction is that 70% of the Earth’s land surface will be in SEVERE drought by 2050-2055. What condition do you think the rest will be in?

  15. 315

    Did 306: suppose we buy into BPL’s completely indefensible (and undefended) claims of agricultural collapse.

    BPL: Gavin, if he can say things like this for several days without drawing any censure from you guys, I’m damn well going to reply.

    Did, I gave my reasoning. That was a “defense” by any reasonable criterion. If you want to say it wasn’t an adequate defense, or had holes in it, or included mistakes, you can say that, though you’d damn well better be prepared to point out what those mistakes are. You haven’t done that, you’ve just said “It won’t happen” and loaded me with abuse. FYI, I am a scientist because I have a science degree and do scientific research. I am not a professional scientist, nor did I ever claim to be one. Why do you feel you have to run me down every time you disagree with something I say? What is wrong with you?

    [Response: Ok, that’s it. Both of you, no more on this or it will just be deleted. Take a break, think about something else, and try to ponder how to have more constructive discussions next week. – gavin]

  16. 316
    manacker says:

    @Paul Tremblay

    You are moving the goal-posts, Paul (312).

    The Curry quotations from Scientific American stand, regardless of the commentary later made by the journalist (Michael D. Lemonick of Climate Central Inc.), in which he quotes Harold Shapiro and the late Stephen Schneider, which you have quoted.

    Since you first criticized Curry’s comments as too non-specific, I thought I would simply point this out to you.

    Curry has specifically stated that there is considerable uncertainty regarding:

    – 2xCO2 GH impact excluding any feedbacks
    – net “amplifying or mitigating” effects from feedbacks
    – temperatures over the past several hundreds of years

    This has nothing to do with opinions of Schneider or Shapiro as quoted by Lemonick later in the article.


    [Response: For the first there isn’t much uncertainty at all. These calculations are very simple. For the other two, no-one has ever claimed there is no uncertainty, so that is perfectly mainstream. – gavin]

  17. 317
    Ray Ladbury says:

    AC, you are ignoring the extent to which those very government policies increased dependence of farming on petrochemicals, water from deep aquifers and relatively fragile hybrid seeds. All are vulnerable points in the system. If we are to address potential risks to future civilization, we need to address these weak points, and at present I see no consideration of them.

  18. 318
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Max, Judy’s expertise is in hurricanes. She has made it abundantly clear that her depth of understanding outside of this field is microscopically thin.

  19. 319
    Isotopious says:

    Gavin @ 316.

    Are you suggesting the overlaps are unimportant, because of the “water vapor concentration is a feedback not a forcing” assumption?

    [Response: Not related in the slightest. – gavin]

  20. 320
    manacker says:

    @Ray Ladbury (318)

    Judy’s expertise is in hurricanes

    What’s yours?


    PS Actually, she heads the “School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences” at Georgia Tech.

  21. 321
    Dan says:

    “PS Actually, she heads the “School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences” at Georgia Tech.”

    That is close to being a non-sequitor. Being the head of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences” says absolutely nothing about her area of expertise. As a example: A climatologist headed the Department of Meteorology and Oceanography at my graduate school. He knew relatively little about oceanography.

  22. 322
    flxible says:

    PS Actually, she heads the “School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences” at Georgia Tech.

    Actually she is theChair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, which says nothing about her “expertise”. Might indicate she’s chosen politics over science?

  23. 323
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Max, what determines her expertise is what she has published. I’ve never claimed to be a climate expert. (My own expertise is radiation effects in semiconductors–particularly applying probabilistic risk assessment to that field. ) However, I am not challenging the experts or the evidence, so that is irrelevant.

    Judy’s position is neither consistent with evidence nor with expert opinion–and she’s given no evidence she is familiar with either.

    A department head need have no expertise whatsoever in the subject matter of his/her department. It is a purely administrative position. Jeebus, didn’t you ever go to college?

  24. 324
    Paul Tremblay says:

    >>The Curry quotations from Scientific American stand, regardless of the commentary later made by the journalist (Michael D. Lemonick of Climate Central Inc.), in which he quotes Harold Shapiro and the late Stephen Schneider, which you have quoted.

    What kind of a response is that? If the quote by Curry stands, then naturally, so does the quote by Shapiro and Schneider. Specifically, Shapiro and Schneider point out that Curry engages in sloppy thinking, since the IPCC did and does admit the uncertainty, despite what you claim. That becomes ridiculously clear with just a superficial reading of the IPCC report. It boggles my mind how you and Curry can somehow claim otherwise.

    I would expect a poster on a blog to engage in obfuscation in these matters, but Schneider and Shapiro are absolutely correct to call such behavior from the chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences shocking.

  25. 325
    Daniel Bailey says:

    Re: manacker (307)

    Recent studies indicate potential positive feedbacks from clouds:
    1. Observational and Model Evidence for Positive Low-Level Cloud Feedback. Science 24 July 2009: Vol. 325 no. 5939 pp. 460-464 DOI: 10.1126/science.1171255

    Available here.

    2. Influence of Arctic sea ice extent on polar cloud fraction and vertical structure and implications for regional climate. JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH, VOL. 115, D21209, 9 PP., 2010 doi:10.1029/2010JD013900

    Available here.

    3. The Impact of Global Warming on Marine Boundary Layer Clouds over the Eastern Pacific—A Regional Model Study. Journal of Climate, 2010; 23 (21): 5844 10.1175/2010JCLI3666.1

    Science Daily article on it is here.

    Co-author Kevin Hamilton concludes,

    “If our model results prove to be representative of the real global climate, then climate is actually more sensitive to perturbations by greenhouse gases than current global models predict, and even the highest warming predictions would underestimate the real change we could see.”

    The Yooper

  26. 326
    Isotopious says:

    [Response: Not related in the slightest. – gavin]

    Fine. What about the mechanical advantage of CO2 ?

    Question: If the CO2 was restricted to the first 5km of the lower atmosphere, would it work better with regards to warming the surface? How about 1 meter off the ground, etc?

    (sorry about the laymanist terminology).

    [Response: You have it backwards. The greenhouse effect only works if there is a temperature difference between the surface and the atmospheric emitter. Thus the more absorbers/emitters there are in cooler parts of the atmosphere, the bigger the impact. So for maximum effect you’d put all of the GHGs/high cirrus in the upper troposhere. – gavin]

  27. 327
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Max and many others (including Judy Curry) misunderstand the nature of scientific uncertainty and its relation to engineering and policy. First, uncertainties are not arbitrary. They are determined by the amount and quality of evidence. Based on evidence, the 90% CL for climate sensitivity is 2.1 to 4.5 degrees C per doubling. This means there is only a 5% chance that the evidence to date could be so skewed that the actual value could be outside this range. It does not mean that there is ANY evidence for a lower sensitivity–there is not.

    Second, what matters is risk–the consequences of a threat times the probability of it being realized. The consequences even at the low end of the 90% CL are significant. The consequences at the high end of the 90% CL are severe. If we go beyond the 90% CL, on the low side, there is still non-negligible risk, and the consequences on the high side are unbounded (that is, civilization likely fails). When risk is unbounded, the only acceptable mitigation strategy is to avoid the threat being realized. The only way we know to do that at present is to decrease CO2 emissions. This is simply standard risk mitigation.

  28. 328
    manacker says:

    @Paul Tremblay

    Just for the record, Gavin has agreed to two of Curry’s points on “uncertainty”

    For the first [2xCO2 GH impact without feedbacks] there isn’t much uncertainty at all. These calculations are very simple. For the other two [net “amplifying or mitigating” effects from feedbacks and temperatures over the past several hundreds of years] no-one has ever claimed there is no uncertainty, so that is perfectly mainstream. – gavin

    I’ll cede to Gavin on the first point being less “uncertain” than the other two, so we apparently have no disagreement.


  29. 329
    Isotopious says:

    Thanks Gavin. How far out will you find CO2? All the way to the Exosphere?

    [Response: There is a small amount of photolytic destruction of CO2 above the mesopause, so it starts to decrease above that, but nothing above the stratosphere makes much difference climatically, just not enough mass. – gavin]

  30. 330
  31. 331
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Oh, no, Max. There is still considerable disagreement,because Gavin knows how to treat scientific uncertainty, and you do not. The uncertainties on the other quantities are well defined and KNOWN. They say that your sanguinity has less than a 5% chance of being right. You’d know that, too, if you’d ever taken a science class.

  32. 332
    Paul Tremblay says:

    @Max 328: “Just for the record, Gavin has agreed to two of Curry’s points on ‘uncertainty'”

    No one is debating that, though, and you appear to play the same game as Dr. Curry in using uncertainties to disparage climatologists. Earlier you wrote “I have also concluded (as has Dr. Curry) that the scientific uncertainties (specifically in AR4 WG1) have been understated.” That simply is not true, and nothing you have posted since has backed up this claim.

  33. 333
    dhogaza says:

    I’ll cede to Gavin on the first point being less “uncertain” than the other two, so we apparently have no disagreement.

    There’s a difference in the perfectly mainstream uncertainty expressed, say, by the mainstream science position that sensitivity almost certainly lies in the range 2-4.5C per doubling of CO2, and the touting of “uncertainty” as a reason to be certain that there will be almost no warming at all …

  34. 334
    Rod B says:

    Ray, my earlier retort didn’t pass muster, so I’ll shorten it — since you keep with it. You have lots of chutzpah and little evidence behind your assessment of Curry.

  35. 335
    ghost says:

    Some random thoughts, all IMHO of course. RE: BPL 273, I suspect the way the U.S. would/will “try” to compensate for creeping large scale ag decline/failure is to do what we always do with synthetic practices in natural situations–try to turbocharge our way out of it. So, what will we try to do that “sounds good” and feeds the capitalism gods? Build massive arrays of greenhouses and canning facilities in what we imagine are suitable regional locations. (Oh, the political football that siting process would be!) The idea being that we can feed many more people by skipping the animal middleman, while making a bundle for the kind of agribiz that would be required to do such a thing (has to be private sector, can’t have the guvment do it). Grain production probably doesn’t mix with greenhouses, so I suspect that a fair chunk of what (expensive) grain is grown probably goes to the high-return liquor industry–which should be nearly a mandatory staple if things get bad enough. Would mega-scale internal growing work? I dunno; it would require at least better engineering than what we do now. A promising and prolific tomato-growing greenhouse complex in central Nebraska was destroyed by a not unusual hailstorm there, something about hailstones, glass construction, and forgetting that the two don’t mix. Someone above mentioned widespread cessation of food exports, and that seems to me like a given. Every country for itself, a bit like the deep mine survival plan in Dr. Strangelove. I don’t know what our food production and genetics might be like in 40 years, but it seems it might not be long before we have to begin thinking of sellable excuses for avoiding doing anything substantial toward being prepared in time.

    John mentioned Nebraska dry land corn production numbers, which likely is from about Phelps County eastward. You generally will not see anywhere near those yields in the drier further-west areas. (Most of Iowa doesn’t irrigate routinely, and their “dry land” corn yields probably are about what optimal Nebraska irrigated land yields. Whether Iowa/Illinois/Indiana c/would switch to irrigation if needed is another question.) The current case is that dryland corn production is not attempted in substantial acreage in areas that don’t get adequate average annual rainfall. Essentially, the bulk of Nebraska dryland yields are equivalent to yields from sub-optimal irrigation. So, under the hotter -> drier idea, it seems to me we would have to shift the drier/lower yield line eastward. I don’t know that there is a further-east area that is naturally too wet for corn, so I would expect average yield to decline. I would “expect” cereal grain production to creep eastward in substitution for corn. Also, amb-ient temperatures presumably also would be higher, which likely would affect corn yield/vitality in two, maybe three ways. First, we could expect generally higher evaporation rates, so the rain that is there doesn’t go as far (more impetus for no-till/min-till). Tied to that is the risk of severely dry conditions between rains–dry soil conditions with temps in the 80s likely is harder on corn plants than dry conditions with temps in the 90s, up to the limit, and depending on the growth stage. Drought-stressed corn often is aflatoxin corn, which means it maybe is okay for ethanol. Higher amb-ient temps certainly can affect the decomposition rate of organic matter, but I wonder if it would be enough to affect min-till/no-till practices. One thing I wonder is what the state of in-storage corn drying would be in a warmer setting. On one hand, a person might expect less need for post-harvest drying because of what we would hope is a later frost scenario (allowing longer in-field dry down time, and requiring less in-bin drying.) On the other hand, it seems that weather perturbation from climate change could scramble the first frost dates and lead producers to continue high-moisture early harvesting and drying practices. Enhanced pest issues might present a fourth risk with drier growing conditions, but that can be a complicated dynamic. It’s a good question whether drier weather conditions reduce the risk of crop-killing hail; I haven’t investigated that.

    On an RC site-related topic, it’s odd that many RC articles seem to draw a couple of steadfast deniers, often different people or at least different handles for different articles. It’s like ‘RC has a new article up–you guys that drew the short straw, get over there and begin the circus.’ One amusing bit to me is that most of the contrarian posters not only appear to misunderstand/fail to comprehend the science behind the climate topic du jour, but they also appear to misunderstand/fail to comprehend the science that would have to support their favorite crackpot theory as well. Right now, this appears more fashionable with KurryKlowns, but maybe that’s because it’s the most recent carnival to blow through town. The dynamic reminds me of a dude who figures he can learn Swedish merely by hanging out some with his Swedish neighbor. He asks the neighbor to say something in Swedish, the neighbor complies, and he has no idea what the neighbor says. Disappointed, he tries the same thing with his Chinese neighbor on the other side. Well, he doesn’t understand a thing she says to him either, but he decides to prefer Chinese because he likes Chinese take-out food better than Swedish take-out food.

  36. 336
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B.,
    I need provide no “evidence”. Judy has been doing a wonderful job of demonstrating her lack of understanding all by herself. The most recent example can be found in her assessment of the Michaels vs. Santer “debate”. She was the only one who didn’t think Michaels got drubbed.

    The quickest way for a scientist to look like an idiot is to comment outside their area of expertise. You will note that I confine myself to relatively elementary aspects of climate science where I as an amateur feel comfortable. I leave the heavy lifting to Gavin, Jim et al. Judy not only doesn’t understand much of mainstream climate science, she doesn’t even know enough to realize she doesn’t understand.

  37. 337
    Radge Havers says:

    Some more food for thought? Apparently coming out tomorrow.

    “…Bob Watson, former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and now chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As he put it: ‘Two degrees is now a wishful dream.’

    Researchers such as Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Met Office, calculate that a 4C rise could occur in less than 50 years…”

    in the Guardian

  38. 338
    John Pollack says:

    ghost @ 335

    I would have thought it difficult for somebody to be more cynical than myself over the prospects for industrial agriculture in the corn belt under deteriorating climate conditions. However, you’ve succeeded brilliantly with your subsidized greenhouse and grain liquor scenario! Are you another Nebraskan living in the belly of the beast?

    In my experience as a weather forecaster, the highest frequency of crop- killing hail tends to be found just east of the dry line. Under current conditions, that’s typically western or central Nebraska. I would expect that frequency to go down and move east under hotter and drier conditions, as there are fewer storms, period. However, elevated thunderstorms atop a layer of hot dry air are great producers of severe downburst winds, which can also lay a crop or a greenhouse low.

    The mid 1930s are an interesting case study. The mean position of the dry line can be approximated by the monthly mean pressure maps that can be found in Monthly Weather Review. In 1934 and ’36, it looks like the dry line was pushed into Minnesota and Iowa, extending from a thermal low in North Dakota. That summer thermal low these days is most often found in southeast Colorado. 1937 demonstrated another disaster mode for the corn in northeast Nebraska. On the particularly hot and windy day of August 15, the corn was killed outright. I suppose that irrigation could save some of it now, given a repeat of the same conditions.

  39. 339
    manacker says:

    Ray Ladbury

    You talk about “defined uncertainties”.

    Sounds nice, but to me the key point about “uncertainties” is that they are not “defined”, even if we would like to delude ourselves to believe that they are.

    I can recommend “The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb, for a good description of this dilemma.

    Example (from Dr. Curry): Do “feedbacks” cause net “amplifying or mitigating” effects?

    In one case, AGW is no real problem; in the other it could represent a significant problem.

    Therein lies the uncertainty, Ray.


    [Response: No, therein lies the misrepresentation. Your implication that the median estimate is at zero feedback, is false and misleading. The best guess is that feedback is significantly positive as you well know. This kind of misrepresentation no doubt works well in other venues, but please at least try to maintain at least a little intellectual integrity here. -gavin]

  40. 340
    manacker says:

    @Hank Roberts

    Thanks for links (330).

    After going through them. it looks like SciAm article about Curry, “my version” of this (with Gavin’s comment) and “Curry’s own words” all agree – namely that IPCC has not adequately dealt with “uncertainty” on some very key points.

    [Response: Really? Please stop putting words into my mouth in order to make your point. If you have to twist things to fit your narrative, maybe, just maybe, you (and other readers) might realise that perhaps your narrative is not anything close to the truth? You’re a smart person, so why do you mortgage your intellectal integrity so cheaply? – gavin]

    Curry mentioned three specific areas of “uncertainty”, but Gavin has pointed out that the 2xCO2 GH effect without feedback is less “uncertain” than the net “amplifying or mitigating effects” from feedbacks or the temperature record of the past several hundreds of years, and I can accept that this is so.


  41. 341
    Brian Dodge says:

    @ ghost, John Pollack about irrigation, corn production, etc

    “To investigate the effect of irrigation on agricultural productivity corn yields from 1900 to 2008 was compared for the rain irrigated state of Illinois averaging over 30 inches per year rainfall and the dryer state of Nebraska with less that 15 inches rainfall on average. To make up for the lack of rainfall, over the last 30 years irrigation has increases in Nebraska from 30% of planted corn in 1966 to over 80% of planted corn in 2008.”
    Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Central Plains Irrigation Conference, Kearney, NE., February 24-25, 2010
    Available from CPIA, 760 N.Thompson, Colby, Kansas
    Michael F. Dowgert Ph. D.
    Market Manager Agriculture has a table which shows the Water Utilization Efficiency for some crops, in terms of kg yield per cubic meter of water. If all other factors – soil fertility, drainage, fertilization, degree days, total insolation, etc – and those factors will be the same only in small adjacent areas – then the yield is mathematically related to how much water is available to the crop. See also

    Farming is an economic activity; decisions on how much water, fertilizer, pesticide, and other inputs to apply depend on the expected price of the crop, the cost of the inputs, and the overhead. The 20% of unirrigated corn in Nebraska is likely profitably grown on farms where the mort _gage is paid off, there is a feedlot or distillery close by, there’s less local competition and reservoirs of pests, and/or the local microclimate has higher than average rainfall. There are spreadsheets and other computer programs available to help farmers analyze the various factors.

    Most of the crops that are irrigated are high value, for human consumption. see

    according to
    Total farmland ha 3.7e8
    subtracting the amounts in existing uses,
    Cropland ha 1.6e8
    Woodland ha 3.0e7
    Pastureland ha 1.6e8
    Land in house lots, ponds,
    roads, wasteland, etc. ha 1.3e7
    Farmland in conservation or
    wetlands reserve programs ha 1.5e7,

    leaves fallow farmland ha 1.5e8 (As a point of reference 60,000 sq mi = 1.55e7 hectares)

    About 13 percent of US cropland is irrigated. Economic considerations are part of the reason that so much farmland is fallow – growing a legume green manure crop one year of rotation and plowing it in will often decrease the fertilizer needs/cost and improve yields/returns in subsequent crops enough to more than offset the lost productivity of a fallow year. Fixed nitrogen costs about $1000/ton; an acre of legumes can fix 150-200 lb of nitrogen.

  42. 342

    It will be interesting to see how all of the people who felt that the CRU hack was the noble act of a heroic whistle-blower now react to the publication of sensitive diplomatic documents by WikiLeaks.

  43. 343
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Most of the uncertainties in climate science are well known and characterized. Some are larger than others, but the net result–e.g. climate sensitivity–is well constrained. The problem, Max, is that you just don’t get an Earthlike climate unless you have significant positive feedback on energy changes in the system. You don’t get ice ages, or if you did, they’d last forever. Instead, we get the dynamic climate that we see on this planet. No one has been able to develop a self-consistent model of Earth’s climate without significant positive feedback or without a significant sensitivity for added CO2. These two factors are inextricably intertwined with each other and with every aspect of the consensus model. And what is more, they are supported by all the evidence available.

    This isn’t a matter of twiddling other knobs to make the model work. If CO2 is not a significant player or if climate sensitivity does not feature significant positive feedback, then everything we know about Earth’s climate is wrong–and it becomes extremely difficult to explain why a wrong model works so well.

  44. 344
    Paul Tremblay says:

    Max: “After going through them. it looks like SciAm article about Curry, ‘my version’ of this (with Gavin’s comment) and ‘Curry’s own words’ all agree – namely that IPCC has not adequately dealt with ‘uncertainty’ on some very key points.”

    That’s complete nonsense. How you got from admitting and quantify uncertainty, to not adequately dealing with it really boggles the mind.

  45. 345
    ghost says:

    John, Y, I spent some time in that neck o’ the woods. Good info on the hail conditions.

    Brian, I think “we,” at least I, probably figure that crop subsidies would be in high vogue if the conditions get bad enough, so the crop production micro-econ might be skewed when that time comes. As an aside, the NE irrigated proportion changes probably correlate roughly to maturation of the EtOH subsidy effect, bubbly land prices (higher value > easier to borrow, or higher price forces a rat race to profitability), maybe some rainfall pattern changes (just an uneducated guess on that one, John probably knows that answer right off), and probably correlates highly with corn prices, bumped by the EtOH demand. That’s good info you gave there, and it helps underscore for me the pitfalls of corn-based EtOH. It doesn’t require a very sharp pencil to see how much resources, fossil fuels, soil condition/erosion, tax dollars, and groundwater (for the much pivot-irrigated land) are behind the moonshine push. I probably now have wandered entirely OT :)

  46. 346
    Alan Millar says:

    343 Ray Ladbury

    “No one has been able to develop a self-consistent model of Earth’s climate without significant positive feedback”

    Apart from the Earth itself apparently.

    Is there some sort of cognitive dissonance going on here?

    We know for certain that the Earth has received a significant increase in radiative forcing in the last few hundred million years and yet the Earth has actually cooled over that time.

    It is a fact therefore that the Earth has shown a net negative feedback over that period. Must have or we would be warmer with a neutral response and very much warmer with a significant positive response.

    So Ray how do you get from the Earths temperature 500 million years ago to todays temperature, whilst all the time the Earth has been displaying a “significant positive feedback” to the increased forcing?

    Alan Millar

  47. 347
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    Curry’s comments about the science seem to me to fall either into the trivially true or purposefully confused camp. Into those she interlards remarks about the non-scientific aspects of the scientific community that depend upon taking the Hadley email hack a) as if the remarks were as toxic as the denialist press presented and b) as if the Hadley group were congruent with the entire universe of the IPCC. Rhetorically, she uses the trivially true statments to lend credence to her wowzers.

    As has been pointed out, to get there she squeezes certain words — like uncertainty — until they squeak. And for drama she creates a Pilgrim’s Progress narrative of the naif who has discovered Sin. And to seal the deal, she doesn’t mount a positive argument about where the science has gone wrong or what specific conclusions need to be set aside. Instead she alludes to larger problems.

    Science is done in the trenches, not on Olympus, and Curry, despite all her po’ mouthing, has set herself up as an Olympian arbiter. If she has problems with details, she needs to write up a paper with the same specificity and rigor that she claims is missing. If her paper withstands scrutiny, she’ll have done Science. Period. Instead of Journalism.

  48. 348
    manacker says:

    @Ray Ladbury

    No one has been able to develop a self-consistent model of Earth’s climate without significant positive feedback or without a significant sensitivity for added CO2.

    This may well be so, Ray, but this is an “argument from ignorance”, i.e. “our models cannot explain past climate changes unless we introduce ‘a significant sensitivity for added CO2’”.

    It assumes, in my opinion erroneously, that we know all there is to know about what makes our planet’s climate behave as it does.

    The argumentation fails if there are unknown natural factors, which could have contributed significantly to past climate changes. (Back to Judith Curry’s “unknown unknowns” argument.)


    [Response: But it isn’t as if we don’t know that CO2 has a radiative effect. One can always posit that the fairies did it, but there are actually two things the fairies have to explain – why things changed the way they did, and secondly why increasing GHGs are not having the predicted effect. A pretty tall order actually. – gavin]

  49. 349
    SecularAnimist says:

    Must read:

    Royal Society special issue details ‘hellish vision’ of 7°F (4°C) world — which we may face in the 2060s!

    “In such a 4°C world, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world, while the limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceeded throughout the world.”

  50. 350
    manacker says:

    @Paul Tremblay

    Your 344 is beginning to become repetitive:

    How you got from admitting and quantify uncertainty, to not adequately dealing with it really boggles the mind.

    The SciAm interview states:

    Curry asserts that the scientists haven’t adequately dealt with the uncertainty in their calculations…

    Seems quite clear to me, Paul.


    [Response: That is indeed her assertion. It is unclear to what extent it is supported by anyone else. I, for one, do not agree. – gavin]