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Nobel Laureates Speak Out

Filed under: — stefan @ 21 May 2011

On Wednesday, 17 Nobel laureates who gathered in Stockholm have published a remarkable memorandum, asking for “fundamental transformation and innovation in all spheres and at all scales in order to stop and reverse global environmental change”. The Stockholm Memorandum concludes that we have entered a new geological era: the Anthropocene, where humanity has become the main driver of global change. The document states:

Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. [...]
We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions will trigger tipping points, risking abrupt and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems.
We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial.

Mario Molina
Mario Molina (Nobel prize in chemistry 1995) signs the Stockholm Memorandum

The memorandum results from a 3-day symposium (attended also by the king of Sweden) on the intertwined problems of poverty, development, ecosystem deterioration and the climate crisis. In the memorandum, the Nobel laureates call for immediate emergency measures as well as long-term structural solutions, and they give specific recommendations in eight key priority areas. For example in climate policy, they recommend to:

Keep global warming below 2ºC, implying a peak in global CO2 emissions no later than 2015 and recognise that even a warming of 2ºC carries a very high risk of serious impacts and the need for major adaptation efforts.

The memorandum was handed over to the members of the UN high-level panel on global sustainability, who traveled to Stockholm in order to discuss it with the Nobel laureates and experts at the symposium.

p.s. As a little reminder of the ongoing work of the merchants of doubt, a small band of five or six “climate sceptic” protesters were gathered outside the symposium, some of whom flown in from Berlin. Their pamphlet identified them as part of the longstanding anti-climate-science campaign of US billionaire Lyndon Larouche and claimed that climate change is “a hoax” and an “insane theory”, the global temperature measurements are “mere lies”, the Nobel laureates meeting “a conspiracy” and the Stockholm Memorandum a “Fascist Manifesto”. I approached one of the protesters who carried a banner “against Green fascism” and asked him whether he seriously believes what his pamphlet says, namely that our meeting is a “symposium for global genocide”. He nodded emphatically and replied: “Yes, of course!”

157 Responses to “Nobel Laureates Speak Out”

  1. 51
    Georgi Marinov says:

    Re 47 Patrick 027:

    Humans are indeed the driver of change right now and in a way “in charge”, but what I was pointing out is that when things are framed in such manner, especially when religion comes into play, the way many people understand it is that nature is something we have to care for for some vaguely defined moral reason, i.e. just because nature has the “right” to exist and it’s out duty to steward it. Which is a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation – we need nature in order to survive, not the other way around.

    That’s why environmentalism fails to get its message across – because when you tell people “We gotta save the polar bears”, “We gotta save the rainforests”, etc., people frame this into a “How is the extinction of polar bears going to affect me” question, to which they answer “I won’t be affected”; they can’t see the whole picture. And it gets hopeless from this point on to do any convincing. When climate change is talked about, global temperature rises, species extinctions, sea level rise, heat waves, etc. are usually what’s being talked about; and all those things are important, but the fundamental reason why we have to deal with climate change, which is that it will cause global civilizational collapse, is rarely discussed and people aren’t really aware of it. And it’s rarely discussed because the very thought of it is scary to many people and because it involves a complicated chain/network of cause-effect relationships, something that you need a lot of time, typically unavailable in the media to comprehensively explain, etc. But those are precisely the reasons it has to be talked about all the time, so that it can get into people’s heads. That’s not the case unfortunately.

    And again, this is something that goes so directly against core theological doctrines that you will never get the Church to get on board.

  2. 52
    Georgi Marinov says:

    Edward Greisch says:
    22 May 2011 at 12:27 AM
    The Stockholm Memorandum is all very nice, and that is the problem. It sounds like a call to action, but it is too vague, and we have been down that road before. What the Green Revolution got us was more people. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in the opposite direction lies the road to hell, paved by the denialists.

    What’s frustrating to me is that the Memorandum gets somewhat close to the core of the problem, but never really gets there. Which is very tragic because if such a group of people can not agree on saying it as it is without any sugarcoating (or does not have the intellectual courage to do so), then there is very little hope for society in general.

    Yes, there is a mention of the inadequacy of GDP as a progress indicator, yes, consumerism is mentioned, and other such steps in the right direction. But the core issues are not stated explicitly, and this is very unfortunate. There isn’t a word about the need to end and reverse growth (of the population and of the economy) there, it is once again the usual “economic development”, “earth stewardship”, etc.

  3. 53
    PeterM says:

    Jim Hansen has said 450ppm C02 and a 2 degree rise C in global temperatures are a ‘guarantee fof disaster’. He also has said that 1.5 degrees rise C is too high.

    At 560ppm CO2 a rise of 3 degrees seems probable if not higher. That amount of C02 over time will make the economies of he world predicated on climate mitigation, not consumption. 560ppm also realizes an outcome over time of an ice free planet, but also runaway global warming.

  4. 54
    Snapple says:

    Well, I just wanted to point out that several of these famous Nobel scientists were also leading the recent workshop of the Pontifical Academy.

    It would be helpful if some commenters here, who do not have Nobel Prizes and who did not attend either scientific meeting, would spread the word that the Catholic Church is also concerned about climate change instead of confusing people by repeating denialist canards that religious people are anti-scientific and don’t believe that climate change is happening.

    I am an expert on Soviet-era religious persecution, so the whole science versus religion meme rings a bit hollow with me.

    Gregor Johann Mendel, the father of modern genetics, was a Catholic monk.

    You may not believe in God, but you haven’t been paying attention if you don’t believe in religion.

    The denialists are already setting up fake religious organizations such as Real Catholic TV and the Cornwall Alliance in order to subvert churches. They are already calling up Catholic schools and complaining because we teach about climate change. They are already denigrating religious people who accept climate change as unscientific pagans and cultists. This is right out of the Bolshevik playbook.

    The Denialist Party recognizes that churches are not really in their corner. In this instance, the denialist seem to be better observers of reality than some people who claim to be scientific.

    One of the Nobel winners who organized the recent Pontifical Academy workshop is Paul Crutzen who named the Anthropocene. James Hansen wrote in Time (10-17-07) about Dr. Crutzen’s achievements. Another is V. Ramanathan, who writes about Asia’s Brown cloud. A third Nobel winner is Werner Arber, who is the President of the Pontifical Academy. He is Protestant. I am sorry if I didn’t name all the Nobel winners who attended both the meeting in Sweden and the workshop at the Vatican.

    The Pope also asked the astronauts questions as he sat in the Vatican Library. He didn’t give answers. He made a big point that this is a dialogue.

    The Catholic Church has to know what the best science says to formulate its social justice policies. Here is a list of their Academicians, who are all very famous and too smart to trash religion.

    The Vatican has had a body of science advisers since the Renaissance.

  5. 55
    Snapple says:

    I see the picture of the Nobel-winning scientist Mario Molina on this post.
    He is a member of the Pontifical Academy, too. He shared a Nobel with P. Crutzen and F. Sherwood Roland.

  6. 56
    Alex says:

    Being picky, the Memorandum talks about the Anthropocene (with humankind as one major global driver, including a climate driver), correctly, as a geological *epoch* , i.e. following the Holocene, but so far still in the same geological *era* and period.

  7. 57
    Ariel T says:

    The Haudenosaunee (aka Iroquois) Confederation had a Great Law of Life for several centuries before Europeans started raping America. One of their guiding principles was that no law could be adopted unless it was shown that it would not harm people for at least SEVEN GENERATIONS.

    I wish modern denialists of all science (not just climate) could go back to that principle. But no, they can’t think beyond the next election, or the next corporate quarterly report, or their irrational revealed preconceptions.


  8. 58
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 46 Edward Greisch – Science has very thankfully enhanced the performance of our moral efforts. In order to act with awareness and care of the consequences of your actions you need to know something about those consequences (cause and effect). Causal networks stream through the abiotic and biotic, right through neural connections and thus affecting the mind. Of course a person who does not know is not evil – and may be very good, but knowing more has given us greater access to better choices, so we don’t need to walk around in the dark – and a person with the resources to be able to invest in his/her ability to make better decisions is making a moral decision when they do so (of course there are always costs and benifits – time taken to do one thing is time away from something else, generally, but anyway…).

    However, is the result of science’s investigation of morality itself an actual understanding of what moral value is – the way things should be, the underlying, most fundamental values with which the consequences of actions are rated (not to be confused with moral values which are themselves given value by more fundamental values)? Or is it more an explanation of why people have the values that they do? Which – don’t get me wrong – certainly may help in advising moral decisions, but it is not the same as saying what values should be. On the most fundamental level, moral value depends on philosophy.

    Re 51 Georgi Marinov – I’m not sure that the Vatican doesn’t get that people depend on the environment – I kinda’ thought they did. It may be hard to get people to accept that their lives are materially and otherwise enhanced by biodiversity, etc, but it should get more obvious with floods and droughts and sea level rise (although there you may have to explain how a meter or 2 (if focussing only on the next century – such focus itself an issue) of sea level rise is actually such a disaster).

    Now the issue of family planning is certainly another matter…

    Re Snapple – some religions, or some of their factions, do have some rather wacky stuff, some of which may be antiscience, and some of which offends the moral instincts of others – the later certainly occurs in the Catholic Church, but not to single it out – however, I remember feeling quite free to think what I wanted to when I was there.

  9. 59
  10. 60
    Patrick 027 says:

    “On the most fundamental level, moral value depends on philosophy.” I should say, the investigation of moral value depends on philosophy.

  11. 61
    john byatt says:

    Australian Climate commission release today

    The Federal Government’s Climate Commission has warned the window for limiting future and costly climate change is rapidly closing.

    In its first report, titled The Critical Decade, the commission says the evidence that the planet is warming is now even stronger.

    It warns global warming could cause global sea levels to rise up to one metre by the end of the century, higher than previously thought.

    Chief commissioner Tim Flannery says humanity is almost surely the primary cause of global warming.

    “There’s agreement that there’s a temperature increase, there’s an agreement that it’s human-caused,” he said.

    But climate scientist and commissioner Professor Will Steffen is concerned the science is being muddied in the media by many with no credentials.

    “I don’t think we have the luxury anymore of climate denialism. We need to get beyond this fruitless phoney debate in the media,” he said.

    Professor Steffen says the decisions made between now and 2020 will determine the level of severity of global warming.

    “We’ve got to make some very important policy decisions,” he said.

  12. 62
    seamus says:

    Sad that some have allowed JK to successfully draw out a (series of) sidetrack argument(s). At first I thought ccpo had learned something and decided to just walk past.

    On these threads, one can easily spot the BS posts: the really long ones. Just skip over them and they won’t bother you! :-)

    Apologies for the meta-comment, but there’s nothing much to be said about the climate “controversy”.

  13. 63
    Paul Pentony says:

    I think it is a bit dangerous to say that 17 Nobel Laureates published the statement. A better description would be “A group consisting mainly of distinguished scientists and including 17 Nobel Laureates published …” This is not to detract from the value of what they are saying but to avoid providing an opportunity for skeptics to nitpick. Personally when it comes to appeals to authority I find the Royal Society’s policy paper more useful – particularly as it includes more background to the science.

  14. 64
    Edward Greisch says:

    57 Patrick 027: NO. You have it all wrong. Philosophy is now irrelevant. Of course values come from evolution in 2 different ways.

    The first way is that evolution created the morals that we have in the first place. They are instinctive for most people, other than psychopaths. Sexual morality is female instinct because of the fact that power comes out of a uterus. Male instinct is quite different.

    The second way is that we use evolutionary theory to reconstruct the reasoning behind human instinct. Morals and ethics are ADAPTIVE. That is, morals are beneficial to the moral person, genetically, on the average. Morals evolved over the last 400 Million years. Our instincts are the same as the instincts of chimpanzees.

    The first Sciobio book I know of is “The Genetics of Altruism” by Lumsden and Wilson. Altruism is favored by evolution [is selected in favor of] in certain circumstances and is disfavored [selected against] in other circumstances. Why and when is beyond the scope of this comment.

    I notice that certain philosophers have too many altruism genes. They try to save unsaveable people, and they don’t realize that it is the NUMBER of people that is too large. They also guess wrong as to who needs saving and who does not. In so doing, they would wind up killing more people and bringing the doom here.

    It is necessary to have enough altruism genes to avoid being a psychopath, but it is also necessary to not have so many altruism genes as to become irrational. The psychopath doesn’t care about anything, much less GW. The super-altruistic person kills with kindness. How is beyond the scope of this comment.

    There is no such thing as a fundamental value more basic than preservation of your own species. That is the beginning of all value. Notice that species self-preservation does NOT mean preserving every member of the species. In fact, the minimum number we have to preserve to preserve our species is, in principle, one pregnant teenager.

    In other words, there is a time when it is moral to shoot illegal immigrants on sight. That is when there is very little food and they want food that we need. There is such a thing as a just war, but the Iraq and Viet Nam wars weren’t. If it is kill or be killed, you must kill. Otherwise, don’t.

    [Response: No more on any of this. You're firing off more or less incendiary statements that will just drag this discussion further off topic than it already is. I understand (some of) your arguments, but could also raise a whole boatload of counter-arguments to them. Stick to the topic please.--Jim]

  15. 65
    Steven says:

    Here is a video clip with the demonstration that these pro-LaRouche climate skeptics held outside the Royal Academy in Sweden. They actually also confront some of the participants there:

  16. 66

    I am posting below conclusion of my presentation linking Climate Change with Availability of Water on this Planet.

    “If the world bodies and the Nations in dominant role in
    Climate Summits do not show seriousness, in letter and
    spirit, to Environment damage control measures the
    Human race is destined to get into difficulty in coming
    years that may not be very far.

    “By the turn of the century academic curricula and
    Granny’s fiction stories may include “once upon a time
    water used to be available for free in open wells, tanks,
    ponds and rivers flowing near each and every village
    and city with no private ownership, no control by the
    governments or their appointed private agents, no water
    bottling plants and no price to be paid for its use in
    whatever manner”.

    I staqnd by the aforeasaid statement and I unequivocally support the Noble Loreates Stockholm Declaration. I also suggest that the Merchanys of Death be tamed sooner than later.

  17. 67
    ccpo says:

    I will leave you all with a few thoughts as it is late, there is much in this thread to respond to and i likely will not have the opportunity before it is defunct.

    The only sane nation on the planet:

    It’s about risk assessment, as some have pointed out, and even action has a very small chance of working things out according to at least one fellow (Not to say do nothing, but that even doing a lot may be insanely inadequate, so doing nothing cannot be but sui-genocidal):

    I was drawn to permaculture because it is systems thinking. I see the world as one system, and it is a system that is wobbling badly (spinning top analogy) and is likely well into a series of bifurcations that may well be irreversible, and certainly are on anything like decadal time scales. However, there is hope. If we have not passed tipping points that will result in the ice sheets melting and, say, more than a couple percent of the frozen methane melting, then we can still reverse this.

    Here’s one of the answers, and it requires nothing more than essentially mulching, co-planting and capturing and storing water:

    But people like JK? Time to do what we do with any other opinions based on nothing at all: ignore them. Where they lie, slander or libel, prosecute them. I’m sure subpoenas for their e-mail and phone records would quickly sort out who is just deluded and who is doing the deluding. What was it, 1995 that the mother of all Memos was released, and these people *still* have credibility?

    Sui-genocidal, I tell ya.

  18. 68
    Peter Beck says:

    Lyndon LaRouche is not a billionaire… millionaire, maybe. This is a guy who served a number of years in prison for mail fraud.

  19. 69
    CM says:

    Greisch #64: disturbingly brownish off-topic travesty of science. Uh… moderators? Before this gets any weirder?

  20. 70
    SecularAnimist says:

    ccpo wrote: “I believe Annie Leonard was correct when she said in a talk at Bioneers that it is time to simply move on without these people.”

    Be sure to tell the US Senators and Representatives who “those people” have bought and paid for, that it is time to simply “move on” without the millions of dollars in bribes, excuse me, “campaign contributions” from the fossil fuel corporations. I’m sure they will get right on it.

  21. 71
    Ron R. says:

    Rant Alert.

    What we are up against is a deeply ingrained imperative, one could call it a natural law: ensure survival of the species by growing and maximizing our numbers. It’s the same imperative every other species follows as well. And there is nothing inherently wrong in it either since nature’s checks and balances have always functioned to keep populations at the right amounts, like the way water always finds level. Thus we have no genetic counter imperative against growth because we evolved to a planet where, until very recently, our numbers were non-”optimized”. We still had lots of room for expansion, a maximization that was never meant to occur.

    As long as resources are available our instinct, again, as is the instinct of other species, is to expand so as to maximize their usage for our benefit, even if at the potential cost of the existence of other species. As Hopfenberg and Pimental say Human carrying capacity is determined by food availability

    In the past non-human species extinction caused by our growth was not a big issue because there was plenty of land and resources to go around. IOW, other species, dislocated by human growth, could move. And though this disturbance caused some hardship the great majority adapted and survived.

    Somewhere along the way though we got smart and learned how to grow and husband food, treat our medical ills and protect ourselves in enclosed group structures like towns. We learned how to outwit nature’s usual methods of species containment.

    As a result, ten thousand years later, our numbers, our fences and freeways (which impede migrations) the sheer size of our cities and the related habitat destruction, the pollution from our manufacturing processes etc. is placing real hardship on the 99.9999% of earth’s other species, which also have a perfect right to exist. Which, in fact, as a part of the web of life, we NEED in order to survive ourselves!

    The good news is that people, given education and the basics of life (though some say it’s “wealth” and I’d quibble with that), even with an abundant food supply, as there is in first world countries, can and often do consciously decide to reduce their numbers for the benefit of their personal lives and the health of the environment.

    So we are now at a crossroads, a point where unless we as a species consciously, and as a whole, decide to stop making so many of us, and to in fact reduce our numbers (humanely of course) and to place care of the environment, this one and only planet we have, much higher in our consciousness overshoot to the point of self-annihilation via eco-cide is guaranteed. It’s happened before for our species on small scales. It will again globally unless we consciously decide to stop it. To use the very intelligence that brought us to this dire point to say “Whoa!”

    That’s where we stand.

  22. 72
    GFW says:

    At least a couple of people above criticized the published statement as too vague and wished it proposed concrete action. If we want that (and we should) then we ordinary people are going to have to destroy a common meme in developed nations. The meme that must be destroyed is “Scientists can tell everyone their findings, but can’t advocate policy. Policy is for politicians.” You see it all the time – as soon as a scientist like Hansen makes policy statements derived from scientific understanding, he gets called an “advocate” and “no longer a scientist”. I repeat, this meme must be destroyed. When someone’s scientific research unveils a grave threat to the public at large, they should not only be allowed to advocate action, it should be seen as the most natural reaction.

  23. 73
    Ron R. says:

    In a nutshell, can we use our intelligence to overcome our drives?

    Grow and expand to survive needs to be replaced with shrink and decrease to survive.

    Once people know that it should be easy. Everyone wants to survive.

  24. 74
    SecularAnimist says:

    GFW wrote: “The meme that must be destroyed is ‘Scientists can tell everyone their findings, but can’t advocate policy. Policy is for politicians’… as soon as a scientist like Hansen makes policy statements derived from scientific understanding, he gets called an ‘advocate’ and ‘no longer a scientist’ …”

    The problem is that Hansen is a climate scientist, but he is making policy recommendations regarding energy technologies, a field where he has no special “scientific understanding”.

    In my view, for example, Hansen is unfortunately misinformed about the alternatives to fossil fueled electricity generation, which leads him to underestimate the potential of renewable energy to rapidly replace coal, and to advocate investing resources in “fourth generation nuclear”.

    I think that is tragically wrong-headed. You may agree with him. But my point is, that Hansen’s views on the matter are no more authoritative than yours or mine, because he has no particular expertise in that area.

    What climate scientists can do is tell us about climate: they can make the nature and urgency of the global warming problem clear and compelling to the public.

    And they certainly can and should advocate climate science-based “policy” in regard to goals that we need to achieve in order to address the problem, e.g. from the Nobel laureates’ statement, “a peak in global CO2 emissions no later than 2015″ will be needed if we hope to avoid 2C warming. That is a crucially important message, and climate scientists are the best messengers to deliver it.

    But when it comes to recommending specific policy approaches to achieve that goal, climate scientists are not particularly qualified to opine on whether a carbon tax is better than cap-and-trade, whether wind and solar are more efficacious investments than nuclear power, etc. They are certainly welcome to express their views — just as you and I are — but their views don’t necessarily have any more authority than yours or mine.

    That doesn’t mean I want to “leave it to the politicians”. It means I want to “leave it” to Amory Lovins and Lester Brown.

  25. 75
    Didactylos says:

    Ron R: As nations achieve economic success and adequate healthcare, their populations stabilise (and often have a slightly negative growth rate). I would argue that this isn’t because of some selfless motivation on the part of humanity, it is for more practical reasons, such as the high cost of bringing up children, and the massively increased chance of surviving childhood reducing the need for many children to provide social security in old age.

    This change in family size always happens. It is happening (and has already happened) even in countries which you may classify as “third world”. But the developing world is developing, and rapidly.

    As you know, the answer is simple. Healthcare, a chance of economic success – this is all it takes, and the two go hand in hand.

    I don’t know if you have seen Hans Rosling talking about world development at TED – but if you haven’t, you absolutely must! Watch the whole thing, it’s incredibly illuminating.

  26. 76
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re my 41 and 42 – first, sorry for going overboard there; initially I had a short follow-up in mind and then perhaps I got carried away with it; anyway, not to add a lot on but just a clarification: Deliberation should allow for rational choices to tend to win – obviously that happens in both private and public sectors, and I could go on about that but don’t worry, I won’t. Second, that was a work of philosophy/attempted insight on my part and not based on rigorous study but rather accumulated results of some thinking and some accumulated experience/knowledge, although on one point (not always being rational), I am aware of actual research that has been done. But enough of that.

  27. 77
    Ron R. says:

    Didactylos at 2:22 PM

    As nations achieve economic success and adequate healthcare, their populations stabilise (and often have a slightly negative growth rate). I would argue that this isn’t because of some selfless motivation on the part of humanity, it is for more practical reasons, such as the high cost of bringing up children, and the massively increased chance of surviving childhood reducing the need for many children to provide social security in old age.

    Good point on that last statement, however the high cost of bringing up children is not lessened by poverty. It’s increased. The costs may not be measured in dollars and cents but they are there nonetheless. Also just because a family may have children does not automatically mean that those children will be able to provide for those parents when they get old, so I’m not totally convinced that that is a valid reason.

    Keep in mind also that living in a prosperous country, having adequate food and healthcare is not a guarantee of low birth rate. There are plenty of large families in the western world. In fact most of the explosive increase in first world countries came after the onset of industrialization and wealth increase. Baby boomers are another example. So the wealth/population connection is not as easy as some would make it, though of course I agree that to have the “luxury” of time to care about the environment people first need to have their basic needs met.

    About education, don’t underestimate the power of the meme. People in first world countries are much more aware of the overpopulation issue, even if at just the subconscious level and, I think, are acting on it. This is not altruism, it’s enlightened self-interest. A world depleted of resources is not in the best interests of either themselves or their children. Also, family planning education is an aid in lowering population.

    Some people, particularly Libertarians and Capitalists, emphasize the need to bring developing nations up to first world standards. Problem is, not only is wealth maximization unnecessary for people to care and act on that, as we all know, the biosphere simply can’t handle it. Better would be lessen the population to the point that everyone can have enough to live comfortably (which doesn’t mean in excess).

  28. 78
    Patrick 027 says:

    It’s quite possible for population to grow with the fertility rate at 2.1 or lower, if the life expectancy is increasing. One can keep population from growing (for awhile) even with fertility at the replacement rate or somewhat above and with increasing life expectancy if the average age of mother at birth is increasing sufficiently – tending to temporarily reduce the birth rate from what it would otherwise be. Mathematically obvious but worth noting explicitly.

  29. 79
    Dan H. says:

    How would you propose lessening the population?
    Also, I would agree with Didactylos (wow, twice in one week) regarding wealth and birth rate. History has shown a rather significant inverse relationship between wealth and birth rate. Your baby boomer example was a result of WW2 artificially suppressing the birth rate. The birth rate was declining prior to that, and has resumed its decline. More recently, Brazil has seen its birth rate fall from 5.3 children / woman in 1970 to 1.8 today. The best way to reduce births is to increase wealth, although maximizing wealth may not be necessary.

  30. 80
    SecularAnimist says:

    Global warming is going to reduce the human population before any measures to slow population growth can have any impact on reducing global warming.

  31. 81
    Leland Palmer says:

    I read a frankly terrifying scientific paper recently, about indirect atmospheric effects of large methane releases:

    Strong Atmospheric Chemistry Feedback to Climate Warming from Arctic Methane Emissions

    Strong atmospheric chemistry feedback to climate warming from Arctic methane emissions
    Ivar S. A. Isaksen, 1,2
    Michael Gauss, 1,3
    Gunnar Myhre, 1,2
    Katey M. Walter Anthony, 4
    and Carolyn Ruppel 5
    Received 13 April 2010; revised 4 November 2010; accepted 4 February 2011; published 20 April 2011.
    [1] The magnitude and feedbacks of future methane release from the Arctic region are unknown. Despite limited documentation of potential future releases associated with thawing permafrost and degassing methane hydrates, the large potential for future methane releases calls for improved understanding of the interaction of a changing climate with processes in the Arctic and chemical feedbacks in the atmosphere. Here we apply a “state of the art” atmospheric chemistry transport model to show that large emissions of CH4 would likely have an unexpectedly large impact on the chemical composition of the atmosphere and on radiative forcing (RF). The indirect contribution to RF of additional methane emission is particularly important. It is shown that if global methane emissions were to increase by factors of 2.5 and 5.2 above current emissions, the indirect contributions to RF would be about 250% and 400%, respectively, of the RF that can be attributed to directly emitted methane alone. Assuming several hypothetical scenarios of CH4 release associated with permafrost thaw, shallow marine hydrate degassing, and submarine landslides, we find a strong positive feedback on RF through atmospheric chemistry. In particular, the impact of CH4 is enhanced through increase of its lifetime, and of atmospheric abundances of ozone, stratospheric water vapor, and CO2 as a result of atmospheric chemical processes. Despite uncertainties in emission scenarios, our results provide a better understanding of the feedbacks in the atmospheric chemistry that would amplify climate warming.

    The authors calculate a positive feedback factor (eta) of 1.5 to 2.9, for large sustained increases in methane release rates.

    What does this mean?

    Is this a mechanism that could tip the whole climate system into true runaway heating?

    Is this the positive feedback mechanism which allowed past probable runaway greenhouse events such as the End Permian and the PETM to go out of control?

    Do we want to find out?

  32. 82
    Ron R. says:

    Apologies for the length.

    Dan H. at 8:54 AM

    Dan, perhaps you are right about the baby boomers being the result of artificially reduced birth rate during WWII. But I wonder, why was there not a similar boom after WWI? Could it be because after WWII the country was rolling in money due to oil production and economic expansion?

    How to control population? I’ve found that usually soon as anyone proposes reducing the birthrate a lot of people get defensive and claim that draconian methods would be employed. My choice, as I said above, is education. Right now no head of state in a first world country that I know of is advocating population control, let alone even mentioning it. That’s because they will be attacked by the growthers, those whose economic system is dependent on perpetual growth.

    Population growth is, or should be, at the top of the list of issues addressed that are negatively impacting our planet. Every country should be making talking about. Heads of state need to talk about it. Schools need to talk about it. Overpopulation is at root the cause of most of our other environmental issues. Think of almost any other environmental issue, were our numbers much less that issue would probably not exist. Climate change, overfishing, dirty energy extraction, deforestation and habitat destruction, species extinction, air, water and land pollution etc. all are amplified, all have become much more dire due to the cumulative effect of human numbers and our needs. If our numbers were say a tenth (just a figure) of what they are today none of these would be major issues. Yet we are destined to grow even more and have been recently at the rate of a billion a decade!

    Thing is, every new person born is just as deserving of the same “stuff” as anyone in any first world country. They should not be made to feel guilty about that. We are all equal. It’s simply that the earth can’t handle it.

    What we need is a worldwide environmental ethic. Something glaringly missing today. Every child taught from birth to love and respect our home planet. Every school should have mandatory environmental ethics classes. True the rightwingers and capitalists would attack it, but they are on the wrong side of so many other issues anyway their arguments should be “officially” addressed then ignored the same way we ignore flat earthers. Were we to make people understand the impact we are having on the planet right now, the “Anthropocene”, and what that will mean for our future if we fail to address it I think that birth rates would begin to respond.

    What would it take to have a negative population growth? Simple. If every couple that wanted one had one child. Two becomes one. If the next generation does the same thing the population can be halved again. Do we make this mandatory? No. Again I believe that concerted education would go a long way. Someone may point out that population in the US has been declining in recent decades and thus we don’t need to do anything about it. First, it may be declining in large part because people have become AWARE of the issue. When a recent television program came on highlighting one family’s choice to have something like twenty children I was surprised at the overwhelmingly negative reaction in comments from people mentioning overpopulation. Second though the rate of growth may be declining the US is still growing, and rapidly.,_1790-2000.png

    People talk about the population “bottoming out” in mid century but right now that’s just speculation. Right now it’s up, up, up. When we consider Hopfenberg and Pimental’s study that Human carrying capacity is determined by food availability and put that against real examples of people literally devouring their environment until there was nothing left such as Easter Island, we can project that unless we consciously tackle the problem as a whole we will be left with a barren planet before a hundred years are out, maybe half a hundred.

  33. 83
    Septic Matthew says:

    11, Snapple: Both the Pentagon and the CIA are studying climate change. This is not new.

    Paraphrasing the security officer in The Firm, it is their job to worry when there is nothing to worry about. They also study UFOs, Communists in Nicaragua, and the Chinese combat aircraft. They are boosters bot of jet fuel from camellina and increased production of liquid fuel from coal.

    The Stockhom Memorandum as quoted is too vaguely worded to stimulate reasoned action on anything. I also would like to see the wealth of Africa improved, and I donate to organizations who have that as their goal. But US and EU CO2 policies won’t affect African wealth development by any known mechanism. Most current investment in Africa is from China, it is somewhat exploitative, and it supports corrupt dictators. I doubt that the Chinese give a hoot what those Nobel Prize winners say. I am an admirer of modern China, but let’s face the facts: Chinese have far more interest in surpluses of energy and food for themselves than they have for any European ideas of clean, sustainable, or equitable development.

  34. 84
    Septic Matthew says:

    oops: change “bot” to “both”

  35. 85
    SecularAnimist says:

    Septic Matthew wrote: “Chinese have far more interest in surpluses of energy and food for themselves than they have for any European ideas of clean, sustainable, or equitable development.”

    Yes, and the Chinese are acutely aware that unmitigated global warming will cause economic collapse and famine in their own country. They can see the effects already. Not to mention the devastating effects on public health caused by toxic air pollution from burning coal.

    Which is why the Chinese have their own ideas about clean and sustainable development — which include dominating the wind and solar energy industries, which will be the cornerstones of the New Industrial Revolution of the 21st century. They are certainly being aided in that effort by the death-grip of the fossil fuel corporations on US energy policy.

    Septic Matthew wrote: “it is their job to worry when there is nothing to worry about”

    The Pentagon and the CIA are well aware that global warming and climate change are already giving us plenty of things to worry about, and that it’s going to get much worse.

  36. 86
    Septic Matthew says:

    85, SecularAnimist: They are certainly being aided in that effort by the death-grip of the fossil fuel corporations on US energy policy.

    China is the dominant importer of oil from Africa and Saudi Arabia, and the dominant importer of coal from Australia and Canada. If present trends continue, they will eventually be the dominant producer of oil from the Caribbean and the dominant importer of coal from the U.S. (though both trends will have to continue for a while.) It will be decades before Chinese production of CO2 peaks.

  37. 87

    #83–”But US and EU CO2 policies won’t affect African wealth development by any known mechanism.”

    Really? I’d have thought that REDD could very well do is doing just that.

  38. 88
    Chris Colose says:


    With respect to feedback factors, it looks like the authors are referring to the effect of increase CH4 and how that feedbacks onto its own lifetime (additional methane suppresses the hydroxyl radical, which in turn means CH4 can last a bit longer in the air). Methane lifetime (and concentration) increases non-linearly with progressive depletion of OH. This can be an important chemical feedback, and the influence of methane release on the carbon cycle is certainly important, probably so for a few episodes in the geologic past.

    A lot of scares about methane shotguns and catastrophes however, even in the literature, have been predicated upon misunderstandings about how effective methane is as a greenhouse gas. The popular notions concerning how “methane is 20x stronger a greenhouse gas than CO2″ only hold in the limit of a relatively high CO2-low CH4 atmosphere, as is typical of current Earthlike conditions. This is just a molecule-by-molecule argument, since methane is starting from a lower background concentration and the efficiency of a greenhouse gas on the radiative budget is typically something like a square root or a logarithmic dependence.

    Also, as I talked about in the feedback post here at RC, Earth is not in a situation where it can experience a runaway greenhouse anytime soon, so you don’t need to worry about that.

  39. 89
    Georgi Marinov says:

    Ron R. says:
    24 May 2011 at 12:01 PM


    What would it take to have a negative population growth? Simple. If every couple that wanted one had one child. Two becomes one. If the next generation does the same thing the population can be halved again. Do we make this mandatory? No. Again I believe that concerted education would go a long way. Someone may point out that population in the US has been declining in recent decades and thus we don’t need to do anything about it. First, it may be declining in large part because people have become AWARE of the issue

    Unfortunately we don’t have the time even for that. Had we started with the one child per couple policy immediately after WWII, it may have worked. Now it’s way too late. Due to the demographic structure of the population and the life expectancy, even a draconian one child per couple policy would not do much difference. Look at China – 30 years later, they still added 300 million people. We’re talking about some 150-200 years before the population gets to where it should be NOW.

    Of course, no such thing will ever even be attempted on a global scale so the above discussion is pretty much pointless, but it has to always be remembered that there is a very serious mismatch between the likely timescale of civilizational collapse and the timescale that any of the proposed measures for solving the overpopulation problem (usually involving the same old mantra about women education and making people wealthy) could work.

  40. 90
    Thomas says:

    Chris Colose@88:
    A very good comment, and well stated. How solid is the case for no runaway process. I think you are talking about the water vapour feedback. Taken in isolation water vapour feedback can’t htrow us into a runaway situation. But, what if we add feedbacks for other greenhouse gasses as well as water vapour? The methane concern, is that higher temps increase temps which release more methane and water vapour (at least until sources are used up), so if we have two or more chemical species involved in a feedback, the threshold is lower than with either species working in isolation.

  41. 91
    Ron R. says:

    Georgi Marinov at 6:48 PM

    You may be right. Just as others like Lovelock may be right that it is already too late to do anything about CC. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. I believe there is time.

    I guess I don’t like defeatism.

  42. 92
    Edward Greisch says:

    “The Great Disruption” by Paul Gilding has another way to say it and a great description of the situation starting at the bottom of page 45. “Suppose ……”
    Parsing it: You have a pile of money invested in a savings account. Every January first, the interest from the previous year is deposited into your checking account. Anything left over in your checking account on December 31 goes back into your savings account.

    Starting in 1989, your checking account ran out of money before the end of the year, so you replenish your checking account with money from your savings account. The next year, you have less interest, so you take money out of your savings account a little sooner and you have to take a little more. Everything is fine until your savings account balance is zero. Your savings account is the Earth.

    Paul Gilding used to run Greenpeace. In the old days, he told people about polar bears and whales etc. to get contributions. That doesn’t work so good to get businesspeople to change what they do at work. So he changed to the story above. Paul Gilding says we now need 1.4 Earths, but we have only one.

  43. 93
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “The magic flute had it right. Those of us who understand climate change have abandoned Al Gore when we should have supported him.” – 39

    Correct. I stated exactly that point 4 years ago, but it was considered too political and was deleted by the censors here.

    Al Gore, like it or not is a focal point. The enemy attacks Gore because they know that by discrediting him, they discredit the science and policies that he promotes.

    For the supporters of those policies, the counter is also true. If you wish to support the same science and policies as Gore then Gore must be defended on that science and policies.

    Ignoring Gore. Allowing him to be pummeled without defense, implies to the lay person that the ideas that he supports have no basis in science, and hence that his views on Global Warming have no basis in science.

    If you want victory. Recognize leadership when you see it.

    Gore offers that leadership.

  44. 94
    Chris Colose says:

    Thomas, a few points:

    When I talk about a “runaway greenhouse threshold,” I’m thinking primarily of a threshold on the planetary outgoing radiation for a water-enriched atmosphere– i.e., a maximum radiative cooling loss rate, which for Earth is about ~310 W/m2. This is comfortably over the incoming absorbed shortwave radiation term (~240 W/m2), which needs to be greater than the outgoing limit in order to sustain the runaway. The only way Earth could have had runaway greenhouse events in the past are in the very early stages of its formation when the energy gained from accretion and impact events made up for the deficit, but this would have only been a transient phenomenon.

    The key points to your question though are two parts 1) that the outgoing radiation threshold is not very sensitive to other gases (see e.g., Kasting 1988 and Kasting and Ackerman a couple years before that). Even with several tens of bars of CO2 in the atmosphere the runaway threshold is not appreciably changed. Methane vapor is even more transparent than water vapor, so it is not obvious that it is even capable of really contributing much at all. As I suggested in my last comment, when you start to compare CO2 side by side with methane (e.g., 100 ppm of methane vs. 100 ppm of CO2), rather than just comparing incremental increases against much different background concentrations in the present atmosphere, methane is even worse of a greenhouse gas. Another thing to note is that when the methane concentration approaches the CO2 concentration, you can start to form a thick haze layer (e.g., Haqq-Misra et al., 2008, Astrobiology) which raises the planetary albedo and makes it harder for methane to keep it hot.

    The second part of the answer to your question is that we’re not envisioning a very high methane atmosphere, since you can’t really accomplish this once you have high oxygen amounts in the air, as Earth does. High methane greenhouses come into play in some early Earth ideas. The reason water vapor goes up with temperature in our atmosphere is a consequence of basic thermodynamics, while for methane it’s a much more complicated carbon cycle problem involving hydrate and permafrost stability, and there’s chemical constraints on the CH4 buildup.

    Hope that is useful

  45. 95
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “Here is a video clip with the demonstration that these pro-LaRouche climate skeptics held outside the Royal Academy in Sweden.” – 65

    They aren’t using any other methods than are used by any other protest group.

    The proper course is to look them in the eye. Tell them that they are ignorant and deluded, that their ideology will lead to death and destruction and that the delegate has no interest in allowing that to happen to either humanity or nature.

    “I appreciate your concern, but your time is over. It is now time for action.”

    Then you return their flyer and move on.

  46. 96
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    “How would you propose lessening the population?” – 79

    Through the adoption of a one child per family policy.

    Do you have another proposal?

  47. 97
    JiminMpls says:

    #87 Septic – China isn’t drilling for oil in the Caribbean. Cuba is beginning exploratory drilling in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, but China doesn’t hold any of the leases. The exploratory contracts have gone to companies in India, Canada, Spain, Malaysia and Norway.

    The high-end estimate of Cuba’s oil reserves are 5-9 billion barrels. In contrast, the estimated reserves in the US GoM are over 45 billlion barrels and the estimate for Mexico GoM is close to 30 bbl.

    Sinopec has a contract to develop a very small onshore play near Havana.

  48. 98
    adelady says:

    georgi – the only ‘quick’ solution possible is a radical shift in age of first time mothers. There are many countries where the average age at first birth is below 20.

    Education – and worthwhile job opportunities – are the obvious policy bases for such a shift. If we could get such countries moving rapidly from an average of, say, 18 at first birth to 25+ at first birth there would be a huge, immediate impact. This of course is merely an effect on the demand for food and cooking fuel.

    If we want to reduce CO2 then it’s the developed economies which have to make the moves. Their birthrates and age at first birth are already well under control. It’s consumption, extravagance and waste that are the target issues here.

  49. 99
    colin Aldridge says:

    The secret of success is achieveable goals. There is no possible plan in geopolitical terms to achieve a CO2 max in 2015 so there is no point in asking for it. Nobel prize winners may be genius but pragamatic.. sadly not. So this call to emergency action will be ignored. Of course a massive meteor strike which wiped out 90% of the population would reduce CO2 emissions … and cause global cooling as well…

  50. 100
    Georgi Marinov says:

    Vendicar Decarian says:
    25 May 2011 at 12:32 AM
    “How would you propose lessening the population?” – 79

    Through the adoption of a one child per family policy.

    Do you have another proposal?

    Yes, 0.1 child per family (and that’s serious)

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