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Unforced variations, July 2011

Filed under: — group @ 2 July 2011

The RC open thread.
With a reminder that this is not a dumping ground for anything under the sun, but is rather for discussing climate science topics that don’t fit neatly into ongoing discussions.

366 Responses to “Unforced variations, July 2011”

  1. 101
  2. 102
    Paul S says:

    #97, wili – It’s not easy to see the curve in the CO2 data but it is there. Try doing an eyeball linear extrapolation from the first ten years of data and you only get to about 350-360ppm by now.

    A better way to look at the data in this context is to plot annual growth rates. You can see the growth rate has gone up from ~0.8ppm/yr at the beginning of the record to ~2ppm/yr at present. That represents a 250% increase in annual growth over the last 50 years.

    By happy coincidence the World Bank website holds CO2 emissions data over roughly the same period. Emissions have increased by ~300% from 1960 to today but it was only ~250% up to 2002. Atmospheric CO2 concentration does lag emissions so it could be that the CO2 record does show a reasonable match to your expectations.

    You can also see the relationship in the relative flattening of growth rate in both datasets over the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately that’s now been followed by record emissions increases over the last seven years.

  3. 103
    Paul S says:

    #99, chris – I basically agree with much of what you’ve said but I think some of the confusion can be cleared up by considering their conclusions (although it seems my reading of the conclusions may be different to Gavin’s, so perhaps not?).

    They essentially argue that the flattening of total net radiative forcing (due to both solar and anthropogenic sources) set the scene for ENSO to dominate the pattern. That is, if the 00s had seen similar net radiative forcing to the 90s there probably would have been a clear warming trend between 1998-2008, regardless of ENSO swings.

  4. 104
    David Miller says:

    Chris, (#99) don’t forget to add the solar minimum. 1998 was pretty near a solar cycle maximum, 2008 a low. I forget the exact effect, but iirc it’s in the .05 – .1 oC range.

  5. 105
    Ron R. says:

    As one of the “guilty” parties, I have to say that I agree with Gavin. It is just ridiculous to have practically every discussion monopolized and sidetracked into an argument about sources of energy generation. Its gotten very old, especially as most of the points discussed have been repeated ad infinitum. As I’ve said before, I actually find the topic exceedingly boring, about as interesting as going to a city council meeting and listening to strident conversation about funding the installment of parking meters. I loathe politics but find myself arguing it because the issues are important to our future.

    Having said that I don’t think it’s fair to cast all sides as equal in this debate. For one thing I’d say a disproportionate percentage of these arguments have been instigated by one individual. For me it’s been like arguing with a determined skeptic. When someone is obviously set on misinforming and on refusing to acknowledge glaring errors in their oft-repeated arguments, and I think that’s been shown time and time again, on an important subject in a public venue like this I feel the need to correct them.

    Maybe the solution is an ongoing side thread (linked to from the sidebar) where these issues can be fought with a ban on their discussion in any other thread including open threads. If so I wouldn’t be interested in taking part (except maybe to post occasional news) as I’m thinking that ‘never the twain shall meet’. Another option is to be more aggressive, as are other sites, and simply ban the troublemakers without apology.

    It is too bad when certain people can cause the otherwise important discussion of energy issues to cease for all. Kind of like the way drunk drivers force all of us to have to go through sobriety checkpoints. It’s unfair to everybody else which is the majority. Energy production IS peripheral to climate.

    Once again, my apologies for my part in the debate.

  6. 106
    SecularAnimist says:

    gavin wrote: “I don’t really know why people insist on arguing about energy technology on climate science blog.”

    Because we recognize the urgent necessity of phasing out coal-fired electricity generation as rapidly as possible, hence the acute interest in alternatives.

    In a sense, it’s a consequence of your effective communication of what climate science is telling us about our situation.

    I appreciate the topic boundaries and will better respect them going forward.

    But having said that, isn’t it really more annoying when people “insist on arguing” about climate science — given that most if not all of those “arguments” are bogus?

    [Response: I prefer that people discuss rather than argue, and I like to think that the discussions here on climate science are a little above the arguments seen elsewhere which, as you correctly observe, are often bogus. Since there are not many places to have moderately serious discussions on the topic, having a focus on that topic in the threads here is sensible, lest even this be swamped with generic arguments that go nowhere. I fully appreciate that many people want to talk about energy futures (even me sometimes), but this is not the place to do it. – gavin]

    [Response: We want to avoid bogus arguments (for sure!), but we want at the same time to promote good discussion of real, unresolved issues. The degree to which the “science is settled” varies widely from topic to topic. I know people get frustrated when they raise a good question–like several in this very thread–and there is no response. Keep raising them anyway–it’s important. It gets people thinking–Jim]

  7. 107
    wili says:

    Thanks, tamino and Paul S. That was useful.

    And just my two cents on the other issue–Energy production IS NOT peripheral to climate change, as long as the vast majority of our energy comes from fossil fuels–that is by un-sequestering carbon.

    But either stricter control of trolls/adnauseum commenters or a separate thread seem like reasonable approaches. I generally ignore eg, but it does get annoying when nearly everything on current on the site seems to be either his distortions of the data or other people’s vain attempts to point said distortions out to him.

    Can we steer a line between turning the site over to trolls and making the discussion so silo’ed in CC science narrowly construed that it becomes another example of the lack of peripheral vision that, imvho, is a major part of what got us into these predicaments?

    [Response: OK, I have a real problem with what you just said there. There is no such thing as “CC science narrowly construed”. You cannot possibly find a science topic that is more wide ranging, more interdisciplinary, than climate science (let’s call it “earth system science” in order to make that point). What is exceedingly aggravating for some of us, is how the enormity of interesting–and societally relevant and important–topics in this field get over-run, either by those who want to talk about energy production, or by those who want to say “the science is settled, nothing much more to say”. Wrong!–Jim]

    Thanks again, for the answers and for the site.


  8. 108

    Ok, let’s discuss the Younger Dryas!

    Didn’t think so.

  9. 109
    SecularAnimist says:

    Well, following up on my previous comment, here is a possible topic of discussion regarding climate science, which also relates to the motivation behind discussing alternatives to fossil fuels:

    The news from climate science is ALL BAD.

    Indeed, the news is VERY, VERY BAD, and just keeps getting WORSE.

    Am I wrong? Are there any exceptions? Is there even any prospect that climate science will have any good news for us?

    Or is it (as it seems to me) the case that all climate science has in store for us — as a result of the long, hard, diligent, challenging work of the world’s most dedicated and brilliant scientists including those who host this blog — is an increasingly refined, accurate and reliable picture of horrific disaster bearing down on us?

    In truth, one reason that I personally turn to thinking and talking about solar energy (for example) is that there is some good news there — there are real prospects for phasing out fossil fuels in a surprisingly short time frame. It gives me a sense of hope.

    But when I turn to climate science, it is hard to find anything that sustains hope. It just keeps getting worse and worse, faster and faster, and it increasingly looks like it is too late to avoid unspeakable PETM-like disaster.

    It seems as though it’s just a matter of waiting for the “climatic Pearl Harbor” that some folks talk about — not in the sense of a dramatic event that will shock the world into action, but rather a scientific study or relatively obscure observation that will shock those of us who already follow the science closely into the realization that it’s “game over”.

    Is the idea that we still have time to solve the problem really a form of “denial”?

    [Response: It’s certainly not good news, and I fully agree that we need to think about what the solutions to the problem are, and we need to be inspired by the fact that there are, in fact, real solutions. If it takes thinking about those things to keep going psychologically, do it; better yet, work towards making them happen. Hope is an *extremely* important psychological force. I for one do not like alarmism in the least, and is why I sometimes jump on people who make exaggerated or unsupported statements. I view it as a psychological tactic to scare people, and I detest psychological tactics, nor do I like having people be scared. Beyond the necessary step of making oneself aware of what’s going on, there’s no psychological benefit to telling oneself how bad things are, getting worse, etc. None. Is all the climate science bad news? No, not all of it. There may be, for example, some shifts in agricultural production that are decidedly good for some regions, for some period of time. There may be climate envelopes that move outside of the optimum range of some disease vectors or insect pests. The carbon dioxide fertilization effect represents a negative terrestrial C cycle feedback that helps some–although the eventual magnitude of this is definitely uncertain. There may turn out to be a geo-engineering stop-gap measure that turns out to be tolerable, for a while, while we get our act together (and I am not an advocate of relying on geo-engineering, at all).–Jim]

  10. 110
    ccpo says:

    Ray, you beat me to it. Alternatively, I wonder if RC – or anyone/anyplace else – would be willing to provide server space for an all-in forum? I call my blog A Perfect Storm Cometh because I see the interplay of the whole system dynamic as completely unavoidable and the need for comprehensive discussion about this, to the point, someday, of neighbors discussing such things standing on porches and street corners discussing the issues of the day, as absolutely necessary.

    I’ve been thinking about this since Gavin’s post (and thank you for your reply). I like the idea of a forum with a news feed directly from the high quality sites, such as RC, TOD, Energy Bulletin, Skeptical Science, etc., as part of it. Hopefully, regulars at the various sites would voluntarily link/move the discussion to the new forum when discussions at the topical sites gets too far afield.

    I’d be happy to be involved in hosting/moderating such a site. I’ve always intended to have one at APSC, anyway, but probably cannot afford the bandwidth.

  11. 111
    Ike Solem says:

    Hey, can we put this false dichotomy to rest?

    “organic before mechanical/industrial.” (comment above)

    First, organic chemistry was more or less built on fossil sources, a central example being the creation of dyes from coal tar residues in the 19th century. Later advancements in high-pressure organic chemistry lead to synthetic coal-based fuels, for example the H2 + CO reactions (CO and H2 being provided by coal-water gas) developed by Fischer and Tropsch in Germany, along the same technical lines as the Haber process for synthetic ammonia (H2 + N2 reactions).

    Now, it’s entirely plausible that one could use these organic/industrial methods to create fuels via an artificial photosynthesis process, and quite a few labs around the world are developing this system, much to the horror of the fossil fuel industry, from Saudi oil princes on down. You take atmospheric CO2, pop off an oxygen, leaving CO. You take water, and do the same thing, creating H2. These processes require an investment of energy, to be provided by electricity from solar and wind platforms.

    So, now you have your H2 and your CO and you run them through the 100-year old Fischer-Tropsch process, developed and mastered by organic chemists and chemical engineers in the pay of the fossil fuel barons, somewhat ironically. Now you’ve converted sunlight, air and water to a hydrocarbon fuel suitable for use in jet airplanes, diesel ships, gasoline engines (depending on reaction conditions, you can make any fuel you like, as well as waxes and any other ‘petrochemical’).

    One major benefit of this particular strategy (in a world sure to see major agricultural impacts due to global warming) is you save agricultural land for food production. You could, for example, set up square kilometers of solar panels on desert land next to the ocean, and there’s all the water and sunlight you need.

    Oh, yes, this is an expensive process – but probably a good deal cheaper than nuclear energy. You can be pretty sure that this will be common in the future.

    [Response: You’re not paying terribly close attention are you?–Jim]

  12. 112
    Eric says:

    @ #1 and #8

    The fossil fuel supply and usage will be determined by economics. If it becomes unattractive to use because it costs too much then another energy source will emerge as the mainstay.

  13. 113
    Ike Solem says:

    [edit OT]

  14. 114
    ccpo says:

    Pardon, Jim, I will attempt to keep this in guidelines.

    Ike, due to the guidelines I cannot fully respond, but the false dichotomy is yours, not mine. It is a preference, not a law. If there is an organic, sustainable to a given problem, it should usually be used before a mechanical one, as the mechanical is almost certain to be more resource intensive, along with other issues that might come up depending on the specific problem and the milieu in which it occurs.

    If, however, you have an organic, non-sustainable and a mechanical, sustainable choice, you would obviously go with the latter.

    What I expressed is a principle, not a law, and taken out of context, loses it’s meaning. Sustainable solutions are, and must be, highly localized. In this way, we are careful not to disrupt local climatic conditions and can create mitigation and adaptations that maximize return from the local environment.

    The suggestion you make above for example, immediately leads me to think, “is it not better to design so airliner fuels are not needed?” if we work outside principles of sustainability, we come to different conclusions than if we work within them. Thus far, working outside them has been a disaster, so perhaps we can give the planet a break and try things the other way round for a bit.

  15. 115
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re off topic stuff – not to steal any audience from here but there are the occasional posts on ‘you-know-what’ at Skeptical Science. Deltoid has the occasional open thread. (Next time I say PV here, I hope I’ll be talking about potential vorticity. Speaking of which, it would be interesting to see a plot of PV sources and sinks and average distribution in the atmosphere (maybe a zonal average height cross section) and also how they would change with AGW. Presumably the data exists to do this; I guess they figure only somebody with the computational resources to do it would be interested, though.)

  16. 116
    Ron R. says:

    SecularAnimist at 12:50 PM.

    I was thinking something similar last night after reading yet another story about how far world governments, including the US, are to doing anything substantial about CC. I thought, we can hone the science all we want, write the best papers, have lots of discussions and meetings, etc, etc. And yet if governments still aren’t willing to take the issue seriously what’s it all for? Just a footnote to history.

    CC is only one serious environmental issue facing us, though a large one. There are a panoply. We’ve really dug ourselves into a hole, especially since the beginning of the industrial revolution and particularly since the 1950s, probably the real beginning of the oil/consumerist/expansion era. I agree with Jim about his revulsion for alarmists. He said I view it as a psychological tactic to scare people, and I detest psychological tactics, nor do I like having people be scared. Indeed there seems to be no shortage of “doomers” out there financially benefiting from spreading fear. On the other hand that feeling hesitancy can cause us to not see things we should be seeing. To be slow about sounding the alarm. I hate that cretins like Rush Limbaugh have made knowledgeable people shy about expressing concern for this planet. That to care for it is now tantamount to “extremism” and even “terrorism”. That we should feel embarrassed about calling ourselves environmentalists. What a sly turn of events big business has wrought.

    I think I understand climate scientists predicament. What if they are wrong about how bad the effects will be? It would be held to their account by dishonest interests that care nothing for the good of the world. The way I look at it, climate scientists are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. And as someone else recently so well said here (and darn if I don’t remember who it was) fixing climate is a win/win all around.

    Seems the least we can say is that it’s going to get hot. Uncomfortably hot, and lots of species, already on edge will be pushed over it. I’m saddened and angry when I think of all the obscenities that selfish people are doing to our planet. Polluting the ocean, radiazing the atmosphere, ripping out forests. When I think of all of the evolutionary struggle that went into making all of the 10 to 15 million species out there all thrown away just so one species can live in temporary luxury I am ashamed of my own kind.

  17. 117
    Ron R. says:

    When I look at the earth from space and see that razor thin layer of atmosphere protecting all known life on a singularly beautiful planet I feel like many astronauts who have spoken of their fear of what The Human Experiment is doing to it.

    Some astronaut quotes:

    “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an
    intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion
    to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international
    politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of
    the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look
    at that, you son of a bitch.”

    — Edgar Mitchell

    “If somebody’d said before the flight, “Are you going to get carried
    away looking at the earth from the moon?” I would have say, “No, no
    way.” But yet when I first looked back at the earth, standing on the
    moon, I cried.”

    — Alan Shepard

    “The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home
    that must be defended like a holy relic.
    — Aleksei Leonov

    “Oddly enough the overriding sensation I got looking at the earth was,
    my god that little thing is so fragile out there.”

    — Mike Collins

    “A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon
    seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators.
    That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. I could not
    help but love and cherish her.”

    — Taylor Wang

    “Before I flew I was already aware of how small and vulnerable our
    planet is; but only when I saw it from space, in all its ineffable
    beauty and fragility, did I realize that human kind’s most urgent task
    is to cherish and preserve it for future generations.”

    — Sigmund Jähn,

    “On the one hand, we can see how indescribably beautiful the planet
    that we have been is, but on the other hand, we can really, clearly
    see how fragile it is,” “The atmosphere when viewed from space is paper thin, and to think that this paper thin layer is all that separates every
    living thing from the vacuum of space and all that protects us is
    really a sobering thought.”
    — Ron Garan

    “For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It
    was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light—our atmosphere.
    Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many
    times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance.”

    — Ulf Merbold

    “This planet is not terra firma. It is a delicate flower and it must be
    cared for. It’s lonely. It’s small. It’s isolated, and there is no
    resupply. And we are mistreating it. Clearly, the highest loyalty we
    should have is not to our own country or our own religion or our
    hometown or even to ourselves. It should be to, number two, the family
    of man, and number one, the planet at large. This is our home, and
    this is all we’ve got.”

    — Scott Carpenter

    “The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the
    blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished
    in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful
    marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so
    fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would
    crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.”

    — James Irwin

    “I left Earth three times and found no other place to go. Please take
    care of Spaceship Earth.”

    — Wally Schirra, 1998

    “To fly in space is to see the reality of Earth, alone. The experience
    changed my life and my attitude toward life itself. I am one of the
    lucky ones.”

    — Roberta Bondar

    “What was most significant about the lunar voyage was not that man set
    foot on the Moon but that they set eye on the earth.”

    — Norman Cousins

    “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing
    is that we discovered the earth.”

    — William Anders

    “When we have a moment to look down [at Earth], the beauty is the
    three-dimensional effect and the beauty of the planet is capturing our
    heart … capturing my heart.”

    — Roberto Vittori

    And this beautiful poem from astronaut Alfred Worden:

    “Quietly, like a night bird, floating, soaring, wingless
    We glide from shore to shore, curving and falling
    but not quite touching;
    Earth: a distant memory seen in an instant of repose,
    crescent shaped, ethereal, beautiful,
    I wonder which part is home, but I know it doesn’t matter . . .
    the bond is there in my mind and memory;
    Earth: a small, bubbly balloon hanging delicately
    in the nothingness of space.”

  18. 118
    R. Gates says:

    Thanks to those who responded to my question in post #1. I think your answers are very educational for those like me who study these topics as non-professionals. I am curious as to why no one really said much about the temperature changes of the deeper oceans (below 700m) as being an area of they’d see as a top unknown. It seems that the potential exists for a great deal of Trenberth’s “missing heat” to be going here, and so some way of getting a good reading of heat at deeper ocean levels would seem to be useful. For example, I would like to know how the temperature and speeds at various points at the deeper levels of the global ocean conveyer have been changing over time. Would this not be useful?

    I do agree with the statement about methane release. It would be nice to know how much methane is really being released from melting permafrost and how that has been changing over the past few decades. This potential positive feedback certainly has some nasty implications, and one only needs to look at Permian-Triassic extinction event to see the worst that could happen if all the land and ocean floor methane began to release. That this kind of event could happen, no matter how unlikely, is one more reason it seems a good handle on how much heat is going into the deeper oceans would seem helpful. Without this data, how can we really know the likelihood of ocean floor clathrate instability caused by added heat?

  19. 119
    Prokaryotes says:

    Cherry in the pie

    Just about the most predictable event of the week was the tempest of opinion created by the analysis of global temperature changes published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on Monday.

    Whether the conclusions of the study are right or wrong, the argument goes, you’re stepping into factually shaky ground – and the belief-systems of your “opponents” – if you start from the argument that temperatures haven’t risen since 1998, the strongest El Nino year on record.

    Concern was exacerbated by the wording of the PNAS press release, whose first sentence read: “The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide increased steadily between 1998 and 2008 even as the Earth’s temperature declined…” – a line that reporters unfamiliar to the issue might not have seen fit to question.

    The next few paragraphs will be so familiar to anyone who follows this stuff that I almost apologise for including them… but the point about it is that if you want to deduce the underlying trend, you have to remove the annual bumps caused by things such as ENSO.

    A common method of doing this is to use a “moving average” (aka “running mean”), where – for example – each year’s data point is the average of the 10 years around that year.

    And when you do that, you see clearly that the underlying trend of temperature rise continues.

    This has been the standard approach of mainstream scientists – and their standard response when challenged that 1998 remains, depending on your dataset, the warmest single year on record.

  20. 120
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jim replied to me (#109): “There may be, for example, some shifts in agricultural production that are decidedly good for some regions, for some period of time.”

    Now that’s the kind of thing that I’d like to see discussed here, for two reasons:

    1. As far as I can tell, even at this early stage of AGW, the effects on agriculture all over the world (e.g. from heat, drought and floods) are already disastrous. Food prices are skyrocketing, which is already contributing to social and political upheaval, and the effects of AGW are clearly a contributing cause, if not the major cause. Barton Paul Levenson’s idea that widespread agricultural failures leading to global famine and the collapse of civilization could occur by mid-century begins to look optimistic. So if there is in fact any evidence that “shifts in agricultural production that are decidedly good for some regions” could offset these detrimental effects, I’d like to hear about it.

    2. Modern industrial factory-farming practices are a significant contributor to AGW, while at the same time, it is known that organic agriculture practices can actually sequester significant amounts of carbon in the soil over time. There is also the issue of the disproportionate AGW impact of meat production vs. plant-based diets.

    I note that the discussions of potential solutions here seem to focus almost entirely on electricity generation, which is appropriate given the major contribution to AGW from coal-fired power plants (and fossil fueled vehicles which could potentially be replaced by electric vehicles). But agriculture is discussed much less, even though it is simultaneously a cause of the problem, and potentially catastrophically vulnerable to AGW effects, and a potentially valuable part of the solution.

    Moreover, all three of those points, relating to the interaction of agriculture with climate change, are perhaps more on-topic than electricity generation.

    [Response: Thanks for these points. I’m quite interested in agricultural issues–even aside from, and before, climate change issues were added to the mix–and I hope that we can address some of them. I agree strongly with your 2nd, and your last, points. On your first, I’m not sure what to say. Addressing climate change, food production and the potential for famine is a major undertaking and needs to be done with real care, because there are socio-economic and technology elements to food production that are hard to predict. Food prices respond to a whole number of factors. We can also be certain that there is a whole cadre of “critics” waiting to pounce on what turn out to be inaccurate predictions regarding climate effects on agriculture, no matter how minor or peripheral to the global trend or likely expectation based on first principles they are. One more point: it’s one thing to talk about climate/weather events and crop failure, and translate those to issues of human nutrition and health–that’s something scientists can tackle. It’s another thing to talk about the “collapse of civilization”. What does that mean exactly? How do we evaluate and model that? These loaded terms are problematic, and thus best avoided. Barton Levenson has made some rather bold predictions and he will have to defend them. Notwithstanding all these things, I fully agree that the general topic needs to be addressed here and elsewhere. Like so many things in earth system science, I have a lot of self education to do on the topic before I’m able to do so.–Jim]

  21. 121
    ccpo says:

    R. Gates says:
    7 Jul 2011 at 1:34 AM

    …I am curious as to why no one really said much about the temperature changes of the deeper oceans (below 700m) as being an area of they’d see as a top unknown. It seems that the potential exists for a great deal of Trenberth’s “missing heat” to be going here, and so some way of getting a good reading of heat at deeper ocean levels would seem to be useful…

    I do agree with the statement about methane release. It would be nice to know how much methane is really being released from melting permafrost and how that has been changing over the past few decades… Without this data, how can we really know the likelihood of ocean floor clathrate instability caused by added heat?

    One of the papers by K. Walter, et al., found thermokarst lakes had tripled in size over a period of well less than a decade. Another paper has found that current seeps from the Siberian clathrates equal the total from the rest of the ocean. As to deep water, the Siberian continental shelf is only 50m deep, so this point is moot for that area. Since clathrates are kept in place by a combination of temperature and pressure, the clathrates there are especially vulnerable, which is, I assume, why we are seeing such high levels of methane there.

    While it would be nice to have all the energy clearly accounted for, in terms of policy-making, it’s not information we need: the situation is well beyond bad enough to do something about it.

  22. 122
    chris says:

    Thanks Prokaryotes, how nice indeed to read a very well written article (good old BBC!).

    I find the Kauffman et al paper so odd that I can’t help commenting a bit more. Condensed down to essentials it doesn’t add much we don’t already know (only the analysis of Asian-coal-derived sulphate aerosols is new to me).

    And yet the paper was embargoed (tantalizing!) and then press released (oooh!) clearly with the purpose of making a bit of a splash. To justify the fanfare the authors seem to have sexed it up by framing it within a silly red herring (cooling from 1998-2008!), and using a temperature analysis that is ambiguous to their message.

    I like PNAS – it’s an excellent journal. I think they’ve been slightly taken advantage of in this case with a paper that borders on misrepresentation. That this is a justifiable interpretation can be seen in the entirely predictable manner in which the paper is on the one hand lauded by individuals that rather like the misrepresentation (see dismal yawnworthy effort by Christopher Booker in the dreary UK Daily Mail), and on the other hand rather easily critiqued by those that consider one should make an effort to write clear, careful science that properly represents the subject (e.g. the excellent article by Richard Black that prokaryotes urled above at 7 Jul 2011 at 5:25 AM).

  23. 123
    Ric Merritt says:

    I am with ccpo @ 6 Jul 2011 at 1:20 PM (currently #110), and Ray as cited there.

    I don’t want RC’s mission damaged, and it’s counterproductive to stretch RC moderators too far beyond their expertise. I would love to have a forum, with some needed moderation, where energy issues could get their due.

    As readers here know, climate has a core cadre of credentialled researchers who improve each other’s science. (The credentials ultimately grow from the interaction, disagreements, corrections, and building within this evolving group.) The core changes over time, and has fringes, but a center is identifiable.

    I think our problem with energy is that the area is so sprawling that there is no comparable core of expertise. A huge mix of history, science, economics, and politics, too diffuse and ramified to easily agree on whom to trust.

  24. 124
    wili says:

    Jim, thanks to your response, most of which I agree with. I would just point out that energy production is now a major part of the “earth system” you intend to study scientifically. As broad as climate studies already are, human dynamics are now so involved in earth dynamics, they cannot anymore be usefully separated. Perhaps a new term is needed for this even broader perspective?

    For the record, I do not think discussion of climate should be ‘overrun’ either by discussions of energy production or anything else, especially when these are monopolized with one or two people with very narrow and very obvious agendas. I would just add the observation that even if all energy were ff free, given what industrial society has used most of the energy made available to it for in the past, increasing or even holding steady the amount of even ‘clean’ energy available to it seems ill advised at best. What we mostly have to do at all levels, especially in the developed world, is massively scale down pretty much everything by something like 95%. What is left should be able to be sustainable with a slight increase in renewables.

    Is anyone else finding recaptcha harder to read? I had to flip through about ten before I got what I hope is “defines heishinu.”

    Ron, thanks for the quotes. As McKibben has pointed out, though, it has been since the first pictures of earth from space were taken and publicized that the major assault on the living systems of the earth has really gone into hyper-drive. To say the least, that image has not had the riveting effect on the humans of the planet that some of us hoped it might have.

  25. 125
    Radge Havers says:

    I’ll just chime in to reiterate that the scientific community presents a range of possible changes to climate over time depending on handling of greenhouse gases. To be sure, it’s a range that apart from the numbers can be characterized as rising from not so good and going to pretty damned horrible with a rapidity that depends somewhat on your disposition; but it’s not a single scenario, and in that sense the possible effects of AGW can only be described collectively in the vaguest terms. Mind you the more we dawdle, the more we wander toward outcomes that can only be described as pretty damned horrible by even the most sanguine pontificators.

    It’s hard to talk timeliness to people whose sense of time is fluid to begin with and is dependent on so many personal or political exigencies. On top of that try to get people out of whatever rut they’re somewhat familiar with and the reaction tends to be a knee-jerk blast of irrationality; and that’s only if they don’t choose to simply ignore you.


    The clock is ticking, the consequences suck, policy makers need good executive summaries, and they need to be reminded that the clock is ticking, the consequences suck, and they need to be given even better executive summaries, and they need to be reminded…

  26. 126
    Septic Matthew says:

    94, gavin:I don’t really know why people insist on arguing about energy technology on climate science blog.

    I have from time to time recommended that you focus on climate science and eschew all other topics. However, repeatedly someone articulates the view that the fossil fuel part of the developed world’s energy economy has to be replaced, everywhere, and quickly. That naturally leads to questions of what technologies can be deployed, how quickly, and at what cost. Cost includes calculable dollar costs and difficult to calculate costs of other risks.

    It’s a very straightforward progression. It’s your blog, but if you want to discuss energy strategies at all, why not be thorough?

  27. 127
    Edward Greisch says:

    120 Jim: “It’s another thing to talk about the “collapse of civilization”. What does that mean exactly? How do we evaluate and model that? These loaded terms are problematic, and thus best avoided.”

    “Collapse of civilization” is well defined in anthropology and archaeology. I have mentioned “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan and “Collapse” by Jared Diamond several times. When agriculture collapses, civilization collapses. Fagan and Diamond told the stories of something like 2 dozen previous very small civilizations. Many of the collapses were caused by fraction of a degree climate changes. In some cases, all of that group died. On the average, 1 out of 10,000 survived.

    The model is simple. It happens the same way every time. When there is no food in the grocery store, people will not go to work any more. That includes the police. There is no more law. People drop their tools wherever they happen to be and wander away in search of food. Few or none find food. Those who do not find food, die of starvation. It is that simple.

    Collapse is horrific: Armed gangs wander around the streets taking food violently from anybody who has any food. When there is no more food, cannibalism happens. The story on that is in “Collapse” by Diamond.

    Barton Levenson is not alone in his prediction. He is just the only one who has predicted a date.

    We model collapse as an infinite cost. Collapse of civilization must be discussed because “policy makers” and people in general must be motivated to take action that is sufficiently strong to avoid collapse.

    [Response: Edward, I think the topic is far more intricate, contingent, and unpredictable than what you have stated here. The world of today is not the world of the past. This does not help our understanding–Jim]

  28. 128
    Prokaryotes says:

    #122 Though with all the jazz going on, it might be sometimes hard to spot the seeds of doubt. The fast paced media buzz, the denier tactics and amount of data might cloud the senses to trick some to overlook critical details or make us prawn to own bias.

    Example, here is another message from the past, which again highlights how our and public perception is skewed from the every day live we sustain currently.

    Man cannot at his pleasure command the rain and the sunshine, the wind and frost and snow, yet it is certain that climate itself has in many instances been gradually changed and ameliorated or deteriorated by human action. The draining of swamps and the clearing of forests perceptibly effect the evaporation from the earth, and of course the mean quantity of moisture suspended in the air. The same causes modify the electrical condition of the atmosphere and the power of the surface to reflect, absorb and radiate the rays of the sun, and consequently influence the distribution of light and heat, and the force and direction of the winds. Within narrow limits too, domestic fires and artificial structures create and diffuse increased warmth, to an extent that may effect vegetation. The mean temperature of London is a degree or two higher than that of the surrounding country, and Pallas believed, that the climate of even so thinly a peopled country as Russia was sensibly modified by similar causes. – 1847, George Perkins Marsh

  29. 129
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Jim: “The world of today is not the world of the past. This does not help our understanding.”

    Indeed, the world of today is far more complex than any past inhabitants of the planet could imagine. However, complexity is not necessarily a virtue in surviving increasing stress. We are on the hairy edge of food insecurity again in much of the world. We have only managed to avoid it the past 40 years because we’ve learned how essentially to eat petroleum by turning it first into corn and soy beans. Earth’s current human population could easily be a factor of three more than it can carry sustainably. Add in environmental damage to oceans, aquifers, forests and the planet generally due to climate change, and 1% survival cannot be dismissed with sanguinity. That is not a prediction, but I don’t think we’ve bounded the damage sufficiently to dismiss it.

  30. 130
    Ron R. says:

    wili says at 12:13 PM

    To say the least, that image has not had the riveting effect on the humans of the planet that some of us hoped it might have.

    Yeah. :-/ Maybe it’s a ‘you had to be there’ kind of thing.

    And thanks to RC for letting me post them. I find the words themselves moving.

  31. 131
    Prokaryotes says:

    120# SecularAnimist “fossil fueled vehicles which could potentially be replaced by electric vehicles”

    People tend to forget that with around 1500-3000$? + battery (Incentive) you can convert *any* vehicle to run on electricity.

    120# SecularAnimist “But agriculture is discussed much less, even though it is simultaneously a cause of the problem, and potentially catastrophically vulnerable to AGW effects, and a potentially valuable part of the solution.”

    Yes, we have do adopt BECCS and biochar technology to replace petrol fertilizer and enhance crop yields and prevent soil erosion. The future food chain is programmed to be crippled and open for retardation through climate weirding/shifting weather patterns. Worldwide governments should start to build food farms (underground and indoors).

  32. 132
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Jim: “The world of today is not the world of the past.”
    Ray: “…I don’t think we’ve bounded the damage sufficiently to dismiss it.”

    Dueling understatements.

  33. 133

    Runaway global warming is the main issue which is the next step following Arctic sea sun ray reflecting ice curtain melting to ocean, so when Arctic sea ice appears weak, teetering on the verge of total meltdown, about to vanish a whole lot more, its sst’s which need be watched next, for on the bottom of warming Arctic seas are common deposits of methane hydrates Based on the evidence at hand, there is much to observe:

    look at Arctic sea surface temperatures, largely reflecting record warm temperatures up there right now, warmer sea surface temperatures coincide over frozen bottom hydrates. No need to panic though, since contrarians propagandize Global cooling, as it can be clearly not seen.

  34. 134
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Yeah. :-/ Maybe it’s a ‘you had to be there’ kind of thing.

    Live video available might do.

    We could have known by now, but alas:

    I’m amazed that Google hasn’t offered to launch the global observatory satellite, in return for owning the live video from it.

  35. 135
    Edward Greisch says:

    Continuing to read “Living in Denial” by Mrs. Dr. Kari Marie Norgaard. My interpretation of the last pages I have read so far is that “Morality” = tradition = political correctness = the right thing to do = groupthink. Science is, by definition, immoral. Science is tolerated only because the rich find science profitable. When science becomes anti-profitable, science is doubly bad. Technology that is too “sciencey” is bad. Norgaard analyzed an extremely tradition-bound small town in Norway.

    Climate science therefore gets the double whammy. RealClimate needs to push the values of the enlightenment: Free thinking is good. Groupthink is bad. Science trumps all else.

    127 Jim: “This does not help our understanding” What would? The social sciences are rarely mathematical. I would like to read an RC article [or several] on the subject of the impending collapse. My own opinion is that a near future collapse would be the same as past collapses, just global. Certainly the predictions made by most people [“those poor people over there”] will be wrong.

    The topic is indeed intricate, contingent, and unpredictable at the local level. It is also wordy rather than mathematical. And it is terrifying and horrifying. I understand anybody’s not wanting to confront it. How should we deal with it, because we must? If we don’t, there is no motive to mount a “mobilization as in WW2” level of effort to change anything. A lesser effort will accomplish nothing at this late date.

    [Response: Edward, wtf? Go drink a beer–Jim]

  36. 136
    Ron R. says:

    Hank Roberts 7 Jul 2011 at 11:13 PM:

    I’m amazed that Google hasn’t offered to launch the global observatory satellite, in return for owning the live video from it.

    You could suggest it. As indicated by wili though I’m not sure it would work.

  37. 137
    Prokaryotes says:

    Connecting the Dots: Climate Change drives Earthquake / Seismic activity

    [Response: you need to be very careful here. Just because there is seismic fingerprint of ice melt/ice flow (nettles and ekstrom, isostatic rebound etc), that does not mean that ‘earthquakes and tsunamis’ are being caused by climate change. Most such events – and almost all the big ones – are tectonically driven and occur near plate boundaries – they have nothing to do with modern climate change. Everytime someone – even inadvertently- mixes these things up they fall into a rhetorical trap that makes their claims instantly mockable and reinforces the stereotype of the unthinking activist. This is not useful in elevating the seriousness of the conversation. – gavin]

  38. 138
    Fred Magyar says:

    SecularAnimist @ 109,

    But when I turn to climate science, it is hard to find anything that sustains hope. It just keeps getting worse and worse, faster and faster, and it increasingly looks like it is too late to avoid unspeakable PETM-like disaster.

    If you think the news coming in from climate science, is BAD, then you really don’t want to look at things like human population dynamics.

    On our current path, it seems that the vast majority of humanity, is already FUBAR! Oh, and climate change is but one minor aggravating factor on that path.

    Hope, being an *extremely* important psychological force, notwithsatnding, especially false ‘HOPE’!

    Hint, we keep pushing the infinite growth paradigm, The solution to all our problems is always more growth, We need to produce more food to feed the next couple of billion humans being added to our already strained global resources. Which just leads to evermore mouths to feed. Thinking like that is the quickest path to going over the overshoot cliff!

    The classic example of that backward intuition was my own introduction to systems analysis, the World model. Asked by the Club of Rome—an international group of businessmen, statesmen, and scientists—to show how major global problems of poverty and hunger, environmental destruction, resource depletion, urban deterioration, and unemployment are related and how they might be solved, Forrester made a computer model and came out with a clear leverage point: growth.1 Not only population growth, but economic growth. Growth has costs as well as benefits, and we typically don’t count the costs—among which are poverty and hunger, environmental destruction, and so on—the whole list of problems we are trying to solve with growth! What is needed is much slower growth, different kinds of growth, and in some cases no growth or negative growth.

    The world’s leaders are correctly fixated on economic growth as the answer to virtually all problems, but they’re pushing with all their might in the wrong direction.

    Donella Meadows, Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System

  39. 139
    Consumer says:

    Question: I see on the NSIDC website they show air temperature anomalies for the arctic. Does anyone know what the actual temperatures are?

    [Response: Link?]

  40. 140
    Gwinnevere says:

    IF accepted:

    First: Thank you for a seemingly serious (and, in many ways, touching) web site. I have read (nearly) all of the 137 comments in this thread (and perhaps all of them connects to this post).
    To the point.
    — I am aiming at the comment no95, wayne davidson.
    Many skeptics (Christy, Lindzen) touch the same issue, and many deniers probe its presence, typically »CO2 raises but no further global warming». The present scientific community cannot silence these opposing waves, tending to build up more and more. Voices also appear in public of the type ”politics has infected science, and we don’t know who to trust anymore”, Kathleen McKinley 13Jun2011 TexasSparkle, and the like. That is the bad news.

    — In this light, observing the need of comprehensiveness, comment no95, wayne davidson — also connected to the introductory content of this web page,
    ”climate science topics that don’t fit neatly into ongoing discussions”
    — this appeared on my table:

    — Not so fast wayne davidson. Please.

    — Our climate history at the present period 2000-2040, and further, is predicted, as you can see for yourself in this synoptic compilation made from already well know sources (NASA, World Industry Fossil Carbon Emission Statistics, Sea Periods [Joseph D’Aleo (2008), partly unmapped])

    with exactly the same affirmative validity as all the NASA/CRU/GISS-recordings in collection from 1860. Doubt the dotted — doubt the measured. (Different versions exists depending on averaging period, this is just what appears from the most simple component match). The values (dotted) on nowYEAR-base are calculated

    t(NASA) =
    + (1.765)[1–1/(1+[(YEAR–1815)/212.7]^4)]
    + 0.0653(0.9[(2cos pi(YEAR–1880)/31.48)+0.5(cos 3pi[YEAR–1880-0.1]/31.48)])
    — you can follow it yourself, day by day and check that it holds

    This »simple AGW-math» explains, by equally matching components (as in 3=1+2, or other proponents), and apparently except these not at all, that

    (the NASA/CRU/GISS-curve) =
    + SeaPeriods

    The central Industry curve features a temperature-energy function responsible for AGW;
    its integral explains Carbon-Dioxide concentration with a 98% match to measured values (US SOUTH POLE RESEARCH, Mauna Loa);
    its derivative explains the actual AGW-effect (power in W/M²) corresponding to the ocean heat content (apparently matching [2005] the already well known values [ca 0.85 W/M²] from Hansen et al 2005 and others [B. Lin et al 2010, direct matching curves from model simulation]). Doubt the dotted — doubt the measured.

    The »lull» being aimed at (also from many skeptics), is apparently and hence at present in a similar period comparable to the one 1935-1975:
    — It is real. It has apparently a direct, obvious, provability record;
    IF so accepted:
    — Relatively small net changes will appear 2000-2040, practically nothing at all.
    — 29 more years to go with a »lull». Doubt the dotted — doubt the measured.
    — The deniers community will KILL the established academic community on that one, even within five years, absolutely (my interpretation), unless shown to be fraudulent.
    (It means, as far as my view has solidity, that RC, the whole scientific community, is standing, right now, on the brink of an abyss).

    NOTE that the three well connected integral-derivative functions described above [Sea, Industry, CO2] also include the Arrhenius’ functional curves (logarithmic|SeaHeat and exponential|IndustryIntegralCO2) as (very) close approximations, provided given appropriate offsets. Yes. Indeed. See image of compiled overview of the 3 AGW + 2 Arrhenius’ mathematical expressions in

    The »simple AGW-math» obviously explains — contains — the entire complex by »easy to understand mathematics». No modeling needed. Inclusive. Not exclusive.
    — This is just a beginning.


  41. 141
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jim wrote: “The world of today is not the world of the past.”

    It’s true — past civilizations facing collapse due to anthropogenic environmental degradation did not have nuclear weapons at their disposal.

    [Response: OK, that’s it. All future comments mentioning the “collapse of civilization” , by anyone will be deleted.–Jim

  42. 142
    Ray Ladbury says:

    In light of the demise of the News of the World as a result of a phone tapping scandal, I have found myself thinking, “Well, journalists still can do their job…at least when they want to.”

    In this case we have seen the journalists latching on to the scandal like a pitbull onto a rib-eye steak. Nothing could shake them, and when their initial efforts were blunted, they came back months later to finish of the bad actors. This is journalism as it should be–comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

    So why is it that the were able to follow through in the case of the phone-tapping scandal, while largely giving climate denialists a pass–at best–and a sympathetic ear at their worst. Why not go after The Telegraph or the Wall Street Urinal or Forbes? Why pick on Rupert the Evil and give the Koch brothers and Blankenships a pass?

    Why do they ignore the story even now that John Mashey has tied it up in a nice bow and served it to them on a silver platter cut into easily chewed pieces?

    Why, when we can see that they can still be journalists, do they choose not to be, even though the stakes are much higher than a mere cable network?

    Somehow, this makes me angrier at the Gruniad and other mainstream media than I was before. How do we deal with journalists who choose not to do their jobs?

  43. 143
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “… we’ve learned how essentially to eat petroleum by turning it first into corn and soy beans …”

    And in the USA the vast majority of the fossil-fueled, heavily subsidized, factory-farmed corn and soybeans are turned into animal feed for the production of cheap, factory-farmed meat, resulting in the loss of up to 90 percent of the original protein content of the corn and beans, and producing even more GHG emissions — not to mention costly epidemics of entirely preventable degenerative disease.

  44. 144
    JCH says:

    [Response: … Most such events – and almost all the big ones – are tectonically driven and occur near plate boundaries – they have nothing to do with modern climate change. – gavin]

    Gavin, I’m sure you’re right, but I repair acoustic guitars, which are made out of plates of wood that have joints. Anything that changes the size of those plates (usually lack of humidity,) can result in a catastrophic event: either a glue seam separates or a plate fractures. I’ve read a couple of papers about deep ocean warming, and I’ve been curious if such warming could expand plates.

    [Response: No. Orders of magnitude different. – gavin]

  45. 145
    Ron R. says:

    I was thinking this morning, wondering how an ongoing set of Public Service Announcements would do. A list of the serious environmental issues affecting the earth slowly rotating upscreen. A quick view of the other (for all intents and purposes) lifeless, uninhabitable planets in our solar system and the factoid that the closest, possibly habitable planets that we know of, Gliese 581 d&g are about 120 trillion miles away. Then short snippets showing our earth from space. Finally a quote from an astronaut such as those above.

    Course 20% of Americans still smoke despite a vigorous anti-campaign. Still the fact that 80% don’t is pretty good. You’re never going to convince everyone no matter how strong the evidence of self-destructive behavior. And it would be immoral to try to force people not to do something self-destructive (so long as that behavior doesn’t affect other unwilling people or the environment at large). If they want to kill themselves that’s their right; they just don’t have the right to harm others, which is what CC deniers are doing. But we shouldn’t be shy about doing all we CAN do to protect our planet.

    Then maybe a series of television programs on the issue. Finally a campaign for environmental ethics classes in public schools. And real action on environmental issues at the legislative level. Just thinking.

  46. 146
    Ron R. says:

    Rather dramatic pictures of a rather large dust storm “haboob” in Phoenix AZ the other day (July 5th). I read it was one mile high. Looks like Venus. Climate related?

  47. 147
    Radge Havers says:

    RL @ 142

    Phone-hacking scandals have been around for several years. The issue seems to have reached critical mass when hacking potentially interfered with a sensitive murder investigation–made all the juicier by ties running into the Cameron administration. In other words, it entered the obsessive phase of the news cycle when it became easier to sensationalize.

    Journalists won’t become obsessive about anything related to climate change until a beautiful blond climatologist with ties to the Kardashians is kidnapped by the Taliban while sitting on a Senator’s lap at an exhibition of water-skiing squirrels.

  48. 148
    Meow says:

    @Gwinnevere (140): You can fit any curve arbitrarily well by choosing the appropriate set of interpolating functions. That doesn’t mean that the resulting functions predict how the system underlying the fitted curve will behave in the future. To do that, you need to model the system itself. Hence climate models use data (e.g., insolation, albedo, emissivity) and physical laws (e.g., magnitude of blackbody radiation as function of temperature & emissivity, ideal gas law, etc.) to help us understand the climate system.

    BTW, if curve fitting had the power you ascribe, you could be the richest person in the world inside of a week by applying that “knowledge” to the securities markets.

  49. 149
    Meow says:

    @Gwinnevere (140): You can fit any curve arbitrarily well by choosing the appropriate set of interpolating functions. That doesn’t mean that the resulting functions predict how the system underlying the fitted curve will behave in the future. To do that, you need to model the system itself. Hence climate models use data (e.g., insolation, albedo, emissivity) and physical laws (e.g., magnitude of blackbody radiation as function of temperature & emissivity, ideal gas law, etc.) to help us understand the climate system.

    BTW, if curve fitting had the power you ascribe, you could be the richest person in the world inside of a week by applying that “knowledge” to the securities markets.

    CAPTCHA: onalves forced

  50. 150
    Susan Anderson says:

    Thanks all, as usual, for interesting discussion and sidelights, especially Wayne Davidson (@133 currently) who always makes me sit up and take notice. Those red areas (5C) of anomaly in the far north are rather predominant. The poetic quotes are also good mind food. (much earlier, possibly from another topic)

    I also thank Gavin (reply @137 currently) for stating as clearly as can be the difficulties attached to exaggeration and overreaction. Though we need to be assertive and clear about our real world, and separate it from realpolitik, which is both unreal and real, overdoing it is unwise. Many of us are so uncompromising that nothing can be done. Not sure compromising works either, but it’s necessary nonetheless.

    Not sure what’s up with gwinnevere, but her conclusion labels her comment suspect. RC does not, despite denialati assertions, censor most comments, as long as they are honest and not repeat offenders who refuse to look at information provided by knowledgeable people who post here. I don’t think science is more at the abyss than human habitation on our planet is, quite the reverse. “Disproving” with specious detail from doubtful disciplines and sources the valid work of observant and intelligent researchers who have given their lives to the hard work of understanding and studying phenomena is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem. It takes time to respond and a great deal of politeness and patience goes into the effort. If people were to regard blog hosts as hosts, by whose courtesy they post, some balance might be restored to the conversation.

    ClimateCentral is doing a fairly good job of summarizing a lot of hot topics and today’s is no exception, providing perspective, for example, on the dust storm. The PNAS kerfuffle is well covered here at RC in a new article, thanks grandma.