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Unforced Varations: Aug 2012

Filed under: — group @ 2 August 2012

Once more with feeling…

571 Responses to “Unforced Varations: Aug 2012”

  1. 301
    wili says:

    SecularAnimist at 289, you are much of my mindset. Lovelock somewhere said proposing that humans geo-engineer the the planet is like proposing that goats tend the garden. I must say, I think this and your analogies are particularly apt for modern industrial capitalist society and its ideology of limitless expansion. But other societies have managed to also do quite a nice job of trashing their environment, but on a more limited, regional scale.

    Note that the word ‘steward’ originally is from ‘sty ward(en).’

  2. 302
    Chris Korda says:

    Edward Greisch: Progressivism refers not only to the corresponding period of American history, but also to the notion that given sufficient time and effort, people can and should make incremental progress towards shared goals, scientific or otherwise. In science this view is associated with scientific realism, scientific pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce, and especially John Dewey, who held “that inquiry, whether scientific, technical, sociological, philosophical or cultural, is self-corrective over time if openly submitted for testing by a community of inquirers in order to clarify, justify, refine and/or refute proposed truths.” (WP, Pragmatic theory of truth)

    You should be grateful that science is progressive, because otherwise you would be busy rediscovering the foundations of mathematics, geology, astronomy, chemistry, etc. all by your lonesome self. In fact this was very much the situation at the start of the Enlightenment. On the other hand, if science weren’t progressive, we wouldn’t be struggling to mitigate climate change right now, because the industrial revolution wouldn’t have happened.

    The point of the non-existent dinosaur cultural artifacts was to illustrate that it’s absurdly and dangerously reductive to simply equate humans with dinosaurs or any other species. If humans weren’t special, why would they need names? Why would they need rights? In fact most of them didn’t have rights until very recently, and it’s been a major source of conflict. Wars have been fought over the idea that people (especially people we don’t like) can be treated as things.

  3. 303
    SecularAnimist says:

    derek asked: “One thing that has confused me that confused me is how long it takes for weather to become climate.”

    David B. Benson replied: “WMO (World Meteorological Organization) states that climate is 30 or more years of weather data.”

    John E. Pearson also replied: “Derek asked how long it takes weather to become climate: The traditional answer is 30 years or thereabouts.”

    I think this question is increasingly irrelevant, and the “traditional” answer is becoming obsolete.

    The question was relevant when we were asking whether the various atmospheric conditions, processes, events and patterns of events that comprise “climate” are in fact changing, and wanted to know over what length of time we’d need to observe those phenomena as ever-changing, short term “weather” to be able to conclude that the changes are sufficiently long-term to be considered “climate” change.

    But we already know that the climate is changing, and will continue to change, as a result of our CO2 emissions. We don’t need 30 more years of observations to tell us that, now.

    And the “traditional” answer is obsolete because it presumes that the Earth’s climate is sufficiently stable, and changing so slowly, that it really does take 30 or more years of observations to detect any long-term, large-scale change.

    But that’s no longer the case, because the climate system is being driven to change more rapidly and extremely than it has ever done in human history.

    It’s unlikely to take another 30 years for the American midwest to become desert. It’s unlikely to take another 30 years for the Arctic sea ice to disappear completely during summer — with all of the prodigious effects that implies.

    There is every reason to expect that permanent, large-scale, dramatic changes, which cannot reasonably be called anything but “climate change”, may now occur on time scales of a few years, rather than a few decades, as would have been expected in the pre-AGW world.

  4. 304
    SecularAnimist says:

    Chris Korda wrote: “If humans weren’t special, why would they need names? Why would they need rights?”

    What makes you think that other animals don’t have names?

    And social animals, including chimpanzees and wolves, clearly do have rights within the context of their social groups.

    I suggest you do some reading in cognitive ethology. Yes, human beings are “special” — and so are all other species.

  5. 305
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Chris Korda: ” If humans weren’t special, why would they need names? Why would they need rights?”

    Well, since it is humans that give humans names and humans that give humans rights (or take them away), all this proves is that humans are special to humans. It says nothing about the role of humans in the Universe or on the planet.

    If we are to take an objective measure–say the proportion of biomass we constitute on the planet as a measure of our dominance–then we are about as significant as ants.

    I suppose we could also say that humans matter to dogs. My cats, however are uncommitted.

  6. 306
    Chris Korda says:


    A mere 150 years ago, we fought a bitter and protracted war in the United States in large part over the question of whether our society should continue to permit human beings to be treated as, or worse than animals. The Union victory was an essential step forward but was by no means a final resolution of the question, which has continued to plague us, through the horrors of the Jim Crow South, well into the present era.

    In Europe an even more catastrophic war was fought against an ideology that proclaimed certain groups of people to be subhuman and therefore without rights. Unlike the Civil War, this is recent history, within the living memory of my parents. There have been plenty more examples since then, including the breakup of Yugoslavia, though thankfully none at similarly global scale (yet).

    Despite literally centuries of impassioned debate and conflict, humanity is still struggling to implement the most elementary ethical concepts such as equality, liberty, decency and fairness for human beings (that’s you!) Many are aware that the rights of non-humans can and ultimately must be defended just as vigorously, however this is a long-term project, and we aren’t likely to make much headway while simultaneously claiming that humans are equivalent to dinosaurs, wolves, algae, etc. We can grant wolves rights, and already have to some extent, but the reverse is simply not true: wolves can’t grant us rights, any more than they can study cognitive ethology. This should be obvious but apparently it isn’t.

    Before we worry about the rights of algae, we’d better get the rights of future generations sorted out, otherwise the algae is going to have the planet all to itself.


    I happen to be reading Davis Orr’s “Down to the Wire,” and he has much to say on the subject of intergenerational ethics, and the need for honest and inspiring leadership during what he calls the Long Emergency. For example:

    “We are now engaged in a global conversation about the issues of human longevity on Earth, but no national leader has yet done what Lincoln did for slavery and placed the issue of sustainability in its larger moral context.” -p. 88

  7. 307
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “If we are to take an objective measure–say the proportion of biomass we constitute on the planet as a measure of our dominance–then we are about as significant as ants.”

    I heard E. O. Wilson interviewed on the radio once. He noted that the total biomass of all the human beings on Earth is indeed about equal to the biomass of all the ants on Earth. He opined that that was just about the right amount of ant biomass, but probably an excessive amount of human biomass.

    He went on to say that if all the humans suddenly disappeared, it would have little or no effect on the biosphere, but if all the ants suddenly disappeared, it would cause massive global ecological disruption.

    Of course the cessation of human activities, such as the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, that would accompany the disappearance of all that human biomass would be a boon to the biosphere.

  8. 308
    Jim Larsen says:

    SA said, “The very idea that human beings, who are demonstrably unable to control our own most destructive behaviors, are going to be “stewards of the ecology”, or “manage ecosystems”, is absurd. It’s proposing that the bull should become the “steward” of the china shop.”

    You seem to be saying that the stewards of the world are not decent stewards of the world. Get a clue, dude! Humans ARE the stewards of the world. There is NO NO NO alternative.

    So, either get with the program and figure out how “humans are the stewards of the world” can work, or go home.

    And the question of “what for” is PERFECT. It takes millions of years to “create” something larger than slime-mold. There’s NO evidence that slime mold is less “good” than a lion. The ONLY value a lion has is that humans dig lions. The answer is that “good” is defined as what we as humans enjoy.

  9. 309
    prokaryotes says:

    The SPIEGEL is featuring atm a blog about a Greenland expedition. In this recent blog entry they describe the impacts they approach on their way, related to the climate change there.

    German: Das Gelände vor uns sieht in der Nähe von drei Nunataks – so nennen die Inuit Felserhebungen, die aus dem Eis herausragen – immer gruseliger aus. Wieder jede Menge Schneekuppen und Bachquerungen. Wir beschließen deshalb, die Pulkas hier zu zweit zu ziehen. Der Zweite hilft hinten mit einer Repschnur und viel Muskeleinsatz beim Bergaufgehen, Lenken und Bremsen. Dann müssen wir zwar zweimal gehen, aber immerhin wird so das Material geschont.

    Jetzt sind auch tiefe Spalten und Gletschermühlen im Weg. Wilfried staunt über die drei Bergspitzen. “Bei unserer ersten Grönland-Durchquerung haben wir dort nur einen Nunatak gesehen, 2006 waren es zwei, jetzt drei.” So schnell geht hier das Eis zurück, so offensichtlich sind die Folgen des Klimawandels.

    They describe how they find more of these Nunataks, mountains which become visible after the top ice layer melted away.

    Now today the blog posted another entry about their sledges, which are so heavy damaged from the ground that they require replacements or have to abort the expedition.

    They use the best sledges (handmade carbon “Pulkas”) one can buy.

  10. 310
    Radge Havers says:

    @ 306
    Huh? Very rhetorical and you seem offended but just what are you trying to propose?

    We’re all part of an interconnected natural system. In terms of policy nobody is talking about the rights of Chris Korda compared to algae. Nature however cares not a whit whether or not you have one up on algae in terms of your right to survive.

  11. 311
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jim Larsen wrote: “The answer is that ‘good’ is defined as what we as humans enjoy”

    Well, what I as a human “enjoy” — or more generally, what I as a human value — may differ radically from what you value.

    As it happens, I value the rich, diverse, almost unimaginably creative and prolific biosphere of this planet, which has created itself, and has evolved, re-evolved and flourished through all manner of challenges and catastrophes, giving rise to innumerable beautiful, complex sentient species and ecosystems, through billions of years — and somehow managed to do so without the “benefit” of human “stewardship”.

    On the other hand, I neither enjoy nor value the pontifications of those who proclaim themselves the indispensable “stewards” of the Earth’s biosphere while their “stewardship” so far consists of smashing it with a wrecking ball.

    To take just one example, how is our human “stewardship” of oceanic fisheries working out? Do you think any changes are needed there?

    What do you suppose might need more “stewardship” — the ocean’s food webs which are just failing their duty to provide what human beings “enjoy” in limitless amounts, and are therefore in dire need of our “stewardship” to improve their inferior performance as only we wise humans (i.e. homo sapiens) know how to do?

    Or is it perhaps our own behavior that needs some “stewardship”?

  12. 312
  13. 313
    sidd says:

    Cryosphere Discussions has a paper by Rennermalm et al.

    From the abstract:
    “… between 12% and 53% of ice sheet surface runoff is retained within the glacier each melt year …”

    I seem to recall Prof. Pelto stating that all or most of the meltwater escaped into the ocean. See for example the discussion at:

    This paper would seem to challenge that notion. If true then at least some of the latent heat required to melt the surface ice is being efficiently transferred into the ice mass and not escaping into the ocean. This would augment what Prof. Box calls the “erosion of cold content” of GRIS.

    Since Prof. Pelto is off on a field trip, I though I would ask here.


  14. 314
    prokaryotes says:

    Decrease in biomass burning after year 500 is similar in duration and timing to Little Ice Age

  15. 315
    Chris Korda says:

    SA @307:

    Of course the cessation of human activities, such as the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, that would accompany the disappearance of all that human biomass would be a boon to the biosphere.

    It’s like you’re trying to impress everyone with your indifference to humanity, as though cultural insensitivity is somehow a corollary of scientific knowledge. The whole point of us becoming more enlightened (in the both sciences AND the humanities) over the last four centuries was to make us MORE sensitive to human culture, and more willing to make sacrifices for, and exhibit altruism towards people who aren’t immediate family members, aren’t from our ‘tribe’, or aren’t even born yet. Eventually that altruism may even extend to the biosphere and your beloved algae. Obviously it’s a work in progress and we’re facing severe difficulties at the moment, but I don’t see how it helps anyone to say that we should just buzz off and leave Earth to the ants, nor do I believe that’s E.O.Wilson’s view; on the contrary he expresses great fondness for humanity in his latest novel “Anthill,” and apparently believes our achievements are worth fighting for.

    It would be one thing if we were having this discussion on an Earth First blog, but I’m amazed to see stuff like this on RC. Your audience includes highly educated people who have devoted their lives to complex intellectual, linguistic, and symbolic activities that are beyond the capacity of most humans, never mind ants. On RC in particular people are clearly focused on the struggle to save civilization–science included–to whatever extent that’s still possible. I sincerely doubt they enjoy hearing that humanity is useless rubbish and that the sooner we disappear the better. I know I sure don’t.

  16. 316
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re: #296

    long it takes weather to become climate

    I’m afraid that I don’t see why a response time for warming is conceptually the same as the statistically defined times obtained by Grumbine (G) and Tamino.(T)
    G and T depend on the magnitude of the ‘noise’ produced by e.g. the ENSO fluctuations. But it is unclear how #296 is so dependent.

    Have I missed something?

  17. 317
    Patrick 027 says:

    re 316 Geoff Wexler – I would have guessed they’re independent, although it’s interesting that the heat capacity, to which the response time is proportional, would also play a role in internal variability (presumably).

  18. 318
    derek says:

    Thanks all for the patient explanations of how long it takes weather to become climate. One thing I was expecting to hear is an argument that it takes 15 (or more) years for various oscillations such as ENSO to average out. As an example, there was an article in the local paper from an emeritus atmospheric scientist that said that variations in oceanic currents cause natural 30-year cycles in global averaged temperature ( I can understand looking for trends from a statistical standpoint, but I guess I don’t understand how to factor in multi-year quasi-periodic signals. For instance, one can presumably look at the ENSO time series statistical properties and realize that the effects average out after a certain time period. Can we look at all similar signals and figure out how long one needs to average these out, and get at the weather to climate time scale from this standpoint?

  19. 319
    David B. Benson says:

    Geoff Wexler @316 — Yes, you missed the fact that one cannot distinguish signal from noise until enough of both are observed.

  20. 320
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re Secular Animist – I agree with a number of your points (a lot of people would) – ie we aren’t very good stewards so far, the biosphere wouldn’t need us, etc. … the point about individual people inevitably dying was very good (I was thinking the same thing);

    however, what some people here have been saying may boil down to – we’re here, we’re powerful, and we want to stay, *we* need to be good stewards for *our* own purposes (which does require better managing of our own behavior). These people are probably not the same ones who have been doing such a bad job of stewarding up to this point (if only these people were put in charge of that job, presumably we – and the biosphere – would be better off). Also, you yourself talked about what you value. I value that too – I value other things as well, but I know I need the Earth for those things too, and not just as a mine and place to build and farm. But why does it matter that you value it? And wouldn’t you like to keep being here to value it?

    (PS that touches on an earlier mistake I made in a re someone else – I had tried to find some reason why humans should continue to exist and my argument was rather weak, as it only depends on the desires of whoever is alive at that time, apparently. Well, I figured out something else. Without consciousness, the universe (including any other conscious beings, though in this case there are none) would go unappreciated, unknown. Consciousness fills an otherwise unfilled potential (I would call this the aesthetic and story ethics). All forms of consciousness may play this role, and perhaps in different ways … different niches for each – but it seems like the individual person (human) is, on Earth, the most intensely and vividly conscious and self-aware, inteligent, etc. But once such consciousness exists or is set to exist, I do believe it becomes a/the major attractor of moral concerns (PS there is a distinction between answering ‘why is it wrong to harm, prima facie?’ and ‘prima facie, why is it wrong to kill?’ and the later may apply more to some beings in particular)… I could say more (including some possible problems with this idea) but this line of thought may have been what got the OT warning in the first place so … )

    Summing up, I think it’s really okay for humans to have an ecological footprint (all species do – the ecosystem walks on itself! (well, solar energy, geologically resources)) – even an extra-large one – but I would want to keep some significant fraction of nature in a natural state or close to it (of course a natural state requires some suffiently large intact area) – maybe for aesthetic and scientific reasons, for future generations to have the option to know and experience it – and in addition, of course we (in rather non-poetic phrasing) benifit from ‘free’ ecosystem services and it is our own long-term interests to make our economies/societies/etc. sustainable.

    What others were saying about the biosphere not needing to be saved – it would, given time, absent ‘Venus Syndrome’, recover on it’s own after we go extinct, if that were to happen. It will continue to evolve and while it will be on a different trajectory than otherwise, it is always on a trajectory – it’s not going to stay the same anyway (sometimes true of people, too). There have been extinctions before. And if we choose not to see ourselves as special, then perhaps we would see what we are doing as something the biosphere is doing to itself.

    But note that most in this conversation, though it seems they occasionally get the impression that it is untrue of another, all seem (to me) to agree that AGW is bad (for humans and the extant biosphere) and ought to be mitigated.

  21. 321
    SecularAnimist says:

    Chris Korda wrote: “It’s like you’re trying to impress everyone with your indifference to humanity”

    I am not trying to impress anyone. And I am not indifferent to humanity. I value the well-being of human beings just as I value the well-being of all sentient beings.

    Chris Korda wrote: “I sincerely doubt they enjoy hearing that humanity is useless rubbish and that the sooner we disappear the better.”

    Well, now you are just making stuff up and pretending that I said it. I have never written that humanity is “rubbish”. I have never written that “the sooner we disappear the better”. What I wrote, in the very sentence that you excerpted, was that the cessation of destructive human activities would be a boon to the Earth’s biosphere.

    Chris Korda wrote: “I don’t see how it helps anyone to say that we should just buzz off and leave Earth to the ants, nor do I believe that’s E.O.Wilson’s view”

    Again, I never said any such thing, nor did I claim that E. O. Wilson said any such thing.

    What I have said is that we humans depend on the Earth’s biosphere, but the Earth’s biosphere does not depend on us. The Earth’s biosphere prospered for billions of years without our “stewardship”, and it does not require our “stewardship” now. It doesn’t even require our existence — humans do nothing that is necessary for the healthy functioning of any ecosystem, whereas (as E. O. Wilson pointed out) ants perform functions that are vitally important for the functioning of many ecosystems.

    Moreover, I have said that the notion that the solution to the problem of global warming — and to other “environmental” problems — is for humanity to assume “stewardship” over the Earth’s biosphere, is monumental hubris, coming from a species whose actions, guided by greed and ignorance, are already threatening the very existence of that biosphere. Indeed the idea would be comical if it were not so deadly dangerous.

    Chris Korda wrote: “Your audience includes highly educated people who have devoted their lives to complex intellectual, linguistic, and symbolic activities that are beyond the capacity of most humans, never mind ants.”

    I enjoy human culture, language, the sciences and the arts as well. If we wish to continue enjoying them, however, we had best not let our particular evolutionary adaptations give us delusions of importance, and we should cultivate the humility appropriate for one species among many on this planet, a species which is utterly dependent for its existence on the vast, and perhaps ultimately unfathomable, web of life in which we are but one thread — a web that we are well on the way to destroying.

    We are not the center of the world, let alone its masters.

  22. 322
    SecularAnimist says:

    Chris Korda wrote: “Despite literally centuries of impassioned debate and conflict, humanity is still struggling to implement the most elementary ethical concepts such as equality, liberty, decency and fairness for human beings … Many are aware that the rights of non-humans can and ultimately must be defended just as vigorously, however this is a long-term project”

    I often encounter people who assert that we cannot solve the problem of anthropogenic global warming unless we make some profound, fundamental, and sweeping changes in our world-view and our societies.

    For example, some will say that we will never solve the problem of global warming unless and until we replace “capitalism” with some alternative economic system. Others will say that we must adopt a particular religious view that regards the Earth as “sacred”. Others will say that we must extend legal rights to non-human animals (including “property rights”, i.e. the right to an undisturbed and unpolluted habitat).

    What I always tell them is, “I hope you are wrong”. Because we don’t have time for that. We don’t have time for humanity to evolve a new economic system, or new religions, or new inter-species ethical frameworks, and then wait for those to propagate and pervade all human societies and cultures to the point where they eventually result in us abandoning fossil fuel use, deforestation, and other destructive practices.

    According to the IEA, we have perhaps FIVE YEARS in which our CO2 emissions must peak, and then begin a very steep decline to near zero by 2030 or so, if we are to have any chance of avoiding the worst outcomes of AGW. And I believe that time frame is consistent with what climate scientists are telling us today.

    There is no way that profound, deep changes in human culture and society are going to happen fast enough to bring that about. To paraphrase a former US Secretary of Defense, you don’t fight global warming with the world-view you wish you had, you fight it with the world-view you have.

    And given the world-view that we DO have, I think the only path that has any possibility of success is to approach AGW as a technical problem. And fortunately, it is not really all that challenging as a technical problem — we simply replace the energy that we get from fossil fuels with energy from the sun and wind. We have the technology and know-how to do that, much faster and at much lower cost than most people think. The same applies to reforming other practices that contribute to the problem, e.g. forestry and agriculture. Technology is what we are good at, and it is something that we know how to do, and can do very quickly if we so choose.

    Having said that, I unfortunately do believe that the root cause of global warming and our other “environmental” problems is, in fact, the fundamentally WRONG anthropocentric view that sees humans as somehow apart from and superior to the rest of life on Earth, that sees the world as consisting of (1) human beings and (2) “resources” that exist for the use of human beings. And until we liberate ourselves from that wrong view, I think we will not be able to fully solve our current problems and stop making more problems.

    I hope I am wrong. We’ll see. Meanwhile, we need to get on with the technical fixes.

  23. 323
    Patrick 027 says:

    re my 320 – just to be clear, the idea that it is good for people to exist doesn’t imply it is good for more and more people to exist within smaller times and spaces (planets) – or even if it did, the well-being of the individual (sustainability, etc.) and the aesthetics, etc, that have a role in that would argue against it.

    Re 270 sidd – I think I agree overall; but if I were an economist, I would make an effort to include all benifits of nature – the aesthetic, etc, into an analysis, or else would be very clear about what isn’t included. (In principle, it should be possible. In practice is perhaps another matter, but to illustrate the point: If a person buys binoculars, takes a day off work, drives somewhere, and starts watching the birds, the clouds, etc, there’s some indication of what *at least* the person was willing to trade for that – add to that whatever eyecare expenditures were made to ensure the person would be able to see (divided by all the things the person wants to see, of course). Nature outside humans isn’t the only thing of real value that could be missed. People expend resources to be with each other and do things together – they need to be alive just for that, and they spend time, etc, which otherwise might have been used to earn more money (although in todays economy that’s a tough one – but you get the idea), etc. Some of what is invested in themselves (education, experience) also goes toward benifiting relationships. Assuming rational behavior, such ‘real value’, although not monetized, is the driver of the economy (so maybe such real value isn’t really missed. But when you have externalities and other such issues, … well, you know.).

    Re 274 Chris Korda – To be fair (on the robot part), we have been shaped by evolution. Human evolution was necessary for human culture (although I think you implied as much somewhere else). Life was formed by an abiotic environment; it was shaped by it, while shaping it; each species has abiotic and biotic parts of an environment which helped shaped it (natural selection) and which it potentially helped shape. Members of a species play a role (kin selection, sexual selection, frequency dependent selection, other?). Humans were shaped by evolution, thus evolution (via humans) and environment shaped culture. culture has the potential to shape human evolution (lactose tolerance?). Individual people are shaped by it all. Evolution gave us the ability/tendency for ‘animal instincts and drives’ as well as, I think, the ability/etc. to override them and the ability to learn, think, feel deeply, etc., although I’d expect other influences can enhance that. (PS I’m not saying anything about particular cultures, or particular traits and particular evolutionary explanations.) It’s all part of a causal network. Stochastic processes abound (genetic drift, the connections between individual neurons in brain development (I think), the storms that wiped out the Spanish Armada and protected Japan from a Mongol invasion, that volcanic eruption in the 530s AD and it’s possible knock-on effects, etc.).
    Even absent modern scientific understanding, free will in a deep sense doesn’t make sense – if it means something to be a particular person, a person has an identity, is in principle identifiable, and thus behavior is predictable as a function of person and circumstance. (If will is free than it doesn’t belong to anyone, so this may actually help save moral responsibility rather than destroy it – anyway, there is a workaround for that, and the legal concept can still work.)

    Perhaps you would agree with this; it seems some have been assuming that others disagree with them when it isn’t actually true.

    Re 239 (only to clarify what I was saying in 219 and elsewhere)-
    Wishful thinking:
    I occasionally inject humor, levity, whimsy, fun, etc, into my writing (mermaid references, for example).

    I stated some positions on what is good, what I would want to have happen, my ideals and desires. This was not intended as a rosy forecast.

    I do wish for an afterlife (wouldn’t most people?) – this isn’t the same as believing in one – although I do that too sometimes, perhaps just to put the question out of my head or because I just need it then – but I wouldn’t go so far as to assert that it makes sense and didn’t base any arguments on such a belief, which I would never assert as true. The idea that a dead person could be harmed, I vaguely recall, was dealt with by a philospher whose name I can’t quite remember – nor can I remember just what he said or if it made good sense, but it was at least interesting. Concievably people honor wills and such because they would want the same treatment of their wishes.

    Re 284 Radge Havers – I like a lot of that; but I think, in general, ‘c@#p’ is a bit harsh – people make mistakes in their logic, they can learn (if willing). Thinking is a low-emission activity. Anyway,
    while not ‘something completely different’ as in John P. Reisman’s 243, here’s some ‘research material’ suggestions:

    Meaning of life:
    “Everybody Loves Raymond” – S6E19 “Talk to Your Daughter”
    “Dinosaurs” – S4E3 “The Greatest Story Ever Sold”
    “Frasier” – S8E9 “Frasier’s Edge” (a bit more dramatic; other two are comedies)

    A bit more on-topic with Saving the Earth:
    “How I Met Your Mother” – S7E5 “Field Trip”

    I (intend to) sign off on any farther philosphy (of length) here (hope to post more on obliquity tomorrow).

  24. 324
    Patrick 027 says:

    oh, pay attention to ratings for those shows (HIMYM can get a bit coarse sometimes)

  25. 325
    Patrick 027 says:

    ‘sign off on’ – I think I meant ‘sign off from’ … well you know what I mean…

  26. 326
    Unsettled Scientist says:

    Derek, I believe this paper is right on the topic of what you are seeking to understand. I would check it out and the papers it references and those that reference it.

    Separating signal and noise in atmospheric temperature changes: The importance of timescale

    Here are some pull quotes:

    “We use observed estimates of the signal component of TLT changes and model estimates of climate noise to calculate timescale-dependent signal-to-noise ratios (S/N). These ratios are small (less than 1) on the 10-year timescale, increasing to more than 3.9 for 32-year trends. Our results show that temperature records of at least 17 years in length are required for identifying human effects on global-mean tropospheric temperature.”

    “We note that there is a related body of literature which seeks to determine the “detection time” – the time at which an anthropogenically-forced climate signal can be statistically identified relative to background noise. Such work uses either statistical or physical models (or both) to estimate the structure and levels of the background noise against which an observed, model-predicted, or idealized climate-change signal must be detected.”

    And section 3 might be of particular interest, account for noise, “On interannual timescales, one of the most prominent manifestations of climate noise is the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The relatively small values of overlapping 10-year TLT trends during the period 1998 to 2010 are partly due to the fact that this period is bracketed (by chance) by a large El Niño (warm) event in 1997/98, and by several smaller La Niña (cool) events at the end of the MSU record.”

    “On 10-year timescales, distributions of unforced and forced TLT trends overlap markedly (Figure 4a). This overlap occurs because even under anthropogenic and natural external forcing, interannual climate noise has a large influence on short, decadal trends. When trends are computed over 20-year periods, there is a reduction in the amplitude of both the control run noise and the noise superimposed on the externally forced TLT signal in the 20CEN/A1B runs. Because of this noise reduction, the signal component of TLT trends becomes clearer, and the distributions of unforced and forced trends begin to separate (Figure 4b). Separation is virtually complete for 30-year trends (Figure 4c).”

    And derek, it’s not really about “averaging out”, it’s about S/N ratio. There are oscillations that are longer than 15 years, such as the AMO. In this paper they write, “These results suggest that model errors in well-observed interannual variability may not provide reliable information on the size and direction of model errors in low-frequency variability. This reflects the fact that different modes of variability have different characteristic timescales. Model performance in simulating ENSO physics, and in capturing the interannual variability induced by ENSO, is not necessarily an accurate predictor of model skill in representing longer-timescale modes of climate variability (like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation).”

    Hope this helps.

  27. 327
    David B. Benson says:

    derek @318 — Both methods are actually essentially the same. Looking for so-called oscillations requires more (and also more precise) data so the purely statistical approach came earlier.

  28. 328
    Patrick 027 says:

    … I meant to include:
    While human culture is the most ‘culture-y’ of the cultures, other species have cultures or something like that. Don’t gorillas (or some other ape?) have traditional salt licks? Other animals have used tools (does that make a culture?). (I saw something on TV about a dolphin that was using a different hunting technique involving swimming into shallow water, and I think it passed this on to it’s offspring, although I don’t remember for sure.) And of course there’s whale songs – who can forget classics like “Swim in the place where you were” and “Krill-flake Girl” :).

  29. 329
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re Secular Animist @ 321,322 – I really have to thank you for that. I’m probably a bit more ‘pro-human’ than you but our views are more similar than I had been thinking.

  30. 330
    Edward Greisch says:

    302 Chris Korda: “Progressivism is a general political philosophy advocating or favoring social, political, and economic reform or changes usually in opposition to conservative or reactionary ideologies.” from my computer’s dictionary is irrelevant to science.

    Science was invented by Galileo et al. not by political philosophers. You are confusing words again. See instead: “Science and Immortality” by Charles B. Paul, 1980, University of California Press. In this book on the Eloges of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1699-1791) page 99 says: “Science is not so much a natural as a moral philosophy”. [That means drylabbing [fudging data] will get you fired.]
    Page 106 says: “Nature isn’t just the final authority, Nature is the Only authority.”

    Nature isn’t just the final authority on truth, Nature is the Only authority. There are zero human authorities. Scientists do not vote on what is the truth. There is only one vote and Nature owns it. We find out what Nature’s vote is by doing Scientific [public and replicable] experiments. Scientific [public and replicable] experiments are the only source of truth. [To be public, it has to be visible to other people in the room. What goes on inside one person's head isn't public unless it can be seen on an X-ray or with another instrument.]
    Science is a simple faith in Scientific experiments and a simple absolute lack of faith in everything else.

    Political philosophy has nothing to do with science. Science has nothing to do with politics. There is no democracy in science. NATURE is the absolute dictator. NOW do you see why I think you should get a degree in a hard science? It is the fastest way to realize/understand the above.

  31. 331
    Radge Havers says:

    Patrick 027 @ 323

    Research material:
        “Red Dwarf” –
        some poor schlub finds out what it’s like ending
        up as the last human left in the universe.

  32. 332
    Jim Larsen says:

    “perhaps our own behavior that needs some “stewardship”?”

    Great post. I suppose government is our species’ attempt to steward our behaviour. Unfortunately, government is edging closer and closer to “business assistant”.

    And you’re right. Different things float different people’s boat. I think you and I have similar boats on this pond, and I generally agree with the issues and solutions you propose, with the caveat that at this late stage in the game, I’d rather do it right than quick. As wind turbines grow larger with materials science, what do we do with all those (already) obsolete towers? They’re sitting smack dab on our best wind resources. (We’ve got bird-killing crappy turbines on our best wind sites) I’m betting that if you did a CO2 analysis comparing building now and then ripping it all out and replacing it in 10 years when we have far better and cheaper solar and wind would be less productive than waiting 10 years. First generation anything is usually counter-productive (but essential). Like my old first generation Prius. It wasn’t a terribly good car, but it was a grand science experiment!

    My “solution”? A series of X-prize contests for the entire process, not just manufacturing but installation and the whole 9 yards. $2-3k for paperwork to install a solar PV system is absurd!

    So, the government would pay for the prizes and would own the results. Two or three generations of prizes would bring us to a point where we could crank out zillions of watts of identical parts, and since other countries want renewables too, we the US taxpayer would reap tremendous rewards.

    Science and scientists need to rip ownership from the ruling class and put it where it belongs – in We the People.

  33. 333
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 330 Radge Havers – Well that’s just depressing! (But thanks)

  34. 334
    Patrick 027 says:

    Excellent work here (AGW’s in there, but watch the whole thing for context):–it-s-d-economies-of-scale

  35. 335
    Jim Larsen says:

    Patrick, you do us unjust praise when you say “you know what I mean”. You’re so friggin smart few have a clue what you mean.

    SA, “for humanity to assume “stewardship” over the Earth’s biosphere, is monumental hubris,”

    Naw, it is just the facts, ma’am. The truth is simple. EITHER humans are the sole stewards of the Earth, OR humans must all die. There’s no other possibility other than creation of another superior being…hmm, we’re working on that one!

  36. 336
    Jim Larsen says:

    “we’re working on that one”

    Well, won’t it be special when WE become part of the “boy won’t it be grand if they continue” crowd like lions? There’s little probability of humans remaining important. We’ve almost guaranteed via technology that humans are just an interesting species to preserve just for the fun of it. Silicon beats carbon.

  37. 337
    Edward Greisch says:

    climate is 30 or more years: See:

    322 SecularAnimist: “energy from the sun and wind.” Batteries are not included. And that is a touchy subject. See

    328 Patrick 027: Chimps have cultures.

  38. 338
    John E. Pearson says:


    I didn’t think Geoff was missing anything. I made a leap of faith. I’ll have to think about it more. If the noise is extrinsic the response time will be independent of the time it takes to discern a trend. I think this is fairly obvious. If the noise is intrinsic then processes that can be assumed independent for the external case (like drift and noise strength) cannot be assumed independent. I think that for some (many?) systems subject to internal noise the response time will be proportional to the time it takes to discern a trend. I’ll stop here before I say anything more foolish that I already have.

  39. 339
    Ron R. says:

    I agree with Patrick. Well put SA.

    I am convinced that this planet that we were gifted to live upon, was once a world of exquisite loveliness, of adventure, of quiet, of peace. A true Garden of Eden.

    But contrary to the traditional religious rendering of the story, the truth is that we were never forced from the garden, no, we left voluntarily, for somewhere in our remote past we made a choice, an exchange. That world of uncertainties, primitive fears, meaning and beauty we traded for lives of predictability, security, boredom and vileness – that tree of lore. And with the gain in knowledge we sacrificed something deep in our souls, a vital part of ourselves. It’s something we’ve been trying, futilely, ever since to regain.

    In our nomadic days we wandered and saw new things all the time. Our connection with the earth, with the natural was profound. Now we are stuck in our cubicles at work, punching clocks and in our cubicles at home, popping microwaves. Fake food for fake lives. Frustrated, we watch TV, hoping for some artificial, vicarious adventure. Yet we still crave new things, new horizons, it’s in our genes. Sadly though, we’ve confused the phony for the real, hoping that the next new thing will give us back what we lack, fill the void, what was stolen from us by the decisions of others long gone.

    They got tired of waiting for nature’s rhythms. They got greedy. So they studied and dissected nature, trying to force her to give them what they wanted. Perhaps that will be our epitaph.

  40. 340
    Chris Korda says:

    SA @ 289

    The very idea that human beings, who are demonstrably unable to control our own most destructive behaviors, are going to be “stewards of the ecology”, or “manage ecosystems”, is absurd. It’s proposing that the bull should become the “steward” of the china shop.

    Believe it or not I’m actually sympathetic to your views, and shared them 100% until fairly recently. You’d be hard-pressed to find an artist whose work has criticized humanity more stridently than mine, but my views are evolving.

    We’re at a juncture in human history when more than ever before, it actually matters what people think. This wasn’t nearly as true in centuries or even decades past, because information traveled much more slowly and was less crucial to people’s daily lives. Today decisions frequently have global ramifications, and the discussions that influence them are increasingly volatile and public. Some of those discussions may be occurring right here, and not all of them are purely scientific or technical. Ideas spread like wildfire at the moment, whether they’re constructive or not.

    Mitigating climate change means rapidly transforming the entire physical basis of our existence: energy infrastructure, agriculture, transportation, architecture, urban planning, population size and distribution, and on and on, like a kind of green Manhattan project. In order for people to actually get up every morning and deal with the enormous amount of work involved, they need to be inspired.

    E.O.Wilson tries hard to inspire people by comparing them to ants, with the best of intentions, but it won’t work. Reminding people that they’re insignificant on a cosmic scale won’t work either: they already feel helpless. One idea that possibly could inspire people quickly enough is betterment of the human condition, via active participation in civil society. This implies a widespread invigoration of existing civil traditions and values, including literacy, tolerance, egalitarianism, association, and cooperation. There’s already momentum in this direction, in the Occupy movement and elsewhere, building on the civil rights and anti-war struggles.

    The problems civilization faces won’t be solved by flash mobs alone, any more than by the invisible hand of the market. Only governments have the power to effect change at the needed scale and pace, and governments are comprised of people, all the way up to the top; people who like the rest of us need to be convinced of the urgency and scale of the problems, persuaded that solutions exist, and inspired to fight for a livable future.

    People need to believe that what they’re doing can and will make a difference, no matter how uncertain things seem. They also need education, and health care, and countless other things, but above all they need hope. The problem with antihumanism, whether scientific or artistic, is that it deprives people of hope, at exactly the moment when they most need it.

  41. 341
    Ron R. says:

    Chris Korda — 15 Aug 2012 @ 2:48 PM said: It would be one thing if we were having this discussion on an Earth First blog, but I’m amazed to see stuff like this on RC.

    It is common belief that environmentalists are anti-human, and perhaps that’s the case for some. The fact is though that unless we all adopt an eager environmentalism, and quickly, there will be no future for humans – none worth living in at least.

    Rush Limbaugh and his ilk will not save your ass.

  42. 342
    dbostrom says:

    Popular and accomplished meteorology researcher and blogger Cliff Mass blunders into climate science, saying of James Hansen’s recent PNAS paper on frequency of extreme weather events:

    “Their conclusions are demonstrably false and their characterization of the science and statistics are deceptive at best.”

    Tamino provides some thoughtful remarks on Hansen’s paper and Mass’ comments. As well, Skeptical Science examines the matter and offers some perspective on misunderstandings of Hansen’s paper.

  43. 343
    Radge Havers says:

    Patrick 027 @ 333
    Maybe so. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a britcom sci-fi spoof. However it’s not afraid to tackle the really big issues; like if there’s no silicon heaven, where do all the little calculators go?

    Re: Artists
    Frustrating, no? I’m of the opinion that more people think like artists than scientists and just can’t quite manage to bridge that gap. That’s one of the reasons why I tend to agree with Greisch about putting more of science and the science/engineering core into other college programs.

  44. 344
    SecularAnimist says:

    Chris Korda wrote: “The problem with antihumanism, whether scientific or artistic, is that it deprives people of hope, at exactly the moment when they most need it.”

    The problem with “antihumanism” is that some people seem to feel that it is “antihuman” to simply state the plain truth that human beings are not the “crown of creation”, but one species among many that have evolved within the Earth’s biosphere, upon which we are absolutely dependent for our continued existence, which we are presently in the process of degrading and destroying through reckless, rapacious greed and ignorance, and which we have neither the right, nor the knowledge, nor the ability to “manage”.

    Any “hope” based on the notion that the existential threats facing us arise from the biosphere’s need for “better management” or human “stewardship” is an empty, vain and false hope. The biosphere doesn’t need our “stewardship”. It doesn’t need us at all. What the biosphere needs is for us humans to end our war of mass destruction against it.

    What’s needed, in the long run, is for the human species collectively to attain the insight, wisdom and humility to recognize that we are just one thread in the web of life, and to manage our own behavior with appropriate respect for other species, and for the Earth’s biosphere as a whole.

    What’s needed in the short run — and urgently needed, in the very short run — is much simpler, and much less profound: we need to change our technology. We need to stop burning fossil fuels. We need to stop deforestation. We need to stop emitting CO2. And we need to start drawing down the already dangerous anthropogenic excess of CO2.

    These are basically technical problems, and the means to solve them are at hand. The obstacles are not technological or economic — the only real obstacle is the entrenched wealth and power of those who profit from the status quo, who continue to obstruct and delay the necessary changes.

    If we can overcome that obstacle, and apply the solutions that are readily available, then yes, there is “hope” that human civilization can survive this crisis, wounded but wiser, and move forward to deal with the long term, deeper issues — evolving a human society that can live sustainably, in harmony with the rest of the Earth’s biosphere and the other species with which we share this planet.

  45. 345
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Chris Korda: “One idea that possibly could inspire people quickly enough is betterment of the human condition, via active participation in civil society.”

    Because that’s worked so well up to now… Jesus, Chris. Literally. It is not as if visionaries have not been preaching the betterment of the human condition since at least 2500 BCE or so. And yet science has accomplished far more toward that end in just 400 years than all the idealism, philosophy and religion did in the previous 2000. Science works, and science deals with truth.

    Truth #1 Humans are animals–specifically apes. And we are actually from the nastier side of the family of great apes (the one with Chimps and Orangutans rather than Gorillas and bonobos)

    Truth #2 The reason humans are not “better” is because the survival of the species will tolerate only so much altruism. Yes, at some level a$$holes have an evolutionary advantage over those of us who care. At the same time, they could not survive without us.

    Truth #3 Humans are very special–to other humans. Nature is unimpressed. We are Jonny-come-lately’s on the block, and it is quite unclear whether this whole large-brained thing is going to catch on, or whether it is just a fad. The fact that Nature doesn’t care does not negate the specialness of humans to other humans. However, the specialness of humans to other humans doesn’t negate the fact that Nature is a cruel ol’ bitch–just ask a tomato worm infested with parasitic wasps.

    I cannot stress enough, the importance of Truth #3, Chris. It is the one that states very clearly that we are welcome to the lives we have as long as we can keep and preserve them–but nature is going to keep probing for any signs of “unfitness”. Refusal to accept reality probably qualifies as unfitness.

  46. 346
    John E. Pearson says:

    339: Ron R wrote: “I am convinced that this planet that we were gifted to live upon, was once a world of exquisite loveliness, of adventure, of quiet, of peace. ”

    Me too. It ended somewhere between the Hadean and the Archean.

  47. 347
    derek says:

    @326, thanks for the article link. I’ve downloaded it and will check it out.
    @327, thanks. Makes sense.
    @337, thanks. I guess my question now is why it is 30 years, and can that number be estimated from the time scales of various quasiperiodic signals. I guess it’s not the most important question climatologically–but it is something I have been curious about for some time.

  48. 348
    Charles says:

    I have no problem with people thinking like artists (I am a scientist). The problem occurs when these artistic thinkers try to argue science. This is especially true with politicians, who want a short, exact answer to a very complex issue.

  49. 349
    wili says:

    “People need to believe that what they’re doing can and will make a difference, no matter how uncertain things seem. They also need education, and health care, and countless other things, but above all they need hope.”

    Nicely put, but it’s getting exceedingly difficult to do that without lying to them, and lies, besides being inherently immoral, eventually backfire as a tactic for mobilizing people.

    Essentially, we are now in a very large building that is on fire and there are no exits.

    We have to go around convincing people that the fun little habit we all have gotten used to of splashing gasoline (ie fossil fuels–CO2) everywhere is not a good idea, but we can’t honestly say at this point that putting an end to that cheery habit will prevent all of us from eventual incineration.

    McKibben now seems to think that we should focus on shorter-term goals that involve enemies with faces we can recognize–Koch Brothers, Exxon executives, coal industry lobbyists… If we could really be inspired to see these folks as the threats to the future of life on the planet that they pretty much are, perhaps we could be convinced to take not only the political steps, but take steps of direct action and boycott (of ffs) that will really bring down these death industries and in the process, get us to identify use of their products with support of earth killers (not to mention that we become earth-killers ourselves when we use them).

    Sorry for the ramble, but I do think we need to be inspired, and art will certainly be crucial in any such inspiration. I just don’t think lies can or should play a large role in inspiring people, and that limits our options considerably at this point, if you really understand the situation we now find ourselves in–facing near-certainty of 6 degrees C increase by the end of the century… Even the UN and US official positions are that keeping below the 2 degree mark is now impossible, and we all know that even that was not a scientifically valid “safe” level of increase.

    So ‘saving the planet’ is no longer a viable, honest rallying cry (not that it proved particularly effective even when it was). Finding an authentic basis for inspiring right action does seem to be a central concern at this juncture. Right action, and right NON-action–most of what we have to ‘do’ is to STOP doing most of the things that are driving the planet to mass extinction: stop flying, stop (most) driving, stop (most) meat eating, stop most electric use, stop over-heating and -cooling our houses, stop eating non-local and highly processed foods…

    How can we inspire these kinds of non-actions?

    Can we make all those actions seem the uncool, extinction-causing activities that they are?

    Can we somehow appeal to vanity–the Atkins diet, after all, managed to get tens millions of people to give up bread–the very staff of life, the basis of western diet for thousands of years–just because it claimed doing so may help you lose weight.

    There is a far better claim that biking and walking nearly everywhere, living mostly on plants–especially fresh local produce, doing your own gardening, eating less…will make you thin (not to mention happy) than that Atkins’ regimen will.

    (Sorry again for the long ramble.)

  50. 350
    prokaryotes says:

    Global Warming News August 2012

    A selection of important findings, additions are welcome :)

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