Unforced variations: Sept. 2013

This month’s open thread… Expect pre-IPCC report discussion (SPM due on Sep 27, full report (pre-copy-editing) Sep 30th), analysis of this years Arctic ice cover minimum, and a host of the usual distractions.

296 comments on this post.
  1. flxible:

    Chuck Hughes, Gwynne Dyer is a very credible investigative journalist, and as you surmise, his book is based on interviews with military and government sources. Whether you consider his conclusions ‘over the top’ depends on how you view what’s currently happening in the world, particularly the Middle East. The U.S. military considers climate change a potential ‘security threat’ that they are prepared/preparing for.

  2. Chuck Hughes:

    Would any kind of geoengineering work as in pumping sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere? I know this is being widely considered by various countries as a stop-gap solution to keep down temperature. Dr. Peter Ward seems to think it wouldn’t have much effect other than causing acid rain but Gwynne Dyer thinks that it wouldn’t amount to enough sulfur dioxide to harm plants or humans. Then there’s this from Russia:


    So, is geoengineering a viable means of buying some time? Thanks

  3. Mal Adapted:

    Susan Anderson:

    I meant get all sorts of people involved who are unable to fully appreciate the necessities of scientific rigor within the field.

    You never know where you’re going to run in to that kind of person.

  4. Mal Adapted:


    Practical observations from daily life should be verified, documented, collected and collated. Then you have some data to look at.

    This morning I heard a practical observation worth verifying. A co-worker, who’s hunted elk with a bow in New Mexico for 30 years, said that the bow-hunting season used to coincide with the elk rut, but that the rut is now starting a couple of weeks later in the fall.

    It’s easy for me to believe him, but I spent a few minutes with Google Scholar, and found no science to back it up. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence here, but for now I’m holding at “maybe.”

  5. prokaryotes:

    Re geoengineering #252

    Dr. Peter Ward seems to think it wouldn’t have much effect other than causing acid rain (pumping sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere)

    He calls it the craziest and stupidest idea anyone could came up with. He says the acid rain will kill all life.

    [Response: Not even close at the concentrations associated with even a substantial geo-engineering effort (and probably not ever actually). – gavin]

  6. prokaryotes:

    The climate scientists at the IPCC cannot be praised enough for holding on against all odds.

  7. SecularAnimist:

    Mal Adapted wrote: “I spent a few minutes with Google Scholar, and found no science to back it up … for now I’m holding at ‘maybe’.”

    That’s what I would call a genuinely skeptical view.

    I think it’s an interesting exercise for each of us to consider how we react to “there’s no good science on this question” — depending on the question.

    A self-described “skeptic” once sent me a link to a meta-analysis of clinical studies of the efficacy of acupuncture for treating various conditions. He said the meta-analysis “proved” that acupuncture was a useless fraud.

    I read the meta-analysis and found that what it actually concluded was that there was insufficient good quality research to reach any firm conclusions; it discussed the difficulties of conducting such research and possible solutions to those difficulties; and recommended that more research was needed.

    And yet the “skeptic” who sent it to me seemed to genuinely believe that it “proved” acupuncture to be ineffective for anything.

  8. Kevin McKinney:

    #250-1–I wrote about Gwynn Dyer and his “Climate Wars” here:


    He has a very strong background in military affairs (taught at Sandhurst, Britain’s “West Point”) and a very good reputation as a journalist and author.

    On the Middle East as possible exemplar of the kinds of issues that Dyer discusses, see this story by Thomas Friedman:


    The study he quotes is paywalled, unfortunately, but FWIW, it’s here, I think:


  9. Chuck Hughes:

    @255 I guess I wasn’t too clear. I watched the Peter Ward video where he said that sulfur dioxide would cause enough acid rain to kill all life but in Gwynne Dyer’s talk he said that using sulfur dioxide in small quantities in the outer atmosphere wouldn’t do much harm to plants and animals, citing the volcano that erupted in 1991 which cooled the planet by .5C without causing major disruptions to life. Of course I don’t know other than what I’ve read. I assume there is no “safe” amount of sulfur dioxide that would work and I understand it’s risky anyway and not a permanent solution to the problem. I’m just wondering what other options we know about that may buy us some time.

    I guess the only real solution is to cut CO2 emissions completely but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the immediate future. If we hit the 450ppb/2C of warming as everyone thinks we will, according to Gwynne Dyer, all bets are off and the situation is out of our hands at that point. Is this correct? Thanks

  10. Susan Anderson:

    Mal Adapted: I believe that science and scientists must reach out if we are to progress. We cannot be so exclusive that we shut the doors of knowledge just because there is a tide of obstinate ignorance.

    No man is an island,
    Entire of itself,
    Every man is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
    Or of thine own were:
    Any man’s death diminishes me,
    Because I am involved in mankind,
    And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
    It tolls for thee.

    John Donne
    (1624 Meditation 17, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions)

    (captcha: soberyn then)

  11. SecularAnimist:

    No man is an island.
    He’s a peninsula.
    — Jefferson Airplane

  12. MalcolmT:

    I invite all and sundry to jump up and down on New Scientist, wearing the heaviest possible boots, for their breathlessly enthusiastic welcome (!) of “Frozen fuel: The giant methane bonanza” … “The race is on to tap the world’s biggest and most unusual fossil fuel supply – methane trapped in frozen hydrates in permafrost and at the bottom of the ocean. Read the full story to find out where the world’s biggest fossil fuel reserves are.”

  13. MARodger:

    Very encouraging to hear BBC Radio 4 this morning in the build up to the AR5 release. Throughout the entire Today programme, not one denialist. Half-hourly headline. Three reports. Three interview slots and the only denialst comment came from reporting the newspaper headlines where the Daily Rail has a “Hardily any warming in 15 years” take on it. Denier Lord Lawson was heard but only in archive when they discussed why lunatics like he had gained such air time.
    I liked Roger Harabin’s exemplar of scientific opinion. from within the science. Paraphrasing ‘We used to be very very very worried about AGW but in the last 6 years our analysis has become more disciplined. So today we should say we are very very worried but we can’t because in the last 6 years nothing has been done to prevent AGW. So today’s more disciplined assessment is that we are indeed very very very worried.’

  14. wili:

    The IPCC 5th assessment report has been released. Here’s a link to the first part (thanks to dorlomen at POForums for the link):


  15. prokaryotes:

    @259, yeah i was just making that clear, no judgement because i woudl liek to read more on possible worst case sceanrio’s in that regard. What i found interesting is that Gwynne Dyer also mentions Biochar in the talk you linked. This could really become a serious afford to draw down CO2 emissions and to help soils and plants to protect for weather extremes (Biochar helps to hold more nutrients and water in the topsoil).

  16. Anonymous Coward:

    No one seems to be replying to the objectionable part of #295 (Chuck Hughes) so I’ll go ahead…

    I have noticed Dyer watchers/readers getting the wrong idea before.

    “If we hit the 450ppb/2C of warming as everyone thinks we will, according to Gwynne Dyer, all bets are off and the situation is out of our hands at that point. Is this correct? Thanks”

    No, short of a civilizational collapse the situation will never “out of our hands”.
    There is no threshold of doom.
    It stands to reason that there are carbon cycle feedbacks which imply that something like thresholds. Just not a single threshold of doom.
    Keeping emissions up will make things worse in the future whether CO2 stands at 395, 450 or 600 ppm. It can always get worse. And therefore emission reductions are always desirable.

    The 450ppm/2C link is only a fairly likely guess.
    There are large uncertainties and we do not know how much it will take to read 2C. Past emissions may already be sufficient to commit the climate to 2C for all we know.
    But however the climate dice rolls, shaving off a few ppm may well make a difference!

  17. prokaryotes:

    Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010 (see Figure SPM.3), and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971. IPCC AR5 Summary for policymakers

  18. Hank Roberts:

    > all bets are off and the situation is out of our
    > hands at that point. Is this correct?


  19. Chuck Hughes:

    So Hank, when you say “never” are you telling me that there is no “Point of No Return” when it comes to CO2 levels or Global Average Temperature? I trust your opinion of course but why would someone like Gwynne Dyer go around saying that if we hit 450ppm/2C that that would be a tipping point beyond which various feedbacks would kick in and the results would be beyond human control? Is he being overly dramatic or does he really know something the general public is unaware of?

    I realize that Gwynne is not a scientist but he claims to have a direct line to what the military are planning and what various “high ranking” climate scientists are saying. Are you telling me that we would be able to reverse the climate situation no matter what happens whether it’s in a couple of thousand years or a few centuries? If we’re talking a few centuries that’s one thing but if it’s going to take a few thousand years that’s not really relevant to all the people who would have to suffer through waiting on things to improve.

    Also, are there any plausible geoengineering solutions?


  20. Mal Adapted:

    Susan Anderson, I owe you an apology. In a comment on Dot Earth (still in moderation at this moment), I mentioned that your father is a member of the NAS. You had made that known here at RC a while back, with seemly pride I think, so I took it as public knowledge. In hindsight, I realized you might prefer that it not be. I sincerely hope there are no negative consequences.

  21. wili:

    We have been pushing a car with our kids in it up a hill incline. We have now probably pushed it over the top and it is starting to go down the rocky other side. We can’t know exactly how steep it is, or how many places there might be for the car to come to a rest. But even if (you could say, especially if) we have already pushed it over a ridge, it is always still a good idea to stop pushing the poor car.

    (All analogies fall down at some point, perhaps this in more ways than others, but that’s one of the scenarios that comes to my mind when ‘points of no return’ come up.

  22. Susan Anderson:

    hi Mal, Dad’s identify is known to DotEarthers. They seen to have backed off a bit after making some sickening remarks. I am, however, ambivalent about the usefulness of continuing at DotEarth, which has become safe haven and launching pad for denial. The phonies are skilled at turning meaning on its head, and Andy’s hands-off policy and NYTimes broad amoral verification enables the posse.

    I think PopSci is right and there are better ways to carry on.

  23. Jim Larsen:

    269 Chuck H asks, “are there any plausible geoengineering solutions?”

    Yes, chemotherapy is available for Global Warming Syndrome. Regional climates will change no matter what, the ocean will acidify no matter what, but Global Radiation Management will keep temperatures down to whatever we bicker our way into.

    My prediction is that with the next big El Nino the entire Denialsphere will morph into cheerleaders for geoengineering. And, thanks to their delaying tactics, they’ll be right.

  24. SecularAnimist:

    Anonymous Coward wrote: “There is no threshold of doom.”

    If we continue as we are, there will be. We won’t know it when we cross it. Exactly what and when it is, will only be known in retrospect.

    Assuming there is someone around, who is able to look back at the ever more detailed data we are now accumulating, and analyze it, see what the trends were, how the feedbacks really did get going. Yes, they’ll say — look there, that’s when it went too far.

  25. sidd:

    Re: Geoengineering

    Ruddiman makes a strong case that we have been doing it for millennia. I kinda agree.

    So, everybody, go out an plant the right tree. It’s not hard, just do it with thought, and care for it with love as best as you can.

    Be a geoengineer.


  26. Hank Roberts:

    > Chuck Hughes says:
    > So Hank, when you say “never” are you telling me
    > that there is no “Point of No Return”

    Return to what? The preindustrial atmosphere and climate?
    Dodo and Carolina Parakeet would be in favor.

    No return to any past comfort.
    Irreversible change happened.
    You weren’t paying attention.
    That’s the problem of shifting baselines.

    But — there’s always a point in trying to avoid taking the next stupid step, any further along the wrong path, leading to worse conditions.

  27. Hank Roberts:

    For Chuck Hughes
    Evidence for shifting baseline syndrome in conservation
    12 FEB 2009, DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2009.00049.x
    Conservation Letters Volume 2, Issue 2, pages 93–100, April 2009

    Shifting baseline syndrome [SBS]…. two forms …: (1) generational amnesia, where knowledge extinction occurs because younger generations are not aware of past biological conditions and (2) personal amnesia, where knowledge extinction occurs as individuals forget their own experience…. is a real problem for those using human perceptions of change to inform conservation policy-making or management.

    Ask anyone who wants a return to some imagined glorious past.

  28. Anonymous Coward:

    also for Chuck Hughes (and SecularAnimist):

  29. Hank Roberts:

    This ain’t your kid’s simple back-and-forth playground teeter-totter.

    They’ve hidden the dang DOI — it’s visible in the graphic image of the page at the link.

    Climate Dynamics
    January 2013, Volume 40, Issue 1-2, pp 295-316
    Asymmetries in tropical rainfall and circulation patterns in idealised CO2 removal experiments

    … a CO2 pathway of increasing then decreasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations may lead us to climate states during CO2 decrease that have not been experienced during the increase.

  30. OnceJolly:

    The FAO has released new estimates of livestock’s contribution to human-caused GHGs, putting the figure at 14.5 percent (compared to 18 percent in the previous 2006 study):


  31. Chuck Hughes:

    Thank you to Hank Roberts, Anonymous Coward, Jim Larson, SecularAnimist and everyone else who responded to my questions. I’m busy doing my homework. I appreciate you taking the time to educate me.

  32. Keith Clarke:

    UK’s Minister for Climate Change shows his colours at the Conservative Party Conference: link.

    Quote from the Guardian reporting –

    Asked at a fringe meeting organised by the RSPB if the report proved that the climate is “broken”, Paterson said:

    “People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries.

    “I think the relief of this latest report is that it shows a really quite modest increase, half of which has already happened. They are talking one to two and a half degrees.

    “Remember that for humans, the biggest cause of death is cold in winter, far bigger than heat in summer. It would also lead to longer growing seasons and you could extend growing a little further north into some of the colder areas.

    “I actually see this report as something we need to take seriously but I am rather relieved that it is not as catastrophic in its forecast as we had been led to believe early on and what it is saying is something we can adapt to over time and we are very good as a race at adapting,” he said.

  33. Hank Roberts:

    > for humans, the biggest cause of death is cold
    > in winter, far bigger than heat in summer.

    Not just the biggest cause of death for humans.
    Also an important limiting factor for bugs, bacteria, etc.

    For food and forest products, this warming isn’t good news.

    Hey, you can insulate if we keep winter around, or you can spray pesticides year round if it gets warmer year round.

    What could go wrong?


    Climate Risks: Lessons from the Financial Crisis
    Robin Hahnel Portland State University
    for Economics for Equity and the Environment Network April 2009

    • A black swan is an event that is highly improbable but whose consequences are huge, possibly incalculable.
    • Financial models that ignored black swans contributed to the deregulation of the financial industry over the past three decades.
    • Climate change models that ignore black swans conclude that nothing should be done to avoid climate change because the costs of reducing emissions today are unjustifiably high.
    • Yet as the global financial crisis shows, black swans exist.
    Therefore, an appropriate assessment of risk recommends taking precautionary measures to avoid climate change.

  34. flxible:

    @282 “… we are very good as a race at adapting”
    Can’t help but wonder just which race the good minister refers to, and what happens to the rest of the species, human and otherwise? He must have some equally intelligent views on evolution.

  35. MARodger:

    Keith Clarke @282.
    Owen Paterson is a Secretary of State and a member of the cabinet so he should know better although committed climate denial does still appear to reach that high Tory party. Paterson’s department is “Environment, Food and Rural Affairs” where he’s been for about a year. The Climate Change responsibility of this department was transferred into the Department for Energy and Climate Change back in 2008. So Paterson’s expertise will be fox hunting and badger culls. And his brother-in-law is Matt Ridley.

  36. Ric Merritt:

    Re Susan Anderson and others about Dot Earth: I still take a quick look at the posts, but I have skipped the comments for a long time now. Just too much useless stuff to wade through, and I lost the feeling that anything I said there could do any good.

  37. Mal Adapted:

    Comprehensive review article published online 09/15/2013 in Nature Climate Change: The role of satellite remote sensing in climate change studies.

    The USA, European Union and several other countries have planned new satellite missions for climate observation: in total, 17 satellite missions that can provide improved climatological measurements are scheduled for launch by 2020.However, the recent cancellation of the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) and the Deformation, Ecosystem Structure and Dynamics of Ice (DESDynI) missions show that these initiatives depend on a high level of government commitment.

    I wonder if $79 BILLION will be enough.

  38. Mal Adapted:

    Re the value of commenting on Dot Earth:

    The denier-in-residence ‘nymed “wmar” is the one I feel is most in need of calling out. It would be exhausting to respond to every one of wmar’s comments, for sure. I’m content to wait for wmar in the tall grass, without trying to keep up with the Gish gallop.

  39. Chris Dudley:

    The GISTEMP anomaly estimate for Sept, 2013 is not posted yet. Will it be further delayed by the Boehner shutdown?

    [Response: This isn’t done until mid-month usually, so it will depend on how long this lasts. – gavin]

  40. Sekerob:

    Re 289 Chris Dudley: Visit http://governmentshutdown.noaa.gov/ for your probable answer.

  41. Hank Roberts:

    The ‘Dot Earth’ comments, ironically, seem mostly from outliers who believe being in the NYT gives their ideas credibility.

    Remember C. Northcote Parkinson: “Delay is the deadliest form of denial”?

    These days, blog discussion is evidence of delay working.

    Corporations fund opposing points of view, to keep them actively fighting each other and to hollow out the center where political compromise and agreement are possible.

    “We support a variety of groups across the political spectrum in the interest of encouraging thorough discussion of issues of concern” they say.

  42. Chris Dudley:

    Gavin (#289),

    Thanks. I was looking for the August number normally posted in mid-September. Looks like even access to the existing data is cut off. One can still follow tropical storm Jerry though. http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/

    Strangely, this completely misleading site is still up: http://web.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev26-34/text/colmain.html

    It gets the situation entirely backwards. http://slashdot.org/journal/279815/fossil-fuel-use-cuts-bodys-internal-radiation-burden

  43. Susan Anderson:

    re DotEarth. I have reluctantly concluded that contributing at all lends power to the elbow of disinformation and taken a hike. Answering wmar doesn’t get anywhere, and after a while the implication is the replier is causing the problem: no comment goes unanswered and it’s oilily personal. Since my father has been mentioned, I will say in the way of venting that when I once mentioned that while Dad does not engage with the public climate wars but said he was willing to hold my coat, wmar immediately claimed he was using the coat to defend himself from me. Answering does not have the desired result, but produces a unending effluvium of complicated assertions straight from the Marc Morano playbook. The war on Susan accelerated with the Marcott and Shakun expansion of the temperature record, enabled by a few imports from the MacIntyre universe; I am not hopeful Revkin will come to his senses about what he is enabling. I toy with the idea of suggesting a total boycott of the comments there.

    However, as a bellwether, it demonstrates that media have been flooded with contrary information for weeks, intended to bury the real report in wave after wave of falsity. Since they don’t have to validate anything or be honest, it is possible to repeat and debunked assertions ad nauseam. Any uninformed layperson is going to have a hard time teasing out the real from the unreal.

    If anyone has any idea of how to counter the quantity of misinformation I’d like to know what it is.

    (putting this in September as it is off topic and I am yielding to the temptation to share my frustration)

  44. Hank Roberts:

    Chris Dudley cites to some guy on Slashdot who claims “coal is burned, the uranium within it remains in the ash and its concentration is no greater than in typical low carbon soils.” No support is given for the claim; the observations of heavy metals widely distributed from coal plants belies it.

    You can look this stuff up in Scholar, if Slashdot isn’t your criterion for good reference material. Just to pick one recent example, there’s http://www.e3s-conferences.org/articles/e3sconf/abs/2013/01/e3sconf_ichm13_29003/e3sconf_ichm13_29003.html

    Yes, if we grew all our food in air free of C-14, we’d have slightly less background radiation — but trivial difference compared to the other radioactive material being spread around the environment from burning coal, and from bomb testing.

  45. Hank Roberts:


    From a geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the equator, Russian meteorological satellite Elektro-L takes high-resolution images of our fair planet every 30 minutes.

    But only twice a year, during an Equinox, can it capture an image like this one, showing an entire hemisphere bathed in sunlight. At an Equinox, the Earth’s axis of rotation is not tilted toward or away from the Sun, so the solar illumination can extend to both the planet’s poles.

    Of course,
    this Elektro-L picture
    was recorded on September 22nd,
    at the northern hemisphere’s autumnal equinox.

    For a moment on that date, the Sun was behind
    the geostationary satellite and a
    telltale glint of reflected sunlight is seen crossing the equator, at the location on the planet with satellite and sun directly overhead (5MB animated gif).

  46. Chris Dudley:


    You’ve discovered that phosphogypsum contains uranium-238 and its naturally occurring decay products uranium-234 and polonium-210. It may interest you to know that phosphogypsum is produced from fertilizer manufacture and has little to do with fossil fuel use. Do you have anything relevant, or are you just taking potshots?

    You seem to misunderstand also that radiation load for carbon-14 is primarily from inside the body, not from the air. It is internal load, not background. Air has both low density and low relative carbon density. The body has both higher density and higher relative carbon density.

    You are also very very confused about coal use, which has no effect on background radiation except to dilute the carbon-14 component, and nuclear bomb testing, which does have a large effect. Basically, you can’t create nuclear waste with a bulldozer. It just does not work. Fire won’t do it either. You need a nuclear reaction for that.