RealClimate logo

Unforced Variations: Dec 2013

Filed under: — group @ 1 December 2013

This month’s open thread. It’s coming to the end of the year and that means updates to the annual time series of observations and models relatively soon. Suggestions for what you’d like to see assessed are welcome… or any other climate science related topic.

354 Responses to “Unforced Variations: Dec 2013”

  1. 251
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Edward Griesch

    Look, you’re now going on and on about nuclears in _two_ active topics here. Failure to contain the stuff is the whole problem.

    Work on containment. Show you know how to control it.

    You’ve been invited repeatedly to bravenewclimate where you’d get the attention you warrant.

  2. 252
    wili says:

    McPherson may go overboard on a few issues, but things are getting very dire indeed.

    Hansen, K.Anderson of Tyndall, IEA, Potsdam Institute, World Bank, PTC, and many others are predicting very bad things (global temps from 2-6 degrees C above background) by about the end of the century if we don’t make very radical changes right away. And those kind of changes do not seem to be in the cards right now.

  3. 253
    PatrickF says:

    246 James
    Just google “McPherson” on the search bar. I just checked his Climate Arguments. Most of what he “presents” has actually been well known by the scientific community for years. He misreads and overinterprets / exaggerates most of his stuff, and references utter nonsense, like….
    “(….. )John Davies concludes: “The world is probably at the start of a runaway Greenhouse Event which will end most human life on Earth before 2040.” He considers only atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, not the many self-reinforcing feedback loops described below. (……) (due to) methane release from the Arctic Ocean — Sam Carana expects up to 20 C warming by 2050. Small wonder atmospheric methane can cause such global catastrophe considering its dramatic rise during the last few years, as elucidated by Carana on 5 December 2013 in the figure below.”

    Just to name some of the most extreme samples. Apart from that:
    “…atmospheric oxygen levels are dropping to levels considered dangerous for humans, particularly in cities”

    “the ultra-conservative International Energy Agency concludes that, “coal will nearly overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017 … without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.”

    “Earthquakes trigger methane release, and consequent warming of the planet triggers earthquakes, as reported by Sam Carana at the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (October 2013)”

    Check the references and the articles he mentions for yourself. Most of his “feedbacks” are not nearly as extreme as he makes them appear to be.

    I do not know why he says all this nonsense (though many of the articles he links to are good science), but I am really disturbed by how many people uncritically believe his stuff.

    It might perhaps be helpful if one of the moderators comments on McPhersons twaddle, as it really appears that he “attracts” many people. Although Gavin, David and the others probably do have enough to do, it would probably be a good way to get many people back to their senses if a real climate scientist clarifies this here (McPherson is NOT a climate scientist btw, he is an ecologist who never published anything on climate change).

  4. 254
  5. 255
    prokaryotes says:

    …doomed SOON?

    We can not (public information) say that for certain, but there could be a sudden outburst somewhere within the next years, but probably much lower than the 50 GT mentioned. BUT in the long run this certainly needs more attention (decades). And after 2100 all bets are off (so far) … BUT we might pass a point when things get out of control /because of the slow climate inertia), even if we reduce emissions. And that is why we have to follow the precautionary principle when making decisions.

    We just had the warmest November on record and this certainly means something positive feedback wise. (Think record sea ice lose, further acceleration of SLR, increased precipitation, increased wildfires…).

  6. 256
    Jon Kirwan says:

    To James: This is strictly my own opinion and represents NO ONE else’s. But it arrives from a life’s accumulation of both science theory and personal experiences in a beautiful rain forest system in western Oregon. It’s one person’s viewpoint only, which must by needs be provincial in scope.

    Climate knowledge is growing rapidly now and while there still remain some interesting challenges to the status quo on certain points (for example, exactly how it is that CO₂ and CH₄ started rising some 5000 years ago, if not by human impacts, or how it is that humans overwhelmed expected gradual declines and added enough to achieve those rises that far back) that need further research… the very conservative consensus, which must be conservative by its nature since it takes time for consensus to develop as further research helps to close gaps and remove or improve assumptions, is always playing catch-up it seems.

    In engineering-speak, scientific climate consensus is way over-damped. I’d LOVE to see it get anywhere close to critically-damped. But to do that it wouldn’t be consensus anymore, either. And so I don’t want to change that. It’s just that in interpreting consensus, as it develops, I have to keep in mind this highly conservative and over-damped inherent nature of it.

    In simple terms, things are likely worse than current consensus tells you. The IPCC consensus is pathetically underspun and obfuscated. Plain language would help a lot. But even then, it must be slow to evolve or else it’s not “consensus.” So things are worse and will get worse faster than they suggest. That’s just the nature of the beast.

    Climate though is only one of many facets. Humans have literally taken over the planet in my own lifetime, moving from partial dominance to complete and total overwhelming affects. Forest systems are stripped down into patchwork quilts, which leave life itself in increasingly smaller “islands” to survive in. Roads, fences, etc, further divide and endanger these areas. Dr. Lovejoy studied the effects in Brazil of a policy there to prevent property owners from cutting more than 50% of a forest system they own, where they kept selling their land to new owners and the new owners cut 50% and sold them again and again. He found a clear and quantitative relationship in the 1980’s with species in these islands vs their size. That equation says that there is only ONE forest system in the North American continent that might be species-stable — the 4-park Banff/Glacier National area — but that is suffering from serious glacier system loss from climate. His equation accurately explained species changes in the Yellowstone National park system over an 80 year period that was analyzed.

    Humans and domestic animals now occupy 99% of the mass of land based vertebrates. Global population has about tripled in my 60 years of life — and risen by a factor of 4 in my State. As a kid, sloughs and rivers that literally teemed with life (I could get a Fall’s supply of smelt fish from the Sandy river with a single 5-gallon bucket placed just ONCE into the river and pulled up as a teenager or dip a pickle jar into a Columbia River slough in the middle of a city — Portland — and get dozens of tadpoles and guppies with a random sweep) are now completely and totally dead and stagnant or else otherwise unrecognizable. The Mt Hood 11-glacier system has declined by 50% in about 30 years — I now see an almost bald mountain during late summers, where that was NEVER true as little as 20 years ago. That’s the water storage for perhaps 1.5 million people right now, people who are NOT yet planning other water storage replacements as this supply dwindles.

    We are in the middle of the 6th “extinction” event, as well. The diversity of this life and it’s health is what we humans depend upon in ways we both understand and do not understand. It also provides the protective actions that help mitigate changes we make, as well.

    If you read back here and see a couple of my other posts, you will get some additional thoughts about this from me. But the upshot is that I don’t believe we have the capability, collectively which is what is needed, to act in ways any informed view of the science suggests must take place. So we will simply keep pressing our foot on the accelerator as we run right smack into a series of upcoming “walls.” Unable even to realize the walls we’ve already hit and in complete denial about the walls we will yet hit, always with the foot stuck down hard on the accelerator too stupid to even consider the idea of lifting up on it.

    It won’t all happen at once or everywhere on earth, of course. Space and time will yield varying results here and there. But terrible collision it is, just the same. And human collective systems are smart enough to climb on the backs of the rest of life on earth, tearing it down all the faster in a desperate attempt for just a little more time in that last gasp. We’re good for that much, anyway.

    I expect to see crisis responses to declining ecologies we’ve quilted and hacked to death with our machetes and also climate changes to occur in my remaining lifetime. Perhaps circa 2025-2030, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it sooner (or a little later.) We are already using up in a year what it takes Earth 18 months to replace and are at or near complete, 100% domination of the planet now. We are consuming our capital savings at a rapid rate. There is no 150% to move towards. We are at the wall, now, and already pushing up against this unmovable object. We already feel some of the pain. We just haven’t yet realized that we are moving at 60mph and the wall won’t move.

    You remember the saying, “It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop at the bottom.” Yeah. Like that. Depending on where you are, the effect will either be a little earlier or a little later, or a little more or a little less. But sudden stop it will be.

    No theory of human behavior or politics I’ve been exposed to suggests a viable alternative view. But I also prefer to live in denial, with hope. So, both needing the possibilities of hope while valuing my credulity, I must remain of split minds, aware of what is more likely and yet hopeful despite it.

    I anticipate “interesting times” for my children and grandchildren.

  7. 257
    James says:

    Thanks for your responses everyone. I know things are bad, and I expect them to get worse, but “global extinction” does seem a bit much I guess. Nice to hear from some people who know that this guy is full of bunk.

  8. 258
    wili says:

    Patrick at 253: The head of the IEA has indeed said that we are heading for 6 degrees C (as have many other leading scientists and organizations). But Guy’s timing seems to be off here. Though some early media coverage of Birol’s statement did give the impression that it was by mid century, iirc, the original quote did not give a date, and it seems he meant for this level of warming to come near the end of the century.

    “‘With current policies in place, global temperatures are set to increase 6 degrees Celsius, which has catastrophic implications,’ IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol said. ‘If as of 2017 there is not a start of a major wave of new and clean investments, the door to 2 degrees will be closed.'”

    So, yeah, Guy should be a bit more careful in his presentations. But the basic fact that well informed people are talking about the high likelihood of temperature increases of 2-6 degrees in the coming decades should have all of us very, very worried indeed. I happen to think downplaying our situation is more dangerous than focusing on relatively minor inaccuracies of those trying to ring alarms and wake people up.

    So far though, no kind of messaging–no matter how dire, how accurate, how clear…– seems to be piercing the thick skull of the general populace, the politicians and decisions makers.

    The house is on fire. It’s not clear how many will be able to get out before being immolated.

    “Some scientists are indicating we should make plans to adapt to a 4C world,” [climate Scientist Ari]Leifer comments. “While prudent, one wonders what portion of the living population now could adapt to such a world, and my view is that it’s just a few thousand people [seeking refuge] in the Arctic or Antarctica.”

    We should all be running around crying fire and pulling every fire alarm in sight.

  9. 259
    Hank Roberts says:

    Another record to watch:

    Recent studies (November 2004) have shown that stocks of krill in Antarctica have declined dramatically in recent years. The reason for this is likely to be a fall in the amount of sea ice in the winter months particularly in the Antarctic Peninsula region.

    Krill numbers may have dropped by as much as 80% since the 1970’s – so today’s stocks are a mere 1/5th of what they were only 30 years ago. The decline in krill may in turn account for the decline in the numbers of some penguin species.

    Dr. Angus Atkinson from British Antarctic Survey, says: “This is the first time that we have understood the full scale of this decline. …

    This new finding comes from data from nine countries working in Antarctica who pooled their separate data covering 40 Antarctic summers, in the period between 1926 and 2003. This is the first time such a large-scale view of change across the Southern Ocean has been seen.

    This decline in krill will also make it more difficult for the great baleen whales to return to pre-exploitation levels following their decimation in numbers during the years from approximately 1925-1975.

  10. 260
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    James: McPherson is whacked, but we still have a problem. How bad? it depends on how long there is no real political action to set things right.
    * Join

    But above all, don’t read this. Hide it under the bed like the rest of us.

  11. 261

    Edward Greisch (Comments 242-4) Regarding the supposed safety of commercial nuclear power, what I quoted:

    Apart from Chernobyl, no nuclear workers or members of the public have ever died as a result of exposure to radiation due to a commercial nuclear reactor incident.

    Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors
    (Updated October 2013)

    … is clearly a sweeping generalization, and I personally find it difficult to imagine anyone making that claim with a straight face.

    Looking at just one form of cancer, we have known of increased rates of leukemia around the Krummel nuclear plant near Hamburg, Germany since at least 1994. Please see for example:

    Scholz, Roland. “On the sensitivity of children to radiation.” Med Global Surv 1 (1994): 38-44.

    Some literature seems to suggest that this is a wider problem in Germany than simply the Krummel area. Please see for example:

    Körblein, Alfred, and Wolfgang Hoffmann. “Childhood cancer in the vicinity of German nuclear power plants.” Medicine & Global Survival 6.1 (1999): 18-23.

    Apparently, the question of whether commercial nuclear power plants result in increased rates of leukemia in children is a subject of ongoing study, with oftentimes conflicting results, possibly due to differences in methodology and quality control. Please see:

    Laurier, D., et al. “Epidemiological studies of leukaemia in children and young adults around nuclear facilities: a critical review.” Radiation Protection Dosimetry 132.2 (2008): 182-190.…(pdf)

    Further, while I would not wish to suggest that the literature in this area has been subject to systematic distortion by industry, I would bear in mind that this is a distinct possibility. Please see for example:

    Corporate campaigns manufacture scientific doubt by David Michaels
    From the September 27, 2008 issue of Science News

    … as well as the book:

    Michaels, David. Doubt is their product: How industry’s assault on science threatens your health. Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Regardless, I do not consider myself especially opposed to commercial nuclear power. My personal focus isn’t so much on safety but cost.

    As Peter Sinclair states:

    The reason that nuclear power has not made much headway in the last 30 years, is because it’s proven, in the eyes of the investment community, to be a bad risk – economically. No one will put money into it without massive subsidies and loan guarantees. We are watching that process play out, for instance, and the Vogtle plant, currently under construction in Georgia – where, with the familiar pattern of cost overruns, and construction snafus, it seems possible that taxpayers will be taking yet another bath, courtesy of the nuclear industry.

    Nuclear Prices Itself Out of the Market
    Peter Sinclair, November 8, 2013

    Joe Romm seems to take a similar view:

    As a practical matter, environmental groups have had little impact on the collapse of nuclear power in America. The countries where nuclear has dead-ended are market-based economies where the nuclear industry has simply been unable to deliver a competitive product (see “Two Years After $500 Billion Fukushima Disaster, Nuclear Power Remains Staggeringly Expensive”). Indeed, despite having U.S. taxpayers swallow most of the risk for the high-cost of new nukes through the loan guarantee program and most of the risk of a major nuke disaster through the Price Anderson act, the industry has been unable to provide a competitive product.

    To Those Who Want To See Nuclear Power Play A Bigger Role In Climate Action
    BY Joe Romm, November 4, 2013

  12. 262

    Re McPherson–The main puzzle to me about him is, if this is really what he thinks, why bother to blog about it? I’d go pro as a drinker, if I were him.

  13. 263
    Steven Blaisdell says:

    Re: 246 James; 255 prokaryotes
    Re: Guy McPherson
    I think the previous commenters have nailed Mr. McPherson pretty well. He misinterprets/misrepresents valid research, cherry picks worst case scenarios, and weaves a darkly convincing but temporally misleading narrative. It seems to me that most or all of his assertions are possible, or even inevitable given enough time and inaction. What struck me was his use of precise dates; this is a classic tactic of doomsday manipulators (think Heaven’s Gate). Further, if you visit his ‘survivalist’ site ( ) he appears to be selling not just books but survivalist gear. While I appreciate the “wake up” aspect of his work, the distorted eschatological tenor feeds into the exact worldview that got us here in the first place. On the other hand, maybe he knows what he’s doing, i.e., scaring the s**t out of people. He’s certainly trolling mindsets that require simplistic heuristics – “the answer” – to address extremely complex, demanding, and frightening real world problems; whether he believes what he says (I think he does, at least to some extent) is another question. Plus, America loves it some Armageddon story. To spin this as positively as possible, maybe Mr. McPherson could serve as an introduction – a “gateway” – to more authoritative information for folks just getting started. Or not.

  14. 264
    Edward Greisch says:

    254 prokaryotes: So where did Safecast hide their actual readings? I watched the youtube video. No data. Same for their web site.

    “Power to Save the World; The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by
    Gwyneth Cravens, 2007 Finally a truthful book about nuclear
    Page 98: There is a table of millirems per year from the
    background in a list of inhabited places.
    Chernobyl: 490 millirem/year
    Guarapari, Brazil: 3700 millirem/year
    Tamil Nadu, India: 5300 millirem/year
    Ramsar, Iran: 8900 to 13200 millirem/year
    Zero excess cancer deaths are recorded. All are natural except for

    251 Hank Roberts: WHO is going on and on about energy? I am only responding to nonsense being told by others, including you. So please Hank Roberts and prokaryotes obey the taboo.

  15. 265
    Susan Anderson says:

    With respect to the all-too-prevalent misunderstandings about what is possible and what is unlikely with methane and the Arctic, and other issues, I thought Richard Alley did a good job presenting the facts at the AGU, putting the different issues in perspective with his invited lecture, “Abrupt Climate Change in the Arctic”. My link will probably not work as you will need your own login, but perhaps it will get you to the right place to find it:

  16. 266
  17. 267
  18. 268
    DIOGENES says:

    James #246,
    McPherson, in my estimation, is the best of the climate change predictors. Best, however, is not perfect. He mixes hard science with speculation, and as you see here, his detractors focus on the speculation in an attempt to discredit him. However, if one were to remove his speculative comments, both his hard science references and his connections of the dots are more than enough to make his general case.
    The more recent global climate models project temperature increases under a business-as-usual model on the order of 5 C, plus or minus about a degree, by the end of the century. According to Mark Lynas (Six Degrees) and many others, at these temperatures many species go extinct, including ours. These global climate models do not include the major positive feedback mechanisms, and they will only accelerate the temperature increase. So, under BAU, we can expect extinction-level conditions somewhere before century’s end. Whether it is near-term (~mid-century) extinction as McPherson predicts, or a generation or two later, cannot be determined without more accurate global climate models. But, it should be clear to all readers of this blog that every nation with significant fossil fuel reserves is rushing at breakneck speeds to extract them as fast as possible, and there is no lack of consumers for the product. In spite of what the McPherson detractors (here and elsewhere) say, it is rather obvious where we are headed.

  19. 269
    Hank Roberts says:

    Thank you Susan — that pointer works (as you note, one has to have the free login/password set up, but after putting those in your link opens the page for Alley’s invited update. Good way to get people to see it.

    From the opening text on that page with the video:

    The paleoclimatic record plus physical understanding greatly reduce the worst worries about instabilities from methane stored in cold places, but tend to support a role in amplifying future warming. Overall, the very large impacts of past Arctic changes, and the likelihood that future changes under business-as-usual fossil-fuel emissions will be unprecedented in combined size and speed, raise important questions.

  20. 270
    PatrickF says:

    268 DIOGENES,

    No one tries to discredit someone “out of spite”. People who point out the obvious errors in McPhersons arguments are not “detractors”. Most people who tend to defend McPherson (like yourself) tend to say “yeah he’s wrong on a few (!) things, but overall he’s right, look at the IPCC/PIK/NASA/NOAA etc.”, although he tends to ridicule those institutions as far behind the science, for no obvious reasons. He references this AMEG nonsense, presents it as valid science (although it is the furthest thing from), grossly exaggerates articles to make a point, and claims utter nonsense (6°C by 2050, more than 100% more than any credible institution predicts under any scenario) and never backs up his claims with numbers (especially his feedbacks, apart from the AMEG/methane stuff). His “connecting the dots” is basically just saying “oh there’s this feedback, so WE’RE DOOMED” or “this persons says this and this, so we’re screwed”. However, there are real scientists working on these issues, like those of the PIK, one of the best institutions on this (its director, Schellnhuber, published multiple papers on tipping points, etc). I’m not saying all is well, it is not. But making up unnecessary catastrophes is not helpful at all. But I’m really shocked how many people tend to cling to McPherson, as his methodology is utterly failed. No credible scientist would work like this (makes on wonder what kind of people receive PhD’s nowadays). This is cherry-picking in order to proliferate himself. Apart from that, whether we will actually keep on BAU or switch to renewables etc is a political, not a scientific statement. Btw, 5°C under BAU has been proposed by many institutions over several years, I am always surprised why people insist on representing this as a new finding.

  21. 271
    DIOGENES says:

    PatrickF #270,

    The simple example I presented estimates human species extinction somewhere between mid-century and 2100, under BAU. It doesn’t require the elaborate detail that McPherson presents, which includes both hard science and speculation. McPherson also believes we are past the point where human actions can prevent near-term extinction, due to all the positive feedback mechanisms being in play. I am not yet convinced of this, but under the BAU scenario that appears to be very high probability, that becomes an irrelevant issue.

    [Response: Sorry, but the idea that “positive feedback and/or BAU implies extinction” is just nonsense. Please take it somewhere else. – gavin]

  22. 272
  23. 273
    Hank Roberts says:

    … it’s now cheaper to heat water with a photovoltaic (PV) array than solar thermal collectors.

    In short, unless you’re building a laundromat or college dorm, solar thermal is dead.

    The idea has been percolating for six years ….

  24. 274
    Hank Roberts says:

    Although panels with circulating water to capture heat are doubly good
    as the hotter a solar photovoltaic panel gets the less efficient it is.

  25. 275
    Hank Roberts says:

    Although you can now get panels combining PV with fluid circulation for heat collection, taking heat away from the panels — and PV panel efficiency goes down as they get hotter.

  26. 276
    prokaryotes says:

    Since we all speculate and project the future to some extent, this might be an interesting read for some

    Isaac Asimov’s 1964 predictions of life in 2014 are prescient

    If you look up some of his novels (Foundation Series and such) you can read about Earth and the requirement for space exploration because Earth is rattled with destructive storms and such.

    And here is Asimov about climate change.

  27. 277
    prokaryotes says:

    Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014


    The New York World’s Fair of 1964 is dedicated to “Peace Through Understanding.” Its glimpses of the world of tomorrow rule out thermonuclear warfare. And why not? If a thermonuclear war takes place, the future will not be worth discussing. So let the missiles slumber eternally on their pads and let us observe what may come in the nonatomized world of the future.
    What is to come, through the fair’s eyes at least, is wonderful. The direction in which man is traveling is viewed with buoyant hope, nowhere more so than at the General Electric pavilion. There the audience whirls through four scenes, each populated by cheerful, lifelike dummies that move and talk with a facility that, inside of a minute and a half, convinces you they are alive.

    The scenes, set in or about 1900, 1920, 1940 and 1960, show the advances of electrical appliances and the changes they are bringing to living. I enjoyed it hugely and only regretted that they had not carried the scenes into the future. What will life be like, say, in 2014 A.D., 50 years from now? What will the World’s Fair of 2014 be like?

    I don’t know, but I can guess.

    One thought that occurs to me is that men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button.

    Windows need be no more than an archaic touch, and even when present will be polarized to block out the harsh sunlight. The degree of opacity of the glass may even be made to alter automatically in accordance with the intensity of the light falling upon it.

    There is an underground house at the fair which is a sign of the future. if its windows are not polarized, they can nevertheless alter the “scenery” by changes in lighting. Suburban houses underground, with easily controlled temperature, free from the vicissitudes of weather, with air cleaned and light controlled, should be fairly common. At the New York World’s Fair of 2014, General Motors’ “Futurama” may well display vistas of underground cities complete with light- forced vegetable gardens. The surface, G.M. will argue, will be given over to large-scale agriculture, grazing and parklands, with less space wasted on actual human occupancy.

    Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs. Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare “automeals,” heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on. Breakfasts will be “ordered” the night before to be ready by a specified hour the next morning. Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semiprepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing. I suspect, though, that even in 2014 it will still be advisable to have a small corner in the kitchen unit where the more individual meals can be prepared by hand, especially when company is coming.

    Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. The I.B.M. exhibit at the present fair has no robots but it is dedicated to computers, which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. If machines are that smart today, what may not be in the works 50 years hence? It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the “brains” of robots. In fact, the I.B.M. building at the 2014 World’s Fair may have, as one of its prime exhibits, a robot housemaid*large, clumsy, slow- moving but capable of general picking-up, arranging, cleaning and manipulation of various appliances. It will undoubtedly amuse the fairgoers to scatter debris over the floor in order to see the robot lumberingly remove it and classify it into “throw away” and “set aside.” (Robots for gardening work will also have made their appearance.)

    General Electric at the 2014 World’s Fair will be showing 3-D movies of its “Robot of the Future,” neat and streamlined, its cleaning appliances built in and performing all tasks briskly. (There will be a three-hour wait in line to see the film, for some things never change.)

    The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long- lived batteries running on radioisotopes. The isotopes will not be expensive for they will be by- products of the fission-power plants which, by 2014, will be supplying well over half the power needs of humanity. But once the isotype batteries are used up they will be disposed of only through authorized agents of the manufacturer.

    And experimental fusion-power plant or two will already exist in 2014. (Even today, a small but genuine fusion explosion is demonstrated at frequent intervals in the G.E. exhibit at the 1964 fair.) Large solar-power stations will also be in operation in a number of desert and semi-desert areas — Arizona, the Negev, Kazakhstan. In the more crowded, but cloudy and smoggy areas, solar power will be less practical. An exhibit at the 2014 fair will show models of power stations in space, collecting sunlight by means of huge parabolic focusing devices and radiating the energy thus collected down to earth.

    The world of 50 years hence will have shrunk further. At the 1964 fair, the G.M. exhibit depicts, among other things, “road-building factories” in the tropics and, closer to home, crowded highways along which long buses move on special central lanes. There is every likelihood that highways at least in the more advanced sections of the world*will have passed their peak in 2014; there will be increasing emphasis on transportation that makes the least possible contact with the surface. There will be aircraft, of course, but even ground travel will increasingly take to the air*a foot or two off the ground. Visitors to the 1964 fair can travel there in an “aquafoil,” which lifts itself on four stilts and skims over the water with a minimum of friction. This is surely a stop-gap. By 2014 the four stilts will have been replaced by four jets of compressed air so that the vehicle will make no contact with either liquid or solid surfaces.

    Jets of compressed air will also lift land vehicles off the highways, which, among other things, will minimize paving problems. Smooth earth or level lawns will do as well as pavements. Bridges will also be of less importance, since cars will be capable of crossing water on their jets, though local ordinances will discourage the practice.

    Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with “Robot-brains”*vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver. I suspect one of the major attractions of the 2014 fair will be rides on small roboticized cars which will maneuver in crowds at the two-foot level, neatly and automatically avoiding each other.

    For short-range travel, moving sidewalks (with benches on either side, standing room in the center) will be making their appearance in downtown sections. They will be raised above the traffic. Traffic will continue (on several levels in some places) only because all parking will be off-street and because at least 80 per cent of truck deliveries will be to certain fixed centers at the city’s rim. Compressed air tubes will carry goods and materials over local stretches, and the switching devices that will place specific shipments in specific destinations will be one of the city’s marvels.

    Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica (shown in chill splendor as part of the ’64 General Motors exhibit).

    For that matter, you will be able to reach someone at the moon colonies, concerning which General Motors puts on a display of impressive vehicles (in model form) with large soft tires*intended to negotiate the uneven terrain that may exist on our natural satellite.

    Any number of simultaneous conversations between earth and moon can be handled by modulated laser beams, which are easy to manipulate in space. On earth, however, laser beams will have to be led through plastic pipes, to avoid material and atmospheric interference. Engineers will still be playing with that problem in 2014.

    Conversations with the moon will be a trifle uncomfortable, but the way, in that 2.5 seconds must elapse between statement and answer (it takes light that long to make the round trip). Similar conversations with Mars will experience a 3.5-minute delay even when Mars is at its closest. However, by 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works and in the 2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony.

    As for television, wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set; but transparent cubes will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be possible. In fact, one popular exhibit at the 2014 World’s Fair will be such a 3-D TV, built life-size, in which ballet performances will be seen. The cube will slowly revolve for viewing from all angles.

    One can go on indefinitely in this happy extrapolation, but all is not rosy.

    As I stood in line waiting to get into the General Electric exhibit at the 1964 fair, I found myself staring at Equitable Life’s grim sign blinking out the population of the United States, with the number (over 191,000,000) increasing by 1 every 11 seconds. During the interval which I spent inside the G.E. pavilion, the American population had increased by nearly 300 and the world’s population by 6,000.

    In 2014, there is every likelihood that the world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the United States will be 350,000,000. Boston-to-Washington, the most crowded area of its size on the earth, will have become a single city with a population of over 40,000,000.

    Population pressure will force increasing penetration of desert and polar areas. Most surprising and, in some ways, heartening, 2014 will see a good beginning made in the colonization of the continental shelves. Underwater housing will have its attractions to those who like water sports, and will undoubtedly encourage the more efficient exploitation of ocean resources, both food and mineral. General Motors shows, in its 1964 exhibit, the model of an underwater hotel of what might be called mouth-watering luxury. The 2014 World’s Fair will have exhibits showing cities in the deep sea with bathyscaphe liners carrying men and supplies across and into the abyss.

    Ordinary agriculture will keep up with great difficulty and there will be “farms” turning to the more efficient micro-organisms. Processed yeast and algae products will be available in a variety of flavors. The 2014 fair will feature an Algae Bar at which “mock-turkey” and “pseudosteak” will be served. It won’t be bad at all (if you can dig up those premium prices), but there will be considerable psychological resistance to such an innovation.

    Although technology will still keep up with population through 2014, it will be only through a supreme effort and with but partial success. Not all the world’s population will enjoy the gadgety world of the future to the full. A larger portion than today will be deprived and although they may be better off, materially, than today, they will be further behind when compared with the advanced portions of the world. They will have moved backward, relatively.

    Nor can technology continue to match population growth if that remains unchecked. Consider Manhattan of 1964, which has a population density of 80,000 per square mile at night and of over 100,000 per square mile during the working day. If the whole earth, including the Sahara, the Himalayan Mountain peaks, Greenland, Antarctica and every square mile of the ocean bottom, to the deepest abyss, were as packed as Manhattan at noon, surely you would agree that no way to support such a population (let alone make it comfortable) was conceivable. In fact, support would fail long before the World-Manhattan was reached.

    Well, the earth’s population is now about 3,000,000,000 and is doubling every 40 years. If this rate of doubling goes unchecked, then a World-Manhattan is coming in just 500 years. All earth will be a single choked Manhattan by A.D. 2450 and society will collapse long before that!

    There are only two general ways of preventing this: (1) raise the death rate; (2) lower the birth rate. Undoubtedly, the world of A>D. 2014 will have agreed on the latter method. Indeed, the increasing use of mechanical devices to replace failing hearts and kidneys, and repair stiffening arteries and breaking nerves will have cut the death rate still further and have lifted the life expectancy in some parts of the world to age 85.

    There will, therefore, be a worldwide propaganda drive in favor of birth control by rational and humane methods and, by 2014, it will undoubtedly have taken serious effect. The rate of increase of population will have slackened*but, I suspect, not sufficiently.

    One of the more serious exhibits at the 2014 World’s Fair, accordingly, will be a series of lectures, movies and documentary material at the World Population Control Center (adults only; special showings for teen-agers).

    The situation will have been made the more serious by the advances of automation. The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders. Schools will have to be oriented in this direction. Part of the General Electric exhibit today consists of a school of the future in which such present realities as closed-circuit TV and programmed tapes aid the teaching process. It is not only the techniques of teaching that will advance, however, but also the subject matter that will change. All the high-school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology will become proficient in binary arithmetic and will be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed out of those like the contemporary “Fortran” (from “formula translation”).

    Even so, mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine.

    Indeed, the most somber speculation I can make about A.D. 2014 is that in a society of enforced leisure, the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!

  28. 278
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Hank Roberts — 21 Dec 2013 @ 5:54 PM

    My local expert says that for home owners the combined hot water/PV panels don’t yet pay out yet, but they could be effective in a large centralized commercial installation if the lifetimes of the two components could be equalized.


  29. 279
    hf says:

    If I may take a moment to thank the community here at Real Climate…. the moderators, contributors, guest contributors, commenters, (the pros, the regulars, the whacks), and the lurkers.

    This site remains the authoritative reference for understanding climate, and I hope that the contributors continue to source the commitment, time, and energy necessary for the site’s future success.

    I thank you all and wish you all “high hopes” for our next “go round”.

  30. 280
    prokaryotes says:

    After the warmest November on record, December ramps up with unusual global weather phenomena

    Where has Siberia’s winter gone? and some images

    Heatwave expected to hit one-third of Australia over Christmas, from that article “This is the first protracted heatwave of the spring-summer period over such a large area”

    Significant winter storm to bring ice, snow to Kansas

    Argentine Capital Suffers Blackouts in Heat Wave

  31. 281
  32. 282
    wili says:

    Thanks for those links, prok.

    The current SkS weekly news round up has a number of links to 2013-in-review articles:

    The most important development to me is that more and more top climatologists and organizations devoted to evaluating our current situation have essentially come to the concluded that our goose is cooked.

    Consider these questions:

    –Does anyone anywhere think that wind and solar can grow fast enough to replace over 6% of ff generation every year, year in and year out, starting now?

    –Does anyone think that significant economic growth can happen while energy use rapidly shrinks?

    –Does anyone think that the world will suddenly plan and carry out a 6% or more shrinkage of the world economy, or a 10% or more shrinkage of the industrial nations’ economies?

    If the answer to all of these is “no” (and that is clearly the only honest answer to all of them), then we have to agree that two of the world’s top climatologist essentially said that we are now completely and utterly beyond hope.

    (J. Hansen said we need immediate at least 6% annual reducsions in emissions; K. Anderson, 10% annual reductions from industrialized countries to avoid 2 degrees C increase. Potsdam Institute, IEA, World Bank, PWC, and a number of others have said much the same in their own ways.)

    May the season bring what joy it can. I find that the carols stick in my throat, somehow.

  33. 283
  34. 284
    Hank Roberts says:

    Life is full of little surprises.
    BBC News reports:

    22 December 2013 ‘Massive’ reservoir of melt water found under Greenland ice

    Note the difference in emphasis: “water found under” (BBC, link above)

    compared to: “meltwater storage in firn within” (scientists):
    Extensive liquid meltwater storage in firn within the Greenland ice sheet
    Nature Geoscience (2013)

  35. 285
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    I agree with hf @ 279 and thoroughly appreciate Real Climate.

    Thanks prokaryotes for the future cast from 1964. This, the first day of a new astronomical year, is a good time for such reflection.

    Here are some words for the day from a more distant, idealistic voice. And don’t miss the beautiful real time global wind map.

  36. 286
    DIOGENES says:

    Wili #282,

    “(J. Hansen said we need immediate at least 6% annual reducsions in emissions; K. Anderson, 10% annual reductions from industrialized countries to avoid 2 degrees C increase. Potsdam Institute, IEA, World Bank, PWC, and a number of others have said much the same in their own ways.)”

    Actually, Hansen states in this recent Plos One article that 2 C rise would be disastrous.
    Anderson has made similar statements.

  37. 287
    David B. Benson says:

    Timothy Chase @261 — This is the wrong forum for such matters. I can point out your errors, including Joe Romm’s, over on the Brave New Climate Discussion Forum. It is set up for such discussions; here is not.

  38. 288
    Tony Weddle says:

    Gavin responded that extinction due to BAU and positive feedbacks is “nonsense”, yet I believe he said positive things, in the media, about Hansen’s latest paper. That shows 350ppm CO2 is the maximum we should aim for (and maybe lower). We’ll be at 400ppm within a year or two. What was the earth like the last time CO2 was at 400ppm, to say nothing of the other GHGs?

    McPherson does cherry pick the worst cases but that, in itself, doesn’t make those worst cases impossible or even unlikely. McPherson does misrepresent some of the feedbacks (including representing a few that are theoretical as already in play) but I’m not sure he says any one will cook our goose, instead relying on listing as many positive feedbacks as possible. He doesn’t say we don’t really know how any of them will play out or how long it will take for a combination of them to make life unbearable across most of the planet (for McPherson it is all of the planet).

    [By the way, someone seemed to imply that McPherson is in it for the money. Nothing could be further from the truth.]

    However, BAU will quickly make BAU untenable, in my opinion, because BAU will lead to societal collapse way before all of the fossil fuels have been burned. Unfortunately, according to Hansen, et al, we are already at dangerous GHG concentrations, so, clearly, our goose is at least partially cooked. Hansen has no chance of getting governments to listen and most are still pursuing an “all of the above” energy policy.

    Some people place hope on nuclear or renewables. Nuclear is likely to be out of the frying pan into the fire, a time bomb waiting for our kids, just as much as climate change. Renewables have limits, in materials, diffuseness, intermittency and environmental damage. There was a paper a couple of years ago that showed wind definitely has limits. There is only so much diversion of natural energy flows that you can have before noticeable effects on the environment, even if there was enough materials to build out renewables and renewables themselves could build operate and maintain renewables, as some hope. Some also hope that life can go on, pretty much as it is today, just powered by renewables (or nuclear), completely disregarding all the other ways our civilisation destroys the environment.

    I think it’s time to get real.

  39. 289
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by wili — 22 Dec 2013 @ 12:56 PM

    Wili, if you really believe this rant (e.g. all is lost no matter what) then why are you posting here. Do you get some kind of sick pleasure from telling everybody that they are up the proverbial creek without a paddle? There have been many paths that have charted a reasonable future if we just get going. Most recently, on my local community radio, I heard an interview with Jigar Shaw who has the chops to say that renewables can out compete fossil fuels and revitalize our economy. He has a book. Check it out.


  40. 290
    Hank Roberts says:

    > to protect young people, future generations and nature

    Hansen et al. are right, of course.

    The problem is convincing people who have never cared a bit about young people, future generations, and nature in the past — whether from blind selfishness or from some prettied up political theory that the future takes care of itself, which amounts to the same thing.

    This is not a new problem and not unique to climate science. Each generation of young people discovers it — but doesn’t understand why previous generations couldn’t have figured out in their own time that much of what they were doing was stupid because it damaged those “young people, future generations and nature” — while making the current generation richer than any before.

    There was so much to consume, that worked for a while — each generation could be richer _while_ degrading the resource.

    Nobody imagined running out of livable planet — til the latter half of the last century of the previous millenium or thereabouts. Sometime after 1950 or so we began — those few reading the science — to get a clue we’d been a very stupid monkey for several centuries and gotten our grandchildren, and nature, into a very bad condition. The most common response was “Urp. Yum. Well, it was good while it lasted.”

    Science is a very new thing in human history. Very few people have any clue about anything we’ve learned from science. Heck, writing is pretty damn new in human history, given how long humans have been on the planet — and whatever oral history there was of all those long years quit being told and sung and has disappeared, mostly.

    The history of man is a series of conspiracies to win from nature some advantage without paying for it.
    — Ralph Waldo Emerson

    History doesn’t always repeat itself. Sometimes it just screams, “Why don’t you listen to me?” and lets fly with a big stick.
    — John W. Campbell Jr

  41. 291
    Lennart van der Linde says:

    In addition to Hank at #284, also see this press release by Utrecht University:

    Could this water at one point quite suddenly finds it way out of the ice sheet into the ocean? Or would that always be a more gradual process?

  42. 292
    Edward Greisch says:

    “UN warns of food riots in developing world as drought pushes up prices”

  43. 293
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    WE ARE AT WAR!!! The Climate change counter movement vs the Climate change acceptance movement which I would say nearly all of us who take part in Real climate adhere to. The counter movement’s denial budget is something like $500-1000 million dollars. Those of us who actually give a damn about this planet we call home better cough up with something considerably better that that if we to win the hearts and minds of the populace. One of the most interesting articles I’ve read for a while comes from Robert J Brulle from Drexel university. Who has just finished a three part study in the insidious and murky funding of the counter movement. Url:
    The first thing that hit me was the realisation that we are indeed at war and the prize…well the continuation of life on earth, can’t get much bigger than that can you. The enemy is a little difficult to pin down though. The majority of funding comes from ‘dark money’ donations to organisations where sources of their income is untraceable. Koch Industries and Exxon have channelled their funding of the counter movement into this dark money stream of late as well.
    Anyone with any ideas about this issue please speak up. I intend to devote quite some research time into this highly immoral and profoundly selfish situation.

  44. 294
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Edward Greisch: I just read your similar synopysis on the dark money matter @147 in the thread ‘A failure in communicating the impact of new findings’. The first and probably most important step in defeating your enemy is to intimately understand your enemy, that’s what we all have to do don’t you think?.

  45. 295
    Tony Weddle says:

    Steve Fish,

    I’ve also read books about renewables. Some say that it’s impossible to run our modern, technological, industrial global economy on renewables. That seems about right, to me. So the question then becomes, what kind of global economy can we run with renewables? I think we need to be honest and objective when answering that question because look what wishful thinking leads to.

  46. 296
  47. 297


    “–Does anyone anywhere think that wind and solar can grow fast enough to replace over 6% of ff generation every year, year in and year out, starting now?”

    Yes, though not ‘starting now.’ And ‘can’ is of course different from ‘will.’ Although in some jurisdictions (Denmark and Germany come to mind) the growth of renewables has reduced emissions, at the global level renewables have so far just meant that we are less far behind the emissions eight-ball than would have been the case without them. (Somewhat analogously, perhaps, to the North American auto industry, whose technology could have delivered much better gas mileage long ago, but which chose instead–rationally driven by consumer preference, it must be said–to hold mileage more or less constant but to ramp up power.)

    However: “In 2008, world total of electricity production and consumption was 20,279TWh. This number corresponds to a “consumed” power of around 2.3 TW on average. The total energy needed for producing this power is roughly a factor 2 to 3 higher because the efficiency of power plants is roughly 30-50%, see Electricity generation. The generated power is thus in the order of 5 TW.” (Wikipedia.)

    In 2012, the world added roughly 80 GW of wind and solar; that’s about 1.6%. And one study projects that by 2020, solar could well be adding 100 GW yearly by itself; obviously, that’s 2%. There’s still a gap, of course, and one has to remember that the renewables figures I’ve given are for nameplate, not actual generation. We’d need something like 450 GW yearly being added to hit 6% of actual generation. But my guess is that that is doable, if our collective mind were concentrated enough.

    I wrote about that (among other things) here:

    However–on the hopeful side–other ‘Stabilization wedges’ are growing, too. For instance, falling US emissions are being driven mostly by cheap natural gas displacing coal–something that may happen elsewhere. And automotive efficiency is rising once again–though the increase in usage may nullify the emissions effect.

    So, I don’t think we are certainly ‘cooked’ in this regard.


    “Does anyone think that significant economic growth can happen while energy use rapidly shrinks?”

    Actually, yes. energy intensity per unit economic growth has been declining globally for several years, and my guess is that the surface has barely been scratched.

    For example:

    But again, ‘can’ and ‘will’ are different beasts.

    “Does anyone think that the world will suddenly plan and carry out a 6% or more shrinkage of the world economy, or a 10% or more shrinkage of the industrial nations’ economies?”

    No. But question 2 kind of renders that moot.

  48. 298
    wili says:

    Steve Fish @ #298: If you really believe your rant (“I don’t like what you’re saying, so shut up”), perhaps you should find another forum. This is a forum to discuss science and its consequences; if you can only handle scientific conclusions that you find comforting, I would advise focusing on something other than climate science.

    One other point, since there has been much discussion of late about communication. My conclusion was sincerely derived by looking at the (im)probabilities of the actions needed to be taken as spelled out by our leading scientists. But as a strategy, it is a fairly well established and tested approach, particularly in locker rooms, for an authority/coach, who up to that point had been the biggest encourager of the team, to suddenly announce at half time that the game is lost and that there is now no hope.

    The usual result is that the team members themselves rally and start encouraging the coach (and so themselves) that they can put forth the extra effort to win. It doesn’t always work, but climate communications strategies used so far have not moved the gauge very far (i.e. at all) in the right direction.

    Kevin McKinney @ #297: Thank you for your careful response. I am particularly impressed by your condensation of Lynas’s book. Do you mind if I use it in an upcoming class? I could have my students send you their response papers, if you would like the feedback.

    You are right that in _theory_ most of those things _can_ happen. The likelihood that they will seems vanishingly remote to me at this point, hence my gloom in this holiday season (though ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ often puts me in something of a funk, anyways).

    I find it interesting that the thing you can least imagine happening is a commitment to degrowth, even though that essentially is just a commitment to words (rather than massive infrastructure buildouts required for a major ramp up of alternatives); and to imagining an economy that can actually be potentially sustained long term on a finite planet.

    But I fear that you are right that such a change of wording and perspective is too far outside the imaginations of most leaders and the populace to have much traction for the foreseeable future. As Ray said so well on the other thread, what is needed most now is wisdom and courage, but both seem to be in rather short supply.

    (Recaptcha wisely suggests in its garbled way: “eRoom the”)

  49. 299
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Greenland is wetter than it looks.

    Extensive liquid meltwater storage in firn within the Greenland ice sheet
    Nature Geoscience 2013. Forster, Box et al.

  50. 300