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Unforced variations: September 2014

Filed under: — group @ 2 September 2014

This month’s open thread. People could waste time rebunking predictable cherry-picked claims about the upcoming Arctic sea ice minimum, or perhaps discuss a selection of 10 climate change controversies from ICSU… Anything! (except mitigation).

189 Responses to “Unforced variations: September 2014”

  1. 1
    Chris Dudley says:

    The ten new climate change controversies are:

    1) The role of nuclear power: Is it a threat or a promise?

    2) Mitigation vs. Adaptation: Which one matters more? See no mitigation UV on using renewable energy to get 3 doublings of the carbon dioxide concentration. Adaptation can be made irrelevant.

    3) Geoengineering: Useful mitigation tool or just an excuse for BAU? Aerosols are not mitigation.

    4) The rise of green capitalism: Can capitalism and the climate ever be friends?

    5) The hiatus: Has the climate stopped warming? Not the oceans….

    6) Planetary Boundaries: Where do you draw the line? Earth is an open system.

    7) Offsetting and Trading: Will planting a few trees save us? Not on its own.

    8) Migration: Is moving away from the effects of climate change may be the best thing? Well, NYC, is it?

    9)Climate finance: Who will foot the bill? Divest to avoid losses

    10) Is two degrees warming an attainable limit? Yes. GATT Article XX tariffs can bring about emissions reductions worldwide. We have a backstop that is already agreed to by the largest GHG emitter China.

    Asked and answered. That was easy….

  2. 2
    Dan H. says:

    Regarding your number 5, have you read this paper?

  3. 3
    Dan H. says:


    Regarding number 5, have you read this paper?

  4. 4
    Hank Roberts says:

    #5: “In the 21st century, surface warming slowed as more heat moved into deeper oceans.”
    Science, 22 August 2014
    Chen and Tung, 345 (6199): 897-903
    Vol. 345 no. 6199 pp. 897-903
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1254937

  5. 5
    Russell says:

    The Two Degree Delta T controversy begs another question:

    In what decade of this century do you expect to see a delta T of two-tenths of a degree ?

    This question, tacitly deferred for decades , cannot be put off much longer before, like it or not, those with memories extending back to Jim Hansen’s earliest warnings note how unkind time has been to those framing great expectations of decadal change.

  6. 6
    Unsettled Scientist says:

    That looks to be a pretty interesting Science article, and sadly seems to suggest that we have another decade of denialist claims of “global warming stopped”. I wish I had access to the full text; I may have to hit up the library and get myself a scan.

    From the summaries (mix & match cut & paste):

    “The thermal capacity of the oceans far exceeds that of the atmosphere, so the oceans can store up to 90% of the heat buildup caused by increased concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Cooling periods associated with the deeper heat-sequestration mechanism historically lasted 20 to 35 years. Chen and Tung conclude that the deep Atlantic and Southern Oceans, but not the Pacific, have absorbed the excess heat that would otherwise have fueled continued warming (of the surface temperate).”

  7. 7
    bobbyv says:

    Re #5: Why do the oceans matter so much now? Can we just ignore the surface? Why so much focus on surface temps before the pause?

  8. 8

    Speaking of Arctic sea ice, I wonder if we could learn more about this new paper:

    Unnamed ‘other scientists’ were summarized as saying that “it does more than show that sea ice melt affects worldwide weather, but demonstrates how it happens, with a specific mechanism.”

    It’s not, I’m afraid, clear to me from the abstract alone whether that is actually correct. But if it is, then it would be significant, I would think.

  9. 9
    prokaryotes says:

    Temperature sensitivity of soil respiration rates enhanced by microbial community response

    Soils store about four times as much carbon as plant biomass, and soil microbial respiration releases about 60 petagrams of carbon per year to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Short-term experiments have shown that soil microbial respiration increases exponentially with temperature. This information has been incorporated into soil carbon and Earth-system models, which suggest that warming-induced increases in carbon dioxide release from soils represent an important positive feedback loop that could influence twenty-first-century climate change.

  10. 10

    Re #5: Why do the oceans matter so much now?

    They always have, tremendously. For instance, a turning point in the history of climate science was Bolin & Erikssonpaper (1958) that showed mixing times were long enough that CO2 was indeed being ‘bottlenecked’ at the ocean surface, and that the so-called ‘Callendar effect’ was real.

    Can we just ignore the surface? Why so much focus on surface temps before the pause?

    Don’t see how we can really ignore the surface; it’s the best-measured metric, and after all, it’s where we live. Just because the surface record is being misused by serial misinformers and obfuscators doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

    In response to bobby, currently #7 – See more at:

  11. 11
    Rafael Molina Navas, Madrid says:

    #9: Yesterday BBC News reported about the issue:

    BBC News – Warning over vulnerability of soil carbon to warming

  12. 12
    Meow says:

    @Why does ocean heat content matter?
    Both the surface temperature and the oceans’ heat content (“OHC”) are important. We have generally measured global warming by changes in the surface temperature, but that’s an incomplete shorthand, because the thing that’s really warming or cooling is the earth system, and that includes both the surface and the oceans. It’s true that changes in surface temperature more immediately affect things we care about (such as precipitation patterns), but changes in ocean heat content affect those same things over the longer term, because what happens in the deeps eventually affects what happens on the surface.

    Also, changes in ocean heat content can directly affect things we care about, by, for example, affecting the abundance of fish, or by changing the rate at which the oceans absorb CO2 (they currently absorb about 50% of our yearly emissions), or by modulating the severity of hurricanes (their main energy source is the heat in the upper ~200m of ocean).

    One of the reasons you’re hearing more about OHC now is that the flattening of surface warming since ~2002 has given denialists the opportunity to argue that CO2 levels don’t have much effect on the earth system, or even that the greenhouse effect isn’t real. The accelerating rise in OHC since 2002 shows that heat’s still accumulating in the earth system, just not so much at the surface. That, in turn, shows that rising CO2 levels do significantly affect earth’s heat balance.

  13. 13
    DP says:

    one thing not explained is that when conditions change will the heat stored in the oceans stay there or leak in to the atmosphere?

  14. 14
    Meow says:

    4 Sep 2014 @ 4:55 PM:

    one thing not explained is that when conditions change will the heat stored in the oceans stay there or leak in to the atmosphere?

    This is a very good question. Some of the heat definitely will leak back. In particular, when El Nino returns, some of the heat stored in the western Pacific during the long La Nina-like period we’ve been in will slosh back eastwards and toward the surface; that’s how El Nino cycles work.

    I don’t know what will happen to the other (possibly much more extensive) heat stored in the Atlantic, as argued by Chen et al, . I’m sure the experts will weigh in.

    Also, when ocean heat subduction subsides, the surface will heat much more rapidly, because the energy absorbed from the radiative imbalance has to go somewhere.

  15. 15
    sidd says:

    I have finally finished reading Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century,” and toward the end he has a very brief section entitled “Climate Change and Public Capital.” He observes that Stern and Nordhaus differed on the appropriate discount rate to be applied to environmental blight in the future, but finds Stern more reasonable.

    “Stern’s opinion seems more reasonable than Nordhaus’s, whose optimism is attractive, to be sure, as well as opportunely consistent with the US strategy of unrestricted carbon emissions, but ultimately not very convincing.”

    Just one of the many zingers in the book.

    He expands in a footnote that while both use the same rule to prescribe discount rate, but differ on something called the concavity of the utility function. The footnote concludes:

    “A logically more satisfactory procedure would introduce the fact that the substitutability of natural capital is far from infinite in the long run (…). In other words, if natural capital is destroyed, consuming fewer iPhones in the future will not be enough to repair the damage.”

    As usual, the footnote leads to a fascinating exposition on the web site associated with the book

    The section continues:

    “Suppose that Stern is approximately correct that there is good reason to spend the equivalent of 5 percent of global GDP annually to ward off and environmental catastrophe. Do we really know what to invest in and how we should organize our effort ? … would represent public spending on a vast scale, far vaster than any previous public spending by the rich countries. If we are talking about private investment, we need to be clear on who will own the resulting technologies and patents…It would probably be wise to choose a balanced strategy …”

    In another footnote he includes tools such as a carbon tax, but points out that ” … the price signal has less of an impact on emissions than public investment and changes to building codes …”

    Read the book, and the footnotes, and the web site. Yes it will take a while, but Piketty is worth it, the first data driven work of this magnitude that I have seen.


  16. 16

    #15–Thank you, Sidd!

  17. 17
    Dan H. says:

    Different people have touted the surface temperature data at certain times, whenever it fits their particular agenda. Whether Tung and Zhou are correct in their conclusions that the cyclical movement of the amo results in times of greater surface warming followed by greater ocean warming, is yet to be determined. Looking back, it is evident that the warming was overstated by the surface measurements in the 90s, and is understated by the recent hiatus. Long term, the warming has not deviated significantly from a long-term rate of ~0.6C/century, following an oscillatory path. Regarding Kevin’s comments that the surface is the best metric we have, I would agree that is true in the U.S. and Europe for the most part. Other areas seem to be a bit dicier regarding accuracy. I think the satellit measurements have the potential to be the best metric.

  18. 18
  19. 19
    Pete Best says:

    Re #17 – all the additional heat/radiation trapped by those additional greenhouse gases is going somewhere. Its all conserved after all. So regardless of the exact science that a lot of people seem to require in order to convince them that its something we need to address we keep on bleeding these gases so we can live totally awesome lives man.

    Remember that! :)

  20. 20
    MARodger says:

    Dan H. @17.
    We know you well enough on this site to appreciate your worldview has you wedded to a belief not dissimilar to that proposed by Tung & Zhou. Do be advised that Tung & Zhou present a deeply flawed thesis, indeed fundamentally so.
    One simple demonstration of the poor quality of their thesis is that if AMO as identified in Mann et al (1998) RCP No5 is responsible for the large and very obvious inflections in global surface temperature records like HadCRUT or GISS as Tung & Zhou insist it is, why is then is there no sign of it in RPC Nos1-4, why is there no sign of it in the handle of the hockey stick?
    Tung & Zhou (2013) is riven with such oversight and error. ‘Determination’ is complete. Tung & Zhou (2013) is not worth the paper it is written on.

  21. 21
    Rafael Molina Navas, Madrid says:

    Have a look at the graph at (a skeptic blog!):
    We usually mention +0.7ºC odd as the current warming (relative to before industrialization temp.). So, the graph last figure,”August 2014: +0.2 deg C”, SEEMS to be small …
    But the graph shows “T Departure from ´81-´10 Avg.” … Not too clear actually! Perhaps Dr. Spencer prefers to put it so.
    Afterwards one can see that what shown are “anomalies from the 30-year (1981-2010) average” … If in those three decades warming would have been linear, that reference would app. be 1995 temp. So current temp. would have increased +0.2ºC in 19 years, equivalent to app. +0.9 from now to 2100, what would mean 0.7+0.9=+1.6. The accumulative effects of GHGs would easily bring that figure over the +2ºC limit for 2100!
    And if we watch 2014 montly figures we can see:
    2014 1 +0.291
    2014 2 +0.170
    2014 3 +0.170
    2014 4 +0.190
    2014 5 +0.326
    2014 6 +0.305
    2014 7 +0.304
    2014 8 +0.199
    The average is +0.24/0.25ºC, near to 1/4 higher than 0.2 … over +1.1 instead of +0.9 … +1.8ºC for 2100 if only linear increase!!!

  22. 22
    prokaryotes says:

    Social tipping points and Earth systems dynamics
    Front. Environ. Sci., 19 August 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2014.00035

    Recently, Early Warning Signals (EWS) have been developed to predict tipping points in Earth Systems. This discussion highlights the potential to apply EWS to human social and economic systems, which may also undergo similar critical transitions. Social tipping points are particularly difficult to predict, however, and the current formulation of EWS, based on a physical system analogy, may be insufficient. As an alternative set of EWS for social systems, we join with other authors encouraging a focus on heterogeneity, connectivity through social networks and individual thresholds to change. Link

  23. 23
    Hank Roberts says:

    Shorter Dan H.: long-term rate of ~0.6C/century, oscillatory

    this most recent decade does not affect the long term rate of 0.6C/century since 1880.
    Comment by Dan H. — 8 Feb 2013 @ 9:05 AM
    and many, many other reiterations.

  24. 24
    Mal Adapted says:

    Meow, thank you for that succinct explanation of why Ocean Heat Content matters. I will borrow it for my own poor efforts to counter denier disinformation in public fora. That’s what makes the time I spend at RC worthwhile.

  25. 25
    Meow says:

    @Mal Adapted — 6 Sep 2014 @: Thanks. I’m glad to have said something useful.

  26. 26
    David B. Benson says:

    Discrepancy in Greenland temperatures during end of last ice age resolved
    Models win.

  27. 27
    Tony Weddle says:

    Warming will be non-stop from now on

    Seems to contradict some recent research that the slowdown in surface warming could last another 10 years.

  28. 28
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Tony Weddle … seems to contradict

    No, it actually doesn’t.
    Think of the instructions given on a driver’s license test:

    In the past we weren’t getting anywhere fast, the changes were:
    — “back up; go forward”
    — “stop; start”

    But now, we’re getting onto the highway; the future pattern will be:
    — “slow down; speed up”

  29. 29
    prokaryotes says:

    The problem with the perception of deglaciation is, that it causes regional cooling too, when polar air infiltrates lower latitudes, in exchange for warmer air which accelerates warmth in polar regions.

  30. 30
    Hank Roberts says:

    hat tip to

    A new study published as a joint effort by scientists at Cornell University, the University of Arizona, and the U.S. Geological Survey finds that the chances of the Southwest facing a megadrought are much higher than previously suspected.

    … the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decade-long drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a megadrought — one that lasts up to 35 years — ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century…. according to Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University who has helped pen many studies of historical megadroughts: “By some measures the west has been in drought since 1998 so we might be approaching a megadrought classification!” he says. The study points to manmade global climate change as a possible cause for the drought, which would affect portions of California (where a drought is currently decimating farms), Arizona and New Mexico.


  31. 31
    Dagobert Mc Donalds says:

    and all climate modells are wrong.
    for the prensent 20y, for the last 150y and for the future of course!

    That´s what “real climate” call “science”


  32. 32
  33. 33
    Chuck Hughes says:

    Comment by Dagobert Mc Donalds — 7 Sep 2014 @ 4:35 PM

    Is it just me, or did this comment make absolutely NO sense? I read the previous posts and it seems totally unrelated.

  34. 34
    wili says:

    “Almost 200 countries agreed at United Nations climate talks to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) …

    Carbon intensity will have to be cut by 6.2 percent a year to achieve that goal..”

    “By 2018, no new cars, homes, schools, factories, or electrical power plants should be built anywhere in the world, ever again, unless they’re either replacements for old ones or carbon neutral.

    Otherwise greenhouse gas emissions will push global warming past 2˚C of temperature rise worldwide, threatening the survival of many people currently living on the planet.”

  35. 35
    Ron Taylor says:

    #14 Some of the deep ocean heat is returning to the surface now, as it melts the underside of Antarctic ice shelves.

  36. 36
    Hank Roberts says:

    Wili, you’ve conflated two very different articles there.

    Reuters is about carbon intensity, reduction thereof. That’s needed; Vice prescribes stopping all building — NOT the only possible path.

    Don’t be paralyzed.
    “the only people who think their nation can only be made worse, not better, are likely to be very rich”

  37. 37
    Hank Roberts says:

    hat tip to Alterslash:

    How Scientific Consensus Has Gotten a Bad Reputation

    at Slashdot, user nerdyalien quotes from the article:

    “Fiction author Michael Crichton probably started the backlash against the idea of consensus in science. Crichton was rather notable for doubting the conclusions of climate scientists—he wrote an entire book in which they were the villains—so it’s fair to say he wasn’t thrilled when the field reached a consensus. Still, it’s worth looking at what he said, if only because it’s so painfully misguided: ‘Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results.'”

    and comments

    As a STEM major, I am somewhat biased toward “strong” evidence side of the argument. However, the more I read literature from other, somewhat-related fields (i.e. psychology, economics and climate science), the more I felt they have little opportunity to repeat experiments, similar to counterparts in traditional hard science fields. Their accepted theories are based on limited historical occurrences and consensus among the scholars. Given the situation, it’s important to understand what “consensus” really means.

    And as we all know, we don’t have an unaltered planet as a control, when experimenting with our climate.

  38. 38
    DP says:

    Re 34 As regards restricting warming to less than 2C we may be a little late. Assuming that a 4 watts per square metre = a 3C rise according To the CDIAC site there are already enough emissions to cause a 2C rise, just a case of it working through. We aren’t sure to what extent sulphate aerosol emissions are masking it.

  39. 39
    Chris Dudley says:

    The Tesla battery factory in Reno will be powered by renewable energy.

    4) The rise of green capitalism: Can capitalism and the climate ever be friends? Duh…

  40. 40
    wili says:

    I’m not sure if this will get posted before the 97 hours are up, but Skeptical Science is currently (as of this writing) making a valiant attempt at educating the public about the most important science of our time:

  41. 41
    prokaryotes says:

    Chris Dudley, i think Tesla just proves that, capitalism and the climate can be indeed friends. Both are compatible. Sure there are emissions still, but it’s just a fraction of what it used to be and then all the health benefits from cleaner air. If i ever going to buy a car again it will be driven by electricity and electricity only.

  42. 42
    Chris Dudley says:

    “The UC Berkeley Faculty Association urged the UC Board of Regents to divest funds from fossil fuel companies Sunday, just five days before the UC Task Force on Sustainable Investing will present its own recommendations to the regents.

    The association joins the ASUC and the Graduate Assembly, which have both divested from fossil fuels and encouraged the regents to do the same. Berkeley City Council, which in 2013 became the first city council in the nation to divest its own funds, will be deciding whether to add its support Sept. 9.

    The association’s call to divest also comes before the regents address the issue at their meeting Sept. 17 to 18.”

    9) Climate finance: Who will foot the bill? Suckers who don’t divest from fossil fuels.

  43. 43
    Mal Adapted says:

    Does this signify a turning point?

    Charges Dropped Against Climate Activists:

    With the tiny boat, the two men — Jay O’Hara, 32, and Ken Ward, 57 — dropped anchor and for a day blocked a freighter with a 40,000-ton shipment of coal, and they were arrested and charged with conspiracy, disturbing the peace and other violations.

    The two were scheduled to be tried on Monday, and they planned to deploy an old legal argument called the necessity defense: They had no choice but to act because the consequences of climate change are so dire. But instead of a jury trial, the major charges were dropped or downgraded by the district attorney, who said, in effect, that he was sympathetic to the defendants’ point of view on climate change.

    Who is that DA?

    Mr. Sutter, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the Ninth District in 2012, describes himself as a “fervent environmentalist,” and said a trial could have put him in an awkward position.

    I’m waiting for Mr. Sutter to form a PAC.

  44. 44
    Chris Dudley says:


    Are you going to have time on September 21 to join the largest ever climate march in NYC? I think you would make a great speaker on the AR5 conclusions, a just the facts kind of speech. Your experience would make a good RC post as well.

  45. 45
    Richard Hawes says:

    For anybody who subscribes to Quaternary Science Review or is a member of GSL, QSR have a whole 158 page / 7 paper issue focusing on deglaciation of Antarctica since the Last Glacial Maximum.
    Very interesting and highly recommended.

  46. 46
  47. 47
    Chris Dudley says:

    “A UC panel proposed Tuesday that environmental and social issues should influence how the system invests its $91 billion in endowment and retirement funds. But the group stopped short of endorsing the sell off of holdings in the fossil fuel industries that student activists are seeking.

    Entering a debate about environmental responsibility that has roiled college campuses nationwide, the new UC plan has sections that are crafted to please social justice activists and environmentalists. For example, it includes an ambitious goal of investing $1 billion in UC funds over the next five years in renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable agriculture.

    But the issue of divesting from companies with large reserves in coal, gas and oil as a way to slow climate change clearly was divisive for the UC Task Force on Sustainable Investing. The group was formed by UC leaders in part in response to students’ demonstrations for divestment.

    In an early draft of its report, the panel of UC regents, administrators, faculty and students took a stronger stand against such divesting, saying that it could hurt the university’s finances and not slow climate change much.

    The final compromise version, however, calls on the UC system to evaluate all investment strategies for achieving environmental and social goals “as soon as practical, including whether to use divestment.

    The two students on the 11-member panel cast the only opposing votes to the report Tuesday, officials said. The report will be reviewed and voted on by a UC regents committee on investments Friday and by the full board of regents at a meeting next week which student protesters say they will attend.

    The regents may consider changing the report to include a plan to divest specifically from just the coal industry, as Stanford University recently announced it would. Gov. Jerry Brown, who is a UC regent, has expressed support for coal divestment.”

  48. 48
    Chris Dudley says:

    “In an effort to combat climate change, 245 BU faculty members have signed a petition asking the University to divest oil, gas, and coal companies from its endowment.

    The petition was presented by four faculty members and one student yesterday to President Robert A. Brown, who said he would forward it to the trustees when they meet in two weeks and to the University’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, which was created last year. Brown said the trustees had already been approached by the student group DivestBU and had the climate change issue on their radar.

    Meeting with the petition presenters in a conference room at One Silber Way, Brown called climate change “the most important issue this advisory committee will face” in the foreseeable future. “Certainly,” he said, “this will get the full attention of that committee and the trustees and administration.”

    “The climate change crisis is threatening life on Earth, and demands immediate and transformative actions by individuals, governments, businesses, and institutions,” the petition reads.”

  49. 49

    #33–It’s not just you, Chuck. That read like a borehole escapee.

  50. 50

    #49–On ‘consensus’: the ‘contrarian’ view seems to be based on the idea that consensus is purely arbitrary–a pure social construct, based on either a) New World Order ideology or b) economic self-interest.

    That, of course, is nonsense–the consensus is based (firmly, one hopes) in evaluations of the extant evidence that are as thorough and objective as possible.

    Take Crichton’s “lone investigator” who discovers a Truth. What does he do, having discovered it? Well, of course he publishes it, so that other investigators can evaluate whether or not it is indeed “reproducible.” The seed of Truth then grows into a tree of consensus, because, well, it’s true. But the fact that it’s evidence-based
    does not alter the fact that it is, pretty much by definition, a consensus.

    general agreement.
    “a consensus of opinion among judges”
    synonyms: agreement, harmony, concurrence, accord, unity, unanimity, solidarity; formal: concord
    “there was consensus among delegates”
    antonyms: disagreement

    (Note that there’s nothing in the definition about the grounding of the consensus: it simply describes a state of ‘agreement’ among some group or other.)

    Although to be fair, given the tendency of most so-called contrarians also to exhibit denial of some aspect of the extant evidence, perhaps it is understandable that they would distrust others in this regard…