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The Human Hand in Climate Change

Filed under: — mike @ 23 January 2007

Kerry Emanuel (whose influential scientific work we’ve discussed here previously) has written a particularly lucid and poignant popular article on climate change for the literary forum “Boston Review”. The article is entitled Phaeton’s Reins: The human hand in climate change. We thought it worth passing along.

248 Responses to “The Human Hand in Climate Change”

  1. 1
    Karen Street says:

    A question — what happened 500 million years ago that led to so much ice?

    A correction (I think) — there are 382 carbon dioxide molecules out of every million air molecules, which is equivalent to 382 liters carbon dioxide out of every million — not tons.

  2. 2
    John L. McCormick says:

    Dr. Emanuel provides a thorough, factual and balanced history of the past thirty years of scientists and the public struggling to understand, accept and respond to the human hand in climate change.

    Frankly, it would be high on my list of items to be included in a time capsule. Then, our great grandchildren might understand the extreme complexity of putting the science pieces together in a time of bitter political cat fighting and corporate campaigns to confuse and paralyze our political leaders.

    That said, we now have an opportunity to write page two and the science pieces appear to driving more consensus and now, action.

  3. 3
    Pete says:

    Thanks for the great link.

    And speaking of the human hand in climate change, lately I have seen a lot of climate change denialists citing an article by L. F. Khilyuk and G. V. Chilingar, entitled “On global forces of nature driving the Earth’s climate. Are humans involved?” in Environmental Geology.

    Here’s link to it:

    I would really like to hear what you folks at Real Climate have to say about it. To me it seems it suffers from several flaws that have to do with the time scale of changes we are seeing today and the time scales the processes in this paper operate at.

    Unfortunately ,the paper’s abstract ends with this little sound bite: “The writers show that the human-induced climatic changes are negligible.”

    Could you either provide a rebutal to this paper here in this comment thread or in a full post. I’d really like to have an informed critique to point to regarding this misleading paper.

    [Response: The best rebuttal comes from the one ‘in press’ at the same journal by W. Aeschbach-Hertig, 2006 which is available: .
    Also, try reading – gavin]

  4. 4

    Nice piece, but I wonder if the willingness to address climate change is further advanced, including in the US, than Kerry Emmanuel suggests when he warns at the end of his piece of scientific illiteracy among politicians and groupthink among left leaning academics.

    From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Senators John McCain and Ted Stevens, Republicans are initiating policies that could lead to actual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman writes that the hallmark of a successful ideological revolution is that it swiftly makes party political labels irrelevant, and that this appears to be happening with climate change. Amanda Griscom Little picks up the same theme in a piece titled “Tip Tip Hooray!”

    Of course, whether the new orthodoxy — if that is what it proves to be — leads to actions sufficient to meet the challenge is another question.

  5. 5
    Eric Ellsworth says:

    Thanks for the heads-up. That’s one of the most concise explanations of what we do and don’t know in climate science I’ve ever read. The history of the politicization of the debate is also quite good, though not as ringingly clear. One thing Kerry mentions that I’ve seen relatively little press on is the tendency for more conservative model estimates to make it into reports. Is this due to the desire to avoid having a strong claim with a greater possibility of being wrong splayed across the papers, or are the probabilities truly lower and uncertainties higher for less conservative estimates?

    Personally, one of the reasons I found the warm spell last month so disturbing was that unlike previous El Nino years I looked at, there was a temperature anomaly of around +8C over nearly all of Canada and the Arctic. To me this ought to at least raise the possibility that Arctic warming is proceeding along much a LESS consersative timeline than conservative model estimates incorporated into reports like the IPCC have suggested. Ceartainly weather != climate, but is there something to be made of the strong high-latitude temperature anomaly, which is apparently a new feature in the dataset? Can anyone here comment on this?

  6. 6
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #1: See this recent RC post by Raypierre. There’s an even more recent paper on the transition discussed here; see also this discussion of a predecessor paper.

  7. 7
    SecularAnimist says:

    I take issue with a passage near the end of Emanuel’s article. He writes that “in 1988, James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, set off a firestorm of controversy by testifying before Congress that he was virtually certain that a global-warming signal had emerged from the background climate variability.”

    Of course, Hansen turned out to be correct, and while he may have “set off a firestorm of controversy”, he also helped to “set off” eighteen years of research into the question. But my real objection comes when Emanuel then goes on thusly:

    At roughly this time, radical environmental groups and a handful of scientists influenced by them leapt into the fray with rather obvious ulterior motives. This jump-started the politicization of the issue, and conservative groups, financed by auto makers and big oil, responded with counterattacks.

    First of all, who are these alleged scientists who were “influenced” by “radical environmental groups”? And who exactly does Emanuel mean by “radical environmental groups”? And what are these alleged “rather obvious ulterior motives”?

    This is pretty inflammatory and accusatory language to be using, without backing it up with specifics, and suprisingly it is exactly the language that is always used by the AGW deniers funded by the fossil fuel industry: “These people trying to scare you about global warming are a bunch of dirty hippie radicals whose real motive is to destroy capitalism and force you to live in caves, or rogue scientists who are trying to dupe you into giving them more grant money.”

    Second, Emanuel’s statement that “radical environmental groups” and scientists “influenced” by them “jump-started” the “politicization” of the issue, and that the oil and auto industries only “responded” to this “politicization” is exactly backwards from my recollection of that period, the late eighties and early nineties. It is my recollection that the oil and auto industries began propagandizing against public awareness and acceptance of fossil-fuel driven global warming from the earliest moments that the issue received any public attention. They weren’t just “responding” to “radical groups” with “ulterior motives.”

    [Response:I personally was rather cheesed at the statement toward the end, “Scientists are most effective when they provide sound, impartial advice, but their reputation for impartiality is severely compromised by the shocking lack of political diversity among American academics, who suffer from the kind of group-think that develops in cloistered cultures. Until this profound and well documented intellectual homogeneity changes, scientists will be suspected of constituting a leftist think tank.” My strongest political views are environmental. There aren’t that many anti-environmentalist oceanographers out there, rather a rare breed. Does Emanual think I should hire some creationists for my geology department? Let him hire some for his! David]

  8. 8
    SecularAnimist says:

    Another bone to pick about this article. Emanuel writes:

    … environmentalists have only just begun to rethink their visceral opposition to nuclear power. Had it not been for green opposition, the United States today might derive most of its electricity from nuclear power, as does France; thus the environmentalists must accept a large measure of responsibility for todayâ��s most critical environmental problem.

    First of all, the opposition to nuclear power is not “visceral”. It is substantive. Proponents of nuclear power like to say that the opposition is “visceral” or “irrational” so they don’t have to deal with the substantive arguments against nuclear power.

    Second of all, environmentalists are indeed “re-thinking” and “re-re-thinking” the question of nuclear power, and increasingly are coming to the conclusion that it has little to offer in terms of mitigating anthropogenic GHG emissions. It is by far the most expensive and least effective option available. Apart from its dangers and risks, the toxic pollution it generates in huge amounts, and the nuclear weapons materials it proliferates, it would take many decades even in the most aggressive scenarios put forward by the nuclear industry before nuclear power would even begin to make a dent in the growth of GHG emissions, by taking the place of new coal power plant construction, let alone actually contribute to reducing emissions by replacing existing coal-powered plants. Conservation, distributed photovoltaics and windpower, combined with a new-generation smart electric grid redesigned from the ground up to handle distributed intermittent power generation (see Al Gore’s recent proposal for a DARPAnet-style project to develop an “electricity Internet”), can do the job faster, cheaper, and much more safely, and in the end will give us a more sustainable and resilient electrical energy system.

    Third, the reason that no nuclear power plants have been built in the USA in decades is not “green opposition”, it is the complete economic failure of nuclear power — despite over one hundred billion dollars in federal subsidies to prop it up.

    Emanuel does not remotely demonstrate either (1) that the US has “failed” to build hundreds and hundreds of nuclear power plants as a result of “green opposition” or (2) that environmentalists therefore “must accept a large measure of responsibility” for the USA’s soaring greenhouse gas emissions.

    Also, Emanuel writes that not only nuclear power but wind power is “viewed with deep ambivalence by the left” (equating the environmental movement with “the left”, whatever “the left” may mean to him — he doesn’t say). The sole example he gives is “Senator Kennedy” who “is strongly opposed to a project to develop wind energy near his home in Hyannis”. (I wonder if Emanuel is confusing Senator Ted Kennedy with attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr who has been an outspoken opponent of the Cape Wind offshore wind turbine project?) In fact, the environmental and clean energy movement overwhelmingly supports wind power, and overwhelmingly supports that particular project. Kennedy’s opposition is a unique case and in no way represents a widespread “ambivalence” about wind power in the environmental / clean energy community.

    Emanuel is a climate scientist, not an expert on energy issues or on the history of the environmental movement and its campaigns for clean renewable energy, yet he is writing definitive-sounding pronouncements on these matters that reflect a great deal of ignorance, in an apparent attempt to be “fair and balanced” in his criticisms of “both sides” of the political debate about the problem of global warming and the solutions to it.

  9. 9
    L. David Cooke says:

    Hey All;

    I want to say that I am not anywhere close to being qualified to question the works of Dr. Emanuel and under no circumstances do I intend disrespect. However, I have noted some things that concern me as to whether or not they are appropriate or I fail to feel comfortable that a strong data source exists that supports the conclusions shared there. So please forgive me as I share my ignorance and if you can assist with sources or the understanding of the reasons that the data is definitive, my thanks.

    I am a little confused, Dr. Emanuel has made the following statement; “It is a remarkable fact that, averaged over the planet, the surface receives more radiation from the atmosphere than directly from the sun!” and I have not seen the source of this comment. The main information appears to be indicated by a model in a 2003 paper by Dr. Hansen and appears to have been confirmed by satellite in 2005. However, there have not been confirming measurements from terrestrial based devices, to my knowledge on clear night skies. Does anyone have the reference that confirms this statement?

    Later on he talks about two leaves and then continues in the reduction of the time it takes for the two leaves to increase in distance from one another. I have done this experiment hundreds for times as a youth and I can assure you the chance that this assumption is valid appears to be less then 25%. Repeatedly I have released to identical floating objects to have them stay together less then 10 feet of flow or 20 seconds for nearly 90% of the time. By the same token I have been able to release two identical objects in the same stream separated by 1 foot to have them join together 20 feet away locked together by surface tension and the primary change was the amount of flow in the stream. Therefore, I don’t know if this is an appropriate example. However, it does act as a vehicle to explain the basis of the reason there is a belief that the quality of the model to track the actual phenomenon is close enough for a period of time. Also it appears to help explain, that if the values of the two data banks were not tracking close enough they would diverge much quicker

    Yet, it appears that the models being employed still have a tendency to use broad strokes of the brush to define the patterns and their effects on the long term weather. From what I have seen there has not been an analysis in the physical processes of what causes change or oscillations of these broad scale patterns. If the point is that less clouds in the Western Tropical Pacific were the primary driver of increased SSTs and the slow down of the Walker circulation then what happens if you plug those characteristics into the model instead of the ENSO pattern? If I recall correctly, the runs experience a quicker divergence in the values then when the large scale pattern is employed. To me this says we still do not have the drivers correct. When I look at the Colorado State Lidar of water vapor density and upper atmospheric temperature estimates I see many processes occurring that we do not apparently have a clear description for. IE: On the one hand the folks at CSU demonstrate that aerosol size and color affect CCN effectiveness in regards to precipitation and at the same time we have work from UCSC that discounts the requirement of aerosols for CCN which one is true and under which conditions are both or either true. This leads to the next question which one is the primary process in cloud formation? That there appears to be peer reviewed studies in apparent opposition to each other seems to suggest that both are correct; however, they are only different sides of the same subject and we do not have enough understanding of the subject yet.

    Finally, when a scientist suggests that a politician needs to understand scientific processes or suggests the need for a scientific politician it worries me. Rather than a scientific politician why not a scientist that suggests that there are questions as to the validity of the observations of the study and under which conditions they may be accurate. Rather than suggesting politicians be scientists or scientists be politicians why not suggest that politicians be politicians and scientists be scientists and when the subject is clearly defined by sufficient scientific work that it be described as such and shared with the politicians.

    In the case in which there is a rush to gather additional data and there exists peer reviewed data that appears to contradict each other that maybe there remains more science to be done. Are we done with scientific research now and can redirect climate funding to other things? I do not believe we are done. I suggest that before a conclusion is trumpeted from the press that the definitive answer has been achieved we need to demonstrate the data that exists is definitive.

    Dave Cooke

  10. 10
    Ike Solem says:

    Well, that was one of the clearest things I’ve ever read on the issue of anthropogenic climate change, that seemed to touch on all of the main issues, with one exception: the effects of rapid climate change on the biosphere. This is not meant as a criticism, because regardless of how difficult it is to predict the responses of the physical land-ocean-atmosphere-ice system to changes in atmospheric gases and aerosols, predicting the biological response is even more difficult.

    This is because there is no single equation for a biochemical activity like photosynthesis or methane formation and oxidation; the organisms involved are sensitive to a wide variety of variables and may also change their biochemical behavior in response to environmental stimuli.

    However, there are a number of very disturbing signs: the decline of coral reefs after the 1997-1998 El Nino spike in tropical sea surface temperatures; the issue of effects on tropical rainforests in the Amazon; and the unknown biological and biochemical responses to the warming of northern permafrost regions, as well as the effects on the global planktonic ecosystem that underlies all of the world’s fishieries. There is also the related issue of the effects on calcification as the ocean’s acidity increases due to higher amounts of CO2 being absorbed by the oceans. Predicting the timescales of these responses seems even more difficult then dealing with the strictly physical processes such as melting ice sheets and hurricanes.

    There seem to be a number of conclusions: biological processes are sensitive to ‘extreme events’ in a way that other physical processes are not; thus an entire crop might be killed off by a one-week heat wave, even if the change in yearly average temps resulting from the heat wave are miniscule. Secondly, predicting the reactions of the biosphere is even more fraught with uncertainty then predicting physical processes – which seems to mean that it is critical to monitor the biosphere – and it also seems clear that there is a strong effect, as measured by already accumulated observations, of global warming on the biosphere. There are also other influences on the biosphere (rainforest removal via logging, and industrial pollution of lakes and the ocean, for example) that may be difficult to separate from climate-related temperature effects.

    Perhaps the most important take-home message is the need for independent scientific institutions that are not under the control of political or economical (or religious) power centers.

    A similar problem to the one described in this article has arisen in attempts to calculate the actual ‘energy efficiency’ and net CO2 emissions involved in ethanol production; the issue is well summarized at scienceblogs: Bad Math and Ethanol – On one side is the ethanol lobby; on the other is the fossil fuel lobby, and the actual facts? Hard to say.

    There are many similar examples; I was trying to figure out whether or not the ‘pebble-bed nuclear reactor’ was really a safe form of nuclear power or not; that industry link says yes; this nuclear watchdog group link says no, and the facts are what?

    There is a story that relates to this; when Ernst Rutherford, discoverer of the nucleus of the atom, was a graduate student, he brought some nifty invention to his advisor, J.J. Thompson at the Cavendish laboratory and told him that an investor was interested in it; Thompson looked at the device and then told Rutherford, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon”… and the rest is history.

    Many public scientific institutions in this country would do well to heed Thompson’s advice; the private sector is where profitable inventions should be developed (Bell Labs being the classic example – source of both the solar cell and the transistor).

  11. 11
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    Dr. Emanuel did write a very good article, but I cringed a little when he wrote about the “radical environmental groups”. I have seen many times people who are very quick to dismiss the things that the skeptics and contrarians say about climate science as nonsense. However they will accept without question what the skeptics and contrarians say about environmentalists.

    Just as there there are standard skeptic talking points about climate science, there are standard talking points to bash environmentalists. Unfortunately Dr. Emanuel touched on some of them, like how radical they are and the power (ie they stopped nuclear power) they have.

  12. 12
    joel Hammer says:

    Governor Schwarzenegger, who is urging strong action to fight global warming, just asked the US Govt for about a billion dollars to fix damage to his state’s citrus crop due to record cold weather.

    I asked before on this blog, and got no answer. In any given year, is global temperature a zero sum game? If it is colder than normal somewhere, does it have to be warmer somewhere else?

    [Response:Generally, for natural climate fluctuations, the global mean temperature doesn’t change much. El Nino drives the temperature up a few tenths of a degree, by moving heat from the ocean, but generally, warmer here means cooler there. The climate response to rising CO2 has been different in this respect, in that there is a general warming trend almost everywhere. David]

  13. 13
    Charles Muller says:

    Nice piece. Some rapid comments.

    KE quote
    “The second strand also sees the natural state of the universe as a stable one but holds that it has become destabilized through human actions. The great floods are usually portrayed in religious traditions as attempts by a god or gods to cleanse the earth of human corruption.”
    > Interesting metaphor, for political rather than scientific speech. Easy to identify such a “religious-unconscious” basis in some current sermons on humankind’s sin.

    KE quote :
    “Since the early 1980s, improved technology and ever more stringent regulations have diminished sulfate aerosol pollution in the developed countries, aided by the collapse of the USSR and the subsequent reduction of industrial output there. On the other hand, sources of sulfate aerosols have been steadily increasing in Asia and the developing countries, so it is unclear how the net global aerosol content has been changing over the past 25 years.”
    > It’s a pity that the main anthropic forcing except GHG’s is so poorly monitored. Because of that, it’s quite difficult to contradict the following assertion : 1980s onward warming is at great part due to direct / indirect effects of sulfate aerosols drop. (Remember the warming trend : 0,49 K 1977-2006 ; 0,41 K 1916-45 on Nasa Giss ; “exceptionnal warming’ of past three decades is just but 0,08 K / dec. as compared to the prior significative period of GW).

    KE quote
    “At roughly this time, radical environmental groups and a handful of scientists influenced by them leapt into the fray with rather obvious ulterior motives. This jump-started the politicization of the issue, and conservative groups, financed by auto makers and big oil, responded with counterattacks.”
    > So, we must conclude that politicization began from environmentalist exaggeration ?

    KE quote
    “Ever eager for the drama of competing dogmas, the media largely ignored mainstream scientists whose hesitations did not make good copy. As the global-warming signal continues to emerge, this soap opera is kept alive by a dwindling number of deniers constantly tapped for interviews by journalists who pretend to look for balance.”
    > Probably true in the USA, not the same perception from Europe (here, no debate at all).

    KE quote
    “In the first category are findings that are not in dispute, not even by les refusards (…) The year 2005 was the warmest in the instrumental record.”
    > No, that’s second category; HadCrut, WMO, RSS, UAH told us that 2005 was colder than 1998.

  14. 14
    Blair Dowden says:

    I think that the accuracy of Dr. Emanuel’s statements about the politicization of environmental issues can be measured by hostile tone of some the the responses here. In particular, SecularAnimist attacks him as if he was a global warming denialist, using the standard technique of challenging any point he disagreed with by asking for details beyond the scope of the article. Of course, no such questions were asked about, for example, the section on hurricanes which is a bit vague on their actual connection with global warming.

    I agree that nuclear power was stopped more because it “failed” economically than by anti-nuclear lobbying. (By the way, I was active in that campaign. I am no longer 100 percent sure it was the right thing to do.) It failed for the same reason renewable energy has failed, because it is cheaper to burn coal. Nuclear plants have a long lead time before they produce energy, but other than that I don’t know if it costs more per installed megawatt of power than the renewable alternatives, and neither does SecularAnimist. He just has faith that it does.

    I think David missed the point about the “intellectual homogeneity” of acedemics. He is not talking about agreement on a scientific issue such as climate change or evolution, he means (I assume) the social and political viewpoints outside their area of expertise.

    I am pleased to see a scientist speaking out against the political polarization of the important issue of climate change, and am not really surprise a few feathers have been ruffled.

    [Response:Bah! What politics am I being accused of favoring here? Maybe English departments are roiled by political considerations, but I don’t see either Karl Marx or Adam Smith as playing any role in science discourse, or hiring, or evaluation of global warming, or anything else. It just doesn’t come up. Views of environmental stewardship or lack thereof tend to get lumped together with lots of other political baggage by our two-party system in the U.S., but that’s not my fault. David]

    [Response: Kerry has bought into the conservative shibboleth that the tendency of academics to be liberals (and generally democratic liberals) comes from some active exclusion of conservatives who otherwise happen to be good scholars. There’s no evidence for this; it’s more that the supply of people who become academic scholars tend to lean liberal, and you can make your own speculations about why that is. I’ve never in thirty years encountered a case where a hiring decision took into account somebody’s politics. Standard speculations about the liberal tendencies of academics are that: (1) Academics tend to be more idealistic and less interested in money, since similarly talented people could make more money outside academe if they want to; these traits tend to correlate with liberalism. (2) Academics are generally smarter or at least have looked at issues in more depth, and they tend to be liberal because in most cases the liberal position is the correct one. I don’t know of any studies that say that either one of these speculations is right, but either one sounds more plausible to me than the idea of active exclusion. Anyway, just what are we supposed to do about it? Are we talking about Affirmative Action for Conservatives — i.e. giving preference in hiring to less qualified conservatives, for the sake of diversity? I have indeed heard conservatives argue for this. It’s the one case where they tend to show any support for affirmative action. –raypierre]

  15. 15
    Blair Dowden says:

    Re #9 from Dave Cooke: A reference for the statement “the surface receives more radiation from the atmosphere than directly from the sun” can be found in any standard radiation balance chart, eg. this one from the 2001 IPCC report.

    A technical question of my own: Emanuel says “doubling the concentration of CO2 would raise the average surface temperature by about 1.4 F”, or 0.78 C. Of course this is only the direct radiative forcing, but I thought it was more like 1.2 degrees C.

  16. 16
    Karen Street says:

    I’m puzzled by #8’s assertion that no one in policy supports nuclear power, since among the policy people (at the local university and elsewhere) I talk to, and read in peer review journals, there appears to be a general acceptance that nuclear power is necessary. For a few people, that acceptance is grudging; most don’t find this a problem or are enthusiastic about nuclear power. Dr. Emanuel may be disappointed; I live in a liberal town.

    I made a quiz on the relative dangers of nuclear and fossil fuels, because when I began looking at the issues I found myself surprised at the numbers.

    Thanks for the links on origins of the ice age hundreds of millions of years ago. If I understand correctly, the ice age was a result of continent position.

  17. 17
    Ike Solem says:

    That statement, “No, that’s second category; HadCrut, WMO, RSS, UAH told us that 2005 was colder than 1998.” is incorrect.

    The mean for 2005 was higher than for 1998, but according to the error estimates overlap:

    “The highest global surface temperature in more than a century of instrumental data was recorded in the 2005 calendar year in the GISS annual analysis. However, the error bar on the data implies that 2005 is practically in a dead heat with 1998, the warmest previous year.”

    1997-1998 was also when the strongest El Nino of the 20th century occurred; it seems reasonable to assume that this event resulted in a large ocean-to-atmosphere heat transfer that explains the record temps recorded around the globe; no such event occurred in 2005.

  18. 18
    Steve Latham says:

    [Response: Ad hom irrelevance deleted by rtp. This commenter notes the following:]

    This is about the global warming benefits of going vegetarian. I wonder if the claims about reduced greenhouse gases are supportable.

    [Response: This work was done in my department by two very talented and careful faculty members, Gidon Eshel and Pam Martin. It is entirely credible and well supported, and was published in a peer reviewed journal. Earth Interactions . The press reports of this work routinely garble the findings. To get up to the Prius level, you have to difference a meat-laden Argentine type diet with a vegan diet. From average American diet to pure vegan is somewhat smaller. A surprise to me is that chicken is actually better than lots of dairy, so far as GW impact goes. They don’t consider efficient animal protein (rabbits (sorry Pam!) and catfish) which are potentially low impact but not currently part of the diet. For me, what was disappointing is that it appears you need to go full vegan to have a big impact. Ovo-lacto helps, but not nearly as much. What’s life without cheese? Its a matter of personal choice what tradeoffs one makes to reduce one’s CO2 impact. For me, I’ve been looking elsewhere than going complete vegan. Regardless of the implications for personal diet choices, a very important implication is that there are big numbers lurking in agricultural practices. If there is a way to make dairy production less CO2 intensive, there’s a lot of leverage in that. –raypierre]

  19. 19
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #17: It wasn’t the policy people who killed the nukes the first time around, nor would I expect them to this time. What’s most telling about nuke supporters now is the way they so enthusiastically skip over the low-hanging fruit, starting with efficiency and conservation.

  20. 20
  21. 21
    James says:

    Re #8, #20, and others commenting on nuclear power: I’m in the middle of reading Lovelock’s “Revenge of Gaia” at the moment. He cites an interesting statistic: it seems that the actual number of deaths per terawatt-year caused by nuclear power is about 10% of the nearest conventional source (natural gas, IIRC), and far less than such seemingly benign sources such as hydropower.

    As to the economic costs, it seems not to have occured to you that the reason that fossil-fuel power is less expensive is that they get to dispose of their garbage, especially the CO2, for free. Suppose your local coal-fired plant had to pay for CO2 sequestration: how competitive would it be then? Start taxing CO2 production at a rate that at least approaches the real cost of the problems it causes, and nuclear power (like other alternative sources) will look lots better.

    As to nuke supporters (and I count myself as one) skipping over the low-hanging fruit, nothing could be further from the truth. Some of us just recognize that even the best we can realistically do in that department still isn’t going to be enough.

    [Response: Another thing to think about with regard to the US/French comparison on nuclear power is that a large part of the responsibility for the relative failure of nuclear in the US lies with the incompetence of the US nuclear industry and the incompetence of US oversight and direction of nuclear electricity generation. France can simply build plants cheaper and faster, and run them more reliably. This is partly because the French have learned not to be afraid of government, and have learned to do centralized things well. That talent doesn’t work for everything, but for nuclear power, it does seem to work well. –raypierre]

  22. 22
    Vern Johnson says:

    A very comprehensive and lucid explanation in ordinary language of why man’s global industrial activities are now the root cause of what we are measuring and observing, and why the fat is now in the fire and why we will not be able to reverse gears in the face of rampant greed and Capitalism to say nothing of idiotic hyper-consumerism of which we all are guilty. We must now accomodate and adapt to the inevitable, a rather bleak prospect for our grandchildren. Kerry Emanuel, I hope, is of some influence upon Bush and his fellows [edited] but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    [Response: Please, no ad-homs. -gavin]

  23. 23
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #17 again: This article tells part of the sad tale as to why the false choice between fossil fuels and nukes continues to have traction, but here we have environmentalists filling in the gap by proposing a comprehensive alternative to continued reliance on big coal/nukes.

  24. 24
    Sally says:

    Life without cheese? I’m prepared to cut down on energy use drastically …. but cheese? Say it ain’t so!

  25. 25
    Robin Johnson says:

    I seem to recall that TMI lit a fire under Nuclear Power and Chernobyl put a fork in it from a public support point of view. Building a nuclear plant, mining, refining and transporting uranium and the resultant wastes are fairly fossil fuel intensive operations so the net reduction in CO2 emissions is not as large as one first supposes.

    As far as vegan diet baloney…

    The problem with farm raised animal protein is actually the special feed concentrates made from intensive farming of corn and soybeans. Addtionally those feed concentrates are omega-3 poor and cause harm in more ways than one…

    Proper traditional feeding with grazing, hay, waste food, etc is a slightly more efficient food production method since it converts non-edible stuff into high quality edible stuff. It’s not a big win mind you – but it’s definitely a win. Another factor is that pigs and poultry don’t produce very much methane. The link below seems on the mark with everything else I’ve ever read on the subject of animal food production.

  26. 26
    Hank Roberts says:

    >”the surface receives more radiation from the atmosphere than directly from the sun”

    While it won’t help you at night or outside the visible spectrum, a quick way to consider this:
    — compare any photograph taken on Earth to any taken on the Moon. There’s probably a light meter reading somewhere taken of Moon shadows; you can take one of Earth shadows on any sunny day and measure the visible light reaching that point from the atmosphere. Or
    — sit inside a room in a sunbeam, and take a light meter reading with an incident light meter (the kind with the little white bubble over the chip). Then go outdoors in an open area and take another reading, where the incident light will include the light coming from the whole dome of the sky.

  27. 27
    Geordie says:

    I feel like the going vegan concept being better then cutting emissions through cars etc. is a little presuming. If I stopped eating meat it doesn’t mean the company growing and slaughtering the animals is going to change their ways and start selling soy products or peanuts. In fact the only way I think that could happen is through some sort of legislation, like taxing meat consumption somehow. I seriously doubt that would happen anytime soon, most people like their food more then their cars. It would however make for a good side point to motivate people to contribute in other ways. ‘Do everything you can to cut carbon emmisions or go to bed with out your dinner’ :)
    Seriously though, most people I know would rather drive a bike use solar power and so on, rather then give up what they love to eat.
    I wonder if it is even a feasable idea?

  28. 28

    #19 Life without cheese? That might become a serious reason why France will not sign a prolongation of the Kyoto protokoll. Might be there is a solution by international cheese-quota trading? France pays some Million $ to support cheese free alimentation in China and gains some “Mega Fromage” to go on with its own consumption.

  29. 29
    Craig Allen says:

    Re #17 and 20:

    I like the low hanging fruit analogy.

    Here in Australia we were recently presented with a report into the viability and necessity of nuclear power. The group producing the report is government selected panel of nuclear science and industry types. They tell us that the country should go nuclear and could have 25 nuclear reactors operational within a two or three decades (!!!). The only problem is that they estimate that for Australia with all our cheap coal, nuclear power would be 40% more expensive than coal fired electricity. So there would need to be a carbon tax that leveled the difference and/or nuclear power would have to be subsidised. The government, which until recently has been denying that greenhouse is an issue and that it would cost us too much to deal with anyway, is now pushing for the nuclear option. (And by-the-way talking lots about all the money we will make digging up selling and using lots more of our uranium deposits.)

    What I don’t get is that we also have unlimited sunshine, plenty of wind power projects underway and being planned, the exploitation of our dry-rock geothermal energy provinces seems imminently about to go ahead, etc. And they would all probably be cheaper than nuclear. A single dry-rock geothermal province discovered recently has enough tappable energy to supply all our projected energy needs for the next 70 years! Projects to tap these energy sources are going ahead slowly now anyway, so they must be close to being competative with coal. It seems to me that if there were a 40% carbon tax, in an otherwise open market they would leave nuclear floundering. Unless, of course, we choose to set the nuclear subsidy + carbon tax mix so that nuclear is cheaper to the consumer than alternative energies.

    So Professor Emanuel, great article. However, when it comes to the suggestion that environmentalists should be condemned for not supporting nuclear, I am yet to be convinced.

  30. 30
    pete best says:

    You have to analyse what the term climate change or AGW as it is known here at realclimate really means? Lets define the term AGW.

    People talk about the climate system solely but it seems to me that it is at times about the earth system due to the feedbacks that are involved and how parts of the systems work such as the oceans ability to absorb CO2, the ice caps albedo, how foliage (plants and trees) effects the climate again by abosrbing and relasing CO2 and transpiration I would imagine, and many more besides.

    Although AGW specifically relates to the burning of carbon based compounds in liquid, gas and solid form that creates CO2 in the atmosphere there are large other human activities that also effect the atmohphere such as burning and deforestation etc that also efect the climate and atmosphere. Can we seperate them out or clump it all togetehr under the term AGW?

  31. 31
    Alan says:

    RE #12: I guess the best you could say is that it is slighly positive game over 10 years, one year would not be enough I assume ( someone correct me if I’m wrong ).

    The billion dollars for Arnie’s orages is the kind of thing we have been suffering in Australia. In 2006 our grain harvest was down 62%, the dairy herd down 20%, and livestock in the S/SE was culled down to ~1/3. We have had average rainfall over last year (when measured across the entire continent) but the drought still managed to halt the flow of water in Australia’s “breadbasket” (the murry darling basin) and perpetuate the ever stricter water rationing. The reason we had average rainfall was because more of it fell in the tropics and NW of the country (much of which is useless for traditional farming).

    Since new-year the weather has (thankfully) turned wet (due to El Nino) but in this prosses there have already been record flash floods in SA. However it’s too late for the grain harvest or the fruit destroyed by a couple of unseasonal cold blasts interspersed in the record heatwaves or the entire bannana crop lost to a cyclone.

  32. 32
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #16

    Hey Mr. Dowden;

    Where is the data source that supports the charts indication of 324 Watts/ m^2 of back radiation?

    As to scientist politicians, my preference is that the intellect of the expert be focused where they are best accomplished or trained. Spliting the attention among different subjects has a tendency of reducing the intellect.

    If the scientist follows good procedures and presents data where there is repeatable direct measurements with little conflict across data sets then the data and the analysis stands on its own. It is when there is not direct measureable evidence of a hypothetical physical process that questions arise.

    (Hard verifiable data does not require the politican to “have to understand science or scientific methods”.)

    Dave Cooke

    [Response: There are plenty of downwelling LW measurements at all the ARM sites for instance: – there is nothing ‘hypothetical’ about it. -gavin]

  33. 33
    pete best says:

    Re #30, Nuclear power has high CO2 production over the lifetime of the plant especially in the act of getting the fuel for the reactor in the first place and then building and decomissioning the plant at the beginning and end of its life.

    Nuclear is/was a dream (and still is with fusion) of a new age (post second world war II) of energy provision and nothing sounds more space age than nuclear does. Every other energy source we get directly from the actions of nature whilst nuclear is human made and hence it should be better. Nuclear was part of the brave new world brought about by the discoveries in physics during and around the time of the second world war and after, trouble is that nearly all big science in the physics world is coming to and end due to costs and lack of achieveable progress, sure ITER tells us that fusion will come one day but not yet (2080 at the earliest), particle physics can only afford one or two more accelerators and the returns are diminishing (technologically) unless you want to know about cosmological related stuff. That is where physics is heading now, the cosmos, with astronomy and cosmology and space science, unmanned probes and the like but it looks like fusion aside humankind is not about to magic up some new fuel source (and that includes hydrogen) to stem fossil fuel use in any way that will cause humankind to not use up all the Oil and Gas at the very least and more likely a lot of the coal to. Hence expect 450 ppmv (1 C) and more than likely 500 ppmv and maybe even 550 ppmv.

    I am sure that renewables such as geothermal, wind and solar (PV) and ethenol can supply some large amount of our power requirements but not all, it will need to be a mix of everything we have got for the world population will hit 8 billion by 2050 and thats means a 100% increase by 2060 of our energy requirements.

    Short of some major breakthroughs in PV/Solar and or liquid fuel production (second generation ethenol) I would say that we need everything we can lay our hands on energy wise. I would rather go renewable than nuclear until we really need it because maybe, just maybe fusion might be cracked by 2060 and energy production can commence by around 2080. Just a thought.

    Here is an interesting article on Oil energy provision. Rather than use joules, BTUs and the like they rate energy by CMO (cubic miles).

  34. 34
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #27

    Hey Hank;

    Are you talking about diffuse radiant energy as opposed to direct radiant energy? And your technique demonstrates what, visable solar radiant energy that has been bounced arounds off atmospheric water vapor and aerosols? Are you suggesting that the direct measured radiant energy coming from the sun from a about a 1/2 Deg. angle at about 1364 w/m^2 is exceeded by about 4 watts/m^2 from about 179 Deg. Does this technique demonstrate incoming radiant IR or Clear Night Sky background radiation from GHG?

    Dave Cooke

  35. 35
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #33 Comment by Dr. Schmidt

    Hey Dr. Schmidt;

    I relation to your response, thanks I am very aware of the ARM contribution. I have been a champion of the good work the team there does there for over five years. I have accessed many volumes of data sets there and have attempted to try to coordinate them with time and weather and using my pitiful Server resources have not been able to get a clear indication of a clear sky night time trend in increase LW radiation.

    Hence, I figure I must be doing something wrong. I do further research of the systems and find that the data sets have issues in relation to the weather in which the measurements were made and I attempt to adjust for them and still I do not get a clear measure that there is an long term increase. When I start to look for precise data that would fit the specific energy bands again I am finding that the data may not be available to laymen such as my self.

    (Note: I suggested that the GHG radiative contribution is hypothetical, as I have not seen a corrected data set that clearly defines the clear night sky radiative long term contribution that could be associated with GHGs. My humble apologies if this was in error, if you have a source to the contrary it would be most welcome)

    Dave Cooke

  36. 36
    Hank Roberts says:

    This is nonsense, David. I suggest an experiment with a camera light meter in the daytime, and you ask me does this demonstrate incoming infrared at night? Of course not!

    For goodness’ sake, bless your heart, you aren’t reading, you’re just typing disbelief here.

    Look again at the link Gavin gave you —- did you look at all? Look here at another one from the same data collection. Look at the fact that you proclaim data doesn’t exist even after people point you to some of it.


    Time of day, watts per square meter, longwave. Just one out of the big data set there.

  37. 37
    teacher ocean says:

    I am a member of a geology department and oceanographer, and I have been in this business for a long time.. But I have yet to meet a geologist or ocean scientist who is even marginally politisized. And I find it offensive that being an environmentalist is considered being a part of the “leftist think tank.” Trying to protect the environment and trying not to leave a “damaged” Earth to our children and grandchildren is not a political or scientific issue. It’s simply what is right. It is the responsibility of all people regardless of their political views, dietary preferences, or interest in science.

    I am puzzled by the idea that science needs to be “political” and “diverse” (in a political sense). Like many have posted before me, data is not political. It just is the way it is. No denialist or politician is going to change the fact that, right now, there is significant human induced global warming happening. Just saying it isn’t so doesn’t make it go away. If only it did..

    [Response:At the risk of accusations of group-think, I’ll agree with you. David]

  38. 38
    a NuclearAnimist says:

    Re: response #8. I found the article by Dr. Emanuel very well written and presenting an informative and intelligent point of view. However, some of the reactions and comments (see in particular reponse #8) seem nuclearphobic and visceral. The case in point is the comment in response #8 on Dr. Emanuel, “….not an expert on energy issues or on the history of the environmental movement and its campaigns for clean renewable energy, yet he is writing definitive-sounding pronouncements on these matters that reflect a great deal of ignorance, in an apparent attempt to be “fair and balanced” in his criticisms”. The same statement could be applied to responder #8 and his pronouncements on all things nuclear and environmental.

  39. 39
    Karen Street says:

    There seem to be two threads, one on the main points of the article and one on nuclear power.

    Under BAU, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to more than double from 2000 to 2050. We need to reduce GHG emissions all of that amount, plus another 60?%, 80?%, or more. It depends on how much risk you consider acceptable for a temperature increase of 2 C. The CA plan is to reduce GHG emissions by more than 80%.

    Improved efficiency everywhere has to be a high priority. Much can be done (up to a point) at negative costs, and if we raise the price of energy by carbon taxes, even more can be done at negative cost. I’ve heard estimates as high as 40% of energy demand can be reduced at negative costs (though negative over a long period of time, such as the lifetime of the car, or decades for a building). That’s as current costs. Even more with higher energy prices. But there are still the majority of GHG reductions left (but a much more manageable quantity). Again: there is no solution without increased efficiency (and I would add mandates on temperatures in public buildings — does it have to be so hot in DC in the winter and so cold in the summer?)

    No one sees solar plus wind providing >20% of electricity in the coming decades, and when wind storage is used, it will be combined with inefficient natural gas plants.

    While some complain that nuclear can’t compete without carbon taxes in a major coal country, Alan (#32) observes that Australia’s agriculture may be subsidizing Australian energy policy.

    A lot of analysis comes out of researchers in coal countries showing problems with nuclear power, the high GHG emissions in nuclear one comes out of Australia. It has never been submitted for peer review, though the person sending it to me assures me that the authors intend to. There is analysis in several countries showing that life cycle GHG emissions from nuclear power plants is fairly low.

  40. 40
    Thom says:

    I too am also a little confused by Emanuel’s reference to radical environmentalists. Who are these people and what did they get wrong? It seems almost gratuitous.

    And now that Emanuel has stated that we need to cut back on emissions (as if none of us have figured that out) when can we expect to see some writing by Pielke Jr. that Emanuel is now “fully politicized?”

  41. 41
    Phillip Shaw says:

    Re # 33:

    L. David Cooke wrote: (Hard verifiable data does not require the politican to “have to understand science or scientific methods”.)

    I strongly disagree with you on this. Facts taken out of their context are largely meaningless at best, and can actually hinder understanding and communication at worst. For example, as I write this the temperature outside is 41 F. That’s a fact and it’s verifiable, but it’s meaningless by itself. But put it into context that the temperature is rising towards a forecast high of 48 F, and the average high temperature for Austin for this date is 61 F tells me we’re having unseasonably cool weather today.

    Politicians get bombarded by facts from both sides of every issue they deal with. They can only make intelligent decisions when they understand the overall context those facts fall into. For effectively dealing with global warming, yes, they need to understand at least some of the science. They need to understand the scientific method well enough to know what confidence to place in the data they’re given. The alternative, which we’ve seen all too often, is for politician to rely on the recommendations of special interest groups like the auto industry or the coal and oil producers. That’s worked really well, hasn’t it?

    Many people are interested in global warming but are loathe to pick up a textbook or read a scientific paper. Articles such as the one Dr. Emanuel wrote, and the excellent sites such as RC, are a much needed resouce to help lay people such as myself get a basic lesson in AGW. It presents a lot of facts in an understandable context, and in some cases it will spark a deeper study of the topic.

    The better informed the politicians and voters are, the greater the chance of making meaningful changes.

  42. 42
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: # 37

    Hey Hank;

    In answer to your first question, yes I did take a long hard look at the weather that the data was collected during. The day before there was a clear indication of high humdity with an early morning fog. The evening of the measurement the wind was from the North at a average rate of around 24 mph and it was a clear night sky. In addition the ambient temperature was 9 degrees above normal for that date.

    When I look further I cannot find the barometric pressure and that is a critical factor. Also, I cannot find the record of the relative humidity. This combination is crucial in defining that there was likely a high pressure zone overhead and the falling adiabatic rise in temperature was likely in the 15um range. Funny, that is likely the center of band for the IR detector in the Elk Falls KS region that evening with a 9 db roll off towards the upper frequencies and a variable 3db roll off towards the lower frequencies with a 50 watt increase in sensitivity. Also at issue is that the 1999 detector at Elk Falls was likely one of the devices that are sensitive to upwelling ground radiation as noted in earlier posts skewing the data by about 50 watts/m^2. Without sufficient detection differentiation between the energy bands how do you separate out heating by adiabatic heating and IR radiation?

    I could quote you chapter and verse of SKYRAD or GNDRAD tables if you like; but, without the ability to determine the energy band source how would you differentiate which of the 290 Watts/m^2 at 4AM on 2/2/99 is related to detector error, adiabatic heating, reflected terrestrial upwelling and long wave IR associated with GHGs? (This is not a rhetorical question!)

    Dave Cooke

  43. 43
    Ike Solem says:

    L. David, it seems that most of your comments and your general position is taken from this publication at the George C. Marshall (GMI) website:

    Calculating the Climatic Impacts of Increased CO2: The Issue of Model Validation
    by Willie Soon, Sallie Baliunas, Kirill Ya. Kondratyev, Sherwood B. Idso and Eric S. Posmentier

    All those authors are associated with the GMI or with the industry front group; Sherwood Idso has been in the climate denial business since 1980, as this link demonstrates:
    Basic Radiation Calculations:
    “In 1980 a scientist at the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory in Arizona, Sherwood Idso, joined the attack on the models. In articles and letters to several journals, he asserted that he could determine how sensitive the climate was to additional gases by applying elementary radiation equations to some basic natural “experiments……

    Stephen Schneider and other modelers counterattacked. They showed that Idso, Newell, and Dopplick were misusing the equations – indeed their conclusions were “simply based upon various violations of the first law of thermodynamics.” Refusing to admit error, Idso got into a long technical controversy with modelers, which on occasion descended into personal attacks.”

    Idso is now the president of, and he now claims that “It is abundantly clear we have nothing to fear from increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 and global warming, i.e., the “twin evils” of the extreme environmental movement. Indeed, these phenomena would appear to be our friends, and friends of the entire biosphere.”

    That is certainly not the case, by any measure. See the links in #10, for example.

    The above publication has never been peer reviewed, and is only available via the GMI – but your comments seem to be lifted from it; here are a few quotes:
    “But looking at such a simplified picture alone is quite misleading. Next, one really needs to ask how well each flux components are constrained or even if the individual flux components may be directly measured from the real world.”

    “The key fact to note here is that individual energy flux components like solar shortwave radiation absorbed at surface and atmosphere or longwave radiation emitted by Earth’s surface are all uncertain”

    In fact, you seem to be recycling a group of discredited arguments that date back to 1980 at least. The above ‘paper’ is a good example of how science on this issue has been abused by a small group of climate contratians and fossil fuel industry think tanks – and yet it seems to serve as your primary reference – care to comment?

  44. 44
    Thom says:

    Re #44

    Ike, you forgot to point out that the Marshall Institute was run for many years by William O’Keefe, a lobbyist for Exxon-Mobil and formerly with the American Petroleum Institute.

    Here’s his lobby records:

    But it appears that O’Keefe has left the institute.

  45. 45
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #44

    Hey Ike;

    Certainly, first I have never read that study before. In any case, the conclusions reached there appear to be as questionable as conclusions I have seen in the opposite direction. I have no ax to grind, as I am a simple disabled 50 year old layman, with a failing heart striving for a BS in Physics or Meteorology, while trying to understand how if a physical process is attributed that it cannot be measured, (or at least the indication of a change in the process by the attempt to measure it, lol).

    There is no attempt on my part to deny that the change is valid. If anything I want to be able to discover a means to perform direct measurement of the GW phenomenon. So far I am coming up short, as it appears that conclusive data in this regard has yet to be researched and confirmed.

    Even my humble attempt to access the SKYRAD data tables, confirm them against the local weather for the 7 detection sites and load them into my SQL Server and then feed them through a Fathom2 statistical filter are not working. (Much less begin the process of establishing the specific energy bands necessary for analysis and working at trying to determine the thermal dynamics in a hypothetical 1 Km grid at various latitudes to begin to track the heat paths. (Though for now the SSRS barometric analysis values at altitude and latitude from NCEP are helping with gross insights.))

    In essence, it is becoming clear to me that I as an individual will not be able to accomplish this research. It also appears clear that there is not any interest by the IPCC team members to work towards this. Apparently, it is not important to try to confirm the physical process that “everyone knows” is the reason for global warming. For me overlooking assumed data is the opportunity for an error and my preference is to avoid the error regardless of the assumption of any association others would like to attach with my research attempt.

    Dave Cooke

    [Response: I’m extremely confused by your statements here. What exactly are you trying to test? You described as hypothetical the very existence of downwelling LW radiation – but you appear to be aware of tons of data supporting that. Then you claim that you are trying to detect a trend associated with increased greenhouse gases. This is something else entirely, and if this is the issue, then I’m not at all surprised that you have been unsuccessful. Detection of trends in surface radiation products requires long, well calibrated stations, which (despite the attempts of the BSRN group) are still very difficult because of the weather noise and instrumental issues. TOA trends are slightly easier, though inter-satellite changes are important. The best reported changes (and ones that fit very closely to what is expected from models was Harries et al 1997. – gavin]

  46. 46
    Sally says:

    Dave, there are many things that we cannot measure directly, but use proxies for. You cannot collect data on the cause but you measure the effect as a surrogate. I think this goes back to our conversation about night time temperatures rising. My view is that we know, and have known for over a century, that CO2 causes the earth’s temperature to rise. CO2 is rising and so is the global temperature. The sun is also playing a part. Unless we can find some economical way of turning the sun’s thermostat down, we ought to do something about rising CO2. Because we can do that.

  47. 47
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #14 Raypierre – A practical operational definition of a conservative is one who innately distrusts human nature in the sense that human institutions are imperfect, inefficient and tend toward tyranny. Liberals have more faith in them (or perhaps, value their outputs more than conservatives do and are willing to excuse their negatives). I don’t think intelligence has anything to do with it. I hang out in “intellegent” circles and find both liberals and conservatives. Another factor, somewhat politically incorrect to mention, but I must, is that those whose roots are mostly from the Scots Irish who dominated US settlement during the 18th and early 19th century tend broadly toward conservatism whereas more recent arrivals, and earlier ones from other backgrounds, are more likely to be liberal. Broad brush but much truth in it. So there is also an ethnic factor in there as well, I won’t waste any more keystrokes diving any deeper into that sociological study unto itself.

  48. 48
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #46 Comment

    Hey Dr.Schmidt;

    Thanks for the response, my apologies for the confusion. (The assumed GHG LW radiation would have been a better description of my question and was what I assumed Dr. Emanuel was referencing in regard to the diffused down-welling energy exceeding the direct terrestrial solar insolation.) You are correct the concern I share is the GHG signatures. Also, you are correct that there are several confounding issues in trying to achieve the measure. (Thanks for the reference, I will go back and review the Harries et al 97 work.)

    The BSRN have been up against a wall in my opinion and I had been trying to see a way through to extract the desired data. The ACCRIM and other tools such as TRMM and CloudSat and CALIPSO are very useful for tracking water vapor. What I was hoping was to find a way to differentiate water vapor as a heat path (Either through direct Lidar or by Barometric / Relative Humidity signatures) from discrete radiant measurement to attempt to get a clear GHG signature.

    Sorry for the confusion and the extensive posting. (Note: In 2001 I had written to one of the ARM research teams suggesting the possibility of using a tunable laser reflecting off a Radiosonde tropopause based, wide band reflective target in association with a detector in the target as a means of extracting and exciting the various atmospheric chemical components. Though I did not get a response it was wonderful to see the implementation of the Lidar experiments soon there about. I was hoping that I could help in furthering the pursuit of knowledge. It appears I will not get the chance.)


  49. 49
    Steve Latham says:

    Re my #19: Hmmph — I was just asking who are the climate scientists to whom Emanuel was linking environmental groups and attributing ulterior motives. I thought it relevant. (But thanks, Ray, for the response regarding agriculture. Regarding personal choice, if a person can drive to work one less day per week and get patted on the back, why shouldn’t eating two more vegan meals per week and having the 6 oz rather than the 10 oz steak be similarly rewarded/ing? Could 3/4 of a slice of cheese be as enjoyable as a full one?)

    Back to the politics of scientists. Many biological scientists do subscribe to (or at least accept that their work is affected by) an ethical philosophy of environmentalism or animal rights. A forester is generally trained to think that the continuation of the forest and its processes is to be valued. Similarly, fisheries scientists are trained to believe in biological sustainability (even though it may be more economically sustainable to let some species go extinct in a mixed-stock fishery). When NASA dropped “protecting our home planet” [] from its Mission statement, I imagine the scientists disapproved partly for political reasons and not just because their proposals were written and projects designed with the old mission statement in mind. Their expertise suggested to them a best way to spend public money that did not align with what the government wanted to project. Therefore, because being an environmentalist is itself a political posture, I can accept that most life scientists and earth scientists cluster together on at least one political axis. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s bad. The other side of that axis is indefensible.

  50. 50
    SecularAnimist says:

    raypierre wrote in response to #19: “For me, what was disappointing is that it appears you need to go full vegan to have a big impact. Ovo-lacto helps, but not nearly as much. What’s life without cheese?”

    What life without cheese is, is healthier. Strictly in terms of dietary changes and health, you would do better to keep eating meat and giving up dairy, than to give up meat and keep consuming dairy products.

    Having said that, I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian in 1974 (a personal ethical decision). I consumed dairy products and eggs for another 14 years before adopting a vegan diet in 1988. The last dairy product to go was cream (not half-and-half but whole cream) in my coffee when I finally found a soymilk that worked well with coffee. I have been a vegan now for over 16 years. It is a lot easier than most people think, in fact as a practical matter it is easier than trying to obtain meat from animals that are raised for food in a humane and environmentally sound manner (e.g. free-roaming, organic-grass-fed cattle).

    And it is in no way a deprivation. There is an amazing abundance of fantastic cuisine from all over the world that is made from the Four Vegan Food Groups — fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes.

    In addition to adopting a vegan diet, another way that individuals can reduce the GHG impact of their food choices is by obtaining as much food locally-produced as possible. It is incredible that in the Eastern seaboard of the USA, millions of people consume lettuce — which is 90 percent water — that is grown in energy-intensively irrigated deserts in California, and then shipped 3000 miles in refrigerated diesel trucks, while much of the East coast has an ideal climate for growing lettuce for most of the year.

    I am developing a big organic vegetable garden in my suburban back yard and as time goes on, hope to grow more and more of my own food there, and buy as much as possible of the rest from local farmers’ markets and locally owned stores that carry locally-grown produce.

    The impact that any individual or family has on the Big Picture by switching to a vegan diet, or consuming locally-grown food, or driving a Prius, or walking or bicycling instead of driving — or insulating their attic or installing rooftop photovoltaics for that matter — is small, but the aggregate effect of many, many people making these choices is significant.