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Global Warming Delusions at the Wall Street Journal

Filed under: — david @ 18 October 2007

Daniel Botkin, emeritus professor of ecology at UC Santa Barbara, argues in the Wall Street Journal (Oct 17, page A19) that global warming will not have much impact on life on Earth. We’ll summarize some of his points and then take our turn:

Botkin: The warm climates in the past 2.5 million years did not lead to extinctions.

Response: For the past 2.5 million years the climate has oscillated between interglacials which were (at most) a little warmer than today and glacials which were considerably colder than today. There is no precedent in the past 2.5 million years for so much warming so fast. The ecosystem has had 2.5 million years to adapt to glacial-interglacial swings, but we are asking it to adapt to a completely new climate in just a few centuries. The past is not a very good analog for the future in this case. And anyway, the human species can suffer quite a bit before we start talking extinction.

Botkin: Tropical diseases are affected by other things besides temperature

Response: I’m personally more worried about dust bowls than malaria in the temperate latitudes. Droughts don’t lead to too many extinctions either, but they can destroy civilizations. It is true that tropical diseases are affected by many things besides temperature, but temperature is important, and the coming warming is certainly not going to make the fight against malaria any easier.

Botkin: Kilimanjaro again.

Response: Been there, done that. The article Botkin cites is from American Scientist, an unreviewed pop science magazine, and it is mainly a rehash of old arguments that have been discussed and disposed of elsewhere. And anyway, the issue is a red-herring. Even if it turned out that for some bizarre reason the Kilimanjaro glacier, which is thousands of years old, picked just this moment to melt purely by coincidence, it would not in any way affect the validity of our prediction of future warming. Glaciers are melting around the world, confirming the general warming trends that we measure. There are also many other confirmations of the physics behind the predictions. It’s a case of attacking the science by attacking an icon, rather than taking on the underlying scientific arguments directly.

Botkin: The medieval optimum was a good time

Response: Maybe it was, if you’re interested in Europe and don’t mind the droughts in the American Southwest. But the business-as-usual forecast for 2100 is an entirely different beast than the medieval climate. The Earth is already probably warmer than it was in medieval times. Beware the bait and switch!

Botkin argues for clear-thinking rationality in the discussion about anthropogenic climate change, against twisting the truth, as it were. We couldn’t agree more. Doctor, heal thyself.

For years the Wall Street Journal has been lying to you about the existence of global warming. It doesn’t exist, it’s a conspiracy, the satellites show it’s just urban heat islands, it’s not CO2, it’s all the sun, it’s water vapor, and on and on. Now that those arguments are losing traction, they have moved on from denying global warming’s existence to soothing you with reassurances that it ain’t gonna be such a bad thing.

Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me–you can’t get fooled again.

-George W. Bush

453 Responses to “Global Warming Delusions at the Wall Street Journal”

  1. 1
    Bob Doppelt says:

    Nice response. My sense is that the criticisms of warming will become hot and heavy not that it seems world opinion is changing. Best be prepared formany more of these. Systems always try to resist change.

    Bob Doppelt

  2. 2

    What is a good analog for the future if it is not the past?

    [Response: “There is no precedent in the past 2.5 million years for so much warming so fast.” David]

  3. 3
    Ray Ladbury says:

    One certain way to tell if someone is lying is if their story keeps changing–and when those changes become cyclic as with the WSJ editorial page, you can be sure not only of their mendacity, but also of their limited creativity. Were they hoping we wouldn’t remember having shot down the one about how it’s all the sun, or it’s all a cycle or the one about how CO2 is fertilizer. It would appear that the WSJ has itself been peddling fertilizer, and I for one would like to prevail on Mr. Murdoch to get out of the business once and for all. It is time to send the whole lot on the WSJ editorial board out to spend more time with their families.

  4. 4

    Good debunking.
    You might like this debunking of another dubious WSJ piece, this one on geo-engineering.

  5. 5
    Mark A. York says:

    Great work David. They are the mouthpiece of denial in the newspaper world even when their own reporters do stories make make fools of the editorial page. Doesn’t faze them. Notice they tap the eldest like Gray. It’s no accident. They need old world thinking. Done.

  6. 6
    Taber Allison says:

    I would also question whether the statement of “climate change of the last 2.5 millinoyears didn to lead to extinctions” As data support, he cites the megafaunal extinctions of North American and the decline of tree diversity in Europe. I’d like to see a little more evidence of analysis backing up this claim.

  7. 7
    David B. Benson says:

    No extinctions?

    No more mammoths and mastodons, no more North American camilids, no more North American ground sloths, no more North American lions, no more saber-tooth tigers, no more dire wolves, no more short-faced bears, no more large bison, no more Irish deer.

    And that’s just some of the mega-mammals gone extinct near the beginning of the Holocene. I’m sure a complete list of the (known) extinctions in the last 2.5 million years is considerably more extensive.

    [Response: True, but to be fair, my understanding is that many of these guys had survived many glacial cycles, and only succumbed when we arrived. It wasn’t the weather that killed them. David]

  8. 8

    While I agree with your response, candidly, the blog entry wasn’t up to RealClimate’s usual excellent standards. In particular I had a difficult time following which were Botkin’s points and which were your rebuttals when you advertised up front that “We’ll summarize some of his points and then take our turn”.

    That having been said, comparisons with the past will never be precisely informative since the climate system is complicated enough to have many noticeable microstates. Comparisons with the deep past may well be informative since the effects of those microstates are blurred by measurement noise, and as long as the comparisons with recent history are understood to have large bands of statistical variation.

    People don’t like using models, since they fear these are susceptible to manipulation and the models they know which are kind of similar are the weather forecasting models meteorologists use. Nevertheless, IMO, we don’t have a lot of choice but to use structurally sound and well calibrated models, and project as best we can. I only wish we had gads more money and time to invest in the geophysics and oceanography of them. It wouldn’t hurt IMO to deliver to the field an emergency flood of funding, given the importance of the outcomes.

    But I suspect people in power know what’s about to come, and would rather bet on managing policy based upon ignorance than trying to manipulate it when there are one or more smoking guns in hand.

  9. 9
    Hank Roberts says:

    Peter Namtvedt —

    The future has humans in it (we can hope); the past did not.

    Here’s a good place to start thinking about the difference:

    “In a time of increasing political polarization, I have urged (in my most recent essay, “The Ostrich Papers”) that we look past the simplistic and outdated “left-right political axis.” Yes, there is madness going on. But I suggest that the cure is not bitter “culture war.” Rather, moderate and decent citizens of the Enlightenment need to reach out to other decent people — even those who have swallowed nonsense. At stake is preserving a nation of modern confidence from a looming dark age.”

  10. 10
    Rick Brown says:

    The WSJ piece is classic Botkin: some science, some stuff that sounds like science but isn’t, self-promotion and specious reasoning. It’s hard to pick out the clearest nonsense, but it might be where he correctly observes that orangutans “are endangered because of deforestation.” and then says “In our fear of global warming, it would be sad if we fail to find funds to purchase those forests before they are destroyed, and thus let this species go extinct.” He’s apparently oblivious to the fact that there is no conflict between protecting orangutan habitat and responding to the threat of climate change. Avoiding tropical deforestation is a high-priority strategy for reducing CO2 emissions.

    Peter Namtvedt – If you go back 50 million years or so, there may have been comparable levels of atmospheric CO2, but there weren’t more than 6 billion (and growing) humans with their infrastructure and the variety of stresses (pollution, habitat fragmentation, etc.) they’ve imposed on the natural world. There is no precedent for where we’re headed.

  11. 11
    Danny Bloom says:

    This is the same Wall Street Journal that in a recent editorial on the Nobel
    Peace Prize did not mention even once Al Gore’s name in the entire text. What
    can you expect from a rightwing financial rag that exists to protect the
    rich and wealthy corporations from losing what they have?

  12. 12
    robert says:


    Botkin also writes “The climate modelers who developed the computer programs that are being used to forecast climate change used to readily admit that the models were crude and not very realistic…”

    Would you characterize today’s models as crude?

    [Response: If the weatherman says 99% chance of rain, do you take an umbrella? David]

  13. 13
    Hank Roberts says:

    Also interesting:

    “2007-10-15 13:05:48
    “NEW YORK (AP) – A new venture backed by philanthropists will start publishing investigative journalism articles beginning next year, looking to fill a gap left as newspapers cut costs…. called ProPublica, will be headed by Paul Steiger, who was managing editor of The Wall Street Journal until earlier this year, the group said in a statement Monday….

    “Steiger said in a statement that the group would produce stories about business and government as well as unions, universities, hospitals and other centers of power. ….”

  14. 14
    Laura Wrzeski says:

    I have been trying for two weeks to implore some smart person to answer this question: What will be the environmental consequences in terms of climate change as the developing world accelerates their exploitation of fossil fuels? The developing world is hugely more populous than the developed world, and the developed world can hardly tell those countries what to do about their emissions. China is only the beginning of the impact the developing world will have on global warming in the coming decades. Can anybody educate me on this?

  15. 15
    Steven says:

    “There is no precedent in the past 2.5 million years for so much warming so fast”

    Please excuse my ignorance, but what is the basis for this assertion?

    thanks, Steve

    [Response: Ice core records, mainly. There was something like global warming 55 million years ago, the Paleocene Eocene thermal maximum event, but it’s not clear if the CO2 went up in a hundred years or in ten thousand years. So it might not have been as sudden a climate change, or as severe an ocean acidification. David]

  16. 16
    Edward Greisch says:

    My monitor is 640X480. Please put your margins back the way they were last week.

  17. 17
    robert says:

    Re: 12,

    David, thanks, but I was actually referring to the AOGCMs, not weather models.

    My point is, Botkin is implying today’s modelers view todays climate models as crude. My sense is, that’s not the case. In fact, I’ve seen the word “sophisiticated” bantered about. This is an important point, because one of the strongest attacks from the contrarian universe goes something like “All this anthropogenic stuff comes strictly from models, and you can’t trust the models because they’re crude.”

    Now, I understand that the anthropogenic evidence is not confined to models. However, by implying they’re crude in his column, Botkin reinforces this particular attack. I just wanted to have some of the RealClimate modelers address this point directly:

    Would you all characterize your models as crude?

    [Response: I think the models do a good job of simulating things that can be observed in nature, in the past and in the present. The models pass all kinds of tests. What do you mean crude? The models are clearly up to the task of concluding that global warming has started already, and will have a significant impact on societies and ecosystems in the future if CO2 keeps rising. Economic models are crude, climate models are fine. David]

  18. 18
    SteveSadlov says:

    If you knew Dr. Botkin as well as I do, you might think twice about trying to tear him apart. The ecological community in his hood and at UCSB is one of the top ones in the world and has led over the past 35 years to quite a few breakthroughs for environmentalists and ecological awareness in general. Without Botkin and a certain circle of folks (including me) things like the CEC, Mesa Project cum Gildea Center, etc never would have gotten started. The truth is, even the Green / Eco subculture is split on this topic. There is not even consensus amongst card carrying environmentalists regarding how to approach AGW and other elements of Climate Change.

    [Response: I have no comment on Botkin’s contributions to ecology. But claiming that global warming is nothing to worry about because the medieval climate was kind to the vikings is not impressive scholarship. David]

  19. 19
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    I thought it odd that he showed concern about species, like orangutans, going extinct because of deforestation — claiming we should spend money to halt such extinctions from non-global warming causes, rather than on mitigating global warming.

    I thought preserving forests from deforestation was one of the ways to slow down global warming. I thought global warming was in fact partly to blame for deforestations (through greater drought/evaporation & fiercer winds).

    This reminds me of some 7 years ago when I wanted to tackle global warming via our church evironmental committee. A member “scientist” fiercely fought me on the issue that AGW was real. Then I said, well let’s just focus on solutions. She was very happy helping to launch water conservation and energy conservation campaigns — for other reasons. So we ended up best of friends, pulling together in the same directions, rather than slugging it out.

  20. 20
  21. 21
    Edward Greisch says:

    Book: “Scientists Confront Intelligent Design and Creationism” edited by Petto & Godfrey, 2007. Page 368:
    1. Creation science has grown out of a perception that evolutionary theory [representing science in general] threatens the conservative Protestant moral and ethical belief system.
    2. Creation scientists in practice follow a model of science that differs dramatically from that embraced by modern science.
    Page 372:
    Leon Festinger’s theory of Cognitive Dissonance: “Disconfirmation of a strongly held conviction actually reinforces belief and leads to increased proselytizing activity.”

    I suggest a change in strategy. I’m still reading the above book. I hope it has another strategy. For those of you at universities, could you please consult your local Psychology departments for ideas?

  22. 22
    J.C.H. says:

    [Response: True, but to be fair, my understanding is that many of these guys had survived many glacial cycles, and only succumbed when we arrived. It wasn’t the weather that killed them. David]

    Are they saying the cavemen (hunters) caused the extinctions all by themselves, and that the extinctions only occurred outside a glacial cycle? Somehow I doubt that, but if true, fine.

    Perhaps the climate change created circumstances in which certain species could no longer sustain themselves against the pressure of humans hunting them (limited range, meat replacing vegetation in the human diet, the dwindling of the prey’s food sources, etc.). If so, can it really be said that hunters did the killing to extinction without the involvement of climate change?

    Would an ice age have to freeze nearly all of them to death (or some other calamity associated with climate change being the instrument of death) in order for climate change to be tagged with causing the extinction? I just don’t see how climate change could be exclusively uninvolved.

  23. 23
    A. Fritz says:

    This is a nice response. It seems more and more that we will be fighting the “middle ground” with people: Bjorn Lomborg in the Washington Post, Pat Michaels in basically everything that comes out of his mouth, and now Daniel Botkin.

    At least we’re past trying to convince them that it’s happening. Progress.

  24. 24
    Eli Rabett says:

    As I recall the idea is that if you have a slow breeding large species that requires a large hunting foraging range, introduction of hunters can wipe them out over a long period of time (you only have to knock the species back below replacement in any area, since there are not a lot of animals in any area, a few kills is sufficient.

    Anyhow, the problem is not considered closed, and climate probably did play an important part, but it looks more and more the case that human hunters were the most important factor. See, for example,
    Assessing the Causes of Late Pleistocene Extinctions on the Continents Anthony D. Barnosky,1* Paul L. Koch,2 Robert S. Feranec,1 Scott L. Wing,3 Alan B. Shabel1

  25. 25
    Hank Roberts says:

    September 28, 2007 · In a paper published this week, scientists say they have evidence that a comet or other low-density space object exploded in the upper atmosphere of the Earth about 13,000 years ago. They think the explosion may have led to the extinction of woolly mammoths and the decline of Stone Age people.

    Peter Schultz, professor of Geological Sciences at Brown University

    “All the large mammals that once populated the North and South Americas disappeared suddenly right about the estimated time of the extra-terrestrial impact.

    “All the elephants, including the mastodon and the mammoth, all the ground sloths, including the giant ground sloth – which, when standing on its hind legs, would have been as big as a mammoth,” said Professor James Kennett, from the University of California in Santa Barbara.

    “All the horses went out, all the North American camels went out. There were large carnivores like the sabre-toothed cat and an enormous bear called the short-faced bear.”

    That’s the most recent of several possibilities

  26. 26
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 14

    While I’m far from qualified to educate anyone on the subject, I recall E.O. Wilson suggesting that what we’re attempting to do is create a global civilization that requires the resources of three or four earths.

    Can’t happen.

    But if you are really curious, I would suggest Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse” as a good place to explore the concept of civilization vs sustainability.

  27. 27
    R. Gates says:

    I’ve puzzled for some time about this resistance of certain segments of our society with deeply vested economic interests not to want to accept the reality of GW and the changes it may mean…and that’s really what it comes down to – resistance to a potentially Big change. The readers of the WSJ are not typically inclined to like to hear about Big Change, as it may put at risk their financial security. Better to offer in your publication denials or rebuttals to notions of any change, making readers feel better about things, and to look away toward the clear sky when the storm clouds are gathering rapidly just behind you. What shall the WSJ write when the first claps of thunder are heard so close that denial of the GW storm crisis is impossible even for the naysayers?

  28. 28
    Peter Houlihan says:

    Plants and animals survived past changes in climate by either adapting or moving to areas within their climate envelope. Today habitats around the world have been fragmented into small and isolated fragments. Animals and plants may not be able to disperse fast enough or at all in these fragmented landscapes to escape extinction.

  29. 29
    Hank Roberts says:

    “Eat up all my lovely sloths, will you? Take _that, you greedheads!”

    Hmmm, if so we’re due again…

  30. 30
    Mark J. Fiore says:

    When Wall Street is under water perhaps the Wall Street Journal will come to its senses.This will occur just after the methal hydrates at the bottm of the world’s ocean release their gases, and just after the Siberian peat moss melts.But, no doubt,even then, the Wall Street Journal will find a way to continue with its idiotic, non scientific jargon.Even a 5th grader could pick apart their arguments.I’m really sorry the world has to put up with their antics.The Wall Street Journal manages to make a very bad crisis, global warming, even worse, by printing this dreck. Once again, thanks, Republican party, for making a truly bad situation even worse.

  31. 31
    EricM says:

    RE: Post 15 Response.
    The assertion that there is no precedent in the past 2.5 million years for so much warming so fast , based on ice core data, is unsupportable. You even admit as much by (truthfully) stating the ice cores can’t differentiate between a hundred years and a thousand years. It is apples and oranges to compare ice cores to the reliable physical measurements we have only been able to do for the last century or so.

    I enjoy reading this web site and the associated blogs. You are to be complemented for allowing the free flow of opinions. I consider myself a skeptic. Not that warming or CO2 are increasing, which I believe the data clearly shows, but with the corallary assertions that a) man is the problem, b) the current rate of change is unprecedented and will continue, c) it’s a crisis, and d)we can realistically do anything about it.

    It must be disconcerting to many of the regulars on this site that the vaunted “consensus” that so many say exists, is disproved by the breadth of posts to be found here, and the credentials of those posting. Sweet.

    [Response: Ice cores can resolve just a few years. There are no ice cores from the time I was mentioning, 55 million years ago. Truthfully. David]

  32. 32
    John Mashey says:

    It is always worth remembering that Editorial (or Idiotorial) is often very separate from news, and this is especially true of the WSJ. It has many excellent reporters, and prints very straightforward stories that accept AGW, like the recent one on the growth of Canadian wineries. Anyway, I suggest that when people *mean* WSJ OpEd, say that, not just WSJ. (We just went through all this over in Deltoid).

  33. 33
    Ike Solem says:

    I took a Proquest tour (courtesy of the UC library system) through the Wall Street Journal looking for unbiased articles on global warming, and found three out of the first hundred hits on “global warming”:

    Next CO2 Worry: Less Absorption; Oceans’ Diminished Power To Sop Up Gas May Result In More of It in Atmosphere, Gautam Naik. Wall Street Journal. May 18, 2007. p. B4

    Huge Dust Plumes From China Cause Changes in Climate, Robert Lee Hotz. Wall Street Journal Jul 20, 2007. p. B1

    Study Links Destruction of Coral to Global Warming, Gautam Naik. Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2007. p. A12

    3% isn’t doing so well. I did read some very curious things – such as an interview with Democrat John Dingell, who seems to be doing everything he can to sabotage clean energy standards, titled “Some Inconvenient Truths.”

    Then I searched with the added tag, ‘editorials’. Ouch. Not a single unbiased result. Here are some quotes:
    Climate of Opinion, Feb 5, 2007
    “The models didn’t predict the significant cooling the oceans have undergone since 2003 — which is the opposite of what you’d expect with global warming. Cooler oceans have also put a damper on claims that global warming is the cause of more frequent or intense hurricanes.”

    That was the study that suffered from flawed temperature sensors on the ARCO floats…the WSJ didn’t see fit to publish a correction…

    Hockey Stick on Ice Feb 18, 2005:
    “Yet there were doubts about Mr. Mann’s methods and analysis from the start. In 1998, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics published a paper in the journal Climate Research, arguing that there really had been a Medieval warm period.”

    That would be the same Sallie Baliunas who claimed in 1997 that “Changes in the Sun can account for major climate changes on Earth for the past 300 years, including part of the recent surge of global warming”. The sun cycle was supposed to max out in 2000, leading to a cooling trend that would shock climate scientists… this is pretty well debunked by RC here, among other places.

    Snow and Unilateralism Feb 18, 2003:
    “25 years ago, long before the term “global warming” became chic, plenty of smart people were more concerned about the prospect of a mini-Ice Age. The evidence at the time included such omens as summer frosts in the Upper Midwest that killed crops before they could be harvested.”

    Emissions Impossible? Jul 23, 2001:
    “Why require the nations of this planet to spend the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions when we don’t even know if the earth’s climate is getting permanently hotter or if that temperature change is caused by human activity or if that change is even dangerous?”

    Now, that one is notable – there you have the fossil fuel lobby’s public relations fallback positions all lined up in one sentence: it’s not happening, we didn’t do it, and if we did, it’s a good thing.

    Bombed by the Beeb Sep 2, 1999:
    “…even if we were to concede the alarmists’ claim that the earth’s temperature might rise one degree Fahrenheit in the next 100 years, we can see nothing terrible about having more palm trees in Scotland.”

    Classic Political Effect Nov 17, 1998:
    “All this is taking place even as the science becomes more muddled — and intriguing. Scientists are beginning to suspect that global warming may in fact may be a direct function of the sun itself.”

    This Is CNN? Oct 3, 1997:
    “Last July, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt lost it when he claimed that “oil companies and the coal companies in the U.S. have joined in a conspiracy to hire pseudo scientists to deny the facts.” (Babbitt was right – and they’re still at it)

    And going all the way back to 1992 (summary): “An editorial criticizes an EPA study on global warming that concluded that the main answer to global warming is population control in Third World countries.”

    Just as with hurricanes and global warming, no single WSJ editorial can, in isolation, demonstrate bias (on the part of the paper’s owners) – but the long-term trend is a different story.

  34. 34
    Steven says:

    re my #15
    thanks for the response. I don’t understand how the ice core sampling has the temporal resolution to be able to see fast warming or cooling transients in the temperature reconstruction? Considering the recent trend is over decades rather than centuries. With no disrespect, I presume I am either missing something with regards to the sampling methodology or that your assertion that ‘there is no precedent in the past 2.5 million years for so much warming so fast’ is scientifically unsound.

    am I missing something?, Steve

    [Response: The highest resolution ice cores, such as those in Greenland, have countable annual layers in the ice. The bubbles are affected by mixing of the air through the firn, above the close-off depth of the bubbles, so they smooth things out some. There’s no good CO2 data from the Greenland cores, unfortunately, because of contamination with CaCO3 dust releasing CO2, but there’s good CO2 data in Antarctica. Dating the cores in Antarctica has been done by matching methane signals with the well-dated Greenland cores. The CO2 transitions in Antarctica take at least 1000 years, for some of the smaller ones, and maybe 10,000 years for the full transition from low glacial values to higher interglacial values. David]

  35. 35
    Doug Watts says:

    Moving the goal posts is the bane of scientists. It is the trademark of self-identified skeptics. If your argument simultaneous states there is no GW, there is GW but it is natural, there is AGW but its effects will be benign, you are not a scientist. You are a charlatan. Scientists do not write papers like lawyers write briefs.

  36. 36
    ScaredAmoeba says:

    Re #14 & #26

    E. O. Wilson isn’t the only influential thinker that considers we are in big trouble!

    China: Forcing the World to Rethink Its Economic Future
    Convincing new evidence from China shows that its existing fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy cannot sustain progress much longer. Lester Brown will look at both China’s current consumption of basic resources, which now exceeds that of the U.S., and at China’s future consumption in 2031 when its income is projected to reach that of the U.S. today. Dr. Brown will discuss ways to restructure the global economy so that it can sustain economic progress through renewable energy, the reuse and recycling of materials, and a diverse transport system.

    The Worldwatch Institute’s ‘The State of the World Report’, issued annually. [2003 version and earlier are free downloads.]

    ‘The State of the World Report’, has been described as: “The most comprehensive, up-to-date, and accessible summaries…on the global environment.” – E. O. Wilson.

  37. 37

    Re #2

    Hi Peter, I just wanted to add to what David said.

    The reason we can’t measure the future by the past is because this is a human caused event. In the history of the world, no species on earth has dug up oil and coal, and burned it as fuel to run cars and factories.

    The human race has altered the historical natural cycle through industrial means.

    Re #14

    Laura, I doubt there is a scientific basis to answer your question other than by extrapolation and logic. Developing without constraint will likely exacerbate and further the exponential acceleration leading to other interesting problems referred to as tipping points.

    Mainly you need to study. The things we might expect are global, not regional in the scope of ramification.

    I am not an expert, therefore take my words as my perspective based on my examinations thus far.

    What I would expect is:

    Larger climate momentums fed by increased heat energy stored on earth due to trapped greenhouse gasses. i.e. stronger hurricanes, bigger snow storms, decertification, floods, droughts.

    The area between the tropic of Cancer and Capricorn, in the future, if we don’t do something to minimize the effects of our actions that are mainly contributing to the problem of Global Warming, will likely become less and less habitable over time (this has already begun, so expect increasing regional competition and violence for more limited resources especially food and water).

    The floods and droughts as well as decertification will contribute to strains on the economy by virtue of diminished resources in multiple areas, (again unless we figure out some way to counter or minimize the effect). Migration of agricultural systems will be an intersting challenge as climate shifts in the latitudes.

    Well those are just some of the things that seem likely based on what I see. Hope that helps you look deeper and find out more. Try to stick to reading material form peer reviewed scientists that are considerate of the big picture, and not the minutia or limited scope analysis.

    Re#14 and #26

    I believe I heard the 4 earths reference in a speech at one of the IPCC AR4 presentations also. Don’t recall the name.


    Steve, if Dr. Botkin is not reviewing all the arguments and evidence and is still relying on papers and data that has already been strongly refuted by IPCC and a review group of 2500 scientists, well, that sort of makes his perspective more irrelevant to a common sense point of view. It also would put him in a class of climate science that I would have to say should not be paid attention to.


    R. Gates, I believe it is a delaying tactic that likely has multiple motives: money (retaining profits in current resource revenue stream); More money (while many are researching other ways to make money in clean energy)

    Market forces will prevail, but how much damage will have been done is an unfortunate reality. The main problem which Dr. Hansen pointed out and many others is the lag effect of what we are doing; So when it is in full force and everyone says hey, we have to do something; we will have put so much inertia in the system that the future effects will be challenging at the least and devastating on many levels at the worst.

    It is a gamble of mankind on a craps table; and the dice are now loaded against us. Unfortunately we are all at the table and can not step away from the results of the next role of the dice, because we (most humans) are not holding the dice (they are held by government, corporations and an energy system that industrial nations adopted in their pursuits of advancement). Clear challenges lie ahead.


    EricM, you probably believe the media rather than the science. It is interesting to point out that when people examine the issue they are mainly looking at the media, not the science. This is a difficult one to get past. I for one don’t give the media much credit in their ability to deal with relevant subjects as they prefer controversy to sell their product. More and more media are classified as Liberal Left and Conservative right which makes it even worse because some people tend to consider their politics like their religions and only pay attention to one side.

    As to you points:

    a) Man is clearly the problem.

    b) Current rate of change is less relevant than the cause (man). To say otherwise, example: lets say you forget to pick someone up when you said you would: so, to say otherwise is to say that you or we should not take responsibility for your/our actions, respectively. If you believe that people should not take responsibility for their actions are you willing to lobby that we should let all prisoners out of jail and disband the police and military? How far do you want to take that argument?

    c) It actually is a crisis and it will intensify as warming continues. This will strain the economies of the world and will be challenging to cope with.

    d) We absolutely can do something about it without hurting the economy and I believe that in fact efforts in mitigating economic strain are logically strengthening the economy. How else can you interpret it?

    You will not be a skeptic in the near future about these subjects. Like Global Warming it is inevitable. We have inexorably altered the future. Now the challenge is mitigating the effect and driving toward balance.

    I strongly believe we will meet the challenge, but not without consequences. It is the law of economics.

  38. 38
    Russ Hayley says:

    I think extinctions will be even greater in the future than in the the past because of restrictions in the movement of species across political borders and the speed of warming. Some species will not have access to migrate to other latitudes. It is OK for birds, fish and bacteria but what about large mammals and reptiles? Hippo bones were found in Northern England, I can’t see them being able to migrate to lands that aren’t going too arid for them. Already we are seeing reports in the news of migrant alien species being shot etc.

  39. 39
    bigcitylib says:

    Reading the Botkin piece, I was struck by his anecdote re Northern Mockingbirds in Manhattan. He claims, based on a gardening column in the NY Times (this one I think: that the birds have moved North following the spread of the Multiflora rose and not because of AGW. However, my understanding was the the spread of the latter was driven by warming temperatures…something about not being able to tolerate
    temps below minus 28(?) F. There are several hundred pairs of Mockingbirds now in the Toronto area, and our local experts suspect AGW. So, is there any link between the spread of the rose and AGW? I have been able to find nothing conclusive on the net.

  40. 40

    Re #31

    To clarify:

    re your point: b) the current rate of change is unprecedented and will continue,

    Current rate of change in context of your point is less relevant; current rate of change is relevant; more relevant is the future rate of change.

    Since this is non linear acceleration of Global Warming, meaning it is getting faster (no meaningful action to counter as yet), the relevance is actually quite immense, now, and more-so moving forward through time becoming exponentially more relevant in affect.

  41. 41
    A. Fritz says:

    It always gets me when “skeptics” claime to be educated, but don’t realize a painfully obvious fact like “we can’t possibly have an ice core from 55 million years ago.”

  42. 42
    Randy Ross says:

    ” September 28, 2007 · In a paper published this week, scientists say they have evidence that a comet or other low-density space object exploded in the upper atmosphere of the Earth about 13,000 years ago. They think the explosion may have led to the extinction of woolly mammoths and the decline of Stone Age people.”

    I have long been fascinated by the increasing attempts over the last ten or so years to say that something other than humans caused the megafaunal extinctions.

    I should think that a comet exploding in the upper atmosphere would have wiped out megafauna in Eurasia, Africa, and Australia as well as in the Americas.

    Instead, Eurasia, Australia, and America each experienced such extinctions right about the time humans arrived on the scene. The American extinctions were especially quick, but I suspect that occurred because humans had already allied with dogs by that time, making an unbeatable hunting team.

    Once again, many people are just unwilling to face the fact that humans can make severe changes to their own environments. We have done it before and we are doing it again.

  43. 43
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Eric M. States: “The assertion that there is no precedent in the past 2.5 million years for so much warming so fast , based on ice core data, is unsupportable. You even admit as much by (truthfully) stating the ice cores can’t differentiate between a hundred years and a thousand years.”

    Eric, might I suggest a reading comprehension class–or at least a little homework on ice cores–before you make such sweeping statements. Ice cores have excellent resolution–like the rings on a tree. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but total ignorance is fatal.

    [Response: Note that the ice cores only go back 800,000 years, longer term you need to use the ocean sediment record such as the Liesicki and Raymo stack. What you see is dominated by the slow orbital timescales, but of course we do not have global mean temperature records at hundred year resolution. – gavin]

  44. 44
    bigcitylib says:


    The thesis (if I remember correctly) was that the rock landed somewhere North of Lake Superior and triggered the Younger Dryas. Hence the effect on NA.

  45. 45

    It is highly probable that these mega fauna species were already under severe stress from climate change and human hunting pressures when the Younger Dryas Laurentide Clovis Impact occurred. It also nearly destroyed the the Clovis people and we have yet to work out any details of this scenario. Any absolute pronouncements are premature.

  46. 46
    Thomas says:

    It is disheartening to see such stuff in the WSJ period. Trying to tease out the difference between the OpEd. and the “real” news is a waste of time because the final impact on the public opinion of businesses that subscribe will not notice the difference.

    I would not underestimate the power of the WSJ to hinder progress in mobilizing America’s resources and gathering the necessary public opinion support from the man on the street. They, the WSJ are truly a formidable obstacle, (a worthy adversary?) As long as they can find individuals with some cloak of credibility to their readers, and give soothing words of “don’t worry yet folks, until we discuss the matter fully in our meetings” to seem rational and compromising… we have not seen the tipping point.
    Regards from Japan,

  47. 47
    LesPorter says:

    I liked and understood your response. Of course, I’m on the Science side of the issue. . . WSJ is a corporation, an entity in an unreal non-physical system whose job and reason for existence is to promote one-dimensional profit. . . And we will have to change that, and the battle there is possibly more difficult than the one about the facts and the consequences. . .

    A transition away from the current structural organization of the corporation and the legal mechanisms that prevent it’s accountability to the society in which it exists — is coming. The Science is in. Sure, in a perfect world it (science-knowledge)would all be “firmly” grasped; so there are some minor details that need tweaking, but the species has the meat of this issue and further education, like being done here must continue, and must consider the solutions because of this knowledge.

    You guys, as well as I, sometimes come across as a bunch of “aloof nerds” narrowly focused on an explanation without a real suggestion as what to do to resolve the problems. This isn’t “simply” a problem with the details of the “science” any more. It is a “real problem,” looming. I’m asking you guys, to start working on the “real” problem. I’m not belittling the WSJ, but the WSJ “editorial group” and their selections for publication — is a dead horse, and needs no more beating. It’s corporation structure, on the other hand, does need beating and controlling. The education part is fine, guys. Now lets get to the real problem. . .It is not a need to convince the majority that there is a problem in anthropogenic activities — it is how to address, and solve the problem. RealClimate needs to sponsor a RealSolutions function.

    The austere future gets worse when deceptions like those published in the WSJ continue. It is a corporation. It needs to be brought to account. In fact, to exist, it needs to have the permission of the society. The major failure right now is a structural one. That is, the society must review and allow or deny the existence of the corporation. The one-dimensionality (profit only, measured by economic, not environmental responsibility of function) of the corporation is at fault. But that is a socially amendable structural condition.

    It reaches right into the heart of the WSJ’s transgressions in corporate responsibility. It really does strike “fear” in the hearts of those that sponsor the obvious transgressions. That is, what if they were held civilly and criminally responsible for their positions on issues that affect the species well-being?

    So what is at issue?

    The Corporation as legally structured by the society is at issue. A mechanism for the annual examination of corporate charters could be installed that allowed a social review of their activities with respect to the environment and to social “good.” Does the activity promote the general and overall survivability of the species and other life on the planet?

    Corporations need to be brought under social control, not fiscal control.

    Charters need to be revoked. Corporations that do not display active responsibility to the future of the species need to be dismantled and their assets converted to systems that will demonstrate social responsibility. Who decides that? The society itself. You have a lease on your life, your property, your ideas of freedom, and the choices you make — wholly constrained by your culture. To survive, cultures have to change to meet changes caused within them — else they do die. . . thy do go extinct.

    THAT is what strikes fear into the WSJ’s editors and corporate sponsors. That they are raping the world for the pleasure of a few — that they are polluting and stealing from the “commons” and that they might be held civilly and criminally responsible.

    It is not “just” about losing money any more. . .

    Oh, you think that we need more science to reach a judgment? Come on. Social Science is our hardest (most difficult) science, and absolutely essential to the anthropogenic climate forcing fact for a means of ameliorating the consequences. Do you see that?

    The science is in . . . judgment looms.

  48. 48
    Sinjin Eberle says:

    I am a Wall Street Journal subscriber (don’t shoot me…everything but the editorial page is well written) and have noticed something that was mentioned in a post previously, but thought I would point it out more specifically.

    The fact that writers in all of the other sections of the paper don’t even hesitate to cite GW as real and happening and now, but yet the editorial page consistently writes about it not. Do they think that readers of WSJ ONLY read the editorial page? Its baffling.

  49. 49
    Carl Zimmer says:

    Before people hurl Botkin completely out of the solar system, I think it’s worth pointing out that he was a co-author of a review that was published in BioScience earlier this year about projections of climate-triggered extinctions. A lot of the leading researchers in this area were co-authors along with him.

    The paper pointed out a number of ways in which the projections should be improved (including a better understanding of extinctions, or lack thereof, in the past). The paper is available for free from BioScience here.

    I spoke to Botkin and a number of other scientists on this issue and wrote up an article that ran a couple months ago in the news section of Science. (I’ve posted it on my web site here.)

    Obviously, this particular aspect of Botkin’s op-ed is separate from Kilimanjaro, the joys of the Middle Ages, etc.

  50. 50

    Re #14


    What the developing world does is not important if the developed world continues with its growth. Even it the developing world stopped developing, the advanced nations will soon run out of resources, especially oil on which all our wealth is based. From leaf blowers to jumbo jets, and from home cookers to steel mills, they are all based on burning fossil fuels. Unless we are prepared to stop driving to the hyper market where we load up, and instead go shopping on a bicycle with a basket in front of the handle bars then we are all doomed!

    Of course some people in the underdeveloped world are already setting us a good example!