Blogging has been a little light recently (apologies!), but here are a few pieces that have caught our eye this week.
First up, the Columbia Journalism Review has a two–parter on journalistic coverage of climate change inspired by comments from Jeff Huggins on the Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth blog. The key issues CJR addresses are familiar ones to readers here: how to communicate mainstream science in a way that doesn’t distort the reality of the consensus on many issues in favour of controversy on more cutting-edge topics. Definitely worth a read, and proof (if such were needed) that commenting on blogs can make a difference to coverage.
Next, the role of CO2 as a long-term climate forcing. The old CO2 lead/lag issue keeps making the rounds as a contrarian talking point (and made a brief resurgence here in comments this week) despite the fact that the existence of impact of climate on the carbon cycle in no way invalidates the impact of CO2 (as a greenhouse gas) on climate. However, there is a nice paper in Nature this week (Lunt et al, 2008) which looks at the various proposed triggers for the onset of the quaternary glaciations at the end of the Pliocene (~3 million years ago). These triggers involve, permanent El Nino events, the closing of the Isthmus of Panama, changes in orbital forcing, tectonic uplift of the Rocky mountains – and long-term decreases in CO2 as a function of very slow variations in sea floor spreading and chemical weathering. Lunt et al find that only the change in CO2 (400 ppm to 280 ppm) can explain the changes in the ice sheet. None of the other ideas come even close.
Thus, it looks very much like the climate changed radically due to this externally forced drift in CO2 (and tectonic is external for climate purposes on this timescale). As a corollary, this is an expansion of the idea we discussed a few months back, that the long term changes in the Earth system due to external forcings might be well be larger than the classical (Charney) sensitivity we often talk about.
Third. There has been a lot of discussion on energy futures in the comments – Nature had a good rundown of the scientific constraints on the different prospects. But this video is a quite entertaining discussion of why we just can’t get our heads around the issue from Dan Gilbert (h/t GH).