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A warning from Copenhagen

Filed under: — stefan @ 21 June 2009 - (Deutsch) (Chinese (simplified)) (Español) (English)

In March the biggest climate conference of the year took place in Copenhagen: 2500 participants from 80 countries, 1400 scientific presentations. Last week, the Synthesis Report of the Copenhagen Congress was handed over to the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen in Brussels. Denmark will host the decisive round of negotiations on the new climate protection agreement this coming December.

The climate congress was organised by a “star alliance” of research universities: Copenhagen, Yale, Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge, Tokyo, Beijing – to name a few. The Synthesis Report is the most important update of climate science since the 2007 IPCC report.

So what does it say? Our regular readers will hardly be surprised by the key findings from physical climate science, most of which we have already discussed here. Some aspects of climate change are progressing faster than was expected a few years ago – such as rising sea levels, the increase of heat stored in the ocean and the shrinking Arctic sea ice. “The updated estimates of the future global mean sea level rise are about double the IPCC projections from 2007”, says the new report. And it points out that any warming caused will be virtually irreversible for at least a thousand years – because of the long residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Perhaps more interestingly, the congress also brought together economists and social scientists researching the consequences of climate change and analysing possible solutions. Here, the report emphasizes once again that a warming beyond 2ºC is a dangerous thing:

Temperature rises above 2ºC will be difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and are likely to cause major societal and environmental disruptions through the rest of the century and beyond.

(Incidentally, by now 124 nations have officially declared their support for the goal of limiting warming to 2ºC or less, including the EU – but unfortunately not yet the US.)

Some media representatives got confused over whether this 2ºC-guardrail can still be met. The report’s answer is a clear yes – if rapid and decisive action is taken:

The conclusion from both the IPCC and later analyses is simple – immediate and dramatic emission reductions of all greenhouse gases are needed if the 2ºC guardrail is to be respected.

Cause of the confusion was apparently that the report finds that it is inevitable by now that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will overshoot the future stabilization level that would keep us below 2ºC warming. But this overshooting of greenhouse gas concentrations need not lead temperatures to overshoot the 2ºC mark, provided it is only temporary. It is like a pot of water on the stove – assume we set it to a small flame which will make the temperature in the pot gradually rise up to 70ºC and then no further. Currently, the water is at 40ºC. When I turn up the flame for a minute and then back down, this does not mean the water temperature will exceed 70ºC, due to the inertia in the system. So it is with climate – the inertia here is in the heat capacity of the oceans.

From a natural science perspective, nothing stops us from limiting warming to 2ºC. Even from an economic and technological point of view this is entirely feasible, as the report clearly shows. The ball is squarely in the field of politics, where in December in Copenhagen the crucial decisions must be taken. The synthesis report puts it like this: Inaction is inexcusable.

Related links

Press release of PIK about the release of the synthesis report

Copenhagen Climate Congress – with webcasts of the plenary lectures (link on bottom right – my talk is in the opening session part 2, just after IPCC chairman Pachauri)

Nobel Laureate Meeting in London – a high caliber gathering in May that agreed on a remarkable memorandum which calls for immediate policy intervention: “We know what needs to be done. We can not wait until it is too late.” The new U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu participated over the full three days in the scientific discussions – how many politicians would have done that?

416 Responses to “A warning from Copenhagen”

  1. 1
    Danny Bloom says:

    Do my polar cities ideas sound more plausible now, a year later?

  2. 2
    sidd says:

    I rather liked the Synthesis report. It seems that a large number of indicators are tracking near the upper end of IPCC scenarios. Along the same lines, does anyone know if the full text of presentations at the Copenhagen meeting is available ? I have found the abstracts, but not much else.

  3. 3
    sue says:

    So important to emphasize, as you have and the Copenhagen Synthesis Report does, that action can still be taken to remediate the situation. I find with my students that all too often understanding of the problem results in hopelessness rather than action. Useful analogy about the pot on the stove — will have to remember that.

  4. 4
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Thanks Stefan…as if there weren’t enough to try to get through with the IPCC AR4, Stern Report, RC articles, other blog articles, Waxman-Markey bill, umpteen new primary articles every week, etc etc.

    Sleep? Who needs it.

  5. 5
    Bob Doppelt says:

    Sorry, but there was not much confusion about the 2 C threshold at the Copenhagen science congress. I was one of the social scientists that attended the congress and, although they acknowledged that it is still ‘technically’ possible to keep temperatures from rising more than 2C, few scientists I talked with there thought there was much chance of this occurring. After the science Congress The Guardian newspaper in London polled climate scientists that attended attending the congressand found the same thing–few thought temperatures would remain below 2C. See the Guardian story.

    Bottom line: we must rapidly mitigate emissions but the world must now equally prioritize rapidly preparing for the consequences of rising temperatures. The term adaptation should thus be used much judiciously than in the past. Its not likely that most societies can adapt to 2 C in one century or less, unless you call constant crisis management adaptation. We can, however, prepare for the consequences much like we now prepare for natural disasters. My experience in the U.S. is that by focusing on preparation people become more interested in mitigation—which is quite the opposite of what was first thought.

    Finally–the most important of the six ‘key messages’ of the Copenhagen science congress, in my opinion, was the last–that major constraints must be overcome to make rapid progress on mitigation and preparation. This is the area that should now become the major focus. If we are to eventually stabilize the climate the focus of climate issues must shift from the biophysical to the social sciences. The world’s major challenge now it how to motivate widespread cognitive, behavioral, organizational and cultural change for climate stabilization and preparation.

    Bob Doppelt
    University of Oregon
    Climate Leadership Initiative

    Bob Doppelt

    [Response: Dear Bob, thanks. Indeed many colleagues are pessimistic whether we will stay below those 2 ºC warming – but that’s because they are pessimistic about the policy process. They are not saying it isn’t technically entirely feasible. These two things should not be mixed up. Otherwise politicians get just another excuse to drag their feet: they will give up efforts to limit warming to 2ºC by claiming that the scientists say it’s impossible. But it’s not. We can do it if we want.]

  6. 6
    pete best says:

    Professor Ramanathan from Scripps has already suggested that it it was not for cooling agents warming would rise to around 2.4C. Atmospheric Brown Hazes (formerly Asain) and BC are having noticeable effects on arctic sea ice and asain monsoons.

    Now wonder many people are confused. This guy is a nobel prize winner along with Al Gore.

    [Response: That’s right – but those cooling agents are out there and they are not suddenly going to vanish, hence this fact does not stop us from staying below those 2ºC. To answer this question you need to do transient (i.e. time-dependent) scenario simulations with reasonable assumptions about how our greenhouse gas emissions are going to change over time, and how the cooling aerosol amounts are going to change over time. This is what the recent Nature papers by Meinshausen et al and Allen et al have done, and they show that with sufficient emission reductions we can stay below those 2 ºC. E.g., if we reduced linearly from now on, each year by 2% (of 1990 emissions), we’d have a 66% probability of staying below 2 ºC, already accounting for the changes in aerosol concentrations (i.e., cleaner air). -stefan]

  7. 7

    It is most encouraging to see RC confidently step from science into science policy.

  8. 8
    Deep Climate says:

    I agree with Bob in #5 and I think that key sixth message is worth quoting:

    “… [A] number of significant constraints must be overcome and critical opportunities seized. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; reducing activities that increase greenhouse gas emissions and reduce resilience (e.g. subsidies); and enabling the shifts from ineffective governance
    and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the
    private sector and civil society.”

    In particular, the scientific community, government leaders and the general public will need to bring concerted pressure to bear on counter-productive activities of certain fossil fuel companies and urge them to renounce the ongoing PR disinformation campaigns against the scientific consensus on climate change.

  9. 9
    Dean says:

    There is a reason that Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” focuses so much on how societies make their decisions and policies. The greatest challenge we face when major change of any kind comes along, whether we caused it ourselves (as we are now) or not, is to our political processes. They are as much evolved with the status quo as our agriculture and technological infrastructure.

  10. 10
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Bob Doppelt writes:
    If we are to eventually stabilize the climate the focus of climate issues must shift from the biophysical to the social sciences. The world’s major challenge now it how to motivate widespread cognitive, behavioral, organizational and cultural change for climate stabilization and preparation.

    I do agree that social aspects and and adaptation need to be given a lot more attention. However, if by “shift” you mean a corresponding reduction in attention paid to the biophysical aspects, I much disagree. There is still a huge amount that we do not have pinned down–or even approximated–at the regional and smaller scales. Adaptation activities must necessarily be tailored to the local situation, so we are going to need better small scale climate and climate effects information.

  11. 11

    I am concerned that so many on the political right are still denying AGW. I am no fan of Al Gore but he was right on with global warming.

  12. 12
    Colin Crawford says:

    There are possibilities and probabilities, never the twain shall meet. I will grant you that limiting global average temperature to 2C is possible, however it has a very low probability due to 2 primary reasons.

    In no particular order of precedence, the first is due to money. Not how much limiting CO2 emissions will cost the economy or “average citizens” or the ecosystem. However, the “ultra-rich” and most politicians, worldwide, perceive that it will cost them, personally, many millions dollars regardless of how small a percentage of their inflated incomes it may represent. Those are millions of dollars they do not want to see going to anyone or anything else regardless of “consequences.” Moreover, they have “established” their inequitable incomes by limiting change and stifling innovation creating a dependence of the masses. These “captains of industry” pursue a marketing model not far removed from how heroine dealers garner consumers of their poison. That is not going to change any time soon for any reason.

    Secondly, but possibly of greater import, even if all “man-made” GHG emissions were utterly stopped today, thermal equilibrium of the planet would not be realized for years, maybe decades, to come. From everything I’ve read on this website and many others, there is no evidence to support the implication that the current atmospheric concentration of GHGs will not lead to increased warming. Moreover, there is more than sufficient evidence to suggest that more than a few feedback processes are active and will continue to exacerbate climate change regardless of what we mere mortals do. For example, the report from the Catlin survey and the latest info from the NSIDC seem to indicate this summer we will see a new record low in ice extent in the Arctic. I’ll even surmise, here and now, that it is going to be “dramatic.” This, in turn, will only increase the warming and the rate of warming in the northern latitudes, in particular, which will lead to increased thawing of the permafrost and increased GHG emissions from those natural sinks. Neither of these factors bode favorably to limiting warming to 2C.

    While the above constitute my 2 major reasons, there are many more indicators that the 2C limit has little hope of realization. Where I live, about 30 miles west of Cleveland, Oh, ALL my neighbors typically start their vehicles and let them run for 10-20 minutes in the winter before they actually go somewhere. Hell, they frequently do it spring. summer and fall, too. ALL the people I talk to about the reported changes in climate and ecosystems garner nothing but glazed eyes and silence. I don’t know anyone who grasps the significance or cares enough to even engage in discussion. Many even tell me to just “STFU.” Need I mention that the majority are exclusively “informed” by Fox News? Al Gore “recently” published a book called “The Assault on Reason.” While the title and his observation is correct I see an even more frightening “slant.” That is, I find there has been an abdication of reason. Most seem to live their lives by the adage… “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” It is far easier to “believe” a perceived authority figure than “research” facts and employ one’s cognitive faculties (if they exist in the first place) and “go with the flow.” All this implies that a global population of 9 billion (or more) will NOT be accomplished anytime in the foreseeable future.

  13. 13

    I keep thinking that what would actually help is a little bit of urgency, of panic, of fear, of scared-shitlessness on the part of the scientists. These are the people who *know* what is going to happen, and they (with a few notable exceptions) keep saying nice, calm, this-is-not-an-emergency sorts of things like “[A] number of significant constraints must be overcome” and “Temperature rises above 2ºC will be difficult for contemporary societies to cope with.”

    Holy flying leaps, what does it take to get 2500 scientists excited? “Difficult for contemporary societies to cope with”?! Thousands — hundreds of thousands — of people are already losing their lives and their livelihoods, their food security and water sources, their homes and their whole nations at only +0.78 degrees C!

    I’m sorry, but scientists are human beings, too (right?). Where is their compassion for those who are the most climate-change-vulnerable and already impacted? Where is their concern for their own children and grandchildren? Why don’t they care about future generations of all species? Why are climate scientists not jumping up and down, yelling and screaming, standing on their heads, going on hunger strikes to get the point across — THAT WE ARE BEYOND DANGEROUS INTERFERENCE WITH THE CLIMATE SYSTEM?!

    Are scientists SO programmed into thinking that almighty science can never be touched by the lowly heart and soul that they’re going to just keep diddling (and researching and holding meetings) while the Earth burns? I just don’t get it.

  14. 14
    bobberger says:

    I’m a little confused. Back in March, Gavin argued, rather convincingly, I thought, in the “Michaels’ new graph” post, that trying to disprove or prove anything in climate from a few years is probably a mistake. So what has really changed since the AR4 and how can it be significant, given the relatively short timeframe?

    In the report it says: “Since 2007, reports comparing the IPCC projections of 1990 with observations show that some climate indicators are changing near the upper end of the range indicated by the projections or, as in the case of sea level rise (Figure 1), at even greater rates than indicated by IPCC projections.”

    Does that mean comparisons between projections from the TAR with observations done since AR4??

    [Response: Indeed. The graph referred to is from Rahmstorf et al, Science 2007, published after the deadline to be included in the IPCC report. -stefan]

  15. 15

    The focus here is admirable, and just what needs to be said: it is urgent, not pointless, to act. Let’s keep spreading that message. . .

  16. 16
    Hank Roberts says:

    Pete Best at 21 June 2009 at 11:18 AM posts a fragment that needs citation to context to be understood.

    As Pete posts it it above, that bit makes the problem sound impossible and the Nobel laureates sound stupid.

    I’m sure this isn’t Pete’s intention.

    Pete, can you cite your source for that, that so people understand it in context?

    That will help people understand the point that if we control the transient input early we can limit the total committed warming.

  17. 17

    The link for the “Synthesis Report” doesn’t work.

    This URL will get you there:

    [Response: Hmm… the pdf downloads ok for me. Your link is good too if anyone else has a problem. – gavin]

  18. 18
    AlCrawford says:

    The Synthesis Report of the Copenhagen Congress is quite consistent with much publicized report out of MIT titled “Climate Change Odds Much Worse than Thought”. Each says basically that

    1. Without action to control CO2 and other GHG emissions things will get very, very bad within the next 100 years.

    2. Some effects of global warming are being felt, and will get somewhat worse. (At the 2 degree level)

    3. The worst effects can be stopped. But this will take quick and decisive action throughout the world to keep the climate from rising above the 2 degree level. The scientific know how is available. And the economics to do the job is there.

    4. All it takes is a universal political will to get the job done.

    And in part 4 lies the problem. It will require action in the United States to control its CO2 emissions. It will require action by Europe. And it will require the developing nations, particularly China and India, to emphasize non-CO2 sources for their continued economic development. And, I fear, that all of this will not happen at a sufficient enough pace to keep the temperature rise at or below 2 degrees C.

    The question now becomes when will the US, Europe, China, and India become motivated enough to put a heavy emphasis into the problem of Global Warming?

    The answer, I think, is when global climate changes start to become an actual problem for these countries then they will start to act. And at that time it would seem that it is likely that the resulting temperature rise will come very close to the MIT estimate of 5 degrees and all of the problems that entails.

    As you can tell, I am not very optimistic about the future of the earth. Fortunately, for me, I am getting pretty old. I should have at most 10 to 20 years left. So I will not have to endure most of the worst stuff that will happen. But my great grandchildren — that is another matter.

  19. 19
    bobberger says:

    Another thing I find strange. On Page 9 the report says: “Since the last IPCC report, updated trends in surface ocean temperature and heat content have been published4,5. These revised estimates show (Figure 4) that the ocean has warmed significantly in recent years.”

    However the graph in figure 4 ends in 2003 or 2004, three years before AR4, and so does not include recent years.

    [Response: Estimates don’t just get revised by adding more recent years to the data, but also by new studies reanalysing older data sets. The climatic trends do not change anyway from adding three or four extra years; it’s the longer time scales that are relevant. -stefan]

  20. 20

    Once again I see in the Synthesis Report, page 29, the McKinsey or Vattenfal chart without meaningful discussion of the details, and even still a number of the measures shown are not even pointed to with a label. The chart format seems to be very useful and it could be quite an important presentation.

    Some of the suggested measures seem sensible and easily understood, but the reality of most of the measures seems highly questionable. It is time for McKinsie and Vattenfal to actually come up with the associated line items that are the basis for this chart, so rational discussion could begin. As it is, there is not a lot of reason to put much confidence to this summary.

    [Response: Did you look at the 192-page report that goes with it? (Took 1 min to find via google.) -stefan]

  21. 21

    Leonard’s link works but yours takes much longer to load :-(

    Anyway, do you really think a slogan like “Inaction is inexcusable.” is going to have any effect? Very poetic, but everyone will blame everyone else for the lack of action.

    Shouldn’t the slogan be “Without regulation of fossil fuels, there will be a Climate Crunch!”

    It needs governmanet action. Individuals are powerless because even if they buy a hybrid their neighbour can buy a Hummer. I can take a holiday twenty miles down the road in a caravan, but my neighbour can fly to Thailand with his wife and six kids. Who suffers in a damp British summer? Me. Who comes back with a tan? Them! I have suffered to save their world.

    There must be government regulation to ensure equal hardship, and intergovernmental agreement to ensure that all nations trade on a level field. The US must accept international rule. Freedom and self regulation mean that the baddies are the winners and the goodies are the losers, just as we have seen in the Credit Crunch (and with British MPs expenses.)

    Moreover we have to face the facts – we cannot switch to re-usables in time to prevent a +2C rise. We must cut our consumption and that means an end to economic growth. We can’t grow AND cut greenhouse gas emissions. Even clearing forests to plant biofuels is lose-lose situation.

    The Synthesis report says:
    Temperature rises above 2oC will be difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and are likely to cause major societal and environmental disruptions through the rest of the century and beyond.

    More weasel words. What they really mean is that “Temperature rises of over 5F are likely to cause wars, droughts and famines in our lifetime, and worse in that of our children.”

    When are they going to say what they mean and mean what they say?

    Cheers, Alastair.

    Captcha says “stomping an”. Shouldn’t that be Stomping Al?

  22. 22
    Andrew says:

    What is needed is disruptive leadership in not just the political realm, but in the private sector as well. Without bold transformational leadership from industry we will not solve this problem. Leaders must have an appreciation for systems thinking, see problems as interconnected and solutions as interdependent. Profits become not the aim of the organization, but the consequence of pursuing another aim – building great products in a sustainable way. Disruptive leaders do exist in the executive suite, Ray Anderson and Fisk Johnson to name two. But both head privately held companies. According to Mr. Johnson, he would not be able to make sustainable development (including reducing CO2 emissions) the organizing principle of his company if he were forced to report results to shareholders every quarter.

    Perhaps the late Kurt Vonnegut put it best when he wrote “We could have saved the planet, but we were too damn cheap.”

  23. 23
    pete best says:

    Re #16 Hank, This is as good a paper I can find about the subject at hand about the fundamental issues with the cooling agents of climate change. Black Carbon and the ABH are seen to have larger forcings than I can remeber reading about:

    its a large paper. The world would be warmer at 380 ppmv Co2 if these agents of cooling were not in wuch large scale operation. If we decide to clean them up before tackling Co2 and other GHGs then we could see additional warming presently masked?

    I know that RC are busy busy busy right now but cooling agents seem to recieve additional research that will no doubt throw new light on the subject of future warming.

  24. 24

    Not that it hasn’t been said before, but the addition of CO2 to the atmosphere, THROUGH THE BURNING OF FOSSIL FUELS AND OF BIOMASS THAT CONSTITUTES A REDUCTION IN THE NPP OF THE LAND FROM WHICH IT WAS HARVESTED has to become regularly viewed as an affront to the “Commons”. And that this affront must be penalized with a carbon ‘fine’, in proportion to the affront (CO2-footprint) just as are other anti-social civil ‘crimes’.

  25. 25
    Hank Roberts says:

    This may be a mention of and cite to what Pete’s describing above:

    “… In a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, V. Ramanathan and Y. Feng from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, calculate that
    greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions as of 2005 have committed the planet to warming of “2.4C above the preindustrial surface temperatures …” [n3]

    3 V. Ramanathan & Y. Feng, On avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system: Formidable challenges ahead, 105 Proc. Nat’l Acad. Sciences 14245, 14245 (23 September 2008).

  26. 26
    John Philip says:

    OT Heads-Up

    Apparently Gavin is about to recieve notification of a data dropout in an Alaskan weather station from the proprietor of the Science Blog of the Year, due perhaps to the name of the station being spelt differently by the NCDC and NASA [‘Dutch Harbor’ vs ‘Dutch Harbour’]

    Naturally this is the fault of Dr Schmidt and his damn British origins.

    Even though (a) NASA does not maintain the Station Inventory file where the mismatch occurs and (b) the data dropout dates from more than a decade before Gavin joined NASA.

    Could it get more silly?

    [Response: Of course it can. I’m not even involved with GISTEMP. And GISTEMP is an analysis of the GHCN data – which comes from NOAA and the various national weather services, and it is the national weather services that determine whether they release monthly data summaries from which stations (which is what goes into GHCN). Thus instead of actually trying to be constructive, they prefer to make it a personal issue with someone who has nothing to do with it. Forgive me if I don’t take their comments very seriously. – gavin]

  27. 27
    Bob Doppelt says:

    To Jim Bouldin–

    By shift I mean we need to put as much or greater emphasis on the social sciences now than the biophysical. Even at the Copenhagen science congress the biophysical sciences took center stage, even though, at least to me, the most important message was the last one which deals with the need to find ways to motivate change. We have long know that information alone–no matter how credible– is not sufficient to motivate fundamental change. In fact, too much information without the other keys to successful change (which I think can be summarized as sufficient tension, efficacy and benefits) often triggers the reverse–people deny, ignore, or rationalize away a problem. If we are to make significant progress in addressing climate change we need to make a major investment in cognitive, behavioral, economic and other factors that motivate change. This does not mean that the biophysical sciences are less important–of course they remain essential. However, I think today that the emphasis is out of balance given the challenges we face.


  28. 28
    MikeN says:

    Well in your climate commons thread, it was established that without action by China, below 2C is impossible, unless your model assumes C warming from business as usual, then maybe you can get to 1.6C.

    If you need to get an 80% emissions reduction, with China responsible for 25% of emissions, that means a 20% reduction by them, from current levels, with a 100% reduction by everyone else. Europe and the US are unlikely to reduce 100%, plus there are other significant increasing countries like India(4%). Also China is increasing by 10% per year. So you are looking at at least a 50% reduction by the Chinese as well.

  29. 29
    Mark says:

    re 21, if they used that then there would be a deafening shout that would shake the firmament itself accusing them of scaremongering.

    Heck, that statement alone will have a thousand bloggers call them alarmists.

  30. 30
    MikeN says:

    I have a problem with the first several graphs shown in his report, particularly the one of Greenland ice volume, showing changes from 2003 to 2008, with 2003 set at 0. Is this the standard that scientists use for showing trends?

    [Response: What relevance to the trend does the baseline anomaly have? (Clue: none whatsoever). – gavin]

  31. 31

    “I find with my students that all too often understanding of the problem results in hopelessness rather than action.” (from sue, above)

    I fear I agree and align with Colin Crawford, and I have no doubt that sue’s students seem much of the same. I don’t think Americans will take this really seriously — enough to change their daily behavior — until 40,000 or more Californians die from something concretely connected with Change.

    This goes beyond Change and the horrible hoodwinking that our civilization has indured. IMO it is the confluence of bad evolutionary heritage, with insufficient and ineffectual education, with a representative democracy which has been shorn of its founding assumptions. We need and have education to climb over our natural tendencies to misjudge risk, as documented so ably by Mlodinow in his DRUNKARDS WALK. We need education to teach, not only the maths and the science, and the criticism of bad rhetoric, but to satisfy that assumption of widespread democracy, that if the voter is to rule wisely, the voter must be educated. Our enlargement of those responsible for choosing those who decide has outpaced our collective ability to educate. I, for one, believe that to have been deliberate, in the interest of some parties for which it was a win. Education is commoditized. It’s a chit used to ante in for “just the game” of having a job.

    Climate Change is a global evolutionary test, nothing less, and even that assumes no non-linear tunnels and tips. It is a test of whether or not we can extend our personal valuations of goodness over decades and centuries rather than fiscal quarters. Surely the science needs to proceed apace, escalate, document and probe, and needs to receive vastly increased funding and attention. But the audience needs to be able to listen, too, and act upon it.

    If there ARE non-linear tunnels and tips, and we are approaching them, circumstances are already beyond our control, and this is just one of those bad luck moments of contingency. We just need to hang on for the ride, as best we can, and hope.

  32. 32
    Karen Street says:

    Re #5, the 2007 IPCC WG3 shows no scenario to keep temperature increase below 2°C. International Energy Agency’s 2008 Energy Technology Perspectives describes a system that requires, among other things, an unprecedented level of cooperation, and still doesn’t get down to a 2°C increase. Science Magazine had an article after WG3 came out in which scientists accuse economists of being too optimistic in this analysis (I’d guess reasons include overestimates on the amount of hydro available, half of renewable energy by 2030, according to IPCC).

    Stefan, when people say it’s technically possibly to keep temperature increase below 2°C, it can mean A) “if humans cease to exist” or B) “if human social structures really get a move on”. Has there been any analysis I’ve missed that shows that the B scenario is technically possible?

  33. 33
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Bob (27):

    Great response; thanks for clarifying and I fully agree. The psycho-social aspects are of great importance and there is the real danger that paralysis can occur as the bad news rolls in. More effort, and integration, is needed. Everybody needs to learn to listen, and talk, to everyone else or we won’t solve this. Fortunately I think we have some people in power who understand this.

  34. 34
    Wilmot McCutchen says:

    Just like in the old musical “The Music Man,” the “you got trouble in River City” scare pitch is being used to stampede enactment of a cap-and-trade flimflam scheme which will not actually reduce CO2 emissions.

    Enron failed to sell the Kyoto cap-and-trade scheme (the Clean Development Mechanism — a failure), but now it looks like Waxman-Markey may make the swindlers’ dreams come true. The junk market thus created in tree offsets will be a bonanza for Wall Street, but a disaster for the rest of the planet. That money which should be going to developing and deploying technology for solving the problem of post-combustion CO2 capture and conversion will instead go to the cast of characters who caused the latest financial bubble.

    For the coal plants and other big emitters, it will be cheaper to buy

    [Response: possibly your comment is cut off due to the use of less than signs which are being interpreted as html? – gavin]

  35. 35
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Re 26: So the good Dr. ‘Supwitdatdude is now using Discovery channel re-runs for his climate station conspiracy sleuthing is he? The man is just drop-dead brilliant.

  36. 36

    In some places, 2 degrees is already here…

    2007: 64N to 90 N +2.10 degrees anomaly


    Not a world wide average, but the effects are obvious
    2 degrees world wide is really serious…

    #21 Alastair, tried to send you an E-mail but your blog doesn’t have one…

  37. 37
    Chuck says:

    Is any international panel ever going to address the real problem of overpopulation?

  38. 38
    Save Gaia says:

    Jan Theodore Galkowski:”Climate Change is a global evolutionary test, nothing less, and even that assumes no non-linear tunnels and tips. It is a test of whether or not we can extend our personal valuations of goodness over decades and centuries rather than fiscal quarters.”

    A fundamental evolutionary barrier for species(IQ-Check) inhabiting a planet in space.

  39. 39
    Peter Backes says:

    This new novel looks timely:

    Matthew Glass’s “Ultimatum”.

  40. 40
    Tony O\\\\\\\'Brien says:

    So if I like the climate of where I live now, as it is now, I should move 10 degrees of latitude poleward and just to be safe add a few hundred meters of altitude.

    There is no way we will limit temperature rise to 2 degrees. There is no way that society as we know it will cope with the changes.

    So we will neither avoid the unmanageable or manage the unavoidable.

  41. 41
    Don Condliffe says:

    I find James Lovelock’s analysis in “The Vanishing Face of Gaia” convincing about the positive feedback loops operating in global climate systems. His point that the climate modelers whose analyses dominate this site are too limited in their approach to possibly be correct and that their results are under-estimates, given that climate models fail to reproduce non-linear paleoclimate changes, seems perfectly valid.

    It is clear from the existing scientific literature that already there are multiple positive feedback loops engaging, such as reflective arctic ice being replaced with more absorptive dark water, increased vegetation in the far north replacing reflective snow and ice, permafrost warming already releasing greenhouse gases (with very significant amounts available to be released at increasing rates), tropical deforestation replacing evaporatively cooled forest with hot lands, ocean warming reducing the oceanic carbon sink…

    Then there is the extreme unliklihood of actual, as opposed to hypothetical and wished for, reductions in natural gas, coal and oil burning in the near term. Carbon burning is increasing and the human desires for food, warm housing and a good life, for increasing billions, make for ongoing increases, not reductions, at least in the decade and probably for the next two decades. Most people are not yet alarmed enough for requisite actions to be politically possible and there is a vanishingly small chance we will act globally in time. Therefore there seems to me to be essentially zero chance of avoiding temperature rise much greater than 2 degrees C, together with significantly more, and more rapid, sea level rise than now predicted. Major societal disruptions are inevitable. A warring starving hot world looms before us.

    Accordingly we need to focus on adaptation and research into geo-engineering. When severe effects from global heating become crystal clear, the push to attempt engineering solutions such as sulfate injection into the upper atmosphere will be irresistable. I would like to see enough forethought, research and testing done to maximize the chance that when, not if, we are forced to try it, we can avoid making things worse instead of better.

    [Response: Which evidence provided by Lovelock in his book for those positive feedbacks did you find convincing? Please explain. -stefan]

  42. 42
    David B. Benson says:

    Giant Glaciers Can Shrink Rapidly:

    A few hundred years.

  43. 43
    Thomas says:

    31: A lot of good points. In the US very little teaching of epistomology occurs (this is the study of how we can know things). A lot of research in the social sciences area has gone into the service of marketing, of both commercial products, and political agendas, particularly but not restricted to delaying climate action. Unfortunatly the applications of this sort of marketing research are increasingly effective -they are shaping the unconcious neural processes that form what is commonly thought of as gut feelings. Only well trained, and concientious people can overcome this sort of programming. IMO the most effective first steps are to publicise how we are being manipulated.

  44. 44
    Thomas says:

    38: I think your coment ”
    A fundamental evolutionary barrier for species(IQ-Check) inhabiting a planet in space.”
    might be a useful way of making the point. Of course CO2 is only important, because the earth is nearing the end of it’s period in the sun’s habitable zone. If we had evolved say a billion years ago, when much much higher levels of GHG were needed to keep the earths temperature within reasonable limits, the small additional amount we could have added wouldn’t have had much effect (the effect depends upon the logarithm of concentration, not the absolute amounts). It is only during this late stage of the habitable period when very low levels of CO2 are needed,and that makes the relatively small amounts of carbon available to industrial man so important.

  45. 45
    Stephen says:

    Perhaps this article should have been called \The Real ‘Copenhagen Consensus’\ ;)

  46. 46
    AlCrawford says:

    One of the problems is that the deniers are winning. And it is our fault. We are not getting information out to the public in a language they can understand. Real Climate is a great site — but the general public has no way of reading it. It is beyond the scientific understanding of the average person. If we are going to beat the deniers we must educate and convince the public of what we who follow the science already know. Global warming is here, it is getting worse, and without action it will be very, very bad.

    Deniers can with ease take a snippet of information that contains a part truth, or no truth at all, and make it sound like scientists don’t know anything. They do this very well.

    On the other hand those of us that are on the science side, especially those whose knowledge of science is about the average of the general population, have no place to go for the truth. There is no place for someone with a sixth grade understanding of science to go to find the truth. And until that happens the deniers will continue to win.

  47. 47
    Jim Eager says:

    Gavin’s in-line @30: “What relevance to the trend does the baseline anomaly have? (Clue: none whatsoever).”

    But Gavin, surely you must have noticed that the latest denier meme is that choosing the baseline alters the anomaly, and therefore the absolute change in temperature/ sea level/ melt rate/ what ever.

  48. 48
    steve says:

    I’m a bit bewildered about the sea level rise chart. It says in the caption that the sea level rise for the most recent years were obtained via satellite based sensors. Have we now managed to calibrate the satellite readings with the land based readings or are we grafting together two different measuring systems and trying to proclaim a change in trend from this? Perhaps I am mistaken in my belief that this violates fundamental scientific procedures and there was no need to calibrate the two systems? I think at a minimum the land based readings should have been included for comparison. I don’t think it’s a secret that the two systems are not actually measuring the same thing.

    [Response: The blue wiggly curve in the graph is the satellite altimeter data. The red smooth line with grey annual values is the tide gauge stations. -stefan]

  49. 49
    MikeN says:

    #30, so now you are OK with defining trends based on 5 years of data?

  50. 50
    Jim Eager says:

    This is amusing. MikeN is assailing the graph showing the past five years of Greenland ice mass loss (p. 9 of the report) because of its short time span. Apparently the meaning of the last sentence of the caption escaped him:

    “The vertical axis is set to an arbitrary value of zero at the beginning of the observational period.”