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Unforced variations: July 2014

Filed under: — group @ 2 July 2014

This month’s open thread. Topics of potential interest: The successful OCO-2 launch, continuing likelihood of an El Niño event this fall, predictions of the September Arctic sea ice minimum, Antarctic sea ice excursions, stochastic elements in climate models etc. Just for a change, no discussion of mitigation efforts please!

373 Responses to “Unforced variations: July 2014”

  1. 151
    Hank Roberts says:

    also for Piotr: I did find The production and preservation of fish-derived carbonates in shallow sub-tropical marine carbonate provinces, which seems to say the calcium carbonate produced by fish isn’t being found in sediments so they’re looking at whether it redissolves. But since “90 percent of the big fish are gone” that could explain why it’s not found in recent sediments. There again, if this is modeled by climate scientists I’d like to know more.

  2. 152
    chris korda says:

    Gail Zawacki has posted an extraordinary essay called A Fine Frenzy on her blog, “Wit’s End.” It begins with loss of forest due to ozone and other pollutants, and rapidly segues to climate change, overshoot, and ecosystem collapse. I’m particularly struck by the fact that she situates climate change within the larger context of overshoot. I’ll leave it to others to parse her scientific content, but certainly her essay is powerfully written and heartfelt.

    “…humans are a plague species… We have radically transformed the earth, rendering it depauperate … The emphasis on climate change … enables the illusory fiction that so-called “clean, green, renewable,” energy will spare us from the consequences of our excesses, foster endless growth, and allow this fabulous energy-stoked party to continue unabated … It appears that evolutionary selection has favored the ability to function despite cognitive dissonance. …we could … give the forests a chance to recover. To do that, we would have to first see that they are dying; next, understand why; and then, be willing to give up nearly every luxury we are infatuated with. We would have to accept – actually, demand – draconian government intervention in individual freedom, including the rationing of fuel, food, water, and children. … As this scenario unfolds, each of us will have to reconcile our dreams and expectations with the ugly and inescapable reality of collapse.”

    [Response: …and people wonder why it’s so easy to paint environmentalists as extreme. Powerfully written and heartfelt doesn’t matter if everyone stopped listening at the first sentence. – gavin]

  3. 153
    DIOGENES says:

    Gavin #151,

    “and people wonder why it’s so easy to paint environmentalists as extreme.”

    ‘Extreme’ problems require ‘extreme’ solutions. As we see from the RC posts, those who propose the non-extreme solutions are not addressing what the problem requires. It is a Badge of Honor to be the right type of climate change extremist!

  4. 154
    patrick says:

    “…Who’s behind the ‘information attacks’ on climate scientists?” 10/31/2011 FACINGSOUTH:

    “Climate science denier group must pay damages for frivolous lawsuit against UVA, scientist” 07/08/2014 FACINGSOUTH:

    I hazard a slight optimism that more substantial opinions yet will draw on common sense judgement about the responsibility that attends on all rights (e.g., free speech) without selection or prejudice. In any case, I am grateful to Michael E. Mann and those who have represented him and worked in his behalf, to light a candle rather than curse the darkness, at a very dim moment indeed.

  5. 155
    SecularAnimist says:

    Gail Zawacki’s rant is at heart indistinguishable from the fossil fuel industry’s propaganda, which asserts that ending greenhouse gas emissions will necessarily destroy the world’s economy and wreck human civilization and reduce us all to starving and shivering in caves.

    Indeed, if Ms. Zawacki didn’t exist, the Heartland Institute would have to invent her.

    It’s bunk, whether it comes from a misanthropic nihilist or Bjorn Lomborg or an oil company CEO.

  6. 156
    DIOGENES says:

    Chris Korda #151,

    An excellent reference! I would also emphasize the following main points:

    “Almost no one, including professional climate activists and scientists who best know the risks, is willing to make the DRASTIC SACRIFICES REQUIRED to even slow the velocity of our hurtling towards disaster.”

    “None of the alternatives can conceivably deliver the concentrated power of fossil fuels, which are irreplaceably dense, to a world of seven billion most of whom crave more, not less, energy. Furthermore, any solution that provides additional energy WILL AUGMENT, NOT SUPPLANT, THE EXISTING USE OF DIRTY FUELS”

  7. 157
    DIOGENES says:

    Gavin #151,

    Or, in the spirit of Barry Goldwater:

    ‘Extremism in the defense of climate is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of climate change amelioration is no virtue.’

  8. 158

    #151, Chris Korda,

    I call ‘Poe’s Law’ on that.

  9. 159
    sidd says:

    Mass waste in Greenland from GPS: Hasholt et al. at the cryosphere discuss site.

    Fig 5 is quite revealing, a hockey stick curving up since 2006.

    Very nice. This reminds me of another paper, which is, no doubt, in the reference list, where annual imbalances were deduced from GPS uplift. The impending demise of GRACE will require refinement of these techniques and observation nets.


  10. 160
    Chris Dudley says:

    “Accolades for the World council of churches for it’s stance on fossil fuel investments..long overdue.”

    Actually, I think this just about on time. It takes a while for what is essentially statistical knowledge to become a matter of conscience. It has been about two years since we could say that climate change is presently deadly without a lot of caveats.

    As a benchmark, when the churches start to take a stand, things change pretty quickly. Nuclear Freeze produced arms reduction negotiations pretty much right after the churches got involved. The Montreal Protocol probably did not require a change of heart while the nuclear arms race did. Warming, while similar to the Montreal Protocol in scientific process, probably is more like the arms race in terms of how it gets turned around so church involvement is needed whereas the Montreal Protocol mainly needed just scientists.

  11. 161

    Gavin, it pains me to write this comment, but I fear you and so many academics in these related fields carry an optimism bias – something expected in studies that are depressive. Normally, I would want that trait from anyone charged with educating my children, but sometimes it taints a clear overview of the system that is important to more distant planning.

    Gail Zawacki is not a scientist, she is more of a science journalist – a passionate amateur – and she presents some very tough questions. From the data she links to, combined with discussions of what I see here on RC – it’s easy to conclude that many have underestimated the seriousness of our situation. Alarmism should not be mislabeled hysteria just to avoid the message.

    I have long found it frustrating that climate scientists are so eager to present data and studies, but abjure from drawing conclusions that may be upsetting. While IPCC is valid, it’s goal seems to be the disconnection of one conclusion from another. i.e. how will sea level rise, heating, acidification, bological and cryogenic changes all interact? Gail is just assembling studies – does she carry a negative bias? Maybe. All the studies about ozone are there, we adroitly avoid them. You might take care not to be so quick to pile on with a back-handed dismissal.

    All this discussion suggests that a serious overview is warranted.

  12. 162
    Gail says:

    I can appreciate why those who have tried before me have given up trying to educate the public, or garner any support from established entities. Even armed with a tremendous archive of peer reviewed literature, the disinterest, ridicule and often outright hostility I have encountered has been astonishing. The futility of trying to bring this issue to the attention of the very people who should be most engaged – conservationists, foresters, and climate modelers – has stimulated some far-reaching, and decidedly unpleasant, lessons about the obtusity of human nature.

  13. 163
    Piotr says:

    Hank, the paper on the CaCO3 production by fish was: “Contribution of Fish to the Marine Inorganic Carbon Cycle”, Science 16 January 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5912, pp. 359 – 362 m by R. W. Wilson, F. J. Millero, J. R. Taylor, P. J. Walsh, V. Christensen, S. Jennings, M. Grosell

    For me the most interesting in the paper was exploring the idea that the fish can affect the carbonate chemistry of the ocean – up to this point we had typically dismissed the direct impact of higher trophic levels (like fish) – because their biomass/production is so much lower than those of the producers trophic level (in ocean – mainly algae). However, fish COULD affect chemistry because they precipitate CaCO3 NOT as function of the amount of food eaten, but as a part of their everyday metabolism, namely the body osmotic control in saline environment.

    However, be CAREFUL when using this paper to look for impact in CO2 uptake by the ocean – although the paper was (deliberately?) vague about in WHICH direction this impact could be (increasing ocean capacity to take up atm. CO2 or decreasing) – the interviews of some authors in the popular press left no doubt – they implied that fish CaCo3 increases the UPTAKE of atm. CO2 by the ocean – Christiansen by calling fish:”unrecognized allies against climate change.” and Wilson by saying: “Given that fish are probably involved in replenishing that alkalinity in the surface layers of the ocean, then fish carbonate might help the oceans absorb more CO2”. No wonder that the press went with that (see below). The problem is that I think the likely net result is the REVERSE than hinted by some the paper’s authors. Here is my letter to the editor. The editors of Science were not interested, but I still stand behind it:

    === Yin and Yang, Acid and Base ===
    A recent Science article by Wilson et al. (16 Jan) has garnered considerable media attention: “Fish digestions help keep the oceans healthy1,” “Fish ‘an ally’ against climate change2,” and best of all, “Fish poop helps balance ocean’s acid levels3.” A major issue, a new development, and a chance for toilet humor. Who could resist? The only problem is that the media have got the science wrong.

    Wilson et al. argue that the calcium carbonate (CaCO3) crystals in fish excretions, when dissolved in seawater, increase its alkalinity and thus reduce its acidity, so as to increase the ocean’s capacity to absorb atmospheric CO2. So far, so good.

    But you cannot have yin without yang, and acid must balance base. Sequestration of alkalinity in fish carbonate necessarily increases the acidity of the remaining seawater: the net effect is exactly zero. But, whereas acidification of the local environment occurs immediately as fish release H+ ions through their gills, alkalinity is released only after some delay. Carbonate crystals released on the continental shelves, where fish are most abundant and the water is already saturated with CaCO3, will be buried in sediment, long before they dissolve. Fish feces released in mid-ocean take carbonate by “express mail” directly to the bottom. Because CaCO3 solubility increases with depth, dissolution of these fish-made crystals will occur at depths of hundreds or thousands of meters. Acidification now, alkalinity later, and away from the surface.

    Thus, fish excretion may be expected to remove alkalinity to continental sediments and abyssal depths, while acidifying the surface ocean. And it is this top layer we care about most: it is the gateway for the uptake of atmospheric CO2, and it contains the coral reefs and other ecosystems of greatest concern. Unfortunately, we cannot count on fish to protect these environments for us.

    1 Reuters 15 Jan. 2009
    2 New Scientist 16 Jan. 2009
    3 Associated Press, Fox News 15 Jan. 2009

  14. 164
    Piotr says:

    Hank, 150: ” the calcium carbonate produced by fish isn’t being found in sediments so they’re looking at whether it redissolves”

    I am not too surprised – given that it is high-Mg from of CaCO3 – when the Mg substitutes for Ca it messes with the crystalline structure, so the whole thing becomes less stable and therefore more vulnerable to dissolution. Therefore, high-Mg CaCO3 is more soluble than regular aragonite or calcite. In fact the Science paper of Wilson et al.2009 I have mentioned before already flagged this higher solubility as a possible explanation to an old oceanographic paradox that alkalinity increases with depth WELL BEFORE one reaches the depths at which one would expect the increase based on the solubility of “normal” forms of CaCO3 (aragonite and calcite) to dissolve (and by doing so increase alkalinity). So if fish high-Mg CaCO3 began to dissolve much earlier, that would explain this “premature” increase in alkalinity …

    So at least some of the fish CaCO3 may either dissolve on the way to the bottom, particularly given the increased acidity of the surface waters due to uptake of anthropogenic CO2, or be redissolved before it is permanently buried in sediments (if there is a lot of organic matter falling to the bottom its decomposition would release CO2 to pore water, which in turn would speed up the already vulnerable to dissolution of the just deposited high-Mg CaCO3.

  15. 165
    Chris Dudley says:


    You might consider this one then

    It quotes Zadie Smith

    “…we always knew we could do a great deal of damage to this planet, but even the most hubristic among us had not imagined we would ever be able to fundamentally change its rhythms and character, just as a child who has screamed all day at her father still does not expect to see him lie down on the kitchen floor and weep.”

    which is evocative.

  16. 166
    Susan Anderson says:

    There is a rather horrifying NYTimes article about John Christy who feels persecuted by the mainstream. I’m hoping some real scientists will write a letter to the editor explaining why it is pernicious nonsense to give his point of view such a legitimate platform. Michael Wines, the reporter, is the former China Bureau Chief and hardly qualified to identify the bits of varnish and papier mache that hold the whole false structure together, or understand what harm he does legitimizing this whine.

  17. 167
    Piotr says:

    Re: Diogenes #153, richard pauli #161 and Gail #162- I don’t want to speak for gavin, but I don’t think he dismissed most of Gail Zawatsky’s text (“powerfully written and heartfelt”) – he just merely indicated that her FIRST SENTENCE (“…humans are a plague species…”) was counterproductive – instead of a strong opening drawing attention to the rest of argument it became the stone around its neck – as its extremism/emotionalism made so much easier to dismiss the following arguments and paint the author, and by extension anyone sharing the views on the severity of the situation, as “extremists” – hence gavins: “Powerfully written and heartfelt doesn’t matter if everyone stopped listening at the first sentence (sic!)”
    If I read that line right (as applying ONLY to the first sentence “…humans are a plague species…”), then I agree with such position, and won’t throw out the baby with bathwater the way Secular Animist #155 seemed to have done by describing the _entire text_ as ” Gail Zawacki’s rant”, “it’s bunk” and “if Ms. Zawacki didn’t exist, the Heartland Institute would have to invent her.”

  18. 168
    Chris Dudley says:

    The thing about nitrogen dioxide and ozone pollution is that they are being controlled under the Clean Air Act. So the stress on forests is coming down. Sulfur dioxide, which is better known for its effects is also controlled. New mercury regulations should be helpful as well.

    Climate change is having an effect on forest health through changes in parasite life cycles particularity with milder winters and through warming enhanced droughts which is also increasing the rate of fire damage.

    The battle is won on ozone and sulfur. Controls are getting stronger. On climate change there is an opportunity now to push for stronger reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by commenting by October 16 on the proposed clean power plan

    My comment so far, in response to the recent Supreme Court decision against tailoring is this:

    “While it is understandable that keeping regulations to entities that are already reporting to the EPA can reduce the burden in reporting compliance, this approach leaves a number of existing stationary sources unregulated. On the other hand, gasoline is regulated to contain ethanol which then has an effect on fossil carbon emissions. The EPA might eliminate reporting burdens for smaller emitters simply by regulating their fuel supply. Requiring a rising renewably sourced fractional fuel content for natural gas, oil and coal not sold to the larger Electric Utility Generating Units, could cut emissions without the need for individual reporting. Methane synthesis is easily accomplished using stranded wind power and agricultural residue. Jet fuel and other fuel grades can be synthesized from sea water in a new process developed by the Navy. Charcoal can be mixed with coal for small burners. Particularly for oil, the substitution may be directly profitable if very high quality remote offshore wind power resources are used. The Clean Air Act indicates that even small stationary emitters should be regulated if the pollution is dangerous. The manner of regulation need not be the same for all sizes of emitters. Regulating fuel sources may be the best approach for smaller emitters.”

    I would urge those concerned about air pollution’s effects on forest health to look over the proposed regulations and find ways to strengthen them and share those discoveries with the EPA. There will be a lot of effort by the fossil fuel industries to try to weaken them. But, legal or science based comments should capture the EPA’s attention. Thus far, these regulations are based on danger to human health and welfare. The Endangered Species Act has not been invoked at all. Those concerned about forest habitat preservation may find some matters of concern in that area to raise with the EPA.

  19. 169
    Radge Havers says:

    “… if everyone stopped listening at the first sentence. – gavin]”

    I admit I balked at the first sentence. It’s almost up there with “It was a dark and stormy night, and there was blood everywhere.” However she appears to be just one voice among many of all kinds trying to sort themselves out. So personally, I’m not inclined to make too much of it.

    @ 157 Really? Barry Goldwater?
    (And please, whatever you do, don’t bother responding to this comment.)

  20. 170

    Don’t know if Gail has already cited this paper in her sources:

    It’s a statistical study of different drivers of tree mortality in the Eastern US. It certainly confirms that climate change and air pollutants are increasing tree mortality over the study area, and may confidently be expected to do so increasingly in the future.

    On the other hand, the data comes from the US Forest Service, here:

    The tables in the spreadsheet you can download are pretty voluminous, but the gross trend in the US as a whole (and especially the East; the West has suffered greatly as a result of the bark beetle plague, of course) is one of net afforestation, not deforestation. That’s not to say that there’s no reason for concern, of course. But (just maybe) despair is a tad premature. The Dietze paper notes that we don’t have a comprehensive model of tree mortality, so we don’t actually know what to expect.

    Again, not a reason not to be concerned! But also not a reason to conclude that we are irrevocably doomed (or damned.)

  21. 171
    Gorgon Zola says:

    Let me jump the bandwagon and state that I too was dismayed to read the logical fallacy made by Gavin in post #152. The use of the label ‘extreme’ in this context has got nothing to do with posts like the one on offer.

    What people experience as extreme are often already the most minute changes to their lifestyles like not being able to finger an Iphone 24/7. That the implications of our current predicament dwarf these sorts of consequences thousandfold with people not being able to grasp or oversee these and cry extremist, should obviously not be on the people who try to communicate these ramifications.

    We are a species without a natural enemy such that would offset exponential population growth. Metaphors like the one in post #152 or the one made by Agent Smith are at worst mostly harmless.

  22. 172
  23. 173
    SecularAnimist says:

    Chris Dudley quoted Zadie Smith: “…we always knew we could do a great deal of damage to this planet, but even the most hubristic among us had not imagined we would ever be able to fundamentally change its rhythms and character”

    I’m not sure who Zadie Smith means by “we”, but Bill McKibben imagined just that when he wrote The End Of Nature 25 years ago:

    If the waves crash up against the beach, eroding dunes and destroying homes, it is not the awesome power of Mother Nature. It is the awesome power of Mother Nature as altered by the awesome power of man, who has overpowered in a century the processes that have been slowly evolving and changing of their own accord since the earth was born.

  24. 174
    DIOGENES says:

    Gail #162,

    I’m assuming you are Gail Zawicki, author of that outstanding essay on where we are headed. I believe you have made, and are still making, the same mistake I made when I started posting on RC. I assumed that there were stakeholders willing to place survival of the biosphere above personal interests. I believed that if I identified a plan that could help us avoid catastrophe, the response would be immediate and positive. I was wrong. I have yet to identify any significant stakeholder group with such goals, and the plan that I generated was greeted with hostility because of the sacrifices it required..

    The biosphere is lost; it has been lost for years. While there may be some debate of whether it is salvageable in theory, there is no debate that it is salvageable in practice. The numbers tell the whole story; there is no way in practice that we can reach the targets necessary to insure our survival. Reading between the lines, this is what Hansen, Anderson, Zehner, et al are telling us. It is one consistent story.

    We are now witnessing the final battle of the major energy supply stakeholders. The fossil fuel suppliers are fighting with the low carbon suppliers for maximum share of the energy supply market before the curtain comes crashing down on our civilization. We see the battle being fought on the climate blogs, in the Halls of Congress and in all branches of local and national government, and in the broader media. We see contrived targets being generated by the ‘official’ sources, and, in most blog postings, we see no targets being proposed at all. What we see most of all is that high carbon and low carbon sources are increasing: ‘all-of-the-above’, in the words of President Obama.

    I applaud your honesty and your energy and motivation for posting. Please continue to do it because it’s the right thing to do. Don’t expect any measurable impact or gratitude from the broad readership; they are interested in Windfall, prosperity, and lucrative employment, not in the sacrifices and goals your essays entail. That’s the only reason I continue to post; because it’s right. I expect no more than the hostility and vitriol I have received in the past, because I, like you, promise none of the above fantasies as a way out of our global predicament.

  25. 175
  26. 176
    Chuck Hughes says:

    #152 @ Gavin. That’s the real problem for everyone who is not a well informed, first rate Climate Scientist. How extreme is too extreme when trying to articulate the situation to your average Joe? Nobody wants to sound panicked or overstate the situation but what’s the correct and measured approach? What’s absurd and what is acceptable? I’m having plenty of trouble separating the noise from the signal. There are too many so called, “experts” out there. Are we to take Rupert Murdoch’s advice and just move a little inland? I don’t think so, but that’s what he’s saying.

    I think most folks are cloudy when it comes to time tables vs. catastrophic events. Just a thought.

    [Response: The issue is not just one of ‘facts’. We might all see and agree on the same set of observations and interpretations of what is going on (some people don’t, but let’s put that aside for a second). But when it comes to the future and what we value and we ‘should’ do, these vary enormously. When someone speaks of humans as ‘plague’ that is descriptive of their values (presumably the natural world, biodiversity), not the current observations. For me, the problem is not a conflict between humans and the pristine natural world, but the struggle for humans to create a civilization that minimises unsustainable demands. These have very different end-points. The problem with Gail’s view is that it by conflating a real problem (climate change etc.) with a very specific (and frankly not widely shared) set of values, is that it is then almost impossible to get people with other values/goals to see that the real problem will impact the things they value too. If the goal is just to say whatever is on your mind, fine. But if the goal is get people/society moving in a better direction, it’s flawed. – gavin]

  27. 177
    Dave Peters says:

    Some weeks/months back, Gavin ask for readers assistance with suggestions for new and better means of graphically depicting global temperatures across time. Others with superior computer skills quickly surpassed my capacity to contribute, but the following new NOAA sea energy page contributes the new to me advancement of a “self-stepping” feature, which might compliment the suggestions offered on that now-stale thread.

  28. 178
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Just read Gail Zawacki’s excellent article. I gather that now everyone can clearly see the pink elephant in the closet..hmmm??? If you can, her article and vision has been a success, if not…you will!
    What does Gail and Al Gore try desperately to highlight?…an inconvenient truth!
    Yes of course 7 billion large mammals on this smallish planet is stratospherically too much for Gai’s resources to supply. That as Gail rightly says is purely intuitive. Btw- Humans have evolved intuition so they wouldn’t make idiotic mistakes and kill themselves and other bystanders. Or so you would assume?.
    Climate change is one of a plethora of symptoms of dramatic population overload (your head might for now say otherwise..but you can’t fool your heart!)
    Gavin is partly correct at telling everyone to approach this with a calm level head on one’s shoulder’s, but that is no excuse to procrastinate, or to see what your neighbour is doing first before you reluctantly commit to some token gesture to help- more to pacify your guilty psyche than actual meaningful action. Keep a level head but move like the proverbial clappers to research, to educate to convince, coerce, inspire and empower people not just to help themselves but for the survival of the entire web of life on this ailing planet as well.
    However I cannot bring myself to be nihilistic even though that where my head says we must be going mainly because of my 8 y/0 son. He as well as every Californian redwood tree and Galapagos tortoise etc deserves to die with the knowledge that their offspring will have just as many hopes and dreams and promises as they have had.

  29. 179
    Gail Zawacki says:

    Yes thank you Kevin, I have recently read that paper. I wrote to the Drs. Dietze & Moorcraft to ask if they are following up, since the last year of data they included in their study was 2005. They have not replied so it is still waiting in the queue of blog posts at Wit’s End.

    Since I didn’t even notice that trees are in general decline until 2008, and the trend has accelerated dramatically since that time, I do not find much in their study that is reassuring, particularly because in the past few years, very young trees are dying off as well. I urge anyone who doesn’t see this to go examine some recently planted trees in a development or parking lot, or even some in a nursery where they are being watered, where you will find cracking, corroded bark and thin crowns and, as the season progresses, damaged foliage.

    Notice the authors say: “Our estimates of ozone impacts are likely underestimated…we used the peak 8-hr ozone concentrations as our ozone estimate as this is the basis of current health standards and regulation. This is potentially problematic because plants, unlike animals, are more sensitive to cumulative exposure rather than peak exposure.”

    I recently bought “Global Alert” by Jack Fishman, published in 1990. Here is an excerpt I transcribed (and keep in mind that the background level of ozone is inexorably increasing):

    “Not just smoke [referring to annual crop burning] but many other gases are being released into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. The earth is an enclosed system, with a wonderful proclivity to cleanse itself, but it is being taxed to the limit by the sheer number of humans and their waste products in the form of gases and manufactured chemicals. This is not speculation; it is already happening. These are the signs: In the autumn of 1988 the NYTimes published a story about the Jamaican palm trees in the southeastern United States being decimated by a disease known as yellowleaf fungus. The species may disappear from America by the turn of the century. Although the cause of the disease is a known fungus, the underlying cause is the increased ozone levels in the air, which, by placing the trees under stress, pave the way for the attacking fungus…Forest in parts of Germany are suffering from “early autumn” syndrome: they lose their leaves by late August and early September. The cause? Increased ozone levels in the air…During the sumer of 1988 American farmers lost between $1 billion and $2 billion in crops. The drought was a factor, but a sizable fraction of the losses from lower crop yields can be attributed to increased ozone in the atmosphere.”

    Dr. Fishman is not jumping up and down with his hair on fire. He can’t do that, because he is a scientist. But I think reasonable thinking people can take what he wrote almost 25 years ago, put it together with what he says in a talk he presented at Max Planck last December where he discusses his work in atmospheric chemistry with Susan Solomon and Paul Crutzen, on the occasion of Dr. Crutzen’s 80th birthday, and get that unmistakably acrid whiff of singed hair:

    I do not think he chooses titles with terms like: “Global Alert” and “Toxic Atmosphere” lightly.

    Lastly, as far as the beetles go, keep in mind that it is abundantly documented that the most pernicious effect of ozone is the opportunistic attacks from insects, disease and fungus, which are now epidemics on every species of tree and agricultural crop around the world. People are more comfortable blaming a changing climate or invasive species, even though neither of those fully explain the onslaught of biotic pathogens, even in areas like the southeast US that has become cooler over time, where various beetles are running amuck just like in the west. There has been tremendous global trade in lumber and live nursery stock for centuries, not to mention a vast array of other goods packed in wooden crates and sawdust. If invasive species were capable of multiplying and decimating entire continents in a matter of a few years, why did they wait until the persistent background level of air pollution reached the critical threshold of 40 ppb to do so?

    I highly recommend Dr. Fishman’s talk, because he traces ozone plumes back to widespread biomass burning as well as fossil fuels. And as for alarm, scientists should more than anyone be aware that it is the trend that matters, and the trend is ominous. Ominous for fruit, for nuts, for lumber, for shade, for rain, for all the animals that depend on the terrestrial biosphere. All of them, in other words, including us.

  30. 180
    DIOGENES says:

    Gavin #175,

    “If the goal is just to say whatever is on your mind, fine. BUT IF THE GOAL IS GET PEOPLE/SOCIETY MOVING IN A BETTER DIRECTION, IT’S FLAWED. – gavin”

    Therein lies the problem I perceive in the climate change advocacy movement, across the board. It holds true for Anderson, McKibben, and many other well-meaning luminaries. The exposition of the science is being compromised in order to sell the concept. Anderson will not base his computations on a 1 C target because the horrific results will turn his audience elsewhere (or so he believes). McKibben will not base his allowable carbon budgets on a 1 C target for the same reason.

    There is an old adage that states if you mix science and politics, you get neither good science nor good politics. That’s what I see happening in the climate advocacy movement, and that’s what your statement implies. And, how has that approach been working? Complete failure after two decades!

    I believe there is no compromise with the hard truth; while there may be short-term bumps in the road, in the long-term, truth will out! If the patient’s only hope for survival is painful high-intensity Keemo, then tell him that. Don’t tell him that there is an easy road to survival, as we see posted on these blogs all the time. Once the audience gets some understanding of how dire the situation really is, you might be surprised at their response. Stay focused on the hard science, and present the hard conclusions, no matter how uncomfortable they appear!

    [Response: As long as you keep thinking the goal of communicating is not in fact to communicate anything, you are going to end up just mumbling to yourself. You would do much better to think about what you are valuing above everything, and then listening to other people to understand why their priorities are different. Or not. – gavin]

  31. 181
    wili says:

    Gavin, could you please confirm or deny that this is actually a quote from you, and ideally locate the text, speech or interview where it was made so I can properly reference it? Short of that, could you confirm or deny that it is the kind of thing you might say?
    “If you ask a scientist how much more CO2 do you think we should add to the atmosphere, the answer is going to be none. All the rest is economics.”

    I have only found it at only one site on line, and they give no further source, so I don’t want to misquote you by using it elsewhere if this is a misattribution:

    On the Gail thing, while I am sympathetic with much of what she says, the fact is that many human cultures have had little to no negative impact on the environments in which they have traditionally lived. It is really only modern industrial society that has had a globally negative impact on the environment.

    It may seem now that humans are a plague species, but recognizing that humans have the capacity to live within a radically wide variety of cultures helps show that, while we may be specially adapted to be _able_ to exploit various living communities and resources beyond sustainable limits, not all cultures have done so, and arguably only one has done so on such a massive scale as to threaten planetary stability.

    We have to change the stories that give our lives meaning, we have to change the cultural assumptions that tell us what is and isn’t appropriate behaviors…all of these can in theory be changed rather quickly, and have been so in the past. I’m not sure we have to change our genes. I do think we have to see ourselves as a species that needs to always look to ways to _limit_ rather than expand our power, given what we see now that we are capable of. Most traditional societies recognized this and had a variety of types of restrictions or taboos on behavior, with strong cultural sanctions on violating them. You could say that our culture simply failed to put an appropriate taboo on the burning of fossil fuels, and it needs desperately to get one in place now (though in modern culture this would take the form presumably of international agreements, and agreed upon sanctions against those who violate them).

    As to motivation, what motivates and doesn’t motivate people can be rather counter-intuitive. A standard strategy for coaches at half time to motivate a loosing team, for example, is to proclaim the game lost and to tell the players that there is no way to win anymore. One might think that this would be the worst way to motivate anyone. But in fact it leaves it to the players to take on the role of encouraging the coach, and in so doing they often encourage themselves more effectively than the coach ever could directly.
    I’m just saying that, much as I admire Gavin, being an expert in climate science doesn’t automatically make one an expert in rhetorical strategies, and these can be as surprising and counter-intuitive as the interactions of atmospheric gasses.

  32. 182
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    # 152 (Chris Korda)

    Re Gail’s essay and Gavin’s responses

    Gail’s essay is extreme, and will not likely persuade anyone. It is just one essay from an individual though. The big green groups are usually more careful when they write messages. I know people who work for some of the major environmental groups, and these groups are more careful when they put out communications for the public. They do tend to favor the worst case scenarios, but they don’t go overboard, particularly when they are dealing with values.

  33. 183

    #171–No, it doesn’t. The essay fails to point out that those “heavy, complex, carbon laden… locked up deep in the earth, tightly trapped between or bound to sand, tar, and rock” fuels are going to be increasingly expensive, while renewables are going to be increasingly cheaper. (On the long-term trend for solar PV, for example, every doubling of installed capacity has translated to a 22% reduction in cost.) Water doesn’t flow uphill for very long–and neither does money.

    The IEA, cited in the 2013 piece at issue, now also says that “On a percentage basis, renewables continue to be the fastest-growing power source. As global renewable electricity generation expands in absolute terms, it is expected to surpass that from natural gas and double that from nuclear power by 2016, becoming the second most important global electricity source, after coal. Globally, renewable generation is estimated to rise to 25% of gross power generation in 2018, up from 20% in 2011 as deployment spreads out globally.”

    And the IEA has a history of conservatism on renewables.

    But weren’t we supposed to be avoiding mitigation topics this month?

  34. 184
    DIOGENES says:

    Barbara #171,

    “It looks like investment in renewables is pointless:

    Klare comes to a rather obvious conclusion in his article: we are entering the Age of Unconventional Oil and Gas, rather than the Age of Renewables. One only has to observe investments, construction, and plans/projections from myriad energy-related organizations to validate his conclusion. And, yes, that investment will be recouped many times over. There is no lack of demand for the product, from both the developed and developing worlds.

    Klare’s other point, however, is the Achilles Heel of his argument. He decries the relative lack of renewables investment compared to unconventional fossil investment, implying that somehow greater renewables investment will be a panacea and rescue us from the impending climate disaster. The argument is weak. Yes, a dollar invested in renewables is better for the biosphere than a dollar invested in any type of fossil source. That’s setting the bar quite low! But, as many of us have shown in our postings of the past month, renewables will produce a number of adverse effects, will not free us from dependence on fossil fuels, and some have abysmally low ERoEI. The only realistic solution is to minimize use of either fossil or low-carbon sources to the maximum extent possible by DRASTICALLY CUTTING DEMAND. Klare needs to firm up his argument; he has addressed only half the problem in his otherwise interesting essay.

  35. 185
    Chris Dudley says:

    Chuck (#170),

    Things can go the other way too where scientific reticence impedes communication:

  36. 186
    Rick Brown says:

    Wili @ 181 regarding Gavin’s quote:


    Which links to the original source –

  37. 187
    Ric Merritt says:

    Re citations (including Barbara, currently #172) of the “naked capitalism” blog on Michael Klare and the response by Kevin McKinney, who cites the well-known drop in solar PV costs:

    To say that investment in renewables seems pointless is obviously off the mark, since renewables by definition are what remain as the other stuff gets harder to come by.

    But the PV cost drop, while welcome, is a smallish part of the overall story. The ratio of bloggy references to PV cost drop to bloggy references to the real problems is waaaay too high.

    Rather than adding to that bad ratio, make the PV cost drop a brief aside at most, and talk about the hard parts, which have to do with head-spinningly complex feedbacks in natural and human systems. In particular, the cost of PV embedded as a bit player in energy systems dependent mostly on FF is of doubtful relevance. If costs of storage, conversion, and transmission, to get the energy where and when we would like it, in a directly useful form, were also dropping that fast, industrial civilization as we have come to enjoy it would be looking pretty good. Sadly, they aren’t.

    A naive reading of Kevin’s comment assumes that we have a constant supply of chips (call them dollars), which we collect for passing GO, and we get to spend them on the stuff we need. As long as the pile of chips covers the needs, we’re good.

    I know that sounds childish, but this reading is assumed all over, and seems to be the basis of most promotion of renewables investment.

    A little thought reveals that the chips themselves are meaningless, and the capacity to get around to GO once more depends on, well, a head-spinningly complex pile of feedbacks that bottoms out on use of natural resources.

    Progress in PV is great. Progress in taking the PV output, plus other true renewables, and turning it back into roads, mines, heavy equipment, factories, ocean transport, and on and on, all of which is needed to produce and maintain the PV infrastructure, would be even greater. Keep your eye on the ball.

    (PS Nice to have the preview of this comment to look at, but why is it timestamped on Apr 28 2014?)

  38. 188
    Hank Roberts says:

    For Wili — you found only one source for that quote?
    Google finds seven; one attributes it to the New York Times
    Checking that leads you back here, to

  39. 189
    DIOGENES says:

    Gavin #180,

    “As long as you keep thinking the goal of communicating is not in fact to communicate anything, you are going to end up just mumbling to yourself.”

    Well, you’re ignoring the fundamental data problem. What are the metrics of effective communication on this blog, and how are they quantified? The fundamental data elements are the numbers of readers, and their starting perceptions/agendas. One would have to poll the total readership, and correct for those with pre-determined agendas, to get a valid gauge of communication effectiveness.

    I have no idea how many readers RC has, but I would guess that the numbers of posters are a small minority. What are the characteristics of these posters? Are they honest independent people searching for the truth, or are they ‘hired guns’ by specific technology investors? Are they a representative sample of the total readership, or are they mouthing the talking points of a few sponsors? Without this information, we will never fully know whether DIOGENES is communicating effectively, or whether Gavin Schmid is communicating effectively.

    Because I don’t know where the other posters are coming from, I consider each post solely on its technical merits. If a post contains good logic and/or a few reproducible computations and/or some good references, I weight it highly. On the other hand, if a post contains vitriol and invective, poor logic, no numbers and no references (which typifies the majority of posts criticizing mine), I also weight it accordingly.

  40. 190
    Mal Adapted says:


    the fact is that many human cultures have had little to no negative impact on the environments in which they have traditionally lived. It is really only modern industrial society that has had a globally negative impact on the environment.

    I’m sorry, but there’s plenty of evidence that humans have been impacting their environments at least since we left Africa. The advent of humans, although probably not the sole cause, is strongly implicated in the extinction of dozens of species in Eurasia, Australia and the Americas within a few centuries after arrival. Even if they didn’t directly kill all those animals, the early immigrants drastically altered landscapes on continental scales, chiefly by using fire for vegetation management.

    The alteration of ecosystems and the pace of human-caused extinction accelerated when agriculture was invented. Agriculture simplifies complex ecosystems in order to maximize the proportion of total energy flux that passes through a few edible species and into human biomass — otherwise why bother? And by allowing human populations to grow beyond the natural capacity of their local habitats, agriculture spread inexorably over the planet, leaving extinctions in its wake, and releasing greenhouse gases that began to affect the global temperature curve as early as 8000 ya. Jared Diamond has gone so far as to say that agriculture is the worst mistake in the history of the human race.

    The benefits of modern industrial society are surely enjoyed unequally, and the full costs will mostly be paid by those who have benefited the least. Please, though, let’s not kid ourselves about the ecological blamelessness of “traditional” societies.

    Of course, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this kind of argument is going to help win public support for an effective climate policy either.

  41. 191
    Doug says:

    My personal feeling is that calling human beings “a plague species” in this context is a net positive. It forces one to think about who we are in a different light. Instead of approaching life with blind optimism, it has the effect of making us take our blinders off. That’s a good thing, and hopefully helps us move in the direction of reducing greenhouse gas use.

  42. 192
    waxliberty says:

    Question, perhaps someone can answer: I’ve seen an argument where critics assert that *upper* tropospheric water vapor has not been increasing as expected, only some increases in lower, and that this means climate sensitivity is lower. I don’t think they have good sources on this, but hunting around I wasn’t able to find any data on upper troposphere specifically, just humidity generally (per NOAA site). Anybody know about or have any data sources on this particular question? thanks

    [Response: The ‘NOAA’ water vapor that gets frequently pointed to is from a re-analysis that had a flawed procedure for inputting radiosonde humidity data that didn’t take into account improvements in technology over time – the subsequent ‘trends’ are not climate-related. There has been work on satellite retrievals of upper-troposphere RH some of which is discussed in the latest IPCC report – section 2.5.5 is where you should start. – gavin]

  43. 193
    Edward Greisch says:

    176 Gavin: In order to change anything, you have to advertise. But you must talk about something of immediate concern, such as food and the price of food. So research rain. Get GCMs to tell you that farming won’t work and Americans will go hungry. That works because it bypasses the mind and hits a more primitive spot in the brain. Everybody gets hungry.

    Most people value the lives of their grandchildren, but psychopaths and some cultists do not.
    Try again: Talk about the price of food going up. But you don’t because General Circulation Models [GCMs] don’t tell you whether or not the rain will be suitable for agriculture.

    It is amazing to me that you have not repeated Barton Paul Levenson’s work. Studying desertification has a big payoff. You can immediately say something that will get everybody’s attention: “No more food.”

    The word “flawed” is a bad word. Advertising is always a lie, but it works. Telling perfect truth doesn’t work. The average person is too stupid to get it.

  44. 194
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    176 Gavin: While I agree with Gavin’s comment 90% I still have to wonder if the whole climate issue wouldn’t be an issue with only say 2-3Billion people on this planet. Not only that but 7 billion people being fed a media controlled and contrived propaganda that more is better and that affluence is the way to go just for the economic benefit/greed of the manufacturing nations. It’s going to take a biblical miracle for 7 bil people to live in balance with the natural world.

  45. 195
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    181 Wili: I think it’s also because various religious affiliations have over the centuries regarded the earth as a free infinate commodity to exploit however we wished with no future thought to possible ramifications. Humans were placed on this ego contrived pedestal as being the guardians of everything. Man has dominion over the beasts etc. When people an-masse start to question this crock of s**t and realise that we all breath the same air and essentially need the same things, and when people begin to regard humans as just another life-form on planet earth then we have a future. Without a diverse, healthy and balanced ecosystem to support us we might as well never have evolved in the first place.

  46. 196
    Chris Dudley says:

    Given the way anthropogenic ground level ozone is formed, the EPA measure “Annual fourth daily maximum eight hour average” may track the situation pretty well. Drive that one down and likely the average level is going down too. But, could forests be experiencing a different situation?

    Here is something to wonder about: Conifers produce volatile organic carbon and this can produce ground level ozone. Could warming be increasing the rate of release of these volatiles? Is warming inducing a sort of auto-immune response in forests?

    This might go unnoticed in EPA measures because they might not sample deep in forests….

  47. 197
    Chris Dudley says:

    SA (#173),

    I think the “we” she means are the “cultural we” who expect the framework of our lives to be constant. It is the same we who are surprised by an East Coast earthquake, in another context. I lived in Taiwan for about four years and so have experienced quite a few earthquakes. Sitting out on Assateague Island on the day of the Mineral, VA quake, I was one of the few people there who knew immediately what was happening. Several people mentioned that they had never known what that would feel like.

  48. 198
    Chris Dudley says:

    Looks like the State of Oregon may be on the way to divesting from fossil fuels.

  49. 199
    SecularAnimist says:

    Lawrence Coleman wrote: ” I still have to wonder if the whole climate issue wouldn’t be an issue with only say 2-3 Billion people on this planet.”

    That depends.

    If those people burned as little fossil fuels, and emitted as little greenhouse gases, as do the poorest 2-3 billion people in the world today, then GHG-driven warming would be much less of an urgent issue.

    If they burned as much fossil fuels and emitted as much GHGs per capita as Americans, then the problem would be much worse than it is.

  50. 200
    SecularAnimist says:

    Kevin McKinney wrote: “But weren’t we supposed to be avoiding mitigation topics this month?”

    The people who comment here for the primary purpose of attacking, disparaging and denigrating renewable energy are going to do that no matter what the moderators say.