RealClimate logo

Unforced Variations: Mar 2016

Filed under: — group @ 1 March 2016

This month’s open thread. Pros and cons of celebrity awareness-raising on climate? The end of the cherry-picking of ‘pauses’ in the satellite data? Continuing impacts of El Niño? Your choice (except for the usual subjects to be avoided…).

376 Responses to “Unforced Variations: Mar 2016”

  1. 51
    Hank Roberts says:

    We could stop most of the situations now selecting for antibiotic resistance if we could stop spraying antibiotics on farms and feeding them to farm animals.

    We could stop most of the heavy metal poisoning (doesn’t anyone understand _why_ coal is so full of heavy metals? Bioaccumulation happens, anything we dump gets concentrated into living organisms and moves up food chains).

    We could stop pushing climate.

    The argument against being smart is “you can’t have everything, where would you put it?”

    And the answer to that is: Planet Earth. Stop stirring.

    “we know what
    we are doing.”
    — Kurt Vonnegut

  2. 52
    Hank Roberts says:

    wili, waitaminnit, once again, that’s sourced from scribbler, and Maue, and did you look at the chart attributed to Maue at Slate? the text says it’s showing about a 1.0C anomaly, while the caption below claims the chart is showing 2C anomaly as of this month. Who ya gonna believe, the text or the, um, text?

    1 =/= 2

    Reality is plenty scary, and people can be convinced by real facts.
    Pointing to that sort of stuff and saying is it scary — is an own goal.

  3. 53
    Hank Roberts says:

    Oh, and, Wili, look the names up: e.g.:

    Of course Scribbler is eventually going to be right — if we don’t change our direction, yes, indubitably, we will end up where we’re headed. None of the climate scientists are disputing that. It’s the breakpoints he’s discovering that don’t hold up.

  4. 54
    Scared Teen says:

    Hi, been awhile since I was on here.
    Have we crossed the point of no return?
    I examined the ramifications with this site to see the exact impacts

    I’m losing sleep on this.

  5. 55
    colinc says:

    @ 49 Hank Roberts

    Yes, you are absolutely correct that “we could stop” the effects you mention in that comment. The “real” question is, “Will we?” That is, will we modify current behaviors and paradigms in order to exhibit better “stewardship” of the planet and ALL life constrained to it? In other words, can there be ANY expectation that an obviously insane, irrational and narcissistic species can spontaneously alter its “thinking” and actions to such an extent to even remotely embody its taxonomic moniker? (BTW, Steven Wright was one of my favorite “comedians.” It’s funny that we don’t see much of him lately.) However, a justifiably appropriate follow-up question would be, “Will any or all such efforts be sufficient to reverse the damage already done?” After all, it’s one thing to stop exacerbating any given “problem,” it’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax attempting to “undo” that damage. You know, “an ounce of prevention…” I’m not saying that such “shifts” are “impossible,” merely very, very improbable. (Disclosure: Thomas Bayes and Benoit Mandelbrot are two of my personal “heroes,” along with Richard Feynman.)

    Otherwise, thank you, most appreciatively, for the quotes from Leopold and other recent comments (some of which, presumably, were directed my way). May the sun always warm your shoulders… but not too much!

  6. 56
    Hank Roberts says:

    A while back I suggested Gavin or someone here come up with a good 5th grade explanation of how complicated it is to run scenarios.

    Well, here’s one:

    Comparing models

    A climate model is like a train barreling through a tunnel — scientists put data on the train at one end and the train delivers a view of the climate out the other. In a perfect world, the simulated climate would take a smooth ride through that tunnel. But it’s possible that a rollercoaster resides within, taking the simulation through twists and turns that don’t resemble reality.

    To compare the different models, the team looked at the rides taken by the individual components of the equations that make up the simulations. The relationship between the pre-industrial and present day values of any given component, say, the changes in the concentrations of cloud droplets resulting from a change in aerosols, should be the same across the nine different computer models they tested and should be reflected in data from observations.

    The team found, however, that pre- and post-industrial values didn’t agree, and in some cases the there was even a difference in sign (that is, one model yielded a positive value while another yielded a negative one).

    That indicated they could not model pre-industrial clouds using measurements that have been collected in a post-industrial world.

    “It’s very curious. With greenhouse gases, climate sensitivity doesn’t change over eight hundred thousand years. It works. Why don’t clouds?” Ghan said.

    Additional research is needed to figure out why pre-industrial clouds differ from today’s clouds. But Ghan said there are several potential directions to go.

    One, clouds may be more complex than currently represented in models. For example, clouds could have layers that scientists haven’t accounted for in models that complicate the transfer of sunlight in and out of the system. In this case, old and present-day clouds would actually be the same, but it would mean the models are missing essential complexity needed to simulate how aerosols and clouds interact.

    Two, today’s clouds in regions of the world where observations are made are never as clean as they were in pre-industrial times.

    “Present day variability doesn’t apply to pre-industrial times because everything’s different now that we’ve been putting greenhouse gases and pollutants in the air for so long,” said Ghan.
    … Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

    (emphasis added)

    I’d add to their blurb that I’d suspect biology, as well as chemistry, may be different these days, since we’ve learned so much about the microorganisms that live in the air and in clouds.

  7. 57
    Tony Weddle says:

    People who are tasked to find coherent pathways in an IAM (the scientists) have only been able to stay within 2ºC by hypothesising large scale negative emissions – this is not a secret and has been well-known for many years.

    Gavin, it may be “well known” but it isn’t widely known. Anderson is trying to make it more widely known, but I haven’t heard this from climate scientists, until your quote here. You earlier stated that is was physically possible to limit warming to 2C, but you don’t know that for certain (even though you also implied that it may not be economically or socially possible). I think we need more of this reality from climate scientists, which is possibly what Anderson is talking about.

  8. 58
    Chris Dudley says:

    Maybe it would help to point out that the Prize the PNAS has awarded Mark Jacobson et al. is for a paper that describes a detailed path to 350 ppm by 2100 that cost no more than BAU and stays below 2 C. The work has been done already. There should be an RC post on the paper.

  9. 59

    “In other words, can there be ANY expectation that an obviously insane, irrational and narcissistic species can spontaneously alter its “thinking” and actions to such an extent to even remotely embody its taxonomic moniker? ”

    Jeeze, talk about loading the question…

    I’ve seen apartheid in South Africa end, almost bloodlessly. It was unimaginable, before it happened.

    I talk and joke with people on a daily basis, whom local social norms 40 years ago would have forbade to meet my eye.

    I’ve seen ‘unspeakable depravity’ become simply a different orientation.

    I’ve seen bald eagles return to our skies, and recycling bins become ubiquitous. I’ve seen the air clear, and the fish return to waters long befouled seemingly beyond redemption.

    So, yes, I think there is considerable evidence to suggest that we not only can, but we sometimes do, ‘live up to our moniker.’

    Will we, in time? I don’t know.

    But, as the country song said, “People change–it’s what we do.”

  10. 60
    Geoff Beacon says:

    Dan Miller #50


    Your comments are excellent and your TEDx talk is very excellent. ( ) I shall do my best to get others to watch it.

    However (as Mona Lisa Vito said in My cousin Vinny), you are too optimistic to claim that “Fee and Dividend” alone can “fix climate change”. I guess that your talk was fashioned for the political scene in the USA and you may be restrained by political reality. These constraints should not hold in discussions here.


    Your timescale for cutting emissions is too slow. Let us assume a new US government will introduce a Fee&Dividend like you describe by the autumn of 2017 and CO2 emissions are initially charged at 1¢ per Kg and rising to 10¢ per Kg in ten years. Can this cut emissions fast enough?

    Carbon Brief did their calculation “Six years worth of current emissions would blow the carbon budget for 1.5 degrees” in autumn 2014. By now it will be “Three years current emissions”. To keep below 2°C there seems to be 20 years or so but with the “lack of feedbacks” – that you mention – means it is difficult to get reliable estimates.

    Using your numbers, even after 10 years the cost of a gallon of gas will only increased by about 15%. That won’t change behaviour much. The problem is average lifestyles in the USA have carbon footprints that (if they were world wide) run through the IPCC’s carbon budget for 2°C in a couple of years and not much longer for 3°C.

    If the rest of the world were to keep their emissions low, this would not be a great problem – but the poor in the world aspire to live like the rich. They must be shown good lifestyles that are low carbon – and soon.


    Fee&Dividend would be a very good start but at the modest levels of fees you mention lifestyles of won’t change enough – or fast enough. The important stage will be when people in the poorer parts world look to high quality, low-carbon lifestyles in the rich world and see them as desirable.

    A word of warning, there may be carbon costs to creating a low carbon lifestyle. See “The carbon cost of achieving low carbon lifestyles” ( )


    It may be that tariff barriers alone are not enough to spread Fee&Dividend throughout the nations of the world. You hint in your TEDx that military action might be justified. I’d at least consider sanctions and blockades. I was drunk when I wrote “Nuke Brazil?” ( ) but the gist is not dissimilar to a point you made.

    P.S. At a 2010 UK election meeting I asked Bob Ainsworth, then UK Secretary of State for Defence, whether there was any military planning for climate change. He said there were some analyses of where the effects of climate change may cause conflicts. He also said that he knew of no planning that would envisage an international military task force to enforce climate change treaties. Understandable perhaps, but if we are setting off a doomsday machine that will kill hundreds of millions or billions of people, some diplomatic and military analysts somewhere should be at work on the issue.

    P.P.S Perhaps a better option is a “World Wide Carbon Fee and Dividend” ( )

  11. 61
    Hank Roberts says:

    > hypothesising large scale negative emissions

    Two ways to read that:

    — the need for some … (ask any scientist)
    — specific political and economic choices that add up to …

    The first is obvious. Nobody has missed that.

    The second requires convincing 51 percent of the people who elect a majority of the members of the US House of Representatives, to start with, and then deal with each subsequent political barrier as it’s encountered.

  12. 62
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Scared teen @ 54, you are right to worry. You will experience much more of this great earth science experiment than the rest of us commenting here. But stop losing sleep. It’s unconstructive. Play some calming music before going to bed. Keep learning, and look into Al Gore’s Climate Leader program.

    Forget about tipping points, extinction and so forth. Pay attention to the What You Can Do part of that link you gave. Join

    As Gore says here, some things take much longer to get started than you hoped they would, and then happen much faster than you thought they could.

    Pick up the disruptive technology concept here, learn about distributed power storage as well as generation, looking especially for links to Australia on this.

    Oh, and respond on this site if you are still here.

  13. 63
    Theo says:

    Re Dan @1: Suppose we can all thank Chuck for getting this Anderson ball rolling in February UV @86 and yes, his sobering talk has a silver lining. Even though all the signs are showing that the world is warming and there is no political will to do anything about it, there is still hope to avoid dangerous climate change by getting the top 10% of us to moderate our consumption.

    But after examining this hope in detail, I am feeling pretty depressed. Short of a French revolution, getting the ritch to live like the poor, has never been possible. Those who have always had it, feel entitled to also have it and those who have worked hard for it, should be able to enjoy the benefits. Kevin says that the poor should still be allowed to polute, but this goes for our young as well. We have always aspired for our kids to do as well as us, but now that they are actually doing that, we want them to do less ? One of my sons is doing as well as me, family, houses, cars, whatever and no silly climate change is going to stop that. My other son has accepted that the world is on the way out, so you may as well do whatever and party all the way to the end. Sure, we can slowly do all the little adjustments, but that isn’t going to get us there.

    Been pulled up by Chuck on this one before, but I feel that the only hope remaining is, for there to be some major disaster, clearly attributed to climate change, which will get humanity properly focussed on this issue. As with cyclone Winston, the world is always ready and willing to react to such an event. Hopefully a relatively minor event mainly affecting economics rather than casualties, but there might still be more refugees. Maybe the currently runaway temperature will do the trick, but it needs to affect infrastructure.

    Assuming that, I would suggest that the scientific community prepare themselves for such events and have a response ready for when they occur. To help with this process, I would like to see a simple current state of the climate widget, like CO2 ppm, temperature, arctic melt, methane ppm, AMOC slowdown, ocean acidification, species extinction and so on, with live updating like that population counter. So then we know, where we are at on a daily basis and can have some plans ready to react to any event. Very important that this widget does not include any opinions or blame. Also it should just state the facts without any elaborate what-if-we-do-this predictions.

    Personally, I am already living on a very low carbon budget and I always encourage others to do the same. Most of my current efforts relate to protecting me and my family from the fallout of any climate and/or political disasters. But I hope that all this effort is wasted and that you people get the future back on course :)

  14. 64
    Digby Scorgie says:

    Theo @63

    You propose a widget presenting the essential climate indicators that is updated regularly and distributed as widely as possible. I like it but I’d limit it to those parameters most easily grasped by ordinary people. How about:

    (1) ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide
    (2) average global surface temperature
    (3) amount of sea-level rise
    (4) ocean pH

    To these I’d add (5) tonnage of fossil fuel burnt. So we get an idea of (1) how the climate is changing and (2) our progress (if any) in countering it.

  15. 65
    Chuck Hughes says:

    I think we need more of this reality from climate scientists, which is possibly what Anderson is talking about.

    Comment by Tony Weddle — 5 Mar 2016

    It seems to me that scientists are being careful not to discourage people from taking action to TRY and limit GAT to 2C. Saying something is “physically possible” doesn’t mean it is in any way realistic. A lot of things are physically possible that have zero chance of happening. Call it an “open secret” if you like but I think anyone who has spent any amount of time seriously looking at the situation knows we’re not going to keep it below 2C. I know that myself and have for a while now. I think 4C is a much more likely outcome but I think that because I’ve read the charts and the projections like everyone else.

    Science doesn’t factor in human nature because humans have feelings and emotions. We love our stuff and we’re not going to give it up in the short term to save anything in the long term. As soon as a scientific model is able to factor in human behavior and emotions you will see a highly accurate projection of GAT and what the Earth will look like in a few decades. I think Dr. Anderson’s comments reflect that reality quite well.

  16. 66
    Theo says:

    Digby @64
    No, I would suggest no limits, just any commonly known and widely accepted ( peer reviewed ) indicators relating to climate change. Most are already covered here in posts on RC, so they could easily feed into this climate change widget. And this should not include possible causes as that inevitably includes opinion. Specially not an overloaded topic like (5). Target audience would be those interested in a true state of the climate to act on or to quote on with confidence. Maybe like RC agrees that Feb was the hottest month and at the current rate, we will blow 2 degrees in a few years. When building on a island, I want to know the current sea level rise trend, not who is causing it. For many years and still today, the NSIDC Ice Extend has been a most reliable indicator. Right now, the arctic is showing some warmth and not wanting to reach the average max. I could interpret that as a big melt coming up and maybe sending methane ppb through the roof, but that is only my interpretation. The indicators need to be pure factual indicators.

  17. 67
    Geoff Beacon says:

    Theo #63

    Kevin says that the poor should still be allowed to pollute, but this goes for our young as well.

    I think Kevin is the best we’ve got in the UK for speaking out and I have lobbied to get him to be a member of the Committee on Climate Change. The CCC only has one climate scientist, Sir Brian Hoskins. They have two economists: Paul Johnson and Samuel Frankhauer. Here is excerpts from a letter to Paul Johnson after I met him ago at a conference a few years ago. ( )

    After the session I suggested to you that we need a very high carbon price to combat climate change. You replied that this would put our industry at a disadvantage. When I suggested imports should be taxed on their embodied carbon, you raised the objection that this would start a trade war.

    I have spoken and corresponded with most members of the committee and I am concerned about the make up of the committee. It is not just that, as I understand it, Sir Brian Hoskins is the only climate scientist on the committee, it is that I have had similar reactions to yours before: Paraphrased “I am a member of the Committee on Climate Change but, on matters of climate science, I defer to the climate scientist on the committee.”

    My impression of Sir Brian is that he “errs on the side of least drama”. Anyway two economists to one climate scientist isn’t a good balance.

    However, is Kevin a bit softcore? I wouln’t advocate that “the poor should still be allowed to pollute”: The rich (That’s us?) should pay them not to do it. Fee&Dividend does this within a nation but it should be world wide. ( )

  18. 68

    #63–“Even though all the signs are showing that the world is warming and there is no political will to do anything about it…”

    I wouldn’t claim that the steps envisaged so far are adequate, but I *would* call the Paris Accord a ‘sign of political will to do something about it.’ (Especially since mitigative action is ongoing in several of the crucial nations, even before the formal signing.)

  19. 69
    Dan Miller says:

    #60 Geoff: You are correct that Fee and Dividend (F&D) will not “fix” climate change on its own. I gave F&D an optimistic push for impact and because I think it is the most important thing we can do right now. As I point out in the talk, CO2 lasts in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years, so the impacts that are already here and that are coming our way, will be with us for a long time. I also point that NASA says we have already crossed a WAIS tipping point and, therefore, Southern Florida and many other low lying areas are toast.

    But your concern that a carbon fee of $100/ton is way too low may be misplaced. Yes, a $1/gallon rise in gas prices won’t stop people from driving SUVs. But at $50/ton, it will be cheaper for most power plant operators to eliminate CO2 emissions rather than pay the fee and we may see a step change in emissions. Further, at $100/ton, some enterprising companies may agree to eliminate and equivalent amount of CO2 directly from the atmosphere for only $75/ton, so the SUV will have net zero emissions.

    Also, once we get on the F&D bandwagon and climate impacts continue to grow, there will be incentives to continue to increase the carbon fee to $200/ton and beyond. This will drive us to zero emissions and, if the proper credits are put in place, to negative emissions.

    I don’t think I implied military action to enforce a border duty and I don’t think one is necessary.

    As for climate-induced conflicts, that train has already left the station. I think it is pretty clear that the Arab Spring was triggered by climate change-indiced drought and the same thing can be said of the current Syrian crisis and the resultant refugee crisis. But we have seen nothing yet compared to what’s coming.

    I think it is OK at times to present optimistic solutions, but climate scientists should not present optimistic views of policies that don’t really have a chance of getting us where we need to go. How can we fix a problem unless we are willing to state what the problem is realistically?

  20. 70
    Dan Miller says:

    #63 Kevin: I agree that the Paris Accord is an early sign of political will. I describe it with following analogy: You’re driving down a road and see a cliff up ahead. What is the first thing you need to do? Take your foot off the accelerator. It’s not the same thing as stepping on the brake and you’re still headed off the cliff if you don’t step on the brake. The Paris Accord is like taking our foot off the accelerator. An important accomplishment, but we still need to step on the brake.

    And while real action seems far away (and seems impossible in the US), as I say in my talk, we are going to go from impossible to inevitable, without stopping at probable. Like the legalization go gay marriage, change will happen rapidly when it comes. The question is will the change come soon?

  21. 71
    Jon Kirwan says:

    Regarding Kevin Anderson’s video mentioned in @1 here and with the several follow-ups since… I finally listened to the video in its entirety. I don’t think his focus is so much on climate scientists, though he does mention all the ‘getting around’ using flying at the Paris conference. I’d like to try and summarize what I took as his worldview from that video using his own quoted from it (found approximately right at the one-hour point in it):

    — — —

    Things are “slightly open on the science, slightly open on the politics,” and there is a “possibility to move to a different place.”

    “I don’t think we are going to succeed, but I don’t know we are going to fail.” If we can be blunt about “where are we today … then what can we do something about it.” “But [instead] we pretend we are somewhere else.” He believes that “hope only emerges if we are honest about where we are at.”

    Given that some “slim hope remains,” despite admitting that such small hope resides mostly in our scientific uncertainty (remaining ignorance) than specific knowledge otherwise, it is encumbunt that people like him do everything they can and do so now, not later.

    — — —

    That’s what I took about Kevin Anderson’s worldview from that interview.

    Separately, I found some slight similarity in his own transitions and timing with my own. I’m an engineer, myself. Mostly in designing and programming embedded, scientific and commercial measurement instrumentation. In the 1985+ timeframe, as my own awareness grew, I initially felt this was “hundreds of years out” and was much more concerned about stratospheric ozone depletion than climate change. However, that was also when I started reading on climate change, too. I started with papers as disparate as the early Rasool&Schneider paper in 1971 (one dimensional, covering CO2 and also, interestingly, aerosols) to Lovejoy’s (Wood’s Hole) papers on Brazil and what he uncovered regarding species count in the then highly quilted Amazon forest tri-canopy system in Brazil (the quilting caused by a political policy there allowing a land owner to only clear cut half of their property [which they then sold the other half, which was cut in half, and half then sold again, etc.])

    As I began to read more, my own understanding went from “centuries out” to a “century or so” to a “half century” and now to something somewhat shorter even than that. Not so unlike what he himself described about his own process. The difference being I didn’t leave engineering and still make 6 figures. He mentions the “sacrifice” he made and I can feel that in my own bones, too. He “spoke” to me on that topic in the video.

    Luckily, I have been working out of my home now for 20 years and only leave my office and home, even to go to the store, perhaps once every three or four weeks. I NEVER travel by plane anywhere, now. And I grow most of my own food here, cut my own wood for construction, etc. I grow what I use to heat the home on the property. I still use cement and I still require certain other things I can’t produce. But I’ve reduced my own footprint somewhat. It’s a start.

    But I’m also VERY VERY LUCKY to be able to own so many acres allowing me to do that. I occupy both a forest system with deer, coyotes, rabbits, a wide variety of birds and four kinds of squirrels, for example. Plus farm land, as well. Not many have that option. So once again, what I am doing is because I’ve been far too lucky. Not because I’m smart or good or better or anything like that. It’s entirely because I’ve been fortunate enough to have had access to libraries and infrastructures and an education and to have been born here. I earned almost NONE of what I am today. I just got lucky and happened to be able to take some advantage of it. It’s not a model that scales to others. Sadly.

    So I think I get what Kevin says in the video. He’s speaking as a well-informed lay person in that video. And speaking powerfully.

  22. 72
    Richard Caldwell says:

    Hi guys. I’m still amazed at the “assumptions” scientists make when speaking to the public. It almost sounds like, “Assuming the laws of physics are suspended, ….” Negative emissions are based on the assumption that spewing carbon and then removing it will produce more than negative usable energy as compared to spewing less carbon in the first place. Uh, how’s that done without violating the laws of thermodynamics?

    I’m also amazed at the “assuming no feedbacks beyond the immediate ones we know about….” Gee, look at the Milankovitch cycles. That ever-so-small shove cascaded into 6C of warming/cooling every time. Any scientist worth her salt would START with the assumption that our push would result in an equivalent cascade. Yet I’ve NEVER seen a scientist say to the public, “The Milankovitch cycles have X forcing and our forcing is Y, so if we ramp down emissions in Z fashion, our first-guess is that our expected final temperature is F. (for Fatal?)

    From there, scientists can explain how our situation is different (we’re going up from the top, as opposed to up from the bottom and down from the top, for example) So, moderators, why DON’T you do that?

    As to carbon pricing, you’re all missing the boat. Carbon emissions are not so much about current consumption, but current capital investment in long-lived infrastructure. Vehicles last perhaps fifteen years. Power plants and buildings last a century or so. To affect these systems, you have to affect the second half of their lifespan while minimizing the affect on currently-built infrastructure. (Replacing an old coal plant with a new natural gas one is NUTS. Ten years of X emissions is FAR LESS than 100 years of 1/2 X emissions) This points to a more exponential than linear carbon pricing. Perhaps $0.25, $0.50, $1, $2, $4, $8, $15, $25, $40, $60, $100, $150, $250, $400, $600, $1000, and then leveling off at $1500/ton.

    Folks will know that that big SUV will be worthless when it comes time to trade it in. Power plant builders will know that the plant will have to be retired in a decade, not a century. I’m guessing purchase decisions would be slightly affected, eh?

    And those welfare checks for EVs and solar and wind are WRONG. Picking winners is stupid. Who’s to say EVs are better than biofuel? Who’s to say wind is better than negative gravity? (I made that up) Price carbon, NOT techniques.

  23. 73
    Omega Centauri says:

    As regards to political will, we have the examples of some smallish countries, that are pushing to become carbon neutral in a timely manner, Costa Rica, Scotland and Sweeden for example all seem to have committed to that goal. So it isn’t a matter of whether the better organized places can do it, its whether the more corrupt places can follow in a timely manner.

  24. 74

    RC: And those welfare checks for EVs and solar and wind are WRONG. Picking winners is stupid.

    BPL: Actually, the US Solar investment program has already made back the initial investment and is now making pure progress. But thanks for the recommendation anyway, Mr. Norquist.

  25. 75
    Victor says:

    #69 Dan Miller: “I think it is pretty clear that the Arab Spring was triggered by climate change-indiced drought and the same thing can be said of the current Syrian crisis and the resultant refugee crisis. But we have seen nothing yet compared to what’s coming.”

    Rest assured, Dan. According to this graph, from a recent paper published in Nature, there was no increase in droughts or drought severity between June 1982 and June 2012:

    (D0 is least severe, D4 most severe.) If droughts were correlated with global warming we’d have seen a steady increase. Here’s a link to the paper:

  26. 76
    Victor says:

    Here’s another, more recent, paper, tracing trends in worldwide drought from 1901 to 2009:

    According to the abstract,

    Monthly precipitation (P) and potential evapotranspiration (PET) from the CRUTS3.1 data set are used to compute monthly P minus PET (PMPE) for the land areas of the globe. The percent of the global land area with annual sums of PMPE less than zero are used as an index of global drought (%drought) for 1901 through 2009. Results indicate that for the past century %drought has not changed, even though global PET and temperature (T) have increased. Although annual global PET and T have increased, annual global P also has increased and has mitigated the effects of increased PET on %drought.

  27. 77
    Mike Roberts says:

    Omega Centauri, in this comment, it is also a matter of whether those countries/regions, that declare carbon neutrality a goal can actually achieve that. I wish them luck. Incidentally, didn’t the Paris agreement also declare that goal?

  28. 78
    Joseph Sobry says:

    Victor @75 and @76:
    “If droughts were correlated with global warming we’d have seen a steady increase.”

    This seems to be a hasty and dubious conclusion based on these papers.

    Dan Miller may also have hastily concluded that drought in the various Arab Spring countries was caused by global warming.

    There is a lot more information in these articles about droughts than you simplistically infer.
    Precipitation increase seems to have largely offset Temperature and Potential evapotranspiration increases and thus no overall change in worldwide droughts. We seem to have a different dynamic balance due to climate change with essentially the same result, at least so far. The authors point out clearly that it is an open question if this will continue in such a nice fashion.

    The place and timing of the droughts may be more affected by climate change than the severity and frequency. This was not addressed in detail in these articles in Nature etc.

    The place and time of a drought can severely affect agriculture without there being a change in severity or duration. A drought in springtime may destroy a crop completely before the next rain comes. A drought in late fall and winter may not do much damage at all. The current drought in Ethiopia is already disastrous and catastrophic while it may not have had the same effect somewhere else.

    On the other hand increased Precipitation may also cause severe harm to agriculture, infrastructure etc. depending on the type of precipitation (hail , heavy rains causing floods ?). That was not addressed either.

    It seems that (much?)more study of droughts and precipitation needs to be done before we jump to conclusions.

  29. 79
    Jon Kirwan says:

    @72:"Negative emissions are based on the assumption that spewing carbon and then removing it will produce more than negative usable energy as compared to spewing less carbon in the first place. Uh, how’s that done without violating the laws of thermodynamics?"

    You can read the IPCC’s Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage. In particular, chapters 3 and 7, for example. My comments below draw from it….

    Well, that would be a problem if the process were exactly reversed: That CO2 released (and water) from burning some hydrocarbon and atmospheric oxygen would have to be captured from the atmosphere by combining the CO2 with H2O in order to release some hydrocarbon and oxygen. Then, of course, you’d need even more energy that you originally got, which would come from still more releases, etc.

    So yeah, if that were the only option then on its face it would demonstrate fundamentally flawed logic.

    Of course, there really are no options. Not in extracting CO2 from the atmosphere. (Lackner, K.S., 2003: Climate change: a guide to CO2 sequestration, Science, 300, issue 5626, 1677-1678, 13 June.) With CO2 concentration at 400ppmv, which is more than 100 times lower than in flue gas, it’s just not in the cards. The ONLY option on any kind of shorter term scale will be from the growth of biomass. That’s it.

    So you don’t have to worry about the law of thermodynamics. Some genius someday might come up with a different mechanism that requires a smaller input of energy in order to extract a certain amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. Whatever that method is, if it is to be useful at all, it won’t simply reverse the fossil fuel processes. It will have to do something novel and different. We have no evidence that’s likely to happen any time soon, either. So the thermodynamic question isn’t really a useful one in thinking about this. It’s obvious that a viable solution would side-step that issue. And we know of other processes, such as heat pumps, which use smaller amounts of energy to manipulate larger amounts. So perhaps something might come from that direction. But we don’t have it, anyway. So it’s off the table.

    The only option is to capture CO2 at the sources, where it is in much higher concentrations.

    Now here, one might imagine using CO2 as a feedstock for some industrial or chemical process step. But none of these require anywhere near as much as we already emit or cause to be emitted. So that’s a “drop in the bucket,” so to speak.

    CO2 captured at the production site might use crushed minerals in a process called mineral carbonation. By mass, it takes somewhere between two to four times as much mineral rock as sequestered CO2. In theory, this “falls” into a lower energy state and shouldn’t require added energy to achieve. In practice, it takes energy to mine and crush and transport the rock and still more intensive preparation of solid reactants for affordable conversion rates. The upshot is that the energy costs for sequestration, all things said and done, adds somewhere between 60% to 180% at the fossil fuel power plant site: you’d need to burn 1.6X to 2.8X to get the same useful energy as before while sequestering the CO2 in mineral form. So they say, anyway. (And more likely towards the 2.8X than the 1.6X.) I don’t know about how practical this would be for cement manufacturing.

    Now, considering the idea of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere means solving the hard problem of dramatically, and in some practical way, increasing the CO2 concentrations until they are sufficient for useful conversion rates in mineral carbonation (or some other competing idea.) That will cost energy. If we get that energy by increasing fossil fuel use and if that use generates anywhere near as much CO2 as being captured, then it’s pointless. If substantially less, and/or if we find a way to avoid increasing fossil fuel use while at the same time increasing energy usage on a world scale, then perhaps it might also be added as a tool to start reducing atmospheric CO2. But I have very little hope of that.

    In short, atmospheric CO2 is rising and will continue to rise and I believe it is nothing short of pure fantasy to imagine any practical human mechanisms for reducing atmospheric CO2. Any plans or suggestions requiring some future reduction by sequestration of atmospheric CO2 are silly, I believe. However, perhaps with herculean efforts on a global scale, we may dampen some of the rate of increase of atmospheric CO2 with source capture and sequestration.

    (I fall to the side of doubting even that much. I believe, but of course am not certain, that combinations of several non-linear events will eventually generate the necessary changes to mitigate things before we ourselves are able to act necessarily and sufficiently.)

  30. 80
    Greg Simpson says:

    Richard Caldwell:

    And those welfare checks for EVs and solar and wind are WRONG.

    Ideally, yes. We should concentrate on punishing those who emit carbon. Politically, though, that is difficult.

  31. 81
    Digby Scorgie says:

    Theo @66
    I don’t know what to think any more. I give up.

  32. 82
    MartinM says:

    Victor: Syria is not the globe.

  33. 83

    Victor, my work says drought HAS increased. Find the mistake if you can, my boy.

  34. 84

    #75–“If droughts were correlated with global warming we’d have seen a steady increase.”

    Doesn’t follow as stated, for two reasons.

    First, drought may be correlated to warming over regional, not global scales. It’s well known that some areas are expected to get wetter under a warming regime (northern Canada is one, IIRC and eg.)

    Second, the time line may not be long enough to reveal any trend present.

    I’d also note that the paper proposes a new methodology; and it doesn’t focus on drought trends. That means that conclusions based on this paper should be drawn with care, pending validation of the methodology in the literature and proper examination of its climatological implications–as all good skeptics know.

  35. 85
    Hank Roberts says:

    > … global warming we’d have seen a steady increase …

    Victor, you’ve claimed you’re an academic.
    Yet you haul out these fusty old chesthuts as though you’ve learned nothing.
    Can’t you at least talk to someone who can help you?

  36. 86
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hat tip to Metafilter: Wicked Problems


    There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
    Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
    Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good or bad.
    There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
    Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one-shot operation"; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
    Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
    Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
    Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
    The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem's resolution.
    The social planner has no right to be wrong (i.e., planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

    Policy Sciences
    4 (1973), 155-169; Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning — Rittel and Weber

  37. 87
    Edward Greisch says:

    I agree with 78 Joseph Sobry, 83 Barton Paul Levenson and 84 Kevin McKinney on drought. But there is another factor. Too many people pumping water out of the ground “eventually” use up the water. Or, sea level rising. “Eventually” is now. “Eventually” bad things happen, like the land sinking, either over large areas or as sink holes.

  38. 88
    SecularAnimist says:

    Richard Caldwell wrote: “And those welfare checks for EVs and solar and wind are WRONG. Picking winners is stupid.”

    Nonsense. Subsidies for renewable energy — which are overwhelmingly in the form of tax cuts — are hugely beneficial in many ways, including of course to help expedite the urgently needed phaseout of fossil fuels.

    What would be truly “stupid” would be to FAIL to “pick winners” when it is obvious that some energy technologies are destroying the capacity of the Earth to support life by releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, while other technologies do not have this problem.

    What is far more “stupid” than that, is the reality that fossil fuels continue to receive VASTLY more taxpayer subsidies than do renewable energy technologies.

    Richard Caldwell wrote: “Who’s to say EVs are better than biofuel? Who’s to say wind is better than negative gravity?”

    Scientists and engineers who study such questions, that’s who.

  39. 89
    Hank Roberts says:

    Early geoengineering: the Amazon rain forest

    If they hadn’t made it, we’d have to make it.

  40. 90
    Ric Merritt says:

    There’s nothing wrong with noticing recent temperatures, and for sure nothing wrong with pointing out that the “pause”/”slowdown”, if it ever meant anything for the long term (dubious) is over.

    But I’m seeing a lot of comments of an equal and opposite flavor (could be seeing a surge, that sort of thing). For example, the Slate piece linked in wili’s #47.

    Is anyone presenting a serious scientific prediction about the average for 2010-2019, or an appropriate 30-year trend, or ….? To this amateur, it looks like 2010-2019 will be just about in line with the 3 previous decades. And, anyway, I expect to wait till Jan 2020 to find out.

    If you’re a pro, or a very serious amateur, or at least in the know enough to read and more or less follow this blog and Tamino’s Open Mind, congrats.

    For the general public, a quick glance at yearly figures, with the warning that they bounce a lot, and an emphasis on *several* decadal averages running, is the best starting point. (For global surface temps and sea level.) Doing the Kermit arm-flapping thing when it bounces up is just encouraging the logically vacuous notion that the trend doesn’t matter when it’s not.

  41. 91
  42. 92

    #79–I wouldn’t close the door on air capture just yet. I know of 2 companies currently trying to bring technologies to market.

    The first features the very same Klaus Lackner cited from 2003:

    Their angle is (or was, back when they were more forthcoming) to start with using the CO2 for oil recovery, which is certainly less green than one would like.

    There’s also a Canadian outfit looking to use air capture CO2 to make carbon neutral synfuel:

    If you get into the weeds a bit you’ll see that the process currently involves natgas for process heat.

  43. 93
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Doing the Kermit arm-flapping thing
    > when it bounces up is just encouraging
    > the logically vacuous notion that the
    > trend doesn’t matter when it’s not.

    Oh, I wish that would be understood by those who go exponential about each new oddly high, uncorrected, provisional, OMFGWAGD data point.

    Reality is plenty scary. Hansen speaks clearly for himself and the scientists he works with — he’s more convincing than any of the arm-flapping “interpreters”trying to be scarier about worst case ideas.

  44. 94
    Tony Weddle says:

    Secular Animist,

    some energy technologies are destroying the capacity of the Earth to support life by releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, while other technologies do not have this problem.

    You forgot to mention those technologies that don’t release CO2 into the atmosphere (during their full life cycle). I’m interested to know which energy technologies would get us to zero carbon, since that is where we have to get to.

  45. 95
    Jon Kirwan says:


    I wouldn’t close the door on air capture just yet. I know of 2 companies currently trying to bring technologies to market.

    Do you know of a good paper to read that provides an overview as well as a quantitative analysis from atmospheric extraction to end use, which includes the energy inputs as well? (I will assume that the energy comes from the usual culprits, namely about 85% fossil fuels for now, until I see a change in that mix.) I know that it’s been studied (we’ve both cited the same ‘who’ on that.) But by no means do I feel we are anywhere usefully close to something that will actually meet the all the necessary and sufficient conditions to make a whit of difference.

    Regardless, I still feel strongly (but tentatively of course) that humans won’t act anywhere nearly enough or in time and that nature will provide the necessary and sufficient results through a combination of non-linear processes yielding rapid changes. It is useful here to imagine a kind of physical system state governed by a potential, V(x;c), described by x (an element of the field R^n which minimizes the potential.) Changing external conditions change the values of the control parameters c; changing c, in turn, changes the shape of the potential V(x;c). As the shape of the potential changes, the original global minimum in which the system state sits shifts to a metastable local minimum (as some other distant minimum assumes a still lower value)… or it may even disappear. Such a state may also suddenly (on even human scales perhaps) ‘jump’ from one local minimum to another. That’s what I see taking place.

    I suspect trying to decide when and to which minimum the jump occurs would probably be the subjects of two commonly applied conventions, the Delay Convention and the Maxwell convention. Anyway, the essence here is that dynamical considerations (that describe our reality here) can be brought into elementary catastrophe theory by bringing back in the time derivatives.

    Having some experience with this math, and having the intuition that it may very well apply here quite effectively, and knowing something of human behavior, … I suspect the we’ll see sudden changes in important cusps and folds on the above surface well before we see much by way of useful human behavior changes. One is quite inexorable and can react suddenly and globally. The other is ephemeral, fickle, blind, ignorant, and generally does far too little far too late.

    As Kevin Anderson said, “I don’t think we are going to succeed, but I don’t know we are going to fail.” But I know where the smarter bets are placed.

  46. 96
    David Lewis says:

    Gavin has criticized Kevin Anderson in this thread, and in The Carbon Brief interview of Oct 15 2015 I.e. he said: “I don’t think that that language is particularly useful, and I don’t think that concept is very helpful to making sensible decisions”

    Personally, I appreciate that Anderson has his view and that he is succeeding in getting it more well known.

    I thought of the debate in the runup to WWII as described by historian Dan Todman, in this exerpt from a BBC History podcast produced in Sept 2009:

    “Todman: …the government believes that the way to end this war is to depose Hitler. And it thinks that can be done without a complete commitment of British wealth, of British power, of British personnel. And the problem is that it is not a limited aim, getting rid of the head of a totalitarian dictatorship, its a total aim. The only way to do it is to smash that dictatorship. So they misjudge how the war is going to be fought. But they’re not alone in doing that. I mean that’s a widespread misconception amongst the whole population. And the limits on their freedom of action are not just conceptual. Its not that Chamberlain and members of his Cabinet want to continue with business as usual because they are somehow bad people, or that because they believe that always, business must come before national survival. Its really more that they are trapped in a situation, where they can’t gain compliance on the part of the population, either on one side because of there’s a great belief in voluntarism, both from the left and from the right, there’s a strange situation in which you have both the Daily Express complaining about rationing, Beaverbrook launches a campaign against rationing in 1939, and the left also complaining about excessive compulsion.

    So really the Chamberlain government is trapped in a circumstance where it can’t generate the national will that’s necessary to fight a more total war, even as it becomes more and more convinced as it gets into the spring of 1940 that that is what it has to do. and really it is not until the circumstances change, until the fall of France, and this great threat to Britain that emotionally mobilizes the population, that ANY government can start to do that. And it has to be said that even when the Churchill government comes in in 1940 it takes a far more hesitant approach to the mobilization of domestic efforts than is often assumed. May to June 1940 is not as great and decisive a shift as we sometimes think in terms of things like rationing, and the conscription of women, those are events that take place much later in the war. And they’re very concerned, the Churchill coalition, to stay behind the demand curve, really, they’re operating inside the same set of limits as their predecessors, but they’re doing so in a drastically changed international circumstance.”

    Anderson, in this context, believes that a climate solution now means an effort of the order of the total war it took to destroy Hitler. If this is the truth, he’s quite far ahead of the general population, and possibly many scientists, but he’s pressing his case whether anyone is ready to hear it or not.

    Is Anderson really not helpful?

  47. 97
    Dan Miller says:

    #79 Jon: You said “I believe it is nothing short of pure fantasy to imagine any practical human mechanisms for reducing atmospheric CO2.” Fortunately, you are incorrect.

    One of our portfolio companies, Inventys Thermal Technologies, has developed a new method for capturing CO2 from power plants and other point sources for a fraction of the cost and energy of chemical-based systems. It’s working today. It uses much less energy for a variety of reasons including that it uses the Earth’s energy (air) for part of the cooling process. You may tell me that there is a minimum cost for drying a pair of pants in a dryer, but then I can take those pants and put them on a clothes line outside and dry them for free. The clothes line does not violate the laws of thermodynamics. For similar reasons, it is also possible to design air capture systems that are relatively inexpensive on a per-ton basis, even though the total cost will be in the trillions since we need to dispose of many gigaton of CO2.

    The way to get these systems deployed on a wide scale is to put a rising price on carbon.

  48. 98
    MA Rodger says:

    NOAA-ESRL have posted the MLO CO2 figure for February. Those following the daily/weekly readings will not be surprised that the 12-month rise to February was going to be high. It is actually a record-breaker at +3.76ppm, tipping the record set during the 1997/98 El Nino (September 1998 +3.70ppm) into second place. (12-month CO2 rises plotted here (usually 2 clicks to ‘download you attachment’)
    Perhaps of more interest is what this all means for this coming September which will be the bottom of this year’s annual CO2 cycle. Using the 12-month CO2 rises from the 1997/98 El Nino to predict the CO2 values for the coming year puts the September minimum at 401.33ppm. As the annual rise is averaging 1ppm higher now than it was in 1997/98, this makes a +400ppm MLO September 2016 value a pretty safe bet. What is now looking also more certain is that none of the weekly & daily CO2 values at MLO will not fall back below 400ppm. This will mark a sort-of “bye bye to the CO2 levels we inherited”.

    Of course the rate of atmospheric CO2 increase is being boosted in present months by El Nino and February’s +3.76ppm will not be the record for long.

    El Nino continues apace. MEI has just posted for Feb (a monthly value but actually Jan/Feb) and continues to give lower (less powerful) values than 1997/98. (See graph here (usually 2 clicks to ‘download your attachment’. A comparison of temperatures (surface & satellite) is also plotted.)
    Other indices – NINO3.4 temperatures are now falling, this about 1½ months behind the 1997/98 fall. SOI has been strongly negative up to the last couple of days, which is likely not the end of it. In 1997’98 the return to non-El Nino positive conditions didn’t kick in until Mid April. The proper ENSO predictions are yet to publish for March.

  49. 99
    Chuck Hughes says:

    Oh, I wish that would be understood by those who go exponential about each new oddly high, uncorrected, provisional, OMFGWAGD data point.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Mar 2016

    Hank, with all due respect, I don’t think that it is in the least bit unreasonable to think that things can’t go “exponential” on our ass very quickly. My ‘gut instinct’ is that the Earth can do whatever it wants to when it wants to. Human arrogance and hubris is what got us into this mess in the first place. Unless I misunderstood Dr. Jim White, the GAT can increase 1C per year for 5 years and has in the past. Again, that’s 1C per year for 5 years. I think I would call that abrupt!

    AGU 2014: Dr. Jim White
    Abrupt Climate Change: The View from the Past, the Present, and the Future

    Paul Beckwith: People (public, politicians, even scientists) are terrible at evaluating RISK. As a result, society makes many stupid choices and fails to worry and deal with the most serious problems. People need to worry a lot more about abrupt climate change, which dwarfs all other risks…

  50. 100
    Brian Abernathy says:

    A colleague just threw this at me regarding this NOAA information. My response?

    [Response: No idea why people want to play with scaling printed graphs from disparate and incommensurate sources when they can just download the data directly and plot it. The presentation used RATPAC-A (but it doesn’t really matter), the full time series clearly shows warming.

    As a talking point this scores 0 out of 10. – gavin]