Gaius Publius: “Erring on the Side of Least Drama” — Why Climate Scientists are Inherently Conservative

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By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and contributing editor at AmericaBlog. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook. Cross posted from AmericaBlog

I’ve been writing for a while that predictions from climate scientists are consistently “wrong to the slow side” — a statement that, if true, adds even greater urgency to stopping carbon emissions.

My favorite “wrong to the slow side” graphic is from the Copenhagen Diagnosis, the climate document produced ahead of the 2009 summit in Copenhagen. It shows loss of Arctic summer ice, both modeled and observed. In other words, IPCC models were run that showed the likely range of loss of Arctic summer ice, year by year, and over that, the actual, observed loss for the same time period was shown. As the accompanying caption says:

Observed (red line) and modeled September Arctic sea ice extent in millions of square kilometers. The solid black line gives the ensemble mean of the 13 IPCC AR4 models while the dashed black lines represent their range.

“AR4″ is the 2007 IPCC Assessment Report 4, the most recent at the time. Here’s that figure:


See what I mean? Wrong to the slow side. Arctic ice is disappearing fast.

Scientists Tend to “Err on the Side of Least Drama”

There are many examples of the above, where models are more conservative than observations and tend to “under-predict.” In addition, scientists also tend to throw away the more extreme conclusions (or most “dramatic,” as you’ll see below), even when those extreme conclusions are also the most likely.

Why is that? History of Science professor Naomi Oreskes has studied that phenomenon. In a 2012 peer-reviewed paper, “Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama?” (pdf), she and her colleagues put to the test the claim of climate deniers that “climate scientists are alarmists.” When they tested that conclusion by looking at actual data — climate projections and how they compare to climate outcomes — they discovered something very interesting. In fact, the opposite is true. Climate scientists tend to underplay their results.

Here’s Dr. Oreskes in a short video to explain. When she says “this particular piece of work” at the beginning, she’s referring to the 2012 paper I mentioned above, then in preparation.

The source of this interview is this entry in the American Geophysical Union blog. The writer, Dan Satterfield, has interesting comments of his own as well.

As Dr. Oreskes says in introducing her main point (my emphasis):

What we’re proposing is that the core values of science, the core values of the scientific community — rationality, objectivity, dispassion, restraint, moderation — actually introduce a bias into scientific evaluation in cases where some possible outcomes are, in fact, dramatic.

And that when scientists encounter outcomes that are potentially quite dramatic — or even potentially alarming — that it actually makes them uncomfortable. And they have a tendency, and I would argue subconsciously, to emphasize the more cautious range of their data, erring on the side of least drama. Erring on the side of the data that seems less dramatic and less alarming.

The argument of the paper is that, this is really a problem, a source of bias.

More than a “source of bias,” I would argue. For a situation this serious to be this underplayed is genuinely dangerous.

The Evidence

The evidence in the paper is compelling. The link is here (pdf); note that the annotation was added by the hosting site and is not part of the original. For example, from a 2007 paper by Rahmstorf et al, Oreskes and her colleagues write (my emphasis and some reparagraphing everywhere):

In a 2007 article, Rahmstorf and colleagues compared projections of global mean temperature change, sea level rise, and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from IPCC’s Third Assessment Report (TAR) with observations made since 1973 and concluded:

‘‘Overall, these observational data underscore the concerns about global climate change. Previous projections, as summarized by IPCC, have not exaggerated but may in some respects even have underestimated the change, in particular for sea level’’ (p. 709).

In the TAR, released in 2001, the IPCC predicted an average sea level rise of less than 2 mm/yr, but from 1993 to 2006, sea level actually rose 3.3 mm/yr—more than 50% above the IPCC prediction (Houghton et al., 2001). Furthermore, the temperature change over the period ‘‘is 0.33 8C for the 16 years since 1990, which is in the upper part of the range projected by the IPCC (in the TAR).’’ The underestimate in sea level rise can be traced in part to under-projection of ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland, as discussed in detail later in this paper.


In a 2008 paper, Roger Pielke, Jr. … observed that for sea level rise, actual changes have been greater than forecast in two of three prior IPCC reports, while falling below the median prediction in the First Assessment Report (FAR).


These conclusions are also supported in a report prepared by the Committee on Strategic Advice on the U.S. Climate Change Science Program [NRC, 2009] … The results of the three-year study … were consistent with the conclusion that IPCC projections have systematically underestimated key climate change drivers and impacts….The key climate metrics of global mean temperature and sea level rise are biased toward underestimation, so far as the evidence in this analysis shows.

And from the 2009 Copenhagen Diagnosis, mentioned above:

The Copenhagen Diagnosis (Allison et al., 2009), reviewed ‘‘hundreds of papers . . . on a suite of topics related to human-induced climate change’’ since the drafting of AR4 [IPCC Assessment Report 4, 2007], and, like the NRC report, found that key changes were happening either at the same rate as, or more quickly than, anticipated (p. 5).

Among their key findings were that global temperature increases over the past 25 years have been consistent with model predictions (0.19 °C per decade, virtually the same rate as for the 16 years mentioned in Rahmstorf et al., 2007), while other important impacts are proceeding faster than expected, including CO2 emissions, increased rainfall in already rainy areas, continental ice-sheet melting, arctic sea-ice decline, and sea level rise.

The paper goes on to elaborate those findings, and then offers quite a number of other examples similar to those above — predictions of hurricane intensity and frequency, ozone depletion, ice sheet destruction, predictions of permafrost melt, and so on.

About the latter (permafrost and its melting methane), the paper observes:

The total carbon contained in permafrost [in the form of frozen methane] has been estimated at 1672 gigatons, more than twice the amount of carbon in the atmosphere (Tarnocai et al., 2009). This means that the potential amplifying effect of greenhouse gas release from permafrost melting is enormous. Yet this feedback “has not been accounted for in any of the IPCC projections” (Allison et al., 2009, p. 21). This omission introduces a potentially profound bias in the climate projections—not toward overestimation of climate change, but toward its underestimation.

I’ve written about methane here, and will write more as we look into James Hansen’s work on climate sensitivity — how responsive our climate system is to destabilizing influences — and slower amplifying feedbacks like permafrost melt. Oreskes and her colleagues are right that, through 2009, the IPCC hasn’t included the feedback from melting methane in their projections — partly because it’s hard to model and partly because the conclusions tend to be extreme (if you click, note McPherson’s comments).

Climate Sensitivity and “Extreme” Results

As an example of those “extreme” results, consider this, from something I’m working on now. In general, “climate sensitivity” is an attempt to quantify how much earth’s climate system reacts to stimulus. Do quantified changes in stimulus (more CO2, for example, or increased radiation by the sun) produce large temperature changes, or smaller ones?

The standard measure of “climate sensitivity,” one which includes only fast and easily modeled feedbacks — water vapor, clouds, volcanic dust and so on — says that if you would instantly double atmospheric CO2 in ppm (parts per million) — a known amount of “forcing” — global temperature would increase +3°C before it restabilizes. In other words, by this measure, “climate sensitivity” is “3°C”. That number for sensitivity is widely used; you see it in Michael Mann’s recent work, for instance (the link is to my write-up).

NASA’s James Hansen, however, has convincingly shown that the sensitivity number is low by half if you also include slow feedbacks like loss of reflective sea ice and, yes, melted Arctic methane. To make that real — if Hansen is right and we succeed in doubling atmospheric CO2 from the stable pre-industrial level of 280 ppm to 560 ppm, and then stop, we’ll have handed ourselves +6°C global warming, guaranteed, after restabilization. +6°C, a world before any glaciers formed, more than 50 million years ago.

We’re at roughly 400 ppm now, and emissions are accelerating. How long before we get to 560 ppm? If we keep going like this, it happens this century. “Extreme” results.

Causes of “conservative bias” in climate pronouncements

Oreskes nicely explains in the video most of the causes of “erring on the side of least drama.” One cause she doesn’t emphasize above — but does treat in the paper — is the constant hammering scientists are subjected to, especially in the U.S., by the well-funded denialist machine (my phrasing).

Oreskes (again, my emphasis and paragraphing):

Given the challenging political environment in which climate scientists operate, and the fact that climate scientists have been repeatedly accused of fear-mongering and alarmism, we might conclude that scientific reticence with respect to global warming is a consequence of the charged political context in which climate scientists operate.

Freudenberg and Muselli (2010) have suggested that the asymmetry of political pressure, particularly in the United States, has contributed to a conservative bias in IPCC assessments. These authors emphasize that most analyses of scientific communication focus on the flow (and impact) of information from scientists to the larger public, paying far less attention to the reverse flow—in this case, the strongly stated criticism of scientists by contrarians and skeptics, widely repeated in the North American press, and then spread more widely on the internet.

They suggest that this reverse flow [of information back to climate scientists] has contributed to a bias in which scientists not only bend over backward to ensure that their results are absolutely warranted by the evidence, but actually take positions that are more conservative than warranted by the evidence to disprove contrarian accusations of scientific ‘‘alarmism.’’

I’ll leave you to check out the rest of this fine work. I found the paper fascinating. Again, it’s data-driven and peer-reviewed. This is not just someone making an “eyeball” estimate.

Oreskes, by the way, knows about denialism. Her recent book, Merchants of Doubt, How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global Warming, discusses in very accessible terms the intersection between scientists siding with the tobacco industry and scientists siding with the Koch Bros. For an excellent intro to this book, listen to this interview with Naomi Oreskes on Virtually Speaking Science. I found it riveting, a must-listen.

And I’ll say this about the billionaires — the David Kochs and other deep-pocket funders of our collective lemming-walk to the cliff — they’re definitely getting their money’s worth. Those denial dollars have bought a lot of time. It’s down to just a few more years as I see it. Time to make a strong move for our side.

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  1. Old Hickory

    I don’t understand your assertion that the conservatism is due to the well-funded denialist machine, as you call it. Every time I turn on NPR, it seems like it’s Climate Change Radio. Even the more popular media outlets report on this issue from the consensus perspective consistently, except for Fox, of course. I don’t think there’s any failure to get the message out. It seems to me that the only people getting hammered are those who are not on board with the consensus. The climate change scientists are well-funded and popular with the opinion makers. Am I wrong?

    1. tiebie66

      The point is not that the message is not getting out, but that it is being substantially understated. The message says ‘smoke’ when it should say ‘FIRE!’. You may, if you so wish, simply ignore any and all messages (but then you may have no choices regarding the consequences).

    2. pretzelattack

      i see a false balance narrative quite often in the msm, and a lot of hammering of climate scientists just trying to do their job. witness ken cuccinelli’s witchhunt against michael mann.

      1. pretzelattack

        moreover, the denial machine has been quite effective at catapulting the propaganda in the us, especially; i think more of the general public now thinks the science is either suspect, or that there is much more of a controversy than there is, than compared to 2007, even tho the warming is clearly getting worse.

    3. Banger

      You are wrong. The issue of climate change is the single most important issue we face dwarfing all others into insignificance if, that is, you have even a minimal sense of decency. It is normal, say, if you lived in a house of fundamentalist Christians to not be too loud in your skepticism of the literal truth of the Bible to avoid insulting hour housemates–you keep it low key. No one wants to upset people. In the U.S. to bring up the issue of climate-change and its importance is deeply hurtful to all sides. The denialists of course are offended for obvious reasons and those who more or less, in the abstract, accept the reality of climate-change don’t like to hear about it because they don’t want to face the moral dilemma it imposes.

      The problem is far, far, far, far, far ore important than NPR or any other mainstream outlet says it is. The issue strikes at the foundation of the culture of narcissism–it is the issue that can move out of the disgusting sorts of lives most of us lead–in other words we are fiddling while Rome burns.

      1. Wayne Martin

        > The problem is far, far, far, far, far ore important than NPR
        > or any other mainstream outlet says it is.

        And we should believe you, why? The climate has been changing for hundreds of millions of years. Have you ever heard of glaciation? The ice sheets were at least one mile thick on both the North American and European land masses. Did you know that? And then there were at least five, or six, mass extinctions–all occuring before man arrived on the planet.

        At some point, the glaciers will return, and there won’t be anyway to stop them–even with man’s somewhat increased CO2 generation.

        But I do have a question for you–have you reduced your carbon footprint to the very least it could be? Have you stopped driving your car, and only travel by bike? Have you gotten a vascectomy–so that you will not sire any more humans, who are clearly the only source of climate change according to people like yourself? Have you stopped using electrictiy in your home, and place of work? If the answer is no to any of these questions–when are you going to stop your preaching and get with the program of returning the US to a pre-industrial state?

        1. jrs

          This is why we should not accept the hypcocricy argument about whether we are absolutely perfect and use no carbon. We shouldn’t even accept it as applied to Al Gore and whether or not he owns giant mansions. One can dislike Al Gore for other reasons, I don’t think there’s any real need to defend mainstream Dems as we all know about how useful that party is. But we should NEVER EVER EVER accept the hypocricy argument. Because we’re all hypocrites, we lived in a f’d up system in an f’d up world and can not help but be (though there are degrees of compliance) and this has kiss all to do with wanting to create a better system and a better world (or frankly at this point a world in which human life is possible). Which won’t be acheived by our individuals actions reducing carbon anyway and we all know it. See how diversionary it is to make us focus on that?

        2. Banger

          Don’t believe me then. If you want to play Russian Roulette with the future that’s on you. So you are 100% sure that CO2, methane and so on have nothing to do with anything?–they just evaporate into space or whatever. Clearly the vast majority of climate scientists are deluded or part of a socialist conspiracy to take your ill gotten gains. As for how I live my life–I do what I can and the measures you describe are fairly trivial and, at any rate, what I do has no bearing on this discussion. This is a fundamental moral issue and where you stand on it, as I’ve said, reflects on your morality.

        3. Binky Bear

          As to the first: lather, rinse, repeat until it sinks in.

          Second, there is no way to eliminate carbon use and modern or even cave man living. Why did the last round of glaciation end-timed together with the rise of agriculture in the Levant so conveniently?
          The conservative argument I think should be from such a position WM takes but lifted from its cranky reductio ad absurdum roots to make one single point: saving energy saves carbon saves the consumer money. As carbon fuel prices rise, the ROI for efficiency improvements gets shorter, means money in your miserly pocket that you won’t be getting in wage increases anytime soon. Any benefit to the environment is a bonus! And how many industries are profligate with carbon because it is cheap right now but could be made to tighten up their processes with a combination of whips and carrots?

          These used to be conservative concepts before being conservative just meant being an oppositional butthole. This marks the right’s colossal failure in that it now defines itself as in opposition to liberalism, which it defines as everything they hate.

    4. LucyLulu

      A few days ago I was listening to NPR, hadn’t probably listened for years. The subject was climate change, and there were two guests. One guest was advocating that claims by climate science had been overstated, the timetable we were looking at could be measured in several hundreds of years. The other guest took the standard timetable position.

      According to the most recent episode of Years of Living Dangerously, our natural gas wells are leaking methane at rates of 4% of production and higher, in the limited studies that have thus far been done. The natural gas companies deny these figures, they say they can’t afford to lose that much gas. A leakage rate of 3% makes natural gas as dirty as burning coal.

      I wonder also if IPCC takes into account other more obscure sources of carbon, e.g. the widespread burning of carbon-rich peat-carpeted jungles in Indonesia as an inexpensive means of clearing land for multi-national corporate owned palm plantations (with slaughter of elephants who live there….. palm oil is in everything), or now yearly wildfires burning of thousands of acres in the western U.S. Not only do we lose the carbon-eating vegetation but the carbon the vegetation has consumed is released back into the environment.

    5. Min

      Well funded? Science in general is not well funded today. You make it sound like climate scientists are like apologists for Big Tobacco.

  2. makedoanmend

    When climate change deniers cannot deny the evidence when clearly presented to them in simple graphs, for example, they quickly change the nature of “discussion” away from the evidence by framing the subject into one of who gets more favourable treatment from the MSM – as if the situation is some sort of game and the “rules” are not fair to the deniers. They make some sort of virtue out of the fact a very small number of scientists actually hold contrary views to the vast majority of scientists who’ve studied the earth’s climate and are pointing out that past patterns of climate behaviour are currently changing for the worse and human economic activity may be abetting the changes. It’s as if the deniers and their scientific advisors are playing the role of underdog and the rest of us shouldn’t really subject them to reality of changing weather patterns. We are beating up the poor underdog, and nobody likes that.

    Whilst I am not a climate scientist, I am formally studying science and do sympathise with scientists who almost bias their conclusions by being too conservative in their assessments. As a former risk manger in finance I do, however, note that I wouldn’t take such a conservative stand. If some pattern of behaviour in a portfolio or trading position was changing for the worse, I would neither bury my head in the sand nor take up mental position to allow things to run their course because the portfolio or trader were perfectly fine in the past, or these might be temporary aberrations. My first thought is CYA – cover your derrière. I’d delve into the numbers, sum them up, and sound the alarms pronto.

    You see, it’s almost always, if not always, better to sound the alarm and be wrong. I was doing my job in finance – it was expected, given I had evidence, for me to sound alarms. If I things were not as bad as I thought or some other factor came to light, we could at least monitor the situation further. I suppose a caution principle is at work. When things can go catastrophically wrong, it is better to be wary all the time.

    I don’t know, maybe life in only a game where the winner is the one who amasses the most tokens – be they dollars, euros or yen. Maybe we should collectively whine on about making the rules seem perfect and to hell with the consequences of our games. Or maybe our actions, whatever rules we use and however we frame the game in order to make ourselves seem comfortable with uncomfortable facts, are more important. As sentient beings who actions we all know impact upon the earth and eventually affect all the other organisms on this minute globe, we might want to begin to consider risk and not act as if evidence is just as a toy to be played with and discarded when it no longer interests us.

    If the latter sentiments are the most important, then it’s time humanity began to CYA. It’s the only sane option.

  3. sd

    Well, that was a distressing read. What is an ordinary man with limited resources supposed to do under theses circumstances?

    1. Banger

      That’s an excellent question–the short answer is: nothing. You need do nothing other than accept the idea that this is, indeed, the most important issue on a personal and collective level that we face. Then you need to look around you and see why people are in denial over this issue even those who accept the science on climate change. Denial is very common–I’ve even know victims of regular sexual abuse who deny it ever happened just to be able to live with themselves. It is the same with climate change. If we were to accept the implications of climate change we would have to change our lives. We would have to stop advocating a high-growth industrial economy and not cheer when GM sells more cars and trucks. Driving less or recycling avoiding long travel particularly in airplanes all those things are relatively trivial things to do–the really critical thing to do is, as I said, to fully realize the dimension of the problem and understand that the system we live is built to precisely do nothing about the problem. We’ve had over a quarter century to do something and the oligarchs and the sheeple have, more or less, zero interest in taking steps to ameliorate the situation. If and when you come to that conclusion you can, as Chris Hedges suggests, resist the system with everything you have and urge others to do so–in fact building community is the only way change will happen.

    2. Eeyores enigma

      “What is an ordinary man with limited resources supposed to do under theses circumstances?”

      I always answer this question by saying “Do Less”. The problem is that everyone must do everything and anything they can to “make a living” or they risk “making a dying”. The solution to AGW is for humanity to stop burning fossils fuels which by definition means we must slow way down, which by definition means no growth and in fact retraction, which by definition means less or no money, which by definition means more pain, hardship, and death.

      Figure that one out and we can all live happily ever after.

    3. Romancing the Loan

      Weatherproof your house, start a backyard garden, start doing your short trips by bike instead of by car. Get to know your neighbors. Learn to make do with less. Pick up a useful hobby (depression-era stuff like canning, quilting, etc. are great) instead of relying on TV and internet for entertainment.

      Basically, collapse now and avoid the rush. And then relax – it’s mostly out of your hands.

    4. jrs

      Since it’s a serious question and no more serious question can be asked, and few dare to answer the question of “then what must we do”. Really not many political commentators will actually go there. So faceless masses on the internet are left to debate it:

      In addition to my previous suggestion there may be openings to push back locally. Push back when fracking comes to your town/city/state since fracking seems to be a real methane problem (which is of course a worse greenhouse gas than CO2). Try to change toward sustainability on the local government level (city/county/state when it’s possible). But it’s not enough. It IS not enough …. and if done by enough people would still accomplish much more than wringing your hands and recycling.

      1. Gaius Publius

        Large bore answer, this is one more instance of the war against the billionaires. It’s just the one with the most at stake and the nearest disaster-point in terms of time. So the answer is to join that war. And when the resistance reaches critical mass (as it will), make sure that what comes next is actual solutions.

        But small bore, there are some really effective things being done. Since this is all about money, destroying the stock value of carbon companies is a very effective attack, because it deals with the large-bore issue as well.

        How to attack the stock? There are really good divestment movements going on right now. Join them. The names in the news are Harvard and Stanford (with Reed College having a comic turn that can be exploited).

        Help make carbon investment toxic. Do you have an alma mater? Write the prez. and the student body. Get others to do the same. Get your pension fund, if you have one, to divest. (The magic phrase is “no fossil fuel”.) And if you don’t think you can get them to go that far, ask for “no coal”. Coal as an investment is starting to look like it’s in trouble.

        Just a thought.


  4. JL Furtif

    I stopped worrying and learned to love the decay of civilisation when I connected two datapoints:
    a/ we are on a track to 6-7°C of arming by the end of the century – and nothing being done to calm things down
    b/ agriculture as we know it becomes impossible with 3-4°C warming (ie around mid-century)
    So we are on track to kill off a few billion of human beings, and nobody cares.
    So somewhere I hope that all those criminalsleaders working on the devolution and crapification of the ‘western world’ end up succeeding, and killing off a few tens of million of people.

    1. LucyLulu

      Agriculture may be possible for another 3 or 4 degrees, but crops are affected with far lower changes, as are the diseases and bugs they are susceptible to, not to mention the effect of more droughts and flooding. We’ll see the geographic zones listed where plants and trees can grow shift northward, first slowly, then more rapidly. Canada could become N. America’s breadbasket some day.

  5. tiebie66

    Being a scientist, I have been expecting things to change rather faster than anticipated, so this is no surprise. I also know that humans are reactive rather than proactive, they will take action too late, and when they do take panicked action, may make things worse.
    I see no easy way out other than to take courageous action now on a personal level to safeguard one’s family and to establish local kernels of resilience that may survive upheavals. All you need to do to decide whether to take action or not is to consider a payoff matrix given action vs. no action and their respective potential consequences. Waiting for other people/governments to act is a waste of valuable time, but encouraging them to act is probably not (at least now, but later probably will be).

  6. Robert Dudek

    First, let me say that I am convinced the Earth is warming and that this will present many difficulties of various kinds. I also hold the view that there are too many humans on the planet and that a large minority use far too many resources.

    But I can’t understand how a rise in temperature will destroy agriculture. Surely some areas of the planet will have longer growing seasons. If this is not the case, I’d be greatful to learn why.

    1. Ben Johannson

      I would say that agriculture as we currently know it will not be possible. The U.S. will not be able to feed itself as the temperate bands move further toward the poles. This will probably be a mixed blessing for Canada; while it will have more arable land and crop yields it will also have 400 million heavily armed and hungry Americans on its doorstep.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Agriculture is currently done intensively in places that over time have developed infrastructure to support it, such as rail and road transport, storage silos, etc.

      If those areas become less productive, there is no assurance that new areas will be as productive even before you get to the infrastructure issue. Are they in flat areas that can be cultivated? Is the weather sufficiently predictable so you can figure out what to plant? Is there enough water nearby and/or adequate rainfall? It takes a number of specific conditions for land to be suitable for cultivation.

    3. mikkel

      There are a couple of reasons.

      The primary reason is variability. Rainfall will increase in some areas and decrease in other areas, but in all areas it will get more sporadic and be more likely to flood when it does rain. The number of 100/500 year floods/droughts are quickly becoming beyond comprehension, and we’ve seen nothing yet.

      From this perspective alone, (non-permaculture) agriculture is very suspect.

      In addition, the northern places that are most likely to get warmer (but not too warm) have extremely poor soils. A lot of people hypothesize about Canada and Scandinavia winning out, but I’ve read many people that actually live there pointing out their northern “soil” is more or less exposed rock left over from the glacier retreats. There just hasn’t been enough carbon cycling through those environments to create good top soil.

      1. LucyLulu

        Alberta’s pristine forests have high quality soil. Unfortunately, the pursuit of dirty oil requires stripping every last bit of it away and leaving behind large ponds filled with toxic brews.

    4. Banger

      As far as agriculture is concerned we do have new methods of farming that can be adapted to feed most people–but like anything else we have to build the infrastructure now. Unfortunately, our society is dominated by oligarchs who are bent on destroying the planet for their short-term pleasure that should imply something for us to do.

    5. Scylla

      The big problem is sunlight. Northern areas my indeed become warmer, but they will not recieve any more hours of sunlight per day than they do now. Less sunlight=equals less vigorous crops. So even if you could find the same amount of land with the same soil fertility, and the same temperature ranges in the more northern areas as the southern areas we are using now, agriculture will be less optimal than it is today.

      1. Scylla

        I should rephrase that: it is not necessarily the hours, it is also a function of intensity, and also a shorter growing season. During midsummer northern areas actually get more sunlight, but in the beginning and near the end of the growing season, they recieve far less sunlight. Also, the sunlight must pass through more atmosphere at the beginning and ends of the growing season and thus has less energy when it reaches the ground.
        I wish I had a source for all of this, but I read the material years ago.

    6. Mel

      Sure. Here we go: Physical Limits to Food Security: Water and Climate. See the grape grower’s story near the bottom about the hazards of a longer growing season. Also Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. People faced difficulties moving their known crops and methods into new environments, and they’ll face similar problems with existing crops as the environments change under their feet.

  7. Maju

    If that graph is correct, then we are doomed in a matter of mere years. The tendency of the red line (in which I notice missing the most recent years, which have been rather mild in climate warming and Arctic ice thinning but surely not enough to really counter the tendency) suggests that no ice will remain for around 2025, i.e. just a decade from now.

    Say that I am erring, partly because of the lack of last years’ data, in the doomsayer side. That would only delay said catastrophic result a few years, maybe another decade or so. Definitely nothing to do with the IPCC conservative model, which is clearly unrealistic and hence unscientific. No wonder that the great powers are scrambling for control of the Arctic Sea and its more or less real resources.

    If something we should learn from past climate records, is that change can be very abrupt. At the onset of the Younger Dryas, Ireland went from being more or less like it is now to be fully frozen in the matter of months. This may be a bit exceptional but the Upper Paleolithic (indirect) climate record is a lot more bumpy than that of the Holocene (interglacial in principle), which is the relatively stable climate we are used to, with a near-flat shape through the centuries and even the millennia, slightly tending to cooling (and which should theoretically culminate in a new ice age, barring human action, maybe a thousand years from now or maybe more).

    Of course our climate threat right now is not at all another ice age but exactly the opposite: a world like that of the dinosaurs in which there was nearly no ice anywhere. And more critically the threat is the radical change it implies, abruptly altering all ecosystems in nearly no time, endangering food production, water availabality and the survival of many species.

    Add to that the chaos that will no doubt ensue as the economic system collapses (as is already doing but more acceleratedly) and the extreme risk of nuclear catastrophes as social disorganization and conflict spreads everywhere (we already have to endure Chernobyl and Fukushima, but it can get much worse in almost no time because every single nuclear reactor or storage site is a monstruous catastrophe awaiting the occasion to happen). All that put together really risks our continuity as human species and, if the tendency reflected in the red line in the graph is even close to correct, as it seems, the timeline is extremely short.

    Indeed the Arctic is just the tip of the iceberg. Ice sheets as those of Greenland and Antarctica are quite more stable but they are being affected dramatically too. I’d wish the data for these other references would be available in this analysis, as well as maybe other climate observations from around the world, so we could estimate better how large is “the iceberg” compared to its tip.

    Whatever the case the problem is no doubt urgent and nothing effective is being done to address it. Sometimes I see humans as mere monkeys with too much power, which we can’t actually get to manage properly.

    1. mikkel

      It’d be astonishing if the Arctic ice lasted until 2025. The smart money is betting before 2020.

      The real question is what will happen after then. It is well agreed that “seasonal-only” ice is not a stable condition, but it’s unclear whether the Arctic will become ice free year round within a decade or a century after there is an ice free seasonal period.

      For what it’s worth, Robert ( — who pays attention to paleoclimatic data more than anyone else I’ve read — believes that the massive melting from Greenland will play a negative feedback role. Although it’s not all good.

      ‘In “The Storms of My Grandchildren,” NASA scientist James Hansen warned of the potential for frontal storms large enough to span continents and packing the punch of hurricanes. Is is just these kinds of storms that rapid Greenland melt combined with intensified warming at the tropics could set off.’

      And it could also shut down the Gulf Stream, leading to a Younger Dryas-lite event for a while, until the overall warming overcomes it.

        1. Maju

          It can be at least weakened because there is a salinity-based dynamics going on in the so-called North Atlantic Conveyor (Gulf Stream and returning cold stream that washes NE North America). That’s why the oceanic currents are said to be “thermohaline”: not only transporting heat but also salt (halos in Greek). Although you are right in essence, MRW, it is not that simple and Mikkel is at least partly correct as well, although it should be a partial shutdown not a total shutdown.

          Apparently the Younger Dryas was caused by the sudden flow of a gigantic glacial lake to the ocean, causing a temporary but extremely dramatic partial shutdown of the circulation. That’s why he says that the Greenland melting could actually ameliorate the global warming (temporarily in principle, although it’s extremely difficult to analyze such increased climatic complexity).

          The result, as far as I understand, would be to weaken the current (which would therefore transport less heat from the Gulf of Mexico to Europe) and also to displace it southwards, favoring a re-glaciation of Scandinavia and Canada (everything else equal).

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          No, it also depends on the salinity of the ocean. Glacial ice has much less salt than the ocean. There has been a lot of work on this. The Gulf stream will become weaker or stop as the ice caps melt.

          1. gepay

            The Younger Dryas is mentioned, This was truly climate change. Temperature fell and then rose by rates that even the most alarmist man made climate change advocate doesn’t predict. The return to the cold conditions of the Younger Dryas from the incipient inter-glacial warming 13,000 years ago took place within a few decades or less (Alley et al., 1993). The warming phase, that took place about 11,500 years ago, at the end of the Younger Dryas was also very abrupt and central Greenland temperatures increased by 7°C or more in a few decades (Johnsen et al., 1992; Grootes et al., 1993; Severinghaus et al., 1998).
            The commenters above show how little they know about the Younger Dryas. The science is not settled on why or how it happened. There do seem to be more scientists thinking the inflowing of fresh water had something to with it but the evidence is far from conclusive. There is no evidence that the large retreating ice cap lake that one person mentioned was in the right place. A blast from outer space has its adherents. One thing is agreed – CO2 didn’t have anything to do with it. There is no clear agreement on why the ice ages happened or stopped (although very long term Milankovitch cycles concerning the variances in the Earth’s orbit show correlation.(which as we all should keep in mind, – correlation is not causation.) Also it has never been refuted that in the Vostok ice cores (the graphs of which are the ones I looked at and noticed this – which graphs have you looked at? ) the CO2 buildup or decline lags the temperature change by around 800 years. So there was some other not known at this time factor involved just like there are many not known very well at this time factors involved in the climate on Earth such as the feedback effects of water vapor and clouds. Water vapor, the most important greenhouse gas is not a pollutant . Co2 is not a pollutant either.

            1. Maju

              The Younger Dryas was mentioned as example of extremely sharp climate change and also when Greenland’s ice sheet was brought into the discussion in relation to the possible effect on the North Atlantic Conveyor because its effects would be similar to the flow of huge amounts of fresh water after an ice dam broke catastrophically in North America. You are not paying attention to what we said, it seems to me.

              I’m not sure how correct is your claim of 800 years difference between the CO2 pile up and the Younger Dryas climate changes but in the case of its onset this difference should be explained because of the ice lake catastrophe, which may have taken so long to build up (first melt the ice to form a lake, then break the dam). The climate was already warming long before the YD but what happened then was that the warming caused a catastrophe that triggered a sharp cooling by means of partial shutdown of the North Atlantic sea current system.

              After this happened, once the fresh water dissolved again, the thermohaline normality was restored, the currents flowed again normally (as per our modern normality) and the YD episode ended.

              “The science is not settled on why or how it happened”.

              Sure: there is some debate. Some people have been arguing for a catastrophic meteorite. However recent research denies it (again):

              … so we are back to the default ice lake theory.

              Said that, it’s probable that Greenland’s melting won’t cause any such extreme catastrophe because the flow of the fresh water will be more gradual. But we do not know for sure and it may be still enough to cause some serious problems.

              Modern global warming as such is anyhow well proven (it’s happening before our eyes: one has to be truly blind not to see it), as is its anthropogenic nature, and, as the article says, it is clearly much more radical and fast than IPCC conservative estimates. What happens then? Earth’s climate is a most complex chaotic system and we can’t predict every single development in a “singularity” event as this one but a partial shutdown of the NA “central heating” system is at least possible.

              Whatever the case the rapid shifts before a new equilibrium point is reched will no doubt have massive catastrophic impacts on our civilization and Humankind in general, with a significant chance of extinction: we are a flexible smart opportunist ape species but will that be enough to gran our survival as species under such a massive pile up of problems? As I said before, it’s not just famine and thirst but also war, nuclear and other environmental catastrophes naturally arising from the situation of chaos in which we are falling into at extremely accelerated pace.

              Capitalism is a predatory expansionist system and it has reached its unavoidable limits, which are those of Planet Earth (space exploration won’t solve anything in any foreseeable time). This is what causes the crisis, which is totally unprecedented, as is our industrial and technological power to alter our environment. We have no remedy but to face the ecological limit and take radical measures to correct as much as possible our errors and abuses. Denial does not help, although it’s a natural first reaction. Denial alone can only aggravate the problem by doing nothing and persisting with the old vices.

              Humankind is right now a junkie of dirty energy, we can either use much less energy or factor the not so much “hidden” environmental costs and accept that renewables are the only chance of survival without renouncing to everything. But we have to do it fast because we are already beginning to pay the consequences of our willing blindness.

              1. mikkel

                gepay’s form of denialism is of very high quality. It is roughly accurate about a particular event to the point of sounding authoritative; makes other people seem like they don’t know what they are talking about (because they don’t go into as much detail) and then makes bald assertions that we have nothing to worry about because things aren’t settled.

                The problem with this form of denialism is that the researchers involved are among those most alarmed — even more so than the climate modellers.

                For instance, one of the best overviews I’ve read about rapid climate change:

                “The good news was, nobody had yet found a mechanism that, outside Ice Age conditions, could plausibly bring a massive global climate change in a decade or so. Unless scientists had completely overlooked something essential (which was possible but far from likely), whatever changes happened would be spread out over several decades or longer…[or so they thought]

                Computer models were generally reassuring — but how reliable were they for such matters? Designed to avoid catastrophic failure (as Broecker had remarked decades earlier), the models were unable to reproduce sudden shifts seen in the past. A modeler warned in 2011, “State-of-the-art climate models are largely untested against actual occurrences of abrupt change. It is a huge leap of faith to assume that simulations of the coming century with these models will provide reliable warning of sudden, catastrophic events.”(74a)
                And scientists kept turning up more possible mechanisms for feedbacks that could accelerate warming. For example, the system of carbon uptake and release by forests was still so poorly understood that scientists admitted there was a “potential for major abrupt change.”(75*) In any case the known feedbacks were so strong that it seemed likely that — unless human civilization rose to the challenge very soon — global warming would become self-sustaining and irreversible.”

                The shift of CO2 he cites is accurate, but in actuality that’s support for the consensus. The Milankovitch cycles are explanatory only when greenhouse feedback effects are incorporated. The lags are symptomatic of feedback effects

                This type of denialism is pernicious because it takes facts but then obfuscates the consensus interpretation of the scientists who are discovering the evidence in the first place.

                1. Maju

                  “High quality” lying is still lying.

                  Whatever their “quality” these denialists are plain and simply trying to deceive. And that puts them in evidence.

                  1. gepay

                    Where did I lie? Where was or is the evidence that the melting of the glaciers at the end of the last ice formed a large ice lake that had an ice dam or whatever that broke releasing fresh water in sufficient quantity at the same time it was positioned such that it would affect the circulation of the Atlantic and cause the Younger Dryas? This is one reason why there is debate about the Younger Dryas as the available evidence suggests otherwise.
                    What this article points out in the beginning is that the models used produce wrong results. The climate models now being used can’t make good forward predictions or make clear why what happened previously.
                    There are still just too many unknowns in the climate system and any honest scientist will admit this. The original models began with atmospheric models derived from meteorology. Maybe this is why over 50% of meteorologists would be put in the skeptic camp as they know the limits of computer modeling when dealing with just the Earth’s atmosphere. When skeptics pointed out the large role the ocean plays there has been work done on entering the decadal and multi decadal ocean cycles. How all these all work out together is still not known with clarity.
                    Volcanism, plate tectonic activity, the Sun’s cycles – it can’t possibly be known how the Sun’s motion in its travel through the galaxy coupled with the galaxy’s motion might affect its output.
                    And really if you were going to hire a scientist/s would you want them to think like what was exposed in the climategate emails?

                    1. Maju

                      As Mikkel said:

                      “It is roughly accurate about a particular event to the point of sounding authoritative; makes other people seem like they don’t know what they are talking about (because they don’t go into as much detail) and then makes bald assertions that we have nothing to worry about because things aren’t settled”.

                      There’s no bigger lie than a half-truth.

                      You lie by twisting the debate into relativism and “don’t worry, be happy”: we “don’t know”, so no worries. OK, we may not know with 100% certainty (that’s why it is a chaotic system) but we know reasonably well (that’s why it is science) and not knowing with greater certainty should not prevent us from worrying because we still have way too much certainty that even the IPCC estimates are wrong in the “don’t worry, be happy”, the denialist, side of the problem.

                      We know quite a lot, more than enough to be worried, even regardless the issue of melting glaciers shutting down or not the NAC, which so far is a mere side issue. Charging against that specific point of uncertainty only to make denialist claims on such an urgent life-or-death problem is clearly propaganda. “High quality” propaganda, sure, but that’s precisely the worst of all propagandas.

                      We know a lot, we have lots of reasons to be deeply worried about global warming and therefore we must not just worry but also take decissive action to counter this unprecedented existential threat.

  8. Carolinian

    What’s that old joke?….”everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” While I personally do believe in global warming and have a low carbon lifestyle–small car, riding a bike for transportation–I also have some sympathy with my fellow Red Staters in their suspicion that this is yet another call for “shared sacrifice” where they are going to be doing most of the sacrificing.

    Which is to say: what’s the solution here? High carbon taxes will create much more hardship for people in rural areas than those in densely packed cities. The ethanol boondoggle–which isn’t even carbon neutral btw–has been a big profit maker for the midwest but raised food prices for everyone else. Rooftop solar is a great idea but very expensive. Same for electric cars.

    When Al Gore came out with his movie the rightwingers made fun of his large electricity sucking mansion. But didn’t they have a point? The neoliberal Gore with his preference for “market based solutions” and carbon offsets was a very imperfect messenger to say the least. It’s easy for wealthy elites to feel superior to those science denying boobs but their proposed solutions aren’t very convincing. The truth is that if they are right the entire world economy is going to have to turn on a dime and that’s not likely to happen.

    But in the spirit of practical suggestions I do have at least one: much higher CAFE standards. While ordinary Americans have little choice but to drive everywhere they don’t have to do so in such grotesquely swollen vehicles. There was a serious trend toward downsizing our “rides” in the late seventies but oil got cheap again and it all went away. Government needs to take us back in that direction.

    1. Banger

      Critiquing Gore for his personal electricity use is not a fair response to his movie any more that dismissing or refusing to see a Woody Allen movie because of his fondness for young girls–the movie or any work of art stands on its own–the personal issues of the author do not necessarily inform our enjoyment or understanding of a movie. The idea that people need to live up to some absurdly high standard is stupid. If we look in the mirror with a strong sense of realism we know each of us are a-holes in some major way. As an artist, I can assure you that I do the work but I probably don’t understand it.

      1. Thor's Hammer

        The notion that Big Al’s “work of art” should be judged strictly upon its own merits is naive in the extreme. In “An Inconvenient Truth” he makes a statement about the most critical issue facing the human species since we first stood upright. And by his choice to live in a grossly oversized mansion he makes a statement that he does not believe in what he preaches. Living according to your avowed beliefs is not an “absurdly high standard” of behavior.

      2. Carolinian

        Al Gore’s fancy lifestyle a simple fact. Woody Allen’s “fondness for young girls” a smear more than likely. He did have an affair with his partner’s over 18 adopted daughter which is not exactly admirable in a man his age. They are now happily married. And for the record the last Woody Allen movie I liked was Annie Hall.

        But your defense of the horrible Gore (very much a neoliberal….really) is–with all due respect–typical of the Left. As long as one thinks the right thoughts you are a good guy. Actions matter less. This, I think, has it all backwards and one reason we are making so little progress against global warming and other problems. Liberals tend to think ideas are a lot more important than they really are. But most people tend to act according to self interest and there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about other people, just that they are unlikely to change all their behaviors on an abstract concept.

        All I’m saying is less Cassandra, more in the way of practical solutions. The New Dealers who created the world I grew up in were intensely practical people. We need to get bak to that.

        1. Banger

          So Gore = Neoliberal, Neolibera = Bad therefore Gore = Bad. I defend Gore therefore I = Gore and I therefore = Bad “leftist.”

          Sorry but this is jejeune and please, anyone that follows my comments knows I’m not naive–I have seen things that would make most people’s hair stand up, so to speak. I’ve seen the dark side for sure. The movie urges us to think about climate change and it has a lot of interesting facts and ideas–not always well-presented but it is something. Whether Gore lives in a mansion or not is, to me, irrelevant and it is naive for you to think that we should all be as pure as you.

          As for Cassandra–we are facing a stunning crisis and, collectively we are ignoring it almost completely–oh, lots of rhetoric but no effective action. As I’ve said, that there is no possibility for action without a radical change in our culture that rewards and encourages mass quantities of junk to be consumed in the most obscene and thoughtless way possible–we are all guilty of that.

          As for practical solutions–there are many and they’ve been presented over the years but the reality, which you appear not to get, is that no practical or rational solution is possible in Washington at this time. We can go through any major issue you want to look at and I’ll show you why no significant reform is possible from a structural point of view. Nothing can be significant can be done about climate-change by the government because it is structurally unable to. The system in Washington does one thing and on thing only–maintain the status-quo overall and be a battlefield for various ambitious operators to play out their various plots, conspiracies and court intrigue. There are plenty of reasons why this is but its a fact.

      3. JTFaraday

        “The idea that people need to live up to some absurdly high standard is stupid.”

        I don’t know. I think Gore’s house is a good representation of the general suspicion many people have that American liberals are big down sizers of the lives of Other People.

        In fact, when it comes time to talk policy, I do see liberals volunteering small lives for other people all the time– small lives that they themselves have no intention of living– all while patting themselves on the back for their nobility.

        The main difference between sneaky American liberals and in your face conservatives is, as they say, mostly the location in which they stick the knife.

    2. Maju

      Honestly the only solution is globally coordinated radically democratic eco-socialism. Destroying the power of the corporations and transferring it to the people is absolutely necessary in order to reset the priorities of the whole socio-economy.

      It is necessary but it is not necessarily sufficient, I reckon: one must assume that the collective wisdom of Humankind expressed democratically will correct the problem. But “eco-fascism” is just an oxymoron, as is “eco-capitalism”, so radical socio-economic change is necessary to begin with.

  9. Banger

    Of course scientists are conservative–that is their job–our job is to take the implications of their findings seriously and learn from them what the physical issues are and what the parameters of this upcoming catastrophe implies. It is possible that there are macro mechanisms within the earth’s system that will moderate the potential problems we will face that scientists don’t yet understand–but even should that be discovered, the fact we are not acting on this issue is a sign of not just stupidity but extreme moral depravity so much so that it can only be described as collective mental illness.

    Each of us now has the choice of either facing the facts or taking the comforting way out by looking around at other “liberals” and “pwogwessives” and go on with our business as usual complaining about government and the rich but staying in our jobs and going on as if nothing was going on. Let’s be clear here, the issues we discuss here are interelated–income disparity or Wall Street fraud, or American (now joined by the EU) imperialism abroad are part of the same system that worships money, greed, radical materialism and, above all, maintaining the culture of narcissism. It is this culture where “me” is all there is to life–that the highest attainment I can have is for me to achieve all my little desires and ambitions. I know people my age who are retired or retiring who have bucket lists–to to Bali, check, buy a classic car, check, cross-the-country on my Harley, check, get laid with a higher class of woman and so on and so on and so on. WTF is that?

    As I’ve often said it is our culture that is the problem and until we change that our political system cannot change. Currently the system is locked in and as rigid as it is possible to be. It is populated by game-players who jostle and compete for power within the Byzantine court of Washington, DC. Some people, here and there, have a sense of doing something for the benefit for others but if they stay they are deluding themselves because they find out quickly that real change won’t happen or imagine a slight change in the system is some dramatic victory (Obamacare). In reality, the system is too rotten to save and must be destroyed because all the rules (and there are very strict rules) favor the oligarchy and, my God, we should all realize that by now–what has this site been doing for years but year in year out analyzed the depravity of the system from the inside often. Can we come to some tentative conclusions so we can actually “do” something??? Yes, I mean you and yes, I mean me.

    It is not enough to analyze the ins and out of Wall Street and their extraordinary rise to power over the past few decades (yes they were always powerful but not like this).

    Here are my suggestions, once again: 1) get is straight in your head and in your heart that this system is destructive to the earth and that there is no chance of political reform minus radical cultural change; 2) if you have the resources and are working for a major corporation or other large institution that exists to maintain the status-quo either quit your job or risk your job to try to make radical change from the inside or so something that should be obvious; 3) find a way of living that emphasizes love, spirituality (meaning living for something beyond your narrow desires), joy, and staying in the moment (if for no other reason than noticing the glorious natural world around us); 4) organize your life more around talking to others and spreading your insights with others–where possible organize your economic life into collectives, unions, cooperatives; and 5) be willing to challenge, gently and with love, those that oppose you–others must be won over rather than be preached to, i.e., the denialists are in denial because the pain of realizing the truth is too great for them–offer them comfort and love and fellowship.

    I want to emphasize here that whatever changes we can initiate cannot come from violence against other people–not because I’m against violence (there’s a time, under heaven, for that too) but because we are sick and need healing. Even those of us here who have to live against the flow of this civilization need healing and gentleness because it is very hard just to live and carry the understanding that each of us carries every day into the world around us—so we need to be gentle with each other and recognize just how difficult it is to be willing to face the truth even if we don’t understand it or make mistakes–most people who post here are genuinely dedicated to the truth and we need to support each other and see this more as a collective rather than an opportunity to stand out–which is always a temptation.

    1. JTFaraday

      So, we should do all this stuff but Al Gore shouldn’t live in smaller, more energy efficient house(s)?

      1. Banger

        I’m more concerned with Jamie Dimon and his ilk than the minor vices of Gore and others who favor doing something about climate change. Why stop with Gore, look into Greenpeace or any number of other NGOs and note that some of their activists and execs cheat on their wives, like illegal Coke, travel to India every year and so on. We’re all major sinners even you I suspect.

    2. LucyLulu

      Even better post than usual, Banger.

      I suspect #2 is the most problematic for those it applies to. I have a sister, non-reader of this blog, who has joined a Buddhist group and become aware of the inequities, corruption, and environmental destruction that we’re facing. She’s working on each of your suggestions except quitting her job or turning in anything but a stellar performance. Partly its her personality and need to get accolades, but like most with high-powered jobs, she has too many financial obligations. Some of us are fortunate enough to have either never been able to take on such high burdens or already, out of necessity, had to shed them.

      1. Banger

        Look, it’s a struggle–we’re all culpable. If she has ego needs she needs to face the fact that she is in need of healing–the need for approval and accolades is a major cause of our malaise both collectively and individually. As for financial obligations–you can downshift it takes thought and planning. I’ve know so many basically good-hearted people agonize over their jobs knowing they should quit but they stay on out of fear. Fear needs to be seen as a vice. When one person breaks the bonds of fear then this empowers many others to do the same. We are programmed to be fearful–how and why this happened demands a more extensive discussion.

  10. DJG

    Because of my bread-and-butter work, I hear from scientists. Their “hair is on fire,” to use a current cliche. Publicly, they have to come off as judicious and conservative in discussing climate change. Yet I notice that Yves has posted an article about the USA as a “chump” today–with regard to climate change, the USA is a bully. The combination of standard / evangelical American religion (dominion over the earth) and standard / decadent American capitalism (Mister Market) means that the USA simply has no environmental ethic. There is much less here than meets the eye, which is why we in the USA are willing to allow the Earth to deteriorate–and so quickly. It’s just another commodity. Add in international bullying by the USA (the Chinese spy on us!) and Obama’s feckless technocracy (I do what works!) and you end up with a big nothing. There has to be a revolution that goes beyond skimming Piketty with a sense of shared sacrifice and a certain intensity or urgency. Don’t count on it happening. But we can all move to Hawaii, right?

  11. jfleni

    Gas Buggies are slowly dying.

    This is just a small fragment of good news. Just look st them taking up airport space, docks, immense parking lots, and everywhere they can fit. It’s crazy!

    It really does not make any sense to continue to make vehicles that only a minority of car dealers want, to make even more pollution and expense. The time for sustainable public transporation is now, which will help enormously with global warming.

    1. jrs

      Well that’s good and bad news for climate change. A lot of people are still driving although young people it seems less so. However people aren’t replacing their cars as often. This would be a good thing in terms of conserving resources (those used to build the cars!) if we weren’t still building cars for no reason just to have them pile up so that the resources were still wasted. I mean this kind of waste is of the sort they laughed at the old USSR for.

      The build up of all those cars not being used illustrates and economic system gone horribly horribly wrong as well as anything possibly can. Burning the planet so vehicles can rust in the dust. Can everyone just agree now that this economic system, whatever one wants to call it as it’s endlessly manipulated, is stark raving madness?

  12. sufferin' succotash

    I’m willing to bet that in a few years’ time the same people who are calling scientists “alarmist” now will be yelling about those incompetent scientists who failed to give us sufficient warning in time before the first deep red Congressional district began disappearing under water.

    1. Romancing the Loan

      When DC sinks into the sea, I can see a lot of people pulling out the world’s smallest violin.

  13. Brick

    I think there are some good points in the post about the IPCC taking a median view on Climate change when most climate scientists would tend towards a more extreme view. However there seems to be a muddling of atmospheric climate change and the carbon cycle. The carbon cycle includes oceanic and vegetation changes which are equally likely to tip one way or another. The IPCC gets even more vague about the carbon cycle, especially around whether deforestation effects exceed increased photosynthesis due to temperature rises or effects on plankton if ice melts.

    I am however happy that it is beginning to be recognized that tackling climate change is directed primary towards the individual rather than big business interests. It goes deeper than that because areas of investment are bypassed as well where investors instinctively know the market will be curtailed in favor of incumbent business. For instance energy storage is not invested in much, which would help with solar and wind power utilization. At the end of the day we need to change just about every aspect of life to stop the climate lurching about.

  14. washunate

    This is a thought provoking piece, but I’m not sure it answers its question. Scientists are judicious, shall we say, because they benefit from our system, and our system is an authoritarian one that demands absolute fealty. Look at the compensation and working conditions of a tenured professor or corporate scientist and compare it to a preschool teacher or home health aide or cook or waitress or bartender or housekeeper or any of the tens of millions of crap jobs in our economy.

    Given that constraint, that unpsoken but ever present tension between concsience and feeding your kids, I would say the IPCC process specifically, and US science more generally, of the past couple decades has actually been pretty radical.

    I remember it being a big deal in the 1990s about flooding and drought and loss of arable farmland and shifting of the jet stream and so forth. We knew enough decades ago to know climate change is a BFD(c) and that a combination of wind, solar, rail, increased energy efficiency, building up of protection infrastructure, slowing population growth, less work in the formal economy, and so forth, would go a long way in reducing environmental damage of all types (not just GHG emissions). No one was shocked about the levees breaking in New Orleans. I remember reading a book from the 1970s on it about risk assessment.

    But who supports such things? Aggregate demand is often suggested to be too small, not too big. We can’t let banks and car companies and airlines go bankrupt, because people might lose jobs. Abortion isn’t a healthcare issue, let alone an environmental issue. The biggest user of oil on the planet is the national security state. The biggest user of water is industrial agriculture. McMansion sprawl is subsidized by everything from the GSEs to the home mortgage interest tax deduction. We use TIF and LIHTC and the whole alphabet soup of real estate development tax credits in our liberal urban cities to drive unsustainable retail and residential projects. Etc.

    1. Banger

      It is a deep issue isn’t it? We need, frankly, to eliminate the whole idea of jobs as a legitimate end. Jobs should have a purpose within the framework of the urgent crisis we face or they should end.

      1. washunate

        Yep, and that’s also why I’m optimistic. There is a massive change of perspective lurking underneath the surface there to see for anyone curious about what our system is doing to the bottom 80% or so of the population.

  15. Wayne Martin

    t’s really hard to take some of these climate change promoters as knowledgeable in their understanding of earth science, or any of the current thinking of so-called climate scientists. Take the following clearly absurd statements from one of the current French Foreign ministers:

    Speaking with Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department on May 13, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (shown, left) asserted: “We have 500 days to avoid climate chaos.”

    So – what “scientific” evidence is there that his statement is true? Is it supported by a “consensus” of climate scientists? One can only wonder where this politician is getting his “facts”. Is this the consensus of the world’s climate scientists?

    Anyone who has any earned knowledge of earth science will endorse the fact that the climate is changing, just as the earth is expanding, and the continents are moving. There has never been any contention to these basic facts. The question as to whether the only source of climate change now is human-based is the question. It’s a shame we can’t keep that fundamental on the table and in clear view.

    1. LucyLulu

      What are Fabius’ credentials on climate science? Is he a scientist? Has he been affiliated with any climate research? Or is he a politician, prone to saying such things as “no crimes were committed” during the financial crisis.

      Climate deniers have an uncanny fixation on using obscure statements, political propaganda, or fossil fuel funded studies backed by a tiny percentage of experts to support their doubts. The science to support that the change is human based is ample if one is willing to look. Fossil fuel interests however are counting on those doubts and lack of willingness to do the necessary research for their continued out-sized profits. Rep. Inglis, R, SC, was an ardent climate denier until he dug into the science. He is now one of the proponents of a carbon-use based tax with revenues redistributed to the taxpayers, an idea that should appeal to low tax conservatives.

    2. Maju

      That’s crude and manipulative demagogy: your link clearly explains that: “Fabius was pointing forward to the next major UN climate conference, scheduled to open in Paris from November 30 to December 11, 2015”.

      You must have read it, so you are being just a petty Goebbels with your manipulative claim.

    3. Gaius Publius

      Thanks, Wayne. I followed your link, and the answer to the question “what does he mean by 500 days?” is right there. He’s referring to the urgency of the attempt to reach an international agreement ahead of the 2015 Paris meeting:

      The conference, formally called the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is concurrent with the 11th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. According to a communiqué issued by Fabius and two other French ministers on May 21, 2013: “The main purpose of this meeting, in accordance with the Durban agreements (2011), will be to conclude a new international climate agreement, applicable to all countries after 2020.”

      He’s not the only person of his prominence who sees that meeting as the last clear chance on the international front to solve this by cooperation.

      I personally think that nations will never agree to solve this problem as a group, and that the only solution will come from within nations, not between them. But that’s another story, and another piece. (Part of my thinking is expressed here.)

      But to take your question on its face, there’s the answer. You don’t have to agree, but he’s not speaking as a scientist, but as a negotiator in a so-far failed negotiation.


  16. Carolinian

    I have trouble using the reply button at home (don’t ask). So in response to Banger, I was not making a personal attack….regrets if so taken.

    But just to expand on Gore: in my opinion the Clinton/Gore administration was the worst thing that ever happened to the Democratic party and it’s no coincidence that much of the bad stuff talked about on this blog had its beginning during that time. Gore was a third way hardliner and very much a part of Clinton’s politically cynical policies.

    So Gore is a bad guy in my (Leftist) book. To the fact that he made An Inconvenient Truth I would just turn it around and say “so what?” More than likely he was merely preaching to the converted and alienated as many people to the cause as he persuaded (being that “imperfect messenger”).

    At this point what is needed is not more warnings but different approaches. I’m not saying I know what those would be, but this is what climate activists should be thinking about imvho.

  17. Art Shulenberger

    It’s seems that the first commenters on any post at any major blogs regarding climate change always seem to be trolls.

    Is there a paid-troll network with an early-warning system?

    So – Old Hickory – are you a paid troll, a free troll or just a fool?

    1. Banger

      Yes, there is a paid network of trolls–I used to sit near them when I worked for a major PR firm representing energy companies (I was there on a temporary tech project). They also lobby the networks and major media reporters constantly and throw women at Congressional staff members–it’s a sordid world and the energy companies have, more less, unlimited funds to use.

  18. jmbanner

    A Greenland icecap meltoff could ameliorate overt heating around the north atlantic for this reason, but would it have any effect on heatup around the rest of the world?

    1. LucyLulu

      Meltoffs don’t ameliorate heating, they increase the rate of heating. While ice is a bright white that reflects light and heat, the melted ice is covered by dark pools of water which absorb the heat from the sun and induce further warming and ice melting.

      Oil companies have bought the rights to all the land surrounding Greenland. Presumably accessing the oil will become less difficult, and thus more profitable, once the ice melts.

  19. different clue

    My comment nested out of order. It was meant to reply to Maju’s comment about a melt-driven
    thermohaline slowdown permitting a mini-Dryas event around the North Atlantic. I believe he referred to that as ameliorating warming and I wondered if mini-Dryas around NA would have any effect on the ongoing warming everywhere else.

  20. different clue

    I didn’t use a different name. But the comment-manager system gave me a different name.
    The comment is right above Lucy Lulu’s very last comment.

  21. different clue

    I don’t even know enough about computers to properly fully understand your question. On reflection I wonder if I typed in a wrong name myself from mind-slippage.

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