The Definitive Global Climate Change (aka Global Warming) Thread -- General Discussion and Questions

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Mark Cochrane
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The Definitive Global Climate Change (aka Global Warming) Thread -- General Discussion and Questions

Paraphrasing Aaron Moyer from "The Definitive Firearms Thread" - I am creating this thread so that questions can be asked freely, myths can be dispelled, and people can make the best decision for themselves about what, if anything, they should do to prepare for climate change. I will try to provide some general primer materials to demistify the science and explain what climate change means as clearly as possible. I look forward to questions and interactions with anyone in the community who is interested or curious about the subject.

Who am I and why should anyone believe what I have to say on this subject? Well, I post under my real name so any search engine will pull me up on top. I am a research scientist and professor with an environmental engineering degree from MIT and a doctorate in ecology from Penn State. I am what is termed an 'interdisciplinary' scientist which means someone who works across many scientific fields. This gives me a broader view than many of my colleagues on issues such as climate change. I teach graduate classes on the subject but also have taught it to middle schoolers, at open venues, a local church, and through newspaper editorials.

My wayward past has led me to work in some capacity or other on all seven continents and also spend several years on or under most of the world's oceans either collecting data or serving my country. Having lived and worked overseas, I have developed a global perspective and experienced a wide range of regional enviromental and economic conditions.

I don't have an agenda to fill here, I just want to provide my expertise and knowledge to this community at PeakProsperity.com that has taught me so much. I am here for the same reason as many of you. Namely, to understand and prepare for what the future holds. I have a family - enough said.

I will post materials to help foster discussion but truly hope to gain insights from other participants on this thread.

Sincerely,

Mark

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The real budget that we need to balance!

We hear a lot of talk about fiscal crises and balancing the national budget these days, never mind wrestling to balance our own family budgets. Given this attention to fiscal responsibility, I thought perhaps putting our climate change problem into fiscal terms might make it more understandable and meaningful for many people. What I am talking about is the Earth’s energy budget. We are currently importing more energy from the Sun than we are exporting to the rest of the universe. The imports come in the form of sunlight and the exports are a combination of light (reflected from the planet) and heat that is radiated in all directions. When the climate is stable, the energy budget is balanced. If we export more energy than we bring in, then the planet cools and ice ages occur. Conversely, if we import more energy than we export, the energy has to be stored somewhere as extra heat. Luckily for us, the Earth has a great storage tank called the oceans that soak up most of the extra energy and release it back to the atmosphere more slowly over time. This is a bit like the Strategic Petroleum Reserve that the United States maintains, just in case the flow of imported oil gets slowed down. The oceans act to moderate sudden climate changes by soaking up and releasing energy from the sun. This smoothes out temperature changes between day and night and between summer and winter. However, problems arise when energy fluxes remain out of balance for many years.

So let’s get back to the Earth’s energy budget. We currently import and average of 262 W/m2 of the Sun’s energy across the planet and export roughly 261.15 W/m2 of energy as reflected light or heat (Hansen et al. 2005). The amount of sunlight reflected increases or decreases with changes in the planet’s color. So, if we have more bright white clouds, snow and ice, then we reflect more of the sunlight. However, if the snow and ice melt or the clouds dissipate, we absorb more of the light because water, soil and vegetation are darker. The rate of heat export varies with the temperature of the planet. As the temperature rises, the heat release increases exponentially. This means that small increases in the Earth’s temperature result in larger amounts of energy being radiated out into space until a balance is reached. This is how the moon works. During the day, the surface heats up to a toasty 235 degrees Fahrenheit while at night the temperature drops to a mind numbing -243 degrees. Thankfully, our planet doesn’t have temperature extremes like the moon. The reason for this is that the atmosphere that envelops our planet slows down the rate of heat loss. In our financial analogy, it is like an export tax with some of the heat sent back to Earth. The atmosphere acts like the windows in your car. Sunlight gets in, but heat release is slowed down. The inside of your car doesn’t melt because, as the temperature inside rises, greater amounts of heat energy are released until the energy coming in and going out are balanced. This is why you’ve heard of global climate change being called the greenhouse effect. The analogy to a greenhouse isn’t perfect, but it does give the general idea of how certain gases, namely water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and several others, act to slow down the rate of heat loss. Burning fossil fuels pumps more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and strengthens the greenhouse effect, kind of like putting double-paned windows on your house to keep the heat in.

So, if you whipped out your calculators earlier, you could have calculated that the Earth has an energy imbalance of 0.85 W/m2. How do we know this? We have had satellites in space for several decades now. We are able to measure the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth, and also measure the amount energy being released by it. So how bad is our energy balance problem? What seems to be a measly amount, at 0.85 W/m2, is enough to permanently light 45 100W light bulbs on every football field sized area of the planet. That would be about 4.3 trillion light bulbs globally. Put another way, the Earth is currently storing an amount of energy equal to roughly 520 Hiroshima nuclear bomb blasts every single minute of every single hour of every single day all year long. We are gaining 29 times as much energy as all of humanity consumes for all purposes in a given year. This would be a great return on our investment if we wanted to heat the planet; the problem is that we don’t want to do this. To date, the planet has warmed by only 1.25 degrees because most of the heat has been soaked up by the deep oceans or expended melting glaciers and sea ice. This energy doesn’t disappear, it just get’s delayed before equalizing with the atmosphere. Because of time lags in the climate system, we can’t just stop this process whenever we want. If we could somehow stop all emissions of greenhouse gases today, the planet would still warm by another 1 degree because of what we have already set in motion. The planetary energy crisis is ominous. If we want to maintain a climate similar to the one we have today for our children and grandchildren, then the human race needs to achieve an 80% cut in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. This is a tall order by anyone’s measure, but this is one budget that we cannot afford to ignore.

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OMG Mr.Cochrane!

Why are you down here with the retired circus geeks and the mad men and women chained to the wall?  It's damp and gloomy. Nobody ever reads us, and the adults upstairs lace our rations with thorazine to keep us from moaning and screaming!

Pleased to meet you and..allow me to ask the first question. I've glanced at the climate change info, but have never gotten too deeply into it, as it just confuses the h*** out of me. Would you please, in laymen's terms, sparing me the math if that's possible, tell me what you think the number one myth is?

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Is there a get out jail pass?

Given the forum guidelines I thought that a thread like this had to exist here. I'd be happy to get out and see th light of day (literally and figuratively!). I opened this thread in reponse to Chris' podcast. I've since been informed that there is an ongoing discussion on the subject matter up in the fresh air somewhere.

To answer your question I can give you a link to an excellent site for keeping track of a variety of climate change myths (http://www.skepticalscience.com/). This site discusses the "skeptic" arguments and provides the actual published science on the matter. It can get technical at times but does a good job of discussing the materials.

For me the main 'myth' I run into is that climate changes all the time, usually due to the sun, so we (humanity) can't possibly have any part in it. Skipping the math - first of all, just because climate responds to changes in the amount of solar energy that arrives at the planet doesn't mean that it can't be changed in other ways too. At its simplest, you have energy coming in (sunlight) and energy going out (heat). How can you tell if the increasing global temperature is caused by increased greenhouse gases trapping heat versus changing amounts of sunlight increasing the temperature? The easiest way is to realize that each will give you different types of temperature change. If the growing warmth were all due to increased amounts of solar energy we would expect temperatures to increase most during the day and during the summer when the sun is actually shining more brightly and for more hours per day. In the case of the greenhouse gasses that trap heat, you will get temperature increases year-round but they will be most apparent at night and during the winter when temperatures should drop quickly because the sun isn't shining or at least is only doing so fewer hours per day. The greenhouse gases act like a blanket that slows the rate at which heat escapes.

There is a lot of noise from one year to the next but globally this is the pattern we see. The planet is warming but it is warming most at night and during the winter. This is what makes heat waves increasingly deadly (e.g Europe 2003, Russia 2010). It doesn't cool down enough at night to let people recover enough to face the next scorching day. Those regions haven't been accustomed to such warmth don't have air conditioning in most homes. In Europe upwards of 30,000 people died, in Russia it was 50,000. This is a big part of why Europe is so active about addressing global climate change.

Thanks for touring the dungeon!

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Potential Areas For Relocation

So glad to hear from a bona fide scientist!

I was wondering about how global climate change in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, and 50 years may effect weather patterns: rainfall, temperatures: lows, means, and highs across the United States. I've noticed the USDA planting zones moved in a northerly direction. And I'm also concerned about ocean currents and jet stream impacts (like Iceland and the U.K. getting colder).

But there seems to be little concrete information and few maps available. I want to be able to have some ideas of what areas of the world would be good candidates for eventual relocation, if one wanted fertile land with mild temperatures, plentiful rainfall and aquifers, abundance of nature, timber, and natural resources, low population density. (So far the Pacific Northwest looks nice.)

Poet

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New USDA Plant Zones Clearly Show Climate Change

I don't know if anyone's seen this, but here's a short article:

New USDA Plant Zones Clearly Show Climate Change (January 27, 2012)
"Planting zones are retreating north all over the country, but the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) won’t state the obvious: the shift is a rock solid indicator of climate change.

"On Wednesday, the USDA released a new plant hardiness zone map, which contours the nation according to average annual lowest winter temperatures. The new zones analyze these temperatures for the period 1976-2005, updating a 1990 version of the map, which covered 1974-1986."
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/post/new-usda-plant-zones-clearly-show-climate-change/2012/01/27/gIQA7Vz2VQ_blog.html

The article in the link above also features a link to an Interactive Map (linked to right underneath this line) that features a slider you can drag quickly left and right to see the difference nationally:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/local/planthardinesszones/index.html

And for those who don't plan on visiting either of the two links above, just look at the expansion of Zone 7B in the map below.

Poet

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Hello Poet,

You are asking the $64 million (maybe now it is trillion) dollar questions. You won't find good maps because they do not exist. The Global Climate Models (GCMs) are too coarse resolution to really infer what surface conditions are going to be like at the scale of a residence. There are an increasing number of Regional Climate Models (RCMs) that are trying to downscale the GCM data in a coherent way to provide potentially useful climate information that decisions can be made with but they are still rough. I would not literally bet the farm on their outputs! For what it is worth, I have also looked at the PNW as an option.

I am not a fan of the model ensembles that are all in vogue these days. If you don't know what these are they are like the poll of polls that are used so much in politics (add every poll together and voila, you have no idea what the errors are). You take model outputs from 16-21 models and average them together under the assumption that the errors should cancel out and provide a better overall product. One of the things I have my budding scientists looking at are ways to evaluate which (if any) of the GCMs are more reliable for given regions in the US.

My main interest these days, however, is the changes in climate variability that are already occurring. I am using more than a hundred years of high resolution climate observation data for the US and Australia to examine changes in the likelihood of different conditions occurring for smaller regions of each country. Most everyone gets hung up on the average increase in temperature or rainfall but I am more interested in what people/plants have to experience. For example, where I live, we had the wettest year on record a year ago (shattered the previous record by about 15%) and now we are 6 months into the driest period on record. On 'average' everything is great! We don't live in the average though.

We don't have materials ready for prime time yet but later this year I hope to have things in a form that the community can explore and examine to see what their regions of interest are doing climate-wise.

Thanks for links. I had heard of the hardiness zone changes but hadn't seen those figures. If you want to see a nice depiction of what future climates mean over time take a look at the projected future of NH (http://downloads.globalchange.gov/usimpacts/pdfs/northeast.pdf)

Cheers,

Mark

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Following up

With regard to the rising minimum temperatures, Poet, sent a Washington Post link that had this quantification of the effect in the United States from NOAA's Climate Extremes Index.

In the last several decades, the prevalence of extremely warm low temperatures has overwhelmed extremely cold low temperatures. In 2011, 26.1% of the country experienced extremely warm low temperatures. The amount of country that experienced extremely cold low temperatures? Just 2.6%.

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The real budget that we need to balance!

Thank you Mark

OK, then here is a controversial comment:   I understand from a planetary astrophysics point of view, the earth is a little bit too cold.  According to the planetary astrophysics that I read, if we wanted to build a perfect earth from scratch we would make it a lttle bit closer to the sun than presently.  I live half way between the equator and the north pole, yet I have ice outside my window 2-3 months a year. That is unreasonable.   I am too cold.  We have an entire large continent that is completely uninhabitable because of the extreme cold (Antartica).  Even southern Canada is too cold for most people's tastes.  And how about Siberia, Greenland etc.

From an objective view global warming with an estimated 15% greater precipitation and higher CO2 (number one limiting nutrient for plants!!!) should be a good thing, if we take out subjective feelings about having to move away from coastlines that become inundated with rising oceans and even balanced against expanded desert regions.  So, people will flee areas where deserts expand and islands disappear, but vast new areas open up for humans to live. If the average termperature went up 6 degrees C (which by the way would be more in the polar regions and less in the equator) then more/expanded deserts would become unbearable and support less life BUT this is balanced against other areas finally opening up for human and plant life.  I understand that Iceland and Greenland are finally starting to grow things like potatoes NOW because of the increased warmth and that the Dakotas and Minnesota already have a significantly longer (2-4 weeks) growing season.  Further, the increased temperatures are emphasized in the polar regions and we will get much more rain (although not at the equator).  I am looking forward to my part of Virginia having a similar climate to  that of Georgia and my native upstate NY becoming more like Virginia.  I understand that the oceans will rise, and that means low lying islands will disappear and maybe even much of Florida, but I dont consider that the end of the world, particularly  if Greenland finally turns green and Canada finally becomes bearable in the Winter again. I am building a house on a small island now and plan to elevate the house on an extra 50cm concrete.  (50 years from now  that still might be too low I suppose but I dont  think that is the end of the world).  We need to get over the fact that we live on a water planet.  This is a water world.  We need to "get used to it."  We should not live on an ice planet. Of course many of our cities need to be rebuilt, and we need to  plant trees and help suitable animals migrate for the new "reset."  Major cities such as Hiroshima, a firebombed Tokyo (1950s) and Seattle have been rebuilt (in the case of Seattle, on top of the old city). It was not the end of the world then and will not be the end of the world  in the future, but instead will be an opportunity to do things better.

I am much more worried about CO2 dissolved in the ocean.  I think that might be a bigger problem.  The increase in free hydrogen concentration is almost double I think (0.2 or 0.3 pH units) and entire categories of animals may disappear.  Tell me if my facts are wrong.  Arent you worried about ocean pH?  Why isnt that a bigger problem?

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Hello Mirv

Hello Mirv,

You provide a lot to chew on! I am unsure which astrophysics you are referring to. The solar flux at the Earth has been increasing at a rate of about 10% every billion or so years as the Sun matures. No need to move the planet, just wait and we'll get that extra sunshine. The interesting thing is that the temperature range of the planet has been much more stable than would be expected if the temperature of the Earth system was a passive response to solar forcing.

I like your controversial commentary but it basically ends up in a question of value judgements, perfect for who, for how long? I was recently in New Hampshire and everyone was complaining about the lack of snow. They like to ski. As for me, I am quite happy not shoveling very much this winter. Throughout the period of life on this planet the response of the sense that things are too cold (or too warm), has been to get up and move (or propagate more efficiently in that direction if we are talking plants). Currently we are turning up the thermostat on the planet. Some people are going to be more comfy and others are going to be less comfortable. When I moved back from Brazil and visited some family, my wife turned up the thermostat one winter night and was quite comfortable. The rest of the house that was alseep under many blankets awoke very uncomfortable indeed! Some species will be winners, others will be losers - ultimately. The main problem is that we (humanity and the rest of life) all need to get from here to there.

The idea that warming the planet suddenly opens up a new continent (Antarctica) or makes much of Canada and Siberia now pleasantly warm is fine if someone wants to sit on their porch and enjoy the air but it isn't going to help anyone make a living there. Just because central Canada suddenly has a good temperature for growing corn will not make it Iowa. Without the soils you can't grow the crops. For most species the problem is the rate of change in the climate. I believe that you are right that we will have to try to help things along but we will be experimenting with the entire planet. We do not know how to build a functioning self contained ecosystem (see Biosphere 2).

My concern where we (humans) are concerned is that we have no idea of what we are setting ourselves up for. We have the idea that things will get a few degrees warmer, meh. Big deal, that happened since breakfast today already. This is not how it works though. We warm the planet and we effectively inject the climate system with steriods. A few places may actually get more stable climatically but most will see very different patterns of weather. We already are (hope to be able to show this well later this year). Also, climate systems are chaotic. Right now we are getting a gradual change in conditions but there is no guarantee that this will continue. Things can change abruptly and right now we have no idea of when, but there is some recent research that is looking for indicators of reaching such tipping points.

Your concern about ocean acidity is very astute. About half of the planet's carbon uptake for productivity is from phytoplankton in the world's oceans. Rising acidity messes wth their ability to form skeletons/shells. Osteoporosis for the masses. These are the base of the food chain in the oceans, soak up half the carbon dioxide and provide half of the annual oxygen production for all of us. Ecosystem services are important....

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Restrict it to verifiable data

Mark Cochrane wrote:

. . .We warm the planet and we effectively inject the climate system with steriods. A few places may actually get more stable climatically but most will see very different patterns of weather. We already are (hope to be able to show this well later this year). Also, climate systems are chaotic. Right now we are getting a gradual change in conditions but there is no guarantee that this will continue. Things can change abruptly and right now we have no idea of when, but there is some recent research that is looking for indicators of reaching such tipping points. . . .

I have spent a lot of time over the last thirty years studying historical climate data for use in a college physical geology class that I taught for many years. It is very clear that the earth has been both much cooler and much warmer than at present within the last two millennia. The polar bears even survived the medieval warm period of 900-1100 A.D. At even earlier times the CO2 content of the atmosphere has been much higher than at present. A look at the weather records of the last two centuries will confirm that there is no present trend for exceptional weather - rain, drought, hurricanes, tornaodes, snowfall - in the United States.  Cherry picking the last thirty years data while ignoring the earlier times is highly misleading. Current climate models have no ability to predict rainfall patterns, snows or droughts. Where the IPCC models were checked against historical records of the U.S. for the past 150 years they were not even close. Why should we believe their predictions of future weather patterns?

While it is true that earth has warmed in the past century, the results so far are easily within the bounds of natural variability. The real climate change deniers are those who think that the present climate is a stable long term feature of life on earth. Nonsense!  The earth has spent most of the last million years locked in ice and unless someone knows how to interrupt the Milankovitch cycle, we will be iced in again in the future.

By the UN IPCC calculations, the direct warming effect of doubling the CO2 concentration would be about 1.3 C. The feared positive feedbacks that would cause catastrophic warming have not been demonstrated to exist. While warming would generally increase atmospheric water vapor, which is a powerful greenhouse gas, the most important feedback mechanism would consist of changes in cloud cover, type and elevation. Even the sign of the cloud feedback effect is not presently known. We are two decades of hard work on climate observations away from knowing if we should even be concerned about global warming. There has been a lot of glib talk of tipping points that sound frightening, but have no substance and certainly no predictability.

If this thread will concentrate on the data and the science and an honest assessment of what is known and what is not, I will continue to read it and comment from time to time. If it is going to push the cap and trade policy cart before the science horse I won't waste my time.

Stan

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I'm gettin' outa here........

Interesting map Poet.....  and it fully justifies my actively wanting to move almost 20 degrees further away from the Equator!  I can feel it in my bones, the climate in this neck of the woods has definitely turned for the worse, I've now had two summers of really bad production in my garden as it gets hotter and wetter...  I'm outa here.

Mike

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number one limiting nutrient for plants?

Mirv wrote:

From an objective view global warming with an estimated 15% greater precipitation and higher CO2 (number one limiting nutrient for plants!!!) 

Mirv, are you KIDDING?  Plants grow just fine with the amount of O2 in the air now......  The biggest threats to future agriculture are Peak Oil, Peak Soil, Peak Phosphorus, and.......  CLIMATE CHANGE!

Mirv wrote:
I live half way between the equator and the north pole, yet I have ice outside my window 2-3 months a year. That is unreasonable.   I am too cold.

So why do you live there?  No one's making you, surely......?

Where I live, I'm too hot, and the humidity is driving me insane......  fifty years ago, it was nowhere near as bad, no one had aircon.  So I've decided to move 2000 km/1200 miles to remedy the situation..... to roughly the same latitude you live on, only in the southern hemisphere.

Wanna buy my place...?

Mike

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Hello, Mark!

Hello, Mark. 

I want to start off by thanking you for taking the time to come to the site and make your expertise available in this way.  It is an act of generosity for somebody who could just as easily confine their arguments to peer-reviewed papers.

I have two major questions for you.  I want to begin with a basic threshold issue: What is our specific goal in discussing global warming? 

I don't mean only on the thread, but in general.  Global warming caused by gas emissions is a fascinating academic study, but to be quite honest, I have been unable to get practically interested in this issue for the same reason that I cannot get practically interested in the issue of human population growth:  I see scant evidence that humanity is capable of actually doing anything about these problems over the long term.  The type of political agreements needed to significantly reduce global carbon emissions are barely realistic today, even confining ourselves to First World nations operating in a very placid period of history.   Assuming that broad international agreements were possible, no tangle of international treaties ever lasts beyond the next major war or crisis, if only because the participating governments no longer exist.

In short, I see no credible path to sustainable long-term action. 

Whenever I raise this issue to serious people, I get some variation of the following answer: "Well, we had better figure out how to do it because the future of civilization depends on it."  This is hardly an answer.  Just because an outcome is unthinkable does not mean that it is avoidable.  In Chris' words, it is vital to understand whether you are in a problem, or a predicament.  Problems have solutions; predicaments have outcomes.  If you have misdiagnosed a predicament as a "problem," to which you are trying to apply solutions when you should be planning to mitigate outcomes, then you are wasting valuable time.

My thinking about fossil fuel use therefore tends to track my thinking about human population growth.  We are misdiagnosing a predicament as a "problem."  Trying to curtail carbon emissions is like trying to fix prices.  To take a quote from an old movie, "Money is a force of nature, like the oceans.  It will eventually flow where it wants to flow."  And like the flow of money, or the oceans, global resource use is a process largely beyond our ability to consistently control.  We should therefore not spend our intellectual energy attempting to find ways to "hold back the tide" of fossil fuel use, but rather in identifying and mitigating the likely outcomes of this process.

Thoughts?

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Where To Be As Climate Change Continues Steamrolling?

Sure, Mike!

So here's the thing. If a place can move from one half to one whole USDA Plant Hardiness Zone in the span of about 20 years (1990 to 2012), and you want to settle your family in a place that will last you and your children a lifetime...

...Thus, it seems if you relocate to a Zone 6 area (Kentucky), you'll be around a Zone 10 (Florida) in a century's time. (Very rough guess, of course.)

The Pacific Northwest, New England, and Eastern Canada look increasingly attractive to me. Whereas for you, Tasmania, New Zealand or certain parts of Victoria (non drought-stricken) may be more ideal. You'll have to give your thoughts on that, as I've never been there.

I suspect Arizona real estate will continue to stay moribund, and the drought-stricken Murray-Darling Basin will remain parched.

While I do believe in man-made climate change, I don't believe mankind will be able to get its act together. We have what is essentially a tragedy of the commons. As petroleum continues to get more expensive, we'll likely see increases in coal burning and continuing deforestation.

First movers get an advantage. If you're already in a desirable area, you're already established, likely with a job, maybe land of your own, maybe even land you can sell later at a profit, etc.

Poet

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Stan Robertson

Stan Robertson wrote:

I have spent a lot of time over the last thirty years studying historical climate data for use in a college physical geology class that I taught for many years. It is very clear that the earth has been both much cooler and much warmer than at present within the last two millennia. The polar bears even survived the medieval warm period of 900-1100 A.D.

Stan, how could anyone know when the pole was only reached in 1909?  And the medieval warm period was far more of a local event than a global one from everything I've read on the matter...

Stan Robertson wrote:
At even earlier times the CO2 content of the atmosphere has been much higher than at present.

AND there were no people, and Antarctica was covered in rainforest and dinosaurs.....  sounds just like the place I'm seeking to move to!

Stan Robertson wrote:
A look at the weather records of the last two centuries will confirm that there is no present trend for exceptional weather - rain, drought, hurricanes, tornaodes, snowfall - in the United States.

So explain how we've had THREE 1 in 100 year floods here since 1974?  Last year, an area bigger than texas was underwater in Australia, unknown since white people arrived here just over 200 years ago...

Stan Robertson wrote:
Cherry picking the last thirty years data while ignoring the earlier times is highly misleading.

I disagree.....  we've only been pumping massive amounts of CO2 since WWII, so of course before then we would have had little impact compared to today...

Stan Robertson wrote:
Current climate models have no ability to predict rainfall patterns, snows or droughts. Where the IPCC models were checked against historical records of the U.S. for the past 150 years they were not even close. Why should we believe their predictions of future weather patterns?

Of course they won't be accurate.....  it's the TREND THAT MATTERS.  They're still working on the models, but the trend is undeniable.

Stan Robertson wrote:
While it is true that earth has warmed in the past century, the results so far are easily within the bounds of natural variability. The real climate change deniers are those who think that the present climate is a stable long term feature of life on earth. Nonsense!

Of course it's nonsense.....  I don't know one single believer in AGW who denounces past climate change as rubbish.

Stan Robertson wrote:
The earth has spent most of the last million years locked in ice and unless someone knows how to interrupt the Milankovitch cycle, we will be iced in again in the future.

Seems to me roughly half the time was ice, and the other half not....  the Earth is now as warm as it was ~3 million years ago....  why were there no Milankovitch cycles back then, do you know Stan?

Stan Robertson wrote:
By the UN IPCC calculations, the direct warming effect of doubling the CO2 concentration would be about 1.3 C.

I've seen it could be as high as 6C....  and THAT would be great cause for concern, even if it turns out to be "just" half that...

Stan Robertson wrote:
The feared positive feedbacks that would cause catastrophic warming have not been demonstrated to exist. While warming would generally increase atmospheric water vapor, which is a powerful greenhouse gas, the most important feedback mechanism would consist of changes in cloud cover, type and elevation. Even the sign of the cloud feedback effect is not presently known. We are two decades of hard work on climate observations away from knowing if we should even be concerned about global warming. There has been a lot of glib talk of tipping points that sound frightening, but have no substance and certainly no predictability.

So we should wait until we are 100% certain we're screwed before swithing to a sustainable lifestyle?  I really do not understand this logic.

In any case, I'm very hopeful a full blown depression will "fix" the problem...

Mike

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Second Question

Hi Mark,

My second major question is what is your assessment of the effect of incorporating fossil fuel depletion into models of future atmospheric CO2 concentration.  My context for this question is the following piece by Richard Heinberg:

Richard Heinberg wrote:
In 1996 the European Environment Council had said that the global average surface temperature increase should be held to a maximum of 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, and that to accomplish this the atmospheric concentration of CO2 will have to be stabilized at 550 parts per million . . . The European Union has more recently adopted a target of 450 ppm of CO2, in line with recommendations from climate scientists.

However, the IPCC scenarios suggest that if fossil fuel consumption continues to increase throughout the century, CO2 concentrations could reach a staggering 960 ppm by 2100, which would result in six or more degrees of warming, tilting the global climate into an entirely new regime and triggering an endless list of environmental horrors.

Jean Laherrère was an early critic of the SRES, arguing in 2001 that failure to understand realistic limits to fossil fuel supplies and to incorporate these into climate models was resulting in highly unrealistic estimates of future atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

In April 2007, James E. Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, co-authored an important paper (together with P. A. Kharecha of the Columbia University Earth Institute) that discusses fossil fuel supply limits. These authors explicitly mention Peak Oil, and stress that, “[I]t is important to estimate expected atmospheric CO2 levels for realistic estimates of fossil fuel reserves and to determine how the CO2 level depends upon possible constraints on coal use.”

In this paper, (“Implications of ‘Peak Oil’ for Atmospheric CO2 and Climate,”), Kharecha and Hansen discuss five scenarios. In their Business as Usual base case, “Peak oil emission . . . occurs in 2016 ± 2 yr, peak gas in 2026 ± 2 yr, and peak coal in 2077 ± 2 yr.” Most of the IPCC scenarios show far higher CO2 concentrations than Kharecha and Hansen’s Business As Usual (BAU) scenario.

The authors also discuss a “Coal Phase-out” scenario that “moves peak coal up to 2022.” This second scenario “is meant to approximate a situation in which developed countries freeze their CO2 emissions from coal by 2012 and a decade later developing countries similarly halt increases in coal emissions.” This Coal Phase-out scenario shows a peak of atmospheric CO2 concentrations at about 445 ppm in 2046.

One message from the paper is that climate mitigation efforts should not focus so much on reducing oil and gas demand, as these fuels are supply-limited. Rather, they should concentrate on reducing the exploitation of coal and unconventional fossil fuels, since these are demand rather than supply limited for the time being.

However, it appears that Kharecha and Hansen did not take fully into account the recent coal supply reports (though they do mention the NRC report of 2007) . . . In fact, the EWG, Höök et al., Laherrère, and Rutledge forecasts cited in this book all show future coal supply limits that are roughly in accord with Kharecha and Hansen’s Coal Phase-out scenario, and that achieve a target of approximately 450 ppm CO2.

A month after the release of the Kharecha and Hansen paper, Kjell Aleklett, professor of Physics at Uppsala University and President of Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO), published an article provocatively titled, “Global Warming Exaggerated: Insufficient Oil, Natural Gas and Coal” (May 18, 2007). Aleklett’s main purpose was to take the IPCC to task:

      The sum of all fossil resources that the industry considers available is presented annually in BP Statistical Review.
       According to this rather optimistic estimate, the total energy of all oil, natural gas and coal amounts to 36 Zeta joules (ZJ),
       a gigantic amount of energy. This is more than what our research group considers likely, but it is still less than what
       the [SRES] scenario families A1, A2, B1 and B2 require. . . . Up to 2100, IPCC prognosticates that A2 will need
       between 70 and 90 ZJ, that is, twice as much as the industry believes is available. . . . We need a new assessment
       of future temperature increases based on a realistic consumption of oil, natural gas and coal.

David Rutledge published his paper, “The Coal Question and Climate Change,” cited throughout this book, in June 2007. In it, he compared the results of Hubbert linearization modeling of future coal production with the IPCC models. He concluded, “Our Producer-Limited Profile has future fossil-fuel production that is lower than all 40 of the IPCC scenarios, so it seems that producer limitations could provide useful constraints in climate modeling.” More specifically, “The Producer-Limited Profile gives a peak of 460 ppm in 2070—which is only marginally above the widely accepted target of 450 ppm. The implication is clear: sufficient greenhouse gas reductions will be accomplished by fossil fuel depletion alone, without any need for carbon emissions regulatory policy.

In short, the implication of the latest research might appear to be that Peak Oil, Peak Gas, and Peak Coal will together solve the problem of global Climate Change, without need for intervention by policy makers.

However, this could be a dangerously premature conclusion [because even 450ppm may be enough to set in motion catastrophic, non-linear, and self-perpetuating climate change].

(Source)

I would love to hear your educated opinion both about (a) the main conclusion, and (b) the big caveat contained in the last sentence.

 

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Restrict to verifiable data

Hello Stan,

Thanks for the post. Having an honest assessment of the science is what I am aiming for. I'd like to assess what level people want this discussion at? As I see it we have everything from idle curiousity to well-informed posters. Some want a 'spare me the math' coverage and others want very detailed information. To the extent possible I'd like to provide materials at a level that works for most everyone. I do my best to demistify the science.

You ask for verifiable data, fair enough. In what form would that have to be? My stock and trade is peer reviewed publications. You throw out a lot of matter of fact conclusions that I am unaware of in the peer-reviewed literature. Which proxy data are you deriving your conclusions from? Tree rings, bore hole temperatures, sediment or ice cores? If you want the discussion that your post asks for then please repost your material with the same level of fidelity that you are requesting. I can then respond appropriately.

I can guarantee you that I don't have a policy agenda to push and I'd prefer it if the thread stayed more on the science and less on the political agendas of various ideologies. In case you are unaware of it, I'd like to point out that recently even the 'skeptical scientists', doing a detailed analysis addressing most of the supposed flaws in previous climate science have proven that the planet is warming in line with or even more rapidly than NASA, NOAA and the UK Met have indicated (BBC link)

Mark

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Getting out of here

Mike,

Assuming you are in the US, if you can give me a vague location (state), I can probably provide you with an interesting plot of the seasonal temperature and precipitation changes over the last 60 years to see how it corresponds with your bones!

We are still in the preliminary stages of the analyses but I am trying to do a detailed climate analysis of the changes in the distribution of climate (currently Tmax, Tmin and precip) for ecoregions of the US and Australia. Eventually we should be able to cover roughly 1895-2011. Every one gets hung up on changes in average values whereas I am more interested in the variability and range of changes.

Mark

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Hello back at you jtf

Thanks for the thanks but no thanks are necessary. I've lurked long enough and benefited by the many posts here on the site that I felt it was time to give something back. My goal in discussing global warming here is to inform people of what climate change really means and what the science can and cannot tell us at this point. However, much like the theme of the rest of the site, I think we should prepare for what is likely to come - in this case, in terms of climate. The problem is that in most cases no one even knows what they need to prepare for.

To answer your main question, are we in a problem or a predicament. I am afraid to say that at this point we are in a predicament. However, the problem is that we can still influence the outcome so we don't get to throw up our hands and walk away. By way of analogy (true story - predicament), I once found myself falling head first down a cliff face (long story). I had the presence of mind to look where I was going and saw that due to the outward slope I would reconnect with mother Earth so at the last second I wrapped my arms around my head and tucked to take the impact on my shoulder instead of my face (managment!), two more bounces with a lot of spinning and 150 ft later, I managed to claw myself to a stop before things went completely vertical again. The combination of management and dumb luck allowed me to live to do more foolish things on other days.

The question is how are we going to manage this climate situation? Alas, I am somewhat pessimistic about concerted global action breaking out anytime soon. I feel the same way about the global economy at the moment too. This doesn't mean we cannot take personal action in much the same manner. Mike is moving to cooler climes. In my neck of the woods, the best action farmers can take can be summed up in two words - crop insurance.

All is not lost where the climate is concerned, however. Climate change is more and more of a concern globally due to the simple fact that more and more people are being negatively affected. Why did Europe get so forward thinking on climate change? In 2003, they had a major heatwave that killed 30,000 people. That will get your attention. Russia did a complete 180 degree in 2010 from claiming this global warming thing was an American hoax to wanting immediate action. In 2010, an historically unprecendented heatwave and associated fires led to the deaths of 50,000 (curiously, many of whom drowned after going swimming while innebriated). Australia recently passed a carbon tax. It seems 10 years of crushing drought, the Black Saturday fires in Victoria (2009) and flooding much of the northeast of the country (2011) got people motivated. I am not advocating any particular approach to this predicament but I do think that we may be reaching a critical mass of consciousness about the situation. One can always hope.

I am all for identifying and mitigating future problems and furthermore we are going to have to adapt in many ways but this still does not absolve us of our need to kick our fossil fuel addiction. Peak oil may have come already, peak natural gas and coal may follow but it won't just end, just look at the 'non conventional' fuels to date, shale gas and oil, tar sands. How long until mining methane clathrates starts sounding economically desirable? There is already plenty of work being done on the possibility.

Well I am probably rambling on too much and definitely too late!

Mark

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Interesting

Thank you for your response.  Very interesting. 

Of course, I agree that being in a predicament doesn't mean we get to throw up our hands and trust in fate.  Shielding your face and tucking your head into your chest is the perfect example of working to mitigate an outcome.  On a societal scale outcome mitigation requires creativity and a willingness to act decisively.  In fact, I would argue that planning ahead for effective climate outcome mitigation requires far greater will than desultory efforts at implementing "feel-good" solutions, because the former course requires that we be brutally honest with ourselves and accept that we cannot avoid pain . . . which is all the more reason why I tend to think that mitigation efforts will not come out of national politics! 

Most people (and environmental organizations) I see are hoping for more coordinated international efforts on the issue, about which I am, like you, pessimistic.  Some enlightened nations may demand action on carbon emissions today, but (a) they have free access to Asian markets where fossil fuels are still burned with impunity, enabling them to avoid much of the economic pain, and (b) there aren't more pressing problems on their plates. 

As peak energy puts the explosive economic growth of the past century into a slow reverse, governments will have their hands full with problems of existential dimensions.  As a consequence, I expect that over the next few centuries, as energy grows ever more scare, nation states will do anything necessary to slow the rate of economic contraction today, even if it comes at the expense of "a little more" climate change tomorrow.  International agreements tend to fall apart in this environment.

Effective mitigation strategies, then, will likely come at the regional level.  And l doubt that humanity will ever think of these actions in terms of "global warming mitigation."  Probably it will be "drought mitigation," or "flood mitigation," or "famine mitigation" : palpable problems that humans can understand and wrap their arms around.

I think we will end up putting out fires as they break out.  Disappointing in one sense.  But in another sense, in "fighting fires" humans will be in the situation where our admirable abilities are at their strongest.  It is rapidly developing acute situations which bring out humans' immense ingenuity, flexibility, potential for cohesive action, generosity, and singleminded determination.

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Getting out of here

Mark Cochrane wrote:

Mike,

Assuming you are in the US, if you can give me a vague location (state), I can probably provide you with an interesting plot of the seasonal temperature and precipitation changes over the last 60 years to see how it corresponds with your bones!

Actually Mark, I'm in Australia, SE QLD to be more precise..... I was interested to see you're studying our neck of the woods as well as the US...

Mike

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Down Under

Mike,

I spent time in your backyard twice last year, One stint in Brisbane and another working the back country from NSW to Rockhampton. Beautiful country.

I have just acquired all the met station and gridded climate for Australia and have it being worked up with colleagues in Tazzie. I'll get it back here within a month or so and intend to run similar anlayses that I've got ongoing for the US data so hopefully I will still be able to post something to check your bones against!

Mark

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Recipe for disaster (450ppm)

I actually read Heinberg's book 'Blackout: Coal, Climate and the last energy crisis" last year. Definitely an important part of the peak energy discussion. With regard to the climate implications, first a few points to make.

1. The target of 2 degrees celsius warming is not a magic number. There is nothing that say that if we can hold that line that everything will work out alright. What it is, is the most conservative target where pretty much everyone working on the IPCC science summary could agree that anything higher would produce unimaginable societal consequences.

2. 450ppm CO2 does not equal 2 C of global warming - the science of climate change is continually evolving. Every year we get better paleoclimate data, more historical data and better understanding (or discovery) of feedbacks in the climate system. For those who don't know, feedbacks can be positive (meaning making things continue in the direction of change) or negative (meaning making things return toward their initial conditions). Almost everything we've discovered in the last decade shows we have underestimated the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

3. Trying to achieve a global temperature increase of no more than 2C, when accounting for feedbacks, has led to shifting targets for CO2 levels. The most recent target has been placed at 350ppm, which is a problem since we are already at 392ppm and rising about 2ppm per year.

4. Peak energy - I have been trying to wrap my head around what this means for climate for the last year. In principle it means that we probably can't achieve the worst case scenarios of the IPCC(A2, A1F1) unless we find a new source of more fossil fuels (clathrates anyone?) or trigger more feebacks than we've already noticed. So the climate of 2100 and beyond may not be as extreme as the business as usual (BAU) scenarios. However, it has little to do with what we can already expect in the next 30-50 years.

5. Aerosols - atmospheric pollution is shielding us from much of global warming. This is one of the more underappreciated facts of climate science. At its simplest, all of the particulates we pump into the atmosphere act to make things a bit hazy like a fine shade cloth over the planet. This reflects a chunk of the sunlight and acts to cool the planet, shielding us from the full effects of greenhouse gas-related warming. What this means is that as we cut our emissions levels (whether through clean air acts or peak oil limitations) the rate of climate change will accelerate. We are stuck in a damned-if-you-do, more-damned-if-you don't situation. CO2 increases last 100+ years in the atmosphere while particulates last only weeks to months. Based on the existing literature, I have generally assumed that if we could suddenly stop all emissions tomorrow (think of the History Channel's 'Life after people') then the planet would double its warming within weeks. However, if the most recent work by Hansen et al. (December 2011 - see pdf here) is correct, then the situation is even more dire. We have bought the equivalent of sovereign negative energy bonds and we now have to either 1) keep printing more (polluting) at an ever less sustainable value, or default (pollute less) and face the true costs of our greenhouse gas-related energy retention debt.

For a more lucid and well referenced treatment of why 450 pmm is not a 'safe' target limit see this piece at Skeptical Science (link). In short, peak energy doesn't do anything to "solve the problem of global climate change", all it does is indicate more clearly when the final bill will come due unless we choose to default and pay the price (reduce energy use-related emissions) earlier. Just like you can't escape Student Loans" through bankruptcy in the US, this condition has no loop holes. The debt must be paid, the only question is how much of it will land on our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and beyond.

Mark

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Getting out of here

Mark Cochrane wrote:

Mike,

I spent time in your backyard twice last year, One stint in Brisbane and another working the back country from NSW to Rockhampton. Beautiful country.

I have just acquired all the met station and gridded climate for Australia and have it being worked up with colleagues in Tazzie. I'll get it back here within a month or so and intend to run similar anlayses that I've got ongoing for the US data so hopefully I will still be able to post something to check your bones against!

Mark

Hi Mark.....  I'm partiularly interested in what you might think of our idea to move from Queensland to Tassie...  Here I am thinking very long term, past our own lifetimes, organising a lifeboat of sorts for our kids and their potential families.

Mike

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Tassie

Mike,

I should be able to tell you more on that before too long. The preliminary Aussie regional future climate workup is a bit concerning due to the way the currents are moving. I dumped the materials on one of my grad students but as I recall the east side may have a substantial climate shift which could push the vegetation outside of its functional niche (in other words, there might be a type shift). Balmier but not necessarily good for the native vegetation. I got the climate reports on a confidential basis because they hadn't been officially released but this information came up in a public meeting, if the've done the official release I'll see if I can get you the link.

As a lifeboat location I'd say it's a bit of a mixed bag due to demographics (low population density) and economics (highly dependent on resource extraction) but you probably know more than I on that score. Climatically, I think that if you are taking the long-term view it probably gets better for agriculture over time. In the next 2-3 years, we should have a better handle on what the changes mean for the fire regimes and native vegetation in general (or we'll have to answer to a few funding agencies...). As for all locations, timing and the particular dystopian future scenario you envisage colors what one thinks. Personally, I love the place though I've only been there a few times. Given that it is the birthplace of permaculture there is a lot to like.

Cheers,

Mark

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Re: Recipe for disaster

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the detailed answer.

Mark Cochrane wrote:
What this means is that as we cut our emissions levels (whether through clean air acts or peak oil limitations) the rate of climate change will accelerate. We are stuck in a damned-if-you-do, more-damned-if-you don't situation. CO2 increases last 100+ years in the atmosphere while particulates last only weeks to months.

Just fantastic.  That's the best news I've heard since my pet goldfish died last week.

Mark Cochrane wrote:
clathrates anyone?

  I'd heard of the theory of bulk methane releases from beneath a melting arctic permafrost, but I didn't know about methane clathrates until your mention of the word caused me to read about them.  Interesting substances (although the diagrams are giving me horrible flashbacks to organic chemistry!)  I'm not prone to fright, but the clathrate gun hypothesis is pretty scary.

Mark Cochrane wrote:
The most recent target has been placed at 350ppm, which is a problem since we are already at 392ppm and rising about 2ppm per year.

  Yes, if our goal is to meet the target, then that situation does sound like a slight "problem."  The scientific penchant for understating conclusions can be hilarious sometimes.

ABC World News wrote:

FLASH: WORLD LEADERS PRODUCE INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENT ON NEW CO2 TARGETS.


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Let's bring it home

OK.  If I can beg just a little bit more of your time, I want to capitalize on our agreement that humanity is potentially facing a predicament.  At some point, then,  we'll have to ask ourselves, "OK.  If all this global warming stuff is true, then what exactly can we do about it?"

Since you have read Blackout (I have not), let's assume that we are facing a "Heinbergian" future where, even barring global climate change, there are credible threats to the existence of industrial civilization looming on the horizon. Let's ditch the rose-colored glasses for a little while and make some unpleasant assumptions:

(a)  Climate science is roughly correct in its current conclusions.

(b)  Humanity will achieve noteworthy, but limited, success in curtailing fossil fuel use over the next 50 years.

(c)  By 2040 AD, many of the world's governments will increasingly have their hands full dealing with serious problems including domestic unrest and even starvation among segments of their populations, caused by declining energy resources.  National ability to control CO2 emissions will deteriorate more rapidly after 2060. (Hubbert modelling suggests that by 2040, U.S. domestic oil production will have fallen to 10% of its current levels, placing us firmly in Third-World nation territory in terms of per capita oil use, assuming that imports are no longer available.)

(d)  Increases in availability and efficiency of alternative energy and energy storage will continue.  However there will be no massive breakthrough on the order of fusion power.  Alternative energy sources will continue to suffer from intermittency and portability limitations, and lack of adequate storage as noted in "A Nation-Sized Battery" by Dr. Murphy (noting that it would require 6x known global lead reserves to construct a lead-acid battery with sufficient storage capacity to allow the U.S. to supply just 10% its total power needs though wind and solar energy for 5 years).  These limitations, and our progressively impaired capacity to build new infrastructure, will necessitate continued dependency on fossil fuels, especially for war and agricultural operations, including food transport and maintaining the necessary transportation infrastructure.

(e)  Atmospheric CO2 concentration will ultimately come to rest somewhere slightly above 450ppm, as currently available fossil fuel sources are used, whether slowly or quickly.

(f)  Even if the enormous energy subsidy of fossil fuels could somehow be replaced through alternative sources, soil erosion (currently proceeding at more than 10x replacement rate on arable lands), depletion of non-renewable resources vital to food agriculture (e.g., phosphorous, aquifers), and depletion of other non-renewable resources such as uranium and other metals (increasing energy costs putting currently viable ore grades, such as the Bingham Canyon Mine referred to in the Crash Course, well beyond our reach).  All these factors depict an Earth with a long-term carrying capacity that is significantly less than seven billion humans.  While we may not be in danger of a die-off this century, conditions will nevertheless grow streadily more miserable for large swaths of the world population, particularly in the latter years of the century.

If any of these assumptions seems so completely implausible that is is not worth discussing, please say so.  Otherwise, since our assumptions are of a Heinbergian world, we'll remember that, as Mr. Heinberg says, "Scenarios are not forecasts; they are planning tools."

Conclusions:

1).  Things can get pretty dreary when you forswear optimism.

2).  To me it seems that climate change is simply a "+1" to each of the major problems that humanity is already facing, such as our ability to grow food, and our ability to maintain the infrastructure that currently comprises our major cities and our transportation networks. 

In short, it seems that in preparing for resource depletion, we would already be doing most of the things necessary to prepare for climate change (e.g., increase both individual and community resiliency and redundency, increase energy efficiency, compact community development, multiple transportation choices, mixed land uses, practices to conserve green space, etc).

-- If we are above the age of 60, then we can probably focus almost exclusively on financial preparations (and physical preparations for possible events consequent to a financial crisis) and say, "So long, suckers!" to the younger generation.

-- If we are in our 20's, then we may have to prepare ourselves for a future of increasingly more frequent shortages, disruptions, and "black swan" events.  Some home solar panels couldn't hurt.  Neither could a small garden, a bicycle, good dental care, and good relations with our community.  Avoiding a permanent home in Manhattan or New Orleans might be a good idea.

The question:

So, is the best individual and community  response to resource depletion the same as the best response to global warming?  What twists does climate change add?  Everybody on this site already knows that we need to get ready for a future with a lot less energy.

What definite information can climate science currently give us that would further inform our actions in preparing ourselves and our descendents for the future?  The one obvious twist that global warming adds to the recipe is the rise in sea level.  It is useful to know that at some point (when?) Manhattan will be under water most of the time.  It might be useful to know if the area you are currently living in could be a desert in 40 years.  In what other ways does an understanding of the likely effects of global warming effect or change our plans?

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Hi Mark

Mark Cochrane wrote:

Hello Stan,

Thanks for the post. Having an honest assessment of the science is what I am aiming for. I'd like to assess what level people want this discussion at? As I see it we have everything from idle curiousity to well-informed posters. Some want a 'spare me the math' coverage and others want very detailed information. To the extent possible I'd like to provide materials at a level that works for most everyone. I do my best to demistify the science.

You ask for verifiable data, fair enough. In what form would that have to be? My stock and trade is peer reviewed publications. You throw out a lot of matter of fact conclusions that I am unaware of in the peer-reviewed literature. Which proxy data are you deriving your conclusions from? Tree rings, bore hole temperatures, sediment or ice cores? If you want the discussion that your post asks for then please repost your material with the same level of fidelity that you are requesting. I can then respond appropriately.

I can guarantee you that I don't have a policy agenda to push and I'd prefer it if the thread stayed more on the science and less on the political agendas of various ideologies. In case you are unaware of it, I'd like to point out that recently even the 'skeptical scientists', doing a detailed analysis addressing most of the supposed flaws in previous climate science have proven that the planet is warming in line with or even more rapidly than NASA, NOAA and the UK Met have indicated (BBC link)

Mark

Hi Mark,

I doubt that you will find any credible skeptic who would argue that the earth has not warmed in recent times. That is not the issue. The issues are what are the reasons, what can we expect in the future and what, if anything should we do about it. I think most would agree that if a global warming of only 1 - 2 C is in prospect, then adaptive measures might be our best response. If caused by CO2 and more than 2 C, it might be best to try to combat it. The reason that cap and trade or direct carbon taxes are presently going nowhere is that the case for catastrophic warming has not been made and the reason it has not is that it is pretty clear that what we have seen so far is not beyond the bounds of normal climate variability. Anyone who is interested in climate science needs to study the historical climate and weather records carefully.

Let's start with any peer review studies that you might have that contradict any of the "matter of fact" things that I wrote. Do you have anything beside's Michael Manns' fraudulent hockey stick graph that would contradict a large number of peer reviewed studies that verify the medieval warm period? Greenland had a thriving agricultural community during that period. That is pretty strong evidence that the current warming in the arctic is not beyond normal climate variability.

Are you familiar with Milankovitch cycles? If not, where did the CO2 come from as deglaciations have occurred? Do you have any peer reviewed studies that show that droughts, floods, severe storms, etc, of recent decades are exceptional when compared to data for the last two hundred year? I have some that show that they are not.

Surely you won't argue with the 1.3 C direct warming affect that the UN IPCC calculated for a doubling of CO2.  The more catastrophic levels of warming that they have projected are due to positive feedback effects. Both positive and negative effects exist and they should have been active over the past two hundred years, during which we have had about 0.7 C warming. This alone suggests a relatively low climate sensitivity to additional CO2. In the parlance of climate science, we have have had about 3 watt/m^2 of positive climate "forcing" from addition of all greenhouse gases since about 1750, along with a negative forcing of about 1 watt/m^2 due to soot and sulfate aeorosols. During that period the CO2 concentration has changed from about 280 ppmv to 390 ppmv. If all of the 0.7 C warming over that period is due to additional greenhouse gases, we should have a sensitivity of about 0.7/(3-1) = 0.35 C/watt/m^2. The climate models indicate that we should expect about another positive 3.5 watt/m^2 forcing from additional greenhouse gases as CO2 levels are doubled and about negative 1.1, again from aerosols. Thus we should expect a temperature change of about 0.35x(3.5-1.1)xlog2/(log390/280) = 1.8C. If solar or other variability contributed some of the warming since 1750, then the sensitivity would be lower than the 0.35 C/watt/m^2. and the expectation would be for a temperature increase less than 1.8 C.

Stan

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Home indeed...

Thanks for a comprehensive post summing up our current dilemma, capped off with a question for the ages. Let's see what I can do with it...

First, let me say that I have no major differences of opinion with your assumptions other than that I think you are a bit optimistic about our population potential during the energy wind down, even without climate change. Various long term carrying capacity estimates have been made but are generally about 1 billion, though we've been eating our seed corn, so-to-speak, so that may still be an optimistic number. This doesn't mean we necessarily have to die off like flies. We could follow the inverted demographic pyramid of fewer children than adults in each generation to ramp down. Realistically, a rapid power down process means we cannot feed ourselves and do an even worse job of distributing food from places that can to places that can't.

Back to the climate question though. The, as if I didn't already have enough to worry about problem. You ask a good question because if you can't do anything about something (climate change) there is no point in worrying about it. The best individual and community response leaves a lot of room to cover since each person and community have a different host of abilities and problems. For myself, I feel I have the training and therefore obligation to try to make a difference at a global level through my research, and a more personal level through my students and interaction like this. That said, most people haven't chosen my path (probably wise). I won't throw out the normal platitudes of call your congressperson and buy green (whatever that means). Given the framing of your question and the basic preparation/resilience mindset of our community here, I will speak to why this might matter to your preparations and planning.

Things to take into account.

1. On average the temperature is going to go up - BUT we don't live in the average world. Average global temperature increase numbers are nice travel-sized descriptions of climate change but they tell you effectively nothing about the reality that you will experience. Peak oil etc probably means that we won't achieve the worst case scenarios of 5-6 C change in global temperature by 2100. What does that number even mean? Let's put it this way, since the depths of the last ice age until today we have warmed about 5 C. If we add another 5 C we are effectively punching the wayback machine for 30+ million years to before Antarctica had ice. The glaciers wouldn't respond all at once but it would be a fait accompli for an eventual 70 meters or so of sea level rise. Note, the current IPCC (2007) predictions are for 18-59 cm by 2100 but they are wrong and they knew they were wrong but they couldn't use data from after 2005 due to the rules (yes they exist), the common figure given now is 2m but with an uncomfortable possibility of up to 5 meters (pdf). Incidentally, just because the models end at 2100 doesn't mean the warming does. Planetary response times vary due to different components of the Earth system with about 40% of the temperature impact in a decade, reaching 60% by a century after the emissions. The other 40% will play out over a millennium or so. In the mean time what should you know/do? Realize that temperatures will go up but that night time temperatures will rise faster than daytime temperatures. This means heatwaves are more oppressive because you don't get to cool down at night. It also means higher dew points which equates to more time with wet leaves for your crops and a corresponding increased likelihood of disease.

2. Weather is going to be a lot more variable. Climate chaos is one of the current buzz words (for example). Climate is average weather, if the climate changes it doesn't mean that everything shifts nicely in one direction or acts the same in each location or through time. In most places what this means is that 'unusual' events will become increasingly common. For eample, where I live we had our 'wettest ever year' just over a year ago. Now we have had just about the driest 6 months on reacord (actually 0.01 inches higher). On average the weather may be fine but your crops won't grow during the average year very often. The take home message is plant more and expect less. If you are a commercial farmer (at least in the US) take advantage of crop insurance. It is currently a federal subsidy that doesn't reflect actual increasing risks. If you are depending on 'the system' for food, expect volatility in prices or availability, especially if globalization stops and/or the economy crashes and regions depend on increasingly local supplies.

3. Major climate and weather events are likely to become more common. The graphic below isn't from scientists, it comes from the people (Munich Re) who insure the insurance companies! Supposedly the U.S. suffered 14 billion-dollar weather disasters last year (link). We aren't alone, the rest of the world is getting the same treatment or worse (just ask DTM about Queensland last year). Nowadays if we have an event like this they send in the troops with aid. If our world gets a lot more local then we have to help ourselves. How do you prepare? Build stronger, pick your sites carefully, store more longterm food supplies - meaning more than you already are doing.

4. We better understand why things work not just what worked in our plantings. The knowledge of things on a family farm which has been operated for generations will be eroded much as inflation erodes your savings if you simply keep doing what always worked in the past. A kid born in Vermont in 2000 could be buried in the climatic equivalent of today's South Carolina in 2080, even if he never left the farm. The apple orchard might be peaches with oranges getting increasing consideration. Growing zones will be changing a lot more. New things (plants, animals, diseases) will invade, existing vegetation will be increasingly stressed. Stressed vegetation gets sick/attacked much as you do when you are stressed.

The Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) is currently on a spree across the west, attacking mostly lodgepole, ponderosa, sugar and white pines. It's not new but the synchronicity of outbreaks all over is. British Columbia has been particularly hard hit. Note that little thumb sticking out in Canada. The temperature warmed enough for the beetles to get over the Canadian Rockies. They've recently been confirmed to have developed a taste for Jack Pine. This means they can now spread across the boreal forest towards the Atlantic. The only thing slowing them down now is the extreme arctic cold that often covers the region.  The point being that bugs, disease and fire are nature's way of clearing the landscape of vegetation that is no longer suitable for a location. Normally changes lke this would play out over millennia, we are compressing it into decades. Ecosystems aren't designed to change this fast. What can you do? Mitigate change if you can, adapt if you cannot.

5. We are all promoted to ecosystem managers. Like it or not, we have collectively chosen to manage the entire planet's ecosystems. We haven't got a clue of how to build a functioning ecosystem but we are going to get a lot of on the job training in the coming centuries. If what normally grows in your region won't anymore and nothing else can get there quick enough, we will either have to select the 'winners' and work to get them established or face the consequences. We don't have a stellar record in this area so far (rabbits in Australia come to mind). The point here is that there is nothing inherently better or worse between today's climate or that of the distant future. We and especally our decendants, no longer live in either though. The problem will be traversing this period of climate transition. What can you do? Keep track of your local weather as it changes and keep an open mind about what you try to plant over time.

6. Some places will become drier, others wetter but everywhere a greater percentage of the rain will come down in intense events. As we warm the planet, the air takes up more water. Raindrops get bigger, erosion increases and gully washers become more common. If you've experienced a tropical downpour you know just how much water can come down very quickly. Getting a months worth of rain in a week is a very different event than getting it in an hour. Places that never used to flood will do so. Placid little streams may change character quickly. There is going to be a lot of work for bridge builders going forward (whether or not we'll have the materials is another question). If you have a rainwater storage system (good!), just make sure that you have as part of your design a spillover in case the rate or amount overwhelms your system so that the excess is channeled where you want it to go.

I could probably go on but I think I have said enough for the moment. On a cheerier note, just because we can't imagine how we will live in a world unlike what we know, this doesn't mean we can't. Once we stop trying to get back to the past, we will become a lot more innovative as we look forward. Our predicament brings problems a plenty crying out for solutions.

Mark Cochrane's picture
Mark Cochrane
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: May 24 2011
Posts: 490
Hello Stan

I'm glad to hear that the credible skeptics are onboard with the fact that we are warming. I take it then that you are ok with the historical temperature record back to around 1850. This has now been worked over by at least 4 groups of all stripes and preconceptions with effectively the same results reached each time.

As for why this is happening, there really isn't anywhere else to turn now other than the effects of greenhouse gases.

1. Milankovitch cycles work to slowly and don't line up with this change. For those who don't know Milankovitch cycles refer to changes in the Earth's orbital shape (ellipticity - more or less elliptical - 100k year period) and axial tilt (obliquity - 41k year period), which get modulated a bit by precession (wobble of the axis and timing of the equinoxes). These changes alter the amount and seasonality of sunlight reaching the Earth. Throughout much of the paleorecord they can be used to explain the timing and duration of ice ages. Their effects take a long time to occur, nothing like the rapid change we are currently experiencing. We aren't due for another ice age for about 50k years. (Note: technically we are still in an ice age because there are glaciers - in science speak this is an interglacial period).

2. Solar cycle - We just warmed the planet through the longest and deepest solar cycle in the satellite record (which admittedly only goes back to 1979). Sunspot cycles are nominally 11 years but actually vary somewhat more than that. Strangely, when there are more spots (cold areas) we get more sunlight because the coronas (areas around the spots) are much hotter than normal. The so-called Maunder minimum was the time period with the longest and lowest number of sunspots that we know about and its timing correlates with the so-called Little Ice Age. The point being here that at the bottom of the cycle (low sunlight) when we should have been cooling, the planet still warmed albeit at a slower rate.

3. Chaotic variability? - Would make sense perhaps if some places were getting cooler while some were getting hotter. Pretty much the whole planet is warming while the oceans waters are warming too. The heat has to come from somewhere. The last standing possibility that I know of is that we are retaining heat due to the rising level of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

4. Greenhouse gases - coincidentally shoot well above the 800,000 year paleo record from ice cores in Antarctica just about the time our temperatures began to climb. The idea that GHGs are important for keeping us warm is not new - first described by Joseph Fourier in 1824. The warming effects of doubling CO2 levels were first calculated by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. Scientists have been trying to prove him wrong ever since. Skeptics came late to this particular party.

Studying the paleorecord rather intently has led many groups of scientists to conclude that 1) the climate is warming rather quickly, and 2) it has exceeded the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) (aka Medieval Climate Anomaly). Note, since the MWP was not a global event, it is possible that some regions you are familiar with could have been warmer than the current day but globally this isn't the case. Below is a comparison of 10 different paleo reconstructions of temperature anomalies. Go here to get the citations (link). It is clear that we are already outside of the range of 'normal climate variability' on a global level, at least for the last 2,000 years.

Note Michael Mann's hockey stick is one of those reconstructions. Could you explain why you slander the man calling his work fraudulent? He has been cleared of any wrongdoing by every attempted prosecution. I have met the man and others caught up in his persecution. Ever since McKitrick and McIntyre supposedly debunked Mann's work statistically, numerous proxy studies from ice cores, bore holes, corals, tree rings etc have confirmed his findings, time and again. You mention a large number of peer-reviewed studies that are contrary to this. I've shown you mine, I'd like to see yours.

Regarding to the Milankovitch cycle and CO2, I believe you are questioning the leading versus lagging question. The precision of the dating precludes definitive answers at this point but I personally believe that CO2 rises lag the Milankovitch forcing in the 800k yr record. If true, this doesn't somehow change our situation now. Warming leads to melting ice and permafrost, releasing both CO2 and methane (which oxidizes to CO2 and H2O). These gases act to magnify the Milankovitch-related changes in solar radiation. A classic positive feedback. Warming also causes more water vapor to enter the atmosphere further warming the planet since it is an even stronger greenhouse gas. These feedback processes don't care where the heat is coming from, they just respond to it. We are currently jacking up the GHG levels and warming the planet, the feedbacks are amplifying this.

I don't have anything at hand in the peer reviewed literature that says the storms/droughts etc are necessarily worse than anything ever experienced in the last 200 years. There is no objective index or recording of past events that would allow such comparisons. The point generally being made is that such rare events are likely becoming more frequent. For those interested there is a good coverage of this issue "2010-2011: Earth's most extreme weather since 1816?" The attribution of specific events to ongoing climate change is still in its infancy and you have to work with probability. Rahmstorf and Coumou (2011) (pdf) concluded that there is an 80% probability that the July heat event in Russia that led to the death of 55,000 people wouldn't have happened without the ongoing climate warming. Note this contradicts Dole et al (2011) but it has been found that they basically goofed and didn't account for glitch at the Moscow weather station (site)

The IPCC (2007) showed a potential range of climate sensitivities of 1.3-3.8 C. The most commonly agreed upon amount is 3 C (See Hansen et al 2011 pdf). Yes there are both positive and negative feedbacks but the positive (amplifying) feedbacks outweigh the negative (dampening) effects so far. As temperature increases, however, radiation of energy goes up at the 4th power so we are not likely to have a runaway greenhouse. The basic problem I see with your calculations is that you are assuming that change in temperature is instantaneous or at least very quick such that what you see so far is all that you get. Most of the energy (90%) is getting poured into warming the oceans at present dampening the effects so far (good paper is Murphy 2009 which gets a good lay explanation here). The time lags at the decadal, century and millennial time scales are covered in the aforementioned Hansen et al 2011 paper. The bottom line is that it is very unlikely that we can keep the warming below 2 C. Around 0.8 to date with a similar amount 'baked in' due to the ocean warming. The estimates are that we'd have to cut emissions by 80% by 2020 to achieve a chance of getting only 2C. The most recent numbers I've seen (Hansen again) are that we'd need to be at 345ppm CO2 to equilize at 2 C, we are now at 392, making this even harder to achieve.

Thoughts? Believe me, I would dearly love it if all of this was wrong. My last great hope for a counteracting negative feedback was the cloud cover. That sign has been shown in a couple of ways now to be most likely a positive forcing (most recently by Dessler 2010 pdf). It all depends on the type and height of the clouds.

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