Podcast

Mark Cochrane: The Scientific Argument for Climate Change

Is it happening? And what can we do?
Saturday, July 20, 2013, 1:12 PM

In this week's podcast, Chris sits down with Mark Cochrane to discuss global climate change.

Mark is a professor and senior research scientist at the Geospatial Science Center of Excellence (the GSCE) at South Dakota State University. He is also the creator of Peak Prosperity's excellent forum thread on climate change.

In this interview, Chris and Mark explore the science behind the study of climate change, what it tells us, and what steps individuals concerned about the trend can take.

As a scientist, Mark sees an abundance of data that shows the planet is indeed warming. The key questions that concern him are By how much? and How fast?

The whole crux of climate change just comes down to the energy balance of the planet. If things are stable, where we have the same amount of imported energy from the sun and exported energy with the heat, then the climate will be fairly stable, it will be balanced out. If we lose more energy than we gain over a period of time, then the planet would cool and we get things like the Ice Ages that we are familiar with in our past. Conversely, though, if we are gaining more energy than we lose, the planet will warm, like it is doing right now.

Climate change science can sound incredibly complex. But, there are, in fact, just three mechanisms that we could come up with that would cause the planet to warm the way it is.

The first would be, the sun could be getting brighter, providing a bigger energy budget. We have satellites measuring solar radiation very closely and have for decades. We know for a fact the sun is not getting brighter, and we are actually coming out of one of the dimmest periods over the last hundred years, where we have these 11-year sunspot cycles, and we were at a major low in these cycles – it was the lowest in over a hundred years. We should have actually had global cooling over the last decade. Instead, we have had something that has been apparently more flat in terms of global temperatures. But a lot of energy is still accumulating in the oceans.

The second way we could potentially warm the planet, if we were trying to, would be to try to make the planet darker, so thereby we would absorb more solar energy and reduce our albedo tax. So, it is the difference between if you are out barefoot and you step onto white concrete on a hot, sunny day – not so bad. But, if you step onto the blacktop, the asphalt, it is very hot on your feet. So, if we get darker, we would absorb more of the sunlight and turn it into heat. We have been measuring the energy reflecting back off the earth for decades as well, and we know for a fact that the planet is not getting darker. If anything, it is getter brighter, due to the amount of atmospheric haze that we have created through pollution.

The third possible alternative for warming the planet is that, for some reason or other, the rate of energy dissipation, the thermal energy leaving the planet, is slowing down. We are not losing it as fast as we used to. This occurs because of changes in the atmospheric concentrations of the so-called greenhouse gases, things like carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane. When we look at the measurements we have, in fact, the rate of change corresponds very closely with the observed rate of the increase of those gases and the warming that we are experiencing. Measurements, theory and observations all support one another. Anthropogenic greenhouse warming is the only scientific theory that accurately explains what is occurring. We have had over a hundred years of scientists trying to prove this theory wrong, and there is as close to unanimous scientific agreement on this as you ever going to find, with at least 97% consensus among scientists who actually work on the subject.

And, when I mention anthropogenic greenhouse warming as a theory here, I mean that it is a theory that is on par with the theory of gravity or evolution. Scientists are still investigating the nuances and implications of climate change, and the modeling of potential future climate projections is active and a continually developing field of study. But, the existence of ongoing and geologically rapid global climate change is as settled as science gets. There is no remaining scientific debate about the subject. The scientific discussions are only about the rate at which the warming is occurring and what the implications are of this climate change as it happens.

Years of moderating discussion on this topic have taught us that it's a highly sensitive one that people often bring a lot of emotion to, as passionate belief systems operate on many sides of the issue. Civil discourse can often be a challenge.

We've received much urging from readers to have a "broad daylight" discussion on this topic, which is understandable and something we're happy to do. But we realize doing so will likely generate some major differences of opinion, so we ask that comments made below be respectful and in-line with our civility guidelines (i.e., our moderators are on high alert).

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Mark Cochrane (55m:10s):

Transcript: 

Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson, and as promised from an earlier interview, today we are going to discuss climate change with a well-known and widely published and cited scientist who also happens to chair the Climate Change thread at Peak Prosperity, for which he has my deep admiration for both the style and form of the conversation being held there.

We are talking with Dr. Mark Cochrane today, who is currently conducting climate-related research in the United States, Australia, Brazil, and Indonesia that explores how climate change is affecting the characteristics and impacts of wildfires on ecosystems and human societies. He is also professor and senior research scientist at the Geospatial Science Center of Excellence, the GSCE, at South Dakota State University, and he holds a Doctorate Degree in Ecology from Penn State University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Engineering from MIT.

Mark’s earth-system science research focuses on understanding spatial patterns, interactions in synergisms between multiple physical and biological factors that affect ecosystems. This look at complexity is exactly what you need when you are looking at the economy, energy, or the environment in this case, climate change. His interdisciplinary work combines ecology, climate science, remote sensing, and other fields of study to provide landscape perspectives of the dynamic processes involved in land cover change.

I have invited Mark on to share his expertise with all of us and publicly dig into the topic of climate change. Mark, thank you so much for your work on the site, and thank you for joining us today.

Mark Cochrane: You are welcome. Thank you for having me.

Chris Martenson: Mark, we hear a lot of discussion about climate change these days. What is your interpretation of the science?

Mark Cochrane: That is a good question. To discuss climate change, you first have to consider what climate actually is. We are worried about it changing, but we do not generally think about what climate is, because we live in it every day. Standard answer is that climate is simply average weather over a long period of time, where 30 years has become sort of a de facto standard unit of climate time. It could be more than that, but generally we need at least 30 years to feel like we have a good measure on a region’s climate.

What climate really describes, though, is the average patterns of energy redistribution that form as the solar energy that strikes the planet moves from warmer to cooler regions throughout the years. In any given year, the earth gets a fairly consistent amount of solar energy or energy budget, if you will. The energy does not arrive evenly over the earth’s surface, though, because the planet is a sphere, and it is spinning and covered with varying amounts of clouds, land, water, and ice.

Most people will be familiar with the “blue marble” photograph of the earth from space that the Apollo astronauts took back in the 1970s. What we are seeing there is the sunlight that is reflected from the planet. So, of all the solar energy that arrives, roughly 30% of it is reflected right back off into space. Therefore, it does not have any climate effect whatsoever. We can think of that as what I would think of as an “albedo tax,” which simply means that we lose some of our solar budget, and more of it if it gets shinier, and a little less if the planet gets darker for some reason. That would be more clouds or less clouds, more ice or less ice.

Of the remaining solar energy that arrives, maybe 1% gets used by plants and algae to conduct photosynthesis and produce all of the food that supports every living creature on the planet. The lions’ share of the solar energy though nearly 70% gets absorbed by the oceans, the land, or the atmosphere and is converted from light into heat. All of that heat energy is what actually drives the climate of our planet. Okay, this heat warms the planet, it evaporates moisture, it creates weather patterns in the atmosphere and currents in the oceans. It redistributes all that excess energy from one location to another. This heat dissipates out into space as long-wave thermal radiation, during both the day and night throughout the year.

If we did not have atmosphere, our daily temperatures would be kind of like that of the moon, where days would be 235 degrees Fahrenheit and nights would cool to minus 243 degrees Fahrenheit. And, the atmosphere, it just acts kind of like the glass of a greenhouse, where the sunlight can pass through easily, but the glass reflects back a portion of the heat energy that the planet radiates. This greenhouse effect slows the rate of energy lost, just enough to keep us at what we consider a nice, comfortable global temperature. It is kind of like what a blanket does when it keeps you warm at night by slowing the rate at which you lose body heat.

The whole crux of climate change just comes down to the energy balance of the planet. If things are stable, where we have the same amount of imported energy from the sun and exported energy with the heat, then the climate will be fairly stable, it will be balanced out. If we lose more energy than we gain over a period of time, then the planet would cool and we get things like the Ice Ages that we are familiar with in our past. Conversely, though, if we are gaining more energy than we lose, the planet will warm, like it is doing right now.

Climate change science can sound incredibly complex. But, there are, in fact, just three mechanisms that we could come up with that would cause the planet to warm the way it is. The first would be, the sun could be getting brighter, providing a bigger energy budget. We have satellites measuring solar radiation very closely and have for decades. We know for a fact the sun is not getting brighter, and we are actually coming out of one of the dimmest periods over the last hundred years, where we have these 11-year sunspot cycles, and we were at a major low in these cycles – it was the lowest in over a hundred years. We should have actually had global cooling over the last decade. Instead, we have had something that has been apparently more flat in terms of global temperatures. But a lot of energy is still accumulating in the oceans.

The second way we could potentially warm the planet, if we were trying to, would be to try to make the planet darker, so thereby we would absorb more solar energy and reduce our albedo tax. So, it is the difference between if you are out barefoot and you step onto white concrete on a hot, sunny day – not so bad. But, if you step onto the blacktop, the asphalt, it is very hot on your feet. So, if we get darker, we would absorb more of the sunlight and turn it into heat. We have been measuring the energy reflecting back off the earth for decades as well, and we know for a fact that the planet is not getting darker. If anything, it is getter brighter, due to the amount of atmospheric haze that we have created through pollution.

The third possible alternative for warming the planet is that, for some reason or other, the rate of energy dissipation, the thermal energy leaving the planet, is slowing down. We are not losing it as fast as we used to. This occurs because of changes in the atmospheric concentrations of the so-called greenhouse gases, things like carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane. When we look at the measurements we have, in fact, the rate of change corresponds very closely with the observed rate of the increase of those gases and the warming that we are experiencing. Measurements, theory and observations all support one another. Anthropogenic greenhouse warming is the only scientific theory that accurately explains what is occurring. We have had over a hundred years of scientists trying to prove this theory wrong, and there is as close to unanimous scientific agreement on this as you ever going to find, with at least 97% consensus among scientists who actually work on the subject.

And, when I mention anthropogenic greenhouse warming as a theory here, I mean that it is a theory that is on par with the theory of gravity or evolution. Scientists are still investigating the nuances and implications of climate change, and the modeling of potential future climate projections is active and a continually developing field of study. But, the existence of ongoing and geologically rapid global climate change is as settled as science gets. There is no remaining scientific debate about the subject. The scientific discussions are only about the rate at which the warming is occurring and what the implications are of this climate change as it happens.

Chris Martenson: So, we are putting this carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and that is one of the primary components of the greenhouse gases. It is measured in parts per million. How effective is it at trapping that thermal radiation? I assume there is this long-wave infrared radiation that is trying to get back out into space. It bumps into a CO2 molecule, which absorbs it, converts that back into heat energy, and becomes an active molecule bouncing around. And these are measured in, I guess – we got close to 400 parts per million this year. How effective is CO2 at trapping this thermal radiation?

Mark Cochrane: Oh, very effective, but, it is only part of the equation. You know, what you describe is exactly right. We have these thermal waves of heat that go up to the atmosphere, and instead of being this nice, clear atmosphere for sunlight, it is a slightly opaque, hazed atmosphere for those wavelengths of energy. And things like carbon dioxide or water vapor will occasionally capture one of the waves. The whole matter comes down to when it releases that energy again. What happens is a 50% chance it releases it up towards space and a 50% chance that it sends it right back down to the earth. So an increasing percentage of the energy that is being released is basically back and forth in the atmosphere for a little longer.

I should mention that water vapor is the strongest greenhouse gas we have. It has gone up about 6% in the last three decades because of the amount of warming. We have greenhouse gases like CO2 and nitrous oxide and such that warm the planet. But, as we warm the planet more, we increase the amount of water vapor that can be held in the atmosphere. As we increase the amount of water vapor, we warm the planet even more. So the CO2 level is a bit like a thermostat. It starts the process, but it is not the actual main culprit, if we will, in causing the warming.

Chris Martenson: Right, so lots of water vapor, it is actually we all know water is very, very good at conducting heat and storing it and all sorts of things like that. So we are here at 400 parts per million. Historically, when was the last time we were at this level, and where are we going in terms of temperature, as we cast forward and think about going to some higher, 420, 430, 440? Is there a direct relationship that we can sort of map out that is reasonably certain, or is this where a lot of the controversy still lies?

Mark Cochrane: Yeah, there is a fair amount controversy, just because we do not know how fast things will occur. We would have some idea more if we were to, say, go into an equilibrium state. If we could say, We are going to hold at 400 parts per million, then we are basically saying that we are going to push ourselves two, three, or more million years into the past in terms of a climate analog. As we increase the levels even more, though, we push further and further. If we keep doing business as usual, where we try to exponentially grow the amount of fossil fuel emissions, we are talking about putting the climate back 20 to 30 million years.

Now, how do you really get there, and what happens in the meantime are the issues. We know that if we were to go back, say, three million years, like we are planning now, if you will, that almost all ice on the planet would melt. It would not melt overnight, though; it would take centuries. But we would have a recipe for increasing sea levels by 50 to 70 meters. As we push beyond that, we are really entering into what we call “no-analog futures.” We do not have any past conditions that simulate what would be going on, so we get more speculative on what it would mean. The larger concern is not so much what level it would be as just how fast we are getting there, because everything on the planet has to adjust to these changing temperatures.

Chris Martenson: Let us talk about that adjustment process, because there is another facet to this story that I have been following, which is the idea of ocean acidification. And as I understand the process, CO2 in the atmosphere exists in equilibrium with CO2 in the ocean, so it is dissolving back and forth from the aqueous to the air environment. And so we are increasing the amount of CO2 in the ocean as well. In turn, some of the CO2 turns into a form of acid, and that starts to drop the pH of the ocean. Now, the ocean has got very, as I understand it, very, very sensitive pH conditions for certain types of phytoplankton and maybe the calcium-carbonate-wearing animals of our lives: the snails, the bivalves, the other things like that. Where are we with the ocean acidification story as potentially something that could be as disruptive as weather pattern changes, which we will get to in a minute.?

Mark Cochrane: Yeah, this is kind of a poor relation to what we think of as climate change, and I call it the “other CO2 problem.”

Chris Martenson: [Laughs] Right.

Mark Cochrane: No, it is quite serious, and under-recognized as a serious problem. You know, we look back through history, we have, you know, little air bubbles trapped in ice going back over 800,000 years and we were never above 300 parts per million in terms of CO2. Now we are bumping up against 400 parts per million. What happens is just what you said. We emit all this carbon, but it does not all just pile up in the atmosphere. About a quarter of it gets taken up by vegetation, and another quarter of it ends up equalizing the partial pressure in the oceans. So only about 50% piles up in the atmosphere right now.

However, as this sink occurs in the ocean waters, it basically dissolves in the form of carbonic acid, so everything that lives there is now living in something that is more and more like living in a soda bottle instead of normal waters. Things like all the phytoplankton that require calcite to form little shells and structures are losing that ability, such that through many of the types of phytoplankton and coccolithophores and other organisms, their shell densities are dropping by 30 to 40% at the current levels. As this continues, they will have an increasingly hard time forming these sorts of bodies.

So, yeah, I do not think this necessarily means that we will have a complete collapse, if you will, of photosynthetic organisms in the oceans, but we will be selecting for different types more and more over time and causing a lot of damage. This is also one of the foundations for the whole food web of the oceans, either on a plankton or on a pterapod, little sea snails that are abundant in polar oceans. They are also having trouble making shells, and therefore, we will not have as many. We do not think that is important, but that is the base of the food chain for things like salmon or whales and seals. Krill are having a hard time making shells, and they are one of the main food sources for much of the ocean’s creatures.

If we look in the future right now, by 2050, the most recent science I have seen shows that the level of ocean acidity could basically make shell-building organisms a thing of the past for, say, much of the West Coast. So, this would put an end to things like the oyster industry all along the Pacific Northwest, who are already having serious problems. And the problems they are having now are from deep ocean waters that are washing up that are basically representing the carbon levels that were in the atmosphere in the 1950s and 1960s. So even if we were to somehow stop increasing levels right now, this problem would worsen for another 50 years.

Chris Martenson: Fifty years I want to talk about the pace of change, because that is a concept you brought up before. Certainly, the world has cycled through warmer periods and cooler periods in the past. It has had carbon dioxide go up and down, but, usually, I guess, in the record, you would say these changes happened over hundreds of thousands of years, or tens of thousands, and it seems like we are doing it in, what, a hundred and fifty years? But, really, the pace of carbon dioxide addition to the atmosphere is, as I understand, a doubling process and exponential functions. It would seem that I will make a guess here probably in the last 30 years, we have put as much in the atmosphere as we put it in all the years prior, just taking a guess at that. If you have a good number on that, let me know.

It is the pace of change that we are worried about here, because ocean organisms could respond over time if selective adaptations and pressures would certainly allow some to arise where others were now absent. But if the pace is too quick, you are talking about the potential of a big gap in the overall phyla and flora and fauna and all the other things that we are seeing out there right now in terms of complexity and diversity. Right?

Mark Cochrane: Yes, it is just that. It is how fast things occur. To put things in perspective, business as usual if we keep this up, we are looking at potentially warming the planet by somewhere between four and six degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Now, trying to put that number in some perspective is always difficult. These big average numbers do not mean much, because, you know, you might have experienced that much temperature change since you got up this morning. When we talk globally, though, five to six degrees Celsius change is the difference between the depth of the last Ice Age and what the planet experiences today.

Now, coming out of the last age took over a thousand years, so we had ten times as much time for that amount of change to occur. In terms of CO2-driven type climate change, the only analog we really have is about 30 million years ago, the paleocene-eocene thermal maximum, where, for a variety of reasons, we had a massive carbon release into the atmosphere that is equivalent to what we have been doing over the last century. But, that, again, took about a thousand to two thousand years to occur, so it is not a direct analog. We are doing things faster than was done at that point. We are creating huge changes that will take centuries to play out. But, they will cause an increasing number of problems for us right now.

So, yes, in the oceans, for example, as we increase this and increase it rapidly, things that cannot adjust quickly enough will diminish considerably. To my knowledge, the only thing that seems to be favored by this change right now would be jellyfish.

Chris Martenson: And, they are doing quite well, I understand.

Mark Cochrane: Oh, yes; reproducing well.

Chris Martenson: Excellent. So I want to talk, then, about how most of us experience climate is in the form of weather. Here in New England, it has been very steamy for a while, and that is because the jet stream, as I understand, has formed kind of an unusual loop for this time of the year. It is looping down very, very far, so that last week, I believe, Texas had cooler temperatures than I did here in Massachusetts – a bit of an oddity. And, it was just last year the Midwest was in a drought and this year there is too much rain to plant in many areas. So, what is the relationship as far as we understand it between climate change and weather stability? I care about stability, because we have settled around areas which have rainfall that is predictable and good soils that are formed in the process of that. The point being that, weather stability means food stability, so there is a direct connection for me. But how do we start to put weather and climate together?

Mark Cochrane: That is another great question. One I have actually got people working on right now –

Chris Martenson: Excellent.

Mark Cochrane: – trying to put numbers to some of this, because when we hear all of this, we get this big averages, like whatever; one degree sea warming, and that means absolutely nothing to anybody. And you cannot adjust or adapt to one, two, three, four degrees change of temperature, because it does not translate into what happens where you live. So, you know, the models going forward are difficult, because you have to bring down the scale to a level that is meaningful. But we do not need models; we can look at what has just happened in the last hundred years. We have plenty of weather records, and what we see is that, yes, the weather seems to be getting more variable. That kind of fits with what most people have experienced.

So, on average, things may not have changed so much, but, for example, where I live, two years ago we had the Red Cross in town because we were flooding. We had had twice as much rainfall as had ever been experienced here in over a hundred years. Last year, much of the state was at drought levels that were below the Dust Bowl. This year our season is delayed well over a month because it was too cool and wet to plant.

So, we have general variability going on, but we do also see some of these patterns that seem to be forming. So, what we think is happening with this is, we have these large-scale atmospheric movements; we directly heat areas of the equator, more so than the poles. We get a transfer of air and heat going north, which creates these large cells. We have had these down to about 33 degrees latitude, then we have a kind of a mid-latitude cell, and then we have a polar cell on top of that. Well, right now, we are melting the Arctic Sea ice at a phenomenal rate, and far beyond what was being predicted even a few years ago. And what this means is that more heat is piling up in the polar regions than we would expect.

Why is that important? Well, as we do this, we change the thermal gradient between what the energy level is and the polar area is and what the energy level is down in our temperate areas, like where you live. So what happens is, now the boundary between those two gets a little fuzzier. That boundary tends to formed by what we call the jet stream. As we reduce that temperature difference between those two areas, the jet stream slows down. It is not as strong, and it is kind of like a river, and it starts meandering and making these big, deep meanders far south and far north. You know, we experience whether it’s cool weather or hot weather, but it extends far to the north, as well as to the south.

So, there is a reason why, in science, we do not really call it global warming; we call it global climate change, because although the planet is warming, what we experience is an increased variability of the weather. Sometimes it will be cooler; sometimes it will be warmer. On average, it will be warmer, but we do not live the average; we live whatever happens day in and day out. So with these big meanders, what can happen is, it allows a lot of cool, polar air to pour down in some regions, but, it allows a lot of tropical air to pour northward or in other regions.

And these patterns can become effectively stuck a blocking pattern. They could stay in place for weeks or months. So we will have things like a winter where it is freezing in Europe and we (here) are roasting. A couple of years ago, we had no frost from February on, which is ridiculous for the northern plains. But these changes are not going to be the same year in and year out. One year you may have incredible warmth; the next year you might have incredible cold.

Everything we do is premised upon this idea of stability. Like, when you got up this morning, you probably did not throw on a winter coat. Why? Because it is July; you know it is going to be warm (in the U.S.), it is just a question of how warm. Well, everything that grows out there, it basically grows there because, on average, it is fairly stable and dependable weather. But as the weather becomes less dependable, less stable, it creates a lot of stress in all of the ecosystems.

Chris Martenson: I noticed that very personally. Last year was a very dry year. We got 0.04 inches [of precipitation] in April, which is a really important time for insect formation and hatchings, so we had a really miserable insect hatch, which I actually did not mind as far as the mosquitoes were concerned. But over our back field, there is a bunch of bobolinks that live there, and these are wonderful birds with great, melodic sounds. They live on insects. They moved in in their usual nesting pattern and stayed about a week, and then left, because there was nothing there for them to eat. It was the first year that we had seen them just absolutely go somewhere else. I do not know where they went, to me, that was directly because of a very anomalous year where we had 0.04 inches of rain in April and very above-average warm temperatures. And, then, this year it has been almost the exact opposite very cool, very delayed, very wet, all the way up through mid-June.

So, we say, you know the old economist joke, if you have one hand in boiling hot water and one hand in ice water, on average, you are fine. So what you are saying is that, even though we are experiencing something like a degree, an extra Celsius degree of increase, what we are going to experience is wider extremes, that on average, probably still do not look that bad. But it is the extremes that unbalance all sorts of situations.

Mark Cochrane: Yes, and that is one of the things we are working on now, looking at, say, the last hundred years of climate, and bringing it down as fine as we can, so we can say something about different regions. What we see is interesting, though, in that even the variability that is occurring is not the same everywhere. It is not that everywhere is getting more extreme. Some areas are getting more extreme on say, heat, but not so much on cold. Other areas are getting both extreme;, they are getting both more likely to have extreme heat and more likely to have extreme cold, which does not seem to fit with the model of global warming, per se. Other areas are actually becoming, seemingly more stable. They are more likely to have what we would think of as normal weather. Now, there are not that many, but some areas are.

So there is a reason people are confused about this whole subject, because not everybody is experiencing the same type of change. If you go further north, though, they are not so doubtful about it, because as you go north, we get polar amplification. They are seeing dramatically warmer temperatures. In other regions, not so much. So it is the same type of change everywhere, but, yes, what you are talking about is the way we are seeing it.

There is the average and my students know I am not one for averages, because the averages hide so much information. I mean, would you create the average shoe size and then sell it to the entire planet? It would not make any sense, but that is the way we talk about climate change. We did these average numbers of change that really do not tell us how that change will show up in our lives.

Chris Martenson: Let us now talk about the IPCC and how it relates to climate change science. I know that in the American press, there has been a lot of controversy and things said back and forth. Can you bring some clarity to this conversation for us, and just talk to us about what it is and what it does?

Mark Cochrane: Yeah, the IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this is kind of a big bugaboo for climate change. It is a favorite target of deniers or those who lambast the findings as being alarmist or radical or somehow agenda-driven. It is a good question, how did this supposed rogue organization arise.

It is currently under the United Nations and such. I think most people would be pretty surprised to learn that the IPCC was initiated in the late 1980s by the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who were hardly radical environmentalists. The intent was to forestall self-appointed committees of scientists from making what they considered alarmist statements about climate change.

So the IPCC was created to be the utmost authority on climate matters by bringing together scientists from around the world to take comprehensive looks at all of the science. The IPCC does not conduct any science. It does not study climate change. It just takes all of the climate change studies that are out there and tries to condense them into one giant report. It was designed effectively to be efficient, unwieldy, and conservative in its outcomes, because we need 100% consensus of all authors for everything that is reported.

Now, having 100% consensus on anything is difficult. It has slowed down, because we need representatives that have to be appointed from every single government in the world. That is more than 130 countries. The authors have to go through repeated rounds of report drafting to reach consensus. So the science that is reported is the most conservative statement possible. It is not alarmist. This is the best-case scenario, basically, that we could expect.

The scientists who serve on these panels and do a lot of work do not get paid for any of this work. They have to volunteer their time. The last report in 2007 was about three volumes, roughly 3,000 pages of condensed research findings that almost nobody but masochistic scientists like myself read. The political appointees then get to edit what is the all-important summary for policy makers, which is kind of a Cliff Notes of the IPCC report. So these political appointees, not scientists, go through that document and argue, literally, over every single word.

Individual countries can hold the process for days until they get what they want. In the last round, 2007, at the behest of China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, certain figures that were considered to be alarming were deleted, and the wording was changed to state the scientific confidence that anthropogenic global climate was occurring to be less strong than the scientists indicated. Why would they do that? Well, currently, China is the largest consumer and Saudi Arabia and Russia are the largest producers of fossil fuels.

So there is a political agency out there, but it is not the one most people think. If we look at how it is constructed, Dr. Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, is a favorite target of those who want to deny climate change or lambast the IPCC, and so it makes you wonder, how did this radical get to be in charge of it? Well, back in 2002, our own State Department in the United States refused to re-nominate the highly regarded atmospheric chemist, Dr. Robert T. Watson, who had headed the IPCC since 1996. His views on emissions control were considered too threatening by energy industry lobbyists. Therefore, at their behest, then-president George W. Bush pressed for and got Indian engineer Dr. Pachauri appointed as a more palatable chair for the IPCC. It is ironic to me, at least, that the same groups that designed and formed and continually meddle with the IPCC do not like the message that they are getting from it.

The IPCC soldiers on, remarkably effective, and it is going to be coming out with at least the initial reports in September of this year, after reviewing about 60,000 scientific papers on climate change.

Chris Martenson: Are you – to 100% consensus, really?

Mark Cochrane: Yes.

Chris Martenson: [Laughs] That is, I cannot get [consensus] with three other people in the room. I do not know how that would be done.

Mark Cochrane: Basically, they wear you down, because it goes round and round and round until they find some wording that everybody can agree to accept.

Chris Martenson: So it stems to reason, particularly on the last stage of that whole thing, on who writes the summary. Being that they are of a political nature, there is going to be a lot of defensive business-as-usual. There is obviously a very strong component from the political side, from a corporate side, from even the cultural side, to just keep the status quo cooking along. No pun intended. So I assume that, yes, as you say, the IPCC is probably going to be putting out extremely conservative, or non-alarmist views on this, and that should be trackable, right? So the projections on sea ice that we are familiar with that have been badly whiffed upon by reality, were those projections the ones that came through the IPCC process?

Mark Cochrane: Well, there are a couple of things going on. One is, because the process is so cumbersome, the actual cutoff date for the science that is included is usually about two years earlier than the actual publication date. Otherwise, they would never be able to finish. But the other is that, yeah, you may have some results that point to more recent findings that may be more concerning, but they will be downplayed in terms of the changing amount of sea ice, obviously, if the models that were in place and the knowledge at the time definitely underestimated what was going on.

Sea level rise is the other major one that was really missed. The last report was talking about maybe 50 centimeters of rise by the end of the century, and literally, within months, it was pretty clear that we were looking at at least one to two meters of sea level rise. So, they were off by a factor of two to four there. That is because they are providing the conservative view of the science that was available up to the date when they cut off what was considered.

Chris Martenson: This whole thing speaks to the idea that these sorts of projections are extremely difficult to come up with. Because this is not just a non-linear system; it is multiple non-linear systems interacting with each other. How much is being reflected back, whether warming increases more of this to come out of the ground or that, or other changes. So, there is a lot of variable in this. We are learning as we go.

But what would an individual do, who is concerned about climate change, and how would they meaningfully prepare for or foster greater resilience if, ultimately, they feel uncertain about their ability to project what the changes are going to be in where they live? How do you begin to grapple with that?

Mark Cochrane: Yeah, that is another great question. It is one that countries, cities, communities, people everywhere are having to wrestle with. And there is a reason we call them “projections.” Nobody tries to predict what will happen, because there are too many variables, the biggest variable being how much will we continue to pump into the atmosphere. If you do not know that, you really cannot try to predict, but you can project if we do certain things like business-as-usual, keep doing what we are doing, or if we do a best-case scenario where we all try to go to green energy, we can kind of bound the problem.

I have been asked time and again, and kind of danced around it – what can you do; how do you prepare for climate change? I have hesitated on that, because basically, it is a hard subject to contemplate and difficult to encompass. With most aspects of climate change, I can simply relate the accumulated knowledge or the state of our understanding that science has at this time. I can just tell you basically what has been reported in the scientific literature, and I am covered, so to speak, as a scientist. You try to make sure that your sources are firm.

As we go forward, though, I do not have that kind of literature to work from, so I will talk about it here, but what I am going to be talking about are basically the speculation about what will happen, based on everything we know as we go forward. Or, what is already happening that we can actually see occurring.

So, climate has been remarkable stable, as we talked about, for about over the last ten thousand years. This encompasses all of recorded history, since we started agriculture. Through all that time, from the medieval warm period to the so-called Little Ice Age, and everything else, that global temperature has been plus or minus one degree Celsius, so the nominal mean temperature. Currently, we are proceeding outside of that range. In the lifetime of Homo sapiens, we have never experienced the warmth that we are currently on track to experience, so we do not know how this will work. We are going boldly where no human cultures have ever been before.

Being able to change the temperature of the planet by one or two degrees Celsius within a hundred years is astounding, and the current apparent trajectory of four to six degrees that we are on is completely unimaginable. So scientists look at this with some horrid fascination, because this is the sort of thought experiment we never thought could take place in reality. We are effectively terraforming the planet right now. We and all of our descendants are going to be guinea pigs of this experiment for the centuries to come.

So, if you have concern about these things, what do you do? Right now, I know I have concerns about the terrible debts that we are leaving for our children through our spendthrift ways. Well, we also have a giant climate debt that we have created. We have warmed by 0.8 degrees Celsius, but we have already placed 0.8 degrees Celsius in the pipeline, so to speak. We could not stop it if we wanted to; it is already there. The earth now stores more than 25 times as much heat energy as we release from all of our energy uses each year, and that rate grows each year and will persist for centuries after we stop increasing the level of greenhouse gases. So, just as increasing amounts of energy can be used to stimulate economic growth, the increase in the planet’s energy budget increases the types and amounts of weather patterns that move energy from one place to another.

If we look at things like financial collapse, that would be awful, but it would probably be resolved in about a decade. When we look at resource scarcity, that is something that is going to plague us for maybe a century or more as we adjust technology and our expectations and the populations. But, with climate change, we have the equivalent of changing gravity, evolutionary speaking – literally, every living thing depends upon it. And so this will be the challenge for the next millennium, at least – that is a thousand years. We cannot make it better, but we can make it much, much worse.

Now, this is where we get stuck a lot of times. What can you actually do with this? What can you do to try to prepare? I will try to provide some idea of what may occur and some practical things you could do. First, what they say is, prepare for more – more variable weather from year to year and day to day, more flooding, more drought, more heat waves, more fires, more storms, more pests, more pathogens, more starvation, etc. The thing to realize is, climate change is not an event. It is an amplifier of events. So, in military jargon, it is a force multiplier. Nothing new is happening. Everything is just going to happen more frequently and severely than it used to. Every year climate change will turn things up a notch and all sorts of things from droughts, to storm surges, to other weather events will get more widespread or severe.

This basically acts as a growing tax on capital, resources, and lives that will get extracted every year from the world economy. The estimates out there now is that it is costing about 1.6% of global GDP due to these sorts of events. So, you can bet these things are not included in any of the economic growth models right now. Whether we like it or not, every year that we fail to act to diminish global emissions, we are voting for an environmental tax increase. Climate change is not a risk at every run; it is a chronic condition that we need to manage.

So, how is this going to show up? One thing I say is, we might want to consider heading for higher ground. If you live anywhere near the coast, you should be very aware of what your elevation is above sea level. As hurricane Sandy showed, you do not need to be at sea level to be damaged by rising sea levels; you just need to be within reach of the storm surge that comes with any given storm. And that reach is going to grow every year.

Until now, the federal and local governments have blissfully or even willfully ignored increasing risk of flooding. Just take a look what has happened in New Jersey and New York since hurricane Sandy. There is a new Federal advisory flood map that has been generated to reflect current reality. Why should somebody care? Well, because now you have to raise your home above the level of the flood plain, or face thousands of dollars in extra flood insurance costs. That could be up to $30,000 a year for a home. You do not have a choice. They are taking away the subsidy that most people did not realize they were getting for flood insurance. You either have to pay to place your home on stilts, or you are going to hemorrhage money to insurance year after year. And many people cannot afford it. If you decide to move up in the world, so to speak, and then try to plan ahead and put your house up an extra one to two meters, because that is where the ocean levels are going.

Coastlines are going to suffer in terms of property values, and they are more likely to be abandoned due to high insurance costs long before the high water level gets there in most cases. People may blame FEMA or the insurance companies, but it is simply a reflection of the reality that sea levels are rising, and it becomes a statistical fact that more frequent flooding will occur, so plan on that.

If you think you are okay just because you live further away from the coast, you should think again. One of the strongest signals of climate change around the world has been the growing intensity of rain storms. You do not necessarily get more rain; you just get it a whole lot faster. And what this means is that all of our current drainage systems are out-of-date. They can get overwhelmed under a given storm, so places that never flooded will start to flood, and places that occasionally flooded will flood more frequently. Hundred-year flooding events that are expected every hundred years are now becoming decadal events in many places.

You look at Fargo, North Dakota. They have had major flooding in four of the last five years. In the last ten years, they have had so-called ten-year floods every two years. Fifty-year floods have occurred three times in the last ten years. They are now proposing to build a $2 billion, 36-mile drainage canal to fix the problem. If they do that, that is great for them, but what it is going to do is just magnify all the downstream effects for Grand Forks, and Winnipeg up in Canada.

What you can do? Well, for one thing, check your insurance. If you do not have specific flood insurance, then most policies will not cover flooding if it comes over the ground versus through your roof. So if your roof blows off and you flood, you are covered. But if either a river or something else backs up and flooding comes in through your basement window, you will not be covered in most cases. If you have sump pumps or such, make sure that they are at your critical load for backup power. I have personally experienced this. I put a generator in my house and it saved my butt once, and I had already been flooded once. If you do not have sump pumps, consider installing them unless you have excellent drainage.

The flip-side of flooding is drought, and I think of this as dig deep. If you have a water table well, make sure it is deeper than you think you need, as deep as you can get, so that you will have water even in the low-water times. If you live in an arid region, be cognizant that more and more of the perennial streams will actually become seasonal in nature. As that water table drops, those streams will go away.

If you live in much of the Mountain West of the U.S., or any other region of the planet that gets much of its water supply from either melting snow packs or glaciers – that is, places like much of China, much of India, near the Alps in Europe, all the Andes of South America – then expect your water supply to be less certain. With melting snow packs and glaciers, the amount of water available in a region is diminished. As it gets diminished, there is going to be more tension around who gets that water. So it would behoove you to have more water storage capacity. Within the next one-to-two decades, there is going to be acute water shortages occurring in many parts of the world. This will lead to everything from rationing to wars. The more insecure your supply is, the more storage you need.

Plan on crop failures, whether it is your garden or world grain stocks. Expect the yields to be more variable from year to year, with an emphasis on reduced yields. Having floods one year and drought the next may average out to be normal, but crops do not grow during average weather; they grow in whatever day-to-day weather occurs. How can you adapt? Well, one thing you can do is plan on more variety. Plant cultivars that are cold and heat tolerant, drought and water tolerant. Do not try to optimize your annual yield for a given year; hedge your bets by planting to improve your average annual yield over time.

In terms of home food storage, planning for climate change simply means adding more cushion to your supplies under the assumption that you could lose a year or two of crops. Plant for the future. Knowing what grows well in your area is not enough anymore, because that knowledge is becoming increasingly dated. Plant hardiness zones have recently been updated again in the U.S. to reflect more current climate conditions. They will keep changing, decade after decade. I am told that now you can grow olives and lemons on Vancouver Island, if you choose your location carefully. So keep experimenting with new crops and cultivars from warming climes in sheltered areas, and then you can expand their use if conditions allow. You can adjust some of your cooler weather crops similarly to less-exposed areas, or in the northern hemisphere on northerly aspects.

Expect new challenges from pests and pathogens. Being able to grow new things like lemons and olives is great, but you should remember that if something new can grow in your soil, then so can every pest and pathogen that currently feeds on it wherever it is now growing, and build accordingly. If you have the opportunity to build a new home, be keenly aware of drainage issues; insulate and plan for energy and thermal efficiency; have a Plan B for air conditioning. Planning ahead can be as simple as just making sure that you have screens for your windows or mosquito nets for your beds. You know, if central air conditioning is not a possibility, you are going to have to do something else.

The risk of heat stress is growing in many places and is a major health problem. But health threats are more likely to arise from insect-borne diseases. So, we have things like dengue that is now in France, malaria in Greece. West Nile is going across the United States; Lyme disease is now up into Newfoundland and Canada. Globally, dengue is the most serious threat that is spreading rapidly in countries throughout the world. Malaria is also spreading. If we do not have active management, malaria could return across Europe, much of the United States, as well as eastern Canada and northern Australia. It is not so much that climate change is opening the new niches; we have cleared out that niche, and if for some reason we cannot maintain our ways of trying to keep those diseases from returning, they could spread rapidly over large areas.

You know, this goes on and becomes like a litany of doom. So, one last thing I would say is, just breathe. [Laughs]

Contemplating the implications of climate change can strike you much like the Crash Course did for me – you know, that sense of doom, oh, my gosh, what do we do? Yes, many things will change, and we will have to adapt how we live. However, just because the challenges I have listed will continue to grow, they do not constitute a sudden catastrophe for the planet or human societies or you. More and more of the planet will be visited by increasing levels of environmental problems of the years past. It is not suddenly going to arrive one day in the future. It is already here, and it is just going to be central to the rest of our lives and the lives of every generation from now until our great-great grandchildren.

Climate change will not destroy civilization like some dinosaur-killing asteroid. It will function more like death by a thousand cuts, with increasing amounts of resources and capital diverted to climate adaptation and reconstruction activities. Things like bridges will wash out much more frequently, and we will have to rebuild them. Wise people would be actively trying to stop the bleeding.

Unfortunately, humanity does not seem capable of such wisdom, because, as in the recent re-broadcast by Dan Ariely, he points out that climate change is just too uncertain, too slow, too non-specific, and too intractable to register as a threat requiring immediate and costly action for most people. People are apparently as hard-wired to make irrational decisions about the future climate as they are about money.

As an individual or a community, you cannot stop or even slow climate change, but that does not mean that you are helpless. You can plan ahead, you can adapt, and you can stock up on Band-Aids for all the economic cuts and abrasions that are coming.

Chris Martenson: In Chapter 19 of the Crash Course, I noted that there were going to be multiple calls on our future cash flows and climate change, and uncertainly around that. This is certainly going to be one. I mean, all it takes is one major crop failure, and, you know, it is a very expensive proposition. Sandy was a very obvious, expensive proposition, but, really, it is the larger changes that are going to be super, super expensive. A large drought has an incalculable expense to it, and it is very high.

I have started doing a lot of the things you said in my own personal life. When I had a chance to put up a new building, I over-insulated it under the principle that heating and cooling it was going to be easier in any circumstance. When I am planting cultivars now around my house, I am really looking for ones that are very robust, that can deal with a 70-degree March and no rain in April, as well as they can deal with a late start until June.

It is just very hard to predict how things are going to react to these different swings. It has been a learning experience for me, and I am glad it has just been a learning experience. When I talk to local farmers, it has been extremely expensive and difficult and time-consuming.I It just feels like a constant battle, where the terms of the battle are becoming – the engagements are rising, rather than diminishing. It is not even as simple as saying, Well, now we have worked out hardy cultivars; let’s go. It just seems to constantly shift. We are just going to have to deal with that, which just means more and more resources towards managing our increasing chaotic world around us, rather than just coasting through it.

So, a lot of challenges coming up, and I know that we see a lot of young people very concerned about this, and people trying to figure out what they can do. And, one thing I could direct people to is, if you want to learn more about this very deep subject and you want to have a really nice reasoned conversation around it, you could start with the Definitive Global Climate Change thread, which is in our forum areas at Peak Prosperity. It is fourteen hundred comments long. Mark, is there any place you could direct to that in there, or is there an existing summary that has been gathered at this point?

Mark Cochrane: No, we do not anything that kind of summarizes the whole thing. At one point, we were trying to have someone help create an index. Starting out just at the beginning of the thread, some of the early posts more or less lay out the general issues. But what I would look for in there is just questions from people. It does not have to be highly technical, scientific questions. It is just, you know, what is happening and what is occurring. And if we have already covered it, we can try to direct people to those posts, and if we have not, I am happy to discuss it. And there are several other people that have been very good about posting very informative points of view on many aspects of climate change. So it is as much a support group as an information source.

Chris Martenson: I very much ascribe to it and was influenced by Dan Ariely’s views, which you mentioned, on how it is that people will, through a process of insight, confront certain changes of behavior and other things like that. And, unfortunately, as you mentioned, climate change itself is poorly suited to interact well with our human wiring. Our DNA blueprint seems wired for other sorts of threats more elegantly. And so, I have come to the conclusion, personally, that climate change is already afoot and it is happening. I cannot possibly predict how, what, where, when, you know, things are going to unfold, because the regional, local mileage is going to vary hugely in this story for all sorts of reasons that are as yet unpredictable.

It becomes a story, then, of figuring out how to manage within that. But certainly, some trends that can be extrapolated that are useful is to say, Well, it’s reasonably certain this is just going to cost us more money over time. It will be one of many things that is going to demanding our resources, our attention, our best and our brightest. So that is certainly a trend that I fully ascribe to at this point in time. Is that a trend, is that the way you see it, or is there another way that people can adapt to this at this point?

Mark Cochrane: No, I think that is basically it. It is sort of like when we look at Peak Oil. Here is a huge problem that we have basically failed to engage with as a culture. But it is still showing up, and we see it as increasing energy prices; those change the way we behave and what we can do. Well, with these sorts of environmental costs, we will do the same thing. We will just have less resources to do other things. So we will continually be adjusting and adapting as things go on.

To be aware of what is happening locally is your best bet. If you are going to stay in a region, try to learn what things are most likely going to be occurring in your area, so that you can try to set up a more resilient and robust living arrangement for those sorts of changes. But, yeah, it is going to be a work in progress. We are learning more and more, but we are going to be on this ride for a long time. You do not have to do everything today or change your life instantly. Ideally, we would have started this decades ago, as we should have with many of our current problems.

But we will adjust and adapt. And just because I or anyone else cannot see how we can possibly do something right now does not mean that we cannot possibly do something. Once we actually engage with a problem, there will be lot of more creative thought in how do we adjust society and all of our infrastructure to deal with the changes that are coming.

Chris Martenson: Absolutely, and as you mentioned, it will take decades to work through that, as well. These are gigantic infrastructure modifications that are going to have to take place; changes in behaviors that span decades, if not centuries, if not millennia in some cases. This is going to be a big project, it is going to be engaging for a long time, and, as you mentioned earlier, whether we choose to engage in it or not, it is with us and it will be with us for a long time, even if we somehow manage to stop all of our practices today. It will still take quite a while for this to stabilize and settle out.

So, there you have it. I invite people again, if you want to discuss more about this, to go to the Definitive Global Climate Change thread. Mark, it has been a real pleasure talking with you today.

Mark Cochrane: Thank you for having me on.

About the guest

Mark Cochrane

Dr. Mark Cochrane conducts interdisciplinary work combining ecology , remote sensing, and other fields of study to provide a landscape perspective of the dynamic processes involved in land-cover change. He is an expert on wildfire, documenting the characteristics, behavior and severe effects of fire in tropical and temperate forests that are inherent to current systems of human land-use and management. His research focuses on understanding spatial patterns, interactions and synergisms between the multiple physical and biological factors that affect ecosystems. Recently published work has emphasized the climate change, human dimensions of land-cover change and the potential for sustainable development. In his ongoing research program, Dr. Cochrane continues to investigate the drivers and effects of disturbance regime changes resulting from various forms of forest degradation, including fire, fragmentation and logging as well as the mitigating effects of forest management. He is currently the principle investigator of over $3.7 million in externally funded research grants designed to quantify fire mitigation effectiveness of billions of dollars of fuel treatment activities across the United States (JFSP), examine climate change and land management effects over the last century on vegetation structure and shifting fire regimes for the United States, Australia and Brazil (NASA), and determine the combined effects of land use change, conservation efforts and forest degradation on biodiversity throughout the Brazilian Amazon (NASA).  He holds a Ph.D. in Ecology from Pennsylvania State University and a S.B. in Environmental Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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101 Comments

HughK's picture
HughK
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 6 2012
Posts: 325
Thanks a lot, Chris and Mark!

Dear Mark and Chris,

Thanks very much for this interview.  As we develop our understanding of the major destabilizing shifts in our industrial civilization, summarized by Chris as the three E's, it is both helpful and important that we deeply consider the largest of these shifts - Environment, the source of our primary and secondary wealth.  

The depiction of the third E in the Crash Course is somewhat incomplete, as it focuses on mineral depletion and degradation of soil and fresh water and expressly sets global warming to the side in the second  paragraph of Chapter 18.  While mineral depletion and soil degradation are certainly important aspects of industrial humanity's impact on the environment, in geologic history the environmental trump card has often been climate and there is strong indication that this is true again today.  The systemic nature of a geologically rapid climate shift, along with a rapid acidification of our oceans, has so many important effects that a well-developed conception of the third E should at least include and most probably feature anthropogenic global warming.

So, while many geologists now refer to our current geologic age as the Anthropocene – the age of humans – for a number of reasons, including habitat destruction, air and water pollution, massive earth-moving projects, and others, the most important way in which humans are rapidly degrading the biosphere’s productivity is by forcing one of the fastest and most abrupt climatic warmings in geologic history.

Such an inclusion of anthropogenic global warming in the third E will make PeakProsperity's conception of the Environment more on par with the excellent analysis that Chris has done for the first 2 E's.  After all, who can understand contemporary shifts in the economy without at least a basic explanation of fractional reserve banking (i.e. growth and debt-based capitalism) and LSAPs (i.e Quantitative Easing)?  Who can understand major shifts in the Energy that powers our industrial civilization without a basic explanation of peak oil and declining EROI?  

In fairness to you, Dr. Martenson, you have always tried to keep the message of the Crash Course as non-divising and as pallatable as possible, and so it is certainly understandable that you might choose to set aside climate change in the earlier conceptions of the third E.  I write this post with the intent to encourage an ever improving conception of the three E's.

Quantitative easing has a systemic and pervasive effect on our financial and monetary systems and very likely will have unintended consequences, as Peak Prosperity has astutely demonstrated.  Passing the peak of global conventional crude oil production has a pervasive and systemic effect on our industrial and economic systems, yet in spite of the fact that we passed this peak almost 10 years ago (`05/`06), the conventional wisdom still holds that it’s not happening and that we are on the cusp of a new era of cheap and abundant fossil fuel energy in the form of nonconventional oil and gas.  In other words, even though passing the oil peak has already happened, and we can demonstrate that, the majority view in our civilization has not acknowledged this, which puts us at a disadvantage in terms of planning and adaptation of our energy systems.  While I had first read about peak oil and EROI before discovering Chris' Crash Course, that book was instrumental in my understanding of shifts in the Economy and Energy as well as helping me question my own paradigms and the dominant paradigms of our civilization.

In a similar vein, it is necessary to include anthropogenic global warming in a well-developed explanation of the major Environmental shifts triggered by the our global industrial civilization.  Not including AGW in the third E would be like trying to explain Economy without talking about the probable consequences of QE or trying to explain Energy without addressing the reality of passing Hubbert’s conventional global oil peak. 

So, it is ultimately both useful and necessary that we confront the causes, consequences and possible responses to climate change driven primarily by the anthropogenic forcings of our industrial civilization.  That is why this interview is such a constructive step towards bringing PeakProsperity’s conception of the third E – Environment – towards the very rigorous, comprehensive, and useful analysis that Chris and others here have developed to explain the Economy and Energy.

Thanks again, Chris and Mark!

-Hugh

LesPhelps's picture
LesPhelps
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 30 2009
Posts: 243
This topic never gets addressed without raising questions

Thanks for a lucid presentation of the topic.

This is one of my stumbling blocks.  Is the chart below telling me that the average Earth temperature over a longer time frame is 22 degrees celsius (72 degrees fahrenheit) and that a more normal atmostpheric CO2 level over the same time frame would be closer to 1000 ppm?  

NASA pegged the 2012 average Earth temperature at 14.6C (58.3F).  If this chart has any validity at all, we would seem to be in an abnormally low period for both temperature and CO2.  If we manage to stop anthropogenic climate change, what's to keep the Earth from warming up independent of our influence?

Inquiring minds and all that.

Stan Robertson's picture
Stan Robertson
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Joined: Oct 7 2008
Posts: 518
The rest of the summary:

Despite Mark saying that a summary of major developments on his thread, The Definitive Global Climate Change (aka Global Warming) Thread, is not available, it seems that he actually presented a fairly good summary of the points that he and others have made there concerning climate change. Chris did an excellent job of asking good questions, however, I wish that he had explored two others a bit further. The first is how do we know what the future is likely to bring. The second is, what effective mitigation actions can be taken. These have been discussed from many viewpoints on Mark's thread.

Mark mentioned that global average temperatures may rise by 4 C - 6 C and sea levels may rise by 2 meters by 2100. To obtain even 4 C by 2100, temperatures would have to rise at more 0.45 C per decade on average for the rest of the century. This is much larger than the rate of warming that has been observed in even the most recent decades. Why should we expect this to occur?

In view of the remarks about energy flows and balances, one might assume that the 4 C - 6 C expectations are based on mundane physics, but, as a physicist, I can say unequivocally that they are not. Those expectations are based on computer models of earth that have not been validated and are in increasing disagreement with actual observations. This has also been discussed in recent posts on Mark's thread.

Despite the prediction of a 2 meter rise of sea level by 2100, it should be noted that even the highest rates of mean sea level rise of recent decades do not extrapolate to more than about one foot of sea level rise by that time. Bearing in mind that about 85% of sea level rise is caused by ocean thermal expansion, even a 6 C increase of ocean surface temperature (and correspondingly less at greater depths) is inadequate to produce 2 meters of sea level rise by 2100.

I think it appropriate to say that the extreme numbers that were casually mentioned as expectations should be taken with a grain of salt. The models that produced them are of questionable validity, especially in view of the fact that the rate of global temperature increase has slowed to insignificance in this century. That brings up one last point; that there is no particular reason to expect a long term increase of climate variability without increase of temperature.

The second point needing elaboration is the issue of mitigation. The dominant human contribution to climate change would be that of increasing the atmospheric concentration carbon dioxide. The obvious mitigation measure should consist of reducing it, but it is a world-wide problem. It is not something that can be unilaterally stopped by the actions of any one nation. Carbon dioxide emissions of the U.S. have been reduced back to about 1992 levels in the last few years, primarily by switching the fuel for electric power generation from coal to natural gas. In the meantime, emissions from China, India and other nations has continued to increase at a rapid rate. If humans are to do anything more than merely adapt to the consequences of more carbon dioxide then we must address the problem on a worldwide basis.

Stan

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

Hugh,

As with all things related to the 3 E's, there needs to be balance in our responses and preparations. For me, the key to the Crash Course was the way that Chris was able to lucidly present so much material from the disparate realms of finance, energy, and environment in a systems context. He connects the dots and suddenly so many disparate pieces that were concerning me for some reason all fit together and made sense as a whole. Understanding how the pieces fit together is key to seeing the larger picture.

With regard to the Anthropocene, while it is true that our activities have become geologically important, with globally noticeable changes, it is a mark of our continued hubris to think that we warrant our own geologic epoch. If do not learn how to live within limits soon, our activities will look more like the K-T boundary than a geologic epoch to some future geological study 100 million years from now.

Mark

JMill's picture
JMill
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Posts: 4
Great chart


Doug's picture
Doug
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Posts: 2736
Stan

Your questions relating to projections of the effects of climate change are based on largely historical data without taking into consideration the accelerating effects we are actually witnessing, not least of which is the increasing rate of CO2 injections into the atmosphere.  I have seen projections elsewhere that have wide error bars that put Mark's projections about in the middle, maybe a little toward the high end.  Particularly salient here is that we just don't know how bad its going to get because we have never been here before.  Therefore, to me, the precautionary principle should prevail.  We need to stop doing what we're doing.  There is already considerable change baked into the planetary cake, why make it worse?  To that point, this paragraph is very relevant:

Quote:
The second point needing elaboration is the issue of mitigation. The dominant human contribution to climate change would be that of increasing the atmospheric concentration carbon dioxide. The obvious mitigation measure should consist of reducing it, but it is a world-wide problem. It is not something that can be unilaterally stopped by the actions of any one nation. Carbon dioxide emissions of the U.S. have been reduced back to about 1992 levels in the last few years, primarily by switching the fuel for electric power generation from coal to natural gas. In the meantime, emissions from China, India and other nations has continued to increase at a rapid rate. If humans are to do anything more than merely adapt to the consequences of more carbon dioxide then we must address the problem on a worldwide basis.

Unmentioned in the interview is that individual efforts to make our lives more resilient won't have much effect if we don't also take political actions individually and cumulatively.  True, one country can't fix it alone, but the US has been the global leader in many areas for more than half a century.  What other country is more suited to take a position of leadership?  Pres. Obama has made a small and halting step in that direction, but without all of us pounding on our reps in Congress, his individual leadership won't go far.  My Congressman, whose name will not be mentioned, but rhymes with (cough...Tom Reed of NY's 23rd Congressional District...cough), has been one of those whose environmental record (as he or one of his lackeys) wrote to me, consists of:

Quote:
When discussing the issue of climate change, it is important that the facts prevail. Using the data provided by the scientific community will provide our nation with the proper information and solutions as to how best to maintain a viable environment for economic growth.

This is the type of attitude that prevents anything of value being done.  Environment=economic growth.  OBTW, he is heavily hooked into the fossil fuel industry.  That won't change without massive public participation.  Just as with the huge problem of no banksters cooling their heels in prison for nearly destroying the world economy, little or nothing will be done without the public putting heat on Congress.

Chris and Mark, great interview.  I'm very heartened.

Doug

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Timing is everything

Hello Les,

You raise the important question of where we fit in the grand scheme of things on Earth. In the figure you present, you can see that through most of the last 600 million years there have been two roughly stable states, a hot world (22 C) and a cold world (12 C) with some fairly short transitional periods between them. Note, ice ages and interglacials (like now) actually make 'cold world' temperatures a squiggle up and down by about 5 C but on time scales too short to register on your figure which smoothes out changes in such short time scales - think 10 to 100 thousand years.

The hot world has been more common but every bit of human existence has been spent in 'cold world'. In fact all of primate history has been spent at or near cold world conditions. What gets lost in a graphic like the one you provide is the perspective of time. Can anyone really conceive of millions, or hundreds of millions of years in human terms? All of mankind's agricultural history has taken place in the last 10,000 years. Fossil fuel-driven society makes up only 150 years.

Transitions from hot world to cold world and vice versa have largely been linked with the long-term carbon cycle that is driven mostly by plate tectonics. In geologically active periods, where seas are spreading, volcanic activity beyond what we currently experience can release large amounts of carbon dioxide (slowly in human terms = millions of years), making hot world more likely. Conversely, continental collisions like India slamming into Asia cause massive uplifting (Himalayas) and chemical weathering of minerals that act to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere, making cold world more likely. This is a simplification of the process as the placement of the continents and oceans also play a role in changing the transfer of energy from ocean currents and the amount and type of vegetation (but see the figure for some perspective on vegetation on the time scales of your graphic).

The important thing for life (including us) isn't whether we are in cold or hot world, it is the rate at which things change. Slow change = adaptation and evolution. Fast change = collapse and extinction (for many species). Slowing from 100 km/h (60 mi/h) to a stop in 3-4 seconds (braking) is a very different experience from making that change in 3-4 milliseconds (crash). Through mitigation (e.g. reducing emissions rates) and adaptation (e.g. changing buildings, location, activities) we are doing the equivalent of trying to add and airbag into the equation. The airbag doesn't prevent the crash but it stretches out the time to adjust your speed from none to tenths of seconds. Not fun but survivable. Since we are currently driving at high speed in dense fog, at least taking our foot off of the fossil fuel accelerator would be wise (IMHO).

There are no guarantees that the planet will not snap into hot world regardless of what we do but those changes generally take millions of years to occur (rates of change we can deal with). We are currently causing what would look like an instantaneous temperature change on your figure. We have no geologic analogue for such a change so no one really knows what will happen. We do know that every life form on the planet will increasingly find itself living in the wrong climate. This is a recipe for nasty surprises.

Mark

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More physics

Doug wrote:

Your questions relating to projections of the effects of climate change are based on largely historical data without taking into consideration the accelerating effects we are actually witnessing, not least of which is the increasing rate of CO2 injections into the atmosphere.  I have seen projections elsewhere that have wide error bars that put Mark's projections about in the middle, maybe a little toward the high end.  Particularly salient here is that we just don't know how bad its going to get because we have never been here before.  Therefore, to me, the precautionary principle should prevail.  We need to stop doing what we're doing.  There is already considerable change baked into the planetary cake, why make it worse?  . .

.
Doug,

You are overlooking the physics of CO2. Its contribution to temperatures near the earth surface varies in proportion to the logarithm of its concentration in the atmosphere. The exponential increase of CO2 will cause temperatures to increase linearly with time. That rate of increase has been about 5% per decade for half a century and the linear trend of increasing temperatures for that period projects to about 1 C by 2100. That is astounding enough without hyping larger numbers that make no sense, no matter where you might have seen them. There is no physical reason to presently expect an accelerating rate of temperature increase. In fact, the opposite is occurrring. Further, as I have previously pointed out on Mark's thread, there is not a large temperature increase baked in because of thermal lag. About one decade is all that would be needed for surface temperatures to equilibrate if CO2 concentrations ceased to increase.

The other ill effects of more CO2 will continue to increase and probably will accelerate, and I agree that the precautionary principle should apply. But it would be prudent to be sure that the cost of insurance would not exceed the cost of the losses.

Stan

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What to Do.

I am amongst the upper quintile.

Every sentence caused a cascade of thoughts , far too many to keep track of them all.

But enough of being nice. Lets get the gloves off. I accuse Mark of denialism.

I have posted this picture of Strange Attractors up often in the context of our position in the Goldilocks zone, and nary a peep from Mark. He must know the significance of Chaos theory and its implications. Chaos theory was developed by climatologists. (Edward Lorenz).

So what to do about it? If life becomes non-viable on this planet and it is unable to support the oceans and atmosphere then we have to leave. How many will die? 100%. But we have to get Gaia back into the Goldilocks zone.

Compulsory reading : Anything by Professor James Lovelock and Dr Gerard K O’Neil.

Edit: I am assuming that you have all read your Gleick?

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Great podcast

Thanks Mark/Chris/Adam for this podcast, greatly appreciated.

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Backtrack.

I am amongst the upper quintile.

Oops. Let me re-phrase that.

I really enjoyed that talk. It was really intelligent

I am not intelligent. On the contrary, I am as thick as a plank. (That is plank, not M.Planck.) Why is english so hard?

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Rising tides

Hello Stan,

Just as with many estimates, you cannot make linear extrapolations of exponentially increasing changes and project them very far into the future with any accuracy. This has been discussed many times on this site and in the Crash Course when, for example, someone states that coal reserves are going to last for hundreds of years.

Experts estimate that the United States has about 265 billion tons of coal reserves. If we continue to use coal at the same rate as we do today, we will have enough coal to last 285 years. (source)

The problem is that will not keep using these or any resources at the same rate as today. Our population is increasing exponentially and so is our rate of increase in the use of resources, only more so because everyone is trying to live like we do in the United States.

Similarly, the oceans are rising, but they are rising at an increasing rate over time. Currently it is about 3 mm/yr but it used to be much slower. (Note GMSL means Global Mean Sea Level - from Church et al. 2008)

Global sea levels are changing for three main reasons.

1. Melting glaciers in Greenland, Antarctica and alpine areas all over the world that pour water currently perched as ice on land into the seas ( just over 50% of sea level increase)

2. Changing heat content of the oceans that results in thermal expansion of the water (just under 50% of the increase)

3. Changed water storage on land (pumping aquifers increases sea levels while dammed reservoirs decrease sea level - the net is a slight decrease)

From 1972-2008, sea level increased by 7 cm. If you assume that increase was linear then you would calculate an average rate of increase of 1.9 mm/yr. However, during the period from 1993-2008, sea levels have been increasing an average of 3 mm/yr. The figure below shows where the water is coming from (from Church et al 2011)

In terms of climate change the whole issue comes down to the energy balance of the planet. As long as we are gaining more energy from the sun than we are losing through radiated heat to space then the planet will warm, the ice will melt, and the seas will rise.

The last serious attempt to question the existence of global warming came from a team lead by physicist Dr. Richard Muller at Berkeley. His efforts were funded and assisted by the likes of the Koch brothers and Anthony Watts. They provided whole new analyses of everything and tested all of the 'skeptic' arguments for why global warming either wasn't real or at least wasn't caused by us. This is what Dr. Muller stated last year in a NYTimes Op-Ed that summed up the finding from 5 research papers.

CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.

.

.

How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does. (source)

Their analyses were all based on data from observations, not on any global climate models.

I agree that no one country can singlehandedly deal with this issue but waiting for everyone to agree on something is a losing proposition. China got tired of waiting for the US and they are at least attempting to do something.

China pilots programs to meet carbon targets

This year, alongside the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing as well as the regions of Guangdong and Hubei, Shenzhen is imposing greenhouse gas targets on hundreds of companies, ranging from power plants to airport operators. The goal is to develop a national carbon market over the next decade that could help put the brakes on the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter.

“China has internationally pledged 2020 climate targets,” observes Chai Hongliang, an analyst at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, an Oslo-based information-provider specializing in carbon markets. He is referring to a commitment first made by China ahead of the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks to reduce its economy’s overall carbon emissions per unit of GDP to 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. “It has two ways to reach the target: shut down factories in the last months of 2020 or use more market-based approaches like emissions trading,” Chai adds. (source)

We've run out of excuses for not addressing climate change.

Mark

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The Butterfly effect

Hello Arthur,

Yes I have read Gleick's book on Chaos Theory and I actually had the good fortune to attend a lecture on the discovery of the so-called Butterfly Effect by Professor Ed Lorenz himself while I was at MIT.

Weather is chaotic but although there are chaotic elements of the climate system (e.g. El Niño), on the whole the chaos comes out in the wash, so to speak.

There is a good piece on this over at Skeptical Science (link)

Weather is chaotic because air is light, it has low friction and viscosity, it expands strongly when in contact with hot surfaces and it conducts heat poorly. Therefore weather is never in equilibrium and the wind always blows. The climate is mostly explained by equilibrium radiation physics, which puts the brakes on variations in global temperatures. Effects from weather, the Sun, volcanoes etc. currently only causes a small amount of chaotic behavior compared to the deterministic, predictable greenhouse gas forcing for the next 100 years"

Mark

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The Mushroom Opening.

At the risk of embarassing myself further, that does not address the problem of the Strange Attractor concept Mark.

The conditions that exist on our planet orbit (Mathematicaly) around what we consider to be normal. But as the climate swings further and further out from from it's locus it can bifarcate chaoticaly into a new normal. (The over-used tipping point metaphore).

These loci are called Strange Attractors. The climate on an asteroid orbits (mathematicaly) a strange attractor. In other words it's climate changes but only within a small range. The climate and chemistry of Venus also orbits a SA., And Mars and so on and so forth.

The conditions on Earth will be captured by a different Strange Attractor if its (Mathematical) orbit strays too far as is illustrated by the Lorenz diagram.

The conditions on earth are very unstable, and are held at a condition favourable to life by life with powerful feedback loops. The other dead planets are much more stable and they are not likely to migrate to a different Strange attractor.

As our sun heats up by converting hydrogen into helium the Goldilocks zone migrates outward. Rumour has it that we are flirting with the inner (Hot) edge. The mechanism that life has used to control the temperature has been to sequester CO2 as the temperature increases. We are now down to the last 280 ppm. This trick is failing, leading to the (Geologicaly) recent wild flutuations in temperature. The glacials and interglacials.

And then the Ape comes on the scene and releases the stored carbon.

My contention is that the Ape is the last hope for Gaia. We are a subsystem of the whole organism and our sole purpose is to move Gaia back into the Goldilocks zone. Obviously we cannot take the rock with us.

This concentration of wealth that I see is analogous to the fruiting body of a fungus when the moment is ripe for it to spore. This effort is going to consume the Mother. That phenomenon has its parrallels in nature too.

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The Earth is Heating Up More Quickly

Stan is correct that warming has slowed in the last 15 years but that is only part of the story, and related only to surface temperature. Due to an increased uptake of heat in the oceans, the earth, as a whole, has actually warmed more quickly over the last 15 years than previously. See also Foster and Rahmstorf who have tried to adjust data for temporary factors and show that underlying surface warming hasn't slowed.

Stan is also correct that this is a global problem that needs a global strategy. It is pointless targetting individual country emissions when we live in a global economy. The US may crow about the decrease in emissions there but they don't include all emissions related to economic activity, or daily life, in that country, given the high emissions in countries that produce a lot of their goods and services.

I don't expect China to lead the way. The best they could come up with is to try to reduce their carbon intensity. That is, they still intend to increase emissions because they intend to keep growing their economy but they will try hard to reduce the carbon emitted per unit of GDP. Not good enough, given the problems we face with CO2, CH4, other greenhouse gases and with feedback loops, many of which have been kicked off recently.

Tony

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Has humanity profited from cheap energy?

First, I read a book on the subject a few years back that included a decision tree I still remember:

1. Is the globe warming? No -> Do nothing.

2. Is the warming anthropogenic? No -> Nothing to be done.

3. Is the warming good or bad? Good -> Do nothing.

4. Can we impact the warming? No -> Do nothing.

5. Is reducing or stopping the warming worth the cost of the required changes? No -> Do nothing.

Yes -> Change immediately.

The book "Climate of Extremes" was written by AGW believers, but outlines the shenanigans and inaccuracies that have surrounded this hot topic.  That, however, is not why I mention the book.  In the last chapter, the authors talk about the benefits that humanity has received by taking advantage of cheap energy.  They talk about our life span almost doubling and world population increasing to a level entirely unlikely without cheap energy.  Also mentioned are the medical and technological advances that have made our lives what they are today.  The authors talk about the billions of human lifetimes that we have gained.  They then touch on the potential cost in lives that would occur were we to try to implement any meaningful plan to combat CO2 on a global scale.

This is not a topic that I see come up frequently in the AGW debate.  I found the entire book entertaining, but the last chapter was thought provoking.  Do we turn off airconditioners in the summer in the retirement communities of Arizona.  If so, how many lives will be lost.

I have to come out and say that, yes, 7 billion people are changing the face of our tiny planet.  I do not believe Earth's carrying capacity is nearly that large.  I could mention dozens of examples of humans changing the planet without having to resort to controversial computer models.  Do a google search on "Pacific Garbage Patch" and look at the images.  I'll leave it at one example, although I could add dozens.

I don't think AGW or any of the damaging things that are certainly happening to this planet can or will be addressed until our population is back down to a more reasonable level.  Certainly, we don't have the global political climate necessary to try to implement changes while maintaining our current population.

Debating whether AGW is happening or not is entertaining and distracting, but what can it practically accomplish?  I believe some of the other issues that this website addresses are going to impact humanity far sooner than AGW can become critical.  It appears the first giant shoe will be the debt bubble, followed by much more expensive energy and therefore food and everything else.  Clearly, environmental issues will come into play and already are.

However, the changes necessary to reduce AGW are going to be forced on us by circumstances, rather than implemented by intelligent politics.  Now there is an oxymoron as entertaining as military intelligence!

Les

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This Podcast was a long time coming...

...and every word spoken a delight. This message is ongoing and Dr.Cochrane represented extremely well. Count me as a huge fan. I love shell food and by the looks of the demand for the stuff I would imagine some serious changes of behavior will have to be contemplated. Oh my, will we ever have changes. Mankind's glutonous ways and nature finally pushing back. I love how Mother Nature solves these simple math problems.

Man is gauranteed nothing and owes much. "May your conscious be your guide" were words spoken to me my whole life and I know they served me well. I am not perfect but I strive to be. It's in the striving that we succeed, ever so slowly.

Mark, love you Brother, just simply do. Thank you.

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Hell, I risk nothing as I always embarrass myself...

I will quote from Mark later. Arthur, I do believe I understood you, every word! Yeah surprised the heck out of me also, on the first read too!!. Mark too and I just have to keep things simple so without further delay a quote from Mark that takes all of these truly great threads down to its simplist form for me. I ask one question after your read: What can I do so my conscious is clear that I did my utmost because when I meet the BIG GUY I have got to say I did my level best. If there is a BIG GUY. I hedge all bets so am a believer in the BIG GUY. Mark's quote:

"There are no guarantees that the planet will not snap into hot world regardless of what we do but those changes generally take millions of years to occur (rates of change we can deal with). We are currently causing what would look like an instantaneous temperature change on your figure. We have no geologic analogue for such a change so no one really knows what will happen. We do know that every life form on the planet will increasingly find itself living in the wrong climate. This is a recipe for nasty surprises."

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Aquifers in decline

I live in the area of Southern Minnesota/Northen Iowa that got severe drought in 2012 and excess rains/snow in spring 2013. What I noticed was so devastating as crops died in the heat in 2012 then in spring 2013 - less than half the fields didn't get planted. ONLY a HANDFUL of farmers DIDN'T see the stress caused by the extreme weather and I wrote about the differences between them and HOW some fields survived and others didn't.

What I see is that the commercial farm system is creating its own demise via not following standard crop rotation and crop covers. I wrote about it on:

http://MyBackAchers.com/PlowPan.pdf

I attributed the declining aquifer, the extreme crop loss and increasing flooding to farmers development of plow and hard pan because they lack crop rotation and the loss of deep rooted trees.

If the big commercial farmer doesn't change their practices, this condition will be seem more wide-spread than we are seeing now.

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Future Climate

Mark,

I'm really glad to see this presentation, as it is to me, a collision of two of my favorite thinkers.
As you know, I work on the "chaos" side, trained as a meteorologist, so my thoughts on large scale climate tend to start at the micro-scale and expand to the macro. When assessing for any for of climate variation that takes humans (even on the fringe) out of the 'Goldilocks" zone, my mind turns quickly towards the following questions:
1. What organisms will thrive under such conditions?
1.a. Flora?
1.b. Fauna?

2. What impacts will the expansions of Flora and Fauna from point 1 bring to eco-ststems/eco-regions?

3. How will the increased population of certain types of fauna impact net atmospheric CO_2?
3.b. How will it affect albedo? Climate classifications, etc?

While I'm not as advanced in my studies, some of the general principles that I consider are:
- Increased temperature is going to cause a net increase of positive atmospheric vorticity. For the non-science people, convection, and surface based confluence which means the air is traveling upwards.
- Increased temperature is going to allow for higher water vapor content at all elevations, and thus, provides the opportunity for increased cloud cover and cloud formation.
- This in turn, creates a layer of strong albedo at the level of condensations (cloud formation)
- This would keep the surface warmer, cool the mid and upper levels of the atmosphere (700-200MB) and trap a lot more humidity at the surface. It may also flatten the thermal gradient over large, semi-uniform regions, such as the great plains.

These thoughts are my cursory 'projections' on how an higher aggregate temperature might begin influencing patterns of weather in terms of things people can easily envision. I'd like to start tying things like oceanic CO_2 to algael blooms, and the net impact that those might have on ocean life, the types of flora that thrive in a CO_2 dense environment and how the biology and atmospheric sciences will tie together.

If you have the time, would you mind talking on some of these points? And please, this isn't directed only at Dr. Cochrane, I'd like to hear theories from anyone with background in the sciences.

I imagine that any climate change will be a continuation of the ongoing process of natural selection.
Cheers, and thank to both Chris and Mark for this presentation!
Aaron

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the future of food

Thanks Mark & Chris -- great discussion!  

As for the challenges of growing food in a climate-destabilizing world, I think a combination of perennials-based permaculture (e.g., Mark Shepard), wild-food gathering (e.g., Samuel Thayer), and resilient small-scale annuals (e.g., Carol Deppe) has the best chance.  ...So let's do it!  :-)

See my essay http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-03-11/when-agriculture-stops-work....

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Chill Units for Texas Gulf Coast

I have recently been researching what fruit trees I can plant this fall. Here, along the Texas Gulf Coast, one of the major limiting factors for selecting fruit trees is winter chill units (or lack thereof). In order to get an idea of what the winter chill units of my area I used a formula based on average temperature in the month of January. Using historical temperature records from a local Airforce base, here is what I found:

2004-2013 = 588 chill units

1994-2003 = 621 chill units

1984-1993 = 721 chill units

1974-1983 = 777 chill units

1964-1973 = 732 chill units

1954-1963 = 765 chill units

In 1950, the far left column on the chart above, there were 0 chill units that winter. Unfortunately, I was unable to get any weather data prior to 1950.

So the trend in this area seems to be a significant loss of average chill units over each ten-year period. Based on this data, I've decide that the majority of my fruit trees should be low chill varieties (200-400 chill units).

My area is getting warmer, which is good for my citrus trees, but limits my ability to grow stonefruits, apples, etc.

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Thanks for doing this

I agree totally with the first comment above - Hugh K.  I assume that CM has tried to avoid this "ontroversial" issue, but it really needs to come front and center at this site.  I just want to put in my two cents.  I can't give enough applause for this happening.  I think this site is really blessed to have Mark on board too.  

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Kudos to PP.com for This Interview

This outstanding interview with Mark Cochrane in one fell swoop set right the single glaring shortcoming of PP.com. I hope there will be more of this sort of content in the future.

And if it results in some leaving the site I suspect it will those whose grasp of the 3Es was pretty tenuous anyway.

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Let's be nonlinear here

Mark Cochrane wrote:

Hello Stan,

Just as with many estimates, you cannot make linear extrapolations of exponentially increasing changes and project them very far into the future with any accuracy. . . .

Hi Mark,

OK, let's take your chart above. Fit the increase of sea level since 1870 to an exponential function and extrapolate it until 2100, and that yields a 1.6 ft increase from the present level. My point was that the extreme numbers that you casually throw out are simply not credible. Now is a 1.6 ft sea level rise a problem? Of course it is, but choosing the correct policy options to deal with it is not helped by unbelievable numbers.

Stan

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The origin of Climate Change

I miss this guy!

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Bifurcation

Arthur,

Might we have pushed the climate into a different path of a strange attractor such as illustrated in your first post that could send the world more quickly back to 'hot' world? Yes. But consider this, we could also have retracked to take several more laps around the 'cold' track as well. Our knowledge of the system is too limited to be sure of either outcome but regardless, the more that we perturb the climate system the greater the chance for nonlinear surprises.

Throughout 100's of millions of years the climate of the planet has been remarkably stable and, as per Lovelock, life certainly has played a large role in this process. I am not so concerned about 'life' continuing on whether we stay in or slip out of what we consider the current 'Goldilocks' zone. Life survived the Oxygen Catastrophe, Snowball Earth, the PETM, K-T dinosaur killing event etc. We've got multicellular life living miles deep  in rock, and extremophile bacteria in all sorts of hostile environments. Sterilizing the planet is going to take a lot more than we are dishing out.

The question is how big of a reset button are we pushing. We could make a mess of things that lasts thousands or millions of years but as Lovelock showed with Daisyworld, life can modify albedo as well as atmospheric conditions. Life will go on, but will we be going with it?

We tend to think that we are 'special'. Some culmination of life. However, in a Gaian context we are an experiment. I have speculated along the lines that you mention as to our potential role. Could we be the 'saviors' of life by making sure that we do not keep all of our eggs in this one planetary basket (as per Robert Heinlein) until chance or the sun gobble us up (as it converts to a Red Giant billions of years hence)? Yes, but then again we might just be a blip on the evolutionary timeline.

This is great philosophical debate but for human society in the here and now the concerns are much more immediate. If we cannot even get things right on this planet then there is little hope that we would do better on a less hospitable one if we could get to it.

Mark

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Reminder: Adaptation and Relocation Thread

I know a very vocal minority will be stepping out to express their disappointment wirh Dr. Martenson covering this subject with Dr. Cochrane.

But just remember the difficulty in getting your friends and neighbors to accept the explanations and findings of the Crash Course, and the consequences and necessary actions they imply... and you can have a rough idea of how people dependent on the current economic course may resist the theory of climate change.

So I want to remind everyone that we have a thread for already convinced, like-minded people to get started on talking about Adaptation and Relocation actions and thoughts and information-sharing.

Climate Change: Adaptation / Relocation

http://www.peakprosperity.com/forum/climate-change-adaptation-relocation/73394

Poet

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A worthwhile read!

Interesting read from MyBachAchers on that link.

Farming as currently practiced by industrial agriculture is actually a mining operation. I knew of some of the issues but I did not understand the literal depth of the impacts. Yet another illustration of how emphasis on short term profits leads to long-term suffering.  Talk about diminishing returns on growing investments. How much of our petroleum energy inheritance will we end up having wasted to no good purpose?

Mark

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Mark Cochrane
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Need a time frame to have in mind

Hello Aaron,

Just lobbing out a few soft balls eh? I'll try to do justice to your questions but the answers all have to be placed in the context of when? Short term winners and losers will differ from longer term adjustments.

All life is where it is as a function of being adapted to the given climate, soils/terrain and other life forms. When we talk about climate change we are talking about disturbance to existing ecosystems, much like a hurricane or a fire. The difference is that the disturbance is global but variable in intensity and form (e.g. drought, flooding, disease, landslides etc). Responses will depend on the scale, intensity and frequency of the 'disturbed' conditions.

In ecology we group organisms by what are termed r- and K-selected species (summary here). K-selected species are those that are best adapted to conditions that are more stable. They invest more energy in reproduction of fewer but more successful offspring. They are more specialized to exploit a given niche. The r-selected species are pioneering/weedy species. They blast out millions of eggs/seeds and let chance lead to success. They are not as well adapted to specific conditions but they are poised to exploit any disturbance.

With regard to your questions:

1. What organisms will thrive under such conditions?

Anything that has wide dispersal capability, many propagules/offspring, fast growth and short generational times. As long as the rate of climate change exceeds the dispersal capability and generational reproduction rates of larger/longer lived species the balance will be in favor of disturbance adapted species.

1.a. Flora? - species we typically think of as weeds and invasives will have a field day as existing ecosystems become more stressed and frequently disturbed.

1.b. Fauna? - Simpler forms that are generalists in their eating habits with short generations and many offspring. Boom and bust populations are likely (think rabbits in Australia; mountain pine beetles in western North America). Organisms like bacteria can adapt quickly because they have very short reproduction cycles that allow rapid micro-evolution under strong selection pressure. In multicellular life forms, insects, rodents and other species that can get multiple clutches/litters in per year will be favored.

2. What impacts will the expansions of Flora and Fauna from point 1 bring to eco-ststems/eco-regions? The expansions of species from item #1 will in some cases be the harbingers of change (mountain pine beetles killing forests) and in others simply be the symptoms imbalances in the energy availability of ecosystems or predator/prey ratios.

3. How will the increased population of certain types of fauna impact net atmospheric CO_2? This is all location and rate of change dependent but globally the net impact, initially at least, is likely be a positive feedback where more CO2 is released to the atmosphere. This comes in terms of less forests, faster decomposition rates from soil carbon, melted permafrost allowing decomposition of stored carbon etc.

3.b. How will it affect albedo? Climate classifications, etc? This really getting out on the speculative ledge but forests are generally darker than grasses so less this means a negative forcing on land as more sunlight gets reflected. However loss of glaciers around the Earth changes surfaces from white to bare soil which increases thermal energy uptake. Loss of sea ice (especially in the Arctic) yields a large uptake in thermal energy. Sea level rise covers more land and also leads to more sunlight stored as heat. Net global is likely to result in increased warming in the short-to-midterm (decades to millennia). As climate begins to stabilize then this can change once life starts to catch up with the new conditions and ecosystems consolidate.

In terms of your postulated changes to the hydrological cycle, it is noteworthy that an increased rate of weathering is likely that would expose new minerals more rapidly and accelerate the long term carbon cycle, potentially taking up more carbon from the atmosphere on century to millennia time scales.

The take home here is that it is the rate of change that is the problem. Once things get more stable then there is time for life-forms that are better adapted to higher CO2 to potentially benefit (e.g. C3 versus C4 plants, non-calcium carbonate dependent ocean species ).

Mark

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At this point...

...Washington State weather is like Texas weather 20 years ago.  And Texas is getting pretty unbearable in the summer.  Things are heating up.

Q.E.D.

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Good question?

Les,

I have not read the "Climate of Extremes" book you mention but I was wondering if they covered a few other questions?

The authors talk about the billions of human lifetimes that we have gained.  They then touch on the potential cost in lives that would occur were we to try to implement any meaningful plan to combat CO2 on a global scale.

Did they consider that we may not have actually 'gained' any human lifetimes? We might merely have taken them from the future. As you mention, the Earth's carrying capacity for human life is currently being exceeded and is dependent on the lifestyles that we live. The longer we live above the carrying capacity of the planet the more of our future seed corn we are eating. Carrying capacity is dropping every year.

Also, did they calculate the potential cost in lives of NOT implementing any meaningful plan to combat CO2 increases at a global scale? It seems that without that calculation you cannot meaningfully evaluate if the potential costs would be money well spent. There are a host of intergenerational ethics involved but would billions of lives lost in the short term be worth a hundred future generations of humanity?

Is there really any choice involved other than timing? The petroleum age will become increasingly hard to maintain as EROEI decreases. 'Action' simply means choosing to reduce our usage before such austerity is forced upon us by diminishing returns on energy invested. Similarly, population control will happen, the only question is whether we will try to manage it ourselves or just let nature sort us out.

I believe some of the other issues that this website addresses are going to impact humanity far sooner than AGW can become critical.  It appears the first giant shoe will be the debt bubble, followed by much more expensive energy and therefore food and everything else.  Clearly, environmental issues will come into play and already are.

I completely agree with you and have stated so previously. The financial crisis is the most acute problem but also the least difficult (not easy) to adjust to. The financing exacerbates the energy issues and ultimately force us to change the way we live and how many of us can live here. As unimaginable as it is for petro-man to envision life without energy subsidies, until 150 years ago we had no idea we were lacking this irreplaceable resource. Major trauma will ensue but decreased energy availability is survivable for human society. Environmental issues (including climate change) are the easiest to ignore but the most fundamental predicaments that we face. The finance and energy issues are the key 'Limits to Growth' but destabilizing the climate changes the 'Limits to Life'. Can human societies adjust to that? I do not know.

At present I have to agree with your sentiment about the unlikelihood of concerted global action on AGW. We have proven to be a generation typified by 'No sacrifice is too small to be endured at any cost'. We have privatized benefits to the present and socialized costs (debt, energy, environment) to the future. Despite this, I have to believe that if human ingenuity can be focused to address our collective predicament then we can accomplish much more than we currently think is possible.

Has humanity profited from cheap energy? That is a very good question, many humans (including us) have profited, but humanity? Like many investments, I think that the answer will depend on when you check your returns against the costs.

Mark

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Good adaptation!

JAG,

That is really interesting! I am used to thinking in terms of growing degree days but hadn't seen anything in chilling units. I think that you are making wise decisions for the management of orchard crops in your region. We will increasingly have to adapt to shifting climate baselines.

Mark

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No argument we are stealing from the future

Mark,

I was summarizing from memory only a few points that the authors made in the last chapter of the book.

For me personally, I believe that, with or without climate change, we are devastating the carrying capacity of the planet already and will do far more damage before any new balance can be achieved.  It is likely that when we come out the other side of this overshoot, the Earth's carrying capacity for a long time will be a small percentage of what is was before the overshoot.  I also don't believe the capacity was anywhere near 7 billion to begin with.

But I don’t believe we know enough to put climate change at the top of the environmental issues that are going to result in reduced carrying capacity.  Fit it in with destroying fisheries, polluting the ocean, air and ground water, soil erosion, deforestation, extinction, non-renewable resource depletion and covering our planet with really ugly concrete structures.

I think it’s hard to predict what we will see as the most devastating issue 100 years from now.

I’ve done everything a devout climate change believer would do in order to reduce CO2.  It’s just that I’ve done it because Peak Oil seriously scares me.  From that perspective, converting me becomes solely a philosophical battle.

Regards.

 
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Congratulations for Acknowledging Climate Change

I have nothing but praise for this excellent interview and Chris' willingness to deal openly with the issue. It definitely belongs as part of the "third E".  Mark, you do an excellent job of presenting a very complex topic in an understandable fashion. The process you described of producing the IPCC report was especially helpful and new to me.

It might also be interesting to investigate some of the reasons for our unwillingness to accept and deal with issues which are even now having a profound impact on all our lives.  I submit climate change is much like the issue of smoking and health.

  1.  Smoking is extremely pleasurable once one becomes addicted.  Burning fossil fuels has led to the greatest accumulation of wealth and comfort humankind has ever known.
  2. There was an enormous amount of profit to be made in the tobacco business and that is true today in the energy sector.
  3. Folks making such profits wish to continue this for as long as possible and use their wealth to influence legislation and public opinion.
  4. Short of some miraculous new technology, or adaptative process as yet undiscovered, we can’t solve our problem unless we quit smoking or drastically reduce our emissions.
  5. Drastic emissions reductions mean a simpler way of living for all of us, especially those of us who have acquired the most since we are the primary carbon emitters. Stopping smoking means withdrawal pain and deprivation. Both consequences will be very unpleasant in the short term.

It took a very long time before the cumulative weight of scientific evidence and a supportive mainstream media persuaded most of us to quit smoking.  Eventually the tobacco industry was forced to pay massive penalties for the damage done.  Our health has improved as a result.

Hopefully more and more voices will be raised to support the need for climate change action until their cumulative weight will be overwhelming.  We can only hope that we have the time for that to happen.  A huge amount of change is already baked into the cake.

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Sex and the Single Cell.

I wouldn't bother going down another gravity well if I got out of this one, Mark

Besides which, contrary to the expectations of Starwars, Heinlein and the other SF writers I am willing to bet a bottle of Hooch that Wells had it spot on. If we even so much as touched another living planet all hell would break loose. We have evolved in this organism and this Gaia accomodates us. 

A self-similar model is a white blood cell in our body.If you put it in the body of an elephant bad things happen.

We might conceive ourselves to be the bees knees, but all the action happens at the microscopic level. Some absurd amount of what you consider to be "you" is only related to you in the same way that the rest of the biome is. We are walking swamps. Any intercourse with another planet would probably turn both parties into slime.

Speaking of which, Sex is the way to go. All these monocultures are going to be in big trouble. 

But if you think that your neighbour is promiscous, she hasn't got anything on microbes. They are over the top. 

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What Will Get Us First?

I used to think that resource shortages and then financial matters would hit us hard well before environmental problems. However, I've seen human capacity to extend and pretend and don't think debt and other financial matters are likely to be the trigger for a major decline or collapse of societies. Resource shortages might be but there is always the possibility of John Michael Greer's catabolic collapse, where empires/societies contract and feed on themselves, recycling resources already extracted. For sure more and more people will be discarded and left to fend for themselves, if they can, but some semblance of BAU could go on for a long time. A country or state defaulting here or there will just start them on some kind of recovery.

Environmental collapse, though, is global and on-going. It cannot be glossed over, except on blogs and in governments. It is certainly well within the bounds of possibility that environmental collapse (whether it is climate change, ocean death, or something else) could deal the killer blow. As Mark mentioned, much of the deterioration is going exponential, despite some people casting doubt. We're in unchartered territory as regards the environment, and with population still growing (and not really showing signs of slowing down, as it had been in the early part of this century), there seems to be no prospect of the environment improving or even stabilising.

Definitely a much neglected topic here and, hopefully, this marks the beginning of better coverage.

Tony

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hmmm

Stan,

It's a little difficulty to transpose your numbers.  5% of what?  Are you talking temperature or CO2 increases?  But, whatever, your temperature numbers are not consistent with the numbers here:

http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-temperature-correlation-basic.html

Quote:
“According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)…the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8°Celsius (1.4°Fahrenheit) since 1880. Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade."

Based on those numbers, at the rate of less than the last 40 years, temperatures should go up about 1.35 to 1.8C by 2100.  But, there is no guarantee that the rate of increase for the last 40 years will remain consistent for the next 87 years.  That rate of warming is dependent on not only CO2 increases, but also methane, H2O and other ghgs, which will change with feedback effects.

At any rate, this discussion is more appropriate for the climate change thread except to note that Mark's observations that projections need to include a wide range of variability given the complexity of the climate system.  Relying on minimal increases is not a good way to plan for the future in such an environment.

Doug

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log exponential function of a linear variable is linear

Doug wrote:

Stan,

It's a little difficulty to transpose your numbers.  5% of what?  Are you talking temperature or CO2 increases?  But, whatever, your temperature numbers are not consistent with the numbers here:

http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-temperature-correlation-basic.html

Doug,

Skepticalscience has a tendency to fail to state things clearly. Let me repeat, the temperature effect of increasing CO2 varies logarithmically with concentration. The concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere is what is increasing exponentially, at 5% per decade. If continued, the concentration will double in 14 decades. If that causes the temperature to increase by X, then it would increase by X each time the concentration doubles. That number, X, is known as the "climate sensitivity". On the basis of their computer models, the IPCC in its last assessment report estimates X to be somewhere between 2 C and 4.5 C. Their next report will considerably decrease these numbers. If the rate of warming remained in the range 0.15 - 0.2 C per decade for the next 87 years, the temperature would increase by 1.3 C - 1.7 C by 2100. But in actual fact, the average rate of temperature increase has only been 0.07 C per decade for the last century and has been less that that for the last 15 years.

Finally, it is agreed by alarmists and skeptics alike that the direct effect of CO2 on surface temperatures would be about  X = 1.3 C for a doubling of CO2. The rest of the contributions to a larger X would have to be produced by net positive feedback effects. These have been included in the models, but have not been verified. As Roy Spencer stated, the models may have passed peer review for publication, but none have been verified to have any predictive power for the future. A careful assessment of the models for this purpose has been ongoing for a good while and may be completed within another twenty years.

I agree with you, that relying on minimal estimates is not a good way to plan for the future, however; hyping large numbers is a poor strategy as well. I find it refreshing that you think that this discussion would be best conducted on the climate change thread, however, I would guess that a majority of its readers don't believe that skeptical views should be permitted there. I agree that it would be a more appropriate forum, but I didn't feel that 6 C temperature increase and 2 meter sea level rise by 2100 should go without comment.

Stan

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Vocal minority

Part of the vocal minority deciding to not be very vocal, just irritated.

- Jim

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My Thoughts on Climate Change

Thank you all for keeping this conversation civil, factual, and educational.

My relative absence from the Climate Change arena reflects very little about my own views on the matter scientifically, but quite a lot about my views on the utility of the AGW story to lead to the sorts of changes I desire to see in the world.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely convinced me that humans have a certain amount of hard wiring and that wiring responds better to some threats than others.  If we want people to take something seriously enough to change their behaviors, then the threat we are describing is most powerful if it:

  1. Has a face.  We combat things like Hitler, Saddam, even wolves, because they are easy to identify in our brains.  We are less successful with things like climate change, because there's nothing we can see and touch directly. There is no single foe to defeat.  Worse, the only face we can legitimately attach to the issue is the one we see in the mirror every morning.
  2. Is immediate and visible. The nearer and more immediate the threat, the faster we respond to it.  A saber tooth tiger gets more of our attention than a slowly advancing (or retreating) glacier.  We will dive into a body of water to save a drowning child we see, but barely give a second thought to children dying halfway around the world from fully preventable causes.  Evolutionarily this makes perfect sense, but it is a distinct liability for a species with the ability to fundamentally deplete resources that took hundreds of millions of years to accumulate over a few hundred years.  Similarly, discussions about potential changes in 2100 tend to lose a lot of people.
  3. Is concrete.  Statistical arguments really lose most people.  Even the idea of smoking, with its very high statistical chance of leading to illness and premature death, is not compelling enough to get people to quit or to not take it up at all.  The point here is that humans do better with certainty than with uncertain arguments, even though statistical methods are really solid and businesses and financial people use them every day to great effect.  Uncertain, or statistical, arguments are far less effective than you might expect based on the (severity) x (likelihood) outcome of some things like climate change.
  4. Is something we can control.  This means we have some sense of agency in the cause.  If it's something that we feel we have very little control over, that serves to blunt our tendency towards action.  The things we can control are the ones we react to best and with the most vigor.  What sense of control does any one person have in the climate change story given that most think that even if their entire nation gave up burning fossil fuels, China would simply do it instead?  

As I've said many times, I am completely agnostic as to why somebody does something, only that they do it.  If one person installs solar hot water because it is a good investment, and another does it because this is a great way to put less carbon in the atmosphere, those are completely identical actions to me.  No difference.

If I put in fruit trees because I wish to bolster my neighborhood's food security (true), and my neighbor has put in fruit trees after seeing mine because they remind him of how much he enjoyed their blossoms as a boy (true), these are completely identical actions to me.  No difference between them. 

By dropping my requirement that people do things for the same reason that I do them, and letting them do them for their own reasons, I have opened up a much wider set of possible avenues to engage people and to support their concrete actions.  

Of course, once people discover that there are many changes that one can make that require very little in the way of modifying living habits, save money, save energy, and are good for the environment, then I believe that there's a far greater chance that more and more people will resonate with these actions and want to try them out for themselves.  

So....I happen to believe that all of the myriad ways that 7 billion people are changing the ecosystems of the world are quite serious and deserve our very best attention, and that it is my job to discover and continue to refine the very best ways to reach the most people and support their taking concrete actions.

As it happens, personal resilience and community engagement are very neatly aligned with the same actions that climate change would have us undertake, but they seem to offer a tougher path to personal change than other ones.  

Perhaps there's another way to see this, but this line of thinking explains why I have not chosen to make it the central argument for change, or even close to a central argument.

All that said, I am deeply grateful that the conversation is being held, and that dedicated people are looking closely at the matter, as I am glad there are scientists and activists concerned with every corner and facet of our earth's ecosystems and denizens.  

I fully welcome the conversation happening here and am 100% open to any and all ideas about how to re-frame any and every issue that we think could or should be motivational (if not aspirational) towards changing behaviors so that we can create a world worth inheriting.

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Thanks Chris

Chris, if I understand you correctly, what you're saying is that it is better to be proactive than reactive and that the reason for doing so isn't as important as the action taken. Is that right? Whether a person responds more to the threat of economic collapse, resource depletion, climate change or any other interest (nostalgia!) isn't the most important factor - just that a positive change is made. Your focus in your work is to be as inclusive as possible in order to spread the word as much as possible.

Economic issues are the most concrete and immediate of the three E's for the general population. I would place resource depletion a distant second and climate change an even more distant third. My sense is that this is, in general, the weight given to the issues covered here at PP. Catch people's attention first where they are most likely to respond, while introducing them to the importance of the other two E's and how they all interact.

I am grateful for the work you do and respect the choice you've made. You've identified a niche and are filling it as a gateway to increased awareness. You and Adam have created a place where people can discuss these difficult challenges thoughtfully and with civility.

My own journey has led me to conclude that, while truly horrendous in scope and impact, economic collapse and resource depletion are survivable for some. But change the biosphere enough, and we are toast along with all the lifeforms dependent on the status quo. To me, that's the bottom line. I can't seem to get past that. I agree that it is a tougher path than the others when trying to engage people's attention and promote motivation for change. But, clearly there are those here on PP who would like more emphasis on it, and I appreciate this interview with Mark as a recognition of that interest. It's good to feel heard.

I suppose preparing revolves around what you imagine will happen. Will the end of industrial civilization be enough to tilt the odds towards continued existence or will life destroying planetary changes prevail? I don't have the answer to that so I prepare anyway.

Thanks for being open to the continuation of this conversation. I look forward to it.

Joyce

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"My Thoughts On Climate Change"

Thanks Chris for such an emotionally mature response. That approach to our continuing difficulties is the main reason I am a such fan of PP. No screaming and shouting, no politics or religion, no gnashing of teeth, no denigration of anyone; just a genuine effort to share wisdom. It sets the best tone for constructive conversations. All the other responses cloud the mind. Thank you!

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The CIA
Due to its efforts, it's clear the CIA is taking the issue of global warning very seriously. Changes in geography, could for example, cause wars. If snow pack melts, more land becomes available, also new shipping lanes will open up—both could become zones of contention. There is also the possibility of strife as some areas receive more rainfall and others less.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-07-cia-co-sponsoring-geoengineering-reversing-global.html#jCp

Physorg

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GHGs

I think it's important to realise that greenhouse gases consist of more than CO2. Using conservative numbers for CO2 equivalents, there is the equivalent of 470 ppm of CO2 already in the atmosphere. Methane is particularly potent, however, over shorter time scales and a more reasonable equivalent would be closer to 550 ppm, since methane may be relatively short lived but it also increasing, year on year (i.e. there is enough being emitted to replace the stuff being degraded and still increase the overall proportion).

So basing calculations of minimum heating expected should take into account all GHGs, not just CO2. We should also not assume that current rates of increase will not increase.

Tony

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The truth is perceived not reasoned

One of my favorite philosphers said once that if you are thinking you are already confused. The truth is perceived not reasoned. Plato's cave is for the rational mind and its limitations.  If any explanation is necessary then none will do, if no explanation is necessary, than any will do.

Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive, for the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them' 

In our petrol addicted society we go from air conditioned home to air conditioned car to air conditioned office.  We can conceive of no other life, if the planet is dying we dream of remaking in accordance with our own imagination even though we can not even control ourselves.  We perceive the world with our hearts and use our minds to justify our resultant actions.  Yet we know the world not at all.

Science was mans bid to be god, the religion of our modern age, and for us to be god we first had to kill the world.  It first had to be rendered meaningless, lifeless, unconscious and dead, the result of random chemical reactions.  The eagle, the bear, the dog, the humpback whale, the dolphin and the sparrow have no innate natures that we need to respect, learn from, they ours to transform at our whim, even before we have taken the time to know them.  Knowing them is not important, what is important is to bend them all to our will, because we worship power.  Wealth and power above all else.

Let there be no god at all, least of all man.  Let's take our place amoungst a living conscious universe, treating each other the world around us with love and respect.  Rather than debate the reality of climate change, lets open our hearts and eyes and see the dying planet and act accordingly.   Rather than debate economic policy, lets open our hearts and ears and hear what they are saying and act accordingly.  Rather than debate social policy, lets open our hearts and hands and touch the suffering around and within us and act accordingly.

Sorry about all of that, but to hear climate change still debated throws me into fits of bombast.  We all know what to do, lets find the courage to do it and get to work. This will not be a holywood drama with a quick ending, but a long and protracted struggle, that will take the best of minds and hearts.

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The

Last time I looked, big rigs like mine with 80,000 GCVW ratings burn diesel.  And lots of it.  Any thoughts on that?  How much more are you willing to pay for....everything?   Go ahead and kick me where the interweb don't shine, but how 'bout it?  Without trucks, Amerika stops.  Before you answer, remember that most don't earn what the average PP member does, and can't think, then act on those thoughts.  Give me a solution that doesn't involve the government.  It's one thing to revel in the like mindedness of PP, and I do largely agree with some of you, but.....execution.  The killer of great ideas.  

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treebeard wrote: . . .

treebeard wrote:

. . . Science was mans bid to be god, the religion of our modern age, and for us to be god we first had to kill the world. . . .

Science is man's bid to know what is real and what is true of the world; to face unvarnished truths without deceiving ourselves.

Stan

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Stan Robertson
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Problems can be opportunities

treemagnet wrote:

Last time I looked, big rigs like mine with 80,000 GCVW ratings burn diesel.  And lots of it.  Any thoughts on that? . . .

How about rebuilding a good light railroad system that would get some of those 18-wheelers off the interstates. Then convert a lot more of them to run on compressed natural gas. That would save fuel and extend engine lives with hardly any inconvenience. Even if the wellhead price of natural gas doubled it would still be cheaper than diesel and a higher natural gas price would assure an adequate supply for many years. Shale oil is already beginning to suffer from the "red queen effect", but shale gas and tight gas sands will not do so for many, many years given proper pricing.

I view natural gas as a bridge fuel; something to begin addressing the problems of fuel for transportation and agriculture. That it is a cleaner burning fuel is a plus and it is already largely responsible for reducing CO2 production of the U.S. back to about 1992 levels.

Stan

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Chris hit the nail on the head

With his line of thinking that no one pays much attention if there is no imminent threat, or clear and present danger. Oh yes, another day, things are a mess, yadda yadda, carry on as normal folks...There has as yet been no real widespread consequences for the decades long party, and as long as no one says" last call" without any real conviction, things are not going to change. This is why David Suzuki and his ilk have not gotten very far in terms of real results, and ditto for Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and so on. Sure they have small wins under their belts, but nothing significant enough to make a dent in the overall problem. There is no real tangible, wrap your arms around crisis yet.

Treemagnet, you are right, if the trucks stop everything stops. I am not looking to government for solutions, for I have no confidence in government as it exists now. Our solutions will come from the smart few who "get it", and do something about it. Now that could be a person like you. It appears you are in the transport business. A day or two ago there was a daily digest article about how wasteful packaging contributed to un-necessary transportation costs, fuel use etc. My understanding is trucks are packed on the basis of volume or weight, depending on what is being shipped. Can the truckers not work with the suppliers to target things like excessive packaging and all the other crap that we really don't need, which will coincidentally also reduce oil demand for wasteful stuff. Done properly, there could be a significant impact on things like shipment frequencies, which would go to reducing CO2 emmisions. You know, quality vs. quantity. The outfits that work smarter will do well, and those that don't adapt, well, the market will decide. It's entirely possible there are too many rigs on the road. We can do better. People like you can effect change, if you put your mind to it and if you are prepared to be a part of the solution.

I also would like to take you to task [again ;) ] for your generalized comment re the PP membership and their financial circumstances. I won't speak for others but believe me, I am no where near the top of the money making pole... I am here because I have found a place with like minded people who I can interact with in a constructive, intelligent manner. How much people have - who knows?!? There are likely some wealthy people and also some regular Jane's and Joe's (like me!) Don't forget there is a global readership, so there are many facets of diversity. Think of it like the real estate market. There are lots of people in million dollar homes with million dollar mortgages...and lots of other debt to supplement the mortgage. Wealth can be illusionary so don't think you are necessarily walking in vaunted circles here.

Jan

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