The Definitive Global Climate Change (aka Global Warming) Thread — General Discussion and Questions
. . .We warm the planet and we effectively inject the climate system with steriods. A few places may actually get more stable climatically but most will see very different patterns of weather. We already are (hope to be able to show this well later this year). Also, climate systems are chaotic. Right now we are getting a gradual change in conditions but there is no guarantee that this will continue. Things can change abruptly and right now we have no idea of when, but there is some recent research that is looking for indicators of reaching such tipping points. . . .
I have spent a lot of time over the last thirty years studying historical climate data for use in a college physical geology class that I taught for many years. It is very clear that the earth has been both much cooler and much warmer than at present within the last two millennia. The polar bears even survived the medieval warm period of 900-1100 A.D. At even earlier times the CO2 content of the atmosphere has been much higher than at present. A look at the weather records of the last two centuries will confirm that there is no present trend for exceptional weather – rain, drought, hurricanes, tornaodes, snowfall – in the United States. Cherry picking the last thirty years data while ignoring the earlier times is highly misleading. Current climate models have no ability to predict rainfall patterns, snows or droughts. Where the IPCC models were checked against historical records of the U.S. for the past 150 years they were not even close. Why should we believe their predictions of future weather patterns?
While it is true that earth has warmed in the past century, the results so far are easily within the bounds of natural variability. The real climate change deniers are those who think that the present climate is a stable long term feature of life on earth. Nonsense! The earth has spent most of the last million years locked in ice and unless someone knows how to interrupt the Milankovitch cycle, we will be iced in again in the future.
By the UN IPCC calculations, the direct warming effect of doubling the CO2 concentration would be about 1.3 C. The feared positive feedbacks that would cause catastrophic warming have not been demonstrated to exist. While warming would generally increase atmospheric water vapor, which is a powerful greenhouse gas, the most important feedback mechanism would consist of changes in cloud cover, type and elevation. Even the sign of the cloud feedback effect is not presently known. We are two decades of hard work on climate observations away from knowing if we should even be concerned about global warming. There has been a lot of glib talk of tipping points that sound frightening, but have no substance and certainly no predictability.
If this thread will concentrate on the data and the science and an honest assessment of what is known and what is not, I will continue to read it and comment from time to time. If it is going to push the cap and trade policy cart before the science horse I won’t waste my time.
Interesting map Poet….. and it fully justifies my actively wanting to move almost 20 degrees further away from the Equator! I can feel it in my bones, the climate in this neck of the woods has definitely turned for the worse, I’ve now had two summers of really bad production in my garden as it gets hotter and wetter… I’m outa here.
From an objective view global warming with an estimated 15% greater precipitation and higher CO2 (number one limiting nutrient for plants!!!)
Mirv, are you KIDDING? Plants grow just fine with the amount of O2 in the air now…… The biggest threats to future agriculture are Peak Oil, Peak Soil, Peak Phosphorus, and……. CLIMATE CHANGE!
I live half way between the equator and the north pole, yet I have ice outside my window 2-3 months a year. That is unreasonable. I am too cold.
So why do you live there? No one’s making you, surely……?
Where I live, I’m too hot, and the humidity is driving me insane…… fifty years ago, it was nowhere near as bad, no one had aircon. So I’ve decided to move 2000 km/1200 miles to remedy the situation….. to roughly the same latitude you live on, only in the southern hemisphere.
Wanna buy my place…?
I have spent a lot of time over the last thirty years studying historical climate data for use in a college physical geology class that I taught for many years. It is very clear that the earth has been both much cooler and much warmer than at present within the last two millennia. The polar bears even survived the medieval warm period of 900-1100 A.D.
Stan, how could anyone know when the pole was only reached in 1909? And the medieval warm period was far more of a local event than a global one from everything I’ve read on the matter…
At even earlier times the CO2 content of the atmosphere has been much higher than at present.
AND there were no people, and Antarctica was covered in rainforest and dinosaurs….. sounds just like the place I’m seeking to move to!
A look at the weather records of the last two centuries will confirm that there is no present trend for exceptional weather – rain, drought, hurricanes, tornaodes, snowfall – in the United States.
So explain how we’ve had THREE 1 in 100 year floods here since 1974? Last year, an area bigger than texas was underwater in Australia, unknown since white people arrived here just over 200 years ago…
Cherry picking the last thirty years data while ignoring the earlier times is highly misleading.
I disagree….. we’ve only been pumping massive amounts of CO2 since WWII, so of course before then we would have had little impact compared to today…
Current climate models have no ability to predict rainfall patterns, snows or droughts. Where the IPCC models were checked against historical records of the U.S. for the past 150 years they were not even close. Why should we believe their predictions of future weather patterns?
Of course they won’t be accurate….. it’s the TREND THAT MATTERS. They’re still working on the models, but the trend is undeniable.
While it is true that earth has warmed in the past century, the results so far are easily within the bounds of natural variability. The real climate change deniers are those who think that the present climate is a stable long term feature of life on earth. Nonsense!
Of course it’s nonsense….. I don’t know one single believer in AGW who denounces past climate change as rubbish.
The earth has spent most of the last million years locked in ice and unless someone knows how to interrupt the Milankovitch cycle, we will be iced in again in the future.
Seems to me roughly half the time was ice, and the other half not…. the Earth is now as warm as it was ~3 million years ago…. why were there no Milankovitch cycles back then, do you know Stan?
By the UN IPCC calculations, the direct warming effect of doubling the CO2 concentration would be about 1.3 C.
I’ve seen it could be as high as 6C…. and THAT would be great cause for concern, even if it turns out to be “just” half that…
The feared positive feedbacks that would cause catastrophic warming have not been demonstrated to exist. While warming would generally increase atmospheric water vapor, which is a powerful greenhouse gas, the most important feedback mechanism would consist of changes in cloud cover, type and elevation. Even the sign of the cloud feedback effect is not presently known. We are two decades of hard work on climate observations away from knowing if we should even be concerned about global warming. There has been a lot of glib talk of tipping points that sound frightening, but have no substance and certainly no predictability.
So we should wait until we are 100% certain we’re screwed before swithing to a sustainable lifestyle? I really do not understand this logic.
In any case, I’m very hopeful a full blown depression will “fix” the problem…
So here’s the thing. If a place can move from one half to one whole USDA Plant Hardiness Zone in the span of about 20 years (1990 to 2012), and you want to settle your family in a place that will last you and your children a lifetime…
…Thus, it seems if you relocate to a Zone 6 area (Kentucky), you’ll be around a Zone 10 (Florida) in a century’s time. (Very rough guess, of course.)
The Pacific Northwest, New England, and Eastern Canada look increasingly attractive to me. Whereas for you, Tasmania, New Zealand or certain parts of Victoria (non drought-stricken) may be more ideal. You’ll have to give your thoughts on that, as I’ve never been there.
I suspect Arizona real estate will continue to stay moribund, and the drought-stricken Murray-Darling Basin will remain parched.
While I do believe in man-made climate change, I don’t believe mankind will be able to get its act together. We have what is essentially a tragedy of the commons. As petroleum continues to get more expensive, we’ll likely see increases in coal burning and continuing deforestation.
First movers get an advantage. If you’re already in a desirable area, you’re already established, likely with a job, maybe land of your own, maybe even land you can sell later at a profit, etc.
My second major question is what is your assessment of the effect of incorporating fossil fuel depletion into models of future atmospheric CO2 concentration. My context for this question is the following piece by Richard Heinberg:
In 1996 the European Environment Council had said that the global average surface temperature increase should be held to a maximum of 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, and that to accomplish this the atmospheric concentration of CO2 will have to be stabilized at 550 parts per million . . . The European Union has more recently adopted a target of 450 ppm of CO2, in line with recommendations from climate scientists.
However, the IPCC scenarios suggest that if fossil fuel consumption continues to increase throughout the century, CO2 concentrations could reach a staggering 960 ppm by 2100, which would result in six or more degrees of warming, tilting the global climate into an entirely new regime and triggering an endless list of environmental horrors.
Jean Laherrère was an early critic of the SRES, arguing in 2001 that failure to understand realistic limits to fossil fuel supplies and to incorporate these into climate models was resulting in highly unrealistic estimates of future atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
In April 2007, James E. Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, co-authored an important paper (together with P. A. Kharecha of the Columbia University Earth Institute) that discusses fossil fuel supply limits. These authors explicitly mention Peak Oil, and stress that, “[I]t is important to estimate expected atmospheric CO2 levels for realistic estimates of fossil fuel reserves and to determine how the CO2 level depends upon possible constraints on coal use.”
In this paper, (“Implications of ‘Peak Oil’ for Atmospheric CO2 and Climate,”), Kharecha and Hansen discuss five scenarios. In their Business as Usual base case, “Peak oil emission . . . occurs in 2016 ± 2 yr, peak gas in 2026 ± 2 yr, and peak coal in 2077 ± 2 yr.” Most of the IPCC scenarios show far higher CO2 concentrations than Kharecha and Hansen’s Business As Usual (BAU) scenario.
The authors also discuss a “Coal Phase-out” scenario that “moves peak coal up to 2022.” This second scenario “is meant to approximate a situation in which developed countries freeze their CO2 emissions from coal by 2012 and a decade later developing countries similarly halt increases in coal emissions.” This Coal Phase-out scenario shows a peak of atmospheric CO2 concentrations at about 445 ppm in 2046.
One message from the paper is that climate mitigation efforts should not focus so much on reducing oil and gas demand, as these fuels are supply-limited. Rather, they should concentrate on reducing the exploitation of coal and unconventional fossil fuels, since these are demand rather than supply limited for the time being.
However, it appears that Kharecha and Hansen did not take fully into account the recent coal supply reports (though they do mention the NRC report of 2007) . . . In fact, the EWG, Höök et al., Laherrère, and Rutledge forecasts cited in this book all show future coal supply limits that are roughly in accord with Kharecha and Hansen’s Coal Phase-out scenario, and that achieve a target of approximately 450 ppm CO2.
A month after the release of the Kharecha and Hansen paper, Kjell Aleklett, professor of Physics at Uppsala University and President of Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO), published an article provocatively titled, “Global Warming Exaggerated: Insufficient Oil, Natural Gas and Coal” (May 18, 2007). Aleklett’s main purpose was to take the IPCC to task:
The sum of all fossil resources that the industry considers available is presented annually in BP Statistical Review.
According to this rather optimistic estimate, the total energy of all oil, natural gas and coal amounts to 36 Zeta joules (ZJ),
a gigantic amount of energy. This is more than what our research group considers likely, but it is still less than what
the [SRES] scenario families A1, A2, B1 and B2 require. . . . Up to 2100, IPCC prognosticates that A2 will need
between 70 and 90 ZJ, that is, twice as much as the industry believes is available. . . . We need a new assessment
of future temperature increases based on a realistic consumption of oil, natural gas and coal.
David Rutledge published his paper, “The Coal Question and Climate Change,” cited throughout this book, in June 2007. In it, he compared the results of Hubbert linearization modeling of future coal production with the IPCC models. He concluded, “Our Producer-Limited Profile has future fossil-fuel production that is lower than all 40 of the IPCC scenarios, so it seems that producer limitations could provide useful constraints in climate modeling.” More specifically, “The Producer-Limited Profile gives a peak of 460 ppm in 2070—which is only marginally above the widely accepted target of 450 ppm. The implication is clear: sufficient greenhouse gas reductions will be accomplished by fossil fuel depletion alone, without any need for carbon emissions regulatory policy.
In short, the implication of the latest research might appear to be that Peak Oil, Peak Gas, and Peak Coal will together solve the problem of global Climate Change, without need for intervention by policy makers.
However, this could be a dangerously premature conclusion [because even 450ppm may be enough to set in motion catastrophic, non-linear, and self-perpetuating climate change].
I would love to hear your educated opinion both about (a) the main conclusion, and (b) the big caveat contained in the last sentence.
I want to start off by thanking you for taking the time to come to the site and make your expertise available in this way. It is an act of generosity for somebody who could just as easily confine their arguments to peer-reviewed papers.
I have two major questions for you. I want to begin with a basic threshold issue: What is our specific goal in discussing global warming?
I don’t mean only on the thread, but in general. Global warming caused by gas emissions is a fascinating academic study, but to be quite honest, I have been unable to get practically interested in this issue for the same reason that I cannot get practically interested in the issue of human population growth: I see scant evidence that humanity is capable of actually doing anything about these problems over the long term. The type of political agreements needed to significantly reduce global carbon emissions are barely realistic today, even confining ourselves to First World nations operating in a very placid period of history. Assuming that broad international agreements were possible, no tangle of international treaties ever lasts beyond the next major war or crisis, if only because the participating governments no longer exist.
In short, I see no credible path to sustainable long-term action.
Whenever I raise this issue to serious people, I get some variation of the following answer: “Well, we had better figure out how to do it because the future of civilization depends on it.” This is hardly an answer. Just because an outcome is unthinkable does not mean that it is avoidable. In Chris’ words, it is vital to understand whether you are in a problem, or a predicament. Problems have solutions; predicaments have outcomes. If you have misdiagnosed a predicament as a “problem,” to which you are trying to apply solutions when you should be planning to mitigate outcomes, then you are wasting valuable time.
My thinking about fossil fuel use therefore tends to track my thinking about human population growth. We are misdiagnosing a predicament as a “problem.” Trying to curtail carbon emissions is like trying to fix prices. To take a quote from an old movie, “Money is a force of nature, like the oceans. It will eventually flow where it wants to flow.” And like the flow of money, or the oceans, global resource use is a process largely beyond our ability to consistently control. We should therefore not spend our intellectual energy attempting to find ways to “hold back the tide” of fossil fuel use, but rather in identifying and mitigating the likely outcomes of this process.
Thanks for the post. Having an honest assessment of the science is what I am aiming for. I’d like to assess what level people want this discussion at? As I see it we have everything from idle curiousity to well-informed posters. Some want a ‘spare me the math’ coverage and others want very detailed information. To the extent possible I’d like to provide materials at a level that works for most everyone. I do my best to demistify the science.
You ask for verifiable data, fair enough. In what form would that have to be? My stock and trade is peer reviewed publications. You throw out a lot of matter of fact conclusions that I am unaware of in the peer-reviewed literature. Which proxy data are you deriving your conclusions from? Tree rings, bore hole temperatures, sediment or ice cores? If you want the discussion that your post asks for then please repost your material with the same level of fidelity that you are requesting. I can then respond appropriately.
I can guarantee you that I don’t have a policy agenda to push and I’d prefer it if the thread stayed more on the science and less on the political agendas of various ideologies. In case you are unaware of it, I’d like to point out that recently even the ‘skeptical scientists’, doing a detailed analysis addressing most of the supposed flaws in previous climate science have proven that the planet is warming in line with or even more rapidly than NASA, NOAA and the UK Met have indicated (BBC link)
Assuming you are in the US, if you can give me a vague location (state), I can probably provide you with an interesting plot of the seasonal temperature and precipitation changes over the last 60 years to see how it corresponds with your bones!
We are still in the preliminary stages of the analyses but I am trying to do a detailed climate analysis of the changes in the distribution of climate (currently Tmax, Tmin and precip) for ecoregions of the US and Australia. Eventually we should be able to cover roughly 1895-2011. Every one gets hung up on changes in average values whereas I am more interested in the variability and range of changes.
Thanks for the thanks but no thanks are necessary. I’ve lurked long enough and benefited by the many posts here on the site that I felt it was time to give something back. My goal in discussing global warming here is to inform people of what climate change really means and what the science can and cannot tell us at this point. However, much like the theme of the rest of the site, I think we should prepare for what is likely to come – in this case, in terms of climate. The problem is that in most cases no one even knows what they need to prepare for.
To answer your main question, are we in a problem or a predicament. I am afraid to say that at this point we are in a predicament. However, the problem is that we can still influence the outcome so we don’t get to throw up our hands and walk away. By way of analogy (true story – predicament), I once found myself falling head first down a cliff face (long story). I had the presence of mind to look where I was going and saw that due to the outward slope I would reconnect with mother Earth so at the last second I wrapped my arms around my head and tucked to take the impact on my shoulder instead of my face (managment!), two more bounces with a lot of spinning and 150 ft later, I managed to claw myself to a stop before things went completely vertical again. The combination of management and dumb luck allowed me to live to do more foolish things on other days.
The question is how are we going to manage this climate situation? Alas, I am somewhat pessimistic about concerted global action breaking out anytime soon. I feel the same way about the global economy at the moment too. This doesn’t mean we cannot take personal action in much the same manner. Mike is moving to cooler climes. In my neck of the woods, the best action farmers can take can be summed up in two words – crop insurance.
All is not lost where the climate is concerned, however. Climate change is more and more of a concern globally due to the simple fact that more and more people are being negatively affected. Why did Europe get so forward thinking on climate change? In 2003, they had a major heatwave that killed 30,000 people. That will get your attention. Russia did a complete 180 degree in 2010 from claiming this global warming thing was an American hoax to wanting immediate action. In 2010, an historically unprecendented heatwave and associated fires led to the deaths of 50,000 (curiously, many of whom drowned after going swimming while innebriated). Australia recently passed a carbon tax. It seems 10 years of crushing drought, the Black Saturday fires in Victoria (2009) and flooding much of the northeast of the country (2011) got people motivated. I am not advocating any particular approach to this predicament but I do think that we may be reaching a critical mass of consciousness about the situation. One can always hope.
I am all for identifying and mitigating future problems and furthermore we are going to have to adapt in many ways but this still does not absolve us of our need to kick our fossil fuel addiction. Peak oil may have come already, peak natural gas and coal may follow but it won’t just end, just look at the ‘non conventional’ fuels to date, shale gas and oil, tar sands. How long until mining methane clathrates starts sounding economically desirable? There is already plenty of work being done on the possibility.
Well I am probably rambling on too much and definitely too late!