The conservative war on Christmas

We all know about the War on Hanukkah. And last year I discussed the War on White Christmas. But it is increasingly clear that the assault on the Christmas tradition by those who oppose action on global warming goes far beyond the inevitable reduction in late December snowfall we will face when the country is 10°F warmer (or more) by century’s end.

The question of the season is — What will happen to Santa Claus when the Arctic is ice free?


On our current path, this could happen as early as 2013 according to researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School and no doubt will happen before 2030.

Where will we tell kids that Santa lives? Some sort of North Pole Atlantis? But he can’t live under the water, since much of the Arctic will still ice over by December, though a few feet of ice can’t support a huge house and a factory and an elf-dormitory. Kids are smarter than that. If only adults were smarter….

Probably the best choice is to ship him off to the South Pole (with Superman’s Fortress of Solitude). Indeed the fact that Santa lives in the North Pole is no doubt a residue of our general Northern-hemisphere-centric worldview. How ironic would it be to outsource Santa to the Southern hemisphere. Not the Antarctic Peninsula or West Antarctic ice sheet, of course, since those may not last the century — we don’t want to keep moving him! — but much of the East Antarctic ice sheet will probably hopefully be around for centuries, and, in any case, Antarctica is a real continent, so even when the ice is gone, Santa can still have his whole operation above water.

Of course, if we ruin the Christmas tradition with our short-sighted inability to develop sane greenhouse gas policies, Santa may just decide all of us are too “naughty” to deserve his largess.

I also wonder what future generations will think about all those old Christmas movies with Santa based at the North Pole. Probably the same thing they think about all those epic stories of brave explorers struggling to get to the North Pole. More tall tales from adults, no doubt — at least until they are old enough to understand the sad truth.

If we don’t change course soon, we won’t just transform the climate — we will transform our culture, from one of abundance to one of scarcity — and that has profound implications for all of humanity, including our native optimism and our generous, gift-giving nature. ‘Tis the season to say: ‘Tis time to act!

16 Responses to The conservative war on Christmas

  1. David B. Benson says:

    Does not Santa bring lumps of COAL for bad children?

    That’s what we are getting: coal lumps.

  2. David Appell says:

    Joseph, it’s really amazing here how you go straight to the high end of the IPCC scenarios by announcing that temperatures will be 10F or higher — a number at the very high end of IPCC projections and one which conveys none of the uncertainty of the IPCC science.

    Warming: Do not trust environmentalists like Romm — they are as unscientific as “skeptics” and stretch the science for the purposes of their own agendas.

  3. Joe says:

    David, it’s really amazing here how you would make such an obvious mistake — two mistakes really.

    First off, readers of this blog or my book know I’m not an environmentalist.

    Second, readers know that I am scientific and don’t usually make major scientific mistakes — and I didn’t here, as we will see. I am, unfortunately, quite confident that if we continue on our current emissions path and the forces of denial and delay triumph, the country (especially the relevant part!) will be 10°F warmer (or more) by century’s end — for two reasons.

    The second reason I am confident of this is that, as I have blogged many times, the planet is clearly showing evidence of global warming at the high end of the climate models — and the sinks are saturating. If we don’t stabilize below 500, we’ll probably hit 750 ppm this century, and some studies suggest 1000 (if we lose the Amazon).

    But the first reason I am confident of this is that I did NOT make the claim that you criticize me for making. The claim I made is in fact considerably more likely than your simple analysis would suggest. I’m not going to explain this further right now — since I have already explained this in a previous blog post! (Hint for those curious about what simple mistake David made — do a search on this blog for “continental United States.”)

    I see you are a science journalist. You should not be as quick to assume a scientist does not know what he is talking about.

    One final note: You outrageously — and I hope you see now unjustifiably — imply I am a liar on your website. An apology would be nice, both on your website and here.

  4. David Appell says:


    Yes, I think you’re a liar on the par with the worse of the climate skeptics. You clearly imply in your post a 2100 warming of 10F+, far beyond what science projects. You claim that somehow your analysis is more worthy than that of the world’s climate scientists, but provide no proof.

    > If we don’t stabilize below 500, we’ll probably hit 750 ppm
    > this century, and some studies suggest 1000 (if we
    > lose the Amazon).

    You have no proof of ANY of this — it’s all just words and speculations designed to scare people. That’s what makes you an extreme and dangerous environmentalist.

    You’re just another extreme environmentalist looking to sell books, no better in that regard than Fred Singer or Pat Michaels or John Christy. You’re just as unscientific as they are.

  5. trucker says:

    I’m a complete novice and I caught Mr Appell’s error right away.
    Joe is correct, an apology is in order.

  6. Ron says:

    Merry Christmas everybody, and I really mean that. Let’s bury the hatchet at least for a day or two … There are even more important things to contemplate than global warming and politics.

    Peace and Joy to all.

  7. Steve Bloom says:

    David, since Joe didn’t even mention the IPCC, your criticism implies that every scientist is somehow obligated to stick to the AR4 in every public statement they make. As some pretty high-powered climate scientists (most prominently Jim Hansen) have already gone public with statements that the AR4 was out of date before the ink hit the paper, I don’t think it’s fair to blame Joe for violating any such principle.

    On the substance, a quick look at WG1 Chapter 11 finds for mid-range A1B (a little eyeballing is needed for this) about 7F for CONUS + Alaska and maybe 8.5F for all snowy areas. That is indeed less than 10F, but we should bear in mind a couple of things in addition to the A1B problem noted above. First, the IPCC explicitly excludes carbon feedbacks (e.g. ocean sink saturation and Amazon die-back as mentioned), which is why these results are called projections rather than predictions. Second, the IPCC projection for Arctic sea ice, a metric important to North American climate, already has gone spectacularly off the rails. Given all of these, the 10F starts to sound about right even relative to the AR4.

    On the other hand Joe’s “or more” implies that the 10F is a basement, which while fair enough as one scientist’s opinion seems definitely out in front of the IPCC (noting again that the IPCC wasn’t mentioned).

    Summing up, would it be better if Joe were to note that he’s doing so (and why) whenever he makes a prediction that exceeds the IPCC’s? Arguably. Does not doing so make him any kind of liar? No.

  8. Steve Bloom says:

    For some reason I thought it already had been noted that the IPCC mid-range scenario (A1B) to which David refers (although without naming it) has recently been underperforming reality. It hadn’t, but now it has.

  9. Joe says:

    In terms of CO2 emissions, since 2000 we have been exceeding A1F1! A1B is probably a best-case scenario at this point, especially if people like Appell have their way. I have posted many, many studies that suggest the IPCC models are underestimating key carbon cycle feedbacks (start here). Indeed, the ocean sink seems to be saturating way ahead of schedule.

    Regular readers of this blog know where I’m coming from, but new readers don’t. So I guess the question is — do I have to provide links to a bunch of my previous posts in every new blog post, just so people like Appell will understand the basis in the literature. As you can see, Appell isn’t open to the facts, so I’m not certain what that would get me. But I suppose I can provide “related posts” at the end more consistently.

    Appell is a journalist who just doesn’t know the scientific literature. The Hadley folk have published a peer-reviewed article running their model with the Amazon dying that ends up with 980 ppm in 2100. Is it fact? No. Is it possible? Damn straight!

    I normally would delete ad hominem rants that mischaracterize what I and others have said – but I thought we would benefit from seeing what we are up against. And again, for the record, I’m not an environmentalist – nor have I ever been one. I am a physicist.

    The main difference between me and Fred Singer or Pat Michaels or John Christy (giving them the benefit of the doubt on their motivations) is that they have been wrong for 20 years, and I and the people I rely on, like Hansen, have been right for 20 years. Other than that, I guess we’re the pretty much same.

    If Appell is so certain that the IPCC is the gospel, then I assume he would be willing to jump at my bet the Arctic will be essentially ice free by 2020. In fact, since as I recall the most aggressive IPCC model says 2040, and most of the rest are many decades later, I’m sure Appell would be delighted to split the difference and bet $1000 the Arctic won’t be a ice free by 2030. If he won’t take that bet, and my guess is he won’t, then he has no business calling me a liar.

  10. David B. Benson says:

    Besides all that, a liar knows that he is telling an untruth, usually for some ulterior purpose. So to correctly call someone a liar requires that you know that that person knows the truth is something other than what was stated or written.

  11. Michael says:

    The heat is being turned up here too high on this discussion. Calling each other liars is not helping either of your reputations. I would suggest also that we unpack the term “environmentalist”. I don’t think of environmentalists necessarily in pejorative terms. If by that you mean an advocate who distorts the science for the sake of spurring action, then that is not exactly an environmentalist. Some environmentalists would do that and some wouldn’t.

    I do think you need to provide more backing in the here and now for your 10 degree rise prediction. You would support your position better if you offer a range that has at least some overlap with IPCC or show exactly what the IPCC is overlooking. To simply assert you are a scientist is not enough. I would expect you as a scientist to speak in terms of statistical probabilities and confidence intervals.

    David Appell,
    You have every right to call attention to Joe’s claims but then to call him “names” is counterproductive. If you are in agreement that warming is serious we should try to minimize name-calling on all sides. I do think the charge of “hysteria” is serious and needs to be looked into but in an atmosphere where cooler heads prevail.

  12. Ron says:

    NOW I’m scared. I had no idea we were already seeing so many direct effects of climate change –

  13. Joe says:

    Michael — please do not equate me and Appell. I did not call him a liar. And I did explain myself. He did not. Indeed, anyone who searched for my earlier post, would have found it was one of my very first posts on the site:
    It notes “Most of the inland continental United States is expected to warm up roughly 50 percent faster than the global average.”

    To expand on this point: The part of this country that currently gets much snow is part of a mid-latitude landmass, which is typically predicted to experience a temperature rise about 50% higher than the global average (basically the land typically warms more than the oceans, and the warming is greater the more north or south you go).

    That means most of the United States will warm 10°F if the planet as a whole warms 6.7°F — pretty much in the middle of the projected range — and this is especially true if you throw in Alaska! So Appell is just wrong.

    I perhaps should have added in the original post that this is especially true for winter temperatures. Indeed, a 1999 report by Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research found, “The northernmost states, from North Dakota eastward to Maine, are expected to warm as much as twice the global mean during winter months.”

    So yes, the states that currently get snow are probably going to get a lot less by century’s end if we don’t take action soon, even if the IPCC models are basically accurate.

    But I probably post at least once a week observational evidence or a new study that strongly suggests actual observed climate change is either at the high end of the IPCC models or exceeds them — and/or that correctly modeling carbon cycle feedbacks (which the IPCC models by their own admission do not do) leads to much higher future values for warming than the IPCC models now project. Again, that doesn’t make it true, but it certainly renders Appell’s accusation even more untenable.

    I repeat — he owes me an apology, and not vice versa. As for speaking in “tatistical probabilities and confidence intervals” — that is for RealClimate and Hansen. I’m writing for a general audience. This was, after all, a post labeled “humor” — so I think I’m entitled to make a few generalizations for the sake of brevity. I stand by my original post.

    I will, however, write another clarifying post on the IPCC models in January that points to many of the previous posts on this topic, so I have a handy reference for new readers.

  14. Michael says:

    It is my opinion that inviting people into the thought process of how scientists deal with uncertainty, is one way to make stronger arguments that are accessible to people. Not to throw lots of statistics at them but to show them that there is no way around statistics and we are talking about ranges of possibilities. Sometimes one might get into more trouble when one simplifies just a hair too much. Just a thought.

  15. Joe says:

    I welcome all comments offered in a positive spirit. I’ll try to post something on probability in January.

  16. Steve Bloom says:

    Just to be clear, Michael, the 10F figure very much does overlap with the IPCC’s results. David was inferring that the middle of the mid-range projection amounts to some sort of forecast. It doesn’t. The IPCC gives a temperature range (based on an ensemble of model runs) for each of a number of emissions scenarios, and provides a “best estimate” (noting that this is not a very strong term, and IIRC no likelihood is assigned to it) somewhere in that range. No likelihood is assigned to a given emissions scenario, and of course the IPCC makes no promises that reality will conform to any one of them over the course of the next 93 years. As David has, people commonly refer to the “best estimate” of the projection for the “middle” (A1B) scenario as most likely, but strictly speaking that’s going beyond the IPCC. The 10F for the U.S. is reasonable with regard to the mid-range of both of the high-emission scenarios discussed in the SPM (A1F1 as Joe notes and probably A2 as well), although as noted describing 10F as a minimum appears to be a stretch even for A1F1. As I noted, the scenarios exclude both carbon feedbacks (as in the ocean sink saturation) and abrupt events (as in rapid disappearance of the summer Arctic sea ice). New data shows both to be a distinct possibility, so it’s more than fair fair to talk about what that might mean.

    The AR4 WG1 SPM discusses the basics of this, and I strongly advise those who have yet to read it to do so. Actually what I would really suggest is to read, in this order, the FAQ, the SPM, Chapter 1 and finally the Technical Summary (all at the above link).