Climate

Climate scientists: “The urgent need to act cannot be overstated.”

“Climate change caused by humans is already affecting our lives and livelihoods “” with extreme storms, unusual floods and droughts, intense heat waves, rising seas and many changes in biological systems “” as climate scientists have projected.”

Today, a large body of evidence has been collected to support the broad scientific understanding that global climate warming, as evident these last few decades, is unprecedented for the past 1000 years “” and this change is due to human activities.  This conclusion is based on decades of rigorous research by thousands of scientists and endorsed by all of the world’s major national science academies….

Although uncertainties remain, they concern issues like the rate of melting of major ice sheets rather than the broader topic of whether the climate is changing.

This is from an article in the Politico, “The science behind climate science,” by four leading climate scientists:  Dr. James McCarthy, Dr. Lisa Graumlich, Dr. Chris Field, and Dr. James Hurrell.  You may remember Dr. Field from his terrific talk at CAP earlier this year.

Here’s more of the piece:

How we as a society use what we have learned from climate science could define our generation.

Right now, our nation “” and the world “” are at a crossroads. Yet we seem stalled “” despite an increasingly clear picture of what human-induced global warming is doing to our planet.

The scientific community “” often working closely with governments “” has produced numerous, carefully reviewed, international and national assessments of the scientific understanding behind climate change. The latest, “America’s Climate Choices,” recently released by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, states that “scientific evidence that the Earth is warming is now overwhelming.”

For more on the NAS report, see U.S. National Academy of Sciences labels as “settled facts” that “the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

So it is imperative that the public and policymakers question and debate the range of options for addressing climate change “” including the level of certainty about that evidence. But a fair debate requires understanding of the scientific process….

The path from theory to understanding is often far from simple. Sometimes, new insights lead to dramatic shifts in prevailing scientific views.

Consider the identification of the ozone hole in the 1980s. A consensus emerged among experts within a few years of finding key evidence “” though a small number of experts remained unconvinced.

Such is the case with climate science. Theories and observations have been tested, retested and reviewed.

Then come the key quotes excerpted at the top, before the pieces concludes:

The biggest question is what choices we and our children should make about energy use. The more dependent we are on carbon-emitting energy sources, the more our climate will change.

If policymakers, businesses and the public are to make smart decisions about climate change, there must be a clear picture of the elements of science that represent robust understanding, elements that remain uncertain and those that depend on future decisions about energy use.

This is the reason for a thorough discussion of scientific findings.

But regardless of how the debate proceeds, it should be clear that opinions or misinformation cannot change the extensive scientific evidence. The atmosphere, the oceans and the land are warming. Humans are contributing significantly to this, and as it continues, it will have a major impact on our society, economy, environment, energy, national security and health throughout, and well beyond, this century.

As climate scientists, we have a responsibility to share our understanding with the public and with policymakers.

But, the future depends not on what scientists have learned and conveyed. Rather, it depends on what society chooses to do with that knowledge.

Dr. James McCarthy is a professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University. Dr. Lisa Graumlich is the dean of the College of the Environment at the University of Washington. Dr. Chris Field is the director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science. Dr. James Hurrell is a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. All four testified at a recent House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming hearing, “The Foundation of Climate Science.”

That’s okay for what it is, but let’s remember McCarthy and Hurrell signed the Bali Climate Declaration in late 2007 along with more than 200 of the world’s leading climate scientists, which endorsed the commitment to “limit global warming to no more than 2 ºC above the pre-industrial temperature,” and therefore concluded:

Based on current scientific understanding, this requires that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by at least 50% below their 1990 levels by the year 2050. In the long run, greenhouse gas concentrations need to be stabilised at a level well below 450 ppm (parts per million; measured in CO2-equivalent concentration). In order to stay below 2 ºC, global emissions must peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years, so there is no time to lose.

Hear!  Hear!

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81 Responses to Climate scientists: “The urgent need to act cannot be overstated.”

  1. john atcheson says:

    All good, but their conclusions about how much time we have does not account for the possibility of feedbacks that could accelerate warming and make it irreversible. These feedbacks could occur within a few years. Indeed, some have started already.

    The prospect that such feedbacks will dramatically shorten our time horizons is going up — there are no fewer than 11 major positive feedbacks, and the worst of these, methane from perma-frost and clathrates, appears to be dangerously close to starting.

    Economist Martin Weitzman has invoked the notion of integrating even the remote likelihood of catastrophic warming into economic analyses with regard to climate change.

    I suggest it’s time we do so for policy and law as well, because the fact is, irreversible warming from feedbacks is not a remote prospect any longer, and it becomes more likely with each year we fail to take action.

    If — or at the current rate of warming in the arctic — when it happens, we won’t have until 15 years to begin declining.

  2. Prokaryotes says:

    “The urgent need to act cannot be overstated.”

    Timescales of events described as ‘abrupt’ may vary dramatically. Changes recorded in the climate of Greenland at the end of the Younger Dryas, as measured by ice-cores, imply a sudden warming of +10°C within a timescale of a few years
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrupt_climate_change

  3. Rob Honeycutt says:

    I think it is long past time for scientists to put away the keyboard and mouse and look for a more substantive way to make the point. All the writing, books, articles and the like are not getting the message across to the broader public. Stop work. March on Washington. Make a stand for the future of humanity.

    I’m not a scientist but I would be there by your side in total solidarity. I would stand there by your side for the sake of the world my children will inherit.

  4. Bravo! I am now going to send a thank you note to each of them. Please consider doing so yourselves. We need more activism and less clinical talk.

  5. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Scott… You are exactly right. More activism and less clinical talk. Personally, I find myself disheartened after I read something like this when it’s not taken seriously by the MSM or the general public. Lindzen gets to write long pieces for the NYT that border on anti-science and a collective statement from 255 NAS scientists gets barely a peep.

    How many clear statements of concern from scientists can be made before anyone takes notice?

  6. Peter Mizla says:

    The News releases by many highly esteemed scientists and their organizations is given secondary lip service on the News wires such as AP-
    but it is also largely ignored by the Newspapers and TV media, compared to the latest naughty behavior of Lindsey Lohan.

    This kind of important News is largely ignored- so the blame must go to the Global media for suffocating with great effectiveness the dire danger we are in.

    The Media has chosen to ignore everything- which is really incredible.

  7. Michael Tucker says:

    What if a major US city experienced a flood but no one cared?

    Today on Morning Joe someone asked why Jimmy Buffet was the only one doing a concert to raise money for the victims of the BP blowout. Answer: Many performers were helping the victims of the Tennessee Deluge. (I know the readers of CP care about the Tennessee flood but I’m pretty sure the Morning Joe folks have long forgotten it)

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5j3v67XctOQE7X9Zdj_Klum73IMzgD9GU0J400

    You will be able to convince people of an “urgent need to act” only if you can demonstrate a clear and present danger. If the danger is not immediate people will procrastinate. If you say the sea level will rise 6 feet in the next 100 years people will think we have plenty of time to work out a solution. If you want people to take action now the threat has to be now.

    “Climate change caused by humans is already affecting our lives and livelihoods — with extreme storms, unusual floods and droughts, intense heat waves, rising seas and many changes in biological systems — as climate scientists have projected” OK, we need to list the extreme storms, unusual floods and droughts, and intense heat waves. We need to document the human and economic cost we are already paying.

    When speaking of future impacts we need to bring it closer to home. 90 or 100 years out is too long. What can we expect in the next 25 or 50 years if we continue business as usual?

    While subbing for Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes began a global warming/energy bill commentary by saying (I am paraphrasing): “One biologist I spoke with said the Gulf will probably recover from the oil but it WILL NEVER RECOVER FROM 3 FEET OF SEA LEVEL RISE.”

    The Gulf disaster is a result of our desperate need for oil products not because of global warming. I am not a climate expert, or even a weather forecaster, but in my opinion the Tennessee disaster WAS the result of global warming.

  8. Jeff Huggins says:

    Scientists — Be Informed By Science!

    I agree with Rob Hunnycutt’s Comment 3.

    It seems to me that the scientific community is being only partly scientific, and thus falling short, in this important sense:

    It is (thankfully and nobly) being very scientific in its understanding of climate change and its diligent efforts to understand the problem (and potential ways to address it) better and better. I applaud scientists for doing their jobs on that front. Bravo!

    But scientists are not using the scientific understanding of human behavior, human psychology, cultural and political change, and so forth. It should be crystal clear (given those things) to scientists that writing more papers, explanations, periodic editorials, and so forth will not be nearly sufficient to convey to the public the seriousness of the problem, the need for change (or the consequences), and the best solutions. These things — more papers, more editorials, more pleas — have their role, and can be helpful, but they will clearly not be sufficient. Not even close. Experts in human behavior ought to be able to tell you that. (I was just recently at a conference with many of them, and the point seemed clear.) At this point, responsible scientists should be gathering — and insisting on change. On the steps of the Capitol. At the corporate headquarters of the oil companies and coal companies. On university campuses. And so forth.

    Many scientists, it seems to me, have a tendency to think that “reason” alone can prompt change. Unfortunately, “reason” alone usually cannot prompt change of this magnitude, without a lot of help from other ingredients and actions.

    On the other hand, some scientists (perhaps many?) incorrectly conclude that change is impossible and that “there is no hope”. That’s incorrect too.

    Change can happen and does happen. But, it usually takes much more than “reason” — in papers, editorials, and so forth — to bring it about. Gandhi helped to bring change about. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. helped to bring change about. Abraham Lincoln helped to bring change about, and so did Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and etc. Sometimes it’s very hard, and sometimes it’s super-duper hard. It’s never easy! More writing will not suffice. Ask the scientists who are experts in human psychology, sociology, and the dynamics of change.

    So, the scientists need to get more scientific, in an important sense. We all need to “get real”. Not in the sense of “give up”. Instead, we need to “get real” in the sense of doing what will need to be done in order to encourage, prompt, and facilitate healthy change effectively.

    Knowledge is of very little use unless it is put to use effectively. (One doesn’t need degrees from Berkeley and Harvard to understand that.)

    What scientists need, at this point, is to listen to the wisdom of Grace Slick: “Pick up The Cry!”

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  9. James says:

    There’s a typo in the paragraph following the opening quote. Shouldn’t ‘by for leading scientists’ read ‘by four leading scientists’?

    Otherwise an excellent, if alarming, article.

    [JR: Darn you, voice dictation software!]

  10. Peter Mizla says:

    The Hartford CT area thus far this summer season has had 14 days of 90 or above- From Thursday on we have a forecast of 6 more straight days 90 or above- at about the midpoint of summer we have surpassed the ‘average’ of 19 days 90 degrees or above.

    Weird weather this year; March saw torrential downpours and record flooding- over 20″ of rain over a 2 period.

    In late June 4 tornado warnings in one week. Early this month a destructive tornado in the city of Bridgeport.

    I am at this point fearful of what be next for us here in southern New England.

  11. glen says:

    “The urgent need to act cannot be overstated.”

    Unfortunately this has been said before — about 2 years ago.

    Jim Hansen’s speech to the National Press Club, 2008

    “Again a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public. Now, as then, frank assessment of scientific data yields conclusions that are shocking to the body politic. Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding 99 percent.

    The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next President and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.”

  12. Joe1347 says:

    Why worry if global warming is only ‘very likely’? (my continued pet peeve) That doesn’t sound too definitive (or scary) to most of the general public – who might start to care once these media impaired scientists quit using the phrase ‘very likely’. Of course, ‘very likely’ means something completely different to a scientist – who ‘very likely’ will in the next sentence start throwing out some statistics on the percentage “likelihood” that global warming is possible without even realizing that most of the general public doesn’t even understand what that means (i.e., the public doesn’t understand percentages) – further diluting the message (and boring the public to death).

    Can’t these Scientists just say that Global Warming is real and is a grave threat? Then follow up with some apocalypic images of cities being flooded, people starving, and so on to get the grave threat point across.

  13. Prokaryotes says:

    “Then follow up with some apocalyptic images of cities being flooded, people starving, and so on to get the grave threat point across.”

    If the media reports on floods, heatwave, storms etc. there is no mentioning of climate change.

    And then stuff like this

    ‘Climategate’ Debunking Gets Less Coverage Than Original Trumped-Up Scandal (VIDEO)
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/12/climategate-debunking-get_n_642980.html

  14. villabolo says:

    john atcheson says:
    July 13, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    All good, but their conclusions about how much time we have does not account for the possibility of feedbacks that could accelerate warming and make it irreversible. These feedbacks could occur within a few years. Indeed, some have started already.

    [–SNIP–]

    I suggest it’s time we do so for policy and law as well, because the fact is, irreversible warming from feedbacks is not a remote prospect any longer, and it becomes more likely with each year we fail to take action.

    If — or at the current rate of warming in the arctic — when it happens, we won’t have until 15 years to begin declining.

    *********************************************************************

    Due to the Neck Lock the Oil Companies have this Society in, I believe that there will be NO meaningful policy shift.

    Even when the manure hits the rotating blades, the Oil Companies, through their shills and prostitutes, will be propagandizing about Natural Global Warming, “Geo-engineering” and whatever will ensure their continued profits.

    I thus suggest a three pronged approach.

    1) Documentation of all important Denier Propaganda and evidence of their being backed by Oil Companies. This to be used in future trials.

    2) Personal preparations for maximizing comfort or outright survival with an emphasis on passing the information and personal equipment and food stockpiles to our children.

    3) Consideration of joining together in networks for such survival and, most probably 1 or 2 generations from now, the creation of alternative communities modeled after Arcosanti.

  15. H. Sapiens says:

    Joe1347 says: “Can’t these Scientists just say that Global Warming is real and is a grave threat?”

    Joe, I understand your frustration, but if a scientist came out and said “global warming is real”, she would immediately be asked to prove it without a doubt, with 100% certainty. Of course that is impossible, and that same day you’d see the big headlines “Climate scientist caught lying”. And she’d probably end up in huge trouble, attacked by the public, her employer, other scientists, and perhaps the US government (it’s already happened during the Bush regime).

    Most people understand probability, at some level. Most of us brush our teeth, buy insurance, buckle our seat belts, and see our doctors once in a while, because we realize there is a small probability that if we don’t do these things, we will be in big trouble one day. So I don’t think it is a lack of understanding of probability that keeps people from reacting. Do you think most people would be unaffected if their boss told them “There is a 99% chance you will be fired tomorrow?” And yet, people remain essentially unaffected by a similar statement about global climate change.

    I can only speculate why this is the case. Maybe the problem is too big and abstract for most people to really get. Maybe it’s too slow – the human brain evolved to deal with quick threats, not ones that take decades to develop (just look at the state of most people’s retirement planning for evidence). Maybe it’s too damn scary to take in. Maybe people feel helpless in the face of a problem of this size (with good reason). Or maybe it all seems very unlikely when the mall and the gas stations are still open, and your car is waiting to take you there at the twist of a key. Most likely of all, people just don’t *want* to believe, because it is too damn inconvenient. (I think Al Gore hit the nail on the head with his choice of title.)

    I’m not sanguine about our future. Individual humans are often brilliant, but humanity as a whole is colossally stupid. Our species has already slaughtered millions of our own kind, wiped out most of our forests, fished our oceans near empty, filled the air we breathe with poison, used up most of the fresh water on the earth, and burdened the planet with a staggering 6.5 billion people. Some of these problems started centuries ago, and yet we have found no effective way to stop even a single one of them on a global scale. So what are the odds that this newest crisis – global climate change – will result in, for the first time in the 150,000 years our species has been in existence, all the worlds people actually agreeing on something, and then actually working together on a solution?

    Pigs will fly first, you know. So forget about a “fix” for the problem. Just do what little you can to minimize your own carbon footprint. If you don’t already have kids, please, please don’t have any. Settle down to enjoy the rest of your life as best you can. Global climate change will play a significant role in it, that I can guarantee.

    Yeah, with a 99% probability.

    -H. Sapiens

  16. That the alarms raised to this point haven’t resulted in a clear public demand for action, based on what I once heard Bill McKibben call an “emotional consensus” is a continuing mystery to me. And a depressing one.

    At this point we have little precedent to go on, but there is one that sounded promising to me when it was suggested in a comment on this blog back in February by Mike Roddy. He proposed the equivalent of the Vietnam teach-ins of the 60s. (I’d love to quote him, but for some reason this blog doesn’t allow me to cut and paste.) The post was here: http://climateprogress.org/2010/02/13/jeff-masters-sets-the-record-straight-on-dana-milbanks-column/#comment-262436)

    Teach-ins in the mid 60s jump-started the protest movement. I have no idea of how effective they would be today, especially in spreading beyond campuses, and actually to be effective in this media age, the participants should probably work on communication strategies before they start. It probably won’t be enough to simply get some big names to say in the same way what hasn’t gotten through so far.

  17. Rob Honeycutt says:

    H Sapiens… I don’t know, but maybe scientists “saying” this is of great concern but only writing that “this is of great concern” doesn’t hold a lot of sway with the general public. How serious can it be if the scientist won’t even make a collective physical display of their concern?

    Think about it. Glenn Beck can trump up a bunch of pointless crap about healthcare and suddenly we have the Tea Party movement.

    I swear to you, if scientists were concerned about climate change and just put down their pens for a moment and drove to Washington, that would be an act impossible to ignore.

    I don’t think people are stupid. People just need to be shown that this is real, not just told that it’s real.

  18. Tim Kelly says:

    I too, agree with Rob Honeycutt. Just give me a date and a place to show up.

  19. Joe1347 says:

    #15 H. Sapiens. Well then, shouldn’t we be asking the question what will it take to prove that Global Warming is real with 100% certainty? Is there some sort of grand (expensive) experiment that could or should be run in a short period of time that would conclusively prove to the world that Global Warming is real? Waiting another few decades for conclusive proof by using the entire earth as the science experiment doesn’t seem to be the smartest move for the obvious reasons.

    I don’t seem to recall any major scientific bodies calling for any ‘big experiments’. Maybe running something big would also be something that could get the public excited simply by getting them involved (i.e, watch it unfold on TV). Of course, I can’t really think of any ‘good’ examples. One not so good example – but it did have the human touch – if you remember the Biosphere 2 fiasco. What about building some sort of modern equivalent and showing the effect of increased Carbon Dioxide on different biospheres. Include some people (in the biospheres) to keep it interesting to the public. I guess this is sounding more like a PR stunt than a science experiment to prove Global Warming is real. But is it time to think big in terms of some sort of coordinated ‘grand’ supercollider equivalent experiment.

  20. Jay Turner says:

    Climate issues and climate action has slipped out of the focus of attention, and we’ve got to find a way to get it back into the spotlight and keep it there. The champions of the status quo have made it hard for politicians (and even ordinary folks) to talk about the subject, and all the flack that anyone who speaks up gets hit with has encouraged a lot of people to shut up and duck for cover. It’s hard to sustain a sense of urgency when competing concerns–like economic worries–take center stage. The environmental movement is facing donor fatigue and frustration at the glacial pace of change. Somehow we have to find a way to bring fresh excitement and interest to the environmental movement. Disasters can do that, but so can clever public relations. We could use some high-profile victories. Are there any pressure points where resources could be focused to bring about a noteworthy triumph, like getting a major city to get off of coal, or getting a regional power company to prioritize cleaner power over coal power in their dispatch order?

  21. Wit'sEnd says:

    Michael Tucker, the clear and present danger is obvious and now. It’s actually just TOO close and dire for comfort.

    Trees and all other forms of vegetation are dying on farms, in forests, in suburban yards and urban parks.

    Ozone is killing them at a rapidly accelerating rate.

    For God’s sake, go look at them! It’s impossible to find a tree that is full, vibrant, green, and thick with foliage.

    Instead they are thin, brown, shriveled, bare, if not standing dead or fallen over. Even lawns are the color of golden dried hay. Growth of annual crops and ornamentals is stunted.

    Plants are at the bottom of the food chain. Isn’t this enough to rally public opinion to, at a minimum, commit to serious conservation, and a dedicated effort to transition to clean energy?

    Scientists and activists need to give up their romance with physics and CO2 and confront the existential threat of ozone pollution.

  22. Peter Mizla says:

    Anyone here have a date when we reach 400ppm CO2? I wonder if the News Media will even make note of it. I say 2015-mid year.

  23. Physics Prof says:

    I think part of the problem has been a steady stream of crises from the left/environmental movement each of which requires actions the left/environmental movement thinks is right regardless of the crisis at hand. If once, it required actions they didn’t already like it might be taken more seriously by non “true believers”. For example if environmentalists started calling for expansion of nuclear energy it would be clear the crisis wasn’t just the latest excuse to push favored policies. We are so concerned about global warming we would even accept a source of energy that previously was an anathema to us.

  24. Deborah Stark says:

    Re: Peter Mizla – Post #10

    I worry about you folks in the Hartford, CT area. I’ve been monitoring this particular site for years (I’m in Boston):

    http://www.hazecam.net/

    The Hartford, CT area used to be included on hazecam.net but it has its own site now:

    http://www.ct.gov/dep/cwp/view.asp?a=2684&q=404638&depNav_GID=1744

    When Hartford was still being covered by the HazeCam network, visibility, especially in the summer months, was almost invariably seriously compromised by particulate matter. As you can see on the CT DEP Connecticut Visibility HazeCam image for today (Talcott Mountain Science Center), visibility is extremely poor as compared to the thumbnail “Ideal Day” image directly below.

    If you monitor the CT DEP site for awhile you will see what I mean. You guys rarely get a truly high-visibility day down there.

    I would imagine that the summer heat and humidity are becoming rather oppressive for your area at this point. I would also guess that seasonal allergies are becoming a significant problem for an increasing number of people in the region.

  25. Peter Mizla says:

    re; Deborah Stark #22

    I live just ‘above’ the valley- 17 miles to the NE of Hartford-

    If you travel westbound on I 84- atop Sunset Ridge in East Hartford, the view into the Connecticut river valley on many days from May-October is indeed toxic.

    The climate here is changing like elsewhere- periods of drought followed by heavy rains, extreme heat this summer-

    Invasive species of plants-vines and others thriving & gorging from the CO2.

    The problem of increasing coastal erosion here is being monitored by the state of DEP.

    This is not the Connecticut of my youth. The state has done much about climate change- and there is fairly good bipartisan interest and action to address the issues we are facing.

    The tornado in Bridgeport recently was extremely destructive. One thing I have observed here is the increasing intense downpours I never saw in the past-

  26. Will Koroluk says:

    The deniers’ points are old and tired and ridiculous. But this morning I ran across a new one that I find hilarious.
    Carbon dioxide, it seems, is not the culprit. It’s titanium dioxide. This particular denier called titanium dioxide “a man-made particle that zaps things and makes carbon dioxide, acting as a catalyst, and repeating the process over and over.”
    So quit worrying about carbon dioxide, he says. Tackle titanium dioxide instead.
    This is a true story. You can’t make up stuff like this.

  27. Is there intelligent life in the universe says:

    We need a Manhattan project to find ways to prevent catastrophic global warming, with unlimited global funding. We need it right now.
    We need the scientists to admit they’re scared. On every channel and station in dozens of languages.
    That’s what we need to save out necks. Not holding my breath.

  28. Deborah Stark says:

    Re: villabolo – Post #14

    Excerpt:
    …..Even when the manure hits the rotating blades, the Oil Companies, through their shills and prostitutes, will be propagandizing about Natural Global Warming, “Geo-engineering” and whatever will ensure their continued profits.

    I thus suggest a three pronged approach.

    1) Documentation of all important Denier Propaganda and evidence of their being backed by Oil Companies. This to be used in future trials.

    2) Personal preparations for maximizing comfort or outright survival with an emphasis on passing the information and personal equipment and food stockpiles to our children.

    3) Consideration of joining together in networks for such survival and, most probably 1 or 2 generations from now, the creation of alternative communities modeled after Arcosanti….. END excerpt.

    I think this is an EXCELLENT summation. I do not think it is in any way overstated or extreme. Your suggestions are eminently practical and can be fairly easily implemented by all who are interested in helping to lay the foundation for life in what I am afraid is going to be a very changed world.

  29. Ben Lieberman says:

    It’s time to make denial and inaction socially unacceptable.

  30. Deborah Stark says:

    Re: Peter Mizla – Post #22

    …..Anyone here have a date when we reach 400ppm CO2?…..

    ***
    I know this is regional data and not a global average but if you monitor in particular Pack Mondadnock and Thompson Farm 2 on this site you will see that atmospheric CO2 concentration (measured every 15 minutes around the clock) more often than not exceeds 390ppm and very frequently exceeds 400ppm:

    http://airmap.unh.edu/data/data.html?site=AIRMAPPAC

    Current CO2 readings:

    Pack Monadnock @ 9:00pm EDT
    398ppm

    Thompson Farm 2 @ 9:15pm EDT
    493ppm

    Look at the Archived Plots for CO2 for Pack Monadnock and TF2 to see the trajectory over the last few years.

    I agree with you re: the increasing incidence of torrential rain events. We’ve had a lot of them in the Boston area (spring and summer) over the last 4-5 years. I also agree with your statement that “this is not the Connecticut of my youth.” I have an old (35 years) friend in Collinsville who would also agree with you.

    I’ve been in Boston since 1968 (all of my adult life) and I do not remember summers (and falls) being so extremely warm and HUMID 20 years ago. We are as you know contingent to the ocean here and used to get a great deal of relief from the sea breezes. Not anymore. For the last three years I have noted trees and bushes budding in late November. Friends in Concord and Springfield have noted the same going on in their areas. In late December 2007 I noted narcissus and crocuses in bloom on my street in the city. I am writing all of this down in an archives for my son (age 39) and his peers.

  31. catman306 says:

    Is there intelligent life in the universe, we don’t need a Manhattan Project to find ways to prevent global warming. We already know which devices and energy sources that could be applied to prevent much future climate change. We simply don’t have the economic or political will to make this happen. The powers that prevent change to the status quo won’t allow it just now. Those powers need an attitude adjustment. I don’t know just what would cause the powerfully wealthy to change their attitude before it’s too late.

    I can be fairly sure that they will lose the power and wealth in the resultants of catastrophic climate change.

  32. I deeply appreciate this remarkable website and the postings-many thanks for your efforts here, Joe.
    Perhaps the climate scientists who signed off on the last IPCC report, or who are likely signatories of the next one, should sign an “urgent interim report”, minus the signatures of all who are not scientists, conveying the message of the above four scientists, with the best up to date climate change findings. Waiting for the next IPCC in three years, and then watching it be drastically watered down for political reasons is too laid back.
    Let the scientists take the lead here, and bypass the tired old channels.

  33. mike roddy says:

    Wow, what a bunch of great comments, starting with Atcheson. Thanks.

    The denier strategy has changed. Even Watts is having trouble bringing himself to dispute that it’s getting warmer, and fast. Water vapor and solar radiation alternate explanations are (excuse the pun) evaporating.

    What do they have left? “We’ll love the balmy weather”, from the likes of Lomborg, that’s what. Increased CO2 will stimulate increased crop production- another well debunked argument, but that didn’t stop them before. The increased storms are unfortunately not as persuasive a point as one would think- floodwaters recede eventually.

    The deniers need a good spanking on their one last gasp here, at least for those operating in reality mode. Good topic suggestion for you, Joe-we’ve come to depend on you, after all. When you lay out the well documented evidence of damaged ecosystems and truncated survival capabilities from warming, you will once more leave yourself open to the “alarmist” tag from the likes of Pielke and Revkin. I’m glad that, like the rest of us here, you no longer care what others say. The truth speaks a lot louder, and has a way of winning out. Let’s just hope this doesn’t happen too late.

  34. Ryan T says:

    Seems the only time the public takes a threat seriously (at least initially) is when “war” is declared on it. So I guess we need a war on fossil carbon. But we don’t seem to have reached critical mass. If Obama understands the issue and thinks it’s a priority right up there with the economy, when will he be convening a round-table of scientists and policymakers? Mostly he seems to be sitting back and waiting for congress to get it’s act together on cap & trade. Is that the right approach, and how many more years will pass if obstructionists gain more seats?

  35. I voted for Obama but he has really dropped the ball on climate change. Shame. He is the first major party candidate I have voted for in 26 years and he cannot see that climate change is THE issue of now and of the future? He appeared to think so while campaigning. Washington can really suck the barins out of people, cannot it not?

    Dr. James Hansen for President, anyone? How about Joe Romm? Either would get my vote in a New York minute. :)

  36. Roger says:

    Responding, partially, to Rob, Jeff, and Joe1347 above, re scientists, we/they often do find it difficult to covey the message with the correct amount of clarity and urgency.

    To help fight this problem, I recommend a recent book by Randy Olsen called “Don’t be Such a Scientist, Talking Substance in an Age of Style.” Olsen has a degree in marine biology from Harvard, and has also worked as a filmmaker in Hollywood. He has suggestions that are designed to help bridge the gap between what scientists understand and what the general public understands about climate change.

    Responding to Tim (#18), and any scientists reading this, please plan to attend our 350.org-inspired “White House Work Party” at 10:10 AM on October 10th, 2010, in Washington, DC. More details available at
    http://www.gwenet.org.

    Warm regards,
    Roger

  37. John A. Jauregui says:

    Question: What are the chances an infinitesimal (.04%) trace gas (CO2), essential to photosynthesis and therefore life on this planet, is responsible for runaway Global Warming?

    Answer: Infinitesimal

    The IPCC now agrees. See the IPCC Technical Report section entitled Global Warming Potential (GWP). And the GWP for CO2? Just 1, (one), unity, the lowest of all green house gases (GHG). What’s more, trace gases which include GHG constitute less than 1% of the atmosphere. Of that 1%, water vapor, the most powerful GHG, makes ups 40% of the total. Carbon dioxide is 1/10th of that amount, an insignificant .04%. If carbon dioxide levels were cut in half to 200PPM, all plant growth would stop according to agricultural scientists. It’s no accident that commercial green house owner/operators invest heavily in CO2 generators to increase production, revenues and profits. Prof. Michael Mann’s Bristle cone tree proxy data (Hockey stick) proves nothing has done more to GREEN (verb) the planet over the past few decades than moderate sun-driven warming (see solar inertial motion) together with elevated levels of CO2, regardless of the source. None of these facts have been reported in the national media. Why?

  38. villabolo says:

    Peter Mizla says:
    July 13, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Anyone here have a date when we reach 400ppm CO2? I wonder if the News Media will even make note of it. I say 2015-mid year.
    ************************************************************************

    Peter, seems that you’re right on the spot with a safety margin. Below are the June levels of CO2 for the past 10 years, which may help.

    One should take into account the beginning of Peak Oil in perhaps 3-5 years and another World recession. I heard that China is having a real estate bubble that may burst.

    This would depress emissions, stretching things out.

    I personally am having fun watching ice melt. The Arctic meltdown, with its future weather transformations, is likely to be a greater tipping point than 400 ppm.

    As far as the Media-ocracy taking note of anything is concerned, it’s likely to be a visual event like the meltdown. They will gaze upon it with their bovine intellect and think of something superfluously cheerful to say about it.

    ************************************************************************
    http://www.carbonify.com/carbon-dioxide-levels.htm

    2000 – 371.51
    2001 – 373.13
    2002 – 375.44
    2003 – 378.21
    2004 – 379.66
    2005 – 382.14
    2006 – 384.01
    2007 – 386.01
    2008 – 387.88
    2009 – 389.43
    2010 – 392.04

  39. villabolo says:

    Deborah Stark says:
    July 13, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Re: villabolo – Post #14

    “I think this is an EXCELLENT summation. I do not think it is in any way overstated or extreme. Your suggestions are eminently practical and can be fairly easily implemented by all who are interested in helping to lay the foundation for life in what I am afraid is going to be a very changed world.”

    *************************************
    Thank you for understanding Deborah.

    Villabolo

  40. Dan B says:

    Happy, tired but happy, Bastille Day.

    May I condense what’s been posted:

    We’re beyond or at the brink.

    What do we do?

    Who acts? Who can get us out of this fix?

    Another thread is:

    How do WE act? Not alone.

    What do we say?

    Marketing and Cognitive Science say this:

    Whatever we say it must, absolutely must, be unexpected in order to break through the massive suffocating denial that says nothing will change.

    Let me repeat: Unexpected.

    Use Unexpected

  41. TAFL says:

    Effective activism begins in your own home. Have you good people writing comments here done all you can to reduce your own GHG emissions? Switched out every light bulb possible with a low-energy bulb? Why not? You can now choose between CF bulbs AND LED bulbs. I have now 21 in our home to go with the 8 CF bulbs. Sum savings in power use of about 700 Watts peak. Multiply this by 50 million households and guess what, they HAVE TO TURN OFF A WHOLE BUNCH OF COAL-FIRED POWER PLANTS! This is SO EASY! How about your choice of transport? Do you have the most fuel-efficient car that meets your needs? Can you use your bike more? Can you use public transport more? Double your fuel efficiency and multiply by 250 million cars, and guess what, THEY WILL STOP DRILLING IN DEEP WATER IN THE GoM and Iran WILL SOON GO BANKRUPT! Are your eating habits environmentally excellent? Why not? Only eat one beef meal a week, and guess what, HALF OF THE INDUSTRIAL BEEF PRODUCERS WILL CLOSE SHOP!
    The activism that works is the grass-roots type. Once we all change our buying, consumption and energy use habits for the better the market and politicians will have no choice but to accept it and adapt. Limbaugh and Beck WILL EAT HUMBLE PIE. It works much better than discussing with ditto-head and beck-bums and politicians. Corporate board rooms across the world will “get it” soon enough once their customers give them the right signals. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO WAIT FOR THE NEXT ELECTION.

  42. Raleigh Latham says:

    I don’t see a bright future decades or years down the road, but we MUST ALL do everything we can to support the fight against climate change, especially on a political level, and community level, though small it may seem. Though the U.S. will wait until it’s too late, the communities and states we live can still take some damn action. I spend about $800 a year on carbon offsets which I don’t need and can’t afford, but at least it makes me feel like I have a conciense.

    I truly believe God is on our side, because our fight is one to save humanity and the life which sustains us, and there is no greater struggle in the history of mankind for which our purpose has been so clear.

  43. John Mason says:

    villabolo says:
    July 13, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    I thus suggest a three pronged approach.

    1) Documentation of all important Denier Propaganda and evidence of their being backed by Oil Companies. This to be used in future trials.

    2) Personal preparations for maximizing comfort or outright survival with an emphasis on passing the information and personal equipment and food stockpiles to our children.

    3) Consideration of joining together in networks for such survival and, most probably 1 or 2 generations from now, the creation of alternative communities modeled after Arcosanti.

    ****************************************8
    Agree with these points. (1) is already taken care of in part simply by web archives, and books like Climate Cover-up have documented aspects of it in detail. Hopefully they will update in a year or two as there has clearly been enough stuff for a Volume 2 in the past 12 months.

    (2) and more so (3) are being explored by the Transition Movement, which recognises that a key ingredient in turning this around is rebuilding community. It involves what I call the “three R’s” when giving talks on it:

    Recognition + Relocalisation + Reskilling = Resilience

    Sure beats the three “D’s”:

    Denial + Dysfunction + Discord = Disaster

    Cheers – John

  44. Preeem says:

    I think the point about saying we are scared, and marching on governments is the right one to make.

    We are through with being patient, objectively scientific and as such, perpetually cold noodles compared to right wing pundits. How is it that they can voice concern over lies, vastly inflated threats like immigration and healthcare, and welfare, and we can’t even speak hotly about the biggest threats to humanity that climate change and overconsumption of resources are?

    We should voice out our outrage, for it is only this that people hear. Fear, because it is legitimate. Let’s seriously stop this cool outside of reality scientific distance. We might observe the data with objectivity and rigor, but it shouldn’t stop us from speaking out that we are terrified of what they mean.

  45. Preeem says:

    I understand, however, that scientists and people who have been listening to them like me are reluctant in the face of becoming doomsayers. But this is truly what we can say with the best scientific accuracy will happen. We shouldn’t be shy about it.

  46. TAFL says:

    Folks, vote TODAY and ALL DAYS THEREAFTER with your DOLLARS or EUROS or PESOS or whatever by choosing at the store the low-energy, low GHG products that work for you. This is EASY and EFFECTIVE and delivers IMMEDIATE RESULTS. You do not need to march on Washington to do this, which may or may not help in the 1-5 year time frame. You do not need to wait for the next election to do this, which most likely will have minimal impact in the next 2 years.

    Do not get angry, get EFFECTIVE SATISFACTION by making your household a low-energy, low GHG household as soon as possible!

  47. Preeem says:

    The lowest energy consumption and GHG emissions are found by not buying stuff, not having a large house, not eating all that meat and not having a car.

    Buying “green” is nothing next to those choices. It’s rather not buying that is a choice. A hard and inconceivable one to make, for most people.

    I personally like to use the extra money to buy really good food.

  48. TAFL says:

    Preeem, this is true up to a point. If you are still using incandescent light bulbs, it makes sense to buy low-energy replacements. If your heating and cooling systems in your household are old and low-efficiency, it makes sense to buy replacements. If you regularly drive a gas-guzzler, it makes sense to buy a high-efficiency replacement. If you regularly buy high-energy intensive or high GHG food, it makes sense to buy the low-energy intensity, low GHG food instead. Many, but not all are one-time purchases or investments. After you have done these, then, you are back to essentially “not buying stuff”.

  49. dorveK says:

    I for my part truly think we should go the James Lovelock way and declare: “We’re just doomed, let’s face it!”, and then think of possible solutions for mitigation and (collective) survival skills, which is what Lovelock is doing in his latest book “The vanishing face of Gaia” (2009). Walking on Washington and screaming that we’re scared to death is the James Hansen way, but I don’t think it is very effective, because people are scared on a daily basis by the state of the economy right now, and the system is corrupt anyway, so let’s get rid of it, and then we’ll see…

  50. Preeem says:

    Yeah, I can imagine that might have a PR effect as well. Having actual groups of people taking actual steps to survive in the new world we’re creating might make others think that this is serious.

    With the downside that it will make the first people to do it look like total whackjobs, of course, because people have been doing this every now and then for different reasons (2012, rapture, aliens, black supremacy rule on the country, muslim invasion, etc). I wonder whether it would ever reach any critical mass.

    At least though it might be practical. But not sure if it’s a good PR move.

  51. adelady says:

    Looking like a total whackjob?

    Speaking as a veteran of 1975 – The International Year of Women – I can assure you that many people will think you’re a loony. But only for a while. Next thing you know they’re saying, oh you’re a (feminist) global action person, but you’re not like those others are you.

    “Those others” are an amorphous imaginary group of harpies/ communists/ hippies/ man-haters that no-one’s ever met in real life.

    Go for it.

  52. David Smith says:

    Left out of this conversation is the notion that creative people (including those in this conversation) could focus, create new methods, technologies, products, etc and figure out how to implement them toward the end of making the old damaging ways obsolete and unnecessary. This also is action.

  53. fj2 says:

    (One critical path to a major remedy not entirely off-topic)

    http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2010/07/12/100712ta_talk_surowiecki

    Car dealers win a special exemption from finance reform:

    ” . . . There are close to eight hundred and fifty billion dollars worth of auto loans outstanding in the U.S. — about as much as our total credit-card debt”

    — “Masters of Main Street,” James Suroweicki, The New Yorker, July 12 & 19, 2010

    If vehicles cost the same as a down payment — which is completely feasible with existing technology capable of producing much more practical, safe, and sensible mobility — most of this financing would not be needed; over three-quarters of a trillion dollars is tied up just for financing alone.

    This is but one example of the entrenched industries perpetuating the monopoly of transportation systems based on cars and huge revenue streams wasted on some of the world’s largest industries: Insurance and Big Oil are obvious others.

    Just follow the money.

    This monopoly depends on a directly and structurally (passive) violent system perpetuated locally by the dangers of transportation systems based on cars.

  54. Raul says:

    I’d like to go to DC to the White House work day.
    But I don’t have the way or monies to do so.
    You know, there must be many people in DC all ready
    who would like to give it a go.
    Organization and purpose is the way to change.
    Power on Earth comes from the sun first, you know
    there is high probability that it will be so
    tomorrow as well. Take advantage of that power
    with solar power collectors.

  55. Raul says:

    Is there such a thing as a radiant barrier hat?

  56. Raul says:

    And also,
    Riding a bike in the summer in Fl. with a helmet
    I did notice that the helmet get very hot.
    Could we have radiant barriers for the bicycle
    helmets as well? I’m confident that the helmet
    added great heat to the head.

  57. mike roddy says:

    John Mason, #43, and others interested in denier issues- here’s something I published in an internet magazine earlier this year, that ended up being reprinted on at least 40 sites:

    http://www.tinyurl.com/2flcvzy

  58. mike roddy says:

    Oops, that link takes you to a google list. Go to the 14 Most Heinous Climate Villains on Alternet.

  59. Ben Lieberman says:

    @TAFL

    People should reduce their own personal emissions, but do you really believe that such action carried out by a small proportion of the population will be in any way sufficient to cut emissions by the amount required?

  60. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Since Aubrey Meyer of Global Commons Institute wrote a paper called “The Economics of Genocide” back in ’95, I’ve been appalled at scientists’ self-censorship. The bullshit about “No one event can be ascribed to global warming” is the exemplar of this. Not only is the reverse true: that no one event can logically be ascribed to the natural climate, but also the entire evolution of weather events is suffused with the influence of unnatural warming –

    In reality, none of us have seen natural weather. For those who find this difficult to accept, study Leopold’s discovery of chaotic systems’ extreme sensitivity to initial conditions, back in the early ’60s.
    There is no box from which extreme events emerge. All climate is interactive and thus all weather is different to what it would have been without the forcings of industrial society’s GHG outputs.

    In terms of action to achieve change, Ghandi had it right, for India, in the ’30s. With a British electorate getting unprecedented information by telegraphed reports on imperial atrocities, and a strong liberal outlook being then prevalent, the status quo of imperial rule was untenable in face of well presented pacifism.

    To assume that pacifism is thus appropriate for all struggles, including those such as GW with genocidal scale with existential stakes, is sheer self-indulgent wishful thinking, and deeply unwise.

    Yes, of course scientists need to make themselves heard, eloquently, unequivocally, en masse, in high profile settings, but, if they’ve not yet identified the reckless foreign policy priority that constrains Obama from doing his duty, how would they make an effective specific demand ?

    As for action by ordinary people, I can think of nothing more pathetically ineffective than insulating our lofts, and hoping that our example will somehow energize corrupt senators.
    “What did you do to prevent the great famines that killed billions of people, Grandpa ?”
    “Well, I did put in some loft insulation, to try to show I cared you know . . .”

    Several decades ago a young man wrote out a full confession, and then put it and a large stilson wrench into his car, and drove out of Boston to a 300ft pylon that carried wind sensors for a nuclear project’s weather data monitoring. Having felled the pylon by undoing its guy wires, he then drove to the nearest police station, facing 25 years in prison.

    He fought the case on grounds of self-defence, with the backing of many scientists and the Clamshell Alliance. There was increasingly bad press for the nuclear industry as the case came to court. Over a year later, it got to the point that the industry lawyers managed to find a flaw in the way he’d been charged, and had the case dropped. Plans for Boston’s new nuclear plant were shelved.

    So how much more serious is the threat of GW ? And given those stakes, and that there is no alternative to a binding global treaty allocating national emission rights, what should we be doing about it ?

    Regards,

    Lewis

  61. EarthToSeaTechnologically? says:

    An impasse I’m at is neocons, whether they be located in Alberta, Texas, the Canadian government, or a branch of USA gov (but not China or non-coal EU), don’t care about the world going to shit in the lifetimes of their children/gc. But they don’t want this to happen in their own lifetimes as referenced by their sane response to Swine Flu (apart from big meat corporations). Meanwhile, one of the worst effects; potentially thee worst event of AGW will be more pandemics. No one has asked Encana or BP to throw $20B towards building W.H.O.’s new Seirra Leone natural ventilation medical clinic, everywhere in 3rd world. I just read an article from ex-Encana CEO preaching sustainable growth… he thinks his actions to annihilate harvests and make the future sick are sustainable. I sense the pandemic angle is being kept on the downlow. Maybe it is a risky but humane strategy to highlight petro-players correctly as bioterrorists? Future generations of neocons will never get the chance to preach hate if their predecessors get too sick…oil profits are evil.

  62. Rob Honeycutt says:

    In business I have a term that I continually use at meetings. Analysis paralysis. Smart people are all too happy to talk a problem into submission and then never make anything happen.

    If climate change is the looming crisis we all believe it to be, let’s not succumb to analysis paralysis. Let’s make something happen.

  63. Rob Honeycutt says:

    John A. Jauregui @ 37… “None of these facts have been reported in the national media. Why?”

    Because they are wrong.

  64. Rob Honeycutt says:

    John A. Jauregui @ 37… “If carbon dioxide levels were cut in half to 200PPM, all plant growth would stop according to agricultural scientists.”

    I suppose the four times that CO2 has gone down to 190 ppm over the past 450,000 years, for durations of 10k to 50k years, ended all plant life on the planet. See the Vostok ice core.

  65. H. Sapiens says:

    I see the usual comments about switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, “fuel efficient” cars, etc. Perhaps a quick order-of-magnitude calculation is in order.

    I grew up poor in the third world. Our house had no glass in the windows, no heating, no cooling (we had a couple of ceiling fans). We drew our water up with a bucket on a rope from a well in the yard. We had no car, no TV, no computer, no power tools. Our food was locally grown, and unprocessed. We cooked with locally grown wood (surely damaging the local forests in the process). Our furniture was mostly hand-made by local carpenters, our clothes all tailored by local tailors and sewn on foot-powered, treadle-operated sewing machines. With few machine-manufactured products and low energy use, chances are my family’s carbon footprint was not a whole lot bigger than those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

    The trouble is, pretty much *nobody* wants to live under those conditions if they have an alternative. And the alternatives they want increase their carbon footprint and energy usage by orders of magnitude – in many cases, by multiple orders of magnitude.

    As a very crude estimate, a human being is a 100 watt internal combustion engine, with each of us spewing a corresponding amount of CO2 (albeit not from long-buried fossilized sources). A large plasma TV may use 500 watts – roughly equivalent to five humans. A single small room air conditioner- 5000 BTUH – uses at least 1500 watts, and spews CO2 roughly equivalent to fifteen people (double or triple that for a centrally air-conditioned home). A small “fuel efficient” car might have a small, low-powered 100 hp engine. At 745.7 watts per horsepower, that amounts to 74,569 W or roughly 75 kW – with CO2 emissions equivalent to roughly 750 human beings when running at full throttle. Quadruple that to 3,000 human beings worth of CO2 at full throttle if you have a 400 hp SUV.

    So a single small air conditioner increases your CO2 emissions by one order of magnitude. A small “fuel efficient” car increases it a thousandfold, i.e. by *three* orders of magnitude. Yeah, the car probably runs at one-tenth of full power most of the time – so on average it “only” makes as much CO2 as ONE HUNDRED people, maybe. That’s still a two order of magnitude increase over your ancestors!

    That’s why, in the big scheme, a “fuel efficient car” is still an energy-slobbering glutton of the worst kind, sucking down as much energy as a hundred people, and spewing C02 accordingly. The only form of man-made land transportation we humans have that is not a huge energy hog is a bicycle – and people are moving away from those by the billion (look at China over the last decade).

    It only gets worse from there. Trucks, ships, and trains all use staggering amounts of energy – the laws of physical scaling are against you when you make large moving objects, as their mass goes up as the cube of their linear size, and the energy needed to move them goes up accordingly. A truck that’s twice as long a a car weighs roughly eight times as much, and would need eight times the horsepower – and spew eight times the CO2 – to produce the same on-the-road performance.

    Jet planes are actually nowhere near as bad as most people think – as Henk Tennekes explains in his wonderful book “The Simple Science of Flight”, a Boeing 747 doesn’t use much more energy per passenger-mile than a compact car with two people in it. Still, that’s way too much, especially when you consider that people use jet’s to fly enormous distances – much further than they would be willing to drive in the above-mentioned compact car. So in addition to the two orders of magnitude CO2 increase corresponding to the small car, add an third order of magnitude increase for the increased distance most jet flights cover.

    So, we live on a planet with at least a billion people in the developed world using energy – and spewing C02 – at rates tens, hundreds, and thousands of times higher than our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Halving this may seem impressive, but still leaves us tens, hundreds, and thousands of times worse off than our ancestors. To make a real impact, we need to each cut our energy use by two to three orders of magnitude – and that is virtually impossible unless you give up entirely on contemporary ways of living, and move back to living in a cave and growing your own food.

    Solar cells? Please. A 100-watt solar cell costs $400. The electric starter motor in an SUV sucks about 3000 W – it would take 30 of those solar cells costing $12,000 to make enough energy to just run the starter motor, never mind replacing the engine itself. Replacing a 400 horsepower engine – say only 40 horsepower average output – with solar power would require 300 solar panels costing $120,000. Twice that if you want to store enough energy to drive at night. And twice that again allowing for clouds, latitude, etc, all of which reduce solar output.

    And that’s why, in my opinion, replacing your 100 W bulb with a 7 W compact fluorescent is a nice, but fundamentally useless gesture. Unless you also give up your car, your air conditioner, your TV, your computer, and most of your other machine-manufactured goods, and switch to eating locally grown food you bring home on your bicycle, you’re still a CO2-spewing pig, compared to your great-great-great grandparents. AND there are literally billions more of us C02-spewing pigs than there were a short two hundred years ago.

    Yes, I’ve replaced all my lightbulbs with CFL’s. Yes, my car gets 37 mpg on the freeway according to the EPA sticker. Yes, I don’t have central air. And yes, like you, I’m still an energy hog, spewing as much CO2 as five hundred of my ancestors did every time I merge onto a freeway at full throttle with my little car. :(

    Sadly, James Lovelock and Bill McKibben appear to be right. As the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose so eloquently put it in their wonderfully catchy song, “It’s Too Late To Turn Back Now”.

    -Homo Sapiens

  66. espiritwater says:

    To Wit’s End (#21)– there’s an article in Newsweek (Ap. 19, 2010), pg. 8. “GW kills forests in Colorado”. Whole forests are being killed due to bark beetles, which can now live through the warmer winters (and thus, proliferate and subdue the trees). It’s occurring all over– British Colombia, Virginia, out West, in Alaska, etc. Bill McKibben mentions it in his new book, “Eaarth” also. It is heartbreaking!

  67. Prokaryotes says:

    Another common by-product of warming/drying trends is an increase in certain pests and tree/plant pathogens (such as fungi and viruses). Indeed, the ‘mountain pine’ beetle (a member of the Dendroctonus–”tree killer”– genus) has been rapidly spreading through, and decimating, western pine forests–from New Mexico to British Columbia–since 2006. Millions of acres in Montana and Wyoming have already fallen prey and turned rust red (due to a complete loss of chlorophyll).
    Pine trees can defend themselves from an infestations by secreting more white resin to seal off the beetles’ egg burrows. But the beetles also carry a blue-stain fungus that secrets a protein able to block the resin flow–as well as the food flow to the tree. Trees that succumb to this attack die from starvation. Though population blooms of the insect are normal following hot summers, it is believed that climate change trends, in the form of hotter temperatures and less rain help provide the ideal conditions for these and other parasitic insects to expand their populations and ranges

    http://planetsave.com/blog/blog/2010/07/05/dry-times-for-western-north-america-climate-trends-forecast/

  68. espiritwater says:

    Oops! Library times almost up! 2,500 energy lobbyists went to volunteer their “services” when Obama announced his intention to lay out his energy plans… 80% of the lobbyists went solely to block any meaningful action on renewable enery. (According to McKibben’s book, “Eaarth”). That’s why we are where we are. Solution? War– between them and us. Sooner or later, in my opinion it will take place.

  69. Windsong says:

    How did our forefathers solve such problems? When corrupt leaders had them in a neck lock, what did they do? These are not ordinary times!

    Our whole civilization is at stake, whole forests are dieing, our oceans will soon be dieing. We can suppress our rage and wait patiently for our leaders to change but will they?

    I agree with #14… “even when the manure hits the rotating blades, the oil companies will still be… propagandizing”, etc. The reason being, they are simply too corrupt to give up their power.

    Sooner or later, we will have to have a revolution…

  70. Preeem says:

    Nah, I don’t think there are enough of us. We’ll just end up fighting the rest of the population when the food runs out.

  71. Robert says:

    H. Sapiens,

    While I do basically agree with your pessimistic outlook it may not turn out that bad.

    In his online book David MacKay does similar order of magnitude calculations for supply and demand of all the major activities of modern life and concludes that it is technically possible to convert to renewable energy on a global scale without having to collapse civilisation along the way.

    http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html

  72. Deborah Stark says:

    Re: Roger – Post #36:

    Excerpt:
    …..I recommend a recent book by Randy Olsen called “Don’t be Such a Scientist, Talking Substance in an Age of Style.” Olsen has a degree in marine biology from Harvard, and has also worked as a filmmaker in Hollywood. He has suggestions that are designed to help bridge the gap between what scientists understand and what the general public understands about climate change….. END excerpt.

    Thank you for this recommendation. I will look into this book as I have been thinking about designing a modular series of succinct educational FAQS on the climate change situation, readable in about ten minutes for each FAQ and including references for those who would like additional information.

    I honestly don’t think that most people have a concrete idea of how they eventually will be directly affected by changes already well underway.

  73. TAFL says:

    Hi Ben at #59, No, the secret to success for a grass-roots consumer-based change is that enough people participate. Example: Electric cars and plug-in hybrids. If these experience an initial growth rate of say 15%/year in volume, while gas guzzlers experience 15% FALL in volume, then the industry will promote the electrics/plug-ins and their success will eventually have a HUGE effect on overall fuel consumption. Remember that about 80% of all oil produced goes to making transport fuels. In volume terms that is about 64 million barrels daily. If the whole transport sector reduces its fuel consumption by 50%, then 32 million barrels daily will be removed from the market, and yes this will reduce emissions significantly. Fair enough, more needs to be done, but every long walk begins with a few simple steps. This is where wind, solar and natural gas power plants become very relevant, namely to charge all those car batteries. It is technically no problem whatsoever. The problem is that it will cause the energy incumbements to close shop if they do not adapt. Therefore they pay millions to lobbyists and to political candidates to resist this, and paralyze our political processes in so doing. That is why I believe a consumer-led movement is essential and why marching on Washington will only dissappoint.

  74. H. Sapiens says:

    Robert says:
    In his online book David MacKay does similar order of magnitude calculations for supply and demand of all the major activities of modern life and concludes that it is technically possible to convert to renewable energy on a global scale without having to collapse civilisation along the way.

    http://www.withouthotair.com/download.html
    ==========================================================================
    Thank you for the reference. I’m downloading the book now and will give it a read.

    In a nutshell, though it seems rather simple: because a magic new technology that will give us unlimited and inexpensive clean power does not exist (and may never exist), our species has to cut our conventionally-generated energy use by two to three orders of magnitude, and do it very quickly, say within twenty years. Otherwise we’re only continuing to destroy an already burned-out and collapsing global ecosystem.

    That means either a billion people find a way to each cut their energy use by two to three orders of magnitude, or the human population on earth has to be cut by two to three orders of magnitude. The first is improbable to the point of impossibility. The second would be the most cruel catastrophe to ever hit humankind, as it would involve the untimely deaths of several billion people. It is also extremely improbable.

    That leaves the most likely alternative – a natural correction. Our species is not exempt from the inflexible rules that create prey-predator oscillations in millions of other species. We’ve simply been able to put off our collapse for centuries by being extremely efficient predators, and using up the entire planet’s resources to maintain our growth. It looks like that has hit a wall, though, and we are likely soon to run into planet-wide shortages of multiple necessities for life. When that happens, we will start to die off, until eventually the number of remaining people is balanced by the available resources.

    Foxes and rabbits…when you have too many foxes in an area, there are not enough rabbits to feed them, so the foxes start to die off. Once lots of foxes die, the rabbit population rebounds, and once there are ample rabbits, the fox population rebounds. And the cycle repeats indefinitely. It’s well modeled by a simple pair of coupled differential equations, and well demonstrated in countless animal populations.

    To follow the metaphor, I think we humans are very close to running out of rabbits, and this time it’s on a global scale – we can’t just move to a more rabbit-rich area, as some societies who destroyed their local environments have done in the past.

    It stops being a tragedy if you stand back and look at it as the inevitable course of natural events. The reason it seems disturbing is because we humans have fooled ourselves into thinking we are special, somehow exempt from the laws that govern all other life on earth. Our species had a good run of it, about 150,000 years so far according to the best evidence we have.

    In the long run, maybe only a few tens of thousands of years, the CO2 and planetary climate will re-balance at a new equilibrium. The poisons we put into the environment will have broken down long before then. The oceans acid levels will settle down. Whatever plant and animal life is best adapted to the new conditions will flourish. And human survivors will most likely start the whole cycle over again. Foxes and rabbits…

    -Homo Sapiens

  75. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    H Sapiens at 74

    “It stops being a tragedy if you stand back and look at it as the inevitable course of natural events.”

    You are dead wrong. It does not stop being a tragedy – you have just decided to stop caring about it – or doing anything to prevent it, under the inellectual pretence that it is natural.

    The looming unprecedented genocide, for which America would have lead responsibility, is far from inevitable;
    it is primarily a matter of political and moral choice by Americans in general, and by its government in particular.

    Think about it – the millions killed by the nazis in Germany would be chickenfeed compared to what you’re proposing we should calmly accept.

    Lewis

  76. Prokaryotes says:

    H. Sapiens, 74# “because a magic new technology that will give us unlimited and inexpensive clean power does not exist”

    Map of space required to power the world with solar energy.
    http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/fotostrecke-30946-12.html

  77. H. Sapiens says:

    Lewis Cleverdon – I wish you luck trying to influence several billion people enough to follow your opinions. You’re really going to need it. I also wish you luck dealing with the inevitable eventual realization that you have failed in your self-appointed task. You’re going to really need that as well, as it can be pretty crushing if your ego (in the Zen sense, i.e. your sense of self) is tied up in the task as it appears to be.

    If you read my posts reasonably carefully, you will note that I in fact already do all the trivially useless things that people recommend – I’ve switched to CFL’s, my car gets 37 mpg, I don’t have air conditioning at home. Unfortunately, the numbers indicate that these little sacrifices don’t matter a tinkers curse in the big scheme of things.

    It’s not that I don’t care or won’t do anything, rather my point is that the problem is now unstoppable and will inevitably run its course, no matter how much you or I kick and scream and complain that we want the universe to change to suit us. This is partly a case of hard science, and partly a case of human group psychology. It’s improbable to an extreme degree that we can alter either part of the equation.

    Show me one single historical case where at least two billion people collectively agreed to drastically modify their daily behaviour in order to benefit someone else (future generations, starving Africans, drowning South Pacific islanders, et al), and I’ll gladly alter my opinion. But you can’t, because such a thing has never happened, and the fact is that the roughly 30,000 years of human history we know anything about shows that our species is completely incapable of self-sacrifice on this scale.

    The Nazi’s killed millions. Their opponents killed millions more. The entire know history of humankind is filled with the slaughter of other humans. It’s wired into our DNA, and exists in every generation and every human culture. It is ongoing now, and will be ongoing in the future. Sadly, war and murder and genocide is inevitable, too, even though a small percent of humans in every generation have always seen the ugliness and stupidity and uselessness of it. World Peace is a nice dream, but it is only a dream, and will remain that way unless our very DNA is altered and we become a peaceful species.

    I’d say the same is true of the global climate change crisis. A small percentage of people can see the size of the problem, and are unselfish enough to make the sacrifices necessary to mitigate it. But only a small percentage. So failure to solve the problem on a global scale is inevitable, in the same way that we have failed to eliminate war, hunger, poverty, etc.

    I hope you have a wonderful day, and appreciate each new one as best you can. There are no guarantees about the future, and the long term outlook is bleak, so please enjoy this moment.

    -Homo Sapiens

  78. H. Sapiens says:

    Prokaryotes – did you notice my calculation that it costs $12,000 (US dollars) to generate enough solar power to run the 3000 W starter motor in an SUV? World energy use (order of magnitude) is currently around 10 Terawatts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:World_Energy_consumption.png). At $4 (US dollars) per watt of solar power, roughly what solar power costs today, it would take roughly forty trillion dollars just to buy the solar cells, never mind the cost of land, installation, infrastructure, etc. Do you think that is a practical amount of money for the world economy to come up with in the space of the few short years we have to deal with the problem? How about coming up with enough silicon, other raw materials, and manufacturing capacity to actually make that many square miles of solar cells?

    I don’t understand German, so I don’t know the scientific assumptions behind the spiegel.de link you posted. However, one of the things people seem to very often ignore about solar power is the ludicrously low conversion efficiency of photovoltiac systems. Yes, you may have 1000 W/m^2 of solar irradiance on the equator on a sunny day. However, factor in roughly 10% solar cell efficiency and you’ve lost a full order of magnitude, leaving you down at 100 W/m^2. Now, halve that for a daily average (no sun at night), halve it again for cloudy weather, and halve it a third time to allow for non-equatorial latitudes and seasonal variations in sunlight.

    You’re now down one more order of magnitude, generating a measly 10 W/m^2 or less of electricity from sunlight over a yearly planet-wide average. Unless these two orders of magnitude of inefficiency were factored into that spiegel.de plot, the reality is that we’ll need about one hundred times more area than the cute little red squares on the chart – along with the forty trillion dollars I mentioned earlier.

    Old-tech solar thermal power (use the sun to boil the working fluid that drives a steam turbine) is cheaper, but the efficiency isn’t any better.

    I want that magic fix as much as anyone. But I reluctantly gave up believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy as a child, and I’ve reluctantly given up believing in magic fixes and deus ex machina as an adult. Solar power *is* enough to power an electric bicycle (which gets around nicely on 100 W), but not an electric car (which needs at least 10,000 W average and maybe 100,000 W peak). If we all lower our average energy use by the two to three orders of magnitude I mentioned in my earlier post, solar might meet all our needs. But how likely is it that the entire industrialized world will manage to drop its energy consumption by two to three orders of magnitude, given that we can’t even agree on a 10% cut over 10 years?

    Enough of all this, I’m going to shut down this computer to save another 100 W, and go fiddle (play my guitar) while the Earth burns. Maybe Nero was onto something, if he didn’t have a big enough firehose to put out Rome, why the heck not fiddle while it burns? I sure as heck don’t have a big enough firehose to put out the earths fire…

    -Homo Sapiens

  79. dorveK says:

    There is also the “thorium nuclear” thing that seems promising as a kind of “magic fix”, but it could take a decade or so to be fully operational:
    http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/12/ff_new_nukes/

    I just don’t understand why we don’t hear more about, since it could really help “save” billions of people just as any renewable technology, and we should be pushing every possible solutions as much as we can right now!

  80. Richard Brenne says:

    Homo Sapiens (All of us, or just one?): Bravo! I’m always blown away by the quality of comments at Climate Progress, but never more than your brilliantly-written essays above. I’m tortured by giving a talk along exactly these same lines at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in their planetarium tomorrow, Monday at 7 pm, because it might be too much for most people.

    I have projects I’d like to talk to you about – you can e-mail me at rabrenne@hotmail.com.

    Again, bravo. Really the best writing I’ve seen here, which is saying a lot, even if it is the most depressing to our egos. But to the authentic self that is within each of us, somehow the truth is both inspiring and an odd comfort.

  81. fj2 says:

    #65. H Sapiens, Great stuff; scale is just about everything in a very important sense; and why Amory Lovins’ RMI’s “Factor 10” whole systems initiative seems to provide a critical path to developing the solutions with 10’s and 100’s of times’ improvements in reducing environmental footprints.

    As an example:
    While bicycles may reduce emissions by about 300% to 400% on the simple act of walking — recumbents are a lot more efficient than upright bicycles — the infrastructures required for bicycles have many times smaller environmental footprints. On a very simplistic scale a bridge that carries 25-pound bicycles likely requires no more than 1/100th the environmental footprint of bridges that must carry 2500-pound vehicles and every bridge thereafter. And, checkout the “Our Cities Ourselves” held by the American Institute of Architects in New York City with one major Chinese city (might be Shanghai) in the planning stage of building elevated pedestrian and bikeways as a solution to the car problem. In any case, China still has 430 million cyclists and 120 million people using electric bikes.

    Regarding “Solar cells? Please. A 100-watt cell costs $400.”

    A Commodore 64 probably did not cost much less in today’s dollars and it was reported about a year ago that IBM, Intel, and HP having great success reducing the costs of computing technology; are now heavily engaged the same way reducing costs of photovoltaic technology.

    And, there’s other stuff, and scale-appropriate solutions are not impossible; and, it’s the human capital part of the equation that is most important.

    James Lovelock’s Gaia Theory is quite powerful conceptualization with potentially substantial application in dealing with the extraordinary complexity of the environmental crisis, as are many of his ideas; and ultimately, may ironically serve as a source of optimism no matter how pessimistic his current projections may be.