A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice

The first anniversary of ‘Climategate’: The media blows the story of the century

This week marks the one-year anniversary of what the anti-science crowd successfully labeled ‘Climategate’.  The media will be doing countless retrospectives, most of which will be wasted ink, like the Guardian‘s piece — focusing on climate scientists at the expense of climate science, which is precisely the kind of miscoverage that has been going on for the whole year!

I’ll save that my media critiques for Part 2, since I think that Climategate’s biggest impact was probably on the media, continuing their downward trend of focusing on style over substance, of missing the story of the century, if not the millennia.

The last year or so has seen more scientific papers and presentations that raise the genuine prospect of catastrophe (if we stay on our current emissions path) that I can recall seeing in any other year.

Perhaps the media would have ignored that science anyway, but Climategate appears to be a key reason “less than 10 percent of the news articles written about last year’s climate summit in Copenhagen dealt primarily with the science of climate change, a study showed on Monday.”

But for those interested in the real climate science story of the past year, let’s review a couple dozen studies of the most important findings.  Any one of these would be cause for action — and combined they vindicate the final sentence of Elizabeth Kolbert’s  Field Notes from a Catastrophe:  “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”

1. Nature: “Global warming blamed for 40% decline in the ocean’s phytoplankton”:  “Microscopic life crucial to the marine food chain is dying out. The consequences could be catastrophic.”

If confirmed, it may represent the single most important finding of the year in climate science.  Seth Borenstein of the AP explains, “plant plankton found in the world’s oceans  are crucial to much of life on Earth. They are the foundation of the bountiful marine food web, produce half the world’s oxygen and suck up harmful carbon dioxide.” Boris Worm, a marine biologist and co-author of the study said, “We found that temperature had the best power to explain the changes.”  He noted, “If this holds up, something really serious is underway and has been underway for decades. I’ve been trying to think of a biological change that’s bigger than this and I can’t think of one.”

2.  Science: Vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane stores destabilizing and venting:  NSF issues world a wake-up call: “Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming.”

Methane release from the not-so-perma-frost is the most dangerous amplifying feedback in the entire carbon cycle. This research finds a key “lid” on “the large sub-sea permafrost carbon reservoir” near Eastern Siberia “is clearly perforated, and sedimentary CH4 [methane] is escaping to the atmosphere.”

The permafrost permamelt contains a staggering “1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere,” much of which would be released as methane.  Methane is  is 25 times as potent a heat-trapping gas as CO2 over a 100 year time horizon, but 72 times as potent over 20 years!

The carbon is locked in a freezer in the part of the planet warming up the fastest (see “Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss“).  Half the land-based permafrost would vanish by mid-century on our current emissions path (see “Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return” and below).  No climate model currently incorporates the amplifying feedback from methane released by a defrosting tundra.

The NSF is normally a very staid organization.  If they are worried, everybody should be.

It is increasingly clear that if the world strays significantly above 450 ppm atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide for any length of time, we will find it unimaginably difficult to stop short of 800 to 1000 ppm.

3.  Must-read NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path.

Dust-Bowlification may be the impact of human-caused climate change that hits the most people by mid-century, as the figure below suggests (“a reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought”):

drought map 3 2060-2069

The PDSI in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here).  The National Center for Atmospheric Research notes “By the end of the century, many populated areas, including parts of the United States, could face readings in the range of -8 to -10, and much of the Mediterranean could fall to -15 to -20. Such readings would be almost unprecedented.”

4.   Nature Geoscience study: Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred and Geological Society: Acidifying oceans spell marine biological meltdown “by end of century” — Co-author: “Unless we curb carbon emissions we risk mass extinctions, degrading coastal waters and encouraging outbreaks of toxic jellyfish and algae.”

Marine life and all who depend on it, including humans are at grave risk from unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases.  This can’t be stopped with geo-engineering and there is no plausible strategy for undoing it.

Ocean acidification may well be the most under-reported of all the catastrophic climate impacts we are risking.

5.  Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100 [see figure] and these related findings and studies:


For more on SLR, see Coastal studies experts: “For coastal management purposes, a [sea level] rise of 7 feet (2 meters) should be utilized for planning major infrastructure”

6.  Royal Society: “There are very strong indications that the current rate of species extinctions far exceeds anything in the fossil record.”

This is from a special issue of 16 articles in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (Biological Science), “Biological diversity in a changing world,“– which notes “Never before has a single species driven such profound changes to the habitats, composition and climate of the planet.”

7.  Science: Drought drives decade-long decline in plant growth

The NASA news release explains the importance of the work by researchers Maosheng Zhao and Steven Running,:

“These results are extraordinarily significant because they show that the global net effect of climatic warming on the productivity of terrestrial vegetation need not be positive “” as was documented for the 1980’s and 1990’s,” said Diane Wickland, of NASA Headquarters and manager of NASA’s Terrestrial Ecology research program….

“This is a pretty serious warning that warmer temperatures are not going to endlessly improve plant growth,” Running said….

“The potential that future warming would cause additional declines does not bode well for the ability of the biosphere to support multiple societal demands for agricultural production, fiber needs, and increasingly, biofuel production,” Zhao said.


UPDATE:  A commenter notes that questions about the statistics used in this paper have been raised here. It does look to me like the authors should have put in more of a disclaimer about statistical uncertainty.  I viewed (and still view) the original results as credible because they’re consistent with the findings of the Global Carbon Project — see slide 26 here, which is based on this 2009 Nature Geoscience article.  See also Nature on stunning new climate feedback: Beetle tree kill releases more carbon than fires.” The bottom line is that this study joins others in raising the serious warning that, contrary to the popular view, a world of ever increasing carbon dioxide may not lead to increased vegetation and may in fact lead to a decreased land sink. That would be particularly true if the NCAR drought projection comes true.

8.  Nature review of 20 years of field studies finds soils emitting more CO2 as planet warms

A biogeochemist quoted by Nature explained that “perhaps [the] most likely explanation is that increasing temperatures have increased rates of decomposition of soil organic matter, which has increased the flow of CO2. If true, this is an important finding: that a positive feedback to climate change is already occurring at a detectable level in soils.”

Another major study in the February 2010 issue of the journal Ecology by Finnish researchers, “Temperature sensitivity of soil carbon fractions in boreal forest soil,” had a similar conclusion.  The Finnish Environment Institute, which led the study, explained the results in a release, “Soil contributes to climate warming more than expected”

9.   Global Warming: Future Temperatures Could Exceed Livable Limits, Researchers Find.

There were so many important climate science findings this year I didn’t get to write on all of them.  This one in particular was misunderstood:

Reasonable worst-case scenarios for global warming could lead to deadly temperatures for humans in coming centuries, according to research findings from Purdue University and the University of New South Wales, Australia.

The study notes that even a 12°F warming would be dangerous for many.  In fact, we could well see these deadly temperatures in the next century or century and a half over large parts of the globe on a very plausible emissions path.

10.  UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon.”

Right before Climategate broke, scientists were increasingly starting to realize that humanity might well ignore the increasingly strong evidence that we needed to take action.  They even held a conference on “4°C and beyond” just weeks before the scandal broke.  Some of the top climate modelers in the world finally did a “plausible worst case scenario,” as Dr Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, put it in a terrific and terrifying talk (audio here, PPT here).

This is the “plausible worst case scenario” for 2060 from the UK Met Office that occurs in 10% of model runs of high emissions with the carbon cycle feedbacks [temperature in degrees Celsius, multiple by 1.8 for Fahrenheit]:

Graphic of chnage in temperature

As the Met Office notes here, “In some areas warming could be significantly higher (10 degrees [C = 15F] or more)”:

  • The Arctic could warm by up to 15.2 °C [27.4 °F] for a high-emissions scenario, enhanced by melting of snow and ice causing more of the Sun’s radiation to be absorbed.
  • For Africa, the western and southern regions are expected to experience both large warming (up to 10 °C [18 °F]) and drying.
  • Some land areas could warm by seven degrees [12.6 F] or more.
  • Rainfall could decrease by 20% or more in some areas, although there is a spread in the magnitude of drying. All computer models indicate reductions in rainfall over western and southern Africa, Central America, the Mediterranean and parts of coastal Australia.
  • In other areas, such as India, rainfall could increase by 20% or more. Higher rainfall increases the risk of river flooding.

In fact, though, this is ‘only’ the 5.4°C case, and if it doesn’t happen in the 2060s (which it probably won’t), it is merely the business as usual projection (!) for 2100 (see “M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F“).

CONCLUSION:  Unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases threaten multiple catastrophes, any one of which justifies action.  Together, they represent the gravest threat to humanity imaginable.  The fact that the overwhelming majority of the mainstream media ignored the overwhelming majority of these studies and devoted a large fraction of its climate ‘ink’ in the last 12 months to what was essentially a non-story is arguably the single greatest failing of the science media this year.

I didn’t have space here to report on the many studies that bolstered the case for our understanding that recent warming has been unequivocal and that humans are the primary cause.  But indeed the case is so strong that this year, even the normally staid U.S. National Academy of Sciences labeled as “settled facts” that “the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

Must-read NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path


110 Responses to A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice

  1. Michael T. says:

    Review of Four Decades of Scientific Literature Concludes Lower Atmosphere is Warming

    “The troposphere, the lower part of the atmosphere closest to the Earth, is warming and this warming is broadly consistent with both theoretical expectations and climate models, according to a new scientific study that reviews the history of understanding of temperature changes and their causes in this key atmospheric layer.”

  2. PAUL DONOHUE says:

    What about the work of Staniford that questions the paper by Zhao and Running as not being statistically valid? One of my students brought this to may attention and I have to answer him Wednesday.

    [JR: Haven’t seen it. Was it published? That’s what the scientific literature is for. You should email the authors.

    And this is why I posted so many studies here. A couple may not pan out.]

  3. peter whitehead says:

    Given that the two biggest producers of grenhouse gas, the US and China, will do nothing of any consequence to halt the Thermocalypse, it’s time to make a download of the whole of, say, Wikipedia, and put copies on spaceprobes sent into high orbit. One day another species may find them and understand why this planet died. See Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 5, Episode 25 “The Inner Light”.

  4. Kevin says:

    Joe, what is your take on peak oil slowing down IPCC predictions? Their predictions are based on a 2% world economic GDP growth, something that may not be achievable as oil prices will remain high and stagnate the economy for the foreseeable future. Even the notoriously conservative IEA 2010 report shows a sharp drop off in conventional oil production (although they seem optimistic that new sources can be found to at least keep production steady for awhile).

    Given that high oil/energy prices necessitate slower GDP growth and less emissions, do you think any discussion of business as usual makes any sense at this point? It seems to me to be outside the realm of possibilities given the finite energy constraints of the planet.

  5. Thanks for the summary.

    With respect to the Saniford commentary, it is here. As far as I know, he did not follow up with Science formally, but he makes a pretty good case. He also details his correspondence with Running and Zhao. So, on this one, I think you should be cautious about the conclusions.

    [JR: Thanks for this. Three points. First, this commentary doesn’t actually disprove the results of the original study. Second, it does look to me like the authors should have put in more of a disclaimer about statistical uncertainty. Third, I viewed the original results as credible because they were consistent with the findings of the Global Carbon Project — see slide 26 here, which is based on this 2009 Nature Geoscience article. I probably should have put that in the original post.]

  6. Jim says:

    The most important post I have yet seen on global warming.

    [JR: Thanks! I’ll keep it on the top of the page.]

  7. John Mason says:

    It’s depressing, Joe, but not altogether surprising for those of us who watch the situation closely. It’s like watching a 747 overshoot a runway in slow motion!

    Cheers – John

  8. Raleigh Latham says:

    A god damn important wakeup call that needs to be seen around the world,
    how to we take maximum effect regionally to circumvent our national governments complete ignorance?

    I see the Western, and Pacific Northwest states taking the most action, and efforts should be most focused there.

  9. Nick Palmer says:

    Of course, all these “worst case” scenarios assume that climate science is pretty well sewn up. I’m a climate science sceptic but before the denialati cheer they need to remember that scepticism about climate science can go the other way too…

    I think it cannot be ruled out that there are positive feedback “unknown unknowns” lurking to catch us out. The speed that we are currently forcing the climate means that conclusions from paleoclimatology, based on the rates of previous natural forcings, cannot be definitively used to accurately and fully establish total climate sensitivity and thereby forecast future temperature rises due to feedbacks. We truly are conducting an unprecedented experiment on the atmosphere/ocean system.

    There is nothing in the planetary manual that says we can’t have Hell, High Water and then even more than that if we push the wrong buttons…

  10. mike roddy says:

    Great work, Joe. This should be required reading for all Americans, but especially reporters and Congressmen.

  11. PeterW says:

    Regarding Oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today.

    Whenever I read articles about ocean acidification, I find no one mentions the impact this will have on land based animals and plants. I’m guessing once the oceans are only inhabited by jellyfish, squid and toxic algae blooms, the coastal ecosystems will vanish. My question is how far inland will the destruction go? When you destroy 3/4 of the world’s ecosystem, how does this affect the final quarter? I think our destruction of the oceans is being vastly underestimated.

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    I have been adding to the list of the 2010 coral die-offs, 15 countries and counting.

    Andaman Sea
    Sri Lanka
    many parts of Indonesia
    Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary – Texas

    Dr Andrew Baird of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook Universities.

    “So far around 80 percent of Acropora colonies and 50% of colonies from other species have died since the outbreak began in May this year,” he added.

    This means coral cover in the region could drop from an average of 50% to around 10percent, and the spatial scale of the event could mean it will take years to recover, striking at local fishing and regional tourism industries, he said.

    Acropora is the most abundant of the corals in each of the reefs.

  13. Colorado Bob says:

    The coral story is pretty interesting as a media item. While researching these reports, there currently is no major media outlet in the world reporting this die-off as a world wide event.

  14. PAUL DONOHUE says:

    Thanks, those are the points I want to make. And that it is consistent with other declines in carbon sinks. One consistent point is the rise in the price of grain. Then I plan to talk about carbon sinks. I’ll use some of the info in this report. I hope the news media will take up the cause before it is too late. Thanks for you great and important efforts.

  15. dbmetzger says:

    I’ll just add this to the sordid mix…from sea to shining sea..

    Global Statistics: Environmental Pollution from the Shipping Industry
    The environmental damage caused by the international shipping industry is on the rise, although it is considered an environmentally friendly means of transport.

  16. Wonhyo says:

    While the UK Met Office may report 13-18 deg F in the U.S. and 27 deg F in the Arctic as a 10% worst case scenario, experience tells me the scientifically reported “worst case scenario” is usually the “most likely” outcome. I do note that this study included climate feedbacks. I suspect that may be true in terms of temperature feedbacks, but I suspect there are additional feedbacks in the effects of increasing temperature that are still not well understood or included in the models.

    So, I’ll take the UK Met Office temperature predictions as “most likely” outcomes as far as temperature, but I suspect the effects on climate livability will be far worse than currently expected.

  17. Some European says:

    Thanks for another essential post. I’ll share it.

    I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time:
    What if you were a psychopath and your intention were to exterminate all life on planet earth or at least the species homo sapiens sapiens? How would you achieve that goal?

    Atomic bomb? You’d have to detonate all the warheads in the world at the same time in all of the world’s major cities, under the Himalayan and Andean glaciers, in the rainforests, … I don’t think it would work.
    Biological weapons? You’d have to spread the deadliest viruses in the world’s most populated areas. I’m sure some native Papuans would survive.
    Asteroids? You’d have to deviate a large asteroid off its path onto a collision course with earth. Would that be feasible? Still, some life forms would survive the blast.
    Geo-engineer the world into a glaciation/snowball earth?
    That happened before and didn’t do the job.

    The only way I can think of is to emit vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Focusing on the methane clathrates would be a good place to start. Or setting fire to the amazon or to the world’s largest coal mines and oil wells.

    Seriously, think about it.

    There’s only one way to push the earth off the cliff, possibly into a Venus-syndrome. And we’re doing it. That makes us earn the title of generation of suicidal (or generacidal) psychopaths.

    For an individual, the most effective way to push us off the cliff is by investing millions of dollars in disinformation. Oh wait, somebody’s already doing that: two brothers, who may well be called the planet’s deadliest psychopaths.

    We need to start thinking seriously about the possibility of the human race blindly racing into a Venus-syndrome.
    I’m sure most people here are convinced we’re not that stupid or we’ll all die before we get the chance to burn the last coal.
    For the first option: are you sure we can’t be that stupid? Are you really sure? History shows that humans are capable of the unimaginable.

  18. Neven says:

    Fantastic job, Joe.

  19. #4 Kevin: I think peak oil will force us to make the choice.

    There will be many people saying we should deal with peak oil by going full speed ahead with tar sands and liquid coal – the same people who now deny global warming. If they prevail, peak oil will make global warming worse, despite slower growth.

    And there will be many people saying that we should deal with peak oil by transitioning to a sustainable economy.

  20. Ian says:


    Clearly the future of our civilization is at stake. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I feel somewhat lost on what to do.

    It also seems clear that we can’t rely on mainstream media to get this message across. Its depressing to even think about but its debatable if given people were given the clearest, most compelling possible messaging whether or not they would even act to change things.

    But, assuming there is something that we can do, what is it? Those of us that are aware of this monumental task, what are we willing to do? What should we do now?

    Even regarding the emotions in all of us, what are we to do? I’m sure many of the people reading your blog feel depressed and despondent. I don’t know if there is an answer, but how should we be channeling our feelings?

    Perhaps this isn’t the correct venue to be addressing these questions, or maybe you already have, but I would really like to hear your thoughts on these things, Joe. I know you’re a busy guy and you have bigger problems to tackle but whatever help you can offer to your readers would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks very much for all you’ve done, Joe.


    [JR: This is very much on my mind and I will endeavor to offer some thoughts in the coming weeks and months.]

  21. paulm says:


    Please declare a State of Extraordinary Emergency to save humanity (and the Biosphere)!


  22. Heraclitus says:

    Climategate was not a non-story, but almost the entire media missed what the real story was – namely the ease with which the media were manipulated.

    Shameful that almost the entire, supposedly educated population, are unaware of these ten stories and hundreds, maybe even thousands more that are almost as significant from this year alone. In contrast, any study that could possibly be slanted to provide ‘balance’ in the coverage gets wide coverage.

  23. Ian says:

    I’m really looking forward to your thoughts on this. Thanks again, Joe.

  24. Richard Miller says:

    If total estimated amount of carbon stored in the permafrost is about twice the amount currently in the atmosphere, then how much is estimated to be in the land based permafrost, half of which could be gone at 560 ppm CO2? Do you have any ideas or know of a study that indicates this?


  25. paulm says:

    So the world is coming to an end…thats odd, Canada’s number one news paper the G&M has not a mention of it or anything related to it in today edition….

  26. DOD says:

    [These multiple catastrophes] represent the gravest threat to humanity imaginable.

    Or, they represent the gravest threat to most lifeforms currently on the planet.

  27. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #20: Out of curiosity, Ian, what would be a bigger problem?

  28. Adrian says:

    Joe, thanks for the review of the past year.

    To Ian and others: Depression? Anguish? Despondency? Grief? Anger? I agree many of us feel these things. We are sentient, empathetic and refuse to go into denial. To me these seem like normal reactions to our global environmental systems crisis, not a psychiatric condition.

    Yet go to the doctor and say you are having these feelings about climate change, biodiversity loss and over-run earth systems boundaries in general, and you will get offered prozac. Really.

    Gandhi offers an attitude for doing necessary work to solve huge problems in the face of the seemingly impossible: he says something like each person cannot put out the whole fire, but each can work on putting out the fire where he or she happens to live.

    I have found that as long as I keep making lifestyle changes to lower my carbon footprint and keep working with other people in my community on various sustainability and social action projects, these feelings do get channeled into productive work. I don’t know how much difference it makes, but it’s something. Yet one wishes one could do more.

    I look forward to Joe’s thoughts on the matter.

  29. Steve Bloom says:

    Re Staniford’s critique of the Running & Zhao paper, here’s the problem with statistics in this context: Every day you walk up and down flights of stairs. This goes on for years. One day, you fall down some stairs and are killed. Is the fall statistically signifcant in light of the tens of thousands of previous successful ascents and descents? No, not even a blip’s worth. We should bear in mind also that every statistically significant trend was real before it was significant. Statistical tests are rules of thumb, nothing more.

    The significance of the paper isn’t the exact amount of the change in trend, but the connection of the change to measured drought and drying. IOW, consistent with Liebig’s Law of the Minimum demonstrating that any one of a variety of factors can limit plant growth under a given set of conditions, CO2 has ceased to be the limiing factor in global productivity. What is entirely clear from the paper, and note that Staniford didn’t even try to challenge this point, is that productivity will decline further if the trend in drying and drought (and their effects such as forest fires and insect infestations) continues. Unfortunately, there is every expectation that it will.

  30. Colorado Bob says:

    Catastrophic Drought Looms for Capital City of Bolivia

    Climatologist Mark Bush of FIT led a research team investigating a 370,000-year record of climate and vegetation change in Andean ecosystems.

    The scientists used fossilized pollen trapped in the sediments of Lake Titicaca, which sits on the border of Peru and Bolivia.

    They found that during two of the last three interglacial periods, which occurred between 130,000-115,0000 years ago and 330,000-320,000 years ago, Lake Titicaca shrank by as much as 85 percent.

    Adjacent shrubby grasslands were replaced by desert.

    In each case, a steady warming occurred that caused trees to migrate upslope, just as they are doing today.

    However, as the climate kept warming, the system suddenly flipped from woodland to desert.

    “The evidence is clear that there was a sudden change to a much drier state,” said Bush.

  31. Adrian says:

    P.S. to #28: Sorry if I sound self-righteous or pompous. Don’t mean to.

  32. MarkB says:


    “The troposphere, the lower part of the atmosphere closest to the Earth, is warming and this warming is broadly consistent with both theoretical expectations and climate models, according to a new scientific study that reviews the history of understanding of temperature changes and their causes in this key atmospheric layer.”

  33. Colorado Bob says:

    More from #29 –

    Such tipping points have been postulated by other studies, but this work allowed the researchers to state when the system will change.

    Based on the growth limits of Andean forests, they defined a tipping point that was exceeded within a 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius warming above modern conditions.

    Given a rate of warming in the Peruvian Andes of about 0.3-0.5 degrees Celsius per decade, the tipping point ahead would be reached between 2040 and 2050.

  34. Ian says:

    To #27 Steve Bloom:

    Sorry, not sure what you mean by your question. Bigger problem than what?

    To #28 Adrian:

    Didn’t think you sounded self-righteous at all, Adrian! It’s a tough issue for sure though. Yeah, I think all of us are doing what we can to reduce our impact on the environment. These efforts are certainly important but I think many of us feel like there’s much more we should be doing. What those actions are I’m not entirely sure right now.

    Very hard to move forward when it feels like you have nowhere to go logistically and emotionally. Definitely doesn’t mean any of us should give up but its still frustrating.

    Thanks guys.

  35. Wit's End says:

    Boris Worm, a marine biologist and co-author of the study said, “We found that temperature had the best power to explain the changes.” He noted, “If this holds up, something really serious is underway and has been underway for decades. I’ve been trying to think of a biological change that’s bigger than this and I can’t think of one.”

    Yeah, it’s really bad!


    And that is the death of all plant life on land.

    OOOOh! Does anybody care??

  36. Solar Jim says:

    Humanity is failing. America is failing. While we obsess about finance and economics the “ecologics” are unraveling. Grain crops will not germinate when temperature thresholds are crossed.

    We have economically defined minerals stripped from the lithosphere as “energy,” which of course they are not. They are not “stored solar energy.” Fossil hydrocarbons are stored carbon matter, not energy. The C-H bond is what put them there (through photosynthesis, burial and subduction). What is the matter with us anyway? What is energy, what is the matter. Our concept of energy is explosives (bombs, arsenal delivery systems and combustion fuels for fools). By the way, what’s going to blow up next?

    We have contaminated our own garden, which does not belong to us, but without which we do not exist. Such sadness to witness the death of millions of fellow Earth travelers, including the forests and those species in them and magnificent coral ecosystems. Not to mention submergence of humanity and its maritime heritage (like New York, London and Shanghai).

    Cry-O-Sphere. You are sick and feverish with disease organisms that call themselves religious and economic. Economics as religious fraud, or just out-and-out fraud. We can’t possibly stop contaminating ourselves, since fossil reserves have too high a financial value, at least in the human mind.

    There will be no mercy found in the response of geophysics. It is now all too well understood. And it does not appear to be linear, but exponential. Only a revolution might possibly save us now. America hasn’t had one since its creation. We seem to be overdue. Anybody interested? What the hell and high water, anyway.

  37. Richard Brenne says:

    Our species has behaved like an abusive, even murdering alcoholic.

    The only thing an alcoholic can do to heal themselves is to take full responsibility for what they’ve done, no longer denying it. Then they need to make amends to everyone and everything they can.

    When they do that (maybe about the most difficult thing one can do), then almost any amount of healing and forgiveness is possible.

    Without those steps, then anyone allowing that behavior is just another enabler.

    I don’t see this essential work, which is worth more than about all the feel-good solutions put together, being done anywhere as much as here at Climate Progress by almost everyone commenting.

    A psychologist told me that when person A and B both have crippling accidents and A says “I’m only going to be cheerful and optimistic no matter what” and person B lets themselves feel all the injustice, anger and grief about their situation, after a period of time person B is far more psychologically healthy than person A, because they’re traversed the necessary steps.

    I feel the injustice, anger and grief in so many of the comments here, and I applaud each and every one of you. I sincerely think you’re helping us evolve the consciousness we most need to face what’s coming the best we can. Maybe what we see isn’t all there is, and our elevated consciousness will take us places we can’t now see or imagine.

  38. Just in case this massive marshalling of facts and analysis doesn’t move mountains, this sociological observervation about the culture of climate denial might explain why.

  39. Kevin says:

    @ 19 Charles

    Thanks for throwing in a response. I think you brought up an important point, most debate seems to be in one camp or the other. On one side, climate change will destroy humanity, on the other peak oil will destroy humanity, with little discussion on the interplay between the correlated items.

    However, I think that you inaccurately state that most people that are concerned with peak oil deny anthropogenic climate change, they simply believe that the supply/demand issues regarding oil should trump climate discussions as their effects will be felt first, thus limiting our future energy choices (that is if we attempt to continue consuming what we currently are).

    IMHO, high energy prices will slow or halt growth, but climate policy still needs to be addressed, and of course the issues are not mutually exclusive. However, my point was that I think “business as usual” when it comes to CO2 emissions is a waste of time, as it is not practically possible given the cost constraints of the extraction of the remaining energy sources. Those type of wild predictions regarding temperature and sea level rise only serve to fuel people who argue that climate change severity is exaggerated. To try and predict energy usage and CO2 levels 75 years out is simply a waste of time, given the already unstable global political climate resulting from the race to lay claim to diminishing oil reserves.

    Obviously deploying renewables to the maximum extent possible along with energy efficiency (only if paired w/a price on carbon), will get us a good way to the necessary emissions reductions, but beyond that there is a good gap of current energy usage that needs to be made up with some form of CCS and nuclear mix if we are to continue consuming energy at the current rate.

    I would love to try and see Joe synthesize these two issues here on Climate Progess as their interplay is crucial in determining a rational path forward.

  40. Richard Brenne says:

    Gail (Wit’s End at #35 above), I was waiting to hear from you here. Could you please re-print the copy from the flier you’re handing out here again? I know you did it in a recent post but it deserves to be added to this list, even if it isn’t as scientifically accepted as many of these other issues yet.

    When it is so accepted, you’ll be well-known and highly-regarded, though I know that’s somewhat small consolation for the collapse of our entire eco-system.

    No wonder most of us (not here at CP, but everywhere else) would rather talk about the Giants, Heat and Lindsey Lohan (evidently a giant Lindsey Lohan is getting some heat). . .

  41. Joe, consistent with your point about the mainstream media focusing on climate scientists not the climate science, see Ben Webster in today’s The Times, “Climategate scientist Phil Jones regrets emails but stands by global warming conclusions”, reprinted at

  42. Roger Wehage says:

    Are scientists under predicting the severity of global warming? I see mention of CO2, NOx, CH4 and a few lesser GHG elements, but what about black carbon?

    If Carmichael is correct, the world is in bigger trouble yet.

    In a paper published in May 2008 in Nature Geoscience, Carmichael and Ramanathan found that black carbon soot from diesel engine exhaust and cooking fires — widely used in Asia — may play a larger role than previously thought in global warming. They said that coal and cow dung-fueled cooking fires in China and India produce about one-third of black carbon; the rest is largely due to diesel exhaust in Europe and other regions relying on diesel transport. The paper also noted that soot and other forms of black carbon could equal up to 60 percent of the current global warming effect of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas. (Bold emphasis mine.)

  43. catman306 says:

    It was science, engineering, and technology that got us to the edge of this abyss. The three need to help us back to safety. Here’s two ideas:

    Use the waste heat from PV panels to heat water, thereby increasing solar efficiency to 80%.

    A compressed air powered car that goes 200 miles on a charge.

  44. Tomas L. Martin says:

    Joe, I’ve noticed for a few months now that the ‘share’ button appears to be broken, at least on Chrome. Otherwise your stories would have a few more pagelinks from me.

    There was a very good three part article on recently that tied a lot of world issues together – something more people seem to be doing recently.

    I think with the acceleration of climate change and the passing of peak oil (according to the IEA this week), we are close to the point where we will have to look again at the Limits to Growth and the steady-state economy. There’s been some movement in that direction recently (a lot of governments suddenly seem much keener on ‘happiness quotients’ and the like) but we have a long way to go. It’s becoming more and more plausible to me that this recession may not end at all, and the world will not be able to return to growth with all the many anchors weighing it down.

    A lot of people, particularly those with profits at stake, won’t like the idea of a world economy that doesn’t grow. But sooner or later, that’s what we will have to embrace if we’re to carry on as a going concern. My suspicion, based on work such as ‘The Spirit Level’ by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, is that such a society would actually be better for most of us. For the past three decades (or more), the economic system has been working against pretty much everyone’s best interests, on many levels.

  45. Richard Brenne says:

    Kevin (#) 39: Great questions about the Peak Oil – Climate Change interface. I’ve produced multiple panels with James Howard Kunstler, Al Bartlett, Association for the Study of Peak Oil co-founders Steve Andrews and Randy Udall, and speak about the issue with them as well as many prominent climate scientists and you’re right, the two issues aren’t synthesized nearly enough. I’ve had them on panels and at events with many prominent climate change scientists in an effort to synthesize the two concerns.

    My feeling is that Peak Oil is a reality and while it will inevitably lead to economic downturn and quite possibly even collapse (and I think the process has already begun, five of the last six recessions had an oil spike at their beginning, including our current one that peaked at $147 a barrel on July 11, 2008) at some point in the future, in terms of climate change that will probably mean we burn far more unconventional oil especially tar sands, convert coal to liquids as the Nazis and South African Apartheid regimes did (their karma wasn’t so great in a number of areas and I don’t suggest we follow them) and use coal to generate electricity for everything to compensate, including electric cars. (We should, however, burn my above run-on sentence.)

    When natural gas and especially home heating oil aren’t available to heat homes first temporarily and then someday permanently, I’m afraid people will cut down billions and billions more trees for heating and cooking than they otherwise would have and that means the double whammy of more CO2 and far fewer trees acting as a prime carbon sink.

    So that, together with all the positive feedbacks listed here, including deforestation from fire, for agriculture and for every other reason (especially Gail’s at Wit’s End who I hope answers my question above), the loss of albedo from much ice and snow especially Arctic ocean sea ice during late summer and early fall, and especially methane release from permafrost melting and the melting of methane clathrates on the Aortic ocean’s continental shelves will make the myopic concerns of those only focused on Peak Oil, well, finally not so myopic.

    Even among brilliant people like Kunstler, Richard Heinberg and John Michael Greer I don’t see a great understanding of all the implications Joe mentions above, and not one climate scientist or even climate change communicator truly understands all the implications of Peak Oil.

    We need to do all of this full-cost accounting and we need to plug every variable into the equation to have a complete equation.

    But no, Peak Oil doesn’t invalidate everything or even anything written here; if anything, as I suggest, it will accelerate the process.

  46. Roger Wehage says:

    Wit’s End says: And that is the death of all plant life on land.

    I wouldn’t go quite that far. There will be abundant plant and animal life at higher elevations, unless the dwindling migrating human population wipes them out too. The survival of humans assumes, of course, that the air remains breathable.

  47. catman306 says:

    Witsend, wouldn’t you agree?

    We can whip troposphere ozone pollution in a month. Just stop burning fossil fuels.

    Dreamworld – Midnight Oil

    200 songs on the Earth Fail Warnings video/song list at YouTube.

  48. Wonhyo says:

    Given the nature of climate stability and change, I suspect we are past the ultimate climate tipping point. We’ve been increasing CO2 since the mid-19th century. CO2 levels have exceeded the previous 800,000 year maximum level for five decades. Ocean ecosystems are starting to collapse. Even if we were to zero out human GHG emissions tomorrow, that won’t suddenly stop the feedback effects. I think climate scientists should run the “zero out new human GHG emissions tomorrow” model and report on whether that is enough to re-stabilize the climate, after accounting for feedbacks. If, as I suspect, that is not sufficient, we need to change our message and our goal.

    With a limited timespan of livable climate remaining, progressives should focus on how to make that remaining time as pleasant (for everyone) as possible. This means taking whatever mitigation steps we can (including aggressive reductions in GHG emissions through renewable energy), preparing for the inevitable catastrophes, and planning to share the benefits of the remaining livable climate equitably.

    Progressives should be proactive in acknowledging the inevitability of climate collapse and present a unified message for how to deal with it. If progressives acknowledge this and promote their plan proactively, the Ridiculous Right will be in a position where they have to respond to the progressive message. This will let progressives frame the terms of political and social discourse, something they’ve failed to do time and time again.

    The Right Wing response will be an every-man-for-himself, no-holds-barred, free-for-all. We’re already seeing this behavior in the tax and health care debate. Imagine how this might extend to the situation where everyone is starting to acknowledge the inevitability of climate collapse.

    Progressives should use whatever political and social influence they have left (if any, in the U.S.) and fight for a civilized form of terminal care of the civilization that remains in what’s left of the livable climate.

  49. William P says:

    Maybe rather than aim at getting the general media to recognize the seriousness of climate change, we need to focus on the business community.

    Bring them a clear, understandable message that the climate will seriously threaten and hamper their ability to carry on business. In fact, it is highly likely to eventually completely destroy their business.

    Media in the US, especially the right wing media, dances to the tune called by corporations. Thus, appeal to the real opinion leaders might be most fruitful.

  50. paulm says:

    A very scary graph.

    In to the abyss….CO2 Concentrations.

    oops…right way up

  51. Colorado Bob says:

    This just moved –

    Heat Stress to Caribbean Corals in 2005 Worst on Record
    Caribbean Reef Ecosystems May Not Survive Repeated Stress
    Nov. 15 , 2010
    Coral reefs suffered record losses as a consequence of high ocean temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean in 2005 according to the most comprehensive documentation of basin-scale bleaching to date. Collaborators from 22 countries report that more than 80 percent of surveyed corals bleached and over 40 percent of the total surveyed died, making this the most severe bleaching event ever recorded in the basin. The study appears in PLoS ONE, an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication.

  52. Roger Wehage says:

    catman306 says: A compressed air powered car that goes 200 miles on a charge.

    Before taking a ride in a bomb, you might want to read this little pdf file, true or not.

    Suppose that compressed air car could get the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon, which means that those compressed air cylinders are storing the energy equivalent of two gallons of gasoline. Two gallons of gasoline have an energy equivalent of about 228,000 BTU or 240,000 kiloJoules. How big of a bomb could be fabricated out of two gallons of gasoline? The same can be said of the compressed air tanks. Suppose you had just aired up your minicar and pulled into the path of a Tea Partier’s HUMMER. If the HUMMER doesn’t kill you, surly the exploding air tanks will.

  53. Wit's End says:

    meh. thank you RBrenne and Catman.

    Go here where Basic Premise is reprinted:

    I am so swamped! Just revisiting this, sort of by accident:

    has me overwhelmed.

    I would love to have a real scientist weigh in!

  54. William P says:

    Wonhyo #45

    Your post is interesting because it shows some real common sense. Too long we have been condemning anyone who thinks the unthinkable about where climate change is heading. These individuals have been called “defeatists”, “gloom and doom thinkers” and much worse.

    But you are right. Serious people recognize when it is time to put away the rose colored glasses. It is much like a serious illness of a loved one. The doctor may come with very bad news – the worst – about our loved person. But calling the doctor a “defeatist” is silly and immature.

    Some scientists like the UK’s James Lovelock feel man might survive in the polar regions. Isn’t it time we explore this and other options? (DoD may already be at work on such research). Given the near complete failure to stem emissions, your views are correct and helpful. Thank you.

  55. William P says:


    Wonhyo 48

  56. Joe:

    Thanks for linking to my critique of the Zhao/Running paper.

    WRT to the Nature Geoscience you paper you mention, and the slides you link at

    I note that the graph of “Fraction of total CO2 emissions that remains in the atmosphere” shows a trend of
    “Trend: 0.27±0.2 % y-1 (p=0.9)”. This is also very much not a statistically significant trend. It is honestly labeled as such in the graph, and the abstract of the paper says that it has “likely” increased, implying only probability > 66% (if we assume that the authors mean “likely” in the technical sense given to it by the IPCC). So a very far cry from certainty.

    So is NPP decreasing, and the carbon sink weakening? I think these two pieces of evidence together make a rather weak case that it might be, but fall a good deal short of proving the case yet. Given the importance of the issue, I hope a lot more research is forthcoming.

    [JR: I agree the case is not “proven” beyond a reasonable doubt. The time period is too short. Still, there is data and a reasonable theory — and it remains a stunner.]

  57. catman306 says:

    Roger Wehage, the ‘old rule of thumb’ is that a gallon of gasoline has the explosive force of a stick of dynamite. So if I’ve got ten gallons of gas in the old Toyota, do I need to worry?

    Remember that the gasoline in your car only uses less than 20% of the energy to propel the car, the rest is wasted as heat. The compressed air’s power is used at full energy potential minus the friction of the engine’s internal parts, that’s going to be close to 95% efficiency. The really exciting part is that the compressor to charge the car can be run on solar PV. A non-polluting car that runs on sunshine sounds like a real winner. The oil companies will hate it.

  58. Ben Lieberman says:

    In the history classes that I teach students are often puzzled by the failures of the public in other times and places to act to stop catastrophes but we Americans right here and now are guilty of aiding and abetting in what will (unless we reverse course) turn out to be a far bigger catastrophe than many of the historic crises they find so shocking.

  59. Fred Teal Jr. says:

    It seems that we know much of the science and the facts that lead us to see what the future holds. The problem is how to convince others. Our problem is no longer uncertain science but understanding how our minds and the political system work.

    Could you consider a meeting of the frequent commenters here at some location in D.C. maybe to include a teleconference for those that could not be here in person? I am very impressed with the insight and knowledge found in this group.

    I find it hard to evaluate strategies or do “no limits” brainstorming using blogging.

    For example, I noticed that the Washington Post had an editorial this weekend in the Outlook section by Schoen and Caddell with the subtitle “If he wants to be a great president, Obama should not seek reelection in 2012.” They stated that if he declared that he would not run for a second term, this would enable him to ignore the political consequences and “do the right thing” for the economy and the planet.

    Could he be convinced? Would he/could he be more effective under these circumstances? Could Steven Chu, yourself, others like you convince him? Is this an absurd hope? How could we go about such a thing. Could the rest of us play a role? What might it be?

    Are there not other similar “off the wall” ideas that might be worth pursuing? A meeting or conference might be a good forum.

    In addition to doing all that we can personally, we need to find a way sway hearts and minds in advance of a climate catastrophe.

  60. Scientists are too reticent about directly addressing public policy. Yet science provides the necessary foundational knowledge to set public policy.

    Can we agree that the purpose of a legislature is to accept and carefully regard the science that underlies our laws?

    If elected politicians fail to respect science, and disregard physical laws, then everything breaks.

    What should be the duty of the scientist now? More policy activism?

    How damaging are politicians that ignore science? How dangerous are those who replace science with delusion and then try to set public policy?

    And with approaching crises, what are the responsibilities of citizens?

    I’m just asking.

  61. Raleigh Latham says:

    Despair might be a common emotion when we read articles like this. It seems like we are being presented an overwhelming sentence of doom when confronted with such staggering, frightening information; but ultimately, despair is a completely useless emotion to have. Despair makes people give up when they need to fight harder, despair is what made the leaders of France surrender so willingly to the Nazis in World War 2, and also what allowed the Republicans to gain so much power in the recent elections.

    The struggle against climate change is a total struggle. It is a war that will require greater feats, sacrifice, and pain than World War 2, as well as mobilization from every part of society. But what we can learn from that great war is that people can do tremendous, almost unimaginable things even at the greatest depths of their despair. As terrible as the problems are, there are solutions.

    We may live to be the Russians at Stalingrad, suffering and dying against insurmountable force, but as long as there is a will to do so, mankind still has the capacity to save itself, and save a livable earth, damaged though it might be.

    Instead of just reading, I want you all to go and offset 10-15-20 tons of CO2, or donate to a group which helps the cause (Repower America, Rainforest protection, etc.) We are not alone here, and we have a moral responsibility to do everything in our power.

  62. David B. Benson says:

    richard pauli — Is not the following direct enough for you?
    This is very alarming because if the drying is anything resembling Figure 11, a very large population will be severely affected in the coming decades over the whole United States, southern Europe, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Chile, Australia, and most of Africa.

  63. Sailesh Rao says:

    UC Berkeley study finds that some people dismiss dire warnings of climate threats as it conflicts with their mythological expectation of a just universe: . They cannot imagine children being penalized for the actions of their parents and grandparents.

  64. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #34: Ian, at the start of your comment you wrote “Clearly the future of our civilization is at stake” and then at the end said to Joe “I know you’re a busy guy and you have bigger problems to tackle,” which I thought was an amusing irony. No need to reply.

  65. David B. Benson says:

    Sailesh RaoThe sins of the fathers shall be passed down to the children unto the third generation.

    Only in this case more like the ninth or tenth.

  66. Raleigh Latham says:

    —–>UC Berkeley study finds that some people dismiss dire warnings of climate threats as it conflicts with their mythological expectation of a just universe: . They cannot imagine children being penalized for the actions of their parents and grandparents.

    This article is VERY eye opening and a must read for climate change messaging to the public.

    Every climate change message MUST be paired with a potential solution, or else people’s cognative beliefs will actively fight the frightening, and threatening information presented to them. This article helps explain why climate change denial gains strength among the public, despite the scientific reality.

  67. David B. Benson says:

    (1) stop burning fossil carbon;
    (2) begin putting back the excess carbon already released.

  68. Prokaryotes says:

    Raleigh Latham, interesting

    “In addition, our results complement recent research showing that framing environmentalism as patriotic can successfully increase pro-environmental behavioral intentions in those most attached to the status quo”

  69. David B. Benson says:

    Precipice is crumbing away beneath civilization’s feet. This year alone
    (1) Poor wheat crop in the prarie provinces
    (2) What down 25% in Australia
    (3) Wheat exportss banned from Russia, Urkaine and one of the’stans.
    (4) Underproduction of rice (not enough) in Southeast Asai due to excessive heavy rain.

    And we are not yet even up to 1 K temperature increase.

    Be very afraid.

  70. Richard Brenne says:

    Sailesh Rao (#61) and Raleigh Latham (#64) – So a 12-page paper by two graduate students comes out saying that we should continue to lie rather than tell people the truth about climate change and the jury is in for all time?

    While I consider the psychology of each audience deeply and discuss this with a member of the American Psychological Association’s Climate Change Task Force, as I say in my initial post (#37) above, I think our species is behaving like an abusive and even unintentionally murderous alcoholic.

    Many psychologists and psychiatrists won’t treat alcoholics who aren’t prepared to use the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous because the success rate is so low among those who don’t take those steps. The key steps include taking responsibility for all your actions, stopping the destructive behavior, and making amends to everyone and everything you can.

    This paper advocates nothing of that sort.

    Not everyone will come on board about the need to totally rethink and live our lives differently, beginning with curtailing the use of fossil fuels as much as possible down to zero use (wish us luck!).

    As I’ve said elsewhere, what we most need is the kind of truth-telling we see in Buddha, the most inspiring Bible characters, Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King. Those and others telling the most difficult and fundamental truths change the world for the better more than all of history’s liars put together.

    So I think what we need more than anything is more truth, and this study at best provides a useful way to begin with relatively immature, unsophisticated and dogmatic folks. Just as racists mostly stayed racist during the Civil Rights movement, it was the courageous and honest minority of the most caring folks who changed the world (that must continue to change).

    And so it is with climate change and all related issues. I’d take this study with more than a grain – okay a bushel – of salt. It is really advocating enabling more than anything else.

  71. Will G. says:

    Hang in there Ian. We’re in this together. Keep trying to wake people up…it’s all we can do.

  72. Raleigh Latham says:

    Just paid to offset 25 tons of CO2, I encourage all of you to do the same, get all 60 people who posted on this board to do the same and that’s 1500 tons of carbon offset, it’s better than just reading and doing nothing.

  73. Gaia Girl says:

    Re: The survival of humans assumes, of course, that the air remains breathable.

    It’s not easy for us global warming superheroes either. The extra CO2 in the troposphere is slowing down our flying.

  74. Richard Brenne says:

    It’s always nice to buy indulgences for our sins, but since education is the key to understanding, action and survival relating to climate change, I wouldn’t put down “reading and doing nothing.”

  75. Raleigh Latham says:

    Oh I read it, and I fully understand the implications of all these studies. I’m not optimistic by any means, and I plan to live my life according to the worst case climate change scenario. But…there should always be a productive solution when you present a group of people with an insurmountable problem.

    I put a few dozen hours job between my hours canvassing against prop 23, and although I know I really didn’t do that much in the scope of things, I am very proud to take part in some form of climate activism on a state level. Joe Romm does a tremendous job bringing us the absolute, uncovered truth of the catastrophe our biosphere faces; and as intelligent, moral human beings. we should all take part in political activism on a local, state, and national level.

  76. jorleh says:

    Very well to be over sixty, but our children and, what a pity our grandchildren!

    Nobody could imagine Holocaust, but it happened all the same.

    Just now only some smart people see the future where our species goes to extinction.

  77. Jose says:

    Don’t worry about climategate we have all kinds of new witch hunts to look forward to.

  78. Bob Wright says:

    Too many big ego pundits have risked their reputations on dismissing global warming science. They will deny to the bitter end. Maybe the coming tea party/Republican disaster will discredit them for good and put America back on a progressive path, including reduction of GHG production.

  79. fj3 says:

    Climategate scientist insists sceptics will accept global warming when Arctic … –

  80. Peter M says:

    C02 now at 387– as we enter mid autumn- it will rise until April

    at the rate of 2.20ppmv a month – we could be at 398-399-just short of 400ppv- we could touch on 400—–by spring 2011

    Will that make news?

  81. Andrew DeWit says:

    As always, a very informative, sobering read. But maybe the US Republicans in the House of Reps will do us a favour in pursuing their planned witch-hunt of scientists. Let them call their Glenn Becks and Judith Currys. Presumably, the Democrats in the House can also call witnesses. They should call the Chair of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of the Navy, and all the other unimpeachable top brass and climate hawks who are stressing the threat from climate change and the need to go green very fast. Though America’s social, income and other inequities have so thoroughly trashed the lower-income classes that they’re not listening to common sense no matter where it comes from, the public testimony of America’s military and their commitment to hard targets on GHG reductions and the uptake of renewables will be instructive globally. It’ll be a 21st century Scopes Monkey Trial on an international stage.

  82. Joe, This summary is the most important, provocative call to action I have seen. I have emailed copies and links to everyone I know. THIS MUST GO VIRAL. And everyone can help by sending it, chain letter style, to ten people, and asking them to distribute to ten more, etc. d

  83. Adrian says:

    To WitsEnd–yeah, I’m with you in your concern about plants. Richard B.: Hope your talk to the gardeners went well (if you’ve given it already).

    I agree about truth telling, taking responsibility and trying to amend–which is the way many on this thread are already living, I suspect.

    Regarding a just universe– just read the paper, and I think what is being called a just universe is actually an anthropocentric, Disneyfied, happy-ending version of a just universe.

    A real-life just universe model, to me, is closer to that of, say, the Old Testament, in which there are real consequences for careless actions regarding misuse of the earth. Interestingly, I also remember hearing that the Eastern Orthodox church regards the apocalypse depicted in Revelations to be something brought on by human wrong actions regarding our earth care, rather than, if I understand evangelicals, our punishment for incorrect belief in Christian orthodoxy.

    The great truth-tellers didn’t just talk, write, blog and contact their legislators. They formed strong organizations and took their message to the streets in non-violent direct actions. Their followers were persecuted. They didn’t give up. How many modern Americans would be willing to risk, possibly sacrifice, livelihood, property and even life itself to participate in the great movement that demanding real climate change action would require?

    I know I’m a chicken myself. But together, the 40,000 readers of this blog, plus friends and relatives, plus all the large and small climate change/environmental organizations and all their supporters could create quite a stir.

  84. Sailesh Rao says:

    Richard Brenne (#70): Your alcoholism analogy is interesting, but I found the Berkeley study to be equally interesting. It brings in people’s notions of justice and morality and how it informs their world view regarding climate change.

    The Rev. Martin Luther King once channeled Theodore Parker that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The doctrine of Karma, that actions have consequences, is almost universal in all religions. As a result, people expect the universe to tend towards justice over time. But, it perhaps happens only in a broad sense, without involving any individual ledgers and family trees.

    The struggles of the 20th century have all been about redressing injustice, but primarily within the human community – racism, sexism, colonialism, apartheid, etc. And, the arc of the universe has indeed bent towards justice.

    I believe that the primary injustice to be redressed in the 21st century is that being committed across our species border – speciesism, ecocide, etc., and this holds the key to mitigating climate change as well. The atrocities being committed are well documented in Earthlings at . As long as we continue to treat animals like trash, we shouldn’t be surprised that mass extinction continues to proceed at a rapid clip, eventually plunging us down the abyss. As Prof. E. O. Wilson said, “If we save the living environment, the biodiversity that we have left today, we will automatically save the physical environment. If we only save the physical environment, then we will ultimately lose both.”

    But, we can’t save the living environment if we are blind to its daily abuse.

  85. William P says:

    One comment above refers to our ability to change course and get to work on a problem. It cited WWII.

    But that took Pearl Harbor. Action on climate change will take a Pearl Harbor kind of event to wake up the public and finally discredit Deniers.

    The problem is, it is very late now – and the Pearl Harbor event may be much too late for effective action. But we can be certain of one thing – that event will come.

    What could that event be? A large ice sheet sliding into the sea raising sea levels to inundate important cities? Escalating and severe food shortages followed by rapid food price increase?

    Bottom line – our society only gets moving effectively in response to a clear, sudden and large disaster like Pearl Harbor or 9-11. Hope for effective climate change response sooner is not supported by history.

  86. Richard Brenne says:

    William P (#85), Adrian (#83), Raleigh Latham (#75), heck, all the comments scrolling up as far as you care to go – These are all great comments.

    Sailesh Rao (#83) – Great comment, digging deeper all the time. Way to go.

    While our species-wide karma might have improved in regard to racism, sexism, colonialism and slavery over centuries and decades, it is institutionalized racism and sexism where most progress has been made, and colonialism and slavery continue in different forms. Rich nations and people still oppress and exploit the resources and labor of poor nations and people to an alarming degree. Because there are more people there’s actually more of this than ever before.

    And slavery is replaced with wage-slavery just as antebellum slavery was replaced with sharecropping and Jim Crow laws that didn’t improve life that much for most blacks until well into the 20th Century.

    Really at the core of it let’s say the richest 100,000 kings and aristocrats all over the world 500 years ago have become the richest billion or so living beyond what most pre-20th century royal families lived like in ease of travel, access to diverse foods and entertainment, and comfort in most areas.

    That means that for every rich person then, there are 10,000 rich people today. Earth’s resources and environment can’t handle this, as all the original postings here indicate.

    And a king or aristocrat might decree or support the idea of the poor in their nation going to war with the poor of another nation to plunder as much of that nation as possible.

    Now we have our governments to do that for us. If we encourage or support such wars or even simply go along without opposing them, our karma can still range from terrible to simply bad.

    And the information about what is truly going on is more available to us now than ever before, so we have no excuse for ignoring it.

    If we’re a cog in this most immense of all machines then we are part of the problem, and most conventional jobs would be perpetuating these evils in one way or another.

    I’ve just taken stock of my own karma this afternoon (okay, my wife took stock and was generous enough to share), and it’s not that much better than the average, if it’s better at all.

    So while there has been some progress in some of the ways you mention, overall karma isn’t necessarily improving, and with so many more of us, we’re destroying our habitat once and for all.

    While I support every individual and collective action everyone here proposes, I think taking stock of all this is the most important work we can do, because then appropriate actions will flow from this, but without taking stock they might be just temporary and momentary feel-good gestures.

  87. Windsong says:

    I thought everything would change too, when coastal cities are inundated, or some other really big catastrophic event occurred. But then I read the book, “The Shock Doctrine” and realized the odds of any change occurring after such an event doesn’t look good. Basically, what the author said was that when any event occurs which really knocks society for a loop, that is, when we’re the most vulnerable, that’s when right wing suppression techniques are applied by .. running out of time! later!

  88. M. Robin Church says:

    You have provided a great list of this year’s published climate science, and it is very useful for those of us who are committed. However it does nothing to explain to the general public, who only listen to Fox News etc, that we are all causing these problems. What we really need is a simple explanation that it is us that are the problem. Many people accept that the earth is warming etc. They just don’t accept that we are the cause with all our fossil fuels. Until that is understood, the general feeling is that this is nature’s problem and there is nothing we mortals can or should do about it. So please provide a simple to understand item that we can all shout about to the general non scientific public in every way we can. Many thanks.

  89. David B. Benson says:

    M. Robin Church — Warming leads to serious drought; nothing to eat. Remove the excess CO2 to avoid that:

  90. FedUpWithDenial says:

    The story of Climategate begins and ends with the sordid tale of dirtier and dirtier—of how Big Oil and Coal sold (and continue to sell) themselves as environmentally green and squeaky clean, and of how the mainstream media ate the whole thing up. Having done that, the media then dutifully passed the “news” on to “consumers,” who also bought it—and, of course, ate it up. Let’s see how, in not much more than about 1500 words (comprising exactly 33 sentences arranged in 12 paragraphs) of detergent strength, we can compress the story into an account both as slamming and as damning as it needs to be to do full justice to the “dirt.” Climategate, as it turns out, is only the biggest heap of media-spun denialist nonsense in the dirty-energy sh*tpile.

    With the threat of CO2-driven climate change beginning to be widely recognized in the late 1980s, the fossil-fuel industry faced the question of how to continue doing “business as usual” while still selling itself as ethically oriented and environmentally responsible. Taking hints (and actually the entire playbook) from the tobacco industry’s long and (it seemed at the time) successful war of denial and cover-up against the charge that its products were addictive and responsible for lung cancer, heart disease, and shortened life spans among smokers, Big Oil and Coal realized that the standard industry practice of “Pollute now, pay later—and hopefully never” would work much more reliably if you could convince the public that “pollution” isn’t actually pollution or (failing that) at least raise enough doubt about the issue to have people scratching their heads.

    Thus was born the best-organized and -funded campaign of disinformation, denial, deceit, and dirty tricks the world has ever seen, designed to pull the wool over the public’s eyes and hide the truth about global warming—a truth that even the fossil-fuel industry’s own scientists knew. Major planks in this campaign were that carbon dioxide was blameless, that the scientific evidence for man-made warming was weak and contradictory at best, and—as deceptive a lie as any ever told—that the climate was always changing and consequently that we should just get used to it. A perennial buzz saw was that humans were too small to affect anything as large as the earth, such an idea being said to represent hubris: humans lack the power to change climate, the public was told.

    The oil-industry attack on the anthropogenic-warming idea resembled nothing so much as a saturation-bombing campaign. Working through a wide variety of spokespeople and bullhorns including paid and unpaid industry boosters, Right-wing political leaders, influential “public personalities,” media operatives, conservative pundits, armies of everyday bloggers, outright dupes, contrarian “scientists” of questionable credentials and/or motives, PR spinmeisters, well-paid congressional lobbyists, and ExxonMobil-funded conservative “think tanks” like the Heartland Institute, the industry game plan called for nonstop airing of these and similar denier “talking points,” which were typically packaged for convenient delivery as sound bytes (“Global warming science is junk science!!!” and “Carbon dioxide—they call it pollution, we call it life!”) intended for repetition ad infinitum—recalling the ‘principle of the lie’ enunciated by Joseph Goebbels to Adolf Hitler in the 1930s: “if a lie, no matter how unbelievable, is repeated often enough, it will be believed.”

    To carry the lie to the ends of the earth, oil industry-supported propaganda of the most egregious kind (mostly mindless drivel but often masquerading as rational skepticism and even serious science in its own right) was blared out over the years from countless media, academic, and government sources. These include or included the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post columnist George F. Will, the Washington D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, Fox News, conservative leaders in Congress, and the Bush White House. Since such disinformation was part and parcel of an aggressive campaign to justify and promote the addition to the global atmosphere of what the U.S. EPA now classifies as a dangerous global pollutant—viz. fossilized carbon—its intentional airing is more or less the moral equivalent of advising mothers to feed cyanide to their babies to improve the little ones’ health.

    The most brazen single example of oil industry deceit was that the “CO2 greenhouse effect” was an invention out of whole cloth—something pulled out of a hat quite recently and thus entirely without scientific merit or support—sort of like flying saucers or teleportation. To use a metaphor, essentially the main line of industry defense against the charge of callously enriching itself by knowingly causing grave long-term environmental harm was to paint itself as the victim—arguing that CO2, the major by-product of fossil-fuel burning, was being made the fall guy in a nonexistent crime called “global warming” for the purpose of running a colossal scam, and that anybody who fell for it was a fool.

    That the deception largely succeeded was due to the credulousness and scientific illiteracy of a majority of the public in the United States, where a rising anti-science trend had become dramatically apparent by about 1980 and most of the media, itself largely ignorant of science save for a few reporters and editors who have since been fired, was only too happy to feed the trend.

    That ignominious cultural slide into what can only be termed ‘bottomless ignorance and stupidity’ has been aptly named “the dumbing-down of America,” and it made the fossil-fuel industry’s job of selling itself (the hungry fox) as a reliable guard for the nation’s and the world’s environment (the unprotected henhouse) vastly easier. In order to raid the henhouse as freely as it wished, the industry needed to get carbon dioxide off the hook and above all prevent its being officially classified as a dangerous pollutant, which would subject it to government regulation (i.e., taxation and/or other controls) at Big Oil and Coal’s expense. The nation’s environmental cops—from the U.S. Attorney General to the EPA itself—had to be kept off Big Oil and Coal’s case. The disinformation campaign’s unceasing “strategy of denial” was tailored and fine-tuned accordingly.

    The vast scope of this strategy becomes apparent once we realize that global-warming denial is much more than a denial of the facts as known to science. From the first, it was also a form of psychological warfare intended to spread damaging lies and manufacture a false social and political reality. This included the invention of conspiracies and the imputation of underhanded motives where none existed. In this war of innuendo and insinuation, as shameless as it was ruthless, ExxonMobil and its industry partners worked tirelessly behind the scenes to persuade a majority of the public that the spread of “global warming alarmism” represented a left-wing conspiracy between socialists, one-worlders, and scientists to destroy national sovereignty and bring nations under U.N. control. A key tactic all along was to seize every opportunity to smear the reputations of leading scientists, making it appear that there was a scientific conspiracy to overstate the case for human-caused global warming and even to falsify data outright. If the so-called Climategate scandal had not happened, it would have been necessary to invent it—which of course is exactly why it WAS invented. Its existence was solely a product of clever PR-style spin—the smoke-and-mirrors manipulation of easily-swayed public opinion to make it appear that something was in the stolen e-mails that wasn’t, eliciting a response akin to the mindless stampeding of bulls.

    The media, for its part, ever beholden for revenue to industry advertisers (including, needless to say, the fossil-fuel giants) and obsessed with sensationalism in news reporting—worse yet, hiding behind a journalistic ethic of fairness to create the illusion of “balance” in its actually very unbalanced presentations of the global warming story—was an all-too-willing accomplice in the perpetuation of anti-science drivel and denialist nonsense. “Climategate” was simply the most spectacular example of the lights going out in the media’s collective brain—a media power-failure by any definition. Brown-out, perhaps?

    Most damaging of all, the media continued to convey the impression of continuing disagreement among experts long after the scientific controversy over global warming had been conclusively settled. Much of the media still reads by this same playbook, dimming the prospects for the public’s getting a straight story about global warming anytime soon—before, that is, the end has come for very many of those in the line of fire, meaning along vulnerable coasts and in interior regions prone to the global-warming era’s increasingly extreme storms, flooding, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires.

    The truth, of course, will eventually “out.” But waiting for that to “just happen” the way lightning strikes or hurricanes form condemns us to wait until civilization itself is crumbling before the onslaught of warming’s effects. The historic Charney Report, titled “Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment,” issued in 1979 by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences at the request of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, soberly summed up the global-warming threat in these words: “If carbon dioxide continues to increase, the study group finds no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible…. A wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late.”

    Global warming deniers and skeptics, as clever but underhanded—even morally contemptible—apologists for the fossil-fuel industry, have perpetually staked their “reputation” (if that is the right word) on the claim that carbon dioxide is climatically unimportant—as such, easily trumped by minor “factors” such as the sun and natural variability. The facts as known to science are otherwise: the heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide is and always has been of fundamental importance to climate and life, helping to shape the earth as we know it. The planet is in the process of being re-shaped now, and the great question is whether the much hotter Earth that our descendents will inherit is one that will be hospitable to humans at all.

  91. peter whitehead says:

    Sadly, many of you right. Here’s a likely history of the last half of this century:

    (a) nothing will be done (b) things will get bad (c) people will get angry (d) governments will know nothing can now be done so will become more repressive (e) things will get even worse (f) more repression (g) things get catastrophic (h) warfare over last habitable areas (i) mass extinction – 95%of all species extinct.

  92. Sailesh Rao says:

    Richard Brenne (#86): You are right that the civil rights struggles of the 20th century have not been entirely successful. Colonialism has been replaced with neocolonialism and slavery continues in its covert form. Therefore, Gandhi and MLK, if they were alive today, would have plenty of unfinished work to do. But, I can think of two primary reasons for the unfinished nature of these struggles:

    1) the perverted version of capitalism that is prevalent on the planet, where endless growth replaces the enlightened self-interest of Adam Smith as the objective function for corporations, and where capital seeks out that locale where the costs and pollution from industrial activities can be easily externalized. This is why the passage of environmental laws in the US resulted in the offshoring of manufacturing to locations where the air and the water can be fouled up with impunity and where employees can be paid a pittance. As if the injustice committed “over there” doesn’t eventually come around!

    2) the civil rights struggles of the past can be cast in the framework of opening the minds of people to expand their circle of compassion until it eventually includes all of humanity (though our LGBT brethren are still struggling to be included). But, they ignored the fact that compassion cannot be compartmentalized to just the human community. It is not possible to coldly wring the neck of a chicken and then turn to a child with compassion. A violent act takes away a bit of our humanity and draws from the well of our compassion, regardless of the nature of the victim of our violence. Ubuntu is universal. Compassion is all-encompassing.

    This is why I’ve suggested a NonVIolent Direct Action against Violence as the means to mitigate the environmental crises we face. The key action in this NVDA is to lead a compassionate lifestyle, to help release land back to Nature to regenerate forests and to help release the suffocating pressure of our predation on the ocean so that ocean Life may recover. It is up to us in the 21st century to complete the circle of the civil rights struggles of Gandhi and MLK.

  93. Keith Henson says:

    My prediction is that nothing will be done. Even if it were *certain* that we face a huge problem in a generation, that’s beyond people’s threshold for doing anything about it.

    What is needed is a a renewable energy source less expensive than fossil fuels.

    One such approach is solar power satellites. The front end cost to build a low cost transport system to GEO is high, but not out of reach.

    Another is StratoSolar. That’s more speculative at the moment, but may use much less material for a given amount of energy.

    The third choice is a massive build up of nuclear power.

    The fourth is far fewer people, something that is sure to happen if we don’t do something to solve the energy problem.

    The usual ways of shrinking population, wars, famines and diseases are not pleasant, but that’s what we will get if we don’t deal with energy.

    Keith Henson
    hkeithhenson at gmail dot com

  94. Chris Winter says:

    I’d like to debunk the grim predictions in this thread, but sadly I fear they are all too likely to come about.

    For another thread, I was Googling “Blinded by Science.” I found a song by Foreigner that seems relevant here:

    This also came up among the Google offerings:

    Apologies for subjecting you to Tim Ball, but the piece provides a useful perspective on SwiftHack (aka Climategate) one year on.

  95. Richard Brenne says:

    Peter Whitehead (#91) – Everything on your skillfully concise and depressing list is already happening, if in the early stages. My only recommendation with even skillful predictions is to not assign a firm date to them, that way if they haven’t yet happened people can’t dismiss them altogether. I learned this from Paul Ehrlich, who learned it from his wife Anne – every book they’ve written together is much more accurate than some of the predictions in his first book, “The Population Bomb.”

    By the way, I’m not one who thinks Malthus was too Malthusian – I think his predictions, together with Ehrlich’s, Al Bartlett’s, M. King Hubbert’s, Jim Kunstler’s, Richard Heinberg’s, John Michael Greer’s, Jim Hansen’s and Joe Romm’s are fundamentally correct if we do nothing or little to prevent them from coming true – the main thing we don’t know is the timing.

    Sailish Rao (#92) – Another great post, and I agree with everything you say. In your previous comment (#84) that film “Earthlings” is amazing and confirms what I’ve always felt about doing all we can to eliminate racism, sexism and speciesism in ourselves and our society.

    In that post at #84 you also mention Karma, which to me is an absolutely key concept. I think our individual and collective Karma is incredibly efficient, infinitely more than most of us realize, it’s just that it might not be clear to us now or seen completely in one lifetime.

    When I took my daughter to playgrounds I’d often see a scene where a two-year-old’s mother tells him it’s time to go and he runs off in the other direction, possibly toward distant traffic, and he would invariably fall, skin his knee and cry, because he was blessed at that age with almost instant karma.

    My first trip overseas was to Nepal where we lived for several months, and the first thing I saw out of the airport was a small motorcycle accident and I developed a thesis that traffic in developing nations is nuts (its nuts in all nations, only in different ways) and that if I took in the same view I’d soon see another small accident (fortunately no one was hurt).

    What I forgot was that I was in the land of Karma (awareness of Karma, every land is a land of Karma), and months later the day before we left two small motorcycles did collide, one of them careened into a tall stack of empty Coca-Cola crates that toppled over and one of them gouged a small hole in my leg and I immediately thought “This is perfect! I wanted an accident and I got one, the only one hurt was me, and as an American Coca-Cola is the perfect representation of our imperialism!”

    Then it got infected and I lost the leg. . .I kid! Everything is true except losing the leg – maybe seeing our mistakes and correcting them saves us further suffering.

    Before Katrina when Bush hadn’t issued a single veto I thought the only law he’d vetoed was the Law of Karma, but then Katrina and other events gave at least some semblance of Karma, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be him over the long haul of lifetimes, though I think each of us is ultimately redeemable and redeemed when we accept full responsibility for all the harm we’ve done, stop all damaging behavior and make all the amends we can.

    In your most recent post at #93 you mention corporations very skillfully. Those stories like Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” where we build robots to do our bidding and then they turn and destroy is already happening, the robots are just called corporations.

  96. Solar Jim says:

    Bad karma “big time” is coming from defining mined materials from the lithosphere, and the horrors of endless mining, as economic “energy.” More like poisons, such as carbonic acid gas (CO2) and its acidification. It is all so invisible. Like disease organisms to the naked eye. If the human body raises in temperature by several Centigrade degrees death ensues. And what of Gaia?

    Energy efficiency does not compute when a black rock is placed in the denominator. Civilization will combust and concepts evaporate, along with the fraud of perceived economic beliefs and everything we love.

    So King James said: Citizens, oil is not an energy resource. It is an ancient liquid found in the lithosphere. Use it as material only, if you must.

    At one trillion tons of carbonic acid gas contamination so far, from oxidizing buried carbon, we are more than done going in the wrong direction. It is past time to see the light. We are all in revolution about the sun, yet too blind to see. Maybe because of too much smoke from all the burning, and burning questions of existence. Are we feeling rich now? Brother, can you spare a new paradigm?

  97. Mark says:

    A report on the UK floods of 2009 suggest that in Borrowdale in the NW of England it was a once in 1 800 year event. Somehow I suspect we won’t have to wait that long

  98. peter whitehead says:

    Colorado Bob #30 – as usual ColBob brings us great data. Pollen is great for paleoenvironments as it (a)survives very well and (b) each species has unique pollen.

    Similarly, beetles are good. Their exoskeletons are often broken up, but even bits can be identified. About 40 years ago I was taught palaeontology by Russell Coope at the Univ of Birmingham (England not Alabama). We all knew his research interest was Quaternary beetles, but it seemed a bit obscure. However, he showed that beetle assemblages helped to map environmental changes in glacial and interglacial phases.

    In 2005 the Geological Society of London awarded Coope their Prestwich Medal. In his acceptance he included the following:

    “Particularly exciting to me was the fact that these insect fossils showed that Quaternary climates had changed abruptly. Thus, at times, fully glacial climates gave place to temperate interglacial conditions within the span of one human lifetime. My view of uniformitarianism was stretched almost to breaking point.”

    He was also a great teacher – not always the case for university lecturers. If you’ve not seen any of his work, it’s well worth a Google.

  99. Etuko Sato says:


    It is a very good site.

    Japan is this autumn. I introduce the scenery of autumn of the country in Japan though my site is a herb. Please come by all means.

    Thank you.

  100. Sailesh Rao says:

    Karma is scientifically supportable. It is one of Newton’s laws that the universe responds to every action with a like reaction. Like begets like. It is questionable whether the universe keeps ledgers to tote up the actions of every individual and then reacts to that individual specifically. That seems somewhat egotistical, as if each individual is so important! Isn’t our individual separation mostly an illusion? But, it is unquestionable that in a wider sense, Karma is real. And, humans have been thoughtlessly piling up the bad Karma for centuries.

    Violence begets violence. But, over the years, human on human violence has been rapidly diminishing as Prof. Steven Pinker pointed out in his Ted talk:
    However, the inter-species violence committed by humans has been skyrocketing at the same time. Nearly 60 billion animals are incarcerated, tortured and killed by humans each year for food alone. An equivalent weight of fish are taken from the ocean. Why are we even surprised that the consequences of such violence is more violence in which we’re also the victims?

    What then, is the new paradigm for living that will accumulate good Karma for all? For starters, let’s begin by leading a non-violent lifestyle. And, set an example for our friends and family. Let’s maximize the utility of the land that is appropriated for human use by planting orchards, vegetable gardens, etc. wherever we can. Let’s support organic agriculture so that the soil sequesters carbon while meeting our needs. And, let’s maximize the land, air and water available for other ecosystems to flourish outside the human footprint. So that they may begin sequestering the excess carbon in the atmosphere.

    That’s the bright, green future that I dream of!

    This action has teeth: nearly one-third of the ice-free land area of the planet is currently used for livestock production. A significant portion of human fossil fuel usage is for growing and transporting food for livestock and for refrigerating and processing their carcasses post-slaughter. And, ocean life has been decimated over the past century mainly because we ate it.

  101. red dwarf says:

    As so many of you say, nothing will be done. Here’s what enrages me: nothing will be done by the massive consumers of the north, but who is already suffering in consequence? the people who live in my neck of the wooods – the global south. Those humans who’ve been piling up bad Karmna for centuries – they’re not the poor in sub-saharan Africa, are they? But it’s they – my neighbours – who’ll pay that debt first!

  102. Zoe Caron says:

    Great summary. What would be helpful from the media at this point in time is making the direct links to the immediate solutions to climate change — i.e. making that necessary shift to green energy.

  103. Sailesh Rao says:

    Re: #101 (red dwarf): The consumers in the global North and the elite consumers in the global South are suffering from diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer and these problems have been skyrocketing of late. The more massive the consumption, the more pollutants that accumulate in what is being consumed and the quicker the diseases strike. Even children are coming down with these diseases now.

    Excessive disparities in consumption are not good for any one. And that applies to species-wide consumption as well, with homo sapiens currently hogging a huge chunk of the global pie, while producing billions of tons of toxic waste in its wake. That isn’t good for Life in general and even there, it is all the other species that are paying the debt first.

  104. Pauline says:

    I read most of these posts and I just want to say to all of you that you are obviously among the most caring and intelligent and informed people on the planet. Unfortunately, too many of the people in government, industry and media are not with it when it comes to saving our planet. Please keep up your efforts because people like you are the only hope we have.

  105. Steve says:

    You know what’s really sad, and ironic?

    When all these catastrophes do occur — severe flooding, droughts, extreme heat waves, all of it or parts of it — many of the right-wing climate-change deniers will still not admit they were wrong and the scientists and Al Gores of the world were correct … Instead, they’ll act like these earthly calamities are the fulfillment of some Biblical prophesy, and they’ll generate new waves of ignorant religious fundamentalism in response.

  106. peter whitehead says:

    Steve -105# You are right.

    I’ve referred before to Robert Heinlein’s story, written 1941, called “If this goes on”. He tells of a future USA where a rabble-rousing preacher gets to be President and sets up a theocratic military dictatorship. The odd thing is that RH chose his fictional Presidential election for the year 2012. Ho Hum.

    To Teabag creationists, climate disasters will ‘prove’ that God is offended by the evils of liberal, socialist, evolutionist, warmist, gayrightist, feminist …… anti-American devilworshippers.

    Wait until the first scientists get sent to Gitmo.

  107. FedUpWithDenial says:

    The mix of man-made gases and aerosols in today’s atmosphere has modified the atmosphere’s radiative properties in complex ways, making it more opaque at both visible and infrared (IR) wavelengths, including the portion of the spectrum over which the sun-warmed Earth emits energy to space. This darkening of the sky at IR wavelengths is the overwhelmingly dominant factor in the changes now taking place, and has altered the fundamental relationship between the planet and its parent star: because anthropogenic greenhouse gases absorb and re-emit in a downward direction a portion of the planet’s upward-directed surface IR emission that previously would have exited the system, Earth now receives more joules per second of energy from the sun than it transmits to the cosmos as thermodynamically degraded waste heat, placing the climate system out of long-term energy balance.

    Competent terrestrial scientists understand quite well what is happening and why. Only the public, ill-served by the media and hoodwinked by powerful special interests and their political allies, doesn’t get it. A sustained unbalancing of Earth’s energy budget due to any cause is known to scientists as a climate forcing, typically expressed in watts per square meter or some equivalent, in this case quantifying the increase in the radiative power of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Relative to the historical climate of 1750, a very strong net positive forcing has been applied, with the total excess surface heating now approaching +2 watts per square meter or one quadrillion (10^15) watts for the earth as a whole, equivalent to a significant slice of the sun.

    Adding the equivalent of a slice of the sun to the sun we’ve already got is turning up the heat to a serious degree on Earth. “Dangerous anthropogenic interference with climate,” it would seem, is a present fact. The comparison between the power of the sun and the power of man-made greenhouse gases is straightforward, since the total solar power both reaching and absorbed by the earth’s surface is about 85 quadrillion watts (8.5 x 10^16 watts or ~170 watts per square meter). The extra quadrillion watts of surface heating due to man-made greenhouse gases is comparable (though of course not identical) to what would result from a shift of the earth into an orbit about one million kilometers closer to the sun’s intensely hot (6000K) radiating surface. Speaking with reporters late last year during the fallout from the “Climategate” uproar, in a conference call organized by the Center for American Progress, noted climatologist Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies observed, “We’re getting up to the point where the total amount of forcing from these greenhouse gases is equivalent to the sun brightening about one percent. That’s a very big number indeed.”

  108. michael- says:

    quite simply: thank you.

  109. FedUpWithDenial says:

    With the power of the invisible “infrared sun” of artificial greenhouse enhancement equivalent to a ~1% increase in solar brightness, the radiative heating of the earth is well above pre-industrial Holocene levels and actually above any level seen in recent geologic time. This is an order of magnitude beyond what could result from any known solar up-fluctuation and enough to change the climate of the earth beyond all recognition if the real-time forcing were to continue for (let’s say) a century at anything like the current level. Unfortunately, the real-time forcing is actually increasing and under a business-as-usual scenario is likely to undergo large increases in the future.

    Let me explain. The real-time (contemporary) component of the forcing is a measure of the current global imbalance (mismatch, discrepancy) between absorbed (solar) and emitted (terrestrial) radiation at the top of the atmosphere. Presently about half of the total net positive historical forcing since 1750 of 2 W/m^2—or in other words about 1 watt per square meter—corresponds to the real-time component (whose effect has yet to be reflected in thermometer readings) while the other half has been responded to and is reflected in the global temperature increase since the start of the Industrial Revolution. If we consider the longer-term ice-albedo and carbon-cycle feedbacks, the time scale for a full system response is centuries to millennia and no more than about one-quarter of the forcing has so far been responded to, which implies at least a 3° Celsius (5.4° Fahrenheit) rise over the next centuries even if all greenhouse emissions were stopped now.

    The real-time forcing, in other words, corresponds to cause, while the historical component of the forcing corresponds to effect, there being an inherent time-lag between cause and effect in the slow response of the climate system to forcing. All the various ways of arriving at the magnitude of the real-time component of the forcing—the same as the global energy imbalance figure—yield substantially the same result, with the large rise in the heat content of the world ocean since the mid-twentieth century serving as a final check on the figure’s accuracy.

    For the present, the terrestrial climate remains far out of radiative balance due to the thermal inertia of oceans and ice sheets, which are absorbing most of the excess energy trapped by man-made greenhouse gases. The excess is quantified by the real-time net whole-Earth forcing figure—now roughly 500 trillion watts, corresponding to an Earth-warming rate of 500 trillion (5 x 10^14) joules per second—and represents the waste heat that is not being radiated to space but feeding a large, dangerous rise in the internal energy of the earth-atmosphere system.

    The treacherous aspect of this rise is that it is largely invisible to us—proceeding out of our sight and tending to prompt the question, “Where’s the warming?” or “Where has the energy gone?” The energy is real, as scientists like Kevin Trenberth and James Hansen point out, but due to the built-in time lag in Earth-system response to long-term climate forcing we won’t begin to see the full effects until the world’s coastlines are being inundated by rising seas and ocean warming has reached the point where (due to increased atmospheric steam-loading) we’re living in a hostile climate where heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods are much more intense than their historical antecedents.

    During the 30 years between about 1980 and the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, ocean warming led to a ~4% rise in the atmosphere’s steam content—along with corresponding increases in atmospheric heat-trapping ability and latent heat, representing potential energy. This rise in the global specific humidity palpably strengthened the water-vapor greenhouse effect while providing more power to drive storms of all kinds, including the most destructive ones.

    To begin to grasp the world-altering scale of the global-warming energy, we need an appropriate yardstick. Let us use the nuclear scale of energies. When a nuclear bomb explodes, the released energy is ultimately degraded to heat. Choose as yardstick the total energy potential of the combined nuclear arsenals of the world as of 1995, estimated at 10,000 equivalent megatons of TNT (~10 gigatons). “One equivalent world nuclear arsenal” (eqWNA) is here defined as the heat equivalent of all the nuclear warheads and bombs in the world’s stockpiles at that time—approaching fifty billion gigajoules (5e19 J), coincidentally on the order of one mega-Hiroshima, the released energy of one million Hiroshima bombs and about the potential energy at time of birth of a superenergetic ENSO event such as occurred in 1998. This is vast energy: a freight train able to carry fifty billion gigajoules (50000000000000000000 watt-seconds) of energy as TNT would be 4.8 million km (3 million miles) long, spanning one-tenth of the distance from the earth to the orbit of Venus.

    We are here on a scale of energies comparable to those associated with some of the larger extraterrestrial impacts—orders of magnitude greater than the energy released by the Tunguska Event in Siberia in 1908 or the iron-rich meteoroid which, some 50,000 years ago, vaporized upon impact to leave its calling card in the form of 1.2-km wide Meteor Crater in Arizona. Some asteroid strikes, in fact, release less energy than the eqWNA (though the biggest ones release much more).

    This unit of energy (as heat) that I call the “equivalent world nuclear arsenal” (eqWNA) is a good measure of the warming due to anthropogenic greenhouse gases because it roughly corresponds to the diurnal global-warming energy, the excess heat added by man-made greenhouse gases to the global climate system in one night and day.

    So we see that in just one twenty-four-hour period of 24 x 60 x 60 = 86,400 seconds, that 500 trillion joules per second of net greenhouse-trapped energy sums to ~4.3 x 10^19 (43000000000000000000) joules, an amount of energy which if released suddenly anywhere in the world (as by a powerful earthquake, asteroid strike, or synchronized detonation of the world nuclear arsenal) would be a major cataclysm. The difference between this energy figure and the fifty-billion-gigajoule figure just quoted is not significant. Over the long term, we’re fried just the same.

    Over one decade, the total energy added to climatic sinks by man-made greenhouse gases is many thousands of times greater than that forty or fifty billion gigajoules. On a century time scale, it is hundreds of thousands of times greater. For considered in absolute terms, molecule for molecule, the earth-warming due CO2 is quite large compared to the heat released when, say, trinitrotoluene (TNT) explodes.

    Thus the long-term Earth warming due to man-made CO2 (as one megajoule per square kilometer per second or an equivalent measure) far exceeds the energy potential of the same mass of TNT (or of any fossil fuel) and actually begins to approach the power of a nuclear explosive in respect to its capacity to heat the planet. One ton of excess CO2 yields roughly 1 to 10 equivalent kilotons of cumulative earth warming over the course of its mean atmospheric lifetime. It follows that over the course of a century one hundred billion tons (100 Gt) of man-made CO2 (a fraction of the current anthropogenic total) adds at minimum the heat equivalent of one hundred trillion tons (100 Tt) of TNT to the climate system, comparable to the energy yield of roughly 100,000,000 tons of a nuclear explosive such as Uranium-235. This is approximately the energy released by the prehistoric K-T impact which triggered the dinosaur extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period. (The Hiroshima bomb was fueled by 10 kilograms of Uranium-235. The K-T impact released on the order of 10^8 megatons, equal to about ten billion Hiroshimas happening in the same place at the same time.) At a mean Earth-warming rate of 1 watt per square meter—the same as one megawatt per square kilometer—the heat equivalent of one K-T impact will be added about every twenty-five years. Nothing more than an order-of-magnitude calculation of the global-warming energy is necessary to make the point, as the energies involved are far greater than those associated with past known climate changes, outstripping even the forcing which drove the catastrophic warming of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) 54 million years ago. If we have the answer correct to the nearest order of magnitude, then we have the relevant answer.

    It is significant, however, that relative to their mass some artificial greenhouse gases (including NF3, SF6, and HFC-23) exceed nuclear-explosive potential as climatic warming influences. The innocuous-seeming HFC-23, for example, used as a refrigerant, is some 12,000 times more powerful than CO2 as a heat-trapper when it escapes into the atmosphere. Inadvertent climate modification as an unintended consequence of large-scale deforestation, industrial production, and fossil-fuel consumption is by far the most momentous of humanity’s works, and human fingerprints are all over it.

    So we see that whereas anthropogenic global warming has often been dismissed as minor or inconsequential by misinformed critics, the opposite is the case. The heat cumulatively added to the oceans of the world by artificial greenhouse enhancement since the middle of the twentieth century approaches the energy released by the asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. That was some 4 x 10^23 (four hundred thousand million trillion) joules—400000000000000000000000 watt-seconds—ten thousand times greater than the EqWNA and comparable to the sun’s output to the entire universe over 1 millisecond—something far beyond imagination. In the mean equilibrium warming case, this corresponds to the addition over the last 60 years of several Hiroshima-bomb equivalents of heat to each and every one of the 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of seawater in the world’s oceans.

    In terms of its scientific reality, CO2-induced warming is right up there with death, birth, evolution, the big bang, Galactic supernovae, and terrestrial mass extinctions. On the scale of a human lifetime there’s absolutely no way to stop it or get rid of it, since you can’t soon get that massive burden of added heat out of the world’s oceans, let alone quickly de-carbonize the atmosphere, though prompt phasing-out of commercial deforestation and industrial fossil-fuel use in favor of sustainable land-use practices and alternative energy would help to limit the eventual damage to society and the biosphere. If breaking heads proves necessary to accomplish that goal, beginning with the heads of the major industrial polluters worldwide, the argument for doing so is compelling.

    While a non-violent transition to a clean, sustainable world economy is overwhelmingly to be preferred, it is imperative, starting now, to reduce and ultimately eliminate the top-of-atmosphere radiation imbalance which is driving the global temperature increase. This requires reining in CO2 emissions without further delay, even if it means that the world’s “haves” must renounce their exorbitantly wasteful lifestyles and inconvenience themselves in more than minor ways until the job is done. Sorry, no excuses—the world can no longer afford to fiddle away the time while the earth heats up uncontrollably, with large, unpredictable future increases in temperature possible due to the dizzying complexity of the interactions within and between the climate system’s components. Continued delay on the part of those nations and industries most responsible for the historic greenhouse-gas rise constitutes de facto criminal negligence in the face of an unprecedented threat not only to the human future, but (increasingly) to the world’s stability and security now.

  110. FedUpWithDenial says:

    Correction: Due to an editing error at the time of posting of my comment #109 above, the references to the long-term climatic warming due to man-made CO2 (whether as one ton or one hundred billion tons considered on a century time scale) should rather have been to atmospheric carbon, as there are around three thousand gigatons of CO2 in the atmosphere but only about one thousand gigatons of carbon. The relevant corrected text should read as follows:

    “The long-term Earth warming due to man-made CO2 far exceeds the energy potential of the same mass of TNT (or of any fossil fuel) and actually begins to approach the power of a nuclear explosive in respect to its capacity to heat the planet. One ton of excess atmospheric carbon yields roughly 1 to 10 equivalent kilotons of cumulative earth warming over the course of its mean atmospheric lifetime. It follows that over the course of a century one hundred billion tons of man-made atmospheric carbon (100 GtC—a fraction of the current anthropogenic total) adds at minimum the heat equivalent of one hundred trillion tons (100 Tt) of TNT to the climate system, comparable to the energy yield of roughly 100,000,000 tons of a nuclear explosive such as Uranium-235.”

    I noted that if we have the answer correct to the nearest order of magnitude, then we have the relevant answer. A factor of two or three difference doesn’t change things much in an order-of-magnitude calculation, but in the interest of accuracy I offer the correction for what it’s worth.