Royal Society special issue details ‘hellish vision’ of 7°F (4°C) world — which we may face in the 2060s!

“In such a 4°C world, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world, while the limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceeded throughout the world.”

Figure 7.

“Projections of global warming relative to pre-industrial for the A1FI emissions scenario” — the one we’re currently on. “Dark shading shows the mean ±1 s.d. [standard deviation] for the tunings to 19 AR4 GCMs [IPCC Fourth Assessment General Circulation Models]  and the light shading shows the change in the uncertainty range when … climate-carbon-cycle feedbacks … are included.”

Note:  The Royal Society is making its “entire digital archive free to access” (!) through Tuesday, so download the articles in their special issue on 4C warming ASAP.

One of the greatest failings of the climate science community (and the media) is not spelling out as clearly as possible the risks we face on our current emissions path, as well as the plausible worst-case scenario, which includes massive ecosystem collapse. So much of what the public and policymakers think is coming is a combination of

  1. The low end of the expected range of warming and impacts based on aggressive policies to reduce emissions (and no serious carbon-cycle feedbacks)
  2. Analyses of a few selected impacts, but not an integrated examination of multiple impacts
  3. Disinformation pushed by the anti-science, pro-pollution crowd

In fairness, a key reason the scientific community hasn’t studied the high emissions scenarios much until recently because they never thought humanity would be so self-destructive as to ignore their warnings for so long, which has put us on the highest emissions path (see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm “¦ the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” “” 1000 ppm [A1FI]).

A special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, “Four degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications,” lays out this 4°C (7°F) world.  Warming of 7F is certainly not the worst-case in the scientific literature (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F and “Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year “” and that isn’t the worst case, it’s business as usual!“).

But for the first time, “A hellish vision of a world warmed by 4C within a lifetime has been set out by an international team of scientists,” as the UK’s Guardian describes it:

A 4C rise in the planet’s temperature would see severe droughts across the world and millions of migrants seeking refuge as their food supplies collapse.

These papers began as conference presentations, one of which I discussed last year (see 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”).

Dr Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, laid out the “plausible worst case scenario,” in a terrific and terrifying talk (audio here, PPT here).  What is worst-case is not the temperature rise, which is all but inevitable this century if we don’t take action.

What is “worst-case” is that if we stay on the high emissions pathway and the carbon cycle feedbacks turn out to be strong (as observations and paleoclimate data suggest they will be) then it could happen by the 2060s.  It could look something like this [temperature in degrees Celsius, multiple by 1.8 for Fahrenheit]:

A1B Met

[That isn’t their worst-case, which is A1F1.  This is “only” A1B, which is the 720 ppm scenario (to which they add feedbacks).]

In a must-read paper that is the source of the top figure, “When could global warming reach 4°C?” Betts et al. drop this bombshell:

Using these GCM projections along with simple climate-model projections, including uncertainties in carbon-cycle feedbacks, and also comparing against other model projections from the IPCC, our best estimate is that the A1FI emissions scenario would lead to a warming of 4°C relative to pre-industrial during the 2070s. If carbon-cycle feedbacks are stronger, which appears less likely but still credible, then 4°C warming could be reached by the early 2060s in projections that are consistent with the IPCC’s ‘likely range’.

On the one hand, the A1FI is quite a high emissions scenario, and I suspect that humanity will turn off of it by 2030.  On the other hand, even a much lower emissions like A2 is only a few tenths of a degree centigrade cooler.  Also, while Betts et al. does a better job of incorporating carbon-cycle feedbacks into their modeling than virtually anyone else, I do not believe that they incorporate any feedback of methane emissions from the tundra or methane hydrates — and that is certainly the most worrisome of all of the carbon-cycle feedbacks (see 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”).

Another important Royal Society article is the concluding piece, “The role of interactions in a world implementing adaptation and mitigation solutions to climate change,” by Rachel Warren.  She makes a crucial point that is all too neglected in most discussions of adaptation — it is the interaction of impacts that is likely to overwhelm, particularly when you consider the very real risk of eco-system collapse over large parts of the Earth:

a 4°C world would be facing enormous adaptation challenges in the agricultural sector, with large areas of cropland becoming unsuitable for cultivation, and declining agricultural yields. This world would also rapidly be losing its ecosystem services, owing to large losses in biodiversity, forests, coastal wetlands, mangroves and saltmarshes, and terrestrial carbon stores, supported by an acidified and potentially dysfunctional marine ecosystem. Drought and desertification would be widespread, with large numbers of people experiencing increased water stress, and others experiencing changes in seasonality of water supply. There would be a need to shift agricultural cropping to new areas, impinging on unmanaged ecosystems and decreasing their resilience; and large-scale adaptation to sea-level rise would be necessary. Human and natural systems would be subject to increasing levels of agricultural pests and diseases, and increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

In such a 4°C world, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world, while the limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceeded throughout the world. Hence, the ecosystem services upon which human livelihoods depend would not be preserved. Even though some studies have suggested that adaptation in some areas might still be feasible for human systems, such assessments have generally not taken into account lost ecosystem services.


Right now, even the worst-case analyses for adaptation ignore the potential impact of ecosystem collapse (see Scientists find “net present value of climate change impacts” of $1240 TRILLION on current emissions path, making mitigation to under 450 ppm a must).

Warren also notes another area often ignored in adaptation analyses:

In the coming decades, one of the most serious impacts of climate change is projected to be the consequences of the projected increases in extreme weather events. For example, climate change-induced changes in precipitation patterns and changes in climate variability would increase the area of the globe experiencing drought at any one time from today’s 1 per cent to a future 30 per cent by the end of the twenty-first century…

Few studies examine the potential consequences of these increases in extreme weather upon individual sectors and/or regions, but these could be significant. Only a few days of high temperatures near flowering in wheat, groundnut and soybean can drastically reduce yield, while maize losses could potentially double owing to floods in the USA; and the AVOID study estimated that, in a 4°C world, 50 per cent of fluvial flood-prone people would be exposed to increased flood risk compared with approximately 25 per cent in a 2°C world.

Unfortunately, this issue was not published in time to take into account the Must-read NCAR analysis that warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path.  And the sea level rise article adds little to the many recent scientific and media articles on the subject — see Coastal studies experts: “For coastal management purposes, a [sea level] rise of 7 feet (2 meters) should be utilized for planning major infrastructure.” Also, I would have liked to have seen an ocean acidification article that looked at what we face on the high-emissions, moderate carbon-cycle feedbacks scenario.

But there are several important articles, like “Agriculture and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa [SSA] in a 4°C+ world,” which concludes:

The prognosis for agriculture and food security in SSA in a 4°C+ world is bleak. Already today, the number of people at risk from hunger has never been higher: it increased from 300 million in 1990 to 700 million in 2007, and it is estimated that it may exceed 1 billion in 2010 . The cost of achieving the food security Millennium Development Goal in a +2°C world is around $40-60 billion per year, and without this investment, serious damage from climate change will not be avoided. Currently, the prospects for such levels of sustained investment are not that bright. Croppers and livestock keepers in SSA have in the past shown themselves to be highly adaptable to short- and long-term variations in climate, but the kind of changes that would occur in a 4°C+ world would be way beyond anything experienced in recent times. There are many options that could be effective in helping farmers adapt even to medium levels of warming, given substantial investments in technologies, institution building and infrastructural development, for example, but it is not difficult to envisage a situation where the adaptive capacity and resilience of hundreds of millions of people in SSA could simply be overwhelmed by events.

The article “Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world” concludes:

The analysis within this paper offers a stark and unremitting assessment of the climate change challenge facing the global community. There is now little to no chance of maintaining the rise in global mean surface temperature at below 2°C, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary. Moreover, the impacts associated with 2°C have been revised upwards, sufficiently so that 2°C now more appropriately represents the threshold between dangerous and extremely dangerous climate change. Consequently, and with tentative signs of global emissions returning to their earlier levels of growth, 2010 represents a political tipping point. The science of climate change allied with emission pathways for Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 nations suggests a profound departure in the scale and scope of the mitigation and adaption challenge from that detailed in many other analyses, particularly those directly informing policy.

However, this paper is not intended as a message of futility, but rather a bare and perhaps brutal assessment of where our ‘rose-tinted’ and well intentioned (though ultimately ineffective) approach to climate change has brought us. Real hope and opportunity, if it is to arise at all, will do so from a raw and dispassionate assessment of the scale of the challenge faced by the global community. This paper is intended as a small contribution to such a vision and future of hope.

The Preface to the issue makes a similarly crucial point about why to have as realistic an assessment of the science as is possible:

Second, responses that might be most appropriate for a 2°C world may be maladaptive in a +4°C world; this is, particularly, an issue for decisions with a long lifetime, which have to be made before there is greater clarity on the amount of climate change that will be experienced. For example, a reservoir built to help communities adapt to moderate temperature increases may become dry if they continue to increase, or coastal protection designed for 2°C may be overcome at 4°C. This will require systems that are flexible and robust to a range of possible futures. Third, for some of the more vulnerable regions, a +4°C world may require a complete transformation in many aspects of society, rather than adaptation of existing activities, for example, high crop failure frequency in southern Africa may require shifts to entirely new crops and farming methods, or SLR may require the relocation of cities.

In short, even those who favor adaptation need to get real about what we are facing — or else we will waste a lot of time and money maladapting.  But in a 4C/7F world, the word ‘adaptation’ should probably be replaced by “misery and triage” (see Real adaptation is as politically tough as real mitigation, but much more expensive and not as effective in reducing future misery).

Finally, it must always be repeated that for far, far less than the cost of so-called adaptation, we could dramatically reduce the likelihood of the worst of these impacts with technologies are available today or in the process of being commercialized.

Indeed, while one paper cited above asserts, “There is now little to no chance of maintaining the rise in global mean surface temperature at below 2°C,” that is only true in the political sense that the human race is choosing not to act, choosing not to stay below 2°C.  We almost certainly have it within our scientific and technological power to do so — see How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution.

Related Post:

The analysis within this paper offers a stark and unremitting assessment of the climate change challenge facing the global community. There is now little to no chance of maintaining the rise in global mean surface temperature at below 2°C, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary. Moreover, the impacts associated with 2°C have been revised upwards, sufficiently so that 2°C now more appropriately represents the threshold between dangerous and extremely dangerous climate change. Consequently, and with tentative signs of global emissions returning to their earlier levels of growth, 2010 represents a political tipping point. The science of climate change allied with emission pathways for Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 nations suggests a profound departure in the scale and scope of the mitigation and adaption challenge from that detailed in many other analyses, particularly those directly informing policy.

However, this paper is not intended as a message of futility, but rather a bare and perhaps brutal assessment of where our ‘rose-tinted’ and well intentioned (though ultimately ineffective) approach to climate change has brought us. Real hope and opportunity, if it is to arise at all, will do so from a raw and dispassionate assessment of the scale of the challenge faced by the global community. This paper is intended as a small contribution to such a vision and future of hope.


105 Responses to Royal Society special issue details ‘hellish vision’ of 7°F (4°C) world — which we may face in the 2060s!

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    4C means depopulation on an enormous scale, and it won’t be pretty. An overview of world history shows that only a few cultures experienced mass starvation stoically- the more fatalistic societies of Ireland and India come to mind.

    More likely will be armed migration, which will suck up scarce resources and achieve reduced human population through asymmetrical warfare. It won’t be the Blue and the Gray, lining up against each other and following the rules. Starving people will not consider much of anything up for discussion except conquering and occupying territory in order to grow crops.

    Our military knows this, including the science cited above. Even if most generals are Republicans, they need to go public, and could be the only group left that is capable and willing enough to demand action.

  2. Leif says:

    And The GOBP call us “alarmists?”

  3. fj3 says:

    We wallow in a state of near absolute profligacy.

    We waste our precious environment and ourselves.

    We liquefy the planet to fuel civilization . . .

    . . . while more than 6,000 times the amount of sun-powered energy strikes our planet than required by civilization every single day.

    And, make no mistake about it, ultimately the machines of civilization do not and will not require the fossil fuel industry.

    The machines of civilization will deeply integrate with our natural capital, its wondrous services, and with our human capital as the most important component.

    Those in the know are moving in this direction as is New York City even though most are not aware of this in such easy terms.

  4. Colorado Bob says:

    Soil microbes define dangerous rates of climate change

    The rate of global warming could lead to a rapid release of carbon from peatlands that would further accelerate global warming.

    Two recent studies published by the Mathematics Research Institute at the University of Exeter highlight the risk that this ‘compost bomb’ instability could pose, and calculate the conditions under which it could occur.

    The same Exeter team is now exploring a possible link between the theories described in the studies and last summer’s devastating peatland fires in Russia.

  5. This adds up to the definition of abrupt climate change.
    So what do we call it if we trigger a tipping point (i.e. methane) leading to a dramatic increase in the rate of warming?
    Violent Climate Change?

  6. Lou Grinzo says:

    As unsettling as this post and set of papers is, the single most disturbing sentence is Joe’s: “Also, while Betts et al. does a better job of incorporating carbon-cycle feedbacks into their modeling than virtually anyone else, I do not believe that they incorporate any feedback of methane emissions from the tundra or methane hydrates — and that is certainly the most worrisome of all of the carbon-cycle feedbacks”.

    If, in fact, this paper does not take a methane feedback into account then it’s yet another example of why humanity continues to downplay the immense threat of CC. (Yes, this is included in Joe’s point [1] about the lack of feedbacks, but I think it’s ironic that even when we get a breakthrough set of papers like this it seems that they’re STILL not giving us the whole story.)

    About all I have left to hope for is some sudden and shocking CC impact that’s big enough to jolt us into action without too high a body count. But I have a very hard time figuring out what that might be, frankly. As I’ve said many times, if you look at how quickly we forgot things like the EU heatwaves and Katrina, not to mention how quickly we’ll forget the Russian fires and the floods in Pakistan, I’m not optimistic that such an event is even possible.

    Today is one of those days when I most definitely “wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then”…

  7. Now we see the increasing rush to get more information, while some groups will try harder to suppress information.

    Sometime soon this information skirmish will be abandoned for the more practical battle to maintain a civil society while trying to survive.

    The tactical mantra now becomes: diagnose, adapt, mitigate, repeat.

  8. Prokaryotes says:

    Carbon offsetting

    Green house legislation is the distillation of political forces marshaled by science, economic foresight, activism, paranoia, the desire for change, leadership, sycophantalism, pleasure in moral whipping, settling scores, conservatism and those psychological forces which drive them. But in some countries we may accept the legislation as a given and turn our eyes the phenomena which flows from it but whose path to the sea is not yet clear:

    In order to understand carbon offsetting we must first agree on what we accept for the sake of the argument. Here is a guess:

    1. global warming is a problem
    2. atmospheric CO2 significantly contributes to gobal warming
    3. a reduction in increase of atmospheric CO2 now significantly reduces the effects of global warming in a meaningful time frame
    4. atmospheric CO2 levels are substantially under human control
    5. of the CO2 production under human control a significant quantity comes from human enterprize
    6. reducing CO2 production is a cost effective means of addressing global warming relative to other means

    I’m not sure I buy 6. but whatever. We are now tasked to reduce human emissions of CO2 although X may claim that there’s a 7. lurking — the continued moral fibre of individuals in the body politic. That’s a more difficult question, which calls from great sympathy, but let us first work with what we can see clearly.

    We have only two questions (a) is carbon offsetting effective? and (b) is it efficient compared to the alternatives?

    Carbon offsetting by corporations is not motivated by moral considerations. It is motivated by legislation or self-regulation backed up by the threat of legislation.

    It is effectively a tax on CO2 production, with the tax money going to industries that soak up carbon.

    Now here comes the realpolitik beauty of carbon offsetting. CO2 producers favor it, since compared to outright bans and limits, taxes have greater flexibility and predictability. Hence fearing the whip of pending banning legislation, producers support this tax they would have normally hated. An increasingly powerful industry lobby group is created by those who take CO2 and the middlemen who find them. This lobby group is sees its interest as increasing the carbon transfer tax to the highest levels possible and to ferret our deception by CO2 producers! As an industry, it is a far more stable influence that the vagarities of popular political opinion. Even bureaucrats love it, as they now have their hands in another three industries.

    Hence this is an effective real politic way of introducing, sustaining and increasing a cabon tax that would have great difficulties surviving as disconnected tax and grant system.

    That answers (a). (b) remains an interesting question, as does what a clever realpolitik solution would look like for funding those alternatives.

    If we have a serious problem, we are tasked to re-engineer the world using the best political, psychological and technological tricks we can come up with.

  9. Adrian says:

    Have downloaded, will read.

    A perhaps off-topic, naive and may have facts wrong question: if soot is 60% of greenhouse pollution (cooking fires + diesel), is there any discussion of reducing it in emissions-control scenarios?

  10. Prokaryotes says:

    “Also, while Betts et al. does a better job of incorporating carbon-cycle feedbacks into their modeling than virtually anyone else, I do not believe that they incorporate any feedback of methane emissions from the tundra or methane hydrates — and that is certainly the most worrisome of all of the carbon-cycle feedbacks”.

    If this wasn’t enough NATURAL GAS is hyped to replace fossil fuel.

    DEEP in the Arctic Circle, in the Messoyakha gas field of western Siberia, lies a mystery. Back in 1970, Russian engineers began pumping natural gas from beneath the permafrost and piping it east across the tundra to the Norilsk metal smelter, the biggest industrial enterprise in the Arctic.

    By the late 70s, they were on the brink of winding down the operation. According to their surveys, they had sapped nearly all the methane from the deposit. But despite their estimates, the gas just kept on coming. The field continues to power Norilsk today.

    Where is this methane coming from? The Soviet geologists initially thought it was leaking from another deposit hidden beneath the first. But their experiments revealed the opposite – the mystery methane is seeping into the well from the icy permafrost above.

  11. Prokaryotes says:

    The above article is for subscribers only … now most visitors never read about the dangers of fossil gas. You can subscribe for just Quarterly at £34.25 – saving 20%!

    Ice on fire: The next fossil fuel

  12. RobM says:

    “Finally, it must always be repeated that for far, far less than the cost of so-called adaptation, we could dramatically reduce the likelihood of the worst of these impacts with technologies are available today or in the process of being commercialized.”

    Greenwash statements like above are as bad as statements from the deniers. See recent work by Timothy Garrett at the Univ. of Utah for a realistic understanding of what it will take to mitigate climate change.

    It seems that our optimal path forward is to hope for the rapid collapse of civilization. Given peak debt and peak oil this strategy has a reasonable chance of success.

  13. Wonhyo says:

    One study that remains conspicuously missing from the body of climate science is what happens if we DO succeed, spectacularly, in reducing emissions, if we take feedback cycles into account? Assume all of humanity zeroes out its fossil fuel emissions tomorrow, and replaces it with clean/renewable energy sources that do not contribute to global warming.

    Would this be enough to (1) stabilize the growth in CO2 concentration, (2) lead to a steady decline in CO2 concentration, and (3) limit the effects of climate change on water and food supplies, and areas suitable for habitation or migration? I believe these are the conditions required for the human species to survive the present episode of human driven climate change.

    Have scientists already run this scenario without publishing if?

  14. Prokaryotes says:

    Wonhyo …

    Negative emissions needed for a safe climate: World Watch Institute

    The latest State of the World report from the globally respected World Watch Institute is one of the highest-profile and credible calls for emergency action on climate change yet released.

    The report concludes that the old scientific and environmental target of constraining warming to 2C is now well out of date and that we must do everything we can to bring warming back to no more than 1C if we are to pass on a safe climate to those who come after us. It makes it clear that those who think we can get away with stabilising CO2 equivalents at 550 parts per million are knowingly condemning the planet to catastrophe.

    Bill Hare’s excellent chapter which goes through the science step by step includes an excellent metaphor for the situation we find ourselves in:

    The jet plane metaphor is again helpful. Faced with a dire in-flight emergency, it would be safest to be on the ground immediately. In the real world, however, it takes time to prepare the aircraft, get into a safe configuration for descent and landing, and find a safe runway to land on. Otherwise the outcome would be an unmitigated disaster— the plane would crash.

    In other words, the only safe level of emissions is zero (in fact, below zero, as he goes on to explain), therefore the only truly scientifically justifiable emissions target is to get to zero immediately. However, we know that that is technically impossible to achieve (forget political or economic constraints, it’s just not actually possible). So we need to set ourselves on the pathway that will get us there as fast and effectively as possible.

    That is why the Australian Greens have adopted a policy that Australia should target net zero carbon emissions as soon as feasible, and no later than 2050.

    Other chapters of the State of the World report look into how this can be achieved, with an emergency shift from coal to zero emissions renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, electrifying transport with renewable power, changing agricultural practices to increase soil carbon storage, protecting forests and much more. One of the most interesting sections is about how global society can actually get to negative emissions which, as Hare explains, will be needed in order to suck carbon out of the atmosphere to get carbon concentrations lower than they currently are.

    This report makes a mockery of the Rudd/Wong white paper. The day after the white paper was released, Penny Wong to ABC AM’s Lyndal Curtis that:

    the Greens want carbon neutrality, that is, no net emissions by 2050, at the latest. Which is, frankly, I’m not sure how they propose to get there – to be carbon neutral by 2050. So obviously if we’re going to have a discussion with them we’d need to understand how on earth Bob Brown proposes to get there.

    Well, Minister, this report backs the Greens to the hilt. I strongly recommend that you, and everyone else interested in the future of the planet, read this report.

  15. Prokaryotes says:

    Cutting greenhouse gases will be no quick fix for our weather, scientists say

    UK study predicts increased floods and droughts will continue for decades after global temperatures are stabilised

  16. Paulm says:

    Doesn’t the USA have the equivalent to a met office?

    Why is there no group like this shouting at it’s citerzens and leaders?

  17. Bob Doublin says:

    Why do we hate our grandchildren so much?

  18. Paulm says:

    4c is bad news. However, this really is a distraction. Surly, based on the current rate of extreme weather events (especially the increased precipitation) we are going to see civilization collapse well before 3c.

    We are at ~.8c now and already food supply and prices are crippling. The extreme events will be increasing here on in so surely we are looking at collapse in the next 5yrs or so.

    There are events that we have not fully understood also like increase earthquakes and volcanism. Natural events like earthquakes combined with the climate warming stress mean that soceties will not recover from them. See haiti.

    All in all it is the end of times.

  19. tsk tsk says:

    this culture is killing the planet. i say we kill this culture.

  20. Sasparilla says:

    Excellent and awful article Joe. So much for 2.0C. I’d been reading for several years that alot of scientists already thought 2.0C was not possible due to the politics, its good to see someone actually saying it very publicly (otherwise the politicians would still be saying we could do 2.0C after the temp was up 3.0C). I guess we’ll get to see where those tipping points actually reside. :-(

    #5 Lou Grinzo you said it so well. I feel exactly the same and have no idea what could happen that would actually be able to change the status (and most importantly) trend of the political atmosphere in the US towards action on climate change. How could we have almost total defeat 2 years after President Obama (and Democratic supermajorities in both houses) were elected? It still staggers me when I ponder it.

    Unbelievable they still don’t have methane dialed in (I hope to god that the next IPCC report has it included – even though it’ll be a couple of years from now I think – we need to get that pushed into the public discussion somehow, although I’m not sure what effect it would have).

    It appears we’re going to go right over the cliff (of tipping points) with the pedal floored and the party going full speed…(and the Republicans in the U.S. shouting “Drill Baby Drill” and “Don’t Tread on Me”). I always figured if we ended up not making it, it would have been because we tried but the tipping points would come early or something, it just never occurred to me that we wouldn’t even seriously try (till it was way too late). Very sad that we’ve set ourselves on this path.

  21. Jeff Huggins says:

    Bill Keller (The New York Times) on The Front Page

    Let’s all see what Bill Keller and The New York Times consider to be important this week and in coming weeks, what with the news in this post, and with the activities in Cancun, and with the progressively worsening climate problem.

    As fascinating context, here are Bill Keller’s own introductory words about the importance and role of the front page in the news biz and to The New York Times. These are from his introduction in the huge (and historically informative) book, “The New York Times: The Complete Front Pages, 1851-2008”.

    (Among other things, note the remarkable and somewhat poetically ironic use of the word ‘climactic’ in reference to the daily meeting that determines what goes on the front page, a page on which news involving climate change very rarely appears. Note also that Keller fails to mention the Science, Nature, or “Reality” departments at The Times when he lists six of the other “various departments”. Apparently, many important matters are considered under the umbrella of “and so on”, to use Keller’s words.)

    In any case, I hope that these words, from Bill Keller himself, will help us understand the media problem, including at The New York Times.

    – – –


    Bill Keller

    The life of a newspaper revolves to a large, possibly ridiculous, degree around the making of a single page—the front page. For most of this paper’s history, the news workday has been defined by the launching, refining, winnowing and arranging of those few articles that will represent the editors’ best reckoning of what mattered most yesterday. That selection process was probably less consuming in 1851, when Page One of the new “New-York Daily Times” was crammed with so many items of news, in eyestrain type, that it’s hard to imagine much was left out. Certainly the obsession with Page One is diminishing a little now, as we shift attention to our nonstop digital edition. But the climactic event of the newspaper day is still the afternoon Page One meeting, where editors from the various departments—Foreign, National, Metropolitan, Business, Culture, Sports and so on—nominate the articles they deem most important, most interesting, or right for “the mix.”

    And Page One is still what most stirs our ambition. Editors assure reporters that each page of the paper is precious, even those consisting of a narrow gutter alongside a department-store ad, but the front page is the showcase every reporter aspires to. Whether it comes shouted across a newsroom, telexed to a foreign bureau or in an e-mail message, there are few more satisfying phrases in our business than “You are fronted.”

  22. Peter M says:

    If So-we will likely pass 2 degree C warming by the mid 2020s- and see at least 3 degrees C 2035-2040.

    This represents a far faster scenario then has been released in the past for temperature rises globally.

    [JR: Just to be clear, this is the plausible worst-case scenario — not the likely one.]

  23. Michael T. says:

    Extremely Active Atlantic Hurricane Season was a ‘Gentle Giant’ for U.S.

    NOAA’s Prediction for Active Season Realized; Slow Eastern Pacific Season Sets Record

    November 29, 2010

    According to NOAA the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, which ends tomorrow, was one of the busiest on record. In contrast, the eastern North Pacific season had the fewest storms on record since the satellite era began.

    In the Atlantic Basin a total of 19 named storms formed – tied with 1887 and 1995 for third highest on record. Of those, 12 became hurricanes – tied with 1969 for second highest on record. Five of those reached major hurricane status of Category 3 or higher.

    These totals are within the ranges predicted in NOAA’s seasonal outlooks issued on May 27 (14-23 named storms; 8-14 hurricanes; 3-7 major hurricanes) and August 5 (14-20 named storms; 8-12 hurricanes; 4-6 major hurricanes). An average Atlantic season produces 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

    Large-scale climate features strongly influenced this year’s hurricane activity, as they often do. This year, record warm Atlantic waters, combined with the favorable winds coming off Africa and weak wind shear aided by La Niña energized developing storms. The 2010 season continues the string of active hurricane seasons that began in 1995.

    But short-term weather patterns dictate where storms actually travel and in many cases this season, that was away from the United States. The jet stream’s position contributed to warm and dry conditions in the eastern U.S. and acted as a barrier that kept many storms over open water. Also, because many storms formed in the extreme eastern Atlantic, they re-curved back out to sea without threatening land.

    “As NOAA forecasters predicted, the Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most active on record, though fortunately most storms avoided the U.S. For that reason, you could say the season was a gentle giant,” said Jack Hayes, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s National Weather Service.

  24. Peter M says:


    “plausible worse case scenario’ just a question- if we do not reach peak emissions by 2015- does this not guarantee at least a 2 degree C rise? Which many now consider ‘bad’.

    With political events as they stand- does anyone see a peak by 2020? 2025 and after?

    The International Energy Agency has predicted a rise of 3.4 degrees C by 2035 see:

    [JR: That article is almost certainly wrong. I have never seen the IEA predict anything like that. The IEA is an energy agency and it doesn’t make climate predictions — it mostly reports on what level of investment what kind of technologies are needed to stabilize at 450 ppm and the like. This Indian media outlet almost certainly misunderstood them. The IEA probably said that if we don’t peak by 2035, then we are stuck with at least 3.4°C by 2100.

    The Question of what temperature rise we are committed to we don’t peak by a certain year is not a question that climate science alone can answer. You have to have some estimate of what a plausible rate of emissions reductions might be. The fact is, the world could cuts its CO2 emissions 50% or more in two decades if it really wanted to. It obviously just gets harder and more expensive the longer you wait.]

  25. Peter M says:

    Thanks Joe for the reply

    That release by the IEA has been disseminated at several News Sites around the Web- I wanted to see what you would say- since you worked in the Department of Energy.

    The costs also as you said for cutting emissions by even 50% will be enormous – so at this point we are playing basically playing Russian Roulette- It seems we are on a ‘business’ as usual path- which therefore makes the worst case scenario a real possibility.

  26. OregonStream says:

    A 4 degree C warmed world would be quite hellish to a lot of creatures, but a “7°F (4°C) world” would be a rather numbing contrast :-) Okay, now I’m being pedantic.

  27. Russ Hailey says:

    Doesn’t this sort of extreme sort of alarmism just play into the hands of those against Climate Change? I mean even if it is plausible but still unlikely, it isn’t going to be helpful in portraying a realist picture of the threat to the Earth. If it is an unlikely or alarmist then people will be extremely unsympathetic to curbing GHG emissions. A sort of crying wolf if you will.

    [JR: No. Read the blog.]

  28. just another doomer2 says:

    see Clive Hamilton’s “Requiem for a Species, Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change” (June 2010). Book’s science is based directly on the papers from this conference.

  29. Edward says:

    “One of the greatest failings of the climate science community”

    WRONG! NOT IN MY JOB DESCRIPTION. Scientists aren’t supposed to do that.

    Journalists are supposed to do that.

    [JR: I disagree. I can’t imagine a worse epitaph for the climate — and the community of climate scientists — than “Journalists are supposed to do that.”]

  30. Aaron Lewis says:

    Last night for the third time this year, Nuuk, Greenland was warmer than San Francisco, California.

    Thus, Ladies and Gentlemen, we HAVE achieved the atmospheric circulation anomalies that the IPCC said would not happen for a long time.

    The big deal is that the new circulation pattern is already carrying heat to Greenland in ways that the IPCC models did not predict to occur so soon. This makes our lack of good ice sheet dynamics models to predict sea level rise a serious matter.

    Frankly, there are a lot AGW issues that sea level rise will just wash away.

  31. Richard Brenne says:

    Edward (#32) – Maybe it’s in your HUMAN BEING DESCRIPTION. . .

  32. catman306 says:

    Kevin Drum posts about statistical zombies that climate zombies are likely to miss in their wrong analysis. Statistical traps for journalists and their readers:

  33. Oregon Stream says:

    Speaking of the hazard and how it’s communicated, there was a Scripps professor on the BBC today. He said the planet may warm “as much as” 2 degrees in the next 20-60 years. That could be confusing to some when they also see warnings about a potential 4 degrees in the 2060’s or 2070’s. Presumably he’s considering the range of emission scenarios, but that still doesn’t seem compatible with “as much as” when talking about 2070. Perhaps the focus should be on the path we’re on, and establishing some consistency in reporting.

  34. Richard Brenne says:

    I’m sorry, but many of you are talking about this all wrong in terms of whether 7 degrees Fahrenheit is likely or unlikely. It is INEVITABLE.

    All we have to do is keep doing what we’re doing, and we’ll get there, guaranteed. Virtually all political and economic power on the planet is sworn to perpetuate this, either maliciously (Koch Brothers and their minions including most Republican politicians) or spinelessly (Obama, everyone in his administration and all but a handful of Democrat politicians).

    What we don’t know is exactly when we’ll get to 7 degrees F and exactly what all the effects we’ll be, but we do know that they’ll be catastrophic. My guess is that the 28 per cent more water vapor in the atmosphere combined with infinitely more energy will create storms and a climate we just don’t recognize, and most infrastructure will be severely damaged or completely destroyed from basements to bridges, highways, rail lines and airports within the design lifetime of each.

    We need to stop mincing words. We’re almost certainly going to kill off most of our grandchildren and their generation prematurely while sentencing them to agonizing choices (kill or be killed) and suffering. We’re probably sentencing our children to the same at some point in their lifetimes, and quite possibly ourselves.

    Another false assumption is that the effects of each degree are the same, when they compound. We’ve changed Earth’s climate to our current Anthro-Earth climate with 1.4 degrees F increase since 1850 (some scientists like NCAR’s Gerald Meehl say 1.5 degrees over the last century, with 1 degree of that since about 1975).

    The effect of each degree increase is closer to exponential than linear (and I’d like to know what you think about this and how best to express it).

    And the problems of all human impacts aren’t simply added together; it’s more like they’re multiplied (again I’d like to know how you’d express this).

    I’ve used this metaphor here before: What we each care about most is our own well-being, then that of our family, our community, our nation, and then finally the world. Let’s say that each of those is represented by our facing a firing squad that is going to shoot and kill us.

    The shooters in this metaphor represent the greatest existential threats (to our very existence) we face. The shooters are being ordered by Overpopulation, Overconsumption and Greed (OOG), who will shoot any of the firing squad soldiers if they don’t shoot (OOG is causing these problems).

    The shooters are Climate Change, Ocean Acidification, Ozone Pollution, Species Loss and Resource Depletion.

    Each of the shooters could kill us by themselves. The victim appears in denial about what is happening and thinks that each of their guns will jam. It is true that one or more of these problems might not turn out to be as bad as we now think.

    But it seems far more likely that one, more or all of the problems will turn out to be far worse than we now think.

    And their effects are synthesized, closer to multiplied than added (again, let me know what you think about this).

    Each has many subsets. Fossil fuel burning is the biggest factor in all of them combined, but it is not the only factor. If we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow we’d still have OOG and eco-system collapse at some point, we just don’t know how that manifests itself and when.

    There is nothing but cognitive dissonance between all of this and our everyday lives. Only those that are the most observant and caring can see where we’re headed, and that should include any scientist worth his or her sodium chloride.

    It is the job of everyone who sees this issue clearly to help communicate it the best he or she can. It is a lot to get one’s thinking around, because the biggest yet most abstract problem humans have ever faced is ourselves.

  35. None of the global warming discussions mention the word “nanotechnology.” Yet nanotechnology will eliminate the need for fossil fuels within 20 years. If we captured 1% of 1% of the sunlight (1 part in 10,000) we could meet 100% of our energy needs without ANY fossil fuels. We can’t do that today because the solar panels are too heavy, expensive, and inefficient. But there are new nanoengineered designs that are much more effective. Within five to six years, this technology will make a significant contribution. Within 20 years, it can provide all of our energy needs. The discussions talk about current trends continuing for the next century as if nothing is going to change. I think global warming is real but it has been modest thus far – 1 degree f. in 100 years. It would be concern if that continued or accelerated for a long period of time, but that’s not going to happen. And it’s not just environmental concern that will drive this, the $2 trillion we spend on energy is providing plenty of economic incentive. I don’t see any disasters occuring in the next 10 years from this. However, I AM concerned about other environment issues. There are other reasons to want to move quickly away from fossil fuels including environmental pollution at every step and the geopolitical instability it causes.

    Ray Kurzweil

    [JR: I’m honored that you would post a comment here, but nanotechnologies will not eliminate the need for fossil fuels in 20 years. I am a big fan of PV and have written about it extensively. I do believe it will continue to drop in price over the next two decades, but beating, say, eight cents a kilowatt hour fully installed in average insolation sites (especially in existing buildings) by 2025 would be a staggering achievement — and still wouldn’t come close to the cost of existing coal plants. Also, you still have to deal with liquid fuels.

    My solution is here. Maybe 2000 GW peak (one wedge) of solar PV by 2050 is ‘pessimistic’ — maybe it could be 4000 GW, or 100 GW deployed ever year through 2050. Let’s hope so. But that is still only two wedges out of the 12-14 that are needed. Obviously the deployment rate has to ramp up even faster than that if we dawdle another decade. Right now, we’re poised to hit 15 GW production in 2010 with projections of 25 GW in 2013.]

  36. Ed Hummel says:

    Raymond #38, I think you’re being way too optimistic, no matter how revolutionary nanotechnology might be. Big technological revolutions assume a stable society and because the problems are global, we can’t assume that the US will be an island of stablity in a world gone crazy the way it happened in World War II. We were able to have huge technological advances from 1941 to 1945 because nobody was bombing us the way we were doing to Japan and Germany who were both doing it to large parts of Europe and Asia. But in a world that is becoming increasingly chaotic due to extreme weather events combined with all the other screw-ups that our modern “civilization” has perpetrated on us (financial collapse, extreme over-population, habitat destruction, accelerated extinction of species, etc., etc.) I find it very doubtful (if not ludicrous) to think that technological solutions will come to the rescue in time to prevent civilization’s collapse combined with a drastic population reduction (much of it through violent means) that will render any kind of large scale innovation impossible. In fact, with all the chaotic destruction that seems to be our fate over the coming decades, I doubt very much that the scientific enterprise that has sustainded our civilization for the past 400 years will survive. It’ll be every man and woman for him or herself (or at least every family or clan for itself) as all the social structures that we’ve taken for granted for the last 6000 years of increasingly complex civilization rapidly disappear. This is the only scenario that makes any real sense if one looks soberly at all the implications of what is actually happening to our climate system as well as all the other ecosystems, not to mention social systems, that support us. Humanity in its present form has eagerly and perversely signed onto a global suicide pact that has confounded climate scientists for the last 30 years since no one in 1980 could have dreamed that we would be doing this to ourselves. Not wanting to give up what we have in spite of all the evidence showing its destructive power must be a mass defect in the human species since this trait seems to be global. It’s what leads to green-washing by the well-meaning and outright denial and subversion by the idiotic and evil-meaning. Such a situation drives the tiny minority that tries to be rational and to spread the word of what we’re doing to ourselves and to the only known habitable planet (the “climate hawks”!!) to despair and despondance. That’s why you been reading so many “alarmist” comments on this particular post.

  37. Bob Lang says:

    Also, let’s not forget that solar PV is intermittent.

    The global fossil-fuel infrastructure represents a capital investment of $15 trillion. To replace this infrastructure with something else would ordinarily take 30-40 years from a strictly capital-investment-limitation standpoint.

    In other words, there is no such thing as an “overnight” magic bullet.

  38. Prospace Environmentalist says:

    All these global warming predictions are astonishingly bleak. We better work and/or pray for a number of “overnight” magic bullets such as K. Eric Drexler’s Molecular Nanotechnology, Bussard Polywell Fusion, TriAlphaEnergy, President Obama finally decides to become a leader(or read this blog), and other promising innovations. Otherwise, it appears that there is no hope for a livable world at the end of the 21st century?

  39. Four degrees for many people in the world means “put your feet up and die” said Chris West of the University of Oxford’s UK Climate Impacts Programme in my Oct 9 2009 article on the Four Degrees Conference at Oxford.

    +4 Degrees C By 2060? Alarming But Not Alarmist

    Story didn’t get much play in North America but was widely covered in the UK.

  40. Jim says:

    Joe, thanks for the clarity of message. We have been operating as if we had a century or so, or at least a few decades, but that is clearly not the case.

    So we will have to recognize where the weight of the problem now lies: China and, to a lesser extent, India. Both Europe and the U.S. have reached and passed peak oil consumption and peak coal consumption.

    Though we are responsible for the bulk of the resident GHG in the atmosphere, we MUST concentrate on the source of the marginal emissions from today forward. That means a price on emissions globally. The leakage of emissions in a “developed world-only” trading system will prevent the halt of the catastrophe you describe.

    Without binding controls or pricing of emissions for China and India, the climate catastrophe cannot be avoided.

  41. Greg says:

    #38 raymond kurzweil: “nanotechnology will eliminate the need for fossil fuels within 20 years. … Within five to six years, this technology will make a significant contribution.”

    This fantasy is particularly pernicious, because it is so widespread. In six years, “nanotechnology” will not yet be providing 1% of global electricity, and electricity will still be under 20% of total commercial energy supplies. Less than 0.2% is NOT significant. And claiming that putting microgrooves on wind turbine blades (3% improvement in output) makes the whole turbine “nanotechnology,” or retroactively claiming thin-film solar as “nanotechnology,” is just silly.

    Please see Vaclav Smil’s “Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, Prospects.” It “explain[s] an inherently gradual nature of fundamental shifts in using primary energy resources, generating electricity and commercializing and diffusing new prime movers and new energy conversions.”

    Of course there will be big changes in patterns of energy production and use over the next 60 years. But if a technology isn’t already providing 1% of commercial electricity, it’s not going to scale up in time to help avoid 2 degrees plus.

    raymond’s other points, about pollution and geopolitical instability, should drive home Vaclav Smil’s message about the gradual nature of energy transitions. With the best reasons in the world to make them, they take an agonizingly long time.

  42. Craig says:

    I count only two mentions of “population” among the article and comments. Neither of them is about the pressing need to adopt “population policies” (which isn’t in the realm of what’s politically possible anyway).

    The most rational response to impending doom is to pursue coping strategies: “lifeboats” of small, hidden away groups which preserve living culture, and more realistic “time capsule” efforts at bridging to the return of civilization –however many years into the future that might be.

  43. Richard Brenne says:

    With all due respect for your many accomplishments in your many areas of expertise, Mr. Kurzweil (#38), I’m afraid I don’t share your techno-optimism.

    Thinking that technology and the free market alone can solve the problems that technology and the free market have created is like drinking to forget that one is a drunk.

    When I go to scientific conferences and meetings on climate change and other scientific disciplines I feel for the most part I’m among people trying to learn and disseminate the truth.

    When I go to any event about energy I just feel I’m being sold. The solution to all of Anthro-Earth’s problems is always whatever anyone is selling.

    With your proven intellect I’d very much enjoy hearing any specific comments you have that address my concerns in the comment above yours at #37.

    I’d also love to hear you discuss the effects of ozone pollution on all of our planet’s plants with Gail Zawacki (at Wit’s End), because it’d be easier to win a debate with a wood chipper.:) Like you, Gail’s education is also at the bachelor’s level, but as you’ve demonstrated in your life, a meritocracy is ideal and you and Gail are both wonderful examples of that.

    By the way, I know of no place where there is more of a meritocracy than here in the comments at CP.

    As far artificial intelligence goes, I guess I’d like to see humans practice non-artificial intelligence first and not destroy our only habitat and thus ourselves. It’s obvious that when listening to the better angels of our nature we can from time to time be the most intelligent of all known species; what is equally obvious but rarely discussed is that the rest of the time we are often the stupidest, myself included (my wife has a list that wouldn’t fit on a 20 petaFLOPS computer, Google or otherwise).

    And anyone who thinks our species is going to inhabit other planets doesn’t understand how infinitely complex Gaia is, including how every living thing relates to every other thing at molecular, cellular and all other levels. In another word, biology.

  44. Edward says:

    JR: Now that I am retired, I can write letters to the editor and make comments on dotearth, here and realclimate. I have the time and no Hatch Act and no need for a security clearance. Working scientists are strongly discouraged from saying anything in public. More importantly: Scientists do not control newspapers, TV stations and radio stations. Those things are controlled by billionaires. Scientists do not have the money to hire advertising agencies or political operatives. True that a few scientists are running the Realclimate blog. But that is only a blog. You have an organization behind you and you still have only a blog not a TV station. You don’t have a talk show. You aren’t on even a cable TV station. Those things aren’t in your job description. Ray Kurzweil doesn’t have a talk show either, and he is rich.

    Talking to the public still isn’t in the job description of scientists or engineers. Even Carl Sagan was criticized for going on TV. Employers don’t want the “secrets” to get out.

  45. Sou says:

    Even if we take action in time to avoid this scenario, right now we can have a taste of what’s to come:

    More oxygen-deprived areas of ocean:

    Farmers still can’t harvest after years of drought, because of record rains:

    It’s already starting. Imagine what it will be like at even just 2C rise.

  46. J Bowers says:

    33. Aaron Lewis — “Last night for the third time this year, Nuuk, Greenland was warmer than San Francisco, California.”

    Aaron, I was a bit dubious about that so I decided to go and check it out. Yes, you’re right.

    Nuuk, Greenland, 28th November

    San Francisco, 28th November

    (See righthand end of temp plots)

    I don’t suppose you have the dates, or even months, for the other times this year?

  47. Prokaryotes says:

    The discussion about the future predictions of the acceleration of climate changes misses the key element of a sudden abrupt climate shift.

    We are about to approach this shift, which will be initiated with the clathrate gun. Professor Lovelock points this out in his talks, that human emission trigger the earth system reaction. A new climate state will be established.

    What is the critical mass to trigger the climate shift? We can assume that this will originate from mass ice lose. Once the albedo is lost large quantities of methane will be released, first on the northern hemisphere and later in and around antarctica.

    It is likely that human meddling is long gone when this occurs.

    James Lovelock: Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change

    In his first in-depth interview since the theft of UEA emails, the scientist blames inertia and democracy for lack of action

    I Agree with Lovelock, humans are to busy with hurting each other and do not use technological and other advancements for the greater good.

    Change requires a certain intelligence and evolution. Both which is currently hindered by stuff like copyright violation, bureaucratic hurdles, long term commitments just to name a few – thus when Lovelock concludes we need to put democracy on hold i guess he meant stuff like this.

    However even if we intend to put democracy on hold, people which grown up with a status quo would abuse the power to trump their agendas.

    The only solution to counter climate change shift would be to let the combined power of science rule above all else.

  48. Esop says:

    #49: J Bowers:

    Here is the excellent weather site from the Norwegian Met office with statistics, etc:

    The extreme warmth in Greenland is most interesting, and we are seeing the results elsewhere on the globe, with the outbreak of frigid, Arctic air that would have stayed up there if we hadn’t messed with the composition of atmosphere, creating an Arctic high pressure. Over here, the cold temps have occupied the ENTIRE front page of one of the leading newspapers pretty much every day for the last 10 days. The oil industry and their rapidly growing hordes of useful idiots are screaming with delight. The Cancun meeting is getting plenty of ridicule, since “the cold weather proves that AGW is a hoax”.
    (Why must they always schedule the climate summits in the middle of the NH winter?)

  49. dp says:

    oops did that go to spam or…

  50. adelady says:

    @14 wonhyo

    Tom Wigley’s done some work on this, for zero emissions by 2050.

  51. Prokaryotes says:

    Study warns against hyping carbon-fixing biochar

    Unlike naturally decomposing organic materials, biochar holds onto carbon dioxide for hundreds or even thousands of years. For that reason, it’s been touted by everyone from Virgin CEO Richard Branson to environmentalist James Lovelock as a promising method for fixing carbon dioxide in the ground. Biochar has also attracted detractors in the past few years who say that growing plants to create biochar would be a “false solution” to climate change.

    Environmental advocacy group the National Resources Defense Council today published an analysis that seeks to put some perspective on the potential on biochar. The study also proposes first steps for a U.S. policy to promote production of biochar on a commercial scale (click for PDF).

    “The truth as to whether biochar is a cure-all or a scourge is apt to lie between the extremes, but we cannot say exactly where at present,” according to the NRDC, which said it isn’t in a position to endorse or discourage its development without further technical development and tests.

    Among some of the concerns is the environmental impact from diverting land for biochar and the energy footprint of transporting biomass. The NRDC said that using waste biomass, such as plant residue or manure, looks like the most promising feedstock. Uncertainty around carbon markets makes it difficult to assess the costs of these systems.

    Among its recommendations, the NRDC says that commercial-scale biochar facilities using slow pyrolisis use waste such as manure. It said that 5 to 10 demonstration facilities would cost between $100 million and $150 million.

    Ofc the idea is to use organic waste that get burned anyway in the first place or is rotten and decomposes – changing slash & burn with slash & char in the agriculture sector.

  52. DrD says:

    First, thanks again to Dr. Romm for calling attention to an important addition to the literature related to the dangerous world we face as climate change continues pell mell and seemingly unabated. And also thanks again for his insightful and challenging analysis of the Philosophical Transactions article. I’m an avid reader of CP but a rare commenter; I do, however, greatly appreciate the thoughtful and rational comments of others who add to the debate.

    The past two years of reading CP has made me much better informed but, I hate to admit, also more pessamistic. I try to do my small part in the struggle to save our species and others (reduce consumption, lower energy use, convert the non-believers) but like other commenters on this blog I feel overwhelmed by the inordinately lopsided power wielded by powerful economic interests who dominate decision making and messaging. I am, however, sometimes buoyed by the cautious optimism of some posters and I thank them for all their efforts on behalf of my grandchildren.

  53. Dickensian American says:

    Must admit, I cast my predictions with some of the doomers up-thread. At this point, I can’t help but see a massive human die off coming some time within the next 10 generations. Like the Black Plague in Europe, this die off will be measured in percentages rather than raw numbers as all of today’s disasters are. And it may last 10-25 years, unlike “simple” disasters.

    I just hope that we who know and acknowledge the truth about climate change and humanity’s role in triggering this phenomenon can pioneer and leave worthwhile breadcrumbs of scientific knowledge, cultural wisdom and remnant technologies that allow the survivors of this human triggered cataclysm–in an albeit drastically changed world–to somehow blossom into their own analogue of the Renaissance that followed the horrors of the Black Death.

    Let’s face it. Every year the numbers get worse. PPM up each year. Along with it, ice loss, acidification, sea level rise and warming rates. And every year, more and stronger positive feedback loops are identified than negative ones. Those of us in the know have our foot in the door to the coming mass cultural existential crisis. Like a young adult trying to come to terms with their own inevitable death, climate change will make mankind face it’s own meta-mortality shared with that of the planet. Even if climate change doesn’t drive us to extinction, the cultural memory will be as indelible as the glacial deluges that live on as flood stories and the green Sahara that lives on as the original Garden. Oh yes. This one is going to leave a mark.

    Oddly, when I find myself paralyzed by my lack of power to noticably impact this tide of climate change in the immediate, for some reason, the thought of living out of love for the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren of some person I will probably never ever even meet–that thought gives me inspiration to continue doing the right things as best I know how: living simply, getting greener, giving back to the grid, leaving some sort of personal legacy through personal, cultural and spiritual innovation with an eye on this distant post-cataclysm future. All credit, if any is ever due, will be rightfully eroded by the time any seeds I plant sprout. This is not about individual immortality through personal legacy. It’s about gaining some sense of purpose and maintaining my will to fight despite what feels like an increasingly unavoidable fate for a very large portion of all our progeny.

    Since shifting my perspective to think about humanity in terms of ten generations, these days despite our impending doom, I find myself paradoxically moribund with radiant hope. So I guess that means as long as I’m here, I’m in it for the long game. That or I’m just going mad.

  54. Bill says:

    This senario depends on a ppm of 1000 CO2 in the atmosphere. Unless most of that CO2 gets there through runaway natural processes or through a tipping point in the arctic releasing tremendous amounts of methane, I don’t think we will see that type of warming.

    I think there is a decent chance that we are so far down the path towards waking the “climate beast” tipping points of methane release from the arctic or a major burning of the Amazon that the whole thing might be out of our hands.

    But if the assumption is that we will produce 1000 ppm through our own industries and the burning of fossil fuels, I suspect there is a good chance we will never get there. There is a good chance that our global economy, globalism, and high technology is not resilient enough to avoid a series of collapses the next 20-30 years. These collapses will greatly simplify economies and change our trajectory.

    I am reading the “The Post Carbon Reader” from the Post Carbon Institute, and have read such books as “The Upside of Down” by Thomas Homer Dixon, “The Long Emergency” by James Howard Kunstler, and have spent a fair amount of time reading the economics on “The Automatic Earth” Blog. This reading has made me realize that we don’t face one or two crises. We have a whole host of systems that look unsustainable and non-resilient. Each of these is affected by the other. We have a climate crisis, water crisis, a peaking of conventional oil, unstable economic systems, desertification, ocean acidification, and a food system showing big stresses. We have increasing separation between the rich and everyone else, real issues with religious fundamentalists, unstable weather causing very real disasters, and a decent risk of a new global panedemics.

    I just don’t think our economic and trade arrangements (globalism and international finance) are going to be resilient in this chaotic world. The worldwide investment in this arrangement, the arrangement of automobiles and strip malls and suburbs is not going to provide a good return on the debt that financed it. I think the least resilient system out there now is the financial system, and the signs are that Europe and the US are inching toward large scale debt deflation. The resulting financial chaos will make investment in all things difficult… both wind turbines and new oilsands infrastructure. Because this financial collapse is intersecting with very real natural resource limits, we will miss a window to use technology to further “grow” our economies….

    The world on the other side of this choas is smaller, more local, more vernacular, and less dependent on the high technologies of computing, biotechnology, materials sciences, telecommunications. It is more depedant on skilled trades, appropriate technology, agricultural, and ecological sciences. I think these technologies are more human scaled and appropriate.

    In short I have serious doubts that business as usual is even possible. That does not mean that Im not very concerned about climate… only that we have so many issues at this point that the center cannot hold for that much longer. Hold onto your hats.

  55. David Spurgeon says:

    I hereby declare the greenhouse effect to be nonexistent.

    There’s not much worse for public knowledge of science than an important but complex phenomenon whose very name evokes a false analogy. Such is the case with the greenhouse effect.

  56. Chris Winter says:

    Lou Grinzo wrote (#5): “Today is one of those days when I most definitely “wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then”…:

    We’re all running “Against the Wind.” The disjointed nature of modern civilization requires it.

    Now we await the sound of the climate bell that tolls the beginning of the great change. How soon it will toll, and how many times, we know not. Afterward, I know the survivors will look back and say, “Wasn’t that a Time?”

  57. J Bowers says:

    Re. 51 Esop

    Many thanks.

    I took a quick look at the WeatherUndergound plots for the 26th November. Guess what…

    Nuuk, Greenland, 26th November

    San Francisco, 26th November

    Warmer at night again, too. I think I’ll go through the entire year (keeps me out of trouble I guess).

  58. Disgusted American says:

    well by 2060 – Ill be LONG dead…so it won’t matter to me… 2010, I recycle and TRY to leave a small carbon footprint……by 2060..I hope people look back at this time and put the blame where it belongs (the republicans,religious wack-jobs,flat earthers,buy-bull freaks)

  59. Chris Winter says:

    Craig wrote (#45): “I count only two mentions of “population” among the article and comments. Neither of them is about the pressing need to adopt “population policies” (which isn’t in the realm of what’s politically possible anyway).

    The most rational response to impending doom is to pursue coping strategies: “lifeboats” of small, hidden away groups which preserve living culture, and more realistic “time capsule” efforts at bridging to the return of civilization –however many years into the future that might be.”

    The novel Lucifer’s Hammer might be a useful guide in this. Its disaster was an asteroid strike, but the collapse of civilization it portrayed will probably be replicated in many ways by a worst-case climate crisis.

    You’re right about sensible policies to reduce population: They are harder to implement than any carbon reduction. Both problems will no doubt be dealt with on an impromptu basis.

  60. emma says:

    This adds up to the definition of abrupt climate change.
    So what do we call it if we trigger a tipping point (i.e. methane) leading to a dramatic increase in the rate of warming?
    Violent Climate Change?

  61. Flin says:

    A1FI is alarming. But how likely is it? Does it use the projected 96 mb/d production of crude oil in 2035?

    A1FI projects a rise in CO2 from now to 2035 by something around 90%
    But fossil fuel production from oil, natural gas liquids and crude oil is projected to rise only about 10%. So the rest of the CO2 needs to come from coal. But electricity production from coal is projected to rise by around 45%.

    So A1FI sounds very unlikely to me, because where exactly will all that CO2 come from?

  62. Flin says:

    Sorry for being unprecise. Of course a rise in CO2 emissions, and the projections are from the IEA at

    IMHO A1FI throws reality out of the window.

  63. Mike#22 says:

    A1FI has CO2 at about 650 ppm by 2060, up from approx 389 ppm today.

    Conventional oil, unconventional oil, tar sands, coal, shale gas, forests, permafrost, etc, plenty of carbon available.

  64. John McCormick says:

    RE # 58

    Bill, I read your comment several times and each time found myself seeing more clearly a future of related and unrelated collapses and failures of systems on which the developed world (we 3 billion) depends.

    Years ago, the IMF’s Peter S. Heller authored “Who Will Pay? Coping with Aging Societies, Climate Change, and Other Long-Term Fiscal Challenges” published in 2003. It is available at Amazon. And, you could probably write a similar book today.

    It is a near blueprint for your list of crises the developed world is and will face. Some, as you say, are show stoppers and make BAU unlikely in the coming decades.

    I count Arctic ice meltback as the ultimate showstopper because a perpetual summer sea ice meltback invites massive amounts of heat to lift off the ocean surface and deposits it on the Greenland ice cap while robbing our planet of a natural heat sink. As the Arctic continues to increase its surface temperature, heat will not be easily conducted north to the Arctic and will, instead, add more heat to the Earth’s oceans.

    Bill, you are saying what are the hidden elements of our anxiety over AGW. We know it is happening all around us. We do not have a clue when the axle will break and we start tumbling into the ditch.

    John McCormick

  65. John McCormick says:

    RE # 67

    Mike, you said:

    “Conventional oil, unconventional oil, tar sands, coal, shale gas, forests, permafrost, etc, plenty of carbon available.”

    Yes, they are available and despite the compound fractures and cardiac arrests parts of the world will face as the end of conventional oil nears, China and the US will have already started to invest in their production. Believe me, we would burn our office furniture to get the fuel we need to drive to work.

    John McCormick

  66. Aaron Lewis says:

    Re #49 J Bowers,
    Near the beginning and the end of the Russian Heat Wave, call it June and August. It happens when at 300 mb, there is a strong “jet stream flow” from north to south along the west coast and a strong south to north flow along the east coast or North Atlantic. See for example, and look in the archives.

    I do not check this every day so you may find other examples : )

  67. Andy Johnson says:

    Many thanks Joe for keeping us all up-to-date without having to comb through the journals.

    But I admit, as Director of a local energy organization, we don’t use the climate change science as much as the economic arguments (for residential and commercial citizens) and the community motivation and momentum-building arguments to try to build something of an energy ethic and behavior/infrastructure change from the ground up.

    Your ongoing criticism of the media is valid and is part of why we feel an “Energy District” model is a critical approach to get beyond the fray of media, mass-marketing, “education”, and little-used buffets of incentives. The Dust Bowl was an ecological and economic perfect storm, and resulted in the Soil and Water Conservation District movement (and associated state/federal support agencies) spreading throughout the country in a short decade. We still have plenty of resource problems in agriculture (thanks largely to industry and market forces conflicting with conservation), but that SWCD movement truly transformed the American landscape for the better, and did so quickly.

    Our little energy organization isn’t going to change the world. But we do believe a proliferating and colaborating network of Energy Districts holds potential to provide the local leadership, universal technical assistance, and community-level inspiration to achieve deep savings and distributed renewable potential. Only with the addition of this ground-up, public or quasi-public delivery and organizational structure can we move towards an energy ethic and rapid transition and evolution.

    The best part about it is, there is model in the Dust Bowl/Depression and the SWCD/conservation movement. It may pale in scale to the ecological and economic threats we face now, but it holds real potential. And it can be accomplished – at least the fundamentals, until policy-makers are willing to commit – from the ground up, in a very non-partisan and non-confrontational approach. Nuff for now, but we hope you’ll take a look at the ideas at least, at, and let us know what you think.

    Best, Andy Johnson
    Winneshiek Energy District

  68. catman306 says:

    Craig wrote:
    “The most rational response to impending doom is to pursue coping strategies: “lifeboats” of small, hidden away groups which preserve living culture, and more realistic “time capsule” efforts at bridging to the return of civilization –however many years into the future that might be.”

    When someone posted about how very violent storms will become in the next twenty years, blowing down buildings and forests alike, and how these floods and storms would increase in frequency, I began thinking that moving underground into caves will become a lifeboat for some. Perhaps solar powered, underground cities could be built in old salt mines. Lifeboats for those who could afford them. So it’s back to the salt mines for the rich. Foxholes for everyone else.

  69. Flin says:

    Re #67 #69: “plenty” isn’t a very precise number. Conventional and unconventional oil are included in estimate, as are tar sands. Permafrost is methane, not co2. So where will it come from?

  70. espiritwater says:

    Susan Soloman, atmospheric scientist who works with the IPCC, was asked what she thought the temperature increase would be by the end of the century. She said, “about 6 to 12 degrees– celcius”. The guy who asked the question was shocked and thought she made a mistake in answering but she said, “I see no plausible scenario where we reduce emissions in time to avoid catastrophy.”

  71. espiritwater says:

    If there is any hope at all, it seems it lies with China. Jim Hansen just published a wonderful essay, “China and the Barbarians: part 1” It gives hope but sure makes me ashamed to call myself American!

  72. Michael T. says:

    #75, espiritwater

    Nov. 24, 2010: China and the Barbarians: Part 1, an optimistic perspective concerning the path required to stabilize climate.

  73. Richard Brenne says:

    This thread is amazing, especially the comments from #37 to #50 (okay, including two of mine).

    Threads like this should be somehow highlighted and kept alive for as long as possible, in a “Thread of the Week” or some such. What’s funny is the cognitive dissonance of a thread like this being replaced in the CP queue with “New Popcorn Poppers 10% More Energy Efficient.” (Most CP posts are absolutely outstanding, but I’d always choose quality like this over quantity like that.)

    [JR: I can stick this in “Climate Science Posts.”]

    And then that damn Olympic figure skating clip keeps creeping up like a zombie replacing countless amazing posts and comment threads like this one. I know our society has given us all ADD (in my case I’ve upgraded to ADHD), but I’d still like conversations like this one to linger.

    [JR: It doesn’t replace posts. But is is easily my top-viewed post of the year.]

    One thing to do with a thread like this one is to keep checking the latest comments, because the thread can get deeper and deeper all the time, with many of the best comments toward the end. (Speaking of which, Espiritwater [#74] – do you have a link to Solomon’s saying this? I made my first documentary with her in 1992 and she’s always been one of my favorite climate scientists but as an IPCC Working Group leader I’ve always found her a tad conservative – so if she said this as you indicate, Oh My God to the tenth power!)

    I’m as interested in Greenland being warmer than San Francisco as anyone, but maybe there’s a way to have a thread for “latest observations” because comment #50 says “Here’s evidence the world is ending” and comment #51’s saying “It’s warmer in Greenland than S.F.” kind of interrupts the conversation, even if the observation is fascinating in and of itself.

    Until that “Latest observations” thread is available, a little patience might be in order – within 24 hours there will likely be a post about temperatures where that comment is especially appropriate.

    Flin makes many great comments, but the tired one about “Where is the CO2 going to come from?” has been addressed here at CP many times.

    First of all, our current 390 ppm might be sufficient to have triggered positive feedbacks like methane relates from permafrost melting and methane clathrate release on the ocean floors, plus others.

    With methane, nitrous oxide, deforestation and other human impacts, the CO2 equivalency is more like 435 ppm, and that means a 155 ppm increase from pre-industrial levels, when around 100 ppm is the typical swing between the coldest parts of ice ages and the warmest interglacials of the last three million years. These 100 ppm swings have typically meant temperatures swings of 6 degrees C and 300 feet of sea level rise or fall, so just keeping CO2 at 390 indefinitely will be disastrous itself.

    That said, here’s some other guesses, that anyone can amend, about how much CO2 potential exists:

    Conventional oil: 50 ppm.
    Natural gas: 50 ppm.
    Coal for electricity: 100 ppm.
    Coal to liquids: 100 ppm.
    Tar sands: 100 ppm.
    Oil shale: 100 ppm.

    That’s 500 ppm added to 390, making 890 ppm. Without home heating oil and natural gas, how many trees could be cut down for heating and cooking? My guess: All accessible trees, far more than one for each of 7 billion people. That means more CO2 and the loss of those trees as carbon sinks.

    Then the loss of 40 per cent of all phytoplankton since 1950 continues, meaning the loss of another key carbon sink.

    So thinking that Peak Oil solves Climate Change is just not a compelling argument in the least, though the effects of just these two issues will be synthesized in countless ways. I’m afraid this synthesis will be mostly negative (more use of tar sands, oil shales, coal to liquids and finally the cutting down and burning of trees) than positive.

    The legendary (in his areas) Ray Kurzweil’s comment at #38 that “Nanotechnology will eliminate the need for fossil fuels within 20 years” and Bill’s comment at #58 that “This scenario depends on a ppm of 1000 CO2 in the atmosphere” are not even close in intellectual depth to their many answers, especially Ed Hummel’s most amazing paragraph in CP history at #39, Greg’s at #44 and immodestly mine at #46, which deserve to be re-read.

    Making a childish and ignorant statement as fact in an opening sentence or two does not make it true. An error in premise leads to errors in all the conclusions drawn from that premise, and being an inventor/genius/gazillionaire (I’m guessing Kurzweil more than the rest of us) only increases the chances (due to a lifetime of fawning and validation) that at times only one’s ego is talking, while one’s intellect must be at home reading the paper.

  74. espiritwater says:

    Richard Brenne, #77: In the tool bar, just type in: “A Very Inconvenient Truth– Dan Miller– Cybersalon– video” and it should come up. Actually,there are two versions now. I loved the first one (It’s about an hour long, but worth it! He’s a great speaker– very charismatic and upbeat, despite the dire things he says!). However, the second version (which is shorter) has a lot of interesting videos in the side bar. I think to get the original one, you need to type in ALL of the stuff I mentioned. Otherwise, the newer version comes up.

  75. fj3 says:

    Nanotechnology is a huge field even reported with some success on this blog I believe in the form of concentrated photo voltaics but, I could wrong.

    Yes, as the stuff designers die for, commercialization of materials 100 times the strength of steel are described as being a long way off at about 2050 AD likely with intense commercial value, a lot of other stuff seems to be in the news daily perhaps because of the nanotech buzz-word status including bio-degradable iron-strength paper based on what is described on a low-cost relatively simple process . . .

    And of course, we are the stuff of literally trillions of the original nano machines in biological forms much of which have been around for billions of years . . . , attended a Columbia U physics colloquia on them a while back; quite interesting.

  76. fj3 says:

    ref: 80. fj3 “Nanotechnology is a huge field,” sometimes stuff can be really confusing.

  77. Mike#22 says:

    #73, Flin, a more complete answer.

    First, the A1FI scenario has global CO2 emission from fossil fuels at 84 billion metric tonnes in 2050. The tables for the SRES scenarios are here:

    Coal: The various studies showing the proximity of peak coal are convincing. Globally, we may have already have reached peak coal in terms of energy because while absolute tonnages mined have increased the btu/ton has decreased. Here in the US, 2009 coal production was less than 2008, and the first half of 2010 is running behind the first half of 2009, which in turn ran behind 2008. Still, demand for cheap energy in the developing world should keep global coal production where it is for several decades at least, and without aggressive investment in renewables and efficiency, even longer. Coal then could continue to contibute at least 13 billion metric tonnes CO2 through 2060.

    Oil: Conventional oil has very likely peaked. However, oil demand will drive the development of unconventional oil in the absence of policy change. In situ reformation of tar sands through undergound combustion techniques could be pursued. Oil shale is a large resource which could be pursued. Ultra deepwater projects off Brazil (and Africa, same formation) will be pursued. At +200$/barrel, no climate policy, and loose environmental controls, global liquids production will not drop much in the coming decades. Call it 11 billion metric tonnes CO2/year.

    Natural Gas: Could go to 15 or even 20 billion metric tonnes CO2/year, given new techniques.

    Permafrost CO2: There are huge amounts of carbon locked up in frozen organic materials which could thaw. Search this site for some good citations.

    Forests: There are huge amounts amount of carbon currently sequestered by forsts. Drought, heat waves, and land use change could release some of that.

    CO2 Sequestration: Currently, about half the gross global CO2 emissions are getting sequestered on land and in the ocean. The sequestration percentage could decrease in the decades ahead, as the sinks come into new equilibria, and as global plant productivity continues to decline.

    The A1FI scenario is 84 billion tonnes CO2, but did not take into account potential large releases from carbon sinks. In the absence of effective policy, 42 billion tonnes of CO2 (ball park)(this is my opinion, slightly better than a WAG) could be emitted annually from fossil fuel combustion through 2060. CO2 release from permafrost as it melts could be very large. CO2 release from burning/dying forests could be very large. CO2 sequestration rates in ocean and land sinks could fall signifigantly. 650 ppm by 2060 is on the table right now.

  78. Richard Brenne says:

    Thanks Joe (#78) and Espiritwater (#79) for those answers.

    Mike#22 actually at #82 just above – that is a great compilation, how long have you been working on it? It’s really the best I’ve seen.

    How does a billion tons relate to CO2 ppm?

    Could you express each total in CO2 ppm?

    It seems like we’re all (you, Joe Romm, MIT, IPCC, etc) on about the same page, that human contributions to CO2 and CO2 equivalency could range up to around 800-1000 ppm, then more could come from positive feedbacks, especially methane, with more methane stored in permafrost and especially methane clathrates (or hydrates) than probably ever before in Earth’s history.

    And all of this happening more quickly than at any time in Earth’s history (since CO2 released by volcanoes was released over most of a million years at the end-Permian 251.4 million years ago, and since the KT asteroid probably killed through a nuclear winter-type cooling), since CO2 sequestered for up to 450 million years has been burned within a few centuries, with most of that burned within the last few decades.

    Remember how I suggested we all check back on the most amazing threads often, until Joe closes them days after they appear? This is a perfect example, with Mike#22 at #82 taking the (CO2-laden) cake.

    And Joe, could Mike#22’s comment at #82 be worked into a post?

    Thanks to you all!

  79. Michael T. says:

    January – July 2010 Hottest on Record, Report Says

    Published: August 17th, 2010

    After a scorching summer thus far, this year remains on track to be one of the hottest on record, according to the latest analysis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center. The global land and ocean surface temperature data show that this July was the second warmest on record, and the period of January–July was the hottest since records began in the 1880s.

  80. Chris Winter says:

    Low expectations for Cancún…
    [David] Cameron refuses to attend UN climate change talks
    PM turns down Mexico’s invite to summit where backroom deals show how progress can be made despite low expectations

  81. Sou says:

    Someone mentioned deforestation. That doesn’t just depend on people cutting down forests. It’s also caused by forest fires. In my valley and surrounding hills we’ve had three huge one in 50 year fires in six years. Much of the forest is growing back already, some parts will take many generations to grow back if ever. The hills are badly scarred.

    I read the fires in the Amazon are burning the forest now instead of being quenched by the rainforest. It gets hot and dry for long enough, there won’t be any forests in many parts – they will burn up.

    How much of this added deforestation has been factored into climate projections, I wonder.

  82. Mike#22 says:


    1 ppm by volume of atmosphere CO2 = 2.13 Gt C = 7.80 Gt CO2
    (Uses atmospheric mass (Ma) = 5.137 × 10exp18 kg)

    1 Gt = 1 billion metric tonnes

    At 389 ppm CO2, there is 3030 billion metric tonnes CO2 in the atmosphere.

    If 30 billion tonnes CO2 emitted and 50% gets sinked (sequestered in the ocean, in soils, etc), then 15 billion tonnes remains in atmosphere, giving a 2 ppm rise in CO2 concentration. Thats where we are for 2010. That’s the simple version; clearly, it is not primarily the emitted CO2 that is getting sinked, it is about 0.5% of the 389 ppm that is getting sinked annually, and that is the result of a lot of processes that are in need of more research.

    To go from 389 ppm to 650 ppm is an increase of 261 ppm, requiring an increase of 2040 billion metric tonnes CO2 over 50 years, or 40 billion metric tonnes a year.

    CO2 stored globally in forests and other woodlands is given as 1930 billion metric tonnes CO2 in this reference:

    CO2 stored in permafrost is given as 6100 billion metric tonnes by this reference:

    CO2 emmitted from fossil fuels over next 50 years (absence of effective policy), around 2000 billion metric tonnes. This is my opinion of what will happen with BAU, and it is much less than the A1FI scenario, because I find the peak coal studies convincing.

    Adding 2040 billion metric tonnes CO2 to the atmosphere over fifty years is possible. Permafrost CO2 release, forests burning/dying, steady pursuit of ever harder to extract fossil fuels, and a reduction in the sequestration rate would do it.

    Two things.

    I am not a climate pessimist. From my perspective, global warming hasn’t really happened yet. Using cell culture plant propogation techniques, we could make trillions of new trees easily, and make many new forests. We could stop destroying the ones we have. I don’t see a massive painful effort needed to replace our stuff with new stuff–I am looking forward to an electric car, I like local food, houses that make their own energy are neat, all that. It is not a sacrifice to change our world into a cleaner, quieter, greener place–it is the ultimate cool project.

    But the last hundred months or so have been flat terrifying. Every time we turn around, some new problem pops up, or an old not so worrisome one has turned into a monster. As others have pointed out, take the worst case estimate for a given problem, and double it, because that’s what has been happening. So in 2010, we saw heatwave/forest fires in Russia, we have drought/fire in Brazil, we are seeing massive die off from pine bark beetles–forests around the world are starting to be impacted. How bad will this problem be in 2020? 2030? Unfortunately, the way things are going, forest loss will end up much worse than current estimates–same with arctic warming–if we don’t get good policy in time. Wow, what a mess.

  83. Steve Bloom says:

    Richard, Myles Allen has stated that the trillion-tonne limit is equivalent to 350 ppm, although the former is based on avoiding dangerous impacts in the short-term and the latter on avoiding a tip into a mid-Pliocene-like climate state. The former strongly implies a time-line (see the Copenhagen Diagnosis) while the latter makes explicit the need to actively remove carbon from the atmosphere after we’ve stopped adding it. IMHO they should be used together since we need to emphasize both short- and long-term constraints, although I have yet to see a presentation that does so.

    The problem with the trillion-tonne limit is that it implies an excursion by mid-century to fairly high GHG levels that may tip one or more of the key slow feedbacks, but OTOH I don’t think Allen and colleagues implied that there would be no risks associated with pressing the limit hard. For that matter, Hansen makes it clear that 350 ppm is probably still too high, but expects that future science will be able to set a more precise limit.

  84. Richard Brenne says:

    Mike#22 at #87 above – Great response, thanks! Very well thought out. Of course you don’t need to share if you don’t want, but are you a scientist or climate change communicator (because everything you say is very compelling)? Are you in England (not many Americans use the words “worrisome” or “tonnes” although our bathroom scales could use both)?

    I was surprised by the sentence “From my perspective, global warming hasn’t really happened yet” but in the context of everything else you say I can see how that could be interpreted as “From my perspective, global warming is just beginning to show itself relative to the catastrophic effects we’re likely to see in the coming decades” or Joe’s rather more American “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

    With a NASA grant and in many other ways I communicate climate change to colleges, high schools and the general public, and one small critique is that whenever possible we need to try to use the same language and scales. So for sea level rise I say that we’ve been measuring it in inches (7 or 8 inch rise during the last century), but soon we could be measuring it in feet, or if Americans ever understand the metric system, in meters.

    All this to say that if we can convert your billions of metric tonnes into CO2 ppm for the public (okay, and for myself) I’d be grateful.

    I’m also grateful to you for your fine work and the communication of it. Your last two paragraphs are genuine works of art. Your last paragraph gives a very realistic picture of what we face (I might use years rather than months for the reasons I mention above) and the second-to-the last offering a great and succinct vision of hope.

    I’m a little worried about using arable land for growing trees (something I wholeheartedly endorse) when we need to feed 7 billion people and growing, and I’m worried about Gail’s (Wit’s End) concern about ozone pollution beginning to kill plant like around the world. I guess if I were made King of the Universe (this is only in the discussion stages) I’d stop all fossil fuel burning and stop Jim Kunstler’s outer asteroid belt of suburbs destroying farm and forest land. (Given Peak Oil, the American Association of Realtors recommendation that each family live in 1000 square feet per person – so 4000 square feet for a family of 4 – will be realized, but probably by raccoons.)

    Anyway, Bravo Mike, and I’d always love to hear more. . .

  85. Windsong says:

    Mike, #87, According to Mitchell’s book, “World On Fire”, trees will become a source of CO2 (not a sink anymore)when we reach around (I think he said 1.5 degrees of warming?)

  86. Windsong says:

    Joe, I would love to be able to copy some of these comments and take home to read more thorougly but each time I try to copy them, the computer takes me to the top of the page! Is there some way to copy the comments?

  87. Leif says:

    I posted this on another thread earlier today but in light of the above comments I thought it would be appropriate here as well. Thank you for the indulgence.

    The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo released ~ 20 million tons of SO2 and cooled the earth ~ one degree for a year. Earth science has been kind enough to give us those numbers and they are accepted without a whimper from the right.

    The very same earth science tells us that mankind currently is adding ~ 7 billion metric tons of CO2 per year, (~ 350 times the SO2), which is cumulative I would add, and the GOBP steadfastly refuses to admit that there is any consequence what-so-ever!

    Give me a break!

  88. Steve Bloom says:

    Richard, a tonne is a metric ton.

    Also, re the ozone-tree issue, I think you need to ask for the science backing it. Jim Bouldin (a subject matter expert) over at RealClimate wasn’t impressed with the evidence offered.

  89. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #87: Mike, don’t forget this year’s new carbon feedback findings (probably not a complete list):

    — The compost-bomb instability.

    — Permafrost bacteria become active as soon as -4C.

    — Preliminary indications that both land and ocean productivity are declining (both covered here).

  90. Flin says:

    @Mike#22 87: “This is my opinion of what will happen with BAU, and it is much less than the A1FI scenario, because I find the peak coal studies convincing.”

    Well, that was exactly my point (with the addition of peak oil studies). But thanks for clarifying.

  91. Wit's End says:

    Steve Bloom, #93.

    NASA, EPA, and the Dept. of Agriculture all report in unambiguous terms that tropospheric ozone pollution from burning fuels causes crop yield loss in the billions of dollars annually in the US alone.

    The US Forest Service and Park Department collect and analyze data to monitor tree death from cumulative ozone exposure.

    There’s a long list of peer-reviewed published research on this topic here:

    There is plenty of science from many sources all over the world indicating that trees exposed to ozone are more vulnerable to insects, disease, fungus, and weather (wind, drought). Also diminished are leaf size, growth, nuts, seeds and fruit. For instance, it takes TWICE as much sap to make the same amount of maple syrup as it used to.

    There are plenty of undisputed facts about the toxicity of ozone to vegetation – But, same as with many climate science researchers, there just aren’t enough foresters with the cajones to tell people what the implications are. Like Jim Bouldin, they’d rather close comments than, as you suggest, ask for the science. I recommend you read the science yourself, and then let me know if there is a single thing I’ve written above that isn’t completely true.

    Now really, Richard Brenne, a wood chipper????

  92. Richard Brenne says:

    Oh my gosh, how perfect is Gail’s (Wit’s End’s) response at #96? And yes, how much like a wood chipper, but only in the most affectionate, appropriate, Frances McDormand in Fargo kind of way, not in the Peter Stormare to Steve Buscemi kind of way, although is that Jim’s leg sticking. . .

  93. Mike#22 says:

    Hi Richard,

    No, not a climate scientist nor a Brit. I appreciate your comments (means I am on the right track) and the work you are doing. I have some science background and what I believe to be a normal amount of concern for the future of this planet and all things on it.

    Like a most of the people around here, I see a desperate need to port over the science into some form that actually causes policy change (and still meets high standards for accuracy and honesty). Like many of the people around here, I have put in some time on the public end of this, and will again. So I appreciate the nudging on numerical non-clarity.

    When communicating about quantities of GHGs. Petagrams C, Gigatons CO2, ppm, mMt, etc. I had settled on metric tonnes CO2 and metric tonnes CO2 equivalent. A metric tonne is a thousand kilograms, about 2200 lbs or about 1.1 tons. For sea level rise, I just hold my hand off the floor, and say, the sea has come up by this much in the last century.

    It is difficult to communicate large numbers regardless of units. Analogies are better. Hm.

    Steve, I see your Compost Bomb and raise with Compost Self Ignition. Isn’t that a happy thought…$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex10721

    Flynn, yes, I agree with you on peak oil and the wrong assumptions built into A1FI.

    Windsong, will look at the book (and have nightmares). 4 deg C global warming means 6 to 7 deg C warming overland, and because the CO2 blanket retards night time cooling, this will be very hard on forests. Most people are not aware that canopy temperatures in the amazon rarely go over 94 deg F. During drought and high temperatures, trees cannot cool themselves and they stop photosynthesizing. Instead, they breath in O2 and exhale CO2, day and night, just as happened in Europe in 2003. Net CO2 to atmosphere.

  94. Steve Bloom says:

    Mike, it would probably be better if it did just burn rather than emit methane on a large scale. The 10C/century rate of temp increase they say is necessary for the “compost bomb” to be set off is very much in the cards for the Arctic.

    Of interest, according to the article the scientists involved think they may find evidence for the compost bomb in the extensive peat deposits burned over by last summer’s fires in Russia.

    In the meantime, it would appear we are already starting to see large-scale fires in permafrost/peat regions in the Arctic. The possible synergy between the fires and runaway bacterial decomposition is unfortunate.

  95. Steve Bloom says:

    Gail, I’m very concerned you’ve wandered into the correlation/causation thiucket, but I promise to have a look at what you’ve got.

  96. biko lang says:

    Recently, i posted a faux news report on my blog allegedly copying an
    interview with me by AP climate reporter Seth Borenstein in DC. He
    didn’t like my tactics at all and he wrote me on my blog after vanity
    googling his name in the blogosphere and finding my faux news report:

    ”Dear ,
    Somehow, a blog post on your blog has Seth Borenstein interviewing Dan
    Bloom. I did not conduct this interview. It is fiction. It is wrong. It
    is misappropriating my name, expertise and image. I hereby ask you to
    cease and desist. This is unethical and I am greatly offended.
    If this is how you do business Dan, appropriating the reputation of
    legitimate journalists to further your aims, please remove me from your
    mail list.
    Please respond quickly. Signed, Seth.”

    I did take his name off it, because all i wanted to do in these
    desperate times of him ignoring my cri de couer by email what to get
    his attention, and it worked. . I
    apologized of course to him.

  97. biko lang says:

    But I still have Lori at the LAT on my
    blog and let’s see if she gets it:

    here is her faux interview with me: as ”reported” in the LA Times:

    Lori Kozlowski of the Los Angeles Times interviews “James Lovelock’s
    Accidental Student” about polar cities for survivors of global warming
    in distant future

    Q. and A. with Polar Cities project coordinator re global warming and
    climate chaos in future – WORST CASE SCENARIO

    QUESTION: Tell me, how are your ”polar cities” going to save humanity?

    ANSWER: They are planned and envisioned as climate refuges for climate
    refugees in some distant future we cannot really get our minds around
    yet. They are just an insurance measure, just in case. They might
    serve as lifeboats in a distant time for those remnants of humanity
    who survive what I call the Great Interruption from 25oo AD to 3500 AD
    or longer. Part of the Long Emergency that James Howard Kunstler so
    eloquently talks about in his books, essays and lectures. 90 percent
    of humankind will die in massive die-offs when climate chaos gets real
    bad, 500 years from now. Maybe. Just something to think about. No need
    to agree with me.

    Are you claiming some messiah-like visionary awareness?

    No, no, no. I am just a common bloke, neighborhood dude, just thinking
    out loud. I don’t even believe in a God or anything superstituous or

    What if you’re wrong?

    I want to be wrong. I hope I am wrong.

    Has Dr Lovelock seen your work and images?

    Yes, he has. I sent the images done by Deng Hong-cheng in Taiwan to Dr
    Lovelock, and he replied by email: “Thanks for showing me Deng’s
    images, and yes, it may very well happen, and soon!”

    With no PHD or academic sponsorshop or VIP funding, do you really
    think anyone is going to take you seriously?

    I don’t expect many people to take me seriously. Comes with the territory.

    Aren’t you being a bit arrogant to assume that you know and can see the future?

    No, not at all. Not arrogant at all, very humble about all this in
    fact. I am just sharing some ideas I envision. I don’t expect anyone
    to take me seriously and I don’t seek followers. Jsut some ideas I am
    laying out

  98. Wit's End says:

    Thanks, Steve. As to causality, check out Dr. Muir’s college syllabus:


    Evidence that ozone is causal?

    (1) The spatial pattern of injury coincides with O3 exposure. Injury increases with elevation (as does O3) and is worst on west-facing slopes, which are directly in the path of O3-laden winds from Los Angeles). There is also a sharp west-to-east geographic gradient in injury. In the westernmost regions, growth of ponderosa pine is down by as much as 50% and mortality over 1973-1978 reached 10%.

    (2) No “natural” causes seemed to match spatially or temporally – drought, disease, etc.

    (3) The temporal pattern coincided with the growth of precursor emissions from Los Angeles (that is, problems with the pines were noticed only after LA’s production of pollutants increased greatly)

    (4) Visible symptoms on pine needles match those produced in lab by controlled fumigations with O3, including chlorotic mottle, tip necrosis, and premature senescence.

    (5) Species known from laboratory work to be most sensitive to O3 are declining the most, including ponderosa and Jeffrey pine.

    (6) Known physiological mechanisms are capable of producing the observed effects.

    Thus, all criteria needed to establish causation for air pollution injury are actually met in this situation (a rare case when all criteria can be met!).

    What is actually killing many of the trees is bark beetles (western pine bark beetles), who are able to attack the O3-weakend trees. That is, beetles are the proximate cause of death, while O3 is ultimate (or is the ultimate factor high population density and use of fossil fuels??). In addition, the trees’ weakened roots are vulnerable to attack by root rotting fungi which can cause death (recall that O3 decreases plant allocation of carbohydrate to roots…).

  99. Raul M. says:

    (Fill in the blank)’s view of energy production is
    similar to his/her view of house keeping. Well, to
    explain, once when the butler had the day off,
    he/she had to think of cleaning up after lunch
    and dinner. He/she found it much easier to just
    put the dishes back away into the cabinets
    without washing and to wipe off the plates
    with a towel onto the carpet. The butler was
    fired on his return the following day. He/she
    could not find reason to keep an employee
    who would let food get ground into the carpet,
    kept such dirty dishes in the cabinets to serve
    dinner guests with and the filthy towel hung
    back up was just to much to stand.

  100. FedUpWithDenial says:

    JR – I had planned to submit a comment to this very important Climate Progress post—one of the very best in the Climate Science category and definitely worthy of being linked to at the top of the page with the other classics—but due to circumstances wasn’t able to start writing the comment until this p.m. Although I’ve gotten it partly written, it’s been 7 days and some hours since the original posting and I know ‘comments’ are about to close if they haven’t already. BTW, I would recommend that these powerful, deep posts with a lot of science content be left open to comments for 10 days rather than the usual seven. I hesitate to make knee-jerk comments to posts of this class. If ‘Comments’ close very soon as I expect, I won’t try to submit my comment here but will wait until (say) next weekend’s open thread to submit it. Then, if you think it’s worthwhile, you can move it over here, since it might be lost in the open thread. It’s very much “on topic” here, but, being somewhat deep, would probably be a little out of place in the typical weekend open discussion. Therefore….

    (This is my second attempt to submit this–the comment instantly disappeared at first click of the ‘submit comment’ button. Just hope you get the message, since that’s all that’s important. Sorry.)