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Lonnie Thompson on why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization”

By Joe Romm on December 13, 2010 at 2:56 pm

"Lonnie Thompson on why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization”"

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That bold statement may seem like hyperbole, but there is now a very clear pattern in the scientific evidence documenting that the earth is warming, that warming is due largely to human activity, that warming is causing important changes in climate, and that rapid and potentially catastrophic changes in the near future are very possible. This pattern emerges not, as is so often suggested, simply from computer simulations, but from the weight and balance of the empirical evidence as well.

The great cryo-scientist Lonnie Thompson has a must-read paper, “Climate Change: The Evidence and Our Options.”  Thompson has been the Paul Revere of glacier melt.

I wrote about his important 2008 work “Mass loss on Himalayan glacier endangers water resources” (see Another climate impact comes faster than predicted: Himalayan glaciers “decapitated”).  It concluded ominously:

If Naimona’nyi is characteristic of other glaciers in the region, alpine glacier meltwater surpluses are likely to shrink much faster than currently predicted with substantial consequences for approximately half a billion people.

india.jpg

The study notes that Naimona’nyi is the highest glacier (6 kilometers above sea level) “documented to be losing mass annually.” MSNBC reported:

Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University and a team of researchers traveled to central Himalayas in 2006 to study the Naimona’nyi glacier, expecting to find some melting”¦. But when the team analyzed samples of glacier, what they found stunned them”¦.

In fact, the glacier had melted so much that the exposed surface of the glacier dated to 1944″¦.

“At the highest elevations, we’re seeing something like an average of 0.3 degrees Centigrade warming per decade,” Thompson said”¦.

“I have not seen much as compelling as this to demonstrate how some glaciers are just being decapitated,” Shawn Marshall of the University of Calgary said”¦.

“You can think of glaciers kind of like water towers, ” he said. “They collect water from the monsoon in the wet season, and release it in the dry season. But how effective they are depends on how much water is in the towers.”

In his new paper, he joins the climate hawks and the legion of uncharacteristically blunt scientists.  He explains something that is really understood only by those who read the scientific literature and/or talk to the leading climatologists — we are in big, big trouble:

Climatologists, like other scientists, tend to be a stolid group. We are not given to theatrical rantings about falling skies. Most of us are far more comfortable in our laboratories or gathering data in the field than we are giving interviews to journalists or speaking before Congressional committees. Why then are climatologists speaking out about the dangers of global warming? The answer is that virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.

And, as noted in the quote at the top, this isn’t just based on models of the future, but on observations and analysis of the past:

Ice cores retrieved from shrinking glaciers around the world confirm their continuous existence for periods ranging from hundreds of years to multiple millennia, suggesting that climatological conditions that dominate those regions today are different from those under which these ice fields originally accumulated and have been sustained. The current warming is therefore unusual when viewed from the millennial perspective provided by multiple lines of proxy evidence and the 160-year record of direct temperature measurements. Despite all this evidence, plus the well-documented continual increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, societies have taken little action to address this global-scale problem. Hence, the rate of global carbon dioxide emissions continues to accelerate. As a result of our inaction, we have three options: mitigation, adaptation, and suffering.

In that final sentence, Thompson picks up the formulation that science advisor John Holdren likes to use (see “Real adaptation is as politically tough as real mitigation, but much more expensive and not as effective in reducing future misery:  Rhetorical adaptation, however, is a political winner. Too bad it means preventable suffering for billions”).

The paper does a good job of running through the science, and then discussing the key impacts, including the ones that don’t get enough attention:

Global warming is expanding arid areas of the Earth. Warming at the equator drives a climate system called the Hadley Cell. Warm, moist air rises from the equator, loses its moisture through rainfall, moves north and south, and then falls to the Earth at 30u north and south latitude, creating deserts and arid regions. There is evidence that over the last 20 years the Hadley Cell has expanded north and south by about 2u latitude, which may broaden the desert zones (Seidel, Fu, Randel, & Reichler, 2008; Seidel & Randel, 2007). If so, droughts may become more persistent in the American Southwest, the Mediterranean, Australia, South America, and Africa.

For more on that subject, see NOAA: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe and Must-read NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts even on moderate emissions path.

Like any scientist familiar with the paleoclimate literature and recent observations, he is concerned with abrupt climate change:

So, not only is Earth’s temperature rising, but the rate of this change is accelerating. This means that our future may not be a steady, gradual change in the world’s climate, but an abrupt and devastating deterioration from which we cannot recover.

Abrupt Climate Change Possible

We know that very rapid change in climate is possible because it has occurred in the past….

One way that rapid climate change can occur is through positive feedback. In the physical sciences, positive feedback means that an event has an effect which, in turn, produces more of the initial event. The best way to understand this phenomenon as it relates to climate change is through some very plausible examples:

Higher global temperatures mean dryer forests in some areas, which means more forest fires, which means more CO2 and ash in the air, which raises global temperature, which means more forest fires, which means.”¦

Higher global temperatures mean melting ice, which exposes darker areas (dirt, rock, water) that reflect less solar energy than ice, which means higher global temperatures, which means more melting ice, which means”¦

Higher global temperatures mean tundra permafrost melts, releasing CO2 and methane from rotted organic material, which means higher global temperature, which means more permafrost melting, which means.”¦

Positive feedback increases the rate of change. Eventually a tipping point may be reached, after which it could be impossible to restore normal conditions. Think of a very large boulder rolling down a hill: When it first starts to move, we might stop it by pushing against it or wedging chocks under it or building a barrier, but once it has reached a certain velocity, there is no stopping it. We do not know if there is a tipping point for global warming, but the possibility cannot be dismissed, and it has ominous implications. Global warming is a very, very large boulder.

For more on 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.”  And yes, I am familiar with the recent NASA work in this area and will be blogging on it this week.

Like any scientist who has endeavored to inform the public on this issue, he has run into the disinformation campaign:

Clearly mitigation is our best option, but so far most societies around the world, including the United States and the other largest emitters of greenhouse gases, have done little more than talk about the importance of mitigation. Many Americans do not even accept the reality of global warming. The fossil fuel industry has spent millions of dollars on a disinformation campaign to delude the public about the threat, and the campaign has been amazingly successful. (This effort is reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s effort to convince Americans that smoking poses no serious health hazards.)

But all the lies in the world — and the election of a slate of climate zombies in this country — can’t stop the reality of human-caused global warming.  Only an aggressive effort to slow and then reverse greenhouse gas emissions trends can.  Failure to do so would be immoral:

Unless large numbers of people take appropriate steps, including supporting governmental regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our only options will be adaptation and suffering. And the longer we delay, the more unpleasant the adaptations and the greater the suffering will be.

Sooner or later, we will all deal with global warming. The only question is how much we will mitigate, adapt, and suffer.

Kudos to Thompson for not pulling any punches.

Here a nice video of Thompson and his wife explaining their work (h/t DotEarth):

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48 Responses to Lonnie Thompson on why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization”

  1. Paulm says:

    Must see video…

    Human-Made Climate Change: A Moral, Political and Legal Issue
    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/presentations.shtml

    Climate Portals ‎”Its going to become a legal issue because
    young people deserve equal protection of the laws. ”

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Climate-Portals/139434822741700

  2. After understanding comes action.

    The action will be disruptive to everyone and directly harmful to select industries, so their counter-attack is to block and confuse understanding.

    Now that we are starting to comprehend the problem – we can plan courses of action. Lower our carbon combustion – whoops… some industries don’t want that.

    Time to un-blunder.

  3. fj3 says:

    Only 6 Percent of Scientists Are Republican. Is This a Problem? http://su.pr/9eaMew (@GOOD stuff)

  4. Paulm says:

    This is a emergency situation. It is way beyond party politics now.

    Obama,
    Will you please instigate a state of emergency and start mitigating against climate warming catastrophe like now.
    Please.

  5. Prokaryotes says:

    2008, study on soot and the country with most glaciers in the world.

    According to the U.N. report ( see full pdf document here), thick clouds of brown soot and other pollutants are hanging over Asia, darkening cities, disrupting the monsoon and accelerating the melting of the mountain glaciers. These atmospheric brown clouds exacerbate the effect of global warming by depositing soot on the glaciers, which captures more solar heat than white snow and ice. ”If the current rate of retreat continues unabated, these glaciers and snow packs are expected to shrink by as much as 75 percent before the year 2050, posing grave danger to the region’s water security,” it says.

    The U.N. report notes that more than three-quarters of Pakistanis live in the Indus basin and its water irrigates 80 percent of the nation’s cropland.

    It is already struggling with food shortages, and the report says that the pollution may undermine Asian food security by reducing crop yields and increasing the risk of flooding. At the same time there are signs of strain between India and Pakistan over their shared use of rivers in Kashmir http://blogs.reuters.com/pakistan/2008/11/15/pakistan-and-the-melting-glaciers/

    In Pakistan, we have more glaciers than any other land outside the north and south poles. Our glacial area covers some 13,680 sq. km which represents an average of 13 per cent of mountain regions of the upper Indus Basin. Baltistan in our north eastern corner and in the heart of Karakorams, provides the world’s most magnificent mountain scenery and mountaineering possibilities. Renowned for the largest glaciers and towering peaks, it has four 8000m peaks, and many over 7000m.

    The glaciers in Pakistan can rightly claim to possess the greatest mass and collection of glaciated space on the face of earth. In fact, in the lap of our Karakoram mountains alone there are glaciers whose total length would add up to about 6,160 sq. km. To put it more precisely, as high as 37 per cent of the Karakoram area is under its glaciers against Himalayas’ 17 per cent and European Alps’ 22 per cent. The Karakorams have one more claim to proclaim; its southern flank (east and west of the enormous Biafo glacier) has a concentration of glaciers which works out to 59 per cent of its area. http://wondersofpakistan.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/pakistan-the-largest-land-of-glaciers-i/

    ‘Melting glaciers contributed to heavy flooding’

    ISLAMABAD: The main cause of ongoing floods is fast melting of glaciers in the upper parts of the country, which are dissipating at a faster speed as compared to the rest of the world.
    This was stated by Prof M. Iqbal Khan, the only Pakistani glaciologist, who visited Antarctica, while talking to APP on Sunday.
    He remarked that the pace of melting glaciers in Pakistan is faster than any other country and only rains could not be held responsible for the floods.
    “It is the glaciers which are adding fuel to the fire and due to the melting of glaciers the flood situation is aggravated,” he added.
    Giving details of the glaciers in the country, he said there are a total of 202 dominant glaciers which contain huge quantity of water.
    He described glaciers as “frozen water resources” which are melting at a fast pace, as the recent decade has experienced exceptional environmental changes throughout the world because of global warming.
    He added that there was never a melting process at 18,000 ft but now this level has reached 20,000 ft which is very alarming as it can deplete our frozen water reservoirs rapidly. Khan stated that over 50 per cent of frozen water resources have been lost and warned that there would be severe water scarcity in coming years.
    About the recent rain spell in the country, Professor Iqbal said the pattern of rainfall has also changed which added to the situation.
    He said earlier, the route of the monsoon rains used to start from the Bay of Bengal and then it routed through Lucknow, Delhi, Shimla, Northern Areas, Chitral, Peshawar and other parts of the country.
    He added that the recent rains have changed their route and shifted towards South to Urisa, Maharashtar, Rajputana, southern Punjab, eastern Balochistan and Sindh and as the system was strong it reached the mountainous areas of Pakistan too.
    He termed the climate change and global warming as the main reasons for the floods and said there is need to work on Hazard Mapping. http://tribune.com.pk/story/41786/melting-glaciers-contributed-to-heavy-flooding/

  6. Prokaryotes says:

    Paulm, which video -please post direct link.

  7. Prokaryotes says:

    Ok i think he meant this

    Dr. James Hansen on Human-Made Climate Change http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WWu8Gx2fn8

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks to the Thompsons for stepping up to the plate, and in the blunt language that the evidence calls for. The Climate Scientists Rapid Response Team shows the same dedication, and its members helped me on an issue last Sunday due to some time urgency.

    Let’s hope that climate scientists continue to organize and speak out forcefully. They should consider establishing a media monitoring service in addition to responding to reporters’ questions and concerns.

    With knowledge comes responsibility, and fierce counterattacks from the oil and coal industries are part of the price you have to pay. Scientists will learn, as Joe has, that this will make them stronger and more determined.

  9. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Thompson speak at Science North (in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada) more than 10 years ago now. It was a very good talk, educational, and if I wasn’t already excited about science and research, I would have been after his talk. I do remember thinking maybe I should switch careers so I could run around the world climbing mountains to do some never before done science work.

  10. I read Lonnie Thompson’s paper a few days ago and was thrilled by the clarity. It stomps every denialist delusion. You wonder what else we could possibly need? But the tip-off is that the U.S. military is totally onboard with the severity of climate change, preparing for ‘national security’ issues like migration. (See linked video interview in Cancun.) So that makes me wonder if it isn’t just Atlas Shrugged and to hell with the little people.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQaSJje87zU&feature=player_embedded

  11. People like Thompson have to take the gloves off and not pull any punches. No scientist can afford to be “nice” any more. They must be blunt and call out the liars, dis-informers, and nay-sayers for what they are, and that includes powerful politicians. If the vast majority of scientists that really understand the problem came out like this, the general public should quickly come to the conclusion that something is definitely wrong and that it needs quick and drastic action, even at the expense of our way of life, and even if that means a declaration of martial law. And if the public doesn’t see the problem more clearly and demand the proper corrective actions from our government, then we truly deserve what we get. In the words of Pete Postelthwaite in the movie The Age of Stupid, perhaps on some level we have decided that we’re not worth saving and so commit mass suicide while knowing that we could have saved ourselves.

  12. peter whitehead says:

    Forecast for Qaqortoq, south Greenland this week, from:

    http://www.wunderground.com/global/stations/04272.html

    5-Day Forecast for

    Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday

    5° C | 3° C
    6° C | 0° C
    5° C | 0° C
    7° C | 0° C
    2° C | -1° C

    Greenland seems warm for December, perhaps? Any comments?

  13. paulm says:

    #11 Nice link…

    The US Navy explains why it is taking action on climate change
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQaSJje87zU&feature=player_embedded

    Rear Admiral David Titley > “Leadership starts at the top”

    Obama?

  14. Mike says:

    fj3 (#3),

    First, if you follow the links in the post or the Slate article the 6% figure is not there. I don’t know if the 6% is made up or if the link was mixed up.

    Even if few scientists are Republican, the most likely reason is that Republicans regularly attack scientists and other intellectuals to score votes, just like they attack gays, and less openly ethic minorities. Would you be surprised to learn that relatively few gays are Republican?

    So is this a problem? Yes! It is a problem that a major political party panders to bigotry and anti-intellectualism. The solution is obvious.

  15. Wit's End says:

    As mentioned, there is a concern about rapid shifts in climate, based on past events.

    However, even those past rapid shifts occurred in the absence of increased levels of tropospheric ozone, which is toxic to all forms of life, and which are virtually wholly created from burning fuel and therefore unique to the Anthropocene. We have set the stage for an unprecedented calamity.

    Here is a passage from the comment made by Dr. Armendariz, a professor at Southern Methodist University, now on leave after being appointed to the EPA by the Obama Admin, to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, back in 2007. In it he describes a feedback loop between higher temperatures, more increases in tropospheric ozone, more decreases in stratospheric ozone, more incoming UV radiation, causing even higher levels of tropospheric ozone…

    “Global climate change is increasing ground level temperatures in many U.S. locations, including DFW. The data from DFW airport suggest that over a ten year period, the length of time from the 1999 base case episode to the 2009 attainment demonstration modeling, there is likely to be a 0.4 increase in annual average temperatures, with a more acute increase of approximately 1 degree in the important month of August. In order for the 1999 base case to have applicability in 2009, the temperatures used in the photochemical modeling need to be increased to account for climate change and increasing temperatures.

    I believe that incorporating a temperature increase into the modeling will significantly increase the predicted 2009 ozone concentrations, indicating the deficiency of the emission reductions proposed in the SIP to get the area into attainment. The increase in temperature is important because many of the photochemical reactions that produce ozone are temperature dependent and ozone production will occur more rapidly at higher temperatures.

    In addition, both biogenic VOC emissions and evaporative VOC emissions, from sources like storage tanks and motor vehicles, will increase with higher ambient temperatures. Climate change is going to make our ozone problem even harder to solve than it is already.

    Another very important factor that the attainment demonstration must take into account in its photochemical modeling is the likely increase in incident UV radiation because of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the most definite analysis of climate change to date in 2001.

    In that assessment, they state

    “Climate change will decrease air quality in urban areas with air pollution problems (medium confidence). An increase in temperature (and, in some models, ultraviolet radiation) increases the formation of ground-level ozone, a pollutant with well- established adverse effects on respiratory health.” (IPCC 2001a)

    The report further states,

    “Stratospheric ozone destruction is an essentially separate process from greenhouse gas accumulation in the lower atmosphere. However…tropospheric warming apparently induces stratospheric cooling, which exacerbates [stratospheric] ozone destruction.” (IPCC 2001b)

    Additional published work that suggests that climate change is likely to result in enhanced stratospheric ozone destruction, and therefore higher ground-level UV radiation (Shindell et al 1998; Kirk-Davidoff et al 1999).

    “The chemical reactions responsible for stratospheric ozone depletion are extremely sensitive to temperature. Greenhouse gases warm the earth’s surface but cool the stratosphere radiatively and therefore affect ozone depletion….Increased concentrations of greenhouse gases might therefore be at least partly responsible for the very large Artic ozone loses observed in recent winters. Artic ozone loses reach a maximum in the decade 2010 to 2019 in our model.” (Shindell et al 1998).

    The Shindell et al study indicates that UV radiation at the surface, an important driver to many of the photochemical reactions that produce ozone, is likely to increase with climate change and reach a maximum in 2010, just when the attainment demonstration and supporting regulations are supposed to get DFW into compliance with the ozone standard. I recommend that the TCEQ incorporate the effects of climate change, both higher temperatures and higher incident UV radiation, into its modeling of 2009 ozone concentrations. Until this is done, I believe that the attainment demonstration will underestimate the ozone concentrations that will actually occur in 2009 with the package of emissions reductions proposed in the SIP.”

  16. Richard Miller says:

    Joe et al,
    In a previous post ( http://climateprogress.org/2010/11/08/climate-scientists-realize-they-must-hang-together/ )

    Joe said the following:

    Few scientists are known for simple language. As the physicist Mark Bowen writes in Thin Ice, his book about glaciologist Lonnie Thompson:
    “Scientists have an annoying habit of backing off when they’re asked to make a plain statement, and climatologists tend to be worse than most.”

    I have not read this book and I do not have it. Was Bowen here talking about scientists in general or was he using Lonnie Thompson as an example of the reticence of scientists?

    If Bowen was referring to Thompson, then this paper by Thompson is even that much more powerful because it indicates that someone who was reticent about using alarming language is now talking about climate change as a threat to civilization.

    If you have the book, and look it up, then I would be interested in the page number so I can get the book and look it up.

    Thanks

    [JR: He was talking about Lonnie, who does appear to have gotten less reticent.]

  17. Richard Miller says:

    To Mike Roddy,

    is the Climate Scientists Rapid Response Team reserved for journalists?

    I give lectures on climate at my home university and occasionally questions emerge as I am preparing the lecture.

  18. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    I think it’s important to know that the Koch Bros. funded PBS show ,”NOVA Science Now”, did an entire profile piece on Lonnie Thompson, his work, the dangers of melting glaciers, and never once mentioned human causes of global warming. Not once. It was a baffling piece, with this awkward hole in the middle of it. You could tell how the careful wording just inched around the issue. It was very…. Chinese-like in it’s censorship. Really, really embarrassing.

    The transcript is here:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/earth/profile-thompson.html

    The video is available for $2 download at amazon.com
    http://www.amazon.com/Climate-Scientist-Lonnie-Thompson/dp/B004BNDEJG/ref=pd_vodsm_B004BNDEJG

  19. Rob Jones says:

    The only action that we are ever going to see on climate change is going to happen after we have a major climate catastrophe in the industrial world.
    Given this fact I am praying that it happens sooner rather than later.
    I am cheering on every flood, fire, drought and crop failure and am also wishing for a major collapse of the the west Antarctic ice shelf.
    God please let these things happen while there is still time to reverse the situation.

  20. Prokaryotes says:

    What we need is more visual messaging of scenario modeling.

    In above video Hansen notes briefly the up/down of temperature fluctuation from the mean temperature. I think most people have no idea that i.e. 3 C average temperature includes temperature variations far above/beyond the average values.

  21. Mike Roddy says:

    Rob Jones, I fear that even a catastrophe won’t wake people up. The deniers who work for Koch and Exxon have been good at training journalists to connect any disaster to natural forces. Katrina moved the needle a bit, and then it went back the other way. TV now is once again big truck ads, and the press (outside of blogs like this one) has become castrated.

  22. George Ennis says:

    Adaptation? I think not. In the developed world we cannot even maintain the existing infrastructure at its current capacity, resilience and responsiveness because of the oft repeated mantra of lower taxes. Adaptation requires a significant a significant large scale investment by the government in new infrastructure. Too bad there was not a way to put a price on carbon emissions. That would offer the best hope to conservatives to keep government spending lower and let free markets operate in allocating private and public investment into green technologies. Oh wait there is a way to price carbon emissions and begin the shift to green technologies.

    But wait another 15 to 20 years and we will have massive and increasing government intervention in regulating all aspects of our economic lives, all in a desperate bid to stave off disaster.

  23. A superb site for very current glacier studies is:
    http://glacierchange.wordpress.com/

  24. Prokaryotes says:

    Another important finding is that climate change knows no winners. When people write the developing world will be hit hard, it has some sense that the developed world be somehow just fine. The developed world will be also effected, maybe different but nevertheless equal in the civilization destructive ways.

    When people write that rich people can soon only afford food it also misleads, because if the foundation of the wealth pyramid breaks, everything above it will experience free fall conditions.

  25. Dan Allen says:

    Hi Joe. I wrote a new essay on energy bulletin & it references your fantastic posts & books: “An Agriculture That Stands A Chance: Perennial Polyculture & the Hard Limits of Post-Carbon Farming.” It’s at http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-12-13/agriculture-stands-chance-perennial-polyculture-hard-limits-post-carbon-farming.

  26. Wit's End says:

    Prokaryotes, rest assured.

    For better or ill, it so happens I spend much of my waking hours coddling the ultra-wealthy, and let me tell you, they are going to suffer at least as much, if not more, than the average subsistence farmer – fairly soon.

    These are people who are traumatized when the air conditioning malfunctions, when there is a delay in their flight to Turks and Caicos, or the florist delivers arrangements that are wanting, or their children earn less than an “A” at their private school, or their manicure is somehow marred, or the pool temperature is less than optimum, or there is a mouse in the basement, or their usual shampoo is out of stock…

    When their favorite restaurants and organic food markets shut down, and the notion that they can’t buy their way out of ecosystem collapse and climate chaos sinks when their beach front mansions are swamped with hurricanes and sea level rise…and their ivy-league educated children are ill-equipped to survive in a world where knowing how to plant,] and preserve food – and shoot – is more important than coached SAT scores, teacher recommendations, and contrived “community service” … they are just going to go berserk.

    There is no escape or immunity…they just haven’t quite figured it out yet.

  27. Tom Bennion says:

    Regarding messaging on climate change, although its silly that we still dont have a price on carbon worldwide, I think there are other possibilities that we have not yet even begun to explore.

    I attended a recent symposium where it was pointed out that programmes promoting energy efficiency are really quite crude and make very little use of basic insights from social science. Programmes asking for behaviour change are appealing to politicians because it shifts the problem away from them, but a little bit of analysis of the norms that surround our use of energy and transportation would provide a while raft of new possibilities for mitigation.

    For example, if you look at the history of air conditioning, you find out that buildings are kept at a uniform temperature worldwide on the basis of calculations made in the 1950 and 60s that a US businessman in a suit (including jacket) would find that comfortable. The Japanese have already used that insight to save megatonnes in emissions from air conditioning. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cool_Biz_campaign

    While not without its critics, the Japanese programme demonstrates the possibilities that have not even been touched on yet. Climate change fashion anyone?

    My personal interest is with the biggest source of personal emissions – flying. When did we all come to believe that it was indispensable? And what are the social and cultural norms associated with it today, and how can we look at altering those beyond a simple “please change your behaviour’ approach.

    The paper below gives you a basic idea of what is involved.

    Shove, E. (2010). Beyond the ABC: Climate change policy and theories of social change. Environment and Planning A, 42(6), 1273-1285. [Free]
    Shove examines what she considers to be the potential contribution of the social sciences and the generally restricted models and concepts of social change embedded in contemporary environmental policy in the UK. She believes there is a need to go beyond the ‘ABC’ (attitude, behaviour, and choice) and highlights opportunities to do so. A full version of
    the paper can be downloaded here:
    http://action-town.eu/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/BEYONDTHEABCrevised1.pdf

  28. mauri pelto says:

    It is great to see research from researchers published in a different forum. In doing so we must take extra care. For example for the main Himalaya draining into India and Nepal the wet season, summer monsoon, is also the main melt season for the glaciers. Thus, for many basins the glacier loss does not coincide with the dry season and is not as large an issue. See the Gangotri Glacier as an example. Thayyen and Gergan (2010) examined this issue.

  29. Ian Forrester says:

    Willis Eschenbach insults and smears Lonnie Thompson over at Curry’s blog.

    http://judithcurry.com/2010/12/13/agu-fall-meeting/#comment-21355

    There are a number of commenters who get after Eschenbach for his deplorable conduct but not a sign of Curry. No wonder her blog is meaningless when it comes to honest science and scientists.

  30. john atcheson says:

    #20 — re waiting for a catastrophe — How about Katrina? I’d say it qualifies … I’m at a loss to understand how we might get movement on this. The media is dead in the water, it’s too late for scientists to try to seize the initiative, and we just lost the election that could have made the difference. Pachura said, in 2009, that if we didn’t get aggressive action by 2012 it would be too late.

    Well, forecast is for more denial and Cancun just crashed.

    2012 is coming fast.

  31. Richard Brenne says:

    Lonnie’s paper is a masterpiece summary. We need as many such summaries as we can get from as many of our top scientists as possible including the Thompsons, Jim Hansen, Kevin Trenberth, Susan Solomon, Gerald Meehl, Ben Santer, Michael Mann, Richard Alley, etc.

    The fact that each is also at the forefront of their specialty adds to their gravitas and the power of their voice.

    This is remarkably well-stated, with another expert commentary by Joe and the great voices of CP including Gail at Wit’s End, Mike Roddy, Richard Pauli, Prokaryotes, Edward Hummel, Paulm, etc.

    I think we all need to keep working at this, however, with statements like “If you’re as old as I am or younger, Climate Change and other human impacts will probably be a factor in shortening your life span, and it could cut your children’s’ life span in half and your grandchildren’s’ into a quarter of what they would otherwise be.”

    It’s now likely the warmest it has been in at least five thousand years, so the warmest period in human civilization, a civilization that climate change will be a key player in ending.

    We now have the highest CO2 in the 800,000 years we can accurately measure, and quite possibly for 20 million years. The same for methane.

    Lonnie does the best job of summarizing the three primary positive feedbacks of anyone, and does it as succinctly as it can be done.

    As brilliant as Lonnie’s paper is, Joe’s commentary (as always) is equal to it, and look again at Edward Hummel’s equally amazing summary at #12. Peter Whitehead’s (at #13) concerns about December temperatures in southern Greenland are also a revelation, with the next four days forecast never dipping below freezing, with highs of 44.6 Fahrenheit and a daily minimum of 37.4.

    It is nighttime freezing that arrests melting as much as anything – thus low temperatures can be even more important in this case than high temperatures.

    We hit 61, two off our record high for the date here yesterday in Portland, Oregon, but when it is cloudy and rainy people don’t think of it as warm during the winter when 61 is not hot. We need to educate, educate, educate – and everyone here including Lonnie, Joe and all the expert commenters here do that better than anyone.

  32. Mike Roddy says:

    Richard Miller, #18:

    The CSRRT is set up for the media, which is plenty to keep them busy (I had been working on an article which had been disputed by one of its subjects).

    Climate Progress is an excellent resource for the latest science on the subject. If you put a topic in the search button, you’ll find the latest science on it via links in Joe’s text. As for books, I recommmend Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren, but there are many others, including books by Romm, McKibben, Cullen, and others.

    Dr. John Harte has an excellent book available for free on the Net called Cooling The Earth (not to be confused with Lomborg’s Cool It!). Harte is a Berkeley scientist who was an early adapter to feedback loops and the upper ends of IPCC predictions.

    Hope this helps-

  33. Prokaryotes says:

    Thanks for mentioning me Richard,just i have to add this

    Last time carbon dioxide levels were this high: 15 million years ago, scientists report
    “The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today… global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today” http://www.climate.ucla.edu/news/article.asp?parentid=4676

    So far im not aware that these numbers are not valid. Cheers

  34. Ed Hummel says:

    Richard #32, thanks for the kind words. I hosted a showing of the Age of Stupid, the amazing movie produced and directed by Franny Armstrong in the UK that came out last year for the 4th time this past weekend and then took questions concerning weather and climate (I’m a semi-retired meterologist) as well as what I see as our only realistic alternatives, some of which I mentioned in the post you referenced. I’ve stated before here on Climate Progress as well as in talks and persentations that I’ve given over the last few years that I’ve concluded that the only realistic alternative for our society, both here in the US and around the world, based exclusively on what the research and observations are making increasingly clear, is to put all our societies on a “war” footing and use FDR’s efforts in WWII as a guide to how we should tackle this problem in this country.

    There was a lot of talk after the 2008 election of how President Obama might take a page out of FDR’s New Deal book when dealing with our crashed economy. But I thought then and I’m even more convinced now that trying to bring the economy back to where it was before the 2008 crash was totally insane, especially since that economy is primarily responsible for accelerating the CO2 concentration, not to mention that it was environmentally unsustainable and based on a complex Ponzi scheme (Joe has eloquently summarized these ideas already). BHO should have immediately made Chu and Holdren the two most important people in his government instead of Summers and Geithner (Hillary would have done her thing around the world according to whatever path the president decided). Working through Chu, Holdren and even Jim Hansen as high profile educators to the public on our climate crisis while at the same time cajoling Reid and Pelosi to get the troops moving in the Congress when they still had overwhelming power right after 1/20/09 would have been the rational thing to do based on what I’m sure Chu, Holdren, Hansen and all the other government scientists (never mind all the high profile academics that have been sounding the alarm for 30 years) were telling him. The president should have immediately gone before the cameras and outlined the crisis in blunt language and declared a state of emergency the way FDR did in 1941 with his immediate request for a war declaration after Pearl Harbor. He should have listed all the climate related disasters along with all the major lines of evidence that had been multiplying up to that time as proof of what was happening and why such drastic measures were now necessary. He should have dared the Republican deniers to rebut his outline and then come right back with his own refutation of their garbage. That’s how a sitting president uses the bully pulpit which all the great ones including Lincoln, TR, FDR, and even JFK, LBJ, and Reagan and to some extent Clinton. Carter tried, but he just didn’t have the “stage presence” and charisma that these others did (though I don’t know if I’d call what LBJ had charisma!).

    We all know that Obama squandered that opportunity, most likley because of his strong belief in bipartisanship and compramise as he outlined in his books. He listened to Summers and Geithner and focused on the economy with measures that were basically a rehash and actual extension of Bush’s failed policies, despite the venomous charicatures of “Socialism”, etc., spewed out by the right wing idealogues. It was a losing fight right from the start and the health care debacle just added to the wasted time. Even when it was time finally to push the so-called climate bill with its cap and trade goodies to polluters, he still tried to do the impossible and get a bipartisan concensus on something that everyone could live with. He’s too much of a politician!!! There comes a time when a president must lead and use his bully pulpit as well as all the arm twisting and other presidential powers at his disposal to push the country where it should go, especially when its survival is concerned; that’s the main reason the founders invented the position of president in our Constitution and subsequent government.

    To put it bluntly, Congress and the courts are there mainly for the mundane, everyday problems and challenges that come along in the normal everyday flow of life’s events. The president is there mainly to sign the bills, make sure the laws are executed, and to be the face of our country to the world during “normal” times. But in times of national emergency, his true reason for existence comes into play and he must LEAD, and DAMN THE CONSEQUENCES concerning his political or even personal future. To some extent, both Lincoln and FDR did just that during the two gravest threats in the past to our survival as a nation and culture; we all know that Lincoln was assasinated and that Roosevelt worked himself to death. The threat now from climate change, as has been so often pointed out on this site, is the greatest faced not only by the US, but by humanity. The numbers don’t lie and Mother Nature doesn’t care about our economic future, except to correct it in her own way when it gets out of hand as it has regionally many times in the last 10,000 years, and as it is now doing globally. We have gone way past the time when gradual or even rapid “market solutions” would allow us to get out of our quandry. There is no way markets will work to make the drastic and rapid changes necessary to keep the worst climate changes from happening (I think we all agree that some pain will have to be had by all over the next 30 years no matter what we do now). The only thing that still has a chance of making the necessary changes to stay within the 2C temperature change cap is mandatory rationing and restrictions that would most assuredly be imposed on any society during total war as happened in WWII. Our society must immediately wean itself off fossil fuels to achieve 0 emissions as soon as physically possible, not as soon as politically or economically possible. There is no other way to avoid the consequences spelled out quite graphically in Franny Armstrong’s futuristic documentary, The Age of Stupid. If anyone can point out reasons why this isn’t so, I’d love to hear them and would be the first to embrace them; it certainly isn’t very much fun facing such a grim future, even if I don’t live long enough to see the worst manifestations of what’s coming.

    I happen to be friends with the daughter (she’s a neighbor) of glaciologist Bob Thomas, an IPCC Nobel winner, who used to work in the British Antarctic Survey for many years and who has also worked for NASA until the arrival of Team Bush caused him to go into semi-retirement. I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the climate problem with him and get his take on what we’re up against. Sorry to say, he’s become a fatalist and pessimist that anything can be done because he just can’t envision human societies taking the drastic steps necessary before it’s too late to avoid the worst that Nature has in store for us. I have to admit that I am fairly pessimistic myself, and have been every since the Kyoto fiasco. I’ve resigned myself as has Bob Thomas to just trying to live out my days as best as I can and do what I can to minimize my impacts on our environment. Paul Erlich’s Population Bomb in 1968, the Oil Embargo of 1973, and climatology classes in graduate school in 1974 under Prof. Mark Shulman at Rutgers really opened my eyes to what was coming. I’ve lived off the grid since 1982 in a passive solar house powered by photovoltaics, buy only necessities for my home and weather forecasting business and very little else, drive sparingly or not at all and try to walk and bicycle when I can, grow much of my own food and cut all my own wood for cooking and backup heating, and have never had any children. I’m not kidding myself that this is making any major impact on the problem and in fact know that I could probably be doing even more if I really put my mind and effort into it. If we ever do get to the point where government coersion finally becomes a reality, it will actually make it easier to do more with even less since then I won’t have any choice. Whether I or anyone likes it is completely irrelevent in the big picture. We’re either going to make our own pain to change our ways, or Nature will certainly do it for us in here own way and time.

  35. Colorado Bob says:

    peter whitehead @ 13 -
    If you open the map feature , you can move up the coast. There are readings from Nov. 19th showing rain and warm air coming on to the Greenland Ice Sheet. This still is running. Looking more like the Atlantic will jam her heat up the west side
    of Greenland. Makes sense. Except where it rains in Greenland in the middle of Dec. in the dark.

  36. Steve Bloom says:

    Re #34: Based on these AGU abstracts, I’d say Tripati’s clumped isotope method has gained considerable currency.

  37. Steve Bloom says:

    Hmm, that didn’t work. Go here and search on “clumped isotope thermometry”.

  38. Prokaryotes says:

    Clumped isotope thermometry of modern and early Cretaceous molluscan carbonate from high-latitude seas (Invited)

    Using clumped isotope thermometry applied to early Cretaceous (Valangian) belemnite carbonate from the Yatria River, sub-polar Urals, Siberia, we find shell growth temperatures of 20-26°C at a paleolatitude of ~60-65°N. Our data imply average seawater δ18O values of 0.5-1.5‰ when used in conjunction with published temperature-δ18Ocarb-δ18Osw calibrations. This δ18O range is higher than is traditionally assumed for high-latitude Cretaceous seawater. We argue, however, that such values are plausible and may be related to different basin- or global-scale hydrologies or belemnite body fluid that was in isotopic disequilibrium with the seawater. The paired Δ47 and δ18O from the fossils rule out isotopic exchange with high temperature fluids or later diagenesis in 18O-depleted meteoric waters. We observe no textual or chemical evidence of recrystallization, and we hypothesize that these shells faithfully record early Cretaceous high-latitude seawater temperatures. The inferred temperature range of 20-26°C is substantially higher than 60-70°N modern mean annual sea surface temperature (˜-1.0 to 10.0°C) and mean summer surface temperatures (˜-0.5 to 14.5°C), implying a substantially shallower latitudinal temperature gradient during the early Cretaceous. http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2010AGUFMPP14A..02H

  39. Anonymous says:

    RE # 35

    Ed, great piece and a sad epitaph on President Obama’s first term in office.

    “We all know that Obama squandered that opportunity,”

    Actually he let his first term get “Axelroded”.

    And, your earlier piece on the absolute necessity that we give quality focus to adapting to the climate changes we now have and will, in the coming decade, cannot be overstated.

    At the most local level, at least east of Great Lakes communities must now accept that their snow storms will always be epic and the cost to their tax base and budgets will be epic as well. Of course, that is not the biggest challenge America will face but it gets the point across..but who will get that point across to those mayors. Not the White House, I’m afraid.

    Maybe the future is in the hands of persons such as yourself? Maybe it is your voice that has to find a place in the national dialogue?

    John McCormick

  40. Wit's End says:

    Ted Turner says we have to fully mobilize like WWII to switch to clean energy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mys_AQjM4U0&feature=related

  41. Roger B. says:

    Peter (#13),

    Here is the 7 day temperature projection for northern North America:

    http://wxmaps.org/pix/temp2.html

    Based upon that projection,Nunuvut in particular, will be well above average for the short-term. Through the first 13 days, Iqaluit, Nunuvut has been +23.3 F (12.9 C) above the 1971-2000 average while Goose Bay, Newfoundland has been +15.0 F (8.3 C) above average. While it’s warm in that region, the eastern U.S. and western Europe have been considerably below average.

    Roger Blanchard
    Sault Ste. Marie, MI

  42. Bob Doublin says:

    Okay,it was some sort of typo error that lead to publishing 35 years as the melt-time of Himalayan glaciers when it should have been 350 years. I can’t think anything other than this figure is a WILDLY OPTIMISTIC figure.(Come on,be honest,how many of you think 350 years is even remotely accurate?) What’s the latest thinking on what a MORE REALISTIC figure would be for the Himalayan glaciers to melt (does it really matter if they’re completely gone or just so far gone that they no longer supply adequate runoff?)? And I’d love to hear rumors and not yet published findings because, even if they’re not included in the final paper, THE WAY THINGS ARE GOING THEY’RE PROBABLY CLOSER TO THE TRUTH THAN ANYONE HAS THE COURAGE TO ADMIT. (emphasis added because I don’t have italics on my keyboard)

  43. Chris Winter says:

    Darryl Cunningham has done a creditable job of explaining climate change and its discontents in a comic. He is looking for feedback.

    http://darryl-cunningham.blogspot.com/2010/12/climate-change.html

  44. Leif says:

    I to have no lost love for the Military but have recently been advocating the “We All Win War” or WAWW. For starters we give the rich their tax break but with a string attached. They must invest an equal amount in the Green Awakening Economy to qualify. That money is not given to Congress or the President or Wall Street. It is given to a NEW Green Branch of the of the military with War Time Powers. Labor costs for mitigation become slashed because the largest Civil costs on a project is labor. Within the Military framework our labor costs would approach that of China. We get to train the youth in meaningful jobs, give them a grub stake, get them healthy, clean their system of street drugs, get the non-violent out of prisons, perhaps even a few of the violent ones. No Post Traumatic Syndrome for the retiring. (I have to assume that charged with doing good and saving the future of humanity will leave a good taste in their brains.) The Rich on the other hand will have TANGIBLE ASSETS at a Fraction of the cost of Corporate fingers in the pie. The Nation will not be adding as much to the deficit as we will be building renewable energy to start the healing process. In time and Gentle persuasion, (rummer has it that Water Boarding is cool) the rich will be able to be assimilated. We might even buy enough time to let them die Naturally! Forgot to mention. Denial or misleading contrary unsubstantiated statements are now Treasonable offenses.

    It is a WAR of Survival!

    Our Past is now the Enemy of our Future…

  45. paulm says:

    #41 Wits, wow. That was 2yrs ago.

  46. paulm says:

    The guy is just plain irritating. you wonder how people with intellect can be so dumb…. assed.

    http://redgreenandblue.org/2010/12/14/climate-skeptic-lomborg-proves-we-should-act-on-global-warming/

  47. peter whitehead says:

    Thankyou folks who picked up my Greenland question. Given that we now know the Greenland ice cap is not solid but has a lot of cavities and flow channels through it, these wierd winter condtions must be doing something interesting.