March 29 News: Just Because Climate Change Is Irreversible Doesn’t Mean It Is Unstoppable

Confusion over what cutting carbon emissions will do is complicating the whole issue, says a new article in Science. [Climate Central]

There is widespread confusion about the near-term benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and that misunderstanding may be complicating the formidable task of reducing manmade global warming, argue two climate researchers in Science in a story published Thursday.

The scientists, Damon Matthews of Concordia University in Montreal and Susan Solomon of MIT, make the case that policymakers, the media, and to some extent the public have misunderstood the implications of two key concepts — the “irreversibility” of climate change, and the amount of global warming already in the pipeline due to historical greenhouse gas emissions.

The duo challenge what they say have become pervasive misinterpretations of recent scientific results, including findings from a 2010 National Research Council report they helped write that said that the amount of global warming to date is essentially irreversible on the timescale of about 1,000 years. That study has been repeatedly cited by policymakers to justify delays in tackling carbon emissions by making global warming appear to be inexorable, regardless of what actions are taken.

But Matthews and Solomon rebut that justification, writing instead that, “the irreversibility of past changes does not mean that future warming is unavoidable.”

In addition, they said the notion that global warming would continue to take place even if the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were to be frozen at current levels — rather than increasing year-after-year as they are now — has also helped justify inaction.

Automakers are embracing hybrid technology, with more models increasing their efficiency in response to mandates. [Detroit News]

EPA is moving forward with rules for limiting sulfur in gasoline and fleet-wide pollution limits on new cars by 2017. [Washington Post]

A new survey finds Americans acknowledge the risks and impacts of climate change, yet little desire to pay to adapt to them. [Guardian]

Central Texas is slipping into extreme drought, with low lakes and reservoirs straining water supplies. [Austin American-Statesman]

The last three months in California have been the driest January-March on record, and the Sierra Nevada has half the snowpack as normal. [LA Times]

The extended drought is also extending into New Mexico, Oregon, Montana, Oklahoma, and much of the Western U.S. [Climate Central]

The House GOP released their energy plan which calls for more drilling and mining and fracking. [Washington Post]

A new study says that it’s possible Sandy-like superstorms could make their way to Europe this century as greenhouse gas emissions affected storm formation in the Atlantic. [New Scientist]

32 Responses to March 29 News: Just Because Climate Change Is Irreversible Doesn’t Mean It Is Unstoppable

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks for the clarification from Solomon and Matthews. People are always looking for an excuse to do nothing, and the “it’s hopeless anyway” is one of the sillier ones. The future is a curve with spikes, and effective measures to reduce emissions are all valuable.

    Some oil company people privately repeat the “we’re screwed anyway” meme. This is selfish and cowardly.

  2. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    There’s a side of me that wants very badly to believe Mr. Savory. Then there’s the other side that equates his story with winning the Nigerian Lottery. I’ll be receiving my $10M prize shortly after sending them $6K to cover “shipping and handling”.
    As the earth heats up, the equatorial updraft that gives rise to Hadley cells will gain intensity; which will lead to the expansion of the cells; which will push the cell’s downdraft poleward; which will move desertification poleward; which will result in new deserts in southern US, southern Europe, etc. Should we turn these areas into grassland pastures now, getting ahead of the curve.
    Corrections please. PLEEEZ!!

  3. Joan Savage says:

    Mr. Savory has a nice project but he hasn’t demonstrated that grasslands alone could meet key quantitative requirements to “reverse” climate change.

    If he stopped making overblown claims for it, grassland re-establishment is still a good thing to do. It’s just not the only thing that could help.

    Could grasslands devour the excess carbon widely distributed in the atmosphere (183 billion tonnes of carbon as of last year), as well as keep up with new carbon inputs, and do all that so quickly that the oceans cool down and the Arctic re-freezes, before.. I hope you get the idea.

  4. prokaryotes says:

    A new study says that it’s possible Sandy-like superstorms could make their way to Europe ..

    BATTEN down the hatches, western Europe. Come the end of the century, superstorm Sandys could be battering your beaches. In the Bay of Biscay, the model predicts the average number of yearly hurricanes will increase from one to six

    OMG, France with all it’s nuclear plants…and the Bay of Biscay is exactly in the middle of Western Europe, affecting London, Spain…

  5. prokaryotes says:

    Climate Change Is Now Less Of a Problem. So We Need To Do Less About Climate Change

    Forbes author Tim Worstall, explains… SLASH 10nfM6i

  6. prokaryotes says:

    Biochar slashes bioenergy soil emissions

    Adding charcoal to land used to grow bioenergy crops can greatly increase their overall benefit in helping cut our greenhouse-gas emissions, scientists have shown.

  7. prokaryotes says:

    It’s been a long, dark winter in Germany. In fact, there hasn’t been this little sun since people started tracking such things back in the early 1950s. Easter is around the corner, and the streets of Berlin are still covered in ice and snow. But spring will come, and when the snow finally melts, it will reveal the glossy black sheen of photovoltaic solar panels glinting from the North Sea to the Bavarian Alps.
    Solar panels line Germany’s residential rooftops and top its low-slung barns. They sprout in orderly rows along train tracks and cover hills of coal mine tailings in what used to be East Germany. Old Soviet military bases, too polluted to use for anything else, have been turned into solar installations.
    Twenty-two percent of Germany’s power is generated with renewables. Solar provides close to a quarter of that. The southern German state of Bavaria, population 12.5 million, has three photovoltaic panels per resident, which adds up to more installed solar capacity than in the entire United States.

  8. prokaryotes says:

    Worst stall …. lol

  9. Jim says:

    This guy doesn’t really deserve your attention. He’s been spewing his nonsense in Forbes for some time now.

    And this article is… well…. more of the same.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Worst of All has a CV that just invites contempt. UK Independence Party, Adam Smith Institute, etc, a Rightwing waste of carbon.

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    So they put solar installations on waste ground, rather than their precious areas of biodiversity richness. Sounds sensible to me.

  12. fj says:

    ‘There is no Plan B; there is no Planet B’

    Published on Feb 12, 2013
    The challenges we face for our climate, environment and sustainable development are daunting. But the spirit of those who are working on these problems, and the solutions they put forward, are promising. Highlights from the Earth Institute’s 2012 State of the Planet conference.

  13. Jenny says:

    Portions of the new Matthews & Solomon paper seem to conflict with one another as well as with Solomon 2009 and Matthews and Caldeira 2008. For example, can someone please explain how the following statements in the new paper can both be true?
    — “There would indeed be unrealized warming associated with current CO2 concentrations, but only if they were held fixed at current levels…”
    — “If emissions were to cease abruptly, global average temperatures would remain roughly constant for many centuries…”

  14. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Quite right, any ground cover is better than none but is insufficient. And as I have noted here before, his claims for Australia are contradicted by 200 years of evidence of destruction by hooved animals, ME

  15. Joan Savage says:

    Atlantic Coast to Coast storm

    –Newfoundland to Portugal
    –Category 3 characteristics in the storm center
    –Expected to break up before reaching Europe

    Aerial photo and flawed headline at:

  16. David B. Benson says:

    Here is a plan which is much more likely to work:

    Irrigated afforestation of the Sahara and Australian Outback to end global warming

    although it would be expen$ive.

  17. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I hate knocking what seems like a good idea but it’s not just the $ costs. It is also the fact that if nothing grows now, it’s probably that the soil is so nutrient poor that even hardy old natives can’t survive. Artesian supplies are low and at the moment, we are cutting irrigation because we have to return more of it to the Murray-Darling system to try and save it. Just about every change we have made to this poor old country has proven disastrous and ideas such as building channels from the sea to Lake Eyre (below sea level and dry again after 4 wet years) are always found to be full of holes, ME

  18. BobbyL says:

    If global emissions keep increasing by about 3-4% annually we will probably reach 6C and beyond, a level of temperature increase that may be incompatible with civilization as we know it. Is it really that hard to understand that emissions should be reduced?

  19. David B. Benson says:

    Desalinate and pump fresh water for irrigation. Plant acacias to fix nitrogen where needed. Add PK fertilizer if required. Just takes lots of money.

  20. Merrelyn Emery says:

    David, I can guess what PK means from the periodic table but it sounds like more of the same, and we already have desals. What we need here is more respect for the uniqueness of this country and learning from our first people who did respect it and looked after it for 60,000+ years. Hopefully, some of them will make it into the future, ME

  21. Spike says:

    Hilariously in the UK, a land which long ago surrendered its engineering and manufacturing supremacy, we still get self opinionated poltroons pontificating in the meeja about how ignorant, stupid and unworkable the Energiewende is, even as its success emerges daily as the Germans beaver away industriously on problem solving. Truly pathetic.

  22. Spike says:

    A wind energy company’s view of the fossil fuelled dirty tricks in the UK meeja:

  23. Joan Savage says:

    We are getting too late for money as real resources become fundamentally limiting.

    “Then there is the impending shortage of two fertilizers: phosphorus (phosphate) and potassium (potash). These two elements cannot be made, cannot be substituted, are necessary to grow all life forms, and are mined and depleted….”

    “The world’s blind spot when it comes to the fertilizer problem is seen also in the shocking lack of awareness on the part of governments and the public of the increasing damage to agriculture by climate change; for example, runs of extreme weather that have slashed grain harvests in the past few years.”

    – Jeremy Grantham

    Link to Grantham’s full column in Nature:

    Link to Joe Romm’s blog about Grantham:

  24. wili says:

    Actually, if everyone did essentially nothing–specifically if they did no burning of fossil fuels–our gw problems would be much reduced.

    In stead, all of us are ‘doing’ quite a lot–mostly making things much worse by burning up fossil fuels.

    The fact is that some scientists have, in fact concluded, that even with immediate cessation of further CO2 emissions, we are likely to see continued increases in atmospheric levels of that gas for centuries, because of the feedbacks that are now kicking in.

    I take that as a call to be even more careful to minimize my own contribution to the problem (no flying, hardly any meat eating or driving…) and to put even more pressure on others to make required changes, especially those with the most power.

    We shouldn’t fall into the denialist mind set of ignoring science that we find inconvenient, no matter which way it falls.

  25. wili says:

    I agree.

    But do keep in mind that native grasses and flowers are not just ‘ground cover.’ Up to 95% of their mass is in the root system, which can go more than five meters down. That can store a lot of carbon. And in the mid latitudes, prairie restoration is preferable to forestation, because of albedo issues.

    But, as I have pointed out on other forums, thinking that any one approach will ‘solve’ all gw problems it overly simplistic, at best.

    Grass and cattle (or bison), no matter how well managed. And water is exactly what is disappearing from much of the American West, the Plains states, and most other areas that would otherwise be good candidates for this approach.

  26. wili says:

    Oops, the first sentence of that last paragraph should read:

    “Grass and cattle (or bison), no matter how well managed, still need water to survive–lots of it for cattle, less for native prairie grasses.”

  27. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s exactly the same in Australia. The Murdoch obscenity dominates our print MSM, and its flag-shit, ‘The Australian’, is running a determined campaign against wind power, pushing the utterly fraudulent mass hysteria of ‘wind turbine syndrome’. Its ‘Anti-Environment Editor’ leads the push, which is nicely Orwellian. The previous ‘Anti-Environment Editor’ was recruited straight from the coal industry. You couldn’t make this stuff up. And, needless to say, the Murdoch infection hates environmentalists with blind fury, and expends a great deal of effort on relentlessly vilifying, demonising and defaming them.

  28. J4zonian says:

    In areas that can’t be forested because of lack of water, elevation or ??, this could be a great program. But in areas that are or were or could be forested, I think food forests are a better use of the land.

    It may have a disadvantage in albedo but the multiple levels of production, physically as in canopy, small trees, shrubs, herbs, ground cover, vines and root crops and conceptually with food, fiber, mulch, medicine, and other products should more than make up for it. A good part of the North American plains were created out of forest, marginal forest and savannah by burning, cutting and grazing; forest could be re-established there. “Lose your forest, lose your rain” is a popular saying in permaculture; many examples of reclamation projects are available without livestock. Savory’s grassland program is not the only way to reclaim degraded land. Though I have no research to back it up (yet) I strongly believe that food forest would outsequester grassland in most circumstances. Properly applying succession, such carbon sequestration should happen faster and continue longer at a faster rate. Use of a diversity of plants allows many products as well as many root levels to increase carbon deposition.

    For more on this, see the amazing 2 volume Edible Forest Gardens, Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, and

  29. J4zonian says:

    Or you could just use permaculture. No nitrogen needed, hnot much money…

  30. J4zonian says:

    I just read Grantham’s essay, and am amazed and astounded and yet not surprised at all by the fact that he/we think/s these things are problems. The answers to them are perfectly clear and yet nearly impossible to implement, because of entrenched bunches of rich people organized into corporations and congregations.

    Upcoming shortages in fertilizers can be responded to with permaculture guilds—essentially, constructed ecological communities in which each member helps the other members. Some fix nitrogen (beans, e.g.) others absorb from the soil and accumulate various other nutrients including the P (Phosphorus) and K (Potassium) of the N-P-K number on every bag of fertilizer. But acceptance of permaculture techniques among those who actually produce most of our food has been about as good as acceptance of commuter bicycles by the officers and board of Exxon-Mobil. Industrial agriculture corporations prefer techniques like GMOs and systemic poisoning that have no hope of raising yields or feeding any more people and in fact are likely to lead to crash.

    So growth in grain production is down to the population growth rate, and while population growth rate is slowing, so is grain production increase, once warming, flooding, burning, storming and droughting really kick in. He says there’s no safety margin, but the world grows enough grain alone to feed everybody on Earth 2500-3600 Calories/day. That doesn’t include fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, mushrooms, and second-day homegrown homemade Tom Kha. And the grain we feed to livestock would feed 3 ½ billion extra people, who are now starving or close to it. All we have to do to tap that safety margin is eat dramatically less meat and use the land to feed people directly, while using guilds like the traditional Native American Three Sisters to increase yields. (Jane Mt. Pleasant of Cornell has gotten a 20% increase in Caloric yield/acre over monocultures.) But of course, everyone who reads that knows the idea is ridiculous; we won’t reduce our meat consumption that much. It requires what the rich would consider sacrifice, even though it isn’t. I’ve loved my vegetarian diet for more than 30 years; it’s no sacrifice at all. But get half a billion rich white meat eaters to do it just because it will make the difference between billions dying and…not? Yeah, good one. And therein lies our problem. Everything else is at the same time monumentally difficult and unbelievably easy; all that’s required is a sufficient application of foot-pounds per square inch on enough square inches, and WWII, the moon landing, and the size of the world’s collective arsenal of deadly weapons proved we can do that. We can speed up and solve those, and we’ll either be in time or we won’t. The real problem, the problem behind the problem, requires slowing down. That’s never been done by any whole society in history as far as I know, because to do that allows us to feel everything we speed up to avoid feeling. There are lots of costs to avoiding utter cataclysm now, that may be the biggest.

  31. Lou Grinzo says:

    I strongly disagree with your first sentence.

    If we stopped all fossil fuel burning immediately, we would experience a huge surge of additional warming, thanks to the sulfate aerosols (mostly from coal) that would drop out of the atmosphere in months. Man-made aerosols currently shield us from a lot of warming, and eliminating them completely would likely increase the rate of warming by over 50% (according to the IPCC’s 2007 report).