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The year climate science caught up with what top scientists have been saying privately for years

By Joe Romm on January 4, 2010 at 7:54 pm

"The year climate science caught up with what top scientists have been saying privately for years"

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Key aspects of the climate are changing faster than expected and if we stay on our current emissions path, we face catastrophe

In 2009, the scientific literature caught up with what top climate scientists have been saying privately for a few years now:

  • Many of the predicted impacts of human-caused climate change are occurring much faster than anybody expected — particularly ice melt, everywhere you look on the planet.
  • If we stay anywhere near our current emissions path, we are facing incalculable catastrophes by century’s end, including rapid sea level rise, massive wildfires, widespread Dust-Bowlification, large oceanic dead zones, and 9°F warming — much of which could be all but irreversible for centuries.  And that’s not the worst-case scenario!
  • The consequences for human health and well being would be extreme.

That’s no surprise to anybody who has talked to leading climate scientists in recent years, read my book Hell and High Water (or a number of other books), or followed this blog.  Still, it is a scientific reality that I don’t think more than 2 people in 100 fully grasp, so I’m going to review here the past year in climate science.  I’ll focus primarily on the peer-reviewed literature, but also look at some major summary reports.

Let’s start with the basics.  Heat-trapping greenhouse gases are at unprecedented levels, and the paleoclimate record suggests that even slightly higher levels are untenable:

In two key papers, we learned that the planet is warming from those GHGs just where climate science said it would “” the oceans, which is where more than 90% of the warming was projected to end up (see “Skeptical Science explains how we know global warming is happening: It’s the oceans, stupid!“).  The key findings in the second study are summed up in this figure:

Figure [2]: Time series of global mean heat storage (0-2000 m), measured in 108 Jm-2.

That study makes clear that upper ocean heat content, perhaps not surprisingly, is simply far more variable than deeper ocean heat content, and thus an imperfect indicator of the long-term warming trend.

We also learned that this was the hottest decade in the temperature record, that the Arctic is the hottest in at least two millenia, and that, unexpectedly, even Antarctica appears to be warming:

This global warming is driving melting at extraordinary rates every where we look, including places nobody expected:

And given that unexpectedly fast ice melt, it’s no surprise the science now projects much higher and much faster sea level rise than just a few years ago:

We continued to learn about the dangerous positive carbon-cycle feedbacks that threaten to amplify the impacts of human-caused GHGs.

High emissions levels + positive feedbacks = climate catastrophe:

And the plausible worst-case scenario is even worse than this grim “business as usual” emissions case:

And this is not good news for human health and welfare

So the time to act is most certainly now.

I’ll end with the best piece of scientific news I wrote about, which suggests it is not too damn late to act — a NOAA-led study, “Observational constraints on recent increases in the atmospheric CH4 burden” (subs. req’d, NOAA online news story here), which found:

Measurements of atmospheric CH4 from air samples collected weekly at 46 remote surface sites show that, after a decade of near-zero growth, globally averaged atmospheric methane increased during 2007 and 2008. During 2007, CH4 increased by 8.3 ± 0.6 ppb. CH4 mole fractions averaged over polar northern latitudes and the Southern Hemisphere increased more than other zonally averaged regions. In 2008, globally averaged CH4 increased by 4.4 ± 0.6 ppb; the largest increase was in the tropics, while polar northern latitudes did not increase. Satellite and in situ CO observations suggest only a minor contribution to increased CH4 from biomass burning. The most likely drivers of the CH4 anomalies observed during 2007 and 2008 are anomalously high temperatures in the Arctic and greater than average precipitation in the tropics. Near-zero CH4 growth in the Arctic during 2008 suggests we have not yet activated strong climate feedbacks from permafrost and CH4 hydrates.

Woo-hoo!

Yes, early this year I reported that NOAA found “Methane levels rose in 2008 for the second consecutive year after a 10-year lull,” but so far that most dangerous of all feedbacks “” Arctic and tundra methane releases “” does not appear to have been fatally triggered.

The anti-science crowd use smoke and mirrors to distract as many people as possible, but the rest of us need to listen to the science and keep our eyes on the prize — reversing greenhouse gas emissions trends as quickly and rapidly as possible.

Please use the comments to add links to any major studies I didn’t cover here.

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48 Responses to The year climate science caught up with what top scientists have been saying privately for years

  1. Pat says:

    Permafrost melt and methane hydrate melt have not yet set off dangerous feedbacks, and I didn’t have to eat out of a garbage can today. It is a red letter day.

  2. Ken Johnson says:

    In view of these trends, and in light of Sen. Kerry’s Copenhagen statement that “I can’t tell you the method or the means by which we might price carbon”, the question persists:

    Do we have a viable economic policy for achieving even 450 ppm, let alone 350?

  3. Robert Brulle says:

    Stunning summary! This should be required reading for all public officials.
    Robert Brulle PhD
    Drexel University

  4. Tom Kimmerer says:

    As the bad scientific news keeps piling up, we need to face the reality of weather: we have had an exceptionally cold year in North America, and are in the deep freeze right now. People don’t understand climate, but they do understand weather. I suspect that if we were coming off a really hot year, all the climate denial in the world would not move public opinion. Jim Hansen once said that we will take global warming seriously when the man on the street notices. Right now, the man on the street is freezing his butt off.

    As a scientist, I fully accept that global warming is real, serious and a grave threat. I started teaching the science of climate change in the early 1980′s, and it is easy to demonstrate the reality of global warming to science students. For ordinary people, I think we can show all the melting glaciers, climate models and stranded polar bears we want, but if there is no local (i.e. weather) experience to back that up, it is psychologically difficult for people to take the threat seriously.

    The climate deniers appear to be quite successful, but I don’t think they really are. People respond to weather, not to climate and not to right-wing bloviations (as witness the 2008 election). If 2010 is hot in the US, we are likely to get a climate bill. If the cool spell that began this summer continues, we won’t.

  5. From Peru says:

    JR: is there any study of the climate consecuences of a Shutdown of the Termohaline Circulation?

    I could make the following reasoning:

    According to the Ocean Heat Content data, the upper 700 metres of the World Ocean have had little or no warming trend since 2003. This really upsetted Trenberth as most the energy imbalance recorded by satellites of 0.9 W/m^2 apperared to have gone nowhere (see http://www.skepticalscience.com/Understanding-Trenberths-travesty.html).

    Well, that was before the Von Schuckmann (2009)paper “Global hydrographic variability patterns during 2003–2008″ that is the source of the beautiful graph you posted above, showing a warming of 0.77 ± 0.11 Wm^−2 when ocean heat content data is measured down to 2000 meters.

    So this missing heat ended in the Deep Ocean, surely because the warmed surface waters were subducted by the Thermohaline Circulation (an hypothesis totally consistent with the fact, shown in the Von Schuckmann figures, that most of this “Deep Warming” ocurred in the North Atlantic Ocean, were AMOC is present).

    So if the Thermohaline Circulation Shut Down (and that will ocurr if Greenland and/or West Antarctic Ice Sheets collapse) all this heat will remain in the Surface Waters, resulting in a “Blast of Heat” that will show up in the SST first and then in a greatly accelerated Atmospheric Warming (with the possible exception of Europe where the shutdown of the Gulf Stream may result in a strong regional cooling).

    All this worsened by the fact that the Thermohaline Circulation-driven downwelling is the main sink of CO2 in the Oceans. So if the Thermohaline Circulation collapses the Oceanic sink of CO2 will be almost lost.

    JR: is my reasoning correct?
    Will a slowdown or collapse of the Thermohaline Circulation result in a greatly accelerated warming?

    [JR: There seems to be less concern about THC shut down, mainly because it'd probably be post-2100 and the other impacts are so friggin' harsh.]

  6. From Peru says:

    But will it result in a “Blast of Heat” as I said above?

  7. Wit's End says:

    Tom Kimmerer, here’s a graphic that should give even the most oblivious ignorer pause:

    http://www.desdemonadespair.net/2010/01/graph-of-day-mid-tropospheric-carbon.html

    In addition to that I would add, we don’t need wild weather (although we will certainly have it) to convince Joe Q Public that his own level of comfort is threatened by climate change.

    Let’s ask the utility companies, that are hacking down trees as fast as they can mobilize equipment, what their estimate is of the health of the biosphere. And let’s check with insurance companies about their plans to continue to indemnify for floods, mudslides, ice storm and tree damage.

    I think, although I haven’t had time yet to prove, that we will find that the numbers all point to a drastically damaged ecosystem that no economically motivated corporation will be willing to insure.

  8. ken levenson says:

    Great summary.

    Although, with the likes of Andy Revkin not “buying into the catastrophic scenario”, I think you are far too generous to say 2 in 100 get it….
    Even my very over educated friends are mostly out-to-lunch on this and while not “deniers” they are in major league denial about the whole thing….it’s like they just can’t believe it’s THAT bad. …argues for big time public education on the subject….starting with the journalists.

  9. Once again, Joe has nailed it! Now what do we do with it? To build on (#4) Tom Kimmerer’s concerns, I wonder if part of our problem as scientists in communicating with a lay audience is that we do not present a consistent message. Apart from humans being predisposed to being against any apparent threat, the climate deniers are effective because they have a clear, simple and consistent message. On the other hand, due to the very nature of science our message is constantly being altered as new information becomes available. I fear that by being accurate, but inconsistent, we lose our creditability with the lay public.

    In response to (#3) Dr. Brulle’s suggestion, I doubt that the majority of our public officials have the time, or background, to appreciate Joe’s post. Part of my 37-year career as a federal scientist dealt with a effort to distill, and simplify, Agency developed science for a congressional audience. This was a harder task that it would appear.

    I am rapidly becoming convinced that those of us concerned with presenting the climate change message might be wise to re-focus our efforts to embrace three core objectives:

    1.) The reestablishment of the Office of Technology Assessment within Congress. After 20 + years as a Congressional agency, the 200 person OTA was eliminated as a budget reduction action in 1995. Their mission of providing impartial advice and analysis to the Senate and House has not been replaced and is sorely needed as Congress faces increasingly complex, scientific issues.

    2.) Strengthening science education in our schools. As Tom Kimmerer has stated, you really need a solid understanding of science to readily accept the reality of global warming, once achieved the task becomes simple.

    3.) We, as scientists, must learn to effectively communicate with the general public, and then actually do it! I call your attention to an excellent Commentary in the 1/3/2010 Washington Post addressing this topic (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/31/AR2009123101155.html).

    None of it will be easy, and we are perhaps too late, but we can no longer keep hiding in our labs and only communicating with each other.

  10. mike roddy says:

    This is really important work, Joe, thanks. As you’re well aware, most climate scientists do not share their worst case or even likely scenarios with the public, because they are afraid that forecasting catastrophe may lead to what-the-hell inaction. The enormity of the message leads to it being muted, or disguised in technical language.

    One of the few who spoke out ahead of his time was Dr. John Harte of Berkeley, a geochemist who said in blunt language in 2006 that the IPCC models were way too optimistic. Others agreed, and some even privately forecast north of 7C by 2100, but didn’t want to get out on a limb in public. John Harte’s courage inspired me to do my little part, as yours does today.

    Harte’s opinion came from field work in the Rockies, as well as data analysis. He measured terrestrial feedbacks apart from methane that were not even factored by IPCC.

    Your knowledge and forthright language are desperately needed, Joe. We need hundreds more like you, and it’s better that they also have a strong science background. It’s even rarer to find communication skills and the willingness to trade punches in public than it is to find brilliant scientists. Those few who have both of these talents need to step up, and show a similar level of commitment. I’m as puzzled by the majority of them sticking to their clans and standing on the sidelines (except for petition signing) as I am by the whacked out deniers.

    You, Harte, Hansen, and Schneider should not have to be out on a limb. Mass university teach ins, large nonviolent protests in DC, and political organizing need to accelerate, and soon.

  11. Greg Robie says:

    Joe, I think the closing “Whoo-Hoo” is a bit premature. The news release says that the changes in the data collected “are not consistent with sustained changes there yet,” while Arctic terrestrial CH4 release saw a “large jump in the amount of methane measured in that area.” In addition, I have seen reference to 3 stations doing such air sampling in the Arctic. I believe they are all on land in the lower latitudes of the Arctic. Given how moving air and oceanb currents have a way of mixing things up, isn’t the sampling capacity such that the clathrate contribution cannot be measured until it is much further advanced that what was reported in August about the 2008 research—in which most of the released CH4 in “bubble chimneys” was being absorbed before reaching the surface?

    In addition, unless that report quantifies how much anthropogenic CH4 has been removed through mitigation efforts around natural gas production, landfill capping, and rice cultivation practices, as well as what the season shift is for methane between the Farrell and Polar cells, this study’s conclusion should not be use to not fear for the worst. The successful mitigation of anthropogenic CH4 in the middle latitudes of the north may be masking an exponentially growing release of stored carbon and CH4 in the Arctic.

    The increase in the concentration in the south is consistent with both the life span of CH4 in the atmosphere and how it is “pumped” from the north to the south in seasonal undulations, and the successful mitigation efforts in the north that have made what is measured in the south seem relatively higher. 46 measuring stations spread globally is about as good as 3 in the Arctic—just enough to allow one to study and report something as there is almost enough data to rationalize a conclusion.

    I feel the term “yet” included in the above quote from the news release was added because of what is outlined above. At a bear minimum, 2009 data should be included in an immediate update to this work, for methane continued to increase on a global average before wiping one’s brow. Furthermore at a 20 to 30 times greater potency than CO2, conservative assessments about CH4, particularly in regarding the Arctic, can yield . . . well . . . comforting, if wrong, results—like what is summarized in the bulk of this post.

  12. JoeB says:

    You hardly ever talk about disease and pest vectors changing and becoming more powerful as native species and complex systems break down.

  13. jorleh says:

    Why not IFR, Joe?

  14. Mark Brayne says:

    Hi from the UK again – fascinated by this thread, and as a former journo (BBC and Reuters foreign correspondent for half an aeon) and now psychotherapist (same job, really) can I pitch in a thought about responding to aggressive, interrupting questioning as you just faced at Fox, Joe?

    Absolutely right about having a clear message which you plug regardless of the questions – former German foreign minister Genscher as the Cold War was ending (my moment of corresponding glory) always used to answer questions thus: “That’s a really interesting question, Mr Schmidt, and let me say first of all….” and he would be off. By the time he’d finished, Mr Schmidt and his viewers had forgotten the original question, but Genscher had always made his point.

    Second, do look into that damn camera lens, Joe… It’s unnerving, but worth getting used to. Looking away always looks shifty, and it’s just a question of steeling yourself to imagine you’re actually addressing the face of the person asking the questions (or making the interruptive comments, in this case.)

    Fantastic blogging and campaigning work, though – and I continue here in London to work away behind the scenes as best I can, including especially with old friends and colleagues at the BBC, to get this issue covered better than it currently is. Which over here is a universe better than in the US, but still desperately falling short.

  15. Pete Ridley says:

    Joe (whoever you are) perhaps you’d like to reveal who you are and what level of scientific expertise you have in those horrendously complicate climate processes and drivers about which we know so little….

    [snip]

    [JR: This comment is perhaps the most unintentionally revealing I've gotten in a while. Someone who apparently never heard about clicking on the "About" link, or the link on the top of the blog, “The Web's most influential climate-change blogger” — Time Magazine and can't be bothered to go down to the "Recognition" links on the side bar -- claims to be an expert on the scientific literature! Seriously!]

  16. Mike#22 says:

    At least one developed country is responding with a rational plan. Norway. Carbon neutral by 2050, or “If an ambitious global climate agreement is achieved in which other developed countries also take on extensive obligations, Norway will undertake to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 at the latest.”

    http://www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/md/Selected-topics/climate.html?id=1307

  17. Leland Palmer says:

    Wow, great summary, Joe.

    We do need a Manhattan project style program, IMO, with a WWII scale effort.

    What I favor is seizing the coal fired power plants, and forcibly converting them to BECCS:

    From Wikipedia- BECCS (Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage)

    Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a greenhouse gas mitigation technology which produces negative carbon emissions by combining biomass use with carbon capture and storage.[1] It was pointed out in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a key technology for reaching low carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration targets.[2] The negative emissions that can be produced by BECCS has been estimated by the Royal Society to be equivalent to a 50 to 150 ppm decrease in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.[3]

    As the studies referenced by the wikipedia article point out, we could get down to 350 ppm CO2 with BECCS for only about 6 trillion dollars, total- far cheaper than other alternatives. Cost estimates of BECCS also do not take into account possible improvements to Carnot efficiency by adding a topping cycle to the converted BECCS power plants- this improved efficiency could pay for the conversion.

    An added benefit of BECCS is that it would decouple the generation of aerosols from fossil fuel use. So it would be possible to deal simultaneously with both global dimming and global warming. It would be possible to keep aerosol generation high, by burning biomass and perhaps some high sulfur coal without scrubbers, and at the same time actively put CO2 back underground, and do all of these things on a massive scale, operating at a profit.

    Global dimming appears to be a major effect, and this apparently means that the greenhouse warming of the atmosphere has been partially masked by global dimming. This appears to mean that the climate is much more sensitive to CO2 than we previously thought- CO2 forcing has been partially masked by aerosol dimming.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_dimming

    Some scientists now consider that the effects of global dimming have masked the effect of global warming to some extent and that resolving global dimming may therefore lead to increases in predictions of future temperature rise.[43] According to Beate Liepert, “We lived in a global warming plus a global dimming world and now we are taking out global dimming. So we end up with the global warming world, which will be much worse than we thought it will be, much hotter.”[44] The magnitude of this masking effect is one of the central problems in climate change with significant implications for future climate changes and policy responses to global warming.

    So yes, we need a huge mobilization of resources to deal with this problem, acting on a pragmatic rather than an idealistic basis.

    We need to nationalize the coal fired power plants, and use them to actively put CO2 back underground, by retrofitting them to BECCS. BECCS decouples the generation of aerosols from the use of fossil fuels. Having this flexibility, we could then use the BECCS plants to draw down CO2 levels, keeping particulate emissions high in the meantime. Once CO2 levels are down, we could then use the scrubbers on the converted BECCS plants to draw down the particulate levels.

    We need to stop fooling around, seize the coal fired power plants worldwide, and convert them to BECCS. We need the maximum effort that we are capable of making as a species to turn this problem around, and we need it now. BECCS is a viable economic and technological answer to abrupt climate change, IMO.

  18. DavidCOG says:

    Excellent presentation, Joe. Thanks.

    Typo:

    > the science not projects much higher and much faster sea level rise

    not -> now

  19. Pete Ridley says:

    PS: OK Joe, now I’ve now found out about you and your background (before I read your “snipping” of my comment. Perhaps you’d like to show where I ever made QUOTE: claims to be an expert on the scientific literature! UNQUOTE.

    Regards, Pete R

    [JR: The scientific literature is available for anyone to read. I am a physicist who has published in the scientific literature and more germanely, I think, read a significant fraction of the climate science literature -- a must for anyone claiming to accurately represent it -- and also listened to and talked to many dozens of the top climate scientists -- probably even more important for anyone trying to understand and accurately represent it.]

  20. ken levenson says:

    Joe,

    I humbly suggest renaming this post: “Update to Global Warming Impacts – January 2010″ and then put it in the “most popular” list for easy future reference by all.

  21. Sidharth says:

    As always, a wonderful post !!!

    The Global Warming effects have been sustainable till date because people could not really feel the effects on their life or the other reason can be that they don’t have a major monetary gain following this path so they are least interested in joining hands to worry about these Catastrophes…

    But I wonder how come they are not bothered about their loved ones (their children and their Children’s children) who would be massively hit by these ill-effects in the future…

    It is high time for World to think !!!

    A planet lover,
    -Sidharth
    @www.TheWarmist.com

  22. Robert Brulle says:

    Joe:
    I have a question about the warming that Hansen says is “already in the pipeline”. He says we already have .6 C in the pipeline due to the concentration of CO2. I understand that the earth’s temperature is trying to catch up with the CO2 greenhouse effect. How long will it take to realize this? Also, doesn’t this mean that no matter what we do, we cannot slow down warming over the time it takes the temperature to catch up with the atmospheric concentration?
    Bob Brulle

    [JR: We've warmed 0.8 C and another 0.6 C is in the system yes, but the point is to peak and decline fast enough to avoid getting much above 2.0 C. But it would be exceedingly difficult to stop a fair amount of warming over the next few decades.]

  23. Leif says:

    I posted this on another thread but it is appropriate here as well. This looks back over the last 50 years to understand the cumulative “energy imbalance.” This is a work in progress and anyone is welcome to add or disprove the numbers.

    Leland, #47: A huge flashy event you want, How about this? Before Christmas I began a quest to understand just how much energy we are talking about when the “energy imbalance of the earth is now about 0.75 W/m2. So I asked the question. Supposed we melt something BIG? The first thing that came to mind was a modern aircraft carrier. Nimitz Class. ~100,000 tons. I attempted the math with the help of GOOGLE and my 4 year old grand son as a fact checker. The math is not hard but the numbers are big. I am a retired boat builder with a dubious grasp of reality but what the hell. Well the number I came up with was ~4,000 / day every day! Wow! That seemed like a lot and considering holiday induced impaired cognitive thinking I cried for help among the CP readers. I also promised an additional check under improver quality control of the researcher. Second attempt was made and posted on, CP, Dec. 31, “The Hottest Decade….” #50+ Well this time I came up with about 19 million aircraft carriers / day! Double Wow! Faced with error bars big enough to throw you hat thru, another plea for help. Enter Mike#22. He approached the problem from different, (and independent!) perspective and apparently more background and came up with yet another number, (Same site, further down.) Also added a twist of his own. H-Bombs… To summarize: Melt 11 JFK Class Aircraft carriers every second! ~950,000/day! Vaporize 2 carriers/sec! As for H-Bombs… ” Biggest ever detonated” one every 210 seconds, ~400/day! or a standard US W87 warhead? Ta-Da… one every 1.3 seconds or ~66,000 per day!
    Being polite to myself and calling that about 1/2 way between my error bars and awaiting more checks I am going with those numbers. Richard Brenne has sicked his teaching assistant on the problem as well. Perhaps assigning it to their class? So more checks coming in due time. One more thing. If you take an average for the last 50 years? 66,000/2 x 365 x 50 = 602,250,000, give or take, standard US W87 nuclear warheads since 1960!!! Do you think that that might be enough energy to stir up the weather on a global scale from time to time? Warm the oceans ~0.5C? Melt the Polar ice cap in the summer? Again that is 66,000 Nukes a day , every day, and climbing! Perhaps one of these days I will project that out for a “business as usual” projection to the end of the century. Any guesses?
    Well what do you think Leland, is that enough “FLASH” for a Tuesday morning?

  24. Mike#22 says:

    Trenberth gives “The net imbalance in the top of the atmosphere (TOA) radiation is 0.5±0.3 PW (petawatt) (0.9 W -2) out of a net flow through the climate system of about 122 PW of energy”
    http://www.aps.org/units/fps/newsletters/200904/trenberth.cfm

    A W87 warhead yields 1.3 PJ (petajoule). One W87′s worth of heat every 2 or 3 seconds.

    Leif, good way to illustrate the situation.

  25. Leif says:

    Thank you Mike#22: I tried to point out that this is a work in progress so that the A-SS Hole faction can weigh in. However assuming that you are not on the payroll of some AGW think tank and stating, under oath, that I am an independent “researcher” with minimal scientific climatic “paper” that ought to count for something among the A_S folks. I have no doubt that given the brain power floating around this site other numbers will be offered in due time and “Error Bars” will constrict. I believe we can safely say at the moment “a whole lot of energy.”

    The thought occurred to me that we should evaporate Olympic Size swimming pools. That would represent ADDITIONAL water vapor in the atmosphere to fall as rain or hay, if it is winter, SNOW!

    The sight that I used showed a current “imbalance” of 0.75 w/m2 but that was a graph current high point and average would probably come closer to your number of 0.5 w/m2 as the graph fluctuates.

  26. Chris Winter says:

    Joe,

    Please correct the highlighted typo. It obviously should be “science now projects”.

    “And given that unexpectedly fast ice melt, it’s no surprise the science not projects much higher and much faster sea level rise than just a few years ago:”

    [JR: Thanks.]

  27. Craig says:

    I think Tom Kimmerer has it right. For most people, reality is what they experience directly. When it comes to climate, mostly they see and feel weather. And they have a pretty short memory of that, remembering only the most unusual occurances.

    According to the graphs, we have had ~0.5C (~1F) increase in average temperature since the 1940′s. That encompasses the life span of most of us. Now does anyone really believe that you can personally feel and observe a 0.14F increase in average temperature per decade? If you are like most people, the best you can do is to estimate, within a couple of degrees, the temperature that you are experience right now. Forget about averaging that over 3,650 days, and coming up with a figure good to a tenth of a degree.

    As for the rest of it: melting ice is easy to see on film. But it is hard to put into context, and most of us have pleasant thoughts about melting ice – winter is over, spring is coming, etc. Most of the rest of JR’s Scientific Reality is made up of graphs and trend lines and predictions. For most people, graphs and trend lines and predictions are not reality, they are just part of the daily information overload. That may even be true for many scientists: knowing something intellectually, and really feeling it in your gut are two different things.

  28. Leif says:

    Mike#22: Being that the above “energy imbalance understanding problem” above is as much about understanding “SCIENCE” as getting the “correct answer” we must not shy away from numerical discrepancies at the beginning of our endeavor. Instead we should be focusing on achieving a new intuitive understand and awareness of events that are before our eyes yet still out of sight.

    So using your new corrected numbers we have: 60/( 2+3/2) x 60 x 24 = 34,560 (W87 Warheads a day) not the 66,000 stated above. Bringing our grand 50 year total to about 300,000,000 Nukes. Not an insignificant number in anyones book I would think.

  29. Robert Brulle says:

    Joe:
    I still need to answer my students question, and maybe I can get help from some of your readers. We still have .6 degrees of warming “in the pipeline.” Even if we stabilized CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere right now, how long would we go on warming anyway because of the energy imbalance?

    A related question, is there some limit on how fast atmospheric temperatures can increase? Obviously, we are behind where the CO2 concentrations will ultimately take us, hence the “pipeline”. Can global
    warming rates accelerate or is this limited by the thermal mass of the earth?

    Bob Brulle

  30. David B. Benson says:

    Robert Brulle — For your first question, the time to near equilibrium depends upon how close you want. Given that the deep ocean has to equilibriate as well, maybe a dozen centuries is a fair approximation.

    For you second question, the warming rate depends entirely upon the forcings. If more methane starts coming out of permafrost and, worse, methyl clathrates, then the rate will increase (assuming we don’t slow down burning fossil fuels).

    [Second attempt to post this.]

  31. Mr. Language Person says:

    And given that unexpectedly fast ice melt, it’s no surprise the science not projects much higher and much faster sea level rise than just a few years ago:

    “not projects?” Mr. Language Person wants clarification.

  32. J4zonian says:

    ah, I see it’s been corrected. Never mind. Feel free to delete these 2 posts.

  33. Wit's End says:

    Craig, I can remember going to the New Year’s Mummer’s Parade in Philadelphia and being totally shocked that everyone was wearing short sleeves, it was so warm. Also, the crabapple trees were blooming. This year, in New Jersey, the daffodils emerged in December. I think most people could tell similar tales, but it’s more comfortable to ignore such memories.

  34. Colin Crawford says:

    Bob Brulle, see the article at 2nd link from the very top of this article. That should give you a good starting point to answer those questions.

  35. espiritwater says:

    “but so far that most dangerous of all feedbacks — Arctic and tundra methane releases — does not appear to have been fatally triggered.”

    To Joe: there is a video on the Internet called, “A Very Inconvenient Truth” with Dan Miller, who works with Al Gore. He put a slide up which I copied the data from. According to this slide,

    PERMA FROST– contains twice as much CO2 as the entire atmosphere and it’s melting now!

    **Stores methane gas …
    **melting now and already releasing 50 M tons/year
    **entire region on verge of collapse
    **this is a near term tipping point
    **will overwhelm human actions to reduce CO2 emissions

    This is in contrast to what you wrote (mentioned in my first sentence). Could you please explain? Thanks!

  36. espiritwater says:

    To Ken Levenson: I know some very intelligent, highly-educated people who refuse to think that climate change could possibly be real. They refuse to entertain the thought, no matter what you say! And there are others, who perhaps have very limited education, and they “get it” right away!! So I think we need to keep plugging away; we never know who will understand perfectly and spread the information to others.

  37. Ah Duhh says:

    Please explain why this data CLEARLY shows a DIRECT correspondence between recent GLOBAL temperatures, yet you claim it should be ignored.

    http://www.pmodwrc.ch/pmod.php?topic=tsi/virgo/proj_space_virgo#VIRGO_Radiometry

  38. Friends – First, I am not a scientist. I am a business person and have been deeply engaged in the “business movement” for responsible business for 25 years. New Voice of Business is an organization of businesses and business people dedicated to mobilizing business to support public policy and change within and change of our business and the current business paragigm toward a life affirming / sustainable way of doing business and living life.

    I agree with James Brown in #9 above – AND would also add that scientists working with business is a vital element in moving climate change to the forefront. Let’s face it – most climate deniers and skeptics arise from the billions of dollars spent by major business interests (fossil fuel companies, etc.)to create enough doubt to stop us inour tracks – taken out of the tobacco playbook.

    Those of us in business on the more progresive side of the ledger and most interested in the “truth” as best we know, would be very appreciative of a collaborative relationship with the best of the scientific community. That would help give serious and credible voice to not only the real dangers we face, but would also bolster our argument that climate change and the transition to the clean renewable energy future is THE most significant business / investment / job creation opportunity ever faced by humanity.

    If you are interested, I look forward to hearing from you. Elliot Hoffman – business guy, father of two wonderful kids

  39. liz says:

    I have understood the gravity of global warming ever since An Inconvenient Truth.I also understand peoples issue around “Truth” when in Australia we hear the experts delighting in our constant warming over several years and yet over in Europe they are getting the coldest winters in years.What is the connection if any because this will be the fight that elections will have and as a Greenie it breaks my heart to think that the inability of scientists to put the message out there honestly and simply is actually helping these dreadful Industries who sold their souls to the devil.

  40. espiritwater says:

    David Bensen– My brother wrote to me that there are certain places in the Indian ocean where saturation has already taken place and there’s a “giving up” of CO2. He said he saw it on a PBS Special– Frontline documentary.

  41. Clothcap says:

    Still waiting for evidence. Belief counts for nothing. Cloud feedback is increasingly looking to be negative. If it proves to be so, waffling about CO2 being harmful will be just so much attention grabbing.

    [JR: Peer-reviewed literature finds cloud feedback is not negative. If you're going to make stuff up, post elsewhere.]

  42. Bud Man says:

    Thanks Joe, a(nother) fantastic effort, leveraging all your earlier work of course. Keep it up.
    – Bud

  43. James Newberry says:

    Dead Man Walking: According to my understanding of the recent work by Dickens at Rice University, Pagani at Yale and Oppenheimer at Princeton the current carbon dioxide equivalent level of 430 ppme exceeds that of a previous geologic age when the two polar ice caps did not exist. Does not this mean that some seven million cubic miles of land ice are headed our way, as two hundred feet of sea level rise? Have we not reverted “toward barbarism” by releasing the matter (carbon as CO2) sequested over the evolution of life, that gave us ice caps? Have we not reversed time so to speak by using all the sun’s fusion radiation that went into the hydrogen-carbon bond? Have we confused matter with energy in “economic theory?” Do we not have a systemic failure of imminent tragic consequence, unless we attempt to act immediately as one humanity?

    Conclusion: oil, or other buried hydrocarbon material, is not an energy resource. Dead men walking.

  44. toby says:

    “A REALLY Inconvenient Truth” can be seen at:

    http://fora.tv/2009/08/18/A_REALLY_Inconvenient_Truth_Dan_Miller

    Joe, great site.

  45. labman57 says:

    One issue that is rarely considered when discussing global CO2 concentrations is the effect of the oceans as a carbon dioxide buffer. A drop in atmospheric CO2 will not have a major impact on plant life due to the availability of oceanic CO2 that can be released (analogous to a time-release capsule).

    However, it is possible to overload the buffering capability of the oceans by dumping too much CO2 into the atmosphere, and this is one of the concerns that climatologists consider when looking at long-term climate change projections.

    When the oceanic carbon buffer is overwhelmed, the net result is an increase in the ocean’s acidity, and this can have numerous consequences, one being a devastating impact on the many invertebrate species that rely on a calcium carbonate outer covering.

  46. Irv Beiman says:

    Terrific Summary. I have sent it out to 50 people in my network. This summary is enough to motivate most anyone to action, but the challenge at that point is: WHAT ACTION [CAPS used for emphasis here, not shouting].

    I propose consideration of a modified framework and methodology, an earlier version of which has been used globally to manage strategies for commercial success in large complex Chinese organizations [those same organizations that are contributing to our collective multi-species demise]

    This framework is an initial step toward integrating three content domains: strategy execution, sustainability & resilience. A massive effort is needed at multiple levels: 1 global, 2 regional/national, 3 organizational, 4 cities/communities. The Comprehensive Framework for Resilient Sustainability [CFRS] uses a documented and replicable methodology for systematically taking action to achieve strategic intent.
    Got to google docs folder to download 2 published article and 3 strategy maps: http://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0B0NdbqiXpgrDYmU1NmU3M2MtN2NlNy00ZjVjLTg0ODYtNzI2M2FjOTRiYTRi&hl=en

    Climate Progress and your readers are a well intentioned, frustrated and highly intelligent lot. There is enormous pent up energy being wasted! We need to figure out how to turn that potential energy into work that will accelerate the deployment of solutions in multiple critical arenas.

    I suggest that CP begin including a thread focused on RESILIENT SUSTAINABILITY, with SMEs [subject matter experts] for each of the critical strategic objectives you “accept” and choose to ALIGN with.

    CP could design its own organizational strategy map to clarify what are its critical objectives? How will CP’s progress toward achieving those objectives be measured? What are the critical strategic intiiatives that are resourced to achieve those objectives? How will the process of executing CP’s strategy be managed? How will it be adjusted?

    Think of CP no longer as simply the best website in the world for climate information and analysis. Begin changing how you view and conceive of CP. Think of CP as a vehicle for powerful ACTION. That action might be words used as catalysts for action further afield. That action might be to serve an integrating function for currently silo’ed efforts to achieve rapid effective change. That action might be to coordinate across multiple geographic borders and organizational boundaries to create alignment for resilient sustainability.

    CP certainly made a superhuman valiant effort prior to COP15, but that strategy failed. I suggest that we can no longer wait for the policy wonks and political decision makers to decide our collective future. We are abrogating our responsibility to future generations if we do so. The challenge, though, is how to organize for an alternative effort, a movement toward Resilient Sustainability.

    We have to take the next step, enter the next stage, and create the global actionable infrastructure for changing our collective future.

    We have the intelligence, communication tools and energy to do this. What we have not had is a framework for organizing it, and a methodology for taking systematic action.

    The articles on Resilient Sustainability are simply one small step in this direction.

    Comments, suggestions and critique are welcome.

    irv beiman shanghai, china
    bu3690@gmail.com skype: irvbeiman

  47. kapadokya says:

    Hi from the UK again – fascinated by this thread, and as a former journo (BBC and Reuters foreign correspondent for half an aeon) and now psychotherapist (same job, really) can I pitch in a thought about responding to aggressive, interrupting questioning as you just faced at Fox, Joe?

    Absolutely right about having a clear message which you plug regardless of the questions – former German foreign minister Genscher as the Cold War was ending (my moment of corresponding glory) always used to answer questions thus: “That’s a really interesting question, Mr Schmidt, and let me say first of all….” and he would be off. By the time he’d finished, Mr Schmidt and his viewers had forgotten the original question, but Genscher had always made his point.

    Second, do look into that damn camera lens, Joe… It’s unnerving, but worth getting used to. Looking away always looks shifty, and it’s just a question of steeling yourself to imagine you’re actually addressing the face of the person asking the questions (or making the interruptive comments, in this case.)

    Fantastic blogging and campaigning work, though – and I continue here in London to work away behind the scenes as best I can, including especially with old friends and colleagues at the BBC, to get this issue covered better than it currently is. Which over here is a universe better than in the US, but still desperately falling short.