Dear Vice-President Pence:
Thank you for taking note of the "paramount" importance of climate change as an issue for "the left." Too often, folks on "the right" don't recognize this. I understand that you are not sure why this concern exists--so by way of thanks, let me try to explain.
There are four main points that go to the gravity of the situation we face:
- Climate change is real, and is mostly due to human activity.
- Climate change is serious.
- Climate change is urgent.
- Climate change is irreversible.
Let's take these points in turn.
1) Climate change is real.
This may sound a bit banal. But folks on the right often don't grasp this, because they too often limit their information to sources such as Fox News, Breitbart, and 'alt-right' media. Such sources have focused largely on the scientific uncertainty that exists, and not on what actually is known. Folks who have been trained to focus only on uncertainties are naturally not going to be too worried.
They may also tend to ascribe their opponents' view to some sort of "faith". It has thus become a cliche for some that "climate alarmism" is a cult. This quite often extends even to the cartoonish view that "alarmists" are just a group of deluded "believers" duped into "drinking the Koolaid" of a vast New World Order climate conspiracy. Indeed, President Trump himself approached this extreme with his famous but erroneous characterization of climate change as a 'Chinese hoax.'
However, "belief" is a slippery word. One may "believe", as Saint Paul puts it, "through a glass darkly." Or one may "believe" what one sees clearly, in the full sunlight of plain evidence clearly presented.
As it happens, there is massive, credible evidence of the reality of climate change. It is presented in the professional scientific literature, and it is publicly available from many sources. Notably, it is summarized in the five Assessment Reports so far published by the International Panel on Climate Change.
There is no source more authoritative--nor, if one is willing to examine it fairly, less 'cultish.' The conclusion of all this research? Climate change is happening, and is mostly due to human activity--especially the burning of fossil fuel.
These reports are not (as some think) conducted by the UN--the IPCC is an independent, outside body. Nor are they new, original research. Rather, each Assessment Report is a synthesis or summary of what the professional scientific literature says, written by hundreds of scientists working without pay. Each is, quite literally, based upon many thousands of research papers. Each is painstakingly peer-reviewed and subjected to an open comment process. Essentially, each is a snapshot of the state of the science of climate change.
2) Climate change is serious.
The scientific literature, including the Assessment Reports, finds serious consequences. Not all are negative, to be sure; for instance, Canadian and Russian agriculture will benefit from a longer growing season. But existing plants and animals (including us!) are adapted to historic conditions. That adaptation means that the more climate departs from previous norms, the more difficulties those plants and animals will have--the more difficulties we will all have.
These negative consequences include, among other things:
- Decreased productivity of outdoor labor, particularly in the tropics and sub-tropics;
- Increased health threats from invasive diseases;
- A wave of biological extinctions;
- A wave of ecological disruptions, affecting air, water and soil quality;
- Heat waves far beyond what we are accustomed to;
- More frequent and more severe drought;
- More severe and frequent extreme precipitation;
- Continued and accelerating sea level rise.
Quite a few of these consequences are already observable trends today. Put together, they imply a world in which agriculture will be much more difficult, more insecure, and less productive. (Remember that all our food crops were bred for the relatively stable climate we've enjoyed over the last few millennia.)
Unchecked, these consequences would bring us a world poorer, sicker, less secure, and far less productive than today. Humans would struggle against starvation and disease, would be displaced from many places around the world, and would be dogged by high levels of violent civil and military conflict--basically, the antithesis of what any of us would want for ourselves, or for our children.
It is a world hard to imagine, certainly. And it is a deeply unpleasant and disturbing prospect. This naturally tempts us to believe that this world is also impossible. It is a natural psychological defense.
But many historic changes were hard to imagine in advance. The Black Death; the European incursions that devastated pre-Columbian native American populations; the Holocaust; the fall of the Soviet Union; the peaceful end of apartheid in South Africa--all these 'unimaginables' happened, regardless of the desires or expectations of those who enjoyed or suffered them.
There is no sign in the available evidence that climate change is any different.
3) Climate change is urgent.
The third thing is that we are now committing ourselves to just such a dystopian future. There are familiar analogies--"One needs a certain amount of time to steer a car out of an impending collision," or "It is much better to stop amassing debt before defaulting on the mortgage." Similarly, it takes time to restructure whole economies and societies upon sustainable lines. Our carbon-dependent world, like the Titanic, cannot turn on a dime. We need time to change.
Unfortunately, the time we have is relatively limited. The scientific literature tells us that there is something called the "carbon budget." That is a shorthand term for the idea that if one wishes to avoid dangerous climate change, one can emit only so much carbon.
Specifically, as of 2016, our remaining carbon budget was 816 gigatonnes. That is, limiting total future emissions to that total would give us a two-thirds chance of avoiding a warming amounting to 2 Celsius degrees. (That's the amount of warming conventionally deemed "sort of safe"--although, increasingly, there is agreement that 1.5 degrees would be much safer.) 2015 global emissions were about 42 GT, which in turn means that if we froze our emissions at 2015 levels, our chances of staying 'sort of safe' would drop below the two-thirds level in approximately 2035.
Put so, it sounds a bit banal, a bit bland, a bit hard to grasp. But one could rephrase it. One could compare climate change to the classic form of the suicide game 'Russian roulette', which uses a six-shot revolver loaded with just one cartridge. In that analogy, by 2035, flat-lined 2015 emissions rates would have us playing "climate roulette" with two cylinders loaded.
But that's just theoretical; in reality, emissions have been increasing. Objects in the crystal ball are closer than they appear.
4) Climate change is irreversible.
This fourth thing is true--but not in an unqualified way. In the geological record, the Earth has passed through both very warm and very cold phases in the deep past--"snowball" and "hothouse" Earths, as they are called.
Given enough time, human-induced warming will again naturally reverse itself. Carbon dioxide in the air will continue to react with rocks as they weather, and the result will be carbon-containing chemicals that erode away, to be deposited in the ocean depths. That carbon will have been "sequestered" away from the climate system. Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations will decrease.
The trouble is the speed of these processes--or rather, the lack of speed in these processes. It will be as much as 100,000 years before the present carbon 'slug' dissipates. By contrast, all of recorded human history spans just a few thousand years. In humanly meaningful terms, a hundred millennia is an effective eternity. In human terms, though not geological ones, climate change is irreversible.
If climate change is real, serious and urgent, then a rational response is to address it--and doubly so since it is effectively irreversible. Climate change is not inherently an issue for the left or for the right. Historically, Republicans and Democrats have been found on both sides of the issue. Indeed, the first President to campaign on climate change was George H.W. Bush, whose Administration went on to do most of the American negotiation leading to the Kyoto Accord.
But the Republican party today has made itself captive to science deniers in the fossil fuel industry, those who have become the "Merchants of Doubt." Too many seem to believe that the evidence they refuse to look at does not exist. This does not work for fiscal policy, as conservatives have long liked to point out. Debt, they have said, has consequences, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Denial does not work any better for climate change. Regardless of our belief or lack of it, sea ice will continue to decline, animals and plants will continue to migrate toward the poles (or to die in place), and coral reefs will continue to bleach, to the vast detriment of marine ecosystems and local economies. Agriculture will continue to become harder and less certain. Coastal communities will be gradually submerged, or gutted by storm surge. And hungry, displaced people will continue to disturb and disrupt political systems. They'll continue, increasingly, to fight and die.
True, it is difficult to know exactly how bad things could become, and hard to know just when each particular disaster will hit. Some choose to see this uncertainty in a positive light: things may not get that bad, they say. Generals and risk analysts, who are trained to plan for the worst case, see it in another light: if there is no way to be sure of all the details, then there is no way to be sure the damage is contained--or even survivable. The worst possible scenario is to be forced to bet everything on "it might not get that bad."
Some things are certain, or at least as certain as anything ever is. If we continue with business as usual, warming will continue: the world will exceed the degree of warming we have observed to date. It will reach one, two, three, even five degrees Celsius, perhaps during this century. And the warming will not cease there.
But even a few more years of business as usual will commit us to an insecure, impoverished future that we will not like. And since that commitment is not reversible on civilizational timescales, humans will essentially never be able to "go home" to the world we were given--and which we will have defiled. These are the facts. We can choose to look at them, or we can choose to look away.
But given the risk we face and the responsibility we bear, once you do look, the issue becomes "paramount."
Mr. Vice President, will you have the courage to look? Or will you, like poor, terrified Peter at the trial of Jesus, choose denial? His fear was perfectly understandable, and we are assured that God forgave him. One may perhaps wonder if he ever quite forgave himself.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on November 26, 2019:
Don, thanks. Yes, there is a lot of overlap between the causes of climate change and toxic pollutants. In many cases, if we address one, we also automatically address the other.
And yes, I fear that you are correct that the damage done to the environment--and to our society's ability to address threats to it--is going to outlast the maladministration that inflicted it.
Don Shepard on November 25, 2019:
Great stuff. We must continue to fight for all of our natural environment. All too often, the same things that contribute to climate change also emit the damaging SOx and NOx combustion pollutants and others. I think it's good to remind people of this. I fear the Trump administration has already taken us down a path that will be extremely difficult to reverse as far as the environment in general.
Suzie from Carson City on May 26, 2019:
Doc......I read this article twice, to better absorb it all. I must thank you for this tutorial. Certainly, I am familiar with the term, "climate change," as well as the fact that there is much controversy, groups of individuals having continual discussion and argument. However, beyond this, I find it's long overdue that I educate myself on this topic.
Thank you for my first class in what I can see will be a long,-in-depth study on my part. You have provided an excellent presentation, written professionally and concise. I'll return to read more of your work as I also take in some information put forth by others, for the sake of understanding the big picture.
Again, thank you for sharing your expertise. I'm most appreciative. Peace, Paula
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on April 05, 2019:
Not sure what you are trying to say here--and least of all why you term the Paris Accord "medieval".
bradmasteroccal on April 05, 2019:
"President to campaign on climate change was George H.W. Bush, whose Administration went on to do most of the American negotiation leading to the Kyoto Accord."
What about the year long burning of oil in Kuwait? Then by letter Saddam Hussein go back to his business, GW Bush then invades Iraq for no real reason other than he was trying to finish his father's work. He failed and we didn't have to invade Afghanistan which continues today. How does just this aspect of war contribute to your theory. And is the any Paris Accord going to change war around the world.
Data is not facts, when people interpret data. Data can be manipulated to show whatever the person using it wants it to show. This is especially true when there is no factual nexus to prove that Y was the result of X.
If P then Q is not the same as if Q then P. There are millions of variables that contribute to the eco system and environment of the world. Saying that one element, people can have that much effect over the entire environment is hard to believe much less prove.
There are so many different things that could be changing and therefore changing the environment.
We have over seven billion people and the population is increasing everyday. The only solution that I have read or heard is basically a conservation of CO2. Conservation doesn't work in an expanding population, and an expanding technological era.
The world has been a never ending war somewhere for every, and as technology increased the advantage of the weapons so did it contribute to pollution. Why is this decade any different than any other decade in modern times?
This is modern science and Paris Accord is medieval.
How about figuring out as some have shown that converting our garbage into energy. It seems to be a never ending source.
How about hydrogen based energy.
How about reducing or stopping wars
We have oceans of water to convert to drinking water, it is not like we don't have the technology, it is more expensive than the world wants to pay.
just a thought.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on July 10, 2017:
Jack, enjoyed your succinct article on 'going green'. You are exactly right to point out that many times saving money and cutting energy wastage go very naturally together.
It's also true that, despite many points of disagreement in our society, there is lots of potential for finding actions that almost everyone recognizes as helpful.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on July 09, 2017:
Just time for one short comment, in 2 parts:
1) Despite the importance of maintaining our infrastructure, yes, the success or failure of the Paris process will have far more consequences for all Americans.
2) Ben Santer did not 'work for the IPCC'--AR lead authors are not employees, but volunteers. He is an extremely well-respected climate researcher. The fact that you think that he is 'narrow-minded' speaks to your issues, not to him. Sorry to have to say so, but there it is.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on July 09, 2017:
Jack, you might want to check with reality before you give credence to anything Tim Ball has to say--or, for that matter, John Sullivan. Here's what Mike Mann's attorney has to say about the BC lawsuit:
"Contrary to the nonsensical allegations made by John O’Sullivan in his July 4 posted on climatechangedispatch.com and elsewhere, plaintiff Michael Mann has fully complied with all of his disclosure obligations to the defendant Tim Ball relating to data and other documents.
"No judge has made any order or given any direction, however minor or inconsequential, that Michael Mann surrender any data or any documents to Tim Ball for any purpose.
"Accordingly it should be plain and obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense that Mann could not possibly be in contempt of court.
"Just to be clear: Mann is not defying any judge. He is not in breach of any judgment. He is not, repeat not, in contempt of court. He is not in breach of any discovery obligations to Ball.
"In this context, O’Sullivan’s suggestion that Ball “is expected to instruct his British Columbia attorneys to trigger mandatory punitive court sanctions” against Mann is simply divorced from reality.
"Finally, a word about the actual issues in the British Columbia lawsuit.
"If O’Sullivan had read Ball’s statement of defence, he would immediately see that Ball does not intend to ask the BC Court to rule that Mann committed climate data fraud, or that Mann in fact did anything with criminal intent.
"O’Sullivan would have noticed that one of Ball’s defences is that the words he spoke about Mann (which are the subject of Mann’s lawsuit) were said in “jest.”
"The BC Court will not be asked to decide whether or not climate change is real.
"So there is no chance whatsoever that any BC Court verdict about Mann’s libel claims against Ball will vindicate Donald Trump’s perspective on climate change.
Roger D. McConchie
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on July 08, 2017:
Doc, here is my recent article on going green -
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on July 06, 2017:
Doc, just wondering if you seen this article -
And the one about Greenland -
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on July 05, 2017:
Doc, I read the article by Ben Santers, he used to work at IPCC...He doesn't say much about other works on climate change not related to Man and CO2 fossil fuel...
His narrow mind on climate change is exactly why we need more study. To someone whose only tool is a hammer, everything else look like a nail...
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on July 05, 2017:
Doc, So what do you think? which will have the bigger impact?
Paris Accord on climate change or Fixing our infrastructure?
To the average American, I say the latter by a mile.
For a climate skeptic, I can still be for conserving our energy resources and reducing our power usage...without destroying jobs in the process...
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on July 05, 2017:
Jack, regarding your open letter, if you'd like the President to make good on his infrastructure promises, you have my blessing, for what that's worth.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on July 05, 2017:
Jack, as I've mentioned before, current observations are running pretty much in the middle of the envelope of modeled temperature trajectories. That implies that about half of model runs are in fact cooler than the observations.
Does that answer your question?
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on July 05, 2017:
In related news, a prominent climate scientist speaks out:
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on July 05, 2017:
doc, thanks for the long explanation...
Did you read my open letter to Trump?
I am interested in your reaction from a climate change view point.
The 95% confidence level is fine with me. I just question why all the models seems to err on the high side.
Show me a model that predicts the opposite and I will more likely to accept the whole premise of modeling or climate.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on July 05, 2017:
" Why is it so hard to proof one way or another that the earth is warming and ocean rising and more intense storms - mathematically to be statistical significant? Due only to human activities."
I think there are several pieces to this. First, you've got several things to separate out: I don't think there is any doubt that earth's warming is statistically significant or that sea level rise is statistically significant when considered purely with reference to the observational datasets. By contrast, that is not the case for more intense cyclonic storms.
The reason has to do with statistical essentials: the global temperature record and the sea level record are not that variable, so a lot of what you see is the trend. Put simply, there is more rising line, and less random up and down 'wiggling.'
Cyclonic storm trends are another story. Storm intensities and frequencies are highly variable, and probably depend on a lot of short-term and local weather variables--the 'wiggling'. So it's a whole lot harder to spot whether or not there is a rising trend line hidden in the 'spaghetti.' It's probably just a reality that we have to live with, though one can always hope for some sort of mathematical tool being developed that lets us infer more from such messy data sets.
A brief but possibly useful technical comment on the current state of the art is here:
Slightly longer, but easier to read:
But turning to the bigger question of 'proof', many scientists would tell you that modern science doesn't really deal in it any more. It's not that science is all post-modern and subjectivist; rather it's because it aspires to a less ambitious but more reliable quantitative model: science doesn't speak of 'proving' x, y or z, but of determining some level of confidence which we might attach to those propositions.
And actually, the conventional significance test is revealing in this regard: the conventional test is 95% confidence, which means that, using appropriate statistical tests (the choice of which is more involved than one would think, as the characteristics of the data set need to be considered) there is less than one chance in 20 that the observed trend only occurred by chance. They say that the data "allow the rejection of the null hypothesis"--ie., that the result is due to chance.
But note that the rejection is never absolute. (And note, too, that the level of confidence demanded may be different in different disciplines; most commonly, it's 95%, AKA '2 sigma'--but in particle physics, significance must reach the '5 sigma' level, because the data sets that they examine are necessarily so huge that chance occurrences are (so to speak) less unexpected.)
Last point: "due only to human influences". That's the "attribution" question, and it goes beyond statistics. Once you've found a trend or correlation that looks as if it is real (ie., non-random), then the next question is, why is it happening?
To answer that question, researchers must construct conceptual models showing possible causations within the framework of known physical law. With luck, there will be techniques allowing assessments of how probable the various alternatives may be, or perhaps it may even be possible to falsify one or more of the competing explanations. For example, the original MBH 'pre-hockeystick paper' looked at GHGs, aerosols, and sun, and found that all three factors influenced climate over the past 6 centuries, and that GHGs emerged during the 20th century as a dominant driver.
That was done by a purely statistical analysis of proxy and direct temperature measurements, and its result have been broadly confirmed by many similar papers since, using improved and/or expanded statistical and measurement techniques. But the most important 'attribution' tool has been climate modeling, because that is the technique that best approximates the classic lab experiment.
We can't arbitrarily manipulate GHG levels on convenient time scales in the real world, but we can in climate models, and we can see what happens when we do. The upshot of masses and masses of research in this vein is that observed patterns of climate change can only be numerically simulated by considering both human and natural forcings. (Though, as in MBH '98, the human influence is more and more dominant as industrial society expands.)
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on June 30, 2017:
Doc, I wrote an open letter to President Trump you might find interesting...
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on June 28, 2017:
Doc, I will accept your explanation but the overall climate studies is very unsatisfying from my point of view. Why is it so hard to proof one way or another that the earth is warming and ocean rising and more intense storms - mathematically to be statistical significant? Due only to human activities.
That is the crux of all this debate and uncertainty. It has been 25 years of intense study and research into all aspects of climate change. How come?
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on June 28, 2017:
Thanks for the hint there, Jack; the researcher you refer to is Dr. Lloyd, of South Africa. His research canon is summarized here:
I note that the study in question was published in Energy and Environment, which, as they say, "has a history." However, leaving that aside, I think there is a fundamental logical flaw in the Lloyd paper, which is that the comparison he makes is not an apples to apples comparison: he uses several ice core records, and compares their standard deviations to the observed temperature record. The problem is that the ice core records, though perfectly fine as far as they go, and quite useful overall, are not global but local, and are consequently much more volatile than the modern observational record. Hence it is to be expected that the trend of the latter gets lost in the high variability of the former.
I'd add further that the story you linked also contains an interpretation not in the actual paper: it's the implication that much of the observed warming is "probably" natural variation. That does not follow from the paper, which only says that the extent to which modern warming is driven by greenhouse warming "can't be determined" by the statistical methods Dr. Lloyd wielded. I suspect the story writer added that point, either accidentally or by design.
On the other two links, I think you may, in the first one, have mislinked, in that there was as far as I can see no "UN official." Instead, it was an old story by Fred Singer, "skeptic for hire", discussing the 2007 AR4. (You know, the one that won the Nobel Prize.) Old, old stuff.
The second story indeed has a couple of quotes from folks more or less connected to the UN, both of which are cited out of context, and in a way that is in my view intentionally misleading. It's also old news, if not quite as old, and we've talked about it before.
Briefly, my view is that the first quote is talking about practical exigencies of policy, not motivations for it, while the second is talking about transforming the energy system, not capitalism per se.
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on June 25, 2017:
Doc, here is another UN official -
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on June 24, 2017:
Here is link to story -
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on June 24, 2017:
"If they did, I would have no arguments? Wouldn't you agree to that point?"
Not until you can specify just which 'projections' have 'failed to materialize', no. You mention:
--"When a retired IPCC scientists admits that the current warming trend is within the normal natural variation, I take notice."
A quick Google search failed to turn up the details on this, though I seem to recall hearing something of the sort previously. So if you want my detailed comments, you'll need to give more information. However, I will say that, while there may be some definition of conditions (metrics, timescales) for which the statement may be true, it is NOT true for recent geologic time.
However, this point does not appear to have much to do with 'projections'.
--"When the climategate email surfaced, I take notice."
I took notice, too. How deep did you read in them? Because beyond a few scattered 'gotcha' quotes that could be cited to make some of the scientists look bad, the body of the correspondance amply demonstrated that the scientists were entirely convinced of the reality and accuracy of what they were saying.
However, this point, too, does not appear to have much to do with 'projections'.
"--When Al Gore produced the documentary to scare children, I noticed."
I attended it when it was showing in theatres. It was not an audience primarily of children. Nor was it aimed at 'scaring' people. It certainly was frank in laying out potential hazards, but it was not inaccurate, barring a couple of minor errors (as the NAS verified) and some instances of vagueness (as for example the timescale of sea level rise). But Mr. Gore is nothing if not a techno-optimist, and was if anything overly optimistic in his assessment of the ease with which the issue of climate change can be addressed.
However, this still does not appear to have much to do with 'projections'.
--"When the environmentalist copted [sic] this issue, and reject nuclear power in favor of solar and wind... I take notice."
I really don't know what you are talking about here, probably because you are using some overly idiosyncratic sense of "environmentalist". How could the single largest, most comprehensive environment danger ever fail to be of interest to anyone calling themselves an "environmentalist"--in *whatever* sense of the word?
As to the question of nuclear vs. wind & solar, I assure you that there is a lively debate among those who are convinced that 'only nuclear power can save us' and those who are convinced that 'nuclear power is so dangerous and polluting that it ought to be abandoned completely.' Then there are those of us in the middle. If you ask my opinion, I think that nuclear power may eventually play a larger role in our energy economy, but that it is too expensive in terms of dollars and in terms of human resources to do much for us in terms of decarbonizing our energy economy in time to avoid really dangerous levels of global warming.
However, once again this does not appear to have much to do with 'projections'.
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on June 22, 2017:
I am sorry but the reason we are having this debate is because the projections fail to materialize. If they did, I would have no arguments? Wouldn't you agree to that point?
When a retired IPCC scientists admits that the current warming trend is within the normal natural variation, I take notice. When the climategate email surfaced, I take notice. When Al Gore produced the documentary to scare children, I noticed. When the environmentalist copted this issue, and reject nuclear power in favor of solar and wind... I take notice.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on June 22, 2017:
Jack, if you recall, our conversation started, pretty much, with the Hub challenge in which we (well, mostly I) evaluated a number of predictions or projections. You felt at the time that I had done a fair job. My result was that most of them were at least somewhat in the ball park of what had happened.
So I am, to put it kindly, puzzled at why you now make a sweeping, categorical claim that "climate change projections have not materialized." I do not see any factual basis for such a claim.
To recap some of the leading points:
1) Surface warming is highly consistent with model projections;
2) Arctic ice loss is exceeding model projections;
3) Sea level rise is continuing (as it physically must in a warming world);
4) We continue to see increased water vapor content, extreme precipitation and heatwave incidence, in line with projections.
5) We continue to see wildfire increases, though with lots of variability and some confounding variables (such as management practices--eg., the planting of of exotic and highly flammable eucalyptus trees in Portugal) that make a statistically compelling case difficult to prove.
I could go on, or you could go back and re-read the previous Hub for a more comprehensive (if less up to date) view.
As for "snake oil", it is my opinion that the only snake oil being peddled is that which claims we can release GHGs ad infinitum without consequence.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on June 22, 2017:
Orin, I'm afraid Jack's latest comment rather says it all in relation to your point.
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on June 19, 2017:
The reality is climate change projections have not materialized. Any explanation will not change that fact. Al Gore is pure hype and the world is falling for a snake salesman of the worst kind. Let the scientist do their work without bias, as in the past pre-1990's.
P. orin Zack on June 18, 2017:
I've been wondering what you were thinking about how the reality of a changing climate has become politicized.
Asserting, as some have lately, that it is only of concern to 'the left' is another way of saying that it is not a part of the reality accepted by those on 'the right'. In many ways, people have become used to the idea that they can choose what to accept as existing in their reality. This is usually practiced by filtering information about the world, so that only those things which re-inforce a person's world-view are acknowledged. Partisan news bubbles are an artifact of this practice.
But there is a difference between choosing what information to acknowledge and what manifestations of the world and universe in which we live to acknowledge. Choosing not to acknowledge the existence of gravity does not enable you to float in mid-air if we all co-exist within the same physical reality.
It is at this point that philosophy and imagination impinge on my reasoning. The alternative to us all existing within the same physical reality, in which the scientific certainty of human-caused changes to the climate must be experienced by everything on the planet, is a mutable reality that is crafted and controlled by the belief structure of masses of people, which would allow for our historically shared experience of those on the planet to be shattered into innumerable virtualities.
Imagine for a moment what it would be like if we somehow existed in this latter version of reality. It is pointless to plan for any contingencies regarding anything, because all it would take to avoid the consequences is to deny the possibility that they might happen. The absurdity of this line of thinking tells me that the assertion on which it is based is groundless.
We are therefore left with the conclusion that we share a physical reality in which wishful thinking will not exempt you from the results of pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Contending that such an issue is partisan might be a form of denial. If so, then the fact of that denial confirms belief, by the denier, of the reality of human-caused climate change.
I think Shakespeare put it differently, but the conclusion is the same.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on June 13, 2017:
Thanks for your comment, Jack. I'll respond in turn.
1--Yes, climate changes naturally. However, the current changes are not comparable to most climate change in the past. It is drastically more sudden, which in and of itself makes it much more difficult to adapt to.
2--Two things on this point. First, it's not only a matter of rate of change: if we drive the planet to, say, 5 C warmer, it is not so important whether that happens in 2050, 2100, or 2200, because it will be disastrous whenever it occurs. Second, I don't agree with your assessment that meaningful change will take "100s of years." More importantly, neither does the mainstream science.
For example, the current long term trend in most surface records (based on linear regression) is ~0.12 C/decade. That's better than a degree a century, and since we are already a degree above pre-Industrial values, that would mean that we'd be hitting the 2 C 'buffer'--jargon for a 'sort of safe' level--by the end of the present century, give or take. But that is assuming that the rate stays constant, which everything we know about the topic makes unlikely. First, the GHG forcing continues to increase--from 1.7 W/m2 in the late '70s, it's now calculated to be 2.9 W/m2. So we are effectively 'turning up the heat under the pot.' Second, we will increasingly be invoking feedback mechanisms such as water vapor and sea ice decline. Both are already in play: atmospheric water vapor has increased with observed warming, just as theory predicted, and we are of course seeing drastic and continuing declines in sea ice, which are now and will increasingly invoke the albedo feedback, in which newly-exposed seawater absorbs sunlight during the 'Long Day' of the Arctic summer. Both of these mechanisms increase warming further. Additionally, there is some sign that we are seeing Arctic methane increases due to thaw and to increased metabolic activity of methanogenic microorganisms. Methane, of course, is also a powerful greenhouse gas (albeit one that decays after a decade or so into yet more CO2.) These things and others will predictably increase warming, accelerating the process. As I wrote above, "objects in the crystal ball are closer than they appear."
3--No, the current situation is urgent in practical, not academic, terms. It matters for everybody whether or not we can keep warming to less than 2 C (or better, the 1.5 C that is the 'aspirational target' of Paris.) If we don't, people will die--well, *more* people will die.
4--Yes, GH-induced warming *is* irreversible on any humanly significant timescale. You may not like it--I don't--but that is the fact.
"Climate is related to our sun, moon and the sunspots and a slew of other cycles and phenonmenon."
Not the moon, but I suppose I shouldn't quibble. In theory, yes, the sun could decide to 'go cold', which could (again, in theory) 'reverse' GH-induced warming. But there is no evidence that it has done so in the past--not to the degree that would be required.
"To claim man is the soul control of our destiny is just arrogance."
Maybe, but since nobody is actually claiming that, it is irrelevant. What we *do* control is the amount of GHGs we release into the atmosphere. Rationally, it is in our interest to stop doing so.
"There are things totally out of our control like volcanos and earthquakes and asteroids... any of which can reverse the climate on earth and may even destroy most living creatures such as the demise of the dinosaurs..."
Let's take these in turn. Volcanos can only 'reverse' warming over timescales of a few years, and to do that they would need to be exceptionally large. Such eruptions would cause enormous damage and loss, but would not change mean climatic conditions after the aerosol cooling of the first couple of years. And since we can't do much to prevent such eruptions, we should devote only limited efforts to them (such as continuing to research possible ways to predict eruptions, and the construction of contingency plans to make our society less vulnerable--though I'm not sure anyone is actually doing the latter now.)
Earthquakes can, of course, cause massive destruction. But I'm not aware of any research that says they can change climate.
Asteroids--large asteroids can create aerosol burdens in the atmosphere that mimic the 'nuclear winter' seen with very large volcanic eruptions. As you say, that may well have been what helped kill off the dinosaurs at the so-called KT boundary in the stratigraphic record. However, like volcanic eruptions, the effect would be temporary, not lasting. Also like volcanoes, there's not a lot we can do about it, though I think it would be rational to devote some effort to increasing our capabilities to monitor and (eventually) to redirect asteroids that pose a danger.
Note the contrast between the cases here: volcanoes and asteroids are *not* (for the most part) under our control, even potentially, and they are low-probability events. Climate change, on the other hand, is largely under our control in theory--I say "in theory" because we have yet to demonstrate the ability to decrease emissions enough to stabilize global GHG concentrations--and is not merely a high-probability contingency, but is in fact observed to be happening now, precisely in accordance with theory that has been predicting it for decades. (Cf., Roger Revelle's "geochemical experiment" remarks of 1958, or even Guy Callendar's "Artificial Production of Carbonic Acid" paper of 1938.)
Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on June 13, 2017:
Let me respond to your 4 points.
1. real - yes it is real but then when is climate not changing in our long history of human existence...a few million years if you buy the evolution theory. During that period, the earth has experienced periodic ice ages on the order of 100,000 years or so...
2. serious - yes it can be but it all depends on how long and how fast things change. If it is decades, then, I would agree with you. However, all indicators so far are that the change is slow and with many ups and downs and also affected by all cycles including El Nino and other natural effects that takes 100s of years.
3. Urgent - this is a relative term. What is urgent to climate scientists is different than the average person. It depends on what we are talking about. The term "abrupt" was defined for me to mean 30 years or so by one such scientist.
4. Irreversible. Hardly. Climate is related to our sun, moon and the sunspots and a slew of other cycles and phenonmenon. To claim man is the soul control of our destiny is just arrogance. There are things totally out of our control like volcanos and earthquakes and asteroids... any of which can reverse the climate on earth and may even destroy most living creatures such as the demise of the dinosaurs...