Everybody Knows: Climate Denialism has peaked. Now what are we going to do?

It was never going to be easy to face the ecological crisis.  Even back in the 1970s, before climate took center stage, it was clear that we the prosperous were walking far too heavily.  And that “environmentalism,” as it was called, was only going to be a small beginning.  But it was only when the climate crisis pushed fossil energy into the spotlight that the real stakes were widely recognized.  Fossil fuels are the meat and potatoes of industrial civilization, and the need to rapidly and radically reduce their emissions cut right through to the heart of the great American dream.  And the European dream.  And, inevitably, the Chinese dream as well.

Decades later, 81% of global energy is still supplied by the fossil fuels: coal, gas, and oil.[1]  And though the solar revolution is finally beginning, the day is late.  The Arctic is melting, and, soon, as each year the northern ocean lies bare beneath the summer sun, the warming will accelerate.  Moreover, our plight is becoming visible.  We have discovered, to our considerable astonishment, that most of the fossil fuel on the books of our largest corporations is “unburnable” – in the precise sense that, if we burn it, we are doomed.[2]  Not that we know what to do with this rather strange knowledge.  Also, even as China rises, it’s obvious that it’s not the last in line for the promised land.  Billions of people, all around the world, watch the wealthy on TV, and most all of them want a drink from the well of modern prosperity.  Why wouldn’t they?  Life belongs to us all, as does the Earth.

The challenge, in short, is rather daunting.

The denial of the challenge, on the other hand, always came ready-made.  As Francis Bacon said so long ago, “what a man would rather were true, he more readily believes.”  And we really did want to believe that ours was still a boundless world.  The alternative – an honest reckoning – was just too challenging.  For one thing, there was no obvious way to reconcile the Earth’s finitude with the relentless expansion of the capitalist market.  And as long as we believed in a world without limits, there was no need to see that economic stratification would again become a fatal issue.  Sure, our world was bitterly riven between haves and have-nots, but this problem, too, would fade in time.  With enough growth – the universal balm – redistribution would never be necessary.  In time, every man would be a king.

The denial had many cheerleaders.  The chemical-company flacks who derided Rachel Carson as a “hysterical woman” couldn’t have known that they were pioneering a massive trend.  Also, and of course, big money always has plenty of mouthpieces.  But it’s no secret that, during the 20th Century, the “engineering of consent” reached new levels of sophistication.  The composed image of benign scientific competence became one of its favorite tools, and somewhere along the way tobacco-industry science became a founding prototype of anti-environmental denialism.  On this front, I’m happy to say that the long and instructive history of today’s denialist pseudo-science has already been expertly deconstructed.[3]  Given this, I can safely focus on the new world, the post-Sandy world of manifest climatic disruption in which the denialists have lost any residual aura of scientific legitimacy, and have ceased to be a decisive political force.  A world in which climate denialism is increasingly seen, and increasingly ridiculed, as the jibbering of trolls.

To be very clear, I’m not claiming that the denialists are going to shut up anytime soon.  Or that their fogs are not useful to the fossil-fuel cartel.  But the battle of the science is over, at least as far as the scientists are concerned.  To be sure, the denialists will fight on, for the fun of the game and, of course, for the money.[4]  But they are – and visibly now – knaves and fools.[5]  As for the rest of us, we can at least draw conclusions, and make plans.

As bad as the human prospect may be – and it is quite bad – this is not “game over.”  We have the technology we need to save ourselves, or most of it in any case; and much of it is ready to go.  Moreover, the “clean tech” revolution is going to be disruptive indeed.  There will be cascades of innovation, delivering opportunities of all kinds, all around the world.  Also, our powers of research and development are strong.  Also, and contrary to today’s vogue for austerity and “we’re broke” political posturing, we have the money to rebuild, quickly and on a globalostrich scale.  Also, we know how to cooperate, at least when we have to.  All of which is to say that we still have options.  We are not doomed.

But we are in extremely serious danger, and it is too late to pretend otherwise.  So allow me to tip my hand by noting Jorgen Randers’ new book, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years.[6]  Randers is a Norwegian modeler, futurist, professor, executive, and consultant who made his name as co-author of 1972’s landmark The Limits to Growth.  Limits, of course, was a global blockbuster; it remains the best-selling environmental title of all times.  Also, Limits has been relentlessly ridiculed (the early denialists cut their teeth by distorting it[7]) so it must be said that – very much contrary to the mass-produced opinions of the denialist age – its central, climate-related projections are holding up depressingly well.[8]

By 2012 (when he published 2052) Randers had decided to step away from the detached exploration of multiple scenarios that was the methodological core of Limits, and to make actual predictions.  After a lifetime of frustrated efforts, these predictions are vivid, pessimistic and bitter.  In a nutshell, Randers doesn’t expect anything beyond what he calls “progress as usual,” and while he expects it to yield a “light green” buildout (e.g., solar on a large scale) he doesn’t think it will suffice to stabilize the climate system.  Such stabilization, he grants, is still possible, but it would require concerted global action on a scale that neither he nor Dennis Meadows, the leader of the old Limits team, see on today’s horizon.  Let’s call that kind of action global emergency mobilization.  Meadows, when he peers forwards, sees instead “many decades of uncontrolled climatic disruption and extremely difficult decline.”[9]  Randers is more precise, and predicts that we will by 2052 wake to find ourselves on a dark and frightening shore, knowing full well that our planet is irrevocably “on its way towards runaway climate change in the last third of the twenty-first century.”

This is an extraordinary claim, and it requires extraordinary evidence.[10]  Such evidence, unfortunately, is readily available, but for the moment let me simply state the public secret of this whole discussion.  To wit: we (and I use this pronoun advisedly) can still avoid a global catastrophe, but it’s not at all obvious that we will do so.  What is obvious is that stabilizing the global climate is going to be very, very hard.  Which is a real problem, because we don’t do hard anymore.  Rather, when confronted with a serious problem, we just do what we can, hoping that it will be enough and trying our best not to offend the rich.  In truth, and particularly in America, we count ourselves lucky if we can manage governance at all.

This essay is about climate politics after legitimate skepticism.  Climate politics in a world where, as Leonard Cohen put it, “everybody knows.”  What does this mean?  In the first place, it means that we’ve reached the end of what might be called “environmentalism-as-usual.”  This point is widely understood and routinely granted, as when people say something like “climate is not a merely environmental problem,” but my concern is a more particular one.  As left-green writer Eddie Yuen astutely noted in a recent book on “catastrophism,” the problems of the environmental movement are to a very large degree rooted in “the pairing of overwhelmingly bleak analysis with inadequate solutions.”[11]  This is exactly right.

To be very clear, the climate crisis demands a “new environmentalism,” and such a thing does seem to be emerging.  It’s final shape is unknowable, but one thing is certain – the environmentalism that we need will only exist when its solutions and strategies stand up to its own analyses.  The problem is that this requires us to take our “overwhelmingly bleak” analyses straight, rather than soft-pedaling them so that our “inadequate solutions” might look good.  Pessimism, after all, is closely related to realism.  It cannot just be wished away.

Soft-pedaling, alas, has long been standard practice, on both the scientific and the political sides of the climate movement.  Examples abound, but the best would have to be the IPCC itself, the U.N’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  The world’s premier climate-science clearinghouse, the IPCC is often attacked from the right, and has developed a shy and reticent culture.  Even more importantly, though, and far more rarely noted, is that the IPCC is conservative by definition and by design.[12]  It almost has to be conservative to do its job, which is to herd the planet’s decision makers towards scientific realism.  The wrinkle is that, at this point, this isn’t even close to being good enough, not at least in the larger scheme.  At this point, we need strategic realism as well as baseline scientific realism, and it demands a brutal honesty in which underlying scientific and political truths are clearly drawn and publicly expressed.

Yet when it comes to strategic realism, we balk.  The first impulse of the “climate messaging” experts is always to repeat their perennial caution that sharp portraits of the danger can be disempowering, and lead to despair and passivity.  This is an excellent point, but it’s only the beginning of the truth, not the end.  The deeper problem is that the physical impacts of climate disruption – the destruction and the suffering – will continue to escalate.  “Superstorm Sandy” was bad, but the future will be much worse.  Moreover, the most severe suffering will be far away, and easy for the good citizens of the wealthy world to ignore.  Imagine, for example, a major failure of the Indian Monsoon, and a subsequent South Asian famine.  Imagine it against a drumbeat background in which food is becoming progressively more expensive.  Imagine the permanence of such droughts, and increasing evidence of tipping points on the horizon, and a world in which ever more scientists take it upon themselves to deliver desperate warnings.  The bottom line will not be the importance of communications strategies, but rather the manifest reality, no longer distant and abstract, and the certain knowledge that we are in deep trouble.  And this is where the dangers of soft-pedaling lie.  For as people come to see the scale of the danger, and then to look about for commensurate strategies and responses, the question will be if such strategies are available, and if they are known, and if they are plausible.  If they’re not, then we’ll all going, together, down the road “from aware to despair.”

Absent the public sense of a future in which human resourcefulness and cooperation can make a decisive difference, we assuredly face an even more difficult future in which denial fades to a sense of pervasive hopelessness.  The last third of the century (when Randers is predicting “runaway climate change”) is not so very far away.  Which is to say that, as denialism collapses – and it will – the challenge of working out a large and plausible response to the climate crisis will become overwhelmingly important.  If we cannot imagine such a response, and explain how it would actually work, then people will draw their own conclusions.  And, so far, it seems that we cannot.  Even those of us who are now climate full-timers don’t have a shared vision, not in any meaningful detail, nor do we have a common sense of the strategic initiatives that could make such a vision cohere.

The larger landscape is even worse.  For though many scientists are steeling themselves to speak, the elites themselves are still stiff and timid, and show few signs of rising to the occasion.  Each month, it seems, there’s another major report on the approaching crisis – the World Bank, the National Intelligence Council, and the International Energy Agency have all recently made hair-raising contributions – but they never quite get around to the really important questions.  How should we contrive the necessary global mobilization?  What conditions are needed to absolutely maximize the speed of the clean-tech revolution?  By what strategy will we actually manage to keep the fossil-fuels in the ground?  What kind of international treaties are necessary, and how shall we establish them?  What would a fast-enough global transition cost, and how shall we pay for it?  What about all those who are forced to retreat from rising waters and drying lands?  How shall they live, and where?  How shall we talk about rights and responsibilities in the Greenhouse Century?  And what about the poor?  How shall they find futures in a climate-constrained world?  Can we even imagine a world in which they do?

In the face of such questions, you have a choice.  You can conclude that we’ll just have to do the best we can, and then you can have a drink.  Or maybe two.  Or you can conclude that, despite all evidence to the contrary, enough of us will soon awaken to reality.  What’s certain is that, all around us, there is a vast potentiality – for reinvention, for resistance, for redistribution, and for renewal of all kinds – and that it could at any time snap into solidity.  And into action.

Forget about “hope.”  What we need now is intention.

***

About a decade ago, in San Francisco, I was on a PBS talk show with, among others, Myron Ebell, chief of climate propaganda at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  Ebell is an aggressive professional, and given the host’s commitment to phony balance he was easily able to frame the conversation.[13]  The result was a travesty, but not an entirely wasted time, at least not for me.  It was instructive to speak, tentatively, of the need for global climate justice, and to hear, in response, that I was a non-governmental fraud that was only in it for the money.  Moreover, as the hour wore on, I came to appreciated the brutal simplicity of the denialist strategy.  The whole point is to suck the oxygen out of the room, to weave such a tangle of confusionism and pseudo-debate that the Really Big Question – What is to be done? – becomes impossible to even ask, let alone discuss.

When Superstorm Sandy slammed into the New York City region, Ebell’s style of hard denialism took a body blow, though obviously it has not dropped finally to the mat.  Had it done do, the Big Question, in all its many forms, would be buzzing constantly around us.  Clearly, that great day has not yet come.  Still, back in November of 2012, when Bloomberg’s Business Week blared “It’s Global Warming, Stupid” from its front cover, this was widely welcomed as a overdue milestone.  It may even be that Michael Tobis, the editor of Planet 3.0, will prove correct in his long-standing, half-facetious prediction that 2015 will be the date when “the Wall Street Journal will acknowledge the indisputable and apparent fact of anthropogenic climate change; the year in which it will simply be ridiculous to deny it.”[14]  Or maybe not.  Maybe that day will never come.  Maybe Ebell’s style of well-funded, front-group denialism will live on, zombie-like, forever.  Or maybe (and this is my personal prediction) hard climate denialism will soon go the way of creationism and far-right Christianity, becoming a kind of political lifestyle choice, one that’s dangerous but contained.  One that’s ultimately more dangerous to the right that it is to the reality-based community.

If so, then at some point we’re going to have to ask ourselves if we’ve been so long distracted by the hard denialists that we’ve missed the parallel danger of a “soft denialism.”  By which I mean the denialism of a world in which, though the dangers of climate change are simply too ridiculous to deny, they still – somehow – are not taken to imply courage, and reckoning, and mobilization.  This is a long story, but the point is that, now that the Big Question is finally on the table, we’re going to have to answer it.  Which is to say that we’re going to have to face the many ways in which political timidity and small-bore realism have trained us to calibrate our sense of what must be done by our sense of what can be done, which these days is inadequate by definition.

And not just because of the denialists.

George Orwell once said that “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”[15]  As we hurtle forward, this struggle will rage as never before.  The Big Question, after all, changes everything.  Another way of saying this is that our futures will be shaped by the effort to avoid a full-on global climate catastrophe.  Despite all the rest of the geo-political and geo-economic commotion that will mark the 21st Century (and there’ll be plenty) it will be most fundamentally the Greenhouse Century.  We know this now, if we care to, though still only in preliminary outline.  The details, inevitably, will surprise us all.

The core problem, of course, will be “ambition” – action on the scale that’s actually necessary, rather than the scale that is or appears to be possible.  And here, the legacies of the denialist age – the long-ingrained habits of soft-pedaling and strained optimism – will weigh heavily.  Consider the quasi-official global goal (codified, for example, in the Copenhagen Accord) to hold total planetary warming to 2°C (Earth surface average) above pre-industrial levels.  This is the so-called “2°C target.”  What are we to do with it in the post-denialist age?  Let me count the complications: One, all sorts of Very Important People are now telling us it’s going to all but impossible to avoid overshooting 2°C.[16]  Two, in so doing, they are making a political and not a scientific judgment, though they’re not always clear on this point.  (It’s probably still technically possible to hold the 2°C line – if we’re not too unlucky – though it wouldn’t be easy under the best of circumstances.)[17]  Three, the 2°C line, which was once taken to be reasonably safe, is now widely seen (at least among the scientists) to mark the approximate point of transition from “dangerous” to “extremely dangerous,” and possibly to altogether unmanageable levels of warming.[18]  Four, and finally, it’s now widely recognized that any future in which we approach the 2°C line (which we will do) is one in which we also have a real possibility of pushing the average global temperature up by 3°C, and if this were to come to pass we’d be playing a very high-stakes game indeed, one in which uncontrolled positive feedbacks and worst-case scenarios were surrounding us on every side.

The bottom line is today as it was decades ago.  Greenhouse-gas emissions were increasing then, and they are increasing now.  In late 2012, the authoritative Global Carbon Project reported that, since 1990, they had risen by an astonishing 58 percent.[19]  The climate system has unsurprisingly responded with storms, droughts, ice-melt, conflagrations and floods.  The weather has become “extreme,” and may finally be getting our attention.  In Australia, according to the acute Mark Thomson of the Institute for Backyard Studies in Adelaide, the crushing heatwave of early 2013 even pushed aside “the idiot commentariat” and cleared the path for a bit of 11th-hour optimism: “Another year of this trend will shift public opinion wholesale.  We’re used to this sort of that temperature now and then and even take a perverse pride in dealing with it, but there seems to be a subtle shift in mood that ‘This Could Be Serious.’”  Let’s hope he’s right.  Let’s hope, too, that the mood shift that swept though America after Sandy also lasts, and leads us, too, to conclude that ‘This Could Be Serious.’  Not that this alone would be enough to support a real mobilization – the “moral equivalent of war” that we need – but it would be something.  It might even lead us to wonder about our future, and about the influence of money and power on our lives, and to ask how serious things will have to get before it becomes possible to imagine a meaningful change of direction.

The wrinkle is that, before we can advocate for a meaningful change of direction, we have to have one we believe in, one that we’re willing to explain in global terms that actually scale to the problem.  None of which is going to be easy, given that we’re fast approaching a point where only tales of existential danger ring true.  (cf the zombie apocalypse).  The Arctic ice, as noted above, offers an excellent marker.  In fact, the first famous photos of Earth from space – the “blue marble” photos taken in 1972 by the crew of the Apollo 17 – allow us to anchor our predicament in time and in memory.  For these are photos of an old Earth now passed away; they must be, because they show great expanses of ice that are nowhere to be found.  By August of 2012 the Arctic Sea’s ice cover had declined by 40%,[20] a melt that’s easily large enough to be visible from space.  Moreover, beneath the surface, ice volume is dropping even more precipitously.  The polar researchers who are now feverishly evaluating the great melting haven’t yet pushed the entire scientific community to the edge of despair, though they have managed to inspire a great deal of dark muttering about positive feedbacks and tipping points.  Soon, it seems, that muttering will become louder.  Perhaps as early as 2015, the Arctic Ocean will become virtually ice free for the first time in recorded history.[21]  When it does, the solar absorptivity of the Arctic waters will increase, and shift the planetary heat balance by a surprisingly large amount, and by so doing increase the rate of  planetary warming.  And this, of course, will not be end of it.  The feedbacks will continue.  The cycles will go on.

Should we remain silent about such matters, for risk of inflaming the “idiot commentariat?”  It’s absurd to even ask.  The suffering is already high, and if you know the science, you also know that the real surprise would be an absence of positive feedbacks.  The ice melt, the methane plumes, the drying of the rainforests – they’re all real.  Which is to say that there are obviously tipping points before us, though we do not and can not know how much time will pass before they force themselves upon our attention.  The real question is what we must do if we would talk of them in good earnest, while at the same time speaking, without despair and effectively, about the human future.

– Tom Athanasiou (toma@ecoequity.org).  April 2, 2013.  Comments welcome.   Proposals too!


[1] Jorgen Randers, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, Chelsea Green, 2012, page 99.

[2] Begin at the Carbon Track Initiative’s website.  http://www.carbontracker.org/

[3] Two excellent examples: Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Bloomsbury Press, 2011,  Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science, Basic Books, 2006.

[4] See, for example, Suzanne Goldenberg, “Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks,” February 14, 2013, The Guardian.

[5] “Lord Monckton,” in particular, is fantastic.  See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w833cAs9EN0

[6] Randers, 2012.  See also Randers’ essay and video at the University of Cambridge 2013 “State of Sustainability Leadership,” at http://www.cpsl.cam.ac.uk/About-Us/What-is-Sustainability-Leadership/The-State-of-Sustainability-Leadership.aspx

[7] Ugo Bardi, in The Limits to Growth Revisited (Springer Briefs, 2011) offers this summary:

“If, at the beginning, the debate on LTG had seemed to be balanced, gradually the general attitude on the study became more negative. It tilted decisively against the study when, in 1989, Ronald Bailey published a paper in “Forbes” where he accused the authors of having predicted that the world’s economy should have already run out of some vital mineral commodities whereas that had not, obviously, occurred.

Bailey’s statement was only the result of a flawed reading of the data in a single table of the 1972 edition of LTG. In reality, none of the several scenarios presented in the book showed that the world would be running out of any important commodity before the end of the twentieth century and not even of the twenty-first. However, the concept of the “mistakes of the Club of Rome” caught on. With the 1990s, it became commonplace to state that LTG had been a mistake if not a joke designed to tease the public, or even an attempt to force humankind into a planet-wide dictatorship, as it had been claimed in some earlier appraisals (Golub and Townsend 1977; Larouche 1983). By the end of the twentieth century, the victory of the critics of LTG seemed to be complete. But the debate was far from being settled.”

[8] See, for example, Graham Turner, “A Comparison of The Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality.” Global Environmental Change, Volume 18, Issue 3, August 2008, Pages 397–411.  An unprotected copy (without the graphics) can be downloaded at www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf.  Also

[9] In late 2012, Dennis Meadows said that “In the early 1970s, it was possible to believe that maybe we could make the necessary changes.  But now it is too late.  We are entering a period of many decades of uncontrolled climatic disruption and extremely difficult decline.”  See Christian Parenti, “The Limits to Growth’: A Book That Launched a Movement,” The Nation, December 24, 2012.

[10] This is a Carl Sagan quote.  See http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Extraordinary_claims_require_extraordinary_evidence

[11] Eddie Yuen, “The Politics of Failure Have Failed: The Environmental Movement and Catastrophism,” in Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen, James Davis, with a foreword by Doug Henwood. PM Press 2012.  Yuen’s whole line is “the main reasons that [it] has not led to more dynamic social movements; these include catastrophe fatigue, the paralyzing effects of fear; the pairing of overwhelmingly bleak analysis with inadequate solutions, and a misunderstanding of the process of politicization.” 

[12] See Glenn Scherer, “Special Report: IPCC, assessing climate risks, consistently underestimates,” The Daily Climate, December 6, 2012.   More formally (and more interestingly) see Brysse, Oreskes, O’Reilly, and Oppenheimer, “Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama?,”Global Environmental Change 23 (2013), 327-337.

[13] KQED-FM, Forum, July 22, 2003.

[14] Michael Tobis, editor of Planet 3.0, is amusing on this point.  He notes that “many data-driven climate skeptics are reassessing the issue,” that “In 1996 I defined the turning point of the discussion about climate science (the point where we could actually start talking about policy) as the date when the Wall Street Journal would acknowledge the indisputable and apparent fact of anthropogenic climate change; the year in which it would simply be ridiculous to deny it.  My prediction was that this would happen around 2015… I’m not sure the WSJ has actually accepted reality yet.  It’s just starting to squint in its general direction.  2015 still looks like a good bet.”  See http://planet3.org/2012/08/07/is-the-tide-turning/

[15] The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: In Front of Your Nose, 1945-1950, Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, Editors / Paperback / Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968, p. 125.

[16] See for example, Fatih Birol and Nicholas Stern, “Urgent steps to stop the climate door closing,” The Financial Times, March 9, 2011.  And see Sir Robert Watson’s Union Frontiers of Geophysics Lecture at the 2012 meeting of the American Geophysical Union, at http://fallmeeting.agu.org/2012/events/union-frontiers-of-geophysics-lecture-professor-sir-bob-watson-cmg-frs-chief-scientific-adviser-to-defra/

[17] I just wrote “probably still technically possible.”  I could have written “Excluding the small probability of a very bad case, and the even smaller probability of a very good case, it’s probably still technically possible to hold the 2°C line, though it wouldn’t be easy.”  This, however, is a pretty ugly sentence.  I could also have written “Unless we’re unlucky, and the climate sensitivity turns out be on the high side of the expected range, it’s still technically possible to hold the 2°C line, though it wouldn’t be easy, unless we’re very lucky, and the climate sensitivity turns out to be on the low side.”  Saying something like this, though, kind of puts the cart before the horse, since I haven’t said anything about “climate sensitivity,” or about how the scientists think about probability – and of course it’s even uglier.  The point, at least for now, is that climate projections are probabilistic by nature, which does not mean that they are merely “uncertain.”  We know a lot about the probabilities.

[18] See Kevin Anderson, a former director of Britain’s Tyndall Center, who has been unusually frank on this point.  His views are clearly laid out in a (non-peer-reviewed) essay published by the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation in Sweden.  See “Climate change going beyond dangerous – Brutal numbers and tenuous hope” in Development Dialog #61, September 2012, available at http://www.dhf.uu.se/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/dd61_art2.pdf.  For a peer-reviewed paper, see Anderson and Bows, “Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world.”  Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society, (2011) 369, 20-44 and for a lecture, see “Are climate scientists the most dangerous climate skeptics?” a Tyndall Centre video lecture (September 2010) at http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/audio/are-climate-scientist-most-dangerous-climate-sceptics.

[19] “The challenge to keep global warming below 2°C,” Glen P. Peters, et. al., Nature Climate Change (2012) 3, 4–6 (2013) doi:10.1038/nclimate1783.  December 2, 2012.  This figure might actually be revised upward, as 2012 saw the second-largest annual  concentration increase on record (http://climatedesk.org/2013/03/large-rise-in-co2-emissions-sounds-climate-change-alarm/)

[20] The story of the photos is on Wikipedia – see “blue marble.”  For the latest on the Arctic ice, see the “Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis” page that the National Snow and Ice Data Center — http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

[21] Climate Progress is covering the “Arctic Death Spiral” in detail.  See for example Joe Romm, “NOAA: Climate Change Driving Arctic Into A ‘New State’ With Rapid Ice Loss And Record Permafrost Warming,” Climate Progress, Dec 6, 2012.  Give yourself a few hours and follow the links.

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borehole items

 

Comments:

  1. Only read the first section, looking really good. Can I just make a recommendation for others: the website instapaper. I'm only just starting to try it, but you can click "read later" and then have options to get screen-readable offline versions of articles like this for your phone etc. I suspect it might help people like me deal with articles of this size, rather than fail to ever get back to them - which is a damn shame when so much work's gone into them. Maybe P3 also needs to start to think about a PDF or print-specific format for this kind of thing also.

  2. Excellent article (relatively...) Feels like mankind starts thinking. Let me advocate two philosophers who were a bit ahead of the curve: Martin Heidegger and Arne Naess. (For the general psychologic and epistemic analysis of the heart of our stupendous stupidity I would recommend old Siddhatta Gotama - but the guy is 2500 years dead, and that would make "modern" thinkers feel insulted.)

    we’ve reached the end of what might be called “environmentalism-as-usual.”

    According to Arne Naess there's "deep" and "shallow" ecological thinking. We now need to go deep. For, what is lacking is emotional and philosophical motivation to get serious. Heidegger was a deep ecological thinker. Around 1937 (yeah, that long ago!) he raised the question: Why does Earth keep silent on this destruction?. We now need to answer that question. Perhaps we need to blame Descartes for the split into mind and matter, the separation between "us" and "Earth". We also need to forget Pascal, the poor guy frightened by the eternal silence of infinite space.

    It is time to get the head out of the clouds and forget about infinite spaces and their gods (be it Jehova or Mammon). It is time to get the feet back on the ground and have a closer look at the stuff under our feet. There's an infinite space to behold, too, the space of life, dwarfing the complexity and wonder of silent galaxies, shmalaxies. Plus, there's the only known plausible solution to the carbon sequestration problem: Enhance soil carbon. Alas, there's the rub: Who wants to play with mud and manure? We still want shiny tech, now green shiny tech:

    There will be cascades of innovation, delivering opportunities of all kinds, all around the world. Also, our powers of research and development are strong.

    Same f*en old song! (There's the relativity.)

    Of course we need some tech innovation. And of course our powers there are strong. But this is insufficient. This would be just continuing the vicious circle principle (C. Dilworth) and nothing learned. Alas, the necessary core tech is old Stone Age tech enlightened by some soil and climate science...

    • Yes, I'm a big fan of Zen practice, though I fell off the wagon a long time ago. Feeling the earth under one's feet and opening one's body and heart to reality is very useful, and it's too bad that old knowledge has been replaced by mobile devices, instant, loud, and unrelenting.

  3. I suspect that peak oil and peak "denialism" share one thing in common: It ain't here yet, nor is likely to be in the short term.

    But good timing, as another poll shows that worries about climate change are still falling.

  4. 33% consider Climate Change as "Very Serious", down from 39% in 2012.

    http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/291411-poll-two-thirds-back-keystone-pipeline-belief-in-climate-change-trends-upwards

    thats better than the recent OECD poll, which was at 17%....

  5. Two things:

    * To Martin Gisser: The point of this whole exercise, at least for me, is to work out an analysis and matching transition story that I can actually believe. This means high tech. Not as an alternative to deeper changes, but as a part of the picture. Seriously dude, I have ONE sentence in the essay in praise of our techno-science.

    * To Les Johnson: Yes, the denialist machine is still strong, and it's messages still fall on fertile ground. What I need to make more clear, I think, is that the fate of the denialists is tied to the fate of the right. Or more precisely the part of the right that scorns the "reality based community" And while I think that the right, in this sense, has also peaked, I'm not popping the champs yet.

  6. I live in Adelaide (home of "the acute Mark Thomson of the Institute for Backyard Studies:) and climate change is hitting home in more ways than the heat wave we experienced this summer.

    The sea temperatures around the southern coast of Australia are hot - extremely so for this time of year. We recently experienced a mass fish die off with thousands of dead fish washing up on our beaches because of the hot water, and the giant Australian cuttlefish, which breeds in the gulf waters near Adelaide, has undergone a catastrophic 90% decline in numbers over the past few years because the waters are too warm for them to breed.

    Yet despite all this, denialism is still strong in this country. We have had droughts, floods, fires and storms to an extent never seen, yet some of our politicians still deny the evidence. At the next election the Coalition is almost certain to win government, and the first item on their agenda is to dismantle the price of carbon emissions, followed shortly thereafter by the elimination of Federal Government oversight of the environment.

    You might like to suggest that climate denialism has peaked - but there are still too many dangerous inmates in charge of the asylum.

    • Denial is indeed starting to look ludicrous to the person on the street. But actually eliminating carbon emissions doesn't actually look any saner to them, and remains frankly outside the Overton window of accepted discourse.

      It appears to be a case of accepting a fact while denying its implications. The outcome is the same. The fossil fuel companies end up ruling a ruined planet. Hurray for them.

      • MT, is an army not an army just because its foot soldiers often pretend to have read the manual when they haven't?

        (I'll read and report back on the TA manual later. Honest.)

    • News from the asylum: this recent study found no correlation between sea temperature and the abundance or otherwise of giant cuttlefish:

      http://www.sardi.sa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/183970/Cuttlefish_Breeding_Populations.pdf

      • MT, the relevance is that mandas demonizes his local 'deniers' for ignoring evidence that isn't there. '... climate change is hitting home in more ways than the heat wave we experienced this summer ... the giant Australian cuttlefish, which breeds in the gulf waters near Adelaide, has undergone a catastrophic 90% decline in numbers over the past few years because the waters are too warm for them to breed.'

        It took me only a couple of minutes to find that the cuttlefish claim is wholly baseless. The boffins don't know what has caused the decline. About the only thing they do know is that sea temperatures are unlikely to be implicated. I only skimmed the paper but I think they dismissed the temperature thing as folk knowledge. (I'll look for the exact phrase if you insist. I might also look at the dead fish thing. That also doesn't smell right.)

        So at least part of mandas's ranting argument was bogus. This of course doesn't mean that anyone is right to pooh-pooh the whole global warming thing but it does suggest that some of its noisier supporters are overselling it and are as irrational and uninformed as those they demonize.

        (People, climate change isn't the sole cause of all of the world's problems. It isn't even a factor in most of them. Shoehorning it into every issue is just stupid. The unconvinced get ever more suspicious; the convinced lose all perspective and vanish up their own fundaments. Stop it. Stick to the known facts. If the facts' scariness is hard to convey without exaggeration and misrepresentation - well, that's just tough titty. If you're going to shelter your beliefs behind 'science', stick to the science.)

      • That may well be so, but how is it relevant?

        This isn't an army. I've seen people blame tsunamis on climate! So what? They are the least of my worries.

        We're discussing the core of "skepticism". The claim (which I agree with) is that there is no position that makes any sense left to argue there is no immediate reason for concern about climate.

        That doesn't mean that senseless positions can't be built from a basis of concern. Of course, nonsense can be built from anything! That is a red herring.

      • Not to imply that I have an opinion on giant cuttlefish, if there is such a thing, one way or the other. I never heard of them.

      • Vinny

        Thank you for pointing out that study - it would appear that I am incorrect. My views on the cuttlefish numbers are based on my own observations - as a long time diver and observer of the cuttlefish I have seen a drastic decline in numbers over recent years, and I have also noticed a marked increase in seasonal water temperatures. It is especially warm right now - some 1-2 degrees higher than 'normal' according to the BOM. My own comparisons of temperatures from dives suggest 3 - but we shall go with the official numbers. Whilst the minimum temperature during the winter breeding season has not changed a lot, my observations suggest that the lead up to that minimum has been delayed - and that is in the report so you can see for yourself. I - and a lot of other divers - - suspect that delays in water temperature decrease causes subsequent delays in the congregation of cuttlefish, and they simply don't arrive in time for the breeding season. But you are correct - we should go with the scientific analysis rather than my anecdotes and observations.

        As far as the dead fish are concerned, the current culprit is 'algal bloom', which is code for concetrations of cyanobacteria - which has been caused by a combination of nutrient run off and increased water temperatures. So you can look at that anyway you like - but without the higher water temperatures it is unlikely to have occured.

      • I'm with Mandas on this one. One annoying tactic of the denialosphere is to replace reality with words in one of the new rapidfire formats, mimicking scientific authenticity while denying same. It's fascinating seeing how, for example, Marcott's paper is being used to replace the current temperature record with their "not robust" extrapolation, simultaneously denying the real work and using it to deny reality.

        Personal observation and knowledge over time trumps data collection and reports, and I suspect he's right about the fish, though the algae and anaerobic moves it a tad away from boiling to death. We all know that warmer water can be a breeding ground for toxics and it gets quite smelly over time. Then there are a variety of more subtle effects over time.

        As a plein air painter of ocean shores, I can attest that both the New England shore and West Country in England have become darker and slimier in the last few decades. My paintings from the early 80s are full of light and color, but now there's a lot of dark green and black (Boston's North Shore).

      • A graceful concession, mandas. Thanks.

        I can't reciprocate yet, alas, cos I haven't got around to looking at the dead fish thing so must assume (or stick to my prejudice that) as with most blooms the fault is much more with ag runoff than with temperature.

        'For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes.'

      • Vinny

        I have no problem admitting that I may have got something wrong. We all make mistakes, and it is not so much whether or not we make mistakes, but how we deal with our errors that determines who we are.

        This morning I received a report from the scuba divers association (the state peak body) which provides interim confirmation of my previous suggestion about the fish die-off. Unfortunately I cannot post a link to it here, but here is the relevant section:

        "On Wednesday, Minister Gail Gago released a statement announcing the appointment of a specialist cross agency team of senior officers from DEWNR, PIRSA, EPA and SA Water ........ At this point in time, the available evidence is indicating that the likely explanation for the fish kill is an algal bloom linked to warm gulf waters and nutrient upwelling. This is supported by the preliminary investigations and analysis of water quality and fish mortality.....

        My own observations support this. On my dives over the last week I noticed a number of things. The water temperature is still extremely warm for this time of year, and the visibility is very limited because of a large amount of biological material (easy to see when you are diving). I also noticed a large number of fish with fungal infections around their eyes and gills and on their fins. This is definitely not normal, and indicates the fish concerned are in poor condition and are unable to fight off these infections.

        As far as the cuttlefish are concerned, we will have to wait and see when the breeding season starts in a few months, when we will be able to get better data. There are definitely fewer than normal on the reefs and wrecks around the coast than we normally see - but as you suggest, the cause of this has not been definitively determined.

      • Vinny, I owe you an apology. I am impatient with organized denial, and with the many tactics they employ, but your honesty here is refreshing. Let's hope it's a good sign.

      • mandas, the cuttlefish paper suggested that anomalously heavy rainfall might have bothered the cuttlefish by messing with salinity. Heavy rainfall would also boost ag runoff, which'd boost algae, which in shallow waters might (further) boost sea temperatures, which'd boost algae, which'd ...

        So there might be just the one primary proximate cause for both cuttlefish decline and dead fish: heavy rainfall. CO2-driven? No idea. Just thinking aloud.

        Susan, thanks for the apology. To be honest, I hadn't noticed that one was due. I was too distracted by your contention that the palettes you used in seascapes 30 years ago are proof that the seas you paint have changed. Indeed I'm still pondering it.

      • Almost tempted to take apology for intemperate language and unwarranted assumptions back based the implication you made in writing about me and my work. But I still don't wish to retract: we can all be more open-minded, and I assume you believe what you are saying is true. (Your comment opens: "news from the asylum" which is hardly open-minded or cordial.)

        I paint light and color, sometimes from life, and taught drawing and color to scientists and others at university for many years. My eye for color and light and my objectivity are not only strong but highly trained.

        I no longer paint these shores, partly because the overall look has darkened, but also because I have moved on. What drives me on that is OT here.

        However, you may regard me as a trained observer when it comes to light and color, and I have been visiting and observing these shores regularly for many decades, not just to paint. I also know a lot about the rounds of tide and lengths of days from years of close need for the information.

        It's kind of like Mandas and his diving. His observation is first-hand, and over time.

      • Susan, I have to warn you to beware of confirmation bias, which cuts both ways. Also, our eyes change as we age. Color is a vastly more complex question than temperature, linked with perception and the mystery of consciousness.

      • mt, I am a professional artist who specializes in color. I am not talking about short-term or recent change. The developments I'm talking about are perceptible to anyone, young or old, and have occurred over a period of decades, and other artists have experienced them as well. I can still tell the difference between multiple samples of white, for example, which are warm, which are cool, which have pink, or yellow, or blue. I'm not talking about minute changes; but a gross takeover of the north Atlantic by dark algae. Instead of pinks and russets and oranges and greens, we have a lot of uniform dark slime.

      • This is mildly OT but interesting on the topic of changes in perception and time, and an example against myself to boot. Vinny, since I understand you are in England, perhaps you might even know the place, it's a remote and beloved beach in Devon, only findable by an Ordinance Survey map addict like myself (pre-GPS), between Start Point and Bolt Head (Salcombe). The first time I went there it was open and airy and the rocks were all the colors of the rainbow. (I have photographs of both times.) The second, it was damp and dank and, not exactly ugly, but not rich like Aladdin's cave. I've had the same experience further west at the mouth of the Yealm estuary (and some of the same variegated sandstone). I often don't paint on these expeditions on either side of the pond.

        My observation of the North Shore, a regular haunt since the late 1970s, is quite different. I go there often year in and year out, and know the difference between the huge surf after a big Atlantic storm an the quiet pond on hot summer days. I'm talking about an average over time, and the degrading by multiple pollutions and overall heat increase over time.

      • re my last, forgot to point out that in both examples "against myself" just cited, the differences in color on the parallel visits were related to weather, not climate. Yealm was richer in the wet, the other more exotic in exceptionally dry weather.

      • Susan,

        I'm quite willing to believe that the color changes you have seen are real. Tide-zone food webs are sensitive to human interference of all kinds. Eutrophication by sewage effluent, and/or differential exploitation of shellfish species, for example, may help to explain your observations.

        I speak as someone who has indulged a life-long fascination with "natural history", to the point of entering a doctoral program in Ecology and Evolution before finding an easier way to make a living. I'm conscious of the discipline's origins in the close observations of Charles Darwin and other early practitioners.

        None of this is to say, however, that qualitative changes like you and Mandas have observed are easy for others to verify, much less attribute to particular causes.

      • Susan, I don't remember any particular beaches near Start Point but I know all the ones near the mouth of the Yealm estuary cos I lived there for a while. A lovely place (except when the gunnery range was active).

      • Thanks all for a very open discussion. I think we undervalue anecdotal evidence. This has been one of the great successes of the climate denial industry (not its proliferators, who are often innocent of anything but a desire to believe things are OK and they need do nothing). Scientists are evaluating the real world, which is not limited to theory but all around us.

    • Mal, thanks. Sewage effluent is a particular problem in the West Country of England, which is much less regulated than the US and has a habit of ignoring it.

      Vinny, thanks. Perhaps if things don't fall apart and I ever feel able to cross the "Pond" again we can meet and have a barefoot walk in those sands. I made a lifetime friend there one day at low tide in a brief hail storm, a gal who was making the crossing on the southwest coast path.

      My heart aches for that country, but we have come to regard transatlantic travel as a right rather than a privilege, no matter that we all need to know how recent all these extras we have come to take for granted have become.

  7. Yes, the inmates are still in charge of the asylum. But denialism is nonetheless losing its aura of legitimacy. This means that things are in motion.

    Will people begin to think it possible to eliminate carbon emissions? This is one of the points where the solar revolution comes in. See Paul Gilding's recent screed -- http://paulgilding.com/cockatoo-chronicles/victoryathand.html

    He makes too much of the solar revolution, of course. But it will help on this particular front.

  8. Of course for several hundred billion dollars per year we could be started on a partial solution:

    Irrigated afforestation of the Sahara and Australian Outback to end global warming
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/55436u2122u77525/

    • Don't I recall a similar discussion at RealClimate a while ago. The idea that the Nullarbor Plain which hasn't seen a shrub or a tree taller than 4 metres in thousands of years or the Sahara can be used in this way is just plain barmy.

      There are literally millions of hectares of former forest which are suitable for large scale replantings with much better prospects of success, or, more likely in many localities, suitable for multi-storey plantings including lots of food producing plants.

      Putting large trees, billions of them, where they've not been seen in 5000 years that we know of, could be longer for specific regions within those large deserts, is about as sensible as slashing and burning existing rainforests.

      There are better ways with better chances of a) implementation, b) success. Thinking of the money required for this, when that money could be much more profitably used in say, teaching composting, biochar and other useful techniques to forest dwellers so that their agriculture replenishes soils rather than wasting them, will save existing forests and could be a starting point for expanding them back to their original coverage.

      • I think we need to discuss whether large amounts of water can or should be moved around great distances, and given that massive alterations of ecosystems are already happening, whether we can afford an old-fashioned conservationist stance any more.

      • Arthur Pedrick (or possibly his cat Ginger) had a good way of moving water around: harness the earth's rotation to fire snowballs down a pipe from Antarctica to the centre of Australia.

        http://v3.espacenet.com/textdoc?CY=ep&LG=en&IDX=GB1047735

        Other schemes for irrigating Australia's Red Centre include giant egg whisks, a transcontinental canal and an artificial mountain range that would require '5 times all the earth moved in the whole of human history'.

        http://web.archive.org/web/20070516083751/http://www.farmhand.org.au/downloads/106-118_Engineering_the_weather_Part_10.pdf

        Slightly more sensibly, some Chilean-Americans have a plan to collect fresh water from creeks at the base of the Jorge Montt glacier (which is melting fast) and tow it to wherever it's needed in giant bladders. I'm not sure they're serious, though. The scheme seems to be PR for selling high-priced bottled water to fancy restaurants.

      • Hi Adelady,

        It is not just the concept of planting trees on the Nullabor which is barmy, nor of the huge energy requirements of moving the water necessary to support such mad geoengineering schemes.

        Has anyone stopped to think of the devastating conseqences for the existing wildlife of changing their habit through forestation or irrigation schemes? The whole point of mitigating climate change is to protect the existing ecosystem. Any proposals to do this by destroying existing ecosystems are just madness.

      • Arguably no undisrupted ecosystems will be left in the near future, if there are any now. It will only get more severe as climate change accelerates.

        This being the case I don't really find that argument as compelling as it might have been, say, when the Kyoto Accord had or appeared to have a chance of turning things around.

      • All ecosystems, everywhere, will be altered. This time around we might choose to make rational decisions about the alterations.

      • That's the problem David. As I work in this field, I can tell you that it is virtually impossible to make rational decisions about changing ecosystems. There are just too many variable and confounding factors.

        When you change one thing, you get completely unpredictable consequences all over the place. It is far better to leave well alone that to tinker with things that we truly do not understand.

    • I hid this valuable link in a comment about other stuff below, but since it's on YouTube I think it will post just fine here. I understand this project that successfully desalinated and created a green self-sustaining place (not the point at which they get mushrooms!) was buried by industrial thinking and interests, but it's worth several ponders. I've brought it up several times since I first saw it. It's against it that it is a lot of hard work, and for it that it succeeds. Sounds like the worse desert above might not work:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sohI6vnWZmk&feature=player_embedded

      • This is/was indeed one of the most fascinating permaculture projects.

        But they have "buried" it??

        The last news I found is (probably) this Oct 2011 Al Jazeera report. Dunno if this is the same thing, but its with the same Geoff Lawton.

        Do you have some more links?

      • Try google: "greening the desert": I see it has the whole series.

        I first became aware of this when I was a follower of Throbgoblins (Marc Roberts of Manchester), but unfortunately he seems to have retired from his wonderful cartoons and equally wonderful links. I think moving from blog to website (with associated DDOS attack) helped kill it for him, but one of his last posts was on "Clicktivists" and might have indicated his train of thought.

        He's the originator of this, the finest commenter ever on "trick". This is a secondhand link but a twofer; I'll find the original.
        http://pinterest.com/pin/444167581969251083/

        This one is PDG too (pretty d*mn good)
        http://throbgoblins.blogspot.com/2011/09/physics.html

      • The original "trick" (lots more on Throbgoblins, enjoy):
        http://throbgoblins.blogspot.com/2009/12/devil-in-details.html

    • But maybe Mother Nature is going to move the water for us:
      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/04/07/1828331/when-it-rains-it-pours-new-noaa-study-confirms-climate-change-will-keep-driving-more-intense-precipitation/

  9. Will have more to say, but one point I wanted to make is that denialism isn't likely to just fade into despair, rather it will transform into advocacy for geoengineering of the nasty variety (e.g. SO2 injection).

  10. Climate Denialism has peaked. Now what are we going to do?

    We could all commemorate the occasion by singing a round of "American Pi" (aka "The day denial died") (with plenty of beer, of course)

    Something Horatio has always wanted to try is to record a song and then send it around and let a large number of people add their own voice individually.

    Eventually, you have something like a huge crowd singing, which often sounds very good (amazingly enough). Of course, you have to make sure one person does not try to be the "star" and overwhelm everyone else, but it could be done.

  11. By the way, Michael, I like that you changed my title from "After Denialism" to "Everybody Knows." The original seems to be just a bit too counter-intuitive for some people, given that the trolls are still marching about.

  12. I thought this was an especially thoughtful and well-written piece. Thank you. But none of the reference links work, which is unfortunate because they are well worth reading! Best wishes from Canada.

    • Thanks. The links were supposed to just go to the footnotes at the bottom.

      Alas, they go to the 4-ball at present. How tedious; will just remove the links post-haste.

      UPDATE: Internal links removed. Please just refer to the footnotes.

      Tom: this problem exists on ecoequity as well - links are to local files on your machine and not URLs.

      • I find pasting the whole or shortened (tinyurl or bitly) link on its own line is safest and works everywhere. It would be nice if P3 had a location where one can check the rules, as most will assume ordinary html works and it often doesn't.

      • Susan:

        It would be nice if P3 had a location where one can check the rules, as most will ordinary html works and it often doesn’t.

        I wish to associate myself with Susan's remark 8^D!

  13. Very nice article, thanks. I guess my current sense that I resemble Saint Sebastian from a McIntyre denial attack might be an artifact of the impending supernova collapse of denial. I certainly hope so, but think it unlikely. McIntyre is way ahead of Pielke in the nasty stakes, but Pielke was also featured, claiming Tamino plagiarized. Just low and disgusting, the whole thing. Still licking those wounds.
    http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3ASupernova.ogv

    And I agree that ever more frenetic efforts will be transferred to dangerously stupid solutions like sulfur geoengineering.

    As I've said above, part of the problem is our exploding reliance on the "virtual" world. There is also the marketing takeover of our hearts and minds. Our "free" communication is not free; for example the New York Times holds on to its independence but is hardly free of its major financiers, who are the ever-growing wealth/fossil fuel antiregulation robber baron freedom sector dominated by ever fewer people. (gummy! leave parsing to anyone still reading)

    Australia is a case in point: the unholy marriage of policy from Mary Rinehart (recently profiled in The New Yorker) and the likes of the popular Lord Monckton holds sway in what is arguably a state of rapid climate collapse, and nobody seems able to stop it.

    As to constructive, I'm at a loss as to where to go with that. Definitely individual actions. Benson's tree planting and reclaiming deserts, but once again the best efforts are labor intensive (this Jordanian experiment shows how, though it was trashed by a polity addicted to industrial-scale thinking if I remember correctly):
    http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/006617.html

    There are local sources of energy and improved grids that allow efficiencies based on local resources. Improved storage. Using waste as much as possible. If nuclear, recycling spent fuel (if I understand correctly, that's possible and desirable).

    Massive organization is needed, and we are at a peak of resistance to that. Meanwhile, the people who complain about byzantine regulation have a point, but how can we get rid of well-meaning but obstructive rules while adding important limitations on baron robberism? We need to get rid of the idea that everything has to be bigger and better every time (rock concerts, sports events, fireworks). People need to get back to intimate moments with their surroundings and sharing with each other. What a hope!

    Well, that's my start ...

    (testing code on Sebastian, hope it works)

    • that's Gina Rinehart. Article was a revelation. I find Delingpole even more disgusting than Monckton, but who's indulging in personal now? Me, that's who.

      http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/03/25/130325fa_fact_finnegan

      She's worth knowing about. An unholy alliance between billlionairess and science denial.

  14. At this point, and especially after Susan's comments, I wish to clarify. I am not particularly optimistic about the denialists going away anytime soon. So if I were writing the para on them not, the one that begins "To be clear," I might write it thusly:

    "To be clear, I’m not claiming that the denialists are going to shut up anytime soon. Or that they’ll call off their suicidal, demoralizing campaigns. Or that their fogs and poisons are not useful to the fossil-fuel cartel. But the battle of the science is over, at least as far as the scientists are concerned. And even on the street, hard denialism is looking pretty ridiculous. To be sure, the core partisans of the right will fight on, for the win and, of course, for the money.[4] And they’ll continue to have real weight too, for just as long as people do not believe that life beyond carbon is possible. But for all this, their influence has peaked, and their position is vulnerable. They are – and visibly now – agents of a mad and dangerous ideology. They are knaves, and often they are fools.[5]"

    • Excellent! I'm glad you provided the footnote numbers too, because that allowed me to check your earlier note as well. It is, however, depressing. I'm a Neven fan and can't help thinking all hell is going to break loose within the decade. We can hope not.

  15. Pingback: Another Week in the Planetary Crisis, April 7, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  16. The core problem, of course, will be “ambition” – action on the scale that’s actually necessary, rather than the scale that is or appears to be possible.

    This is a remarkably trenchant point you have made. People have very little idea of what is actually needed and what our true options are.

    There are a couple of observations that I believe are worth thinking about:

    The first is that 99% of all discussion about addressing global warming assumes that solutions need to be profitable within the free market system. While this might be sacred dogma to capitalists, it is by no means the most cost-efficient, coordinated, or expeditious way to proceed. And expedition is now crucial. I believe it is more than high time to really start talking about the role of large Federally-funded renewable energy infrastructure projects.

    Secondly, we need to stop thinking about energy production using a fossil fuel paradigm. We don't need to think that being ecologically responsible necessarily means reducing our energy use, or that our energy future means reductions in our quality of life, or that the huge amounts of new infrastructure that we need is going to be expensive on a personal level. Because it doesn't have to be at all.

    We don't have to devise ingenious and complicated financial inducements to help folks use less fossil fuels. We don't have to "take on" the fossil fuel industry. We simply need to ignore them and make them obsolete. And we can do this pretty easily - all we have to do is deploy enough renewable energy infrastructure and offer the resulting energy at very attractive prices to consumers. I would propose, in fact, that we can actually afford to make that price to the consumer be zero. Free. Forever. All of it. Everything - transportation, home heating cooling, cooking; business power requirements. Every calorie.

    But it will require a very different conversation than the one we have been having for the past thirty years.

    • A very constructive suggestion!

      However, zero cost will invoke Jevons' paradox all too fiercely in our individualist mindset, and all sorts of economic mayhem will result. But the commonwealth (in the original sense) can indeed undercut the fossil industry, especially in a Keynesian model. This might just be easier to sell to the public.

      But the ideological tides aren't favorable.

    • "The first is that 99% of all discussion about addressing global warming assumes that solutions need to be profitable within the free market system."

      It depends how you define "profit". Free market people include more than just the money. If a lot of people want to save the environment, and that makes them happier, that counts as "profit". For a solution not to be profitable is to say that we are worse off with the solution than without. That doesn't sound like such a good idea.

      --

      "While this might be sacred dogma to capitalists, it is by no means the most cost-efficient, coordinated, or expeditious way to proceed."

      Not at all. What's sacred is that people should get to decide what to do with their own money. If you're talking about spending *your own* time and wealth, no profit is required. It's only when you're taking and spending *other people's* money that it becomes an issue.

      --

      "We don’t have to devise ingenious and complicated financial inducements to help folks use less fossil fuels. We don’t have to “take on” the fossil fuel industry. We simply need to ignore them and make them obsolete."

      Well, yes. Actually, you can do it even easier than that. All it requires is for everybody in the world who believes that fossil fuel use is a threat to the climate to simply stop using fossil fuel, or anything done, produced or distributed with it. It's the same way vegetarians seek to prevent animals being killed for their meat. If 50% of the world population stopped using fossil fuels today, emissions would drop, fossil fuel companies would be deprived of finances, their employees wages would have to drop, driving them into other industries, and a vast and lucrative market for alternative energy would open up. The price of alternative energy would initially skyrocket, but the money thus raised would fund the development of the industry, and of better and cheaper ways of doing things. And after it has become cheaper, the other 50% will soon follow.

      Not only that, but it would require absolutely no coercion, no legislation, no regulation, no taxes, tariffs or subsidies, no political lobbying, no pork barrel corruption. It would be a pure free market solution, reflecting and implementing the will of the people in the most efficient manner possible. Corporations would fall over each other to comply!

      Of course, the reasons it will not happen are (1) very few people actually believe that, (2) very few people even of those who do believe it think the true cost is really worth it, and (3) people who claim to be against profit are usually only talking about *other people's* profits, they are extremely profit-minded when it comes to *their own* wealth and well-being. They are people who want something to be done, for the world to be operated in line with their desires and preferences, but for somebody else to pay the price. Not them.

      Which is why they hate the free market. Because it implements, and thus reveals, people's true priorities. They want it, but not at the price it would cost, so their aim instead is to find some way to take control of other people's money and use it to supply their own personal beliefs and desires.

      If I suppose that our beliefs are true and theirs are false, if I believe the actions we want are necessary and the ones they want are dangerous, then it is of course perfectly justifiable for us to take their money to spend as we think is necessary. They gain too from our wisdom, saving them from the consequences of their own error.

      But when *other* people have used the same argument to back spending on their own crazy beliefs it has all gone horribly wrong. And so the safeguards put in place to prevent them making a mess of things are now getting in the way of implementing our true and wise ones. So not only do we need to get our ideas implemented, but we need to find a way to do it *asymmetrically*, so our ideas are implemented and other people's aren't. That's even *harder* to do.

      Which is why I think that if you want to get the job done then using the free market, and paying for it yourselves, is going to be the fastest and easiest way to do it. You can turn a profit while you're at it if you want, but you don't have to. You are perfectly welcome to pay for it all.

      • "What’s sacred is that people should get to decide what to do with their own money."

        I am so sorry that anyone is remotely capable of saying that.

      • "Not only that, but it would require absolutely no coercion, no legislation, no regulation, no taxes, tariffs or subsidies, no political lobbying, no pork barrel corruption."

        So how do residents in a building controlled by a landlord or other third party "decide" to use solar power or to install double glazing or to improve insulation or to modify the plumbing or wiring?

        How do people in far-flung suburbs create public transport infrastructure?

        The important thing about that regulation and legislation you so deplore is that it can be used to promote or discourage certain activities. At the moment, it is far too often designed to discourage, or outright prohibit, the kinds of decisions and actions you're talking about. Where I live, we have a quarter of our private dwellings have solar panels on the roof and, more importantly, a quarter of our grid power is supplied by wind farms.

        This didn't happen just because people suddenly wanted these things. They happened because governments made it easy for these things to happen. Other governments in other places are making it harder for these things to happen. (See North Carolina http://www.energymanagertoday.com/north-carolina-legislators-move-against-renewable-energy-090747/)

      • Here in Texas, water is oversubscribed. By tradition, water in rivers belongs to the state and is allocated to various users in a complex seniority pattern, while well water is considered private property. But Texas rivers and Texas aquifers are not distinct, so that in dry years well water users compete with surface water users.

        Market fatalism says there's some way to fix this.

        It's perhaps fortunate that there isn't one, because on this matter the otherwise fiercely ideological Texas legislature is quite pragmatic and interventionist. It's a good thing, because most of the people disputing the water are armed.

        It would be interesting to hear Nullius' take on competing claims to identical property, both with a basis in long tradition.

        Property rights make perfect sense for movable capital-intensive physical objects. For real estate, for fluids, for intellectual property, for environmental goods, the libertarian model is ill-fitting and unworkable. As adelady points out, I cannot purchase a millionth part of a subway system, or a millionth part of a health estuary.

        And it's very clear that I cannot afford a seven billionth part of a 350ppmv CO2 atmosphere. Assuming the scientific consensus is what IPCC says it is and assuming it is roughly correct, there really is no low-regulation scheme that I can imagine to prevent a global disaster. Indeed, wishful thinking aside, I suspect there isn't even a national regulatory scheme. We need a global treaty and we need everybody to stick to it!

        I am sorry if saving what is left of the natural world violates Nullius' view of the sacred.

      • I can decide to stop smoking, but if everyone in the room continues smoking, we will all die earlier of all kinds of diseases. Oh, and the managers and shareholders of tobacco companies get rich in the meantime.

        Better to make cigarettes real expensive, and then let the market decide. Externalities, it's all about externalities and the true cost of a thing. Without that, and without some mechanisms to separate state and corporation, the market can impossibly be free.

    • Thanks for the excellent post.

      The way I think about this is that we are in a "progress as usual" world, and that it will not deliver us enough action. The reason I like Randers's book (2052) is that he makes this point very well.

      In this context, we need to layer "emergency mobilization," on top of PAU. You are absolutely right that this means breaking with the free market ideology and just pay to do the things that must be done. Paradoxically, this would probably save us a lot of money, but at the social level. The profits would not immediately accrue to private actors.

      For example, public transportation should be free. Just. Free.

      Of course, it would also have to be high quality.

      • Public transport is not going to fall into Jevons' hole; people will only use as much of it as they need. And I agree with you that it should be free.

        But energy cannot be free without being rationed, since energy can be turned back into money. So though it's a nice idea, it won't work at that level. We could provide a certain amount of heating and cooling for free, and we could provide a basic diet and basic health care. And we absolutely should, within modest limits.

        If this makes people lazy, so what? Fear of indolence would have been a powerful argument once. But what we need now, more than anything, is slack.

        But we can't make commodities "free" in the usual sense. That would break the capacity to produce what we actually need.

    • I think that if you want to get the job done then using the free market, and paying for it yourselves, is going to be the fastest and easiest way to do it. You can turn a profit while you’re at it if you want, but you don’t have to. You are perfectly welcome to pay for it all.

      Theory, shmeory. 2 counter examples:

      * I want 4th generation nuclear power! So...

      * Oh, and I also want a non-ridiculous car! So...

      OK, I could perhaps generate 555,555€ surplus, if I concentrate on greed and career and negate my humanity for 15 years. Then I could construct a carbon negative wood gas hybrid car with mobile electricity, i.e. exchangeable batteries. (No kidding, that's easy!) But the market won't produce that. Never ever. I need to do it myself. (Hm, not really: How to get an industry consensus on exchangeable batteries?)

      The market has failed on decent technology numerous times. It's almost characteristic of our dismal economy to produce ridiculous junk. Prime example: Microsoft's 1-window system "Windows". Bill Gates major innovation was the plural-s. All else was total junk - combined with grotesque IBM-PC junk hardware. What a failure.

  17. "So how do residents in a building controlled by a landlord or other third party “decide” to use solar power or to install double glazing or to improve insulation or to modify the plumbing or wiring?"

    If it's not their building, and they want the building modified, then they offer the owner enough to make it worthwhile for them to do it.

    --

    "How do people in far-flung suburbs create public transport infrastructure?"

    They set up a public transport company, or invest their own money in somebody else's with the service policy they want.

    Buy a minibus, employ a driver, tell him where to drive it. Sell tickets to all the people who want it. It's easy.

    --

    "The important thing about that regulation and legislation you so deplore is that it can be used to promote or discourage certain activities."

    Activities can be promoted by both the free market or by government regulation. The difference is that with the free market you only pay for what you want, the activities are paid for by precisely those who want them, and everybody's preferences and priorities are thereby accounted for. With government regulation you pay for it whether you want it or not, and only the bureaucrats and legislators get a say. Their views override everybody else's.

    --

    "This didn’t happen just because people suddenly wanted these things. They happened because governments made it easy for these things to happen."

    Yes. With subsidies.

    --

    "It would be interesting to hear Nullius’ take on competing claims to identical property, both with a basis in long tradition."

    If you mean really *identical*, then it requires lawyers to determine which claim has precedence. If, as with the water example, you mean non-identical rights related to a common unowned resource, then either can either assert their rights, or sell them. If you don't want well owners to draw excess water, pay them not to. If the water is worth more to you than to them, you can make it worth their while and the water will be used to the greatest benefit. If the water is worth more to them than to you, they can buy your rights. You are compensated for your deprivation. Either way, you both gain.

    --

    "As adelady points out, I cannot purchase a millionth part of a subway system, or a millionth part of a health estuary."

    Why not?

    Unless you mean you can't find 999,999 other people to buy the rest of it?

    --

    "I am sorry if saving what is left of the natural world violates Nullius’ view of the sacred."

    It doesn't. As I said, all it requires is for everyone who believes to stop using fossil fuels. There's nothing to stop you going right ahead. Assuming you're in the majority - there *are* more climate believers than deniers, aren't there? - that would be sufficient. Or at least, a very big step in that direction.

    --

    "I can decide to stop smoking, but if everyone in the room continues smoking, we will all die earlier of all kinds of diseases."

    Maybe so, but that's compensated by the fact that most of the people in the room also get to enjoy smoking. For a lot of people, the pleasure of smoking exceeds the desire for an expected longer life. It's their life; it's their choice.

    If you, for whatever reason, want other people to act in your interests rather than their own, there's a very simple way to get them to do that. Pay them not to smoke. If you pay them enough, then they get to buy something more pleasurable even than smoking, and you get something more pleasurable than your possession of what you paid them - a smoke-free atmosphere. Everybody's happy. Nobody has to be coerced.

    (Such a policy would normally only be applied indirectly. You offer a choice of smoking and non-smoking rooms at a differential premium. If people want it, they'll pay extra for it. But it comes to the same thing.)

    --

    "OK, I could perhaps generate 555,555€ surplus, if I concentrate on greed and career and negate my humanity for 15 years."

    Is it morally better to rely on somebody else doing so, and then taking the money from them via taxation?

    --

    "But the market won’t produce that. Never ever. I need to do it myself."

    It will if enough people want it, and are willing to pay for it.

    I agree, it won't if it's just you and a handful of your pals. If there are ten of you wanting something that costs a billion to develop, the price per unit will be prohibitive. But if only ten of you want it, is that a good use of a billion?

    --

    "Prime example: Microsoft’s 1-window system “Windows”. Bill Gates major innovation was the plural-s."

    It's a prime example of people not understanding what the market really wanted. People diss Windows on the basis of what they think the market *ought* to want, or what they *think* it wants. But that's what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the failures and government bureaucrats - you succeed by delivering what the customers want; nothing else.

    Microsoft succeeded because they offered *ubiquity*. Developers developed for it because it gave them a bigger market of customers to buy their software. Users bought it because it gave them a bigger market of software to buy. It's positive feedback. Nobody cared that much about security, or speed, or usability, or power. What they cared about was buying a computer and then not being able to find any cheap/decent software for it because it was a niche market occupied by a handful of people with beards and sandals. Unix succeeded for exactly the same reason - not because it was any good, but because they gave it away free to all the universities so everyone had it, knew it, and was writing for it.

    That's the magic of the marketplace - it delivers what people really want, even when the people are not themselves aware of it. No government bureaucrat or technology pundit can equal it.

    • Nullius, just for a moment, consider the possibility that almost all scientists worldwide for several decades are not wrong. Consider the possibility that not just millions, but billions face disastrous consequences from the likes of (including but not limited to): Sandy (and other hybrid and out-of-season storms enhanced by the earth's circulatory eccentricities and warmer oceans); the drought in progress; wildfires; floods (just last week, Argentina had 16 inches of rain in 2 hours*); derechos; increased cold and snow in the north as the Arctic melts and cracks up, breaking up the Arctic circulation and sending cold out of what was previously largely a contained system, and losing its own consistent cold, seriously interfering with the Jet Stream, pollution of multiple kinds such as in China, the increase of algae and the like in our oceans as they heat, and food and water shortages. We also have an increase in ground-level ozone and a lot of concomitant respiratory problems.
      *
      http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=80875

      In what world is the hoarding of wealth that we are now seeing (the markets are doing fine, and so are the extremely wealthy) a solution to the degradation of our planetary goldmine? How is the market, attuned as it is to Darwinian greed, to cope?

      People, ordinary people, are crying out for leadership, and they don't want the kind of leadership we have, which is bent on keeping the products of exploitation to themselves. While scientists and the literati argue, people, real people, just want to know what to do. I find myself without answers for these people, or even for myself. The greedsters will in the end suffer as well; there is not protection from the growing problems to come accept to act to alleviate the source of the problem yesterday, or at least now.

      The market is not going to take care of this. Warnings have been in place since the 1970s, and the story has been clear since the late 1980s. What has happened is the exact opposite of what needs to happen, while your beloved Reagan and Thatcher shredded the social system. And that's while Thatcher herself understood the science:

      Maggie Thatcher (extract is a very small part of the whole):

      http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/108237

      The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.

      Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world's environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community. No-one should under-estimate the imagination that will be required, nor the scientific effort, nor the unprecedented co-operation we shall have to show. We shall need statesmanship of a rare order.
      ....
      we assumed that whatever the advance of science, whatever the economic development, whatever the increase in human numbers, the world would go on much the same. That was progress. And that was what we wanted.

      Now we know that this is no longer true.... we have been playing with the conditions of the life we know on the surface of our planet. We have cared too little for our seas, our forests and our land. We have treated the air and the oceans like a dustbin....

      We must remember our duty to Nature before it is too late. That duty is constant. It is never completed. It lives on as we breathe. It endures as we eat and sleep, work and rest, as we are born and as we pass away. .... It will weigh on our shoulders for as long as we wish to dwell on a living and thriving planet, and hand it on to our children and theirs ....

      • "Nullius, just for a moment, consider the possibility that almost all scientists worldwide for several decades are not wrong. Consider the possibility that not just millions, but billions face disastrous consequences from the likes of..."

        First, so far as I know, there has been no survey of "all scientists" for you to be able to make that sort of statement. There have been several surveys of subsets of scientists (e.g. climate scientists, meteorologists,...), and again so far as I know they come out with numbers around 85% for a much weaker statement, which is not "almost all". I agree it's a solid majority, though.

        Second, despite this being for me akin to taking the Book of Revelations as a hypothetical future, that's more or less what I was doing. I know better than to try to argue here that it's not going to happen. What I was saying was that given that *you* all believe it's going to happen, the way to deal with it in a free market way that won't rile the economic liberals would be to... etc.

        My aim is therefore to participate constructively, even though I don't share your beliefs. You seem to be laboring under a number of misconceptions regarding what the free market philosophy entails, and I don't see how you can make progress if you don't understand what you're facing. If you don't find that useful, please feel free to ignore me.

        I don't expect to persuade you that I'm *right*. I do hope to persuade you that you need to learn a bit more about it if you want to deal effectively with economic liberals. Do you want to?

      • "almost all" does not equal all. I have to start right out giving you the benefit of the doubt, as you have misrepresented my first sentence in your first sentence. I see you agree as to the large majority. As far as I know the outliers are in many cases either not as qualified or are beholden to the fossil fuel industry. For example, there was a recent study that showed that most "skeptic" books were supported by think tanks financed and beholden to industry. Oddly, Frank Luntz who helped craft these strategies has changes "sides" on global warming, but is apparently not worried enough to take a hand.
        http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/climate_change_denial_skeptic.php?page=all

        I am just as unqualified in economics as I am in science, but if our current Congress is any indicator, free market protection of extreme wealth and influence is going in the wrong direction. (I'm not unsympathetic to complaints about our crazy quilt of regulation, but getting rid of restraints on greed doesn't appear to work.) Market forces appear to be on a leash to prevent any meaningful intervention in favor of those on the wrong end (almost all of us) of the plutocracy cycle. The market has become synonymous with the purchase of influence, and I am alarmist about that. In the end, that influence is buying ignorance and apathy, though the purchasers will suffer along with the rest of us in the end.

        I'm not sure what "free market philosophy" can do about this, but will try to set aside my mounting rage at our headlong path towards failure and read as carefully as I can what you have to say. That's a prejudiced statement but not a closing door, mind you.

        As to that majority, here's a partial list:

        http://www.wunderground.com/resources/climate/928.asp

        "The following is a list of climate change position papers put out by the major governmental scientific institutes of the world that deal with the atmosphere, ocean, and climate. All of these organizations agree that significant human-caused climate change is occurring:"

        American Meteorological Society
        NOAA
        U.S. National Academy of Sciences
        NASA
        EPA
        American Geophysical Union
        National Center for Atmospheric Research
        Royal Society of the United Kingdom
        Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
        Science Council of Japan, Russian Academy of Science, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Chinese Academy of Sciences, French Academy of Sciences, German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, Indian National Science Academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy), Royal Society (UK) (PDF File)
        Australian Academy of Sciences, Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Caribbean Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, French Academy of Sciences, German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina, Indian National Science Academy, Indonesian Academy of Sciences, Royal Irish Academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy), Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and Royal Society (UK)

        footnote: With regard to inexpert opinion, I think of this story from my past. When we were buying our building, some businessmen came in and said we were underfinanced. They wanted to buy the building for us, rent it to us at the rate we had settled on, fix it up (which admittedly would have been an investment that we at that point could not have afforded), and at the end of 10 years sell it back to us at the then market rate (the market was then low). I jumped on it, and a number of my fellow artists said I should be more respectful, that these men knew more than I did about the market. We did very well without them, and I would now be without my community and home if they had succeeded in this scam. I think sometimes "market knowledge" is overrated and common sense underrated. Obvious is obvious ...

  18. "“almost all” does not equal all. I have to start right out giving you the benefit of the doubt, as you have misrepresented my first sentence in your first sentence. I see you agree as to the large majority."

    That "almost all" is not "all" is trivially true. I am a scientist, and I don't agree, therefore it cannot be "all". What I was disagreeing with was the "almost all", saying that 85% isn't "almost all".

    I suppose it's an imprecise expression in everyday language, and subject to interpretation. But I've not come across anyone who heard "almost all" without knowing the details already and interpreted that as being as low as 85%. It's an empty argument, though, since science isn't a popularity contest. Argumentum ad populam is still a fallacy.

    --

    "As far as I know the outliers are in many cases either not as qualified or are beholden to the fossil fuel industry."

    As far as I know, most of the believers are either not qualified or beholden to the green industry. So what?

    [ Text elided. See borehole - mt ]

    So what? You have to judge everybody on the science. To judge science by who funded it is ad hominem argument, and another fallacy. It's reasonable to say that it might lead you to check it more carefully, but you don't judge an argument's truth by the people making it.

    And anyway, *I* am definitely not funded by the fossil fuel industry. Whether I'm qualified to hold an opinion is of course another question. If I'm not, who is?

    --

    "I am just as unqualified in economics as I am in science, but if our current Congress is any indicator, free market protection of extreme wealth and influence is going in the wrong direction."

    This is something that I think I might be able to help with. The free market is absolutely, diametrically opposed to the protection of extreme wealth. It's called 'Protectionism', and we oppose it whether it is practiced by manufacturers and big business or by labor and unions. Free market believers are firmly opposed to the purchase of influence, too. We are opposed to Congressional corruption. It's wrong, it's bad, it's damaging and expensive.

    Adam Smith reputedly said "When manufacturers meet it may be expected that a conspiracy will be planned against the pockets of the public." and Bastiat, one of the original developers of free market thinking, agreed with the saying wholeheartedly, quoting it approvingly. (See 'Sophisms of the Protectionists' or 'Essays on Political Economy'.) Economic liberals are *not* on the side of big business. They are on the side of consumers.

    --

    "All of these organizations agree that significant human-caused climate change is occurring:"

    How many of those were decided by half a dozen people self-elected to a committee, and how many were decided by a vote of the entire membership? Every one I've enquired about turned out to be closer to the former.

    But the big question is on what evidential basis did they come to that conclusion? That's what I want to know. And again in all the cases I've enquired, the justifications offered, if any, were less than I could have put forward myself. None of them seemed to understand the issues themselves. They simply relied on the authority and reputation of others. Which of course anybody could do - there's nothing different in the way they dealt with it as scientists compared to the way non-scientists do it.

    But in any case, a mere listing of the organizations is not sufficient. You also need to list the percentage of each organization's membership who voted for it. I'd certainly be interested to know if I'm wrong and that all these organizations did conduct proper surveys. But I'd also be very surprised.

    --

    "I jumped on it, and a number of my fellow artists said I should be more respectful, that these men knew more than I did about the market."

    I agree with you about trusting "experts" in the market. (As Feynman said, Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.) But people interacting in a market are to the marketplace as individual neurones are to a brain. Individually, they do not know the answers. There's far too much information for any one individual to know what's going on and why the market reaches the decisions it does. But collectively, all the scattered information is communicated and collated, and the optimum approached without anyone's intervention or awareness. Individual businessmen go bankrupt. The marketplace, by driving bad ideas bankrupt and preserving good ones, acts like natural selection in picking out effective designs. Bacteria are extremely dumb, but evolution by natural selection is a very clever chemist. (Read a biochemistry textbook if you don't agree.) The free market works in the same sort of way.

    • 1) Whether you like to believe it or not, the more a person actually understands about either paleoclimate or about climate physics, the more alarmed they are, with arguably not more than two serious exceptions (Lindzen and Spencer) on the physical side. In my actual experience, 97% is a woeful underestimate of the opinions where there is actual expertise. Unfortunately this is very difficult to demonstrate because recognition of greater expertise than one's own requires considerable expertise. Like many other things that are hard to prove, it doesn't make it less true.

      (This has some interesting resemblance to Susan's color perception problem!)

      2) The only people qualified to hold an opinion are the collective body of collaborating experts. Those who actively seek to undermine that collaboration rather than to influence it are not playing fair and quite reasonably should be discounted.

      Science is profoundly a social process and a community process. The word "consensus" only loosely captures it and can easily be misinterpreted.

      3) Libertarian language is consistently used as cover for oligarchy, and in practice the problem is that an unfettered marketplace leads to monopolistic abuses. The model of a free market that so enamors libertarian economists is, I believe, mostly a fantasy, except in a limited range of manufactured commodities where production dominates cost and barriers to entry are low. Libertarian language is used to defend many monopolistic practices on a daily basis.

      If you really were opposed to oligarchy you'd aim a good deal more of your fire in the opposite direction.

      4) The process you describe works well for some things, but in many circumstances, not least our present global sustainability circumstance, is enormously, by orders of magnitude, too slow and is overtaken by processes leading to grossly suboptimal outcomes. Most people consider this obvious.

      The early history of the oil business is an interesting and important case in point, where most of the operators actually demanded government regulation. It's an interesting story. Overproduction was reducing their margins drastically, but a failure to produce would just mean the neighbor's well would get all the oil and you would get nothing. A mandated cap on production preserved individual wealth from a situation where the marketplace was grossly destructive of value.

      Your position is clear, consistent, coherent, and well-developed. This makes it rather resemble true theories. But it is nevertheless false because it bulldozes over any actual real-world complexity.

      • "Unfortunately this is very difficult to demonstrate because recognition of greater expertise than one’s own requires considerable expertise."

        Yes. A lot of the problem is a conflict about how one recognizes 'experts'. Some people look at qualifications and career and papers published. Some listen to what other people whose opinions they respect think. Some people look at the subset of what the expert says where they think they already know the answer, and judge expertise in the other parts by how much of this subset they get 'right'. Some look at the forms of the debates between them - all the social aspects of it - and try to figure out who is 'winning the argument'. There are lots of heuristics.

        But many of these methods are vulnerable to social positive feedback. People follow the herd. And where there are two herds, you quite often get two sets of 'experts'.

        I prefer to see science as about explanation and evidence, and so my own definition of 'expert' is that an expert is someone who knows the explanation and evidence in depth and can therefore explain it to you at any level, so you can see why the conclusion must be correct. If they can't explain it, then they're not an expert.

        I'd not expect you to agree with that, but doesn't it worry you that expertise is something only the experts themselves can judge? Isn't it somewhat circular?

        The world's top experts on the Book of Revelations are all more 'alarmed', too. I'm not an expert on theology, so who am I to criticize them?

        --

        "Libertarian language is consistently used as cover for oligarchy, and in practice the problem is that an unfettered marketplace leads to monopolistic abuses."

        I'm not sure what you mean by that. Do you mean that the theory necessarily leads to oligarchy? Or that free market terminology is wrongly applied to oligarchies to justify them, in the same way that the language of equality and fraternity was applied to Socialist authoritarian dictatorships in the style of Stalin and Mao? Or Robespierre? It's not fair to judge an economic theory by the people who use it as cover.

        An unfettered marketplace does involve the temporary creation of monopolies, and does enable the monopolists to use their position to raise prices. However, in an unfettered marketplace, monopolies never last very long. They become such attractive targets that others soon find ways to move in. It is precisely the vast wealth so obtainable that motivates and funds their efforts to do so. Libertarians don't see monopoly *per se* as a shortcoming. The 'abuse' for them is the monopolists' efforts to use their position to erect regulatory barriers to competition.

        Incidentally, Socialism also leads to monopolistic abuses. A labor union is an organization seeking a monopoly on the supply of labor, with the express purpose of using this power to constrict supply and raise prices (i.e. wages). The external competition that breaks their monopoly are the non-union workers, the strike-breakers, and so on. It works the same way. And again, libertarians don't object to workers organizing and raising their prices, so long as they do nothing to stop other workers attracted by the higher wages from moving in and competing.

        --

        "The early history of the oil business is an interesting and important case in point, where most of the operators actually demanded government regulation."

        Yes. Manufacturers usually do. And usually find a plausible excuse for it, too.

        --

        "Overproduction was reducing their margins drastically, but a failure to produce would just mean the neighbor’s well would get all the oil and you would get nothing. A mandated cap on production preserved individual wealth from a situation where the marketplace was grossly destructive of value."

        Overproduction reducing the margins drastically is exactly what an economic liberal would want and expect to happen. Lowered margins drives the weakest producers out of business (or to sell out to their neighbors), until supply drops to meet demand.

        A regulatory cap means that the advantage no longer goes to the most efficient, but to the current incumbents.

        It's like the difference between a zoo and the wild. In the zoo, populations are capped and controlled and protected from competition, and the animals grow fat and slow. In the wild they are all on the edge of survival, and natural selection hones the survivors' speed and stamina to the optimum. It's more comfortable living in a zoo, but not the best way to progress.

        --

        "Your position is clear, consistent, coherent, and well-developed. This makes it rather resemble true theories. But it is nevertheless false because it bulldozes over any actual real-world complexity."

        Thank you!

        As I've said, my aim is not to persuade, but to promote understanding, so I take that comment very positively.

        I agree that any such theory has to meet the challenge of real-world complexity, which is why I hope you will keep challenging me with examples that don't appear to fit. That's how we make progress.

      • MT, that was an excellent reply to NiV. I'd like to elaborate on your point about Libertarian language vs. real-world complexity. NiV does present an articulate case for Libertarianism, and says

        I agree that any such theory has to meet the challenge of real-world complexity, which is why I hope you will keep challenging me with examples that don’t appear to fit. That’s how we make progress.

        Yet earlier in the thread he says

        What’s sacred is that people should get to decide what to do with their own money.

        I thought Michael's reply

        I am so sorry that anyone is remotely capable of saying that.

        was sufficient.

        Nullius, the ineluctable flaw in Libertarian/Free Market ideology is the tragedy of the commons. You glossed over it here:

        If you don’t want well owners to draw excess water, pay them not to. If the water is worth more to you than to them, you can make it worth their while and the water will be used to the greatest benefit. If the water is worth more to them than to you, they can buy your rights. You are compensated for your deprivation. Either way, you both gain.

        Groundwater is a classic example of a commons, because all well owners are drawing from the same aquifer, and no individual owns the whole aquifer. Each well owner has incentive to draw as much as possible; for one thing, if he doesn't, someone else will. More compellingly, the individual well owner enjoys the full benefit of all the water he draws while his cost is only a fraction of the value of the entire pool, and all other well owners pay the same fractional cost of his withdrawal. IOW, he maximizes his private benefit while socializing the cost. Should each well-owner pay every other well owner (including themselves) not to draw excess water?

        Neven introduced the key point:

        Externalities, it’s all about externalities and the true cost of a thing. Without that, and without some mechanisms to separate state and corporation, the market can impossibly be free.

        As long as "liberty" includes the freedom to maximize private benefit by externalizing public cost, human civilization on earth will never be sustainable, and global disasters like AGW are inevitable. As long as corporations have the liberty to buy political influence, either directly or by manipulating public opinion through corporate-owned mass media, then not only is AGW inevitable, but so is the oligarchy MT alludes to, and NiV's sacred, magical marketplace is illusory. Thus, Libertarianism as ideology is self-refuting.

    • William R. L. Anderegg, James W. Prall, Jacob Harold, Stephen H. Schneider: Expert credibility in climate change, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2010

      Quoth Abstract:

      (...) we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.

      • I'm sure you're already aware of the limitations of the Anderegg et al. study. I won't bother to repeat that.

        But if we take that as a valid survey of 1372 climate researchers (it's not), the Anderegg survey found 472 dissenters from the consensus, and 903 who agreed with it. (There were three overlaps.) 903/1372 = 65%.

        They then made the observation that sceptical climate scientists got fewer papers into the journals, and were cited less. (Not a surprise to sceptics, of course.) The 97% figure is for those who could.

        The question is, does any of this answer the original question, which was about "almost all scientists worldwide"?

        --

        MT, I've made a note of your policy on the C word. Apologies! I'll try not to do it again. I found your commentary on it amusing, though. Did it really take you half an hour?

      • 1) If "limitations" isn't meant as pejorative, certainly. But most studies have some limitations, which may be why they always ask for more money at the end of the study. (Jim, by the way, wasn't funded at all and did the research, painstakingly, through the journal system, on his own. This was live on the web while it was ongoing. )

        2) Your question, though, boils down to the practical as well as semantic difference between "almost all scientists worldwide" and "the great bulk of the scientific community".

        The most important expertise of the scientific community is its ability to recognize expertise. So if you ask a serious scientist a serious question about science, she or he will in all probability say "I bet I know somebody who could answer that better than I could".

        If on the other hand you ask a partisan, whether they accept the science or not, they'll say "I bet I know somebody who could speak to that".

        Sometimes such a consensus never emerges. I see no clear sign of a broad, mathematically well-posed consensus in quantitative branches of economics or psychology such as exists in climatology, for instance. In other cases, though, most notoriously but not uniquely that of Lysenko, who displaced and destroyed what was probably a deep and sophisticated biological science community on Stalin's behalf, it does happen that genuine science is usurped by partisans.

        The evidence, evidence that it has not happened in the case of physical climatology, is the unanimous support of (practically if not literally) all the various scientific professional groups, national honorary societies, and international panels... which constitutes "the great bulk of the scientific community"... which in turn speaks for "almost all scientists worldwide" in practice.

        Scientists worldwide trust the collective methodology of science more than they trust their own opinions and inclinations. This community knows how to delegate. As evidence, note that every single committee no matter how constituted from this vast and diverse set of admirable groups, comes to the same place, meaning it is probably a good approximation of true.

        That place? It's time to stop net carbon emissions; time to slow down has past.

        Before one knows about this unanimity, it is not a priori obvious that the Lysenkoist case is not happening in our particular case. Climatology could a priori be a bunch of hacks, or an immature science, or both, having no real substantive mathematical consensus. But I know for a fact that it isn't, as do "almost all scientists" in actual practice.

        It's very puzzling why so many people get this wrong, unless they are partisans. Surely one can't be so arrogant as to trust one's own opinion MORE than an essentially unanimous consent from every major scientific body on Earth?

      • Yes, "limitations" was definitely meant non-pejoratively - primarily because I thought it unlikely that anything pejorative would get through! :-)

        --

        "The most important expertise of the scientific community is its ability to recognize expertise."

        I would say their most important expertise is to be able to recognize what constitutes valid evidence.

        --

        "The evidence, evidence that it has not happened in the case of physical climatology, is the unanimous support of (practically if not literally) all the various scientific professional groups, national honorary societies, and international panels..."

        Ummm. Didn't Lysenko also get the unanimous support of all the Soviet scientific professional groups, honorary societies, etc.? (I'd normally not discuss Lysenko in this context, even if I was speaking freely. It's a bad example, and overused hyperbole. A better example would be Chandrasekhar and Eddington.)

        For me, one of the major signs of a problem is the widespread shift in scientific communication from 'nullius in verba' to 'argumentum ad verecundiam'.

        As you say, scientists are now required to determine what the experts say - "the opinions of men, whose parts, learning, eminency, power, or some other cause has gained a name, and settled their reputation in the common esteem with some kind of authority" - and place that above their own opinions and inclinations. It used to be that "in questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual". What changed?

        As I said above, the verdict of the scientific institutions would be more interesting if in each case they published what percentage of their membership voted for the statement. I suspect in most if not all cases that it is only a handful on a committee of interested volunteers. There are strong reasons to expect only political conformity from such.

        But better still would be to reinforce public understanding of the scientific 'nullius in verba' principle by not making authoritative statements at all. It would be more useful for them to publish instead a compact summary of the evidence and reasoning on which such a conclusion could be based, for the interested reader to study. Instead, they mostly seem to simply cite the IPCC. It offers no service to the public beyond what any random non-scientist man-on-the-street could provide. Everyone knows what the IPCC says.

        --

        "Surely one can’t be so arrogant as to trust one’s own opinion MORE than an essentially unanimous consent from every major scientific body on Earth?"

        If one considers 'ad verecundiam' to be a fallacy, then the answer has to be 'yes'. The big question is, do the world's major scientific bodies still consider 'ad verecundiam' to be a fallacy?

        I have to assume they do, but their behavior does sometimes make me wonder.

      • I should have said, rather, "among the most important". Whoops.

        Authority does not settle an issue, of course. As I said in the Limbaugh article, it is the other way around. Settling an issue creates authority.

        It was indeed the case that Lysekno the whole Soviet and east bloc academy aligned behind him. But you have to postulate a situation as corrupt and globally powerful as Stalinism was in the eastern bloc in order to dismiss the unanimous testament from authority on the climate matter.

        To an outsider approaching the issue, this single datum needs explaining more than any other. The idea that it is a legitimate representation of a mature scientific process cannot be dismissed a priori just because you find the results threatening to your economic ideology.

        To argue that it the broad consensus has arisen in the absence of compelling evidence, that the broad consensus is social as opposed to evidence-based, you have a difficult case. Somehow you need to provide sociological grounds for the immense pressure that would be necessary to get the scientific community to coalesce around an unsupportable result.

        I see no gulag. I don't deny that there are pressures, and even petty corruption, but there is no sign of the scale of threat to compare with Stalin.

        Argument from authority does not settle a logical argument, true, but we are not having a logical argument in that sense anyway. We are having a strategic argument. We know nothing will be proved like in a mathematical syllogism.

        In such a case it makes rather more sense to weight near-unanimous scientific consensus positions than the weight assigned to some uncredentialed fringe or another. A great deal more sense.

        This is really the Achilles heel of soi-disant "climate skepticism". It cannot stand without a vast and ambitious conspiracy hypothesis, but the history of that conspiracy is vague, flimsy, and implausible.

      • "Authority does not settle an issue, of course. As I said in the Limbaugh article, it is the other way around. Settling an issue creates authority."

        Yes, indeed. That's one of the ways it can be created.

        I should perhaps back away a little from my absolute rejection of any use of authority. Authority is a non-scientific heuristic - like supposing that correlation implies causation - that is fine for everyday belief and opinion, but not for a scientific argument purporting to be a demonstration. Scientists will use it as a shortcut, although they ought to go back and check if it is called into question, and non-scientists have little choice but to use it, although I think they should be aware that their opinion does not thereby acquire any scientific imprimatur.

        It's a difficult situation, with no easy answers.

        --

        "But you have to postulate a situation as corrupt and globally powerful as ..."

        I don't. I think it simply that scientists are human too, that the practice of science is a social as well as a scientific activity, and the social aspects can sometimes overwhelm the scientific ideal.

        As I said, Chandrasekhar and Eddington is a better example. Shortly after the development of general relativity, a young Indian student developed the black hole solution of the equations. Eddington found the concept absurd and unacceptable, and spoke out against it, and as the leader of the astrophysics community everyone else followed. Even Einstein, who was undoubtedly an 'expert' on general relativity, wrote a paper proving that black holes couldn't exist. Eddington and Einstein had a towering reputation and authority, and great influence on the committees regarding careers and funding, while Chandrasekhar was a nobody - who is a scientist working in the area to believe? And at what risk to their own interests would they stand against all their colleagues and seniors in defense of a nobody? Reportedly, a couple of prominent physicists had communicated privately that having looked at the equations they agreed with Chandrasekhar, but would not speak publicly against Eddington. As a result, black holes were not seriously researched for several decades, until Eddington's generation had retired or died. As Max Planck said, "science advances one funeral at a time".

        It's not the norm, but it's not that unusual a situation in science, either. It's human nature.

        --

        "To an outsider approaching the issue, this single datum needs explaining more than any other. The idea that it is a legitimate representation of a mature scientific process cannot be dismissed a priori just because you find the results threatening to your economic ideology."

        "In such a case it makes rather more sense to weight near-unanimous scientific consensus positions than the weight assigned to some uncredentialed fringe or another. A great deal more sense."

        I agree to all of that.

        To an outsider, the existence of the consensus is a powerful argument and requires explanation. Although scientific history has enough David and Goliath stories for it not to be an insurmountable problem.

        I agree that I cannot (and would not) reject an idea simply because it was threatening to my economic ideology. In fact when I started off I did accept the mainstream for the most part, although I did suspect some of the more apocalyptic scenarios and predictions were exaggerated for effect. It was only after I came across a technical article on certain statistical errors, that seemed correct to me, that I took it seriously and started digging.

        It's probably the case that I dug deeper, and was less charitable to the mainstream than I might have been because of my economic ideology. (I suggest others might have dug more lightly because of theirs.) But I certainly didn't come to my views for no other reason, or on the authority of an uncredentialed fringe.

        I agree that if it is simply a question of competing authorities and reputations, the global mainstream wins that one hands down. And I think non-scientist outsiders who take the mainstream position on that basis are being entirely reasonable to do so.

        But for me, *no* amount of authority can override mathematics, and if I have been persuaded that the statistics being used to support the case is bad, I'll require an extraordinarily good explanation on a technical level to persuade me otherwise. And if the entire scientific community go along with the bad statistics, saying in effect that 2 + 2 = 5, then so much the worse for their reputation and authority. And of course having lost that authority, I'm not likely to trust anything *else* they say on the subject, either.

        --

        "It cannot stand without a vast and ambitious conspiracy hypothesis"

        I don't think so. I don't think it requires assuming anything more than normal human behavior. I think the vast majority of scientists act in the same way as the vast majority of the general public. They don't understand the science themselves, they know it would take a tremendous effort to get such an understanding, and they know that the IPCC have the reputation of being the experts.

        I think a significant number of others are aware of problems, but are vividly aware that this is politically contentious and don't want to get involved. Taking a public stance would bring down all sorts of trouble, on themselves and on their institution, and any associates they may have. They pick their fights carefully.

        Some, I think, are aware of problems but manage to justify it to themselves. I've had debates with some where they say more or less "everybody does it". You're at the cutting edge, under pressure to get new results, you don't have *time* for all that software quality overhead. The raw data is messy and partially corrupted, it's an achievement to get *anything at all* out of it, and if you have to make certain assumptions and adjustments and fudges to get there, that's just inevitable. And of course there's a natural human tendency to put the best face on it, and only show the outside world a picture of calm competence and authority. On the outside it all looks very professional, even if on the inside it's held together with duct tape. Every profession does it, and everybody knows it. Nevertheless, such people always live in perpetual fear of being caught out, and consider it a professional courtesy not to catch their colleagues out in public.

        In fact, I think that's what first set them against McIntyre. When he first wrote to them, they shared data freely, thinking he was another academic who played by the rules of the game, and would keep quiet about any dirty laundry. It was with shock and a sense of betrayal that they saw their dirty laundry being exposed in public and being picked over in detail to general derision. Their reaction was entirely predictable.

        And scientific institutions are essentially trade bodies for the profession of scientist, and their primary purpose is to promote the profession's interests in the community. That interest is not served by getting embroiled in political controversy, annoying the governments who fund them, fighting amongst themselves, or exposing the messy internal workings of science as it's too often done in practice. They're run by people who thrive on academic politics and committee meetings. And the climate change committee will be loaded with people who feel passionately about climate change. Who else would volunteer, or be accepted? The statements are not meant as critical assessments of the evidence, but statements of solidarity with their community.

        That's all hypothesis based on personal observation, and not being an insider I can't say for sure if that's what's going on. I'm not sceptical *because* I think that's what's going on, but with other reasons for scepticism, I don't have any great difficulty explaining this single datum, to my own satisfaction at least.

  19. There was a more recent study that came out with something closer to 99:1 but I've mislaid it. However, my evidence is largely anecdotal, given that I have large acquaintance in the scientific world. Dad would come home from a conference reporting that yet another scientist was fuming about being misrepresented as being a fake skeptic, when they were nothing of the sort. Reputations have been ruined there. OTOH, Tobis left out Happer. AFAIK, every one of those reports was opposed only by a small and vocal minority, if any. You may claim otherwise, but that's as false as claiming the mantle of Feynman, Einstein, or Galileo. On the whole, when a vast majority of scientists from a wide variety of disciplines have moved on and only want to be allowed get on with their work, not argue with diehard dissidents, stubborn backsliders, and well-financed PR, along with misguided legal campaigns (Mann et al.), you may assume it's because they've satisfied themselves to the best of their ability that the facts are as stated.

    As for the C word (I peeked) if you claim to be a true skeptic you should take a look at information from primary sources as well as the carefully rolled out campaign, whose timing should be a giveaway that it was planned with skill and precision. RealClimate was included in the attackees and spent several days and nights meticulously answering a variety of repetitive claims. This is a good link because it includes references to all the others:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/11/one-year-later/

    True skeptics look at the whole picture, not just what they wish to believe.

  20. Latest news: Denialism has made a funny turn regarding the Arctic summer sea ice. It's not only the usual suspects who ignore what's going on up there. They have now been joined by real scientists:

    Taken together, the range among the multiple approaches still suggests that it is very likely that the timing for future sea ice loss will be within the first half of the 21st century, with a possibility of major loss within a decade or two.

    http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2013/20130412_arcticseaice.html

    Science Daily: Arctic Nearly Free of Summer Sea Ice During First Half of 21st Century, Experts Predict. If this isn't the opposite of "alarmism".

    Yes, there's still a small possibility that major ice loss will take more than one decade. But meanwhile it has become quite clear that we can forget about all ice models (except the PIOMAS ice thickness model). Here's something the usual sceptics could jump at: Model failure! There was very early cracking this year, with cracks from young ice leading into the remaining old ice and shredding it, too. Young ice dynamics now dominating old ice dynamics. This suggests that the ice is over the cliff. The question now is, how many years will the fall take. Years, not decades.

    And then, the implications to NH weather. What about the polar jet stream? Another thing denialists could jump at. Science has got a lot of research and explaining to do.

    • "This suggests that the ice is over the cliff. The question now is, how many years will the fall take. Years, not decades."

      I won't say 'good', but I will say that would be a positive development. The problem with these long-term impacts is that they don't make testable predictions. If you can say "it will be gone by 2000", or "it will be gone by 2012", or "it will be gone by 2015" or "it will be gone by 2016 plus or minus 3 years", then we can test that. If it happens by 2015 or whatever, you get a lot of extra credibility. If it doesn't, the theory is dead.

      If the ice isn't going to be gone until 2060, it will be 2060 before we can tell if it's true. And that, presumably, would be too late. But if you're prepared to commit to a near term date, and not find some reason to move it when it becomes apparent it's not happening, that has definite potential to move the debate forward. What do you think?

      • I'm serious about the question, in case you think I am being facetious.

        The only debate I see here is "when will the Arctic be ice free in summer", and it's pretty much an academic (in the worst sense) exercise in itself.

        The date of an open Arctic in the summer is not well-constrained by science.

        Extrapolation makes it seem unlikely to be much beyond 2020, but GCMs still say 2060. This tells you something about the sea ice model component of GCMs. This already looks like a prognostic failure of the models. If it tells you anything more generally about GCMs, it tells you that in order to get the present day climate right, they have made compromises that tend to make them slower to change than nature is.

        If the "debate" is whether to hurry up and clamp down on carbon emissions, this failure clearly supports the affirmative, that things are even worse than expected. Which is what Martin is driving at.

        If the "debate" is whether climate science is flawless, that supports the negative. But as we have been arguing 'til we are blue in the face, scientific uncertainty is not our friend. If Arctic sea ice isn't clearly a case in point I don't know what is.

      • I should perhaps clarify.

        I see (at least) two possibilities. One is that the effect of global warming is slow, will warm both north and south poles equally, the change will get significant around 2060, and superimposed on top of that there is a lot of large (not not well-quantified) amplitude 'weather' noise. That's more or less what the models say.

        The other possibility is that the models are wrong, the quantification of the warming in the north is wrong and the mechanisms are not understood, these unknown mechanisms are causing a much more rapid warming, that they asymmetrically affect the north and not the south, and - for reasons I don't see but which I'm sure are very good - you are convinced these mechanisms are driven by global warming.

        (I won't bother with any of the other hypotheses since I'm sure you won't want to discuss them.)

        So let's say these two are the options under consideration. The first seems to me the mainstream consensus IPCC modellers position. The second is presumably what the "worse than we thought" crowd have in mind, when they go on about the Arctic, and I'm not sure how you'd describe its position with respect to the consensus.

        However, unlike the mainstream model, it does make a specific short-term prediction distinct from the null, and is therefore testable and hence 'scientific'.
        That seems like an opportunity to me.

        If you can say what it is exactly this hypothesis predicts, and then we watch to see if it happens, we would have scientific verification of the theory. That's what science is about. Propose hypotheses, make predictions, test them. Conjecture and refutation - the scientific debate.

        If it doesn't work out, you can always fall back on the weather-not-climate short-term noise on a long-term trend hypothesis that is currently being proposed for the surface temperature hiatus. And we'll find out whether it's true in about 50 years time. I just though we might be able to shortcut the process a bit.

        But if as you say it's not well constrained by science, I guess we won't.

        Testable predictions! - that's what it's all about. :-)

      • I really hope I am not as confused on the conventional wisdom when I discuss economics as you are when you discuss climate, though there are those who argue that I am.

        Anyway.

        There is no reason whatsoever to expect that similar behavior will be seen at the different poles; a few feet of ice floating on water is not exactly the same as two kilometers of ice piled up on a continent (East Antarctica) nor is either of those much like a kilometer of ice sitting on the sea floor (West Antarctica). In no scenario are the changes in the hemispheres symmetrical for another crucial reason as well: one hemisphere is essentially maritime and has very little land in it. So at least one of your hypotheses is completely imaginary, in that nobody with any understanding of planetary physics would entertain it for a minute, and the models say nothing of the sort.

        We have many testable predictions that have already been tested. Asserting the contrary is ignorant. You didn't really do that, and I hope you don't proceed to do that, but you certainly seemed to be leaning that way.

        As usual, I refer the genuinely interested party to the Charney Report, 1979, which predates any post-WWII global surface warming and so cannot be accused of taking a post hoc position.

      • NiV, I'm apologizing for my intemperate characterizations of the "skeptics" in the hope that you will pry open your mind about what is going on in the Arctic for a moment. On rereading, I realize in my haste I was too sweeping, and included a whole lot of people who are honestly misled by the ping pong. (I wish I could persuade you to entertain the possibility that this is the result of a well thought out and powerfully financed campaign to create confusion. You need only go back to the original Luntz document which claims success need only establish doubt. The money and connections are well documented, and if you are interested I will dig out some sources for you.)

        Many of my friends are furious with the scientists who are so meticulous and habituated to normal avenues of research. Reams of anecdotal evidence show events have outstripped any controlled experiment or projection. This is no longer about theory, it is about what we may expect. However, as the targeted attack on the Marcott paper shows, any attempt to blend theory and research with reality gets exploited to discredit scientists. The way I see it is deniers (I have to use that word, it's the right one for this) are using the complexity of the work about the past to discredit real and accurate information from the present. Only in an electronically disconnected universe would it be possible to ignore the real world all around us.

        If you studied as I have, or others more skilled than I, you would know that as the Arctic melts, there are a variety of phenomena which are inverting the normal state of things. The jet stream, which used to run neatly around the globe in a nice sine curve, is going crazy, broken in places and extra thick in others, with cutoff lows and highs everywhere. The end result is the wild weather than climate scientists have been warning us all about since the 1970s.

        The consequences to each of us personally of increasing Arctic melt and the ongoing blocking high over Greenland is a lot more of the weirdness we've already experienced. The list of consequences is long, and none of them are pleasant. Our water and food supply is threatened. The oceans are closer to anoxic that is safe. The midsection of the US has had some of the coldest temps ever, while the Arctic is having the warmest. This is not a debate, this is a disaster in the making. We have the power to move it forward, but not if we insist on continuing to prolong the "debate" for another decades. We don't have that long.

        I am a Sandy survivor, and I can tell you that noone in our area is unchanged by that experience. It's not something you can ignore. More on the way.

      • I'm reluctant to say this, and I'm happy for it to be removed as unconstructive and/or wrong, but I do think it worth saying even at the risk of dampening the apparent increase in traffic.

        A lot of time is being spent here in discussion with Nullius in Verba. It may well be that those involved are clarifying the issues for themselves, which is a positive, but I at least don't feel I'm building understanding by reading through the discussion. I largely gave up on hope of constructive (in the sense of building understanding) interaction with Nullius when I came to the realisation, or conclusion, that he had no insight into the motivations of those he disagreed with, and replaced it with a cipher. It may be that this is true of everyone, at least to some extent, but it appeared starkly so with Nullius.

        Beyond a certain point, and I think that point has been passed in this discussion, there needs to be some common understanding of the motivations of actors and if that common understanding is missing the debate simply circles.

      • "...when I came to the realisation, or conclusion, that he had no insight into the motivations of those he disagreed with"

        I understand them, I think, reasonably well. The explanations here and elsewhere are clear enough.

        Although I am somewhat taking you at your word that you want to achieve something constructive here, rather than wallow in your own echo-chamber. That requires some understanding of other viewpoints, and how they're likely to react to your proposals, which I feel is somewhat lacking.

        Achieving real political change is a difficult and uncomfortable process - it requires engagement. It's our world, too.

        I wonder if what you're feeling is the frustration that such a negotiation is even necessary? It would be so much simpler and easier if everyone had the same views! But they don't, and we all have to find a way to deal with it.

        In the past, humanity fought *wars* over such cultural differences. Or it led to prejudice, colonialism, slavery, etc. *Talking*, instead, to people who are culturally different to you is in many ways a lot harder.

        --

        If people here talk to me, I will try to reply to them. If people don't, not finding it useful or interesting, I won't.
        I don't believe in doing things unless they're mutually beneficial - so if you really want me to go away, all you have to do is ask politely.

      • "Wallow in your own echo chamber" is harsh, but yes, we do want to have a place to talk to each other.

        The only question is what we mean by "we". By "we", I think we mean people who think that science, while hardly flawless as an institution, is still somewhat workable and more or less working as a process.

        That means we're in a cooperative, not competitive frame of conversation, seeking to discover truth and derive strategies based on truth, not to accuse or oppose. It doesn't seem your comments are in that spirit. Rather you see things as a "debate" between epistemically equal groups. The problem is not that you disagree, not that you oppose. These can be done in a constructive spirit. It is that it seems that you seem to disagree in order to oppose.

        Your opinions, as I say, have the benefit of simplicity. I think most of us understand them. We don't want the conversation here to be endless argumentation against your pat, preformulated and predictable postures.

        Yes, it is getting a bit dull.

      • "By “we”, I think we mean people who think that science, while hardly flawless as an institution, is still somewhat workable and more or less working as a process."

        I'd certainly agree to that. We might have different ideas about how to do it - even what needs to be done - but most science does work, and I'm confident it will all work out in the end.

        --

        "That means we’re in a cooperative, not competitive frame of conversation, seeking to discover truth and derive strategies based on truth, not to accuse or oppose."

        Again, that had been my initial aim. It has slipped sometimes, when people ask particular questions on particular topics I find it hard not to answer honestly.

        The post that first tempted me to comment here again was about seeking out free market approaches that economic liberals might line up behind. Unfortunately, as an economic liberal I could see that what you was proposing wouldn't work. I tried to explain why it wouldn't, and suggest things that would. And the reaction was, and has been, to argue with and criticise the philosophy.

        On climate questions my initial points have been attempts to suggest questions that would need to be answered or approaches that might help narrow the gap between the warring sides. Martin brought up Arctic sea ice and how it was going to be gone within years, not decades. I could have argued with that. But I tried to see the positive in it, and give an example of a way you could use it to validate the theory in a way sceptics would find hard to argue with. I even picked *both* hypotheses to be ones I thought you could accept! The reply has been to try to persuade me of the campaign to confuse people for money, and to try to persuade me to open my mind to my error about how weather is climate. Is not the one 'accusation' and the other 'opposition'?

        I don't mind that. Some friction is inevitable. And I enjoy arguing too. But I'm struggling to see how I can converse without opposing if everything I say that people here don't agree with is opposed. And now it seems I'm being accused. I don't think I have any control over that, do I?

        But the only alternative I see is not to say anything anyone disagrees with, which would deprive you of the benefit (if you can call it that) of any views outside your own. If that was your intention, then OPAtrick is right and I have completely misunderstood your motivations.

        And I don't see any way around that.

        --

        "pat, preformulated and predictable postures"

        Nice alliteration! Very elegant.

        --

        "Yes, it is getting a bit dull."

        Message received and understood! I shall go elsewhere, then.

        Good luck with your project.

  21. "I really hope I am not as confused on the conventional wisdom when I discuss economics as you are when you discuss climate, though there are those who argue that I am."

    We're not confused. We simply disagree.

    This idea of "confusion" is a version of the information deficit model. The belief behind it is that for the other person to believe differently they must have some sort of defective understanding or reasoning. The real reasons are more complicated.

    Constantly sidetracking to re-iterate and reinforce the impression gets in the way, and is a waste of time. It's only mildly irritating to me; I've seen it many times before. I just ignore it. And it's wasted on everyone else here, since I'm sure they're even more firmly convinced of it than you are. There's no danger I'm sure of anyone here paying any attention to me.

    Your ideas on economics are also a recognisable and well-defined school of thought - what I tend to refer to as the neo-Malthusians although I'm sure there are better names. It was quite big in the 1960s-70s, with the Ehrlich and Club of Rome thing. It's still quite popular. I wouldn't worry about it.

    --

    "There is no reason whatsoever to expect that similar behavior will be seen at the different poles"

    Apart from that being what the models predict.

    Yes, there are differences between the two situations, but are they material differences? The greenhouse effect is in the atmosphere. CO2 is well-mixed. Both poles will be warmed. In both cases we're talking about seasonal sea ice floating in a thin layer on the sea, next to cold and ice-covered land. Yes there are differences, and yes it's perfectly possible that some of those differences explain the different behaviour, but we need specifics. We need predictions. And the IPCC's models, which presumably reflect our best physical understanding, don't make them.

    The second hypothesis posits the existence of unknown mechanisms, to explain the divergences. These unknown mechanisms for some reason reverse the sea ice loss in the Antarctic, while accelerating it in the Arctic. So they must depend in some way on the different circumstances, while at the same time not being entirely due to the different circumstances because global warming also needs to be the driver. You cannot simply propose an acceleration, it has to be a *conditional* acceleration differentially dependent on some factor asymmetric between the hemispheres.

    It's an extra challenge for your second hypothesis to meet. I'm not saying it can't be met.

    --
    --

    "NiV, I’m apologizing for my intemperate characterizations of the “skeptics” in the hope that you will pry open your mind about what is going on in the Arctic for a moment."

    I'm not offended. I take it for granted if I come here that I'm going to get that. It's still worth it.

    And my mind *is* open on the Arctic, but it's open to evidence, not to assumptions or faith. It seems to me that even from a consensus viewpoint that the calculated contribution of global warming should still be very small, and that if there are much bigger changes in the short term they are far more likely to be weather than climate.

    We expect there to be natural background variations around any trend. Sometimes the variation will be up and sometimes it will be down. So when we see the line going down faster than we expect, or going in the opposite direction to the way we expect, that shouldn't be a surprise.

    But more to the point, our reaction should be *consistent*. If we're going to assume that the variation means we got the trend wrong, then we have to do that consistently. The Arctic trend is steeper than we thought, but the Antarctic trend *is in the opposite direction* to the one we thought. Or if you're going to write it off to unrelated unknowns, then you have to do so consistently. If the Antarctic sea ice going up is meaningless noise, then so is the Arctic's step down.

    But to ascribe significance to any variations that go in your favoured direction and dismiss any variations as insignificant when they go against it looks very obviously like confirmation bias. Pointing it out is one of the sceptics favourite and most effective attacks.

    Or maybe the Arctic change is not significant but the Antarctic reversal *is* significant? Why not? Besides that fitting better with the prior beliefs you want to confirm?

    You should perhaps think of the Arctic's dramatic decline as tempting bait, that we hope will draw your forces out of position. You have to abandon the IPCC models and their physical basis. You have to make risky short-term predictions. You have to seize on changes over a handful of years, instead of the thirty-year climate you tell us elsewhere is necessary. You have to seize on local changes - the Arctic is only 2% of the globe - instead of the global ones you have insisted on elsewhere. And you have to make transparent excuses for ignoring the Antarctic. It's a minefield! And we love it when you walk into it of your own accord.

    --

    "I wish I could persuade you to entertain the possibility that this is the result of a well thought out and powerfully financed campaign to create confusion."

    It isn't. This is an obvious conspiracy theory. But I've got no particular interest in it, or in discrediting it, so I'm not going to argue.

    --

    "However, as the targeted attack on the Marcott paper shows, any attempt to blend theory and research with reality gets exploited to discredit scientists."

    If the Marcott paper hadn't been used to try to discredit sceptics, it would never have been noticed.

    As a straightforward reconstruction of the Holocene, it was fairly unremarkable. Roughly a third of the series show the temperature rose after the Younger Dryas to about 2 C above present, and then slowly declined to the present day. Roughly two thirds of the series show no change in temperature - just random noise. Do some averaging and extrapolating, and all the no-change series water down the 2 C to about a bit under 1 C. That's something we could argue about, but it probably wouldn't raise any major fuss.

    The reason for the fuss was the spike on the end, and the globally-reported series of press releases and press interviews selling the spike as the vindication of Mann, evidence of unprecedented change, the beginning of the end times, and so on. It was published just in time for AR5, and was presumably intended to take the place of the MBH Hockeystick as the IPCC's icon.

    It took me about 20 minutes to locate and download the data, and another hour or two to find - to my puzzlement - that *none* of the 73 contributing series had any sort of visible spike at the end, let alone many of them. Where did it come from? The method details were complex, incompletely described, and would take major labor to replicate, and were in any case paywalled. However, several of the charts showed Mann 08's land-only EIV data superimposed, and it seemed to be somehow related to the calibration, so I guessed they might have spliced the modern instrumental data in without mentioning it, as they've done before.

    I was wrong. It turned out to be far simpler than that. The spike was simply an endpoint effect as they ran out of data and the sample size shrank. It was just noise, that any competent researcher would have cut off. It had simply never occurred to me that they wouldn't have done so, or that they would give press conferences about it if they knew that that was what it was. The sceptics would have been suspicious, but that could probably have been waved away if McIntyre hadn't found the thesis it was based on and discovered that the spike originally went the other way. It was only induced to point up rather than down by some judicious pruning and redating of series that is as yet unexplained.

    It was a most peculiar episode and I've no idea what they intended to achieve by it. We have no particular ill-will or desire to discredit Marcott et al. as scientists or people - they're scarcely known and we have no history of rancorous dispute with them as we do with some - But small-sample noise being sold as evidence of a temperature spike is another effective bit of ammunition, and it's going to get used. Thanks very much for it.

    --

    "The jet stream, which used to run neatly around the globe in a nice sine curve, is going crazy, broken in places and extra thick in others, with cutoff lows and highs everywhere. The end result is the wild weather than climate scientists have been warning us all about since the 1970s."

    They're called Rossby waves, the effect on them is known as the index cycle, and was already identified as a standard weather pattern by Carl-Gustav Rossby back in 1939. Blocking is likewise a very well-known phenomenon, and has been responsible for many of our cold winters of the past. It's just normal weather, as usual.

    Again, the problem is seizing on any short-term variations in weather as evidence of climate change. We had a number of mild winters, so this was declared to be evidence of climate change and the world warming. Warmer winters are just what we expect. Children soon won't know what snow is. Then we have a few cold and snowy winters again, and the story suddenly changes. Now cold weather is evidence of climate *disruption*, and is also caused by global warming, and was also just what we expected. Children will presumably have to get used to more snow. Can you imagine how this looks?

    It's no use giving anecdotes about individual weather events - you need to give long-term statistics. And as Roger Pielke Jr has shown repeatedly, the long-term statistics show no detectable change in weather disasters, (adjusted for demographics). It's even the scientific consensus!

    I'm sure you won't believe it, but I'm actually trying to be helpful and constructive here. It's quite hard for us to argue against long-term predictions of climate disaster 50 or 100 years down the road. It's very *easy* for us to argue when you step beyond the science on the short-term and recent past, and say the disasters are happening to us *now*. Which sounds like something I ought to favour, and which I must confess to enjoying taking advantage of, except that I think it's more important that we get this right than that my side wins.
    I offer it only as something for you to think about.

    • There are certainly those who have seriously criticized Roger Pielke Jr's statistics. Cum grando salis, please; live up to your alias.

    • Here's your prediction, and don't blame the scientists, blame this amateur's close observation of what is going on in the Arctic now, as recorded in real time at Neven's, NSIDC, and the like. They are impatient with scientists and models, because they know that events have outstripped prediction by a long way.

      As I understand it, an "ice-free" summer Arctic has a specific definition, which is not 100% water, but close. I am reasonably sure this will happen in three years plus or minus three years - that is, unlikely this summer, and quite unlikely to be after 2020. The knock-on consequences are still being observed as I mentioned earlier (I am aware of Rossby waves). As you know, it is not all that easy to make observations in the polar regions which is why we have had so little precise information from there until recently.

      As to your backatcha about conspiracy, five years ago I had all the data at my fingertips, but that is such an old story we are quite bored with it. But if you open your mind, you will find it's quite true that billions have been spent to obscure the truth about climate change due to global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases. There now exists an alternative universe of "think tanks" and "experts", many of which overlap on big tobacco. Heartland has some very slick stuff on this. In some ways their stupid advertising blitz did us all a disservice, by taking away one obvious example of this alternative universe in all its slick certitude and falsehood.

      You could, of course, visit SourceWatch and ExxonSecrets for yourself, as we all did, and see the connections between money and influence, rather than trusting people who obscure meaning for a living.

      I have to admit that while in the early days I was not altogether persuaded that Pielke fils et pere were so far off-base, their recent claim that RealClimate is a mafia has clarified where they stand. Expert technical rebuttals of their work is not hard to find.

      ps. OPatrick is right, this is a waste of time and energy. It's not new, and it's not original.

      pps. David, if you read this, could you provide a link or two?

      • I assume you mean me. I'm not interested in the details of why RPJr is wrong. The proper scale to use is global. There we have enough evidence from just the satellite period to see that indeed the expected physics is playing out: greatly increased precipitation in the tropics; increased precipitation in mid to high latitudes. This has consequences. For example, ask those living in the north of Luzon, The Philippines.

    • If the Antarctic sea ice going up is meaningless noise, then so is the Arctic’s step down.

      Classic denialist abuse of logic. Anyhow, the Antarctic sea ice up is statistically significant - but insignificant compared to the Arctic loss. The Antarctic up is far from compensating the Arctic down. You should live up to your nom de guerre and look for the numbers. (Extra homework: look for Arctic hockey sticks. This is no longer natural variation.)

      You have to seize on local changes – the Arctic is only 2% of the globe – instead of the global ones you have insisted on elsewhere. And you have to make transparent excuses for ignoring the Antarctic. It’s a minefield!

      The Arctic Ocean is only 2.8%. But 1 summer month without ice contributes almost as much as the current anthropogenic global total radiative forcing: Sea ice reflects most sunlight back to space, while open water takes up most of it.

      So, a huge self-enforcing feedback is kicking in right now. Slight Antarctic sea ice growth is far from compensating this. There's the minefield. Also, northern land snow cover is declining. (Maybe there's some hope for a super lake snow effect (like in Moscow winter 2012/13) and the feedback gets a wee bit less catastrophic.)

      http://neven1.typepad.com/blog/2012/09/arctic-ice-melt-20-years-of-co2-emissions.html (more links there)
      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2011JD015804/abstract
      http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v4/n3/full/ngeo1062.html
      http://www.nature.com/news/global-warming-expands-antarctic-sea-ice-1.12709

  22. That's quite a performance. Among your other points, I can say with certainty and clarity, since I read the Marcott paper and all associated documents recently, that you ignore the obvious and promote the obscure.

    But the real tragedy is that you think you have 50 or 100 years.

    It's time for we, not you and me.

    All this sophistry is completely useless. What would be useful is action, now, to clean up the tenancy of the human species on its finite planet before it's too late.

  23. "Climate Confusion"
    -- by Horatio Algeranon

    Climate confusion's not a bug
    Hiding under an obscuring rug
    But instead, it is a feature
    Of rug itself, a wily creature


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