Planet 3.0 Website repair in progress; come back later. Tue, 05 Dec 2017 03:55:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 35350617 Utopias in the Anthropocene Tue, 05 Dec 2017 00:27:51 +0000 [more]]]> [In my opinion this article deserves a lot more attention than it has received to date. Presented at a plenary session of the American Sociological Association meeting in August 2012, it’s republished here with the permission of the author, Dr. Clive Hamilton. It’s quite sobering, but we are where we are, and five years later, we appear hardly closer to understanding and accepting it. The original, with footnotes and references, appears here. -mt]

Utopias in the Anthropocene

It is not widely understood that carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for centuries, so our
future will depend on the total amount we humans put into it over the next several decades.
This is the paramount fact that separates climate change from all other environmental

On top of past emissions, the total amount will depend on two critical factors—the year in
which global emissions reach their peak, and how quickly they fall thereafter. Let’s make
some optimistic forecasts. Firstly, assume that global emissions peak in 2020, so that after
that year any increase in emissions from poor countries must be more than offset by declines
in rich countries. Realistically, after persistent failure to reach an international agreement,
global emissions are likely to keep growing until 2030 or beyond.

Second, assume that global emissions fall by 3% each year after the 2020 peak until they
reach a floor, the minimum necessary to supply the world’s population with food. Of course,
we cannot expect poor countries to cut their emissions as fast as rich ones, so a global decline
of 3% per annum translates into a 6-7% per annum decline in energy and industrial emissions
in rich countries.

Can this be done? It would certainly be unprecedented. After the collapse of the Soviet
Union, Russia’s total emissions in 1990s fell by 5.2% per annum, which is close to the rate
of decline needed. However, the sharp decline in emissions was associated with a halving of
that nation’s GDP, with widespread social misery.

Nevertheless, if we think positive and assume global emissions do peak in 2020 and decline
by 3% annually thereafter, with rich country energy and industrial emissions falling by 67%,
where would that leave us? The shocking fact is that this optimistic scenario would see
concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reach 650 ppm (the pre-industrial level
was 280 ppm and it now stands at 392 ppm). That level translates into warming of 4°C above
the pre-industrial global average. As oceans warm more slowly, a global average of 4°C
means warming of 5-6°C on land, and even higher closer to the poles. Warming on this scale
and at the expected rate, would radically change the conditions of life on earth. The world
would be hotter than at any time for 15 million years, yet this is now regarded by leading
climate scientists as the most likely future before the end of the century.

This analysis has been replicated, with small variations, by a number of research groups.
A study for the German government shows rates of emissions reductions that would be
needed if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting warming to 2°C (Figure 1). If global
emissions peak in 2020 they would need to decline at 9% per annum thereafter, an impossible
task. No wonder John Schellnhuber, who led the research, referred to the curves as ‘vicious

Another analysis from the Climate Interactive program developed by MIT’s Sloan School
and the Sustainability Institute (Figure 2) shows possible paths of emissions reduction and
the associated temperatures at the end of the century. If we are in an optimistic frame of
mind and assume that the commitments made by various nations at international summits are
implemented in full then we will be on the ‘Confirmed proposals’ path, which is expected to
see the Earth warm by 4°C.

The International Energy Agency is the last international body that could be accused of green
sympathies, other than OPEC. Yet last year it concluded that if governments do no more than
implement the policies they are currently committed to the world is expected to warm by
3.5ºC by the end of the century. It concluded: ‘On planned policies, rising fossil energy use
will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change’. Without radical policy
change in the major emitting nations, this future will be locked in over the next five years
because the infrastructure will have been built.

Warming approaching 4°C is uncharted territory. As is apparent from Figure 3, the climate
system would cross several tipping points and trigger various feedback effects that would
render the climate system largely beyond human control. The idea that when things get
too hot we can then turn the thermostat down is not how the climate system works. On the
road to warming of 4ºC the Earth system would cross several thresholds that would amplify
warming and make the climate system unstable. The planet has warmed by 0.8ºC above
the pre-industrial average already and inertia in the system means that 2.4ºC of warming is
already locked in, with heating reaching 4ºC perhaps in the 2070s.

What are the expected impacts? I don’t plan to dwell on the likely impacts of a 4°C world,
except to refer to the well-known ‘burning embers’ diagram. In Figure 4, the left half shows
the best estimates in 2001 of indicators like threats to ecosystem survival and risks of extreme
weather events at various degrees of warming. The right half shows the assessment of risks
updated in 2009 on the basis of new research. Redder areas indicate higher risks.

A decade ago we thought we were reasonably comfortably located in the lower left quarter,
i.e. that 2°C was an achievable aim and the impacts of 2°C warming were worrying but
manageable. With a better understanding of the higher risks of each degree of warming, and
the realisation that 2°C is unattainable and we will be lucky not to reach 4°C, we suddenly
find ourselves in the sea of red in the top right hand quarter of the diagram. The alarm bells
are ringing insistently, yet we are deaf to them.

It’s hard to communicate to the public what a world warmed by 4ºC will be like. Even those
who have no reason to doubt the credibility of the figures don’t really take them seriously.
It seems like an abstract threat. For many people one unseasonable snowstorm is enough
to nullify decades of painstaking scientific study. And psychologists have discovered that,
after accounting for all other factors, when people are put in a room and asked about climate
change they are significantly more likely to agree that global warming is ‘a proven fact’ if the
thermostat is turned up.

The Anthropocene

As I have said, the persistence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the most profound and
least well-known feature of human-induced climate change (Figure 5). The climatic effects
of burning fossil fuels will last longer than Stonehenge, longer even than nuclear waste, and
will bring a long era of climatic instability. The impact of burning fossil fuels on the Earth’s
atmosphere has been so far-reaching that it is the principal factor, along with population
growth, that has persuaded Earth system scientists to declare that the Earth has entered a new
geological epoch known as the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans.

The Anthropocene is defined by the fact that the ‘human imprint on the global environment
has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in
its impact on the functioning of the Earth system’. This new epoch comes after an
extended period of unusual climatic stability, a 10,000-year era known as the Holocene. The
Holocene’s mild and equable climate permitted human civilisation to flourish. But humans
have flourished so successfully in this sympathetic environment that we have shifted Earth’s
geological arc.

The Anthropocene began at the end of the 18th century with the industrial revolution. It was
not until the 19th century that the idea of progress took hold, an idea that since the 1950s
has become identified with economic growth. Endless growth has been the shared goal of
capitalism and socialism, but when the visionaries and pragmatists of all political traditions
promised affluence they took for granted the accommodating conditions of the Holocene.

The arrival of the Anthropocene represents the most far-reaching challenge to the growth
project and all political and social analysis that presupposes it. If the Holocene’s anomalous
stretch of climatic dependability made civilization possible, what does it mean for the
Holocene to come to an end? What does it mean for humankind to be entering an era of
climatic volatility, with a rate of warming hardly matched in the palaeoclimate record?
The most immediate implication is that the principal assumption of modernity, that of
endless progress, now looks untenable. We are inclined to forget how deeply entrenched this
assumption is; it is the grand narrative that would not die, the story-line of daily decisionmaking
in public, corporate and private life.

It has often been noted that utopian political ideals were a materialized form of the Christian
promise of salvation. Among utopians, it did not take long for the ideal of progress to harden
into a law, a law of history. The law of progress allowed those who understood it to know
the future; to be a political actor then meant to work to bring about more quickly that which
is inevitable. When the ideal became law all champions of social transformation—democrats,
Marxists and liberators of all kinds—could believe that history was on their side. That is what
it meant to be ‘progressive’. Philosophers like Hegel provided the dialectic motor for the iron
logic of progress, but in the end the proof was there for all to see in the relentless advance of
gross domestic product.

But what happens to the ideal of progress when the law fails, or proves to have been true
only for an epoch that has now passed? The law can live on only at the price of denying
the passing of the age of progress and pretending that the Anthropocene is something for
scientists alone to worry about. Although the births of utopias are precipitated by times of
great turmoil, all presuppose stability and the absence of conflict; yet there will be no stability
in the Anthropocene, especially if the expectations of abrupt change (unprecedented rates of
warming, tipping points, feedback effects and so on) come to pass. Instead of investing in
more growth we will be pouring resources into trying to climate-proof our lives—our cities,
our coasts, our infrastructure, our houses and our food supplies. The dominant task will be to
protect the gains of the past and manage the effects of climatic insecurity so that they do not
spill into conflict.

Unreal utopias

Entrenched structures of power and unchangeable ‘human nature’ have always been the
principal obstacles on the path to utopia. For utopians overcoming them is achieved by way
of a historical rupture, often an act of violence, that overthrows the old structures and creates
a ‘new man’. But the rupture we now confront is not one of our making, or rather not one we
have consciously brought about; it is not one to welcome but one to resist for it renders us
less free, less powerful, and less able to build a New Jerusalem. We begin to see that in the
vision of ‘permanent self-surpassing toward an infinite goal’ lay a trap that has only now
been sprung. We believed that human destiny could be shaped by what we believed; yet now
we see that all utopias rested on the technological transformation of nature but that nature
would not be subdued and now holds our fate in its hands.

Some leading thinkers have begun to grapple with the meaning of the new epoch now
dawning and the all-crushing truth of climate science. In Living in the End Times Slavoj
Žižek takes up the essential question for the left: with the shift to the Anthropocene, ‘how
are we to think the link between the social history of Capital and the much larger geological
changes of the conditions of life on Earth?’ Yet Žižek can get only get to declaring
that ‘materiality is now reasserting itself with a vengeance’ over intellectual labour before
reverting to labour, capital and the old social categories, unable to see that the convergence
of human history with geological history (Dipesh Chakrabarty’s essential insight) has
invalidated the ‘social only’ understanding of the world.

For Žižek the ground has not shifted and the task remains the remaking of the social and
economic system to ‘solve’ the problem, confident that the Earth will obediently follow
the program. Human agency, the first-born child of the Enlightenment, is undimmed: ‘one
can solve the universal problem … only by first resolving the particular deadlock of the
capitalist mode of production’. But the paramount fact of carbon dioxide’s longevity in the
atmosphere means that it is too late to ‘solve’ the problem. We cannot make it go away; we
can only hope to moderate the worst.

Ulrich Beck seems to go much further in recognizing that the unintended dynamics of
capitalist modernization ‘threatens its own foundations’. Climate change demonstrates the
impossibility of maintaining sociology’s separation of social forces from natural ones and
enforces ‘an ongoing extension and deepening of combinations, confusions and “mixtures”
of nature and society’. Yet Beck too immediately reverts to the familiar by insisting that
climate change must be inscribed into the old categories. It is true, as he writes, that ‘one
cannot conceptualize climate change without taking its impacts on social inequality and
power into account’; but it is also true that one cannot come to grips with climate change if it
is cast only as a problem of power relations and differences among humans.

Beck somehow manages to reframe the destabilization of the conditions of life on a
millennial scale as a golden opportunity to achieve the progressive dream. Let us close our
ears, he tells us, to ‘depressing’ talk of catastrophe and shun the ‘negativity’ of ‘well-meaning
green souls’. When the ‘world public’ (itself a utopian fantasy) wakes up to the fact that
we are all in this together ‘something historically new can emerge, namely a cosmopolitan
vision in which people see themselves … as part of an endangered world …’. He entertains
the poignant wish that a golden era of ‘enforced enlightenment’ and ‘cosmopolitan realism’
will dawn.

Beck is the ultimate Modern, whose implicit faith in reflexivity guarantees our autonomous
capacity to respond to the world as it is. Responding to climate change requires a ‘new
contract between the managers of risk and the victims of risk in world risk society’. Yet
is not the essential lesson of the climate crisis that reflexive modernisation has failed?
We would expect the new conditions to ‘bend back’ on the agents so that they shape the
environment to avoid the threatened harms. But the most striking fact about the human
response to climate change is the determination not to reflect, to carry on blindly as if nothing
is happening.

Moreover, Beck’s new contract is one from which the Earth itself, in its new incarnation
as the Anthropocene, has been excluded, except as the spur to greater human triumph. The
existential threat morphs into the occasion for total emancipation, where all of the problems
that have beset the world will be resolved. For Beck, ecology becomes the solution to
poverty, inequality and corrosive nationalism. The social always defeats the natural; the
Earth remains the mere backdrop on which the human drama is played out.
So confident is Beck that human agency can prevail in the Anthropocene that he ends up
welcoming the climate crisis because it opens up industrial modernity to ‘fundamental
critique and multiple futures’, a process of ‘self-dissolution and self-transformation’.

We need to turn to Bruno Latour to find a thinking open to the meaning of the
Anthropocene. The tragedy of Modernity is that the future is seen as infinitely malleable
and therefore exists only as an abstraction. The Moderns, and in this class we may include
Žižek and Beck, are flying into the future but facing backwards, writes Latour, fleeing from a
horrible past of suffering and oppression but unable to see the destruction that lies ahead. For
them the real is what is left behind and the future is only what the autonomous subject ends
up creating.

Few progressives have turned around to face the future; and one can see why, for the
progressive who turns around can no longer be a progressive. In the Anthropocene, in
addition to the past we seek to escape, now we have a future we want to avoid; so we are
squeezed from both ends. Isn’t it easier to turn back to the past, to take comfort in the familiar
kinds of suffering from which we can still aspire to free ourselves? ‘Give us back our past’, is
the cry [of] all denial.

But now the Anthropocene—‘that mix up of all mix ups’— gives us a future that is all too
real. It is no longer ours to construct; nature is no longer merely the inert stage on which
the human drama plays out. Nature, we are learning, has its own grand narrative, a narrative
against all (human) narratives that says ‘you can no longer take me for granted, as something
infinitely malleable’. So now we must find ways to navigate it, to accommodate whatever it
throws at us, to work out how to live on a planet less liveable.

]]> 3 11076 Mon, 04 Dec 2017 18:02:23 +0000 “Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.”

-Jonas Salk


-Jonas Salk

]]> 0 11058
3 Arguments that Renewables Don’t Suffice Tue, 14 Nov 2017 02:00:42 +0000 [more]]]> Wind_turbine_Holderness

Re-upping this post.

Unfortunately the Australian has removed the very excellent Saul Griffiths talks that (inadvertently I think) moved me from the maybe-nukes camp to the reluctantly-nukes camp. I have replaced the link with a rather less polished talk he gave (he was sick at the time) covering the same ground.

The Clack-Jacobson contretemps has me more convinced than ever that renewables don’t suffice.

I have recently become convinced by the pro-nuclear arguments. Here are three points I offer in support.


One point is simply that the EROEI on renewables is so tight that corners will be cut. It turns out that the Chinese dominate the solar industry by virtue of very high tolerance for releasing toxic chemicals into the local environment.

The low costs we see now that are so widely celebrated are supported by an implicit subsidy of China ruining their own landscape and their own health. I am not sure about the scale of this pollution, but given the scale of the production, it is likely vast. The fact that other countries cannot compete with the Chinese on solar panels supports this claim.

By contrast, the energy profit of nukes in normal operation is immense. The nuclear industry can therefore afford and ought to support a very high level of rigor in safety and environmental protection.

“If seven maids with seven mops Swept it for half a year. Do you suppose,” the Walrus said, “That they could get it clear?” “I doubt it,” said the Carpenter, And”If seven maids with seven mops Swept it for half a year. Do you suppose,” the Walrus said, “That they could get it clear?” “I doubt it,” said the Carpenter, And shed a bitter tear. shed a bitter tear. I realize this is counter-intuitive, and I haven’t seen anybody make this argument. But I find it hard to argue against.


We should have thought of this problem before deploying nukes in the first place. The costs of managing this issue already exist. The issue must be dealt with r14egardless of whether nuclear scales up. Credible top-notch engineers tell us that most of what we now consider nuclear waste can be consumed as fuel in new processes. Just on the basis of the waste issue, it’s madness not to pursue this with vigor.


Although this is Shellenberger’s hobby horse, and Shellenberger can be mightily obtuse, this doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

This two-part video, presented by Saul Griffith, a renewables advocate, actually were what tipped me over to accepting the point that real estate is crucial to a pure-renweables solution:

DEAD LINK (Grumble)

Similar talk here

It’s well worth your time, even though I take the opposite message from it than the one he is sending.

He starts with the following optimistic assumptions:

1) Global energy growth can be stopped at present levels, limiting the amount of renewables to come online to be the amount needed to replace existing production.
2) International equity is necessary, so per capita energy consumption must be redistributed. This amounts to a voluntary 80% cut in energy usage in the west. He claims to have managed this himself and expects others to do the same, neglecting that he is wealthy, unusually skilled, and unusually motivated.

Given those optimistic bases, he concludes that the land surface needed to support the renewables needed is about equivalent to the area of West Australia or about quadruple the area of Texas.

He points out that the issues with this are not only with allocating the land, but that the area is large enough that we must consider direct ecological impact.

If you believe that the west will not reduce its consumption and the rest of the world will be allowed to catch up, the land area needed is clearly quintupled, amounting to roughly the whole area of the USA or Australia.

If, net of intensity improvements, there is any further growth in the west, you’re starting to look at the industrialization of the entire surface of the world in this century. This is not an ecologically sound trajectory to say the least.

I do not believe that the west has the capacity to abandon growth very soon (although it must do so eventually), and I don’t think a solution that allows growth in the west at the cost of poverty and desperation in the rest of the world can be sustained, or indeed, tolerated (on ethical grounds).

This has convinced me that renewables do not realistically suffice and a strong push on nuclear power is necessary. We are not going to restrain our desires fast enough nor commit our resources to alternatives with enough urgency.

]]> 15 10899
RIP Andy Skuce Mon, 18 Sep 2017 19:37:19 +0000 [more]]]>

Andy Skuce passed away on September 14.

Though we only met a handful of times, Andy and I corresponded regularly. I was honoured, recently, to receive a message form him where he said he considered me a friend, though, since it was advance warning that he was dying, it wasn’t a pleasant message to receive.

I found Andy uncommonly courageous, honest, and generous. I’ll miss him deeply. I extend my heartfelt condolences to Annick and his family, and can only offer the consolation that Andy was a powerful voice for decency, wisdom and kindness in this messed-up world.

Planet 3.0 never had trouble getting permission from Andy to repost his articles, and he displayed our logo on his blog, so his remarkable farewell posting is reproduced here, with only implicit permission. His kindness and courage extended to writing his own eulogy.

Thank you for all you have done and tried to do, Andy. Requiescat in pace.



Exit, Pursued by a Crab

Participating in social media creates a wide and diverse network of acquaintances. Often, these people become “friends”, even though direct personal contact may never made with them. It can be hard to establish traditional friendships without face-to-face encounters. Before the Internet, reading body language, voice inflections and facial expressions was as big a part of communication as speech itself. For many of us who spend a disproportionate amount of time in front of screens, much of our communication has become disembodied. But we still have bodies and, unfortunately, bodies break down.

I never wanted to write this post, but I feel that I owe it to the people I have come to know as online friends. They deserve to know that I’m suffering from a fatal illness. However, I hate the idea of now being treated differently because of this disclosure. I am not fishing for compliments or looking for moral support.


In 2002, at age 48, I was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. I had a prostatectomy, but, despite the entire removal of the gland, there were small amounts of metastatic disease detected in nearby lymph nodes. The cancer had not been cured. Progression of the disease was slowed for many years by intermittent hormone treatment. I experienced no physical symptoms of the disease for twelve years, although the consequences of surgery and hormone treatment were no fun. But life continued and it was good.

As Hemingway remarked about going bankrupt, my cancer progressed gradually at first and then suddenly. About two years ago, my body’s plumbing and scaffolding started to show signs of trouble. More aggressive hormonal drugs were prescribed, which brought me back to good health for a year. Then, as the effectiveness of those drugs failed, chemotherapy beat back the worst symptoms for most of another year. Chemotherapy side-effects can often be managed quite well these days and it is not the horror that many imagine.

You become aware that the treatment options are running out when the oncologists start talking about maximizing quality, rather than quantity, of life. That’s where I am now. My life expectancy has been reduced from years to months. There still may be a few tricks left in my doctors’ books that may help extend my life beyond current expectations, but they are long shots and may not be available.

Reasons to be thankful

I was originally given a median life expectancy of six years. I have lasted fifteen and I’m not done quite yet. The palaeontologist and science writer Stephen Jay Gould wrote an excellent essay on statistics and cancer: The Median Isn’t the Message.  He had an eight-month median life expectation after his diagnosis of mesothelioma, but Gould lasted twenty years and was eventually killed by a different kind of cancer.

Being born as a white, male baby-boomer into a good family in a prosperous country (Britain) and having made some lucky life choices means I’ve been a big winner in the human lottery. I’ve never had to live through a war, never gone hungry, never been abused. My career as an industrial scientist was challenging and rewarding. I even managed to sneak in a little publishable research along the way.

For most of my teenage and adult life I’ve been a keen—if average ability—rock-climber, back-county skier and alpinist. I’ve had several near-misses and the occasional epic outing, but never suffered any serious injury. A careless slip or an avalanche could easily have ended my life early. Only once did a climbing companion of mine need rescuing and hospitalization. He was hit by a falling rock in Bristol’s Avon Gorge. His helmet saved him from lasting injury, we lowered him to the roadside below and he was in an ambulance in minutes. I’ve indulged in many dangerous activities and never paid the price.

Living in Canada means that I have received first-class medical treatment, without once having had to worry about paying for it. I held a high-stress oil-company executive job for a few years before and after my diagnosis. I had an inkling that the long hours would have killed me if I had kept it up. My employer was understanding and eventually laid me off with a generous redundancy package. There wasn’t room in that corporate culture for employees who were not able to give their all.

I quit full-time work in 2005 and moved from Alberta to the beautiful coast of British Columbia. I became a geoscience consultant, setting my own hours and my own pace. Working mostly from home removes the stress of the daily commute, although I did have to make occasional trips to Calgary as well as to the UK, Peru, Argentina, Romania and Russia. Consultants get paid for travel time, employees often have to give up their weekends unpaid. The relationship between client and consultant is usually easier than between boss and employee.

There were no worries about losing health insurance. Had I been an American, I would likely have faced a terrible decision about whether to hang on to my stressful job, or impoverish my dependents by quitting and giving up health coverage.

Canada now permits physician-assisted suicide, so I’m reassured that I won’t have to needlessly endure a protracted death. I’m told that relatively few people follow through with it in practice, but it’s comforting to know that there is an option.

Most importantly, I have had indispensable support from loved ones. Family members can suffer as much or more than the patients. They feel obliged to stay strong and supportive whereas I’m allowed—even expected—to let go emotionally. Perhaps I’m revealing too much detail about myself in this blogpost, but I’m going to respect the privacy of my carers by saying nothing more about them.

There are plenty of younger, better people who have suffered worse diseases. The British physicist Sir David MacKay springs to mind. He died of cancer at age 48—the age at which I was diagnosed fifteen years ago—leaving behind a young family and the potential to add to his already brilliant contributions to the debate on climate solutions. MacKay wrote a detailed and fascinating account of his treatment on his blog, I’m not going to attempt to do that.

Seeing young children in cancer centres and the horror in the faces of their parents, provides a sense of perspective for those of us who face a perhaps untimely death after decades of happy lives.


Nothing more terrible, nothing more true

Philip Larkin, in his masterpiece poem Aubade, expresses the deep fear of death that most of us have felt. An extract:

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, 
not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

He writes later:

…Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Perhaps it’s understandable that a young man like Dylan Thomas (who died at 39) should urge his elders to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”, but older folk might be better advised instead try to find the wisdom to be grateful for a long life, well-lived, and accept the inevitable with as much grace as they can muster.

A recent, brilliantly written piece in the New Yorker by Cory Taylor expresses my current attitude about dying almost exactly.


Lessons learned

Initial reactions to a dire diagnosis vary, but most of us initially suffer denial. People like me who are used to having technical control instinctively try to find out everything we can about the disease. Almost everyone I know who has been given a cancer diagnosis has looked for an unconventional cure at first. They try a drastic change of diet or concoctions of herbal infusions. I did too. But I’ve given up trying to pretend that I can find out anything that the specialists don’t already know. I’ve learned to try to focus on living well and leave the treatment choices to the consensus of the experts.

Many people become uncomfortable around cancer sufferers. There’s a natural tendency to look for reasons for the disease—why them, why not me?—and to resist the notion that in most cases getting cancer is just lousy luck. Humans instinctively  try to find underlying reasons for outcomes. Good health can sometimes be attributed to having lived a virtuous life, with illness blamed on bad lifestyle choices. This can be partly true, of course, but more often than not, shit just happens.

With good intentions, friends will sometimes urge sufferers to adopt a more positive attitude. Certainly, if cancer patients are unduly stressed it may not be helpful for the progression of their disease—perhaps misery depresses immune systems and it certainly makes lives less bearable. But there’s scant evidence that urging sufferers to buck-up and look on the bright side helps outcomes at all. On the contrary, this can place an extra burden on the victims by making them feel they are not doing enough to help themselves. If you know someone with cancer, please put aside any advice and judgment. Just be nice.

Importantly, the family members on the front line of providing care can suffer even greater mental anguish than the patients. Their pain and grief will endure long after the patient has died. Help them, sympathize with them, never tell them they are not doing enough.

The certainty of a premature death focuses the mind. Strangely, at moments of acute stress, one sometimes feels the exhilarating sensation of living in the present moment—experiencing a beautiful, perfect, harmonic world—instant Zen mastery. But it is fleeting. Familiar mental attitudes reassert themselves. At least that’s what happens to me.

But one unexpected change is acquiring a lasting and enhanced appreciation for the humdrum, the everyday stuff of living, rather than the extraordinary experiences that we sometimes think ought to define our lives. As he died of cancer, the singer Warren Zevon advised: “Enjoy every sandwich.” It sounds trite, but it’s true.

Forget about bucket lists. Get used to replacing the thrill of new experiences with the intensity of doing ordinary things for perhaps the last time.


Climate change and me

It may seem a little odd to end this disclosure about my looming demise with a technical commentary on climate change. However, concern about what happens to the planet after my death—whenever that date might be—has been important to me over the past few years. Having the fatal moment moved forward doesn’t change anything.

For the past ten years, I’ve become obsessive about learning and writing about climate change. I’ve done my best to provide my own perspective as an ex-oilman and geoscientist. Most of my contributions are recorded on this blog. I’ve lately found it hard to apply the sustained effort to research and write in-depth pieces that add anything coherent and novel enough to be worth publishing. I would love, for example, to dig deeper into the means and benefits of mitigation technologies and the costs of inaction.

I have become reluctantly pessimistic about our ability to avoid dangerous global change. If the best mitigation efforts are made and we get lucky with climate sensitivity and carbon-cycle feedbacks, we might succeed in limiting surface warming to 2-3°C. If we are mitigation laggards and the response of the Earth System to the abrupt chemical changes we are delivering to the atmosphere turns out to be severe, the consequences could be dire. Even in the best imaginable case, we are in for some nasty, disruptive shocks, unfairly focussed on the poorest people: those who have done the least to cause the problem.

A recent paper by Mora et al. predicts that parts of Brazil, W Africa and SE Asia will experience, by 2100, “deadly” outdoor conditions of heat and humidity for humans for most of the year, even under a middling emissions  scenario like RCP4.5.

The very worst cases—much more than 4° C of average surface warming—may have only low chances of happening. Nevertheless, such outcomes would force such drastic transformations in the world order that conventional economic cost-benefit analysis and discount-rate considerations would no longer apply. When it becomes a matter of survival—war, disease, disaster—money becomes no object. Rates of return on investment and enhancing economic growth take a back seat when the future of civilization itself is threatened. Admittedly, finite resources would still need to be optimally allocated: I wouldn’t argue for throwing the entire discipline of economics out of the window.


Geoengineering as a remedy

I fear that the defining issue of the latter part of the twenty-first century will be the application of geoengineering, particularly albedo modification. The technical uncertainties and political implications are staggering. But it’s likely coming, whether we are ready or not. It’s crazy that policy makers and researchers are giving it so little attention.

We can speculate, of course, that there might be other perils—a horrible pandemic; out-of-control artificial intelligence; an all-out nuclear war; an asteroid; unforeseen consequences of genetic modification—that could prove even more destructive. But anthropogenic climate change is a certainty rather than some remote risk. The temptation to apply a quick fix will one day prove irresistible for those countries that find themselves under acute climatic stress.

I dislike applying both military and disease metaphors to the climate crisis. More often than not, they distort rather than illuminate the true nature of the problem.

Nevertheless, proposed geoengineering remedies for global warming have some parallels with cancer treatments. There’s little doubt that they will reduce the impact of some of the worst symptoms and prolong survival. But some problems, most notably ocean acidification, will remain unaddressed by solar radiation management. Even though average global temperatures can certainly be lowered by feeding reflective particles into the stratosphere—we know this from observations of big volcanic eruptions—regional consequences can’t yet be adequately predicted by climate models.

Cancer treatments affect only the patients. Medical ethics protects them by insisting on first obtaining their informed consent. Albedo geoengineering, in contrast, can be applied unilaterally and inexpensively by any middle-power country, which could well be oblivious to any negative consequences inflicted on its neighbours.

The dosage of the stratospheric sulphate medication will forever have to be maintained. It will have to be increased if we continue to burn fossil fuels. If, for any reason, the albedo meds were suddenly interrupted, the shock to the global climate system would be sudden and truly catastrophic. Global temperatures could shoot up several degrees in a few years: it would be like taking a wrecking ball to our planetary home.

The only “cure” for climate change will be in attempting to restore the stable climate in which human civilization developed. We will have to find a way to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations back to below 400ppm, perhaps even to 350ppm, as James Hansen and other scientists have recommended. That will be extraordinarily expensive and perhaps not even physically possible.

It will demand sacrifice, investment and restraint from the majority of the world to achieve a positive result that will take decades to manifest itself. It will require not only sucking CO2 out of the air, but a nearly equal and additional amount out of the oceans. Basically, we would have to put back in to the Earth most of the carbon we have taken out of it since the Industrial Revolution. The challenge is made harder because the physical mass of the required carbon disposal is amplified by a factor of more than three: those carbon atoms we dug up and burned are now wedded to two heavier oxygen atoms.

A long-term program of planetary CO2 liposuction, combined with a strict carbon diet, could eventually turn things around. But even with such an attempted cure, there will still be the earthly equivalents of scar tissue, damaged vital organs and lost limbs—coral reefs, ice sheets, precious ecosystems—that may never restore themselves within human timelines.



One of the great benefits of my engaging in research and activism on climate change has been making friends with some determined and talented people. They have taught me so much. They will continue the struggle to communicate the nature of the crisis and advocate for solutions. In particular, the volunteers in the Skeptical Science team have been an inspiration. Long may they run.

I’m still keen to continue conversations, especially with people I don’t agree with. There’s so much more to learn. A politically conservative perspective on climate solutions is essential. It’s a tragedy that many right-wingers have ruled themselves out of serious debate, with their idiotic, tribally motivated denial of basic science. To solve this problem we will have to change everything. That will require willing contributions from all of us.

Participating in the struggle against denial of the scientific consensus on climate is something I would dearly like to continue doing, but force majeure dictates some triage of my efforts. I’m no longer going to bicker with those who don’t engage in good faith. Life really is too short.

I’m not gone quite yet and I’ll try to keep doing what I can.

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Climate Ball – To Play or Not To Play Tue, 04 Jul 2017 14:03:19 +0000 And Then There's Physics arguing that climate science should engage with the red team process and try to make lemonade out of those lemons. [more]]]> mt has an article up at And Then There’s Physics arguing that climate science should engage with the red team process and try to make lemonade out of those lemons.

Climate disruption is a problem, and there are those who seek to obscure that fact for selfish reasons. So they malign the science, even though the core of it is a triumph that should be celebrated.

I’m not under any misapprehension that the impetus for the “red team” isn’t very much under the influence of this malice. The revulsion of the climate community (“we’ve been red-teaming each other for decades!”) is therefore understandable.

I’d like to advocate that we resist this visceral response and embrace this as an opportunity.

]]> 12 11041 Sun, 29 Jan 2017 17:55:44 +0000 The moon has no atmosphere so it is scorching hot (+100C) during the day and bitterly cold (-150C) at night. The Earth has an atmosphere made up of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases. Over 150 years ago scientists proved that CO2 traps heat from the sun. We also know without any doubt that burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal emits CO2. [more]

The moon has no atmosphere so it is scorching hot (+100C) during the day and bitterly cold (-150C) at night. The Earth has an atmosphere made up of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases. Over 150 years ago scientists proved that CO2 traps heat from the sun. We also know without any doubt that burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal emits CO2.

Measurements, not computer models or theories, measurements show that there is now 46% more CO2 in the atmosphere than 150 years ago before massive use of fossil fuels. That extra CO2 is like putting another blanket on at night even though you are already nice and warm.

The Earth is now 1.0 C hotter on average according to the latest measurements. Heat is a form of energy and with so much more energy in our atmosphere our weather system is becoming supercharged resulting in stronger storms, worse heat waves, major changes in when and where rain falls and more.

Stephen Leahy

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ATTP takes on Prof Steve Fuller Sun, 18 Dec 2016 21:51:05 +0000 here [more]]]> here

Well, I have to admit that it’s still not clear to me how we benefit from one group of researchers studying another, but I don’t think that’s really the issue. The real issue seems to be that STS researchers often seem to infer much more from their research than is reasonable. It may well be interesting to study scientists as a group, but it can tell you very little (if anything) about science itself. If you want to understand the systems being studied, you study those systems, you don’t study those who are doing the research.

mt joins in the fun

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Alarming Arctic Sea Ice Animation Sat, 17 Dec 2016 16:59:11 +0000 here [more]]]> here

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Final AGU Posting – Found Poetry from the Poster Sessions Sat, 17 Dec 2016 05:19:51 +0000 [more]]]> The public’s view of AGU is set by the press releases and the media events.

The practicing scientist who doesn’t attend sees the Big Name talks, which are generally excellent, but miss the hurly burly of science.

The professional attendee, especially the one who isn’t at a top-rank research institution, sees some of the numerous sessions, each with 8 or 10 brief talks about ongoing research. And then there’s the students, postdocs, and also-rans who failed to get the attention of the session chairs. They get to stand by a poster.

I think in a large sense the fabric of the community is represented at the poster session. There are about 3000 poster slots, and five days, so something on the order of 15,000 posters are presented. It occurred to me that to walk the poster hall is the best way to really understand the community that forms AGU. I think climateball enthusiasts, including for example the new head of EPA, would be a bit baffled.

If they really are looking to form lists of climate scientists to persecute, they will run into a big problem, which is that the boundary between climate science and, well, science, is hard to form.

I was looking at poster 635 when it occurred to me that I could take a random selection by looking at all the posters numbered *35, i.e., 35, 135, 235, 335…. And I photographed all of them. (In a couple of cases the slot was empty but in all those cases slot 36 was full and I used that.

Here is the poem I found:

Microbial Community Response to Warming and Correlations to Organic Carbon Degradation in Arctic Tundra Soil

Post-fire tree mortality: Heating Increases Vulnerability to Cavitation in Longleaf Pine Branches

Dissolved inorganic carbon dynamics in a high arctic [sic] glacial watershed

Statistical Characteristic [sic] of Tropical Cyclone Looping Motion

Variability of Western Pacific Equatorial Currents Associated with 2014 – 2015 El Niño

Timing and Sensitivity of the United States “Warming Hole” (A hiatus poster!)

Toward an Improved Extended Range Forecasts Using the NCEP Global Ensemble Modeling System (despite the grand title, it only predicts the MJO)

A high-resolution model of the Beaufort Sea circulation

An evaluation of Traffic Management at ISF Academy on Kong Sin Wan Road (did you get the right conference, mate?)

Developing and evaluating a theory for lateral erosion by bedrock channels in a landscape evolution model.

Ukia and Gathersburg Latitude Observatories: Preserving NOAA’s Legacy of International Scientific Cooperation & Polar Motion Studies (Should we keep long-running datasets nobody cares about because somebody might care about them someday? In this case the Chandler Wobble?)

Estimating on Management Processes (Tillage, and Flooding) Effects for Assessing Methane Mitigation from Rice-paddy Soil: On Modeling Approach

Magnetotelluric imaging of lithosphere modification due to late Cenozoic extension in the Rio Grande Rift, New Mexico, USA. (Magneto-what???)

Multi-Objective Policy Analysis to Evaluate Air Quality Impacts of Unconventional Oil and Gas Development (UOGD) Regulations

The Southern Utah Flash Floods of 14 September 2015

Diurnal streamflow and conductivity cycles in a snowmelt-dominated watershed

Surface displacement due to groundwater exploitation using spatial and terrestrial techniques

A Regional Reanalysis with a Coupled Soil-Vegetation-Atmosphere-Transfer Model on the Convective Scale

Design and Prototype Implementation of non-Triggered Database-Driven Real-time Tsunami Forecast System using Multi-index Method

Studying exchange with less-mobile porosity at the laboratory scale: Experimentation and COMSOL Multiphysics simulation

Trace Gas Distributions and Correlations Observed in the Southern Ocean Atmosphere During the ORCAS Mission

The Worldwide Interplanetary Scintillation (IPS) Stations (WIPSS) Network in support of Space-Weather Science and Forecasting

Analysis of cloud cover trends over the Arabian Peninsula

The widespread distribution of a Group I alkenone-producing haptophyte: implications for quantitative temperature reconstructions (spell-check is very unhappy with alkenone-producing haptophyte; come to think of it, I’m baffled myself)

Survey of Particle Injections into the Inner Magnetosphere

A study of SEPs using both STEREO spacecraft (that would be Solar Energetic Particles)

Imaging the mantle transition zone beneath Hawaii from seismic Ps receiver functions

Towards Seismic Waveform Inversion of Long-Offset Ocean-Bottom Seismic Data for Deep Crustal Imaging Offshore Western Australia

Testing the Applicability of Anisotropy Detection Techniques

Locating the Ocean-Continent Crustal Boundary of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico Based on Heat Flow Observations

Thermo-compositional anomalies of the Australian upper mantle

CYCLIC THERMAL BEHAVIOR ASSOCIATED WITH THE DEGASSING PROCESS AT EL HIERRO SUBMARINE VOLCANO, TAGORO, CANARY ISLANDS (That’s one way to avoid all those tedious capitalization decisions in your title, what?)

Detailed surface rupture geometry from the 2016 Amatrice earthquake sequence (24th August and 30 October)


That’s it. That’s roughly one per cent of the posters on one day. Hope this clarifies what the meeting is about for some of you.

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Day 4 at AGU – Productive Self-Doubt and Healthy Retraction Thu, 15 Dec 2016 17:40:38 +0000 [more]]]> An eventful day.

Ran into Andy Dessler in the halls. (Recognizing people in a crowd is hard for me. I am quite prosopagnostic, though recognizing Dr Alley was something I could manage.) I told him I was looking for Dr. Trenberth, and he told me he’d be chairing a session in the immediately next time slot!

It was a particularly excellent session. I hope I’ll find time to follow some of the ideas presented there.

I’m afraid I was quite rude in intruding on Kevin Trenberth’s day. After all, I did not have much to offer him over his genuine colleagues and peers. But getting 5 minutes from Trenberth was all I asked for.

In short, my idea was that the current Arctic warmth could simply be accounted for by advection of anomalous heat in the upper ocean. I have enormous respect for Dr. Trenberth, going back to the days when I frequently had occasion to cite his papers. Because of the nature of the question and the nature of his expertise, I was fairly certain he’d say either “of course” or “of course not”.

I need to add that Simon Donner had earlier argued “I really don’t think so” on this very question. (On a Skype call IIRC)

And I understand why. Despite its explanatory power, I have had real doubts since discussing this idea with Simon. The time scale actually, is too short, which alone is enough to settle it. Trenberth was categorically negative. So no. My theory is bollocks. Please ignore it.

Whatever is warming the Arctic, the extra energy enters the Arctic basin from the sky, not from the ocean in any direct way. It’s irreducibly more complicated than that.


The scientist in me is thrilled by this lovely complexity. The explainer in me is a bit dismayed.


The theme of the day, then, is healthy retraction.

Prior to Trenberth’s excellent session, some of which went buy pretty quickly for me, I attended a session on Antarctic ice. I was largely goaded into this by trickster Steve McIntyre on Twitter.

More about tricksters another time. I did get trolled into a session called “Assessing the Stability of the Antarctic Ice Sheets and their Contribution toward Global Sea Level. (C33D)” and I have to confess myself grateful to the trickster for it.

There was much to think about in this session as well, but a pair of papers stood out. I want to focus on the related presentations by Pollard and Deconto.

This pair of talks did much for me to elucidate Dr. Alley’s comment on Sunday, to the effect that new results are actually making it harder to exclude the possibility of large, abrupt sea level rise, on the order of several meters in a single lifetime.

The punch line is that their best estimate is that, on current lack-of-policy, rapid sea level rise will commence around 2060, so it will affect the lives of people now living. Also that there is still, more likely than not, time to prevent this catastrophe.

Let me walk you through the argument as I understood it. There may be problems with this summary. It’s just my first exposure to some of these idea. Please don’t cite it as authoritative. If there’s enough interest I’ll take it up further with the authors.


As you may know, the slope of the Amundsen Bay is backward, going deeper as you approach the great mass of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. As a consequence, glaciers emptying the ice sheet into the bay are susceptible to catastrophic retreat. I had attributed this idea to C Schoof, who explained it in an admirable paper around 2000, but apparently (this via McIntyre) there was much earlier discussion of this idea. This is old news. And it has been modeled somewhat successfully.

This is basically what the Schoof model looks like:

Naturally, the thing to do is to test this model against paleo evidence if there is some.

And indeed it has emerged that paleo records have detected a Milankovic signal in sea level.

So all it takes is some surface reconstructions and some flux data from a crude GCM to provide a test for a continental scale model of ice sheets that incorporate basic physics and include the Schoof mechanism. Now we have an objective test.

The result was not entirely satisfactory. The oscillations in the paleo record were TOO LARGE for the model to account for. The model was not “tippy” enough; the catastrophic (in the technical sense of catastrophe) mechanism wasn’t fast enough to replicate the sea level changes.

However, in situ observations of ice cliffs have revealed that the process of retreat is partially mechanical when the cliffs get high enough. The ice front gets high enough that gravity starts helping; the entire structure fails and retreats. Geologically, it turns out that a “glacial pace” is astonishingly rapid.

The new phenomenology at the ice sheet edge looks like this:


It turns out that this addition is sufficient to capture the paleo-Milankovic sea level oscillation!

Then these guys do the right thing and do a formal Bayesian tuning of model parameters to paleo-obs, and have a good claim to getting the problem first-order right for the first time. And things look pretty solid.

Which in turn strongly indicates that Hansen’s much-maligned sense of it is in fact correct – large ice sheets can collapse quite quickly. (I went with the crowd in dismissing that idea. Oops.)


That was the gist of Pollard’s talk.

So what does this mean for the future? Deconto picked up the thread.

Basically if we continue on Plan Trump, we get abrupt sea level rise kicking in around 2060 or so, and continuing on to perhaps tens of meters, disrupting coastal processes for many centuries. I hope you like that sort of thing. This is just science, we’re not here to make value judgments.

Anyway, as someone who is trying to communicate not just the content of science but its process, I think it’s important to highlight this slide of Deconto’s.

It summarizes the bad news but also asks a key question. “How might we be wrong?” I would venture to say that this is the core discipline of science. Self-doubt is frowned upon in our modern, brazen society. I wonder if this isn’t one reason that science’s star is in decline.

Self doubt is so intrinsic to commercial software development, and probably to other forms of engineering, that a test-first approach is becoming prominent. Write the code first, then write the test. It’s a luxury not afforded science.

This slide is a good embodiment of Popperian reasoning. The scientists have come up with a result. (In this case it is an alarming result, but that should not affect the process.) Now they turn around and play devil’s advocate. How might we be wrong?

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you choose to look at it, the proposed reasons the model might be incomplete and over-sensitive seem to me not very compelling; they seem too small to fight the gravitational instability of a 60 meter ice cliff. Maybe someone can suggest another missing mechanism to slow it down, but remember, the paleo evidence suggests speeding it up compared to the basic Schoof model.

The key to advancing your scientific conclusion is to be your own harshest critic. As a beginner, you will find yourself wrong far more often than right. But you will be wrong in ever more interesting ways. And eventually, perhaps, you’ll add to the state of knowledge.

When I see a slide like this, where the presenters question their own result and look for ways they might be wrong, my confidence in their result increases.

The culture at large, outside science has this backwards. The more adamant a person is, the more reliable they are perceived. It’s pretty tragic.


Ended the day with an entertaining dinner with another trickster. He has an amusingly airtight ethic that basically offers plenty of cited philosophical jargon that basically says “I do what I want, see?” Well, sure. But I think he, as well as McIntyre, could benefit from thoughtful reappraisal of what it is he wants.

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Day 3 at AGU – I didn’t learn much about science Wed, 14 Dec 2016 17:22:35 +0000 [more]]]> Between a phone interview for a job, a rally, wandering around Fisherman’s Wharf like a tourist, and the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund dinner, I didn’t attend any actual science. Feeling guilty about that…

The shots of the rally that have been published make it look smaller than it was. It seems my amateur iPhone shot may be of use to people trying to demonstrate that the turnout was substantial.

While, to people who organize rallies, this amounted to a successful rally, I have to say that for me it was somewhat disappointing.

As you can see, there was a good turnout. But I have to say organizers wheeled out tired lefty script. I am not down with climate science aligning itself with Naomi Klein.

Oreskes & Mann each spoke briefly, but not really to the AGU crowd. Scientists in white lab coats was a nice eyecatcher for the press but I suspect perhaps a bit offputting for most geoscientists. A few of us do lab work, but most do either field work or computation.

The issue I have is that I did not come away with any sense of what scientists are supposed to do about all this.

Oreskes at least suggested joining 350 or CCL. Okay but that doesn’t seem to rise to the occasion.

I think we should separate out the fate of science from the fate of climate policy. They really are getting mixed up in the public’s mind, and I don’t think we should let left-idientity politics get away with this.

The threats to science are real. It’s time to separate the fate of climate science from the fate of the climate. They are different questions and they should be considered on separate merits, As goes climate science, so goes science as a whole.

Whether there is going to be science at all, or just Lysenkoism, is the question at hand. It’s not as if this hasn’t happened before. Russian biology was set back a century.

If the purpose of science is to flatter the poltical leadership it’s not just the discipline in the crosshairs that gets corrupted.

So it’s good to get a good turnout. (If anyone wants the full-resolution crowd pic let me know.) It’s good to stand up and be counted. But we have a problem, and we don’t have a strategy.


I had various nice conversations at the CSLDF dinner, most notably with Jon Overpeck’s attorney, Mike Mandig (sp?) not to be confused with Mike Mann who was sitting just across the table from us.

It was interesting getting Mandig’s perspective of getting involved in the case and discovering just how malign the opposition is.

I enjoyed not being the fusspot, as the dinner was strictly vegan.

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Today I learned (day 2 of AGU) some good news. Tue, 13 Dec 2016 07:23:04 +0000 [more]]]> It was quite a firehose.

Let me start by suggesting that I am not now doing anything like “climate advocacy” here. If that is what you came for, you are in the wrong place.

Here is what I mean: We Need Facts More Than Ever

A trustworthy source publishes correct and salient information regardless of which tribe it benefits.

There’s not much trust to go around, and it always hurts to get the “shill” word thrown in your face and lose half your readers by violating their tribal assumptions. If you’re still reading, by now, I guess you aren’t one of those.

So today I learned something that will give aid and succor to the lukewarmers and a bludgeon for the deniers. There’s strong evidence emerging that the model transient response is too fast – an at least one case a very high resolution very credible version of a scalable model shows that for a given CO2 trajectory. That is, there’s new evidence that shows the world is probably going to warm more slowly than the models have heretofore suggested (for the same emissions scenario).

This is basically good news and I needed some.

There are important caveats. Single study syndrome of course. This needs replication in other models. That will come eventually.

1) This tells us nothing about the equilibrium climate sensitivity. Nothing at all. I worry that most people will not understand this.

2) This doesn’t mean anything is wrong with radiative transfer theory. It means that the subsurface ocean is going to take up more of the heat imbalance than the coarser models heretofore possible were able to represent.

3) The main actual warm anomaly is at the Antarctic margin. Without talking to experts on this, I find myself speculating that, far from easing the sea level rise problem, it will make it worse by softening the WAIS.

But on the whole, to the extent that the story is “global warming”, it is good news. It is certainly good news for people in hot, humid climates (e.g. Texas) in that the worst may be slower in arriving.


Also in a pair of separate conversations I got quite an earful about the prospects for a market-driven renewable energy future. Both were very convincing. One was very enthusiastic and the other very skeptical. Both live in the Bay Area. I wonder if I should introduce them.


I went to a climate dynamics session, a climate modeling session, and an ecological impacts session. I was enormously impressed by some of the talks, especially at the first two sessions.

One talk described immense statistical contortions and went clear over my head. (This is, frankly, not that common.) But then when the speaker got to the final conclusion, it was essentially a tiny correlation between extreme rainfall events in a few very particular places with particular large scale atmospheric flows upstream. It looked like noise to me.


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We Need Facts Now More Than Ever. Tue, 13 Dec 2016 06:42:15 +0000 Storified. [more]]]> By me. On Twitter. Storified.

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First Night at AGU – TIL Mon, 12 Dec 2016 03:15:07 +0000 Today I Learned, on good authority, that it remains impossible to exclude 3 meters of sea level rise within a single human lifetime from West Antarctica alone.

If it is possible, it’s further impossible to exclude it in the lifetimes of people now living.

The time scales of the collapse of calving ice sheets depend sensitively on temperature and on the height of the cliff. [more]

Today I Learned, on good authority, that it remains impossible to exclude 3 meters of sea level rise within a single human lifetime from West Antarctica alone.

If it is possible, it’s further impossible to exclude it in the lifetimes of people now living.

The time scales of the collapse of calving ice sheets depend sensitively on temperature and on the height of the cliff. As the calving front retreats, the process is likely to get faster.

Also everybody is in a jolly mood. Ho Ho Ho!

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Scott Adams is a Tosser Sat, 10 Dec 2016 16:31:40 +0000 argues that the fundamental question Scott Adams poses, How the heck can you – a non-expert – judge who is right? – remains a good one; but that his answer is worthless. [more]]]> Stoat argues that the fundamental question Scott Adams poses, How the heck can you – a non-expert – judge who is right? – remains a good one; but that Adams’ answer is worthless. As usual the Stoat wanders a bit, but the key is this:

It won’t take you much reading to notice that all the “official” side information leads you back to the IPCC; and it won’t take you much reading to notice that the IPCC reports are nicely written though a careful process and link back to a wide variety of good scientific sources. It won’t take you much reading to notice that the “denialist” side is largely a self-linking echo chamber that very rarely publishes anything in the scientific literature.

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