Archive for the ‘Storms of my Grandchildren’ Category
Words are not really necessary to accompany this image but, if you want some, feel free to go and read ‘The Last Time CO2 Was This High Humans Did Not Exist” by Andrew Freedman on the Climate Central website.
However, what I would really like to know is how anyone could possibly think that, since the Industrial Revolution, the Earth’s climate would not have been impacted by:
– a sevenfold increase in the the human population;
– a similar increase in the number of methane-producing livestock;
– a super-exponential increase in the burning of fossil fuels.
Therefore, those who still dispute the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption have not only picked a fight with history; they have picked a fight with science – the Laws of Conservation of Energy and Mass and the concept of Entropy in particular. Defeat is therefore inevitable. The only question that remains is how bad do things have to get before they are willing to admit they are wrong?
I am afraid this may be the last post on this blog for a while because – what with the all the willful blindness and ideological prejudice that seems to stop people from recognising what an Eff-ing mess humanity is in – and my as yet unresolved employment situation – I am feeling somewhat emotionally drained. However, please don’t cancel your subscription (as who knows how quickly I may recover).
Addendum (10:00 hrs BST 4 May 2013)
I would also recommend that reader take a look at this excellent post, ‘The “hockey stick” slaps back’, on the Skepticblog website. This takes readers on a journey back in time, looking at all the palaeoclimatic reconstructions that have been done for the last million years. Somehow, I managed to be the first person to post a comment on this piece, which reads as follows:
Why not go back even further by looking at sea floor sediments too? As in, for example, Zachos et al. (2001), ‘Trends, Rhythms, and Aberrations in Global Climate 65 Ma to Present’, Science 292: 686-93.
For those that are really interested, you can get a PDF of the whole paper here. It includes many fascinating diagrams, but one of the more complicated ones has been helpfully simplified by James Hansen in his book, Storms of my Grandchildren. All the figures from the book are available here but, with regard to Zachos et al (2001), Figure 18 is the one to which I refer. This too needs few words to convey its importance:
I must credit recent subscriber xraymike79 with apparently coining this term, in his recent post, entitled ‘Mankind’s Infantilism and the Death of the Planet‘. However, before clicking, please note that this contains adult themes that some might find disturbing. For example, here is just a snippet:
This Earth is all we really have. Start caring for it and respecting it with the same reverence and homage we pay to our electronic toys of mass distraction, i.e. TV, iphones, video games, computers, etc.. Know that this culture of self-worship and materialism is sending our species to the dustbin of failed evolutionary experiments, most certainly by the end of this century if not mid-century. The evidence is all around us if only we care to open our eyes.
Now is probably not a good time to admit that I have been tempted back to Sky with a 75% reduction on my subscription for 9 months. However, the above chimes with an item written by John Hulburt, posted on Learning from Dogs yesterday, entitled ‘E Pluribus Unum’. For example, take this:
We know we’re in trouble when our legislatures have been purchased, when faith in our financial system has been willfully damaged, when political leaders engage in childish tantrums to get their way regardless of anything or anyone else, when awareness of moral reality has become meaningless and when we fail to appreciate the depths of a looming abyss. What do we gain by purposefully destabilizing our economy, reopening settled social issues and blatantly risking our inclusive future as a species for a mess of pottage? Who do we think we are?
Good questions, gentlemen. Who do we think we are; and when are our politicians going to stop lying to themselves and us? Here is a quote from James Hansen in Storms of my Grandchildren:
Ladies and gentlemen, your governments are lying through their teeth. You may wish to use softer language, but the truth is that they know that their planned approach will not come anywhere near achieving the intended global objectives. Moreover they are now taking actions that, if we do not stop them, will lock in guaranteed failure to achieve the targets they have nominally accepted. (p.184)
Hansen then goes on to at least six ways that governments are planning to fail (because they assume carbon capture and storage can be made to work fast enough to prevent catastrophe), by encouraging (1) construction of new coal-fired power plants; (2) construction of new plants to turn coal into oil; (3) development of tar sands (the dirtiest of all unconventional fossil fuels); (4) exploration for fossil fuels in wilderness areas; (5) hydraulic fracturing despite methane release; and (6) opencast coal mining everywhere. For more on this topic see: ‘Hansen says we should FART‘ (i.e. fundamentally alter resource trajectories).
It is little wonder, then, that Thomas L Friedman, writing in the New York Times on Sunday, said this:
Face it: The last four years have been a net setback for the green movement. While President Obama deserves real praise for passing a historic increase in vehicle mileage efficiency and limits on the emissions of new coal-fired power plants, the president also chose to remove the term “climate change” from his public discourse and kept his talented team of environmentalists in a witness-protection program, banning them from the climate debate. This silence coincided with record numbers of extreme weather events — droughts and floods — and with a huge structural change in the energy marketplace.
What was that change? Put simply, all of us who had hoped that scientific research and new technologies would find cheaper ways to provide carbon-free energy at scale — wind, solar, bio, nuclear — to supplant fossil fuels failed to anticipate that new technologies (particularly hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling at much greater distances) would produce new, vastly cheaper ways to tap natural gas trapped in shale as well as crude oil previously thought unreachable, making cleaner energy alternatives much less competitive.
Friedman’s ambivalence to hydraulic fracturing (elsewhere in his piece) may be deeply flawed but, sadly, I think his analysis of recent history and prediction of what Obama will now do are both probably right.
Therefore, it is also little wonder that James Hansen’s Fee and Dividend system is not being taken up: because it is not in the interests of big business to take it up. It is only in the interests of the Environment; and the Environment does not seem to matter. See Hansen’s recent ‘Fork in the Road’ [PDF].
The Earth is being sold to the highest bidder and most of its inhabitants are too busy distracting themselves to even notice. The whole thing is like an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror…
With my thanks to Paul Handover at Learning from Dogs for alerting me to the fact, I have been saddened – but not surprised – to read about the tone and content of the latest five-yearly Global Environmental Outlook report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). As Richard Black reports on the BBC’s website, this highlights the fact that significant progress has only been achieved on 4 out of 90 previously-agreed environmental goals; and that humanity’s current trajectory is a very long way away from being sustainable.
However, in addition to being unsustainable, it is, as Paul himself put it yesterday, “insane”: We appear to be surrounded by political leaders who are in denial about being in denial of the finite capacity of the Earth to provide us with what we need; and to recycle the waste we produce. When confronted with a reality such as this, rather than put all their energy into building a sustainable solution; they continue to throw good money after bad and prop-up the fossil fuel industry with massive subsidies. If you have not already done so, please register your protest against this via Bill McKibbin’s 350.org online petition here.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) may well eventually prove feasible – and our continuing existence as a species (if not the continuing habitability of Earth as a whole) may come to depend on us making it feasible but – CCS should not be used (as it is being used) as an excuse to make something that is insane seem sensible… Now that we know the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of the problem, we should find ways to replace their use wherever we can: We may be a long way from finding alternatives for many things we derive from fossil fuels (such as plastics); but we already have alternative ways to generate heat, light, and electricity. Therefore, where the use of fossil fuels can be readily substituted, this needs to happen as soon as possible. The list of organisations warning that delay will be unimaginably costly – and possibly terminal – grows longer all the time; a list to which we can now add UNEP.
Burning fossil fuels just because they are there is insane
For a long time, I have told anyone that would listen that we should leave unconventional hydrocarbons in the ground because of the extremely high probability that James Hansen is right; if we burn them all the runaway greenhouse effect is a “dead certainty” (i.e. on page 236 of Storms of My Grandchildren). However, thanks to the persistence of my many friends in the blogosphere, I have now also woken up to the reality that unconventional fossil fuel extraction – and hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking) in particular – is having significant immediate adverse environmental impacts. Pendantry has described this as humanity “fouling its own nest”; but I think my own description of it as “defecating in our own pig pen” conveys a more appropriate image.
In the USA, fracking has recently been prohibited in the State of Vermont and it must be hoped that other States will now do the same. The Vermont legislature took this action as a result of reports confirming the link between fracking and minor earthquakes; and because of high profile campaigns mounted by those communities already being adversely impacted by fracking. However, the latter should not be confused with NIMBYism. This is because opposition to fracking is a response to real environmental problems afflicting real people as a result of real stupidity on an industrial scale.
When hydrocarbon exploration turns kitchen [taps/faucets] into flame throwers; kills fish in lakes and rivers; and renders water wells unusable, I think it is time for Plan B.
Must we turn the entire planet into a pollution incident in order to extract a non-renewable fuel source? Why don’t we replace our growing dependence upon this vanishing resource with the sustainable development of all forms of renewable energy? If it were not for the vested interests that prioritise the maintenance of the status quo over the interests of life on Earth, our insane behaviour would surely have been changed a long time ago? Sadly, vested interests are everywhere; they are like an invasive species that has infested the very fabric of society – making it very difficult for an alternative paradigm to emerge. Unfortunately, unless it does, I am fairly certain civilisation as we know it will be consigned to history. Civilisations have come and gone before; and the main reason history repeats itself is because no-one is listening. As George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it” …Must History and Santayana be proved right once more?
Business as Usual is not sustainable
Since realising that, in addition to being insane from a sustainability perspective, fracking is having very significant adverse environmental effects; I have been trying to establish what the current position of the Geological Society of London (GSL) is on the issue. Last year, the GSL published an ambivalent statement on the subject; urging a precautionary approach but ignoring the sustainability issue. Much more recently, the GSL has published a position statement on hydrocarbon exploration in the Arctic that, although re-iterating the previously-published recognition of the threat posed by anthropogenic climate disruption, relies entirely on the future efficacy of CCS to justify the World’s current laissez-faire strategy of burning all the Earths fossil fuels. Thus, I do not need to wait for the GSL to reply to my requests for an explanation, their position is very clear: CCS is a valid excuse to trash the planet; and the short-term interest of those employed in the hydrocarbon industry trumps those of the global ecosystem that sustains all life on Earth.
As if to add insult to injury, the independent review the UK Government commissioned last year recently concluded, on the basis of submissions from the GSL and many others, that fracking should be allowed to proceed. Furthermore, although it has gone through the motions of public consultation, it seems highly unlikely that government will go against expert advice. Therefore despite relying entirely of the future efficacy of CCS; despite all the mounting evidence of immediate environmental hazards; and despite the complete insanity of burning all the Earth’s fossil fuels rather than investing in renewable energy… the UK seems set to just that. Meanwhile, in the USA, the International Energy Agency, which last year issued a very sensible statement warning of the dangers of failing to de-carbonise our energy production systems, has now completely contradicted itself by appearing to be in favour of continuing with fracking…
Truly, I think the world has gone fracking mad
We are in a massive hole but we are going to carry on digging regardless. Forget Digging for Victory; I think we are more likely to be digging our own grave.
For those not familiar with British television, Question Time is a weekly show on the BBC that allows members of a self-selected audience (i.e. you have to ask to be in it) to pose questions on current events to a 5-person panel of politicians and celebrities.
Last Thursday’s panel included the verbally-incontinent former deputy Prime Minister (Lord) John Prescott, the (unusually angry-sounding) comedian Griff Rhys Jones, and the UK’s Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP. Therefore, given that the audience knows who the panelists are going to be in advance, I guess that a question about energy policy was almost inevitable. It came about two-thirds of the way through the hour-long programme. The programme is viewable in the UK on the BBC’s iPlayer but, it has been posted on You Tube in four parts. The very prejudicial question on energy policy (i.e. in effect it was: “Wind power has failed us but can nuclear do any better?”) is posed at 06:40 in Part 3 of 4 on You Tube:
David Willetts, government minister for Universities, was asked to respond first and – as did Prescott – emphasised the need for a good mix of energy sources. Lucas interrupted him to make a number of points including that nuclear is uneconomic and subsidised(?); that we still don’t have a solution for the waste, and suggested that we do not need nuclear power to solve our energy problems. A number of her more questionable assertions went unchallenged; as indeed did those of others (e.g. Lucas did not challenge the sensibility of carbon capture and storage [CCS]), but one that did get challenged – big time – was the assertion that we can do without nuclear. Lucas also made the fundamental point that we must reduce demand for energy by pursuing efficiency, but she failed to challenge the tired old argument that wind is unreliable (and it was left to someone in the audience to make the point that tidal power is always available).
However, it was the contribution of Rhys-Jones that I found most astonishing (11:45 to 14:25 in the above video): Rhys-Jones’ anger vented in the direction of wind turbines was astonishing (especially given some other very sensible anger he vented in the direction of the selfish bankers who caused the financial meltdown of 2008 earlier in the programme). Amongst other things:
– He insisted that he is not a climate change sceptic (just “a solution sceptic”).
– He mocked the UK’s attempts to reduce its own emissions as futile tokenism.
– He ridiculed the suggestion that we could meet our energy needs by renewables alone.
– He lamented 20 years of non-decision making (as I do) because he is pro-nuclear (as I am).
However, his most contentious remark was to claim that to replace the output of a single nuclear power station would require 300 square miles of wind turbines “standing shoulder to shoulder”. I was so sure this was nonsense but not sure where to start to rebut it, so I emailed a few friends to help me. Their responses were varied (some pro-wind, some pro-nuclear) but, despite being a pragmatist (i.e. in favour of both), I was determined to get to prove Rhys-Jones wrong; and believe I can now do so:
There is a problem, however, which is Rhys-Jones’ use of the phrase “standing shoulder to shoulder”. This conjures up images of early wind farms in California where the turbines were placed in tightly-packed arrays. It was soon discovered that turbulence reduced the wind speed passing turbines sited in the wake of others. I could do the maths based on such flawed design but it would be pointless. It would be much better to do the maths on lower density arrays, as would be built today, and determine how much space is required to generate the output of a 1 GW nuclear power station…
With the benefit of decades of experience and modelling using wind tunnels and computers, a typical array built today has a triangular matrix composed of rows of wind turbines with a spacing of 4D by 8D, where D is the turbine diameter (i.e. 4D = distance between rows; 8D = distance between turbines in a row). With a turbine diameter of 60m, 4D = 240m, and 8D = 480m, which yields a turbine density of 12 per square kilometer (or 31 per square mile). If 1 turbine has an output of 1MW, then 1 square mile could yield 32MW; 100 square miles could yield 3.2GW; and 300 square miles 9.6GW. Thus, even adopting a modern definition of “shoulder to shoulder” Rhys-Jones appears to be out by a factor of almost 10 (i.e. a 1GW nuclear power station is equivalent to just over 30 square miles of wind turbines).
However, all of this is somewhat academic because I do not think anyone would want to see our countryside blanketed in wind farms; nor is anyone actually proposing that we should do so (this is just the nightmare scenario peddled by those who don’t like wind turbines). On the contrary, there is no need for us to do this. We have numerous other existing renewable technologies; what we need to do is invest in all of them simultaneously (believe me – I have tried it on the DECC Pathways 2050 tool). Such investment would include the following:
– Investment in new solar farms that can generate electricity even when it is cloudy; and then store it and discharge it at night.
– Investment in tidal stream systems that can generate electricity all the time.
Beyond that, as Lucas pointed out, the solution lies in reducing demand; and/or getting as many people as possible off the power grid altogether. This is why the government should be promoting the installation of Solar PV systems on the roof of every single suitable property (especially public buildings); and legislating to ensure all new buildings are as energy and water efficient as possible (because treating water to make it drinkable takes a lot of energy).
Going back to the Question Time programme, the biggest cheer came when a member of the audience raised the spectre of energy from waste (EfW) – a local waste incinerator was clearly a very contentious proposal. This suggests that most objections to alternative energy systems boil down to “Not In My Back Yard” protests (i.e. small-minded NIMBYism). For the record, I would much rather live next to a modern waste incinerator than an old unlined landfill. Compared to historic waste disposal, EfW is not only a sustainable solution – it is also cleaner. I therefore think that people will just have to get used to EfW because we must maximise recycling; and re-use whatever we can to generate energy. Burying waste in the ground must be the last resort for the residual waste that cannot be put to any other use.
People do seriously need to get over NIMBYism; and start thinking about the quality of the environment they wish to bequeath to their children; and herein lies the problem: Most people do not realise the nature, scale, and urgency of our need to decarbonise our energy generation systems. I suspect that our governments do but, as last week’s draft Energy Bill demonstrates, they are either lying to us and themselves; or they are pinning all their hopes on CCS. In fact, as James Hansen suggests in Storms of my Grandchildren, they are doing both:
Hansen says we should FART* (16 November 2011); and
What’s wrong with clean coal? (21 November 2011).
* FART = Fundamentally alter resource trajectories (i.e. my acronym not his).
Thanks to my sister, I have been doing some catching up on a TV series currently showing in the UK called Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey. Although derided by some TV commentators…
Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian (on 4 March 2012)
Andrew Anthony in The Observer (on 11 March 2012)
…I agree with my sister, it has been very good.
The second episode was particularly so (IMHO): Following in the footsteps (at times literally) of Sir David Attenborough (Frozen Planet) and Professor Brian Cox (Wonders of the Universe), co-presenters Kate Humble and Dr Helen Czerski went to extra-ordinary lengths and amazing locations to explain the vagaries of the Earth’s climate past, present, and future.
For example, whereas I have previously got myself in a terrible mess trying to explain the causes of Ice Ages (as indeed it is at least arguable that James Hansen did in Storms of my Grandchildren), Humble and Czerski accomplish this with ease (and the help of some excellent computerised animation). For those of you without access to the BBC’s iPlayer; and/or those that cannot wait for the programme to be broadcast in your home country (as I am sure it will be eventually), I will try and summarise the three aspects to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun that contribute towards the occurrence of Ice Ages:
1. The date on which the Earth comes closest to the Sun during its elliptical orbit (i.e. Perihelion).
2. The extent to which the Earth’s orbit deviates from near-circularity (i.e. eccentricity).
3. The angle at which the Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted from vertical (i.e. perpendicular to the plane around the Sun in which its orbit lies).
All of these things are caused by gravitational interaction between all the planets in our solar system and the Sun itself; they are all therefore highly predictable even if not all regular and, therefore, once we understand these changes, we can trace their effects back through time. We can of course also calculate their effects today.
For example, perihelion currently occurs on January the third each year, whereupon the Earth is 5 million miles closer to the Sun than it is in July; which equates to 7% more energy input from the Sun. However, any effect this might have is more than cancelled out by the 23 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis of rotation away from the Sun causing a 50% reduction of insolar radiation to the northern hemisphere in winter.
Meanwhile, despite receiving 7% more insolar radiation from the Sun, summers in the southern hemisphere are on average 4 Celsius cooler than those on the northern hemisphere!!! Indeed, if you go 55 degrees south of the equator (e.g. southern Chile) you will find glaciers not seen in the English Lake District for several millennia. The reason for this discrepancy turns out to be the presence of the Great Southern Ocean… Whereas the seas surrounding the UK have a moderating influence on climate (avoiding the temperature extremes of Eastern Europe and Russia), the general absence of land in the southern hemisphere (which warms up faster than the oceans) has on overall cooling effect on climate.
It turns out that heat capacity is fundamentally important. Although the oceans are slower to respond to energy input (i.e. they have a higher heat capacity), the land also takes time to gain and to lose heat. This is the reason why the coldest day of the year in the northern hemisphere is often on or around the 19th of January; but why ice road truckers can continue to drive across frozen lakes in northwest of Canada well into March.
So, to get back to Ice Ages, I really don’t understand how we ever thought we were heading for one, or why some people still say we might be heading for one. This is because, in order for an Ice Age to occur, all three of the above-mentioned cycles must coincide to cause cooler summers in the northern hemisphere where most of the land is and therefore where most ice can develop and not melt (in order for glacier formation to begin). At the moment, perihelion is the only factor promoting this; and it will not coincide with extreme eccentricity and minimum angle of tilt for another 60 thousand years.
Meanwhile, we just have a slight problem of anthropogenic climate disruption to deal with.
If you remain unconvinced, please watch this brilliant 7-minute video produced by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (and remember even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, CO2 rise [and therefore warming] would continue for decades)…
Those who have recently criticised me for appearing to be on a single-handed mission to dismantle climate change denial have, of course, suggested that I am grossly over-ambitious; and/or that I need to focus on solutions. Well, today, I promise I will do that but, first a brief re-statement of the problems; courtesy of this 18-minute video of James Hansen’s recent TED talk (which I summarise and discuss below)…
Here is a summary of the problems we are now facing:
1. The Earth’s current energy imbalance is 0.6 Watts per sq.m.; a rate of energy input 20 times greater than the energy output of all human activity; and equivalent to the detonation of 400,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs every day.
2. Since measurements began in 2003, there has been a noticeable acceleration in the annual rate of mass loss from both the Greenland and Antarctica ice caps.
3. The last time atmospheric CO2 was 390 ppm, sea levels were 15 m higher than they are today, which implies even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow, this is where they would end up several centuries from now because the warming “is already in the pipeline” (i.e. because the Earth must warm-up in order to restore its energy balance).
4. Unless we stop burning fossil fuels soon, sea level rise will continue to accelerate, which is likely to cause between 1 and 5 metre rise by 2100AD (depending on how quickly we now decide to stop burning them).
5. Palaeoclimatology tells us that 350 ppm is the safe limit for avoiding significant disruption to the planet’s ecological carrying capacity (i.e. in terms of both populations of individual species and overall biodivesity); and it now seems likely that between 20%-50% of all species will be “ticketed for extinction” by the end of the century.
6. If we push the Earth beyond it’s “tipping point” (i.e. allow all the emerging positive feedback mechanisms to take hold); ACD will become unstoppable; and the ensuing socio-economic damage will be almost unimaginable. The total global cost of mitigation is already put at somewhere between 35 and 70 Trillion US Dollars depending on how soon we choose to act.
7. If we had started to get off fossil fuels in 2005, it would have required 3% reduction per year in order to restore energy imbalance by 2100AD. If we start next year, it will require 6% p.a. If we wait 10 years it will require 15% p.a.
8. Recent droughts in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico were 3 Standard Deviations outside the norm. Events such as these cannot therefore be ascribed to natural variability; anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is happening just as Hansen said it would 24 years ago (if we did not change course – which we haven’t).
9. Pursuing emissions limits (i.e. Cap and Trade) will not work because there is no actual incentive to reduce emissions without any self-imposed restraint being to the advantage of others who do not do the same (i.e. the Tragedy of the Commons problem).
10. Hansen uses the analogy of an approaching asteroid – the longer we wait to prevent it hitting us the harder it becomes to do so.
Some will no doubt respond to all of this by claiming that Hansen is just seeking to make money out of environmental “alarmism” (e.g. by citing his Blue Planet award for a lifetime’s work) but, it is no longer just Hansen that is saying these things. He is now joined by people like:
– the International Energy Agency; and
– William Nordhaus.
To those who respond in such fashion, I am bound to ask:
1. How much longer are you going to hold out against the tide of history, science and now economics? and
2. What are you going to say to your children and grandchildren when you are finally proven wrong? (You had better start planning those speeches because that is what is going to happen).
In this TED talk, Hansen re-states the argument he made in Storms of my Grandchildren very succintly that what we need is a Fee and Dividend system, whereby fossil fuel producers and refiners pay the government a fee that is distributed to all taxpayers; with governments keeping none of the money: This would ensure consumers received more than they had to pay for fuel (especially if they maximise efforts to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels). In other words this would incentivise reductions in consumption (i.e. something that market forces alone struggle to do).
So why is it not happening? You guessed it… It is not in the interests of fossil fuel companies to back such a system because it will ultimately see them put out of business. But they already recognise the need to diversify away from fossil fuels (or at least they did) so, if the asteroid is approaching, what are they waiting for?
This is the problem, the people at the top of the oil companies are either in denial of the fact that oil will one day run out; and/or that “the asteroid is approaching”; and/or they are just not looking beyond securing a decent profit to stick in the bottom line of next year’s Annual Report.
Two questions that remain unanswered
1. When are our politicians going to stop being led by the nose down a Cap and Trade dead-end? and
2. When are we (the general public) going to start demanding that our politicians change course?
We must all be mad if we put up with the business-led control of world politics much longer because… It is not going to end well!
Members of my immediate family have contacted me asking me to explain exactly what I was asking Professor Lindzen and whether I have had any response. This is what I told them:
No news is bad news.
Although some will no doubt say that my first 1800-word email was out-of-order; and never going to receive a response from a busy man, I did get a response – warning me not to publish my email! A warning I have ignored because it was mere bluster and intimidation.
However, I have since apologised for any contentious accusations I may have made, but I have still had no substantive response to any of my questions, even those in my third email to Lindzen; which I believe demand responses to which the whole World is entitled.
In between these two emails, was my second very brief email containing 17 simple statements (i.e. effectively rhetorical questions). However, Lindzen has not responded – and cannot respond – to this because to do so he would have to reveal to the World that he is in a prison of denial from which death will probably be his only escape. For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a death threat by me against him – it is merely a statement of my belief that even if he is now reprimanded for repeated poor practice – he will never recant from what I believe to be his ideologically-driven need to deny (human responsibility for) the reality of all our environmental problems. A blogosphere friend of mine, Owlbrudder, has now demonstrated what I mean by all of this by replying to my 17 statements - affirming the validity of each and every one of them.
Lindzen’s entire thesis depends on one thing.
To make things as clear as possible for you, Lindzen’s entire conspiracy theory stands or falls on his belief that he is right and everyone else is wrong. He has repeatedly asserted that climate sensitivity is very low (i.e. 1 Celsius eventual temperature rise for a doubling of atmospheric CO2); whereas the genuine consensus view is that climate sensitivity is somewhere in excess of 2.5 Celsius. Many climate scientists believe climate sensitivity could be as high as 4 Celsius and also that it is non-linear (i.e. as it warms up, less marginal CO2 change is required to achieve same temperature change => runaway greenhouse effect => Venus no.2 in 500 years).
At very least, if Lindzen is wrong about current climate sensitivity – and runaway greenhouse effect is avoided – when the Earth’s temperature eventually stabilises (i.e. decades after we stop increasing atmosheric CO2) it will be two-and-a-half times hotter than Lindzen thinks.
I just hope that you do not now dismiss me and the vast majority of the World’s climate scientists as environmental “alarmists” because, if you do, the Merchants of Doubt have won and we are all stuffed….
UPDATE (0915 hrs GMT 9 March 2012): I believe all the comments (to-date) are worth reading, but make sure you do not miss the video of the Q&A session of the Meeting (as posted here by its organisers) and my response…
This is a transcript of an email – copied to about 20 key contacts (i.e. the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, British and American journalists, and climate science bloggers around the world) – sent at 0900 hrs GMT today, Monday 5 March 2012.
***UPDATE: Please make sure you read this too (and/or instead)!***
Professor Richard S. Lindzen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Dear Professor Lindzen,
RE: Your presentation in the Palace of Westminster in London on 22 February 2012
In writing you this third email, I am hoping that it will not be spammed. I say this because it seems very clear to me that I may have alienated you by previously making “contentious accusations”. These having been that you have undertaken “previous advocacy work for and on behalf of the tobacco industry”; that you have “fought for so long on behalf of the tobacco industry to prevent legislation to minimise the harmful effects of smoking”; and that you are now “focused instead on helping the fossil fuel lobby deny that anthropogenic climate disruption is happening”. These remarks were unsubstantiated potential slurs on your reputation for which I am now happy to publicly apologise.
I say “publicly” because, in addition to accepting this apology, I hope you will forgive me taking the liberty of copying this email to a number of my relevant contacts. This is because you have publicly and repeatedly (since at least May 2010) questioned the integrity, reliability and/or sensibility of the conclusions of the vast majority of relevantly-qualified climate scientists, the IPCC, and the majority of the World’s relevant professional institutions – all of which consider that we do indeed have legitimate reason to be concerned over ongoing anthropogenic climate disruption. However, just as James Hansen once described you and other “contrarians” as behaving like lawyers (who only present “arguments that favor their client”), I believe this is what you were doing in your presentation at Westminster – and have been doing repeatedly since at least May 2010.
You have repeatedly asserted that climate sensitivity is very low (i.e. 1 Celsius eventual temperature rise for a doubling of atmospheric CO2); whereas the genuine consensus view is that climate sensitivity is somewhere in excess of 2.5 Celsius. I therefore believe that we have reached a momentous point in human history; and that bad decisions made now will have irreversible consequences. This is a view recently endorsed by the economist William Nordhaus, who has concurred with numerous other assessments – such as the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) and the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook (2011) – that delaying de-carbonisation of the World’s power generation systems – and all other mitigating actions – will be a false economy. If so, then despite being in the middle of a global debt crisis, we simply must change course; because we cannot afford not to.
In stark contrast to this, James Hansen has also suggested that “policy inaction is the aim of those that dispute global warming” and, once again, I believe this is your aim too. What I am unclear about is your motive(s). However, even if I am entirely wrong, can you please explain why I came away from your Westminster presentation feeling like this?
For example, can you please explain:
– 1. How you can legitimately criticise both Science and the Guardian for publishing a letter signed by 255 prominent members of the National Academy of Sciences in May 2010, given that the Wall Street Journal refused to publish that letter – choosing instead to publish one signed by 16 “sceptics”; of whom you were 1 of only 4 legitimate climate scientists?
– 2. Why did you highlight the manipulation of graphs (e.g. by stretching their y-axes) as being the way that those with whom you disagree supposedly make things seem more alarming; and then do exactly the same thing with a number of your own graphs to make it seem that there is no cause for alarm? (e.g. see Skeptical Science)
– 3. The PDF of the presentation that is (or was) on the Internet does not include what I think was possibly the most misleading graph (i.e. the one showing a steeply inclined Keeling curve superimposed on temperature data [as per the screenshot from the video on my blog – see links below]), which appears to show no correlation with it over the short-term). Is there any good reason why this omission should have occurred?
Therefore, far from being an environmental “alarmist”, I believe I am a realist and – because climate change denial has prevented significant energy policy changes for at least 24 years now - it seems to me that we are gambling the entire future habitability of planet Earth on you being right about climate sensitivity; when the vast majority of the evidence (including looking at 1990 modelling in the light of what actually happened to CO2 emissions) strongly suggests that you are in fact wrong.
To conclude, Professor Lindzen, I am an unemployed environmental advisor and/or lobbyist; I have no employer to embarrass, and no job to lose. However, it seems to me that it would not be unreasonable for any objective observer to conclude that you have been indulging in the hypocritical obfuscation of many relevant facts; and the misdirection of your multiple audiences. Therefore, because your presentation at Westminster was not one, could you please give me an unequivocal and clear statement of the reasons for what appears to me to be your entirely unwarranted optimism?
I look forward to hearing from you very soon.
Yours very sincerely,
Martin C. Lack. BSc (Geology), MSc (Hydrogeology), MA (Environmental Politics).
N.B. My two previous emails to you were published as promised last week (subject to minor modification and enhancement with video and screenshot of the “missing” graph) at:
An open letter to Richard Lindzen (28 February 2012)
Prof. Lindzen – try this instead! (29 February 2012)
PIG = Pine Island Glacier.
Calf = Piece broken off.
NYC = New York City.
If it were not for Peter Sinclair and Climate Denial Crock of the Week, I might never have heard of the PIG, nor understand why it is considered to be ‘the canary in the coal mine’ for warming in the Antarctic. I would never have heard of John Mercer; who was one of the first people to warn (in the late 1970s) that, once ice shelf fragmentation became obvious, we would know we were in serious trouble.
That time has now come.
Peter’s first post on this subject was very fortuitous in that linking to it fitted nicely into my critique of Richard Lindzen as a former apologist for the Tobacco industry turned climate change denier, which itself arose out of my learning of James Hansen’s characterisation of Lindzen as behaving like a lawyer who only puts forward information and argument favourable to his client; and as someone who does not seek truth because a lawyer merely seeks a win for his client. No prizes for guessing who his “client” is…
However, rather than re-posting Peter’s most recent item about the PIG, I will merely insert links to all of the above-referenced items in chronological order, in the hope those unfamiliar with it, will investigate the whole story (each will open in a new window):
- New crack in the PIG (3 Nov 2011).
- Is Richard Lindzen the devil’s advocate? (4 Nov 2011).
- “Changes in the Ice” – Pine Island Glacier’s crack heard round the world (7 Feb 2012).
For those short of time, here is a summary:
Are we up that smelly creek without a viable means of propulsion? Not necessarily, I think. However, the solution lies with all of us; as we cannot leave it to our politicians to do the right thing because, quite simply, they never will. More on this tomorrow.
This post is offered for the benefit of recent subscribers and as the result of a self-improvement exercise for me: A few months ago, I published a series of posts under the title ‘Climate Science in a Nutshell’, which started here (on 31 Oct 2011). This was itself contained within a slightly longer series of posts regarding my reading of James Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren, which started a few days earlier (on 27 Oct 2011). However, I now hope to go one step further; and reduce the former ‘Nutshell’ series of posts into a single item (about one fifth of the total number of words). [If really pressed for time you can even skip to the footnote, below, for a one-paragraph "nut shaving" (i.e. only 104 words)!]
What follows has been derived from my initial attempts to answer some questions about CO2 consistently lagging behind temperature changes in the palaeoclimatic record, as posed by an Engineer, John Kosowski from Illinois, who came to my blog last Thursday. In so doing, therefore, I found myself doing what I have just said I seek to do here. However one prior explanation is required – namely that a climate or radiative “forcing” is any change in energy imbalance (between incoming solar radiation and outgoing long-wave radiation) that tends to cause an atmospheric and thus a surface temperature change in order to restore that balance (e.g. see Wikipedia). So then, here goes:
Nearly all climatologists would accept that natural climate forcings (e.g. the Milankovitch cycles [i.e. "wobbles"] in the Earth’s axis of rotation) are anything up to ten times weaker than anthropogenic forcings (i.e. the addition of fossilised carbon to the atmosphere through human activity). Without the so-called Greenhouse Effect, the average Earth surface temperature would be about 30 Celsius colder than now (i.e. minus 17 Celsius); and complex life would never have appeared on it. The Earth therefore first created conditions suitable for Life by releasing CO2 from volcanoes and trapping them in its atmosphere. Next, early life forms like Stromatolites converted CO2 to oxygen; with the latter eventually accounting for 20% of our atmosphere before an equilibrium was reached between photosynthesising plants and respiring animals.
Ever since then – and this is the key to understanding everything else – the Earth has regulated its temperature by moving CO2 between its oceans and its atmosphere. If and when a natural forcing would tend to make the planet warmer or cooler (by changing the amount of incoming solar radiation), this would give rise to an imbalance between the incoming solar radiation and outgoing radiation (heat loss). In order to restore this energy balance, it is – and always has been – necessary for the Earth to have more or less CO2 in its atmosphere. This is why, in palaeoclimatology, CO2 changes always lag 200 to 1000 years behind natural temperature changes (interspersed with long periods of relative stability in both). Although not the strongest greenhouse gas (GHG), CO2 is the most abundant and long-lived GHG there is (i.e. water vapour is much more abundant but comes and goes; whereas methane is much less abundant but 23 times more powerful as a GHG).
All natural forcings (Milankovitch wobbles, the precession of the equinoxes, and the eccentricity [i.e. non-circularity] of the Earths orbit) are all predictable and fairly constant (i.e. the Earth’s axis of rotation moves between two angles of inclination at predictable intervals and at a predictable speed). These 3 natural forcings have only been dominant in the last 1 million years (hence all the Ice Ages we have had). Prior to that, other natural forcings such as plate tectonics (i.e. continental collisions, burial of limestone sea bed, mountain building) have caused much greater changes in the CO2 content of the atmosphere (primarily via volcanic activity but also the chemical weathering and erosion of mountain ranges) and greater changes in temperature. However, it must be borne in mind that climate sensitivity to CO2 was lower during the time of the dinosaurs (i.e. requiring greater change in CO2 per unit change in temperature) compared with what it is now.
Finally, then, the most important aspect to understanding why we now have a problem: Complex life on Earth is adapted to the conditions that have existed for at least the last 35 million years (when Antarctica first became glaciated). Life can adapt but only if change is slow (as in the Ice Ages); although early humans were almost wiped out in the depths of the last Ice Age (about 70k years ago). Most critically of all, human civilisation (cities and agriculture) have only been possible in the last 10k years (i.e. since the last Ice Age – characterised by relative temperature and sea level stability).
We are therefore already in an inter-glacial warm period and, unfortunately, we have now found a much more effective way to change the CO2 content of the Earth’s atmosphere and thereby induce an unnatural temperature change that will eventually restore the unnatural energy imbalance that we have caused. Therefore, there will never be another Ice Age unless or until humans go extinct. Meanwhile, inertia in the climate system means we are now headed for 450ppm or more; and the last time CO2 was that high, it was on average 4 to 6 Celsius warmer. Add to that all the positive feedback mechanisms now kicking-in, and you have the spectre of the runaway enhanced greenhouse effect that we now face.
If you want to know more, read Hansen’s book or failing that:
How does James Hansen sleep at night? and the posts that follow it (especially those in my Climate Science in a Nutshell mini-series) that summarise the book.
Also, if you have not seen it, you should read my subsequent (brief) response to John on the currently-favoured insanity of proceeding to burn all the fossil fuels that we can find here (2nd paragraph onwards).
If I were to attempt to go even further and summarise, in one single paragraph, why everyone on Earth should be concerned about ongoing anthropogenic climate disruption, it would read something like this:
Concern over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is not based on computer modelling; it is based on the study of palaeoclimatology. Computer modelling is based on physics we have understood for over 100 years and is used to predict what will happen to the atmosphere for a range of projections for CO2 reductions. As such, the range of predictions is due to uncertainty in those projections; and not uncertainties in climate science. Furthermore, when one goes back 20 years and chooses to look at the projection scenario that most-closely reflects what has since happened to emissions, one finds that the modelled prediction matches reality very closely indeed.
UPDATE: I think all would do well to also read the the Comments below (or at least the first 3).