Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

A summary of the ‘Climate Departure’ research of Mora et al.

with 33 comments

The video below contains a very compelling 22-minute summary of an impressive array of work, widely reported in the World’s newspapers this week.  The research team, based in the Geography Department at the University of Hawaii, was led by Associate Professor Camilo Mora.

Sadly, it has already been dismissed by people with a track-record denying, downplaying or dismissing the nature, scale and urgency of the problem of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).  People such as Bjorn Lomborg, for example.

A brief summary of the key points of the research:
1.  For any geographic location the time of ‘climate departure’  is the time beyond which even the coldest monthly average temperature will be warmer than anything observed in the last 150 years.  The same method was used to determine the time beyond which a range of other factors (such as precipitation and evaporation) would no longer fall below the range of local values observed in the last 150 years.

2.  The monthly average data for all these calculations, data were obtained from 39 global climate models (GCMs – the accuracy of which I discuss below) constructed by 21 climate modelling centres in 12 different countries around the World.  Common to all of these models is the same suite of CO2 emissions projections scenarios, two of which the research team used to define the range of possible temperature rises: RCP8.5 – representing a business as usual (BAU) scenario where humanity makes no attempt to reduce CO2 emissions; and RCP4.5 – representing a scenario where globally co-ordinated and concerted efforts are made to reduce CO2 emissions.  With regard to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, it should be noted that:
— RCP8.5 is projected to result in a continuing increase to 900 ppm CO2 by the end of the Century; and
— RCP4.5 is projected to result in a peak value of 500 ppm being reached by mid-Century.

3.  The results suggest that on average, climate departure (for temperature) is reached 2047 under the RCP8.5 scenario, or 2069 under the RCP4.5 scenario.  This therefore implies that aggressive attempts to reduce carbon emissions could delay the onset of climate departure by several decades.  Furthermore, the results suggest that climate departure will come to lower latitudes (equatorial and tropical areas) first.  Under RCP8.5 this is as early as 2020 in some places.  Under RCP4.5, climate departure is projected to be experienced almost everywhere by the end of the Century.

4.  The team has produced an interactive map, published online here by the Washington Post newspaper, which can be used to see when climate departure is predicted under both scenarios for any location on the Earth’s surface.

5.  The team suggests that the historical focus on absolute changes in temperature (i.e. predicted and observed to be greatest in polar regions) have given humans a false sense of security about the likely personal impacts.  This study inverts that pattern and shatters the illusion that humans will not be directly impacted by changes in temperature.  This is because, where the natural climate variability is smallest, less absolute change is required for it to be significant and most of the species present have less resilience to that change.

6.  The research highlights the changes that have already occurred.  Indeed, the most striking finding of the research is that the pH of seawater across the entire planet – i.e. without any exceptions – is already lower than it has been at any time in the last 150 years.

7.  The research highlights the fact that those areas that are likely to reach climate departure soonest are also areas with the highest average population density and the lowest capacity to adapt.  Under RCP4.5, it is expected that 1 billion people will be living in area experiencing unprecedented climatic conditions by 2050.  Whereas, under the RCP8.5 this is expected to be 5 billion people (i.e. half the currently-projected global population).

8.  The research indicates that the Earth’s most significant biological assets (essential ecosystem services and biodiversity) are at risk.  This is the consequence of three facets of the above:  (a) equatorial and tropical regions will be the first to experience climate departure; (b) they contain the greatest proportion of the Earth’s biological assets; and (c) are the least resilient to any change and the least able to adapt.

Conclusions (some readers may find some sentences upsetting)
1.  If we stick to BAU, we will guarantee that (a) the long-term consequences will be increasingly unpleasant; (b) mitigation will become impossible; and (c) adaptation will be required sooner and faster and therefore be more costly.   Alternatively, if we decide to try and mitigate ACD (by aggressively reducing CO2 emissions), we may be able to limit the unpleasantness and the scale and total cost of adaptation required (by humans and non-humans alike).

2.  If we do nothing, the extinction of a significant proportion of species on Earth would appear to be unavoidable in the long-term (and, if that happens, the survival of humanity would have to be seriously in jeopardy).  Alternatively, if we take action, the extinction of some species looks highly probable but, critically, this will buy most species several decades to adapt.  This means that the costs of adaptation can be spread over those extra decades.

3.  Given all of the above, how can it make any sense to continue to argue about what we should do?

Comments about the accuracy of Global Climate Models (GCMs)
One very easy way to dismiss all this is to point out that, in the course of the last decade, global average temperatures have slipped from well above 75th to just above 5th percentile of GCM predictions.  Despite this, however, the exponential nature of the observed temperature increase over the last 150 years is very obvious in the above video.

Furthermore, the only way anyone can justify reaching the conclusion that this increase will not continue is by asserting that CO2 is not the main driver.  A recent  article on the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media website, entitled ‘Examining the Recent Slow-Down in Global Warming‘, has an excellent set of graphs that explain how and why we can be certain that CO2 is the main driver.

In addition, as per the comments I have posted on the above article, none of the GCMs include the global dimming effects of industrial pollution. Given that this is the case, I really do not understand why so many climate scientists keep saying we do not understand the reason for the current hiatus.  In his book, ‘Storms of my Grandchildren’, James Hansen repeatedly complains about the fact that, 20 years ago, NASA refused to invest in satellite monitoring of this pollution. Thus we have been unable to model its effects because we have no data to put into the GCMs.

33 Responses

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  1. A remarkably speculative piece of work, entirely model-based (not a particularly credible choice at this point, perhaps) and being some sort of class project, it seems, possessing no merit than its remarkable level of alarmism. Plus it would appear to be at odds with the conclusions in Table 12.4 of IPCC AR5 WG1:
    * Very unlikely that the AMOC will undergo a rapid transition (high confidence)
    * Exceptionally unlikely that either Greenland or West Antarctic Ice sheets will suffer near-complete disintegration (high confidence)
    * Possible that permafrost will become a net source of atmospheric greenhouse gases (low confidence)
    * Very unlikely that methane from clathrates will undergo catastrophic release (high confidence)
    * Low confidence in projections of the collapse of large areas of tropical forest
    * Low confidence in projections of the collapse of large areas of boreal forest
    * Likely that the Arctic Ocean becomes nearly ice-free in September before mid-century under high forcing scenarios such as RCP8.5 (medium confidence)
    * Low confidence in projections of changes in the frequency and duration of megadroughts
    * Low confidence in projections of a collapse in monsoon circulations
    Not to mention the recently published IPCC SREX report, of course.


    11 October 2013 at 01:38

    • Thanks for taking the time to watch the video. What is remarkably speculative, in my opinion, is your facile rejection of this work. This is because it is very clearly looking at the problem in a new way (i.e. not at absolute temperature increases). In Table 12.4, the statements without timescales are essentially meaningless and, in any case, focusing on them ignores the overall IPCC conclusion that further delay in decarbonisation will be uneconomic. Furthermore, Mora et al have used monthly average temperatures, so we can also exclude extreme weather events (SREX). However, I suggest we leave aside the issue of when things might happen (in either IPCC or Mora et al) and, instead, focus on the implications of long-term changes: To this end, please re-read my post and
      tell me where there is scope to see long-term change as beneficial; and/or any reason to delay doing what we can to minimise it.

      Martin Lack

      11 October 2013 at 10:37

    • Ah yes! The old, ‘some climate model predictions have not been accurate therefore all models are bunk’ gambit.

      Of course the Mora et. al. paper is behind a paywall so I don’t have access but enough has been written elsewhere to demonstrate that the study concerned has been carried out carefully and rigidly and its findings fit in very well with how systems behave when they are perturbed by inputs, inputs themselves affected by feedbacks, this being a truism appreciated even by engineers involved with fluid and mechanical systems.

      Here is a synopsis

      Study in Nature reveals urgent new time frame for climate change

      An extract:

      The data came from 39 Earth System Models developed independently by 21 climate centers in 12 different countries. The models have been effective at reproducing current climate conditions and varied in their projected departure times by no more than five years.

      Now remember the conservative nature of IPCC assessments of the past which didn’t factor in rapid cryosphere responses. IMHO this alone is one huge wild card with population reactions to lost land and homes being another.

      Lionel A

      11 October 2013 at 12:11

      • I intended to add to that, got interrupted, the discussion of this Mora article with another by Ostberg et. al.: Critical impacts of global warming on land ecosystems..

        See here:

        Might as well try and catch the wind .

        Not surprisingly, Mora and SkS/Guardian focuses on the Climate – the word is used 20 times – and climate extremes (the subject of the paper). In contrast, the Ostberg paper focuses on ecosystems. Though I write mainly about climate change myself, I find I prefer the Ostberg et. al. approach much more compelling (not least because I can actually read the material).

        It would appear that the Daily Mail has set up a strawman argument against Mora so that Mora et. al. can be knocked down with it at a later date.

        The Daily Mail response, found after trawling down through endless z-list nonsense, is a pice of classical alarmism (on the surface). This is an interesting disinformation strategy, since it serves to perpetuate the myth that GW discussion is ‘commy’ alarmism. If you want to be truly horrified by our ability to learn nothing and care less, skip the article, which is drivel, and go to the comments. The message is not getting through…

        Maybe catweazle666 (the handles people choose can be informative in themselves) read the Daily Mail before coming here.

        Lionel A

        11 October 2013 at 12:23

        • Thanks Lionel. I think I have read the piece on the Mail Online site but did not see it as a Straw Man to be knocked down later. However, I may well have been too naive.

          Martin Lack

          11 October 2013 at 12:49

    • If anything the paper is conservative and not remotely alarmist! I don’t believe it assumes on any of those factors you list – I recommend you actually read it before commenting (I seem to recall it’s open access, and actually written in very accessible language).

      Furthermore some of those factors you list – if they occur (and I don’t care if they’re low confidence, you stack up enough “unlikely” events – and statistically it becomes likely that at least a portion of them can occur without violating basic statistics…) – would introduce changes far beyond those referred to in this paper. Changes that would make this paper look extremely tame, in fact (if you cannot believe that, I can only recommend you look up paleoclimatic examples of (truly) abrupt climate change.


      17 October 2013 at 07:14

      • Responding to Catweazle is probably a waste of time, CCG. I think Catweazle knows when he’s beaten (or else he will just add us to his list of ‘sheeple’). I think, therefore, that he is (statistically) very unlikely to return to this post again.

        Martin Lack

        17 October 2013 at 12:50

        • ” I think Catweazle knows when he’s beaten…”

          You keep on telling yourself that if it makes you feel better, Martin. But I promise you, that Mora paper is going to do your cause more harm than good. And as for Lewandowski…


          17 October 2013 at 20:21

        • Catweazle, you seem to live in a parallel universe where blogs are more important than peer-reviewed science and bloggers more respected than scientists. For all the reasons I and others here have stated, your attempted critique of Mora et al was entirely vacuous and without merit. The only thing they could be criticised for was using models that clearly do not reproduce the effects of all periodic cooling forces. However, rejecting Mora et al entirely is only possible if you reject 150 years of atmospheric physics; and ignore the fact that change is still happening (despite the ‘no significant warming since 1998’ sideshow).

          Martin Lack

          18 October 2013 at 10:30

        • When I see what appear to be obvious trolls stating falsehoods, sometimes I feel obliged to correct/balance it – but yeah, I shouldn’t unnecessarily multiply comments.


          18 October 2013 at 05:54

        • So, when’s “the Pause” AKA “the Plateau” that is so puzzling the climastrologists going to come to an end then, all you climate experts? Before you start denying that there is a pause, perhaps you should read this, from ‘Nature’:

          “Absent from next week’s report, for instance, is recent and ongoing research on the rate of warming and what is — or is not — behind the plateau in average global temperatures that the world has experienced during the past 15 years. These questions have important policy implications, and the IPCC is the right body to answer them. But it need not wait six years to do so.”

          Oh, and don’t try to pretend Trenberth’s “Missing Heat” is lurking in the bottom of the oceans, I’m sure you know that despite the best efforts of the Climate McScientists to find it…
          [Opinion stated as fact has been deleted. – ML]

          Here is a comparison of 73 models versus empirical instrumental data from satellites and balloons, after 150 years of research – and it’s not even close, surely we should be able to do better than that, don’t you agree?

          Oh, and as to that 150 years, can you point out one other major area of science that has survived that long without substantial revision, or been replaced entirely, especially since the advent of relativity and quantum physics…
          [Opinion stated as fact has been deleted. – ML]


          18 October 2013 at 12:55

        • Catweazle, I have self-evidently not denied there has been a pause in warming. However, the only way to justify thinking there will be no more warming is to tell yourself that you know best and that the majority of climate scientists are either stupid, mistaken or deceitful. The totality of post-Industrial change cannot be explained unless you accept that CO2 is the main driver (and that it is much stronger than all other drivers of both warming and cooling).

          N.B. If you post anymore stuff like this, it will be trashed rather than moderated. This is because you keep forcing me to repeat myself.

          Martin Lack

          18 October 2013 at 14:17

        • “unless you accept that CO2 is the main driver (and that it is much stronger than all other drivers of both warming and cooling). ”

          [Nothing you said – nor anything in Solomon et al (2010), ‘Contributions of Stratospheric Water Vapor to Decadal Changes in the Rate of Global Warming‘ (to which you referred but did not link) – falsifies the consensus view that warming has paused because of a concatenation of subsidiary cooling factors that have proven just enough to cancel out the underlying warming. To argue otherwise is to ignore the radiative energy imbalance casued by CO2. Those who are genuinely sceptical (as opposed to ideologically blinded) can learn about the limitations of and flaws in Solomon et al (2010) here. – ML]


          18 October 2013 at 15:52

        • Consider yourself fortunate that, rather than just trash your comment, I replaced it with a link to the paper you failed to cite properly; and a link to explain why Solomon et al (2010) changes nothing.

          Martin Lack

          19 October 2013 at 12:57

        • For catweazle’s enlightenment, aka smoke screen busters:

          What is the role of stratospheric water vapor in global warming?

          The wisdom of Solomon

          don’t let this beast fool you.

          Lionel A

          19 October 2013 at 12:30

        • Great minds think alike!

          Martin Lack

          19 October 2013 at 12:57

        • “Consider yourself fortunate…”

          No, you patronising little man, YOU consider yourself fortunate that I waste my time – which I rather think is worth considerably more than yours, as I get paid good money for my expertise – attempting to educate you and your fellow echo chamber sycophants.

          Give it 18 months – perhaps 2 years at the outside – you are going to wonder just how you were credulous enough to get fooled.

          Mankind has no more ability to change the climate than to change the time the sun rises, and all that treasure we have poured down the AGW black hole could have been used to do something really environmentally useful, such as ensure clean drinking water to billions in the Third World, clean up the Pacific Gyre or carry out any amount of useful medical research.

          But no, arrogant, ignorant self-aggrandising “Liberals” like you and your idiot friends decided you could “save the World”.

          As I say, you will certainly live to realise what misguided fools you are.


          19 October 2013 at 14:59

        • Catweazle, I am sorry if the deletion/moderation of your comments upset you but, you cannot say you were not warned. However, for the record:
          1. If I was a liberal, I would not vote for the Conservative Party.
          2. If I was a fool, I would not have attained two postgraduate degrees.

          Unlike you, I am a conservative who does not allow ideology to determine what science I accept and what I reject.

          I am therefore going to leave this comment intact, as I believe it will serve as a wonderful testament to your capacity for psychological projection; and your ability to be 100% wrong.

          As the Dali Lama is fond of saying, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”.

          As for the rest of your ill-tempered diatribe, I suggest you come back tomorrow and get acquainted with some facts.

          Martin Lack

          19 October 2013 at 16:42

        • No, you patronising little man, …

          How can one patronise one who so ignorantly proclaims?

          Mankind has no more ability to change the climate than to change the time the sun rises, …

          To use a ‘McEnroe’, “Are you serious?”

          Now you have placed yourself on a par with Bill O’Reilly and his ignorance of science behind the tides.

          I suggest for one, that you search out the works of William Ruddiman, the shorter version being, ‘Ploughs, Plague and Petroleum’.

          Of course you could just be a Poe.

          Oh! And some astrologers get paid good money for their perceived expertise, so your point on that score is…?

          Lionel A

          19 October 2013 at 16:23

  2. Eli Rabett has had a piece up The 97% Need To Strike Back which highlights the response from ‘The Nasty Brigade’ such as Marc Morano. The ever vigilant and hard working John Mashey has in a response included a link to how gutter level Morano & Co. are. I’ll include a link it here anyway so that others can see for themselves and be prepared for what to expect if one sticks ones head above the parapet:

    Price Of Truth: Limbaugh Operatives Encourage Abusive Hate Mail At Female, Evangelical Climate Scientist.

    Is it not an offence to engage in such offensive hate campaigns? If not, it should be.

    Lionel A

    12 October 2013 at 12:16

    • Thanks Lionel. I well remember the disgusting and disgraceful campaign against Hayhoe and, even without seeing Eli Rabbett’s piece, sent Mora an email thanking him and his team yesterday.

      Martin Lack

      12 October 2013 at 15:42

  3. […] blogger, Martin Lack at Lack of Environment, has a good summary of the findings of this paper at A summary of the ‘Climate Depature’ research of Mora et al. There is also a good map at the Washington Post where you can see the time of climate departure […]

  4. Nice to see the post on this paper – while it was (necessarily) based on the relative conservative IPCC stuff it was a very refreshing and (I thought) effective way of discussing and communicating ongoing and future changes. Of the two papers I’ve looked at in detail recently – this one was actually written in pretty straight forward language (unlike another recent and significant one discussing proxy measurement suggesting PETM warming thought to be 5C in 13 years… which is absolutely insane if correct, given the volumes of carbon required to fit their findings).

    If this paper mentioned here can’t communicate to people that we’re basically putting ourselves on a totally different planet (and within my lifetime even if it’s as slow and gentle as the IPCC models suggest), I’m not sure what can…


    17 October 2013 at 07:08

    • Agreed. Under BAU scenario (RCP8.5), warming equivalent to PETM (55 MaBP) is almost certain by end of Century. Long before then, however, BAU will guarantee unstoppable melting of Antarctica in full ===> perpetual SLR for centuries and abandonment of all land less than 70 metres above sea level.

      Martin Lack

      17 October 2013 at 13:02

  5. it is stuck at the moment but they are working on it

    please consider and share

    john byatt

    18 October 2013 at 07:20

  6. […] responding to sensible comments on my previous post, ‘A summary of the ‘Climate Departure’ research of Mora et al.‘, I found myself referring to the most recent mass extinction event in the Earth’s […]

  7. […] early contributor to the documentary is Kevin Trenberth who – echoing the subsequently-published ‘Climate Departure’ research of Camillo Mora (et al) – points out many places are already recording unprecedented rainfall and temperature […]

  8. […] In their latest book, Oreskes and Conway suggest that collapse will occur in 2093. Sadly, I suspect it will be a lot sooner than that… Research that shows that environmental change is now in the process of accelerating beyond our capacity to mitigate it: – What on Earth are we doing? (19 February 2013). – A summary of the ‘Climate Departure’ research of Mora et al. (11 October 2013). […]

  9. […] See also: — A summary of the ‘Climate Departure’ research of Mora et al. (11 October 2013). […]

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