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The Self Reinforcing Pattern of Climate Change Naysaying

Mankind can only understand what we’re ready to understand and accept what we’re ready to accept.”

The first half of this piece, describing many of the geologically significant and very rapid changes suddenly taking place – all in the direction of decades long leading climate scientist prediction – has been improved and updated, and is now found here.

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The global climate, and to a greater extent many regional climates, is starting to change. And it’s starting to change in a way that’s likely unprecedented in the last 11,000 years, or if not, represents an extremely unusual degree of upward global warming over any random 100 year period over the same time period.

This current measured change is also just in terms of just temperature change alone, which although most noticeable and most talked about, may be the the least significant of the major changes taking place right now, and which may be even more likely to be unprecedented to over the past 11,000 years, and even more important in terms of shaping our future climate. (For example, the speed of change to our oceans heat content, and possibly even the speed of change of polar ice cap melt and acceleration of that melt, as covered here.)

Yet despite this, there is a great deal of hype and rhetoric claiming that the earth’s climate is not really changing. Or that if it is changing, the change isn’t very notable or relevant.

There’s even more rhetoric (if that was even possible) to the effect that if the climate is changing and in a way that is relevant to us, that such change is just (bizarrely) “coincident” to our multi-million year increase in the concentration of long term “energy re capturing” greenhouse gas molecules, or to the fact that climate scientists have been predicting this for many years for very basic reasons, known for almost centuries.’

Of course when these claims are made, they do not state “bizarrely coincident,” but ignore that little detail, and instead simply proclaim that “climate changes, it’s changing now, since it changes and it’s changing now, we’re not causing the current change.” Which is not only illogical, it also wholly misconstrues what the climate change issue is:

In other words, we didn’t notice signs of an altering climate, and then try to figure out “why.” We discovered a massive geological (and ongoing) effect to the fundamental long term energy trapping nature of our climate; one that would change our climate. And then we’ve seen corroborative signs of just that, and in very broad based, global, accumulating, and even accelerating fashion.

So the whole “climate has changed before” is not only irrelevant, it misconstrues what the issue is, which is the expectation of change due to the geologically massive increase in long term molecular energy re-absorption and re-radiation.

But skeptic also seek not only to turn the actual issue upside down, but also refute such signs of change as well, by any argument possible, so long as it fits the conclusion that there has been “no” or “less” change, whether,

Even the seminal 11,000 year Marcott study just linked to – which doesn’t even account for the more important and even more unusual shift in our oceans and sudden start to and rapid acceleration in net ice cap melting, and net ice cap melting at the North Pole, and the South Pole both – but just air temperatures, has been repeatedly called almost every negative name under the sun by non scientists, and a rare few “pseudo” scientists who don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, what the authors actually did and did not do (see minute 3:00 to 4:30 specifically); and who in many cases don’t understand the actual paper.

The Marcott paper has even been turned into a sort of false scandal because the study not only tried to reconstruct the past 11,300 or so years, it compared the best (and only record) of the past 11,300 years – which involved said reconstruction – to the best record of the modern era (aka, the actual temperature record), rather than to a far less robust “reconstruction” of the modern era which would have made no sense.

Why would we compare our best reconstruction of the geologic past to our very worst, rather than our best, assessment of the very short recent geologic window in which we are currently in. But that is exactly what critics of the study in fact not just called for, but repeatedly labeled the study all but “fraudulent” for not doing – when to have done so would have made almost no sense.

In the interview with one of the study authors – Jeremy Shakun – also linked to just above – Shakun explains that it’s reasonably possible that a warming period of about the same or greater than the globe has experienced over the past 100 years could have occurred during some prior 100 year Holocene period; but that it is unlikely to have, or at the very least would have been very unusual, which is by far and away the more important point of the study. Namely, that the current 100 year warming has been extremely unusual. for any 100 year period of the past 11,000 years.

And the conclusion of the study itself (subscription required) actually noted:

Strategies to better resolve the full range of global temperature variability during the Holocene [the last 11,300 years], particularly with regard to decadal to centennial time scales, will require better chronologic constraints through increased dating control. [And, albeit to lesser degree] higher-resolution sampling and improvements in proxy calibration.

The study also never claims that the current period of warming is unprecedented, as much of the hype directed against it also erroneously claims. And it is most relevant for taking all of the available data and studies and coming up with an exhaustive and complete look at the entire Holocene – or since about the end of the last “glaciation encroachment” – to try and get a sense of just how the climate generally moved over that time, and also how the modern era might compare. And essentially it found that:

Our results indicate that global mean temperature for the decade 2000–2009 (34) has not yet exceeded the warmest temperatures of the early Holocene (5000 to 10,000 yr B.P.). These temperatures are, however, warmer than 82% of the Holocene distribution as represented by the Standard5×5 stack, or 72% after making plausible corrections for inherent smoothing of the high frequencies in the stack (6) (Fig. 3). In contrast, the decadal mean global temperature of the early 20th century (1900–1909) was cooler than >95% of the Holocene distribution under both the Standard5×5 and high-frequency corrected scenarios. Global temperature, therefore, has risen from near the coldest to the warmest levels of the Holocene within the past century, reversing the long-term cooling trend that began ~5000 yr B.P.

The paper is not claiming that the current temperature range of the 2000s is the warmest of the past 11,300 years. But that it is warmer than probably about three quarters to four fifths of it. And that combined with the fairly cold temperatures of the first decade of the 1900s -, which the paper approximates to be among the coldest temperatures of the Holocene – the shift has been unusual.

The 1900s came on the tail end of a shorter downward period in temperature, and since climate is temperature over several decades, the 1900s decade could just as much have been warmer than not. It’s also a little bit random, since the temperature of the first decade of the 1900s is somewhat arbitrary; though it is around the time that represents a general beginning of the more significant part of any longer term temperature rise, it trails mildly behind (as expected) the very beginning of industrial age alterations to the atmosphere, and it forms a clean century period to the last decade on record. (Chart by NASA):

In the meantime, extending the relevance of this chart further, and as secondary as air temperature is to the more important issue of ongoing ocean heat energy accumulation and accelerating polar ice cap melt, 2014 is on route to likely being the warmest year ever on record.

The Marcott paper is essentially notable for giving some sort of feel, however, flawed, for how the current change over the last century might stack up against the past 11,000 years – with some guesswork and possibility for error as, for the historical period of course, the authors used reconstructed data, which is imperfect: as are, to some degree anyway, interpretations drawn. And there really isn’t any degree of accuracy below a several hundred year period.

So as pointed out, although it is unlikely, there could have been shorter blips that evened out. (There are also widely circulated temperature charts that show one or two fairly radical short term blips. But these are taken solely from arctic ice core samples; and while they are significant, regional temperatures may have varied much more than global, and arctic and antarctic temperatures often moved in opposition, so taking just a one core sample as indicia of the temperature of the globe gives an idea, but can also be a little to very misleading.)

But as the video link above illustrates, though neither Shakun (nor the paper itself) dismiss the fact that shorter term blips could have occurred that represent a greater end over end 100 year temperature increase, Shakun was less concerned about that possibility in terms of present day relevance since we know there is a cause for the current change, we know what that cause is, that cause is not disappearing but growing as we continue to increase the overall level of long lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the current change is not likely to be a blip.

For what it is it’s an interesting study. But the rancor directed against it, for which just a few links were provided above, is extraordinary, and telling. In fact, google Marcott, and in just the first two pages or so of results you will find just as many, if not more, “articles” claiming it is a fraud or something close to it, than not.

Notably, search deeper, despite the massive avalanche of written articles and editorials and commentary calling the study a fraud or all but a fraud, you will still have trouble finding even one scholarly science magazine or journal published article refuting, or in terms of its relevance, correcting it  – and publishing articles to correct or refute prior studies and claims is what science is all about. Again, while a bit snarky, the link from above helps explain why.

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Although the climate of the globe is changing, and such change generally has been expected, there is a great amount of claim that the climate hasn’t changed, or that if it has, it is simply random, and thus what the earth would be doing even if we hadn’t increased the concentrations of long lived greenhouse gases to levels not seen on earth in millions of years.

Such assertions also mean by definition that said change, by similar remarkable coincidence, is not changing or affecting the climate; which in turn is thus proceeding along the general path it would have anyway had our atmosphere not been altered. (In scientific terms this is called a flight of fancy. In much of the media’s eye, and climate change refuters eyes – some of whom are scientists but very few of whom are actual climate scientists – it is called a “point of view.”)

And thus yielding two remarkable and independent coincidences at the same time – the climate is exhibiting unusual change over the past 100 years, and yet exactly what scientists believe would cause such change – an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations to levels not seen on earth in millions of years, is, by even more remarkable coincidence, itself otherwise not altering the climate of the earth while that climate bizarrely just starts to shift on its own, anyway.

Yet both of these together have to be accurate to support the basic climate change refutation claim. And the chance would be the probability of each, multiplied together.

For instance – forget oceans radically heating, ice caps on both poles melting, and accelerating – imagine that there is a 1 in 10 chance of just the global air temperature heating as it has over the past 100 years, even though the seminal and only real study on the issue suggests that the chances are low that the earth as a whole increased this much in temperature in any single 100 year period over the last 11,000 years even once; and that there is a 1 in 20 chance that increasing the level of long lived greenhouse concentrations to levels not seen on earth in millions of years would itself somehow not really affect the climate.

Then the chances of this change we are seeing being simply, oddly “coincident to,” but essentially not caused by, our atmospheric alteration, would be .1 x .05 or .005, or .5% or 1 in 200. And that’s overstating it, because the numbers used here are high estimates.

Regardless of what the actual number is, take note of the fact that in a field of unknowns (which climate change refuters stipulate, since they use the same “unknown” argument to also simultaneously argue against climate change), the most basic argument for climate change refutation relies upon the choice of an outcome or interpretation which is very improbable, over the one that is very probable. (The opposite of Occam’s Razor, on speed.)

And thus relies upon the choice of an outcome over the one that actual scientists who study this issue themselves professionally, overwhelmingly support (once again hype to the contrary notwithstanding): Namely, the bizarre coincidence we are seeing is of course connected to the change we produced and that we overwhelmingly expect to have this type of general – climate affecting, and likely overall warming, if erratic – effect.

That is, we expected climate to change, and it has now started to.  And most of that change is affecting the things that will both affect future change and drive climate directly, and that are being all but ignored while we over-focus on the misleading picture of air temperature alone.

Yet there is a great deal of hype that this change also wasn’t expected. This is done by cherry picking and focusing in on specific predictions and numbers – which of course are often unexpected because we never could, and still can’t, predict exactly what level of change will occur or along what path.

Part of this in turn stems from the massive presumption that climate change is based upon models, and that these models have to predict it almost exactly for climate change to be real.

Both premises are mistaken, as models – while easy for scientists to problematically over rely upon in trying to make seemingly concrete representations to the public – are used to better understand the issue and help make general projections. Not to prove the issue or even establish its existence.

Some of this hype is also based on an artificially narrowed focus on a small percentage of scientists who weren’t really fully aware of the issue or originally didn’t expect it to be a problem – most of whom weren’t scientists who professionally studied the atmospheric change, climate, and the geologic record – and who know acknowledge, “I didn’t realize before that it was a problem”; any prediction that underestimated something as therefore a lack of expected change (while simultaneously focusing very publicly on any prediction that overestimated something as “proof,” however irrational to do, that climate change is not real – thus in tandem by arguing against climate change because some things, or the level of change involved, “were underestimated,” while other other things “were overestimated,” mistaking the basic process of science itself for an actual refutation of science – in this case climate change science); or again upon a very select cherry picked set of papers.

The most common of these go all the way back to the 70s when it became in vogue for a while to talk about long term global cooling – Time magazine even ran a cover story on the issue that decade.

This made sense at the time because absent our atmospheric alteration, the earth has been in an ice age. (Ice age refers to the entire period since large masses of ice formed at or near both poles of the globe, although we often call periods of glacial encroachment into previously unfrozen areas “ice ages” as well, and periods in between “interglacials.”)

Over a period of many hundreds of millions of years, or even longer, carbon dioxide levels have come down, as carbon has been slowly sequestered into the earth.

This of course is the nub of the problem, as we are reversing that process in what is in some sense a mere geologic instant. And then when the earth doesn’t respond “instantaneously” in geologic terms, we go, “oh, it must not be much of a problem, or we go “this change we are seeing would have occurred anyway.”

But the earth, regardless of the generally cooler period leading up to 1970s publicity on “cooling,” wasn’t in a longer term cooling phase anymore because of the radical, and rapid, reversal of this long slow downward carbon drift from atmospheric gas to in ground sequestration as solid carbon matter.

And back in the 1970s, when a good portion of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere right now hadn’t even been added – and detailed climate change science was somewhat in its relative infancy – scientific papers that concluded the earth was going to warm still outnumbered papers predicting longer term cooling, by about 500%.

Back in the 70s. Well before 40 some years of upward temperatures, declining arctic sea ice (with antarctic sea ice, albeit in wintertime not summertime, increasing about about one tenth the rate of arctic sea ice decline, and due to rapid geological changes in that area – namely increasing Southern Annular Mode Winds pushing ice northward to allow the formation of new ice, and cooling waters from ice sheets melt insulating the surface), increasing weather volatility and extremes, increasing permafrost surface temperatures,and melting and now accelerating melting at both polar ice caps. And well before another 40 years of massive additions to the atmospheric levels of long lived greenhouse gases. And after a few decades of mild overall cooling.

Even though though all that, the general concern, the far more popular (if not popularized) scientific concern, was a longer term trend of increased global warming and volatility, due to large increases to the concentrations of long term greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Consider that fact the next time you hear (or consider making yourself) the argument that we don’t know what we’re talking about now because 40 years ago “global cooling was predicted!”  It’s irrelevant, and incorrect. As are most of the arguments made to “refute” the basic climate change idea. And thus consider thus the extent to which any argument will be made to support the idea that our real knowledge in the general idea of climate change is “all over the map,” and therefore, climate scientists (except the rare few who think climate change will somehow be mild, though no real cohesive theory that stands up to muster other than platitudes housed as science have ever been so advanced) “don’t know what they’re talking about. ”

These arguments just sound good, and appeal to those who want them to be appealing; or, frankly, maybe to some who aren’t as good at science as scientists who professionally pursue the issue at hand but who upon hearing some clever rhetoric or argument, often usually by another non scientist or scientist who similarly doesn’t professionally study or have intimate and accurate knowledge over the issue at hand, fancy themselves to be as good or better and as knowledgeable or better as climate scientists on the specific information that is relevant – and the knowledge to not only know more about the issue and know it better, but thus also know what it relevant better than climate scientists as well.

Again, a lot of this hype stems from the same hype hurled against general climate change concern to begin with; namely, we can’t predict the exact future, and the exact path of that future, so the claim that the climate will or is even likely to change is therefore wrong.

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As a result of this hype and a lot of the misinformation, as well as excessive fealty to fossil fuels and concern over the possible avenues of climate change redress, many members of Congress believe the science phenomenon of climate change as expressed by climate scientists – is not real. Yet again, they’re not scientists.

And most of those who are climate change “skeptics” outside of Congress, similarly, are either not scientists or not climate, atmospheric or geological scientists who professionally study the actual issue of climate change.

So what has happened is that an enormous majority of non scientists, and to a much more limited extent “scientists” in unrelated fields, nevertheless assert greater knowledge on the issue of climate science, than actual climate scientists who professionally study the issue.

And a big part of what is driving – or in the minds of climate change refuters, at least substantiating – this presumed expertise on the part of non scientists that nevertheless supersedes the knowledge of scientists who actually study the issue, is that having a scientific understanding of the reasons for likely future change is being falsely conflated with the ability to predict the exact amount of global temperature change that will be realized, or the precise range of specific change over an exact period of time.

For what climate change skeptics argue is that we must be able to accurately predict the specific path of all change in advance, in order for the idea that we face high risks of significant to major climate shifting to even have validity in the first place.

This confusion (or claim) has been driven by a lot of rhetoric on the issue, which, along with attempts to downplay the science of climate change as well as this claim itself, is in large part based upon a strong belief in things that have nothing to do with the science of the issue.

This has greatly denigrated basic climate change understanding. Yet it is scientifically specious (and in some ways scientifically ludicrous), to conflate our knowledge of a geologically radical and ongoing net addition of energy onto a dynamic, complex long term and non linearly changing global energy, or “climate” system, with the idea that we must therefore not only know that the system has to significantly change, but also know each detail about it in advance, as if we could predict or model it out as if writing a movie script after the fact.

Yet driven by massive often self reinforcing misinformation and a strong desire to refute the very idea of a significant climate shift threat rather than simply examine in dispassionate fashion, in one form or another, and dressed up in various rhetorical and ostensibly logical ways as attempts to “examine in dispassionate fashion,”this is exactly the argument that has served as the core basis for misnamed climate change “skepticism”; a movement that essentially tries to repudiate basic science, often, ironically, in the name of it.

And it is, again, in a nutshell, the idea that since we can’t predict it exactly, the risk itself must not significantly exist.

In most other contexts, this would be more easily seen for the irrational claim that it is. But given the massive,reinforcing and self perpetuating misinformation on the climate change issue, and the seeming non science related drive to “interpret” or view the issue in a certain way, it passes for serious anti climate change analysis and belief.

As does, similarly, the otherwise irrational notion that we are not affecting the climate now by our multi million year alteration in the level of long lived atmospheric greenhouse gases, simply because climate “can” and does otherwise change, even though it would be extremely unusual for it to have changed even in the degree we have so far seen, simply by coincidence.

And then if so, again, it would be even more unusual for earth’s climate to not otherwise have been significantly affected by the rapid atmospheric change we have occasioned, but yet again only at the very same (pin prick of geologic) time by this fluky bizarre “coincidence” that we are seeing be perfectly natural:

And thus, even more bizarrely –  and at the very same time as this “fluky” coincidence of a long attendant overall march upward in air temperatures while even more significantly the ocean gains increasingly in heat, and ice sheets at both ends of the earth start melting, and also at an accelerating rate – it would mean that a wild multi million year shift in the concentration of long lived atmospheric molecules that “re capture” heat energy would somehow be having almost no affect, despite basic physics.

In all probability, basic physics still applies. And, arguments by skeptics notwithstanding, an increase in the atmospheric concentration of long lived molecules that absorb and re radiate thermal radiation, to levels that have now not been experienced on earth in several million years, is going to slowly change the earth and lower atmospheric energy balance: as the earth itself – permafrost regions, the oceans, shallow sea bottom areas, other water bodies, the land under permafrost regions, ice sheets – increasingly warms, and slowly starts to add increasing amounts of net energy to the basic structural conditions that, along with the atmosphere itself, drive climate on earth.

Rhetoric can and has changed people’s perception of this, but it doesn’t change what is going on.  Somehow this gap between the rhetoric we are hearing, and what is really going on, needs to lessen.

Not Necessarily Just Change over Time, but Increasingly Volatile Weather, Precipitation, May be Most Problematic For Agriculture

Updated and edited 11-10-14
Climate has a lot to do with how plants grow. Naturally this is relevant to us because among other things plants represent our food supply, or the basis for it.

And as has been expected, that climate is starting to change. (Update: Claims that our changing climate just “coincidentally” reflects normal random movement and not our ongoing atmospheric heat energy absorption changes make no scientific sense on any level. A big part of the reason why, as well as the pattern that nonetheless perpetuates such claims, can now be found here.)

As the link just shared points out:

13 of the 14 warmest years on record have all been in the first 14 years of this decade…and 2014, according to NOAA, is on track to become the warmest year ever.

Despite this, most of the increased heat energy from a higher level of long lived atmospheric greenhouse gases is going into the world ocean, which has been gaining heat for decades; and at a rate many times faster than likely at any time in the past 10,000 years, and accelerating.

Net glacial ice sheet melt is now occurring at both poles, and at least one set of ice sheets in the more stable and larger Antarctic (worth about 10 plus feet of sea level rise on its own), is now facing likely irreversible melt. And ice sheet loss is not only occurring, but accelerating in both polar regions, particularly in Greenland, where the rate of acceleration is becoming near “remarkable.”

There has also been an increase in extreme weather, along with changes in precipitation intensity. While at the same time, much of what is written on the tie between our changing atmosphere and unusual extreme weather events cherry picks select data or mistakes basic statistics, and misconstrues the basic reality that everything that is a part of our climate is affected by our atmospheric shift, because our climate to some degree has already been affected by that atmospheric shift.

Yet we over focus on the almost silly question of whether “climate change” did or didn’t “cause” this event, when it caused all and none, simultaneously, as it’s now a part of our world, and all climate is a reflection of that world.

Similarly, isolating out whether a “particular” storm would have occurred, or would have occurred in the same way in the absence of our major atmospheric shift, is pointless. In some ways it is also theoretically near impossible to do. Yet drawing the conclusion of an overall total effect, and to some measure perhaps a range of extent – what matters – is far from impossible.

That is, we can know that we are affecting the movement of climate, and the reflection of weather thus within it, to an increasingly (and, albeit erratic, accelerating) degree, without being able to precisely write out the script in advance, as if climate did not still represent variable weather over many decades, and that weather was still largely unpredictable to at least some degree with it.

Yet there’s nevertheless extensive hype that the climate really isn’t much changing. Or that if it is, it’s simply random, and thus represents what the earth would be doing even if we hadn’t increased the concentrations of long lived greenhouse gases to levels not seen on earth in millions of years.

This of course would mean said geologically radical atmospheric change, by similar remarkable coincidence, is nevertheless not changing or affecting the climate – which is instead proceeding along the path it would have had our atmosphere not been altered. (In scientific terms this is called a flight of fancy. In much of the media’s eye, and climate change refuters eyes – some of whom are scientists but, notably, very few of whom are actual climate scientists – it is called a “point of view.”)

We expected climate to change, and it has now started to so change.

And most of that change is affecting the things that will both affect future change, and drive climate, and that are being all but ignored while we over-focus on the misleading picture of air temperature alone.

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We don’t know exactly what will change in terms of some specific functions of climate. But we have a pretty good general idea of some things that will or may change. While there are some things we don’t really have a good idea of the long term range of change on.

Such as precipitation patterns, which are ultimately a reflection of climate itself, and thus become part of it.

While we don’t really know, we expect overall precipitation patterns to change  for the basic reason that precipitation is ultimately the release of water molecules that are accumulated as a result of heat. More relevantly, as regional patterns over time are likely to vary wildly in response to what is in essence, again, a multi million year geologic shift in the net addition of energy to our earth lower atmosphere system (and one that is relatively “sudden” in geologic terms), precipitation patterns are much more likely to change within certain regions.

And the biggest problem climate change might pose for agriculture in some ways, could be a major change in our overall precipitation patterns; particularly on a regional basis.

This would include changes in various regions from dry to wet, and vice versa. And changes in the general intensity patterns and rate of precipitation.

With a generally warmer, changing atmosphere – that will both evaporate, and can hold, more moisture – there is a high chance of more intense precipitation events; with, in some areas, longer periods of no or minor precipitation in between more intense events.

The first effect, a general shifting of the overall precipitation level, will have major impacts on various regions, depending on the level of change, and those regions themselves:

Large scale agricultural production, or a society in particular, can’t always just “get up and move” to another region. So poor regions of the globe, for example, that depend upon local agricultural conditions and that have less access to water or funds for large scale irrigation, would be badly hurt by decreases in overall precipitation amounts.  And they would be potentially devastated by any major change into a far more arid regional climate from the one they have come to depend on.

The second effect – the potential increase in the intensity and variance in precipitation events – may not be as problematic in full for those areas that otherwise simply get hammered with a major change in the direction of hostile (generally, much more arid), growing conditions. But this effect will be more generally problematic across the board for at least two main reasons:

The first is that our current system of rivers and streams have either evolved, or been fine tuned, over the past few hundred thousand to few million years. (And in some cases less.) They are generally, although not perfectly, a reflection of broader longer term precipitation and evaporation patterns, not “random.” So the rivers or river and stream structure in one area wouldn’t necessarily be very adept at handling the precipitation patterns of another, for example.

Rivers also take a while to carve out from the land; they can’t be changed overnight. (And even less so with a lot of structures, other buildup and macadam, prevalent in a lot of areas.)

An increase in precipitation intensity also puts more runoff pressures on a region’s landscape. And thus, the greater the frequency and the greater amount of excess precipitation, the more common and more intense the flooding.

This effect has already been furthered by infrastructural buildup, which can sometimes narrow the effective area for natural water flow pathways in response to either ongoing intense, or changing, precipitation, and often removes trees and other natural features that help anchor the ground, control erosion, promote or allow for ground absorption, and lessen the negative effects of excess runoff.

But when it comes, again, to plants specifically, the potential increase in precipitation intensity presents an interesting future agricultural issue. For this reason: Plants generally evolved under present conditions.

It appears from fossil remains and other indicia that plants from some of the eras long long ago – when long lived atmospheric greenhouse gases were more prevalent, oceans much higher, and the globe generally warmer – and more humid, that plants were often larger.

While this may not represent all the species of such eras, it does at least make some sort of superficial common sense: A larger plant, particularly one with a strong and deeper root system, can in theory withstand the rigors and volatility of more varying, and potentially periodically intense, precipitation patterns.

This might be due to stronger anchoring, a deeper soil penetration for extra absorption capacity, and a larger upload and perhaps even storage capacity for employment during excess water availability, for example.

Think of an unwatered garden after a period of excessive drought. Many of the plants – particularly those most shallow rooted – will have perished; while nearby trees look perfectly fine.

If general precipitation patterns do accelerate in intensity – meaning higher chances of longer periods of little water, as well as of excess water in both short term intense precipitation events or multiple events over a short period of time – current crop structures might become increasingly pressured, as a higher and higher percentage of total precipitation becomes unavailable for plant growth, or in essence “wasted.”

This is already starting to happen in many areas, while many others – notably Australia, an area that leads even the U.S. in denying climate change, and already the driest continent on the planet – have been experiencing “unusual” levels of drought intensity.

Increasing intensity of events interspersed with larger variation in between significant precipitation events means there will be longer periods with insufficient or less than optimal available ground water, while there will be other periods of excess water that can’t be absorbed, and is lost due to extra runoff and even deeper ground absorption from excess water during long periods of intense precipitation.

But, plants, with human breeding assistance, can often change quickly. After all, as one example, a simple spindly wild mustard has, with much aid from the hand of man, been shaped into a family of some of the easiest growing and healthiest foods on the planet: One that includes cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, rapeseed (from which canola oil is derived), kale, collards, arugula, and turnips.

So perhaps we might pull off an assist toward development of longer or more extensive root systems, changed leaf water loss patterns, etc., as the needs of plants change in response to changing climate, and in particular, precipitation patterns.

But an increase in possible precipitation intensity and variance will still comprise at least part of the agricultural challenge in response to an increasingly shifting climate. Particularly for some areas of the globe, more than others, as the path of change won’t necessarily wait for our human assisted floral adaptation to it.

And, at least in the shorter term (what we’re concerned with in terms of human generational lifetimes), there may be some restrictions upon it relative to the level of change that can easily occur, given what has already been a multi million year shift (increase) in the concentration of long lived atmospheric greenhouse gases – which in turn have been radically increasing the net earth lower atmosphere energy balance. (Most of which has been going into starting and now accelerating the process of net glacial ice loss, increasing ocean heat energy, and permafrost softening and melt, all of which, to the popular and often the media eye, are largely masking the real issue of “climate change.” Here’s an interesting and it seems just now “surfacing” example.)

The increasing heat can also be problematic – a lot of plants simply stop growing past a certain temperature. But increased heat in other climates may extend growing seasons. And, in rare areas where (despite all the misinformed hype about how increased CO2 is great for plants!) CO2 is the limiting factor, increased CO2 can increase plant growth.

Much learning will likely be ongoing, as systems change, and out of necessity we struggle, experiment, and explore to adapt. (Scientifically intriguing for some wealthier areas of the globe, or, depending on how bad it might get, at least wealthier or “well off” peoples, on the one hand; very problematic to potentially devastating for poorer, less flexible, and regionally more vulnerable areas of the globe, on the other.)

But another area that in advance looks particularly problematic is that of increasing overall weather volatility.

Plants are geared to certain patterns in both light, and temperature. A changing climate is not going to change light patterns. That’s a function of the simple rotation of the earth and it’s slow undulating year long rock back and forth on its imaginary axis. (Of course if discovering that something we did was changing the rotation of the earth and its tilt on its axis and that meant it would affect the climate, climate change naysayers would find ways to refute that as well.)

But a changing climate is going to affect temperature. Increasingly, and, along the rocky way, probably – as was one of the earliest predictions, and already in these early days of “pre change,” statistically borne out – in a more volatile fashion.

This makes sense, as a normally relatively stable globe starts to respond to the increasing changes to its basic climate affecting structures (oceans, ice caps, sea ice, permafrost regions, and of course the more direct lower atmospheric absorption and re radiation of heat energy itself) in what is for all practical purpose a near geologic instant, until, voila, years, possibly centuries, down the line, when climate “relatively” re-stabilizes in response to the effected changes, long, long after the atmosphere’s levels of long lived greenhouse gases, from a geologic perspective, become at least relatively stable again.

That is, an increasingly changing system from a “relative” stases, to an ultimate new stases when it comes to what is ultimately an expression of it’s net energy – climate – is likely to be a lot more volatile, and overall, inherently changing and unpredictable, as well.

This can be kind of problematic for plants.

Think of a fruit orchard, for instance. Many fruits need a certain number of “cold days” to blossom and bear fruit. The number of days will likely continue to (increasingly) shift, and orchards might shift northward. But the increasing volatility also makes it more and more unpredictable, and subjects more and more areas to potentially insufficient cold days without moving to climes where the warmer period duration may not be sufficiently long.

Many fruit trees set their blossoms in response to a temperature change. And a late frost which kills the blossoms will prevent that tree tree from bearing any fruit at all, for that entire year.

For a homeowner enthralled with their side yard apple or apricot tree, this might range from a curiosity to a nuisance. But to an orchard owner who depends on the yearly crop, it can be a bit more.

And it adds even more to an already uncertain enterprise. Consider the following tale:

I was playing in a large, fairly publicized poker tournament some years back, and our mid level table became chatty.  One fellow was playing more like a “gambler,” than the calculating, aggressive, strategist that decent poker tournaments tend to present, and increasingly funnel as the tournament moves forward; and being extremely mirthful about it.

A few humorous but very friendly remarks were made, and this very pleasant fellow bellowed, “ah, heck, this don’t matter at all, what I do for a living is real gambling.” He sat on the word “real” for a long time, with just a hint of a much more serious tone than his statement, and most of our banter, had taken.

For an instant the hand was nearly forgotten as we all wildly conjectured. Even the dealer – consummate, almost machine like professionals in any well run, serious tournament – essentially stopped practically mid deal.

Well?

If you’re reading this article/post, you may have guessed the answer.

“I’m a farmer.  And that, I tell you, is all a gamble.”

We all laughed, enjoying the camaraderie and cultural insight while simultaneously participating in such an intensely competitive, focused, and “serious” event.  But I think we all got it.

I’ve grown a lot of plants in my time – even more since. And I really got it.

Farming is a gamble.

But there are a lot of “knowns”; or, at least relative knowns. What is becoming less known – and increasingly unpredictable – in addition to precipitation patterns in many areas, is the general nature of the season, and temperatures.

If you think being a business man or banker and not having a decent handle on what the general inflation level range might be for the next few years, try being a farmer – without much of a backup plan or lots of extra seasonal “room” – without much of a handle on just when temperatures might reasonably stay within the necessary growing range, for instance.

A lot can go wrong with extreme weather, from both the extreme nature of it, to the unpredictability, and being caught by surprise.  In hot weather, for instance extreme humid can cause pollen to become so sticky it’s doesn’t fall, while long periods of dryness can cause it to be so dry it doesn’t stick to the female part of the flower. In both cases the plant won’t set, or will set, less fruit. (Fruit incidentally refers to most things we also commonly think of as vegetables, such as cucumbers, squashes, tomatoes, corn, etc.)

Extreme heat with drought can rapidly kill plants. Premature cold spells (for example, in more northern climes that have had to shift what is grown toward warmer weather crops, as the seasons have changed) can kill plants well before they’ve realized their full yield. And late cold spells can kill them even before they start yielding at all.

Fires are also problematic, as drier conditions and hotter conditions in many regions overall is leading both a larger risk, and larger number of, fires; including many that are intense.

Many plants – tomatoes for instance – won’t set fruit if the nighttime temperatures go too high.  One of the most “certain” early predictions of the phenomenon referred to as climate change – and one of the most consistent patterns to have emerged – is the increasing overall gap between day and nighttime temperatures.

Several reasons account for this. One of the more intriguing is the general increase in overall evaporative and moisture retention capacity when the atmosphere is warmer. This can (and so far studies seem to suggest that in a mild positive to positive feedback loop it is), lead to overall increased water vapor from generally increasing temperatures.

Water vapor has both a cooling and a heating effect during the day.  The extremely short lived water vapor molecule is a reflection of climate itself and not a driver of it (despite one odd published “theory” – that itself winds up yielding a fairly interesting climate change information story – to the contrary). But it is at any one point in time an important greenhouse gas; in fact the predominant one, because there is a lot of it in the air.

During the day water vapor molecules act as greenhouse gases. And as with all atmospheric greenhouse gases, they absorb and re-radiate heat energy in the mid to longer wave length spectrum – which is to say almost no solar radiation (either incoming, or reflected off of the earth’s surface), but most thermal radiation (heat energy emitted by a body, such as the earth itself, or structures upon it).

But water vapor also acts as an atmospheric reflector of incoming solar radiation, increasing the overall albedo – or sunlight reflecting capacity – of the earth/atmosphere, and causing a higher percentage of sunlight to never reach the lower atmosphere/surface of the earth (where some is then in turn absorbed as heat energy) to begin with.

At night only one of these two phenomena occur. There is no incoming solar radiation, so the reflectivity question isn’t an issue.

But the re-capture of thermal radiation still is. This is energy emitted in wavelength form, and, specifically, the type of energy that is absorbed and re radiated in all directions by greenhouse gases – without which the earth would be a large almost lifeless ball of ice floating through space.

If water vapor levels are higher, more thermal radiation will be “trapped.” Particularly at night.

Regardless, the gap in day and night time temperatures, in many regions across the globe, has considerably narrowed, which as it continues, will also continue to have more and more intense consequences for at least some of the plants upon which we rely.

The list goes on. But this is a start. We probably “aint seen nuthin’ yet,” for very fundamental scientific reasons (along with a lot geologic and modern era data), that are largely being mangled, overlooked, confused or turned into something they are not, while the entire climate change issue is as well.

But while agriculture, including its extensive use of and indirect reliance upon fossil fuels, and large impact upon the landscape, is the rarely talked about main contributor to the phenomenon known too popularly as climate change (the issue is really the multi million year – or geologically radical – alteration in our atmosphere’s long term heat “trapping” quotient), the dance the world is going to have with this mainstay of existence – providing enough food – is probably going to be an increasingly interesting one.

And by “interesting,” for many poorer areas and peoples of the world, this means “bad.

Potentially, extremely bad.

This is also ironic, because some groups that have not necessarily been outspoken advocates for the poor, when it comes to climate change, have suddenly become the “Mother Teresa,” of indigent poor advocacy, on the ill conceived and highly ironic assertion that addressing climate change (not climate change itself, rendering informed scientists/anthropologists extremely frustrated in the process) will harm the poor.

But what is really going to harm the poor in particular is the radical alteration of our atmosphere – again, reflecting a change that has now taken us back to levels not seen in millions of years,and a large portion of which has occurred in just the last 50 or so years alone; and which is right now still occurring at geologically breakneck speed.

It’s just a question of how much we mitigate it, and how sensibly, and quickly, we do so. Both in terms of the U.S. leading the way – which will increase our moral ability as the world’s bully pulpit and most powerful (and somewhat feared) nation to encourage change, desire to do so by our show of faith, and an increasing return by other countries knowing that more and more of their own effort and the efforts of others is contributing – and elsewhere.