It Didn’t Take Chutzpah to Suggest “Stop Waffling” on Climate Change in 1988; Massive Economc Presumption Just Held us Back
(Updated and re-edited, 8-19-15)
The fundamental basis of what climate change is often seems to be missed.
It’s not that the earth is “definitely warming” due to human activities: although the overwhelming majority of climate scientists conclude that it is.
The fundamental basis of climate change is that we’ve altered the long term energy re-capturing capacity of the atmosphere in geologically profound ways.
The signs of encroaching climatic pattern changes are simply corroboration of what many climate scientists, for very basic reasons, have long expected and predicted. That includes these guys, who looking back even somewhow managed to get it down fairly precisely in terms of time frame as well – almost impossible to do. And one of those guys was James Hansen, who told Congress to “stop waffling” in 1988.)
And this fundamental, and so far ongoing rather than mitigated, change to our atmosphere is setting in motion major changes to the earth, and creating a risk range of additionally unpredictable, potentially radical and volatile climatic shifting.
In 1988, Leading NASA climate scientist James Hansen (and others) told the U.S. Congress to act to move off of fossil fuels.
By 1988, we had already made severe changes to our earth’s ongoing and accumulating net energy balance – and the heart of what “climate change” really is. And even back then it was clear we, and certainly the world, wouldn’t just automatically cease all patterns adding to the net long term atmospheric levels of long lived “energy re absorbing” greenhouse gases that constituted the underlying problem in the first place.
But we at least needed to start the process of reversing the trend.
We didn’t. And the problem is now greatly amplified, will have greater long term impact, and presents a far higher risk range of radical unpredictable and potentially extremely dramatic long term changes if we only very slowly respond now.
Yet, reinforced by lots of misinformation, and constituting an overall change to a system that over days (weather) instead of decades (climate) naturally on its own appears to shift far more wildly, it’s one that’s easy to dismiss:
Namely, by rhetoric that sounds great but has nothing to do with what the issue really is; by misconstruing the basic issue; by cherry picking slivers of inconseqential and often even irrelevant data; or dismissal by saying that since we can’t be certain the worse case scenarios will come to pass – or that climate has “changed before,” the fact of change itself, as well as the risk, isn’t real or substantial.
And which, in turn, is about as off base as assessment can be. (Although it is driven by a fervent desire, in large part fueled by the same economic presumption that held us back in 1988 and discussed herein, among other things, to believe that the issue isn’t significant or real. And leading to a remarkable and still not properly illuminated widespread socio cultural phenomenon of advocacy driven climate change disavowal.)
And it’s as off base, if not even more so, than the constant claim that “if there is any change,” we’re not causing it; and our sudden multi million year spike in basic atmospheric long lived molecular energy recapture – which is then in turn increasing the total net energy in earth’s entire system, where most of is going into increasing ocean (warming) and ice sheet (warming and melting) energy, is some sort of wild coincidence.
And is so, even though total global air temperature change alone over the past 100-120 years is around a 1 in 100 to less than 1 in 1000 chance for any random 100-120 year period, and the chance of that occuring while massive shifts upward in total net ocean heat and glacial ice sheet accumulation occur, is even less. Let alone, perhaps even more importantly, that the odds of that happening at the same time the even more odd fact of a sudden multi million year shift upward in earth’s insulation layer, is somehow otherwise not affecting climate, is many, many, times lower still.
As a practical matter, some other factors further supporting sensible action, even loomed large back in 1988, just as they do today:
Fossil fuel dependence was considered a national security vulnerability. And relying on fossil fuels also required sending of considerable dollars overseas to acquire a natural resource – as even with excessive ongoing environmental degradation, it was clear the U.S. didn’t have nearly enough reserves to meet its energy demands on its own.
Fossil fuels were also finite. And, although technology and its implementation has since helped a little they’re also extremely polluting; representing countless unseen long term and highly comminged hidden “costs” or harms to our and the world’s long term health and quality of our environment.
There are even also large damages often associated with much fossil fuel extraction, particularly in the case of coal – which has destroyed, harmed, or greatly altered countless mountain tops, local communities, watersheds, and local ecosystems.
And coal’s use has pumped considerable amounts of mercury in the air, likely putting nature past its naturally evolved threshold (organisms can self detoxify limited amounts of mercury, albeit it’s an exceedingly slow process), and contributing to the now counter productive and almost silly fact that one of nature’s healthiest foods – fish, filled with DHA, EPA, selenium, Vitamin D and protein – is as a result now often contaminated with this bio accumulating and infinitely lasting neurological toxin.
All of this was completely known in 1988. As was the fact our atmosphere, in terms of its basic thermal radiation recapture property, was being fundamentally and significantly changed; that this change was long term; and, from a shorter “man-centric” time frame, somewhat irreversible – at least into the foreseen future.
The problem now, just as it was then, is that the atmosphere issue and attendant “alteration of climate” issue (or “warming” and “change”), was looked at as one of discreet units of definitive effect. Linear, and near immediate: Atmospheric GGs go up, earth immediately warms.
That’s not how it works. At all. And believing otherwise defies basic geophysical reality, or at least understanding.
Nevertheless, a “skeptic” paper was actually recently published in a Chinese science journal, that formed a conclusion, then continued to make assumptions and disregard all other modeling knowledge, to fit that pre determined conclusion. And one of the assumptions, astoundingly, was not just that climate is “very stable” and completely contradicting the issue irrelevant skeptic argument that climate constantly changes. But that almost all climate change “effect” is instantaneous. (The paper, in science journal speak, is covered here, and it and its broader pattern, here.)
Climate change in effect presents not just an alteration, if a lagging one, to earth’s climate from what’s now a geologically radical level of long lived greenhouse gas molecule level shifting (effecting a change on the order now of several million years, and counting, in just a couple hundred years, with much of it occurring in the past 50). But also a high risk range of potentially almost incalculable changes.
And ultimately, despite massive presumption otherwise, it stems from a pattern of habit that in the long run may not have been any better than any other alternative pattern of habit; just easier. (Incidentally, tackling less easy things – which includes developing different habits or practices – is also part of what builds economies.) And, at one point in time at least, now long past, was seemingly the only real practical one.
And it stems from a pattern of habit that in the long run may have been no better than other alternatives, even if it didn’t have have all the issues of pollution, environmental damage, potential security exposure, net dollar export, and the finite nature of the resources attached, as well.
This same consideration – that is., it’s not clear there was some huge advantage from these specific habits and patterns regardless of all the harmful external effects as was (and is still) otherwise widely presumed – applies to the other major contributor to climate change as well. A contributor that, when its use of fossil fuels, direct and indirect are considered, is the main contributor to climate change: Namely, agriculture.
For instance, many of the same practices contributing to the atmospheric alteration problem, also resulted in degradation to and large scale erosion of the soil, less nutritionally rich foods (by some studies, depending on where and how grown), and extensive reliance upon heavy metal laced chemical macro nutrient fertilizer as well as and in some ways rather senseless life killing and similarly extensive herbicide and pesticide use. (Herbicides and pesticides are man concocted chemicals designed to kill life that we didn’t even evolve with, and it never made any sense to put them into our bodies.)
The other ongoing and counter productive impediment, still present today but less so, was – and still is -the mistaken presumption of inherent conflict between environmental “protection” and human growth or progress. That is, between the quality of our world and direct and indirect if often hidden long term impacts upon our own health and well being, and human growth and progress. When not harming the quality of our world or adding to negative impacts upon our overall health and well being, is part of human growth and progress.
Progress – including economic – means doing what improves our world, and improving our lot and our experience in it. And which provides, ideally meaningful, employment, in the process: Things which improving the quality of our world and impacts upon our long term health – rather than constantly harming them – accomplishes.
That is, improving long term health and environmental quality, not degrading it and creating increasing and needless counter productive harms, is as fundamentally a part of this creation of employment and betterment of our world as anything else. It is ultimately closer to the very opposite of some sort of inherent conflict to it, as was and often still is mistakenly assumed, even sometimes presumed as near gospel.
In short, the presumption has always been that our environment was a vast expanse to simply dump things into, and it would take care of itself – rather than a balanced system of which, as we grew, we were invariably becoming a bigger and more influential part.
Yet the view continues today, and is even frequently used as an “argument” (irrelevant as it is), as to why “climate change” is not real. To wit:
“Man is insignificant compared to the earth, and can’t really affect it.”
Or variations therein. A “speck”of existence.
In relation to the relevant issues we face, such an expression is pure semantics, and meaningless. (Much like, if not even more so, the myth of the self regulating earth for man’s climatological benefit, as if the earth would target the climatic range that happens to suit us and that we evolved under, rather than simply respond to the laws of physics and the net energy inputs upon it.)
The idea uses grand generalizations in place of simply what is, often serving unknowingly to reinforce a belief, rather than looking at something in a different or new light. Man is having the effect man is having. But seemingly philosophical (yet more rhetorical) generalizations about how man is “insigificant” in the sense of our physical impact, simply replaces the specifics of that physical impact one wants to disagree with, dismiss or trivialize, with the more meaningless general expression that therefore we simply “can’t” affect things.
“She has cancer and in order to survive needs to change some habits.”
“The human body is a wonderful organism capable of incredible feats of self regulatory homeostasis and protection and impugning this capacity by imagining it somehow isn’t or becomes ‘cancerous’ is to degrade the wonder of life itself.”
It’s nice rhetoric, but irrelevant to the fact that she has cancer.
Likewise, “man is insignificant in comparison to the earth,” whatever it philosophically means, isn’t relevant to the issue of our impact upon it, or whether that impact is productive or counter productive to what is in our best interests, or most practical for us to do based upon our various sensibilities and place here on the planet – with now the power to literally wipe out almost all of the other species if we so chose, or even all but literally blow the earth up.
But as rationalization for the continuation of some sort of ideology, believing environmental protection and health to be in direct conflict with economic growth, and wholly solved by the market (which is tautological because if so the ongoing constant harm and long term hidden health impacts – much of what is not discovered until years later and irreversible, or overly commingled with other impacts and nearly impossible to prove – wouldn’t exist and hence the constant desire to dismiss them as if they don’t, or don’t matter), the idea captures the majority sentiment of our earlier evolution as a society, and continues today.
And as adherence to an ideology, this semantic if here meaningless idea of man’s insignificance to earth still represents an inherent fall back position by which to automatically resist change – even if, apparently such change is market led based upon increased awarenessess and mechanisms (taxes, credits, regulations), for movement away from habits and old presumptions. (Though it’s not entirely clear because unfortunately in response to the antagonism often expressed by climate change skepticism toward environmental concern, less rather than more effort is put into trying to address inclusive fears and concerns in terms of practical solutions, further polarizing the problem.)
But we had it backward:
By 1988 the issue was clear. It made sense to move from fossil fuels, and improve agricultural practices anyway; for reasons of efficiency, health, pollution, environmental degradation, security and, yes, real long term, productive growth.
Engaging in a radical experiment with the basic geological energy recapturing combination of the earth, with almost no controls, and in a way that by releasing long sequestered carbon built up over hundreds of millions of years we were rapidly peeling back millions of years of climatic and earth evolution, on top of that, only means it made even more sense.
Yet instead, we looked at the issue – much like in some respects we still do today – as some sort of sacrifice.
This is because the immediate tangible concept of paying “x”, for “y” fuel, is something graspable. But the commingled hidden effects imparted by the collective actions of billions of people are seeming abstractions; even if over the long term both very real, and far more fundamentally relevant than any short term and ultimately easily market adjustable “cost basis” for “x” versus “y” set of market and consumer decisions and adjustments.
It may have been prompted by Hansen’s early belief that climate change likely presented an even more serious risk range than some other scientists studying it believed. (Though even back in 1988 the general consensus was of our long term impact, with any relevant uncertainty among actual scientists studying the issue not so much in broader, conceptual risk range terms but in more definitive, concrete, are we effecting ambient air temperatures now type of terms.) But there was nothing unreasonable, or even chutzpah requiring, whatever Hansen’s motivations, for saying – much as many others believed (and president Lyndon Johnson even articulated back in the late 1960s) – that as we were in essence radically changing the atmosphere through practices that were otherwise polluting and environmentally degrading, and there were other energy sources and better ways to farm, it was time to “stop waffling” and address it.
We’d have a different and cleaner, more efficient and less polluting and health impacting economy today, and likely wouldn’t be in the process of melting our north and south polar ice caps and looking at nearly so large a long term risk range of potentially (from our standpoint, anyway) monumental sea level rise, not to mention a host of other major risk factors and impacts.
Given the known parameters in 1988, such a view is also not hindsight. It was merely clouded at the time, as again still somewhat today, by the inherent and mistaken presumption that improving our world – not just our transitory things that we build to use, or even to keep us from having to ourselves move (thus requiring even more in health care “costs,” as well as fundamental losses in health and vigor), have fun with and or luxuriate in – isn’t similarly a part of our growth and economy, but is some sort of direct conflict to it.
This is a view still continued by some in politics, such as Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, son of President George Bush. And, brother of President George W Bush, who in 2006 ironically said we are “addicted to oil.” (But would the Bush Administration follow through?)
And (though not nearly as radical as many of the other increasingly right wing GOP candidates, and therefore aware of the phenomenon of climate change itself), who essentially bases all of his statements about it – though as a gifted politican dresses it up in characterstically nice sounding language – in the context of climate change redress’s basic threat, rather than contributor to, the economy. Namely:
[The U.S. has a responsibility to adapt to] what the possibilities are without destroying our economy.
Not climate change’s basic threat to economy, as former superstar U.S. Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin, and George W Bush’s very own Henry Paulson, have very clearly articulated. Rather, climate change redress.
And that we should “invest” (taxpayers dollars – so no real choice or consumer market behavior enters into the equation – to feed industry), to find solutions “for the long haul.”
Sure, a long term solution. But also a long term quest (seemingly a step along the lines of Brother George’s ultimate “let’s study more” then do nothing approach, heavily influenced not by climate scientists, but this heavy fiction novelist), for such solution, when the solution and more is – cheaply, and dropping – staring down at us from the sky. And we not only have more than enough technology, we’re already building it now.
The problem is, not even a microfraction of the benefit (in terms of the absence of pollution and climate changing effects that more traditional means create), is integrated into the price; as similarly not even a microfraction of the external harms, is built into the price of traditional or “old fashioned” energy practices; thus making the market still heavily imbalanced toward highly inefficient long term patterns, rather than efficient ones.
And the same problem – perhaps even more so because it’s more complex than simply switching a dirty polluting fuel with a clean increasing low cost virtually non polluting free energy source (sun) panel – exists with respect to agricultural practices.
Yet Jeb Bush wants to throw dollars at the problem and “study” for “solutions” to bail out industry, instead of carbon taxing to shift the markets to create business certainty and the ability to plan, innovate and respond (in part why no fewer than six major international energy companies went so far as to even ask for a carbon tax), and use the funds raised, to help those industries and employees transition in the shorter term.
Thus, more rhetoric like the “Addicted to Oil” Speech in 2006? (Still, it’s a step up for him from this recent position – so Jeb, if the U.S. does wind up with more Bush presidents than sequels to the movie “Rocky,” I do volunteer to be an adviser in your administration. You could use a conceptual strategic, non ideological mind.)
Improving our world through manufacture, sometimes for practices that are just dumb (let’s build a lot of escalators and use even more energy, so people stand around even more and move even less and then spend more energy driving to and using electric equipment o gyms or getting diabetes and lower quality of life and greatly increasr “also GDP contributing” health care costs, along with countless other examples), and sometimes not, but just, whatever they “are” to us, is all “contributing to GDP” – even when it takes great cost to do so.
But improving energy and agricultural practices, even through the production and development of new equipment, installations, grids, uses and jobs, is nevertheless destroying it because we see it as the “price” of energy, rather than simply another component of growth, and choice to be made to maximize buying power, consumer and business.
“But we need energy to run business and heat (or cool) homes!”
But again, using processes that harm our interests rather than benefit them is a separate question. So gearing the market to do so – at the appropriate level of cost relative to other practices – is simply another part of growth; as is even the key component of “cost”- which, since each dollar of production also represented a dollar of cost, at heart makes up every last dollar of our GDP as well.
The only issue is whether the cost represents value or not. As we’ve seen in the escalator example, some may not; but if we want those things, fine.
When it comes to public environmental policy, the issue is: does a cleaner, healthier, less polluted, more environmentally stable world (or at this point at least having its increasing volatility and unstability range mitigated), represent value?
This is because making a cleaner world doesn’t detract from growth. In the short run it might create some economic substitutions as we adjust to newer production methodologies, practices and energy uses. But it simply becomes a component of growth.
And in the mid to long run, as we develop and learn cleaner, less damaging processes, that have become well integrated into our cost structure (something we could have done way back in 1988, and been far past it now), it comes with no additional cost – that is, either real cost or even cost simply representing a substitution of one production emphasis over another – just as many industrial “costs” are today (and which similarly represent expenditures and investment – that if unsupportable at the same rate of production will also shift from excess use at the increased cost level, over to more efficient processes).
While on the flip side, cleaner, less damaging processes, come with the constant, continued benefit of far less pollution, atmospheric alteration, and negative external – and thus uncontrollable (and thus the most personally restrictive, even freedom affecting) – health impacts experienced: The point of improvement, and in particular, improved processes that, beyond the material “flavor” of the moment, go to more core fundamentals – such as basic environmental quality or at the very least health, and, perhaps, say, the availability of basic land and coastline (as opposed to sea bottoms, etc).
That is, shifting to better practices – far from being the “harm” to economic processes that, from the perception of immediate short term “cost” but rather abstract and hard to comprehend, and often intensely hidden long term gain, it’s assumed to be – is ultimately a net good, with little to no bad.
Yet requiring the awareness and will to sensibly and fairly address it in the first place, and make the improvements, policies or market motivations that even the playing field somewhat between overly externally harmful and non harmful processes, so better decisions, accounting for a wider range of actual real costs, can be made. That is – simply by changing our structure and not – under the belief we have to harm our world to grow rather the fact that mitigating such harm is similarly part of growth – not continuing counter productive practices that we find rationalizations to cling to.
But we didn’t in 1988. And looking back Hansen is said to have had chutzpah for making the common sense suggestion to the U.S. Congress to do something to move toward, require, inspire or (directly or through something like a carbon tax indirectly but far more efficiently), reward more productive long term practices that don’t continue to so radically alter the long term chemical composition of our atmosphere, with (from Hansen’s point of view), an almost assured range of likely negative changes, and a higher risk of major to radical ones.
Even if that process – being change to a huge, global system with enormous energy sinks (oceans) that in turn drive longer term processes, and that are starting to show their effect with increasing global temperatures now even as the oceans continue to warm- increasing melt, and acceleration of that melt, at both polar ice caps, and even warming ocean column induced sea bottom thawing leading to the increasing eruptions of a gas far more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping energy, and with potentially enormous consequences – from our perspective, seems “slow.”
In other words, due to this limited but popular and even sometimes near presumed gospel economic thinking – the age old presumption that our industry and progress comes with the cost of harming our world and our health to get it, and not that progress might also similarly, and in the long run even more importantly, actually also be the protection of our health from environmental impact, and the environmental protection and relative stability of that very world – we’ve done harm to the latter. And at likely no real benefit to us in the long term, and only illusory “we’re used to it so it seems right and a loss if we stop or change” gain, in the short term.
And that’s where the problem comes in, and where it came in in 1988: The inherent and inceasingly archaic presumption that markets, economy and growth – all of which are ultimately to provide employment, opportunity, and better our world – are inconsistent with protecting the environmental quality, implicit health effects from, and stability of that world; and therefore accomplishing the latter somehow doesn’t provide employment, opportunity, and the bettering of our world, but provides a “conflict” with economic growth which is nevertheless ultimately supposed to achieve the same end: Again, employment, opportunity, and the bettering of our world.
But protecting environmental quality does provide those things. Which is why the issue with environmental protection isn’t the illusionary “do we sacrifice harm to the economy or some sort of real cost to achieve it,” but rather choice, liberty and opportunity; and perhaps the inherent rights of present and future generations to cleaner air, healthier, more ecologically sound, environs, and – if the alternative of chaos is unnecessarily being caused by our inadvertent doing – to some relative climate stability.
And not, instead, the idea that:
“Environmental protection and common area – land, bio-accumulation toxic build up, water and air health affects – is the job of markets, not government.”
Because by virtue of the uniquely common nature of the environment – what, in essence it is – the environment, the one thing we must share, along with perhaps national defense, and justice, is not only the responsibility of government to at least somewhat oversee – it is precisely the job of even the most limited of government – as government is us, collectively. And our shared environment is about the most collective thing of all.
The issue is: “how.”
And the biggest impediment to this, as it was in 1988, and what causes us today to look back strangely at calls to tell Congress in 1988 to stop waffling over what was really a simple issue even then – carbon based and long evolutionarily accumulated fuels from deep in the ground are heavily polluting, finite, increase our international exposure, radically changing our long term atmosphere, thus “stop waffling” already over sensible moves to transition to more long term productive processes – is the idea of its inherent conflict with economy, rather than its ultimately integral part of it.
That was 1988. And the case, strong then, and despite rhetoric and much self reinforcing belief to the contrary, is now in the next century essentially overwhelming now; nearly thirty years, and much advancement, but perhaps not much more awareness, later.
Updated Aug 3, 2015
Predicting the exact path of future climate is almost impossible.
Yet it’s made even harder by a geologically sudden, major, ongoing energy dump onto an already complex and highly varied global system of energy and its expression. Aka “climate change.”
Climate change “skepticism” is the belief that this will nevertheless not relevantly impact or change our climate. There are no real theories, and none that have been successfully vetted, as to why it would not. And there is no real evidence to suport it.
Yet a key, if not the key basis, of climate change “skepticism” is the idea that models are not perfect, or that they “fail to predict” what’s happened.
In fact models are far more accurate than not – and even more than previously thought. (And for whatever it’s worth, their accuracy, in comparison to “skeptic” forecasts is off the charts.) But for the reasons stated above they can’t predict exactly what climate will be, along an exact time path.
Nor is not being able to predict future climate globally and regionally – as if it was otherwise almost as easy or accurate as a one day local weather forecast – at all connected with the underlying fact that while there is a range of long term shifting from this massive long term atmospheric alteration serving as the basis for climate change, the basic phenemenon is very real.
That is, the word risk means risk, and probabilities; often imprecise. The concept of change often means a range of changes.
Yet somewhat uniquely on climate change – perhaps because of the deep passions, presumptions, fears, habits, and attendant political ramifications and worries connected to the issue – these two concepts are removed from the normal equation of strategic assessment, in order to arrive at a conclusion that, since models have not (nor can not) precisely predict exactly what’s going to happen and when in terms of such an open ended non controlled fully global experiment of ongoing anthropogenic impact upon an otherwise already existent and itself undulating system, it is somehow not significant or real.
In short, making a phenomenon a range, with uncertainty as to its precise path, does not make something not real, or somehow not significant. Yet on climate change, through a lot of semantics projected as science, on this issue it is being made to do just that.
Thus the main basis of skepticism misses what the issue really is. The basis isn’t models.
While on the other hand, models do help further validate and solidify our understanding of the issue, because they have not only been remarkably far from simply meaningless random predictions, overall they have been reasonably accurate in terms of projecting relevant ranges.
Which is what they are meant to do: Help hone our understanding, and our ability to make projections of changes and relative time frames, as best as we can.
For the climate change “skeptic” who wants to stay a skeptic, this will not matter. But it is an important part of the issue to be covered, because the confusion over models has played an extremely large role in overall perception on climate change. And thus this fact that we can’t predict exactly what will happen, erroneously serves as a main basis for refuting the fact that atmospheric alteration is both significantly affecting climate, and more importantly creating a large risk range of potential affects.
It is a big part of the story of climate change that has not received fair or balanced coverage. And covering the relevant arguments and facts herein would help further better understanding on, and assessment of, the issue.
How a Fiction Novel Helped Bush Shape Climate Policy, and Why a “Self Correcting Earth” on Climate is Meaningless Slang
This piece has been edited, updated, and lengthened, and reposted here.
Lately, in a strong sign of enormous change brewing in the arctic, methane levels in the region have been spiking to unheard of levels.
The reason is that on the heels of a multi million year and still fast accumulating change upward in earth’s long term atmospheric energy recapture, things are happening below the water’s surface (and in the many fields of (traditionally) near perpetual frost covering much of the northern land of the globe), that are in turn starting to affect what’s happening above the surface.
This is especially true when it comes to the “second” most important greenhouse gas, methane; a gas we may be greatly underestimating in terms of net future impact. And for some pretty key reasons:
Namely, the fact of increasing release of methane from otherwise long frozen deposits that our geologically radical atmospheric alteration is increasingly setting in motion. And the way we currently measure this gas’s importance. That is, based upon current amounts; the fact that more than half of it largely disappears within 10 years; and the fact we can lessen our own emissions which have, at least historically, largely contributed to methane levels’ sudden modern rise.
This current method of assesment that hinges on the fact methane doesn’t last very long, brings up a fundamental problem in assessing methane’s future impact if levels of methane in fact stay high or go higher: That is, the methane gas breaking down is replenished by new methane; and thus future effect estimations based upon most of the current methane in the atmosphere breaking down won’t apply, and total future effect will be greatly underestimated.
Methane, or CH4, is a potent greenhouse gas – many, many times more effective at absorbing and re-radiating thermal radiation than its more popular cousin CO2.
In terms of earth’s accumulating net energy balance – the phenomenon a little misleadingly but very popularly called “climate change,” CH4 may be considered less critical than CO2. That is, if levels don’t continue to significantly rise.
But at about 1/250th of the current the atmospheric concentration, but perhaps as high as near 200 times the GWPe (or Global Warming Potential equivalent) of CO2 at any one point in time, methane still plays a huge role in the increase in thermal radiation energy recapture in our atmosphere, and the resulting long term earth impacts from it, that in essence constitute this infamous and often misunderstood climate change phenomenon.
Perhaps even more interestingly yet rarely noted, the total percentage increase in atmospheric methane over pre-industrial levels is also much higher than the total percentage increase in Carbon Dioxide from pre industrial levels. (Total concentration of atmospheric methane rose from roughly 750-800 ppb, to just above 1800 – an increase of around 100%- while concentrations of carbon dioxide rose from roughly 280 or 290 ppm to about 400 – an increase of around 40%.)
Thus the total net effect of modern industrial era increases of methane on earth’s climate shows as a much higher ratio to carbon dioxide than when just the relative total amount of each gas in the atmosphere – which includes all of the gas that reflects pre industrial levels as well, as normally done – is considered.
If the total energy recapturing effect of the increase in trailing methane levels over pre industrial times is considered in relation to the total energy recpaturing effect of the increase in trailing carbon dioxide levels over pre industrial times, the overall impact of each gas is closer than the wide disparity in importance normally attributed to each. (Methane increases are at about a 1:110 ratio to carbon dioxide increases over pre industrial times, and methane is potentially more than 110x as effective per unit of mass, as methane, at recapturing energy than carbon dioxide, although there are limitations concerning how much of this effect is realized at any point given a few considerations briefly referenced below.)
The effect of any unit mass of methane (that’s not replaced), over a longer period is far less, however. For instance, methane is estimated to have only have around 25 times the warming effect of CO2 over a 100 year period. (And about 85 times over a 20 year period.) This is because over a 100 year period methane only exists as methane for a small fraction of the time; and over a 20 year period it still exists as methane a minority of the time, with slightly more than half of it gone after just 10 years.
So since it breaks down somewhat quickly, if we’re trying to gauge the future effect of the gases in the atmosphere right now, it makes sense to use a long time period – such as “100 years,” the most common figure – to estimate methane’s potential future climate change impact; and thus project that impact as much lower than if we didn’t otherwise do this, since most of the gas won’t be methane during the great majority of the period.
But, if methane stays at current levels or goes higher, this doesn’t make any sense: The same amount of methane being projected out over 100 years on the far reduced basic, will instead continue to be in the atmosphere, and thus have an effect many times greater than will be yielded by using the far lower “warming potential” for each gram of methane that, essentially, is largely based upon most of it not existing during that time period.
Modern methane levels, just like carbon dioxide, have also essentially shot straight up in relation to the long term trailing geologic record. And there’s high risk of them not only staying high (making current assessments of methane’s future impact significantly underestimated), but climbing higher still – possibly even exploding higher over a relevant span of time in the near geologic future:
For – and well below the radar of most modern society – methane levels in the arctic have recently been spiking much, much, higher.
And this increasing signal of arctic change, may be starting to tell a rather remarkable story.
Methane, and the Constraint of our Imaginations
Below is an EPA graph that on the left shows methane levels up to the present, dating back about 800,000 years. The right blows up the last .00008 years of the left side of the chart, and shows methane levels from 1950 to 2013. As can be seen, prior to the industrial revolution and for going on at least near a million years, atmospheric methane levels were never above 800 ppb.
Yet notice on the left of the graph how at the very end of the 800,000 year period, the levels a) essentially shoot straight up, and b) geologically, shoot up by a whopping total amount.
That is, during our modern industrial age – barely a pinprick of even recent geologic time – methane levels have suddenly shot up to more than double the highest average atmospheric concentration earth has seen in close to a million years. (And, if we consider past levels in comparison to today’s, levels have very likely been lower for a lot longer, although harder to directly ascertain since the most reliable source of trailing geologic atmospheric data – ice core sampling from holes drilled “backward” in time down into layers of thick glacial ice – only goes back about 800,000 years.)
That is, methane levels have not just significantly increased, but have gone up by more than an additional 800 ppb increase alone. And lately in the arctic, methane levels have spiked an additional 800 ppb or more further above that.
Methane is nowhere near as long lasting as the other major long lived greenhouse gases. And it breaks down (largely into CO2) over several years. (It takes about 12 years for a quantity of methane to be reduced to around 37% of its original amount.)
Yet it’s an intensely more powerful thermal radiation reabsorbing and reradiating greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So the more of the original methane that still exists as such (or that’s simply replaced by new methane) at any one time, the higher its energy capture and re radiation potential (the “trapping” of heat energy that then in turn transfers large amounts back to the earth, ice sheets, oceans, and so on and so on), will be.
In fact, over a 20 year period, the global warming potential per unit mass of methane is, again, somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 or so times that of carbon dioxide. This means that over 20 years 1000 extra tonnes of methane added to the net amount in the atmosphere can have up to the same energy recapture effect as roughly 85,000 extra tonnes of carbon dioxide added to the net amount in the atmosphere.
It actually gets somewhat more complicated than this, as the more total greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, the more heat energy is trapped all around, including capture of already absorbed and re rediated energy that is re radiated downward (back toward earth) and then re captured and re radiated once again in all directions.
The impact of increased trapped radiation back upon earth’s systems from an increase in total greenhouse gas concentrations also have interacting effects that also impact total net long term energy retention. (For instance, a sufficient increase in trapped radiation will lessen total ice cover, grealy increasing solar absorption. This means more direct warming – heat energy retention – of the physical land, ice and in particular global ocean will occur, less sunlight will be reflected back upward as still short wavelength solar radiation (which essentially isn’t “trapped” or absorbed by greenhouse gases), and far more will ultimately be radiated in medium wavelength, as thermal radiation, and re captured by greenhouses instead.)
But this potentially non linear nature of total net greenhouse gas radiative forcing is also part of why just a few hundred ppm of CO2 and ppb of CH4, and small amounts of a few other lesser gases, are sufficient to keep earth at about 58 degrees on average world wide, instead of all but a lifeless frozen ball of ice averaging 0 degrees; but a doubling of these amounts wouldn’t jack up earth’s average temperature to 116 degrees, which would turn earth into a furnace. This is a gross oversimplification, but it helps show the complication.
(It also helps show how on the flip side, a fairly large increase in those concentrations will, among other things, ultimately likely raise the earth several degrees, depending on feedbacks and other effects, and far more relevantly presents a larger risk range of lower end effects to major if not radical climatic shifting. Although every single possible complication, and multiple invented ones, are grasped at to try and reinforce the archaic, and very much the opposite of Galileo, belief that man can’t much relevantly affect his own global environment here on earth.)
Methane also re radiates certain bands of thermal radiation wavelength, so as more and more methane is present, the increased recapture of energy already trapped by molecules, which would amplify far more quickly from major increases in methane than in the case of carbon dioxide since it’s such a far more potent energy capturing gas, as well as from the atttendant potential limitation of available energy at that wavelength, would tend to cause methane to have a somewhat lower total energy recapture impact than its total warming potential (potential per molecule to absorb and re radiate thermal radiation).
But the bigger point is that even in terms of assessing methane’s overall impact by using the far more finely honed but complex and inexact radiative forcing quotients than the simplistic story told here, higher ongoing amounts of methane in our atmosphere mean a very different and far more powerful story than the one currently told by estimates that are based on current atmospheric methane amounts and the fairly fast breakdown rate of that methane, that thus uses a far lower energy trapping quotient than is likely going to be realized in the atmosphere from total methane concentrations over time.
In other words, if we project the effect of 1800 ppm methane over 100 years, as is commonly done, and use the GWPe wherein most of that 1800 ppm is not methane for the great majority of the time period, the estimated future effect will only be a small fraction of what the real effect on total atmospheric thermal radiation recapture will in fact be if methane levels stay at 1800 (or go higher).: thus meaning for the entirety of that 100 years, it’s all methane. (The molecules being broken down thus being replaced so that the total concentration, and thus energy recapture potential and effect, stays far, far higher.)
For instance, if we use a 20 year GWP for estimating methane’s future global warming impact, the future impact will be considered far higher. Yet even over just a 20 year period a fairly high percentage of any methane originally released into the atmosphere has already broken down.
Knock the measuring period down to about 10 years, and the total heat energy re-capture (or “surface emitted thermal radiation absorption and re-radiation”), potential shoots up far far higher than 85 times the impact, gram for gram, than carbon dioxidem, even if all of it isn’t realized due to multiple capture of methane’s target wavelengths.
In short, when methane is looked at as methane – what it should be looked at in terms of assessing the impact of future atmospheric methane levels over time – the effect is far more profound than when looked at as only a short term gas projected out, based on today’s levels, and with the expectation that most of today’s methane won’t be methane for the great majority of the period:
Which, in turn, is great for assessing the impact of today’s methane levels alone. But it’s potentially the opposite for assessing the actual long term impact of total ongoing atmospheric methane levels and, though harder to project, what’s actually relevant here to gauge the impact of that methane: What methane will be over the next X years, not just what it is this moment.
And, again, as there is more carbon buried as methane in frozen but now beginning to thaw sea floor bottoms than already exists in the entire atmosphere (and many many hundreds of times more than exists as a carbon atom making up part of a molecule of methane), and likely a little over one and a half times that, give or take, on land based permafrost areas (which would emit as both carbon and methane), the issue is not just one of how much our farm raised ruminant animals chew cud, wetlands, landfills, gas leakage or fossil fuel extraction and transport, etc,; but at this point, more predominantly one of the ongoing march of increasing ocean temperatures and melting ice sheets, and the uncertain but potentially huge impact upon otherwise long frozen (i..e, sequestered) methane gas as well as additional carbon.
Thus, a big increase in methane’s concentrations over time is potentially far more significant – due to the shorter shrift than carbon dioxide that methane usually gets, due to its smaller concentrations, and far shorter realistic lifespan – than might at first appear.
In other words, the average concentration of the gas over trailing time is what ultimately mattered. (Whatever net effect it was; even if most of this energy recapture effect that, along with the geogolically relevant increases in long term greenhouse gases that produce it essentially define the climate change challenge, has, so far gone into changing earth’s future climate impacting systems, and accumulating surface land, ice and ocean energy.)
But what the gas will be in the future, not what today’s gas alone will do, is what matters for the future. And thus average levels of the gas in the future will matter far more than methane effects typically projected based upon today’s levels and methane’s high breakdown rate.
And this will be even more relevant – perhaps far more so – if there is ever a very large influx into the atmosphere over a shorter, or simply ongoing, period of time, and sufficient to have a fairly powerful short term amplifying heat recapture effect.**** [The reason for this seeming oversight is that climate change has been hard enough to illuminate to the public particularly in the face of sound bite news, and rampant information that as a matter of advocacy simply seeks to try and refute the issue, rather than – mistakes and all, in any random direction as part of the process of evaluating itself – simply try and objectively and dispassionately assess it, or just an extremely poor overall assessment of what risk ranges mean or the fact that that it’s risk ranges, not what will assuredly happen or that can somehow be exactly predicted (nearly impossible as that is) that is relevant to assessing this issue.]****
And, lo and behold — and barely touched on as we focus almost exclusively on air temperature and the enormously mistaken (if not flat out geo-physically ridiculous) “skeptic” idea that for climate change to be “real” or significant means we have to be able to (almost impossibly) predict the exact amount of short term average ambient air change in advance — there’s a fairly extensive risk of just such ongoing high, if not at some point significantly increasing, methane levels.
Given the enormous amounts of methane buried in shallow sea bed areas, as well as the enormous amounts of carbon buried in the northern hemisphere’s vast permafrost – much of which will be emitted as methane when and as our northern permafrost melts, and just as it is slowly starting to do – a large, ongoing and even crescendoing influx of methane over a fairly relevant period of geologic time, is a large possibility; while some ongoing and increasing total methane release from the impact of atmospheric change itself, rather than directly as a result of at this point controllable anthropogenic activities, is very likely.
And the large ongoing methane increase side of this equation is an even stronger possibility if, as many scientists project, there’s a short period of rapid geologic change as a result of the enormous and growing earth energy balance changes currently underway due to a massive and steady input of long lived heat energy trapping gaseous molecules into the atmosphere. Which input in turn – and in just a few hundred years, much of it just in the last 50 or so – has increased current concentrations of carbon dioxide alone to amounts likely not seen on earth in three million or more years.
And in an event of a rapid geologic climate shifting – which could happen at any time but becomes increasingly likely as our oceans continue to warm at a remarkably fast clip, and polar ice cap melt rates at both ends of the earth continue to accelerate – the rapid release of a lot of methane, with its powerful warming potential relative to carbon dioxide, would significantly amplify and extend any climate shifting process, perhaps even fundamentally re-write it.
This is something we’re not quite getting because our imaginations tend to be somewhat constrained by what we’re used to seeing, and we don’t quite integrate what a multi million year change to the long term molecular heat trapping property of the atmosphere, in a remarkably short geologic time period, really means in terms of earth’s shifting energy balance. (And as sites like this – now to nearly 300,000,000 page views, and overwhelming influence – and countless others seek to refute the very idea itself, to perpetuate an ideological, old school belief of non relevant atmospheric impact, under seeming guise of “reason”and an almost non stop onslaught of irrelevant, cherry picked, or issue misconstruing arguments and claims, all with enormous built in rhetoric.) To us it’s still sort of “abstract.”
Massive change, well after the cause – underlying energy shifts – in what we can later see, won’t be so abstract.
Judy Curry Uses Preposterous Logic, so Naturally our Half Anti-Science Congress Chooses to Use Her as One of Its Key “Experts” on Climate Change
MARCIA McNutt, Editor of Science Magazine, wrote a Science editorial saying the time for debate has ended and we should act on climate. (The general argument to mitigate our net emissions made sense, and for the same reasons, 20 years ago. And it’s one that’s even more relevant today.)
Yet to castigate McNutt and Science in response, former Georgia Tech School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Chair and sometimes Congressional climate “expert” Judith Curry wrote a brilliant piece of rhetoric in response, that ultimately devolved into a sophisticated, inflammatory, and innuendo filled condemnation – just like most of Curry’s pieces that aren’t otherwise focused on cherry picking facts, taking extreme ends of ranges and positing them as the norm, or ignoring almost the entirety of the relevant picture.
Curry based her piece on the fact that the Editor of Science wrote an editorial urging action on climate change, not debate on “whether to act.” (The time to “debate” whether or not to mitigate our ongoing net emissions that have caused, and are continuing to add to, radical long term atmospheric alteration is over, McNutt suggested.)
A response examining the broader issues, as well as the other increasingly inflammatory allegations and innuendos in her piece, is here. But in short, before going into an increasingly manipulative and implicit demonization of the integrity of not just McNutt, but Science, science journals, and science in general, here is what Curry wrote:
By stating ‘the time for debate has ended,’ she appears to be speaking beyond her expertise and has latched onto a real tar baby. The IPCC doesn’t think the time for debate has ended‘;they are gearing up to write their 6th Assessment Report.
The IPCC doesn’t think the “time for debate” over whether we’re significantly impacting climate has ended, or that we shouldn’t act but instead continue to debate whether to act, simply because it continues to exist?? What kind of “logic” is that?
So because the International Panel on Climate Change still exists and reports, the time to debate whether to act on climate change (false debate that it may be in the first place aside) – instead of acting – thus has to continue by definition, a person who testifies before Congress on this issue just ludicrously suggested.
Before of course going on to impugn all of science for it. For Curry also esssentially argues: “We’re still seeking to learn, therefore Science magazine can’t editorialize that we should act, without bastardizing science.” And then, in increasingly inflammatory style, goes on to in fact just so bastardize science herself.
This is only a slightly more sophisticated version of Curry and other skeptics’ irrational and issue misconstruing idea that because there’s uncertainty on exactly what will happen with climate from our now multi million year increase to long term atmospheric molecular energy re-capture – which is exactly what makes it a “risk” in the first place – acting is imprudent. (And calls for acting, and assertions that the “time for debate over acting has ended,”apparently, inappropriate and worse.)
This, when if not knowing exactly what will happen and when it will happen was a reason for inaction, ALL risk would require inaction, which makes the argument nothing but nonsensical tautologic rhetoric; nonsensical rhetoric that, because climate change is complex, and rhetoric works (both to convince others and self convince of what one wants or has come to believe), has in fact somewhat worked. (And not just worked, but worked to the tune of 55% of U.S. adults polled – see right hand column – refusing to acknowledge or believe that human activity is causing global warming – as well as, despite a crescendo of increased knowledge on the topic as well as a mountain of corroborating evidence supporting signs of increasing effect, almost no movement in overall U.S. public perception on the issue over the past 25 years.)
And Curry implies, such a basic editorial – i.e., climate change is bad let’s act already to stop adding to it – from a science magazine no less, isn’t simply a reasonable point of view and one that it or its editor is entitled to present, but a “tar baby”; namely, something somewhat illogical, aggressive. and that worsens what it’s trying to do through the attempt to do it. Which is precisely what Curry, in response – and worse – then does to impugn McNutt’s opinions, the publication of them, and ultimately science in general.
In essence an editorial stated we should stop debating, and instead act to mitigate additions to climate change. (Putting aside that the case for addressing climate change is also overwhelming, it’s also by a person who probably has more credentials on the broader subject context than Curry: Only relevant here because Curry directly questioned whether the Editor of Science magazine was “qualifed” to write this editorial for it. See footnote**).
And in response, Curry used “reasoning” that’s derogatory, manipulative, and illogical to cunningly claim that by publishing a basic journal editorial, by the journal editor, on a broad global issue with an overwhelming relevant scientific consensus (itself also, naturally, “disputed” by skeptics – here’s how – McNutt and Science Magazine were engaging in inappropriate, somewhat manipulative, “stuck in tar” trapping behavior. (Especially considering the context of the full piece, which later implicitly and severely condemns Science and McNutt, heavily impugns science in general, and makes several highly inflammmatory suggestions.)
Curry’s ridiculous claims about McNutt’s opinion that it’s time to act to mitigate climate change (let alone long past time) and in particular that Curry makes and implies in the rest of her piece, also makes the “tar baby” claim of a no win stuck in tar mistake by McNutt itself self fulfilling; namely by doing everything possible to misrepresent and condemn McNutt’s action and the practice of science as such in general.
In other words, for writing an editorial, as editor, that conflicts with what Curry wants to believe, this favored congressional “expert” creates exactly what she otherwise ridiculously accuses McNutt of creating.
Since skeptics or borderline skeptic curmudgeons like Curry want to believe there’s real debate over whether our actions are significantly altering future climate, saying there isn’t, or implying that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists know that we are (never mind that it happens to be true), is now suddenly grounds for an increasingly inflammatory castigation of Science Magazine, it’s editor, and science in general.
This is a somewhat veiled and rhetoric driven version of the same type of practice skeptics have clung to in order to perpetuate their “skeptical” belief, and as briefly covered in the this earlier piece on the rest of Curry’s response. That is, engaging in exactly what is falsely being accused of others:
Or the latest “data tampering” where the“scandal of the century“ left out that 1)re-calibration is normal and in fact often required, not the fraud that it was fraudulently presented as to the world, 2)NOAA re-calibrated both up and down, not the fraud and outright lie or zealot blindness of only upward re-calibrations it was presented as, and – though irrelevant but incredible nonetheless – 3) had NOAA not done any re-calibrations, total surface air warming would likely appear greater, not lower.
Skeptics take some possibly mistaken but either way routine and necessary re-calibration, and find a way to self convince themselves and turn it into a huge scandal, so that relevant data can be dismissed in order to further reinforce the skeptic belief; namely, by engaging in the (blind) fraud, of calling it – i.e., what NOAA did, routine re-calibration – a fraud. And then, on top of that, blatantly misrepresent not only that re-calibration is fraud and not a routine and necessary part of science, but that re-calibrations were only done upward.
Skeptic Curry here takes a possibly mistaken editorial – if an editorial can be objectively “mistaken” on a subjective idea – here calling for redress of a widely recognized accumulating and amplifying global environmental problem, or prohibited simply because it’s by an editor of a science journal), and by being derogatory, manipulative (even if in self reinforcing zeal to find ways to reinforce and cling to her pseudo “skepticism” she doesn’t realize it) and illogical, with no basis, instead implies this and ultimately more upon McNutt and Science itself.
That is, other than of course the specious “basis” that somehow the Editor of Science Magazine is someone who despite being the editor is not qualified to write an editorial for it, and the ludicrous basis that the time to not act and instead continue to debate can’t be over, because we still have an IPCC. Or – as the IPCC line is meant to represent, and just as inanely – because we are still learning about climate change, as with most things in life, and more importantly want and seek to learn objective physical truths – what science is.
But skeptics have turned the “we don’t know all there is to know” generality into an argument for not acting, as if acting based upon what we do know is never rational, and that we can only act after we know all there is to know; which of course in most things happens after the fact (if ever) and thus after having any opportunity to act. Even more so on an issue like climate change, which has a large lag between cause and effect, and would be impossible to precisely prove the exact impact of in advance since it represents an enormous net long term (and still increasing) energy dump upon an otherwise completely open and itself unpredictable global system.
But then, Curry’s assessment of the whole issue; the risk range it presents, and the relevance of uncertainty; are all completely backward. (See the original piece, and in particular Curry’s idea of the “uncertainty moster” on climate change, which she has flagrantly wrong; not just misconstruing what the basic problem is, but completely reversing the relevancy of risk ranges and what they structurally represent in the first place.)
In very understated fashion – it is after all in likely the leading science journal in the world – Nature published a revealing and interesting piece examining the phenomenon and patterns of climate change “skepticism.” It suggested:
Many climate sceptics seem to review scientific data and studies not as scientists but as attorneys.
Though here “many” essentially means “all.” This is because the whole tautology of “skeptical” belief over this issue is that to remain skeptic requires advocating to fit “facts” and “ideas” into an already arrived at conclusion; or to simply believe those who do, and ignore almost all climate scientists.
That is how someone smart enough to be former Chair of the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Environment Department at Georgia Tech can otherwise make such flagrantly basic and illogical mistakes on an issue they have presumably “studied,” and are even ostensibly “expert” on.
Along with, of course, not recognizing it. Nor – further enabling and facilitating the pattern itself and its widespread influence on overall climate change “information” and understanding – has this pattern been very effectively and more broadly shown:
That is, even the media barely covers skepticism relative to the relevant facts on climate change, let alone why the relevant facts are relevant. And many climate change advocates and leaders have a hard time believing that skeptics actually believe most of what they are saying, or in recognizing the huge amount of influence of the attendant rhetoric and rampant misinformation upon the general populace and overall discussion and understanding of the issue.
But in Curry’s “logic” above, it is once again clearly illustrated: Skeptics use rhetoric under guise of reason to self convince of a conclusion, while engaging in a pattern that in many key respects resembles a person charged with a pre-determined position of advocacy who must then find ways to support that advocacy and maintain it, any way possible.
Except the advocacy here is to support a belief, or an unrecognized desire to believe: That is, a belief, reinforced by massive misinformation and rhetoric, that a multi million year increase in earth’s long term chemical atmospheric energy recapture wouldn’t ultimately significantly impact earth. And maintain that belief even though, aside from cherry picking and misrepresenting slivers of the total picture of data, there’s absolutely nothing to support it. And even that’s only misrepresentative or issue misconstruing cherry picking at the otherwise fairly extensive record of overall corroboration; not providing any basis for why a geologically relevant shift in long term energy recapture wouldn’t change total earth energy, which ultimately, means climate. And which has never been done. Mainly because it doesn’t make sense.
But because the issue is complex, long term, involves risk ranges – and of course while a general understanding is achievable based on a mountain of geophysical knowledge and data, by its very nature can’t be precisely predicted in terms of exact climatic path and time period in advance – skeptics find ways to reinforce the belief and really believe it, while the great bulk of the climate change advocacy community and the media both largely ignore this remarkable and rather major long term lack of redress affecting pattern; even with polls showing that, as a result, the gap between what climate scientists know, and what the public “thinks,” is stunningly large.
And as democracy is only as strong as the quality of its mainstream information, the United States elects representatives who reflect this understanding, and then, in turn, turn to “experts” like Curry, and several others who may be reasonably credentialed but essentially have almost the entire relevant issue fundamentally incorrect, for insight and information.
*Since we can’t both act in response yet at the same time debate whether we should.
**Not that credentials are relevant here. But Curry implied because McNutt is an Editor of Science she should not be allowed to editorialize – yet, apparently, and illogically if not bizarrely, still be SCIENCE EDITOR – unless her credentials apparently meet Curry’s standard for each editoriall. So Curry’s logic is that McNutt is credentialed enough to be editor of Science, a bigger role than writing an editorial, but yet not credentialed enough to write an editorial because she is the editor. Which is tautological.
Sunday (July 5) Georgia Tech School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Professors and sometimes Congressional climate “expert” Judith Curry published another piece on her popular and influential climate skeptic blog – one castigating Marcia McNutt, the editor of Science, for publishing an editorial therein on climate change that called for action.
The following is a response to Curry (which was also originally written as a comment to the piece itself, and edited a bit here for clarity):
You make a remarkable number of presumptions in your piece, and in so doing engage in far more manipulation and game playing than McNutt ever did. [Edit: This is a bad line. Curry is likely not trying to manipulate, although as with much rhetoric today the piece accomplishes exactly that. Game playing also implies intent, which is also likely absent.]
I don’t support the “debate is over” language here – it can convey something very different, and far too easily manipulated, from what it really means. But the debate to which she specifically refers is a false one in the first place.
That you don’t see that, and write any type of argument possible to perpetuate the belief or claim that long term climate isn’t being significantly altered by man, or that it’s not being impacted in such a way as to cause a relevant risk range of major climatic shifting, is part of what perpetuates the circular catch-22 of closed loop “logic” that goes on here. As is, similarly, the use of any argument or semantics possible to refute the fact that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists also recognize this.
4. Nor is that stifling “debate.” Just because you want to or have convinced yourself you believe something and others say there is a consensus (right or wrong) that contradicts it, is not stifling debate. But the claim asserting otherwise, let alone in the inflammatory and greatly science impugning manner in which it is often written and found here, is also part of the wordsmith, rhetorical, semantic if unrecognized “game playing” that goes on to play every card possible, even many imagined ones, to reinforce and perpetuate the same old notions.
5. Regarding those notions, it’s somewhat of a stretch, to borderline nonsensical, to think a multi million year increase to earth’s long term chemical atmospheric energy recapture wouldn’t ultimately significantly impact earth, and the overall trailing data and signs of effect (not just air temperature but the total picture) corroborates almost inescapable common sense on the issue even further. (Though even that is misrepresented and cherry picked apart by “skeptics” and this site, and such sense escapes.)
6. There is also no evidence to support such a notion: Aside from basic issue miscontruction, unrecognized broad brush and irrelevant philosophical semantics, or scientific tautology, there isn’t a single cohesive or rational theory why such a multi million year and ongoing long term atmospheric energy recapture shift wouldn’t ultimately significantly impact earth or, to hone it down further, present a relevant risk range of moderate (if highly unlikely), to severe alteration.
Let alone of course one that would simultaneously and rationally explain the highly “coincidental” pattern of just such signs of long term change as would be expected, though it’s obvious (or perhaps not) exactly what would happen can not be precisely predicted in advance. (Yet another concept falsely conflated with the idea that climate scientists are therefore “wrong” on the basic issue.) And let alone how those signs could be explained as bizarre “coincidence” at the very same time a thus multi million year shift in earth’s long term molecular energy capture would nevertheless not be affecting earth itself.
You falsely turn almost everything into something it is not. Sure there are issues with the editorial, but editors have the right to write editorials. Your conclusion that therefore papers that show climate change to be less or not real won’t be published (if one that doesn’t badly mangle the issue even exists), is specious.
“Debate over” or not – although it’s still not clear what debate ever existed, as the issue is the same as it has been for 30 years, just a lot more corroboration has rolled in, and emissions added – science thrives on challenge and contrary theories and illustration of basic mistake.
Such a paper, since they are rare on climate change (in fact, apart from making basic mistake themselves they practically don’t exist for the same reasons expressed above – i.e., there is nothing to support the ‘skeptic” position expressed here but misconstrued and cherry picked attacks upon climate science), could even get preferential treatment or a wider “berth” in the name of what science is. Even more so because if something suggested climate change to be less significant overall, that would be GOOD news.
You can guess otherwise, but you are basically saying that because she wrote what you think is a bad editorial Science is likely now jaded against actual relevant science in its papers. That’s a big leap, and a little spurious.
14. But what you do is far more, and it’s something you’re extremely good at. You twist all of this into something that it’s not; and in the process demolish any decent points to temper the way the challenge of climate change is communicated (indeed your hostility toward it and support of such hostility prompts such editorials, born of frustration, as McNutt’s), in the process.
15. You give credit to a highly hyperbolic, borderline libel, “Digging into Clay” and highly manipulative graphic – the irony of this being stated by a skeptic in reference to climate scientists rather than numerous leading skeptics is somewhat remarkable, but par for the course – and then come up with one that is even more misleading yourself: For it uses semantics again to twist what is really happening, and fit it into your own extreme formulation (for which your minions here and in our half anti science Congress are so grateful and look to you for guidance that you might never realize that despite some good work you’re egregiously, fundamentally wrong on this issue, and thus “let them down”), to continue to cling to heavily one sided beliefs and perceptions on this issue.
To wit, here’s what you suggest as Science and science’s plausible direction, fitting your own self-reinforcing formulation on climate change where dismissing disparaging or disagreeing with climate scientists is debate and all A okay. But where dismissing disparaging or disagreeing with climate change skeptics on the other hand is not, but is instead very different. (Also conveniently ignoring how some of your more hard core cohorts, and sometimes yourself through implication, call climate change redress a “threat to the world” and worse.):
“Appeal to authority
Absence of doubt
Intolerance of debate
Desire to convince others of the ideological ‘truth’
Willingness to punish those that don’t concur”
You undermine any legitimate such concerns by exaggerating and largely (and ironically) misapplying it. “They don’t like my point of view [let alone your pattern of fundamental construction errors] so science is bad and wants to quash views and punish people for views” and here’s a frustrated editorial by the editor of Science ineloquently expressing the basic consensus that keeps getting misrepresented by skeptics, “so I’ll use it as an excuse to bad mouth science, Science, and climate scientists again and re support the common meme that there’s real scientific debate among climate scientists as to whether our actions have altered (and will keep altering) the earth in a way that is and likely will increasingly impact climate and it’s being unfairly and anti scientifically quashed…
….Because that’s what we need to believe to continue being skeptics rather than just focusing on the merits of our arguments relative to the real science, and maybe getting some papers published in the (now of course, conveniently ideological) science magazines that show how the earth’s fairy Godmothers will micromanage basic physics so our Goldilocks climate under which we evolved – and despite a massive multi million year dump to earth’s basic insulation layer – stays “just right” for us humans and the things upon which we rely.”
19. You are using the “authority is not always right” canard to get around the relevant facts in instances where leading experts (in an overwhelming consensus despite your rhetoric and misrepresentation on that as well) are essentially right, when you don’t want to accept or understand why, or are clinging to things to render yourself incapable of seeing it.
20. There is plenty of doubt. The doubt is different from the mistakes, misrepresentations, and circular logic raised and used by skeptics, however, and involves the ongoing process of learning more and more fine detail about this issue and its accumulating effects and correcting, adjusting, learning process of science. You conflate the two because you don’t see these mistakes, misrepresentations and circular logic, as they support your “view.” (One which, to boot, “just happens” to be right in this instance and most climate scientists “wrong,” at least according to your logic. Which would be fine if your reasons why they were wrong didn’t themselves represent a cherry picking, semantic rhetoric, and basic issue misconstruing approach.)
And this leads to the third: “Intolerance of debate.” Skeptics can say anything they want, even (as leading magazine NRO did) call Michael Mann the science equivalent of child molestor (remarkable zealotry to even fathom by the way.) Yet pointing out the errors of skeptics, and or disagreeing, or even using rhetoric back, is suddenly being “intolerant of debate.”
22. It reminds one of Fox news – ironic since I understand you are not a big fan? – which alleges nearly anything it wants, then when anything is shown that disagrees or shows mistakes or takes a different perspective that is unflattering to Fox, it’s “quashing debate”: Debate suddenly meaning “support me, and don’t say things I don’t want to hear: yet not only don’t those rules, but no rules whatsoever apply to things we say, because ‘that’s different.'”
I grant you there’s a tendency on the part of some concerned with climate change to sometimes use a tenor of intolerance for skeptics, in large part because of much of this same inane and issue twisting rhetoric (and attacks upon everyone else while rhetorically turning even disagreement and argument into “quashing” discussion), and in part because they (sadly) can’t really believe that skeptics really “believe” what they say. It’s human nature. But it’s just these types of responses as your piece above, and the need to constantly twist the issue and impugn almost everyone not on your side (as I have been nearly every time I have responded here) that then produces exactly what you complain about.
I also agree mistakes are made by those concerned about the issue which shows an insensitivity, a lack of empathy, to those who really think climate change is overblown, and are inundated with so much self reinforcing misinformation and rhetoric (such as here, particularly in the comments, and elsewhere) in a largely self selected “news” world. But for the skeptic to understand that, the skeptic has to first understand the fundamental mistake and pattern of misinformation (or irrelevant information made through issue misconstruction and rhetoric to sound relevant) that so called and ironically labeled climate change skepticism requires, in which case one would no longer be a skeptic.
(The term “skeptic” by the way is more than a little ironic because skepticism is the opposite in this case, consisting instead of a belief — with no basis but to instead misconstrue and attack climate science and one-sidedly cherry pick things like this McNutt editorial — while it of course oddly labels the idea that a massive energy shift would affect what’s basically ultimately a long term cumulative expression of energy (climate) as itself a belief rather than scientific reason.)
But those are different issues, and a problem in climate change communication; they do not go to the heart of, or have anything to do with, the actual assessment of this geophysical issue and the risk ranges it presents and why. (Though they do keep people from being able to assess it better.) And they normally pale in comparison to the hostility and projection that emanates from the skepticism side of climate change, which to boot, has the basic underlying issue fundamentally wrong, and remains intransigent to (and in some cases seemingly incapable of) open-mindedly contemplating why.
27. I’m 100% with you on “intolerance for debate” being a bad thing. But I’m 0% with you on your unrecognized conflation of dismissing the relevancy of incorrect climate skeptic arguments (though I think they should be pointed out instead), pointing out mistakes, or offering frustrated views, with “intolerance for,” or “quashing of” debate – yet that is exactly what you do, do here, and do on every piece that raises or touches on this issue (and many of yours do).
28. Your 4th alleged sin was the desire to convince others of an ideological truth. Is that not what skeptics are doing on something which is not ideological, but science, or pure geophysical assessment, and logic? As well as on all of the underlying “ideas” driving most skepticism, such as the enormous (if not hysterical) presumption that producing the “good” of less pollution, ending reliance on foreign oil, and mitigation of long term geologically radical atmospheric alteration is somehow itself not of real value, unlike all the silly things we DO do that contribute to GDP, and even though the production of alternative energy and agricultural processes and practices is itself as valid a component of GDP, growth and jobs as anything else.
You also conflate the words of a few with what, to conveniently cling to “skepticism” you assign to anyone concerned about climate change, namely the imposition of some otherwise unrelated ideology, and then the expression of belief of that ideology. This is once again more of the semantic pattern of anything but an open objective look at the actual issue and not cherry picked items and rhetoric to reinforce the “skeptic” belief.
Your last is the creation of a red herring (if I am using that correctly) and then acting as if your conjecture is reality; a willingness to “punish.”
Some people utter some foolish statements on this, and I point it out when I see it. But it’s the exception not the rule. And most of even these are misrepresented or taken out of context (and again often highly cherry picked). While again, this is done to reinforce the self sealing nature of climate change “skepticism,” that: “see, if we don’t agree they want to punish us” in order to fit into the imaginary (but believed) meme that simple engagement back, even on a less hostile level than many skeptic sites and leaders engage, and so forth, is “quashing views,” and pointing out errors or dismissing rhetoric is “intolerance for debate.”
32. The irony is that to the extent this becomes more ideological on the skeptic side (to perpetuate the belief pretty much regardless of what points are made and even ongoing accumulation of corroborating data rolls in, the very things skeptics worry about only increase in likelihood – stupid rules out of panic at some point in the future, due to horribly misinformed, ideological and semantic game playing “assessment” earlier, as well as more and more dismissiveness of skeptics as people who “know full well they are wrong but are lying because they are selfish” (assessments I don’t generally agree with). Which in turn only further self seals in the tautological circle of logic and perception that, to cling to skepticism, is created and being perpetuated here in the name of ‘debate.’ But which is far from it.
33. It’s misinformation, it’s issue miscontruction, it’s demonizing, it’s castigation, its excessive rhetoric and semantic cherry picking, all because the “belief” that simply stopping dirty polluting fuels and using clean ones, etc., is some sort of bad thing, and thus that the main issue prompting it (aside from the pollution aspect) – so called “climate change” or the far more accurate “radical long term atmospheric alteration” therefore isn’t real, that big of a deal, or is fundamentally unclear. And thus refuse to see what is, and use every trick in the book (again, here’s a classic but typical one), to continue to believe what one has already been “convinced” of or wants to believe, as a way to avoid the real debate – and what should be being focused on: What does this risk range really present, and what are the best possible, most pro employment opportunity, choice, low mandate approaches to our need to collectively tackle this simple yet fairly gargantuan thing we’ve a bit improvidently done; namely, radically change the long term nature of the atmosphere (that we’re still massively adding to), through processes we’ve become a bit habituated to but that for the most part don’t make a lot of sense.
34. But skeptics think that these things “do make sense,” don’t want to “give them up” (even when totally market oriented such as through a C tax and minor regulation so through choice better mechanisms become more beneficial and shift our economy to a more sensible direction), and so therefore convince themselves that the otherwise completely unrelated geophysical reality, isn’t what almost every single climate scientist studying this (itself again misrepresented) says, the total picture of ongoing earth system changes strongly corroborates, and common sense suggests.
And rational discussion becomes lost. Often, under the believed guise of it.