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Is the Risk of Methane Being Greatly Under Underestimated?

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.

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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.

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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.

Judith Curry: Dismissing our Points is “Quashing Debate. ” When We Dismiss, Disparage and Misrepresent Your Points, That’s Debate!

(Updated and expanded, 7-26-15)
(Updated, 8-13-15)

SUNDAY (July 5) Georgia Tech School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Professors and repeat congressional climate “expert” Judith Curry published a piece on her highly influential climate skeptic blog, castigating the editor of Science for publishing an editorial on climate change calling for action. And ultimately, Curry used it to castigate Science, and scientists in general.

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The first half of this piece covers the themes relevant to the strange fact that Congress favorite Curry harshly castigated the editor of a science journal – for writing an editorial she didn’t agree with – before going on to use effectively manipulative and inflammatory rhetoric and insinuation to impugn science journals, and almost all of science (except, naturally, climate change “skeptics”) for the piece, and even climate scientists for simply having a “scientific consensus” on climate change in the first place.

This consensus – man’s activity is relevantly impacting our long term climate – is something Curry can’t seem to show is wrong but wants to believe is wrong or “too uncertain” to address (so using far right wing pundit and Rush Limbaugh fill in Mark Steyn to attack one particular climate scientist, then cherry pick statements to pile on, is right up Curry’s alley), and so like almost all climate change skepticism, is something Curry attacks as somehow “quashing debate” when it’s nothing of the sort:

It is, on the other hand, simply saying to Curry “your position is wrong, here’s why, and the overwhelming majority of climate scientists know/believe this.”

If either of those two facts are incorrect, then science demands they be so illustrated. But the self reinforcing pattern of skepticism, and Curry, don’t do that.

The pattern instead uses rhetoric to attack the idea of a consensus; and here, editor Marcia McNutt, a leading science magazine itself, and science in general, for simply referencing the idea of a consensus in editorializing that debating whether to act – in lieu of acting – is improvident, and there should be no such debate. (As opposed to the very real debate regarding how to most sensibly and fairly act.)

This pattern is not unusual for Curry, who has an excellent, if today increasingly common, inflammatory ability, that is used to some extent or another in nearly every post written on the Climate, Etc. website,  to directly hint at things without technically making direct accusations, or using others lifted and carefully cherry picked language, under the guise of “analysis” to do so.

S0 – though Curry’s piece castigating McNutt, the journal Science, and science in general, might have been edited and “softened” since (I really don’t know) – she can talk of the “descent into science hell,” and of science ultimately condeming and literally punishing all people who “dare” to disagree with its ideological proclamations, while never quite directly accusing McNutt, Science, or science in general, of it, etc. That is, rhetoric in its highest form being propagated as science and analysis.

And if there is a concern over the doctrine of conventional thought (there always is even in free societies), by her (today extremely common) reality turned inside out but appearing oh so reasonable rhetoric approach, Curry does far more to foment any long term potential problem, than bring conscionable awareness to the general issue.

This, in sort of the same way that climate change “skeptics” – by impugning everything possible – cause those concerned with climate change to become increasingly dismissive; even convinced that such “skeptical” belief (that somehow we’re not relevantly impacting our climate) is all motivated by “lies, deception, and greed,” when it’s largely motivated by fears of dictorial redress. (Which in another irony, by stalling sensible action through misinformation for so long, only increases the chances of ultimate improvident and potentially over reactive knee jerk government mandate rather than the reasoned, sensible, balanced, choice respecting while market shifting we should have been workingm on, and put into place years ago.)

And motivated by the huge economic presumption that changing to better energy sources and agricultural practices is some sort of huge impediment to real growth, rather than part of it.  And  likely or often motivated by ideological fealty to a sort of business anarchy; motivated by a strong fealty to traditional energy practices and in particular fossil fuels, as some sort of intrinsic human right above even tempering use for higher external infringement of our and perhaps our progeny’s even more basic rights to air, water and non radically altered climate; and driven largely by self reinforcing belief.

The second part of this piece is a more direct response to this frequent Congress climate change expert testifier’s assertions, and inherent but basic and severe misassessment of what climate change even is; and which Congress, if interested in understanding climate change better, would, as representative of the people of the country that elected it, be better informed by also similarly considering.

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Remember Curry is not only the Chair of an Atmospheric Department at a major University, she is again an “expert” and frequent testifier to the (admittedly far right wing when it comes to basic issues of environmental externalities) U.S. Congress; has been a member of several influential boards; and her blog provides great guidance to the less rabid (but still rabid enough) climate skeptic crowd, including many who are reasonably well educated and articulate, and help propagate the misinformation that helps create the enormous gap between what nearly every practicing climate scientist says (though there are exceptions), and the general population, where in the U.S. a recent poll found that only an astoundingly low 45% of all U.S. adults would acknowledge or agree that man caused climate change is real. (A few respondents very likely were not being forthright, but viewed the issue in an extremely lukewarm manner; and thus missing what the issue fundamentally is, don’t subscribe to any notion of sensibly redressing it and wanted to bolster the “it’s not real” idea.)

What’s interesting is that Curry didn’t always hold such lopsided views as she does now. And even — though it’s hard to separate out being a contrarian for its own sake and being beguiled by rhetoric that sounds great but misconstrues the issue from trying to think on one’s own and serve as a valid check on groupthink — made some arguably valid points: including my very own favorite – be careful of groupthink.

But being careful to not simply follow a thought because it is a prevailing popularity or convential view isn’t an argument as to why something is wrong. Nor is it relevant to the purely geophysical assessment issue of climate change itself, which Curry – even back in 2010 from when that last Scientific American link was taken – has gotten fundamentally wrong. (And which has only been reinforced by the self selection nature of our Internet and world today, and a U.S. Congress that overall reflects the electorate that elected it.)

Also worth mentioning is that while some groupthink likely occurs with respect to climate change support, at least it’s a deference to the overwhelming consensus of the relevant experts on a subject. And, it’s in a profession where caution in conclusion is necessarily heavily built in – something Curry also completely misses; yet which is evidenced, by among many other things, an overly conservative IPCC that makes too big of a deal out of models and the issue misconstruing fictional “pause” in Global Warming.

It’s even more built in on climate change, because it was not an issue that had to be answered one way or another as are most – and the ones where mistakes despite strong consensus are most often made – but one that spontaneously if slowly arose from long term observation and study and that went against the normal presumption that we couldn’t much inadvertently affect our planet. (Making the skeptic claim of being akin to “Galileo” even more ironic, if that was even possible.)

When you don’t know, deferring to experts is the sensible thing. Even more so on a topic or issue where experts didn’t have to even have an opinion in the first place, and let alone one that would cause the appearance of upheaval to many people, in how we viewed several traditional habits.

Skeptics though have a way of refuting this fairly significant and essentially overwhelmingly lopsided consensus also (even though a remarkably small percentage of actual climate scientists seem to be among those so refuting it), by simply repeatedly claiming otherwise, by their go to move – cherry picking extensively – and by writing rhetoric filled pieces such as this same piece by Curry, and other far more fantastic tricks.

And skeptics, like Curry, have a broader way of dismissing that as they do of everything: Namely, again, if it’s not hard data where cherry picks abound, then, rhetoric. Here, climate scientists are part of “groupthink.” (And, as we’ll see, according to Curry, far worse extensions of it). Nice, huh? Broad ideas that can sometimes apply and sometimes be completely opposite or completely irrelevant but can always be made to sound good (and self convince), can become sort of a catch all. Get good at it and you can believe whatever you want, really believe it, and convince others of it.

Meanwhile, between all this, on and on ad infinitum, and those concerned about climate change merely telling everyone it’s a problem, and sort of not believing that other people don’t think or see it that way – blaming oil company “lies” and finding ways to not look at the reality of what polls are actually saying about the perceptions of hundreds of millions of people in the United States alone – the basic construction of the issue itself has sort of gotten lost for 20 years.

On the other hand, when and if you know why experts are wrong — and although it tends to be more the exception rather than the rule when the consensus is overwhelming, not to mention conservative and slowly arrived at, and people who know all the experts are wrong and why tend to be far fewer than people that think that they do — stating so is the better course than simply deferring. But using rhetoric about “Galileo,” and how “science has been wrong before,” and all sorts of semantics and broad based maxims that can be selectively used to paint nearly any picture one wants (and something which Curry’s blog is absolutely brilliant at doing), is very different, and, meaningless, although it sounds good.

Something similar to groupthink also runs rampant with climate change skepticism; a sort of solidarity of those who are – as they see it, and unlike climate scientists – doing “real science.” (If of a remarkably cherry picked nature to try and reinforce the pre-desired or determined notion that we aren’t significantly impacting long term climate, though of course that minor little difference isn’t so realized): And going against the fraudulent machinery of “government grants for research.” (Since climate scientists get paid, or paid by grants, their work is not valid, etc. – an open ended type of “logic” that could be similarly used to bastardize any discovery, statement or action of man or woman kind ever undertaken that one wants to denounce, right down to a selfish Mother Teresa who selfishly wanted to “feel so good about herself doing all those good deeds,” and be applauded, etc.)

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Curry, without realizing it, has become a part, and in fact, key support leader, offering the rare patina of some actually relevant climate related science discipline expertise, to the party.

Also interesting is that Curry makes a big deal out of the “uncertainty monster,” as she puts it, as if simply moving to sensible non polluting fuels and agricultural practices wasn’t a smart thing to do anyway, but some sort of calamity, whose enormous sacrifice should only be undertaken if climate change is otherwise going to be some sort of catastrophe. (See paragraph numbered 28 below)

But more telling is the lopsided, almost backward application of the idea. First of all there is almost negligible uncertainty on the low side. (See below for why this is the case, as well as here.) While the uncertainty monster is almost unlimited on the upside:

As both metaphor and literally, consider sea level rise, projections of which as it turns out were low, as we have discovered that models greatly underestimated the extent, and even acceleration, of melt on both polar caps. (It’s not just that they are melting, which is significant enough, it’s that the melt has accelerated, and somewhat substantially, this century alone.)

So we might have a meter rise over 85 years, etc. The low side – although it’s extremely unlikely for many reasons – is we don’t get that meter rise, and save one and a half feet!

The upside is change accelerates, methane clathrate permafrost melt release accelerates and self reinforces on its ricocheting path to a lower earth albedo and lower frozen embedded carbon stases, and possibly even ocean circulation change, ocean heat energy upwelling or increased water vapor saturation from warming skies and positive average ongoing thermal re radiation feedback merge, and thus fairly fascinating (albeit, from our perspective, very bad) climatic shifts occur, and we get twenty three feet, with change accelerating from there – and a whole big range in between.

You see the difference between the upside uncertainty monster, and the downside, right? This essentially applies for most of the climate change phenomenon.

On top of that, though of far less importance, the downside uncertainty monster is barely even a reality, given the basic nature of what the issue is, and which Curry, as summarized in the notes below, repeatedly misconstrues.

The IPCC also only uses things it thinks are very likely, which badly skews overall risk range assessments even more. This is because all risks are relevant, just less so depending on how unlikely, and more so depending on how severe, hence the uncertainty monster again, and again with little low side and almost unlimited high side in both instances..

Leaving out these more complex, difficult, wider range, and more uncertain risks and risk ranges because we can’t get a decent handle on how to assess them does not mean they aren’t real, and relevant. But it does mean the overall perception left from the formulated IPCC assessment implicitly low balls the  real risk range or its EV or expected value, and only further exaggerates the already large upside (or bad) uncertainty monster.

Curry has somehow flipped all of this completely around –  from the IPCC’s own conservative, limited, low side “we think based on right now this is likely to happen” with little on the low side but almost unlimited on the high side projections, as well as all the higher but less concrete or non model ready risks left out – and instead used it to mean “we can’t know exactly what will happen, and can’t know a specific prediction with hundred percent certainty, so therefore none of it is very relevant. (She even essentially testified to this effect before Congress earlier this year.) Which gets the entire issue, and its basic analytical assessment in terms of the true risks (and upsides, if any) presented, backward.

I don’t mean this as an aspersion, but Curry is a phenomenal writer (whereas I am terrible at it, and struggle for hours with what should take minutes, often on top of that making something even worse through the editing process); brilliant in her use of words and phrasing, almost able to create magic, illusion, out of thin air. (Many people driven by belief are.) While when it comes to concepts, and as illustrated above, she doesn’t seem to grasp them, or grasp the relevant ones, or why they are, or on this issue is being blocked from doing so. Unfortunately this is more the norm rather than the exception when it comes to great rhetoric and semantics, housed under the guise of logic. And perhaps what drives it in perpetuation of a self reinforcing belief, as the response to Curry’s borderline if not somewhat brilliant libeling of McNutt below, illustrates.

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Response to Judy Curry and her piece staunchly appearing to attack or greatly impugn science, climate scientists, and Science Magazine and it’s editor Marcia McNutt for editorializing that there is no real debate among those who predominantly and professionally study this issue from the relevant science discipline(s) as to whether or not “man caused climate change” is real. 

And even though McNutt’s statement, on top of everything else, also happens to essentially be true.

Dear Judy Curry,

You make a remarkable number of presumptions in your piece , and in the process engage in far more of what you spend considerable semantic brilliance pinning onto science, and Science magazine itself.

I believe the basic debate is a false one. Marcia McNutt, editor of Science, believes it is a false one (we differ apparently in that it has been a false debate for 20 or so years), and the overwhelming percentage of climate scientists believe that it is.

If you believe that consensus  is wrong, show it. Instead you take the expression of the fact (or even, from your perspective, the “belief” in that fact) as somehow quashing debate. And, as your piece rolls onward in increasingly strong waves of rhetoric and general science community castigation and pigeon holing, much worse, because of the fact McNutt is editor of Science. But putting rules on Science editorials seems more problematic than the editorial expression of views that editorials represent.

Also, even though McNutt has the right to be wrong, is the consensus not real? Round up all the practicing climate scientists who do not agree.

I highly doubt you could even get the widely touted 3%. And if we left out hard core ideologues (which doesn’t tend to mix too well with the pursuit of science) like Roy Spencer or Willie Soon, it would be even lower.

That is a Roy Spencer who wrote a paper that was so poor (among other things, it ignored all prevailing science without even referencing it or explaining why it didn’t apply) the editor of the Journal that printed it resigned to “take responsibility” for a paper with “fundamental methodological errors or false claims.”

And who in said paper, with no basis (or even explanation) whatsoever decided to reverse cause and effect and made the ever changing, ephemeral phenomenon of water vapor the cause of climate change itself, rather than of course a result or part of climate. As if anything that an alteration of the climate created was then looked at as the driver of climate, resulting in a nonsensical tautology that could then be used to dispute all universal cause and effect by simply labeling an effect as a cause.

Aside from the false claims that led the editor of the otherwise non climate related Journal Remote Sensing (an off topic Journal where Spencer targeted to get his surreptitious issue manipulation slipped in under the radar), do you wonder what led him to that wacky and illogical conclusion, one that is unsupported by any science?

Here’s a hint: This is the same Roy Spencer who in a significant conflict of interest has publicly acknowledged he sees his job as a scientist not to simply pursue the physical objective truth which is science itself, but as a protector of the taxpayer from government rules:

“I would wager that my job has helped save our economy from the economic ravages of out-of-control environmental extremism.” (link)

His job? Or zeal to reinforce the pre-determined notion that climate change is no big deal so that environmental regulations or other forms of redress – a wholly separate matter from the science of the issue itself – are unlikely to occur, and thus seek specifically to find results consistent with achieving that end and at direct odds with what the basic process of science is, let alone one funded by a public university. (But then Spencer is on the advisory board of a religious sect organization that doesn’t believe in the concept of environmental impact from man when it comes to climate change, which again is at direct odds with the study of it, and would make his job not one of scientist studying the issue, but advocate using science to try and conform the results to the desire end. Which is of course just what we saw in the highly flawed paper that led the editor who had approved it, to resign after so fundamental a mistake.}

Then there’s this, all but acknowledging his role as just described above:

[Spencer views himself, in his words] “Like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.” (link)

Or Soon, who was the climate scientist author of a paper that actually posited and relied upon the geophysically ludicrous notion that all climate effects of any energy change are essentially immediate, and that contradicts the basic skeptic argument that climate change is not real because “climate changes” so easily when it was here convenient to argue the very opposite, as well as numerous other fundamental errors, and who has been largely funded by the fossil fuel industry.

And so on it goes. Refute McNutt by showing that a higher than trivial percentage of climate scientists don’t agree, or by showing that even if that’s not the case, they’re wrong. Not by engaging in highly inflammatory rhetoric accusing one of the world’s leading science magazines of quashing science for publishing an editorial by it’s editor stating both an opinion, and one which tends to be supported by the relevant facts, at that.

It’s probably not intentional, but this piece that instead castigates McNutt, Science, and science, badly (or brilliantly, depending on how one looks at it) manipulates the issue; and it also rests on a lot of misconstructions regarding climate change itself.

9157-earth-view-from-space-station

These are misconstructions which also seem to reinforce your notions. And to perpetuate those notions and impugn prevailing science which therefore “must also be wrong,” things that disagree, dismiss your arguments as wrong, state an opinion, expresses frustration (you and other skeptics of course however are allowed, by any suggestively demonizing rhetoric you like) – are thus – at least according to the logic of the piece – of course “quashing debate” and maybe ultimately worse, your piece strongly hints.  Make skeptics out to be false martyrs, speaking a truth being kept from the public’s ear (despite the almost unbelievably ironic reality of nearly the complete opposite) by an anti science climate hoax fraud or rampant mistake perpetuating world science community that refuses to hear these great theories showing why all the corroborating signs of otherwise bizarrely coincidental ongoing heat energy accumulation are otherwise irrelevant, and the basic theory of major increased long term chemical atmospheric thermal energy absorption and re radiation leading to an overall increase in earth’s net energy balance and an attendant, if somewhat unpredictable, volatile and likely non linear change or even shift in our long term climate, are simply wrong.

But no matter how outrageous the things you imply, no matter how many things you substantively get wrong about the issue, no matter how often you impugn science or specific climate scientists or others?  Or the near mountain of aspersions, insinuations and insults of the many skeptics you rely upon and support?

That’s of course all fine.

Other “skeptics” — who often say outrageous things, and even propagate false scandals such as the two year soap opera near joke called climategate – that nevertheless radically re-shaped public perception of scientists – 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, 2)NOAA re-calibrated both up and down, not the fraud and outright lie or zealot blindness it was presented as, and – though irrelevant but incredible nonetheless – 3) had NOAA not total surface air warming would likely appear greater, not lower — all of that??

That, of course, is never quashing debate, or improper.  That’s all for a good cause! But the cause of mitigating our ongoing radical long term chemical alteration of the atmosphere? Why that is ideological. And “quashing debate.”

In a nutshell: “We need to address this” is ideological and quashing debate. “We need to not address it but wait,” because it’s going to wreck our economy (see paragraph 28 below) and it’s not really a big deal and the market – complete business anarchy not capitalism with sensible policies for externalities – solves everything (even retroactively so people who died from needless pollution come back to life), that of course is not ideological, and not quashing debate.

And this is so, even though by not addressing it, we  don’t just put of correcting it, by the nature of the problem (let alone it’s large lag) it’s greatly amplifying it and increasing the essentially irreversible aspects of it.

And where ideology does enter in, in terms of addressing this purely geophysical issue, heaven forbid we address that on the policy and response side. But let’s just impugn all climate change concern and climate scientists and climate science, instead.

All while we engage in the “real” science of coming up with our still completely missing theory of why a multi-million year shift in earth’s long term insulation wouldn’t significantly impact climate. And despite the continuing accumulation of long term corroborating data, that of course we also instead attack, to cling to our simply made up theory, and as part of our impugning and even sometimes villainizing of climate science also so necessary for clinging to our made up theory that we know to be “reason” and “logic,” and “science.”

Thus quashing debate is any expression you don’t agree with and don’t like, that can be manipulated with rhetoric (and then, worse, self believed), to make it sound so.

And if something can’t be made to seem to fit into that category, it will be made to fit into another one. McNutt’s, apparently, because she said the “debate is over,” which is about as meaningful as saying “almost all climate scientists who study this issue know that our actions are altering earth’s long term climate, and there’s really nothing supporting the opposite” — again, according to the logic of your piece, which then even goes further with its castigation of the appeal to authority, ideological imposition and ultimate punishment of non conformists, taking key concepts and absolutely wrecking them nearly beyond all repair through hysterical projectionism and rhetorical manipulation — of course does.

Repeat: “Almost all climate scientists who study this issue know that our actions are altering earth’s long term climate, and there’s really nothing supporting the opposite” in a science magazine editorial is now the quashing of views and a march toward required orthodoxy of thought and intolerance of disparate opinions and theses.

On this logic, pretty much any conclusion can be created out of anything. It’s rhetoric, run amok, since while the points are valid in the abstract, applied here they are frighteningly backward. And that, is what climate change skepticism, is.

_______

Here’s the initial response that goes into more detail regarding this Curry piece, that, like many of them, fans the flames of anti-science (unless it’s her science and the “science” of people that support her so called skeptical views) and anti-climate scientist and anti-Science Magazine, as well as of the specious and often extremely one sided “scientists want to ‘quash views’ and ultimately maybe even ‘punish’ people who disagree” vigor.

The rest of the initial response to Curry’s piece, which essentially was drafted as a comment so it starts off poorly, but makes some key points, is again, here. The following are key portions that also complement what’s written above:

4.    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 wordsmithing, 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.

pablo (5)

5. Regarding those notions, it’s somewhat of a stretch to borderline nonsensical to think a multi million year increase in 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

………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”

………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) over the largely manufactured climategate “scandal.” (One which nevertheless followed the same pattern of using the very processes of science itself – learning, adjustments, corrections, mistakes – to refute climate change, or impugn the credibility of climates scientists and science in general.)

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.”

………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 doing 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.

32. The irony is 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 terribly 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.

Congressional Climate Expert Judith Curry Follows Same Pattern, Excoriates Science – My Response

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):

_______

Judy Curry,

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.

Climate Change is now Proven, but There’s Much More to the Story Behind the Story

Twenty some years of attempts to come up with any rational theory that would explain why major rises in long term molecular atmospheric energy recapture wouldn’t relevantly impact climate, have led to nothing but an enormous amass of misrepresentations, and a great deal of misinformation on the “climate change” issue.

It has also led to a host of super sounding theories that ultimately come down to nothing more than the assertion and belief that “it just won’t affect climate much.”

One of the mainstay arguments has been that “climate change has not been proven.”

This is like claiming that someone trying to leap from the top of a three story barn, onto a 4 foot deep bed of hay with 12 pitchforks pointed upward and hidden just below the top layer of straw, doesn’t present a major risk of injury because what will happen – or even that the move is dangerous – “can’t be proven.” But the exact effect we are having on the earth’s energy systems, and ultimately its climate, can’t be proven.

That is, our actions and their effects cover an exceedingly long time period; climate is inherently variable, and means a pattern of regional or global weather over very long periods of time – several decades; on top of the uncertainty of being able to determine what the present climate is, or, further complicating the picture, if it is changing without passing through exceeding large periods of time, there is also almost assuredly a significant lag between our actions and most of their effects; there is only one earth – one variable to measure over super long periods of time; and, most critically there are absolutely no controls (ways to replicate or remove added changes on otherwise identical systems, or planet earths).

Therefore we can have no way of knowing what the earth would be doing at any one moment, or what it would be doing climatically over long periods, in the absence of the powerful atmospheric changes we have wrought and that at a breathtakingly rapid geologic rat,  we are continuing to add to.

So if a person doesn’t want to “believe” that our alteration of the long term chemical composition of the atmosphere is already impacting our climate, is likely to do so much more in the future, and presents a significant risk of major, and more rapid, climate “shifting,” that person can simply fall back on the idea that “it can’t be proven.”

This of course misconstrues issue: The greenhouse effect is proven science, and has been known for more than a century. The massive amount of increase to greenhouse gases is also somewhat incontrovertible. That these gases “trap” thermal radiation, and can’t be turned off, and that the recaptured energy (absorbed and re radiated in all directions, instead of being un-absorbed and continuing unabated upward through the atmosphere) has to go somewhere – do something – is also incontrovertibly known. And that climate is ultimately an expression of energy, and that by significantly increasing the long term molecular re-capture of energy, we are changing, increasing, earth’s net energy balance.

We would also expect to see signs of change in not just atmospheric temperatures – but as difficult as that is to prove with certainty, as distinguished from inherent, although at this point it would be statistically bizarre – randomness and “natural” (otherwise occurring) changes – changes in earth’s more basic systems as well – and specifically, the one’s that help shape and determine our longer term climate. And we have, in a fairly major, and increasing way.

In the absence of any evidence, or any knowledge, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense if an increase in long term atmospheric greenhouse gases – to levels not seen on earth in millions of years – didn’t significantly impact our climate; even if, given the inherent complex nature of climate and again, natural variability itself, if not in entirely predictable time paths and precise amounts.

Still, enough time has gone by, and more than enough change has been made to the atmosphere, that if we didn’t see what at least appeared to be some early “signs” of impact, we might wonder “hmmm, that’s odd, it would seem by this point we would see something that at least suggests some change.”

So although it does not “prove” or “disprove” climate change, lack of any corroborating sign as a practical matter would open up a lot of doubt, or wondering.

So naturally the pattern of climate change “skepticism” has sought to refute all signs of such corroboration, or present them as simple “bizarre” coincidences of a natural changing world.

Never mind the oddity that this would represent – earth changes “naturally and easily” but yet our own huge atmospheric shift that represents an enormous influx of recaptured atmospheric energy somehow would not impact it – weird enough on its own – yet at the same time that it’s not impacting it, and by even more remarkably bizarre coincidence, we would still be seeing fairly unusual indicias of change right along the lines of what we would expect to see from the change that we have made – ones that on their own would be extraordinarily statistically unlikely to have happened by sheer chance. (Let alone in combination with the fact that if they were to happen by chance it would also simultaneously mean our huge atmospheric energy shift was somehow, again at the very same time, and also bizarrely coincidentally, not relevantly impacting climate.)

It’s a bit preposterous. But nevertheless, that is in essence what skepticism is. (I suppose if the above paragraph could be expressed both as clearly and as accurately but a little more simply, I would both be a better writer, and climate change skepticism would be a little easier to point out in ways that might prompt even skeptics to marvel for a moment, before catching themselves, at the illogic of their own arguments, and there would be less of it. But the issue is complex, which is why it’s been fairly easy to promulgate skepticism, on what is otherwise, complex or not, a pretty lopsided set of circumstances.)

But rather than see the oddity of our huge atmospheric change not impacting climate, and not doing so, along side the very unusual indicia of exactly the type of (and statistically  unlikely) change as we would expect,  as somewhat preposterous, climate change “skeptics” would instead see the argument just offered as itself preposterous, illogical, or some such, and by the same mechanisms that – along with the massive amounts of misinformation that propels it – filter things to fit into and reinforce suck “skepticism,” rather than in fact be even the tiniest bit skeptical about it.  (Climate change skepticism is remarkably non skeptical of most arguments and most individuals that seek to refute or disavow climate change.)

The basic human tendencies that make this so easy to do, which are greatly amplified when an issue is either political or is seen to have political ramifications and great interest or passion, is perfectly, if implicitly, explained in the second half of this reasonably short – and excellent – piece, by Craig Silverman.

“Proving” climate change seems somewhat akin to “proving” that if someone jumps off a 30 story building atop a city street with no safety net or other protection, they will die. We know it will be the case (or to analogize it to climate change, make it 7 stories, and thus “very likely to be the case”) but in one sense it really can’t be proven. Only deduced from what we do know.

In other words – although “proof” is a good tool to use in rhetoric if one wants to fall back on belief and desire and self convince of the exact opposite – it’s essentially irrelevant to what the issue really is, and the risk ranges that it presents and thus the issue of our best strategic response to it.

But again, in many respects the climate change issue is complex or can be construed as complex; there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding swirling around it; our media coverage, along with the perceptions of the majority of the population, are invariably affected in their understanding of the issue (and trust in climate scientist representation) by such misinformation, as well as its complexity; it is often communicated poorly and in a way that doesn’t really show people what the problem is rather than tell them that there is a problem, or show them the changes that are taking place as “proof” of the problem, when that still doesn’t really show or illuminate what the problem is; and it is sometimes a hard issue to both conceptualize along the many levels of risk range and probabilities that it does represent, while also boiling it down to its correct essence and what that represents, as opposed to what is often done instead:

First, the issue being only an “effect” rather than presenting a risk range of ultimate effects and impacts. And second, that the issue is one of rising ambient air temperatures, rather than the more fundamental and important changes that are taking place to the major earth systems that in fact help shape, and drive, future climate, and that are in fact starting, and in accelerating fashion, to reshape our earth’s surface in still somewhat abstract seeming, but rather significant ways.

So, for practical reasons, and in terms of helping to provide a better understanding of the basic reality of the issue – increase long term atmospheric greenhouse gases, it captures more energy and thus affects things, and we’ve increased long term atmospheric greenhouse ways in a way that is somewhat geologically radical, and have done so in an extremely short period of time – finding some sort of “proof” may be helpful on the issue.

Fine some sort of “proof” also provides a reasonable out for the less extreme climate change “skeptics,” as well as so called  “lukewarmers.” (Kind of bogus and misleading term used for those who still badly misconstrue the climate change issue but know at least enough of the basics about it to recognize that the very notion that a multi million year shift in our atmosphere’s long term energy recapture wouldn’t affect climate is inane, or who may not be so inherently resistant to science reality when it goes against what they would like to believe but who have heard and been convinced by a great deal of misinformation on the topic that’s passed off as news and information, and who thus – widespread as this is – greatly misconstrue what the issue is, and what the actual known and relevant facts are.)

Not only is there nothing wrong with the concept of a reasonable “out” to help facilitate the advancement of views, it’s consistent with human nature.

Unfortunately, along with often dismissing or trivializing the real fears of both skeptics and many others who have conflicting feelings or understandings on the issue, rather than openly and honestly recognizing and addressing them, offering them an out, or even better, an “olive branch,” is something that many climate change advocates and leaders don’t seek to provide. And both of these tendencies are big errors in basic climate change communication and understanding advancement: something which itself has a long way to go before our overall societal assessment of the issue (and not the insular assessment of those in the know and who wrongly conflate that assessment with society’s in general) is anywhere close to reality on the issue.

I am sure many hard core climate change skeptics will seek mightily to “refute” any proof, and are probably working steadfastly right now on doing so; and am not sure that what has just been observed and measured actually does serve as “proof” (though again the very concept of “proof” is badly misplaced when it comes to assessing what this issue actually is, and understanding why, would do far more for understanding on the actual issue); but scientists have, for the first time, now directly measured the  precise impact of the greenhouse affect and energy of, in this case temperature increases attributable directly to a rise in greenhouse gases.

In short, climate change, in some sense, has now been “proven.”

Flawed or not, it seems a fairly significant advancement, if not in our understanding of the issue, certainly in our assessment of it as – if not still complex, globally changing, long time frame and by definition imprecisely predictable – an absolute and definitive, rather than “very likely or we certainly think” phenomenon.  (It essentially was before for basic conceptual reasons, more complex than but essentially similar to the case of jumping off a very tall building onto a bustling city street; but it couldn’t be measured as such, so was considered otherwise.)

And those who have been moved, even if falsely, in their belief about the issue by the so called absence of proof, can now, comfortably consistent with their own prior thought processes, become more realistic about the issue; and now contribute to the process of how best to solve this challenge, rather than instead constantly seek to refute and disavow it, as so much energy has previously, wastefully and counter productively gone into before.

Sky Rocketing Arctic Methane Levels Help Tell Part of the Much Bigger Story of Major Change

(Last updated March 6, 2016)

Lately, methane levels in the arctic have been spiking to unheard of high levels. What does this mean?

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We can tell from extensive ice core sampling that for at least the last 800,000 years, average ambient methane – or CH4 – levels apparently never rose above around 800 ppb (parts per billion), in the earth’s global atmosphere.

Yet in the modern industrial age – a pinprick of geologic time – average levels of this potent greenhouse gas have suddenly risen by an amount that’s more than double the highest concentrations recorded in at least 800,000 – i.e, not far from a million – years, and possibly longer.

And in the Arctic, where concentrations of late have been particularly high, last fall and again this past spring, methane levels have at times spiked an additional 800 ppb or more above that.

Update: Lately methane has been spiking even higher still, and Winter 2016 saw the previous highs not just beaten, but shattered, as NOAA’s METOP orbiting polar satellites in late February recorded a spike to a whopping 3096 parts per billion:

metop-methane

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Through a multitude of processes – enteric fermentation in ruminants (cows, camels, goats), landfills, energy production, etc., methane levels – from a geological perspective – have skyrocketed.

Pay close attention to the left side of the EPA chart below, and note how from a geologic perspective methane levels (as with CO2), have shot straight up – suddenly going frrom around 700 -750 ppb, to over 1800.

Given methane’s fairly rapid rate of breakdown, it leveled off near 1800 ppb in the atmosphere in the very early 2000s. (To keep levels high, let alone continue to increase it, requires a lot of ongoing net emissions, since methane’s half life is only around 6 to 9 years.) But since 2007, levels have been slightly increasing, and are currently a little over 1800 ppb. (As of Winter 2016, average ambient atmospheric methane levels are around 1830 ppb – which given methane’s fairly rapid breakdown, means large – even increasing total amounts – are still being emitted. And in the arctic and surrounding northern polar latitudes, it appears the surface of the earth’s methane potential is just starting to be scratched – see below .)

Methane – It’s History, and What’s Happened Now

About 2000 years ago – or 1/400th of an 800,000 year period – levels of this potent greenhouse gas were a little bit above 600 ppb, and, in part through human activity ( rice cultivation -which is a form of wetlands, which are otherwise large natural emitters of methane -increasing domestication of ruminant animals, etc.) that rate “crept up” to around 700 ppb around the year 1600. (Which is also roughly around the height of Western European deforestation, when all but an estimated 5-15% of Western Europe forests had been cleared.)

Total atmospheric methane then tailed off slightly, then started to creep up a little faster to right around the start of the industrial revolution, where it was nearing 800, which is slightly above its highest point for more than the last three quarter million years. (Graph by EPA):

GHGConc2000-large

Then, particularly as we moved into the 20th century, from a geologic perspective levels of this gas essentially started to shoot straight up, comprising a rise from around 700 – 800 ppb around the years 1800 – 1850 – and just about the highest methane had also ever been over the past 800,000 years – to a concentration a little over 1800 ppb today. With again, similar to the rapid rise in CO2 over what is also a mere geologic moment – the far more significant part of that rise occurring over an even shorter time period. .

In other words, until recently, as far as we can tell from ice core sampling, the earth over the past 800,000 years had not seen an ambient atmospheric methane concentration level above the high 700s.

Yet today ambient global methane levels stand at a little over 1800 ppb. And in the arctic this past October, methane levels shot up to an amount more than 800 ppb over that, as atmospheric concentrations of methane over the arctic region reached 2666 ppb.

Again, this also occurred this past spring (when they actually went up to 2845, almost 200 ppb higher than in the fall), and, although a little lower, in early fall of 2013 a well, when methane levels spiked to over 2500 ppb in the arctic.

Why is Methane Seemingly Starting to Move Upward Again, Particularly in the Arctic Region

Additional arctic methane spiking happens when northern permafrost areas start to slowly melt. While seemingly minor right now, the issue isn’t so minor, as permafrost covers about 24% of the northern hemisphere’s total land mass, and it’s slowly starting to change. (In fact, in one of the many indices of “hidden” changes beyond what we simply feel when we open a window, in many shallow frozen and partially frozen northern permafrost areas, the actual ground just below the permafrost has warmed more, sometimes considerably more, than the ambient air just above the surface of the frozen area. Which is kind of remarkable when you think about it, and bodes a lot more long term change than mere, “ephemeral” and always changing air temperatures.)

And, more fitting for a movie than a science piece, it also happens when shallow sea bed areas – essentially frozen solid for hundreds of thousands of years if not more – warm up and thaw sufficiently to release methane that’s otherwise tightly bound up in copious amounts in frozen clathrates along much of the upper ocean shelf sea bed floor, leading to the eruption of methane gas.

When methane bubbles up, it’s sexier, or eerier, than the simple emission of carbon dioxide into the air: It erupts out of the sea bed bottom and, lacking buoyancy, if enough of it displaces water on its way up, can literally cause a ship to sink straight down in what would appear to the outside world as an unsolved mystery.

This is interesting in small amounts (though not for any ship that happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time).

But it’s also something that in large amounts will have a fantastic impact upon our world, due to the powerful heat energy absorbing properties of methane in comparison with the far weaker carbon dioxide molecule and – along the massive amount of carbon “stored” in the northern land permafrost – the huge quantities of methane on our sea bed floors that after long epochs of geologic time, and not at all “coincidentally,” are now suddenly starting to thaw.

How is this thawing happening?

While there is great variability from year to year, each year, on average, less and less arctic sea ice – which in the past has dwindled during late summers somewhat but for the most part essentially remained year round – exists by late summer in the northern polar arctic region.

In fact, over the past several decades, summer arctic sea ice extent has been decreasing by a little over 13% per decade.

This change is critical. Darker ocean water absorbs a much broader spectrum of incoming solar radiation – for the same reason that when you wear a dark shirt in the sunlight, you are warmer than when you wear a white shirt.

Reflected solar radiation doesn’t have nearly the same effect as absorbed solar radiation.

Solar radiation is mainly short wave radiation, and atmospheric greenhouse gases predominantly absorb and re-rediate medium to long wave length radiation. But when solar radiation is instead absorbed, that heat energy isn’t reflected back into the atmosphere (where in turn it is largely unmolested by the greenhouse gas molecules that otherwise keep our planet warm), but is transferred into the absorbing body. Yours and your clothes if you are wearing dark clothes, for instance. Or a dark macadam surface. Etc.

Additionally, when some of that heat is given off by the absorbing body or earth surface or water surface area, it is emitted as thermal radiation, not solar radiation.

Although warm matter can also convey heat via conduction, the passing of heat via molecules to cooler, neighboring molecules – though here directly to molecules of gas, not solids as is the normal definition of conduction – as well as by convection, which is the passing of molecular heat from or to a gas or liquid, and, via conduction to gases such as air, which then frequently results in air currents that then transfer that that heat outward – as for example you may feel when sitting near a fireplace.

Thermal radiation, on the other hand, is in the medium to long wave radiation form: This is the radiation wavelength range absorbed and re radiated by greenhouse gases. While again, the short wave solar radiation that is incoming from the sun, and then to some extent reflected back out by various surfaces, is essentially not absorbed and re radiated.

The measure of a surface’s reflectivity is its albedo. The albedo of open ocean water is low, and in high latitudes it’s as as low as 10%: Meaning that almost all of the incoming solar radiation is absorbed.

Contrast that with a nice solid layer of light colored and highly reflective sea ice sitting atop the arctic waters instead – where most of the incoming solar radiation is reflected.

Snow and sea ice have a very high albedo. This is in part why large northern, southern, and until recently mainly high mountainous but much smaller ice sheets, tend to perpetuate local climate conditions, and remain relatively stable.

Although even that is now changing with respect to the very large thick ice sheets that sit atop the land at both our northern and southern polar regions: Mainly Greenland in the north (the actual area surrounding the north pole itself is all ocean water), and Antarctica – a continent that actually sits atop the pole – in the south.

Both regions are experiencing a net loss of total glacial ice; and, far more tellingly, both are experiencing it an accelerating rate, with even East Antarctica – which until very recently was thought to be extremely stable – despite ongoing atmosphere and ocean changes – getting in on the act.

This increasing rate of acceleration is not just relevant in the Antarctic, where as noted above a part of the ice sheet is now considered on a pathway of unstoppable loss, but particularly in the smaller – and thus less stable – and not quite as “polar” Greenland area. (The north pole region is open water, which used to be mainly frozen year round, but while there is wild variation from year to year, long term that is changing, and also at a fairly rapid geological clip, and leaving more and move summer water open to absorb instead of reflect the summertime solar radiation, while the south pole region is covered by the frozen but now starting to in part thaw continent of Antarctica.)

Greenland likely melted less than a million years ago, and, with far more changes in energy input into our system than occurred less than a million years ago, is increasingly likely to again.

This is an area that contains enough ice to raise the world ocean not by the few feet that the IPCC – tending to leave out many considerations on which there is still a wide range of uncertainty – usually tosses out; but by over 20 feet. Greenland, like West Antarctica, is also starting to see ice sheet melt at an accelerating rate: So much so that rivers are now forming along its surface to speed away melting snow and ice, while also hastening and accelerating the melting process, since water itself – and moving water even more so – is a melting accelerant.

And while we conjecture, we really don’t know just how fast melt acceleration can or will occur with a globe that is accumulating net long term heat energy – and one that for very specific and still even rapidly increasing reasons – doing so at a geologically breakneck, and increasing, pace.

For instance, as the World Meteorological Organization pointed out in its last Statement on the Status of the Global Climate (emphasis added):

93 per cent of the excess heat trapped in the Earth system between 1971 and 2010 was taken up by the ocean. From around 1980 to 2000, the ocean gained about 50 zettajoules [10 to the 21st power] of heat. Between 2000 and 2013, it added about three times that amount.

In other words, in the thirteen years between 2000 and 2013, our ocean gained more than 3 times the energy that it did in the 20 years from 1980 to 2000.

There’s presently a sort of fiction in even some climate change concerned circles that this is “absorbed heat” that mitigates the effect of “climate change.” We’ll get into that in another post (as well as below when looking at methane clathrate eruptions):

But essentially the heat retained by the ocean is simply a reflection of excess atmospheric heat energy over the earth’s surface (mainly ocean, as water can absorb a great deal of heat, and do so more easily than land surfaces, which stay fairly insulated very close to the surface). This in turn becomes part of our climate system over time, and reflects a key part of what drives and directly affects what drives our climate.

For instance, extra heat is not “hidden” in oceans, it affects those oceans and how the oceans ultimately affect the world, through a multitude of processes.One of which is warming sea columns in shallower ocean areas, warming up long frozen sea bed floors containing large amount of previously well contained or “trapped” methane.

The insulating Process 

The earth’s climate is driven by the stabilizing and moderating forces of it’s geo-physiology – its oceans ice caps and, secondarily, attendant global patterns of tendencies. (Such as ocean currents, etc. Also note that not only do the polar ice caps play a key role in moderating and generally stabilizing earth’s temperatures, but even relatively minor changes in them can have a very large impact upon climatic conditions.)

And it’s driven more directly and immediately, of course, by the source of almost all energy: The sun, and then the amount of solar radiation, transformed after absorption into thermal radiation upon release from any surface area of a warmed body, that is then re-absorbed and re-radiated by the total greenhouse gases in our lower atmosphere, at which is incoming, both originally, and then again prevented from rom esIncoming energy, in the meantime, is a combination of the sun, which of course is what it is; and less directly, the level of atmospheric greenhouse gases, which absorb and re radiate heat.

These infamous greenhouse gases (though the term is sometimes sloppily used synonymously with carbon dioxide) are already at massively high levels for our current epoch – already higher in the case of CO2 alone  than in the past few million years. (That measurement also doesn’t even take into account large increases in methane, nitrous oxides, and fluorocarbons which when added in terms of each’s “global warming potential equivalent” or thermal radiation absorption and re-radiation properties relative to a unit of carbon dioxide, add considerably more to the total long term molecular atmospheric increase in re captured energy.)

And, through activities that we could curtail, alter, or transform (mainly multiple traditional agricultural and energy practices), these levels are still skyrocketing. That is, from a geologic perspective, as noted at the outset, they are essentially shooting straight up.

These greenhouses gases also include water vapor, the most important greenhouse gas at any one time, and one which we’re not affecting directly. But water vapor is not long lived, but ephemeral. Thus it’s not a driver of long term climate, but a response to it, and a part of weather itself.  With a warming world, the atmosphere will likely lead to the evaporation of, and retain, more moisture.

Since it can hold more moisture, this might mean increased precipitation intensities and changing patterns, one of the most likely long term responses to our ongoing change – although exactly how precipitation patterns will change is unclear. (What is clear is that our current fauna and flora as well as river systems, and current anthropogenic agricultural areas and systems, evolved under the general global and regional patterns of the past few million and in particular past few hundred thousand years.)

If it means more precipitation overall, much of this could come in less frequent but much more intense precipitation events. Though more precipitation overall would be far more welcome than less overall in an otherwise still warming world, it would also likely mean an amplification of the ongoing “greenhouse” affect, since it would mean an increase in average total atmospheric water vapor levels.

While water vapor acts as an atmospheric reflective agent during the day – increasing earth’s overall albedo by reflecting a lot of sunlight right back up before it even penetrates through the atmosphere down to the ground, it also acts as a powerful greenhouse gas simply due to the massive concentrations relative to the other greenhouse gases, “trapping” in thermally radiated heat.

Both of these phenomenon – increased heat retention through energy re absorption and re-radiation (“re-capture”) , as well as increased solar radiation reflectivity – are at play during the day. At night, only the powerful greenhouse effect of increased water vapor is at play, leading to an overall further amplifying effect if water vapor levels are generally increased.

On the other hand – although so far the evidence doesn’t seem to support this being the case, but almost anything could change in terms of precipitation patterns as we move forward – if water vapor decreases despite a higher overall rate of evaporation due to warmer temperatures, this would heavily exacerbate what is likely to be one of the most fundamental problems caused by our change set of climatic conditions as it is: Drought.

Remember, even with increased precipitation, with more water vapor being held in the atmosphere, as well as shifting regional patterns, regions used to receiving rainfall could easily experience huge shifts and become regions that receive almost no rainfall at all (and vice versa) whereas many areas could receive the same or even more rainfall, but with precipitation events both far more intense, yet less frequent, etc, with thus far more of that precipitation lost to runoff under our current evolved world, including its rivers, topsoils, and root structures – as well as intensified flooding.

Drought and changing precipitation patterns, particularly for the poorer areas of the globe, is likely to be one of the most directly devastating affects of ongoing climate “change,” and while a lessening of some of the greenhouse effect from reduced water vapor would be welcome in that sense, a decrease in overall precipitation along with changed patterns, likely increases precipitation fall intensities, and overall warming would be a particularly negative, possibly – at least in terms of what we are used to (and have come to rely upon) right now – mind blowingly devastating development.

So while water vapor is a bit of wild card, it’s not really a good wild card in either direction. And there is a fundamental reason for this. We evolved, and the species we relied upon evolved, under the conditions of the past few million years. And those conditions are changing.

A Look At the Bigger Picture

While both polar glacial ice regions are decreasing in total ice mass, and far more notably, at an accelerating rate, the smaller, “less” stable Greenland ice sheets in particular are starting to show increasing signs of marked change. And in just the last five years – a remarkably short period of time – the extent of net melt loss from both polar regions together has doubled. In the apt words of Angelika Humbert from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute, this is an “incredible” amount.

(Do a little math. While there is no reason to expect this (or, for that matter, not expect it), if that pattern were to continue – i.e. regardless of size just keep doubling the loss every five years – it wouldn’t be long before a good portion of Florida, and many other areas, would be completely underwater. In the U.S. for example, you might want to start investing in Arizona “beachfront” property, now.)

Greenland is also more conducive to easy climatic change than the vastly larger and colder antarctic region, as again even some 400,000 to 800,00 years ago, for a time it was not a large sheet of ice, but instead covered by fauna and flora; and the world’s oceans, correspondingly, were much higher.

Whatever happened less than a million years ago, also keep in mind that the level of energy alteration we are currently undergoing is already on a multi million year level scale, and it is also one that, simultaneously, is still increasing. Fast. And from a geologic perspective, extraordinarily fast.

This rate of change is something we tend to confuse with our own sense of time; thinking that effects upon this enormous, structured system would be near instantaneous, when they will shift and accelerate, even lurch, over longer and largely unpredictable periods of time, as the net energy balance of the earth lower atmosphere continues to grow, and as these underlying and normally stable structural ecological systems – such as our ocean, ice sheets, and others – start to change over time at an accelerating rate.

And they will do so in most cases, with some sort of positive feedback. Such as, for instance, in the case of warming shallow ocean region water columns, which are showing very early signs, again, of releasing long frozen solid methane clathrate deposits up into the surrounding ocean waters, where they bubble up, and release out into the air. Where, in turn, they add to the process of increasing net energy retention (prompting yet more melting, etc), even further.

(You might think it’s “odd” that things happen to be reinforcing, but this is because the two most critical elements in all of this often get completely overlooked. 1) This entire phenomenon represents what is in effect an external, or “forced” change in energy input – from something outside the natural system – namely, in this case our alteration of it. 2) It is geologically massive.)

In the arctic region where these methane spikes are seemingly becoming more prominent, the summer sea ice extent continues to decline, and there is a massive change in the surface albedo of these summer waters – that is, as the surface changes from the high reflectivity of an extensive ice coverage area, to the extremely low reflectivity of dark colored, high latitude open ocean.

And remember, this matters, since the ice depletion, of course, is occurring in summer when the north pole is angled toward the sun and receives its rays.

While at the same time, the 1% a year or so increase in southern polar sea ice extent, that is probably due largely to an increase in the Southern Annular Mode wind patterns pushing more of the ice northward and making room for growth, as well as concomitant near freezing upper surface water insulation from melting glacial run off is during the southern hemisphere winter months.

So with increasingly less arctic sea ice, the arctic ocean sometimes gets a lot warmer. And this in turn leads to some interesting things that sound like they are on the cutting edge of science fiction, but that are very real.

Namely, this eruption, or thawing, of methane clathrates that exist in large quantities amounts on sea bed floor areas, and that contain a massive amount of this long “contained” methane gas. (It is not that clathrates never released before. It is that the process has likely moved from a relative rarity in terms of occurrence and amount – and thus insignificant – to one that is increasingly significant, just as would be expected if shallow ocean bed areas – which generally tend to be very stable in temperature but are not that far below freezing temperature – were to warm.)

Current estimates of the amount of methane so “trapped,” most of it in shallower areas more susceptible to thawing, have come down; as it has been discovered that the far deeper ocean floor areas contain very little of it. (These far deeper areas are also far less susceptible to thawing anyway, and in fact some studies have suggested that some of the deeper ocean waters have not warmed at all, while other deep ocean parts have, but these areas are hard to gauge, since they’re not easily accessible.)

Yet the estimates still average out to more than the total amount of carbon (about 750-800 gigatonnes, or a little under 3000 gigatonnes of actual carbon dioxide) in our global entire atmosphere.

That’s a lot. But even more relevantly, methane gas is a much more potent absorbent of thermal radiation than carbon dioxide. This causes a lot of confusion and assumptions, since methane breaks down into carbon dioxide, with a half life typically of somewhere around 7 or 8 years.

This means that the longer the time frame, the lower the overall potency of methane in terms of its Global Warming Potential equivalent. (Or “GWPe” – simply a measure of the warming capacity of a particular gas, relative to the baseline warming potential of the most common greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide; which itself is very prevalent in the atmosphere but has a fairly weak warming affect per molecule, expressed as a GWP of “1.”)

Typically, methane is expressed in terms of a GWP over a term of 100 years, over which it has a value of about 23 or so.

That is, each unit of mass of methane, first as methane and then as breakdown products, including carbon dioxide, will have about 23 times the effect, in terms of total thermal radiation absorption and re radiation, as each unit of mass of carbon dioxide, over a 100 year period.

Over a shorter time period, which means that for a higher percentage of the total time any particular molecule of methane still exists as methane – where it’s vastly more effective at “trapping” heat than carbon dioxide – the GWP again is far higher.

But it’s not, as some articles may inadvertently lead you to believe, that methane is “23 times more effective at trapping heat.” (It actually a few hundred times more effective, but again, it doesn’t last very long).

It’s that over X period of time, a unit of methane will average out to have an effect that is about Y times as effective at trapping and re radiating thermal radiation energy, as the same unit mass of carbon dioxide.

But, just for example, over a century period a release of 10 gigatonnes of methane gas (a very large amount), would essentially have a similar effect, averaged out, of about or up to 230 or so gigatonnes of carbon dioxide over about a hundred years, and thereafter have around the same ongoing effect as carbon dioxide, since that is essentially what most of it will ultimately be. (A tonne is a metric ton, or about 2200 pounds. A gigatonne is one billion tonnes, or about 2,200,000,000,000 pounds.)

Notice also, though there’s little in the way of information that would tend to support or refute such an idea at his point, that if very large scale sea bottom warming were to occur over a short period of time, and thus massive amounts of methane released, the higher warming intensity of methane over a shorter term time scale would become more relevant – particularly if it was released in significant enough quantities to have a shorter term accelerating impact upon other climate driving conditions.

This same possibility also exists with respect to the vast northern permafrost; which when it melts will release some of its vast trapped carbon in the form of methane, and not just carbon dioxide, as well.

Enormous releases over, say, a 10 to 20 year period (or high enough sustained releases to keep the overall level much higher over a longer period) would make the relevance of methane’s higher GWP over that shorter period much more relevant, since the combined short term affect (or longer if suddenly much higher levels maintain through high sustained release), could quickly accelerate air temperature warming, and then further amplify ice melting rates. Over a 20 year period for instance, methane again has a much higher global warming potential equivalent (about 72 to 90.) than the 23 or so typically used for the gas, and based on a 100 year projection.

Thus an explosion into the air over say 20 years, of just a gigatonne of methane, would have up to the same short term affect of around 70 or more gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. 10 gigatonnes would have up to the effect of over 700 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide – near the total amount already in our atmosphere.

It’s not quite that simple, since the atmosphere is a balance, and some excess gas will be absorbed into the carbon cycle. But as methane and not carbon dioxide, and over a shorter time frame, this is less relevant – and huge influxes in particular in a short time also allow for less time and room for quick integration  into the total global system, even as some of the methane starts to break down after several years; so a big spike in methane releases would have an extremely powerful and fairly rapid amplifying energy effect, on top of the level of permafrost melt or sea bottom floor melting that led to the release to begin with.

And it would be pretty wild, which we still don’t seem to be fully grasping.

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Remember, aside from what are in the short term uncontrollable geologic emissions created by an increasingly altering climate, if we take steps to reduce methane emissions, we can reduce atmospheric levels of it pretty quickly, since it lasts as methane for only a short period of time.

And, barring an acceleration in “natural” (ir climate change induced) net methane releases, because of its fairly short half life it takes a continuation of very high emission levels just to maintain current high levels.

But levels of the gas aren’t going down.

And in the earlier 2000s, methane levels, albeit very high, seemed to stabilize and even slightly decrease, and since – despite if anything a likely cessation in total net emission increases, or possibly a small decrease – have been slightly increasing.

Once again, take a look at the EPA graph from above.  And the more geological time oriented chart on the left:

Now in the context of some of this additional information, notice again and almost identical in general pattern to an 800,000 year graph of atmospheric CO2 – that until recently – just about the start of the industrial revolution or thereabouts –  atmospheric methane levels stayed relatively stable over long periods of time, varying between 450 to 700 ppb for most of the time covering almost the last one million years. And never rising above about 780 ppb. (And then essentially, from a geological perspective, as with carbon dioxide, they have shot straight up.)

With current methane levels at a little over 1800 ppb, a spike in a portion of the arctic atmosphere to over 2600 ppb (and now over 2800 ppb) is significant.

But it is what is happening more directly in the arctic system itself that is even more significant, and also fairly interesting. And, as with almost all aspects of the phenomenon known as climate change, here is where again the issue of a warming globe – not just a warming atmosphere, but far more relevantly, a warming globe – becomes very relevant. As does the issue of an ongoing yearly average decrease in arctic sea ice extent; which, on average, is leaving less and less ice in the late summer and early autumn months to cover up the otherwise dark, solar radiation absorbing arctic ocean relevant.

Robert Scribbler explains:

Imagine, for a moment, the darkened and newly liberated ocean surface waters of the Kara, Laptev, and East Siberian Seas of the early 21st Century Anthropocene Summer.

Where white, reflective ice existed before, now only dark blue heat-absorbing ocean water remains. During summer time, these newly ice-free waters absorb a far greater portion of the sun’s energy as it contacts the ocean surface. This higher heat absorption rate is enough to push local sea surface temperature anomalies into the range of 4-7 C above average…

Some of the excess heat penetrates deep into the water column — telegraphing abnormal warmth to as far as 50 meters below the surface. The extra heat is enough to contact near-shore and shallow water deposits of frozen methane on the sea-bed. These deposits — weakened during the long warmth of the Holocene — are now delivered a dose of heat they haven’t experienced in hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of years. Some of these deposits weaken, releasing a portion of their methane stores into the surrounding oceans which, in turn, disgorges a fraction of this load into the atmosphere.

This, along with the melting ice both on land and on sea, in polar regions and in permafrost regions (which themselves hold nearly twice as much carbon as is currently found in the entire atmosphere – some of which, again, will also emit as methane as the permafrost melts) and the increasingly warming ocean – also again, at a startlingly fast rate – is one of the many important aspects of this complex, non linear, dynamic, and system shifting process of climate change that are largely being overlooked in the popular discussion and media, as the issue gets oversimplified by a near obsessive, and very misleading, focus on air temperatures.

Although we focus on air temperatures for a practical reason – we can relate directly to air temperatures, and we even, literally “feel” it – this only tells a small part, and often a very misleading part, of the relevant story.

The bigger story is one of great change, and it is being told not just in the atmospheric record that reflects our atmosphere’s now multi million year long term molecular heat energy re absorption property, but increasing, in the tell tale signs of a changing, if not slowly rumbling and even now occasionally erupting, earth.

Update:  More information on methane, and why it’s future impact may be greatly underestimated, is found here.

What Is Climate Change Anyway, and Why Is it Being Underestimated

(Last updated 8-15-15)

What is climate change?

This often misunderstood phrase refers not just to the idea of our climate “changing,” but more importantly to the phenomenon driving it, and the real problem itself: Namely, the fact that we’ve now altered the long term heat energy trapping property of our atmosphere to a degree not seen on earth in probably three million or more years (and likely a lot more, particularly when N2O, CH4, and CFCs are added to the mix); along with the fact that we continue to alter our atmosphere at geologically breakneck speed – remarkably adding to and compounding the challenge we already face.

The ultimate problem presented by climate change is also a matter of the ranges of risk of increasing radical future climatic shifting, in response to the ongoing, and cumulative effect of an already changed atmosphere and its accumulating impact upon the heat energy balance of the earth – and risk management. (A classic and insufficiently covered example of just such potentially compounding, and even strong feedback threshold approaching, effect, is here.)

These risks, along with the likely ranges of change, become increasingly amplified as we make more profound systemic changes to our earth/atmosphere system.

And effectively managing and assessing them means to not just focus on what will assuredly happen – as most of the focus has been disproportionately placed – but also on the ranges (plural) of possibilities, times their likely chances, in order to get a better feel for the threat, and make better overall strategic decisions in response.

We’re essentially not doing this. For example, while there’s likely to be some significant change anyway, if we don’t change there will almost assuredly be what we consider “radical” climatic shifts. (See below as to why this is likely.) And at the very least there will be a much higher risk range – both in terms of the level of effects, and the increase in probabilities of more dramatic ones.

And since our atmosphere is a balance, mitigating emissions can not only retard net long term atmospheric concentration growth, it can also help to reduce total concentrations to levels more in balance with at least the last few million years or less, and thus lower ongoing atmospheric thermal reabsorption cacpacity from what it is presently, to at least soften or flatten the overall cumulative effect as we go forward, and lower amplifying feedbacks. (Such as, again, this one, which may make controlling a greatly underestimated greenhouse gas, almost impossible.)

Ultimately, radical shifting, at least in terms of measurable costs, might amount to a few hundred trillion dollars. Or perhaps it might be a little less. (A few hundred trillion dollars may seem like a bit of a gargantuan number, and in part is just used here for an example. But also hold off evaluation of that number itself until you finish this piece.)

If the chances of severe shifting –  again just by way of example – are 60%, then, simplified, the “cost” is .6(200 trillion dollars) + .4(average of other “we get lucky” outcome costs – say 40 trillion)….or around 135-140 trillion.

Again, by today’s standards, that’s a huge number, but we don’t really know. Just for starters, and representing only a releative micro fraction of the problem, turning major parts of, say, FL, LA, NJ, RI & DE in the U.S. alone into sea bed, would be extraordinarily, almost unfathomably, “costly.” And it’s an almost assured (but again, small) part of the ultimate result of this ongoing accumulation of increased net energy, barring sensible remedial action. (Again, see below as to why.)

Just by way of example, Greenland melting, and doing so increasingly quickly, is geologically not a big deal, having probably melted in the last half a million years alone. Yet we’re still very constrained by our limited imagination – as well as the fact that we evolved in the world as it is and, for the most part, has been the past million or two years – as to what’s “geologically normal”; once again failing to grasp just what it means to change the long term energy trapping properties of the atmosphere to levels not seen on earth in many millions of years, and continue to skyrocket them upwards, and “think” it’s okay just because “oh, right now it’s only a little warmer outside,” and the north and south poles in this mere geologic flash of time are currently still essentially white.

In terms of trying to “assess” this, we can also variously change the range of numbers based upon the best approximations of various ranges and likelihoods of harm. And again, do so just to get an idea, approximation, or better concept, of some – and still not all – of the reasonable ranges of actual risks.

But instead we have silly and incredibly presumptive super long term macro economic projections by some economists: notably climate change “skeptics,” that make remarkably ridiculous presumptions about the rate and value of growth decades from now based upon perceived changes in energy sources, while putting these up against essentially trivialized future “climate change” earth system impacts, which in turn reflect an extremely poor, or simply terribly biased, comprehension of the relevant science. (Perhaps the most well known is Bjorn Lomborg, who irony of ironies is hailed as both a visionary, and practical thinker.)

But not only is this approach mistaken on both ends – presuming a rate of or even change in rate of growth over multiple decades from changing energy sources is so wildly presumptive as to be idiotic, although dressed up in numbers and nice economic jargon it sounds good – but given the value of avoiding cataclysmally negative change, there is also probably a valid premium cost for disaster or outright global catastrophe for some regions, and hence some additional value in avoiding or lowering any reasonable chance of that. (This is for the same basic reason, simplified, that we have most insurance in the first place, even though in pure dollars alone it almost never makes any economic sense to do.)

And, most relevantly of all, but seemingly the hardest to sensibly integrate into decision making, there are heavy intangible, non-measurable costs of trivial, non-sensible, or no action. These probably have no comparison in terms of pure economic growth, since these immeasurable – or really, non measurable – costs (including upon health) may affect basic human utility or “happiness,” whereas continued growth in GDP over time isn’t directly correlated with happiness and utility. (Otherwise, in comparison with only 50 years ago, we’d all be past bursting at the seems with overall utility and happiness in first world countries, and getting happier by the year as we “grow” and increase the speed at which our “widgets” and gadgets perform, as well as what they can do.)

So called practical visionaries like Lomborg miss this concept entirely – among others. And aside from making absurd economic assumptions well into the future, and then treating the projected results of economic “value” for decades hence as ludicrously precise and authoritative figures (which by giving them this patina of authority and seeming credibility makes them worse than no numbers at all), treat all of today’s dollars – discounted at a reasonable future rate – as equal arbiters of true human value over time. Which is about as visionary (or, when it comes to grand scale long term global thinking, ultimately practical) as tree moss.

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In terms of the earth’s increasing energy balance, much of the change occurring is also seemingly being masked because our earth system is a “relatively” stable system. That is, it is kept in check by massive ice sheets at both ends of the world, and relatively temperate oceans (see below), with the key being on the word “relatively.” It is also one currently in an ice age. This (along with what had been lower atmospheric greenhouse gas levels) has been keeping our world moderately temperate; and, by retaining an enormous amount of the world’s water locked up in massive, historically stable glaciers, keeping oceans from rising and turning a decent sized portion of all seven continents into sea bottom.

But largely hidden from our eyes – yet not those of scientists who intensely study this – our earth’s system is also starting to show early signs of major, and very significant changes, and, even more relevantly, accelerating changes.

For example: Most of the increases in absorbed atmospheric energy are going into heating our world ocean, not immediate air temperature increases. If this wasn’t the case, air temperature would be shooting up even faster than it is, and long term, that rate of surface air temperature increase is already significant.

Adding even further to the significance of the lagging, long term air temperature trend yet, a preliminary assessment shows that 2014 globally just became the hottest year on record. (And based upon 2014 monthly data, NASA, NOAA, and HadCRU temperature records – the three other major global temperature measuring systems – will likely back this up – NASA and NOAA already have officially. The 3 hottest years on record have now all occurred in the past 5 years, even with massive amounts of heat falling below the surface of the ocean, where it is severely changing the longer term, climate driving, energy balance of this earth.)

And that rate of ocean heat accumulation is accelerating.

Not only that, but the rate of change in major parts of the ocean not only may be faster than in the past ten thousand years, but appears to be several times faster for significant parts of the ocean than at any point in the past ten thousand years.

The first 2014 hottest year on record article just linked to above, incidentally, is typical, in that its statement that “climate scientists expect the Earth to get hotter over time so long as humans keeping adding greenhouse gases...” is likely very mistaken. It will probably get warmer either way, just a lot less if we stop now:

This is because the change in the heat “trapping” property of the atmosphere that has already taken place is slowly (or maybe, increasingly, not so slowly) changing fundamental earth systems that affect long term climate, and which even with a further unchanged atmosphere, will still continue to change these fundamental earth systems and alter the overall basic energy balance of the earth until a new stases is reached under the current general level (but already massively geologically raised) of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

But by sensibly acting (which so far we haven’t in the least), the overall ultimate level of climatic change may be a lot less. And the difference – between continuing to add a lot more to the net energy absorbing and re radiating property of the atmosphere, or instead transforming over to what some might reasonably suggest to be a much smarter way of doing things – may be between what will be a bit of an unwanted adventure (for some, while still a massive struggle and excessive hardship for much of the world’s poor and several disaffected regions and peoples); and what will largely define mankind’s future in a way that will be seen as the great modern event, and mistake, of mankind.

Sure, we have hatred and wars and religious extremism leading to terrorism. But nobody really has any clear answers for those problems yet.

Climate change on the other hand, even if it is a complex issue, does have a pretty straightforward answer: Stop altering the long term chemical composition of the atmosphere at this point; and if we’re worried about transitioning economic growth, put our minds and ingenuity and market genius into coming up with ways to do so in the best way possible.

But it is something we can shift by simply deciding to do it and realizing we don’t need fossil fuels to survive well. Particularly since there are many other ways to get energy. (Far more, and far more efficiently, when and if we change the market dynamics that heavily subsidizes fossil fuels – both directly, and far more indirectly by failing to account for any of the massive negative cumulative external effect through fossil fuels’ continued use. This massive albeit indirect subsidization causes their market integrated cost to be a small fraction of their “real” costs or harm, so in the long run the market is heavily balanced away from far more productive practices and processes, and and heavily towards far less ones.)

And it is something we can shift by simply deciding to do it, and realizing we don’t need fossil fuels to survive well, since there are other ways to get energy – particularly as almost all of these ways involve work, industry and innovation.

These are all things which are part of economic growth, and help build economic growth and an “economy” long term just as surely as would the few extra widgets which – not making any transition to smarter energies – we could expect over the short term but just at far far greater, if hidden, cumulative harm.

Of course climate change refuters argue otherwise. Although take very careful note of the fact that climate change refuters almost to a person argue passionately that continued use of fossil fuels are critical to the well being of mankind.

Notice this oddity – and let it sink in. That is, the scientific issue of whether or not the phenomenon known as climate change is real and significant is completely unrelated to the issue of whether fossil fuels are critical to the well being of mankind. One may believe the latter, but that logically has nothing to do with the former.

Yet, almost all climate change refuters – those who say climate change itself is not very relevant or not even real – believe it; suggesting that again, something beyond objective assessment, even though it is often done under the self reinforcing guise of objective assessment (and “better” science than the world’s leading climate scientists), is driving a great deal of climate change refutation.

This fealty to fossil fuels is also preventing us from assessing the issue in a practical matter, under the false guise of “practicality,” when assessment of the science – what we’re actually doing to our earth and what it means – requires a complete removal from the political ramifications of any conclusion. And which is what we should be debating and discussing.

And in that debate as well, it is key to consider that in the long run what matters is economic growth; not that we grow in the way we “were used to” or that necessarily despoils our land, air, and health just to accomplish it, and that building different energy systems and creating market motivation toward doing so and changing past patterns, is as valid a form of growth as any other kind.

If it is a form that is also consistent with persona choice, but that better protects the perhaps reasonably inalienable rights to clean air, water and a relatively stable climate for ourselves and in particular our progeny, and doesn’t slowly destroy the world we have built up and half or more of the earth’s species along with it, even better. (Note, it’s not that a radically changed climate is bad. It’s that a radical change combined with the geological speed of it – upon even an advanced species that evolved, and built under the prior set of conditions, precipitation patterns, and ocean levels – is bad for us and many species;  including many we rely upon, and others, simply because we’re the “smartest” of the species, that we should be protecting, not wiping out.)

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There are several more key changes as a result of this massive long term energy absorbing and re radiating property of our atmosphere, but the most interesting (and likely relevant) ones involves the beginning of change to the massive amount of ice on the globe – stabilizing temperatures, and affecting earth’s key albedo, as we’ll see below.

The ice sheets at each end of the earth are now melting, and the rate of Greenland’s melt is now five fold what it was in the 90s. This again, although Greenland is of course essentially still intact, is a massive rate of acceleration, over a very short geologic time frame. And very recent studies suggest that Greenland may be melting faster than previously thought possible. (Also, with rivers now racing through the still largely white and massive surface of Greenland, the pace is quickening still, as water – moving water even more – is by far the most effective ongoing accelerator of melt.)

Not only are glaciers now melting, but the melt rate in the relevant portion of the Antarctic – the South now – has also tripled in the past ten years. This is also a massive rate of acceleration. And the loss of a significant portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is now already considered likely irreversible.

Widespread methane leakage and eruption from the Atlantic sea bed floor is starting to appear, and along with beginning melt from warming permafrost areas, and warming arctic sea columns, methane eruptions are now starting to lead to tremendous regional spikes in atmospheric area methane levels.

But it’s also sometimes suggested that we can’t do anything about climate change now because it’s “too late.” This idea is often pushed by climate change refuters as another way to avoid dealing with the issue – even though it contradicts the main refuter claim that climate change isn’t a big deal in the first place. But the inherent contradiction is just another example of how almost any argument possible is used to try and refute what’s commonly called “climate change.”

But is there any merit to the idea that it’s too late to act?

Not at all.

While the signs of significant change are undoubtedly appearing, it is an enormous mistake of evaluation (or, more commonly, simply a claim by refuters as yet another argument to avoid redress on the issue), to think we can’t have much significant effect on a rapidly compounding problem specifically arising from actions and patterns that we in turn, specifically, engage in.

We can have an effect by definition. Also by definition, we can have a large effect – since it is we who are continuing to alter the long-term chemical composition of the atmosphere. And we – no one else – who are doing so at a remarkably rapid geological rate.

It’s easy and nice to wax philosophic, make excuses for inattention, or ignore that which seems abstract until it’s too late (and for which later generations curse the heck out of us.) And certainly what has already occurred can’t be changed, and so the focus needs to be on the future, not the past. But moving forward, we control our own future.

Even more important to consider – yet often misinterpreted by a couple of well meaning scientists who already fear the worst (keep in mind however that much of that fear is usually also based upon a belief that we stubbornly won’t change in time), and skeptics who will make any excuse imaginable to perpetuate the ingrained and wildly archaic attitude of the earth as “huge” and man as insignificant and so incapable of significantly impacting it – is that further changes to the long term composition of the atmosphere may matter as much, if not more, than changes that have already occurred.

Here’s why:

The changes that have already occurred will have a cumulative effect upon overall climate via two main mechanisms.

The first is through increased atmospheric energy (heat) capture, as more heat that is kept from retreating to the upper atmosphere and outer space, but retained by our earth atmospheric system – starting with the atmosphere itself – will warm the atmosphere and earth below it, more than the atmosphere and earth below it would have otherwise been warmed in the absence of this increased captured energy.

The second mechanism is the more important of the two, and is the one most often misunderstood (or similarly overlooked or incorrectly trivialized.) That mechanism is the less predictable but increasingly more important effect of this increase in the amount of captured atmospheric energy upon all the other main long term drivers of climate after the sun and total atmospheric recapture (or total “greenhouse” effect).

These most notably include the world ocean (or “oceans” in more common usage), and the massive, normally stabilizing ice sheets near both poles of the earth. (See links just above for evidence of change, and now accelerating change, in these areas.) It also include’s the earth itself – the land and its surface

In other words, in the long term, climate is not just driven by sunlight and the amount of atmospheric energy capture, but by the longer term structural conditions created on earth by those two phenomena in the first place.

This is why if there were no long term greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at all, the earth would be a ball of frozen rock hurtling through space with no or little life upon it, with an average temperature, instead of the current 59 degrees or so, of about zero degrees Fahrenheit. The cold would produce more ice, which would cause far less solar radiation to be absorbed by the earth’s surface in the first place, etc.

But the retained energy of the ocean (in the form of heat) over time interacts with atmospheric energy, and drives much of what produces that atmospheric energy. In fact, along with incoming solar radiation, and then absorption and re radiation by greenhouse molecules of thermally radiated heat from the earth’s surfaces (including ocean surfaces), it’s largely what produces almost all of it.

So if – as the long term composition of the molecules that capture radiated heat in the atmosphere rise – the oceans over time get warmer, the long term temperature and climate will be very different than if just the the long term composition of the molecules that capture radiated heat in the atmosphere itself rose.

This is why what is happening in our oceans is more important right now than short term air temperatures.

And those oceans are gaining energy at an alarming rate.

It is not that the oceans are super hot by geological standards: It is that they are both changing in the direction of gaining heat energy, and they are changing at a rate that as best as we can tell is near geologically radical, as well.

Yet most of the popular examination of this issue is incorrectly focused on air temperature as the arbiter of what kind of change has relevantly taken place, when it is only a small portion of it.

This mistake is made in part because we can easily relate to, measure, and “feel” air temperature, and it’s less conceptual, and more concrete seeming. And it’s made in part because of the massive misinformation and mis-focus with respect to the issue, because many have ventured in with or developed an often fervently held opinion on climate change despite little and often incorrect knowledge of the relevant facts, or an intensely widespread ideological drive to simply try to refute a notion: one that we don’t want to accept; one that’s abstract; one that’s long term; one that involves complex risk ranges, and ones that are largely in the future; and one that technically can’t be “proven” until well after the fact.

But an enormous driver of the amount of thermal radiation that occurs in the first place, is also not just sunlight, but the albedo of the earth. Sunlight is short wave radiation, essentially non-absorbable by greenhouse gases. If sunlight hits a light colored surface, most of it is reflected back outward in its same short wave form, and greenhouse gases don’t “trap” it. If sunlight hits a dark surface, instead of being reflected, most of it is instead absorbed.

This causes two key differences. Albedo loss increases the amount of energy retained by the earth (and then available for re absorption an re radiation by the atmosphere at some point, or at least effecting the balance of what energy is so available). And it tends to increase the retained energy of the surface with the lowered albedo, warming it, and over time potentially furthering the albedo lowering process, unless something is acting to counter act it.

Thus, ice tends to beget more ice, until a balance is reached in line with the general total heat energy being initially made available (the sun) and re-available (atmospheric capture of thermal radiation from the surface of the earth, via greenhouse gases).

So cutting back on albedo, which increases the effective amount of relevant solar radiation – solar radiation that’s actually absorbed as energy instead of being reflected right back in essentially non re-absorbable form – then increases the likelihood of even further ice decrease, until again an overall (relative) balance is reached.

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Again, one of the biggest mistakes made on the issue of climate change is to naively assume that it’s some sort of nearly contemporaneous process whereby more greenhouse molecules heat up the air and thus the “air,” and thus “the globe” as well, is warmer.  Or that the overall process can be modeled with pinpoint precision.

Most of that latter mistake – that to know the earth is changing we must somehow be able to model it all in advance with pinpoint short term, pathway and range precision is, again, due to massive misinformation on the climate change issue (and a lot of misleading rhetoric that leads to even further misunderstanding of the issue), as well as occasionally poor scientific explication, which presumes incorrectly that the basic idea of climate change is predicated upon, or even requires, “models,” as well as the even more heavily flawed idea that climate models make predictions, rather than projections, or that they “prove” climate change, rather than serve as tools to help us learn to better project possible ranges and further hone our broader understanding of the issue.

Yet far from being contemporaneous, there has to be a fairly significant lag between ultimate cause and effect, if any significant long term change is present.

Not that some effect won’t be initially present (as difficult as it is to sort out “change” from natural climate variation, which variation is itself intense, and only likely to be far more inherently intense within an increasingly changing climatic system); but that the real changes come from the underlying shifts that take place from a slowly accumulating buildup of energy.

We are starting to see the formation of this right now, as the oceans, for instance, gain heat at a remarkable rate, and glaciers all over the globe, including both polar “ice caps,” start to melt, and, in almost all cases now measured, accelerate in that melt. (Skeptics will ignore all of this, or point to tiny slivers of the entire picture to arrive at a different, and incomplete, picture of what is really going on, often without even being aware that they are doing so while convincing themselves and tens of millions, otherwise.)

Thus as ice melts, the process has to be jagged, non linear, and depending on the amount of input, likely greatly accelerating at some point, even with potentially large shifts over quick periods of time – we just won’t know that last part until (an if) after the fact. But ice melting begets more of the same process that led to ice melt in the first place.

If there wasn’t a massive structural change that had taken place, ice melt would sort of even out in some type of balance with incoming energy, perhaps with shifts even to massive glaciation (as we’ve seen in periods of glacial encroachment during the current, now about two and a half million year old, ice age, as changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun and the tilt of it’s axis and so forth change net sun input at repeated intervals of time).

But a massive structural change has taken place, and is continuing to take place in terms of the earth’s basic energy effecting systems. And this is largely what we miss the significance of, merely because we can’t immediately “see” any seemingly astounding effect. And the first part of that change is the change to the long term thermal radiation trapping property of our atmosphere, which has so far been geologically radical, and is becoming ever more so by the year.

That is, most studies put the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere above any level the earth has seen for the past 3 to 5.5 million or so years. One seminal study even put it at 10 to 15 million years. This doesn’t even take into account the addition of CFCs, which are wholly man made, and though sparse, extraordinarily potent (and extraordinarily long lasting) greenhouse gases; nor levels of nitrous oxide or methane, both of which are also well above any recent geological levels we’ve been able to figure out, and which in combination with the massive shift in carbon dioxide, likely put the total global warming potential equivalent (or GWPe) of the atmosphere above simply the 3 to 5.5 million year (or greater) change estimation measured by carbon dioxide changes alone.

What is also rather stunning is that in so far as we can go back and get somewhat reasonably accurate longer term atmospheric gas levels, mainly through ice core sampling, carbon dioxide levels were always far below where they are right now:

Of course, climate change “skeptics” argue (as they argue nearly anything and everything) that carbon dioxide “doesn’t matter.”

But you can just as easily say that “pigs fly.” Except the pigs fly statement is straightforward, and everyone has a basic enough grasp of pigs and the relevant science and empirical analysis to know this is simply not the case. Were it more complex, we could just as easily assert that pigs do fly, if we wanted it to be so.

Here: Take the mass times the acceleration of the mean body weight divided by the hypotenuse of the force squared times 1.6, throw in a few laws of science that sound great but that aren’t being correctly or relevantly applied… divide again by 7, multiply times pi, then take the cube root of half…. etc… etc… and we can see that in fact pigs are almost perfectly designed for flying, but mainly fly at night when we can’t see them do so.

Gobbledygook, sure. But I or someone (or minions of someones) solidly committed to the cause of pig flying belief could have worked on it around the globe to come up with far better rhetoric; limited only by the basic physical limitations and realities fairly well programmed into our evolutionary understanding of the basic differences between swine, and, say, birds, and thus easy empirical validation or falsification of the premise.

Plenty of similar theories abound on the Internet as to why carbon dioxide is similarly inconsequential, to the delight of those wanting to so believe.

But pigs flying is little more ludicrous than the notion that multi million year level changes in the amount of gas in the atmosphere responsible for absorbing and re radiating energy that would otherwise be lost to the upper atmosphere and outer space is irrelevant. Pigs flying is only far more ludicrous appearing, because of our basic knowledge and empirical observations, in contrast with the remarkably complex and geologically grandiose time scale of atmospheric energy retention and transfer, upon a wildly diverse, divergent, inherently wildly variable, global scale. (And those decades, if not more, stand in sharp contrast to the rather more immediately instantaneous nature of pigs flying or not flying.)

But again, the increase in absorbed energy from dramatic atmospheric increase in its long term molecular absorption and re radiation properties is altering the energy balance between land sea, below sea level, and air – and increasing the total net retained energy of the physical earth (and ocean) itself, which is what matters here.

Ice covered surfaces – whether land or sea – stay largely insulated, as most sunlight is reflected back outward.

Non ice or snow covered surfaces are not so insulated, and far more sunlight is absorbed by the surface and retained as heat energy. This either slowly increases the heat energy of that mass (be it land under permafrost areas, permafrost itself, glaciers, ice sheets, ocean water columns, or parts of the earth itself), or is released back as heat, including as thermal radiation – which, again unlike reflected sunlight, is then absorbed and re radiated in all direction by greenhouse gases, based upon the amount (and type) of greenhouse gases in the air to both in part warm the air, and further warm the land and sea below it, and so on.

This is part of why arctic sea ice matters so much. The north pole is open water, and it normally stays covered during the northern summer months when the sun’s rays are hitting it.

That is now changing as the total net amount of summer arctic sea ice melt has been rapidly decreasing. (Climate skeptics even repeatedly point to a very recent “increase” in total sea ice extent, coming off of a year – 2012 – that crushed the previous minimum sea ice extent record – 2007 – by nearly 20% and which was almost 50% below the 1979 to 2000 average – to argue that climate change is a “hoax,” and arctic sea ice is “increasing,” which in climate change variability terms is barely a baby step removed from arguing that the globe is getting hotter because Wednesday was much warmer than Tuesday in New Zealand.)

While data is more exact since 1978 when NASA launched the Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR), here is the general trend in arctic sea ice: (Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center)

Notice that the chart is not just measuring total change from year to year, but the difference in ice extent from the overall average from 1981 through 2010, which average includes a great deal of (downward) change already – and yet the second, or later, part of the graph continues to decline.

And this overall longer term pattern of arctic sea ice loss is now even starting to cause increased warming of shallow sea bed columns, leading to thawing of long frozen methane hydrates and – along with increasing if just beginning permafrost area releases – heavily spiking climate change compounding atmospheric increases in these areas.

Climate change skeptics also repeatedly argue that polar ice is “not decreasing,” and that climate change is not real, because antarctic winter sea ice extent is increasing.

This is sort of like arguing that your basement is not flooding if one room that normally has a foot of water in it is at 2 inches, and the other 3 rooms that normally have no water, are filled to near the ceiling.

While some areas of the sea surrounding Antarctica have seen large ice decreases, and other areas large increases (once again, indicating changing conditions), overall winter sea ice in the area (not summer sea ice as is being lost in the arctic, although that point is almost always overlooked as well), in the area is increasing at a slight rate.

We don’t yet know why for sure, as there are many things which we don’t yet know for sure (as skeptics once again take the ongoing process of science learning itself and conflate that with a false refutation of basic climate change). But this is likely due to a combination of conditions, all of which seem to be very strongly climatic change related, and which consist of fairly significant Southern Annular Mode wind intensity increases which push newly formed ice northward (away from the south pole and away from the Antarctic continent) allowing for more ice formation, as well as increasing surface water insulating glacial melt for underneath portions of the Antarctic ice sheet.

And the antarctic sea ice extent is also increasing at only about one-fifth to one-tenth of the rate that arctic sea ice is being lost. And, again, it’s increasing during the southern hemisphere’s winter months, when the sun’s rays aren’t present, or are just glancing off the horizon, and far weaker.

And both Greenland – northern polar area – and Antarctica – southern (and directly) polar land masses are experiencing net ice loss. (But some climate skeptics, practicing their own brand of what we’ll humorously call “science,” have found ways to in their own minds at least refute this as well.) And both northern and southern polar regions are now both experiencing accelerating net ice loss as well.

Why skeptics would focus on only one of four quarters of the total polar ice picture to argue that polar ice is increasing, rather than four quarters, again only has one plausible explanation. That is, there is no plausible scientific explanation as to why three quarters of the full polar ice picture would be ignored and one quarter (and a very misleading one quarter at that) – as if that presents the full picture – would be focused on to draw a conclusion as to whether our polar regions are melting or gaining ice or not, or whether climate change is “real.”

And that is the same explanation as always – the pattern of using any seemingly logical or valid argument possible to refute, “deny,” or not accept climate change, and the basic idea that mankind is now powerful enough to be inadvertently affecting our world also in powerful ways that we were perhaps not fully in tune with, and doing so through patterns that due to habituation, presumption, fear of near term and concrete change (the weather is always changing, so the abstract notion of “climate change” over a very long period of time is not really change in this sense), or a host of other reasons, we perhaps don’t want to change.

It may still be “relatively” slight right now, but ice is starting to melt, and it will keep melting until a new stases is reached – one where energy is in balance between the earth itself and the atmosphere, given the amount of sunlight reaching the earth, the amount of sunlight being reflected, and the amount of thermal radiation being absorbed.

The more the atmosphere changes, the more radical, and likely compounding, that stases will ultimately be. As ice melts, more heat energy is gained, since less sunlight is reflected. This begets more energy retention by the atmosphere, which is also occurring due to more greenhouse gases, etc.

Snow is fairly similar to ice in terms of having a high albedo. And about 24% of the total northern hemisphere land mass is permafrost – essentially permanently frozen ground, normally covered with snow or ice.

And while the signs are still early, our permafrost regions are also starting to melt.

Even more tellingly, in ground temperatures under many permafrost regions are increasing at a faster rate than the air temperature above them, indicating an increased likelihood of future, and accelerating melt.

This is key not just as an indication of a shifting earth energy balance, but also, again, because of this issue of albedo, plus here a second, similarly interesting issue.

That is, a change from snow and ice cover to open tundra represents a shift from most solar radiation being reflected back upward, to the majority of it being absorbed. (And, while still much higher than darker ground or open vegetative tundra, even slushy melting snow and ice has a significantly lower albedo than frozen snow.)

But in addition to the significant fact of massive upward energy shifts associated with any significant change in overall surface albedo, here there is a second self reinforcing, or amplifying mechanism to melting, or warming, permafrost, as well – one that again also kicks in far from linearly:

Namely, the northern permafrost also houses almost two times the amount of carbon currently found in our entire atmosphere. Some of this carbon will also be released in the form of CH4, or methane.

This is remarkably significant: Although it essentially ultimately breaks down into carbon dioxide (hence why methane’s global warming potential decreases over longer periods of time), over a 20 year period the GWPe or global warming potential equivalent of methane is about 83 to 86 times that of carbon dioxide. (GWPe is a measure of a gas or compound’s thermal radiation absorption and re-radiation properties in comparison to the fairly low, but still significant capacity of carbon dioxide, which is always measured as “1,” and used as a basis of standard comparison for all other gases and compounds.)

A molecule of methane only has about 36% of the mass of a molecule of carbon dioxide. While many articles on the subject of global warming, and even global warming potential are sloppy on the issue, GWP is measured per unit of mass, not molecule. So an identical mass of CH4 over a 20 year period absorbs and re radiates about 83 to 86 times more heat energy than an identical mass of CO2.

But the effect would only be about 36% of that amount per molecule (or per carbon atom) since a molecule of methane (one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms) has about 36% of the mass of a molecule of carbon dioxide (one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms). So the GWPe of methane on a molecule per molecule basis, in comparison to a molecule of carbon dioxide, would represent about 31 times the heat energy absorption and re-radiation of each molecule of carbon surrounded by two oxygen atoms (over a 20 year period.)

This is still an enormous difference: For each trapped carbon atom released as a molecule of methane, the total cumulative global warming potential effect in terms of the amount of heat energy absorbed and re radiated per molecule over a 20 year period, is still about three thousand percent greater than for each atom of carbon released as a molecule of carbon dioxide. That’s a lot.

So to try and help with visualizing the difference, even if probably an unrealistic scenario, imagine if suddenly the permafrost unexpectedly just melted like crazy and a little over one half of the total carbon stored therein was released. If it was all released as carbon, for a while anyway it would be like a (still incredible) deluge of carbon equal to nearly the total amount of carbon already currently in the atmosphere.

On the other hand, if it all released as methane, it would be like a (far more incredible) deluge of carbon equal to nearly thirty times the total amount currently in the atmosphere, or an effect 30 times greater.

In other words – in terms of adding energy to the total earth atmosphere energy balance – a release of one giga-tonne (a billion tonnes) of carbon as methane, over a 20 year period at any rate, would be equivalent to adding thirty giga-tonnes of carbon as carbon dioxide

Again, the above scenario is a little bit ridiculous. But it is helpful in grasping the magnitude of the difference between methane, or CH4, and carbon dioxide, or CO2:

Again, over time, CH4 breaks down into CO2. (Hence why if its GWPe is measured over 10 years, the number is much higher still. But if measured over 100 years, while still far higher than carbon dioxide, it’s well below 86: about 23 times more powerful per unit of mass, or about 8-9 times more powerful per molecule, since for most of that period the carbon will exist as carbon dioxide and not the far far more potent, but shorter lived, methane.)

Grasping the magnitude of this difference is also very important for getting a feel for the relevance of the permafrost issue, since while it is unknown exactly how much carbon would release as each gas, almost all estimates suggest a fair to very large amount of it would emit as methane. (And again, there is also an enormous amount of methane stored in sea bed floors, which, from essentially dormancy as best as we can tell, seem to be starting to erupt.)

So it’s significant. Which, if the permafrost starts to severely melt – particularly in combination with warming sea bed columns, is sort of like saying the planet Jupiter is “large.” In other words, hugely significant.

We just don’t know to what extent this will occur. But one thing is fairly certain:

The higher the overall heating of the earth – which comes directly from sunlight, which we don’t control, and which is what it is (and while it fluctuates, it is relatively stable, even if it has ironically been going down lately and still the globe continues to amass heat energy, and on an accelerating basis), and from the long lived greenhouse gases in the air, and all that they drive (including water vapor – itself a greenhouse gas on the one hand, but an albedo increasing blocker of sunlight, on the other -the albedo of ice versus melting ice versus open tundra, as well as ocean delivered heat, etc.), the more likely the permafrost is to shift increasingly rapidly into being non existent frost, with major consequences towards a (from our perspective) radically changing earth.

We may have already set some permafrost change into motion, depending on future mitigation strategies (aside from greenhouse gas emission curtailment). But the more set in motion, the more compounding the effect, particularly as permafrost starts to significantly melt, spewing out more heat absorbing carbon atoms, and greatly decreasing albedo and thus greatly upping the heat energy retention through solar absorption versus reflection, by the earth’s surface in the first place.

Since ice sheets are already starting to melt – even if the overwhelming majority of the northern and southern polar ice caps have essentially just begun to do so – and the ocean has warmed at a fairly remarkable geological rate, while atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases are at multi million year level highs (let alone the more relevant – and yet avoidable – fact that in geologic terms, due to our unmitigated actions, they’re still skyrocketing straight upwards), it is likely there is a significant amount of future warming and some likely impact upon the permafrost regions already to be realized, even if atmospheric greenhouse gas levels stabilized (stopped going up) tomorrow.

But whatever future warming or change may already be in store (and which depending on what we learn as we go forward we may be able to mitigate a little bit depending on time frame and several other factors), that’s a huge difference from pouring extraordinary amounts of essentially very long lived gasoline on the seemingly slow brewing geologic fire, that continuing to add to total atmospheric greenhouse gas levels is in effect doing. All of which can be ceased as we grow in a way that’s actually in our interests, rather than against them, through sensible recognition of just what the issue is first and foremost, the abeyance of myopic fear that we need to engage in counterproductive practices to “grow,” and some proper motivation, incentive, and pulling together, on the issue.

But the first step, just because the house is seemingly slow burning or most of the burning is hidden deep within the rafters, is to stop pouring barrel fulls of gasoline upon the fire, which is what the silly arguments that “there’s no point in acting now,” essentially argue against stopping.

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The more basic reason that stopping or changing the actions now causing the problem may be even more important than what atmospheric change we’ve already effected, even with already high long lived greenhouse gas levels, is that despite some of what’s been written, the climate change phenomenon likely compounds in a non linear, unpredictable, and shifting way until a chain of events is set in motion that barring major earth re engineering (which could bring about even bigger problems, nobody knows, and may be too late at such point anyway) will continue until a radically new (for us and many present day species) underlying earth stases – and climate stabilizing – condition is reached.

Such as the full blown melt of permafrost regions sufficient to set out enough carbon, and sufficiently decrease albedo, to finish off the job; the warming of sea columns sufficient to melt most of the barely frozen methane clathrates among sea bed bottoms (all of which would emerge as methane, not carbon dioxide, and which – though estimates are a little more speculative – in total represents somewhere between 1 and 4 times the amount of carbon in the entire atmosphere, and which released as methane would be geologically sensational), or, also through ocean and ultimately some air warming and other changes (all amplified by some of these compounding effects and others), enough energy change is built in to set both ice caps on an irreversible course of near full melt, for example. That would means hundreds of feet of sea level rise, not dozens.

We may have already crossed  a threshold or two, but there are likely more, and ones that are more significant.

Also, pause for a moment if you were taken aback by the mention of dozens or hundreds of feet of sea level rise. Geologically, that’s not a big deal. We’ve just been constrained by our limited sense of the world and our own recent evolution and circumstances. While geologically, the change we’ve already wrought to the atmosphere is already significant, and we’re amplifying it at breakneck speed. But we have very little sense of that, at all. So it all seems abstract.

But it’s not. It’s just hard to fathom. It covers a complex risk range. And it’s subject to a remarkable level of misunderstanding and outright self reinforcing “denial” and accompanying misinformation on the topic, which even goes so far as to conflate every little mistake of science or “over estimate” (while ignoring all of the under estimates and, more importantly, the more important fact of the change in the first place), with “refutation” of climate science itself.

This is very easy to do, being as we’re a species that is extremely illogical, relative to our capacity to think we are being logical: Particularly climate change skeptics with some science background who are absolutely convinced they understand this topic better than the climate scientists who professionally study it, and who often turn to self reinforcing and highly popular misinformation sites, housed under the guise of science and a steadfast belief in the idea that mankind really can’t much affect the earth’s climate. (Which is about as sensible as the inability to see hundreds of years ago that the earth pretty much couldn’t just be flat, rather than round, appealing as the flat theory was at such time to the great majority who, with fervor and righteousness equal to climate change skeptics today, so tenaciously clung to it then.)

Hence part of why there is such massive misinformation on the topic, getting in the way of even the most basic understanding of it.

The sun and (very slowly cycling) earth orbital patterns control the initial energy input, the atmosphere controls the re absorption as well as all things that then indirectly affect that re absorption (albedo, water formation and evaporation, etc.), and at this point, we control the atmosphere. We can continue to add to it at breakneck speed and later ludicrously (from a scientific perspective anyway) leave memorandums to future generations that “we didn’t know”; continue to add to it; or stop adding to it.

Whatever we do, in terms of the future energy balance of the earth, and thus it’s (and our) ultimate climate, it matters a lot. This is something that rhetoric aside, can’t be avoided. We’re the ones changing the atmosphere.

The atmosphere plays a huge role in absorbing energy – in fact the entire role in absorbing energy.  And absorbed atmospheric energy ultimately plays a large role in shaping the energy balance, and climate of earth.

While a small change may be balanced out by stabilizing forces, a large change has to change those stabilizing forces, and that is what we are already slowly starting to see.

It’s just a question of how much.  Which is also up to us.

Major Methane Spikes From Warming Sea Beds Are Compounding a Vastly Underestimated Climate Change Challenge

This piece has been completely updated and revised, with major new sections of information added, and re-posted here.