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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.