Facing Down Climate Doom — Wallace-Wells’ Appropriate Alarm Earns Michael Mann’s Necessary Critiques

“Fear will NOT save us; however, fear is a prime motivator to promote new thinking and different action; to change an unsustainable status quo.” — unknown source.

“There are many things that motivate us. But the most powerful motivator of all is FEAR. “– Psychology Today.

“Both hope and fear are great motivators, and they both have the capacity to promote growth in us, but hope creates space in the mind and heart. Fear, more often than not, restricts it.” — Joyce McFadden.

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When two parties seeking a good end passionately disagree over a crucial issue it is sometimes the case that one side is flat out right and the other side is dead wrong. But what is more often the case in an honest dialogue is that both sides are expressing a part of the truth and it is the duty of us, as observers, not to take sides, but to open our ears and learn as the necessary conflict unfolds.

Valid Warnings Against a Dark Future

This week, David Wallace Wells painted a scientifically imperfect, but truthful in broad-brush, picture of a bleak potential worst case scenario if human beings continue burning fossil fuels while dumping such massive volumes of carbon into the atmosphere.

Wells’ New York Magazine article was accurate in broad brush in that it depicted a possible worst case climate scenario where the atmosphere becomes choking and poisonous, heat becomes so great that it’s deadly to venture outside even in New York City, disease vectors multiply, breadbaskets are crushed by heat and extreme weather, and wars over dwindling resources escalate. In the larger scope, if missing the mark on a number of details, David Wallace Wells and NYMag get it right. If we don’t stop burning fossil fuels, this is basically what our future looks like. BAU fossil fuel burning ultimately looks so incredibly grim it is difficult to fathom or even talk about.

And this is the gift that Wallace-Wells has given us. The opportunity to talk about something hard and necessary. To learn and understand more both about the potential coming tragedy as well as the hope we now have in avoiding it. In other words, as science-based meta-analysis, speculation, and fiction often do — Wallace-Wells’ work helped to heighten a much-needed public discourse.

Adding the Scientific Process to the Discourse

Such a volcanic article eliciting such a powerful response was bound to draw some pretty strong critiques. And the article, in its more specific scientific failures, begged just such a reaction. Some of the best of these have come from Dr. Michael A Mann — one of the world’s best climate scientists and top advocates for rapid climate change mitigation.

Mann in today’s Washington Post notes:

The New York magazine article paints an overly bleak picture, arguing that climate change could render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Its opening story about the “flooding” of a seed vault in Norway leaves out that one of the vault’s creators told NPR “there was really no flood.” It exaggerates the near-term threat of climate “feedbacks” involving the release of frozen methane. It mischaracterizes one recent study as demonstrating that the globe is warming “more than twice as fast as scientists had thought,” when in fact the study in question simply showed that one dataset that had tended to show less warming than other datasets has now been brought in line with the others after some problems were corrected for. The warming of the globe is progressing as models predicted. And that is plenty bad enough.

And this criticism was absolutely necessary — pointing out some of the places where the New York magazine article had fallen down with regards to some of its factual basis. Wells mischaracterized the seed vault flood and a recent scientific study that basically matched satellite based temperature measures with land based temperature measures. Mann also claims that Wallace-Wells exaggerates the methane feedback issue — a very touchy subject in the present science and one that researchers have yet to convincingly nail down.

Massive methane burps are not inevitable. But they are certainly possible, and the risk grows the more the Earth warms. Loss of breathable oxygen to the extent that the article suggests is highly unlikely. But fossil fuel burning and anoxic oceans do reduce atmospheric oxygen on a smaller scale which is somewhat disturbing. And though deadly hydrogen sulfide burps from anoxic oceans are certainly possible under worst-case warming scenarios, the characterization of such events was probably a little overplayed to the minds of the more technically inclined. That said, Wallace Wells’ rolling clouds of death-inducing fog are entirely possible according to the scientific explorations of Dr. Peter Ward and Donald Canfield.

In other words, the article probably leans a bit more on the darker studies of paleoclimate as an allegory for potential future harm than is comfortable to the broader scientific community — which then led to assertions that his portrayal was closer to science fiction.  This despite the fact that some of the science does point to these kinds of worst case climate events that may look rather like what Wallace-Wells describes even if, as a technical matter, he’s somewhat off with regards to the present scientific consensus according to the well-informed opinion of Mann.

Wallace-Wells = Climate Change Denier is about Three Steps too Far

But aside from these much-needed critiques, Mann unintentionally does us a bit of a disservice here. By comparing Wallace-Wells with climate change deniers, Mann is creating a false equivalency argument. Moreover, Mann also generates false hope in the public sphere by appearing to down-play climate risks, even though that was clearly not his intention. In truth, Wallace-Wells falls far closer to the mark than any climate change denier. And if any of the consensus science that Mann relies on for his assertions happens to be wrong or too conservative, then a business as usual fossil fuel burning future could look a lot more like the one Wallace Wells describes than present scientific consensus expects.

In other words, Wallace Wells warnings may turn out to be more prophetic than an overly cautious science even if the various details of a climate disaster scenario play out in ways that few of us presently expect. The future is, in other words, murky. And you absolutely don’t want to be prodding the Cthulu that is climate change based mass extinction into full wakefullness by continuing to burn fossil fuels. Nor do you want to beg that potentially very bad future in giving ammo to climate change deniers by comparing a rather rational form of alarm with what amounts to an intentional deception that has been purposefully inflicted upon the public discourse.

Wallace-Wells and Mann Should be on the Same Team

All that unpleasantness aside, Mann’s most accurate and important statement follows a couple of paragraphs down:

It is important to communicate both the threat and the opportunity in the climate challenge. Those paying attention are worried, and should be, but there are also reasons for hope. The active engagement of many cities, states and corporations, and the commitments of virtually every nation (minus one) is a very hopeful sign.

And, ironically, I think it is here where Wallace-Wells and Mann probably agree. Unlike many of the Doomers that Mann rightly criticizes, Wells has recently spoken out as a staunch advocate for exactly the kind of clean energy and policy-based solutions that Mann so rightly and passionately stumps for. In other words, Mann was absolutely right to state that any fearsome climate message should also be tempered by the amazing hope and opportunity now available to us in the form of a renewable energy transition and a shift to less consumptive, more sustainable societies. And Wallace-Wells, while not shining a light on the various escape hatches available to us now in his article has appropriately used the platform given to him to talk about just these issues:

But, you know, there’s great news from green energy, there’s great news from renewables, the cost of wind and solar power is falling, not just dramatically but much more dramatically than even the biggest boosters would have predicted five or 10 years ago. A lot of that has to do with subsidies from the Obama administration and other similar, like-minded countries around the world. But there is really good news there. And there’ve also been some limited progress on what’s called “carbon capture,” which are devices to take carbon out of the atmosphere, which will almost certainly have to be one big part of the equation. With electric cars, etc. there’s a lot of tech innovation that should give people a lot of hope.

My hope is that readers will read the piece and feel motivated to think more about the choices they make, but also to this sort of consumption choices they make. And to agitate politically for policy options that will have a positive impact, and not think of climate change as a third or fourth order political priority, but as probably the most important issue we’re facing the world today, and one that should be at the top of our minds whenever we’re thinking about public policy at all.

Moving Forward with a Shared Vision of Avoiding Climate Catastrophe

In other words, Wallace-Wells is not our enemy here. He may have stepped on a number of his unqualified facts, but he’s gotten the overall message pretty much right. And if he’s gotten a bit carried away in being scared over bad climate outcomes, then he’s in good company ;). Moreover, he’s passionately advocating for exactly the kinds of climate solutions that are absolutely needed and that do provide us all with a good measure of hope — if we pursue them. In other words, Wells has talked about climate doom. But he doesn’t walk the path of doom itself.

Links:

The Uninhabitable Earth

Doomsday Scenarios

Are Humans Doomed?

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Rudy Sovinee

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Bad Climate Outcomes — Atmospheric Warming to Ramp up as PDO Swings Strongly Positive?

Last year, quietly and without much fanfare from the mainstream press, the Pacific Ocean underwent a powerful shift. A shift from a state in which cooler surface waters absorbed atmospheric heat, to a phase in which surface water warming caused ocean heat to be transferred to the world’s already warming airs.

The shift was heralded by a powerful oceanic Kelvin Wave. One that brought warm water up from the depths and spread them across the Pacific Ocean surface. Ever since that time, warm Kelvin Waves have continued to refresh this surface water heat pool.

monster-el-nino

(Major Kelvin Wave that heralded a switch to strongly positive PDO values for the Pacific. Image source: NOAA/ESRL)

And so the Pacific Ocean surface warming continued throughout 2014.

By December, Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) values, a measure directly tied to this warming, hit a new all-time record level of +2.51. That’s the highest and hottest PDO value since record-keeping began in 1900. One that only backed off slightly into January at +2.45 in the preliminary measure.

It’s a major swing in Pacific Ocean surface temperatures to a phase where more heat is dumped into the atmosphere. One that is causing some scientists to warn that a new period of rapid atmospheric warming may just be getting started.

image

(Sea surface temperature anomaly map shows very warm surface waters dominate much of the equatorial, eastern and northern Pacific in a signature that is strongly characteristic of a powerfully positive PDO on Thursday, February 26 2015. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Global Forecast Systems Model.)

PDO and The Multi-Decadal Heat Pump

Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is a periodic change in sea surface temperature states in the Pacific. One that is thought by many oceanic and atmospheric researchers to have a strong influence on global weather and temperature variability.

In the negative state, PDO tends to encourage La Nina events which also coincide with a downswing in global temperatures as the vast Pacific waters take in more heat. In the positive state, PDO tends to encourage El Nino events which result in the great ocean belching heat into the air on a grand scale — pushing atmospheric temperatures higher.

All things being equal, this natural variability would pan out — marking upswings and downswings in a global average. However, human fossil fuel burning and related greenhouse gas emissions have bent this curve upward by trapping more and more heat in the lower atmosphere. So the case is now that during positive PDO phases, in which more El Ninos occur, atmospheric warming has tended to ramp drastically higher. And, consequently, during negative PDO phases, atmospheric warming has tended to merely slow down even as oceanic warming sped up.

You can see this speeding up and slowing down in the below graphic provided  by Weather Underground:

PDO vs global temperature change Weather Underground

(Global temperature change since 1900 vs phases of positive PDO [1925 to 1945 and 1975 to 1998] and negative PDO [1945 to 1975 and 1998 to 2014]. Image source: Weather Underground. Data Source: NOAA.)

In the era during which global temperatures have been increasingly driven by human greenhouse gas emissions, four phases of PDO have been recorded. Two were positive, two were negative.

In the first positive PDO phase during 1925 through 1945, global average temperatures jumped upward by about 0.5 degrees F (+0.25 F per decade). This initial surge in atmospheric warming abated as global temperatures remained roughly steady during the negative PDO period of 1945 to 1975 (+/- 0 F per decade). But by 1975, PDO values were positive again and the period through 1998 showed a rapid warming of about 0.8 F over 23 years (+0.4 F per decade). After the super El Nino of 1998, PDO values again trended negative as atmospheric warming continued at a somewhat slower pace of about +0.15 F per decade.

Global Warming and Related Ills to Ramp Up?

This underlying trend should be cause for serious concern.

The first issue is that we see warming now during negative PDO decades where we only saw cooling or zero warming before. Given the present rate of warming in the range of +0.15 F per decade during periods in which the Pacific Ocean is taking on atmospheric heat, one could expect the next positive PDO phase to see decadal warming in the range of +0.55 F or higher (or by about 1 C in 20-30 years).

Such a rapid pace of warming could challenge the fabled 2 C ‘point of no return’ before 2050 (for reference, we are at about +0.85 C above 1880s values now). And it is for this reason that some scientists are now starting to sound alarm bells.

In the recent Weather Underground commentary penned by Jeff Masters, Kevin Trenberth, an NCAR scientist and one of the world’s foremost experts on ocean temperature dynamics, noted:

“I am inclined to think the hiatus [in global temperature increases] is over, mainly based on the PDO index change. If one takes the global mean temperature from 1970 on, everything fits a linear trend quite well except 1998.”

NOAA global surface temperature anomalies

(Global surface temperature anomalies. Image source: NOAA.)

Though Trenberth does not explicitly spell out the potential for an overall warming acceleration, he does point toward a return to the +0.29 F per decade trend line seen since 1970. Meanwhile, Matthew England of the University of South Wales warned in the same Weather Underground commentary that any post ‘hiatus’ warming would be likely to be very rapid.

Dr. Michael Mann, a climate scientist of considerable fame both due to his Hockey Stick tree ring study and due to his ongoing success fighting off smear campaigns launched by climate change deniers, recently put together climate model assessments that showed world temperatures exceeding the 2 C threshold by 2036 under business as usual greenhouse gas emissions. To reach such a high reading so soon would require in excess of 1 degree Fahrenheit warming over each of the next two decades. And such a rate of warming would be very rapid indeed, unprecedentedly rapid and well outside the linear trend line from 1970.

Michael Mann today made related comments at Realclimate on the more recent oscillations in Pacific Ocean sea surface temperature:

There is the possibility that internal, natural oscillations in temperature may have masked some surface warming in recent decades, much as an outbreak of Arctic air can mask the seasonal warming of spring during a late season cold snap. One could call it a global warming “speed bump”. In fact, I have… Given the pattern of past historical variation, this trend will likely reverse with internal variability, instead adding to anthropogenic warming in the coming decades. That is perhaps the most worrying implication of our study, for it implies that the “false pause” may simply have been a cause for false complacency, when it comes to averting dangerous climate change.

To these points, it is worth noting that any rate of warming above 0.3 F (0.2 C) per decade is extraordinary and terrifying. Such a rate is enough to achieve post ice age warming of 4 C in merely 2 centuries where it took 10,000 years to achieve such warming before. Warming at 0.4, 0.6 or 1 F per decade would be both drastic and devastating to current climates, geophysical stability, weather stability, glacial stability, water security, food security, and ocean health. In the current world, already warmed by about 0.85 C above 1880s levels any acceleration to current warming is a rather bad outcome on top of an already dangerous situation.

Links:

Are We Entering a New Period of Rapid Global Warming?

Climate Oscillations and the Global Warming Faux Pause

NOAA’s National Climate Data Center

NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Lab

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths?

Far Worse Than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick: Michael Mann Climate Model Shows 2 C Warming by 2036

Global Warming Speed Bump? The Answer May be Blowing in the Wind.

Earth Nullschool

Global Forecast Systems Model

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Bassman

Denying The Neverending Heatwave: NASA, NOAA, JMA Show 2014 Broke New Records; But Will Republicans Ever Listen to Science?

If you are younger than 29 years old, you haven’t lived in a month that was cooler than the 20th century average. — Dr. Marshall Shepherd, former President of the American Meteorological Society

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Strong global temperature records typically show up in all the major climate monitors. And, despite no El Nino providing an added kick to atmospheric heating, that’s exactly what happened in 2014.

Respectively Japan’s Meteorological Agency (JMA), NASA and NOAA all showed 2014 as the hottest year in the global climate record. And the departures were all quite strong with JMA showing +0.63 C, NASA showing +0.68 C, and NOAA showing +0.69 C above the 20th Century average — all measures that put the world now in the range of +0.9 C warming since the 1880s.

Not only was this year the hottest on record for the global climate. It was one in many progressively hotter years and decades. The result being that if you were born in 1986, you haven’t experienced one month that has been cooler than the 20th Century average.

Decadal and Yearly Warming NOAA

(Decadal and yearly warming since 1880 as recorded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s a brutal warming trend that has propelled us, in just 1 Century, into a time hotter than any in at least 5,000 years and probably 150,000 years. Continued warming at this pace will put us hotter than at any time in 1 million years before mid century and that is without any of the predicted acceleration due to amplifying feedbacks such as Arctic carbon release, loss of Arctic albedo due to snow and ice melt and greening, and loss of the oceans as a global carbon sink. Image source: NOAA and Climate Progress.)

It’s a set of validated evidence that is so obvious as to be incontrovertible.

And yet the climate games and silliness still occur with regularity in the public sphere. In the most recent republican witching hour congressional approval of the Keystone XL pipeline — a piece of infrastructure that will shackle the US to climate-wrecking carbon emissions for decades to come — Bernie Sanders submitted an amendment asking republicans to record their climate change denial for the public record. A denial a majority of republicans, including most major party heads, now attest to, despite what the science is obviously saying.

In an interview with the Guardian, Sanders noted:

“The bottom line is that I think as a nation that we walk down a very dangerous road when the majority party in the United States Congress is prepared to reject science. I think it is important for Republicans to tell their constituents, to tell the American people, and to tell the world whether they agree with the science or not.”

More notably, Senator Jim Inhofe, who currently sits as chairman of the environment and public works committee has publicly claimed that he believes climate change is a hoax. But what Inhofe doesn’t elaborate is why scientists who spend their lives in service to the public, and not to special interests, like the oil, gas and coal companies Inhofe often goes to bat for in Congress, would perpetrate such a hoax. Because if it is a hoax it is broad and all-encompassing — including every major atmospheric sciences body in the world today. In other words, if Inhofe believes NASA put a man on the moon, then why doesn’t he believe the same scientific body on the issue of climate change?

Climate Scientist Michael Mann gave his own very clear take of the new record today on Facebook. Mann noted that the current new record, especially when viewed in context of the fact that we currently see no El Nino but still hit annual heat records, can put to rest the recent false assertions that atmospheric warming has paused.

As ever, Mann provides a very clear assessment:

Based on the collective reports, it is therefore fair to declare 2014 the warmest year on record. This is significant for a number of reasons. Unlike past record years, 2014 broke the record without the “assist” of a large El Niño event. There was only the weakest semblance of an El Niño and tropical Pacific warmth contributed only moderately to the record 2014 global temperatures.

Viewed in context, the record temperatures underscore the undeniable fact that we are witnessing, before our eyes, the effects of human-caused climate change. It is exceptionally unlikely that we would be seeing a record year, during a record warm decade, during a multidecadal period of warmth that appears to be unrivaled over at least the past millennium, were it not for the rising levels of planet-warming gases produced by fossil fuel burning.

The record temperatures *should* put to rest the absurd notion of a “pause” (what I refer to as the “Faux Pause” in Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-will-cross-the-climate-danger-threshold-by-2036/) in global warming.

There is a solid body of research now showing that any apparent slow-down of warming during the past decade was likely due to natural short-term factors (like small changes in solar output and volcanic activity) and internal fluctuations related to e.g. the El Nino phenomenon. The record 2014 temperatures underscore the fact that global warming and associated climate changes continue unabated as we continue to raise the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Mann was joined by lead NASA GISS scientist Gavin Schmidt who pointed out the inexorable global warming of ‘decades and decades.’ Schmidt noted that individual years rankings can be slung about through the forces of chaotic weather. But the trend, Schmidt asserted, was undeniable.

Dr. Schmidt’s research has been critical in understanding the role of both CO2 as the primary governing gas impacting global heating as well as the amplifying heat of additional greenhouse gasses. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Dr. Schmidt provided critical evidence highlighting the atmospheric warming impact of methane, for example.

NASA and Dr Schmidt provide their own brief on the issue which can be viewed here:

Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers, who is now engaged in cutting edge research on the issue of changes in the Jet Stream due to polar amplification, joins the litany of influential scientists in speaking out on the new record. Of the impact of the 2014 high heat mark she plainly states: “Any wisps of doubt that human activities are at fault are now gone with the wind.”

NOAA’s own global analysis this year comes with a near-endless list of record flood and drought events ongoing throughout 2014. I highly suggest you read the report. The language is dry, but the list of record events is staggering, even to someone like myself who is treated to these events on a daily basis. They’re exactly the kind of outlier events that are the upshot of meridional patterns, polar amplification, and the meandering Jet Streams identified by Dr. Francis. A list of extreme instances that propelled 2014 into another record-breaking year for natural disasters, according to Munich Re:

Natural Disater List Munich Re

(List of natural disasters in number of instances per year as reported by Munich Re. Image source: Climate Progress.)

The evidence is there. All of it. For any thinking person. The public-serving, and often conservative in their assessments, scientists keep making their warnings again and again like a collective modern Jeremiah. And yet we have one political party whose leaders simply refuse to listen to either facts or even the most basic reason.

So in the face of such blantant and obvious denial of reality by the very people who are supposed to be responsibly leading our country, one must seriously consider the notion of running them out of office. Of stopping their legislative malpractice before it results in ever more serious trouble for us all. And not just for all the sakes of the scientists and those who believe them, but for the sake of the climate change deniers too.

Far Worse than Being Beaten with a Hockey Stick: Michael Mann, Our Terrifying Greenhouse Gas Overburden and Heating the Earth by + 2 C by 2036

I’m going to say something that will probably seem completely outrageous. But I want you to think about it, because it’s true.

You, where-ever you are now, are living through the first stages of a disaster in which there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no safe place on Earth for you to go to avoid it. The disaster you are now living through is a greenhouse emergency and with each ounce of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gasses you, I, or the rest of us, pump into the air, that emergency grows in the vast potential of damage and harm that it will inflict over the coming years, decades and centuries. The emergency is now unavoidable and the only thing we can hope to do through rational action is to reduce the degree of harm both short and long term, to rapidly stop making the problem worse, and to put human ingenuity toward solving the problem rather than continuing to intensify it.

But damage, severe, deadly and terrifying is unleashed, in effect and already happening, with more on the way.

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Manns-hockey-stick

(Michael Mann’s famous Hockey Stick graph showing Northern Hemisphere temperatures over the past 1,000 years. The influences of human warming become readily apparent from the late 19th to early 21rst centuries. But human greenhouse gas forcing has much greater degrees of warming in store.)

This week, Michael Mann wrote an excellent piece describing the immediacy of our current emergency in the Scientific American. In typical, just the facts, fashion, he laid out a series of truths relevant to the current greenhouse catastrophe. These facts were told in a plain manner and, yet, in a way that laid out the problem but didn’t even begin to open the book on what that problem meant in broader context.

Michael Mann is an amazing scientist who has his hand on the pulse of human-caused climate change. He is a kind of modern Galileo of climate science in that he has born the brunt of some of the most severe and asinine attacks for simply telling the truth and for revealing the nature of our world as it stands. But though Mann’s facts are both brutal and hard-hitting for those of us who constantly read the climate science, who wade through the literature and analyze each new report. By simply stating the facts and not telling us what they mean he is hitting us with a somewhat nerfed version of his ground-breaking Hockey Stick. A pounding that may seem brutal when compared to the comfortable nonsense put out by climate change deniers and fossil fuel apologists but one that is still not yet a full revelation.

I will caveat what is a passionate interjection by simply saying that Michael Mann is one of my most beloved heroes. And so I will do my best to help him out by attempting to lend more potency to his already powerful message.

2 C by 2036 — Digging through the Ugly Guts of it

All that said, Michael Mann laid out some brutal, brutal facts in his Scientific American piece. Ones, that if you only take a few moments to think about are simply terrifying. For the simple truth is that the world has only a very, very slim hope of preventing a rapid warming to at least 2 C above 1880s levels in the near future and almost zero hope altogether of stopping such warming in the longer term.

The first set of figures Mann provides involves the current greenhouse gas forcing. Current CO2 levels are now at the very dangerous 400 parts per million threshold. Long term, and all by itself, this forcing is enough to raise global temperatures by between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius. But hold that thought you were just about to have, because we haven’t yet included all the other greenhouse gasses in that forcing.

Mann, in the supplemental material to his Scientific American paper, notes that the total forcing of all other greenhouse gasses currently in the atmosphere is about 20% of the total CO2 forcing. This gives us a total CO2 equivalent forcing of 480 ppm CO2e, which uncannily mirrors my own analysis here (the science may have under-counted a bit on the methane forcing, but this value is likely quite close to current reality for both the short and long term).

480 ppm CO2e is one hell of a forcing. It is nearly a 75% greater forcing than 1880s values and, all by itself, is enough to raise temperatures long-term by between 3.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius.

And it is at this point that it becomes worthwhile talking a bit about different climate sensitivity measures. The measure I am using to determine this number is what is called the Earth Systems Sensitivity measure (ESS). It is the measure that describes long term warming once all the so called slow feedbacks like ice sheet response (think the giant glaciers of Greenland and West Antarctica) and environmental carbon release (think methane release from thawing tundra and sea bed clathrates) come into the equation. Mann, uses a shorter term estimate called Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS). It’s a measure that tracks the fast warming response time once the fast feedbacks such as water vapor response and sea ice response are taken into account. ECS warming, therefore, is about half of ESS warming. But the catch is that ECS hits you much sooner.

At 480 ppm CO2e, we can expect between 1.75 and 2.25 degrees C of warming from ECS. In essence, we’ve locked about 2 C worth of short term warming in now. And this is kind of a big deal. I’d call it a BFD, but that would be swearing. And if there is ever an occasion for swearing then it would be now. So deal with it.

Mann, in his article, takes note of the immediacy of the problem by simply stating that we hit 2 C of shorter term ECS warming once we hit 405 ppm CO2 (485 CO2e), in about two to three years. And it’s important for us to know that this is the kind of heat forcing that is now hanging over our heads. That there’s enough greenhouse gas loading in the atmosphere to push warming 2 C higher almost immediately and 4 C higher long term. And that, all by itself, is a disaster unlike anything humans have ever encountered.

Global Fossil Fuel Emission

(Global annual fossil fuel emission is currently tracking faster than the worst-case IPCC scenario. Aerosols mask some of the heating effect of this enormous emission, what James Hansen calls ‘a Faustian Bargain.’ Image source: Hansen Paper.)

But there is a wrinkle to this equation. One that Dr. James Hansen likes to call the Faustian Bargain. And that wrinkle involves human produced aerosols. For by burning coal, humans pump fine particles into the atmosphere that reflect sunlight thereby masking the total effect of the greenhouse gasses we have already put into the atmosphere. The nasty little trick here is that if you stop burning coal, the aerosols fall out in only a few years and you then end up with the full heat forcing. Even worse, continuing to burn coal produces prodigious volumes of CO2 while mining coal pumps volatile methane into the atmosphere. It’s like taking a kind of poison that will eventually kill you but makes you feel better as you’re taking it. Kind of like the greenhouse gas version of heroin.

So the ghg heroin/coal has injected particles into the air that mask the total warming. And as a result we end up with a delayed effect with an extraordinarily severe hit at the end when we finally stop burning coal. Never stop burning coal and you end up reaching the same place eventually anyway. So it’s a rigged game that you either lose now or you lose in a far worse way later.

Mann wraps coal and other human aerosol emissions into his equation and, under business as usual, finds that we hit 2 C of ECS warming by 2036 as global CO2 levels approach 450 ppmv and global CO2e values approach 540 ppmv. At that point, were the aerosols to fall out we end up with an actual short term warming (ECS) response of 2.5 to 3 C and a long term response (ESS) of about 5 to 6 C. (Don’t believe me? Plug in the numbers for yourself in Mann’s climate model here.)

So ripping the bandaid off and looking at the nasty thing underneath, we find that even my earlier estimates were probably a bit too conservative and Mann, though we didn’t quite realize it at first, is hitting us very hard with his hockey stick.

What does a World That Warms So Rapidly to 2 C Look Like?

OK. That was rough. But what I am about to do is much worse. I’m going to take a look at actual effects of what, to this point, has simply been a clinical analysis of the numbers. I’m going to do my best to answer the question — what does a world rapidly warming by 2 C over the next 22 years look like?

Ugly. Even more ugly than the numbers, in fact.

First, let’s take a look at rates of evaporation and precipitation. We know that, based on past research, the hydrological cycle increases by about 6% for each degree Celsius of temperature increase. So far, with about .8 C worth of warming, we’ve had about a 5% increase in the hydrological cycle. What this means is that evaporation rates increase by 5% and precipitation events, on average, increase by about 5%. But because weather is uneven, what this does is radically increase the frequency and amplitude of extreme weather. Droughts are more frequent and more severe. Deluges are more frequent and more severe.

(Program in which top climate scientists explain how global warming increases the intensity of evaporation and precipitation all while causing dangerous changes to the Jet Stream.)

At 2 C warming we can change this loading from a 5% increase in the hydrological cycle of evaporation and precipitation to a 12% increase. You think the droughts and deluges are bad now? Just imagine what would happen if the driver of that intensity more than doubled. What do you end up with then?

Now let’s look at something that is directly related to extreme weather — sea ice loss. In the current world, about .8 C worth of warming has resulted in about 3.2 C worth of warming in the polar regions. And this warming has resulted in a massive and visible decline of sea ice in which end summer volume values are up to 80% less than those seen during the late 1970s. This loss of sea ice has had severe effects on the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream, both pulling it more toward the pole and resulting in high amplitude Jet Stream waves and local severe intensification of storm tracks. At 2 C worth of global warming, the Arctic heats up by around 7 C and the result is extended periods of ice free conditions during the summer and fall that last for weeks and months.

stroeve-barret-p-10-plus-2012

(Actual rate of sea ice loss vs IPCC model predictions. The most recent record low value achieved in 2012 is indicated by the dot. Image source: Assessment of Arctic Sea Ice/UCAR Report.)

The impacts to the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream are ever more severe as are the impacts to Greenland ice sheet melt. Under such a situation we rapidly get into a weather scenario where screaming temperature differentials between the North Atlantic near Greenland and the warming tropics generate storms the likes of which we have never seen. Add in a 12% boost to the hydrological cycle and we get the potential for what Dr. James Hansen describes as “frontal storms the size of continents with the intensity of hurricanes.”

Greenland melt itself is much faster under 2 C of added heat and the ice sheets are in dangerous and rapid destabilization. It’s possible that the kick will be enough to double, triple, quadruple or more the current pace of sea level rise. Half foot or more per decade sea level rise rapidly becomes possible.

All this severe weather, the intense rain, the powerful wind storms and the intense droughts aren’t kind to crops. IPCC projects a 2% net loss in crop yields each decade going forward. But this is likely to be the lower bound of a more realistic 2-10 percent figure. Modern agriculture is hit very, very hard in the context of a rapidly changing climate, increasing rates of moisture loss from soil and moisture delivery through brief and epically intense storms.

The rapid jump to 2 C is also enough to put at risk a growing list of horrors including rapid ocean stratification and anoxia (essentially initiating a mass die off in the oceans), large methane and additional CO2 release from carbon stores in the Arctic, and the unlocking of dangerous ancient microbes from thawing ice, microbes for which current plants and animals do not have adequate immune defenses.

How do we avoid this?

In short, it might not be possible to avoid some or even all of these effects. But we may as well try. And this is what trying would look like.

First, we would rapidly reduce human greenhouse gas emissions to near zero. As this happens, we would probably want a global fleet of aircraft that spray sulfate particles into the lower atmosphere to make up for the loss of aerosols once produced by coal plants. Finally, we would need an array of atmospheric carbon capture techniques including forest growth and cutting, then sequestration of the carbon stored by wood in lakes or in underground repositories, chemical atmospheric carbon capture, and carbon capture of biomass emissions.

For safety, we would need to eventually reduce CO2 to less than 350 ppm, methane to less than 1,000 ppb, and eliminate emissions from other greenhouse gasses. A very tall order that would require the sharing of resources, heroic sacrifices by every human being on this Earth, and a global coordination and cooperation of nations not yet before seen. Something that is possible in theory but has not yet been witnessed in practice. A test to see if humankind is mature enough to ensure its own survival and the continuation of life and diversity on the only world we know. A tall order, indeed, but one we must at least attempt.

Links:

Earth Will Cross Climate Danger Threshold by 2036

What does a World at 400 Parts per Million CO2 Look Like Long-Term?

One Scientist Argues 2036 Could be Point of No Return for Climate Disaster

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell

Doubling Down on our Faustian Bargain

Dr. Jennifer Francis, Top Climate Scientists Explain How Global Warming Aps the Hydrological Cycle and Wrecks the Jet Stream to Unleash Extreme Weather

Assessment of Arctic Sea Ice/UCAR Report

 

DC Superior Court Finds Indication of ‘Actual Malice’ in Climate Change Deniers’ Repeated Attacks on Michael Mann

Manns-hockey-stick

The story began with a Hockey Stick.

In 1998, Michael Mann and fellow researchers developed what was then a revolutionary study of proxy climate data to determine that warming seen during the 20th Century was unprecedented. Subsequently, Mann came under attack by a number of agencies invested in the denial of the existence of human caused global warming and related climate change.

Over the course of the next 15 years multiple agencies and individuals leveled increasingly vicious attacks against Mann for his pivotal contribution to the atmospheric sciences. In one instance, Mann’s emails were taken out of context in the fake scandal drummed up by deniers and misleaders known as Climate Gate. In other instances, Mann was repeatedly investigated for fraud after false accusations were, again and again,leveled against him by these same groups. Time after time, Mann was exonerated.

Meanwhile, study after study began to validate Michael Mann’s work. Now, numerous proxy studies within the body of climate science have shown similar temperature trends to those displayed in Mann’s findings. Mann’s study used tree rings, but more recent studies have found the same evidence in ice cores, sediment depositions and other measures — all with the same Hockey-Stick like temperature signature.

The evidence that temperatures were rocketing higher at an unprecedented rate would mean that certain agencies — primarily fossil fuel special interest groups — would bear the brunt of responsibility for any damages caused by rapid warming. And rather than live up to this responsibility by using current assets to rapidly transition to other, less polluting, energy sources and to work to mitigate the damage, they instead decided to attack the messenger — Michael Mann.

One such agency, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, involved itself in numerous coordinated attempts to character assassinate Mann. But Mann, armed with knowledge from previous attempts to defame his character and with funding via a crowd sourced program called The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, could now begin to fight back. Mann began a number of defamation lawsuits in an attempt to find legal restitution for the harm done to his professional reputation during these egregious attempts to assassinate his character and defame his person.

This week, a major damn broke when a DC Superior Court affirmed Mann’s right to proceed in his defamation suit against both National Review and CEI  (Hat Tip to Joe Romm for the report). The court found:

There is sufficient evidence presented that is indicative of “actual malice. The CEI Defendants have consistently accused Plaintiff of fraud and inaccurate theories, despite Plaintiff’s work having been investigated several times and found to be proper. The CEI Defendants’ persistence despite the EPA and other investigative bodies’ conclusion that Plaintiff’s work is accurate (or that there is no evidence of data manipulation) is equal to a blatant disregard for the falsity of their statements. Thus, given the evidence presented the Court finds that Plaintiff could prove “actual malice.”

The court provided two decisions in Mann’s cases against CEI and National Review. Both agencies had falsely and repeatedly accused Mann of data manipulation and fraud, even after Mann had been repeatedly investigated and proven innocent of such claims. The legal defense of these agencies was based on first Amendement freedoms that protect speech that is merely opinion, rhetorical hyperbole, and fair comment. But, in citing malice, the court found evidence that CEI’s and National Review’s actions went far beyond what is normal rhetorical controversy, directly and consistently targeting Mann’s livelihood, person and character. Key to this finding is that CEI and National Journal engaged in these personal attacks against Mann while undertaking a “reckless disregard for the truth:”

Plaintiff has been investigated several times and his work has been found to be accurate. In fact, some of these investigations have been due to the accusations made by the CEI Defendants. It follows that if anyone should be aware of the accuracy (or findings that the work of Plaintiff is sound), it would be the CEI Defendants. Thus, it is fair to say that the CEI Defendants continue to criticize Plaintiff due to a reckless disregard for truth. Criticism of Plaintiff’s work may be fair and he and his work may be put to the test. Where, however the CEI Defendants consistently claim that Plaintiff’s work is inaccurate (despite being proven as accurate) then there is a strong probability that the CEI Defendants disregarded the falsity of their statements and did so with reckless disregard.”

The court concluded that it was CEI and National Review who, instead, repeatedly engaged in fraud:

“Having been investigated by almost one dozen bodies due to accusations of fraud, and none of those investigations having found Plaintiff’s work to be fraudulent, it must be concluded that the accusations are provably false. Reference to Plaintiff, as a fraud is a misstatement of fact.”

The record demonstrates that the CEI Defendants have criticized Plaintiff harshly for years; some might say, the name calling, accusations and jeering have amounted to a witchhunt, particularly because the CEI Defendants appear to take any opportunity to question Plaintiff’s integrity and the accuracy of his work despite the numerous findings that Plaintiff’s work is sound. At this stage, the evidence before the Court does not amount to a showing of clear and convincing as to “actual malice,” however there is sufficient evidence to find that further discovery may uncover evidence of “actual malice.”

It is worth noting that it is very difficult to prove a defamation case in US court due to the protection of political speech. The finding that Mann has valid legal claims that CEI and National Review’s attacks were indicative of actual malice may not only halt the ongoing fusillade of personal attacks against Mann, but also those against other climate scientists by other agencies such as Fox News, Watts up With That, and a broad spectrum of climate change denial media whose typical tactic has been both to attack the messenger and then to make false, misleading claims about the science. It is possible that Mann’s case may unravel a vast web of misstatement of truth that has been perpetrated, not just on Mann, but on the rest of us as well.

As climate scientist Jennifer Francis noted last week during her Congressional testimony — the climate science misleaders are a big part of the problem inherent to human caused global warming and climate change. They have prevented us from understanding the threat and, thus far, have considerably slowed our efforts in response. The fact that this damaging effort is based in an active campaign to misrepresent the science and to conduct a witch hunt against scientists is yet one more sign to how caustic and harmful a social force it has become. If there is to be any responsible and effective action on climate change, then witch hunting of scientists and a continuous effort to publicly undermine the science by climate change deniers must be swept aside.

This is as much a civil rights issue as a scientific one. For we are all endowed with a right to a living, breathing planet, and the creatures of this Earth are also endowed with the right not be rendered extinct by our callous actions.

So let us all hope for Mann’s success in dealing a blow against the insidious agency that is climate change denial. For ourselves, our children, and for the innocent creatures of this world as well.

The Economist Continues its Wallow Through Climate Sensitivity Denial

Good News...

Delaying action on climate change is suicidal. Yet the Economist wants you to believe it’s not such a big deal.

(Image source: League of Conservation Voters)

In desperately scanning through the IPCC’s preliminary 4th assessment report for any shred of good news, perhaps in hopes of delaying a transition away from fossil fuels that needs to begin now and complete by 2030-40 if we’re to have much hope of ensuring a climate in which human civilization won’t face catastrophe, The Economist found a bright little cherry. It reproduced a preliminary graph from a non-physical sciences group showing lower than scientific consensus estimates for temperature increase through 2100 and conflated it with an entirely Economist-manufactured news item erroneously stating scientists are finding climate sensitivity is lower than previously expected (Hint: it’s not).

I’m not going to re-publish the graph, as it’s entirely misleading, but I will re-publish what The Economist says about it:

Still, over the past year, several other papers have suggested that views on climate sensitivity are changing. Both the 2007 IPCC report and a previous draft of the new assessment reflected earlier views on the matter by saying that the standard measure of climate sensitivity (the likely rise in equilibrium temperature in response to a doubling of CO2 concentration) was between 2°C and 4.5°C, with 3°C the most probable figure. In the new draft, the lower end of the range has been reduced to 1.5°C and the “most likely” figure has been scrapped. That seems to reflect a growing sense that climate sensitivity may have been overestimated in the past and that the science is too uncertain to justify a single estimate of future rises.

Note the Economist’s highly speculative use of the words ‘suggest’ and ‘seemed.’ And ‘scientists,’ in this case, apparently include only those on the low end of climate sensitivity estimates, rather than the more likely to be accurate consensus range. Research on the middle or high end, likewise, is completely ignored.

Quibbling Over Equilibrium Sensitivity

The Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) The Economist refers to is how much Earth temperatures are expected to rise when one includes fast feedbacks such as atmospheric water vapor increase and the initial greenhouse gas forcing provided by CO2. Consensus science, despite The Economist misinforming us to the contrary, finds Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity to be about 3 degrees Celsius for each doubling of CO2. So we get around 3 degrees Celsius of rapid warming at 550 parts per million, according to mainstream science. The Economist’s misleading quibble is trying to suggest that this level is closer to 2 degrees Celsius or the ludicrously unsupportable 1.5 degrees Celsius. Measures that, even if it were true (it’s not), would buy us, at most, another decade or two of business as usual emissions.

As unfortunate as the Economist’s cherry picking has become, it doesn’t even melt the tip of the iceberg or permafrost, for that matter. Because if you include the ‘slow feedbacks’ that ECS leaves out you end up with double the amount of warming long-term. So 550 parts per million gets us to a scorching 6 degrees Celsius Earth Systems Sensitivity (ESS) once melting ice sheets, methane release, and permafrost thaw are included (consensus estimates, not what The Economist cherry picked). The Economist also seems to ignore the blatant fact that such feedbacks are emerging now. Amplifying methane release in the Arctic has been visible since the mid 2000s and Greenland and West Antarctic melt rates have been increasing at an exponential rate since about 1995.

Confirming these observations is a new paper showing Greenland ice sheet response is happening faster than scientists expected. With the Greenland ice sheet melting like butter now and not 100 years from now as IPCC originally expected, the Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity measure and its inherent assumption that ice sheet and tundra response will be slow, seems to be shaping up as too conservative. Yet, The Economist remains enchanted with the notion of warping these already conservative estimates to pad its own, more comfortable, view of reality.

How’s the sand you’ve got your head buried in, Economist? Soft and white? Watch out, heads buried in the sand tend to bake these days.

What should be the news all responsible mags are reporting is that the ‘slow feedbacks’ aren’t really so slow after all. Under the very rapid pace of human forcing of at least 10 times anything we can find in the geological record Greenland melt, Antarctic melt, tundra melt and methane release are coming into play now. All taken together, they will more than double the human forcing. Terrifying news that should have all responsible persons and governments pushing for a rapid response, not grasping for the lowest hanging cherries in the science reports.

So the real measure we should be concerned about now is the one that includes all or most of the feedbacks — the Earth Systems Sensitivity (ESS) we noted above. The real total estimate of warming that is at least twice the academic ECS estimate The Economist so desperately tried to water down.

Yet the magazine behaves well contrary to prudent logic as it merrily runs with its false claim that climate scientists are saying ‘we’re sorry we scared you, climate sensitivity is less than we previously expected.’ Sad to say, The Economist is entirely involved in the now too common journalistic sin of climate science misinformation via massaged data.

Joe Romm notes:

The good news is that The Economist article might be less dreadful than it could have been. For instance, I didn’t find any typos…

The Economist seems blissfully unaware that while the Thawing Permafrost Could Cause 2.5 Times the Warming of Deforestation (!) and add up to 1.5°F to warming in 2100 by itself, “Participating modeling teams have completed their climate projections in support of the [IPCC’s] Fifth Assessment Report, but these projections do not include the permafrost carbon feedback.

The Economist also seems blissfully unaware of the fact that we are currently close to the 1000 ppm emissions pathway. And The Economist also seems blissfully unaware that stabilizing anywhere near 450 ppm atmospheric concentration of CO2 would require immediate and sustained action to replace the world’s fossil fuel system with one based on carbon-free energy — precisely the kind of aggressive action this piece seems designed to undercut.

For my part, I’d prefer more typos and less misleading information on the science.

Perhaps The Economist should take a look at the best of the best among climate scientists — notably James Hansen who warns that Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity is at least 3 degrees Celsius and that this estimate is probably conservative. Hansen finds that under business as usual greenhouse gas emissions we reach a scorching 7 degrees Celsius warming and very catastrophic 1,000 parts per million CO2 by the end of this century (if we somehow manage to hold industrial civilization together after we blow through 2, 4 and 6 degrees Celsius worth of warming, which is highly unlikely). The final warming in such a case, Hansen shows, would be between 10 and 14 degrees Celsius — enough to trap the climate in a PETM-type warming in less than one century, and blast humans with large areas of lethal 35 degree Celsius or greater wet bulb temperatures. A mass extinction event for us humans and all other life too.

Michael Mann, another top climate scientist The Economist ignores by sticking its fingers in its ears and chanting ‘nanananana’ notes:

Among other things, the author [of the Economist’s report] hopelessly confuses transient warming (the warming observed at any particularly time) with committed warming (the total warming that you’ve committed to, which includes warming in the pipeline due to historical carbon emissions). even in the best case scenario, business as usual fossil fuel burning will almost certainly commit us to more than 2C (3.6 F) warming, an amount of warming that scientists who study climate change impacts tell us will lead to truly dangerous and potentially irreversible climate change. the article does a disservice to Economist readers by obscuring this critical fact. Sadly, it is hardly the first time in recent history that the Economist has published flawed and misleading stories about climate change.

Mann shows that The Economist clearly misses some very basic principles of climate science by confusing projected warming at a particular point in time with final warming. And that’s a big problem. Because temperatures will continue to move higher for decades, even if we were to halt emissions immediately, which is clearly not in the Economist’s plans. The Economist’s plans, instead, seem to include locking in more dangerous exploitation of fossil fuels.

Since the Economist clearly can’t handle ECS, it should stick with Paleoclimate, which is much less murky. And by looking back into Earth’s geological history we find temperature increases at these ranges for these levels of carbon dioxide:

350-400 parts per million: 3 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term (Greenland and West Antarctica melt).

400-450 parts per million: 4 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term.

450-500 parts per million: 5 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term.

500-600 parts per million: 6 degrees (C) worth of temperature increase long-term (No major glacial ice left).

600-700 parts per million: 7 degrees (C)…

700-800 parts per million: 8 degrees (C)…

800-1200 parts per million: 9-12 degrees (C)…

Add to these observed past warming levels the fact that the rate of forcing was much slower than the human rate of forcing. So if more forcing means more feedback, even the harsh Paleoclimate evidence is too conservative a measure. Hansen and others warn of ‘unexpected consequences’ from the rapid pace of human forcing. And it would ‘seem’ that one of these nasty surprises is an already observed faster than usual rate of ice sheet and methane response.

Climatologist Kevin Trenberth is another scientist The Economist seems to be happy to ignore. But, perhaps, they should listen and learn something. In a letter to Joe Romm, Kevin stated:

The Working Group III IPCC report [on mitigation which the Economist used in its most recent attempt to misinform on climate sensitivity] is no where near final, the final draft has not even been produced yet. Moreover WG III is not responsible for making any statements about climate sensitivity and have no business doing so. The IPCC parallel process hinders exchanges among WGs and the WG I results [on the physical science basis]may not be available to WG III, but will be in due course as there is some staggering of the reports. In the meantime, the Economist report is irresponsible.

So The Economist is, in essence, bending over backwards to manufacture its own data. And after past media mistreatment of the last IPCC report, should we be surprised?

To this point, I would add that the responsible action would be to err on the side of caution, not on the side of laissez faire. In markets, laissez faire often leads to monetary collapses the consequences of which are often recessions. In the case of climate change, laissez faire leads to your civilization, species and large swaths of the natural world in complete wreckage.

We know what the long-term consequences of a certain level of CO2 are. And we know that slow feedbacks might not be so slow under the fast forcing regime we’ve subjected the Earth’s climate to. We also know that we have very little wiggle room for human comfort and prospertity — at best 2 degrees Celsius of warming. So why would we want to, as The Economist does, downplay the problem and risk a dangerous delay of action?

With dangerous and difficult consequences emerging now, we would be insane to follow The Economist’s implicit and falsely comforting advice. Trenberth is right. The report is dreadfully irresponsible as it weakens the case for a necessary and urgently needed response to the harm that is surely coming.

New Study Shows Humans Pushing Global Warming at Catastrophic Pace Not Seen in at Least 11,300 Years

Carbon-Final

(Image provided by Climate Progress)

A New Study published in Science by researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) and Harvard University shows that the pace of warming over the past century is faster than at any time in the past 11,300 years.

The research team used ice cores to identify the pace of warming and cooling during a period since the end of the last ice age called the Holocene. Researchers found that the 1.3 degree Fahrenheit temperature rise since the 1880s was about 30-50 times faster than any comparable period of temperature change during any time in the last 11,300 years.

Temperatures gradually rose from the end of the last ice age to a plateau that occurred from 8,000 to 3,000 BCE. Then, temperatures began to fall, dropping about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the course of 3,000 years. A long cooling trend that ended abruptly with the rise of industry about 130 years ago. Since that time, temperatures have risen sharply by over 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit and are set to rise again, in the event of ongoing fossil fuel use, by between 5 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.

The above graph, provided by Science and Climate Progress shows the extreme difference between current and projected temperature increases and the comparative stable base-line of the last 11,300 years. If the shape of the graph looks familiar to you, it should. It is yet another validation of Michael Mann’s original temperature work dubbed “The Hockey Stick” due to its characteristic shape. The OSU/Harvard study simply provides further validation to Mann’s Hockey Stick study by extending temperature measurements outward to 11,300 years.

Pace of Change is Catastrophic

What the study also shows is that the current pace of warming is far, far outside the geological norm. Michael Mann, in response to the recent paper notes:

The real issue, from a climate change impacts point of view, is the rate of change—because that’s what challenges our adaptive capacity. And this paper suggests that the current rate has no precedent as far back as we can go w/ any confidence—11 kyr arguably, based on this study.

Lead author Shaun Marcott of OSU told NPR and AP that paleoclimate data show how unprecedented current warming really is:

It’s really the rates of change here that’s amazing and atypical. Even in the ice age the global temperature never changed this quickly.

Even in the ice age, temperature never changed so quickly… This statement is worth repeating because it gives us a degree of corollary to the troubles we are causing. Among other things, the slower pace of change at the end of the last ice age melted the entire Laurentide ice sheet. The catastrophic melt that followed broke an ice damn and unleashed a flood of water across the North American continent that was, in some cases, over a thousand feet tall. There is no Laurentide ice sheet left. But a vast expanse of ice rests over Greenland. And the vast Antarctic ice sheets smother an entire continent.

If the pace of temperature change is now faster than that during the ice age and if that pace of change is, under current human fossil fuel emissions, set to accelerate by another factor of 5 or more, then we can expect catastrophic impacts that are even greater than those seen at the end of the last ice age and occurring with far greater frequency.

We have no guarantee that pace of sea level rise will not exceed the maximum of ten feet per century seen during the last ice age. We have no guarantee that an unbalanced weather system won’t spawn storms never seen before. And we have no guarantee that the powerful human forcings won’t set into play feedbacks unprecedented to the Earth-climate system.

The OSU/Harvard Study is yet one more warning that we need to reduce and eliminate fossil fuel use as rapidly as possible. The human forcing on the climate system is massive and unprecedented in the geological record. The response from nature is likely to be equally massive and unprecedented. Yet we still have a small window of time in which to prevent the very worst impacts. Let us hope that a large, coordinated policy response develops soon.

“I certainly hope we can pull ourselves out of it,” Shaun Marcott said at the end of his CNN interview.

Links:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/08/world/world-climate-change/index.html

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/03/08/1691411/bombshell-recent-warming-is-amazing-and-atypical-and-poised-to-destroy-stable-climate-that-made-civilization-possible/

http://summitcountyvoice.com/2013/03/07/global-warming-new-study-sharpens-hockey-stick/

Arctic Hottest in 1,800 Years, 2 to 2.5 Degrees Hotter Than Medieval Warm Period, Svalbard Study Shows

According to a recent study produced by Columbia University, and funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Keck Geology Consortium, the Arctic is now hotter than at any time during the last 1,800 years. The Medieval Warm Period, often cherry picked as a benchmark for global warming deniers, was 2 to 2.5 degrees Celsius cooler than the current high Arctic environment.

The study observed differences between the content of saturated and unsaturated fats in dead algae in lake sediments to determine temperatures through past ages. During cold periods, algae produce more unsaturated fats. During warm periods, the amount of saturated fats produced is greater. This provided researchers with a biological thermometer for past Arctic ages. You can view a very instructive video of how the differences in these fats is used as a thermometer here.

Earlier studies have shown that areas bordering the Arctic, such as southern Greenland and parts of Canada, were warmer than today. But the new data, coming from a Svalbard lake, show that the high Arctic was cooler. This broader picture shows that the Medieval Warm Period was more of a regional phenomena while, now, the entire Arctic is undergoing a massive heating not seen in ages.

This study is a major validation of others that have shown a regional warming during medieval times. One such study was the famous ‘Hockey Stick’ graph produced by Michael Mann.

1,800 Year Record Warming Put into Context

Natural cycles, often invoked by climate change deniers as a form of pseudo-intellectual argument, would result in the Arctic and the rest of the world cooling long-term. In fact, there is no natural force now acting on the Arctic that is capable of pushing its temperatures into a range not seen since 1,800 years ago. The Svalbard measurements now combine with a number of other sources, including Mann’s now-famous hockey stick graph, to provide solid evidence that the human forcing (greenhouse gas emissions) is pushing world temperatures unnaturally high.

(note that the Mann Graph now lags human-caused warming by about .1 degree Celsius, so the actual slope is even steeper than the one depicted)

As you can see in the graph, average world temperatures decline until major use of fossil fuels begins in the mid-19th century. At that point, temperatures rocket upward along a very steep slope. A very unnatural departure for the relatively stable Holocene epoch.

Response Times to Forcing Lag

What is most concerning is the fact that we are still in the early phases of Arctic and world warming. Because the areas of ice are so vast, because the ocean is so deep, because it takes lots of energy to move the atmosphere around and to heat it up, a huge amount of inertia exists. This inertia is fighting to keep world temperatures static. It is fighting to keep the glaciers and sea ice from melting. It is fighting to keep the weather systems in place.

But the vastly powerful human forcing of greenhouse gas emissions is moving these systems around like so many enormous toys. The fact that we are already seeing so much melt, that we are already seeing temperatures outside the range of nearly 2000 years is cause for serious, deep concern.

Geologists don’t have any kind of clear record for these kinds of changes ever moving along so fast. But they don’t have any kind of record for greenhouse gasses accumulating in the atmosphere at so fast a pace either. The most recent observable corollary occurred about 50 million years ago and happened at a speed 1/10th as fast as the human greenhouse gas accumulation. The related warming caused a mass extinction in the ocean and resulted in severe stresses to land animals whose end result was greatly reduced size and weight as animals concentrated in mountains and near less productive polar regions.

Inertia has already created a major overhang of climate impacts. At around 400 ppm CO2, the amount currently in the Earth’s atmosphere, Greenland and West Antarctica melt, contributing about 75 feet to sea level rise. The problem here is that the current forcing is likely enough to push another 100-200 ppm of CO2 out of the Earth’s oceans, forests, tundras and glaciers, lifting world CO2 into the range that could result in all the ice melting and another mass extinction in the oceans. That risk is current even if we stop producing CO2 today and will likely result in the need for CO2 capture from the atmosphere or possible, and very risky, applications of geo-engineering technologies. Continuing to burn fossil fuels at volumes great enough to increase CO2 concentrations by 2-3 ppm or more per year is nothing short of an exercise in madness and will likely result in a world with near 1000 ppm CO2 by the end of this century. And though a world at 600 ppm CO2 is tremendously difficult to live in, a world at 1000 ppm CO2 is a hellish nightmare.

Putting these things into context, even if we cease all fossil fuel emissions today, we are potentially on a path to conditions not seen in the last 10-30 million years. And, if we continue emitting fossil fuels in a business as usual manner, we are heading toward conditions not seen in the last 50 million years at least and perhaps never seen before.

As such, the current 1800 year warming happening in the Arctic is just another milestone along our current road. And that way, should we choose to continue, is little more than a short, hot road to hell.

Links:

Columbia Study

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