February 24, 2013

Sometimes i think this way about climate change

This is what I think sometimes:  do we actually know what's going to happen but we've decided not to say it out loud?  I have had this suspicion for some time.  Indeed, the first time I read about this problem, the rise of CO2 levels in the atmosphere as measured by the Keeling instrumentation on Mauna Loa on the Big Island (this was in 1969), I recall saying to my brother, who's now a Distinguished Research Scientist at the Great Southwestern University, that this was probably the deal breaker.  Pollution might come and go, the threat of nuclear war could be handled by diplomacy, but a rise in baseline CO2 levels creating the greenhouse effect was too intricately involved with everything we do to sustain life on Earth to deal with effectively in the time remaining.

CO2 levels were only about 6% over pre-Industrial baselines at the time.  They are now about 35% and increasing.  The world is pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year not only in increasing amounts but at an increasing rate.  Astonishing, but true.  From, as usual, the indispensable Gail Tverberg's blog, Our Finite World:

America's economists and national politicians, liberal and conservative alike, are arguing about ways to get the American consumer economy to grow again, to get people spending, to revive the American auto industry, to build the Keystone XL pipeline, to use Obama's "all of the above" energy policy including "clean coal," natural gas, oil, and, just to demonstrate his heart is in the right place, solar and wind power, too.  We're so proud of ourselves for reducing the amount of oil we import as we go after all of the domestic "tight" supplies of oil and natural gas, hammer and tong, or dredging up enormous quantities of, well, the Canadian province of Alberta in the mining of tar sands (bitumen). 

One of these days, however, we'll begin turning these trends around.  We're not certain when, but we realize AGW is a problem and we can't put it off forever.  Just as soon as the "recovery" is well under way and the unemployment rate is down we'll get right on it.  It would be a bad idea right now, but (we admit a little nervously) the disappearance of the Arctic sea ice in the summer, and the accelerating melting of most of the world's glaciers (which poses a threat to the essential water supplies of billions of the world's people) - yeah, have to admit: those do seem more like late-stage developments of global heating than the preliminary signs.  Those are the sorts of problems we should have been working to prevent 40 or 50 years ago, not using as a catalyst for planning action at some undetermined date in the remote future.

So I come back to the question: is it possible, given all this, that the world's elite academies of atmospheric science (MIT, Stanford, Scripps Oceanographic, Berkeley's alternative energy group at Lawrence Berkeley Lab), numerous European centers of study - that they actually know the die is cast?  I've said this before, but the most chilling comment I have ever heard came from Inez Fung, a leading climate science at Lawrence Berkeley, at a U.S. - China conference on climate change back in 2006 at Wheeler Auditorium.  Basically, Dr. Fung said that scientists who study climate change are "very, very worried."  They are "terrified" by the implications of what they're learning.

Guy McPherson, who writes the Nature Bats Last blog (indexed on the right), recently had this to say about climate change:

Let’s ignore the models for a moment and consider only the results of a single briefing to the United Nations Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen (COP15). Regulars in this space will recall COP15 as the climate-change meetings thrown under the bus by the Obama administration. A footnote on that long-forgotten briefing contains this statement:


In other words, Obama and others in his administration knew near-term extinction of humans was already guaranteed. Even before the dire feedbacks were reported by the scientific community, the Obama administration abandoned climate change as a significant issue because it knew we were done as early as 2009. Rather than shoulder the unenviable task of truth-teller, Obama did as his imperial higher-ups demanded: He lied about collapse, and he lied about climate change. And he still does.
 Kind of grabby, isn't it?  If you're playing along at home, 6 degrees C or more temperature increases and 80 feet rises in sea level, along with all of the other effects, are Game Over scenarios.

Climate change deniers tend to use a "conspiracy theory" argument to support their contention that the "liberal" scientific community is overplaying climate change as an issue in order to attract grant and research money, since the "alarmist" take on AGW is the "popular" one with the liberal media and so on and so forth.  (This is often the view among non-scientific global warming deniers.  The "scientific" deniers they cite to support their viewpoint very rarely actually deny AGW; on the contrary, such scientists [Freeman Dyson, Richard Linzen and others] admit that the atmosphere is warming and that humans are a principal cause, but claim the negative effects are overstated or that there are countervailing positive effects. This group, by the way, no longer includes Richard Muller, a Big Time Denier at Berkeley. http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/UC-climate-change-skeptic-changes-views-3748148.php  The Denier ranks are thinning; such apostacy! ).

Since I can theorize conspiratorially myself, I would posit a contrarian thesis: isn't it probable at this point that the real conspiracy of silence among the scientific community is manifested by the general absence of defeatism in their ranks?  See what I mean?  The argument that global warming is a made-up story by "liberal" scientists to attract funding is just getting kind of stupid at this point.  However, a "defeatist" attitude, if it became the general consensus (openly, I mean) among their ranks would lead to the same problem of de-funding (and loss of stature), and would have the awful permanence and irreversibility of being based on the truth, not a Bible Belt canard. 

Thus, it's better to talk about reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2050, or whatever.  It's better to be Al Gore and Laurie David and urge the world "to act now" to "avert" the worst consequences of climate change.  It's better if we all smile at each other and approve of each other's new Priuses - we're taking it seriously now!

This is what I'm trying to get at.  We don't like thinking any other way than  there has to be hope.  But (the largest "But" I've ever written):  Maybe there isn't any hope.  Maybe it's way, way too late.

Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.  I hope more scientists break ranks and start laying it on the line if in fact we're past all "tipping points."  There are decisions to be made.  Should the present generation of child-bearing age who haven't had children procreate?  Would they be introducing their offspring right into the middle of the absolutely worst consequences of climate change as they reach their main years of life?

The facts are the facts, ma'am.  Carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor and the other greenhouse gases have a very long persistence in the atmosphere.  They are building up.  The thermal inertia of the ocean is beginning to yield up its latent heat to the atmosphere.  The great methane (a gas with perhaps 100 times the potency of CO2 as a greenhouse gas) blooms from the softening Alaskan and Siberian tundras are expanding exponentially.  China is opening a new coal-fired electrical plant every five days or so.  Does it make any difference what I, as an individual, do at this point?  Is an attempt at conservation or frugality simply a narcissistic expression of my projected self-importance (sort of like blogging)?  If I want a 409 horsepower vintage GTO, want to slam a CD into the player and crank up Ronnie & the Daytonas, should I just go the hell ahead and do it?

Wha-wha, uh wha uh wah uh wha!

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