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Global Warming: The Folly of Certainty

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Larry Jones is driving the minivan across the Utah desert on Highway 163, with Sally in the passenger seat and the two kids dozing in the back. According to the map they are approaching the town of Pawoopsie. The radio is on, tuned to a Pawoopsie station that plays country music, but the reception isn’t very good. Suddenly the music cuts off and an announcer’s voice comes in: “static–one sixty-three–static–Pawoopsie–static–bridge collapsed–static–highway patrol says–static”, and then nothing but static.

Sally sits up. “Did he say that the highway bridge in Pawoopsie collapsed?”

Larry shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“It sounded like that’s what he was saying.”

“I don’t know; too much static.”

“Aren’t we getting close to Pawoopsie?”

“Yeah, should be a couple more miles.”

Larry, don’t you think you should slow down?”

“Why?”

“Well, if the bridge has collapsed . . .”

“Are you sure that the bridge has collapsed?”

“No, but . . .”

“Then why should I slow down?”

Here’s the thing about that story: it’s not at all hard to understand. You can tell it to 100 people, and 99 of them will realize that Larry Jones is being stupid. It doesn’t take a brilliant mind to figure out that when you’re hurtling toward possible catastrophe, only a fool would refuse to slow down and start paying attention.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the current debate about climate change, the scientific community has somehow worked itself into the position of implicitly assuming that the public are too stupid to understand that story. We have been treating the public as though they are a large mass of Larry Joneses. That’s a blunder, and one that has cost us big time.

The debate about climate change, as it is currently conducted, focuses mainly on this question: Are we certain that the Earth is going to warm to a dangerous degree in the near future? Climate scientists have been struggling very hard to convince us all that they are certain, or at least nearly certain, but haven’t succeeded all that well.

But that’s really not the right question at all. To think that is the right question is to behave like Larry Jones. The right question is: Are we confident that the Earth is *not* going to warm to a dangerous degree in the near future?

If we’re not confident of that, we’d be idiots not to at least slow down and start making serious plans.

I don’t believe that people are too stupid to understand that logic.

And the thing is, this is a much stronger basis for argument. Certainty is inherently hard to achieve when it comes to climate predictions. Climate depends on lots of variables in complicated ways, and many of them have not been measured with much precision. But if we stop talking about certainty and simply focus on the odds, then the situation clears greatly. There may be a few semi-plausible models that fail to predict serious warming, but the majority of models — and the models that have the greatest acceptance in the community — certainly do. Even if a skeptic prefers the models that don’t predict warming, can the skeptic really be *sure* that they are the correct ones?

If one isn’t sure, then to argue against any action at all is to behave like Larry Jones. A skeptic need not believe that we must immediately destroy the world’s economy by shutting down our use of fossil fuels — it would be just as stupid for Larry Jones to jam down the brakes in the middle of the freeway as to do nothing — but even a skeptic must see that prudence calls for slowing down, getting as much information as we can, and making contingency plans.

Image: Modified from photo by Marc Averette

William Skaggs About the Author: William Skaggs is a neuroscientist whose experimental work has focused on the role of the hippocampus in learning, memory, and spatial navigation, but he is interested in several other areas of science as well, especially the study of consciousness. He has ambitions to be a science writer, and has contributed extensively to Wikipedia under the name "Looie496", mainly by writing articles about the nervous system. Follow on Twitter @weskaggs.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






Comments 84 Comments

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  1. 1. sault 1:39 pm 08/4/2013

    Most of the problem in the climate change debate stems from the fact that the overwhelming majority of “skeptics” are not even interested in really supporting their position with evidence and are thus incapable of actually conducting a debate. Their primary methods of discussion involve either completely misrepresenting the conclusions of climate scientists, ignoring key pieces of information while cherry-picking mostly irrelevant ones and when they do try to support their arguments, they provide disreputable information thinking it is on par with well-established science.

    It really doesn’t help that most climate change denial in the general public is fueled by political ideology (agreement with “free market” fundamentalism is strongly correlated with both climate denial and belief in conspiracy theories). And it REALLY doesn’t help that the companies making multi-TRILLION dollar revenues are trying their hardest to confuse the public on climate change to keep those revenues coming in for as long as possible. So when someone hears a “skeptic” talking point that goes against mainstream climate science (over 97% of climate scientists and over 99% of scientific papers on climate change published in recent years agree that human greenhouse gas emissions are changing the climate), they must realize that the talking point does not incorporate the preponderance of the evidence and might have been made merely for economic or political reasons.

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  2. 2. WRQ9 1:44 pm 08/4/2013

    I agree whole heartedly with this analogy. What I don’t sense is a priority based “surgical” style approach from anyone talking about this issue.
    There are many plausible causes of circumstances such as we are seeing. Some are working undoubtedly in concert yet I don’t see any data, or even speculation on degree.
    When a doctor cuts open a patient, he has a distinct plan of action. Why don’t I sense that coming from the science community? It sounds like we will be paying students in LA a full salary to watch a thermometer, or maintain expensive thermometer watching equipment. Why do feel this way? The only plan I’ve ever heard is some wannabe pirate at the DNC screaming about taking over big business to buy back our future. I don’t believe that is the only solution, just the only suggestion. And given the recent character of your benefactors, a popular one. This has given me a deep distrust for any industry wide approach.
    How about a probative study on where to begin? A diagnosis, then a prognosis, then a prescription or an operation, followed by an updated prognosis. Is that so hard to imagine? Blank checking is so “no surviving economy”.

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  3. 3. julia smith 2:17 pm 08/4/2013

    I suppose that to play it safe, the dumb behaviour corresponds to the male character in the story.

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  4. 4. Stue Potts 3:05 pm 08/4/2013

    If you mean “Better safe than sorry,” please just say so.

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  5. 5. sethdiyal 3:14 pm 08/4/2013

    Of course, the other metaphor in the story is that the cost to Larry/Sally of slowing down just a bit just in case, is zilch.

    In reality the cost of eliminating the fossil fuel culprit is negative, ie it pays back at a close to a 40% return on investment when dirt cheap clean and green zero environmental cost nukes are used to replace the expensive fossil fuels. As a bonus, if we use 1970′s France as an example where they went from zero to 80% nuke over a little more than a decade, and compare that the low information Greenie scenario likely impossible sponsored by German idiots that gets us to 80% by 2050, over 75 million people worldwide will die of fossil air pollution – A meaningless bonus to be sure to the corrupt politician or the Earnest Environmentalist.

    The only thing stopping us in the US is the passively antinuclear Big Oil sponsored Obama White House which can spend almost $100B on worthless investments in wind and solar, yet can find only $250M for R&D on advanced nuclear. The only US effort here is on a 2030 HTGR machine which China has under construction for 2017 service.

    Always ready to spew Big Oil junk science, here’s more sponsored corruption from Obama spelling out his nowhere plan from the ultimate nowhere man – Gas or wind and solar backed up with gas.

    “Natural gas emits 45 per cent less carbon dioxide than coal, ”

    Real science published in reputable journal, shows gas actually produces more GHG’s the coal per kwh with all its production through transportation methane leaks. As required by Obama’s Big Oil sponsors the EPA doesn’t include methane leaks in its carbon counts.

    Fracking gas delivered already costs close to $10/mcf. Prices rose to $33/mcf a few months ago . The entire cheap gas scam is just Big Oil dumping gas to ensure that all new electrical generation and coal replacement is gas not nuclear.

    Today’s fascist business interests owned by Big Oil and its bankers, would rather spend a small amount of capital on gas plant and collect a lucrative gratuity on future fuel sales paid for by the taxpayer, than a large amount of capital and no gratuities on nukes. They pay a lot of graft to our corrupt politicians and media to keep that scam going. If they had to guarantee their prices for the next sixty years like nukes in effect do, not a gas,wind or solar plant would ever be built.

    Big Oil owns our media and all our politicians. It’s that iron grip more than just simple stupidity that stops the nuclear conversion – the James Hansen ticket to win the AGW battle.

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  6. 6. DjMikeWatt 3:15 pm 08/4/2013

    Ok, so I pretty much agree with you; however, I must take exception with the premise that

    “The right question is: Are we confident that the Earth is *not* going to warm to a dangerous degree in the near future?”

    Isn’t this basically just a negative proof argument? Like when someone says to me, “Well, you can’t prove God *doesn’t* exist, so therefore, you should believe, teach your kids the scripture, and go to church regularly”.

    Again, I take no exception with your points or your cause – I agree with you about global warming; I am just bringing up that I think that particular part of your piece is maybe not the best way to present it.

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  7. 7. Owl905 3:47 pm 08/4/2013

    “Isn’t this basically just a negative proof argument?” No. Proof is for math equations and courtrooms. The real world is weight of evidence, and there’s less than 5% confidence that the world is not warming and will soon cool.
    hth.

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  8. 8. Owl905 3:49 pm 08/4/2013

    “What I don’t sense is a priority based “surgical” style approach from anyone talking about this issue.”

    You did. The blueprint of the problem is in the IPCC Climate Reports, and the global response plan was enacted and then butchered with the Kyoto Protocol.

    How did you miss those two bookends?

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  9. 9. carolcarre 3:55 pm 08/4/2013

    @sethdiyal is making a big mistake assuming nuclear power is cheap. It is not. In the US it would be very expensive in terms of water usage when water, especially in the West, is at a premium, and this would be true throughout a lot of the world. Second, it would be expensive in areas which have plenty of water, because due to climate change, the sites would be vulnerable to flooding. The real solution is to push alternative energy sources which are becoming cheaper, easier to apply locally, and certainly less toxic and easier to rebuild than nuclear power plants.

    The “fact” that nuclear power “works” in France is hardly an argument for nuclear power anywhere else. Also, maintaining a centralized power grid such as the nuclear power grid is asking for trouble, especially when there are severe climate disruptions which can make an entire nation go dark. Better to be decentralized as much as possible (community based power) than be at the mercy of a nuclear power plant grid that may be damaged or destroyed by one superstorm, flood, earthquake etc.

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  10. 10. Owl905 4:02 pm 08/4/2013

    The article is a good re-delivery of the precautionary principle. There’s a Youtube around about “What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen?” that uses a parallel runway.
    But to fill in some spaces, add this to the article – the guy flips to another station and someone says it’s only a natural variation in the bridge’s position. A second alternative says it fell down much worse 1,000 years ago and everything bloomed. A third station says reports of the bridge falling down are alarmist hysteria and the best thing to do is put the pedal to the metal. A fourth station says the bridge is down, but there’s no sense in slowing down and stopping until China fixes its bridges.

    (Un)certainty isn’t the problem. Successful pro-pollutionist stupidity-swallowing is the problem. The article tries to forgive the real problem. All aboard for Garbage Dump Earth.

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  11. 11. Joscha 4:14 pm 08/4/2013

    The article is laudable, but rests on the idea that this is a misunderstanding between the scientific community and the public. Instead, it is a conflict between scientists, and deliberate, well-funded and well-designed propaganda of fossil fuel interest groups. The propaganda implies that the radio message has been faked by a conspiracy of lying extortionists, that slowing down would result in an economic and social disaster, and that even if the bridge collapsed a little, we could still use it.

    Consequently, if you change your argument from “global warming is extremely likely, and the results will be bad” into “we cannot be sure that global warming won’t happen”, your adversaries will turn it into: “see, now even the scientists stopped believing in global warming”. Don’t forget that your opponents do not act in good faith.

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  12. 12. the Gaul 4:49 pm 08/4/2013

    “We have been treating the public as though they are a large mass of Larry Joneses. …the public are too stupid to understand that story.”

    Then you go on to ingratiate yourself with the stupid public.

    Most people who read and respond to articles on this site do not fall into your depiction of Larry Jones. But they do vote, and their representatives are happy to offer the same ‘dumbness’ that they hear from their constituents. Consequently we have NO reasonable or intelligent approach to our long-term energy needs. Instead, we have what has been said above clearly – a patchwork program that big oil is tirelessly promoting.

    Stephen Colbert said it best: “The time to panic was 2003.” Our hole is not deep enough yet. In fact, it won’t be deep enough until the chairmen of ExxonMobilBPShellChevronAmoco fall in and can’t get out.

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  13. 13. Russell Seitz 4:49 pm 08/4/2013

    As we are hurtling towards climatic disaster at a rate of 32 +/- 8 microdegrees a day, the most astute response to Skaggs’ alarm is to preserve our capacity for constant vigilance by taking a nap.

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  14. 14. Shoshin 4:53 pm 08/4/2013

    This story is one stupendously massive flawed analogy.

    A closer analogy would be that a computer modeller modeled a rainstorm using the price of rice in China as a constraining factor, as the modeller found that by taking the price of rice and putting it through a black box program that he refuses to divulge, rainstorms may or may not become more frequent.

    And if they do become more frequent, some future rainstorm at sometime may or may not knock a bridge somewhere. So, should they slow down? Or should they stop, sell their mini van, renounce fossil fuels and walk?

    The sad part is that as ignorant and foolish as my analogy is, it is far, far, far closer to reality than the drivel in the article.

    Must be Sunday and the junior Eco-men are left minding the ink barrel again. Tsk tsk… you will all be sent to the corner when the grownups come back in on Monday!!

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  15. 15. Owl905 5:01 pm 08/4/2013

    “A closer analogy would be ” followed by mindless sludge that has no analogy value at all.
    This is a good example of what happens when your radio station only picks up signals from the Mother Ship.

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  16. 16. Carlyle 5:43 pm 08/4/2013

    Well a better analogy is where you are at work & take a call from the fire department telling you that your house has burned down. You race home. No sign of a fire. The next day the same thing happens. Still no fire. This continues for years. When do you lose faith in the fire department?

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  17. 17. Alfredo Louro 5:45 pm 08/4/2013

    What “climate change debate”? There is no debate.

    The article is about risk assessment and strategy, not about climate change.

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  18. 18. Owl905 6:17 pm 08/4/2013

    Crlyle rote: “Well a better analogy is where ” followed by an absurd flop of an attempt at a “better analogy”. Carlyle and Shoshin represent the pro-pollutionists’ lack of understanding to a T – whether it’s written out with pictures and bubbles, or described as an analogy. Carlyle can’t even distinguish between in the future and already happened.

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  19. 19. David Marjanović 6:34 pm 08/4/2013

    worthless investments in wind and solar

    Germany.

    Your argument is invalid.

    As we are hurtling towards climatic disaster at a rate of 32 +/- 8 microdegrees a day, the most astute response to Skaggs’ alarm is to preserve our capacity for constant vigilance by taking a nap.

    That’s microdegrees of global average annual temperature a day.

    A few more thousand days, and global average annual temperature will have broken the records of the last 100,000 years, then 400,000, then 3 million… this is the fastest rise in global average temperature ever in the last… easily 65 million years, probably 3.8 billion or so.

    a black box program that he refuses to divulge

    Um. The programs used for the climate simulations may be behind a paywall, but they’re all published in the scientific literature. They’re by no means secret. They couldn’t even be published otherwise!

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  20. 20. GreenMind 7:11 pm 08/4/2013

    Here’s a better analogy. You stop for gas and ask whether the bridge is out. There’s a county highway worker there who says, “I’ve heard it might be out, but I can’t be absolutely sure. Better to slow down.” But the owner of the gas station says, “Nonsense. There’s no proof that the bridge is out, and if you don’t drive fast then you hurt the economy by buying less gas. Wait until you get proof and then slow down.”

    You say, “What constitutes proof? When I see the road crews blocking the road?”

    He says, “No, because they might be blocking the road just because of the rumors.”

    “How about when I actually see the bridge and it is out?”

    “No, because it might look like it is out but still be OK. You can’t tell just by looking.”

    “Well, when do you stop?”

    “You’ll know when to stop when you fall off the bridge.”

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  21. 21. ultimobo 7:28 pm 08/4/2013

    um – no – you don’t persuade the unconvinced by preaching to the converted

    as a local activist interested in logic before emotion, I see and hear folk like this blogger calling out ‘PLEASE – think of the CHILDREN!’

    OK – yeah – but that’ll mean higher taxes – ‘higher taxes!? – oh, no …’

    the logical question articles like this ignore is not ‘is the climate changing’ – the key issue is ‘is it caused by humans, and can we / should we do something to change it?’

    last night watched TV about 50,000 year history of Australian aborigine survival through an ice age and rising sea levels – they lived through it

    when you get off your high horse and start responding to genuine questions from the unconverted, you may have more success – until then, feel good raging against the stream …

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  22. 22. Cashme 7:33 pm 08/4/2013

    How to fight (big business=big money=big oil=big power =big corruption)/medium logical science

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  23. 23. rkipling 7:53 pm 08/4/2013

    William Skaggs,

    I have read your manifesto. Just because you believe there ought to be a way to sequester CO2 for $100 per ton doesn’t mean there is such a method. Taxing carbon will not necessarily magically produce such a solution.

    Like many others you seem to believe that identifying the problem is most of the solution. You leave that other minor detail of inventing the actual method for someone else. How hard could it be, right? Developing such a CO2 sequester method isn’t brain surgery. It’s much harder.

    It would be informative if you could provide us with details on a couple of your proposed solutions.

    How many trees would you need to plant? How much land area would that take? What mass of wood per year would need to be harvested and what do you do with it? Termites will turn it back into CO2 if you aren’t careful.

    If you turn it into charcoal, you need even more wood mass per year. Please estimate that. I’m thinking the number will be far higher that $100 per ton (a nickel per pound) of CO2, but please prove me wrong.

    I’ll start you off with some hints. I did some research and calculations. You would need approximately 57% of the total surface of the Earth, that is not now growing trees, to annually harvest enough wood to offset the CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels. (Please do the calculations for yourself.) You need to consider scale in your potential solutions. See any pitfalls with the tree thing?

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  24. 24. Owl905 7:56 pm 08/4/2013

    “the logical question articles like this ignore is not ‘is the climate changing’ – the key issue is ‘is it caused by humans ?”

    So if every article doesn’t cover every aspect, you can root for a level of survival like the Australian aboriginees.

    The last 30 years is primarily human-driven contribution that’s fueled temperature rises, ocean level rises, and ocean acidification increases.

    “can we / should we do something to change it?’” Yes, and yes.

    Okay, you got the 101 answer that everyone else had 20 years ago. As to what you should do … your own homework would be a great start.

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  25. 25. Owl905 8:13 pm 08/4/2013

    rkipling blithered” William Skaggs,I have read your manifesto. ” There’s no ‘manifesto’ here. Zilch. It doesn’t even relate to your vented issues about sequester and planting.
    Your comment appears to be an ubber strawman – invented, argued, and triumphed by you against yourself.

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  26. 26. rkipling 8:28 pm 08/4/2013

    Owl,

    It’s on his website. Go read about his solutions for yourself. See below:

    http://weskaggs.net/

    Yeah, Okay I should have said where it was, but I was talking to him anyway. So, take a stress pill and relax.

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  27. 27. rkipling 8:34 pm 08/4/2013

    He calls it his Manifesto himself. You might consider cutting back on the coffee a little. And, just to save you some trouble, I have no concern what anyone here says about me or what names they call me. But hey, if it helps you, fire away.

    If you don’t like what I write, feel free not to read it. I really don’t care either way. You have a great evening.

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  28. 28. Postman1 8:38 pm 08/4/2013

    An alternative thought might be: We are due to begin a new period of glaciation, but, if we continue to increase CO2 and AGW is correct, we could possibly delay the onset. Should we, as responsible humans, burn all the dirty coal we can find because we might be keeping a new ice age from killing billions? Can you prove we are not at the beginning of a new glaciation?
    Neither theory has, or can, be proved without observation and the jury (the Larry Jones’) is still out.

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  29. 29. Postman1 8:43 pm 08/4/2013

    Carlyle,
    Firth and Hound,
    Alice Springs,
    Barmaid named Laura?

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  30. 30. Vincentrj 9:08 pm 08/4/2013

    The analogy is good, but like many analogies it breaks down at some point, so I’ll extend the analogy and elaborate.
    How about this? Larry and Sally are driving towards the town of Pawoopsie to meet a deadline for a very important job interview. Getting this job could change their lives because Larry’s been unemployed for a while and now has two kids to support. It would be a pivotal point in Larry’s career, if he got the job, and would allow Larry and Sally to bring up their two kids without hardship, and skimping and saving.
    They are already a bit late for the interview. If he slows down, plays it safe, misses the interview, then finds that the Pawoopsie bridge has not collapsed, he’ll feel really bad.
    The reality of our situation on this planet seems to be that most of us are preoccupied with gaining economic prosperity, power and status. This goal is so important that we will engage in devastating wars, with loss of millions of lives, in order to achieve this dominance over others.
    In the interests of economic prosperity we allow millions of people to build houses in flood plains, below the level of previously known floods, and to build flimsy houses in areas subject to cyclones and hurricanes.

    In Japan, in the interests of economic prosperity, they even located a nuclear power plant on the coast in an area know to be subjected to tsunamis. Along that eastern coast of Japan there are hundreds of stone markers indicating the level of previous tsunami floods. Some of them even have carved inscriptions, “Don’t build your house below this level”.

    If, as a species, we seem unable to protect ourselves from natural climatic calamities, why should anyone imagine that we could, or even should, spend huge amounts of money as risk management on the basis of an uncertain science which predicts that such calamities might get worse?
    Would it not be more sensible to first protect ourselves from the repitition of known and expected natural disasters, then, having done that, progress towards addressing the less certain implications of CO2 emissions?

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  31. 31. geojellyroll 9:16 pm 08/4/2013

    This is a science site…as an atheist I should start praying to a dead-guy-on-a-stick because a billion people ‘may’ be right? No thanks, I’ll continue to mock religion and its ignorance.

    If there is a god, why does that mean I will be sent to hell? No scientific evidence that a superior being would want to send me to hell for not kissing his ass.

    Global warming…if it exists, there is no real evidence of all these “disastrous” consequences for mankind. There are fewer humans dieng from famine, disease, war, natural disasters than ever. We are not all going to drownn or die of drought.

    The issue with the climate scientists is that they have alligned themselves with social global warming groupies. Science may be able to show an increase of a third of a degree C in warming but can’t add to that scientifically…’therefore famine will sweep…’. Social activists have been allowed to take the sciencetific ball and run with it into non-scientific territory.

    People WILL listen to science. Discerning people will NOT listen the ‘therefore this will happen’ because they know it is not based on science.

    Science and agenda do not mix.

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  32. 32. Owl905 9:35 pm 08/4/2013

    “So, take a stress pill and relax. … . You might consider cutting back on the coffee a little.”
    Since neither of those in any way apply to my response, you’re again doing the strawman rubbish where you create your own imaginary context and wail at it. Really sad.

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  33. 33. Owl905 9:37 pm 08/4/2013

    Postman wrote: “An alternative thought might be: We are due to begin a new period of glaciation, but, if we continue to increase CO2 and AGW is correct, we could possibly delay the onset.” The next Ice Age would start its march in about 30,000 years – without the GHG concentration. What possible value could come from delaying that to say, 35,000 years?

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  34. 34. sethdiyal 9:51 pm 08/4/2013

    @CAROLCARRE
    I always get a kick out the low information earnest environmentalist that spews Big Oil propaganda even as she sanctions the murders of millions worldwide annually through her obstinate ignorance.

    Modern nukes don’t use water – they heat it up a few degrees as it passes through the cooling tower. Gen IV nukes that China will soon be shipping to us are air cooled. Modern nukes have their critical areas sealed against flooding and are always sited well above flood plains especially in coastal areas.In any case there is no more issue with modern nuke cooling system than there is with solar thermal or fossil plant.

    Actually your wind and solar haven’t really gotten any cheaper over the last few years, when soon to end Chinese dumping is accounted for and costs begin to rise. Today’s wind and solar cost all in is 40 cent and 90 cents a kwh when 7 times sized transmission, gas backup and offpeak dumping costs are included while nukes are 4 cents in the US and 3 cents most elsewhere when built by public power.

    Any kind of a solar/wind power environment will see cubic miles of deadly toxic forever end of life chemical waste tossed into landfills leaching into water tables all around the world. Nuke waste is of course, completely contained and kept out of the environment as it awaits reuse as Gen IV nuke fuel. Solar and wind plant without subsidy would be immediately junked at the end of their short less than twenty year lives, while 60 year life modern nuke plants would simply be replaced with a Gen IV plant loaded on site from a delivery truck.

    Really no stupidiyy greater than than your statement on France. Why if it works there won’t it work elsewhere? DUH!!!

    In a fossil to nuclear converted nation every 100K citizens would have their own plant – plenty decentralized. How does the half witted greenie think local solar plant can supply power during a weather event without storage that in the best possible scenario will add a buck a kwh to the cost.

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  35. 35. rkipling 10:09 pm 08/4/2013

    Owl,

    Here is his bullet No. 11. from his manifesto that I pointed you to but you declined to read.

    “The simplest and cheapest way to actively remove carbon is to plant trees, especially large trees, in places where none currently exist. A new tree will continue to sequester carbon as long as it lives, eventually taking up several tons if it is a large tree.”

    Those are Skaggs words. Go read it for yourself or not I don’t care.

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  36. 36. Owl905 10:19 pm 08/4/2013

    “Here is his bullet No. 11. from his manifesto that I pointed you to but you declined to read.” Once again, out comes the strawman arrogance of claiming a fictitious reality where I didn’t read his paper.
    Get your mother to explain it to you – this article is about pro-active choices for a danger ahead, not about his manifesto.

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  37. 37. rkipling 10:39 pm 08/4/2013

    Ah okay then. So the credibility of the author doesn’t matter to you. Fine, then my comment is to Skaggs about his mind numbingly rediculous proactive choices. If you want to take advice from him, be my guest.

    I have no interest in further discussion with you.

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  38. 38. Postman1 10:51 pm 08/4/2013

    Owl now you’re cherry picking my comment. Tsk, Tsk…
    And, as to when the next glaciation may begin, suffice it to say, estimates vary. Anywhere from, ‘It’s overdue’ to ‘Around 80,000 years’.
    Unless you’re privy to some new info, then my scenario is within the realm of possibilities and cannot be ruled out.
    What should Larry do?
    1) Continue along the path taken, while observing and looking for evidence of change? Or
    2) Spend all his resources to try and fix a problem which may not exist and, in which case, he could be causing even worse problems?
    I don’t know the answer and neither do you, but I vote for the #1 course of action.

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  39. 39. Owl905 11:33 pm 08/4/2013

    Not at all Postman. The timing-thing has an echo from that 70s stuff about ‘global cooling’ – where they left out the part that it could lead to an Ice Age in as little as 5,000 years.
    If you have a science source that has an estimate of “overdue”, please share it. My baseline is MIS11 (Hoxnian) interglacial around 400kya.

    As for what Larry should do about the next Ice Age … nothing. Nor should he build a bomb shelter, urge Congress to put battleships back in commission, or yell neener neener as he goes past a Hells Angels clubhouse.

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  40. 40. mkelter 11:46 pm 08/4/2013

    The analogy in this article can cut both ways: We could just as easily be speeding wrecklessly down a Global Warming path fraught with uncertainty that could result in a trillion dollar pile up. The reasonable and prudent person would ensure first where this path is leading us.

    Skeptics don’t necessarily dispute that the earth may have warmed nor do they dispute that the earth may have cooled. Many skeptics might attribute a fraction of the warming to GHGs, but they might also attribute greater fractions of warming to other causes–manmade or natural.

    There are truly many climate variables that even the IPCC (in AR4, chapter 8) admit are poorly understood and modeled. The IPCC models, by the IPCC’s own admission, have not effectively tackled the difficult problems inherent in aerosols, oceanic circulation, or heliophysics. This is understandable since many of these areas have been studied only as long as the issues of CO2, which are the central theme of the IPCC work.

    There is an academic arrogance to “science” that attempts to reduce all climate change to man-made CO2. This has led to poor performance of the IPCC models in recent years. If we look at the Arctic today, we note an unprecedented 10-day cessation in Arctic Sea Ice loss during the middle of the melting season.

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/arctic.sea.ice.interactive.html

    Climatologists who predicted an extremely active Hurricane season this year have been stumped so far by the shredding of hurricanes at sea–likely because of Sahara Air Layer.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/sahara-dust-cloud-south-america_n_3689631.html

    And everybody still seems stumped to answer why world temperatures have not risen in 17 years even while CO2 levels have steadily increased.

    http://www.climate4you.com/images/AllCompared%20GlobalMonthlyTempSince1958%20AndCO2.gif

    From a practical perspective, many Americans ask themselves why they should suffer more to further reduce their CO2 footprint–which is now at 1995 levels–when the rest of the world continues to increase their CO2 discharges. That’s a fair question, especially for those who’ve done the math and know (based on generous assumptions of IPCC’s data) that TOTAL elimination of all American CO2 discharges would reduce world temperatures by less than 1/100 degrees C.

    http://www.worldclimatereport.com/index.php/2009/04/30/what-you-cant-do-about-global-warming/

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  41. 41. Sackallen 11:53 pm 08/4/2013

    You are talking logic and the ability to have empathy for coming generations, one or 100 in the future, to a population that’s eats themselves into obesity and disease… For lack of will power, and you expect humanity to care about global warming? You overestimate us my man.

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  42. 42. rkipling 12:59 am 08/5/2013

    Sackallen,

    Your assessment (I’m paraphrasing what you said) that the human race will not stop burning fossil fuel to benefit future generations is accurate. If the economic impact was as small as it was for giving up chlorofluorocarbons, yup, we will do that. But would we suffer the pain of giving up fossil fuels? Not a chance. So no, it’s not logical to believe proactive measures will be tried on a meaningful scale.

    The much larger logic error is comparing burning fossil fuel on a planetary scale to old Larry driving his minivan. From Wikipedia, “The burning of fossil fuels produces around 21.3 billion tonnes (metric tons) of CO2 per year.” Now if you assume Larry’s minivan weighs 21.3 billion metric tons, the analogy would be a tiny bit closer. Larry would need the mother of all brake systems.

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  43. 43. Carlyle 1:29 am 08/5/2013

    Postman1: Have not been to ‘The Alice’ for thirty odd years. Laura sounds delightful. :)

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  44. 44. Carlyle 1:40 am 08/5/2013

    Owl says.. Already happened. Which island nation has sunk beneath the sea? Where are the 40 million environmental refugees? Where is the ice free Arctic? Where are the increasing catastrophic storms? Tell me which predicted calamity related to AGW has eventuated? I am ready with my BS metre. It runs hot when ever you comment.

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  45. 45. phalaris 2:02 am 08/5/2013

    David Marjanović 6:34 pm 08/4/2013 #19
    ‘”worthless investments in wind and solar” : Germany’

    David is presumably not aware that greenhouse emissions rose in Germany last year.
    http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wirtschaft/klimawandel-deutschland-steigert-co-ausstoss-1.1609316

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  46. 46. Carlyle 3:00 am 08/5/2013

    #44
    Germany is shutting nuclear power stations that have never caused a single nuclear related death in the decades they have been operating. After spending billions on wind & solar power they have come up energy short & are building Lignite (Brown coal) fired power stations. The dirtiest form of coal. What is more, they are destroying centuries old villages to mine it. That WILL cause pollution related deaths & liberate much more radioactive material & other carcinogens than a nuclear power station.
    Alternative energy is not.

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  47. 47. stargene 4:57 am 08/5/2013

    William…
    I’m not sure why you are blaming scientists in
    this ludicrously lopsided ‘debate’. Most
    commenters here have it right: The fuel-industry
    -wall-st. based deniers are playing fast and
    loose (no surprise), pretending to be fair
    and science-minded. But scientists are at a huge
    disadvantage in this (not only financially or in
    the fact that mainstream media is largely owned
    by upper-class ‘elites’ who benefit from fossil
    fuel capitalism.)

    I refer specifically to the fact that when
    scientists cite uncertainties in their data
    and its interpretation, they generally know
    exactly what they mean, and so do their
    colleagues. Transparency regarding uncertainty
    is crucial in good healthy science.

    But this is not so in just about any other field
    of human endeavor, particularly politics and big
    corporate bottom lines. Well-funded, slickly
    written denialist agitprop plays on that same
    uncertainty to persuade an increasingly under-
    educated public that if “uncertainty exists
    even among scientists”, then why should they
    bother thinking about it or giving it any
    credence. Especially since they are already
    preoccupied by having to fret and make ends
    meet, due to precisely the same economic
    disaster perpetrated by that same elitist
    hierarchy not so long ago.

    Scientists are simply not accustomed to being
    systematically thrown up against expert cheaters,
    schemers and liars. That’s a hard, cold fact.

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  48. 48. scribblerlarry 5:59 am 08/5/2013

    I grow weary of the AGW crowd misnaming we, who are skeptical of their claims to ask for some proof, as “deniers.” Very few of us deny anything. But if you make claims, it is understood in scientific circles that you must offer evidence that your claims are correct. When I ask AGWers for such evidence I get told, “I’m not going to do your work for you; look it up for yourself.”

    When I ask for just the scientific paper that convinced any AGWer of man-made global warming, I get cussed out and called a tool of big oil. Oddly enough the only other time I get replies of that nature is when I question religious claims.

    So let’s look at one of the most popular claims made by the Church of AGW. I’m referring her to the claim that the oceans will rise by two feet by the year 2020. I admit to being awfully skeptical of this claim. Y’see, it doesn’t depend on how hot it gets so long as it gets hot enough to melt every bit of ice on this planet. Suppose for one moment that that happened. Let’s do some simple arithmetic.

    Two thirds of this planet is sea/ocean. One third is land. Ice and water occupy a volume that is roughly similar (within 10%) with ice occupying slightly more volume than water. This means that for every cubic foot of water the seas rise, there must be two cubic feet of land ice (land being half the area of the seas) that melts. Simple arithmetic tells us that if the seas are to rise two feet from the melting of land ice, then there must be an average of four feet of ice on every square foot of land.

    Soooooo…….. Where is it? I can’t find it. Y’know what? There simply isn’t that much ice on planet Earth. So no matter how hot this planet gets it CANNOT produce that much of a sea rise.

    Is this a scientific claim? No, not at all. Just a skeptic who can do simple math, asking, “Where will all the water come from?”

    Stupid question, huh?
    .

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  49. 49. Carlyle 6:07 am 08/5/2013

    Well then the scientists should turf the liars & schemers from their midst.

    So who drew the mythical hockey stick that the IPCC has dropped? Who predicted an Ice Free Arctic by 2012? Who predicted 40 million climate refugees by now? Who continues to falsely claim that the world is warming in line with predictions in lock step with sault poison increases (CO2)? Who denies the disaster that is alternative energy? Who claimed that rising sea levels would have inundated small Island states by now?
    Who wrote the infamous emails?

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  50. 50. Carlyle 6:18 am 08/5/2013

    My last post related to#46

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  51. 51. saleemhali 7:24 am 08/5/2013

    Rather simplistic article — a bit shocked that Sci-Am would post it. Yes, precautionary principle is well-known and public can follow that but the cost of aversion is different from just a detour on a highway. Cost of behavioral change versus adaptation cost and the extent of “disaster” to be averted versus countenanced by change in behavior are all part of the conversation.

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  52. 52. Postman1 10:17 am 08/5/2013

    Carlyle, Laura is my neighbors’ daughter, but I had to ask.
    Dr. Nils-Axel Morner is the former chair of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University in Sweden. He is the past president (1999-2003) of the International Union for Quaternary Research Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution. A recent paper reviewed by CO2 Science finds that sea levels have risen from 2002-2011 at a rate of only 1.7 millimeters per year over the past 110 years, the equivalent of 6.7 inches per century. This is close to Dr. Morner’s assertion that, at most, there has been a rate of increase that tops out at 1.1 millimeter per year. The review concluded that there is no evidence of any human influence on sea levels.

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  53. 53. Sisko 1:03 pm 08/5/2013

    Comment #40 is a good summary!

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  54. 54. looie496 2:01 pm 08/5/2013

    Unfortunately it’s not possible — or at least too hard — to respond to individual comments in a non-threaded format like this, but I’d just like to say that I appreciate all the comments (well, most of them), and agree with at least some of the points that have been made. Thanks for all the feedback, and best regards to all,
    Bill Skaggs

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  55. 55. Russell Seitz 2:54 pm 08/5/2013

    19.
    “A few more thousand days, and global average annual temperature will have broken the records of the last 100,000 years, then 400,000, then 3 million… this is the fastest rise in global average temperature ever in the last… easily 65 million years, probably 3.8 billion or so.”

    No, David, you got tht decimal place wrong, and what’s at issue is less deep time than human history- it took a hundred thousand days for steam powered technical civilization to increase CO2 by 100 ppm .

    Skaggs ought to be of better courage– only very dim view of Moore’s law presumes nuclear power immune to technical evolution.

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  56. 56. sault 3:54 pm 08/5/2013

    Russell,

    Nuclear power has had around 60 years to get its act together and we are STILL forced to pay billion$$$ and wait around a decade for a reactor to get built. Billion$$$ more have been blown on all the pork that the nuclear industry requires to survive, from R&D to liability insurance and waste management. Even now, electricity customers in Florida are on the hook for $1.3B after ALREADY paying $1.5B to finance the construction of a reactor that was subsequently cancelled:

    http://origin.wtsp.com/news/topstories/article/328040/250/Nuclear-power-plant-plans-canceled

    Whatta deal, right?

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  57. 57. sault 4:01 pm 08/5/2013

    Postman1,

    CO2 Science is a mouthpiece of the fossil fuel companies. REAL scientific studies show MUCH higher rates of sea level rise:

    ” Here, we present a consistent record of mass balance for the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets over the past two decades, validated by the comparison of two independent techniques over the last 8 years: one differencing perimeter loss from net accumulation, and one using a dense time series of time-variable gravity. We find excellent agreement between the two techniques for absolute mass loss and acceleration of mass loss. In 2006, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets experienced a combined mass loss of 475 ± 158 Gt/yr, equivalent to 1.3 ± 0.4 mm/yr sea level rise. Notably, the acceleration in ice sheet loss over the last 18 years was 21.9 ± 1 Gt/yr2 for Greenland and 14.5 ± 2 Gt/yr2 for Antarctica, for a combined total of 36.3 ± 2 Gt/yr2. This acceleration is 3 times larger than for mountain glaciers and ice caps (12 ± 6 Gt/yr2). If this trend continues, ice sheets will be the dominant contributor to sea level rise in the 21st century.”

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2011GL046583/abstract;jsessionid=56951DA5EF6B43C0BD02E6CBB4ABC574.d02t02?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

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  58. 58. sault 4:36 pm 08/5/2013

    #49 Carlyle,

    Shame…you know those are a bunch of long-debunked fossil fuel company talking points. The fact that you keep repeating them after we’ve shown you they’re wrong time and time again means you have no respect for the facts. Don’t get anoyed when you’re called a denier when you obviously don’t try to live in the same reality the rest of us do.

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  59. 59. GreenMind 5:32 pm 08/5/2013

    scribblerLarry – By now I think you may have figured out your arithmetic error, but here is actual information from the USGS website at
    http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycleice.html

    The vast majority, almost 90 percent, of Earth’s ice mass is in Antarctica, while the Greenland ice cap contains 10 percent of the total global ice mass. The Greenland ice cap is an interesting part of the water cycle. The ice cap became so large over time (about 600,000 cubic miles (mi3) or 2.5 million cubic kilometers (km3)) because more snow fell than melted. Over the millennia, as the snow got deeper, it compressed and became ice. The ice cap averages about 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) in thickness, but can be as thick as 14,000 feet (4,300 meters).

    Glacial ice covers 10-11 percent of all land.
    According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), if all glaciers melted today the seas would rise about 230 feet (70 meters).
    During the last ice age (when glaciers covered more land area than today) the sea level was about 400 feet (122 meters) lower than it is today. At that time, glaciers covered almost one-third of the land.
    During the last warm spell, 125,000 years ago, the seas were about 18 feet (5.5 meters) higher than they are today. About three million years ago the seas could have been up to 165 feet (50.3 meters) higher.
    Largest surface area of any glacier in the contiguous United States: Emmons Glacier, Washington (4.3 square miles or 11 square kilometers)

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  60. 60. Dr. Strangelove 11:44 pm 08/5/2013

    Yes there’s a folly of certainty. The certainty that we can stop global warming if only we stop using fossil fuels. If scientists aren’t certain if global warming is catastrophic, where did the certainty come from that environmentalists know the solution? To be totally objective about it, if you’re not sure it’s a problem, you can’t be sure of the solution.

    It seems the environmentalists have a prior agenda and they will latch on to anything that will support their agenda. Of course the other side may be true as well. The Big Oil has obvious agenda and will do the same.

    Agendas aside, isn’t it prudent to assume we don’t know the solution but we can adapt? If sea level rise, build dikes or move to higher ground. If the tropics become too hot, move to polar regions. One can argue adaptation is more expensive than prevention. But we don’t know if prevention will work. If we try and it doesn’t work, we’ll be forced to adapt. Double expense.

    Both sides will not be happy with actions that do not support their agendas. In the end, the people will chose what actions to take. And if the advocates aren’t happy with it, perhaps it is naïve to think the people are just foolish.

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  61. 61. rshoff 12:15 pm 08/6/2013

    @seth – “Of course, the other metaphor in the story is that the cost to Larry/Sally of slowing down just a bit just in case, is zilch.”

    That’s an assumption. Just because speeding ahead has implied risk, we don’t know that ‘not’ speeding ahead has no risk.

    I ‘like’ ice cream.
    I don’t ‘like’ ice cream.
    I ‘dislike’ ice cream.

    Three different meanings. Our problem is we only see the world in 2D when actually it’s 3D or more.

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  62. 62. GreenMind 4:24 pm 08/6/2013

    Dr Strangelove says:
    “Yes there’s a folly of certainty. The certainty that we can stop global warming if only we stop using fossil fuels. If scientists aren’t certain if global warming is catastrophic, where did the certainty come from that environmentalists know the solution? To be totally objective about it, if you’re not sure it’s a problem, you can’t be sure of the solution.”

    I don’t know any environmentalists who are certain about the solution. The ones I know say that it is too late to avoid it even if we stopped using all fossil fuels today. All we can do now is try to prevent the worst scenarios, which will be very, very bad if they happen.

    We may not be sure of the solution, but I think scientists are at least very sure of the cause. 95% of climate scientists say that the main cause of global warming is CO2 released by industry, with some methane and soot as lesser factors. What do you think is the likelihood that they are wrong? What do you think is the likelihood that YOU are wrong instead? Why do denier bloggers so often distort new climate science when they report it? Maybe because there is no actual research that supports the denier position? The only way they can pretend there is science on their side is to twist the actual science backwards.

    Even if we can’t fix the harm that is already unavoidable and “in the pipeline,” we could at least stop making it worse. So not producing CO2 is an obvious first step, like taking your foot off the accelerator when you think the bridge might be out. A second step might be to try to actually reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, by planting forests or sequestering CO2 that is scrubbed from the atmosphere. That would be like actually putting on the brakes. But if we don’t slow the warming down before it starts releasing massive quantities of methane from thawing tundras and the Arctic sea floor, we could in a situation where the accelerator is stuck, “pedal to the metal.” Trying to brake would be pointless.

    You say, “Agendas aside, isn’t it prudent to assume we don’t know the solution but we can adapt? If sea level rise, build dikes or move to higher ground. If the tropics become too hot, move to polar regions. One can argue adaptation is more expensive than prevention.”

    That’s not prudence, that’s gambling. That’s like saying “My child has a fever, and three doctors say he has typhoid fever, but the medicine might be too expensive and it might not work, and I once heard the doctors say poor people need more protection from disease so they must be socialists, so I’ll just see if he dies and adapt to that.” I doubt that the child’s mother would go along with that.

    As for moving to higher ground and such, you are talking as if you are dealing with a small town near a seashore, and you can just send in the National Guard and evacuate them. Where do you move entire cities and their surrounding populations? Where are you going to find all this high ground and replace all the agricultural areas that could be inundated? Are you saying part of “adapting” is to let a few billion people die of war and starvation first, and then move the survivors?

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  63. 63. rogerfgay 4:26 pm 08/6/2013

    Seriously, no more do-overs. I called it. The idea that reasonable people aren’t buying the global warming scam is the “scientists aren’t good at PR” was already done. The NY Times even did a behind the scenes expose. … a few years ago.

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  64. 64. Dr. Strangelove 10:15 pm 08/6/2013

    @greenmind
    The “denier” name-calling reveals that you are just advocating your belief and don’t really care about the science. Do you know that the heat capacity of the ocean is 1,000x greater than the atmosphere? Depending on the ocean-atmosphere heat transfer in the future, which is highly uncertain, the atmosphere could warm tremendously even if you stop CO2 emission now. Conversely, the ocean could just absorb all the heat from additional CO2 emissions.

    This is the uncertainty that many people don’t understand and activist scientists try to undermine or hide. But I expect environmental activists will never listen to reason and will insist their belief. Go ahead, proclaim doomsday. Let’s see if the world will listen and stop burning fossil fuels. In the end, reason will prevail. That’s why they will continue burning fossil fuels until they see the sea flooding New York and daily temperatures becoming uncomfortably hot.

    Is it too late by then? The sea is now rising at 3.3 mm/yr. At that rate, sea level will rise a little over a foot in 100 yrs. Plenty of time to build dikes or move out. The billions of deaths doomsday scenario is pure fantasy. Warm climate and high atmospheric CO2 favor agriculture. If the world stops burning fossil fuels, it’s not because the activists scared us, but because alternative energy sources are available and economical.

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  65. 65. GreenMind 10:27 pm 08/6/2013

    rogerfgay, not sure who you are responding to, but perhaps you can provide a link to that NYT “expose.” So far, every link that a denier ever provided to me, either on a comment section or privately, has turned out to be the opposite of what was claimed.

    I never thought of calling “no do-overs.” Wow, that would really change the nature of the conversation on SciAm, if deniers couldn’t repeat the same garbage time after time. What a relief that would be.

    No, the reason that reasonable people don’t believe that global warming is happening is that unreasonable people cloud the issue with demands for “proof”, while scientists can only provide “evidence.” Some of the unreasonable people are paid to do it, some do it out of ignorance, some do it out of distrust of the government, and some are trolls in clubs who rack up points for every response they get.

    As for PR, if a scientist starts speaking and acting publicly on his or her belief that we are in great danger, he or she will be condemned as biased and an activist. If a scientist phrases his or her research carefully with probabilities and error bars, it will be taken as uncertainty and lack of “proof.”

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  66. 66. Dr. Strangelove 11:02 pm 08/6/2013

    “Where do you move entire cities and their surrounding populations?”

    Go to Atlanta. It’s 1,000 ft above sea level.

    “Where are you going to find all this high ground and replace all the agricultural areas that could be inundated?”

    The average elevation of the 7 continents is 2,750 ft above sea level. There’s more than enough high ground for all the people in the world. People like to live beside the sea that’s why they’re affected. Even if you melt all the ice in Antarctica, which will take 30,000 yrs, it will raise sea level by 230 ft. Not enough to submerge the continents except the coastal areas.

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  67. 67. GreenMind 12:47 am 08/7/2013

    Dr Strangelove,

    “The “denier” name-calling reveals that you are just advocating your belief and don’t really care about the science.”

    I fail to see how saying “denier” indicates anything about whether I care about the science. I care far more deeply than you about the science, as shown by the fact that I actually believe it and you don’t.

    I care even more deeply about the Earth. I have grown angry about all the people who disregard the science or lie about it. I have become deeply pessimistic about the future of civilization over the next couple of hundred years, and I believe the scientists when they say we need to do something to reduce AGW (too late to avoid it). Sure, Earth will survive. Sure, humans will survive. But there will be enormous suffering, and the current rate of species extinction will get far worse. I call people who deny that deniers. It seems accurate. Perhaps you haven’t seen what deniers call people who believe AGW is happening. Have you ever heard of the Church of Al Gore? So even when I’m rude, I’m still polite. Except now. So STFU about telling me what I care about.

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  68. 68. GreenMind 1:20 am 08/7/2013

    Dr Strangelove says:

    “Do you know that the heat capacity of the ocean is 1,000x greater than the atmosphere? Depending on the ocean-atmosphere heat transfer in the future, which is highly uncertain, the atmosphere could warm tremendously even if you stop CO2 emission now. Conversely, the ocean could just absorb all the heat from additional CO2 emissions.”

    Yes, I knew that. Have you seen the recent research that shows that while the atmosphere has paused in its warming, the oceans are warming faster than previously thought? You say “the ocean could just absorb all the heat,” and somehow that seems just fine to you. You don’t think it means that they will get warmer, fuel bigger hurricanes, and hold less CO2?

    “This is the uncertainty that many people don’t understand and activist scientists try to undermine or hide. But I expect environmental activists will never listen to reason and will insist their belief. Go ahead, proclaim doomsday. Let’s see if the world will listen and stop burning fossil fuels. In the end, reason will prevail. That’s why they will continue burning fossil fuels until they see the sea flooding New York and daily temperatures becoming uncomfortably hot.”

    No, this is the fake uncertainty that deniers make up and shout from the rooftops. Certainly there is uncertainty about the details of where the heat will go and how bad it will get, but the overall trend is very clear. And yes, people are listening. For awhile there was a drop in the number of people who believed that AGW was happening, but that has turned around and is rising. I agree with you that we will continue to burn fossil fuels, but it will be because unreasonable people make a lot of money by burning it. Reason will prevail, after all the alternatives are exhausted.

    “Is it too late by then? The sea is now rising at 3.3 mm/yr. At that rate, sea level will rise a little over a foot in 100 yrs. Plenty of time to build dikes or move out. The billions of deaths doomsday scenario is pure fantasy.”

    I’m not really concerned that much about the current slow rise in sea level. If that were all it is then we could adapt to it as it comes. A bigger danger is the chaotic weather. A hundred-year-storm every year. Breaks in levees due to a record-breaking rain, every year. A short heat wave that ruins a local crop can be an inconvenience (except for the farmer), but when the short heat waves come over and over and over it can be a calamity.

    Another danger is if the West Antarctic Ice Shelf breaks and slides into the ocean, sea levels rise something like 10 feet, last I heard. I’m not clear how fast it would slide. And if the Greenland ice sheet collapses, the oceans rise something like 20 feet.

    “Warm climate and high atmospheric CO2 favor agriculture.”

    You have no idea whether a warming climate and high CO2 will favor agriculture in the future. Why do you believe this crap when you don’t believe scientists? You’ve got a crystal ball or a fossil fuel blogger you trust more?

    “If the world stops burning fossil fuels, it’s not because the activists scared us, but because alternative energy sources are available and economical.”

    They are available and economical now. For one thing, conservation can save a whole lot more CO2 than solar energy. People can save a lot of money by insulating their houses better, and save emissions at the same time.

    As for solar, there are lots of companies that will put a solar array on your roof for no charge, and they charge less every month than you pay now for electricity. There are even companies that will put a solar array somewhere else, like over a parking lot, if your own roof won’t handle it.

    There are two price points in solar energy, one for consumers and one for energy companies. We have already passed the first one, and for consumers the only question is how long it takes for the system to pay for itself. Ironically, rich conservatives are among the biggest consumers of solar installations, because they see how much money they save. We haven’t reached the second price point yet, but some places are making renewables mandatory, so energy companies have to add them to their mix anyway.

    The idea that there will have to be some kind of socialist takeover of America in order to reduce CO2 emissions is just right wing propaganda.

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  69. 69. Dr. Strangelove 3:25 am 08/7/2013

    Name-calling is the refuge of people who would rather attack the person than give sound arguments. You don’t care about science because you know little of it and you don’t bother to find out. Separate the facts from fiction.

    “You don’t think it means that they will get warmer, fuel bigger hurricanes, and hold less CO2?”

    Yes the ocean is getting warmer but not necessarily the atmosphere. Look at temperature in 20th century. Sea level always rising (indication of warming) but air temperature sometimes cooling. And the warming “pause” last decade? Even IPCC scientists are saying the missing heat is in deep ocean. When will it come up? It could be decades, centuries or a thousand years. Thermohaline circulation.

    Bigger hurricanes? No evidence. Ask the meteorologists. Read Roy Spencer, Richard Lindzen. Hold less CO2? Yes, so what? It can also absorb additional heat.

    “Certainly there is uncertainty about the details of where the heat will go and how bad it will get, but the overall trend is very clear.”

    The statement is correct but the spin is misleading. The trend is 0.7 C per century. Last decade there’s a warming slowdown. Hardly alarming and catastrophic.

    “A bigger danger is the chaotic weather.”

    Many meteorologists are skeptics because they know better. Weather is always chaotic and sometimes dangerous. Activists have a way of telling the truth but putting a spin.

    “Another danger is if the West Antarctic Ice Shelf breaks and slides into the ocean”

    Another half-truth. It’s possible but how likely and when? In a thousand years or so.

    “You have no idea whether a warming climate and high CO2 will favor agriculture in the future.”

    Why do people put plants in greenhouses? Photosynthesis and CO2. Plenty of evidence in experiments and in practice. Look at geologic history.

    Re. solar energy. I’m all for renewable energies.

    “The idea that there will have to be some kind of socialist takeover of America in order to reduce CO2 emissions is just right wing propaganda.”

    Fiction. The reality is CO2 reduction is neither the cause of socialists nor right-wingers. It is mainly the cause of environmental activists and they just want anybody who opposes it to look bad. I said enough. Goodbye.

    Link to this
  70. 70. Postman1 1:42 pm 08/7/2013

    Dr. Strangelove +10 :)

    Link to this
  71. 71. Heteromeles 3:23 pm 08/7/2013

    And we can add Dr. Strangelove and Mr. Postman to the static that poor Larry Jones is dealing with. Hope they’re getting well paid for emitting all that interference.

    To me, this is has the same problem as recent summer blockbusters. See, it’s not Larry Jones life and death, it’s a bunch of investors on both sides looking at multi-trillion dollar investments and trying to figure out what to do.

    In a way, this is worse, because the investors keep forgetting that their own skins are in the game. If Wall Street drowns in the Atlantic in another century, their history will be one with Atlantis, which was a great trading empire until it disappeared, and now no one even knows where it might have been.

    So, as investors do, they fuss, they BS, they try to play their competition, all to come out ahead.

    This is why blockbusters these days suck. If you’re going to convince an investor to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s gotta be safe, have a good chance of making its money back. They don’t particularly care about whether it’s brilliant, because brilliance carries an unacceptable risk of failure. Even worse, brilliance is dauntingly society specific, and it’s easier to make back your money if everyone from Nairobi to Bangkok to Green Bay gets it.

    So that’s what we’re stuck with, on a global scale. The big boys think they’ll survive regardless, so this is just another business game. The scientists know better, but heck, who ever listens to them anymore? Besides depressive realists, most Europeans, and investors who want to cash out on the stupidity of the masses, I mean.

    As for the rest of us Joneses, I strongly advise not buying an beachfront property, and getting your kids to live further towards the poles, and further inland, than you do now. After all, we’re Larry Jones, and we’re dealing with a lot of static.

    Link to this
  72. 72. rkipling 6:02 pm 08/7/2013

    Toyon,

    I hope you don’t mind me using your more familiar name. Heteromeles is hard to spell. Please don’t bristle up until you hear me out.

    In this metaphor with Larry careening toward potential oblivion, if Larry represents the collective leadership of the planet, you are Sally, and CAGW is the fallen bridge, then our planetary Toyota’s engine won’t stop and it has no breaks. Apart from mass suicide by the whole human race, which I don’t personally favor, I haven’t heard a meaningful solution or group of solutions that have any practical chance of working before CO2 hits 500 ppmv, 600 ppmv, …..

    For sure people are looking to make a buck with this issue. We see the green companies in the news that flushed millions of tax dollars down the tube. I can guarantee there were hands at the bottom of that tube to catch the money. Is big business in the feeding frenzy? Yup, they are. I won’t bother with examples. Are oil companies benefiting? If they can find a way, I’m sure they are too. But I seriously doubt they are spending time and effort to undermine green energy initiatives.

    You see there is really no need for anyone to try to thwart green energy projects. The ones that make sense and money do just fine, but aren’t at a scale significant enough in energy output to be any meaningful competition for fossil fuels. Oil company hit men aren’t out blowing up hydroelectric plants. The boondoggles take care of themselves. (I would list the boondoggles but anyone at all familiar with this issue knows about many of them, and it would be wasted on those unfamiliar.) This is why I don’t believe oil companies are worried. No competition yet.

    The guy that wrote this article thinks planting trees will solve the problem. Anyway that’s what he says on his website. BUZZZZZZZ!!! Wrong. Now don’t get me wrong. I like trees with the best of them. There just isn’t enough landmass to plant enough of those guys. Don’t take my word for it. Someone else who knows how to do the math please run the calculations and report back.

    So, even if everyone on this site was in complete agreement with you and your friends on the Chaparral, it wouldn’t make one bit of difference until somebody comes up with a plan that is affordable and works.

    Link to this
  73. 73. Dr. Strangelove 10:58 pm 08/7/2013

    Bigger hurricanes from AGW?

    No evidence. A review article published in 2010 by the World Meteorological Organization Expert Team on Climate Change Impacts on Tropical Cyclones (Knutson et al.) concluded the following:

    Detection and attribution: “It remains uncertain whether past changes in any tropical cyclone activity (frequency, intensity, rainfall, and so on) exceed the variability expected through natural causes, after accounting for changes over time in observing capabilities.”

    Inconsistent with scientific theory. From Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (2005):

    “According to any textbook on dynamic meteorology, one may reasonably conclude that in a warmer world, extratropical storminess and weather variability will decrease. The reasoning is as follows. Judging by historical climate change, changes are greater in high latitudes than in the tropics. Thus in a warmer world, we would expect the temperature difference between high and low latitudes to diminish. However, it is precisely this difference that gives rise to extratropical large-scale weather disturbances. Moreover, when a winter day in Boston is unusually warm, the wind is blowing from the south. Similarly, when the day is unusually cold, the wind is generally blowing from the north. The possible extent of these extremes is determined by how warm low latitudes are and how cold high latitudes are. Given that we expect high latitudes to warm much more than low latitudes in a warmer climate, the difference is expected to diminish, leading to less variance.”

    “Nevertheless, advocates and the media tell us that exactly the opposite is the case: that the models predict this (which, to their credit, they do not) and that the basic agreement discussed earlier signifies scientific agreement on this matter as well. Clearly more storms and greater extremes are regarded as more alarming than not. Thus the opposite of our current understanding is invoked in order to promote public concern. The crucial point here is that once the principle of consensus is accepted, agreement on anything is taken to infer agreement on
    everything.”

    Link to this
  74. 74. balrogrex 12:04 am 08/8/2013

    static–one sixty-three–static–Pawoopsie–static–bridge collapsed–static–highway patrol says–static

    so here is the problem with the analogy at the beginning… it is more like …. static for 5 mins, pawoopie static for 30 mins bridge static for an hour coll static lased static for 3 days highway patrol says…. who will slow would slow down….. even in the scenario above no one would slow down, the wisest may pay attention, thats all.

    Link to this
  75. 75. balrogrex 6:39 am 08/8/2013

    sometimes these pseudo-scientists really get to me…. uncertainty is the only thing we can be sure of…. oh and the end (eg. death)…. but if one stops and look at any argument or topic everything seems certain.. how can that be?
    some of these subjects are in their infancy… its like having a few pieces of a puzzle together out of 1000s of pieces, how can you tell what it is? almost everything we know today was counter-intuitive at one point in the time past. the past tells us we are wrong 99.999999% of the time. if you make a venn diagram for all the possible ideas and make a circle in it for all the truths, the circle would look like a faded dot!(it would really disappear)
    if my error of measurement is 0.5 whats the concern with a deviation of 0.3 in the data.

    Link to this
  76. 76. jonhuie 5:01 pm 08/8/2013

    Climate change probably won’t do any personal harm to anyone who is an adult today. What divides people is whether they feel a responsibility to future generations.

    Treat the earth well.
    It was not given to you by your parents,
    it was loaned to you by your children.
    We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
    we borrow it from our Children.
    - Native American traditional

    Link to this
  77. 77. Crasher 6:43 pm 08/8/2013

    A good story that makes a very valid point. The real reason why climate change is challenged is because very powerful vested interests have the ability to control the media and thereby control the message.In Australia the coal industry and media barons have conspired to control what we get told. I assume the same is happening in other countries as well.
    I do love the way some here use the term ‘AGW’ Thats a bit like saying alleged gravitation force hold us on the planet….like all science any theory exists until it is changed via evidence. Climate change isnt ‘proven’ but like the theory of gravity it is held by the vast majority of reputable scientists and scientific organisations. The models that predict nasty things are going to happen if we continue our ways aren’t fact eitherb but if we choose to ignore them in the face of growing substantial evidence then our generation shall be condemned by future generations for our stupidity.

    Link to this
  78. 78. Utahn 9:58 am 08/9/2013

    Excellent article. My only quibble is that I don’t think it’s “the scientific community has somehow worked itself into the position of implicitly assuming that the public are too stupid to understand that story”. Maybe a few, but much more so the skeptic community has driven the conversation that way (I suppose the scientific community can take some blame for not beating back that drive). Witness: http://blog.heartland.org/2013/07/michael-mann-redfines-science/

    Link to this
  79. 79. logically 11:06 am 08/9/2013

    The writer is correct but the solution in solving the problems of Global Warming and or Pollution will not come around as long as making money is involved from both sides. It’s like we can not solve poverty in “The Richest
    Country In The World.” Or why we continue to argue over the 2nd Amendment- Just do a National Vote, pro or con on guns. Go to WAR or NOT, why argue for 10 yrs. and continue to kill and be killed and maimed. End of story

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  80. 80. IntellGrunt49 1:39 pm 08/9/2013

    Mr. Skaggs: “What is the greatest single source of
    Earth’s Global Warming?” I’ve asked this question
    since 1988 and only had 5 correct answers! Over 250
    people with BA, MA, BS, MS and PhDs did not get this
    answer correct!

    Most recently I asked an MS friend of mine who advised President Reagan on Nuclear Weapons issues at the White House this question and he answered: “Carbon DiOxide.

    “No.”

    “Methane?”

    “No. Earth’s Sun is the correct answer,” I replied.

    ‘MS friend’s’ face got very, very red.

    Talk about brainwashing—et tu? Mr. NeuroScientist—. No wonder heroes of mine like Dr. Edward Teller helped
    organize the ‘Global Warming Petition Project’ which
    attempted to debunk or thwart the hysteria of the
    Junk Science spewed by the unfortunately named—
    Environmental Protection Agency and their slobbering
    syncophants—Like ‘Scientific America, etc…’

    Oh, BTW, according to NASA, the energy captured by Our Earth from Our Sun is over 11,000 times more than all
    human energy activity combined.

    Oh, BTW, what’s the specific heat of water.

    Oh, another question I’ve asked the usual suspects:
    “Could you name 3 of the 4 most important Greenhouse
    Gases in Earth’s atmosphere?” Again, only 5! 5! Got
    the answer correct out of about 250 over a 25 year history.

    My Email: IntellGrunt49@yahoo.com IF you think you
    have the correct answer. My MS friend in June, 2013,
    also, got the answer WRONG! Another red face.

    i

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  81. 81. looie496 3:27 pm 08/9/2013

    Intelligrunt, asking tricky questions is an amusing game, but it doesn’t really prove anything. I make no claims to being a climate expert and hope I didn’t portray myself that way. As I understand it, the most “important” greenhouse gases, in terms of overall contribution to the greenhouse effect, are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone — nitrous oxide has higher concentration than ozone but isn’t as potent. But “importance” is really in the eye of the beholder, and a person with different criteria might give a different ranking.

    Regards, Bill Skaggs

    Link to this
  82. 82. jazzper 3:56 pm 08/9/2013

    Conservatives almost by definition do not believe in global warming however many Conservatives do believe that there were dinosaurs on the Arc. Why? Because they were told to believe that and they didn’t need to be told twice. One in four people is born so lacking a capacity for critical thought that they need to buy into an ideology (Right Wing / religious) that will give them the answers they cannot derive themselves. Even if it means thinking that man walked with dinosaurs like in the Flintstones. And that cannot be changed.

    Link to this
  83. 83. rkipling 5:42 pm 08/9/2013

    jazzper,

    Thanks for that bit of humor. The concept of an ill-informed progressive casting aspersions on all conservatives is still a bit funny even when it lacks novelty. Writing with a Flesch-Kincaid Grade level of 7 with poor syntax was an especially nice touch. Bravo!

    Link to this
  84. 84. jazzper 9:47 am 08/12/2013

    Rkipling,
    Really?
    I can say what I want about conservatives because whereas not all conservatives believe there were dinosaurs on the Arc all those who do are conservative. This is a simple case of being known by the company you keep. And where I sufficiently ill-informed I would probably be on your side.
    I do not think it is healthy but normally I am fine with someone believing what he wants to believe. But this is part of an organize effort to create an anti-fact alternate reality, a movement that furthers its’ goals by employing an army of penny-a-post sock puppets to troll web sites like this one.
    But getting back to the article I think that the Author has the wrong take on certainty.
    Because, if anyone has certainty it is a Conservative. In their gut they know that they are right. And they will maintain that certainty in the face of overwhelming evidence and the opinion of experts the world over. Which is the reason conservatives have no use for experts unless they are the bought and paid for kind. For their cause they will do battle with reality itself. The lameness of their argument compels them to be deceptive and they knowingly repeat these deceptions in order to manufacture artificial truth.
    They need no proofs to support their position because their position has already been taken. All they look for is justification. Which is a big time saver.
    When defeated they do not quit, when old they do not retire. Luckily when dead they stay that way.
    Why do they do this? Because, they are doing God’s work. And only they know what God wants.
    Some would even kill for God. And as we all know, God can’t do his own killing, because why would god make someone only to have to whack him later?
    Dubya is a conservative and he will never admit that Iraq was a disaster and if given the chance he really would do it all over again. Yeah now that’s certainty!

    Link to this

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