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Deny This: Contested Himalayan Glaciers Really Are Melting, and Doing So at a Rapid Pace–Kind of Like Climate Change

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


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tibetan-plateauRemember when climate change contrarians professed outrage over a few errors in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s last report? One of their favorite such mistakes involved an overestimation of the pace at which glaciers would melt at the “Third Pole,” where the Indian subcontinent crashes into Asia. Some contrarians back in 2010 proceeded to deny that the glaciers of the Himalayas and associated mountain ranges were melting at all. But now, using satellites and on-the-ground surveys, scientists note that 82 glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau are retreating, 15 glaciers have dwindled in mass, and 7,090 glaciers have shrunk in size.

Why? The culprits include rising average temperatures characteristic of ongoing global warming and changes in precipitation, another sign of climate change, according to Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University and his colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The study appeared online in the journal Nature Climate Change on July 15—and is bad news for the hundreds of millions of people who rely on such glaciers to feed water into major rivers such as the Ganges, Mekong or Yangtze.

But climate contrarians have moved on, of course. This June, atmospheric scientist Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the only remaining climate contrarians actually trained in climate science, dismissed the documented 0.8 degree Celsius rise in average temperatures in the past 150 years or so as a small change during a talk at Sandia National Laboratory. Yet, that small change has resulted in events like chunks of ice double the size of Manhattan breaking free of the ancient Greenland ice sheet last week. Just a few years ago, an even bigger ice-massif crashed into the sea. Events that once happened every few decades in Greenland now happen every year or so.

That “small change” has also been enough for weird weather to play havoc around the world, whether it be the epic drought currently over-baking Midwestern corn crops or the torrents of rain unleashed this year on Beijing, killing at least 77 people, according to the Xinhua news agency. The list of weather-related disasters continues to get longer with each passing year and, while no single weather event can be tied directly to climate change, our continuing fossil-fuel burning loads the climate dice in favor of more and more snake-eye rolls such as deadly floods or searing droughts. It’s all unfolding pretty much as predicted by climate scientists in the 1980s.

What’s also unfolding pretty much as demanded by climate contrarians is a dearth of efforts to address the problem, maybe because we’re all in denial. Global emissions of the greenhouse gases responsible for all this continue to grow, after taking a brief dip due to the Great Recession. Political and policy efforts to address the climate crisis, whether at the national or international level, seem spent (although there is some hope in efforts to buy time to combat climate change by cutting back on soot). Witness the climate talks in Durban, Cancun or Copenhagen. In the U.S. about the only leader still advocating for action to halt climate change is Bill McKibben, who has become somewhat of a climate Quixote, tilting for windmills and against the fossil fuel industry.

That industry, particularly titans such as ExxonMobil, has expressly achieved the goals laid out in an American Petroleum Institute memo from the 1990s recently reproduced in Steve Coll’s book Private Empire:

- Average citizen “understands” (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science
– Recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the “conventional wisdom”
– Media “understands” (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science
– Media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints challenging current “conventional wisdom”
– Those promoting the Kyoto treaty [a global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions] on the basis of extant science appear to be out of touch with reality.

All five of those items on the list can be checked off. That’s a big part of the reason why climate change has not featured as an issue in this year’s U.S. presidential election.

What hope there is at present for addressing climate change in the U.S. lies in natural gas, dismissed as a nuisance for decades by the oil and coal industries.  The “last fossil fuel,” primarily the molecule known as methane, is itself a potent greenhouse gas. However, burning natural gas to generate electricity produces roughly half as much carbon dioxide—the most ubiquitous greenhouse gas—as burning coal does. Already, this year, burning natural gas accounts for as much electricity as burning coal for the first time in U.S. history, and its use has helped drop U.S. emissions by 430 million metric tons over the past five years, according to the International Energy Agency.

If fracking for shale gas can work for China too, global emissions could begin to drop (though it appears more likely at present that the U.S. will export highly polluting coal to China in greater quantities than any shale gas know-how). And if there’s enough natural gas—and there certainly is if we can learn to tap the methane molecules ensconced in icy cages throughout the world’s oceans—we might even use it to displace oil as the primary fuel for our cars and trucks.

At the same time, renewables, such as solar and wind, continue to grow by leaps and bounds, and nuclear power, though it may be moribund in the U.S., is gathering a renewed head of steam in countries such as China.

None of this will happen fast enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a sufficiently dramatic pace to stop climate change. After all, burning natural gas still means more CO2 molecules in the atmosphere trapping heat. Cheap natural gas will also likely slow the race to develop and deploy alternative energy as well as the sprint (in geologic terms) to a global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius. We’re on track to achieve that over the next 40 years or so, with natural gas or without it.

That means that the people of 2100, or even 2500, will have us to blame if they don’t like the weather. In the shorter term, we’ll all have to learn to adapt to more sea level rise, weird weather, acidified oceans and other climate change impacts. The Earth is different now and will change even more—fewer and fewer glaciers at the Third Pole, less ice at the North Pole and, who knows, a few hardy plants taking root in Antarctica for the first time in millennia. There’s just no denying it.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory

About the Author: David Biello is the associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @dbiello.

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





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  1. 1. vapur 12:25 pm 07/27/2012

    And yet, nobody listened to Noah. Shocker: history repeats itself. Nothing new under the sun.

    Link to this
  2. 2. candide 12:50 pm 07/27/2012

    “There’s just no denying it.”
    Yet, some will, even in the US Senate.
    To determine why – follow the money.

    Link to this
  3. 3. jctyler 12:54 pm 07/27/2012

    Which reminds me, long time now that we haven’t seen, heard or read from the likes of carlyle, pokerplyer, geojellyroll and their like-minded self-styled expert friends in the climate-change-denier camp.

    Funny how that coïncides with the increasing number of climate catastrophes that can’t be explained by even the weirdest mental gymnastics or certain anti-climate institutes running out of money…

    Yes, a good article and I hope you’re ready for more blogging on the subject. I’ve said it here time and again, and even people following the climate somewhat balked at it, but I will repeat it: the climate tipped around 2005 and the catastrophes start coming now, and they come faster every season, like an avalanche picking up speed.

    From the antarctic Ice ‘Grand Canyon’ to cheap meat, the spectrum increases at such a rate that we will soon be swallowed. Like sheep in an avalanche.

    AGW? The real impact is still very far away so there is maybe just enough time for some of us to move sideways out of the path. Other solutions? Too far. Learn to duck.

    But enough speculated. Summer vacation? Too hot for anything? Search all the climate articles and blogs in SciAm since 1 April this year, see if you can detect, like, a pattern.

    ps: “kind of like climate change”? that’s how we foreigners pick up bad habits

    Link to this
  4. 4. sethdiyal 1:03 pm 07/27/2012

    Once again another Big Oil infomercial not so dutifully recorded by loyal stenographer. Careful David, Big Brother/Oil is watching and is not pleased.

    The usual horsepucky with Sciam pushing Big Oil’s product exchanging the air pollution deaths of millions annually for advertising bucks.

    ‘.. burning natural gas to generate electricity produces roughly half as much carbon dioxide—the most ubiquitous greenhouse gas—as burning coal does..’

    This of course is utter bunk/junk science as Biello well knows. Burning natural gas comes with enormous 75 times as GHG potent as CO2 methane leaks especially with fracking making gas a worse GHG spewer than coal.Cleaner than coal for sure but still capable of killing hundreds of thousand rather than millions annually with deadly fine particulate emissions just the right size to stick in lung tissue. The cost of natural gas in the North America, already higher than nuclear, is kept low by Big Oil so corrupt utility exec’s, politicians and commissioners can replace coal plants with gas.

    Here’s Forbe’s telling us gas may actually triple in cost this winter.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/richardfinger/2012/07/22/were-headed-to-8-00-natural-gas/

    Now this idiocy.

    ” tap the methane molecules ensconced in icy cages throughout the world’s oceans—we might even use it to displace oil as the primary fuel ”

    Steno Biello doesn’t mention what that would do for global warming with all that methane leaking all over the place.

    Meanwhile nuke synfuels like methanol, ammonia and diesel are already less than a buck a gallon but are blocked by Big Oil’s stable of media and politicians.

    As expected Biello then repeats Big Oil’s wind/solar with low efficiency gas backup mantra – a power source that saves no net GHG’s without way in the future not yet invented storage. Far less money less GHG’s replacing the entire scam with nuclear or efficient CCGT gas.

    Amazingly, in some sort of rebellion against his employer he is able to squeeze out the word nuclear.

    Yup 4 cent a kwh clean and green nuclear (with public power) now being built in South Carolina at twice the cost of the same units being built in far more advanced technically advanced and less corrupt politically China.

    Cheapest safest cleanest zero subsidy source of power there is – one that is industrial, and financially capable of ending fossil fuel use and GHG’s in less than 15 years. The investment in nukes pays the economy back at a annual rate of over 40% per annum.

    According to Bloomberg’s tracking of renewable expenditures since 2004, if the money wasted to date on wind and solar (35 and 85 cents a kwh) had been spent on nuke power the world would now be coal free saving a million lives annually from coal air pollution. The impeding warming precipice would have be moved back 50 years or more potentially saving billions of more lives.

    As Biello’s little rebellion here confirms, it’s Big Oil and its corrupting influence on politicians and media outside China that is stopping us from fixing this right now.

    Link to this
  5. 5. jctyler 1:04 pm 07/27/2012

    I added a G between a less-than and a greater-than sign to the ps but the blogs as a rule only accept the restricted US character mapping (whereas the more global map works fine on the news pages) – it’s a Romney-at-the-Olympics thing I suppose… like “if you can p..s off the rest of the world, do it”

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  6. 6. jctyler 1:10 pm 07/27/2012

    sethdiyal, Biello is in part as caught up in the avalanche as you are so cut him as much slack as you’re allowing to yourself. At least he faces the music whereas you still dream of john-wayneing the world under the leadership of the great american Buck. And before you get out your nuclear fantasies, have you heard the news how radiation was measured in Fukushima and why the readings were faked by the workers? Start cleaning at your front door before you puke all over somebody else’s.

    Link to this
  7. 7. jctyler 1:29 pm 07/27/2012

    sethdiyall (sorry, man, but that heat is killing me, memory on emergency reserve): I forgot, how are nuclear reactors cooled? And in which (mid-term future) climate zone are most of the US ones located?

    Bonus question: what happens when weather-independent warm air is constantly released in the immediate vicinity (assuming you’ve read those funny articles on the immediate environment) of powerplants? Nope, I’m not talking about the cancer rates, guess again.

    And if we now add 1+1+1+0.5+0.5, what do we get?

    Ah, you’d sacrifice your tap water for nukes? And drink beer instead? Attaboy!

    Why so depressed now? Ok then, here’s what I suggest: the nuclear reactors use their energy to power air conditioners with which they can cool themselves. Attaboy myself! “plonk” (fallen off chair…)

    Link to this
  8. 8. unaligned 1:35 pm 07/27/2012

    Don’t worry, Jesus will save us!

    Link to this
  9. 9. LarryW 1:58 pm 07/27/2012

    I think it interesting that at the same time the monied interests and politicians (they’re the same group) are pushing for more STEM education, the same folks, and with another pot of money an pure greed as their motivation are denying the results of good science.

    At the same time, the “liberal” educational establishment in K-12, who more likely than not, buy into climate change (also without personal knowledge) but have absolutely no capability of actually teaching science and who push social agendas above knowledge (not that social issues are not of great concern).

    That is, both sides of the discussion hold on to views and positions that are seeds of their own destruction. Neither side seems to have a clue.

    Those of us that hold both social issues and STEM in high regard and who have knowledge in both areas are left listening to nincompoops who control the mindsets and airwaves and seats of power.

    Link to this
  10. 10. PabstyLoudmouth 2:35 pm 07/27/2012

    So they are going to be gone by 2050 as the IPCC told us back in 2008? And then spent billions of dollars studying it? Only to have to retract their statements? Same stuff different day.

    Link to this
  11. 11. Pugsley 2:37 pm 07/27/2012

    It’s too late to do anything to influence climate change. Even if all the nations miraculously joined together tomorrow to do their best, it would take many decades to even stop the ship, and more to turn it around – meanwhile vicious cycles kick in. But we won’t change course at all, if you talk to ordinary people most of them don’t think anything needs to be done.

    There are huge political pressures to deny. There’s little in the way of opposition except by scientists, but for whatever reason climate scientists are disrespected – their findings are dismissed by average people as being opinions from a “liberal agenda”. Big Business is inclined to maintain the status quo since change is expensive and cuts into profits for a good long time.

    Since there’s little to no chance of changing public policy, perhaps the best we can do is to prepare individually. Don’t ask me how.

    Link to this
  12. 12. Dredd 3:04 pm 07/27/2012

    Sigmund Freud advocated for a division within psychiatry that would analyze meme complexes such as churches, nations, and even civilization itself for neurosis and psychosis.

    It is time to apply that to the fossil fuel industry, a group that exhibits the symptoms of psychotic denial.

    http://blogdredd.blogspot.com/2012/07/momcoms-mass-suicide-murder-pact-5.html

    Link to this
  13. 13. jonathanseer 3:07 pm 07/27/2012

    Averaging is the enemy of popular understanding of science in general and global warming in particular.

    It does NOT matter how significant .8 degrees may be scientifically to the overwhelming majority it is a very small # for which no amount of explanation can make it seem like something important.

    Rather than averages, climatologists would be wise to focus on specific regions and their warming.

    When they do that people will see dramatic warming #s in the 10s of degrees, not fractions.

    The article isn’t even clear whether or not the .8 degrees warming is for the Himalayas or the world.

    Link to this
  14. 14. priddseren 3:52 pm 07/27/2012

    Can’t deny what? The fact there is no proof here to talk about? There is zero evidence to support the glacier melts or this manhattan sized chunk of ice is attributed to evil humans and their exhaling CO2. This is just like the so called unprecedented ice cap melting of greenland recently reported that somehow happens every 150 years. Not sure how unprecedented also happens every 150 years.

    There may be global warming and it is possible humans are contributing to it (by simply creating heat from 7 billion people and their daily activities) but to make the claim that there is evidence of cause here? Sorry, it is not there, I can easily deny that. The manhattan size chunk of ice more likely had already been on its way to falling off for centuries and it happend to occur around the time global warmists like to make claims of Armageddon. If greenland can experience melts every 150 years, it is very likely similar melt patterns exist in the Himalaya.

    The problem with you warmists is two things. Claims of armegeddon, sorry, it is just not going to happen. There is not going to be a world wide deluge that instantly raises sea levels 200 feet, the planet is not going to instantly become 212 degrees and boil off all water and kill everyone and there is not going both world wide flooding and drought at the same time(not even sure how that happens simultaneously world wide) and lastly, the entire human race is not going to throw in the towel, pick up guns and begin killing everyone until we exterminate ourselves.

    Your message would be more believable if you left out the wild and insane predictions of doom, we get enough of that from so called priests, ministers and imams.

    The other reason you have is your insistence on focusing on one cause only, Co2, something you cant really measure, understand or know what to do with when it is the core molecule of biological life on earth. Yes, we probably should produce far less, but there is plenty of other pollution out there and instead of trying to come up with some sort of one world socialist government plan to force the entire world into some kind of subsistence living maybe focus on more realistic ideas, like promoting solar panel use without insane government restrictions that keeps you hooked to the grid. How about programs that allow power companies to install panels on the roofs of customers at no cost to the customer? With millions of square feet of roof space out there, it seems reasonable.
    Instead you warmists focus on basically forcing everyone to live in 500 sq ft apartments, eating some sort of chemically created Meal ready to eat, no one having any sort of car or transport, even a bicycle would be banned because the CO2 needed to heat the metal to make it, as well as over exerting humans exhale too much, and all the while taxing the hell out of everyone to make sure you can hire the police force it would take to force everyone into that kind of life.

    All in the name of a fantasy theory that your flawed climate computer models written in a prophecy.

    If you people just kept it simple and realistic, feasible and without the completely speculative and unlikely predictions of doom, you would probably get somewhere.

    Link to this
  15. 15. jctyler 6:33 pm 07/27/2012

    hey prizzie, been a long time that I haven’t read one of your nobelprize worthy anti-AGW diatribes bu you’re right as usual – the bloddy things fall off the shelf by themselves, the big chunk of melted water under the antarctic is a communist swimming pool, the Himalayas? too many hippies smoking dope! AGW’s a left-wing hoax and you are the funniest scientist this side of Ronnie Hubbard.

    Link to this
  16. 16. MARCHER 7:19 pm 07/27/2012

    jctyler,

    Hubbard was a science fiction writer. And while I’m not a fan of his work, it’s better written than anything priddseren has ever managed to spew.

    Seriously, comparing pretty much anyone with remotely redeeming qualities to this guy is rather hurtful.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Rudy Haugeneder, Canada 7:59 pm 07/27/2012

    Methane, methane, methane. So many sources, so much already spewing, so much more getting set to explode onto the surface. So little time left. Methane, methane, methane.

    Link to this
  18. 18. sethdiyal 12:59 am 07/28/2012

    Sorry tyler you are having so much trouble with your reading skills. You have been sent back to the AGW pool and are off the team till you are able to demo at least Grade 3 levels.

    The radiation measurement issue refers to inside FUKU. Current levels outside the plant are far below those found in low cancer high radiation areas around the world. While FUKU has nothing to do with modern reactor technology or operations, it demonstrates that the worst case accident is nothing compared to an LNG and dam incident. Not a single fatality.

    Given your miniscule reading abilities, I can understand you having trouble with elementary thermodynamics. Once you get them up to the grade 3 level, perhaps your teach can help you with concepts like heat of evaporation. Let’s see reactor core 400 degree F superheated steam – lake/ocean water 50 to 100 F. Gee I wonder if there is a heat sink potential somewhere there DUH!!!.

    In the meantime I’d suggest you give up the practice of drunk typing. Turn the computer off when you tie one on.

    Link to this
  19. 19. jctyler 4:05 am 07/28/2012

    Marcher: your point

    Link to this
  20. 20. jctyler 4:28 am 07/28/2012

    seth: “You have been sent back to the AGW pool and are off the team till you are able to demo at least Grade 3 levels.”

    said the mouse to the elephant and threatened to spank him.

    “The radiation measurement issue refers to inside FUKU.”

    Yes. Are you saying that this makes the reactors healthier?

    “Current levels outside the plant are far below those found in low cancer high radiation areas around the world.”

    Says who?

    Want to check the stats again in two, five, ten, twenty years?

    “Given your miniscule reading abilities”

    Sire thung.

    “concepts like heat of evaporation.”

    Yes. And what happens in the area where evaporation is released? (At least update your 1990s pre-retirement nuclear janitor knowledge, you make sparring too easy)

    “Let’s see reactor core 400 degree F superheated steam – lake/ocean water 50 to 100 F. Gee I wonder if there is a heat sink potential somewhere there DUH!!!”

    National Enquirer headline: “Atomic mouse proves energy conservation law wrong.”

    “In the meantime I’d suggest you give up the practice of drunk typing. Turn the computer off when you tie one on.”

    yawn…

    Link to this
  21. 21. jctyler 4:30 am 07/28/2012

    corr.:
    seth: “Fuku… no fatalities”
    jct: Want to check the stats again in two, five, ten, twenty years?

    Link to this
  22. 22. jctyler 4:43 am 07/28/2012

    seth, old mouse, you still haven’t explained where your grid of new reactors will get that stuff from of which “evaporation” is made when there are already now fights between farmers and powerplant owners over the rapidly dwindling “evaporation source” ressources?

    Link to this
  23. 23. jct405 9:54 am 07/28/2012

    jctyler, “Which reminds me, long time now that we haven’t seen, heard or read from the likes of carlyle, pokerplyer, geojellyroll and their like-minded self-styled expert friends in the climate-change-denier camp.”

    Absolutely right. Still a few whackos out there, of course. Some participating here. But can we take as good news the abrupt falloff in the denial gibberish? Hopefully so.

    Link to this
  24. 24. singing flea 10:00 am 07/28/2012

    “…the Himalayas? too many hippies smoking dope! ”

    Yea right, all ten of them that are left in the Himalayas.

    It makes you wonder who is really doing all the drugs these days.

    Link to this
  25. 25. Carlyle 10:00 am 07/28/2012

    There are at least 15 thousand glaciers in the Himalayas so more of them are either increasing or remain the same than are declining. Nothing to see here.

    Link to this
  26. 26. MARCHER 12:09 pm 07/28/2012

    “There are at least 15 thousand glaciers in the Himalayas so more of them are either increasing or remain the same than are declining. Nothing to see here.”

    Carlyle lying to the public again, same old, same old.

    Nothing to see here.

    Link to this
  27. 27. Unksoldr 12:05 am 07/29/2012

    As long as our best source of energy involves burning oil, coal, natural gas, and even wood. We will pay the price of mankind’s stupidity, greed and lack of vision.

    Link to this
  28. 28. singing flea 12:10 am 07/29/2012

    “There are at least 15 thousand glaciers in the Himalayas so more of them are either increasing or remain the same than are declining. Nothing to see here.”

    Logic by Carlyle.

    I 15,000 people all had 10 bucks and half of them gave Carlyle a dollar would Carlyle be richer and the other 15,000 on the average be poorer?

    Carlyle doesn’t know the answer.

    Link to this
  29. 29. outsidethebox 10:52 am 07/29/2012

    So Japan’s and Germany’s response is to deactivate nuclear power plants and burn more fossil fuels to help make up the energy deficit. It’s enough to make you cry.

    Link to this
  30. 30. Mujokan 5:33 pm 07/29/2012

    They didn’t listen to Noah or NOAA!

    “The study appeared online in the journal Nature Climate Change on July 15—and is bad news for the hundreds of millions of people who rely on such glaciers to feed water into major rivers such as the Ganges, Mekong or Yangtze.”

    What’s also bad news for such folks is that the Chinese have control over the first stage of these rivers, thanks to occupying Tibet. So when there’s a shortage, it won’t be spread evenly, and if you are downstream there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

    Link to this
  31. 31. HubertB 10:28 am 07/30/2012

    So the filthiest factories in the world, those in China and India, are pumping ashes and soot on top of the Himalayan glaciers. So ashes and soot are making ice and snow melt. So we used to use that on our own sidewalks before the government outlawed it. Why wouldn’t the same stuff that used to melt our snow and ice melt their snow and ice?
    Of course sometimes that pollution blows toward the west so that a person in Beijing, the capital, can not see more than a few centimenters in front of his face just like happened in the US during dust bowl days.
    Since it is mainly the Himalayan glaciers that face the greatest danger, someone should sell pollution control equipment to those factories immediately.

    Link to this
  32. 32. Pazuzu 10:59 am 07/30/2012

    The tone of these comments is totally repellant. I would value an intelligent discussion of this issue, but all I get from these comments is ad hominem vitriol, on all sides. Contrast this discussion with today’s New York Times op-ed by Richard Muller, a sincere scientist who truly wishes to communicate with the public. The commenters on this blog are turning off the public and retarding our understanding of global warming. This is especially true of those who attack the skeptics; you’re falling into an obvious and totally destructive trap.

    Link to this
  33. 33. jctyler 11:45 am 07/30/2012

    General Electric’s Jeffrey Immelt on energy of the future and the climate:

    https://www.google.com/#hl=en&output=search&sclient=psy-ab&q=jeffrey+immelt+on+nuclear+energy&oq=jeffrey+immelt+on+nuclear+energy&gs_l=hp.3…2613.2613.0.3506.1.1.0.0.0.0.139.139.0j1.1.0…0.0…1c.kwsISOSglOo&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=8e3cb677ff60fb1e&biw=1169&bih=637

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  34. 34. Bill_Crofut 11:54 am 07/30/2012

    IT WILL NOT BE THE END OF THE WORLD. AND IT IS NOT JUST about the polar bears on their lonely icebergs.
    Those thoughts kept going through my head during our recent town hall meeting about climate change, which took place at Yale University this past January (see page 38). Popular coverage of global warming tends toward the broad and apocalyptic, or the narrow and remote. Both extremes miss the point. Our planet has survived many climate swings in the past, and it will survive this one too. And while it is true enough that many species may struggle in a warmer world, the one whose fate we should really worry about is Homo sapiens.
    When temperature and precipitation patterns shift, the organisms hit hardest are the ones with the deepest roots. Unfortunately for us, we humans have a lot of permanent infrastructure. Costal cities cannot move inland to get away from rising sea levels. Farmers cannot simply relocate their fields to the new optimal locations for agriculture. Adaptation is possible–in fact, it is inevitable–but it will not be easy, cheap, or painless.
    Unlike other species, though, we can anticipate the environmental challenges that lie ahead and blunt their impact. That is why DISCOVER is teaming up with NBC and the National Science Foundation for two more town hall events exploring how we can best respond to climate change. We are talking not just to scientists but also to the business leaders and policymakers who will put ideas into action. Check back with us again in the September and December issues for more results from those ongoing conversations.
    Being smarter about how we use our resources, investing in cleaner types of energy, and studying the adaptation process now will not “save the planet,” as some activists so breezily say; the planet is not in peril. What it will do is save ourselves from a lot of future hurt.

    [Corey S. Powell, EDITOR IN CHIEF. 2011. The World is not ending. DISCOVER, June, p. 6]

    Link to this
  35. 35. kienhua68 11:57 am 07/30/2012

    So we slowly enter a new era of ever changing weather patterns with it’s inevitable, albeit slow, rise in
    average temperature.

    As Americans we don’t run when the canary dies. No, we have to see ‘body count’ in terms of declining resource, crop failure, drought, lawn painting, death by heat, skin cancer(ozone hole), rising sea levels, record melting and glacial retreat, new diseases spawned by temperature change northward, vastly increased electrical demand due to heat, financial
    collapse and the fact we are, at this point, without
    economic sustainability.
    This is how we face the future???????????????
    Oh I almost failed to mention education is still not recognized as profoundly important by large segments of THIS country, which might account for the slow reaction to present challenges.

    Link to this
  36. 36. jctyler 12:43 pm 07/30/2012

    Pazuzu: “the commenters on this blog are turning off the public?” How do you know? Do you understand mass psychology? Ever seen a presidential TV debate and heard more than two intelligent sentences? So far it’s always been the “skeptics” who attacked the “warmists” and the “warmists” would always stay polite and talking softly. And the result was that the general public, especially in the US, believed that the deniers must be right because the scientists never fight back. Whereas I have enough of deniers coming here, not knowing how to read the simplest chart or understand the most dumbed-down report but shouting and abusing warmists and passing themselves as the true climate experts. Newcomers to climate science will fall for these anti-climate chills if you let them have the run of the place. How do you think the commercials directed at the general public work? It’s the exact same strategy the deniers and paid anti-climate chills use on SciAm to discredit climate research. Be a victim if you wish, at least stay off teh battle field then. Unless you are a denier playing good cop?

    Have you read the AGW commenters questions here? Read the simple calls for denier proofs? Have you then read a single reply from a single denier with a single link backing up their nonsense or disproving those questions? Not one. Have you read here a single coherent, scientifically backed reply answering a single of these rational questions in any way whatsoever? Again not one. It’s all only abuse. Especially Carlyle is known for posting any which nonsense and never ever backing it up. He even quoted links which said the contrary of what he pretended to prove, probably hoping no one would check. A newcomer to climate science would then believe Carlyle was quoting facts and know what he was talking about. But when you would disprove him, he’d become childishly abusive. But if you let him comment without a reaction, the same newcomer might believe that he had a point.

    If jct405′s remarks that denier comments had dropped off significantly had stood unanswered by the deniers, it would been an admission of denier defeat. So as soon as he said it, they ALL appeared here as if on cue, the exact same people with the exact same connections to the exact same strange self-proclaimed climate institutes paid for by the polluting industry. You still don’t get it?

    call for tolerance and civilized communication? For what, to protect the poor deniers from the likes of me? Where were you when they attacked every scientist in sight? The East-Anglia affair, the Geil attacks? My strategy is not to abandon the public place to the deniers.

    You want to read more civilized exchanges? I’ve dialogued with skeptics elsewhere on this site. The deniers here are not skeptics, they are xxx.

    Also, I am not interested in later whining when someone will deeply regret that we didn’t fight back early enough.

    Last, do you see at least wonder about a connection between the public losing faith in science, research funds being cut, climate change deniers strategies and cynical anti-climate institute PR work? No? Way to go then…

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  37. 37. jctyler 12:49 pm 07/30/2012

    “the Geil attacks”

    should read the Gleick attacks

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  38. 38. jctyler 1:42 pm 07/30/2012

    @Bill_Crofut: “it will not be the end of the world”

    Fully agree (although I don’t know if we got there by the same logic).

    Here’s what (part of) made me rethink the planetary threat from AGW, and I quote from the (translated) annex to a paper on efficient climate management from a few years back:

    “Are we destroying Nature and the environment?

    … of course not!

    Because it doesn’t matter to Nature or the Environment if we pollute or not. Because we are at best like a fly tickling Nature’s toe for a second. We tickle Nature the wrong way, one swat and we’re history.

    The present state of pollution is proof that we are intellectually and culturally not up to our technological possibilities. We don’t master them. And concerning the pollution resulting from this lack of mastery we don’t even have a tool to manage this pollution. All we do is patchwork in a panic. Industrially, technologically, we abuse the situation because we’re too greedy. We’re nouveau riche plucks who don’t know what to do with our riches so we’re wasting them. And since we’re too blinded by greed to realize how this is already hurting us, it might possibly kill us. But if it kills us or we even disappear, will that kill Nature and make the environment disappear? Of course not. So pollution is not really Nature’s problem but ours.

    We are not destroying the environment, we are destroying us. We are not killing Nature, we are killing us. Everyone knows Nature is far bigger than we are. How do you want to go about destroying that?…

    … OUR pollution is killing OUR environment… We have the freedom to do so and Nature can afford to let us have this freedom because to Nature we are a short and tiny experiment and if we get it wrong, ah well, only another small experiment that failed, one in thousands and then Nature will shrug us off. A tiny shrug for Nature, a deadly blow for us…

    … Look at it from Nature’s point of view. Earth is about 4,6 billion years old and it’s got another 5 billion years to go, give or take a few hundred million. Compared to the lifespan of a normal human being, Earth is a middle-aged adult. And in those 4 600 000 000 years modern humans have now been around for what, some 200 000 years? That is less than peanuts compared to the age of the planet. And we’ve only started to become “civilized” a few thousand years ago, better yet, we’ve become industrialized and started to seriously pollute only some 200 years ago. In Earth’ lifespan the existence of human pollution represents something like three rain drops on a sunny weekend…. And these three raindrops would ruin the rest of his (the Planet’s) life? Even assuming you even noticed these drops, don’t you agree you’d forgotten them in a minute if you ever noticed them at all? And that’s how our pollution compares to the whole lifespan of Nature, like a few rain drops on a sunny summer…”

    (From “The structure of pollution”, a ‘thought model on climate management’ (my notes and braquets).)

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  39. 39. jgrosay 2:19 pm 07/30/2012

    Around 1975, the sci-fi writer JJ Benitez claimed in his book “100’000 km after UFOs” that somebody was brought inside an alien spaceship, and shown in a flat screen an image of the Earth, the people there warned him “A catastrophe is about to happen”, and the image in the screen was of the planet changed into a desert. Is such a final stage of global warming possible? It seems similar alternating waves of hot desertification and deep glaciations happened in the previous geological times, but how long does it take for the change to occur, and how much of the cycle is natural and uncontrollable and how much is man-accelerated or triggered?

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  40. 40. jctyler 4:14 pm 07/30/2012

    jgrosay: “how long does it take for the change to occur, and how much of the cycle is natural and uncontrollable and how much is man-accelerated or triggered?”

    THAT is the big question.

    One thing scientists would agree on is that the change happens far too fast to be natural.

    Whereas discussions between all-out AGW supporters and (proper) skeptics will generally be about the proportion of natural vs human.

    My personal belief is that:

    a) the tipping point has already occurred around 2005; (therefore the international climate meetings are a waste of time as their focus, on trying to avoid the tipping point which they believe is still some time off in the future, is on something that is already in the past;

    b) same as the minimal change in heat (less than one degree) can mess up the whole place, a minimum of “too much” human pollution might similarily be just that little too much for the climate.

    My example is usually a car approaching a corner. The ordinary driver will corner easily at let’s say 70 km/h. A good and fast driver will do it at 80 km/h. A pro racer will do it at 90 km/h. The world champion will do it at 100. IOW, the corner’s fastest natural ( = allowed by physics) speed is 100. So regardless of who drives, if you go into that corner at 110, you will hit that wall. Pure physics.

    Let’s assume we are at the hottest peak of a natural heat cycle (corner) anyway, similar to the highest speed someone could take a car through that corner. If the climate is peaking anyway like the world champ cornering at maximum speed, it is then fatal and absolutely idiotic to accelerate even more. These 10 km too fast may only be barely a tenth of the whole speed but they will make the difference between life and death.

    It has always been my belief that the first step towards saving our environment was to figure out what those 10 km were and then slow the whole speed down to 80% of maximum cornering speed. And this is assuming we have a very good driver at the wheel. My direct answer to your question then is: the difference between what is normal, maxed out and deadly is around 30%. We don’t have to work on the whole 100%, only on the 20% that can kill us and the 10% that will.

    But reason generally only enters politics when the war is already on. So we might be still a few years away from governments hitting the brakes. By then it will be too late. Brace yourself.

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  41. 41. Melkholy 7:53 pm 07/30/2012

    We believe that the reason for all human problems is that personss who in the scene top which believe that they are the only ones who have the full facts and the proper science.
    Thru our free research in physics for about 50 years and discovery that “Oxygen” is Antimatter, it is quite clear that any consumption quantity of matter (such as burnt fuel whether wood, coal, oil, gas or bio-fuel) must accompanied with same quantity of antimatter (oxygen, mainly from the air).
    Therefore, the huge consumption of burnt fuel during the last two hundred years caused deep shortage of oxygen in the atmosphere. That shortage of oxygen is the only reason of all environmental problems is the earth.
    While we believe that all problems (other than death) have a solution. Therefore, we assure that the solution of Global Warming; Ozone Hole and other environmental problems is possible thru about ten years.
    But the solution is exclusively in cultivating the desert areas world wide.
    If mankind succeeds in cultivating about 10% of the virgin desert areas and replenishing 10% of forests within about ten years, the trees & plants will be able to absorb more quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and will release more and more oxygen to the atmosphere.
    Since the quantities of oxygen in the atmosphere become more than the consumed quantities, and the balance between oxygen & elements in the atmosphere maintained back, automatically; the oxygen in the air will react (oxidize) the industrial pollution gases (Chlorofluorocarbon & halogens). carbon dioxides ratio will return to its natural position, global warming will vanish, and the oxidation of human cells will disappear, the ozone hole will mend itself and the light intensity will increased in the atmosphere and under sea water. Therefore; the plankton & sea life will be better & improve and will release more oxygen to the sea water. Of course the released oxygen in the sea water will react (oxidize) the contamination materials. Finally water of rivers and seas will be purified again. Regards from Egypt, melkholy@mailer.eun.eg

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  42. 42. jctyler 3:15 am 07/31/2012

    Melkholy: let’s suppose that it was possible by “cultivating the desert areas world wide” to solve global warming “thru about ten years”.

    My first choice for advice would be China. China is a rich and powerful country with a lot of well-educated, creative scientists and a huge desertification problem. They have been making a concentrated effort reforesting their deserts. They have been at it for decades. Their body of knowledge on the matter is stunning.

    Now, if it has taken China a few decades to reforest 10% of their deserts, how realistic is it to expect the same from other countries with huge deserts in only ten years? For example the countries bordering the North of the Sahara?

    Reality is the ultimate measure stick.

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  43. 43. Bill_Crofut 10:22 am 07/31/2012

    Jctyler (comment 38),

    Re: “We are not destroying the environment, we are destroying us.”

    If the information available to me is correct, Ted Turner has publicly stated his wish to have human population reduced by 90%. He also donated one billion dollars to the U.N. The grant funding for global warming/climate change research is provided largely by the U.N. Is there a connection?

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  44. 44. Postman1 8:33 pm 07/31/2012

    The REAL question is: Does anyone at all bother to read jct’s monologues? Pretty sure I heard a resounding ‘NO’.
    Trying to point out to jct etal 1)the numerous skeptics with different views on AGW, 2)the thousands of dissenting papers, or 3) the huge volume of observations which don’t match what the AGW computer programs predict, is pointless when dealing with dogma and fanaticism.
    It is true that most don’t even bother to post links to evidence when commenting as of late, but what would be the point? No one’s views will be changed, so why waste the time? The articles on AGW are so biased in this magazine, that I doubt most readers even bother to slog through them before starting their diatribes. (and that goes for both sides) It often degrades into name calling: Skeptics! Warmists! Denier! Fanatics! Schills! etc.
    So no point in arguing, we all will just have to wait and see what happens.

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  45. 45. brevan 10:33 pm 07/31/2012

    Always did suspect global heating was getting those glaciers . . . Good for Biello to point that out. However, his scientific rigor is sadly lacking when he begins advocating fracking in China and expanded nuklear power everywhere. Fracking is extraordinarily polluting of groundwater, and, more to the point here, releases a great deal of methane into the atmosphere: it doesn’t all obediently come to the intake pumps. A lot leaks out through other cracks created by the process and escapes to the air. Given that methane is about 20 times more potent as a GHG than CO2, that kind of gives fracking a freakin’ black eye! Nuclear, even if you discount the disaster that has overtaken Japan and is still not stabilized, produces huge quantities of GHG in its own right, through mining and refining (most energy-intensive refining process known), along with all the CO2 from the concrete and steel in the plants, and on to the open-ended long-term and energy-intensive process of dealing with the dangerous wastes. And even if all of the above were not true (it ALL is) it isn’t possible to build nuclear plants fast enough in the quantity needed to solve global warming. Or mine enough Uranium to fuel them. Fortunately, there ARE some intelligent and informed articles on this problem in the Scientific American Archives. Look up Jacobson and Delucci for starters:
     www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=a-path-to-sustainable-energy-by-2030&print=true
    Real answers to the climate disaster await you . . . answers that make economic as well as environmental sense. I am talking to you as well Mr. Biello . . .

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  46. 46. R.Blakely 10:16 am 08/2/2012

    Clouds affect climate more than temperature does. We now have fewer clouds. This change is not due to humans. The oceans are capturing less heat, and so we have fewer clouds transporting moisture from the equator to the Earth’s poles. Less moisture at the poles results in glaciers shrinking since they have less snow. Artic ice is disappearing due to a drought in the Artic.
    Earth’s climate resists change. Most systems resist change. Simply using temperature, as a measure of change, is wrong since the Earth is cooling more at the equator and warming at the poles. The average seems to be “warming” but is in fact a “cooling” trend since most people live closer to the equator.
    When global warming really does start then we will enter another ice age, which is the more normal condition for Earth’s climate.

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  47. 47. Melkholy 5:27 am 08/3/2012

    Jctyler; Success didn’t depend on money and creative scientists only, but some times in need for wisdom vision.
    For example; CERN scientists spent several years, lot millions or billions for the Antimatter searching programs, what was the result?
    Fact; nothing…
    While their huge effort, their huge facilities went to darkness, I discovered the antimatter with very few money & very little facilities…
    Perhaps the problem which faced the cultivation of desert in China or any other country is the current evaluation of businesses and governments for the agricultural projects according the feasibility studies comparing with the commercial or industrial projects, of course the agricultural activity will took the last place.
    Then, when we understand the right rules of distribution of rainfall (rainfall is not random or touches luck), surely we will choice the best for what, how and where we will start our global project for cultivating the desert.
    I think that all peoples will cooperate when we forced to cultivate 1% of the desert areas annually for solving the global warming, ozone hole and environmental problems that threaten the lives of millions. Regards from Egypt, , melkholy@mailer.eun.eg

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  48. 48. Melkholy 9:09 am 08/3/2012

    R.Blakely; why the earth’s climate was still stable during thousands of years while the most people live closer to the equator?
    That was when the consumption of fuel and energy was still limited and the main effort of human went to agricultural activities; then the trees and plants were able to release enough quantities of oxygen to equal the other gases in the atmosphere. Therefore; earth climate was still steady (approximately) with the same annual temperatures.
    During the last two hundred years the fuel consumption has increased drastically.
    According to our theory; any consumption of burnt fuel (matter) must accompanied with the same quantity of oxygen (antimatter),
    While the trees and plants in our planet became not enough to release the required amounts of oxygen, the huge consumed quantity of oxygen was (mainly) from the air oxygen which caused shortage of air oxygen.
    The shortage of air oxygen led to unbalance between heat and light in the atmosphere which caused the global warming and all environmental problems. Regards from Egypt, M.Elkholy

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  49. 49. horncreek 10:52 am 08/3/2012

    You were doing OK until the last paragraph. If what you listed were the only consequences of climate change, who would get excited about it? No one. And that’s the problem we face.
    Right now we’re certain to blow past 2deg C without slowing down. Without massive action we’ll go past 4deg heading for 6deg. Somewhere in there is the tipping point at which temperatures and methane release from a warming arctic become a positive feedback loop. At that point a mass extinction event with humanity as the star is virtually certain. The idea that “we’ll have to learn to adapt” is the new mantra for the deniers, not a prediction that I would expect at find at SciAm.
    Since we don’t know the tipping point, we have to do everything we can to stop the temp rise now. We know that atmospheric temps lag CO2 changes so we really don’t know how much leeway we have left. But we better start soon.

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  50. 50. Melkholy 11:25 am 08/6/2012

    Dear horncreek. If any boy swims in the river and he on the verge of drowning, can save him the screaming of thousands of people which they are on the shore?
    I think that the recommendations and protocols of the conferences of global warming through the last decades do not differ than that screaming of these people watched this boy without doing anything to save him.
    After our discovery of antimatter we stress that the only solution of global warming and all environmental and health problems, is by increasing the Oxygen in atmosphere, through increasing the trees, through cultivation the desert areas.
    Logically it should be directed all efforts of humans and all potential of nations to improve this field. We hope. Regards, M.Elkholy

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  51. 51. Carlyle 8:36 am 08/10/2012

    Well,well,well. I check back & read you accuse me of lying & not providing proof of my statement about the glaciers. This article claims that 7090 Himalayan glaciers have declined. Check for yourself. There are more than 15000 Himalayan glaciers. Surely you can do the maths. This can only mean there must be 8000 either remaining the same or increasing. Do you want that peer reviewed by some mathematical guru or can you do the maths yourself? If this was an honest journal, they would not have left this distortion in the first place.

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  52. 52. Carlyle 8:38 am 08/10/2012

    The above refers to jct post 36.

    Link to this

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