Oh Shit

Climatesight has a post which is both fascinating and disturbing. It reports recent research that carbon emissions from melting permafrost may have a much bigger impact than had previously been accounted for.

Since there’s about twice as much carbon frozen into the permafrost as is in the atmosphere, this could be a real game-changer … and not in a good way. As climatesight says, “This paper went in my mental “oh shit” folder, because it made me realize that we are starting to lose control over the climate system.” By “lose control” she doesn’t mean that we ever had control over it — just that the natural mechanisms which have kept climate stable for 10,000 years or so will no longer be able to do so, or to prevent the kind of rapid shifts that spell disaster for the rats who live on earth (the two-legged kind).

Meanwhile, Joe Romm has a post from Neven reporting that the updated figures on Arctic sea ice volume are out from PIOMAS. Yes, this year shattered the old record. Here’s a bar graph of the annual minimum volume:

For those (like me) who prefer a time series plot, here it is of the same thing:

This year’s annual minimum volume is less than 20% the value in 1979. That’s right. Since 1979, the September minimum sea ice volume has decreased by over 80%. Yeah, I said over 80%.

Put that into the “oh shit” folder too.

The evidence is right before our eyes. The climate system is out of control. I don’t mean “our” control, we never had that, I mean out of control of its own self-regulating mechanisms. It’s changing in astounding ways, with frightening speed, and it’s going to get worse.

We are no longer in a position to consider the coming changes “acceptable” or even “tolerable.” Adaptation is not a viable option. The coming changes involve food and water shortages, and all the human conflict (like nuclear war) which that kind of strife induces.

The reason it’s changing is: us. We don’t have control, we never did, but we do have impact. So we have a choice. We can either act now, accept some pain while it’s still bearable, and reduce — dramatically — the pain in the long term, or we can continue the selfish path, sacrificing nothing, acting like a Hummer and a plasma TV are our God-given right, consuming like there’s no tomorrow. Guess what? If we keep this up, there won’t be.

Which choice do you think will actually occur?

Oh shit.


102 responses to “Oh Shit

  1. When I saw the title of this post “Oh Shit” in my email inbox I thought that the post would be about the permafrost paper, “Significant contribution to climate warming from the permafrost carbon feedback”.

    With all the potential feedbacks we seem to be beyond the possibility of dealing with climate change.

    • It’s interesting (in a “here comes the ground” kind of way) that for the last 12 years 2007 was the only instance of the September Arctic sea ice volume not being higher than all subsequent years’ September values.

      I suspect that it will give new meaning to the idea of ‘2020’ hindsight…

    • Rather than driving us to despair, realisation of the power of this particular positive feedback should motivate us to stand up and demonstrate how null and void the contrarians’ hypothesis actually is. How fanciful is their supposition that climate sensitivity of 0-0.5*C.

  2. Woody Allen graduation speech: “Mankind is facing a crossroad – one road leads to despair and utter hopelessness and the other to total extinction – I sincerely hope you graduates choose the right road”

    • From page 216 of Pierrehumbert’s “Principles of Planetary Science:” “If CO2 were a gray gas, then doubling its concentration, as we are poised to do within the century, would be unquestionably lethal. Because CO2 is not a gray gas, the results may be merely catastrophic.”

  3. The way to look at this is not to give up and say, “Oh well, we can’t make things better.” Rather it is to realize that we can undoubtedly continue to make them worse and worse and worse. It isn’t pinball. You don’t just get a “Game Over” when you lose. Rather, people die and suffer a lot while doing so. Any effort we direct toward minimizing those deaths and suffering is well spent.

    • Couldn’t agree more. We can’t pretend we can “avoid” catastrophic consequences from our past actions. No matter what we do from now on horrible things will happen.

      But there’s no reason to make it any worse than it has to be. There’s no reason to make it faster or larger than it has to be. We can make things better than they would otherwise be.

    • One thing that strikes me about the climate change “debate” is that those of us who see climate change as a potentially very serious problem are generally optimistic about our capability to face the problem and take action which will, if not solve it (it is too late for that) at least make a material difference to the outcome… if we choose to. Whereas those on the other side believe that any such attempts will at best be a failure and at worst will wreck the economy, send our civilisation back to the stone age etc.
      Yet we are the ones labelled alarmists, or doommongers.

      • Andrew-san,

        While I think fixing the climate is technically possible, I do not believe it will be done. Capitalism in the west, and state capitalism and Communism in the east, is determined to develop on fossil fuels as long as possible. There is too much political power ranged behind the forces of global suicide. We’re going to lose.

        Which is no reason to stop fighting, of course. Make the bastards pay for every inch of ground.

      • Barton and Andrew,
        Doing the right thing cannot depend on the probability of success. There is more honor in a grand but futile last stand than there is in victory by what is merely expedient.

      • Chris O'Neill

        “Yet we are the ones labelled alarmists”

        I call them the “mitigation alarmists”.

      • john harkness

        Ray Ladbury wrote:

        “There is more honor in a grand but futile last stand than there is in victory by what is merely expedient.”

        That is wonderfully put, and very much my sentiment. Do you mind if I use it elsewhere (properly attributed, of course)?

    • I’ve said elsewhere recently (although I can’t find where) that AR6 will be the last assessment that will report on the process of human-caused climate change in a light where its findings may serve as a base for substantive international mitigation efforts.

      AR7 will the the first (perhaps the second?) to begin a process of cataloguing how much humanity has forteited opportunity to mitigate rather than to advise on what is necessary to do so, and it will also begin to catalog the ever-decreasing opportunity to adapt in the future. Unless things begin to change in the next year or so, by the time A10 comes along (if it does) it will be more a geopolitical document that a scientific one.

      At some point very soon national academies of science need to step up their commentary on climate change, beyond mere media releases on how there is a consensus that warming is occurring. This is about more than just the communication of the science, this is about the communication of the urgency of the impending catastrophe. There needs to be a very vocal, highly-sustained, profession-wide and policy-focussed clarion call to governments around the world, and to the blithely somnambulent public at large.

      It has nothing to do with scientists being political or partisan,band everything with them putting their expertise to the fore in order to prevent the worst happening. Jim Hansen was in the past much derided in certain scientific quarters for his activism, and he still is by some, but in another decade or two he will be regarded as a leader of those who showed enough heroism to attempt to shift humanity from a suicidal path.

      It’s no longer enough for scientists to simply be counted. They need to be heard, clearly, loudly, and continuously. There should be news flashes, mass-media advertisements, social media campaigns, convergences on houses of parliament. They need to hold political leaders and contenders to account, and to ensure that those in government and business who attempt to skirt around emissions reduction are clearly identified as being knowingly culpable of the greatest crimes against humanity and biology ever perpetrated.

      Given the imminent US elections, and the closing Australian elections next year, every day makes a difference now. As others have said, the horse has already bolted, but we still have the choice to close the door and repair the walls before the whole barn comes tumbling down.

      We declared war on Nature. Nature is now stirring and gathering to kick seventy seven colours of snot from humanity, and to be ignoring the necessity of preparing a war-footing is nothing but insanity.

      • Bernard, this is one of the most eloquent, and spot-on- statements I’ve ever read. I’ve posted it to my Facebook account, because I think it’s really vital to get this message out. If you ‘do’ FB, search for it, and I’ll friend you.

  4. David B. Benson

    Well, for about the amount wasted on health care in the US (US$750 billion per year according to a recent Institue of Medicine {NAS/NRC} report) we could go a long way toward

    Irrigated afforestation of the Sahara and Australian Outback to end global warming

    That figure of US$750 billion per year is also approximately what is spent on DoD and associated DoE activities.

    • I did a back-of-the envelope costing of completely (ok >95%) decarbonising the UK economy. Depending on the assumptions used, it came out as £300bl to £600bn; call it 50% of GDP.

      However, this would not be a one-off cheque. Assuming it’s spread over 20 years, that’s 2.5% of GDP per year. However, a fair amount of that would substitute existing energy investment, and for any energy-importing country you’d be offsetting imports as well.

      Translate that to the US and you could fund it out of about 40% of the military budget.. just depends what you regard as being a matter of national security.

  5. I have a post on this paper at Skeptical Science, with a contribution from the author of the paper in the comments section. The paper is paywalled, unfortunately, but I have liberated one of the key diagrams and the supplementary material is open access, I believe. Often, I find, the supplementary material with Nature papers is worth reading even if the main article is out of reach for non-subscribers.


    And, yes, my reaction was the same as Kate’s. In temperature terms, the contribution of the permafrost is going to be about the same no matter what our future emissions are. Even if we shut all industry down now, the permafrost is still going to give us a kick in return for the violence we have already done to the chemistry of the atmosphere.

    [Response: A reader has kindly shared the original paper with me — for which I’m very grateful.]

    • Caldeira put the paper up for the geoengineering group on Google

      • Ha! I was forgetting that the paper was from the UVic group (though it was clear enough, I think, from the Climatesight description.)

        Third author Dr. Andrew Weaver has done quite a bit to educate the public about the climate crisis. I’ve written about two of his popular books on the topic here and here, and he is one of the few to actually take legal redress when slandered by denialists. (As far as I know, his action against Tim Ball is still working its way through the system.)

    • Lewis Cleverdon

      Andrew – could you clarify whether the authors have, as the RCP curves appears to show, adopted the UK MoD/MET Office notion of the carbon sinks increasing their efficiency to more than 100% of peak annual anthro-CO2 output post emissions control? The implied rates of decline of CO2e appears otherwise inexplicable. Yet in view of the entirely predictable erosion of sink capacity (by forest loss & combustion, soils’ desiccation, permafrost melt, and oceans’ warming and acidification) that notion appears to be an outstanding example of optimism bias.

      If the model were run with say Archer’s 2.7% methane (giving a precise doubling of CO2e output with CH4 GWP set at 100 on the crucial 20yr horizon)
      and with the rational assumption of the carbon sinks’ efficiency declining throughout this century,
      what multiple of the authors’ finding of 0.25C to 1.0C warming from permafrost melt would you expect ?

      This is not to knock the authors’ efforts, but to try to put their explicit warnings of understatement in context. It is the first paper I’ve heard of that postulates that we are now committed to permafrost melt (as just one of the seven mega-feedbacks) under a minimalist assessment, generating a self-reinforcing CO2e increase regardless of our best efforts at emissions control. I wonder if you would agree that its core implication is thus that sufficient geo-engineering (in both its albedo restoration & carbon recovery modes) mandated under globally accountable scientific supervision, is thus inevitably required as the necessary complement to emissions control for the resolution of global warming ?



  6. So does this mean we can talk about nuclear power again?

    [Response: Sure. But not here.]

  7. This is what Hansen has been saying for some time, i.e. we are in the process of committing our descendants to a system that will be changing in ways they very likely won’t have any realistic possibility of controlling. He has been calling for reducing the planetary energy imbalance to zero as quickly as possible for this reason.

    Hansen has been trying to get through to people that the 2 degree “safe” limit always was “a recipe for disaster”.

    This is why there are a number of scientists actively researching what options there might possibly be, i.e. geoengineering, when it dawns on the rest of civilization what our situation is. We are committing civilization to attempting to geoengineer while eliminating GHG emissions while attempting to restore the atmosphere to something closer to its preindustrial composition than it is now.

    I don’t get the surprise that “we’re no longer in a position to consider the coming changes “acceptable” or even “tolerable”. Read the first two paragraphs of the 1988 Toronto Changing Atmosphere conference statement. I was told by some of the conference organizers that 95% of climate scientists of that time would have no difficulty signing off on that statement.

  8. That sea-ice volume graph has actually made me feel dizzy and sick. Well done. 20% of its 1979 value? I can actually feel a very strong urge to find some reason to deny it’s true. That’s a first as well. Right, I’m off to find a DVD boxset to lose myself in…

  9. “This is what Hansen has been saying for some time, i.e. we are in the process of committing our descendants to a system that will be changing in ways they very likely won’t have any realistic possibility of controlling. He has been calling for reducing the planetary energy imbalance to zero as quickly as possible for this reason.

    We could bring our energy imbalance to zero in five to ten years if we really wanted to.

    But the action that is required – to eliminate carbon emissions to zero as soon as possible and to do that while keeping our economy and energy sectors intact – requires a different approach from the generally unsuccessful strategy of the past twenty years.

    We need to stop obsessing on the need for a market-based solution.

    We need to talk seriously about centralized governmental approaches, not trying to impose market-based solutions on a market which has completely different goals and which has been proven over the past two decades to be extremely recalcitrant. This approach has actually failed so far to even reduce our atmospheric carbon output.We don’t need carbon caps, etc. We need to make carbon-based energy obsolete and irrelevant.

    We need to demand that this crisis – a 5 degree world and its consequences – be given the priority it requires. And that is as a matter of National Security, which requires Executive branch action.

    And the way to do this is to nationalize our carbon-free energy production. There are many ways to this, but let me throw out the simplest, most audacious scenario.

    If we were to cover, say, the Mojave Desert with PV panels, it would supply enough electricity to power our entire energy needs for the next thousand years. And since we, as American taxpayers, paid for those panels and an upgraded smart grid we should rightfully expect that our electricity would be free. Rip the meters right off the walls. After all, once that infrastructure is in place, that is what PV electricity is – unlimited and absolutely cost and pollution free.

    We could put thousands of people to work erecting the facility, which, because of enormous economy of scale, would cost pennies on the dollar compared to erecting rooftop installations. We could employ thousands more to add inductive charging to our highways, so that even the cruddy battery technology of today would allow us to have a 100% electrical fleet. We could employ thousands more to retrofit our homes for electric heat and cooking. Employ thousands more to retrofit our industries with electrical instead of carbon-based productions.

    We need an updated version of the national Rural Electrification program. We need to move out of the paradigm in which the fossil fuel industry would like to confine the conversation, and start talking about a governmental solution. And free electricity would provide the political trump card to accomplish this.

    When do we start having a conversation about nationalization?

    • Roger,
      You must not have been present here in the US when the President and Congress made very modest and conservative adjustments to the US healthcare system and were accused of everything from communism to genocide and eugenics. and even being Yankees fans. I’m gonna go way out on a limb and suggest that maybe your proposals to pave the Mojave with solar panels might not find favor with your fellow citizens. Got anything that might be feasible?

    • Roger, the problem is that the ‘we’ who might currently make such demands are still in a tiny minority, hence any ‘demanding’ will just be used as proof of lunacy. I sympathize with your impatience, and applaud your visioning of an alternate path. But as far as ‘demanding’ it, I’m afraid that the public is not yet there. And yeah, I know that the cryosphere can’t and won’t wait for them. Unfortunately, the ‘tide’ of public opinion is not all that much more biddable than is the tide–or the sea ice, for that matter.

    • Gavin's Pussycat

      Roger, at least the size of what you are proposing is right. Where you lose me is in how changing the ownership structure of electricity production will be helpful for anything. Sure, once the political will and the money is found, it will be the government that has to pull the threads together; but the economy is full of willing sub-contractors. Why would the approach that won WWII and put men on the moon, not be good enough for this?

      And “too cheap to meter”? Are you serious? Isn’t one of our core problems thinking that energy should be cheap, forever? What about replacing waste with intelligence?

  10. On the matter of Arctic sea ice metrics, I’m predicting that if most or all are still at record lows come November there will be a new record minimum ice volume next September of 2.8 x 10^3 km^3 ± 100 km^3.

    If the metrics do not remain in record territory comes November, I still give minimum Arctic sea ice volume next September a 50/50 chance of going below 3.0 x 10^3 km^3.

  11. Reminds me of this moment from 2009:

    For more than two years, Canadian writer Alanna Mitchell travelled the world’s oceans, meeting scientists whose research was uncovering a crisis in the planet’s large bodies of water.

    Overfishing, coastal dead zones, and rising water temperatures are just some of the problems plaguing the world’s oceans.

    “We are changing the chemistry of the global ocean,” Mitchell said in an interview.

    “Without all those creatures in the ocean living and doing what they’re meant to do, we can’t survive.”

    In a book published this year about the oceans, Mitchell tells the story of Colorado-based marine ecologist Joanie Kleypas, who, when she realized the implications of ocean acidification, ran to the bathroom at the scientific conference she was attending and threw up.

    Oceans face climate-change crisis: ‘Life as we know it is going to end’

  12. Given the snow and ice albedo effects that are all concentrated in the arctic (under discussion on other recent threads on this site), and MacDougall et al.’s admittedly conservative assumptions (not including methane, for example), I think this paper should be considered a very, very optimistic accounting of the carbon cycle feedback.

  13. James Galasyn, following that link back to the Ocean Acidification blog, I see there’s a new report just out: “Ocean acidification and its impacts: an expert survey.” Good timing for me as I’ve often read things like “without all those creatures in the ocean living and doing what they’re meant to do, we can’t survive” and not really understood what it’s implying.

  14. Horatio Algeranon

    “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet”
    — Horatio’s rendition of BTO

    I felt the global warmin’, it took my land away
    Some said I had it comin’ to me, but I wanted it that way
    I think that any warm is good warmin’
    And so I took what I could get, mmm
    Oooh, oooh, it flooded me with big drowned ice
    And said

    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    Here’s somethane that you never gonna forget
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet

    And now I’m feelin’ better, ’cause I found out from Kloor
    I went to see the blogger and he told me of a cure
    He said that any warm is good warm
    So I took what I could get, yes, I took what I could get
    Oooh, oooh, it flooded me with big drowned ice
    And said

    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    Here’s somethane, here’s somethane that you’re never gonna forget
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    You need educated

    Any warm is good warm
    So I took what I could get, yes, I took what I could get
    And then, and then, and then it flooded me with big drowned ice
    And said

    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    Here’s somethane, here’s somethane,
    here’s some-methane, mama, you’re never gonna forget
    B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nu-nu-nu-nothin’ yet
    You ain’t been a-drowned

    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    I know I ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    I know I ain’t seen nothin’ yet

  15. I’m just an amateur follower, here, at RealClimate, or wherever, but (channeling Gavin as best I can) seems to me that someone should be trying to put this one paper into context, especially paleoclimate context, before just concluding that sensitivity, whether fast/Charney or earth system, is far higher than we thought up to now.

    Note this does not lead to some kind of lukewarmer policy stance. If a skeptic or lukewarmer dares to cite paleoclimate work, remind them that this implies around 3 deg C per doubling, already enough to spur urgent changes.

    • As I read it, the paper doesn’t diagnose CS at all; it explores a particular feedback. Indeed, it presents results at different (simulated) levels of climate sensitivity.

  16. Is it my imagination or are the “oh shit” moments getting closer together? Oh shit.

    • My last loud “oh shit” moment was the loss of plankton one – 18 months ago?

      Now there’s no headdesking, no facepalming. It’s like being the parent of a stroppy teenager. No more shouting, no more you’re-grounded-for-the-rest-of-your-life. Just the resigned acceptance that one day the knock on the door or the phone call will be the cops telling you you’re needed to sit in on an interview down at the station.

  17. hm, I just saw John Mashey pulling together articles from all over — Ruddiman’s idea, with new info about the extent of early agriculture and about possible cause of brief methane spikes with big human dieoffs and fallow land for a while. Sounds like an adjustment of the methane climate sensitivity rate of change might be a simpler explanation for such spikes?

  18. The recent woolly mammoth find in Siberia is another O Shit! moment. How long has it lain frozen there? Thousands and thousands of years. (extinct everywhere after 1700 BC.) And now, it — and its GHG cohorts — have emerged into the light of day.

    The bad thing, of course, is how broad an area faces the same conditions.

  19. snarkrates:

    ” I’m gonna go way out on a limb and suggest that maybe your proposals to pave the Mojave with solar panels might not find favor with your fellow citizens. “

    At least 72% of the public wants government action to solve the problem. That includes a lot of Republicans and that is without offering free electricity.

    At least 99% of the public (just guessing here) would love to see their electricity bills/gasoline bills/ heating bills etc disappear.

    Yes, the Democrats made a hash of health care. So what? Are we not to make conscientious plans because the Republicans might oppose them? Cowering is not the answer – aggressive policy is.

    A huge problem with our current approach and conversations about solving the global climate issue is that it is so bloody complicated and confusing. Carbon caps, payback periods, rebates – the public doesn’t understand these things, nor do they want to – they want a quick fix to the problem. Now. We can give that to them. We can save the planet – or flounder until it is too late in a quest for a more elegant solution.

    Another huge problem is that any fix which relies on finding a free market solution is going by necessity to be complicated, and will involve out-of-pocket expenses by actual people. Ordinary people don’t want this. Corporations will fight it tooth and nail – and that is what they have done for the past twenty years.

    Make no mistake about it. Continuing down this same path you recommend is to doom the human race. What is it about the past twenty years that would lead you to think otherwise? We are currently putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than at any time in history! We are on the brink of tipping the planet irrevocably into a high temperature pattern. We need an answer that can succeed quickly. Are we so inculcated in the precepts of the current approach to not admit a new and/or additional approach is needed?

    We need to move the Overton window – and electrical nationalization will, at the minimum. do that.

    • Cowering is not the answer – aggressive policy is.

      That’s it in a nutshell.

      There was a huge push-back against FDR’s New Deal, but he was veryaggressive and simply drove the train at full speed through the relatively small (though very wealthy and powerful) crowd of those who disagreed.

      FDR understood that if he did right by the vast majority of the public, they would support him hands down.

      The current arguments about “the need for super-majorities” to get bills passed and ALL the rest are simply pathetic excuses, in Horatio’s opinion.

      As they say, if there is a will, there is a way.


      US DOE has investigated solar and concluded:

      Solar electric panels can meet electricity demand on any scale, from a single home to a large city. There is plenty of energy in the sunlight shining on all parts of our nation to generate the electricity we need. For example, with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity“

      from a publication “Produced for the U.S. Department of Energy
      by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a DOE national laboratory”

      And actually, no one needs to simply take the DOE’s word for it.

      The calculations are pretty simple (given in America’s Solar Energy Potential, for example)

    • Roger,
      Great. Go do it. Report back and let us know how you fare.

      Dude, did you fall asleep and miss the last 40 years of US and European politics? We do not live in the ’30s. Impose onerous taxes or regulations on a corporation or a wealthy individual and they will simply leave for another country. Promising free power will not change that–and it certainly won’t affect energy consumption in other countries.

      “For every complex problem, there is a solution–simple, easy to understand and wrong.”–H. L. Mencken

      • Fundamentally, they only move offshore because they are allowed to. There is nothing stopping the Western countries in general closing down the whole offshore banking/company ownership system. The sky would not fall in.

      • Andrew, Capital is a coward. Give even the slightest indication of rescinding “the healthy bidness climate”, and they will be gone so quickly you won’t know what happened. Imagine Greece magnified 1000 times and no EU to bail us out.

  20. Blockquote>”And “too cheap to meter”? Are you serious? Isn’t one of our core problems thinking that energy should be cheap, forever? What about replacing waste with intelligence?

    You are confusing what is proper and prudent with environmentally dangerous carbon-based energy with the realities of pollution-free renewable energy. Sunlight is a free, boundless,and completely environmentally green energy source.

    If we can easily produce ten times more energy than we could possibly need for the next thousand years – why should we not offer it for free and luxuriate in its benefits? For heaven’s sake – one of the biggest objections the right has against moving away from oil and gas is that we would all have to live uncomfortable lives because of it. Here is an alternative that flips their argument on its head.

    I am not arguing that we should be completely profligate – of course we should improve efficiencies, etc. But we can and should sell this feature to the American people – clean renewable energy will put money into their pocket every single day.

  21. john harkness

    I find this post almost incomprehensibly depressing.

    It should be a call for a global call to arms to engage in a crash program to rapidly bring our carbon emissions to zero on the off chance that unforeseen negative feedback may kick in to mitigate what otherwise looks like an unmitigated disaster.

    But I’m afraid that B.P. Levenson is right when he concludes: “There is too much political power ranged behind the forces of global suicide. We’re going to lose.” Of course, ultimately “we” is everybody and most living things.

    Any suggestions to viable avenues of action, or reasons to come to happier conclusions form this data would be most welcome.

  22. Chris O'Neill

    Your sea ice volume graph extrapolates to zero in 2016 (if my fitting is correct) which I guess means no ice in sight at the North Pole by 2015. Hopefully there will be some journalist reporting “Here we are at the North Pole with not a skerrick of ice in sight”. Literally only a few years to go now.

    • It’ll be Anthony Watts reporting triumphantly, “I have a new paper coming out. It proves definitively that sea ice can only increase from this point. (news associates, you may now release the “coming ice age” pieces).”

      • A W is not only obfuscating the reporting of reality, he will calm nerves by assuaging a wonderful future consisting of non-existent cycles all geared to eventually burry any notions gained by science. In the face of 20% Arctic ocean sea ice left……Serenity now!

  23. Pete Dunkelberg

    For heaven’s sake – one of the biggest objections the right has against moving away from oil and gas is that we would all have to live uncomfortable lives because of it.

    The right? Their objection to non-carbon energy is the trillions of dollars worth of reduced carbon yet to be extracted. Leave in the ground? Not on your life. Literally. You can have all the solar panes you want, but that carbon will not be left in the ground.

  24. > leave it in the ground
    Wait for it. It’ll be something like a great big tax writeoff for sequestering carbon favoring carbon that is already owned and not yet extracted. All of us alarmists will have simply been premature in our enthusiasm — the fossil sequestration industry will proudly demonstrate their wisdom by sitting on their assets and being paid to do so.

    >> If we can easily produce ten times more energy …
    >> why should we not offer it for free and luxuriate in its benefits?

    Oh, oh, I know the answer to that one:
    Because you would use all that extra energy to finish clearcutting the Amazon and Africa for hardwood veneer and bush meat. Right?

    Unless we invented something — call it, oh, “government” — and focused the energy on those space elevators and moving industry off-surface, and on restoration.

    Are we smart enough?

    It’s a big universe. Seen any signs so far that any species, anywhere, in any galaxy, has been smart enough?

    They’d advertise, you know, if they were good enough at it to share their wealth and well-being.

    • Well..

      Given the size of the Universe, it is certainly possible that ‘someone’ out there has made it. Of course, if they are a billion light years away we wouldn’t notice..

  25. A conversation with my brother, who works in the testing world, unearthed the concept of how you test a single use system. Say a fire extinguisher which, once used, cannot be used again. So you rebuild it and are where you were before you tested, pretty much in unknown territory until you actually press the trigger.

    It occurs to me that our planet climate is also a single use system. In the light of the fact that testing it to destruction would be unforgivably stupid and also would finish us all off, hence why bother?

    From my understanding of single use testing, this is exactly what Watts and others of his like are demanding. That we test the environment to destruction just to prove our theories.

    So how do you test a single use system? Well you work out the design parameters, test the individual components and then assess the likelihood of it working (or failing as in the case of the climate).

    I think this is an avenue worth exploring in the climate space as a tool to counteract the total and utter BS that Watts et al spew put on a daily basis.

    Worth pursuing? At least it might help to deal with the “Oh Shit” moments.

    Also is it worth comparing volume with volume estimates for, say, 1955? What do we have left now in comparison? 5%? We know that ice was already being lost by 79 when the satellites began recording but we do have a lot of submarine recordings of thickness from the 50’s and 60’s from which extrapolations can be made. My “Oh Shit” moment on Volume came back in 2005 when the reports of massive loss of MYI came in and it was reinforced in 2007 with the huge loss that year.

  26. “Which choice do you think will actually occur?”

    And as long as the American people keep voting in mentally challenged idiots like this http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/06/republican-congressman-paul-broun-evolution-video then the outcome is obviously going to be … “shit!”

    You can’t fix a problem if you don’t even admit the problem exists QED!

  27. Ray landbury:

    Great. Go do it. Report back and let us know how you fare.

    Dude, did you fall asleep and miss the last 40 years of US and European politics? We do not live in the ’30s. Impose onerous taxes or regulations on a corporation or a wealthy individual and they will simply leave for another country. Promising free power will not change that–and it certainly won’t affect energy consumption in other countries.

    “For every complex problem, there is a solution–simple, easy to understand and wrong.”–H. L. Mencken

    Dude – who is talking about imposing onerous taxes or regulations on corporations? Not me – I am arguing for the exact opposite! The current approach using rebates, carbon caps, CAFE standards, etc is doing that – and failing spectacularly. As I said, trying to impose good behavior on an economy constructed around carbon fuels hasn’t worked, isn’t working, and can not work well.

    That’s why we need to literally forget about the carbon fuel industry! Pretend they don’t even exist. While we replace them with the energy system we all know we need for the long-term success of our – and millions of other – species.

    This retrofitting of industry and homes should be done at the expense of our government, not by imposing taxes and costs on home and business owners. Expensive? It’s cheap as hell compared to adaptation. We are talking about a few trillion dollars – what we just wasted on Iraq and Afghanistan.

    What I would like to know is if it would be possible for this to be done by Presidential fiat, if need be. It is, after all, a matter of national security, and the Departments of Energy, Interior (who would oversee the infrastructure installation) are, after all, Executive agencies whose missions can be completely dictated by the Chief executive.

    As far as other countries, you are correct, they would have to pay for their own retooling. But there are sufficient sites in strategically located areas to fulfill the energy needs of the planet with similar installations. And they would have the U.S. as a model, instead of a belligerent heel dragger, for a change.

    • Roger, I can only assume you are located outside the US. Presidential Fiat?

      You are talking about a huge effort. Someone has to pay for that effort. Who?

    • Roger, again, I admire your ‘big thinking.’

      But suppose that this could be done by fiat. How would it be funded? Which personnel would do the work? Where would the equipment that would be needed come from?

      And–bearing in mind that people are suing to stop wind turbines in multiple jurisdictions based upon (in my view imaginary) health effects, buying guns “for when Obama outlaws them”, and believing all sorts of incoherent and/or verifiably false hoo-ha about the Federal government, the UN, and climate change–just what do you think the political response to a such a massive, intrusive and (from their point of view) thoroughly arbitrary program would be?

      Not to be defeatist, but we can’t impose our vision by fiat. We have to educate and convince. The good news is that this will become increasingly easy to do; the bad is that time is clearly not on our side in terms of the climatology. But that’s the hand that’s been dealt; we have no real choice except playing it poorly or well (or maybe, not at all.)

  28. Hmmmm, “This retrofitting of industry and homes should be done at the expense of our government, not by imposing taxes and costs on home and business owners.”

    the last time I looked, the ONLY funding Governments have are: ” taxes and costs on people and businesses”. So in order to get the work done we would just tax the people antoher way to pay for it.

    Personally I prefer the subsidy and partnership thing. Make it more profitable to do clean energy than carbon energy. Take the windfall taxes on carbon energy as you ramp it up and give it to the clean energy subsidies. At the same time the markets themselves are motivated to support and grow the business.

    It’s not a difficult model and has been used time and time again. The main stumbling block is that the industrial barons wound up owning the energy world. They don’t like losing out but won’t invest in the technology which destroys their power base….

    There is no free lunch. But from time to time we can give away the fries on the side for free to boost demand…..

  29. Just as a general note, from a wider perspective climate change is a global, not a localized problem. A public-private collaboration with taxes and incentives to go green in one country will not change the overall outcome on its own – as businesses and individuals that do not benefit from a green partnership can easily move their interests to a country that doesn’t have such a partnership.

    Before progress though, all countries really need to be on board. I feel that a big problem, which is present in all of these solutions, is that people are fundamentally bad at collaborating with each other. How is the world going to manage linking different governments and corporations?

  30. I do not think that geoengineering is the only solution that we have left. This should be a last resort as it is still possible to reduce the potential impacts of global warming. Geoengineering is an extremely costly solution and these costs will fall to the developed nations who have enough capital to implement the solutions. If we are going to have to put huge amounts of money into geoengineering projects in the future to reduce the impacts of global warming, I think that we may as well use this money now to prevent the problem from escalating in the first place. In this case we can reduce the devastating impacts of major disasters caused by global warming in the meantime as well.
    The other stand point mentioned where carbon emissions should be cut to zero in a crash program is unrealistic as if we have been unable to keep carbon emissions stable or to decrease them, there is no way that we will suddenly be able to cut them to zero as this will require major technological advances and a change in lifestyle that will take years to achieve. We need to be aiming at a less drastic but constant cut in carbon emissions. This could be done by countries providing more incentives for people to change to alternative energy sources such as a reduction in electricity costs for people who have solar geysers or for homes that use energy saving light bulbs.

    • I do not think that geoengineering is the only solution that we have left.

      There are other solutions, but not palatable and likely involuntary. Global nuclear war and/or pandemics spring to mind. And in the too-late-I-told-you-so basket is unprecedented famine which, if deliberate steps are not taken soon, will be inevitable.

      On the matter of energy use, humans living a Western lifestyle simply have to learn that using as much energy per capita as our countries do is not sustainable. End of sentence. It goes beyond issues of substitution and even of climate impacts: if we persist in energising our activities for a few more centuries as we have thus far, we’ll exhaust many of the other biotic and abiotic resources on which we depend.

      Really. End of sentence. So long and thanks for all the fish.

    • And, geo-engineering could be a provocation to war–see, for instance:


  31. I recently did work experience at a firm called TruCost in London. This firm looks to help and create awareness to companies in cutting-down on carbon emissions in their production practices. This also helps them to understand the economic consequences of natural capital dependency but also put a price on it. The idea of framing environmental risks in business terms is the way forward.
    Reality is, “money talks” and while we have major companies like Puma, Samsung and LG; poring money into What they already know doesn’t make sense. Environmental services like TruCost should be encouraging a moving forward process like geoengineering.Why? this is because major CO2 contributors are starting to realize the shift in markets towards sustainable production however we find that they are putting their money in unnecessary pockets. I say this because they have been many research done by scientists who didn’t need a dime for what was happening to the minimum sea ice volume of the Artic circle. Climate system may be out of “our” control and out of its own self-regulating mechanisms, however, since money is something we seem to all have and need to slow down the rate of our impacts, not stopping, but controlling us in a situation that will alter the future. Live for the future not for today, it is going to get worse for our kids and their kids.
    Let’s leave a “footprint” smaller than a newborns footsteps, and start paying for driving over the earth’s natural threshold, cause inevitably man will have to pay the costs.

  32. I must admit I always get an eerie feeling when people go on about “it is not sustainable to use the energy we do”.

    Look at it from another angle. I always do with these damned CFL bulbs which ruin my eyes.

    If the energy we produce is green from end to end, does it matter how much we use? Clearly not. So the answer is not to go on some radical energy diet and still leave the emissions at some level. The answer is to transition to completely clean energy and consume as much as we can produce (or produce more than we can consume).

    Notably almost no real effort has been put into the clean energy generation landscape (relatively), but endless effort and hot air, has been put into debating how we will tax those who use dirty energy.

    To me it’s just wrong. Both logically and morraly.

    • john harkness

      “If the energy we produce is green from end to end, does it matter how much we use? ”

      Clearly yes.

      If we use it to decimate the planet, as we have been doing with the almost all other energy from nearly every other source, then, yes, it does matter.

      The fastest and really only way to get to anything remotely resembling sustainability is by a vast reduction in our energy use, as well as the use of most other resources. This fact is so obvious, once you think about it for a moment, that it is nearly tautological.

    • Neil: “The answer is to transition to completely clean energy and consume as much as we can produce (or produce more than we can consume).”

      Great. Let me know when you find one. I haven’t had much luckl. I deep running into that damned second law of thermodynamics. Consume energy at a finite temparature and you generate entropy. Not many loopholes there.

  33. > green from end to end
    This is the end:

    Ask an ecologist for a nightmare scenario and you’ll hear things like:
    — cheap cutting tools that never need sharpening, or
    — cheap power saws and transportation, or
    — cheap enzymes that make lignin into biofuel

  34. Hank Roberts (like the link)
    It’s funny how we have evidence, i mean it doesn’t get any clearer then a predictable pattern in Deforestation, but we still consume!
    We can complain about MacDonald’s and what it does to us but we’ll still consume it…My point is, the research is out there, the business values and ‘green’ solutions are outlined, but like children attending their first class, we ignore it and rather tend to the lego blocks on the floor.
    Yes, consuming green sounds less guilty but is it really solving the problem?

    We are part of nature and i think we are forgetting this..nature works for us, lets start working for it!

    • Footprint,
      To live is to consume. What is more, to live in a particular society is to consume what that society provides. The ability to eschew MacDonalds is a First World Problem of the first order. In some urban neighborhoods, it is simply what’s for dinner.

      • Someone–Konrad Lorenz, maybe?–said it succinctly and poetically: “Man is a fire.” (And went on to examine entertainingly and in considerable scientific detail just what the nature of that “fire” is.)

  35. OT here, but the Mitt Romney threads are apparently closed to new comments: I’ve put a short piece on Romney’s economic plans (or rather, what little we really know of Romney’s economic plans) up, as of last night. Some here may be interested to check it out.


  36. If the energy we produce is green from end to end, does it matter how much we use? Clearly not.

    I’ll add my voice to Hank Roberts’ and John Harkness’ observations, and to my previous comment.

    At its most basic, energy use is proportional to how much ‘stuff’ humans coopt from the bio/hydro/litho/atmosphere, whether that ‘stuff’ is physical or whether it is something more abstract, such as systemic resilience. Going “green from end to end” would only address the harm that arises from obtaining “non-green” energy – it does nothing to address what we do with that energy once we’ve bottled it.

    All the green energy in the world is not going to help humans if they do not also stop guzzling it at a rate that the planet’s biosphere cannot afford, and indeed all of the green energy in the world will most certainly see the biosphere catastrophically harmed if such energy were harnessed for human activity.

    Humanity has two choices in terms of sustainable energy use:

    1) either pig out as we have, but remove about 90% of the population, or

    2) keep in the long term the population numbers to which we seem so irrationally devoted, and live no less frugally and impactfully than do Cubans.

    If we don’t make the choice – and soon – nature will make if for us no matter how green we think our future energy derivation is, and it will do so without bothering to ask us first.

    You can’t jerk thermodynamics around.

  37. No, I think a high standard of living is possible with renewables. It doesn’t have to damage the Earth.

  38. It’s the ‘Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons’ — as Hardin said he should have entitled his essay when it first came out:

    Without intelligent oversight, humans will eat the seeds needed for the next spring’s planting, eat the breeding stock animals needed for next year’s herds, and consistently cut the straightest and best trees, and trawl the seabed and fine-mesh-net whatever swims, killing everything and taking only the very best to consume. And burn the library to roast marshmallows.

  39. Point being — a small steady yield from an intelligently managed resource can go on for many human lifetimes, effectively forever. Or you slash and burn it, belch, and move on. There’s eventually a problem with the latter.

  40. In response to Hanks last comment (Love it and going to frame it!)
    That is exactly the point, your right when you say the problem lies with us. The hunger and greed to take the best and not consider the future harvest. Such a crucial point any many seem to fail in accepting that it is a problem. Exactly what is happening to our forests, we know where we are heading and the destruction we have and are causing on the future growth of our trees, yet we burn, belch, and move on!

    That is why i strongly believe that there needs to be a greater focus on the next generation. I’m talking about planting new seeds in our future youngsters, to equip them not with technology, wealth or any other shortcut avenue that many of our ‘green’ industries take. The key is to create a new lifestyle that challenges the the idea of ‘having it all’ at the expense of our Earth’s resources. There needs to be a change in how we live, yes its slow, but is there any other way? I think they call this adaptation…..

    Adapting is a process and it needs to be built into our daily lives.

  41. You see here is the fundamental issue with AGW. Those who know that AGW is real and is a real problem keep mixing up the message.

    AGW is an extinction level event for humans,
    Overconsumption means living in a garbage dump

    The first we have to tackle immediately or the planet will kill us.

    The second we need to address but will not kill us in the short term.

    If you mix the messages, those who know that overconsumption is a long term issue which will need to be addresses “some time”, will be turned off the first and more important message.

    There is plenty of energy in and on this planet without having to use carbon sources. We just need to put the effort into trapping and using it to retain living standards in the western world and enable living standards to continue to rise in the rest of the world.

    Mixing the message gives aid to the denyers.

  42. john harkness

    But falsifying the message for the sake of simplicity or expediency is not, imvho, a valuable, ethical, or ultimately practical alternative.

    The fact of the matter is that we were already well into the sixth great mass extinction event before the consequences of GW really started getting going–it was (and still is largely) driven by other forms of depredation of modern industrialism: direct ecosystem destruction, excessive fishing, importation of invasive exotic species…

    If our ultimate goal is to avoid the (and next to last?) mass extinction event that we are already in from going too much further, we have to address more than AGW; we have to address the whole modern industrial project, at least.

    Back to the original post, though:

    I am still hoping that someone can dissuade me from my conclusion that the flat dashed line in graph three together with the known carbon (and other) feedbacks beyond CO2 from the top 3.5 m of terrestrial permafrost studies here, amount to proof that, even if we completely stopped all anthropogenic CO2 emissions by 2013 (in two and a half months), atmospheric CO2 levels would continue to climb into the indefinite future (at least for two centuries).

    I am pleading for someone to show somehow that my logic is faulty or that there is some basic error in the original article. I will take silence as an unfortunate and unwished-for affirmative.

    Thanks ahead of time for any light thrown on the matter.

    • Best I can do is that no 1 study is ever ‘proof.’ Tamino titled this post well.

      • john harkness

        Thanks, KM. That dictum–not to base to much on any one study–is something I try to keep in mind. Of course, this is not the only article that has warned us of the potentially large impact of permafrost (and other) feedbacks. But perhaps it is the first to spell it out with such clarity.

  43. Overconsumption means living in a garbage dump

    No shit. You should see my house. I need therapy or a gig on hoarders.

    And this is just unopened food goods and modern functional electronics I pulled straight out of the plastic trash bins and dumpsters and I’m more or less just scratching the surface of it. If I did this full time and dove deep I would be overwhelmed with consumer goods and food I can’t ever eat.

    Plus I garden and can. Life is good for the ultra poor in America.

  44. Inbred Overconsumption

    This may just be a subjective view, however I feel that westernized developed and westerly influenced developing countries need a serious diet! The need for more ‘things’ seems to be a growing problem in societies; and to be blunt not many people are very willing to give up a their comfortable life big house, fancy big cars, shiny new gadgets and internationally produced foods for the looming threat of climate change impact that is not often felt first had. Explaining to your children that their luxuries have to be reduced due to an abstract idea of climate change (that may not directly impact them on a obvious level), will probably end in confusion and tantrums.
    Subjectively i feel the issue in reforming this ‘disease’ lies in education. If anything is to be done to adapt to the eminent global warming, the core inherent issue in each of us needs to be addressed. Continuing on this trend IS going to end badly and then your comfortable luxuries wont help.

  45. Face the Facts

    Thomas, I convincingly agree with what you are saying. Society today often over indulges and is wasteful in many ways. We need to learn to conserve what we have and respect what we own. Our inherent overindulgent nature portrays the single-tracked, westernized indoctrinated mind-set we own where we are not happy in what we have and always have a stern desire for more. This exact ideology mimics our thought processes regarding climate change. Elaborating on this, society today is aware of the concept of climate change and the dire consequences that go with it. However, we still tend to push the boundaries and test the threshold of climate change. We chose to ignore and remain ignorant about this abstract concept even though we possess certain awareness of climate change. And let’s say, if you regard yourself as being obsolete and archaic that you have only heard of climate change today then the responsibility falls upon you to gain the necessary information about climate change. And since we do overindulge and we face a technological era, I’m almost certain we all have access to Google. The time has come for us to accept it, understand it, share it, and battle it!!!

  46. Horatio Algeranon

    From a time long long ago in a galaxy far far away*

    Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in energy achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on Earth.

    I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.**

    … I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the next decade is out, of making it’s energy infrastructure independent of fossil fuels.”

    *when leaders were not afraid of being compared to Jimmy Carter for putting solar panels on the White House

    **JFK was not quite correct: the US had embarked on a truly herculean effort at breakneck pace to mobilize for WWII (including Manhattan project).

  47. *Not*one*single*mention* of climate change in tonight’s debate (unless I missed it in the first few minutes.) This, despite thousands of suggested questions known to have been submitted for consideration. Words fail me…

    And in other news, Mr. Romney still can’t or won’t specify how he will pay for his planned tax cuts/military expenditures:


    • Horatio Algeranon


      Secret Debate Contract Reveals Obama and Romney Campaigns Exclude Third Parties, Control Questions (Democracy Now! ) tells you everything you need to know about the”debates”.

      Neither Romney NOR Obama wants to address climate change in the campaign (if at all), so any relevant questions are simply tossed in the trash.

      Green party Presidential candidate Jill Stein (who does regularly talk about climate change and actually has a plan to address it) and her VP running mate Cheri Honkala were not only excluded from the debate (though they are on the ballot in enough states to win the needed electoral votes for the Presidency) but were actually arrested outside the debate forum

      American Democracy in action!

      PS If you want to hear alternative viewpoints, DN! has been hosting responses by Green and Justice Party (Rocky Anderson) candidates to the same debate questions posed to Obama and Romney.

      [Response: Let’s be realistic. There’s zero chance for the Green party candidates to win the presidency in the election. In my opinion, excluding them from the debates was the right choice.]

      • Horatio Algeranon

        The critical issue is actually not whether third party candidates can realistically get elected (they obviously can’t, with the way things currently are), it is about whether it is right and prudent to exclude their viewpoints from the debates and effectively from the national discussion.

        And with the way the debates are currently set up (controlled by the two major parties), it’s not just third party viewpoints that are getting excluded. It’s discussion of any issue that the two major parties have decided ahead of time they do not wish to discuss.

        That is certainly not in the best interest of the public.

  48. Kevin McKinney got it spot on in my opinion: this article is one of thousands that spells out the imminent threats of climate forcing (be it natural or anthropogenic) and that it is a real threat that WILL continue at the current rate or even increasing in rate in the not so distant future if humans fail to curb the increasing input of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, not to mention the increasing rate of CO2 being released into the atmosphere from the increased melting rate of the permafrost areas of the world. Sure, everyone has the right to their own opinions and there are still loads of skeptics from both sides of the argument (whether global warming and climate forcing is a real phenomenon or not), but it must be seen that even if anthropogenic-induced global warming is not real (which I strongly disagree with), there is still the NATURAL factor of climate forcing that is happening whether we like it or not. Past figures show us that the climate naturally does fluctuate (including atmospheric CO2 concentrations) so whether we like it or not global climate WILL be affected and it WILL have an effect on us as a race too. No doubt about that one!!

  49. Yes figures do show the reduction od Artic ice but climate change only becomes a reality when people start to feel the impacts, if I dont have a high exposure level to the risk I wouldnt act in an environmentally friendly way because we live in a highly industrialised world were this industries are the major contributers of significant climate variability. Cliamte change doesnt look to be an attainable goal in the pace that we going with now, there are high consumption rates that are largely stimulated by our capitalist economy which needs to sustain itself by accumulating capital and it does so by exploiting resources.

  50. If we have indeed reached an ‘oh shit’ state what can we actually do to try and reduce the rate at which the permafrost is decreasing? This is because we cannot refreeze the permafrost and geoengineering the climate there to restore the permafrost may alter other climates around the world. Am i also correct in assuming that there will also be a high rate of methane released with melting of permafrost, such that we now need to look at a way of reducing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere, through use of other gases, in order to counter the plus’ with minus’.

    [Response: Isn’t it obvious? Step 1 is to reduce CO2 emissions significantly. Yes, it’s obvious.]