Global Warming: Why we must take dramatic action within the next 8 years

The change in the world’s climate, which is constantly becoming clearer, “is the biggest problem that our civilization has ever been confronted with,” said Sir David King, Chief Scientific Advisor to the British Government. [Emphasis mine].

Why does he say that?

Here are the 3 undisputed facts you need to know that Al Gore hasn't told you. It is even a more inconvenient truth than he told you:

  1. The IPCC, a panel of 2,500 of the world's best scientists who met over 6 years and reviewed tens of thousands of technical papers, agreed that under certain reasonable assumptions, there is a 5% chance that the average world temperature could rise by more than 6.4 degrees C by 2100. This is scenario A1FI in Table SPM.3 on page 13 of the Working Group I report. It is the "worst case" of the six scenarios considered by the IPCC.
  2. The actual emissions have exceeded the assumptions in the A1FI scenario. This means that the temperature rise may be worse than the "worst case" 6.4 degree estimate. See this paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which points this out.
  3. At 6 degrees, it is questionable as to whether humanity will survive in any significant numbers. See Six Degrees (page 257 in the UK version of the actual book). But even if you accept the "best estimate" of 4 degrees by 2100, things look pretty bleak. The last time the earth was 4 degrees warmer was 40 million years ago and there was no ice at either pole. Expect 118 degree F temperatures in Switzerland in the summer, for example. With the loss of most of our planet's key agricultural areas, expect mass starvation. At 4 degrees, the climate causes such huge changes that for sure the climate is now a runaway train beyond our ability to control. So the question isn't if we'll hit 6 degrees, it is when.

In short, at the rate things are going, there is more than a 5% chance that human beings might be extinct (or nearly extinct) in less than 100 years from now. The current best estimate is that it will take somewhat longer than that.

Some people believe that global warming is overblown;  it is a problem and it will cause problems and we should take some action to reduce the damage, but it isn't going to really affect us that much, e.g., it might make the temperature a degree or two hotter by the end of the century and we can live with that without having to make any drastic lifestyle changes.

Others believe it is a problem, but that we have 40 to 50 years to make the changes required.

A few believe that global warming is a hoax and there isn't enough data to prove that the warming is caused by man.

They are all wrong.

Unfortunately, only a small number of people are going to take the time to read the IPCC reports, talk to the climate scientists directly, carefully analyze the arguments of the skeptics, and put 2 and 2 together when reading isolated news reports. Instead, they'll get their knowledge from the press  and the press will just dutifully report both sides of the story in order to be "objective" and "fair and balanced" and therefore leave people with the impression that there is doubt in the science or doubt as to the seriousness. And some of the most significant stories, such as the Southern Ocean losing its ability to absorb CO2 and the PNAS article that pointed out that the actual emissions are worse than ALL six scenarios contemplated by the IPCC, those get completely buried by the press because they do not understand how significant they are (they were deemed significant enough to get coverage in the newspaper however, which does give us hope).

Others will cherry-pick the facts to prove to themselves global warming is a myth. All of this cherry picking I've seen has been debunked. Details below.

Others will find an article or paper written by one of the small number of global warming skeptics and claim that because not every single scientist on earth believes global warming is man-made, that it isn't true. That of course would be a very bad bet.

I am one of the small number of people who took the time to read the IPCC reports, talk to the climate scientists directly, and carefully analyze the arguments of the skeptics. This page documents what I found when I did that.

Bottom line: We should be worried. Very worried. More worried that even the shrill warnings we've already heard because the CO2 emission assumptions on which those warnings were based have already been exceeded (as pointed out in the PNAS article).

What are the experts saying?

"The current situation of the world in relation to
the climate problem is that we're in a car with bad brakes driving
toward a cliff in the fog, and the fog is the scientific uncertainty
about the details that prevents us from knowing exactly where the cliff
is. ... There's a chance we'll go over the cliff anyway but prudence
requires that we try to stop the car."

John Holdren
President of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science, Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard, and Director of
the Woods Hole Research Center.

"The faster and deeper we cut our greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years,
the better our chances of averting a tipping point."

James Hansen
Heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is
one of the world's leading experts on climate change

What should we do about it?

The short answer is we should be cutting as fast and deep as we possibly can and encouraging other nations to do the same. In short, we should figure out how we can achieve 80% to 90% reductions in the shortest possible timeframe. When we've reduced by 90%, our emissions are "rounding error" compared with other countries and the focus must be shifted to those emitters.

That means we have to "think zero" for every choice we make.

Incremental approaches will not work. We'll never get to the 90% reductions we need to achieve through incremental ratcheting of standards.

There are zero or near zero emissions pathways for both transportation and electric power. That should be the focus of government policy: to enable and incentivize the rapid adoption of those pathways.

The only way to get to a 90% reduction is to start transitioning (through regulation and stable incentives with very long term time planning horizons) both our power grid and transportation to zero or near-zero emissions technologies as fast as we can. We should be incentivizing efficiency and conservation in both buildings and appliances. We should auction emission rights and use that for funding R&D and incentives. Companies should get credit for the cuts they've already made and should be able to bank emission credits so that if they are under one year, they can be over the next year since year to year fluctuations in the climate can be averaged out.

We should incentivize (not require) auto makers to transition their entire fleet to plug-in hybrids with at least a 40 mile all electric range (AER) by providing big tax credits for consumers who purchase these vehicles. If the automakers say this is impossible, then they have no reason to oppose such a bill. And once a car maker proves it is possible, then you can start requiring it since all the objections (such as it cannot be done, it will bankrupt us, etc.) should be overcome. Note that Toyota has already announced that it will have a 100% hybrid fleet by 2012. There should be even bigger credits if the car can run on compressed hydrogen when the battery range is exhausted (either as a fuel cell or in an internal combustion engine) because that is the only fuel that is zero GHG if produced through electrolysis. Cellulosic ethanol is another possibility, but that solution has air quality problem.

We should ask every American to make a choice in buying plug-in hybrids with a 40 mile AER or even better, a full power battery electric vehicle such as the Tesla.

We also need to remove all fossil fuel incentives including tax breaks when you buy heavy SUVs. We need to make these technologies very efficient so we can then export both our policies and technologies to other countries who will adopt them because they are cost effective. The only way this will happen is if we elect a President who would be aggressive about climate change.

What I found

  • the latest IPCC report was incorporates the work of over 2,500 scientists including over 800 contributing authors and over 450 lead authors from over 130 countries over the course of 6 years. Here's an explanation of how it works and a UCS page that summarizes it too.
  • because the IPCC reports are based on high levels of scientific agreement, the IPCC predictions are generally considered conservative, i.e., the reality is going to be worse.
  • the timeline of what will happen looks pretty bleak
  • this chart shows the temperature rise we can expect by 2100 according to the 2001 IPCC report. The 4th report is even worse at 6.4 degrees by 2100 (see Table SPM.3). Here's what temperature looks like in graphical form over the last 500,000 years showing today and the IPCC worst case projection (we've already exceeded the worst case actuals):
  • In modern times, there are no examples where a comparable degree scientific consensus was achieved and the results were later proven to be wrong. ZERO.
  • we need to take action immediately to drastically reduce our GHG emission
  • if we don't, we'll could see 12 degree Fahrenheit average temperature increases within this century; the temperatures will be over 12 degrees F higher than at anytime within the last 500,000 years. The rate of temperature increase will be faster than we've ever experienced in the history of our planet
  • the temperature increases will decimate the land available for agriculture meaning that hundreds of millions of people (if not billions) will die of starvation because there isn't enough food to go around; there will likely be wars over water and food leading to more deaths.
  • nobody knows how high or fast the temperature will rise after 2100
  • the IPCC scenarios in the past have always proven to be underestimates to the observed actuals, e.g., the observed CO2 increase is more than the worst IPCC scenario.
  • the reason for the urgent action is that there are ecological tipping points which when triggered, cause the problem to get worse. If you trip enough of these systems, then there is nothing to reduce the CO2 concentration, i.e., it changes from a negative feedback system to a positive feedback system (Gore outlined just one example in his movie). Also, the sooner we act, the less expensive and drastic the measures we have to take are.
  • humanity is very much like the frog example in Gore's movie. Even with the movie pointing out the problem, we still act like the frog and are not doing nearly enough to turn down the heat.
  • we should be treating this like we are driving at 60mph in a fog and someone says the road is out ahead. What do you do? You slam on the brakes as fast and as hard as you can. Unfortunately, we aren't do that, but every scientist I spoke with says that's what we should be doing.
  • the climate skeptics don't agree with each other and, in general, their arguments don't fit the facts. A popular show purporting to debunk global warming was full of misleading arguments that distort the facts.
  • some people are discounting the warnings of scientists because they say in the 70's scientists were talking about "global cooling" which never materialized therefore this is probably wrong too. That would be very bad logic as global cooling never had any significant scientific support and was mischaracterized by the press. The scientists said we don't know enough; they said based on Milankovitch cycles we should be entering a very very slow cooling trend but that human interference has already altered the environment so much that the climatic pattern of the near future will follow a different path. So the scientists were correct then. And they are likely correct now. Global warming has nearly unanimous scientific support.
  • I was unable to find any credible reference that would dispute any of the statements above. If you know of any, let me know.

Not long ago, I received an email from David Hawkins of NRDC which included the sentence:

"Without action right away, options to cut emissions by 50%, 75%, 80% by 2050 all disappear rapidly."

I was stunned at what he said. Basically, we have only 10 years to make some very serious headway or we are in deep deep trouble.

His statement was echoed by every other credible climate scientist I talked to. If all of the countries which emit the largest amounts of CO2 fail to make substantial CO2 reductions over the next 10 years, then the problem grows to a size that is so large, that it becomes impossible for anybody to fix and we will have no way to stop the ever increasing temperature rises. If that happens, then nobody knows how hot it will get, how fast it will happen, and how long it will last. The repercussions of that are serious.

John Doerr, in this excellent 20 minute talk at the TED conference, said that his partners at Kleiner Perkins started looking into global warming, traveled all over the world, and:

"...the more we learned, the more concerned we grew. If it's business as usual, we're going out of business. "   --- John Doerr on climate change

But he also pointed out that California will reduce greenhouse gases 25% by 2020, but create 83,000 new jobs and earn an extra $4B/yr in annual income. So going green doesn't have an economic cost. It is an economic opportunity, even if you don't believe global warming is real.

In fact, it appears very likely that we will need to cut more aggressively than even the 90% by 2050 goal that Gore is advocating for; a goal like 80% by 2030 is probably achievable.

At a minimum, we should accept the challenge issued by the EU ministers who said that they will commit to And we should cut by at least 30% from 1990 levels by 2020; this is the goal that the EU ministers have said they would commit to if the US does. The main message is: cut as fast and as deep as you can.

Today, the problem is so large that the US alone cannot fix it no matter what we do; even if we cut our CO2 emissions to zero it wouldn't fix it. This is because we are only 25% of the total CO2 emissions and nature only absorbs less than half of the man-made emissions so even if we drop to zero, made made emissions are still way more than nature can absorb so the CO2 concentration continues to rise (more on this below). But in 10 years, unless we take drastic action now, the problem will be so large, that nobody will be able to fix it; we will have poured enough CO2 into our atmosphere that even if the entire world were to eliminate all their CO2 emissions at that time, we would still be unable to stop CO2 from increasing further and the temperatures from reaching catastrophic levels.

That sounds crazy, doesn't it? I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that if the everybody in the world were to stop emitting CO2 entirely, then the atmospheric concentration of CO2 can't possibly continue to rise. After all, it was humans who caused the CO2 rise in the first place. If we stop emitting CO2, then the CO2 concentration in the air has to drop because the oceans and vegetation will absorb it, right?? Wrong!!! Dead wrong.

If we fail to make significant reductions by 2020, then the CO2 levels will very likely be above the 450ppm "tipping point" that one of our most respected climate scientists, James Hansen, has been warning us about for years (see Jim Hansen's profile on wikipedia). When that happens, large ecosystems (such as our oceans) that used to absorb CO2 start emitting CO2. You can read an explanation of the tipping point by George Monbiot here. At that point CO2 becomes a runaway train with nothing to slow it down and no end in sight; our planet will heat up every year at an ever increasing rate and we will be powerless to stop it even if the entire world cuts all man-made emissions to zero. That's because we've warmed the planet to a temperature where the remaining ecosystems are net CO2 emitters instead of net absorbers like they are now. So even though we drop to zero, what's left, nature, is now emitting CO2 instead of absorbing it like it used to. So the CO2 concentration continues to rise even if we cut the man-made emissions to zero. That means temperatures would continue to rise even if we've eliminated all man-made emissions. It's that serious.

This isn't just theory. We are actually starting to see this happen right now in one of the biggest oceans on our planet.

A May 17, 2007 Associated Press article entitled "Ocean May Be Losing Ability to Soak CO2" reported that the Southern Ocean, our fourth largest ocean, is losing its ability to absorb CO2. Here is a more detailed BBC article.

This is extremely serious. The climate models and IPCC predicted this, but said that it wouldn't happen until mid-century. Instead, it is happening 40 years sooner than predicted!

In short, this is the very first time in history that you are going to have to live with the consequences of your decision in this election for the rest of your life and not just the next 4 years.

Today, we are seeing the "sneak previews" of what our future will look like. Los Angeles normally gets 15 inches of rain per year, but there has only been 3.2 inches since July, making this the driest year on record. Florida is also experiencing the worst drought in its history, with Lake Okeechobee water levels shrinking to near-record lows, and the entire watershed of the Everglades drying out fast. Australia is experiencing the worst drought on record with a lot of areas that haven't had decent rain for 7 years. Australian Prime Minister John Howard recently announced that "if it doesn’t rain in sufficient volumes over the next six to eight weeks, there will be no water allocations for irrigation purposes" for at least the next 12 months. Their solution to the climate crisis: pray for rain. John Howard, who had been a skeptic of climate change, is now a believer and is setting up carbon caps and a trading system. Ironically, Howard says solving the crisis will hurt the economy which is stupid because if he really believed that, he wouldn't do it, would he? Australia and the US are the only major industrialized nations not to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

On May 27, 2007, the New York Times reported that 180 villages in Alaska are now starting to wash away. For example, it noted that studies say that Newtok will be completely "washed away" in less than 10 years. Even the ranchers in Texas are now joining with environmentalists and the mayors of the cities in Texas to join together to combat global warming. Some 200 Texas ranchers started T-Power -- Texans Protecting Water, Environment and Resources and they successfully stopped the planned construction of new coal plants in Texas. Greenland’s output of ice into the North Atlantic has increased dramatically, doubling over the decade that ended in 2005.

An article in Time magazine's Special Report on global warming entitled "Be worried. Be very worried," had this to say:

What troubles scientists especially is that if we are only in the early stages of warming, all these lost and endangered animals might be just the first of many to go. One study estimates that more than a million species worldwide could be driven to extinction by the year 2050.

Lastly, Hurricane Katrina caused over $100B in damages and we still haven't recovered from it (nor found the money to pay for it). That was just one little event, but it is a perfect illustration of how the economic cost of doing nothing is much higher than the economic cost of prevention. Insurance companies are starting to refuse to sell insurance because of global warming.

But the effects we are seeing now are just the beginning. Our temperatures are rising at an ever increasing rate. If you think this is bad now, I assure you that you ain't seen nothin' yet. If we do nothing, it is going to get progressively worse. For example, this USA Today article points out that, among other bad things, that Australia will be unable to grow food at a 7.2 degree temperature rise (and large areas will be unable to grow food at a 4 degree rise according to the Stern Review). That may not be far away if we do not take action: under one scenario in the IPCC report, temperatures could rise by 6.4 degrees Celsius by 2100 (see Table SPM.3). Nearly a third of the world’s land surface may be at risk of extreme drought by 2099, compared with about 1% today. In lands close to the equator, especially in Africa, declining crop yields could leave hundreds of millions of people unable to grow food.

And if you think it can't happen here, think again. It's already started. Read this article: ABC News Scientists Say Southwest to Sizzle for 90 Years

Even worse is that a study published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reports that the rate of co2 emissions is increasing 3 times faster than the worst IPCC predictions, i.e., it is at least 3 times faster than even the most pessimistic scenarios. Here's a quote from that article (emphasis mine):

The study, published by the US National Academy of Sciences, shows that carbon dioxide emissions have been increasing by about 3 per cent a year during this decade, compared with 1.1 per cent a year in the 1990s.

The significance is that this is much faster than even the highest scenario outlined in this year's massive reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - and suggests that their dire forecasts of devastating harvests, dwindling water supplies, melting ice and loss of species are likely to be understating the threat facing the world.

Here's a graph from the 2001 IPCC Synthesis Report (9-1b Variations of the Earth's surface temperature: years 1000 to 2100)

Temperature change: The red line indicates how scientists in UN's climate panel (IPCC) believe the median temperature has changed the last thousand years, measured in degrees Celsius higher or lower the temperature in 1990. The grey area shows how much higher or lower the scientists believe it could have been. One can see that the temperature is more uncertain the further back in history we go. For the years 1000-1860, scientists have tried to reconstruct the temperatures on the northern hemisphere by studying tree rings, corals, glacier samples and written sources. (there's not enough information about the temperature on the southern hemisphere before 1860). From 1860 - 2000 the temperature was measured with thermometers worldwide. The charts for 2000-2100 show how much scientists believe the climate can change in the future, depending on climate-gas emissions.

The 2007 report is even worse. And the PNAS article means we are going to be higher than the highest point on this graph.

It is happening now. Australia will likely shortly become the first continent that has to import food to survive. Continue the pattern and you soon run out of continents to import food from.

But the news for us is much much worse if this post is accurate:

"we are beyond A1FI [the most pessimistic scenario] which with carbon feedbacks means we on track for over +8 degrees C in warming... Over 5.5 degrees C, at this rate of global change, would by best guess be limit of survival for humanity... Coupled with the recent news on the Antarctic Ocean means that IPCC 4 is hopelessly out dated now."

Start thinking "no water" and "water rationing" not just for one season, but for the rest of your life. And for the rest of the lives of your children and their children and their children. Quite likely for the foreseeable future according to the experts I talked to, unless we make significant reductions by 2020 (and keep making reductions until we've reduced our emissions by 90% from today's level) and get other nations to follow.

Even the most vocal skeptics of global warming cannot point to a single study showing things will not get progressively worse.

Why is this happening? Take a look at the chart on the right. The chart shows the CO2 and methane (another greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than CO2 but it has a much lower concentration in our atmosphere than CO2 so that is why the focus is on CO2) levels for the past 500,000 years (which is as far back as we can measure). As you can see, CO2 tracks temperature, but there is a time lag from when the CO2 increases to when the temperature rises (although there have been times in the past where the opposite happens and temperature rises from the solar orbit cycles drives CO2).

As you can see, for the last 500,000 years, temperature, CO2 and methane have been in lock-step. The scale on the right is temperature since 1850. Note after 1950 the rapid rise in CO2 and methane to levels way beyond those seen in the last 500,000 years! Now, can you imagine how temperature is going to react? I'll give you a clue: we are going to see temperatures that are way beyond what our planet has seen for the last 500,000 years or more.

You may be wondering why the temperature (red) isn't tracking the huge rise in CO2 (blue) and methane (green). Simple. The oceans are a big body of water and take time to heat up. The higher the CO2, the faster the oceans heat up. CO2 is like the temperature control on your swimming pool. Only in this case, it's a very big swimming pool. And someone just turned the temperature setting knob (CO2 level) way way up; way higher than we've ever seen it in the last 500,000 years. It takes about 50 to 100 years before we see 63.% of the full effect. Then another 50 to 100 years to see the next 63.2% of the remaining increase and so on.

So even after 100 to 200 years, we're still only seeing 86.5% of the full temperature impact caused by the higher CO2 level (and that's assuming the most optimistic case where everything remains linear which we know isn't the case as Al Gore explained in his movie). It's basically a first order linear system response to a step function input, i.e., if you have an electrical engineering background, it is fundamentally the same as the RC charging voltage graph of a battery connected in series with a resistor and a giant capacitor. It is this enormous "thermal inertia" of the oceans that lulls us into this false sense of security that global warming isn't a big problem...unlike every other crisis, we cannot see the immediate cause and effect.... until it is way too late to do anything about it.

We are seeing the very start of the temperature impacts now. CO2 exceeded the maximum level of the last 500,000 years starting around 1940. So we'd expect to see some very significant temperature anomalies from the norm by 1990 at the latest. As you can see in the chart below, that's exactly what has happened. Since 1980, the global average temperatures have been going up like a hockey stick with no end in sight. In fact, the hockey stick temperature growth you see below is just going to get steeper and steeper every year for the foreseeable future unless we make drastic cuts immediately and cause other countries to do the same thing.

We can't solve this ourselves. Even if we we somehow able to cut our emissions to zero tomorrow, CO2 levels would continue to rise every year due to the emissions of other countries. It is a global problem and it needs to be solved by all countries working together to fight a common enemy. If we do not, then we all lose. We must be the leader. We are the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. If we do not lead and get other nations such as China to follow us, we are all toast.

Those temperatures and record dry spells we are seeing now? That's nothing. Most of that is from CO2 emitted many decades ago. The CO2 levels we are at now are much much higher than 1950. That's why I said above: we ain't seen nothin' yet. We are seeing, quite literally, the tip of the iceberg. By the time 2050 rolls around, it will be a catastrophe. That's why Gore made the movie.

Why the skeptics cannot be believed

There are a few scientists who once believed there was a link between CO2 and temperature rise and are now uncertain. Of the thousands of scientists who believe global warming is real, Inhofe identified a grand total of 13 scientists who are skeptical. However, none of them proposes a model that fits the data, and the most credible of them (Allegre) simply says the cause of warming is "unknown." The others suggest it is nature or solar activity or it is just random noise. However, the IPCC report charts (see p. 11) make these alternate theories too hard to believe: the observations lie way outside the ranges predicted from all of the "natural sources" climate models but well within the ranges predicted using climate models that incorporate man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Please, take a look at this one page from the IPCC report. It shows it very clearly in 5 seconds you'll see it. Also, prominent on that list is climate scientist Dr. Chris de Freitas. I've read papers by de Freitas and what de Freitas does is quote information out of context to mislead readers into believing his source material said one thing when it in fact clearly said exactly the opposite! You rarely see such irresponsible behavior in a technical paper, but since his paper was never published in a peer reviewed journal, it is easy to get away with misdirection; you can lie all you want. Here's an email exchange I had about the blatant misrepresentations in the de Freitas' paper so you can see both sides and judge for yourself who is right. You can see how the "Friends of Science" avoids answering my question and switches the topic. Things get a lot more clear about this organization when you read Friends of Science - SourceWatch which notes that the "friends" are funded by oil companies and they do not show up at any scientific meetings or present any peer reviewed papers.

In general however the skeptics fail on any number of fronts:

  1. In modern times, there are no examples where a comparable degree scientific consensus was achieved and the results were later proven to be wrong. ZERO.
  2. 2,500 prominent scientists couldn't find any climate models incorporating natural sources only that fit the data. Yet climate models that incorporated CO2 effects easily fit the data. This is crystal clear in Figure SPM.4. If this is natural variation, how come the skeptics can't come up with a climate model that fits the observed data, while, conversely, the believers can easily use the CO2 data in climate models that do fit the data?
  3. if they cite a paper to back up their claims (such as Beck's), it will be to a paper that was never published in a peer reviewed journal
  4. if they are daring enough to cite a cause, they say the data can be explained by natural sources. But there are only two natural sources that are cited that can cause the variation: the sun and the atmosphere. However, the solar variations of the 11-year sunspot cycle causes only about 10% of the overall observed variations in climate. There are orbital variations (both tilt and elliptical path) which cause huge variations as you can see from the data. There are several cycles for this, with short and long time constants, but they are all of the order of 10,000 to 100,000 years. As far as the atmosphere, we know for a fact the exact composition of the air for the past 500,000 years; every element. And CO2 is the main gas that has been demonstrated to have greenhouse gas properties. The problem with the "natural variation" argument is fundamentally that the CO2 and methane levels are both way higher than the past 500,000 years and have risen faster than at any time in history according to the ice core data. The ice core data has never been challenged in a peer reviewed paper.
  5. they cannot account for where all the CO2 caused by man has "disappeared" to in a way it has no effect on the climate... a black hole perhaps? The CO2 from man far outstrips the net natural sources. And CO2 has been unequivocally proven to be a greenhouse gas (i.e., heat trapping).
  6. they all fail to come up with any alternative climate model that fits the data more accurately and passes peer review; they tend to focus on a single anomaly (e.g., the ice is getting thicker in certain parts of Antarctica) and cite that isolated fact as "proof" that the planet isn't warming. Such "selective" examples are misleading and can be easily explained by climate scientists, but if you aren't a climate scientist, it sounds convincing. In this case, the ice thickening is explained by shifting wind patterns in that particular region of Antarctica.
  7. some of skeptics respond to criticism of their viewpoints by hurling four-letter words at the scientists who point out the errors rather than answering the question. In particular, see this wikipedia article on The Great Global Warming Swindle for info on Martin Durkin's completely distorted view of the science. But you have to actually research what is presented in that show to figure out what a complete fraud it is. For example, Tim Ball is listed as Dept of Climatology, University of Winnipeg. There are just two problems with that attribution that you can verify yourself: 1) There isn't a Dept of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg (and there never has been) and 2) Tim Ball hasn't been there for at least 10 years. See this wikipedia article on Tim Ball. And apparently, when Ball was there, he told students that there was no such thing as the greenhouse effect. Here's a nice article that takes apart Durkin's "documentary."
  8. some of them say water vapor is the most potent greenhouse gas and it driving this change. While they are correct that water vapor is the potent greenhouse gas, the IPCC Report points out that the water vapor that has increased since the 1980s has all been consistent with warmer temperatures. So water vapor is like temperature in that respect; it is being driven by the greenhouse gasses (CO2 and methane).
  9. They try to debunk Jim Hansen by saying he got funding from the Heinz Center, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution dedicated to improving the scientific and economic foundation for environmental policy. This is always a red-flag for me. If the best that they can do is attack his funding, it means they cannot attack his science. So they focus on pointing out his research was funded by a institution seeking to improve our understanding of the science behind global warming.
  10. They say that the ice in Antarctica is increasing, yet conveniently fail mention that the Larsen-B ice shelf in Antarctica, stable for 12,000 years, suddenly collapsed in less than a month. "We knew what was left would collapse eventually, but the speed of it is staggering," said Dr David Vaughan, a glaciologist at the Bas in Cambridge. "[It is hard] to believe that 500 billion tonnes of ice sheet has disintegrated in less than a month." Did any of the skeptics predict that? Nope! Can the skeptics explain that? Nope! Nowhere is there an explanation from the skeptics of how this can happen from natural variations.
  11. Their claims that warming isn't happening or that it is "natural variations" fail to explain why Florida, Los Angeles, Australia, etc. are all simultaneously experiencing "driest years on record." For that reason, most skeptics do not deny the warming is happening.
  12. None of the natural causes climate models fit the observed temperature rises (Look at Figure SPM4 in the IPCC Working Group 1 Summary for Policymakers as it CLEARLY makes this point which you can see instantly (flip to page 11).
  13. NASA administrator Michael Griffin who said on NPR that he wasn't sure we needed to do anything about global warming is uninformed (see NPR NASA Scientist Critiques Bush's Strategy).
  14. The suppression and distortion of science is actually working the opposite way that the skeptics claim; legitimate scientists who speak of the dangers are being muzzled by the administration, not vice-versa. Same with the IPCC reports where the US wanted to change "... by 2050" to read " the end of this century."
  15. The science behind global warming is so strong that even President Bush admits it is real as you can see in this hilarious video, but it is true in real life too.
  16. The insurance industry is starting to refuse to sell insurance because of climate change. If it isn't real, why would they reduce their revenue?
  17. They call Gore an alarmist, but shouldn't they be calling him a prophet? He predicted global warming 20 years ago. Did the current batch of skeptics have a more accurate prediction 20 years ago than Gore? If so, where can I look up their prediction from 20 years ago that predicted the climate changes we are now experiencing? So if Gore predicted it and they didn't, we are supposed to believe them and not Gore? That makes no sense.
  18. I emailed the guy who wrote Inhofe's skeptics guide and asked him two simple questions. I wanted to know 1) do you believe the planet is not heating up? if so, what is your strongest proof of that. 2) if the planet is heating up, what is the strongest proof you have that man made CO2 emissions cannot be the cause? I heard nothing back.
  19. Crichton refused to answer 10 simple questions about the science in his book and distorts the facts. Inhofe calls Crichton's work the true story of global warming, yet Crichton himself admits his book is fiction and not a documentary.
  20. MIT's Richard Lindzen, is another skeptic cited by Inhofe, but even Lindzen agrees that warming has occurred especially in the past two decades, but he claims that climate science is too uncertain for us to know the cause. The wikipedia page on Richard Lindzen notes that he said the odds that global temperatures would be lower in the next 20 years were 50:50 and if someone offered him higher odds than that, he would be tempted to take the bet. When someone did offer him higher odds (2:1), Lindzen refused saying he'd only accept a bet with 50:1 odds in Lindzen's favor. In short, with his demand, Lindzen is saying that the chances things will get worse are more than 98% certain.
  21. Inhofe, the leading critic in the Senate, is a real estate businessman, not a scientist. He also admits that he is "not as smart as most of you guys around here." Kerry, who is a lot smarter of Inhofe, does a very thorough job of debunking Inhofe's points in the Congressional Record discussion of the Kerry Amendment on May 15, 2007 (WATER RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT ACT OF 2007) which would have required the government to consider global warming science when planning water projects.
  22. A Wall St. Journal opinion piece by Philip Stott is debunked here.
  23. here's a list of skeptics categorized by belief
  24. Glenn Beck's 2-hour CNN special debunking global warming was filled with facts that have already been debunked
  25. Five of the last 8 years have been the hottest on record and 2005 was the hottest ever. So if global warming is a hoax, how do you explain the sudden increase? Well, they just don't tell you.
  26. The north pole has melted for the first time in 55 million years. You don't have to believe any scientific predictions at all; just your own eyes. If global warming is a hoax, how do you explain that? It is readily observable. This  article from the San Francisco Examiner says: "For the first time in 50 million years, visitors to the North Pole can see something extraordinary: water. "The thick ice that covers the Arctic Ocean at the North Pole has melted, leaving a mile-wide stretch of water at the top of the world, The New York Times reported Saturday." OK, so our skeptics explanation is....??? It can't be natural causes since all the natural causes (Milankovitch cycles) have time constants less than 100,000 years, not 55 million years, and by natural cycles, things should be getting colder, not warmer.
  27. See NASA - Top Story - RECENT WARMING OF ARCTIC MAY AFFECT WORLDWIDE CLIMATE - October 23, 2003 for a comparison of 1979 vs. 2003 photos of the North Pole. The rate of warming in the Arctic over the last 20 years is eight times the rate of warming over the last 100 years.  Here's the same photo with the old area outlined. NRDC Global Warming Puts the Arctic on Thin Ice. The skeptics explanation is that the ice is melting because ....?
  28. The natural forces cycles predict the earth should be getting cooler and cooler since we are well passed a 100,000 year peak. Yet the temperatures are getting warmer and warmer. The skeptics explanation is ...?
  29. Their argument that CO2 follows temperature increase appears to be their strongest, but not if you understand the science. It's true that the ice core data shows that. Nobody denies that temperature increases cause CO2 increases. But what is happening today is different than the past. It is man that is driving the CO2 increases. The question is: will that also drive a temperature increase? We cannot look to the past to answer this question because past CO2 events have been driven by temperature variations primarily caused by orbital changes (sunspot activity is very minor in comparison). What we have to go on therefore are the facts that CO2 is undisputably a greenhouse gas and that climate models that take into account man-made emissions fit the observed temperatures whereas climate models that don't do not fit the data. See Figure SPM.4.
  30. Finally, see Gristmill's incredible "how to talk to a climate skeptic" page

The skeptics arguments are debunked on Media Matters - Myths and falsehoods about global warming and Media Matters - NPR's Harris faulted Gore's global warming facts, while getting facts wrong.

Most of this is a misinformation campaign designed to fool you into maintaining the status quo because most people do not have time to check the facts. A new report from Greenpeace USA’s Research Department indicates ExxonMobil continues to fund 41 think tanks and front groups by funneling $2.1 million in grants in 2006 to help them orchestrate denial of global warming science. According to the database, total ExxonMobil funding to all “denial” organizations from 1998 to 2006 now totals nearly $23 million. And that's just from one corporation.

Here's a post I made recently on the Huffington Post summarizing what I learned:

The IPCC report was created by 2,500 scientists from 130 countries over a 6 year period. Their conclusion was that we are dumping so many GHG's into the atmosphere that we are affecting the climate and, in the worst case, could see temperature rises that could exceed 6 degrees Celsius by 2100. They pointed out very clearly that NONE of the climate models that ignored man-made emissions could explain the actual data. Conversely, models that took man-made emissions into account fit the data. Look at Figure SPM4 in the IPCC Working Group 1 Summary for Policymakers as it CLEARLY makes this point which you can see instantly (flip to page 11).

Secondly, NEVER in our history have so many scientists been in such violent agreement where the reality of their predictions turned out to be WRONG. I defy any detractor of the science to point out even a single example where virtually every respected modern day scientist predicts X and X did not happen as predicted.

Some people think "global cooling" predictions are a counter example. But read the wikipedia page on global cooling and you'll see what the scientists really said was a lot different than what the press reported. The scientists said we should be entering a cooling period (true) but man-made emissions are so high now, that it will be our emissions that will determine what happens to the climate going forward more than anything else (also true). Comparing global cooling predictions to global warming predictions is therefore not an interesting comparison.

You cannot compare it to predicting the inability of scientists to predict the weather tomorrow or whether the hurricane season this year is going to be worse than last year. You don't have 2500 scientists from 130 countries agreeing on the weather tomorrow or what the weather will be on a certain date in a year from now. Weather is not predictable.

But long-term trends global average temperature trends are predictable with certain assumptions, e.g., the 6 primary emission scenarios in the IPCC report. Take a look at this graph below of our CO2 emissions. Do you think you can project what will happen in the future for CO2 concentration? Of course. The direction and the oscillation are both predictable. And it is CO2 which is the main climate driver (the others are natural forces and other man-made forces). Natural forces won't change very much over the next 100 years (orbital variations which have the greatest effect on climate are on the order of 20,000 years or more; sunspots have an 11-year cycle but have a minor affect on temperature variations). Even if the CO2 concentration stabilized (which could only happen if the entire world cut emissions by more than 60%), there would still be residual warming as the oceans warms to the CO2 level already present in the atmosphere (which takes over 50 to 100 years). See also this excellent Gristmill post: Debunking the "climate models are unproven" argument.

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations measured at Mauna Loa Observatory.

As far as global warming being a myth, all the skeptics have been debunked; they can't even agree among themselves (as pointed out below).

And finally, the reality is global warming is going to be far worse than the shrill warnings you've been hearing. Past IPCC reports have shown to be conservative based on reality, e.g., the recent PNAS article that points out that the emissions reality is exceeding even the worst case A1FI scenario in the IPCC models.

The bottom line is whether you believe (a) the 13 scientists (who either disagree with each other or admit they are clueless) or (b) virtually every other scientist (who all agree with each other)? Hmmm....tough call...really have to ponder that one....From a "bet the planet" point of view, it is probably better to err on the side believing that the vast majority of the world's scientists got it right since none of the skeptics can prove that the temperature rise is not caused by CO2. Nor can any of the skeptics provide a model that fits the observed data.

Why we cannot wait any longer

We must act quickly and we must act now. Hansen and other top scientists are urging us to cut our GHG emissions as fast and as deep as we possibly can within the next 10 years. If we fail to make deep cuts during the next 10 years and get other nations to follow our lead, then we are out of mitigation options because the task becomes impossible (it would be like asking someone to lose 100 lbs. in a week).

So how deep and how fast do we need to cut? The correct answer is as "as deep and as fast as we possibly can."  George Monbiot (who is the UK version of Tom Friedman) argues persuasively for at least an 87% cut by 2030. It's hard to disagree with his logic.

Here are three compelling reasons why we should cut our GHG emissions as deep and as fast as we possibly can. Any single one of these reasons is "good enough" to justify action. But all three are absolutely true:
  • it is the best way to avoid passing a tipping point beyond which things are out of our control and where the impacts and costs are unknown and cannot be quantified.  In fact, if you believe the detractors of climate change who say that we cannot accurately predict the climate, then it means that costs are even more unpredictable when the climate moves into uncharted territory
  • the greater the cuts now, the less the eventual impact of climate change will be
  • the total economic cost is minimized. The vast majority of scientists and economists believe it is cheaper to solve this problem now than solve it later. We literally cannot afford to wait any longer. The Stern Review compares the cost of prevention (1% of GDP/yr) vs. the cost of doing nothing (20% of GDP/yr). Hurricane Katrina should serve as an economics lesson for us that ignoring the problem won't make it go away. The cost of that one little Hurricane was over $100B. That is the economic cost we pay for doing nothing. And it will get exponentially higher in the coming years because the temperature is climbing exponentially higher.

So the Bush argument that "we can't afford to put any money fighting global warming" is just misdirection. The question we should be asking Bush is if we "cannot afford" to solve this problem now with harming the economy, then exactly how are we going to "afford" it later (or afford to clean up the mess if we do nothing)? That is the question the press should be asking. In fact, solving it now may actually save us money over the long term as the price of oil continues to skyrocket.

Some people believe that it is cheaper to deal with the devastation than to prevent it. That's interesting, because we've already proven with Katrina that doing nothing is clearly a losing strategy. We haven't been able to afford the $100B+ to fix New Orleans. So what makes us think if we can't afford to deal with this one minor event that in the future we will be able to afford the costs associated with all the other climate-related events?

But my favorite question for those who believe we should just pay the costs of rising temperatures is this: After the temperatures have risen so high that we can no longer grow food on any continent and the life in the ocean is all dead, what will we eat? How do you factor that cost into your "economic analysis"?

The disagreement as to whether it is better to prevent the disaster or pay the damages is clearly laid out in this Wikipedia article on the Stern Review (aka Stern Report). As you can see from the article, there are four Nobel Prize winning economists who agree with the report that it is cheaper to fix the problem now than pay the damages later. There are 0 Nobel prize winning economists who disagree. So tough call, who should we believe?  And are we willing to "bet the planet" that our Nobel prize winning economists are wrong? On what basis?

We must re-define what is politically possible to solve this problem

This is an incredibly difficult task. As we learned with Iraq, Congress rarely has the courage to lead. Even after it is painfully obvious even to the most optimistic that we cannot "win" in Iraq and even when the majority of people want to get out of Iraq, Congress backs down to a strong leader, e.g., on May 24, 2007, they gave Bush a blank check to continue the war in Iraq for at least another year.

On global warming as well, after they had all heard about global warming from Gore directly, Congress still refuses even to take into account the best science when building water projects. For example, on May 15, 2007, a vote requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to consider the impact of climate change in designing water resources projects was defeated 51-42 (a slim majority favored it, but 60 votes were required to pass in this case). Pretty amazing isn't it? So let's not consider the best science when designing these major critical infrastructure projects!?! It's unbelievable. Here's the AP story on the Kerry amendment.

Fortunately, the House leadership seems to take it very seriously. See The Gavel The Environment

I wrote a 50 page summary of the science and politics of global warming if you'd like to learn more.

What is the minimum possible cut?

We don't know where "the tipping point" is exactly; it is somewhere well below 450ppm according to Jim Hansen. As of January 2007 CO2 was at 383ppm so if we haven't passed the tipping point, we are probably very very close. Monbiot points out in his book "Heat" (p. 17) that there is a 30% chance we may already be too late. Let's hope we are still in the lucky 70%. However, if we have past the tipping point, the actions we would need to take are just more extreme and more difficult and the damage we'll sustain is higher: not only would we have to cut worldwide CO2 emissions to zero, but we'd have to do things to absorb greenhouse gasses, like plant twice as many trees as there are now on the entire planet and figure out some way to make sure those trees would have enough water to survive.

Suppose our goal is just to stabilize right at the "worst case" tipping point of 450ppm. This requires emissions cuts globally of about 50% by 2050 and to about 2 Gt C by about 2150 and must get below 1 Gt C by 2300 (we are at 8GtC right now worldwide). These are very sobering thoughts.

A lot of people I talked to tell me "you'll never convince all those countries to cut their emissions so we shouldn't even try. And making unilateral cuts is senseless; why should we suffer?" It might be true that we won't convince them. But it's not a reason that it isn't prudent to try; nobody ever won a chess game by resigning. And even if we fail there, tackling climate change is never hopeless. It is simply gets harder and harder and the consequences get worse and worse. If you simply throw up your hands and give up, then things get even worse! So that's why you should never give up; giving up always will produce a far worse outcome.

To solve this problem, we need to elect the right President

Who is the best choice? See Who would make the best President? for how the 3 candidates stack up.

My Reading list

Collapse by Jared Diamond
talks about the rise and fall of ancient civilizations and it is like looking in a mirror. We have the hindsight of history to help us deal with the issues but UNLESS we have the POLITICAL WILL to make the changes, we're going to repeat their mistakes and suffer the consequences.

Plan B 2.0 by Lester Brown
Points out that the two biggest problems we face are climate change and global warming. There are also lots of indicators of how we are doing and they are all declining. NOT A SINGLE INDICATOR HAS BEEN REVERSED ON A GLOBAL LEVEL. He proposes what we need to do to fix this and talks about localized successes. It's called Plan B because clearly, Plan A, our "current Plan" isn't working. This is a GREAT book. I have 4 copies and it's on President Clinton's recommended reading list as well. Everyone running for President should read this book.

Vital Signs: 2006-2007 published by the WorldWatch Institute
This shows graphs and commentary on 44 metrics on how the world is doing. It's a handy reference so you can see for yourself where we stand. Lester Brown (see previous review) originated the idea.

Heat by George Monbiot
I've read that Monbiot is the most widely read columnist in Europe. He wrote this book about climate change, how bad it is, and what we should be doing about it in the UK without lowering our standard of living. A very impressive analysis.

Lives Per Gallon
Terry Tamminen wrote this incredible book documenting the true cost of oil. I was absolutely floored when I read about all the hidden costs of gasoline. Facts and statistics you will never find anywhere else. A really impressive piece of work by the former California EPA Secretary.

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas
Thoroughly researched from thousands of scientific papers. At six degrees predicted by the IPCC by 2100, life looks very decimated (the IPCC projects at worst 6.4 degrees, but our actual emissions are worse than the emissions assumed in the worst case IPCC scenarios). The earth turns into "just another lifeless rock" drifting through space.

Here's an excerpt from the review of Six Degrees published in the Sunday Times in the UK:

At five degrees, only the lucky will make it. “A drastic reduction in human population is unambiguously the most likely outcome of a rise in global temperatures towards five degrees,” says Lynas. “Billions will die.” Remember, five degrees could be only a century away on current trends.

On to six degrees. By now, Lynas is digging back hundreds of millions of years to find parallels. But he finds them. Above all, he finds methane. Billions of tonnes of the potent greenhouse gas will be belching out of Siberian perma-frost and the sea bed, triggering runaway warming. And he means belching. The book ends with “a methane fireball racing towards a city — London, say, or Tokyo — the blast wave spreading out from the explosive centre with the speed and force of an atomic bomb”. Hiroshima and Katrina rolled into one.

Hyperbole? Don’t you believe it. Lynas is in many ways conservative.

From the CNN review:

With admirable precision, Lynas says we have eight years to cap global carbon consumption at current levels, and then a further 35 years (until 2050) to cut emissions by 90 percent to stand a good chance of keeping global warming within a couple of degrees of current temperatures this century.

Related links

Why global warming should be every candidate's #1 priority
Twenty things every American should know about climate change
How it will end

Steve Kirsch home page