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Asian pollution temporarily slows global warming
July 5, 2011 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Although the past 12 years have seen the warmest 10 years on record, temperatures have remained fairly steady, even while CO2 emissions grew by nearly a third. Temperatures should have been increasing during this period, rather 1998 was tied with 2010 for hottest on record. Now a study suggests why (pdf): sulfur emissions from Asian coal plants (China mostly) are so high they mimic the effects of a volcano which can cause short term cooling by reflecting light back into space. Insidiously, the long-term warming caused by CO2 (coal) has been masked by short-term cooling of sulfur (coal).
posted by stbalbach (85 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
This idea is supported by history, in the first link:
The study echoed a similar explanation for reduced warming between the 1940s and 1970s, blamed on sulfur emissions before Western economies cleaned up largely to combat acid rain. "The post 1970 period of warming, which constitutes a significant portion of the increase in global surface temperature since the mid 20th century, is driven by efforts to reduce air pollution," it said.
posted by stbalbach at 10:01 AM on July 5, 2011


That's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.
posted by condour75 at 10:02 AM on July 5, 2011 [12 favorites]


I've also read (where?) that climate change is a result of the cumulative changes humans have imposed on the planet since Neolithic times, such as the clearing of forests.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:05 AM on July 5, 2011


I hate my cynicism because I view this not as a scientifically based observation of the effects of sulfur emissions, but as fodder for the anti-climate change lobby.

I can hear it now:
"See?! It's getting cooler not warmer! Therefore, science is bunk!"
posted by glaucon at 10:08 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Framing climate change as something that's up for intellectual debate makes me feel tired and depressed.

Meanwhile, reading about it gives me an oppressive sense of doom. I can only imagine that this is how they felt about nukes during the cold war.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:11 AM on July 5, 2011 [23 favorites]


Climate change is going to make the Cold War look like Some Like it Hot.
posted by swift at 10:14 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Framing climate change as something that's up for intellectual debate makes me feel tired and depressed.

I know. To continue your analogy, it's kind of like two sides debating using nuclear weapons on a global scale. Except the side that's for using nuclear weapons makes the nuclear weapons.
posted by glaucon at 10:15 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can only imagine that this is how they felt about nukes during the cold war.

I had vivid nightmares about nukes.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:15 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of the 9/11 contrail study.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:19 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


glaucon "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."

In your case I'd say not even acute observation, but rather a simple awareness of recent (ie: last 15 years) history.
posted by sotonohito at 10:25 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately this interesting result will also give credibility and impetus to people interested in geoengineering the climate by adding sulfur aerosols to the upper atmosphere, which could cool the earth but will not solve the problem caused by CO2 perturbing the chemistry of the ocean.
posted by zomg at 10:25 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oops. Meant to attribute the quote, that's George Bernard Shaw.
posted by sotonohito at 10:25 AM on July 5, 2011


I can only imagine that this is how they felt about nukes during the cold war.

It seems like current arsenals are about 1/3 of what they were in the 80s but I think we still have enough to wipe humans off the face of the planet.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2011


                    SCIENTIST
     Here's the door to the climate, see?  (points to toys)
     That's ozone depletion, that's deforestation, and this
     cute little cuddle-bug is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
     Here's what happens when they all try to get through the
     door at once.

[tries to cram the toys through the model door, but they get stuck]

                    SCIENTIST
                  (funny voice)
     Woo-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo!  Move it, chowderhead!
                  (normal voice)
     We call it, "Three Stooges Syndrome."

                    REPUBLICAN
     So what you're saying is, the planet is indestructible!

                    SCIENTIST
     Oh, no, no, in fact, even slight breeze could --

                    REPUBLICAN:
     Indestructible...

posted by Riki tiki at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2011 [29 favorites]


I had vivid nightmares about nukes.

Likewise - I now look back on the early-mid 90s as a sort of golden age ... the one time in my life when I didn't live with constant, low grade, politically-induced dread and despair about the future.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:29 AM on July 5, 2011 [20 favorites]


See also: The Last Gasp (1983) by Trevor Hoyle. There, it was a Chinese dam that was designed to wreck the ecosystem, here it's coal usage by just-don't-give-a-damn.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:30 AM on July 5, 2011


I had vivid nightmares about nukes.

You too, huh?....

(The one and only panic attack I've ever had in my life came when I was watching Terminator 2 in a theater. It got to the scene where Linda Hamilton has that dream about watching Los Angeles get bombed -- I was so freaked out I had to go sit in the lobby for 20 minutes. Because a nightmare in your head is one thing -- but it's quite another thing when your nightmare is being projected on a 50-foot screen with THX sound.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:34 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Comments from Joe Romm at ClimateProgress.
posted by russilwvong at 10:35 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Two things:

1. Glad we solved that anthrogenic climate change thingy—thanks China!
2. The end of Dr. Strangelove is perversely beatiful, with all those nukes going off.
posted by Mister_A at 10:37 AM on July 5, 2011


Also when I was a kid growing up in the 70s and 80s, religion was still a cultural touchstone in suburban Canada. In comparison, my own son, who is now 8, has little or no idea who or what "god" or "Jesus" is. While my family did not attend church, plenty of my friends did, and we also had religious relatives.

So, I knew what the Book of Revelations was, and there was one kid in my neighbourhood who belonged to an evangelical church, and who used to talk about Revelations - locusts were in fact helicopters, the monster rising from the ocean was nuclear weapons, what was happening in the Middle East (back in the early 80s) was right out of the End Times, Rosemary's Baby lived in his attic...
posted by KokuRyu at 10:39 AM on July 5, 2011


"See?! It's getting cooler not warmer! Therefore, science is bunk!"

I like how they only listen to science when science appears to say something they might agree with.

The classic "This statement is false" paradox means nothing to the masters of cognitive dissonance.
posted by yeloson at 10:44 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


See also: The Last Gasp (1983) by Trevor Hoyle

I wonder why no one has written a realistic quality novel about global warming. Like what Alas, Babylon! did for the atomic age. Most of the apocalypse novels these days deal with mutants (zombies, vampires,etc), which I don't think will be a problem in the future.
posted by stbalbach at 10:46 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it will be too hot for the unstable undead metabolism.
posted by Mister_A at 10:47 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The end of Dr. Strangelove is perversely beatiful, with all those nukes going off.

The nice thing about a global thermonuclear war is that death comes quickly for most.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:49 AM on July 5, 2011


Paolo Bacigalupi's works seem to capture our culture's interests, fears, and hysterias quite nicely. Windupgirl was pretty much entirely about global warming.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:49 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


My God - I had the exact same experience when I watched Terminator 2 at age 10. For months, I had dreams about nuclear destruction, nukes going off in our backyard and escape scenes where I was trying to get away from a blast. This was around 1996, so seemingly the Cold War was over and it was an old-paradigm concern, right?

A few years ago, I was watching a show about the Clinton Presidency, and in it they mentioned an incident in the late 90's where the old Soviet radar systems malfunctioned. They indicated that the US had launched essentially our entire arsenal at Mother Russia, and the Clinton team had to quickly convince the Russians that it was an error. The crisis was averted, but both sides were perilously close to making some Sad Decisions.

Anyways, it just struck me when I watched it how this was likely during the time I was very paranoid about nukes, and we were dangerously close to a real incident.

And now global warming is like many imperceptible nukes are going off, and only a few want to read the Geiger Counters, while the rest want to claim our alert systems are wrong.
posted by glaucon at 10:52 AM on July 5, 2011


Sounds like a serious casus belli to me.

"Remember the Troposphere!"
posted by Sphinx at 10:58 AM on July 5, 2011


I wonder why no one has written a realistic quality novel about global warming. stbalbach, you might try "Heavy Weather" by Bruce Sterling. Disclaimer: I didn't like it much. And there were some bits that were highly unrealistic, but the overall background seems sound.
posted by zomg at 11:00 AM on July 5, 2011


I view this not as a scientifically based observation of the effects of sulfur emissions, but as fodder for the anti-climate change lobby.

This result is still super-important, even if the science doesn't say what you want it to. Politics are one thing, but the scientific process loses all credibility, if we selectively consider evidence or shade the meanings of the findings. I'm very familiar with the since communication" process and your well-intentioned sentiments are the first steps on that road. It's easy to go from "that's inconvenient" to "that's not important" to "we won't mention that". That's how the other side plays, after all.
posted by bonehead at 11:00 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


... and the problem was solved forever!

But wouldn't that effect...?

FOREVER!
posted by Slackermagee at 11:12 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


@bonehead

You're absolutely right - it can be too easy to make that leap and the point of rigorous, disciplined science isn't to come to conclusions that are convenient, but that truthfully answer a question or explore an idea / concept.

However, in today's disorienting world where falsehoods are trumpeted as absolute truth, I try to steel myself against the inevitably frustrating points made by the Pro-Burn Earth lobby.

But you're right on. We can't censor inconvenient results, especially if the science continues to explain the effects of humanity on the environment.
posted by glaucon at 11:13 AM on July 5, 2011


May you live in interesting times.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:16 AM on July 5, 2011


This result is still super-important, even if the science doesn't say what you want it to. Politics are one thing, but the scientific process loses all credibility, if we selectively consider evidence or shade the meanings of the findings.

I think he means it's fodder for climate change deniers is because it's so easy to misrepresent these results in a way that seems to support climate change deniers--not that the results themselves in some real way supports that position. As this response to the study explains, the results don't contradict any of the established science on the ongoing reality of climate change.

I think part of the problem is that a lot of non-scientific minded people identify "heat" too closely with the idea of local temperature or physical warmth. It leads them to misunderstand what it means when a study says the effects of warming were "masked" by some other set of factors. To an everyday, non-scientific way of understanding warming, it doesn't make any sense to speak of warming being "masked": it's either getting hotter or it isn't.

But of course, in reality, heat is basically mechanical energy--it's not just "temperature"--and conservation of energy requires that any extra heat in our climate system doesn't just disappear when it's being masked or otherwise doesn't end up increasing local air temperature. The fact that the temperature goes down locally doesn't mean that heat has vanished from the system generally because heat's role in the climate isn't simply to warm the air--heat also gets spent in energizing air and water currents, and in other climate subsystems that use heat without necessarily increasing local air temperature.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:18 AM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's an idea: if you liked Terminator 2 for the nuclear blasting part, you'll love Miracle Mile.
posted by sneebler at 11:18 AM on July 5, 2011


Anyways, it just struck me when I watched it how this was likely during the time I was very paranoid about nukes, and we were dangerously close to a real incident.

The book "Prisoner's Dilemma" by William Poundstone really brings in to focus the reality that, given all we know about the Cold War, it's a goddamn MIRACLE our species escaped total annihilation. All odds pointed to nuclear war being inevitable, and we basically have only a relative handful of conscientious individuals to thank for being alive today.
posted by incomple at 11:19 AM on July 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


oops--glaucon spoke for himself so I wouldn't have to.

So consider that last comment a description of my own feelings on the topic.

posted by saulgoodman at 11:20 AM on July 5, 2011


The Chinese are the first to engage in active manipulation of global weather systems. Global capitol is a loaded gun pointed at the world.
posted by kuatto at 11:21 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


@saulgoodman

Yes, indeed. I've just heard the very disappointing 'it's snowing today and so therefore global warming is false' argument too often.

And yes, the people involved in this scenario were not joking. And they shall remain nameless.
posted by glaucon at 11:25 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The Chinese are the first to engage in active manipulation of global weather systems. Global capitol is a loaded gun pointed at the world."

ftfy.
posted by sneebler at 11:25 AM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Apparently, the science wasn't settled. What a humongous surprise.
posted by midnightscout at 11:31 AM on July 5, 2011


There was an episode of NOVA on PBS a few years ago about this phenomenon. One thing that I found very interesting was that in the days after 9/11 when all planes were grounded, scientists were able to detect an increase in temperature, which they attributed to the lack of contrails to reflect solar radiation.
posted by jessssse at 11:34 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder why no one has written a realistic quality novel about global warming.

There's Earth, by David Brin. And, before he went completely nuts, Whitley Strieber wrote Nature's End.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:42 AM on July 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Back in the eighties I read a (relatively) realistic book about global cooling. I think the premise was a magnetic pole shift kicking off a new Ice Age via some atmospheric interaction. I wasn't capable of strictly evaluating the science at the time but it didn't have any Obviously Stupid bits.
posted by adipocere at 11:56 AM on July 5, 2011


In the seventies and early eighties, the worry was not that the climate was warming, but that we were "overdue" for the next ice age. We were going to die in ice, not in endless summer.
posted by bonehead at 12:00 PM on July 5, 2011


Here's a typical scare story from Time from 1972:
...if man continues his "interference with climate through deforestation, urban development and pollution," says Emiliani in typical scientific jargon, "we may soon be confronted with either a runaway glaciation or a runaway deglaciation, both of which would generate unacceptable environmental stresses."
Fimbulwinter!
posted by bonehead at 12:07 PM on July 5, 2011


The ice age myth was not reflective of consensus among climate scientists at the time. Time and Newsweek's stories about the possibility of an ice age gave a minority scientific view more credence than warranted.

I recently read Barry Commoner's 1971 book The Closing Circle. His views on global warming were accurate and reflected the consensus among scientists.
posted by perhapses at 12:09 PM on July 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also, the science in the movie The Day After Tomorrow was not accurate.
posted by perhapses at 12:14 PM on July 5, 2011


Huh. Launching a bunch of sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere was Steven Levitt's proposed solution to global warming in 'Superfreakonomics.' Lots of people thought the idea was ridiculous, though he claimed that it would be perfectly safe. I got the impression that it was maybe crazy, but at least looking into. This is true of a number of Levitt's ideas: remember, the 'Roe v. Wade led to reduced crime rates' was his idea, which at the time (and for quite a while after publication) was accepted as "instant conventional wisdom", though later was revealed to be an erroneous conclusion.

Compare the response that abortion argument received to the reaction to Levitt's ideas on global warming. It seemed like a number of people dismissed it out of hand because what it would have done was allow emissions to continue at their current level while mitigating a lot of their negative effects. The impression I got was that for a lot of folks, the feeling was that Levitt's proposed solution wouldn't punish big corporations and unapologetic car drivers enough, which is why the idea was so angrily and fearfully opposed, almost instinctively.

Obviously the few opinions I've linked to in this comment are not data, but they are my perception of the broader cultural reaction to what Levitt was saying. Left and right cherry pick facts to conform to their worldview--indeed, everyone does this, even in the non-political realm. People who genuinely try to be objective are rare, and those who genuinely succeed are even rarer. A fun thing to do on Metafilter is to just spend a few hours looking for all broad, unsupported assertions posted in comments. Then look for which of those comments have someone indignantly demand a 'cite' in response. Maybe 1% of comments posted on this website (if that) have a conservative bent, but I'll eat my hat if they don't make of the majority of 'cite' requests.
posted by notswedish at 12:34 PM on July 5, 2011


midnightscout, science is never completely "settled". Science is not an unchanging story. Science is a fractal description of natural phenomena: the more you look, the more detail you find, and the more refined the description becomes.

This unsettles a lot of people, particularly conservatives, as they see science "changing all the time". And it is true that science occasionally contradicts what what previously "known", creating entirely new models (continental drift and evolution being the two most obvious examples). Scientists live for that moment, but they are extremely rare. Much more common are progressions like Einstein's relativity: a model that covers a wider range of phenomena. It doesn't mean that Newton was "wrong", just that his models break under certain extreme conditions (just as Einstein's do at the core of a black hole).

The role of CO2 in climate has been acknowledged since the early 19th century: proposed by Joseph Fourier in 1824, experimented on by John Tyndall in 1858, and first reported quantitatively by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. This has never been seriously contested within the scientific community - as mentioned above, the popular press does not reflect scientific consensus. (Memory is also a fickle thing, using current biases to color past events. Many people claim "oh, I was taught in class that the world was going to freeze back in the 70's". No, you probably weren't... you're just aware that other people are now claiming such).

There are inputs into climate, both positive and negative, that we still don't fully appreciate. (For example, global warming is turning more permafrost into seasonal "tempafrost", releasing the carbon sinks previously frozen beneath the ice as methane and CO2... and methane is 20 times the greenhouse gas CO2 is.) What this latest study shows is that we are, in one sense, trapped: improving emissions standards in China in some areas (placing sulphur scrubbers on smokestacks) will, over the short term, make things worse, not better. That's disheartening, but it is very much a problem of our own making... and one for which climate science is blameless.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:34 PM on July 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


His views on global warming were accurate and reflected the consensus among scientists.

I think it's fair to say that increased CO2 production was alarming some people in the seventies---the "greenhouse effect" concept had been understood since the thirties---but that people were only beginning to look into the problems. As the IPCC review makes clear, real progress on climate change research didn't begin to happen until better remote sensing data became available in the late seventies, early eighties.
posted by bonehead at 12:37 PM on July 5, 2011


notswedish: the Atlantic Monthly ran an article reviewing geoengineering proposals a couple years ago.
posted by russilwvong at 12:41 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


stbalbach: "Most of the apocalypse novels these days deal with mutants (zombies, vampires,etc), which I don't think will be a problem in the future."

Don't jinx it.
posted by brundlefly at 12:59 PM on July 5, 2011


As a kid growing up in the seventies, my three consistent nightmares:
1. Nuclear war
2. Bigfoot
3. Killer Bees
Good times!
posted by jetsetsc at 1:01 PM on July 5, 2011


This result is still super-important, even if the science doesn't say what you want it to.

Um... maybe. Or perhaps not. I wouldn't get too excited. To me it looks like bunk. I'm no climate scientist, but I know enough to recognize this as bullshit: "It has been unclear why global surface temperatures do not rise between 1998 and 2008."

1998 was way above trend. The mystery, if any, is what coincidence of weather caused it to be so warm that year. It was more than 10 years worth of warming ahead of the trend, so no great surprise it wasn't much warmer ten years later. This is not difficult to see if you look at the data (the generated trend is for HADCRUT). Just for fun I went and found this chart from the IPCC. Looks to me like they were predicting perhaps somewhere around 0.3 to 0.4 degrees increase between 1990 and 2010. Not so far from what we got; I guess one year's anomalous data didn't actually throw them into such great confusion.

But anyway, maybe despite an utterly stupid first sentence the rest of the paper is very important. I'm going to go ahead and assume for now that it isn't.
posted by sfenders at 1:05 PM on July 5, 2011


if you liked Terminator 2 for the nuclear blasting part...

I think "liked" is an interesting word choice, there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:10 PM on July 5, 2011


you'll love Miracle Mile.

Great movie; went into it completely cold without knowing anything about it. It's very much the way I'd recommend seeing it.
posted by quin at 1:15 PM on July 5, 2011


Most of the apocalypse novels these days deal with mutants (zombies, vampires,etc), which I don't think will be a problem in the future."

I don't know if I can agree with this. Hordes of hyper-aggressive, short-term oriented, specimens of decaying humanity who are all basically already dead but don't seem to know it, running amok and consuming dwindling resources (well, okay, brains) uncontrollably at great cost to the survival of what remains of human civilization... Seems like an all too plausible scenario from where I sit.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:20 PM on July 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


As a kid growing up in the seventies, my three consistent nightmares:
1. Nuclear war
2. Bigfoot
3. Killer Bees


Ah, yes, killer bees...
posted by KokuRyu at 1:30 PM on July 5, 2011


OK, so it's troll feeding time...

> Apparently, the science wasn't settled. What a humongous surprise.

Actually, it remains as "settled" as science can be, since the effects of aerosols on the climate are nothing new:
Aerosol particles influence radiative forcing directly through reflection and absorption of solar and infrared radiation in the atmosphere. Some aerosols cause a positive forcing while others cause a negative forcing. The direct radiative forcing summed over all aerosol types is negative. Aerosols also cause a negative radiative forcing indirectly through the changes they cause in cloud properties.
The quote above is from the IPCC AR4 from 2007 (emphasis mine), but most probably it's something that has been studied and known much earlier than that. If you look at this graph you'll see that aerosols as a net negative forcing were already accounted for.

What this new study (that I am in no way qualified to judge) says is that the net anthropogenic forcing has declined (NOT gone negative) due to aerosol emissions from coal (which grew spectacularly last decade because of China); like others have said, as coal consumption inevitably declines during this century (either earlier due to regulation or slightly later due to depletion) warming will become even more pronounced (because the GHG will remain in the atmosphere).
posted by Bangaioh at 3:05 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I was almost feeling sorry for calling that line "stupid", but on searching to see what kind of response it's gotten I am finding mostly people shouting about how great it is that the science establishment has finally admitted that global warming stopped in 1998 if it was ever happening at all, and if it was then it was obviously just caused by sunspots or whatever. They've just given that much more ammunition to the already very noisy people promoting the meme that one very warm year a decade ago is proof that global warming is nonexistent. Hard to believe that wasn't deliberate. So yeah, I'm going to stick with calling it unfortunately stupid even if the rest of it is less so than that would indicate. First serious reaction found is (unsurprisingly) on Real Climate:

The headlines do not do justice to the study. I read the paper and came away with conclusion that the biggest factor was the 'internal variability' (i.e. ENSO), which is neither surprising nor novel. Increases in Asian aerosols are real, but they are poorly quantified - both in extent and in effect. It's conceivable they played a role, but in looking at trends over short time periods - even if you factor in ENSO - there is still a lot of unforced variability. The uncertainties are such that short periods do not provide strong constraints either on net forcing nor climate sensitivity, and so focusing on them is not particularly insightful. - gavin

More discussion from Judith Curry via The Register. She finds the proposed effect physically implausible since regional sulfate emissions have "too short of an atmospheric lifetime to influence the global radiation balance."

The whole thing seems to be predicated on the fact that a ten-year span during which temperature doesn't rise is statistically unlikely from unpredictable variability alone. I still don't understand why anyone takes the "1998-2008 lack of warming must be explained" thing seriously. Even some apparently non-crazy people do so. 1998 sure looks like a statistical outlier to me. What were the odds of it being that warm in the first place, given the trend and volatility to that point? Once such a warm year was recorded, what were then the statistical odds that ten years later it wouldn't be as warm? Very good would be my intuition. I suppose that's basically what Gavin there is saying in a more diplomatic and mathematical way; too much variability for this statistical approach to tell us anything over such a short period.

Damn it, what the hell am I doing commenting about global warming on the Internet. I told myself I'd quit.
posted by sfenders at 3:28 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


The alleged cooling effect of sulfur cannot be soberly considered "short term" if worldwide coal usage keeps rising as projected.
posted by blargerz at 6:10 PM on July 5, 2011


There is a new process for making fuel cells that run on coal. I donno the byproducts of manufacture or disposal, but that might reduce our coal burning needs.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:18 PM on July 5, 2011


@notswedish--the reaction to Levitt's argument, at least from people who work on science-based climate policy, is that it ignored one very important fact. If you begin emitting aerosols to dampen the effect of GHG emissions, and you do not decrease GHG emissions, you have to keep emitting aerosols forever. GHGs are persistent in the atmosphere for up to a century. So once you stop the aerosols, the GHGs will cause rapid unmitigated warming at whatever their current concentration. If we haven't been reducing GHG emissions, that would be a bad situation indeed, much worse if the pollution has been increasing out of a false sense of security. So, I wasn't against Levitt's uninformed geoengineering cheerleading because it didn't punish polluters. I don't care about punishing polluters; I just want less pollution. I am against geoengineering because it makes us dependent on geoengineering for our survival. It's like taking methadone without treating the underlying addiction, and pronouncing yourself cured.
posted by oneironaut at 6:22 PM on July 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


And, before he went completely nuts, Whitley Strieber wrote Nature's End.

GUYS! You guys! Somebody else read it! Now there's, like, four of us!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:30 PM on July 5, 2011




AAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaAAAaAAAAaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!
posted by Jibuzaemon at 7:42 PM on July 5, 2011


>And, before he went completely nuts, Whitley Strieber wrote Nature's End.

GUYS! You guys! Somebody else read it! Now there's, like, four of us!


Five of us actually. Though Strieber's & Kunetka's Warday was far superior in quality, and probably the best work out of the 1980's Nuclear War realistic fiction genre (books and movies both).

In terms of modern global warming post-apocalypse fiction, I recently ordered 2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming. Done in the faux journalistic style of Warday or World War Z, it's fairly depressing. I'll leave it to others to say if it's actually realistic or not.
posted by honestcoyote at 9:15 PM on July 5, 2011


I wish people wouldn't read politics into science. sfenders, you're incorrect that the only issue is that 1992 datapoint, and you're incorrect that only denialists think there's a missing energy sink. This figure (screencapped from "Tracking Earth's Energy," Science, Trenberth and Fasullo 2010) nicely demonstrates the missing energy and the leveling-off of temperatures compared to CO2 and sea level. If anybody wants the paper, memail me and I will send you a pdf. They also published a summary of these findings in Nature in 2010.

That our accounting is missing a bunch of heat is by no means a crackpot theory; this research has been presented as quite respectable in my atmospheric science courses (I'm an environmental science student). Trenberth and Fasullo speculated that the heat was "hiding" in deep oceans since there is so little data from the abyssal zones and we have no idea what is going on down there, but the aerosol particulate hypothesis is not at all unbelievable, either; particulates in the atmosphere raise the Earth's albedo and increase the amount of solar radiation scattered back to space, and this effect has cooled the planet before (Ben Franklin discovered this himself w/r/t volcanic particulates).
posted by dialetheia at 10:25 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I am against geoengineering because it makes us dependent on geoengineering for our survival. It's like taking methadone without treating the underlying addiction, and pronouncing yourself cured."

I don't think we'll have a choice about that, if we want to avoid total collapse. But I agree with you that pumping sulphate particles into the air is a bad idea. Any geoengineering solution that buys us enough time to voluntarily reduce emissions will need to directly remove carbon from the atmosphere.

This is interesting news. It seems we're quite the lucky ducks, since our pollution has been hiding the worst effects of our pollution. But it just means that future warming will be more severe when that luck runs out.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:54 PM on July 5, 2011


I had vivid nightmares about nukes.

I have vivid (waking) nightmares about China.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:10 AM on July 6, 2011


The climate arguments will not end for decades, or maybe hundreds of years, whatever actually happens to the climate; the global climate (as a system) is so complex that there will always be rhetorical room and political motivation for questions and spotlights on awkward results and alternative theories.

So if you're tired of the arguments now, imagine how it'll be in 30 years time.

Climate arguments are about as likely to get definitively settled as 'Rep vs Dems' or 'PC vs Mac'.
posted by memebake at 3:59 AM on July 6, 2011


dialetheia: That our accounting is missing a bunch of heat is by no means a crackpot theory; this research has been presented as quite respectable in my atmospheric science courses (I'm an environmental science student).

There may be similar problems that aren't based on crackpot theory, but this research was specifically addressing the crackpot version, as its lead author admits: "Robert Kaufmann, a professor at Boston University, said he was motivated to conduct the study after a skeptic confronted him at a public forum, telling him he had seen on Fox News that temperatures had not risen over the decade."

The paper you reference is about trying to explain how there can be as much 'internal variability' in the system as there is, when the radiative forcings don't change that much year-to-year. It is looking at a similar problem, though from a very different perspective, and of course suggesting an entirely unrelated conclusion. It seems reasonable enough. The greatest similarity seems to be that they clearly don't have anywhere near enough data to be all that certain about what exactly is going on.

Kaufmann et al. don't seem to be considering total ocean heat content at all, do not worry about energy balance, do not worry about where the energy comes from or goes to during individual ENSO events, and are generally not trying at all to answer the problem there given by Trenberth and Fasullo. Their approach is pure curve-fitting. I think they might've done better if they hadn't treated 1999-2008 as being so special. From figure 2, their error bars are as wide as the entire 1999-2008 range of observations, and the model gives rather different results depending what range of historical data you feed it. They "fail to reject [the null hypothesis] in two of three sample periods analyzed". Eh well, I guess we'll see in a decade or two if it turns out they're right.
posted by sfenders at 4:21 AM on July 6, 2011


On checking the news again, I see Trenberth himself is quoted as pretty much agreeing with me on this one: Kevin Trenberth is equally unimpressed. ... "The model they have does not appear to consider any of this and is not physically correct." Even worse, from Trenberth’s perspective, is the fact that the new paper cites the period from 1998 to 2008 as the span over which temperatures were relatively flat. ...
posted by sfenders at 5:23 AM on July 6, 2011


This is interesting news. It seems we're quite the lucky ducks, since our pollution has been hiding the worst effects of our pollution.

But that's not necessarily the case, and we're not necessarily lucky.

This is exactly what I had in mind about how I fear these particular results could be misrepresented in the press to undermine the real science

Here's basically all these results say, as I understand it (and any actual experts, please correct me if I'm mistaken on any of these points):

1) Human-induced warming is real and has proceeded according to prediction, even during so-called "cool" periods.
2) Air pollution from industrial China has in some periods helped to mask those effects of the increasing heat that are measured in terms of increased air temperature, making the warming effects harder to measure, not substantively mitigating them.

Even if the heat is "masked," adding more heat (mechanical energy) to drive the engine of our physical climate systems should cause, at a minimum, more energetic weather systems than are historically normal.

Let's see. Have we seen evidence of any unusually energetic weather patterns in the last few years?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:17 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


oops. should have caught up with the thread.

from more recent comments, it looks like the study's conclusion are a bit more specious than I'd realized. I didn't get that the study was claiming that so much of the light actually gets reflected back into space when it strikes the sulfurous particulate matter that this mechanism counteracts the warming effect, taking the heat completely out of the system. either way, there's still no real evidence of any decline in the rate of warming--only evidence of temperature variability. so this study begs a pretty important question. first prove that there actually was less heat in the system during the "cool" period. then prove what caused that. you can't assume an effect and then reason your way back to its cause, like this study does, and not end up with logical spaghetti strewn everywhere.

the broader point--that heat ≠ air temperature--still pertains, so even seeing cooler temperatures over relatively long periods doesn't necessarily mean the actual rate of warming has slowed.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:37 AM on July 6, 2011


Let's see. Have we seen evidence of any unusually energetic weather patterns in the last few years?

Nothing we haven't seen before.
posted by blargerz at 7:51 AM on July 6, 2011


Nothing we haven't seen in a 580 page pdf with no summary or conclusions?

Come on, it's not that hard to find an ACTUAL STATEMENT that says that extreme weather events are not correlated with increasing surface temperatures.

It's also not hard to find someone who thinks that extreme weather events are occurring in GREATER numbers.

My lawn. Get off of it.
posted by sneebler at 8:40 AM on July 6, 2011


Here's a great summary (which includes supporting links) for the largely accepted argument that there is evidence of a climate change related increase in severe weather events.

Here's Scientific American's summary of the latest science, part 1 and part 2 (part 3's still on the way). An excerpt from the SciAm coverage that's on point:
Until recently scientists had only been able to say that more extreme weather is "consistent" with climate change caused by greenhouse gases that humans are emitting into the atmosphere. Now, however, they can begin to say that the odds of having extreme weather have increased because of human-caused atmospheric changes—and that many individual events would not have happened in the same way without global warming. The reason: The signal of climate change is finally emerging from the "noise"—the huge amount of natural variability in weather.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:13 AM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oops. Here's part 2 mentioned above.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:14 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a great summary (which includes supporting links) for the largely accepted argument that there is evidence of a climate change related increase in severe weather events.

Yes, the argument goes like this: Anthropogenic global warming exists and is the worst thing ever, therefore everything bad that happens in the weather must be, to some extent or other, evidence of it.
posted by blargerz at 3:54 PM on July 6, 2011


Yes, the argument goes like this: Anthropogenic global warming exists and is the worst thing ever, therefore everything bad that happens in the weather must be, to some extent or other, evidence of it.

No, the argument goes like this: We can actually observe the specific effects of adding all that carbon into the system directly, and we have measuring instruments that can confirm those effects. We don't have to just wave our hands and guess, or snark in frustration, because guess what? Instead of arguing, we can observe what's actually happening with measuring devices. That's where the claims that climate change is causing extreme weather come from (well, that, and because the original theoretical work that first identified the problem of climate change specifically predicted more energetic weather patterns as one of the likely outcomes). And climatologists have from the beginning always predicted that global warming could cause more energetic weather patterns. If you didn't know that, don't mistake your own ignorance for evidence of post-hoc rationalization. The concern that more violent weather could be a consequence of anthropogenic climate change has been front and center since the math first predicted climate change in the 70s.

Science isn't like law or politics. The arguments aren't what ultimately win the day. It's the data and direct observation that make the case, not whatever preferred story weaves them together. In this case, if you'd bothered reading the Scientific American pieces, scientists in this area of study are increasingly able to observe the effects of climate change directly and follow the thread of those effects with enough precision to measure exactly what the impacts actually are (not what we might just guess they would be, or what we might suspect they would be) at each step. And in the process, scientists are finding direct, observable connections between warming and increasingly energetic weather systems. Science, as practiced, is generally not as squishy as the popular reporting around it might lead the public to think.

Fuck it. Here's a timeline.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:56 AM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


glaucon writes "A few years ago, I was watching a show about the Clinton Presidency, and in it they mentioned an incident in the late 90's where the old Soviet radar systems malfunctioned. They indicated that the US had launched essentially our entire arsenal at Mother Russia, and the Clinton team had to quickly convince the Russians that it was an error. The crisis was averted, but both sides were perilously close to making some Sad Decisions."

Nightmare fuel.
posted by Mitheral at 1:34 AM on July 8, 2011








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