If we keep doing what we are now doing, we will face unthinkable catastrophe
June 24, 2012 7:17 AM   Subscribe

"Climate change will take on a life of it's own and spiral out of control. Something like half the earth's currently-inhabited land would become too hot to survive on. I don't mean it's difficult to grow beans, or your air-conditioning bills are inconveniently high. I mean, if you go outside you die of hotness. Places that were an average of 80F will now be an average of 170, 180F. Will there still be human civilization under those circumstances?" - a TEDx talk on The Brutal Logic of Climate Change, by David Roberts of grist.org
posted by crayz (203 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
The unthinkable part is what makes this all so tricky.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:30 AM on June 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


I just found an annotated version, too
posted by crayz at 7:37 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Related: PopSci magazine covers climate science denialism.

“There’s really only about 25 of us doing this,” Steve Milloy says, shortly after sitting down at Morton’s, a Washington, D.C., steakhouse favored by lawyers and lobbyists. “A core group of skeptics. It’s a ragtag bunch, very Continental Army.”
posted by verb at 7:39 AM on June 24, 2012


This makes me nostalgic for my childhood when we were only worried about global thermonuclear war.
posted by localroger at 7:53 AM on June 24, 2012 [48 favorites]


I'm very much pro-environment here, but these sorts of things aren't doing anything to help the cause at all. Throwing out numbers like 170 F has no effect, it's too big to register. The average person has no idea what exactly 170 F means.

It's the same thing as throwing out financial numbers in the trillions, it makes people care less because it seems inevitable or simply out of our control.
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:55 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Blue_Villain: "Throwing out numbers like 170 F has no effect, it's too big to register. The average person has no idea what exactly 170 F means."

Well, the Warm setting on my oven is 150F. That gives me a pretty good idea what 170 is like.
posted by workerant at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2012 [27 favorites]


It means, if you go outside, you will be cooked. Alive.
posted by Malor at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


(well, until sufficiently cooked, at which point you will be dead.)
posted by Malor at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


An even better pull quote form verb's link: He moved into climate denial in the 1990s as funding from the tobacco lobby began to dry up.

Jesus wept.
posted by localroger at 7:59 AM on June 24, 2012 [54 favorites]


Clearly, the jury is still out. More research is needed. Some disagree. It remains to be seen. We need to teach the controversy. We also need to be concerned about jobs. There are crazies on both sides...
posted by mondo dentro at 8:04 AM on June 24, 2012 [16 favorites]


Too hot even for people who have camels. The 'temperate' parts of the world will be camel country instead of cow country.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:04 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's the scientific consensus on 170F? Aren't these worst-case doomsayers just as rare as the deniers within the climatology field, and just as worthy of having their views popularized?
When these models don't pan out it'll be just more fuel for the other side to say it's all made-up bullshit.
posted by rocket88 at 8:07 AM on June 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


ummm I have a hard time thinking that any significant portion of the planet being 170 degrees without the rest of the planet being uninhabitable. Sure there can be heat sinks where a valley or a depression can heat up beyond normal we have recorded temps of 130 degrees now but that temp is very rare and localized. I am feeling lucky to be as old as I am but I am sad for my grandchildren.
posted by pdxpogo at 8:08 AM on June 24, 2012


Build and array of space based mirrors to shade parts of the earth. We can build it for less than the cost of the occupation of Iraq. Problem solved.
posted by humanfont at 8:15 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would not consider warnings of 170F alarmist. Conditions like that have actually prevailed a couple of times in the Earth's deep geological past, ironically because the Earth froze over first; the reason the Earth didn't stay frozen over is that living things were not fixing the CO2 from volcanoes, eventually there was enough CO2 to melt all the ice, and it got really, really hot until carbon fixing micro-organisms in the ocean removed the CO2.

If you want an actual alarmist scenario, may I direct your attention to conditions on Venus...
posted by localroger at 8:17 AM on June 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


Clearly, the jury is still out. More research is needed. Some disagree.

We really should adopt a wait and see approach.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:17 AM on June 24, 2012


The sad thing is that the guy who makes the most sense on this is George Carlin.
posted by delfin at 8:18 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who did, or might be still doing, research on (i think) the nucleation of ice, or essentially how ice develops, when and how, on a molecular scale. Supposedly it is a key missing component in some of the climate models.

From this person's view, most scientists agree that the planet is warming, but what consequences there will be is a mystery for the most part. They can only take some very well educated guesses.

Personally, statistics is a blessing in that it is frank about uncertainty. It is a curse in that without the uncertainty, you get some pretty scary visions.

...what is pretty certain, however, is that critical resources are running thin, and we need to get creative in managing and consuming them in a conservative and sustainable manner.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 8:19 AM on June 24, 2012


Well, if the average temperature went up 22 degrees F, it would mean way more energy int he system overall. That in turn would likely mean even higher relative spikes. It seems reasonable that spots that similar to those that currently occasionally reach into the 120's could hit 170.

In any case, the real danger of climate change is other people. We've steadily been increasing our planet's human carrying capacity through medicine and agricultural revolutions. If we knock the pillars out from the foundation of that we are left with far more people than can live on our planet. Past experience indicates that individually we prefer ourselves, family and friends to be the ones to survive at the expense of others. Humanity may be able to survive the turmoil of climate change, but can we survive each other?
posted by meinvt at 8:19 AM on June 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


What's the scientific consensus on 170F? Aren't these worst-case doomsayers just as rare as the deniers within the climatology field, and just as worthy of having their views popularized?
When these models don't pan out it'll be just more fuel for the other side to say it's all made-up bullshit.


You realize, of course, that if we adopt the false equivalency model and assume that the truth is somewhere in between, that means 135 degree temperatures.
posted by verb at 8:19 AM on June 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


What was the consensus on the ash bombing "solution"?
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:23 AM on June 24, 2012


Aren't these worst-case doomsayers just as rare as the deniers within the climatology field, and just as worthy of having their views popularized?

Exactly what I was thinking; It all sounds so "we can't wait until the smoking gun is a mushroom cloud over Manhattan".

I would not consider warnings of 170F alarmist. Conditions like that have actually prevailed a couple of times in the Earth's deep geological past,

On the time scale of the Earth's deep geological past and - spoiler alert! - the Sun will one day in the future go all red dwarf on the Earth and engulf it in actual fire so I don't get all alarmist over things which happen on this time scale. In the long run, the Earth is doomed.
posted by three blind mice at 8:25 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Every year we wait to address climate change adds $500 billion dollars to the eventual cost of fixing it. Those 25 skeptics are really doing a great job of damaging the future economy.
posted by stbalbach at 8:29 AM on June 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


It's like your toddler is wandering into traffic and you're all, oh well, he'll die of heart disease or prostate cancer eventually anyways.
posted by fleetmouse at 8:30 AM on June 24, 2012 [76 favorites]


tbm, while the snowball and rebound phases both took a long time, the transition was nearly geologically instantaneous, and the Earth may very well have gone from global snowball to sauna in a century or two. It's a positive feedback loop, and those can unroll really fast.

Also, nothing like the very rapid release of CO2 that we have done in the last couple of hundred years has ever happened. We shouldn't be surprised to see unprecedented effects. Probably the closest single event that ever actually happened would be something like the K-T impactor. The anthropogenic CO2 flood could actually be worse than that because of the positive feedback loops.
posted by localroger at 8:30 AM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The time scale doesn't matter when the question being answered is, "Is it possible that the earth could actually get that hot." The answer is yes. It has. All with materials available on the earth right now, not after tirelessly converting tons of hydrogen into helium every second over astronomical time scales.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:31 AM on June 24, 2012


Watching this after two record breaking hot days and fires springing up all over Colorado yesterday is too depressing for words. Having children makes this scenario worse, emotionally, to contemplate. I know she won't be alive in 2300, and I know human civilization is existentially doomed, but evn in the next fifty years, things don't look good.
posted by kozad at 8:31 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Conditions like that have actually prevailed a couple of times in the Earth's deep geological past

..during periods when life was plentiful, in the past 500 million year or so. The Permian–Triassic extinction event (250 MYA) was a good one, most likely caused by super volcanoes that cooked the land dry.
posted by stbalbach at 8:34 AM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


In any case, the real danger of climate change is other people.

This is true in so many ways.

As an American, I watch our national take on global warming with a jaundiced eye. Between corporate interests who will gladly trade tomorrow for an extra 1% profit today, politicians and voters alike who have no interest in science that conflicts with their worldview, and that very basic American principle of "if the other party's for something, I'm against it," the likelihood of America ever enacting ANY productive legislation to rein in global warming is slim.

But imagine if the unthinkable happens. The Democrats and Republicans join hands and sing Kumbaya around a big oak tree, carbon reduction is enacted and somehow enforceable on a countrywide scale, and capitalists put long-term survival above short-term profits. Then what?

Then dozens of other countries around the world will cheerfully pick up the slack in driving us all into a global convection oven.

This is not to say that we, as a nation, should simply not TRY to get something done. If failure is 99% certain if we try, it's 100% certain if we don't. But the majority of people are simple creatures; they are only moved to act when something affects them immediately and significantly. The symptoms of global warming will not make people rise up and act until they're severe enough to be irreversible.
posted by delfin at 8:36 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


delfin: "But imagine if the unthinkable happens. The Democrats and Republicans join hands and sing Kumbaya around a big oak tree, carbon reduction is enacted and somehow enforceable on a countrywide scale, and capitalists put long-term survival above short-term profits. Then what?

Then dozens of other countries around the world will cheerfully pick up the slack in driving us all into a global convection oven.
"
That's fairly rich given that the US has been one of the only countries consistently refusing to join any climate treaties.
posted by brokkr at 8:43 AM on June 24, 2012 [38 favorites]


I'm gonna go ahead and call for us to adopt an approach of strategic dynamism.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 8:44 AM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure "if we don't beat these kittens, someone else is going to start beating them instead" is a legitimate avenue of argument.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:46 AM on June 24, 2012 [22 favorites]


Whatever. We're fucked. This is bullshit.
posted by Chutzler at 8:48 AM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's important to remember that the atmosphere normally plays a big role in what the Earth looks like; if there were no CO2 in the atmosphere at all the average temperature would be below freezing and the oceans would be frozen at the equator. Air traps heat and also moves it around.

That moving of heat around is called weather, and the more energy staying in the system and getting moved around the more and more violent weather there will be. So it's not as simple as adding a few degrees to every point on the current world temperature map; there will be more and stronger storms in places that have never seen such weather, extreme highs and lows will get more extreme with regard to the average than they are now, and any particular place might see violent changes in prevailing weather conditions over spans of just a few years.

When I was a child in the 1960's the prevailing view on geological change was gradualism. People who believed the K-T transition was caused by an asteroid impact were considered quacks. In my lifetime science has revealed both the Earth and the Universe to be far more violent, hostile, irregular, and catastrophic than we ever imagined. Everything we ever assumed to be stable and regular, from the sea level to the Earth's temperature to solar energy output to the orbits of planets themselves, has turned out to be far more variable and subject to catastrophic change than we ever imagined.

Based on the experience of the last 40 years, I'd say that if you expect something bad to happen you're probably wrong -- it will really be horribly worse than you expect in some way you haven't even imagined.
posted by localroger at 8:53 AM on June 24, 2012 [25 favorites]


I guess the question becomes how we make large scale carbon dioxide scrubbing or other active modification techniques profitable. Anything less means it won't get done. We can emit basically any amount of carbon we like that is also physically feasible, so long as we simultaneously collect and sequester it.

It would be very expensive in monetary terms, but in terms of human labor diverted to the project it would be fairly small after the initial construction phase.

In a perfect world, I'd rather us not actively fuck with the composition of the atmosphere on a scale large enough to reverse the effects of industrialization. It seems that there is a lot that could go wrong. However, it has become very clear we place so little priority on GHG reductions that there is no alternative. Take Japan as an example. Yes, Fukushima sucked and continues to suck. I think global scale desertification will be worse, not only for us, but for the entire ecosystem, but apparently that's OK because Fukushima already happened and the warming has largely not.
posted by wierdo at 8:55 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those 25 skeptics are really doing a great job of damaging the future economy.

That's one way of putting it. Another way of putting it is that they are creating the future economy.

Never forget: it might not be that bad to create Malthusian collapse if you feel that the odds would favor you coming through with your own domed enclave, mini-modular nuke plant, army. Hell, you might even become an immortal, if you could maintain the necessary scientific research teams.

It's high-risk, sure, but huge gain--you'd be like a God. Yes, I really believe some people could be that evil. The current Masters of the Universe, those who organized the theft of trillions from the global economy, already pretty much think that way. This is really just an incremental change in their behavior, not a qualitative one.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:57 AM on June 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


I'm not sure "if we don't beat these kittens, someone else is going to start beating them instead" is a legitimate avenue of argument.

If that's directed at me, that's not at all what I was saying. We SHOULD stop beating kittens -- er, carbon. I'm just pessimistic enough to compare what efforts America will manage to five guys with plastic buckets taking on the California wildfires. It'll be a start, it'll be a nice gesture, but in the end result it'll barely be a blip. At least we can go down swinging, I guess.

That's fairly rich given that the US has been one of the only countries consistently refusing to join any climate treaties.

Treaties that do not go nearly far enough. Tighten the limitations to where they'd actually have teeth and make developing and industrializing nations feel the bite, and watch how many countries fail to sign on. The US is simply among the first to be blissfully self-absorbed.
posted by delfin at 9:03 AM on June 24, 2012


It all sounds so "we can't wait until the smoking gun is a mushroom cloud over Manhattan".

The worst part, to me, is that this kind of thing just induces paralysis. I mean, I've spent a decade in higher education. I've seen the science. I'm convinced. But I'm also not the person who is gonna make emissions caps or whatever happen. I've got my CFLs over here, but that's about it. So the more alarmist it gets, the more hopeless it all seems, and I might as well just find some incandescents and quit recycling.
posted by liketitanic at 9:03 AM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wish there was some kind of a nonprofit that would present the month-to-month situation in climate science to the general public. Like, here are the big names in the field, here's the research they're doing and its conclusions, here are the (actual, not manufactured) controversies and disagreements.

Because as it is, all I have to go by on judging this guy's opinion is my instincts. I have no idea whether he's coming from the mainstream of climate research, or whether this is a fringe view, and what competing ideas there are. And my instincts say he's hysterical.

But he even acknowledges this at the top of the article that this is a natural response, that we tend to dismiss extreme predictions even when the reality is extreme. So I don't know what to think.

Are there any good, trustworthy sources of information out there on this topic? I'm not looking for "here's proof that climate change is real" like Al Gore's slideshow, I'm looking for information about the predictions that various climate scientists are making.

It's high-risk, sure, but huge gain--you'd be like a God. Yes, I really believe some people could be that evil. The current Masters of the Universe, those who organized the theft of trillions from the global economy, already pretty much think that way. This is really just an incremental change in their behavior, not a qualitative one.

As unpleasant as bankers are, I do not think they are supervillains who want to destroy the world and become immortal, a la The Penultimate Truth.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:05 AM on June 24, 2012


As unpleasant as bankers are, I do not think they are supervillains who want to destroy the world and become immortal...

Respectfully: you are naive. Maybe "bankers" as a class don't. But (a) you're assuming this has to be a conscious aim, when in fact the kind of evil I'm talking about is largely rooted in not being conscious; and (b), it only takes a few hundred out of the entire population to make it happen. You don't think there are a few people that evil? You're making me go Godwin...
posted by mondo dentro at 9:09 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It would be best not to go with a pseudo Jews-Did-It theory of climate change. It is not a collective malevolent evil that is inhibiting action, but a collective error that is inhibiting dialogue. The error being the assumption that the worldviews of proponents and denialists overlap whatsoever.

Denialists are not assuming the warnings are true, but nonetheless believe that they can benefit from it, or believe that while true these claims are nonetheless overstated. Instead, they assume it is wrong, absolutely incorrect, totally ridiculous, and because of this they assume that the climatologists themselves also believe that it is wrong, absolutely incorrect, totally ridiculous. Therefore, to resolve the riddle of how scientists could be so adamant about something so wrong they conclude that it must be a matter of monied interest and corruption and power hunger and evil.

And this is symmetrical. To resolve the riddle of how people could be so ignorant about something so obvious they conclude that it must be a matter of monied interest and corruption and power hunger and evil.

The fools will ruin us all, and they must want to!

No, but they don't, they don't want to. No one wants that.

The denialists, when pressed, believe that all this hubbub is but a scheme to take money and power and control the birth rate and maybe even install a one world government. They are just trying to maintain what they perceive as the status quo, unfortunately, it is a political status quo and not an environmental one.

So yes, they might still destroy us all, and all just to keep things as they are, for their children, for themselves, for civilization, but that is also what we are trying to do, at a much larger scale.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:21 AM on June 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


Thank you for that, you put what I wanted to say much more eloquently than I would have. Conspiracy theories of this scope are basically impossible and usually aren't as good of an explanation as human nature.

However: I'll grant that some people think that being among the last survivors of the apocalypse wouldn't be a terrible scenario (a la Dr. Strangelove "10 women for every man!"). And some others probably have this idea in the back of their mind like "Well, I'd be fine, and then I'd finally be free from the fetters of this society!". (These attitudes aren't really limited to the wealthy, by the way.) I just think it is almost impossible that there is even a loosely organized attempt to bring about that kind of situation. Nobody is planning for it.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:28 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


It would be best not to go with a pseudo Jews-Did-It theory of climate change.

It would be even better not to start by insinuating anti-semitism on my part. Shame on you, especially given that my children are Jewish.

This stale retort of "conspiracy theory" is very stifling of discussion, and usually used very incorrectly. Your use of it is no exception.

Now, if you're actually interested in my opinion: I don't think there's some back room deal going on to destroy the global environment. Rather, I think the destruction of it, and the idea that post-apocalyptic oligarchy is one possible "attractor" of the system we now have, are "emergent properties". It's similar, conceptually, to the idea of stochastic terrorism, only on a much larger scale. I'm saying, given the current state of affairs, it is very possible, indeed likely for such situations to arise, and I think the empirical evidence of human propensity for evil is far more on my side than it is on yours. In my view, you are not "anti-conspiracy" as much as not facing the dark psychological dimensions of the problem--what has been called at times the Death Drive.

Keep in mind, in the US at least, the moral basis for such a transition (which will not happen over night, mind you) is already in place, in the guise apocalyptic Christianity.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:36 AM on June 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Apocalyptic predictions never come true, they always come backed by irrefutable evidence from authoritative sources, and always involve some perceived moral decline. The true horror is that life just keeps on keeping on, just becoming a little less lovely with every abuse. There is no grand reckoning or grand redemption.
posted by deo rei at 9:36 AM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Apocalyptic predictions never come true."

Oh. So the Roman Empire did not end? The European aristocracy did not fall?

Perhaps we are having a semantic difference over what "apocalyptic" means? Do you think that when one uses the word one is implying some supernatural cause?
posted by mondo dentro at 9:38 AM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


delfin: "But imagine if the unthinkable happens. ... carbon reduction is enacted and somehow enforceable on a countrywide scale, ... Then what?

Then dozens of other countries around the world will cheerfully pick up the slack in driving us all into a global convection oven."
We could use our massive military and huge economic leverage to force them to do what we want.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:39 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bankers benefit from standing near the tip of a large population pyramid; they stand to gain far more from the perpetuation of the status quo than from a collapse.
posted by Pyry at 9:44 AM on June 24, 2012


I'll grant that some people think that being among the last survivors of the apocalypse wouldn't be a terrible scenario

Well, that just continues my point. The people who think they can individually and independently survive are clearly assuming a different scenario than what the climatologists are putting forward. Living on the land when the land itself is dying. . .

And to respond to people seeing that I am claiming antisemitism, I am not, I am just observing that the structure of the paranoia is identical to antisemitism. It does not actually need Jews to function, just some out group. I use it as short hand for the following dialogue: "They did it, they are doing it, they must be stopped." "Who are they?" "Whoever is doing it!" "Why are they doing it?" "Because they are evil." "Why are they evil?" "Because of what they are doing!" "What are they doing?" "They are stopping us from doing good." "Why are they stopping us from doing good?" "Because they are evil, have you even been listening? They must be stopped!"
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:47 AM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm dubious that giant space based mirrors might cost less than the U.S.'s current debt, but maybe earth based solar panels could consume more solar energy. Anyone seriously discussing this? Do they simply reflect too much energy to be useful or something?
posted by jeffburdges at 9:48 AM on June 24, 2012


It means, if you go outside, you will be cooked. Alive.
posted by Malor


Or maybe just parboiled, in which case squid will inherit the earth.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:49 AM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, good to hear that I'm not antisemitic. Just "paranoid".

So, is the TED guy in this FPP "paranoid" as well? Are climate scientists? Was Rachel Carson paranoid?
posted by mondo dentro at 9:52 AM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bankers benefit from standing near the tip of a large population pyramid; they stand to gain far more from the perpetuation of the status quo than from a collapse.

This is clearly not supported by empirical fact. We just had a collapse of the status quo from which a few people benefited greatly. Did you not notice it? It's been in the news.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:53 AM on June 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


What percentage of our population did we lose in this alleged collapse? Bankers certainly benefit from exploiting and encouraging cyclical volatility in economies, but this latest downswing didn't put even a minor dent in the population, and didn't threaten the social status quo in the least.
posted by Pyry at 9:58 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thank God I'll be dead.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:07 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, damn it, but, well, I've been in this conversation with people who can only be thought of as elites. Bohemian Club, Pacific-Union, Olympic Club, and being a kid who graduated from The Evergreen State College they always want to bring up climate change to prove some point to their buddy.

There are a scarce few who have not given me one of the standard routines: they are wrong because it is impossible to predict, that it had been disproved but the paper wasn't published, or that no one is predicting this, it is all made up.

From there they follow with either an admiration for the sinister "campaign" (more common with those who regard Red Cross as a racket), and/or they shake their fist saying but they won't pull their damn coup off (more common with those who regard taxes as a form of profiteering).

Then they laugh among themselves, jokingly warn my father that his son has been brainwashed, and I sit there taking long sips of brandy, keeping nice, staying silent, all because I can't burn family bridges, and they also don't listen to "kids who don't get it."
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:17 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Roberts, BS in biology and MA in philosophy, is somehow qualified to lecture on climate change? It's nice that he calls out other people who are more qualified than he is too.
posted by karmiolz at 10:19 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know what to say, beyond that it is going to be extremely embarassing for all of us if the last human voice broadcast into the cosmos for all to hear is autotuned.
posted by kengraham at 10:20 AM on June 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sorry, link didn't post. He did however call out meteorologists and engineers, despite the IPCC being staffed and led by many, as lacking in expertise.
posted by karmiolz at 10:21 AM on June 24, 2012


I'm kind of a climate alarmist myself, but the pull quote referring to "170 or 180 degrees" is based on an unnamed "recent paper" that extrapolates a potential 12 degrees C increase in average temperature by 2300. I'm not sure that particular number is a useful basis for this discussion.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:22 AM on June 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


monju_bosatsu It is exactly that type of maneuver that breeds skeptical and contrarian attitudes. I am educated in science enough to know that I do not understand climate science. I cannot understand why people without training in the field feel justified in preaching and manipulating.
posted by karmiolz at 10:26 AM on June 24, 2012


Zach Galifianakis has lost a lot of weight. Is he doing some method work for a new role about a quirky professor?
posted by AndrewKemendo at 10:27 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


What percentage of our population did we lose in this alleged collapse?

OK. I'll stipulate that we didn't lose any of our population (which is probably not true, epidemiologically speaking, since well being tracks with wealth). So... do any groups benefit from war? Have humans had huge wars with massive deaths that changed the status quo and from which a few benefited greatly? I seem to have heard about a few such events in history class.

But, back to this FPP...

My question is, to those who still seem to be in the thrall of rational expectation theory: why do the facts about global warming have so little traction? Can you explain that without talking about group psychology, myth, human hierarchy, and yes, moral imperatives?
posted by mondo dentro at 10:29 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


David Roberts, BS in biology and MA in philosophy, is somehow qualified to lecture on climate change? It's nice that he calls out other people who are more qualified than he is too.

There's this profession called journalism, and sometimes practitioners of it spend enough time on a single topic or cluster of topics - a "beat," if you will - to understand the basics of it well enough to explain it to a general audience in clearer language than highly trained PhD-wielding experts can. Because very few climate scientists are professional communicators, whereas David Roberts is.

This is why, for example, more people get their science news from the New York Times than from scientific journals. It's also why the New York Times does not contain footnotes.
posted by gompa at 10:31 AM on June 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


There is a difference between objective journalism and editorials. I do not believe people unlearned in a field should editorialize.
posted by karmiolz at 10:35 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is exactly that type of maneuver that breeds skeptical and contrarian attitudes.

i think they call that moving the oventon window
posted by pyramid termite at 10:37 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The important thing is that the people who agree we need to act now start shooting each up over the exact phrasing of that message.
posted by DU at 10:44 AM on June 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


There is a difference between objective journalism and editorials. I do not believe people unlearned in a field should editorialize.

1) A TED talk is not and does not pretend to be objective journalism.

2) A journalist giving a TED talk, much like a journalist writing a feature story, will analyze the information and draw some conclusions. Even "objective" journalism does this as a matter of course, by deciding which facts to report and which to leave out, who to interview, how to quote them, etc. Every single "objective" article on climate change you've ever read that quotes one of the vanishingly small number of climate skeptics is guilty of this bias. It has decided that a couple of dozen skeptics - many of whom are not even climate scientists - are equivalent in scientific knowledge of climate change to the 97-percent-plus climate scientists who support the consensus. Such articles also routinely fail to note the financial backers and often suspect professional histories of such skeptics.

3) Your standard for who should be allowed to editorialize is recognized essentially nowhere in the news business. In fact, it completely misunderstands the basic premise of newspaper editorials. The operative root word there is "editor." It's where the paper's editors - or those they appoint to do so - offer opinions on the news.
posted by gompa at 10:48 AM on June 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


Regarding Roberts' being qualified: yeah, maybe he is, maybe he ain't.

But he lays out why he's saying what he is right at the beginning of the talk. He's responding precisely to the complaint that us pro-Enlightenment, rationalist types fail to make things "simple" enough for widespread communication. I applaud him for doing what he did.

More to the point: the issue of global climate change, it's potential catastrophic implications, and how we are to respond as a species is not just about climate science. This is the classic, wonkish mistake. Obama himself, I believe, fell into this trap in his administration on multiple fronts. It's not just about showing everyone what a reasonable, expert, technocrat one is.

Communication and persuasion requires that one consider of logos, pathos, and ethos. Wonkish rationality addresses only the first of these three. The deniers are experts at the last two. Which side is "winning"?
posted by mondo dentro at 10:51 AM on June 24, 2012


Perhaps we are having a semantic difference over what "apocalyptic" means? Do you think that when one uses the word one is implying some supernatural cause?

I'm happy to discuss semantics, but I don't know that I have anything of value to add beyond what I already said. The apocalyptic is the sudden revelation of some intuited but suppressed, half-expected truth - a reckoning with something that goes beyond the trials and tribulations of day to day existence and renders them irrelevant, vain. The cause doesn't have to be supernatural per se, but an apocalyptic sensibility does imply an ordered, perhaps teleological worldview. To say that any great upheaval, such as the fall of Rome, is an apocalypse, is, I think, to rob the word of meaning.
posted by deo rei at 10:52 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


gompa I get what an editorial is. However there are some topics which do not lend themselves to editorializing. I think science is one of them. I just do not see climate scientists on the front lines of climate change. It has taken on a moralizing tone that far exceeds the usual reach of fact. I am unqualified to analyze climate data, I do not appreciate other unskilled people being as adamant as they are on a subject they are not qualified to speak on.
posted by karmiolz at 10:53 AM on June 24, 2012


To say that any great upheaval, such as the fall of Rome, is an apocalypse, is, I think, to rob the word of meaning.

I agree with much of what I can glean from your reply, deo rei. Here's where I might differ: the subjective experience of living through a catastrophe actually can lead precisely the sort of "spiritual" realization that is associated with the religious use of the word "apocalypse". And the concrete, rational explanation of the various mechanisms that "caused" the catastrophe does not change that.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:56 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a difference between objective journalism and editorials. I do not believe people unlearned in a field should editorialize.

What you're saying is that climate change skeptics should shut up, then?
posted by verb at 10:56 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The apocalyptic is the sudden revelation of some intuited but suppressed, half-expected truth - a reckoning with something that goes beyond the trials and tribulations of day to day existence and renders them irrelevant, vain. The cause doesn't have to be supernatural per se, but an apocalyptic sensibility does imply an ordered, perhaps teleological worldview. To say that any great upheaval, such as the fall of Rome, is an apocalypse, is, I think, to rob the word of meaning.

If I had a time machine and were able to poll the populations of the Americas in, say 1490, I would say that their view of the apocalyptic would be supernatural and teleological...and ultimately correct.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:00 AM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just do not see climate scientists on the front lines of climate change.

James Hansen "heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies" and has been writing to Obama, getting arrested protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, and giving a TED talk comparing looming climate change to an asteroid on a collision course with earth
posted by crayz at 11:02 AM on June 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


verb Climate change skeptics, if they are not qualified, should indeed shut up. James Hansen I like, and trust.
posted by karmiolz at 11:06 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is why, for example, more people get their science news from the New York Times than from scientific journals.

It's not precisely this that explains our predicament (I would like to know about science, but I have trouble reading journals outside of my field, and so appreciate reporting on the subject), but I sort of wish the prevailing attitude toward experts, on their subjects of expertise, weren't something between a Lebowskian "That's just, like, your opinion, man" and out-and-out paranoia about scientists trying to become rich and powerful (?!?!) off of gloom and doom. I'm not sure what the solution is, but it would help if science journalism weren't so often totally cringeworthy. Journalists often misrepresent scientific ideas because they have apparently failed to understand what scientists are telling them. It seems sort of self-serving for journalists to blame this on scientists and then talk about what good and necessary professional communicators journalists are, because a major part of being a professional communicator is being a professional understander. In particular, a journalist's first responsibility in reporting on science is to develop a detailed, correct layman's understanding of what's being explained, regardless of the scientist's pedagogical limitations. Otherwise, the culture is just playing Telephone with itself, and I think the widespread public ignorance and mistrust of science is a result of that.

It's unfortunate that this ignorance and mistrust is playing a role (though I'm not sure how large of a role) in making us all quite likely fucked.

[The journalist has a very hard job, of course, because the public doesn't possess, en masse, basic knowledge on which the diligent journalist's layman's understanding is built, and a journalist can't be expected to review bits of thermodynamics and fluid mechanics or whatever in a few column inches about climate change. Therefore, this problem is probably insoluble on the level of science journalism alone.]
posted by kengraham at 11:06 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This penguin speaks the truth.
posted by Kale Slayer at 11:11 AM on June 24, 2012 [7 favorites]



Roberts' main point is at (15:08): "Our present course leads to certain catastrophe."

As far as I can tell, this is in fact the consensus view of climatologists, and saying that it's too complicated for a mere human to dare say this is absurd. In fact, it's so absurd, that it arouses my "paranoia" about the motives of those stating it.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:12 AM on June 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


jeffburdges writes "I'm dubious that giant space based mirrors might cost less than the U.S.'s current debt, but maybe earth based solar panels could consume more solar energy. Anyone seriously discussing this? Do they simply reflect too much energy to be useful or something?"

Consuming solar energy on Earth doesn't help with global warming because all the electricity generated by the panels eventually gets turned into heat. It might even make it worse if the albedo of the panels is less than the surface on which they are constructed. You need to block the solar isolation before it gets into the atmosphere.
posted by Mitheral at 11:22 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am absolutely convinced that the environment has suffered greatly at human hands. I am also fairly sure we are having an effect on global climate, though I seem to have a tenuous grasp on the actual science behind it because the predictions about what ppm CO2 would be apocalyptic seems to be an ever changing estimate and gross oversimplification. However, I am 100% sure that the next person with a Bachelor of Arts who tells me my hesitancy to accept without reservation a scientific theory from a field out of my expertise is just a sign that I have been brainwashed by big oil/am a rabid republican/impinges upon my trustworthiness on all other matters is getting kicked in the mouth.
posted by karmiolz at 11:23 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, this is in fact the consensus view of climatologists, and saying that it's too complicated for a mere human to dare say this is absurd

Yep, it's kind of incredible, and I think on some level has to be understood as a defense mechanism against accepting the gravity of the situation. Whether 50% or 30% of the earth hits 170F or 150F in exactly what year (link from annotations to write-up of that report), is the thing we care most about debating, rather than "how can we solve this global problem which nearly all experts agree is rapidly spiraling out of our control?"

Hansen proposes a significant and increasing carbon tax redistributed equally per-capita:
For example, let’s start with a tax large enough to affect purchasing decisions: a carbon tax that adds $1 to the price of a gallon of gas. That’s a carbon price of about $115 per ton of CO2. That tax rate yields $670B per year. We return 100% of that money to the public. Each adult legal resident gets one share, which is $3000 per year, $250 per month deposited in their bank account. Half shares for each child up to a maximum of two children per family. So a tax rate of $115 per ton yields a dividend of $9000 per year for a family with two children, $750 per month. The family with carbon footprint less than average makes money – their dividend exceeds their tax. This tax gives a strong incentive to replace inefficient infrastructure. It spurs the economy. It spurs innovation.
This is a problem we are quickly acquiring the technology to do something about, in terms of renewable energy / non-fossil fuel energy storage / carbon capture, and gee we've got a crushing half-decade long global recession that we know we could keynesian-kickstart our way out of with a good ole war or public works program. dental plan... lisa needs braces... dental plan... lisa needs braces... dental plan ...
posted by crayz at 11:29 AM on June 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Economist recently had an enlightening article on the melting ice in the arctic. There are a couple scary graphs there. I am happy to see the issue getting serious coverage in a relatively mainstream publication.
posted by A dead Quaker at 11:32 AM on June 24, 2012


Thanks, Kale Slayer, for that cartoon! I found the discussion of dueling conspiracy-theory charges most refreshing. I wonder why... :)

It really highlights a basic epistemological issue. How, rationally speaking, can a person with no axe to grind examine the following two possible "conspiracy theories":

1. There is a cabal of fossil fuel billionaires who is striving mightily to see their empires not only persist but continue to grow, despite its impact on the environment; and

2. Environmentalism in general, and climate change in particular, is part of a secret plot to destroy capitalism and institute a socialist New World Order?

It's not that difficult: it really can be summed up by the admonition to "follow the money". There is ample evidence--in fact, it's plain as day--that there is a well organized group of individuals with considerable economic incentive to carry out theory 1. There is simply no equivalent organized activity supporting theory 2.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:34 AM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


karmiolz: I sure am glad I'm an engineer! :)
posted by mondo dentro at 11:36 AM on June 24, 2012


You know, this all does finally answer the question as to why the Jetsons built their house so high up in the clouds.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:36 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


mondo dentro Engineering high five! Which field? Materials Science & Engineering here.
posted by karmiolz at 11:39 AM on June 24, 2012


Sorting through the thread I sense a compendium of thought that seems to feel that human effects on the climate are less like driving a car than herding cats. Start now, and a few generations down the road our progeny, if any of our kids survive, will reap the benifits. Or vice versa.

Anyhow, a 20+ degree (average) temperature rise seems pretty scary, when you consider that even a 3 degree change moves every body back from the shoreline until they can gain, say, 30 feet in altitude. All them old folks will then have to abandon Florida, for example. Um, and Manhatten gets to be a new reef sanctuary for the fishies. All the Dutch have to move to, oh, say, Switzerland. Probably most of those folks would have to worry less about parbroiling than drowning, eh?

These supervillians causing all this, don't they have vast underground bunkers to hide in or something? Do we normals get on a list, or just suck it up and die?

I suppose the difference between a catastrophy and an apocalyptic event depends on whether you're looking out or looking in.
posted by mule98J at 11:45 AM on June 24, 2012


karmiolz: I started out as an ME (energy systems, appropriately enough). Then I got corrupted with too much math and physics and became a dynamical systems/complexity wanker.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:45 AM on June 24, 2012


karmiolz: It has taken on a moralizing tone that far exceeds the usual reach of fact. I am unqualified to analyze climate data, I do not appreciate other unskilled people being as adamant as they are on a subject they are not qualified to speak on.

I am qualified to think about climate data - I'm a human with a reasonably good science education, and I've spent the last ten years reading about this stuff.

I can understand why people feel that this is a complicated issue that requires some kind of education that they don't have. But frankly the argument that people can't deal with this issue because there's "moralizing" going on is something we've learned from the denialist blogosphere. THEY think it's moralizing because their claims of skepticism are based largely on the belief that humans couldn't possibly effect change on this kind of scale. Or that there's a vast conspiracy etc., although I tend to think that's a post hoc rationalization.
posted by sneebler at 11:48 AM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


TwelveTwo: I have never gotten over my disappointment at not living in a Jetsons-like house when the year 2000 rolled around. That probably explains a lot.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:49 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to be concerned about climate change, but since I'll be dead by then, and I can't do a thing about the grandkids, I've become all eh! whatever.

We aren't the only species to go extinct, and it's probably payback for all the ones we've helped along. Something will survive, and whatever does gets a shot at the top of the heap. Maybe they'll do better by the planet.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:57 AM on June 24, 2012


There is ample evidence--in fact, it's plain as day--that there is a well organized group of individuals with considerable economic incentive to carry out theory 1. There is simply no equivalent organized activity supporting theory 2.

Nonetheless, those fossil fuel billionaires believe that this is just like anything they would do, that this is just a change of cash flow, not a real eminent threat. Following this they pay their lobbyists to stop whatever may prevent their profits from being stolen. To them, this is business as usual. Some upstart trying to take their money. It helps nuclear, or whatever. So therefore, counter-lobbying is fair play. Theft from the thieving.

To illustrate the reasoning from another angle, if big oil executives have departments who can buy grass roots and consensus, then all grass roots and all consensus have been bought, because why would there ever be consensus or a grass roots movement that has no profit motive? It makes no sense, and if they are not receiving the money, the reasoning goes, someone else is. Everyone is a pawn in the market, especially people outside the market.

If they really believed in climate change then there are superior ways to make money off of this without endangering their own future profits (this is more applicable to the private corporations than the public which are fucked by the drive of shareholders). Here I will give you one way they could make money under the assumption that climate change is real: they could raise prices under the auspices of climate change prevention, and maybe funding for their own alternative energy research, then they could demand further tax breaks for their lost sales, research, and good works. Then could also sell bulk oil to governments with the agreement that they don't burn it and they have to loan it back to you, the reasoning being so that no one is tempted to sell it to the consumers. You can then put on the books twice the oil sales, sold once for 'storage and use prevention' and a second time when you take it out, all under the guise of some grand noble law passed by the President.

Also, my other underlying premise here: facts don't fucking matter if they make no sense. You have to replace their narrative, not attack it directly. Your fact-based assaults are already subsumed within theirs and entirely dismissed accordingly. You may have experienced the workings of reality more thoroughly due to an empirical background, but they have not, and believe it is a matter of opinion. After all, didn't they strike back against climatologists by doing a survey of just that: opinion?
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:57 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, if anybody is comforting yourselves that you won't live to see it get that bad, you might want to do some reading about methane clathrates in the melting permafrost. The OP isn't even taking them into account, and they represent a tipping point that could quadruple or worse the atmosphere's greenhouse effect for long enough to finish off Greenland's ice cap in short decades, put a radical hurt on the West Antarctic cap, and maybe even destabilize East Antarctica which most climate people aren't even thinking of as on the table.

The good news is that the methane doesn't hang around for more than a decade or so. The bad news is that it might only take a few decades to trigger a few more tipping points.
posted by localroger at 12:02 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, my other underlying premise here: facts don't fucking matter if they make no sense. You have to replace their narrative, not attack it directly.

I totally agree with this. Indeed, I could not agree more, and my main complaint about the "progressive forces" is that they have so far utterly failed to do this (for many issues, not just this one).

But then we should not shrink from using the actual tools of narrative. There are bad guys and good guys. There is damnation and salvation. There is danger, and the heroes who save us from it.

I once said, in my 15 minutes of internet fame: "Rational Wonkism is not an effective counternarrative to Apocalyptic Rightist Populism." I feel that way even more now, which, I will admit, makes it easy for me to despair.
posted by mondo dentro at 12:06 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am still scrambling to form a coherent counter-narrative. It, above all else, is the most important link in the chain.

So while I don't have a good story to tell yet, I believe that it is CERTAINLY not the one we are telling right now. The effective story will not involve drawing the line between capitalism and environment.So long as the story we tell them is "you are killing us," all they can possibly say is "no we aren't, but you are trying to kill us," and pistols at dawn, the battle is fought over the media.

Big Oil needs to be won over to our side, and there is plenty of money and power in it for them. There is absolutely no need for them to keep selling us oil if they can make the same money NOT selling us oil, and there are many ways in which they could do this under the justification of saving the earth. If we end this century with big energy companies ruling, taxing, renting the planet back to us, but in so doing we have collectively cut Co2 emissions, this must be recognized as a perfectly valid victory condition.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:20 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The effective story will not involve drawing the line between capitalism and environment.

I again couldn't agree more! The thing is, I fully expected a "progressive" movement to develop with its own "rich bastards" that would back change that benefited them by transferring money from weapons and dirty energy into their pockets, and in the process helped the world "beat the swords into plowshares". For example, I think the only way we'll get off of the "defense industry" money pit is to go to Boeing, Northrup-Grumman, and the like and say: "OK, were are going to stop giving you so much money to figure out how to blow shit up, but we'll give you an equivalent amount of money to figure out how to generate green energy."

I'm honestly mystified that that isn't happening. It is, sort of, in Germany, and even China, to some extent. But not in the US, which is just becoming a reactionary nightmare. That's why I've come to the belief that our darker impulses (for dominance, primarily) are much more powerful than my naive "Star Trek" rationalism had lead me to believe.
posted by mondo dentro at 12:29 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Apocalyptic predictions never come true."


How would you know that?
posted by spitbull at 12:52 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think our basic disagreement is over our interpretations of psychoanalytical thought. I'm a Lacanian, and you, apparently, something Freudian. But at this point of pedantry, I think we can probably stop and just nod at one another, two soldiers on the same side of the field.

If you feel a Us/Them is needed, then you can probably target the public relations and policy firms which corporate executives have a love-hate relationship with anyway. After all, they are paid tons for intangibles that are hard to audit. On top of that, they do not care who makes profit, just so long as they are paid, no loyalty, etc. They seduce the corporations to pay them and scare them into thinking they need to be paid, and don't do any work. After all the train is already rolling against climate change, so their actions can always be interpreted as super-effective. They can very easily be compared to the rock that keeps lions away, especially if it were to be shown that the 'natural opinion' is against climate change and they are getting paid for convincing people the sky looks blue.

Therefore public relations firms are BENEFITING ONLY THEMSELVES AND STEALING FROM CORPORATIONS AND DESTROYING OUR SOCIETY.

How about that?
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:54 PM on June 24, 2012


David Roberts' credentials:

- "Several wayward years spent snowboarding and getting an MA in philosophy

- "A period was spent trudging through the swamp of Seattle tech work, wading past Amazon.com, IMDb.com, and Microsoft"

- Writer for a environmentalism advocacy publication.

I have been convinced that the overwhelming evidence shows anthropogenic global warming is real and serious since the mid-90s (following the reporting in scientific publications I received as a member of the American Chemical Society). This sort of worst case speculation predigested by amateurs is not helping the cause.
posted by nanojath at 1:00 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's always entertaining when someone takes a complex system we poorly understand, and just blindly extrapolates out based on simplified models.

Even leaving aside that there might be Unforeseen Consequences to rising temperatures, there's a lot of geo-engineering possibilities he ignores, because it's not in line with his message.

I think that focusing on emissions reductions and doomsday scenarios probably sells books and makes good political slogans (especially among the demographic that hates any kind of industrialization), but it's missing a big part of the picture: the parts we don't know about, and the development of human technology that could mitigate negative climate effects.
posted by dethb0y at 1:07 PM on June 24, 2012


TwelveTwo: Damn! I want to be a Lacanian! I heard they get all of the objects of desire... Seriously, perhaps off line if you prefer, I'd like to hear what you mean by the distinction you are making. Are Freudians more likely to advocate having an enemy?

Regarding BENEFITING ONLY THEMSELVES AND STEALING FROM CORPORATIONS AND DESTROYING OUR SOCIETY: Yes, maybe that sort of thing. It reminds me of this classic Bill Hicks bit.

nanojath: This sort of worst case speculation predigested by amateurs is not helping the cause.

I don't understand why that would be the case. The Koch bros machine is doing quite well with nothing but amateurs. But, beside that, did you take a look at his article? It is an interview with someone you might find more authoritative, and had more charts and graphs.
posted by mondo dentro at 1:09 PM on June 24, 2012


the development of human technology that could mitigate negative climate effects.

What we can do is nice and all, but we aren't doing it, the people who could do it aren't considering it, and those who are considering it aren't convincing, so yes, we could solve the traffic problem with light rail, but if the people in charge don't believe there is a traffic problem, then we may safely assume we won't be getting light rail any time soon. Similarly, human technology may already have the solution to the problem, in fact, something very ingenious but it may be locked within professionally obfuscated patents, and/or only applicable with massive financial backing, but so long as that problem is not a problem, the solution is not a solution.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:13 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's always entertaining when someone takes a complex system we poorly understand, and just blindly extrapolates out based on simplified models.

Well.. OK. But that's not what he did. At all. He used predictions from the best available climate science, whereas...

...it's missing a big part of the picture: the parts we don't know about, and the development of human technology that could mitigate negative climate effects.

... you just use a hope and a prayer, the standard "innovation" deus ex machina.

I truly wish I could let you go into your own parallel universe, call it U1, and try this, and I'd be happy to be in the control group in U2 that makes the massive green pivot Roberts is recommending. But I can't, much to my regret.
posted by mondo dentro at 1:17 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


...it's missing a big part of the picture: the parts we don't know about, and the development of human technology that could mitigate negative climate effects.

What we do know about is the giant climate asteroid hurtling towards us. I think everyone is an agreement that there's many possible things we could do to deflect or mitigate the impact of this asteroid, but I don't understand the point of shouting down someone warning of the ever-growing seriousness of this problem with a now 20+ year old argument of "well, someone clearly will do something about this asteroid, since it'd be idiotic to let it hit us square on!", after 20 years of no one doing anything and the impact date is actually growing ever-closer

Should we just all sit around in silence and wait for some mad genius to introduce to the world his crazy pony plan at the 11th hour, or maybe you know, listen to the people urging us to take collective action now?
posted by crayz at 1:27 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Consuming solar energy on Earth doesn't help with global warming because all the electricity generated by the panels eventually gets turned into heat. It might even make it worse if the albedo of the panels is less than the surface on which they are constructed.

This is really, really, seriously misleadingly wrong.

Summarizing from the link: (1) even if solar panels had zero albedo (which they don't), they would only be very slightly worse at generating waste heat than are present-day fossil fuel sources; (2) waste heat is negligible in climate change calculations anyway because (3) the thing that really matters is the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and when you consume solar energy rather than fossil fuel energy, you are dramatically decreasing the amount of greenhouse gas that you are adding to the atmosphere.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:14 PM on June 24, 2012 [19 favorites]


If only there were a technology which could use solar power to fix carbon from the atmosphere. Preferably something green.
posted by localroger at 2:46 PM on June 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


One things that's been interesting to me is weather-related ailments.
Because I have numerous healed broken bones and a spinal cord injury, when the weather changes I'm like some old granny who can predict the rain because of her knees. Also, migraines. I used to have two bad periods of nerve pain and migraines: spring and fall. Now it's like spring/fall is once a month and I'm running outta migraine meds routinely. My best friend, whose leg was broken in three places, reports weather-related pain in the same way.

It's nuthin' in terms of the end of human civilization, and could all be confirmation bias, but sort of interesting anecdata.
posted by angrycat at 2:50 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


David Roberts' credentials:

- Writer for a environmentalism advocacy publication.


This sells both the writer and his venue all kinds of short. Grist has been maybe the best outlet on the internet for environmental journalism for more than a decade, and David Roberts is one of its best, most careful and dogged writers. He has a distinct point of view, which he makes abundantly clear in his work, rather than hiding behind false objectivity like the pack of false-balancing dilettantes who cover climate issues for much better financed and better known publications.

This TED talk draws on widely published work from credible scientific sources. The worst-case scenario he describes was not pulled out of his ass but out of published climate modelling work. You think he made an error of fact? Name it. Better yet, tell him about it. He's crazy active (and hugely respected among his peers) on Twitter. Let him respond.

Meantime, this prissy, fallacious argument-from-authority horseshit is getting in the way of our discussion of a fact that every journalist on the climate beat knows, which is that the consensus POV in climate science circles now verges on apocalyptic. Good on David for stepping up and laying out the case in clear, concise, unflinching terms. The same as he does for Grist. Because he's a really good goddamn reporter.
posted by gompa at 3:08 PM on June 24, 2012 [18 favorites]


I am 100% sure that the next person with a Bachelor of Arts who tells me my hesitancy to accept without reservation a scientific theory from a field out of my expertise is just a sign that I have been brainwashed by big oil/am a rabid republican/impinges upon my trustworthiness on all other matters is getting kicked in the mouth.

And while I'm ranting . . . BA (Hons) in history, 1996. Which is more credentials than you need to report on science or anything else. I've got 15 years as a full-time freelance reporter, the last nine spent almost exclusively on the climate/energy beat. And I'll eagerly tell you that if you actually pay close attention to climate science and claim to give even a little bit of a shit what kind of planet we'll be living on in 50 years, there should be no higher priority for you as a citizen and thinking breathing human being, and you should understand that the world's most powerful industry and its political and media adjuncts have in fact played you, whether you think they have or not.

I speak with authority on these matters because I talk to credible sources - climate scientists, climate policy experts, energy policy wonks and many others - regularly and in depth, and I do secondary research to verify what they tell me. And then I report it. Because that's what a journalist does.

My chin's jutted in your general direction. Take your best shot.
posted by gompa at 3:16 PM on June 24, 2012 [17 favorites]


You have no reason to "speak from authority" because you are not an authority. Jut your chin all your want, you are an amateur on the subject, and on science in general as you have utterly no training in it. In your articles do you cite sources, give calm and rational explanations? If you proselytize in your professional work the way you did in this post then you should not be considered a journalist. I do not know your work but given your obvious passion I would imagine you do expend the energy to make the most compelling and well supported argument. However I will never take you as an authority, because you are not.
posted by karmiolz at 3:24 PM on June 24, 2012


There are about 60 to 80 suburban subdivisions being constructed in my county/region right now. The vast majority of them paving over Carolinian forest and rich arable farmland. The people who buy those houses will need cars. Because there is no where nearby for them to work, shop, learn or play.

This development is supported by our cities, our regional government, our provincial government and the federal government. the developers love it, the tradespeople love it, and the people who want to live in a nice little suburban home love it.

Honestly, I can think of no greater cause of greenhouse gas emissions than the development and deployment of suburbia. Not just in the way it destroys farmland and forest, but in the energy needed to build it, keep it going, and to transport people and goods into and out of it.

For almost 80 years, systems have been put into place to make this the dominant way of developing our environment for human habitation.

It seems to me that the absolute simplest way, to start making the biggest possible change to our future, would be a federal level rule that basically states that no undeveloped land can be developed further. If more density is needed, that's fine. But you cannot pave anything that has not already been paved. And it should be possible to purchase currently developed land, and regress it to a Greenfield state, which would then prevent it from ever being developed again.

It's a simple law, and of course it would need to be put into place at all levels of government, but it's a clear start, with help in so very many ways.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:29 PM on June 24, 2012


seanmpuckett That would be a sweeping change indeed. I think it is more likely to find that sort of law and the culture that would support it at the end of a global transformation than the beginning. I am pretty sure our economy, such as it is, could not function with such a restriction.
posted by karmiolz at 3:32 PM on June 24, 2012


you are an amateur on the subject

Gompa may or may not be an amateur on climate theory, but you are definitely an idiot. By your criteria we could never have credible reporting on any complex topic. I suppose Richard Rhodes should not have been allowed to write the Making of the Atomic Bomb because he isn't himself a physicist? The Pulitzer committee disagreed with you.
posted by localroger at 3:34 PM on June 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


He can report on the subject all he wants. In fact he can be a brilliant journalist on the subject, who writes penetrating and accurate narratives. However, he can never be an authority. When the work cites sources and shows a a keen understanding of both scope an depth it is skilled journalism worthy of respect. However he can never make the argument from authority, Richard Rhodes never made the argument from authority. It shows a fundamental lack of respect for the field to believe you are an authority on the subject when you have no training.
posted by karmiolz at 3:42 PM on June 24, 2012


You can have credible reporting, but the credibility comes from the facts cited, not the author themselves.
posted by karmiolz at 3:43 PM on June 24, 2012


karmiolz:

However I will never take you as an authority, because you are not. [...] You can have credible reporting, but the credibility comes from the facts cited, not the author themselves.

So clear enough. This means that since you have cited zero facts, therefore your credibility is zero, so we can ignore you. This pleases me, because you're also not particularly polite either.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:49 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have not called anyone any names, I have simply said that someone with a history degree is not an authority on climate science. The fact that I get such a vitriolic response is exactly what my problem with this topic is. There is no objectivity, it is dogmatic and angry.
posted by karmiolz at 4:00 PM on June 24, 2012


I think far too many people enjoy being terrified, enjoy imagining apocalyptic scenarios. Climate change is the Left's equivalent of the Rapture. Never underestimate the seductive nature of panic.

Unless someone at IPCC is an actual psychic -- and unless being psychic has suddenly become an actual thing -- no one knows what's happening or what's going to happen. Models are created, promoted and then invalidated.

But panic and fear are sexy, folks. For they make the news cycle go 'round and 'round. If someone is working that hard to make me afraid, I gotta wonder why.
posted by gsh at 4:02 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hate to break this to you kamiolz but Richard Rhodes is considered an authority on the early development of physics and the creation of the bomb. A decade or three spent full-time interviewing the principals, who are the original authorities, cross-checking their stories, and collating everything into National Book Award worthy summaries will do that to you. Rhodes may not have a physics degree, but what he does have is even harder to come by, a truly broad and extensive understanding of how the entire field assembled itself.

Likewise, a climate beat journalist might be expected to see a forest where many of the actual authorities he interviews only see trees. He knows for real, not because he read it from someone he's not sure whether to trust, how many scientists lean one way and how many the other. He might know about both the ice sheet changing the geoid and the coriolis effect trapping the Greenland meltwater in the Atlantic before either of those authors learn about each others' work. He is privy to the consensus in ways the people who make the consensus might not be themselves.

Finally, regardless of the fraction of training which is formal versus on-the-job, to call someone who has spent decades interviewing the experts and studying a topic an amateur as if he is no different from someone who read a couple of articles in National Geographic is insulting and disgusting.
posted by localroger at 4:03 PM on June 24, 2012 [14 favorites]


But panic and fear are sexy, folks.

Absolutely. That's why when the Hindenburg is burning in front of you you must report on it calmly and objectively so as not to adversely affect share prices in the dirigible industry.
posted by localroger at 4:05 PM on June 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


Eloi, find yourselves a cave before the Morlocks grab them all.
posted by Twang at 4:06 PM on June 24, 2012


That's why I've come to the belief that our darker impulses (for dominance, primarily)

I think this is largely what is governing American denier policy. It's not actual outright denial at the highest echelons, but rather a cold and militaristic logic which we should be familiar with by now. These hypothetical deciders possess a healthy skepticism that the global effort necessary to fully avert climate change is possible; and no doubt to some this has been obviously true for decades, given the rapid and ongoing industrialization of China and India. The deciders also realize that given an increasingly hazy global political outlook (natural superdisasters, Euro malaise, who the hell knows what will happen with China, Russia, Pakistan, etc), ongoing superpower status is available for whomever secures remaining fossil fuel supplies (and for that matter, food production areas). Why would the USA let its military advantage slip now, given how well it's served in the 20th century (well, pre-Reagan at least)?

Given the likelihood of global destabilization (due to climate change-induced localized agricultural collapses which will no doubt proliferate in the mid-to-late 21st century accepting a 2-4C scenario), some deciders out there justifiably believe that conventional military power will become more and more important. You and I might argue that militaristic policies harm even those they intend to help, but given the last 70 years of history, the decision-makers generally disagree. Unfortunately for green-technology advocates, the American industrial core is currently preoccupied by its military taskmasters. As others have naively wished for already in this thread, any huge push for decarbonization would require the redirection of the carbon-intense military-industrial conglomerate via legislation, with a corresponding decrease in their global political influence. This, above all, is what fuels politicians' endless sympathy with climate deniers.
posted by mek at 4:12 PM on June 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Unless someone at IPCC is an actual psychic -- and unless being psychic has suddenly become an actual thing -- no one knows what's happening or what's going to happen

It always amazes me how deeply some people are able to reject reason. I could douse you in gasoline and throw you in a fire, but unless someone is psychic, no one knows whether you'd get burned! So, obviously, we should try it.
posted by hattifattener at 4:12 PM on June 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


I do not use amateur as an insult, simply as an accurate description of what he is. When you are not trained in a field you are not an authority. There have been many amateurs who have contributed a great deal of knowledge, that does not remove the label. I am not particularly fond of the attitude that surrounds climate change, the certainty which people display on a rather new and nuanced area of science is strange to me. A climate beat journalist of course has a greater knowledge than a regular layperson, but the rhetoric is not proportional to the understanding. I abhor all dogma and pure ideology, and the atmosphere around climate change seems to be shading toward that.
posted by karmiolz at 4:14 PM on June 24, 2012


I abhor all dogma and pure ideology, and the atmosphere around climate change seems to be shading toward that.

Would you say the atmosphere around nuclear arms proliferation is one of dogma and ideology, too? After all, we aren't nuclear scientists, and many of the advocates of reductions in nuclear weapons stockpiles are also amateurs in the field. But an awful lot of people claim to be certain that nuclear weapons, in the hands of terrorists, could cause apocalyptic scenarios. But we've heard this before with the USSR, and nothing happened then! Who can really say these nuclear weapons actually pose a threat to anyone? The facts of the matter is that historically, very few of them have actually detonated.
posted by mek at 4:22 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks crayz. I'm going to stew on this and get back to you.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 4:24 PM on June 24, 2012


Unless someone [snip] is an actual psychic -- and unless being psychic has suddenly become an actual thing -- no one knows what's happening or what's going to happen. Models are created, promoted and then invalidated.

Excellent work, you've disproved all knowledge!
posted by crayz at 4:24 PM on June 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


I was unaware that "nuclear bombs have destructive power" was a field of science that you can become accredited in. Environmentalism in total does not require specific knowledge. However understanding the mechanisms of earth's climate is not so simple. I am skeptical of anyone who is unschooled in a field but expresses absolute certitude of a new and constantly changing theory. Even if I agree with their conclusion the rhetoric shocks me, particularly from people who lack he background knowledge to independently come to that conclusion. I am talking a difference of degree, not kind.
posted by karmiolz at 4:26 PM on June 24, 2012


Climate change is the Left's equivalent of the Rapture.

You evidently haven't read too much of the literature on or websites dedicated to "peak oil," or various economic doom articles or presentations from Some Ex-or-Current Trader You've Never Heard Of, although the latter are equally popular on the right or left.
posted by raysmj at 4:34 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do not use amateur as an insult, simply as an accurate description of what he is.

By your definition Alan Turing and John von Neumann were amateur computer designers. After all, there was nobody to tell them how to do it.

A climate beat journalist of course has a greater knowledge than a regular layperson, but the rhetoric is not proportional to the understanding.

All right, considering he has 15 years interviewing the experts what are YOUR qualifications for calling HIS rhetoric into question?

Now, as a bona fide amateur let me tell you why this all scares the crap out of me and should scare the crap out of you too.

When I was a kid the idea that the continents move around was still considered sketchy. The person who originally had that idea died in disgrace despite having amassed a huge pile of evidence that the continents move around. Nowadays we know that not only do the continents move around, if they didn't the Earth would be uninhabitable.

When I was a kid the orbits of planets were considered immutable and permanent even by physicists. Within the last 15 years or so we've learned that even the planets of our own Solar System are far from the orbits in which they formed, and that this was a necessary evolution for their orbits to be stable and for the Solar System to be habitable. And now that we are able to detect extrasolar planetary systems, they are ridiculous in their diversity, frequent sterility, and hints that space is probably littered with planets ejected from their systems as they formed.

When I was a kid the sea level and global climate were considered pretty stable. We now know that the sea level varies by more than 600 feet, the mean temperature by as much as 100 degrees F, and the amount of oxygen and CO2 in the atmosphere by very significant degrees. We also know that sometimes these changes happen with astonishing speed.

When I was a kid the idea that an asteroid could wipe out nearly all life on earth was considered hogwash. Today it is the consensus.

The history of the Earth is full of events that would have destroyed our civilization. Our civilization probably only exists because it arose during a period of exceptional climatic stability. We have always been at risk that there would be a shock and one of the many catastrophic changes that have happened many times in the history of the Earth would happen to it on our watch.

Climate change is one of those changes. We have ample evidence that it will not be a fun time to live through. For the last forty years every single thing we have thought to be stable and reassuring has turned out, when fully investigated, to be unstable and capable of violent change. If the permafrost releases all of its methane in a few decades, which is a very real possibility, the OP's worst case horror story will look like the best case we naively hoped for.

And I don't need a degree to determine that that is a reasonable estimate, as terrifying as it also is. I have multiple sources for nearly all the necessary data points and I know enough math to sensibly judge the results.

I also have enough understanding to follow the money, and given the choice between (1) a small conspiracy between a few billionaires protecting their interests and their lackeys who are either just plain evil or think they will get a spot on the ark, or (2) a vast and wide-ranging conspiracy between thousands of scientists most of whom draw normal wages, have no related investments, and are being harrassed with frivolous lawsuits, anthrax scares, and hate mail, which of those scenarios I find more believable.
posted by localroger at 4:35 PM on June 24, 2012 [33 favorites]


karmiolz: By that measure, then no scientist can claim to be an authority either, because 99% of their knowledge is learnt through books and trusting the claims of other scientists and common workers. No scientific work can be done without building upon the claims of others: does any scientist verify that the markings on their measuring device is actually 1 milimeter, or the volume of a test tube is marked correctly? Does every scientist go on a pilgrimage to the 1kg reference mass in Paris in order to calibrate his instruments? Likewise, no Chemical Engineer has gone and recreated the entirety of the Periodic Table to verify for himself if 100 years of science is indeed correct: he trusts his sources.

A good journalist's claim to authority is just as valid as a good scientists claim to authority: both rely on a good faith effort to uncover the truth, and to be prepared to defend their conclusions.
posted by xdvesper at 4:37 PM on June 24, 2012


the subjective experience of living through a catastrophe actually can lead precisely the sort of "spiritual" realization that is associated with the religious use of the word "apocalypse"

I'm not sure if you can do that without also accepting the kind of cathartic "I told you so" glee that believers must experience (after all, their deepest held beliefs turn out to be true, even if the results are ruinous). I differ in that I don't think there will be any glee whatsoever. No catharsis, no final conclusion, just progressively less of everything that matters.
posted by deo rei at 4:41 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


karmiolz, you and I can understand the reality of nuclear weapons without theoretical or empirical understanding of nuclear science. Scientists can disagree about the ontological status of the atom while achieving a wide consensus on the destructive power which is a direct consequence of the still not fully understood theory of quantum mechanics. You are arguing that we cannot make similar claims about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Why not?
posted by mek at 4:42 PM on June 24, 2012


localroger You believe climate journalists are actually the founding intellects of new areas of science and technology like Turing and Neumann? Like I said before, I am convinced of man's disastrous effect on the environment.

xdvesper Scientists are trained to evaluate and use that knowledge, it is practical and applicable and not just taken on faith. I will not accord that specific respect, being considered n authority on a scientific subject, unless you are actually trained in that subject. You grossly underestimate what is involved to become proficient in a field if you think it is simply reading past works.

mek Here is what the required knowledge is for desiring less nuclear weapons. Humans fight wars, there are groups who currently commit violence against each other, atomic weapons are capable of massive destruction. None of those are specifically technical in nature. You only need to know that people use weapons for violence. The required knowledge to describe the earth's climate is not so simple. I do not claim to understand that branch of science in anyway that I could refute their consensus in the field. This is why I do believe we are having a deleterious effect. I do not think one should be as violently opposed or supportive of a complicated scientific theory that is constantly evolving when they lack knowledge of that field.
posted by karmiolz at 4:50 PM on June 24, 2012


[A couple comments removed. If you've gotten to the point where you are shouting "X IS TROLLING" repeatedly in all caps, it's time to either make the effort to just ignore X yourself or to take a walk from the thread.]
posted by cortex at 4:56 PM on June 24, 2012


I will not accord that specific respect, being considered n authority on a scientific subject, unless you are actually trained in that subject. You grossly underestimate what is involved to become proficient in a field if you think it is simply reading past works. ... I do not think one should be as violently opposed or supportive of a complicated scientific theory that is constantly evolving when they lack knowledge of that field.

What he is claiming is to communicate to the public the scientific consensus on this topic. And the authorities, the people who are trained professional scientists who research this for a living and earn the respect of their peers and academic institutions, are in essentially unanimous agreement that this is what is happening, and that we risk unprecedented catastrophe if we don't act, now

All David Roberts is doing is quoting them, their studies, their charts. This is their consensus. Why are you here shouting down the guy bringing it to us? Do you have any disagreement with anything he has repeated from the authorities?
posted by crayz at 4:58 PM on June 24, 2012


localroger You believe climate journalists are actually the founding intellects of new areas of science and technology like Turing and Neumann?

Actually, I believe that Turing and von Neumann were aggregators who put together a lot of diverse stuff to create the idea of and then realize the computer. They were both highly skilled, but their skills were not in what we today call "computer engineering." They created that field by bringing together a very wide knowledge base, and with respect to much of that knowledge they were in fact amateurs.

Journalists can be experts in their fields. They may not be capable of doing original work but they can cross-reference things in a way actual experts usually can't, by presenting unlikely sounding scenario A to researcher B and asking B if A's work is credible. This is what made Richard Rhodes the world's greatest (and by normal people undisputed) authority on early physics. Rhodes doesn't do physics himself, but he knows who influenced who and how the ideas cascaded and where the investments were made with a completeness that none of the actual scientists can boast.

Characterizing a person like Rhodes as an amateur would be an ignorant insult. Likewise your own remarks.
posted by localroger at 5:00 PM on June 24, 2012


clans of cannibal juggalos

I can't wait for the Juggalocalypse, when it will finally be revealed how fucking magnets work.
posted by kengraham at 5:05 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


karmiolz, you seem to be missing my point, so I'll simplify. How do you and I personally know that nuclear weapons work (and therefore the concerns over their proliferation are justified)? We don't: we trust experts that they do, be they experts in history or physics. And those experts disagree on the exact mechanisms involved, and that doesn't seem to faze us.
posted by mek at 5:08 PM on June 24, 2012


I'm not sure if you can do that without also accepting the kind of cathartic "I told you so" glee that believers must experience (after all, their deepest held beliefs turn out to be true, even if the results are ruinous). I differ in that I don't think there will be any glee whatsoever. No catharsis, no final conclusion, just progressively less of everything that matters.
Well, there's a big difference: in most religions when the apocalypse comes, the faithful are raptured, or are ultimate victors over the earth, or whatever.

With the AGW "religion" (a.k.a "Actual Science") the result of the "rapture" is that we're all fucked. Except for the rich, of course.
posted by delmoi at 5:09 PM on June 24, 2012


I am not saying he is incorrect, I am saying I don't like the tone. It seems to be growing, a vitriolic response that seems more based in a cultural identity than knowledge of the subject. I said it before that I do believe a journalist who covers a topic extensively will become knowledgeable of it, however I will not consider them an authority. You say, "They may not be capable of doing original work..." which is precisely my point. They are reporters, not contributors, not authorities. I do not like my journalism mixed with such subjectivity, particularly the contentious tone struck with climate change.

Rhodes represents an authority on the making of the atomic bomb, not the physics behind it. That is an important distinction. Where we to discuss Rhodes' knowledge of physics, he is indeed an amateur and not a physicist. Climate journalists can be an authority on the dishonest opposition to climate change, but not on the mechanisms of climate change.
posted by karmiolz at 5:10 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


mek I know nuclear weapons work because over one thousand have been detonated. There is no faith involved in that knowledge. I am not trusting an expert, I am trusting the verifiable objective fact that nuclear weapons have been detonated myriad times.
posted by karmiolz at 5:14 PM on June 24, 2012


I am not trusting an expert, I am trusting the verifiable objective fact that nuclear weapons have been detonated myriad times.

... as reported by a journalist, no doubt =p
posted by xdvesper at 5:17 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


gsh: ...no one knows what's happening or what's going to happen. Models are created, promoted and then invalidated.

What other area of science do you so cavalierly dismiss? I totally get the psychological need to hope these models are very, very wrong, but it's hard to see such a statement as anything other than than--whistling past the graveyard, so to speak. Of course, I sincerely hope you are right and I am wrong.

deo rei: I'm not sure if you can do that without also accepting the kind of cathartic "I told you so" glee that believers must experience (after all, their deepest held beliefs turn out to be true, even if the results are ruinous).

I see. I don't think of it that way at all. It's more like what happens when people nearly die, and realize that everything they thought was important before the event is utter bullshit. For me, what you're referring to is the crazed egoic ravings of the pseudo-pious. I think the rapture idiots are in for a rude awakening (bad pun pun intended).
posted by mondo dentro at 5:19 PM on June 24, 2012


I have no idea what a "pun pun" is... but I sorta like it.
posted by mondo dentro at 5:21 PM on June 24, 2012


Haha precisely. I like my journalists to tell me more about the event than their opinion on it.
posted by karmiolz at 5:22 PM on June 24, 2012


To the extent that he is just saying that people should not hold misinformed opinions, karmiolz is right. However, even a Climate Change Agnostic is best served by a kind of Pascal's wager about climate change: failure to do anything about it could result in massive disaster, while the only negative consequences of acting to try to slow the rate and mitigate the effects of climate change will be that some people have to display adaptability, some people will have less access to cheap shit, and some people won't be exorbitantly wealthy and powerful anymore.

So, although I happen to believe in what I understand to be the scientific consensus on climate change, I also don't think it matters so much from an optimum-future-behaviour-of-humanity point of view. If our current behavioural patterns include absurd overconsumption and environmental indifference, we should assume that the consequences will include an atmosphere suitable for cooking meat and a scuba-ready Tokyo. Acting under that assumption is potentially going to help, and it certainly can't hurt.

Humanity doesn't act as a unit, though, and alarmism is probably necessary (though insufficient, maybe) to overcome our collective inertia. Even if the experts turn out to be wildly wrong [they won't], it's not like displaying some fucking adaptability [in the words of an excellent renderer-into-layman's-terms of technical information] is going to hurt anyone who doesn't deserve it.

Even people like karmiolz who are getting paid by BP to post on MeFi will be better off, because the world contains plenty of poor folk who won't be to blame for the Juggalocalypse, and for whom the Juggalocalypse won't look that different from their current reality. They will eat him, so it's in his interest to go for the bicycle instead of the Hummer with the proceeds of today's shilling.
posted by kengraham at 5:25 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


And we know that global warming is real because of the verifiable objective fact that steady increases in temperature have been measured independently thousands of times. What is the difference?
posted by mek at 5:29 PM on June 24, 2012


O come on now kengraham I doubt a BP shill would say that mankind is having a disastrous effect on the environment. Nor that fossil fuels are a major contributor to that destruction. I am mainly saying that I do not like the tone struck by laymen on the topic.
posted by karmiolz at 5:30 PM on June 24, 2012


I do not know that mek. I also do not know enough about climate in general to say what the cause is. Climate change is the product of a complex system with many variables. The consensus by that field is that it is anthropogenic. I recently accepted this, as I had a physics professor that was a major and vocal skeptic. When pressed to try and compare the data he presented with the supporting data I found myself without the knowledge or training to do so. Thus, I sided with the vast majority of scientists on the subject.
posted by karmiolz at 5:39 PM on June 24, 2012


O come on now kengraham I doubt a BP shill would say that mankind is having a disastrous effect on the environment.

Of course he would; he would say that right before the word "but." And then, instead of directly asserting that climate change is a crock, he'd say "...but nobody can show me the experts who agree with this, and I'm sensibly skeptical and practical and I wouldn't want to be unnecessarily scaring the ignorant masses.

The way, you know, the people of New Orleans were unnecessarily scared by the call to evacuation before Katrina.
posted by localroger at 5:42 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I forwarded the video to a few people who told me they were writing to their political representatives about it. That made my day.

Now back to your regularly scheduled cockstroking.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:46 PM on June 24, 2012


I am more on kengraham's Pascal' Wager train. Overwhelming scientific consensus about an impending tragedy...might want to give it look.
posted by karmiolz at 5:46 PM on June 24, 2012


Yeah karmiolz you might want to give that a look. While you're giving it a look and kicking the tires and thinking it over you might also want to make sure it doesn't do something embarrassing like drown your hometown.
posted by localroger at 5:55 PM on June 24, 2012


This TED talk draws on widely published work from credible scientific sources. The worst-case scenario he describes was not pulled out of his ass but out of published climate modelling work.

Just a quibble, but this is not so. I've been trying to track down a source for the '170, 180F average temperature' with no success. In his annotated slides, Roberts cites a PNAS paper, written by Antony McMichael, an epidemiologist. The paper -- quite an interesting one, very un-technical and therefore quite accessible -- discusses health effects on human civilization from massive climate stabilization by analogy with anthropological and paleclimatological reconstructions of past climate change during human history and evolution. It takes as starting point, the possibility -- as modeled by several groups, reviewed and collated into summary reports such as the IPCC reports -- of average temperatures increasing by 12C around the year 2300. As I said, a super interesting paper, particularly the conclusions that past experience has shown that the main civilization destabilizing vectors have been drought, collapse of agriculture and consequent famine. What this paper does not do, anywhere, is predict regional average temperatures of 170F (for places with current average temperatures of 80F). Nor does this count, by any definition whatsoever, as 'published climate modeling work'.

Regardless, although a 12C average rise of global temperatures is very, very bad news indeed, I don't find it plausible that this would lead to 90 - 100F (32 - 37C) degree rises in temperatures anywhere. Going back to the last time the Earth was nearly so hot (the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum), the big global effect is at mid and high latitudes: temperature is more efficiently transported to the poles, so the equatorial regions don't change that much, but you have alligator fossils on Ellesmere Island.

I have no opinion of Roberts, but he would be eaten for lunch by someone like Dick Lindzen. So while I think that climate journalists have done invaluable work in disseminating information coming from climate science (Mark Bowen and Elibeth Kolbert, for two), it is as legitimate to question a journalist's credentials on the science especially when, you know, apparently wrong about a point of fact.
posted by bumpkin at 6:00 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Apocalyptic predictions never come true."

Goodness, it's like going for a drive looking only in the rear view mirror. "Well, the road has always been this way since I started driving, therefore it'll stay like this in future."
posted by smoke at 6:08 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


'170, 180F average temperature' with no success.

That might be because that's not what he said. He said that places which regularly see temperatures of 80F today -- which is common but above average -- would with similar regularity see 170F.

The movement of heat through the atmosphere is extermely important. For example, should the Gulf Stream shut down due to the melting of the polar ice, another very real possibility, it is going to get incredibly fucking cold in Europe. The heat that doesn't get conveyed to Europe will instead linger somewhere else. It will probably suck to live on the Gulf Coast if that happens.
posted by localroger at 6:10 PM on June 24, 2012


It frustrates me that the only choices seem to be to continue what we're doing or to appropriate Nature in the form of eco-activism. Neither of which does anything to stop the ongoing total subjugation of Nature through exploitation or conservation. All the things in the world will be labeled either "extinct" or "don't touch".
posted by deo rei at 6:16 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


That might be because that's not what he said. He said that places which regularly see temperatures of 80F today -- which is common but above average -- would with similar regularity see 170F.

Which is an unsupported claim -- the McMichael paper makes no such statement, nor does any of its references. But sure, I should have written '170 - 180F average regional' temperatures in the second instance (and shouldn't have gotten Elizabeth Kolbert's name wrong, either).

The Gulf Stream stuff is silly. Carl Wunsch has pretty clearly led this kind of speculation to rest (Realclimate.org discussion here). The Gulf Stream is a wind-driven phenomenon, and will not stop while the sun still shines and the Earth still turns. Again, paleoclimate -- the best, if still imperfect -- analogies we have to what a warmer Earth might look like, shows smaller latitudinal differences in non-icehouse climates. Alligators on Ellesmere!
posted by bumpkin at 6:23 PM on June 24, 2012


It frustrates me that the only choices seem to be to continue what we're doing or to appropriate Nature in the form of eco-activism.

Yeah, but the ship of "just leave it alone" sailed around the time I was born. It's not a matter of whether we will create a catastrophe; it's pretty likely that we have already created the catastrophe. The only question now is whether we can see the tree our car is headed toward in time to try to do something, whether we will actually try to do something, and whether the thing we do will save us.

I have not mentioned this so far but I am 48 years old and my wife is 54 and going through menopause, and we are by mutual agreement childless. I wish my decision not to reproduce would not be validated quite so spectacularly, but in the end I have no grandchildren who are hostage to the situation, nor no such strong love of my species that our extinction would especially bother me.

But it would be kind of nice if we don't take out the rest of the ecosystem with us.
posted by localroger at 6:25 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Again, paleoclimate -- the best, if still imperfect -- analogies we have to what a warmer Earth might look like, shows smaller latitudinal differences in non-icehouse climates. Alligators on Ellesmere!

How many of these paleoclimate analogues had a nearly landlocked polar ocean?
posted by localroger at 6:26 PM on June 24, 2012


All the things in the world will be labeled either "extinct" or "don't touch".

deo rei, permaculture is an alternative view to these extremes. It's about design in the face of ecological complexity, and integration with nature.
posted by mondo dentro at 6:33 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


...and I immediately regret the word "extremes". It would be better to say "perspectives". Permaculture is not some "moderate" position between the two.
posted by mondo dentro at 6:37 PM on June 24, 2012


bumpkin, you are quibbling. While we quibble about the difference between the Gulf Stream and the MOC the great ocean conveyor, finely tuned as it is to both the current continental configuration and the current insolation pattern and atmospheric composition, is likely to get fucked up in a really impressive way. The north Atlantic is just the first place we're likely to notice this in a really impressive way. And if you don't think the salinity gradient is important to driving it, my amatuer opinion is that you're an idiot.
posted by localroger at 6:40 PM on June 24, 2012


The position of the continents during the Eocene was essentially identical to present day.

Look, not only modeling, but first-principles atmospheric physics, the NASA-GISS instrumental record show higher latitudes warming more than lower or mid latitudes. Having said that, the specific regional trajectories are inherently more difficult to constrain -- we're pretty sure that the US SW will be drier, for instance -- with certainty. If you're curious, you can view IPCC warming scenarios as maps to see this effect (IPCC regional climate change maps).
posted by bumpkin at 6:41 PM on June 24, 2012


bumpkin: Does Lindzen say that the warming isn't happening? Or does he say that there will be other mechanisms that kick in to keep the Earth from becoming Venus? Or... is he on the "human ingenuity will get us out if it" camp? I don't know much about him.
posted by mondo dentro at 6:41 PM on June 24, 2012


bumpkin, I hope you do realize that the idea of all that extra heat being conveyed to the poles (alligators on ellesmere!) is not particularly comforting if you are worried about ice cap melting sea level change and frozen methane being suddenly released.

It has never quite happened this way before, and considering where all our important industries are it stands to be quite problematic. Bought a hard drive lately?
posted by localroger at 6:50 PM on June 24, 2012


mondo dentro, I really believe that some version of permaculture is the way forward. In a way, it's a way to use our current knowledge of biology/agriculture and engineering to allow us to have 14th C levels of energy consumption while hanging on to most of the benefits of modern life (not including overconsumption and the private automobile).
posted by sneebler at 6:51 PM on June 24, 2012


bumpkin, you are quibbling. While we quibble about the difference between the Gulf Stream and the MOC the great ocean conveyor, finely tuned as it is to both the current continental configuration and the current insolation pattern and atmospheric composition, is likely to get fucked up in a really impressive way. The north Atlantic is just the first place we're likely to notice this in a really impressive way. And if you don't think the salinity gradient is important to driving it, my amatuer opinion is that you're an idiot.

Well, the original point was a quibble: Roberts does not support the contention that specific locations will see annual average temperatures of 170F+ (80C, can we just stop with the F?). Nor is this consistent with any consensus projection (eg. the IPCC), nor paleoclimate, nor first-principles physics. You brought up the 'shutting down the Gulf Stream' canard (not the MOC, not the 'great ocean conveyor', not Heinrich events, etc) in order to, what? Dispute that warming due to climate change is predicted to be stronger and more dramatic at high latitudes?

You are entitled to your opinions as to my capacity to understand atmospheric physics and read the primary scientific literature on climate change, of course. Please re-consider whether such an assertion helps maintain a good faith, mutually informative discussion.

On preview: Localroger, there is very little about either the Cenozoic or Plio-Pleistocene climate record that I find comforting.
posted by bumpkin at 6:55 PM on June 24, 2012


Actually bumkin the 170F thing and the Gulf Stream / MOC / GOC thing were entirely separate. Neither has anything to do with the other.

there is very little about either the Cenozoic or Plio-Pleistocene climate record that I find comforting.

Well that is reassuringly sensible.
posted by localroger at 7:07 PM on June 24, 2012


bumpkin: Does Lindzen say that the warming isn't happening? Or does he say that there will be other mechanisms that kick in to keep the Earth from becoming Venus? Or... is he on the "human ingenuity will get us out if it" camp? I don't know much about him.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:41 PM on June 24 [+] [!]


The climate change skeptic community loves a guy like Lindzen. MIT professor, publisher of fundamental papers on atmospheric physics, former co-author to the IPCC assessment reports. He clearly isn't some dumb toff like Viscount Monckton. Lindzen's public opinion is that we don't quite understand the full range of dynamics of the climate system and, in particular, he believes that whereas positive feedback effects are well explored and discussed (such as destablizing methane clathrates, or reducing albedo by melting ice caps) in consensus climate models, there could be negative feedback mechanisms, that would act to damp forcings, like the huge increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. One proposal of his was the Iris effect, where sea surface temperatures and tropical cloud cover respond to increased warming to increase radiative heat transfer out of the atmosphere. It's fair to say that these proposals have failed to get much traction in the geophysical community.

My own take -- having seen the guy in action, and talking to lots of friends in the field -- is that Lindzen's very personality drives him to be incredibly skeptical and contrarian. Ad hominem and all that, but he can deliver an incredibly well reasoned and well supported take down of the link between smoking and lung cancer. He's very smart, and can be a pretty fierce combatant (his brutal take down of Bill Nye must rank well for plumbing the lows of public discussion of science in the recent past). And while reputedly not the most pleasant guy to have in your department (or reviewing your paper), science does need Lindzens, if only to keep us honest.
posted by bumpkin at 7:09 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks bumpkin. I was sort of hoping he was positing negative feedback effects, just from intellectual curiosity. I will look into these.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:13 PM on June 24, 2012


science does need Lindzens, if only to keep us honest.

Fair enough. Now who will send Lindzen his fake anthrax, threaten his family, and hound him with bullshit FOIA requests and lawsuits?
posted by localroger at 7:20 PM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm dubious that giant space based mirrors might cost less than the U.S.'s current debt

They would have to be that giant. It might be more cost effective to build millions of tiny Mylar ballon like satellites that would be orbited in a networked cloud. They could be used to shade glacial regions, create weather fronts and reduce temperature.
posted by humanfont at 7:21 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Livengood writes "Summarizing from the link: (1) even if solar panels had zero albedo (which they don't), they would only be very slightly worse at generating waste heat than are present-day fossil fuel sources; (2) waste heat is negligible in climate change calculations anyway because (3) the thing that really matters is the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and when you consume solar energy rather than fossil fuel energy, you are dramatically decreasing the amount of greenhouse gas that you are adding to the atmosphere."

I agree on all your points. However I wasn't comparing solar energy vs. carbon energy. Obviously using JIT solar energy is better than using stored energy that releases CO2

I was discounting the idea that we could build a solar shield of solar panels to reduce earth average temperature on the ground. A shield to defect the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth and therefor reducing the temperature of the earth can't consist solar cells because the radiation converted to electricity still eventually results in heat.

Now if you used the electricity of the solar panels to power a huge series of x-ray lasers pointed out into space or some other scheme that resulted in that energy leaving the confines of the atmosphere it would work. Probably easier to orbit a series of orbiting solar shields.
posted by Mitheral at 7:31 PM on June 24, 2012


Now if you used the electricity of the solar panels to power a huge series of x-ray lasers pointed out into space or some other scheme that resulted in that energy leaving the confines of the atmosphere it would work

Actually all you have to do is use the solar collectors to power the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. Turn the positive feedback loop into a negative feedback loop.

Of course, we have such green tech, but instead of deploying it we're burning it down almost as fast as possible.
posted by localroger at 7:34 PM on June 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was discounting the idea that we could build a solar shield of solar panels to reduce earth average temperature on the ground.

But unless the solar panels are not replacing fossil fuel sources, building solar panels would reduce average temperature on the ground in the future compared to not building them. The reason is that by replacing fossil fuels with solar you significantly decrease the amount of carbon being added to the atmosphere.

Are we just talking past each other? I thought your claim was about what we might do in order to decrease future warming. Were you talking about how we might go back from where we are now? (In that case, for the record, localroger's suggestion of sequestering carbon sounds much more sensible than x-rays.)
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:01 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


bumpkin, did you have this Larry King interview in mind when you mentioned Lindzen beating up on Bill Nye, or were you thinking of some other exchange they've had? (Incidentally, is that interview complete? It felt like it got cut off part way through.) I was struck by the mismatch in that exchange more than anything. I mean, Bill Nye is great, but he's not a climate scientist. Why didn't Larry have Hansen on to debate Lindzen? Or maybe a small panel of climate scientists representing the consensus position?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:11 PM on June 24, 2012


That youtube interview is incomplete. Here is a transcript of the whole show. I couldn't find a video version.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:19 PM on June 24, 2012


stbalbach: "Conditions like that have actually prevailed a couple of times in the Earth's deep geological past

..during periods when life was plentiful, in the past 500 million year or so. The Permian–Triassic extinction event (250 MYA) was a good one, most likely caused by super volcanoes that cooked the land dry.
"

Volcanos, Oil all this shit under the earth spat out into the atmosphere cooking us. Maybe we best stop digging our own graves. I would say "we spit the liquefied bones of those who preceded us" and it causes a funny sort of karma, but as I understand it the whole Fossil Fuel theory is a bit off (or rather, it's not so much dino bones as more plankton and tiny microbial type shit?).

Those who neigh say are, as pointed out before, clearly ignoring feedback loops. I think a clear understanding of cybernetics is essential to the future of humanity. I mean this in the totalitarian systemic sense, not in the "we are going to be robots" and perhaps that is the only solution, though I surely hope not.

Mostly I fucking hate humanity, and while I'm not fully on board with the Carlin bit, sometimes my misanthropic side is brought out by anthropogenic climate change and I wish all these evil sons of bitches would feel the effects that they're bringing to bear on future generations, but they'll be long gone when the effects rolls around.

Except, perhaps, for Dick Cheney, that cyborg mother fucker. Maybe that is the only sense of justice I can hope for, that if he isn't to die, then surely he can live and live to suffer the hell he and his kind of wrought. The hell that he and his kind wrought by digging up those old bones and spewing them out right into the air.

(and yes, I know, I'm complicit as well, we all are).
posted by symbioid at 8:34 PM on June 24, 2012


Ever since the mid-1990's, I've thought that this was the answer to Fermi's question: Why the Great Silence?

Maybe it's because few species can survive the massive acceleration of thermodynamics that accompanies energy-intensive technologies.
posted by warbaby at 8:43 PM on June 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


karmiolz wrote: If you proselytize in your professional work the way you did in this post then you should not be considered a journalist.

Contrary to popular belief, reporting the controversy is not journalism. It's stupid he-said she-said tabloid bullshit.

karmiolz wrote: I am pretty sure our economy, such as it is, could not function with such a restriction.

This is also bullshit. Sprawl happens precisely because of government policy favoring it when it does not literally force it through zoning laws and onerous parking regulations. There is a reason desirable places have extremely high land values and, where it is not disallowed by government fiat, extremely high density to match.
posted by wierdo at 9:20 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't ask that people report controversy. I ask that those unskilled in a scientific field stay as objective as possible.

I claim no expertise in the second matter, I was just under the impression we rely on growth and expansion. Making our current economic system unsustainable.
posted by karmiolz at 9:35 PM on June 24, 2012


Ad hominem and all that, but he can deliver an incredibly well reasoned and well supported take down of the link between smoking and lung cancer.

This point really does get into the area of, "He's not a specialist in this area." Who cares what he says there? Being an academic specialist in one area doesn't make you a specialist in all, sorry. That's not even similar to a journalist specializing in the explanation of scientific consensus to a general audience.
posted by raysmj at 10:16 PM on June 24, 2012


The thing about Lindzen is that while his actual scientific contributions are sound, his public pronouncements (that make him the darling of denialists) are not.


Making our current economic system unsustainable

Growth and expansion are a significant part of what makes it unsustainable, anthropogenic climate change or not.
posted by Bangaioh at 3:29 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


U.S. Experienced Second Warmest May, Warmest Spring On Record, NOAA Reports

Significant Sea-Level Rise in a Two-Degree Warmer World
posted by jeffburdges at 5:34 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd imagine the answer to Fermi's paradox is simply that intelligence is rare. I'd expect our intelligence is merely an ostentatious result of sexual selection, like peacock tails, whale song, etc. All these ostentatious displays are paired back by environmental selection when times get hard though. There might be an awful lot of species who create art through song, dance, painting, etc., but very few with the abstractions like calculous necessary to survive their planet's death.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:56 AM on June 25, 2012


I'd imagine the answer to Fermi's paradox is simply that intelligence is rare.

IMO, rare or not, any alien species intelligent enough to survive all the other existential threats random chance throws at it (and finally, the perils of its own rapidly accelerating technological development) to become a true space-faring, indefinitely sustainable species would probably be a little too clever to just let a bunch of fractious, unpredictably violent primates get the jump on them.

Even human scientists typically try to minimize all unnecessary interactions with previously isolated human population groups in the rare event we discover a remote, culturally isolated individual or tribe living in some remote corner of the rain forest, say. It may simply be that any species intelligent enough to thrive in the way we would like to imagine an advanced alien civilization thriving would be too cautious and self-aware to just go stupidly bumbling into unmediated contact with the first semi-conscious animal species it happens to find on a rock circling some random star.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:53 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


too cautious and self-aware to just go stupidly bumbling into unmediated contact

I guess you're not counting us, since we put this out there, complete with a map and tunes to listen to on the way here.
posted by achrise at 8:15 AM on June 25, 2012


I guess you're not counting us, since we put this out there, complete with a map and tunes to listen to on the way here.

Hey, if you don't put flyers out for your snack bar, why would you expect folks to stop by?
posted by JB71 at 8:18 AM on June 25, 2012


I am not saying he is incorrect, I am saying I don't like the tone. It seems to be growing, a vitriolic response that seems more based in a cultural identity than knowledge of the subject. I said it before that I do believe a journalist who covers a topic extensively will become knowledgeable of it, however I will not consider them an authority. You say, "They may not be capable of doing original work..." which is precisely my point. They are reporters, not contributors, not authorities. I do not like my journalism mixed with such subjectivity, particularly the contentious tone struck with climate change.

So you don't seem to be saying you believe the facts he's presented are wrong; it's the "tone" you don't care for. Despite the fact that he is citing multiple credible sources, organizing the data in a format the layperson can understand, and then presenting them with unobtuse "every-day" language. You take issue with the tone.

I don't know where this meme got started that journalists are for some reason supposed to be fact-spitting automatons who must never, ever under any circumstances display human emotion in the things they're reporting on, but I see it trotted out very frequently in lieu of arguing against the facts actually being reported. "That journalist took a passionate tone about the Srebrenica Massacre - god, where's the objectivity?! Verdict: not credible."

I mean christ, even Cronkite cried reporting on the Kennedy assassination. This guy's reporting on the very possible and totally preventable end of the world, drawing from real and actual science, and you have a problem with the tone? Whatever.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:24 AM on June 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


karmiolz wrote: I don't ask that people report controversy. I ask that those unskilled in a scientific field stay as objective as possible.

Yet it bothers you when a reporter reports what they believe to be the objective truth?
posted by wierdo at 8:40 AM on June 25, 2012


Scientific discourse is confused by the fact that counting beans is not the same thing as accounting for beans. Amateur worrywarts, professional pundits, skilled journalists, earnest environmental researchers, each get their own type of cred when trying to describe the elephant. Nobody can hit the mark dead on for various reasons: some sort of indeterminancy principle is in play here. Maybe too many variables or something.

I like the analogy posed above, about nuclear bombs. Making them is one thing, using them as a political tool is another. The wuffle and blunder of describing the depth of various pits created by detonations, and the various millions of casualties that will occur by incineration or slow rotting, may show a certain acumen. After all, many engineers can accurately estimate the depth of a proposed bomb crater, oncologists can produce tables by the ream. But since nobody knows how many of the bombs actually will explode, or precisely where, or exactly what the weather will be like that day, then all conclusions posited end up being more or less ballpark notions, worth about as much when uttered by the nuclear physicist, the weatherman, or Chicken Little.

Lost in the wuffle is the basic agreement that somebody is going to get screwed, big time, and nobody can actually say for sure who it will be. What's left is the blunder, in which politicians never get around to dismantling the goddam things.

Serval aspects related to "Global Warming" can be pinned to my poor example above. In the end, we are all going to fry or drown or starve, or maybe only most of us. Road Warriors and possibly Cannibal Families will inhabit what's left of the Earth. Small mammals and lizards will be stewpot items, and telepathic dogs will be our greatest allies.

The blunder will win out, because the wuffle is more interesting, and we are getting paid to participate in our downfall. Somebody above said just right: you'll have to actually pay them to quit killing us. First you gotta find out what morons are now paying them to kill us.

Um...wait...
posted by mule98J at 8:41 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


A good site to follow global warming news is Climate Change Central. I get my daily dose there.
posted by stbalbach at 8:46 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess you're not counting us, since we put this out there, complete with a map and tunes to listen to on the way here.

I believe the description "semi-conscious primate" to characterize my own condition/predicament fairly well (given the inherent epistemological challenges of making coherent claims about reality using human cultural constructs like "reality"), and I haven't encountered anyone yet who doesn't seem to share my lot.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2012


> But he lays out why he's saying what he is right at the beginning of the talk. He's responding precisely
> to the complaint that us pro-Enlightenment, rationalist types fail to make things "simple" enough for
> widespread communication

Needn't be faulted for failing to do what can't be done. Dumbing the message down to soundbites can't be achieved without papering over and suppressing the complexities of the science. That may get people's attention, but it can't then be concealed that huge sacrifices and lifestyle changes are being called for. At that point most folks are going to go "That's a lot to swallow on faith. Before I agree to all that I want to see the details!" And as soon as that happens all the boiling-down will be undone, every possible point that can be debated will be dragged out and debated, and those who did the "simplifying" will be hard to distinguish from just another bunch of liars with an agenda. Even making this effort will leave you worse off than you were.

You can, of course, boil it down all the way to WE ARE SO FUCKED! But we already have plenty of people on message about that now, with the results that you see.
posted by jfuller at 8:57 AM on June 25, 2012


Congrats, karmiolz, et al. That was one spectacular derail. Undoubtely it's much more important that we know your opinions on reporting standards than discussing the implications of the actual report. If you guys aren't getting paid for this, you certainly should.
posted by c13 at 12:11 PM on June 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


[eesh, yeah -- please take further discussion of karmiolz' opinions on authoritative journalism to email.]
posted by taz at 11:05 PM on June 25, 2012


As Exxon CEO Calls Global Warming’s Impacts ‘Manageable’, Colorado Wildfires Shutter Climate Lab
posted by homunculus at 9:49 PM on June 27, 2012


72 Percent of the US Is Experiencing Dry or Drought Conditions
posted by homunculus at 11:03 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been meaning to put this together again, ever since I mentioned it here. It was hot enough today and with everything closed down and nowhere to go, I decided to spend an hour or so re-compiling this stuff.

I don't know how other areas are affected, but here in Minneapolis: Summers are heating up, but winters are heating up far more dramatically.

Here's how I complied this:

This data is from weather records from Minneapolis. I used Heating/Cooling degree days recorded in Minneapolis from 1891 to the present (downtown before 1938 and recorded since 1938 at the airport) from here, and more specifically, from here and here.

I counted summers/winters since 1997 that appear on the list of top 13 hottest summers and warmest winters.

(Note: I choose the year 1997 and top 13 as cutoff points to highlight this trend, but pick your own cutoff points and I believe you'll still see the same general trend.)

Top 13 hottest summers

1) 1936
2) 1933
3) 1988
4) 1931
5) 1934
6) 1937
7) 1921
8) 2007 *
9) 1955
10) 2011 *
11) 2006 *
12) 1894
13) 1983

Only 3 of the 13 hottest summers have occurred since 1997 and the first one doesn't show up until number 8 on the list.

Top 13 warmest winters

1) 2011-2012 *
2) 2005-2006 *
3) 1986-1987
4) 1999-2000 *
5) 1920-1921
6) 1930-1931
7) 2001-2002 *
8) 1941-1942
9) 1998-1999 *
10) 1997-1998 *
11) 2004-2005 *
12) 2009-2010 *
13) 2006-2007 *

9 of the 13 warmest winters have occurred since 1997.

Also note on the Heating Degree Days page that the difference between the warmest winter (2011-2012) and the next warmest winter (2005-2006) was really large (750 degree days). That gap was far, far more than the gaps between any of the other years.
posted by marsha56 at 1:55 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


marsha56 that's very interesting. The atmosphere has a huge role in moving heat around, more than even most meteorologists realize. There was a paper recently linked here suggesting that a tidally locked planet in the habitable zone of a small red dwarf star might in fact be habitable; instead of the longstanding consensus that the atmosphere would freeze out on the night side of the planet, the atmosphere would actually act as a heat conveyor keeping both the near and far sides at mostly life-compatible temperatures.

Warm winters are a big immediate problem because they affect stable ice (melting all over the world right now) and the hydrological cycle, part of which heavily depends on winter snowfall. I am in a mood of thinking we might not need to wait for the year 2300 to see big problems.
posted by localroger at 4:32 PM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


We are living a disaster movie.
posted by stbalbach at 4:31 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


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