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another canary tips over
September 23, 2003 7:31 AM   Subscribe

another canary tips over
as the administration (more specifically the white house council on environmental quality and its head james l. connaughton) continue to ignore and bury the warnings of the effects global warming from their own scientists.
posted by specialk420 (52 comments total)

 
Haven't you heard? This is still so very "controversial". There's no "proof". Scientists still "disagree".
posted by jpoulos at 7:34 AM on September 23, 2003


Natural climatic change is a bitch.
posted by angry modem at 7:41 AM on September 23, 2003


Also check the Guardian's angle on this.
posted by Pinwheel at 7:44 AM on September 23, 2003


Natural climatic change is a bitch.

So is denial.
posted by jpoulos at 7:46 AM on September 23, 2003


2.5 degrees centigrade in 50 years is *natural*? Fuck, I've apparently been misinformed.

On preview, jpoulos said it better, without cursing.
posted by notsnot at 7:52 AM on September 23, 2003


Considering our recording of climatic change hasn't exactly been around for hundreds of thousands of years, I'm willing to allow for a possibility that we know jack shit about our own planet.

Besides, if the warming up is the human's fault, does it matter?

No, because winter sucks.
posted by angry modem at 7:56 AM on September 23, 2003


of course, it's only warming up because environmentalists made all those poor industries stop spewing smoke into the air. back when there were clouds of soot everywhere, they acted as cloud cover and mitigated the heating action of the sun. any idiot can see this. once the environmentalists got their way on air standards, they consigned us to a horrible baking death under our actual enemy, old sol. hopefully, GW's administration will effect a return to the smokestack spewing days of the past, and that it's not too late to head off the catastrophe these bleeding heart tree huggers have brought us to the brink of.
posted by quonsar at 7:57 AM on September 23, 2003


I think Pardonyou? said it best:
If your point is that nobody knows the future, point taken. But is that a reason not to do anything?
Of course he was talking about bombinb people and not cutting back on fossil fuel use, but it's all good.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:58 AM on September 23, 2003


Since the dawn of time, Mankind has yearned to destroy the sun.
posted by aramaic at 8:01 AM on September 23, 2003


i wonder if any of angry modems loved ones will be included in the next herd thinning ?
posted by specialk420 at 8:01 AM on September 23, 2003


Yeah, angry modem I'm "willing to allow for the possibility that we know jack shit." But are you willing to allow for the possibility that we might have fucked up the planet beyond repair? If we just don't know, I'd rather err on the side of preserving a livable environment.
posted by muckster at 8:04 AM on September 23, 2003


My loved ones know how to use an air conditioner. Thanks for your sincere concern.
posted by angry modem at 8:12 AM on September 23, 2003


I agree that scientific knowledge about the planet's ability to solve problems is far from complete. There's a long history of nature evolving ways to solve or adapt to toxic situations which the science of the time thought to be catastrophic.

That being said, eventually the planet's adaptation may be one which causes significant harm to the huge number of humans which currently dominate the globe. A conservative approach that errs on the side of caution is our best strategy.

Until science has conclusively proved that "greenhouse gasses" are good for the planet and beneficial to human survival, I'm in favor of reducing them.
posted by mosch at 8:14 AM on September 23, 2003


My loved ones know how to use an air conditioner
Hey, that's GREAT!! Think you guys can hook up a few million of those bad boys up to the Ross Ice Shelf, so that my pals in the Maldives don't drown when the sea level rises?

'Cuz that'd be really GREAT of you, to help out like that!
posted by aramaic at 8:16 AM on September 23, 2003


Treehugger central.
'Course what would they know.
posted by PaddyJames at 8:16 AM on September 23, 2003


has angry been penning for the editorial page at wapo?
posted by specialk420 at 8:18 AM on September 23, 2003


Ooh, now it's a Right vs. Left shit-flinging contest!

Nevermind, I guess that's how you intended it as from the start. It's always nice to see a genuine love for the environment.
posted by angry modem at 8:25 AM on September 23, 2003


Ooh, now it's a Right vs. Left shit-flinging contest!

First day, eh? Welcome aboard.
posted by UncleFes at 8:27 AM on September 23, 2003


how convenient
posted by muckster at 8:31 AM on September 23, 2003


no shit flinging ... your words will be here waiting for you to munch on ... as your city or your grandmothers fries someday in the future.
posted by specialk420 at 8:34 AM on September 23, 2003


The solution, clearly, is to just stop having kids. Got that everyone? No more jolly goin' at it, no more terror sex.

Since it seems that humans have a knack for the destruction of humanity, clearly, reproduction represents the largest threat to humanity.
posted by rocketman at 8:37 AM on September 23, 2003


rocketman: Yeah, but that puts too much fait in individuals to stop having kids. The clearly superior solution is to make the planet unlivable for future generations, ensuring that they can't survive, whether they decide to have kids or not.

I think we're on the right track, here.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:42 AM on September 23, 2003


Rocketman: your solution, however admirable, will take too damn long to implement -- an entire generation (or two) would need to pass before we'd start seeing results. A faster approach is to simply murder a randomly-selected two-thirds of the global population.

We can do this. It is within our grasp!
posted by aramaic at 8:45 AM on September 23, 2003


i wonder if any of angry modems loved ones will be included in the next herd thinning ?
In France, the record temperatures are thought to have killed about 10,000 people, officials say.

France said their #'s this summer were lower than last summer.
your grandmothers fries someday in the future.
posted by thomcatspike at 8:58 AM on September 23, 2003


your grandmothers fries someday in the future.

mmmm. I could sure go for some Grandma fries to go with my hamburger.
posted by dr_dank at 9:25 AM on September 23, 2003


Considering our recording of climatic change hasn't exactly been around for hundreds of thousands of years, I'm willing to allow for a possibility that we know jack shit about our own planet.

Actually, the natural records of climatic change from ice cores alone go back about 160,000 years. Ices cores pretty well document the dramatic changes in CO2 levels over the last few decades:
The Vostok core showed that atmospheric carbon dioxide increased by approximately 80 ppm over a span of 10,000 years, between the Last Glacial Maximum and the pre-industrial times of the Holocene. In the past 200 years the atmospheric carbon dioxide has again increased by 80 ppm to the present 360 ppm, most of the increase in the past 50 years.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:36 AM on September 23, 2003


My loved ones know how to use an air conditioner.

Sadly for you, an air conditioner will do them little good. Global warming does not mean simply that summers and winters will be a little warmer. It means that there is more energy in the global climate system overall, leading to more entropy and thus more variability and extremes in weather patterns. So, more severe droughts, more severe storms, more floods, more heat waves, etc.

Nature is not partisan.
posted by moonbiter at 9:37 AM on September 23, 2003


I don't know about Grandma fries, but how about some cheeseburger fries - there's no more efficient way to get rid of humans and methane-producing cattle in one - dare I say - swell swoop!
posted by stonerose at 9:41 AM on September 23, 2003


"there will be no profits on a dead planet" - david brower
posted by specialk420 at 10:05 AM on September 23, 2003


foop. swell foop. now apologize to wendell.
posted by quonsar at 10:16 AM on September 23, 2003


We can't fuck up the planet permanently - we can just make it really terrible for us to live on for a few thousand years.

Even if we scorched the earth and plunged us into an 'eternal' nuclear winter - after a couple thousand years Earth would start re-growing itself.

Granted, humankind would be dead.
But still.
posted by cinderful at 10:25 AM on September 23, 2003


Honest question: My understanding is New York City was under a mile of ice not too geologically long ago, and Long Island is a glacial deposit. What made the earth warm up to make that glacier retreat?
posted by quercus at 10:39 AM on September 23, 2003


What made the earth warm up to make that glacier retreat?

Well there have been a number of ice ages....

Note that we're currently overdue for the next one.
posted by bshort at 10:48 AM on September 23, 2003


Some other researchers somewhere seem pretty sure they've discovered that the sun has increased its output of radiation by several percent over the past couple centuries, which could be much more viable explanation than us.

"Note that we're currently overdue for the next one."

We are? Why do you say that?

"Actually, the natural records of climatic change from ice cores alone go back about 160,000 years."

Out of 4 billion. Not a significant statistical sample, sir. Even if you cut that figure to the 2 billion years in which life has been pretty much all over the place, that's .00008% of the relevant span of time. We know the planet has been much warmer in the past, we know there have been periods without icecaps before.

"Until science has conclusively proved that "greenhouse gasses" are good for the planet and beneficial to human survival, I'm in favor of reducing them."

This is actually pretty sensible. However, you've got to pick and choose, in light of the fact that the causes of global warming are still very much in debate. Hell, whether global warming is actually a locally long-term occurence or a 300-year-blink is still very much in debate. So initiatives that will cost billions and billions of dollars for a half-percent decrease in the global output of a single greenhouse gas are probably not worth it.
posted by kavasa at 11:53 AM on September 23, 2003


Not just warmer: it's the hottest for 2,000 years
The earth is warmer now than it has been at any time in the past 2,000 years, the most comprehensive study of climatic history has revealed.

Confirming the worst fears of environmental scientists, the newly published findings are a blow to sceptics who maintain that global warming is part of the natural climatic cycle rather than a consequence of human industrial activity.
posted by homunculus at 12:01 PM on September 23, 2003


On being overdue for an ice age: interglacial periods (like the one we're in now) generally last between 10,000 to 12,000 years. There have been seven ice ages in the last 700,000 years, with the most recent one ending around 10,800 to 13,000 years ago.

...this means some folks believe the planet is "overdue" for another ice age. But here's an exciting factoid: whenever CO2 levels exceed 290ppm, an ice age has always followed (assuming that current methods for estimating historic CO2 is accurate).

Our present CO2 level is well above 290ppm.

So the idea that global warming will save us from a new ice age is probably misguided -- it appears that the global environment "flips" after a certain threshold has been exceeded. One current theory is that the masses of melting polar ice shut down major ocean currents (like the Gulf Stream), thereby throwing everything out of whack.

Those of you in Northern Europe will probably want to pay close attention to the health of the Gulf Stream.
posted by aramaic at 12:45 PM on September 23, 2003


Ooh, 2,000 years.

Whatever.

aramaic: hunh.
If that theory is right, and the other thing people have seen about the sun putting out more radiation lately is right, I wonder what will happen?
posted by kavasa at 1:09 PM on September 23, 2003


Out of 4 billion. Not a significant statistical sample, sir. Even if you cut that figure to the 2 billion years in which life has been pretty much all over the place, that's .00008% of the relevant span of time. We know the planet has been much warmer in the past, we know there have been periods without icecaps before.

You don't know your statistics, sir.

The power (the chance of legitimately detecting an effect) of a statistical survey at a given sample size has no relationship to the size of the population. Power depends on the following factors:

The variance of the sample and the population.
The size of the effect.
The confidance levels.
The size of the sample.

It does not matter if the population in question is 5 years, 5 billion years, or 5 trillion years, population size has no bearing on the quality of the sample size. This is such a mind-boggling basic mistake in regards to statistics that it is perhaps the best indicator of who should be seen, and not heard in discussion of science.

Furthermore, there are some good reasons why we would not want to sample the entire 4 billion years of Earth's history. The question is not how increasing CO2 levels will affect the Earth in general, but how it affects the Earth with approximately the same geography as our present Earth. The ice ages only started in earnest when the Panama strait dried up separating the Atlantic from the Pacific. Really it is only the last 1 million years of history we need to be concerned about.

So initiatives that will cost billions and billions of dollars for a half-percent decrease in the global output of a single greenhouse gas are probably not worth it.

It's not just the science that is under debate, but the economics. The reason why most of the other major economic powers don't see a major problem with greenhouse gas reduction is because of the other big elephant in the bedroom that no one talks about. At some point in the next century, demand for fossil fuels will exceed the supply. At that point, whoever has the early lead in technologies for conservation and alternative production will be the next economic superpower.

An interesting thing about reading the foregn press on a regular basis is a radical difference in perspective. Americans talk about the energy problem as a bottomless money pit. Others are talking about the energy problem as an investment oportunity.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:28 PM on September 23, 2003


swell foop. now apologize to wendell.
Most Depressing Book Cover of 2001.

Of course, if the melting of the polar icecaps bring the expected flooding, the fundies will just point to the creation of Lake SanFernandoValley and say: "Just washing away the pornographers".
posted by wendellseviltwin at 1:30 PM on September 23, 2003


"This is such a mind-boggling basic mistake in regards to statistics that it is perhaps the best indicator of who should be seen, and not heard in discussion of science."

You know you can make good points without being a massive hairy prick, asshole.

Debate isn't for the few, the proud, the annointed by god. It's something everyone can and should engage in, and if you really can't stand what someone else is up to, you ignore them. You don't presume that you're so right that you may deign to declare who is a viable member of public discourse and who is not.

Sadly, you do make good points and I'm forced to respond to them, rather than dismiss you as the pretentious shit you are.

"It does not matter if the population in question is 5 years, 5 billion years, or 5 trillion years, population size has no bearing on the quality of the sample size."

I wouldn't go that far. Were I to observe that it got cooler as Autumn progressed, and conclude from that that an ice age was coming, I would be rightly laughed out of whatever I was involved in. Clearly, especially when discussing issues of climactic change, the period of the observation factors into things.

But! Given what others have said, I shall for the sake of argument grant to you that the 160k year sample is significant for our purposes. Why would one:
A) assume that the increase in CO2 is our fault and,
B) further assume that it indicates global warming will be a lasting trend, rather than an indicator of an upcoming ice-age, as it has been in the past?

"Americans talk about the energy problem as a bottomless money pit."

Plenty of Americans talk about it as an investment opportunity. That's significantly different from what I said.

In re: fossil fuels, I am of the opinion that these sorts of things run on economic factors. Right now, alternative energy is more expensive than drilling crude. Eventually it will be cheaper, at which point we'll switch over. People have been working hard for decades on technologies to do so, and I'm fairly optimistic that the switchover will be fairly smooth.

Again, I'm all for not destroying the ecosphere that supports us. I just think there are options that make sense, and options that don't - and shunting billions of dollars towards "solving" a problem that is so nebulous in nature strikes me as foolish, especially when there are fare more concrete issues to worry about, like China burning millions and millions of tons of sulfurous coal, the Aral sea drying up to feed Uzbekistan's ridiculous cotton fields, so on and so forth.
posted by kavasa at 1:53 PM on September 23, 2003


kavasa - There actually aren't any reputable scientists I'm aware of - including the handful of Global Warming skeptics and "contrarians" who actually publish research in fields related to climate studies ( Richard Lindzen, for example ) - who dispute that CO2 has an immediate warming effect. Lindzen proposes that the effect will be negated by increased cloud cover - as the Earth warms, the hydrological cycle speeds up. Hence, more clouds. Most climate researchers dismiss Lindzen's cloud feedback theory.

If solar radiation is increasing (on top of dramatically increased atmospheric CO2) this would feed atmospheric warming, and one of the byproducts of this warming is decreased salinity in the North Atlantic - both from increased rainfall and from melting ice.

The prevailing opinion at Wood's Hole (widely regarded as the world's top Oceanographic research institution) is that this freshening of the North Atlantic will likely shut down Ocean Circulation (completely or partially) within 50 years and as soon as within 10. The President and Director of Wood's Hole, Robert Gagosian, gave a talk about sudden climate change at the WEF in Davos this year

Shutdowns in Ocean Circulation have been linked to massive, sudden climate shifts found to have occurred in the Earth's recent past (within the last 12,500 years).

Further, four out of five of the great mass extinction events known of in Earth's past (in which 10% or more of species living at the time dies off) have been linked to climate shifts - with several different mechanisms at work such as the release of methane hydrates from the ocean floor.

"We can't fuck up the planet permanently - we can just make it really terrible for us to live on for a few thousand years." -Cinderful

Well, we don't actually know the parameters of what it would take to kill off most life on earth. And: we might not be able to kill everything but a few hundred million years of Snowball Earth would eradicate most life anyway.

If we give the Earth's carbon cycle a hard enough shove - in concert with our uncoordinated and mostly unintentional but still devastating blitz on the earth ecosystems - well, I'd say that all bets are off.
posted by troutfishing at 2:12 PM on September 23, 2003


Debate isn't for the few, the proud, the annointed by god. It's something everyone can and should engage in, and if you really can't stand what someone else is up to, you ignore them. You don't presume that you're so right that you may deign to declare who is a viable member of public discourse and who is not.

True, but if you are going to cop attitude and declare "Not a significant statistical sample, sir." the least you can do is actually understand what you are saying rather than roll off a bunch of complete hogwash about sample size in comparison to population size. If your argument runs in complete contradiction to what is covered in the first two weeks of basic statistics courses, then you should expect to have your authority challenged, and your own attempts to play the pretentious prick should be justifiably mocked.

I wouldn't go that far. Were I to observe that it got cooler as Autumn progressed, and conclude from that that an ice age was coming, I would be rightly laughed out of whatever I was involved in. Clearly, especially when discussing issues of climactic change, the period of the observation factors into things.

Certainly. 160,000 years for example covers an entire slice of what we can infer from other data is a cycle that runs approximately 50,000-100,000 years. We can extend the analysis back a few million years using other forms of data as well. So, we have continuous atmospheric data for the last glacial event. From that we can validate some of the other forms of data used to infer climate conditions back through several glacial events.

But! Given what others have said, I shall for the sake of argument grant to you that the 160k year sample is significant for our purposes. Why would one:
A) assume that the increase in CO2 is our fault and,
B) further assume that it indicates global warming will be a lasting trend, rather than an indicator of an upcoming ice-age, as it has been in the past?


A: I don't know that anyone is making an assumption here. What we do know is that CO2 increases are correlated with fossil fuel use. Whether this correlation is masked by other factors is an open question. However such a correlation makes it reasonable to propose fossil fuel use as a mechanism.

B: I don't know that anyone is making this assumption either. What is of concern is that climate trends over the next century based on what has happened over the last century may pose some disturbing problems. I don't think than anyone is making much in the way of long-term predictions at this stage in the game.

In re: fossil fuels, I am of the opinion that these sorts of things run on economic factors. Right now, alternative energy is more expensive than drilling crude. Eventually it will be cheaper, at which point we'll switch over. People have been working hard for decades on technologies to do so, and I'm fairly optimistic that the switchover will be fairly smooth.

The problem with economics is with the assumption that human beings are rational agents. The switchover is only going to be smooth for those who plan in advance, and the early adopters are usually in the best position to press the advantage.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:36 PM on September 23, 2003


kavasa - If you are interested in reading about the problem (human-caused Global Climate Change) which you consider nebulous, you might want to read at least the executive summary of "Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises" (2002) by the US National Academy of Sciences. The report is one of the many written by the Academies to advise Congress on issues of science and technology.

It's not at all clear that "Right now, alternative energy is more expensive than drilling crude":

The cost of electricity produced by wind power, for example, has dropped to close to the kilowatt/hour price of electricity produced by coal. [ ironically, the most advanced wind turbine technology - once produced in the US - now comes from Sweden. Government subsidies for this industry dried up under Ronald reagan, and the European producers gained the technological edge. ] And this comparison grows even more favorable when factoring in the ecological costs of coal - tops blown off mountains, devastated local ecosystems, polluted streams, coal miner death, thousands of deaths from increased air pollution, acid rain, Global Warming, blah blah - "externalities".

In the US, Oil, coal and nuclear power receive something on the order of 50 billion each year in direct federal subsidies. Estimations of indirect subsidies to these energy industries range into the hundreds of billions each year.

Meanwhile, the cheapest source of energy is profoundly simple: efficiency. Between approximately 1978 and 1987, US energy consumption remained very close to flat, and yet the US economy grew at a healthy enough average pace - the US economy became more energy efficient.

On the other side of the balance sheet, Climate Change exacts a heavy cost: between the decade of the 1980's and the decade of the 1990's, World insurance industry payouts for climate disasters rose by at least a factor of four.

What can we do? Well, we could look to a honest capitalism - free from unbalanced government subsidies - which takes it's lesson from the efficiencies inherent in nature: "Natural Capitalism".

Premise? - Waste = profit loss. All waste is dumb, destructive and unprofitable. The next industrial revolution will be based on the implementation of already proven methods and technologies which enable dramatic gains - fourfold, tenfold, and even more - in materials use and energy efficiency.
posted by troutfishing at 2:48 PM on September 23, 2003


CO2 increases are correlated with fossil fuel use
Coke, Pepsi and all carbonated drinks have CO2 plus your Dry Ice is CO2 in solid state but have never heard cut down your carbonation intake due to environmental concerns.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:04 PM on September 23, 2003


thomcatspike - that may be true . Moving right along: can I interest you in a trip to the depths of the briny deep in a bell jar filled with CO2? or do you want some oxygen along with that harmless, odorless, tasteless Carbon Dioxide gas?
posted by troutfishing at 3:12 PM on September 23, 2003


Ultimately, it does come down to a game of odds. Is it worthwhile to invest today to reduce the odds of serious health and economic threats down the road? How much did we spend on a couple of wars due to the maybe possible threat of a terrorist attack causing large-scale economic damage? Heavy weather is at least as dangerous and expensive in the long term. And this is not even factoring in agricultural losses, or the possible northward migration of malaria into the United States. Another major factor to consider is that CO2 is not the only form of air pollution. Something that is getting less press is the epidemic of respiratory diseases among children.

Troutfishing is right in that one of the reasons why fossil fuels seem cheap is that we don't pay the full costs associated with fossil fuels at the pump. (Or road transportation in general.) For example, retailers must devote some of their property to "free parking" the costs of which are passed on to cosumers. There is a strong economic argument that if we replaced the subsidies for automobile use in the form of property and income taxes used for road construction, with increased gas taxes, even unsubsidied mass transportation becomes a competitive prospect.

Coke, Pepsi and all carbonated drinks have CO2 plus your Dry Ice is CO2 in solid state but have never heard cut down your carbonation intake due to environmental concerns.

I may be wrong on this, but it is my understanding that these are produced by condensing atmospheric CO2, and thus are not skewing the carbon balance.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:13 PM on September 23, 2003


KirkJobSluder writes: An interesting thing about reading the foregn press on a regular basis is a radical difference in perspective. Americans talk about the energy problem as a bottomless money pit. Others are talking about the energy problem as an investment oportunity.

This to me is the most thought-provoking comment in the whole thread. Though I think "Americans" misses the mark slightly, as not all Americans feel that way. Replace it with "people massively invested in the current energy supply chain (and their hapless dupes)" and I think you've made a solid, and intriguing point.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:20 PM on September 23, 2003


Apparently a bottle of Pepsi releases about 2.2 grams of CO2, where burning a gallon of gas releases 19 pounds. Probably soda is not a bad thing unless one is a heavy drinker. Shell Chemicals wants to make drinking soda a good thing, by recycling the CO2 made from antifreeze production.
posted by dness2 at 3:38 PM on September 23, 2003


George_Spiggot - that's where "Natural Capitalism" comes in: the vast fortunes to be wrung out of the current ( absurd ) US economic inefficiencies, and the "materials and energy slender" manufacturing revolution which will shape the next century.

KirkjobSluder - Thanks for all the heavy lifting.
posted by troutfishing at 3:39 PM on September 23, 2003


In other environmental news: Toxic Flame Retardant Found in Breast Milk
posted by homunculus at 5:51 PM on September 23, 2003


homunculus - that's worthy of a post of it's own. I would swear I've seen recent research that shows that breast feeding reduces breast cancer risk.

The flushing of toxins into the mouths of babes. Creepy.
posted by troutfishing at 9:47 PM on September 23, 2003


1 pound = 453.59237 grams / 2.2grams = 206.226.796185 soda to one gallon gas. May be a small amount of CO2 but kids love it yet they don't drive cars.

I may be wrong on this, but it is my understanding that these are produced by condensing atmospheric CO2, and thus are not skewing the carbon balance.

So you are saying the CO2 that is in the air is condensed then re-packaged in soda pop? If that was true then the more carbonated drinks we make the more fossil fuels we can burn.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:04 PM on September 24, 2003


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