IPCC posts fifth update on climate change
September 27, 2013 2:13 AM   Subscribe

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its latest update.

Warming is unequivocal they say, though scientists who worked on it are still concerned that the world is not taking the threat seriously enough. While others have some suggestions about what could improve the Committee's cut-through.

The regular, Heartland Institute-sponsored denialist crowd are already hard at work trying to discredit it.

Journalists and concerned citizens will be tuning into the live webcast or picking through the Summary for Policymakers (PDF) for days to come, but basic questions about the IPCC and reports are already answered, and some countries - like Australia, who has just elected an all-but denialist government - can already read about a future where summers are 6 degrees (celsius) hotter, and 21%-36% of butterflies, 7%-14% of reptiles, 8%-18% of frogs, one in 10 birds and 10%-15% of mammals will become extinct.

Britain, on the other hand, could be facing serious cooling as the Gulf Stream slows.

One major theme of the report is dealing with the "pause" in the rate of warming - which has been due to multiple factors, none of which give cause for comfort.

Can and will the world react appropriately to this latest news? We can only hope so.
posted by smoke (152 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm more excited for when they release the technical summary. It gives a great overview of what studies they're basing the numbers in the Summary for Policymakers on, and sitting down and going through it with Wikipedia handy makes for a great primer on the basics of climate and ocean science.
posted by edeezy at 3:14 AM on September 27, 2013


[Sorry folks, big ol'derail deleted. three blind mice, if you want to link to something supporting your charge that the scientists are just lining their pockets, please do that, but don't just come jumping in to make such unsupported allegations in the very first comment. ]
posted by taz at 3:14 AM on September 27, 2013 [45 favorites]


I think British policy makers now have a bit of an unenviable task. Just deciding quite what to plan for is hard, getting any compliance will be a nightmare.
posted by Segundus at 3:39 AM on September 27, 2013


Thorium reactors now!
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:09 AM on September 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


You can have your thorium reactors now if you promise to build space-based solar/beamed microwave later.

And no phony, "We promise to wire all the schools for internet with those universal service fees" promises either!
posted by mikelieman at 4:12 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


21%-36% of butterflies, 7%-14% of reptiles, 8%-18% of frogs, one in 10 birds and 10%-15% of mammals will become extinct.

Holy shit, David Attenborough was right: humans are a fucking plague
posted by angrycat at 4:24 AM on September 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


angrycat: "Holy shit, David Attenborough was right: humans are a fucking plague"

Yes, the fucking is the problem; that's how they replicate
posted by chavenet at 4:25 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


21%-36% of butterflies, 7%-14% of reptiles, 8%-18% of frogs, one in 10 birds and 10%-15% of mammals will become extinct.

Holy shit, David Attenborough was right: humans are a fucking plague


Those figures are just for Australia, which I assume will be hit particularly hard. Still, scary stuff.
posted by Green Winnebago at 4:26 AM on September 27, 2013


The report summary does ignore fail to address the recent NYTimes report, describing a 15 year plateau in global warming trends, in the last 20 years. Perhaps more names on the preface would help me ignore this wildly speculative countervailing "evidence."
posted by paulsc at 4:33 AM on September 27, 2013


Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2. (spm-19)

I am in a sort of horrified awe. I mean I knew this, I guess, sort of...no, I really didn't. Even if we stopped CO2 emissions, we've screwed things up for centuries?
posted by mittens at 4:39 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


paulsc, the report addresses this on page 3: "In addition to robust multi-decadal warming, global mean surface temperature exhibits substantial decadal and interannual variability (see Figure SPM.1). Due to natural variability, trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends. As one example, the rate of warming over the past 15 years (1998–2012; 0.05 [–0.05 to +0.15] °C per decade), which begins with a strong El Niño, is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951 (1951–2012; 0.12 [0.08 to 0.14] °C per decade)."
posted by mittens at 4:41 AM on September 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


The report summary does ignore fail to address the recent NYTimes report

If you read past the first paragraph of the article that you just linked to, you will see that it contains no cause for comfort, or any cause to disbelieve the IPCC report.
posted by goethean at 4:43 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


"... Due to natural variability, trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends. ..."
posted by mittens at 7:41 AM on September 27 [+] [!]

Eh, if you think that prefacing any data that borks your ultimate conclusion with a disclaimer is somehow addressing that data, well...

Here's to Science!
posted by paulsc at 4:45 AM on September 27, 2013


The report summary does ignore fail to address the recent NYTimes report, describing a 15 year plateau in global warming trends, in the last 20 years. Perhaps more names on the preface would help me ignore this wildly speculative countervailing "evidence."

Apart from the fact that the plateau is mentioned several times in the OP alone, the article you link says nothing about that being evidence against anthropogenic climate change. Quite the opposite, actually:
As you might imagine, those dismissive of climate-change concerns have made much of this warming plateau. They typically argue that “global warming stopped 15 years ago” or some similar statement, and then assert that this disproves the whole notion that greenhouse gases are causing warming.

Rarely do they mention that most of the warmest years in the historical record have occurred recently. Moreover, their claim depends on careful selection of the starting and ending points. The starting point is almost always 1998, a particularly warm year because of a strong El Niño weather pattern.

Somebody who wanted to sell you gold coins as an investment could make the same kind of argument about the futility of putting your retirement funds into the stock market. If he picked the start date and the end date carefully enough, the gold salesman could make it look like the stock market did not go up for a decade or longer.

But that does not really tell you what your retirement money is going to do in the market over 30 or 40 years. It does not even tell you how you would have done over the cherry-picked decade, which would have depended on exactly when you got in and out of the market.

Scientists and statisticians reject this sort of selective use of numbers, and when they calculate the long-term temperature trends for the earth, they conclude that it continues to warm through time. Despite the recent lull, it is an open question whether the pace of that warming has undergone any lasting shift.
[...]
The deep-ocean theory is one of a half-dozen explanations that have been proffered for the warming plateau. Perhaps the answer will turn out to be some mix of all of them. And in any event, computer forecasts of climate change suggest that pauses in warming lasting a couple of decades should not surprise us.

Now, here is a crucial piece of background: It turns out we had an earlier plateau in global warming, from roughly the 1950s to the 1970s, and scientists do not fully understand that one either. A lot of evidence suggests that sunlight-blocking pollution from dirty factories may have played a role, as did natural variability in ocean circulation. The pollution was ultimately reduced by stronger clean-air laws in the West.

Today, factory pollution from China and other developing countries could be playing a similar role in blocking some sunlight. We will not know for sure until we send up satellites that can make better measurements of particles in the air.

What happened when the mid-20th-century lull came to an end? You guessed it: an extremely rapid warming of the planet.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:47 AM on September 27, 2013 [33 favorites]


Eh, if you think that prefacing any data that borks your ultimate conclusion with a disclaimer is somehow addressing that data, well...

Presumably the data is addressed in the actual big report, rather than the policymaker summary, which is what I am reading this morning.

But, yes, in general, prefacing data with a disclaimer, especially when that data represents a very small portion of the whole, is smarter and more honest than saying, "Look, the rate of warming slowed slightly--we're saved!" Because it's not like things cooled down...just warmed up more slowly.
posted by mittens at 4:53 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


"...Now, here is a crucial piece of background: It turns out we had an earlier plateau in global warming, from roughly the 1950s to the 1970s, and scientists do not fully understand that one either. ..."
posted by zombieflanders at 7:47 AM on September 27

The above might have been a telling pull quote for climate change deniers, but who says I'm one of those kooks? My back yard is prime shrimp hatching grounds in 30 years, if the "oceans are gonna rise" folk are right. If not, the real estate is bound to be worth a lot more than it is today. Either way, I profit, if I just live long enough.
posted by paulsc at 4:54 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Either way, I profit, if I just live long enough.

Wow, that's quite shortsighted. "Screw the next generation, I've got my profit."
posted by Pendragon at 5:02 AM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


none of us is going to profit if Katrina-levels of out migration start kicking off from the coastal cities.
posted by eustatic at 5:03 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe the title should read IPCC instead of IPPC?
posted by localroger at 5:03 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Thanks, localroger; fixed.]
posted by taz at 5:08 AM on September 27, 2013


The report summary does ignore fail to address the recent NYTimes report, describing a 15 year plateau in global warming trends, in the last 20 years

The linked op/ed in the OP by Richard Muller (""pause" in the rate of warming") is about this, and exactly why, from a physics point of view, the plateau offers little cause for optimism.
posted by escabeche at 5:14 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I believe the correct term is "Fuck you, I got mine".
posted by PenDevil at 5:14 AM on September 27, 2013 [12 favorites]




"Wow, that's quite shortsighted. Screw the next generations, I've got my profit."
posted by Pendragon at 8:02 AM on September 27

I inherited some lots my grandfather bought in Cape Coral, FL back in the early '60s. They're beautiful residential lots, near a fine canal that drained the property of Everglades swamp water, on which I still pay taxes, and annual mowing fees. The few houses around them, in what was then represented as a blossoming, growing retirement community, are mostly underwater, in financial terms, and any heirs to which I could will these turkeys would be happy to have them suddenly produce shrimp, on a rising sea level. Otherwise, they'll be lucky to clear real estate commissions on any sale, as dry land lots, and avoid the ongoing taxes and mowing fees. I fully expect it will cost them, as it has me, to deal with the damned things, no matter what they do.

You'd be amazed at how much unused land there is around the world, to which sea water, in constant supply and depth, would just be a blessing.
posted by paulsc at 5:16 AM on September 27, 2013


SO... global warming is over? We've won the global war on global warming?
posted by Mister_A at 5:29 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Let's go ahead and move on from how global warming might affect paulsc's personal property values. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 5:32 AM on September 27, 2013 [14 favorites]


"none of us is going to profit if Katrina-levels of out migration start kicking off from the coastal cities."
posted by eustatic at 8:03 AM on September 27

Eh, all of us that live in places where hurricanes can easily visit are hep to high water levels, storm surge, and the need for inland shelters, arranged well in advance. But, you know, this year, despite all long term forecasts to the contrary, so far, has been a dead quiet hurricane season. Could change on the next low pressure trough off Africa, but, really, dead quiet, unusually quiet, some say inexplicably quiet, so far, with only the waning hurricane season months of October and November, to get through.

I guess I'm sorry if current weather conditions aren't lining up with long term climate predictions, as being able to confidently predict our futures, decades out, could possibly improve human life. I'm not really anti-science, but I'm pretty happy about not having to evacuate 4 or 5 times this summer/fall, and somehow, I don't think this is all as simple as running some computer climate models that have been fed big data sets.
posted by paulsc at 5:33 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, I will controversially claim that the IPCC report still appears more credible than your cogent counterarguments. Possibly gut feeling isn't the best thing to base civilisation wide planning on or something.
posted by jaduncan at 5:39 AM on September 27, 2013 [32 favorites]


I guess I'm sorry if current weather conditions aren't lining up with long term climate predictions, as being able to confidently predict our futures, decades out, could possibly improve human life.

Climate =/= weather...

I'm not really anti-science, but I'm pretty happy about not having to evacuate 4 or 5 times this summer/fall, and somehow, I don't think this is all as simple as running some computer climate models that have been fed big data sets.

All models are simplifications. All scientists know that all models are simplifications. The question is whether they are useful simplifications, and it sounds like you're claiming to have some special knowledge that the current models are not. Why not share your knowledge with us, instead of just making the claim? And while you're at it, why not provide evidence that climate scientists haven't thought of it first and discussed it at length?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:41 AM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes, it is very nice to have some quiet weather. We have our windows open and are enjoying the first real autumn we've had in years. And yet that has nothing to do with the rise in sea levels and increase in monsoon precipitation that will cause the out-migration eustatic speaks of, or indeed the migration away from drought-stricken lands.
posted by mittens at 5:41 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


One major theme of the report is dealing with the "pause" in the rate of warming

Is it though? That there is even a "pause" in global warming at all is something disputed by many climate scientists. The article linked in the OP relating to the "pause" is by Richard A Muller, who is a past climate change denier, but has apparently changed his mind. Is the "pause" real, or is it a made-up controversy that is indulged by the media in order to present a faux-balance between the "two sides to the story"? When people claim there has been "no warming in the last 15 years", they are making use of the fact that 1997 was an unusually hot year - in other words they are cherry picking a hot end-point from a noisy data series in order to create an unrepresentative trend. I'm leaning towards thinking the "pause" is nonsense but I'd honestly like to know from someone knowledgeable about this stuff.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 5:43 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Related: a very thorough and readable summary of ocean heating at RealClimate
posted by fleetmouse at 5:46 AM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Richard A Muller, who is a past climate change denier

It is much more accurate to describe him as that rare thing, an authentic skeptic, not a denier but someone who felt that the evidence as of (say) the late 1990s wasn't sufficient to convince him that warming temperatures were tied to greenhouse gas emissions. But did he just sit on his couch emitting editorials? No -- he worked out what he thought people should really be measuring if they wanted to address the question to his satisfaction, and then he launched a big study, and now he's satisfied, and as a result of his work we have lots of fine-grained climate information we didn't have before. It's actually kind of an inspiring story!
posted by escabeche at 5:48 AM on September 27, 2013 [44 favorites]


You know what, I'm not that bothered by the denialists, doing what they do, even with the deleterious effect it is having on the planet and will have on future generations. Their funding is known, and it's pretty much assumed that it's Big Oil making sure no one cuts into their bottom line. It's the devil we know, so I can consider them reckless and selfish, but that's just a snake playing the ground game, as they say.

The ones that piss me off are people like my uncle. He has always been a staunch conservative, and a dedicated environmentalist (who bought a wind turbine and solar panels and got a kick out of making NiMo buy back his electricity) who, in recent years has simply stayed quiet and claimed he cannot say for certain that he knows what's happening with global warming and he'd be better off staying out of the conversation. The ones that are so scared of rocking the boat, they'll pretend they don't notice we've been taking on water, even as it's climbing past their belt line.

There are a lot of people who need to start speaking up for the scientists who have been screaming at the top of their lungs for decades, now.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 5:52 AM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


I really don't think we're going to convince paulsc here, because I'm not clear on what would.

The main problem isn't convincing people that global warming is a pressing issue, although it is a problem, the problem is convincing them that we should be doing something about it. Its pretty hard to get people to worry about problems in the future, especially if they have problems in there here and now. I'm honestly still hoping for a magical technological solution because I'm really not convinced politics is going to solve this problem. This doesn't mean we need to give up of course, just that I wonder if we need a large scale disaster that is obviously caused by global warming to motivate us (and I suspect it would be quite difficult to obtain the "obviously caused" part of it)
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:53 AM on September 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't think this is all as simple as running some computer climate models that have been fed big data sets.

I can't decide which response to go with here. I like them both, so just take your pick.

1) "It's really telling that you think gathering massive sets of accurate data and doing detailed analysis with computerized models is a really simple thing."

2) "Right. It's not as simple as detailed data analysis, but, counter-intuitively, it is as simple as looking out my window in the fall or reading the first paragraph of one NYT article. That's all I need to shut down this nonsense science talk. One paragraph and a window. BRING IT ON IPCC!"
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:55 AM on September 27, 2013 [43 favorites]


The more you know, the more you know you don't know and the more you know that you don't know. One can easily invert this line of logic when examining airy dismissals.
posted by jaduncan at 5:57 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Feelings and unexamined personal beliefs are far more important than all the data in the world. Sorry Google.
posted by aramaic at 5:58 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


unexamined personal beliefs

Speaking of, I am so glad there was no mention of the climate running away to Venus levels of heat and toxicity. My overly-examined personal fear (if not belief) involves a lot of we're-all-going-to-die scenarios.
posted by mittens at 5:59 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Intergovernmental Panel on Folksy Wisdom has released its latest reckon
posted by theodolite at 6:08 AM on September 27, 2013 [55 favorites]


And buried deep in the IPFW reckon is their finding that we all are, in fact, going to die.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:11 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


The global death rate has dropped from 2003 to present: DEATH HAS BEEN CONQUERED.
posted by mittens at 6:15 AM on September 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


I find it fascinating and scary that the future of our planet hinges on getting people to accept the application of the scientific method to one of the most complex, hard-to-model systems imaginable.

I'm an environmentalist and a supporter of science but I also know a bit about complex systems and just how crazily hard it is to model the climate of our planet. E.g. the models still struggle to deal with fundamental things like clouds and ocean storage of heat, and the feedback processes arising thereof. So you have the strange situation in which several different incredibly complex models get built, and the results come out differently and so they average them together. Think about that. Imagine two huge books, each full of incredibly complex calculations. At the end of the books you get two different numbers. What sense does it make to take an average?

This doesn't mean that I doubt climate change is happening - I think it most probably is, but we should not overestimate our ability to model it. This also means that the environmentalists vs denialists debate is never going to go away, in the same way that the debate between political left and right is destined never to go away. Even if we're all under 10m of seawater and the temperature goes up 10 degrees, the denialists will still be claiming it would have happened anyway. Not necessarily because they are deluded (although they might be), but because the situation is so complex that nothing is ever going to get conclusively settled.

In summary: The debate is never going to end, our ability to model is limited, where does this leave us in terms of global collaborative action?
posted by memebake at 6:19 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


"... Why not share your knowledge with us, instead of just making the claim? And while you're at it, why not provide evidence that climate scientists haven't thought of it first and discussed it at length?"
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:41 AM on September 27

Because:

1) I don't have any special knowledge.
2) It's not on me to explain the failures of computer models to predict average global temperatures, or today's weather, it's on the authors and promulgators of those models.

What explains this year's hurricane season, or for that matter, increasing Antarctic and Arctic sea ice? When do data that don't fit predictive models, contribute to "truth," because they don't fit?

When should models that don't predict the present accurately, be trusted to predict the future? Or is every non-predicted result bound to be just an individual pimple on the face of a greater Chicken Little narrative?
posted by paulsc at 6:21 AM on September 27, 2013


The reason those debates are never going to go away is ironically enough, the same reason.

Because there's a lot of money flowing from short-term corporate interests, invested in making sure their respective businesses aren't damaged by any changes to the status quo of self-regulation.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 6:21 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't have any special knowledge.

Then why should we care what you think?

What explains this year's hurricane season, or for that matter, increasing Antarctic and Arctic sea ice?

The sea ice thing is a lie. The hurricane thing (and the "tomorrow's weather" thing) is saying that since I can't predict the path of a specific molecule, I can't predict that the room won't heat up if I put a heater in it.

Oh, and the plane took off.
posted by dirigibleman at 6:28 AM on September 27, 2013 [31 favorites]


The debate is never going to end, our ability to model is limited, where does this leave us in terms of global collaborative action?

It is not that the debate is never going to end. We are just waiting for politicians to (a) learn the science, or (b) be replaced by people who know the science. My one point of optimism here is the history of Margaret Thatcher solving the CFC problem. Obviously global warming is a bigger issue, with more money tied up in not solving it. But I don't think you need global collaborative action to start...you just need one or two big players demonstrating that you can take action without bankrupting yourself.
posted by mittens at 6:28 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


What explains this year's hurricane season, or for that matter, increasing Antarctic and Arctic sea ice?

It’s a record since 2009, yes. Otherwise, not so much. In fact, it’s the sixth lowest on record, and would have been a record low in 2006.

If you start your graph from the lowest point you can always show an increase, unless the lowest point is occuring exactly now. In which case, you just wait a bit.
posted by dng at 6:29 AM on September 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


It seems to me one of the biggest problems is inaction caused by a lack of focus in Climate Change activism or policy.

OK Climate Changes exists, we know what its going to do, we know what's causing it: what do we do? *ten thousand hands pop up to offer ten thousand solutions, some of which conflict and others of which are fake and/or funded by oil companies*
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:34 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


mittens: We are just waiting for politicians to (a) learn the science ...

Well, I hope you're right, but my point was the science is number-crunching on an unimaginable scale, and there's only so much confidence you can squeeze out of a such a complex endeavour.
posted by memebake at 6:35 AM on September 27, 2013


The hurricane thing (and the "tomorrow's weather" thing) is saying that since I can't predict the path of a specific molecule, I can't predict that the room won't heat up if I put a heater in it.

The hurricane thing is pretty interesting (here is a Mother Jones piece on it)...the same conditions that people thought would cause intensification of storms, can also serve to disrupt the storms, preventing them from becoming hurricanes.
posted by mittens at 6:35 AM on September 27, 2013


dirigibleman The hurricane thing (and the "tomorrow's weather" thing) is saying that since I can't predict the path of a specific molecule, I can't predict that the room won't heat up if I put a heater in it.

Sorry to be pedantic, but you've hit on quite a good metaphor for what I'm trying to say there. Modelling a room with a heater in it to determine whether the room will heat up or not is more complex than you might think. What are the walls made of and how thick are they and what are the insulation properties? What is the configuration of the walls and how does that affect warm air/cold air circulation? Where are the windows, how big are they, how thick are they? How often does the door open and close? What is the power supply to the heater? Is there a chimney?
posted by memebake at 6:40 AM on September 27, 2013


You'd be amazed at how much unused land there is around the world, to which sea water, in constant supply and depth, would just be a blessing.

I, as a dutchman, don't see sea water as a blessing.
posted by Pendragon at 6:41 AM on September 27, 2013 [14 favorites]


I also know a bit about complex systems and just how crazily hard it is to model the climate of our planet. E.g. the models still struggle to deal with fundamental things like clouds and ocean storage of heat, and the feedback processes arising thereof.

My favorite part is how when the models are wrong they almost invariably turn to have been too optimistic.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:41 AM on September 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


Modelling a room with a heater in it to determine whether the room will heat up or not is more complex than you might think.

I do see your point, absolutely, about the complexity of the modeling, but if you're worried about the room heating up, wouldn't you want to cut through the complexity, by first removing the heater?
posted by mittens at 6:46 AM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Of all the strands of nutbar denialism the one I find most interesting is the "climate scientists are lining their pockets!" one. It is so utterly loopy that it hurts your head trying to imagine how its proponents understand the world. I mean, leave aside the fact that it's not actually the case that climate scientists are demanding that they be paid money to solve this problem--that the actions they are urging are not, in fact, ones that would directly line their pockets (they aren't saying "you must build this giant climate cooling machine for which I happen to have a patent"). No, what really gets me is that in order to believe in this idea you somehow have to believe that in the years before global climate change emerged as a consensus in the field the only people who were drawn to the study of climatology and the only people who succeeded in advancing in the field were amoral psychopaths who would happily abandon any scientific rigor if they saw a chance to make a profit. Somehow no other academic discipline had this problem (because, really, what scientific community would be incapable of issuing a grave warning that we are all going to die from Reasons? And if that is a surefire way to "line your pockets" what is stopping those other fields if not some genuine committment to scientific truth which, somehow, permeated every single scientific field in global academe other than climatology?). So to really believe this nonsense you have to somehow imagine that back in the 60s and 70s if you were a budding scientist looking to choose a field of study and you were also a psychopathic liar who cared only for personal profit, the one field that would sing its siren song of corruption and personal enrichment to you would have been...climatology.
posted by yoink at 6:51 AM on September 27, 2013 [47 favorites]


The debate is never going to end
I suspect, actually, that someday it will
posted by Golem XIV at 6:51 AM on September 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Modelling a room with a heater in it to determine whether the room will heat up or not is more complex than you might think.

I think the controversy over whether heaters tend to heat rooms up or not has yielded to robust empirical study.
posted by yoink at 6:53 AM on September 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


mittens: I do see your point, absolutely, about the complexity of the modeling, but if you're worried about the room heating up, wouldn't you want to cut through the complexity, by first removing the heater?

Right, well then we're talking about the Precautionary Principle instead of the difficulty of modelling. The Precautionary Principle is a strong argument, but it is not an always-beats-everything trump card.
posted by memebake at 6:54 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


yoink: I think the controversy over whether heaters tend to heat rooms up or not has yielded to robust empirical study.

But thats not the question. The question is: given a _specific_ room and a _specific_ heater, will the room heat up? Scientifically, its a very hard question.
posted by memebake at 6:55 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Scientifically, its a very hard question.

Well, I was mostly just making with the humor, but unless I'm misunderstanding something the question that is hard to model is not whether the room will warm up but how much. If you put a heater in a room (and remember to turn it on) and change nothing else that room will warm up or you've discovered a serious problem with our understanding of thermodynamics.
posted by yoink at 7:01 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Unless all the doors and windows are left open. Or the room is the size of an aircraft hangar. Or the room is encased in ice. Or the room has evolved its very own complex climate that soaks up energy and leads to all kinds of feedback loops. etc etc
posted by memebake at 7:04 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


mittens: "The global death rate has dropped from 2003 to present: DEATH HAS BEEN CONQUERED."

The global death rate is still 100% though, right?
posted by chavenet at 7:05 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it's that hopeless, then why do climate science at all?
posted by dirigibleman at 7:05 AM on September 27, 2013


dirigibleman: If it's that hopeless, then why do climate science at all?

We still have to try. But we need to keep in mind the limitations. I go on about this because I'm very interested in the scientific method and how it's designed to combat human bias and error, and what its limitations are.
posted by memebake at 7:13 AM on September 27, 2013


The global death rate is still 100% though, right?

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:16 AM on September 27, 2013


Well, it will be useful to know how quickly everything on the planet will die.
posted by agregoli at 7:16 AM on September 27, 2013


There's some sub-Youtube comment-level trolling going on in this thread.

> An intergovernmental agency has predicted that x% of species are going to go extinct because of industrial pollution.

> Yeah, that'll be great for my shrimp farm in Florida!

> ????
posted by goethean at 7:27 AM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Of all the strands of nutbar denialism the one I find most interesting is the "climate scientists are lining their pockets!" one.

Actually I think the main issue is risk/reward of taking action or ignoring it.


If the scientists are right and we do nothing: weather instability, global food insecurity, spread of malaria, war, loss of many species, loss of several major population centers, massive human death and suffering, etc. Big Oil does great until the global economy utterly collapses.

If the deniers are right and we do nothing: status quo, continued pollution and its health effects. Big Oil continues to make money until the oil runs out and *then* we have instability, wars, setback to civilization etc.


If the scientists are right AND we clean up: we don't die, better energy security, cleaner air, less disease, boost to the economy from new technologies and infrastructure. Big Oil probably takes a hit in profits unless they learn to adapt.

If the deniers are right AND we clean up: we don't die, better energy security, cleaner air, less disease, boost to the economy from new technologies and infrastructure. Big Oil probably takes a hit in profits unless they learn to adapt.


Why is this a hard choice?
posted by Foosnark at 7:27 AM on September 27, 2013 [34 favorites]


From the webcast link

"The language has become more complicated to understand, but it is more precise."

I guess this encapsulates the challenges that plague many policy debates. Some people prefer simple explanations, its less work. Demands of modern life etc. For me, the central premise is trusting the scientific method versus having some sort of more atavistic belief. I trust the discipline which has delivered disease eradication, semiconductors, nano, LHC...it just seems logical. Its great to see the idea of science education becoming an actual genre with the good work of Krauss, Dawkins, deGrasse-Tyson and so on. This hits the problem at its core.
posted by sfts2 at 7:29 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why is this a hard choice?

Because it is in the short-to-medium-term interests of Capital to make it a hard choice.
posted by brennen at 7:37 AM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


> Yes, it is very nice to have some quiet weather. We have our windows open and are enjoying the first real autumn we've had in years. And yet that has nothing to do with the rise in sea levels and increase in monsoon precipitation that will cause the out-migration eustatic speaks of, or indeed the migration away from drought-stricken lands.

Global Warming Crisis Makes For Delightful Mid-February Afternoon
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:44 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why is this a hard choice?

You answered your own question:

Big Oil does great until the global economy utterly collapses.
posted by mrgroweler at 7:44 AM on September 27, 2013


If the scientists are right AND we clean up: we don't die, better energy security, cleaner air, less disease, boost to the economy from new technologies and infrastructure. Big Oil probably takes a hit in profits unless they learn to adapt.

You're presupposing that boost to the economy, as well as that the new technologies and infrastructure will lead to more (or at least the same amount of) useful energy. I think they will (never bet against science being able to do anything in the long term), but it's by no means certain.
posted by Etrigan at 7:47 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


All it takes to reverse the situation is one smallish super-volcano eruption, heavy dust layer world wide triggering a new ice age that rolls over all the New England cities in a few years. Can't blame that on the auto industry.... oops, frack(ing)...
posted by sammyo at 7:47 AM on September 27, 2013



Of all the strands of nutbar denialism the one I find most interesting is the "climate scientists are lining their pockets!" one.


I agree. So according to that idea they're faking data to get money to continue to study something that doesn't exist?
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:48 AM on September 27, 2013


It's like Pascal's wager, only it's our kids that get the short end of the stick.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:52 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a maybe guy in his fifties in my class opine last week that now all the Arctic ice was back, some scientists were wrong once, won't get fooled again. I gaped at him until I realized that quite a few of the other students were eying him with hate, and then I was all, dude, writing class. I mean, it gets hard to deal with the stupidity, you know?

Which is why I think we're doomed. I'm apathetic now, because I value my peace of mind. Maybe if I had a kid I'd be different? I dunno.

Anyways, if Obama okays Keystone we are fucking doomed and maybe we are anyway and you are all invited to party at my pad like it's '99
posted by angrycat at 7:53 AM on September 27, 2013


UN '95% sure' humans cause warming

Denialist Reaction:
...So you're telling me there's a chance? YEAH! /Lloyd Christmas
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 7:56 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


What explains this year's hurricane season, or for that matter, increasing Antarctic and Arctic sea ice?

You know how those graphs that show annual readings and long-term trends are made up of lots of little zig-zags, and the zigs go up and the zags go down?

This year was a zig.
posted by rory at 8:04 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is much more accurate to describe him as that rare thing, an authentic skeptic, not a denier but someone who felt that the evidence as of (say) the late 1990s wasn't sufficient to convince him that warming temperatures were tied to greenhouse gas emissions. But did he just sit on his couch emitting editorials? No -- he worked out what he thought people should really be measuring if they wanted to address the question to his satisfaction, and then he launched a big study, and now he's satisfied, and as a result of his work we have lots of fine-grained climate information we didn't have before. It's actually kind of an inspiring story!

To be honest with you, and please don't take offence, but this kind of comment (and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to it) is a good example of what I don't like about Internet arguments about controversial topics (e.g. climate change). Instead of addressing the main point of my post (which was to ask if the "pause" in warming was real or not) your post seizes on whether I should call Muller a "skeptic" or a "denier", in other words a socially acceptable or non-socially acceptable doubter. This is exactly the kind if linguistic hair-splitting that makes these discussions a drag, and why I am now going to bow out.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 8:08 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


climate change is a controversial topic?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:22 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Unless all the doors and windows are left open. Or the room is the size of an aircraft hangar. Or the room is encased in ice. Or the room has evolved its very own complex climate that soaks up energy and leads to all kinds of feedback loops. etc etc

In every single one of those cases the heater would make the room warmer.
posted by yoink at 8:22 AM on September 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yes, the real question is how much warmer, and we now have fairly definitive answers on that, despite it being a tough question with very complicated answers, and complicated explorations of other possible answers.

The scientists have done their job. What do the economists say about the potential consequences of turning off the heater? What is the worst case, best case, and expected case?

People who say that addressing climate change will destroy our economy have better have solid evidence, because let's just say that I'm skeptical that you're correct on that.
posted by Llama-Lime at 8:28 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Having watched the way climate "skeptics" and deniers are talking, it reminds me so much of creationist/"intelligent design" attacks on evolution. So many of them seem to be nitpicks, finding the little piece here or there that has a small hole, and attacking it. Then declaring victory on the whole premise, as if the theory is a house of cards that will fall apart if any problem is found. And of course, as more data is collected, there will be more opportunities to nitpick (after all, if there are 100 pieces of data, with 99% correct, there's one bad item. If there are million, then there are 10,000 bad items.)

Yet that's not how it works. You don't get to poke a hole and declare victory by default. Newton's laws of motion weren't thrown out when relativity came into the picture. Evolution isn't disproven when a hole is found - instead, the theory is improved. Climate change isn't disproven by the recent decrease in warming - it's an opportunity to improve models and understanding of the climate.

If they really want to show that climate change isn't happening, stop nitpicking and start contributing to our understanding of the climate. Provide a better theory and model. A nitpick won't change the fact that CO2 is currently our only working explanation for Earth's climate history, for example.
posted by evilangela at 8:39 AM on September 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


As long as the issue of AGW is still considered as something to debate, the backers of the denier position are still winning and we can't get to the important work of discussing what's possible.

There are 1000 other reasons besides AGW for not consuming non-renewable resources as fast as possible, and for not polluting so indiscriminately. Claiming that there's no consensus around AGW is simply the most convenient crutch for the selfish to resist any change.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:42 AM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh, and while we're at it, I can't believe people are still talking about keeping warming to 2 °C. Here's a nice talk explaining how reports are still being ridiculously optimistic in regards to CO2 emissions. (Spoiler - to stay under 2 °C now, we pretty much need magic.)
posted by evilangela at 8:43 AM on September 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


We still have to try. But we need to keep in mind the limitations. I go on about this because I'm very interested in the scientific method and how it's designed to combat human bias and error, and what its limitations are.

OK, then what are the errors in the various climate models? How big are the variances between different models? Are the results within their respective uncertainties? Are you saying the uncertainties are over- or under-optimistic? You complain that "they" merely average the results of models together. Is that literally what they do? If so what should they do instead? For example, Figure 3.2 in the 2007 report shows projected global surface warming for different scenarios. Now, the lines are presumably the "averages", but they also include uncertainties to the right of the graph, implying that there's not "merely" an averaging, but some sort of error analysis is applied. What's wrong with that analysis? Because all of the models show warming even in the most optimistic case (except somehow keeping CO2 concentration at 2000 values).

Anyway, the point of my heater-in-the-room analogy is that dismissing long-term global climate research because of uncertainties in short-term local weather reports is equivalent to dismissing a thermodynamical model of a room with a heater in it because it can't track the path of individual molecules.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:56 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Of all the strands of nutbar denialism the one I find most interesting is the "climate scientists are lining their pockets!" one.

Seriously. People who say that must have never met a scientist outside the pharmaceutical industry. People I know whose science is related to climate change lives in a modest old house or apartment and drives around in a beat up old car or ride a bike. Plus they are usually people who are smarter than most people I know in the business world but gave that path off because they care about the world and love science.

There might some cases of *private companies* making money off climate change indirectly (solar providers, coal scrubbers), but:

1) If they are providing a useful product and making money, isn't that what the free market is all about?

2) If not, guess what Republicans? It's because there's not enough REGULATION which is probably your Congresspeople's fault for bitching about "too much regulation" all the time.

I personally gave up environmental science for programming partly because the money sucked and I couldn't afford to go to school any longer. So yeah, dumb and hypocritical argument.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:02 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Llama-Lime, turning the tables on the deniers may turn out to be a brilliant strategy. People love the overcoming adversity narrative, and don't want to listen to the doomsday scenario (as the climate scientists have unfortunately discovered). Maybe it's time for Obama to pump a bit of 'Yes-we-can'-ism into a 'We can solve this problem and those big oil loving economic doomsday folks are just party poopers' type narrative.

It's time for Act II - the training montage. Unfortunately we still haven't hit the 'Dark night of the soul' part of the story formula.
posted by TwoWordReview at 9:09 AM on September 27, 2013


Just browsing older posts, check out this amazing follow up by kliuless from yesterday about the Cost of Climate Change..
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:12 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not really anti-science, but...

Yes, you are.
posted by samofidelis at 9:14 AM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I am starting to get cautiously optimistic. I live in Minnesota, where there is little reason to own an electric car -- commutes are short, gas is cheap, there is no state incentive, and it gets really cold which kills performance. Still I see about one a day. Solar panels are creeping into middle class neighborhoods. Wind farms seem like they're everywhere in the country. These things are only symbols right now-- but they're powerful symbols, people see them and realize that they can help tackle this problem. Five years ago I never would have thought you could get an electric car for a small price premium over an average car, and yet here we are. Everything seems impossible until it happens.
posted by miyabo at 9:19 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]



There might some cases of *private companies* making money off climate change indirectly (solar providers, coal scrubbers), but:

1) If they are providing a useful product and making money, isn't that what the free market is all about?


Yes, exactly.

If someone really believes that climate change is a problem that needs to be solved, and can offer products and/or services that can help address the problem, wouldn't that be a GOOD thing? Aren't they doing exactly what they're supposed to do in a capitalistic society?
posted by evilangela at 9:19 AM on September 27, 2013


So, I googled "millionaire climatologist" - with the quotes. All the millionaires in the results turned out to be on the denial side. For smart people, these climatologists certainly are bad at gaming the system.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:31 AM on September 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


These damn scientists are just raking in the money from publishing their papers!
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:39 AM on September 27, 2013


dirigibleman: OK, then what are the errors in the various climate models? How big are the variances between different models? Are the results within their respective uncertainties? Are you saying the uncertainties are over- or under-optimistic? You complain that "they" merely average the results of models together. Is that literally what they do? If so what should they do instead?

Its complicated. You know how when you do science experiments at school you're taught to measure the experimental error so that you can give a +/- range on the result? The way those errors are calculated depends on all kinds of assumptions about the spread of possible errors etc. So determining the 'range of error' for something humongous like a climate model is a big problem in itself. There's no agreed way of doing it, because it comes down to lots of judgements about the 'shape' of possible errors in the data and processes. So I'm not aware that they really publish any official error range for the models themselves.

When they talk about the Multi-Model Ensemble Approach they are running multiple models and taking an average of the results. There are quite a lot of papers discussing whether this is a sensible thing to do or not. But to me, it seems kind of odd

Here's an interesting one - run the same model with the same data on different hardware and you get different results, and the divergence increases over time. This is not suprisinging at all if you're familiar with software rounding errors and the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

I think they're doing the best they can - this FAQ about model reliability explains it pretty well - but I guess I'm trying to communicate that when I read about these models I see a mind boggling amount of complexity, layers and layers of very heavy statistical treatment, and lots of debate about every methodological point. This is not straightforward stuff in any way.
posted by memebake at 9:46 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just finished reading Dorris Lessing's Mara and Dann, which was written in the late '90s and is an interesting meditation on the profound social changes that inevitable climate change patterns--anthropogenic or otherwise--may have over the thousands-of-years spectrum. Yes it's fiction, but yes it's good to think about planning on these timescales to try to avoid the hardship that's going to be inevitable for lots of species, including our own.

An interesting part of Lessing's thoughts on the matter is how quickly and thoroughly dramatic population shifts can erase lots of valuable information. I'd hope that we could figure out strategies to ensure that so much is not lost as we grapple with change. Intergovernmental policy is what we have to work with now; is there something like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault for human knowledge?
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:57 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess I'm trying to communicate that when I read about these models I see a mind boggling amount of complexity, layers and layers of very heavy statistical treatment, and lots of debate about every methodological point. This is not straightforward stuff in any way.

Assuming you're not a climate scientist yourself, doesn't the fact that 95+% of the experts in the field are pretty much in consensus that there's AGW going on, and it's going to be significant, carry any weight with you? And that it's likely they're better at this stuff than you are?
posted by Artful Codger at 10:10 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


We are all going to be looked at as "Good Germans" when this all comes to pass.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:11 AM on September 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


What does 95% certainty mean?
posted by mittens at 10:19 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the scientists are right AND we clean up: we don't die, better energy security, cleaner air, less disease, boost to the economy from new technologies and infrastructure. Big Oil probably takes a hit in profits unless they learn to adapt.

If the deniers are right AND we clean up: we don't die, better energy security, cleaner air, less disease, boost to the economy from new technologies and infrastructure. Big Oil probably takes a hit in profits unless they learn to adapt.


Why is this a hard choice?


Because unicorns don't exist.
posted by srboisvert at 10:27 AM on September 27, 2013


you get different results, and the divergence increases over time. This is not suprisinging at all if you're familiar with software rounding errors and the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions.
Sure - the linearized sensitivity of weather to perturbations grows exponentially with time. That's literally characteristic number one of a chaotic differential equation. If you try to simulate a chaotic equation and you don't see different results when you tweak something like the rounding rules, then you did something wrong.

But chaotic equations can have attractors. We call the attractor for weather "climate", and we get it out of models by doing averaging over time, space, and initial conditions. Do you have any reason to expect the sensitivity of these integrated results to perturbations to be significant? I would expect the opposite.

You're right that climate modeling is ridiculously hard to get right and frighteningly easy to get silently wrong, but finding that non-integrated quantities of interest are sensitive to perturbations isn't strong evidence for "wrong", it's (extremely weak) evidence for "right".
posted by roystgnr at 10:29 AM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


memebake, I'm not sure what your background is, but as a computational biologist, I have no idea what you're getting on about. Model averaging and ensemble approaches are very common technique to improve prediction performance in computing. I've been wracking my brain for examples where a reviewer would consider model averaging a case for concern, in any field whatsoever, and coming up empty. What is odd about this?

These are simulations of chaotic systems, and they want to remove dependence on initial conditions, so ensemble within a single model is the only thing that makes sense. Ensemble between models makes even more sense, to remove the outliers and better estimate confidence intervals.

And the abstracts themselves of the articles that you're linking to seem to refute your very points. For example, the second sentence in your Multi-Model Ensemble Approach link is "To the extent that simulation errors in different AOGCMs are independent, the mean of the ensemble can be expected to outperform individual ensemble members, thus providing an improved ‘best estimate’ forecast," which directly explains why they would use it. So even if you didn't know already that ensemble approaches improve accuracy, you should have known that if you read what you're linking to.
Here's an interesting one - run the same model with the same data on different hardware and you get different results, and the divergence increases over time. This is not suprisinging at all if you're familiar with software rounding errors and the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions.
This is not the least bit surprising to anyone who has done any modeling (try simple ODE simulators with double vs. single precision floating point!). In the abstract it states that the differences between architectures are similar to the differences between different initial conditions. Climate modelers have been pioneers of this type of modeling, and since the beginning of computing they've been improving our understanding of these types of systems. When I want to do similar things in biology, climate modelers are some of the first people I'd ask about numerical precision, dealing with varying initial conditions, and all that stuff.

Yes, this is complex, but it's science. Unless you're doing the problems in a freshman physics textbook, the world is a complex place and so is the science. And as soon as you take that freshman physics outside of problems at the end of chapters and use it in the real world, the complexities become apparent. How's that 3 body problem going? It's a "simple" setup that any freshmen physicist encounters if they do anything outside of the book, but it's also a chaotic problem highly dependent on initial conditions. Do we give up on modeling asteroid/Saturn V rocket stages trajectories because of it? No, we just look to see what accuracy we can reasonably expect, and see how far out we can predict on our computers based on the accuracy of our measurements and the accuracy of our models.

For some reason, climate modelers have gotten the short end of the stick, and people just assume that they're idiots that don't know what they're doing, that don't have controls, that don't doubt their conclusions and try to prove them wrong. This is just false, and you don't have to be an expert to know that it's false. Because even if they weren't practicing solid science, their prediction performance over past decades should be enough proof to show that they're doing a hell of a job, and if anything, they should have been far more alarmist and far less conservative in their claims.
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:30 AM on September 27, 2013 [20 favorites]


Its complicated.

Indeed. And every single one of the scientists knows this. Yet they put their confidence at 95% or more. Why is that?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:32 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Assuming you're not a climate scientist yourself, doesn't the fact that 95+% of the experts in the field are pretty much in consensus that there's AGW going on and it's going to be significant? And that it's likely they're better at this stuff than you are?

Without taking a degree in climate science, a masters in statistical analysis, building my own supercomputer climate model, and personally visiting all of the data gathering stations to see if they are working right, there is no way for me personally to validate any of this. So yes I just have to trust the scientists. I trust science - over the longish term - but trusting scientists is a bit different. The whole point of the scientific method is to act as a check-and-balance against the biases of individual scientists. But yes consensus between scientists does count for something.

Faced with an intractable problem - trying to predict whats going to happen to the climate - the IPCC has taken the approach of getting consensus from experts. This makes sense as an approach.

But when you get 100 experts in a room and get them to reach a consensus on something (e.g. consensus on how to statistically combine the results of different climate models) you're doing something of value, but its not "science" per se. Science is - approximately - coming up with models that match repeatable experimental results.

So the IPCC report is a combination of science and informed consensus. They are doing the best they can with what they've got.

This means that when the IPCC say they are 95% confident in something, they mean exactly that - they've had a think about how confident they feel, and they reckon 95%. That's completely different to a 95% statistical confidence interval, although it sounds very similar.
posted by memebake at 10:33 AM on September 27, 2013


Imagine two huge books, each full of incredibly complex calculations. At the end of the books you get two different numbers. What sense does it make to take an average?

Its complicated. You know how when you do science experiments at school you're taught to measure the experimental error so that you can give a +/- range on the result? The way those errors are calculated depends on all kinds of assumptions about the spread of possible errors etc. So determining the 'range of error' for something humongous like a climate model is a big problem in itself. There's no agreed way of doing it, because it comes down to lots of judgements about the 'shape' of possible errors in the data and processes. So I'm not aware that they really publish any official error range for the models themselves.


Well, I appreciate that you see how complex the science behind climate change is, but you do realize that trying to apply a grade six understanding of how statistics actually works isn't really helpful here, right? I'm not going to sit down and explain the statistics in depth to you because quite frankly, even as a university researcher that isn't my field of expertise, and I defer to experts with PhDs who have spent all their lives studying statistics to analyze if my data and observations are relevant or not (which should again give you an idea of how much you're missing in your grade-six characterization of statistics), but the whole scientific process has the concept of knowing how likely we are to be wrong, and by what degree, built into it. Do you realize that your concerns have been considered and well-addressed by professionals applying expert statistical methods, and that even in the best case scenarios, global warming is very much happening and very much going to have a large impact?

Furthermore, yes, it's impossible to build a perfect model. But the same can be said for any field; to build a perfect model of anything defeats the point of building a model because the whole reason why we build models is to strip down phenomena to their most relevant points. That is why models have predictive power. Granted, because we strip down the model and eliminate some points that contribute in tiny ways or add variability, the model isn't going to give us exact information - but that's the whole point of statistics in the first place, to tell us how much the model is likely to be off. And when virtually every model out there predicts a change in climate that is going to change life as we know it on Earth, hmm, I think we have something going there.

So honestly, you're kind of applying grade six popular science ideas to criticize something that you acknowledge as very, very complex. And it's kind of frustrating from a scientific perspective that you're doing that, because I don't know, we kind of do real science here?
posted by Conspire at 10:34 AM on September 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


This means that when the IPCC say they are 95% confident in something, they mean exactly that - they've had a think about how confident they feel, and they reckon 95%. That's completely different to a 95% statistical confidence interval, although it sounds very similar.

... Is it enough though, to say the matter is proved beyond (uneducated) debate and we should be more actively researching and discussing solutions?
posted by Artful Codger at 10:37 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Llama-Lime: I've been wracking my brain for examples where a reviewer would consider model averaging a case for concern, in any field whatsoever, and coming up empty. What is odd about this?

The paper I linked in my post is specifically about that.
Among these challenges are that the number of models in these ensembles is usually small, their distribution in the model or parameter space is unclear, and that extreme behavior is often not sampled. Model skill in simulating present-day climate conditions is shown to relate only weakly to the magnitude of predicted change. It is thus unclear by how much the confidence in future projections should increase based on improvements in simulating present-day conditions, a reduction of intermodel spread, or a larger number of models. Averaging model output may further lead to a loss of signal—for example, for precipitation change where the predicted changes are spatially heterogeneous, such that the true expected change is very likely to be larger than suggested by a model average. Last, there is little agreement on metrics to separate “good” and “bad” models, and there is concern that model development, evaluation, and posterior weighting or ranking are all using the same datasets. While the multimodel average appears to still be useful in some situations, these results show that more quantitative methods to evaluate model performance are critical to maximize the value of climate change projections from global models.
posted by memebake at 10:39 AM on September 27, 2013


mittens: "It is not that the debate is never going to end. We are just waiting for politicians to (a) learn the science, or (b) be replaced by people who know the science. My one point of optimism here is the history of Margaret Thatcher solving the CFC problem. Obviously global warming is a bigger issue, with more money tied up in not solving it. But I don't think you need global collaborative action to start...you just need one or two big players demonstrating that you can take action without bankrupting yourself."

This is a good point. If one or two developed nations adopted actual working programs to get their emissions under control and their economies didn't plunge into recession, it would be a powerful proof of concept to the other countries of the world: we can tackle this problem without going broke. But the countries would have to be be bellwether types, places that the rest of the world looks up to. (If it was just Holland and Japan, say, they might be seen as special cases.) Germany is already there. Now who's next?
posted by Kevin Street at 10:41 AM on September 27, 2013


Ok, so look at the last sentence: "While the multimodel average appears to still be useful in some situations, these results show that more quantitative methods to evaluate model performance are critical to maximize the value of climate change projections from global models." This paper is not about whether or not to use model averaging, but about how to best do it in practice, and how to get the most information out of model averaging.
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:48 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Thanks for getting stuck in everyone. Re: my background: first degree in mathematics some time ago but admittedly not much stats recently. I should re-emphasise that I do believe in AGW, and I'm doing what I can to help prevent it. I could list my environmental credentials here if you like but it would get a bit dull. Its just that I'm also a 'scientist' and I'm interested in the limits of science, and I perceive the IPCC to be bravely bumping up against those limits)
posted by memebake at 10:48 AM on September 27, 2013


Why is this a hard choice?

srboisvert: Because unicorns don't exist.

Actually, they do. 100% renewable energy is achievable by 2050
posted by kaspen at 10:51 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


To be fair, let's address a bad argument from the other side of the aisle:
doesn't the fact that 95+% of the experts in the field are pretty much in consensus that there's AGW going on, and it's going to be significant, carry any weight with you

Have you noticed how the other 5% get treated? The comment right after yours likens them to "good germans"; the post itself here uses a word previously most strongly associated with Neo-Nazi holocaust deniers. This is not an atmosphere in which an objective poll of unbiased beliefs can easily be obtained and then used as compelling ad auctoritatem evidence.
posted by roystgnr at 10:52 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is not an atmosphere in which an objective poll of unbiased beliefs can easily be obtained

Because confidence levels presented by scientists is exactly the same as glancing at a couple of Metafilter posts.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:57 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]




It is possible to stop making climate change worse. That won't make global warming go away - we've pumped too many greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere for that - but it would put a floor on the problem, and turn it into something that's manageable instead of an ever escalating runaway process.

The main problem seems to be the tenor of the times we live in. It's like our world-wide culture goes straight from denial of the evidence into full throttle confrontation, and any attempt to to discuss constructive action is dismissed as fantasy. (I'm talking about zeitgeisty popular culture stuff here, not MetaFilter.) It didn't use to be like that. We were far more optimistic a generation ago. Maybe we need to rediscover some of that faith in the future again, before a new consensus can be built that makes real change happen.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:42 AM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately, opposition to IPCC 5 has been pre-positioned based on IPCC 4. I had a close encounter with the opposition back in 2009. It is a rather astonishing little tale, starting with me doing a little translation work, and ending with an international incident that basically deposed the Japanese LDP government coalition that had been in power since 1955.

Back in 2009, my editor liked to troll the British Greens. I didn't particularly like what he was doing, but I had to admit, his motivation was mostly in the right place, since the Greens were mostly lunatics and deserved some trolling so they'd get their act together. He contacted me and said he'd been tracking a specific denialist who had originated a theory about "GCR" and located a citation in a huge Japanese report, you read Japanese, maybe you can tell me what this report is about.

So I asked him about this denialist theory. It's about Galactic Cosmic Rays, GCR. There's a theory that climate change is driven by GCR. Supposedly GCRs hitting the troposphere cause the formation of clouds, changing the climate by increasing Earth's albedo (reflectance of solar energy). During periods of high solar activity, Earth's magnetosphere is hit by solar radiation, which deflects GCRs, reducing nucleation of clouds. When the Sun is mostly inactive, as it is between peaks of the 11 year solar magnetic activity cycle, GCRs are not deflected, increasing clouds and albedo, reflecting more solar energy, cooling the Earth. Solar Cycle 23 was unusually long, 13 years, so any recent global warming was caused by the Sun's inactivity, not anthropogenic. And once Solar Cycle 24 begins, global cooling would begin again, disproving anthropogenic climate change. This theory is not at all accepted, there's no particular evidence for it. But denalists love this theory. It is an inversion of some current theories about how the Earth receives more Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) during peaks, warming the Earth.

So I started reading this report online. It was the quarterly issue of the Journal of the Japan Society for Energy and Resources. JSER is a governmental advisory panel, but basically it's a tool of industry which wants to keep the oil flowing into Japan. Japan has basically no internal resources, if you shut off the oil supply, Japanese industry halts completely. So Japanese industrial interests were pressuring the government to reject the Kyoto Protocol that would require CO2 cuts to stop anthropogenic climate change, and pull out of the 2009 Copenhagen conference. COP15, the 15th UN Climate Change Conference, was expected to reach an agreement to limit CO2 emissions and would require a 25% cut by Japan. That would be a serious blow to Japanese industry, and indeed, they successfully lobbied the Japanese government coalition (lead by the LDP) to withdraw from the talks. The rationale for withdrawing from COP15 was the JSER report. With the fundamental science in dispute, there was no reason to accept strong limits on CO2, which would require major cutbacks in oil usage, and start a shift to a non-oil based world economy. Japan's withdrawal from COP15 basically derailed the conference, and it could not reach any effective agreement without the world's #2 economy. COP15 is dead.

So amidst this background I was commissioned to translate some of the JSER report. It was a pretty obscure report and had never been translated into English, nobody even knew it existed. Based on the extremely strong language, it appeared that it was never intended to be seen by anyone outside the Japanese government, and appeared to be written specifically to justify Japanese oil dependence. It was a stunning example of nihonjinron (theories of Japanese uniqueness). The report claimed that since Japan was an island nation (shimaguni konjou) it had a unique ability to appreciate the issues of global warming. The Japanese oceanic sensor network was the largest of its type, and the data from their net was not influenced by local factors that disrupted land-based sensors. That was a common criticism by denialists, that many poorly placed land sensors were ruining the data set, spoiling any conclusions based on that data. That's rubbish, anyone with a basic knowledge of statistics knows how to account for data error. But anyway, the JSER was a complete break with Western climatologists, and condemned the IPCC as unscientific and "tantamount to astrology." That was a statement clearly intended to offend solar astronomers that contributed to the IPCC model.

So I translated several portions of the JSER report, it was very difficult, since new technical terms like Total Solar Irradiance were not in the J/E dictionary. I had to work them out myself and considered contributing them to WWJDIC but then I figured, nah, I don't want to make it any easier for this total bullshit to get translated. It took me like a month to translate some of the report, and I had to make sure to preserve both the stilted scholarly language, and the tone of strident condemnation of the IPCC and Western science. The report was published with little commentary, letting the report speak for itself. For this work I received a whopping $200 and a translator's credit at the end of the article. Then all hell broke loose.

I started getting emails from people, asking if I was the translator. They all asked if this really was what the JSER said, and could I translate more of it? Sure, send me money, I'll translate the whole thing. Of course nobody wanted to pony up. But I started tracking who was asking. The publication was making the rounds of denialist blogs, it was a sensation, they were vindicated, global warming was over. And the Greens and other groups that supported the Copenhagen talks were in a furor, having discovered that Japan pulled out of COP15 based on such ridiculous pseudo-science and rejection of the IPCC (and basically rejecting the entirety of Western science). The report even got retranslated back into Japanese, which drew attention to the JSER from environmental and political groups. This short article was quickly turning into an international incident.

The JSER immediately withdrew the report. They claimed it was not an official report, it was merely an online conversation between scientists and did not represent any official conclusion. No, that was a blatant lie to cover their ass. I had PDF downloads of the report, it was clearly labeled as their official report in their quarterly journal. Japanese environmental groups were justifiably incensed at the report and the JSER. The LDP coalition government had withdrawn from COP15 based largely on this report, and were using it to justify their rejection of the Kyoto Protocol. Now it wasn't even an official report, it was withdrawn. Due to public outrage by environmentalists, the LDP was under intense pressure from its coalition to rejoin the COP15 talks. That pressure could not have come at a worse time for the LDP, since a general election was scheduled to occur before COP15. A "Save Copenhagen" movement appeared, and it was very active during the election campaign. Astonishingly, the LDP was defeated for the first time since 1955. The LDP had basically been continuously in rule since WWII (except 1955) but this time, it was a landslide for the Democratic Party of Japan. The old Prime Minister was ousted and a new PM from the DPJ was appointed. It amused me to no end that I might have had a small part in ousting the Japanese government. I cannot ever be sure how much impact the translation of the JSER report had, but I like to think of it as the straw that broke the camel's back.

So the Japanese government coalition changed direction, and agreed to attend COP15. But their foot-dragging resulted in no agreement. Without their full commitment, no agreement could be enacted. Environmentalists won the battle but lost the war. Since then, other major industrial countries have withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocols, and they were seriously undermined in 2012 at COP18 in Doha. Since the 2009 JSER report, Japanese scientists have renewed their efforts to develop a completely separate environmental model using new supercomputers to analyze their oceanic sensor network. And they have learned to keep their damn mouths shut if they want to keep their government funding.

A few months after COP15, I went to a local environmentalist conference. During one speaker's Q&A period I attempted to ask a question. I briefly mentioned the JSER attempt to discredit IPCC4, and before I could ever ask my question, I was shouted down. They had heard of this controversy and now here I was, the guy responsible for it, right in their midst. A friend of mine shouted back, I was trying to expose the denialists and discredit them, not support them. So I was allowed to continue. I asked, when the major world governments are intent on discrediting the science, in their own self-interest, how can a global political consensus ever be achieved? His answer stunned me: social justice. The G5 nations were taking all the world's energy resources. The developing world has almost none. Now they see the G5s and want the same level of economic development. This would destroy the environment and wreck the global economy. There is no way to sustain economic growth for all nations, including the developing world, at current levels of energy use. The only political solution is an appeal to social justice. Developed nations must be willing to decrease the inequity in resource usage. There must be a commitment to reduction in energy and resource usage by the G5, to allow other nations to develop sustainable economies based on a redistribution of resources. I agreed fully, but I was filled with despair, since this solution would certainly be denounced as a New World Order of socialism. The UN Climate Change Commission has already been denounced for this very reason. The way things are going, I'm surprised that right wing militias haven't spread a rumor that the UN was going to take away their guns because gunpowder causes global warming.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:46 AM on September 27, 2013 [59 favorites]


I am starting to get cautiously optimistic.

You must be doing a good job of avoiding all media today then.

I just checked out the Daily Telegraph's site and underneath its main climate-denial article there were well over five thousand comments frothing that that whole thing was a hoax and a conspiracy.

The idea that it is a scam perpetrated by scientists and politicians - not any of the previous stuff about 'it might not be down to humans' etc, but instead that it is definitely not happening - is now the default prevailing view in the UK, and is what you would hear if you were to stop an 'ordinary' person on the street and ask.
posted by colie at 11:51 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow Charlie, that's an amazing story.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:59 AM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oops, major technical error there, in my description of GCRs. During the Solar Medium, albedo is increased, causing global cooling. So the recent (supposed) decline in global warming is due to the sun's inactivity. This is supposed to disprove the anthropogenic theory.

Sorry for the error. These damn denialist theories are so convoluted and backwards, it's hard to even describe them accurately.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:05 PM on September 27, 2013


Argh.. during the Solar Minimum.. The edit window is too short.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:18 PM on September 27, 2013


Its just that I'm also a 'scientist' and I'm interested in the limits of science,

The thing is, there is an entire academic field that is heavily interested in the limits of science, called Science and Technology Studies. Their focus is on science in the making, rather than settled science - they study scientists and laboratories that are precisely on the margins, where there is a constant level of uncertainty and unpredictability, and the resultant controversies. And put simply, they are not at all interested in climatology, because today the study of anthropogenic climate change is well past anything that would represent a limit case in science.

Here's a journal. You can search for papers referring to 'global warming' or 'climate change' on your own. The short version is that there are scientists studying the limits of science, science as it is done in an overwhelming situation of uncertainty and complexity, and they simply do not think that the IPCC is "bravely bumping up against those limits".
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:31 PM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Have you noticed how the other 5% get treated? The comment right after yours likens them to "good germans"; the post itself here uses a word previously most strongly associated with Neo-Nazi holocaust deniers. This is not an atmosphere in which an objective poll of unbiased beliefs can easily be obtained and then used as compelling ad auctoritatem evidence.

roystgnr, my comment about "good germans" was actually about the 95% of us who know what is going on but are not doing enough to stop it. The train is going off the tracks and we are all waiting some _someone_ _anyone_ to do something (but not us beyond complaining on the internet)


Frankly, I think the last 5% are a lost cause and are contrarians, idiots or sociopaths with $/vested interests.

There is NOTHING that can change their minds at this point.

What do you think about AIDS/HIV deniers? Who could change their mind? Do you think they are thinking rationally? How are they different than Climate Change deniers?
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:55 PM on September 27, 2013


To be fair, let's address a bad argument from the other side of the aisle:

doesn't the fact that 95+% of the experts in the field are pretty much in consensus that there's AGW going on, and it's going to be significant, carry any weight with you


Have you noticed how the other 5% get treated? The comment right after yours likens them to "good germans"; the post itself here uses a word previously most strongly associated with Neo-Nazi holocaust deniers. This is not an atmosphere in which an objective poll of unbiased beliefs can easily be obtained and then used as compelling ad auctoritatem evidence.


As the perpetrator of the aforementioned argument, may I comment: so fucking what?

My point is only that if an overwhelming majority of the acknowledged subject matter experts have reached a consensus on something in their field, then it's kind of stupid to counter it with "well, I don't agree", which is basically what happens in 99% of AGW debates in the public sphere.

Again, the fact that this scientific consensus is considered debatable is clear evidence of the success of the anti-AGW disinformation campaigns.
posted by Artful Codger at 12:58 PM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


How are they different than Climate Change deniers?

Funding and ultimate death toll.
posted by mittens at 1:18 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


At some point we'll need to be getting all the energy we need by tapping into present-day energy flows (renewable "generation") rather than relying on previously sequestered energy stores (non-renewable fuels) because we will have used up the non-renewable fuels. That's what "non-renewable" means.

This remains true even if we push aggressively toward vastly more efficient fuels like thorium to avoid some of the damage we're currently doing by desequestering fossil carbon; all that rapid uptake of nuclear energy can possibly do is defer the ultimate renewables cutover for a few hundred years.

The thing about fuels is that they offer a hell of a lot of energy bang for the capital investment buck, because fuels by their very nature are concentrated stores of energy. That gives investment in fuel-based technologies a huge head-start over investment in flow-based technologies. While fuels remain dominant, renewables will continue to be seen as niche sources and their development will remain relatively stagnant.

Energy efficiency is antithetical to market-driven fuel-based generation. If I'm going to invest billions in a thorium reactor, you'd better believe I want the biggest possible market for the energy it makes, so I'll do everything in my power to discourage that from being used efficiently. And if I'm the kind of organization that can invest billions in reactors, that power is considerable.

Renewable energy sources tend to be more diffuse than fuels, and until we get better at using them, this will continue to make generating good returns on investment harder. We could make it a lot less tricky by using public policy to subsidize installation and R&D of renewables at the expense of existing fossil fuel extraction.

So there's a fundamental choice to be made in public policy. We can either rein in energy demand growth and encourage efficiency by artificially jacking up the price of energy with taxes or cap-and-trade mechanisms, or we can let demand growth continue in order to drive investment in new fuel-based technologies. We can't do both. We can make a great show of pretending to, but we can't do both.

So, given that we will at some point need to switch to a fully renewables-powered economy, is it better to bite the bullet and head that way as soon as possible, or to wait until we get much closer to having extracted the last economically feasible joule from fuels?

Personally, I think it makes sense to do it before we've spent another couple of hundred years getting accustomed to stuffing our faces from the fuels cookie jar ad libitum. I can't see how a push toward renewables is ever going to cause less social and economic pain than it will if we do it starting right now.
posted by flabdablet at 1:30 PM on September 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


For what it's worth, after the effects of climate change on our culture are fully realized, not many people at all will even remember the term "Good German"- the remaining humans will be too busy trying to survive. The only sad thing is that when things seriously start going to shit, the people most likely to be blamed and persecuted will be scientists.

Social Justice isn't much of an answer, I'm afraid. Even if Western government's were ideologically inclined to take resources awry from themselves and give them to developing countries, their citizens would drum them out of office. The resistance to doing what needs to be done to fight climate change is rooted as much in the denial of citizenry as politicians. So, basically, we're screwed. If I'm lucky, I'll live long enough that when people whine " But nobody told us!" I'll be able to say "Yes they did, you just refused to listen."
posted by happyroach at 1:34 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whether intending to or not, it's interesting how Memebake is so clearly articulating the next step of the denialist handbook. Step one is denial - it's not happening at all. They can't do that any more without being labelled as total loonies. Step 2 is uncertainty - we just can't know. Once that's resolved (and it will be soon enough, I think), I'll be interested to see if Memebake moves onto the next phase - it's too late to do anything.
posted by smoke at 3:23 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


>Richard A Muller, who is a past climate change denier

>It is much more accurate to describe him as that rare thing, an authentic skeptic


No, he most accurately would be described as a douchebag. Muller is a particle physicist and astrophysicist. There is a definite pecking order in physical science and particle physicists and astrophysicists consider themselves to be at the top. Climate scientists are near the bottom.

Muller and his ego barged into a field he knew nothing about and decided that real scientists needed to take over. He was convinced inferior climate scientists simply weren't smart enough or rigorous enough to get good results. After all, if they were brilliant scientists like him they wouldn't be doing climate science. They would be doing astrophysics instead.

So Muller tediously examined and re-analyzed all of the climate scientists' data and to his astonishment he found that his results were almost the same as the climate scientists, that they had done careful analysis and avoided bias. I'm sure he is baffled to this day that mere climate scientists could accomplish this on their own.

As Llama-lime said "For some reason, climate modelers have gotten the short end of the stick, and people just assume that they're idiots that don't know what they're doing, that don't have controls, that don't doubt their conclusions and try to prove them wrong." Guys like Muller aren't helping.
posted by JackFlash at 4:11 PM on September 27, 2013 [22 favorites]


The way things are going, I'm surprised that right wing militias haven't spread a rumor that the UN was going to take away their guns because gunpowder causes global warming.

Stop giving them ideas! Have you learned nothing?!?!
posted by heathkit at 6:02 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, I think one of the stories here is that we're witnessing the triumph, at least in North America, Australia and the UK, of years of organized denial funded by Rupert Murdoch and various multinational oil companies. I've seen numbers quoted from $63M (plausible) to $500M (not so much), as the amount spent in the US specifically by Exxon and Koch Industries to fund outfits like the Heartland Institute. If anybody's getting rich off of global warming it's these folks.
posted by sneebler at 6:47 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yoink said: "...denialism the one I find most interesting is the "climate scientists are lining their pockets!" one. It is so utterly loopy that it hurts your head trying to imagine how its proponents understand the world. .. people who were drawn to the study of climatology and the only people who succeeded in advancing in the field were amoral psychopaths who would happily abandon any scientific rigor if they saw a chance to make a profit."
Belief in Conspiracies Linked to Machiavellian Mindset
posted by RuvaBlue at 6:48 PM on September 27, 2013


yoink: Of all the strands of nutbar denialism the one I find most interesting is the "climate scientists are lining their pockets!" one. It is so utterly loopy that it hurts your head trying to imagine how its proponents understand the world.

Simple projection might be the easiest explanation here: right-wingers simply assuming that everyone else is as venal and mercenary as they'd like to be: "I'm motivated primarily by greed and self-interest; everybody else must be, too!"

"Selfless pursuit of truth" is not in some people's intellectual toolkit.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:55 PM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


RealClimate's take.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:51 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pyrogenesis: The thing is, there is an entire academic field that is heavily interested in the limits of science, called Science and Technology Studies. Their focus is on science in the making, rather than settled science - they study scientists and laboratories that are precisely on the margins, where there is a constant level of uncertainty and unpredictability, and the resultant controversies. And put simply, they are not at all interested in climatology, because today the study of anthropogenic climate change is well past anything that would represent a limit case in science.

I'm surprised my assertion that "modelling the climate of our entire planet for decades into the future is pushing the limits of science" is proving controversial. Bringing up Science and Technology Studies is an interesting angle. You link to a single STS journal, do a search for "climate change", find no results and draw the conclusion that the field of STS is 'not at all interested in climatology'? You need to look a bit further.
posted by memebake at 1:38 AM on September 28, 2013


smoke: Whether intending to or not, it's interesting how Memebake is so clearly articulating the next step of the denialist handbook. Step one is denial - it's not happening at all. They can't do that any more without being labelled as total loonies. Step 2 is uncertainty - we just can't know. Once that's resolved (and it will be soon enough, I think), I'll be interested to see if Memebake moves onto the next phase - it's too late to do anything.

re: Denialists: Yes, there are definitely lots of denialists who act in bad faith and are funded by corporate interests. But there are also some people who want to be careful about the science and so will raise questions. The points they make will often overlap.

The point I'm trying to make is now spread across lots of different comments so its entirely understandable that I'm being misunderstood. I've been seriously concerned about climate change since the early 90s when I was first taught about it in school. I've been an active member and donor to Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth for 15 years. I'm extremely careful about my consumption and where I spend my money and where my money comes from. I don't buy much and pretty much everything I do buy is either second hand or environmentally sustainable. I'm typing this on a second hand laptop wearing second hand clothes at a second hand desk. Living as I do in a small flat in a large city my carbon footprint (and I have measured it) is just a fraction below the global average. I only work for charities or not-for-profit organisations rather than the private sector. I always vote for the Green party.

But despite all that, the point I'm trying to make is:

- modelling the climate decades into the future is very hard.
- however the results are presented, those that want to doubt will always be able to make their case
- so the arguments are never going to end, even if we're underwater
- so there's no point waiting for the matter to be conclusively settled to everyones satisfaction
- in the meantime we need to take global action
- so what next?

(A corrollary to the first point is that really anything could happen over the few next centuries, because we don't know where the stable attractors are in the chaotic climate system. We could be heading for a venusian climate. We could be heading for an ice age. We could be heading for general warming. Its going to be very hard to tell.)

Perhaps we should concentrate on the general principle of living within a finite resource system, rather than focussing on CO2 so precisely. This image shows Earths oceans and atmosphere (the pink ball) gathered into spheres to compare to the size of the planet. Its self-evident that 7 billion humans can have an effect on those, even if we can't accurately predict what the effects will be.
posted by memebake at 2:10 AM on September 28, 2013


If that's the case, Memebake, we're in furious agreement. But why then did you make such a big deal about the uncertainty of the modelling? Surely we can agree that the modelling is certain enough to be frigging terrifying, and action is paramount?
posted by smoke at 3:06 AM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


You need to look a bit further.

You know, as others have said already, you really need to pay more attention to the links you yourself post. Your claim has been throughout that climate models themselves are uncertain. Now you post a series of links, essentially every one of which is about politics. What are you on about, do you even know yourself? Because of that list of bullet points, your previous posts have all been basically only about the first one.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 7:34 AM on September 28, 2013


Pyrogenesis, you bought up Science and Technology Studies and suggested that "they are not at all interested in climatology". Read what you wrote here. My post is simply a response to that.
posted by memebake at 8:03 AM on September 28, 2013


But despite all that, the point I'm trying to make is:

- modelling the climate decades into the future is very hard.
- however the results are presented, those that want to doubt will always be able to make their case
- so the arguments are never going to end, even if we're underwater
- so there's no point waiting for the matter to be conclusively settled to everyones satisfaction
- in the meantime we need to take global action
- so what next?


It's one thing to play devil's advocate, but seriously, what makes your take more valid than that of the experts? In other words, science is our best tool for making such inquiries; at what point do you get on-side with the scientific consensus?

You claim you want to move on; but you still seem attracted to the position that the science isn't solid enough to justify taking action on. The anti-AGW campaign has apparently succeeded with you.

Perhaps we should concentrate on the general principle of living within a finite resource system, rather than focussing on CO2 so precisely.

Couldn't agree more... but letting the opponents of change get away with disparaging and discrediting the science is not the way forward.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:13 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


smoke: If that's the case, Memebake, we're in furious agreement. But why then did you make such a big deal about the uncertainty of the modelling?

Because the details matter. Environmentalists will want to defend the IPCC from criticism, but to really do that you need to understand the details. And because it folds into my point about complexity and the debate being neverending.

Surely we can agree that the modelling is certain enough to be frigging terrifying, and action is paramount?

Yes, so then we're talking about the Precautionary Principle again, which is probably a much better basis for global action. Instead of hoping that the IPCC will make the denialists go away (never going to happen) why isn't the public debate focusing more on the Precautionary Principle? Perhaps because politicians aren't comfortable talking about it?
posted by memebake at 9:13 AM on September 28, 2013


why isn't the public debate focusing more on the Precautionary Principle?

Because the public doesn't give a rat's arse about anything with more than two syllables.

We are living in an age where the provision of bread and circuses is now done with industrial-grade efficiency. When things go wrong, it's always somebody else's fault. Public discourse? If you can't dress yourself up in its colours and beat the other gang with it, it's irrelevant until it's burning down your house and filling your basement with floodwater.

Critical thinking started to rot out with the arrival of television, and is now terminal. We're in the 21st century and collectively we just don't give a fuck. And those of us who do are tired of shouting into the wind.

Sorry about the bitterness. It comes of living in a country full of chickens who have just voted Colonel Sanders into power again on a platform of putting a chicken in every pot.
posted by flabdablet at 9:58 AM on September 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


Ross Gittins nails it:
It's as if Tony Abbott believes returning the Liberals to power will, of itself, solve most of our problems. Everything was fine when we last had a Liberal government, so restore the Libs and everything will be fine again.
But the general public pays no attention to Ross Gittins because he writes in long words and doesn't work for Rupert Murdoch.
posted by flabdablet at 10:30 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Critical thinking started to rot out with the arrival of television, and is now terminal. We're in the 21st century and collectively we just don't give a fuck.

This is exactly my problem with the climate change debate, and why I think we're fucked unless the large corporations who control the media (especially tv) decide to get a moral compass. Because clearly Survival means nothing to them - they're sociopaths.
posted by sneebler at 10:51 AM on September 28, 2013


Environmentalists will want to defend the IPCC from criticism, but to really do that you need to understand the details

But respectfully, mate, you don't understand the complexity - and you don't need to do that to defend the body's authority and expertise.

Yes, so then we're talking about the Precautionary Principle again

No, I'm not. Because the level of information and knowledge we have about this is so far in advance of the precautionary principle. The only sense this is true is that the worst is yet to come, but there is almost no doubt that it will come and I don't know why you're struggling to accept this, and can only conclude you are a denialist.

Instead of hoping that the IPCC will make the denialists go away

I really don't think this is the thrust or point of the debate, honestly. I think you are extrapolating one small facet of discussion around this and falsely representing it as the whole thing.
posted by smoke at 3:57 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pyrogenesis, you bought up Science and Technology Studies and suggested that "they are not at all interested in climatology".

I was responding to your claims. From context it should have been obvious what I meant - that STS is not really interested in climatology as representing a limit case in modelling complexity and uncertainty - you know, that thing you were talking about. And then you demonstrated that I was correct - your links show that the main thing they are interested in is climate sciences' relation to politics and policy making.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:06 AM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Things are starting to look like they are actually going to go to shit. Not because of the new IPCC report, but because of the collective inability for the political classes to get their shit together and the general lack of understanding of the population regarding the sheer variety and seriousness of the shit that will happen.

It is insane and heartbreaking.
posted by jaduncan at 12:28 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


In other news: Asian markets have fallen on fears that the US may be heading for a shutdown of government services.

We can't even get people to agree that basic, responsible government should be a joint aim.
posted by jaduncan at 12:42 AM on September 30, 2013


This behavior is by design.
posted by flabdablet at 4:23 AM on October 2, 2013




Evidence from ice shelves for channelized meltwater flow beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet

Vast streams [of meltwater] found beneath Antarctic ice sheet
"Giant channels of water almost the height of the Eiffel Tower have been discovered flowing beneath the Antarctic ice shelf."
posted by jeffburdges at 8:22 AM on October 7, 2013


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