Secret Pentagon report warns climate change
February 22, 2004 8:48 PM   Subscribe

Secret Pentagon report warns climate change "could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy..." The report, ordered by an influential Pentagon advisor but covered up by US defense chiefs for months, warns that it might be too late to prevent future disasters, such as violent storms that may make large parts of the Netherlands uninhabitable. Climate change, the report says, "should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern..."
posted by tranquileye (89 comments total)
Hmmm...if true, then it certainly makes President Bush's call for a mission to Mars very much more sensible and smart.
posted by davidmsc at 8:55 PM on February 22, 2004

davidmsc - I think not.

tranquileye - Great scoop. Look to the recent blizzard that hit Nova Scotia. As I quipped on the thread : "Thermohaline circulation slowdown = increased atmospheric heat transport."


Back in '2000 or so, I asked a researcher close to the forefront of the Sudden Climate Change story (Berndt Haupt, a German climate researcher) this question :

"Doesn't Thermohaline Circulation slowdown/cessation = increased atmospheric heat transport ?" The answer - obvious but gratifying anyway - came back : "Yes".

I was reading, at the time (after looking into the relevant mainstream scientific research on the subject in considerable depth) Whitley Streiber's "The Coming Global Superstorm" which - while heavily speculative - riffed off this "increased atmospheric heat transport" effect (quite basic physics, really) and made speculations about the weather"epiphenomenon" which might accompany a massive climate shift even remotely coming close to the magnitude of one such as had happened as recently as the "Younger Dryas" event ~ 12,500 years ago.

But Haupt didn't really want to talk about the "epiphenomenon" even then : the possibilities - due to the sensationalistic nature of the story - for his statements to be distorted or taken out of context were just too great. I didn't blame him for being extremely judicious. He was just waiting for more supercomputer time for his nonlinear change climate models and didn't want any potentially career damaging media blowups.
posted by troutfishing at 9:11 PM on February 22, 2004

This sounds like the greatest viral marketing campaign for that shitty-looking "Day After Tomorrow" movie ever.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:14 PM on February 22, 2004

troutfishing: I was joking. I don't put much credence into "global disaster" stories, environmental or otherwise.
posted by davidmsc at 9:18 PM on February 22, 2004

this just in : you are going to die. you are probably not going to want to die when you do. that is all.
posted by Satapher at 9:21 PM on February 22, 2004

I've always wanted to be alive to see the end of the world, I say bring it on!
posted by jbou at 9:23 PM on February 22, 2004

This story in fortune from a few weeks ago talks more about the same subject. I'm actually involved tangentially in this field, but I have nothing to add just yet, but I'm anxiously readying my "told you so" post at the end of the world.,15935,582584,00.html
posted by crazy finger at 9:24 PM on February 22, 2004

At the same time, I posted this very sarcastic question to the Boston Globe's "Abuzz" :

" Real estate/sudden climate change

I recently moved to Mass. from Baltimore and have been considering buying a house. But I wonder about the long term stability of the real estate values of the New England region. A serious hobby of mine is the study of climate change and I have recently discovered that cutting edge climate researchers have predicted the partial or complete shutdown of the North Atlantic ocean currents (due to Global Warming) which are responsible for a)warming
Europe and North America (with warmer water drawn from the equator) and b) the overall configuration of the Earth's current climate system. Such a partial or complete collapse
of the North Atlantic "conveyor" system has been associated with (in the last 10,000 years) several sudden and dramatic changes in the earth's climate - sudden coolings of up
to 10 degrees celsius within a decade. Given estimated trends in human produced " greenhouse" gasses, such a shutdown in the North Atlantic conveyor system is predicted to occur within one hundred years at least, but potentially much sooner (even within a decade or two). I am worried about real estate values if the climate of Mass. become like that of northern Canada. about What would you suggest?"

I batted off the obvious (ill informed, snarky) responses with lots of facts, links and reasoning. It was a waste of time.

But I got one gratifying response when I mentioned that such a sudden climate shift could touch off human cannibalism :
" wouldn't be a problem at all if you turned to cannibalism (they say it tastes like chicken ...... or is it pork?).

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Added on Thu, Feb 17, 2000 10:57 AM

I am leaving this discussion............."

I'm glad the US Pentagon now concurs......but it's a shame that the Bush Administration is so out to lunch on the science behind this - I don't relish the idea of a general civilizational collapse.
posted by troutfishing at 9:25 PM on February 22, 2004

The Fortune article was discussed in this thread.
posted by homunculus at 9:45 PM on February 22, 2004

I've always wanted to be alive to see the end of the world, I say bring it on!

I just hope I get to see the first few rounds between Thor and the Midgard Serpent.
posted by homunculus at 9:51 PM on February 22, 2004

davidmsc - You know, I would take your objections a bit more seriously if you revealed some sort of familiarity with the topic.

In saying as much, you are saying - effectively - that you place little credence in mainstream science. So on what basis do you send your ships to war - the casting of divinatory sticks or analysis of the entrails of sacrificed animals ?

The Pentagon DOES believe in science, but - unfortunately - the American right does not and so is walking, away from such faith in empiricism, towards a cargo-cultish sort of ideologically driven delusion which could consign us all to an ugly fate.


You could start to delve into the science behind the subject by reading this report from the US National Academy of Science press, a briefing written to familiarize the US Congress with this - ( Abrupt Climate Change : Inevitable Surprises ) :

"Most climate-change research has focused on gradual changes, such as the processes by which emissions of greenhouse gases lead to warming of the planet. But new evidence shows that periods of gradual change in Earth's past were punctuated by episodes of abrupt change, including temperature changes of about 10 degrees Celsius, or 18 degrees Fahrenheit, in only a decade in some places. Severe floods and droughts also marked periods of abrupt change.

A new report from the National Academies' National Research Council says greenhouse warming and other human alterations of the climate system may increase the possibility of large, abrupt, and unwelcome regional or global climatic events. Researchers do not know enough about such events to accurately predict them, so surprises are inevitable.

If the planet's climate is being forced to change -- as is currently the case -- it increases the number of possible mechanisms that can trigger abrupt events, the report says. And the more rapid the forced change that is taking place, the more likely it is that abrupt events will occur on a time scale that has immediate human and ecological consequences."

You could also look, for a collection of introductory educational materials, to this page which I put together about 3 years ago and haven't updated since ( though the prospectus has become if anything much more dire - I got depressed about the level of societal denial about this. I apologize, Anyway, the Pentagon's on it......sort of )

Since I collected that material the case for a potentially such shift has become considerably stronger.

Woods Hole scientists are warning a such shifts as a given, and possibly within the current decade.

But - please - don't make accusations of scientific bias which cannot be defended. This is mainstream scientific judgment now, though larger societal opinion may lag far behind....and more's the pity.

There are big things at stake.


Satapher - That's obvious. We'll all die, certainly. But are you advocating that our current human civilization should potentially consign itself to oblivion as well ? And do you have children or even concern for coming and maturing human generations overall ?
posted by troutfishing at 10:02 PM on February 22, 2004

homunculus - Yep. That sounds like every creation myth I've ever read (though written with much more flair than most). A deep cultural memory is preserved there - of the "Yonger Dryas" and more recent, less severe events.

But Thor and the Midgard Serpent BOTH win in their turn. It's the humans who lose. - it would be the end of our current cosmos, certainly.
posted by troutfishing at 10:10 PM on February 22, 2004

(trout, could you please stop using horizontal lines in your posts? Thanks and kisses, Metafilter.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:12 PM on February 22, 2004

fear not! our president shall surely declare war on weather. to those who would warm our globe, i say, bring it on...
posted by quonsar at 10:12 PM on February 22, 2004

I'd probably be reminded of Bruce Sterling's Heavy Weather if I could remember more about it. I hate having read eleventy-million books but being unable to remember much about any of them.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:14 PM on February 22, 2004

stavros - I like those. They break up my long comments at logical pause-points. I could just make more discrete comments, I suppose. But line breaks just seem more graceful to me.

Anyway, the sensationalistic (but brilliant, I think) Whitley Strieber had Bruce Sterling beat on that theme by nearly a decade - by way of Nature's End [ published in 1986, and these reviews neglect a major theme of the book, climatic destabilization which results in storms of unprecedented power which scour many areas of the globe ] .
posted by troutfishing at 10:31 PM on February 22, 2004

I wouldn't mind my globes being warmed, quonsar - why would you declare war on someone for doing that?

also, what stavrosthewonderchicken said about the lines
posted by dg at 10:36 PM on February 22, 2004

"this just in : you are going to die. you are probably not going to want to die when you do. that is all."

Hence, no need to bother with anything that might occur more than a few years in the future. How Bush of you Satapher.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:39 PM on February 22, 2004

If they can't accurately predict the weather a week from now, why should I believe they can predict it decades from now?

Obviously we're talking about climatic change, but let's face it; nobody knows what the fuck they're doing when it comes to weather.
posted by angry modem at 10:47 PM on February 22, 2004

angry: yes and no

While any complex system with a fraction of the variables involved in the weather is so complex as to be functionally impossible for us to accurately model and thus forecast, this does not in any way prevent us from saying something roughly analogous to "Hey when you take the steering cylinder out of that car it will crash a lot!"

The thermo-haline system plays a major role in the weather - the most subtle effects of which we have absolutely no concept. What we *do* know, though, is that knocking out that system is going to have some very nasty effect on global weather patterns, what precisely we can't say. Now because it's a heat exchange system, it makes sense that its removal will cause a mini-Ice Age, but that's just an educated guess on the part of people who know a lot more about this than you or I.
posted by Ryvar at 10:58 PM on February 22, 2004

Hence, no need to bother with anything that might occur more than a few years in the future.

God will take care of everything.
posted by homunculus at 11:00 PM on February 22, 2004

angry modem - Are you confusing weather and climate ? : 'Weather' amounts to day-to-day fluctuations, while 'Climate' is the long term average of these daily weather fluctuations.

In fact, NOAA has been making fairly accurate 3-6 month climate predictions for at least several years now.
posted by troutfishing at 11:01 PM on February 22, 2004

"nobody knows what the fuck they're doing when it comes to weather."

No, *you* don't know what you're doing when it comes to the weather. It would be slightly egotistical to extrapolate from that and say scientists don't know how to make accurate weather models and predictions. I'm not sure about where you live, but were I'm from the weather predictions are almost always right. And if even 25% of the predictions about global warming are correct I'd say we should start working overtime to deal with it.

Look sparky - The only time you'll get a 100% accurate prediction about global warming turning the planet into a uninhabitable mess is after that happens. Ignoring probably disaster to wait for proof is idiocy.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:04 PM on February 22, 2004

Also - Ryvar put it very precisely.

I've used the car crash/nonlinear change comparison quite heavily myself - I've always ascribed the crash to a bad tie-rod or ball-joint, but my overall point was identical.
posted by troutfishing at 11:06 PM on February 22, 2004

My question... Where is the best place to go that would give us MeFi users the best chances of surviving? Think of the utopia we could build after everyone else is gone. Self policing since 1999 right? heh.
posted by banished at 11:16 PM on February 22, 2004

Back to the leaked report - A confederate of Don Rumsfeld may have been the agent and this, to me, lends the story some credence. Rumsfeld is the smartest and least ideologically driven in the Bush inner circle and, judging by his awareness of emergent technology, he is a man with a more sensitive finger to the wind than most around him
posted by troutfishing at 11:17 PM on February 22, 2004

banished - mountainous regions near the equator which are relatively unpopulated.
posted by troutfishing at 11:21 PM on February 22, 2004

*imagines a world repopulated solely by MeFi members, looks for sharp knife*
posted by dg at 11:21 PM on February 22, 2004

dg - would you be dispatching those putative Mefi Adam and Eveses, or would you be dispatching yourself ?
posted by troutfishing at 11:23 PM on February 22, 2004

Science is not done by consensus -- the fact that all Soviet scientists believed Lysenkoism didn't make it any more true. When truth exists, scientists tend to converge on it, but the reverse is not necessarily the case -- things that scientists converge on are not always truth.

And that assumes that there's consensus. There's not. More than 19,000 scientists (including more than 2,500 physicists, geophysicists, climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and environmental scientists) have signed the Oregon Petition, for instance. That's the petition that urges the U.S. leaders to reject the Kyoto Protocol and "any other similar proposals" because the signers believe Kyoto is based on bad science.

There's climate change, I feel confident that this has been demonstrated, but what effects it will have, how much of it is our fault, and what we can do about it are issues very much still open for debate.

As for the Pentagon, they have contingency plans for everything -- including invading Canada. Some claim the Pentagon is using our fear of terrorism to manipulate the public into going along with what it wants; who's to say this isn't more of the same? You'd expect the environmentalist left not to be co-opted by the military so easily. "They must be right, they agree with me!" That's pretty scary, actually.
posted by kindall at 11:35 PM on February 22, 2004

kindall: If this mini ice age theory proves true I think that any pentagon plans of invading Canada might be aimed in the wrong direction! About face boys... it's even colder up here! :)
posted by canucklehead at 11:44 PM on February 22, 2004

It's funny. The "secret" CIA report was debated in Europe, at least in Denmark, more than a week ago. Who is keeping your secrets in the US?
posted by Eirixon at 12:48 AM on February 23, 2004

posted by y2karl at 1:00 AM on February 23, 2004

kindall - did you check out the parent website of the Oregon Petition?

Following the White Rabbit: the Oregon Petition is hosted on the site of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, an independent research institute "located in a rural setting about 7 miles from the town of Cave Junction in southern Oregon" that "does not solicit or accept tax-financed government funds".

On its main page, under the "Civil Defense and more" section, there is a suggested curriculum for home-schooling: the Robinson Curriculum, which features the classic "no improvements since" 1911 edition of Encyclopedia Brittanica. Also suggested as an excellent supplement to the RC is the Henty Collection. Although examining Henty within the context of the times he wrote has some value, Brooke Allen examines why Henty has appeal for home schooling in G. A. Henty & the vision of empire.

I also searched about thirty of the names on the petition, seeking out those with PhD by their names - I came up with two scientists that are faculty at universities and a plastic surgeon. The rest were pretty much dead-ends, returning the petition pages as one of the few places on the Internet where their names can be found. Not very encouraging. The list of scientists and engineers who had signed had a higher success rate on searches, about 50%.

Ah hell. I didn't have to deconstruct it: I just found out that already has done the job for me.
posted by dpkm at 1:11 AM on February 23, 2004

The Oregon Petition was interesting, I chose 10 PhDs at random from the A page, and googled them. Only two of them seemed to have any academic papers or abstracts online, (or any other evidence of a doctoral thesis) Another one turned up a mention of an obituary from Los Alamos. None of those three (apparently) was a physicist, geophysicist, climatologist, meteorologist, or oceanographer. My methods were not scientific, and it doesn't really prove anything, etc. But I'm just sayin' y'know....
posted by bashos_frog at 1:22 AM on February 23, 2004

dpkm - jinx.
posted by bashos_frog at 1:23 AM on February 23, 2004

Now that is interesting, dpkm. It's never a surprise to be lied to, but it's getting harder (in sense of sheer volume, while it conversely gets easier to actually do debunking with engery+google) to whack through the thickets sometimes, isn't it?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:29 AM on February 23, 2004

...yes but was'nt this report written by Wired writin pinko commies who leaked the report because the Pentagon laughed at them.
posted by Damienmce at 3:35 AM on February 23, 2004

It doesn't hurt to be under God's protection in perilous times.

Can it be scientifically proven that man is behind these climactic patterns or could it be simply that climate change is simply part of nature whether we like it or not? I mean, Bush didn't cause the Ice Age as far as I know.
posted by konolia at 3:47 AM on February 23, 2004

Can it be scientifically proven that man is behind these climactic patterns or could it be simply that climate change is simply part of nature whether we like it or not?

Whether it can be scientifically proven or not, surely it has to be agreed that ripping down the rain forests and burning all the oil can't be helping.

Instead of looking for blame we should be looking for solutions. The past few winters have been noticably warmer and drier in Northern Ireland, whether it's our fault or not (and really, think about it - it's probably us) doesn't matter. it is happening.
posted by twistedonion at 3:58 AM on February 23, 2004

In fact, NOAA has been making fairly accurate 3-6 month climate predictions for at least several years now.

troutfishing, could you please provide a link? If what you say is really true, this would be the first falsifiable (i.e., scientific) climate prediction study I have ever seen, at any time horizon.

Current science is simply not capable of saying anything scientific about future climate, although it is capable of creating models that show that if the temperature were to rise, then bad things could potentially happen in a way that would be consistent with the models. Such studies simply don't represent evidence that global warming is actually happening.

Thanks to the perceived political crisis around global warming, it is possible to get a lot of funding and press for these types of studies, and this Pentagon report is probably in the same vein: "if global warming were actually real (which no one knows and is not part of the study's objectives), then here's a list of horrible potential consequences, so please give us lots of funding for further study".
posted by fuzz at 4:01 AM on February 23, 2004

rapture my hat , your country has a serious problem with evangelicals , i've never really seen their stuff before , this is the untermensch stuff coming to the surface , you know what ?
start worrying when they claim heaven is already here and they'd quite like to leave you behind.
Theres not a single line in the bible that supports this nonsense.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:16 AM on February 23, 2004

It's another divinely inspired deluge! Another flood to wipe out pinkos and San Franciscan married gays, with Arnie as Noah and Janet Jackson as his wife. or maybe it's The Rapture! Judgement Day! Maybe Kevin Costener will lead us all to Dry Land!

Sorry. I get so confused with god bothering yankees and their oil sellin' Presidential dynasties and Hollywood actors as politicians. Who cares?. Gimme my oil, my SUV or gimme death by water.
posted by Pericles at 4:57 AM on February 23, 2004

Bush didn't cause the Ice Age as far as I know.

You're right! Ice core samples, however, do show that periods of ice age activity in the past are often preceeded with unusually high amounts of carbon in the atmostphere. Scientists believe this may be due to historical continental wild fires. In those cases, average global temperature probably rose a couple degrees in a very short time and caused an ice age.

Today's global temperatures are significantly higher than a century ago and ice core data shows an unprecedented warming trend in the last 30 years. Here in New Hampshire (USA), our summer temperatures have changed slightly, but our winter temperatures have risen by an average of 3.5 F over the last century. Now, NH is different than the rest of New England (USA) as the other states have risen by a degree or so less (this is due, primarily, to our mountainous terrain that wasn't clear-cut until this century thanks to trains). Still though, New England temperatures have risen a lot and our maple syrup industry has felt it the most.
posted by crazy finger at 5:34 AM on February 23, 2004

This is not new news. About 12 years ago my mothers cousin was invited by the US Army to a conference in DC to discuss this very thing.
The army produced updated maps projecting the changes in coastlines and such due to flooding, as well as hot zones where there would be strife to do the influx of refugees and the impending demands placed on food and other resources.
I think the thing with this topic is that everyone thinks that somehow we will stave it off. Our mastery of technology will overcome, or something like that. I think most people are just unaware, or keep their head in the sand.

BTW: The Netherlands gets it in the earlier conference too.
posted by a3matrix at 5:50 AM on February 23, 2004

Thanks moonbiter. Sob.
posted by Pericles at 6:18 AM on February 23, 2004


Yeah, no kidding. Kind of makes the white-collar-jobs-all-going-overseas problem look a little quaint. On the other hand, none of us are getting out of this life alive anyway, so might as well just try to make the best of it.

Myself, I'm going to learn spend the next couple of years learning basic survival skills, how to farm, how to do some carpentry, and buy me some solar panels as soon as I can afford it.
posted by moonbiter at 6:31 AM on February 23, 2004

Billmon has some great commentary on this.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:41 AM on February 23, 2004

"Thermohaline circulation slowdown = increased atmospheric heat transport."

hmm..."atmospheric heat transport" basically means hurricanes...they're the method that the earth uses to push heat and warm water northward from the equator.

and i'll tell you what...hurricane season has been pretty blah for the past 5-8 years. i'm not saying that there haven't been hurricanes, but we're certainly not getting them like we used to.

and the past two winters have been pretty chilly by florida standards. i dunno...there's certainly something up with our atmosphere's heat transport, but i don't know if it's increasing.

i'm just waiting for the mother of all hurricanes to break out. or like, 5 of them. THEN i'll start to believe in sudden climate change.
posted by taumeson at 6:53 AM on February 23, 2004

Um, I know we're 50 comments into the discussion already, but isn't this sort of a double post?
posted by staggernation at 7:31 AM on February 23, 2004

Oops, sorry, someone already pointed that out.

If the Fortune article and the AFP article are in fact about the same paper, it's striking the extent to which the AFP downplays the "hypothetical scenario" aspect of the whole thing. Also interesting how they claim to have "uncovered" it when in fact it was the subject of a lengthy article in Fortune magazine.
posted by staggernation at 7:35 AM on February 23, 2004

Yes, kinda.

The Fortune article was discussed in this thread.
posted by homunculus at 9:45 PM PST on February 22

posted by moonbiter at 7:36 AM on February 23, 2004

Oops, you already caught it. ;-) [kicks self: preview, preview, preview]
posted by moonbiter at 7:37 AM on February 23, 2004

> Um, I know we're 50 comments into the discussion already, but isn't this sort of a double post?

Don't confuse the peanut gallery with facts, please. We WANT WANT WANT to believe that the Pentagon!!! says we're all gonna die.
posted by jfuller at 8:05 AM on February 23, 2004

i've got a super cool little 1 year old nephew - i realize we will have to live with the mess our and previous generations have made of this planet ... but feel bad for that little guy and those of his generation, who will have to live with the mess we made for them.

for extensive very heavy on the science information on global warming, what the geologic record tells us about rapid rises in global temperature, and what we might be able to do to staunch the onset of global warming ... click here for a couple hours of in depth discussion.
posted by specialk420 at 8:12 AM on February 23, 2004

jfuller - Or is it that you DON'T WANT DON'T WANT DON'T WANT to pay attention to the scientific mainstream on this?

The nonlinear climate change story has been out there for a while now ; so on this, unless you want to discuss the facts of the issue itself, you ARE ARE ARE the peanut gallery ! We all are going to DIE DIE DIE eventually anyway, sure - but I'd rather not hasten the process too much.
posted by troutfishing at 8:45 AM on February 23, 2004

The original material from the Pentagon is now available online at You can get the Executive Summary (pdf) and the Complete Report (pdf).
posted by alms at 8:51 AM on February 23, 2004

"i'm just waiting for the mother of all hurricanes to break out. or like, 5 of them. THEN i'll start to believe in sudden climate change." - posted by taumeson at 6:53 AM PST on February 23

Taumeson - First of all, I guess you haven't noticed the global increase in weather related disasters. Insurance companies sure have.

What I take from your stance is that 1) You don't believe that nonlinear phenomenon are real (even though there are many proven nonlinear processes underlying even human life and death at the biological level - there's nonlinearity at work right now in your own body) 2) Your views are no longer informed by science or, at least, are only so informed when science does not contradict your ideology. 3) You don't notice trends and extreme events in global weather phenomenon.

But - as a more specific point - you also miss the fact that hurricanes that move up the Atlantic from equatorial zones are only one mode of atmospheric heat transport.

Another mode involves the transport that happens as giant bubbles of cold air move from arctic or antarctic to warmer regions. The unprecedented cold which hit North America (and other parts of the world as well) this passing winter involved what some meteorologists were terming a "seesaw" pattern. Enough such "seesawing" and Lo! - the seesawing is suddenly large scale rotation (your "superstorm", only on land).

Thermohaline circulation is down about 30% (if memory serves) this decade and - although this cannot be definitively related to human greenhouse gas emissions - the overall trend is alarming.

When - if - ocean circulation shuts down altogether, you'll have your storms. By then, of course, there will not be a damn thing we can do about it. It may be too late even now, but perhaps not.

I like civilization - or it's gentler aspects, at least - and science too - do you ? )
posted by troutfishing at 9:05 AM on February 23, 2004

Billion Dollar U.S. Weather Disasters, 1980-2003 ( From NOAA )

Worldwide Weather and Climate Events

January 2004 weather in the U.S. Northeast and Colorado/Mountain state regions is suggestive (map) - to to -8F deviation from the 1971-2000 average, and quite abruptly. December 2003 was slightly warmer than average!

'Insurers Sweat Over Global Warming' - Insurers and scientists are indeed unusually prone to passing pseudoscientific crazes, unlike the general public. "Harvard Medical, Swiss Re Tell Congress Risks of Global Warming "Are Here Already" (Insurance Journal, June 19, 2003) Global warming heats up insurance industry (Business Report, September 9, 2003) - "Global warming would affect many sectors of the economy, including the insurance industry, according to Munich Reinsurance Company of Africa Limited.

Fundamental changes in the world's climate had resulted in more frequent extreme climatic events. Heatwaves, droughts, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes across the world were happening at frequencies and intensities unprecedented in recorded history."

Global Warming Insurance Claims Grew to $60 Billion in 2003 - "MUNICH, Germany, Dec. 30, 2003 - Munich Re, the world's biggest re-insurance company, has attributed a sharp increase in weather-related disasters around the world to global warming.

In its latest annual report, the company -- which insures insurance companies =- puts the combined cost of this year's global natural disasters at more than $60 billion, about $5 billion more than the year before. Insured losses increased to about $15 billion, a jump of $3.5 billion from the previous year. The number of natural catastrophes recorded was around 700, roughly same level as 2002.

The report also found that more than 50,000 people were killed in natural catastrophes worldwide, almost five times as many as in the previous year. The company attributed the jump to the heat wave in Europe and the earthquake in Iran, each of which claimed more than 20,000 lives.

The year 2003 was marked not only by natural catastrophes but also by other remarkable events, says Munich Re: the power outages in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Italy, for example; total losses involving two satellites; again numerous terrorist attacks; a major leak of poison gas in China shortly before the end of the year. “However, the extent of the losses caused by these events was much smaller than that caused by the natural catastrophes and they claimed fewer lives,” the company concluded. "


As James Carville says, "Had enough ?"
posted by troutfishing at 9:39 AM on February 23, 2004

secret postion of weather balls and the poetry they inspired.

"seems flint has the only one left sir"
posted by clavdivs at 9:50 AM on February 23, 2004

Y'know - this is going to sound smarmy. So be it : Rebutting skepticism about Climate Change and it's encroaching impacts is, at this late stage, like shooting fish in a barrel, at close range, with a shotgun. The evidence is so damning at this point, what with the testimony of all the wild eyed climatologists and insurance execs - whose companies are forking out ever increasing climate related disaster payouts.

It's depressing, see, because the barrel just keeps getting refilled with more fish. BLAM ! reload. damn, more fish again. BLAM ! reload. Fuck it, more fish. Take this, you fish....BLAM ! (reload) Ohmygawd - more fish again. where do all these fish come from ? BLAM ! reload. Yawn. All I do is shoot these goddamned fish. Oh well. BLAM ! (reloads) Christ, I'm an idiot. I really need to mechanize this process...BLAM ! (reloads) but I'm so tired all the time, what with all of the reloading, cleaning the barrel, running to the house for more shotgun shells, and so on...BLAM ! (reloads, cleans bloody fish chum from face and hair with a resigned sigh)

BLAM ! (reloads) ....
posted by troutfishing at 9:53 AM on February 23, 2004

but feel bad for that little guy and those of his generation, who will have to live with the mess we made for them.

Don't. They're going to have unique challenges, but they'll also be uniquely prepared to deal with them. Think about this: the first time your nephew (and my god daughter, about whom I've had similar thoughts) learns about research and communiation, they're going to learn about the web. Their conceptions of learning, and of "the World," are going to be way cooler than ours. Assuming that you're properly imparted the importance of your nephew being the One who was chosen to crush fascism, it should turn out fine.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:58 AM on February 23, 2004

cladivs - weather has balls, eh? where do you get this weird stuff ? You don't fit in my fish barrel - You're a crocodile or something. I guess your job is to watch balefully from the distance and occasionally snap up the larger fish chunks that come flying out of the barrel to land in the general vicinity of your jaws.

posted by troutfishing at 10:00 AM on February 23, 2004

Current science is simply not capable of saying anything scientific about future climate, although it is capable of creating models that show that if the temperature were to rise, then bad things could potentially happen in a way that would be consistent with the models. Such studies simply don't represent evidence that global warming is actually happening.

This statement is false. Science has predicted that global warming:

a) Could occur as a result of man made emissions of CO2 (1950's-1970's).

b) Is actually happening currently as a result of man and it's effects will only intensify over the next few centuries (Any recent study on global warming concludes this).

We've moved out of the "Is this happening?" debate and into the "How bad is it gonna be?" discussion. Right now scientists are giving accurate predictions that it will either range from rather uncomfortable to global disaster. By accurate I mean than they know for certain it's going to be in that range.

Here's an analogy:
We drive our cars for most of our lives. In our life time there is a near certain chance we will be involved in some kind of collision. Whether it's tagging a pole at the gas station, or a real high speed catastrophe, the only question is how bad of a collision will you have? If you want to make the assumption that you'll never see worse than hitting something going less than 5 mph that is your choice but are you going to want a car that is only prepared for that eventuality? Will you forgo seat belts, reinforced doors, airbags, crumple zones and every other safety device they've come up with for the worst case scenario? We are faced with the same dilemma now with global climate change
posted by aaronscool at 10:07 AM on February 23, 2004

offtopic: fwiw, i like the horizontal lines.

troutfishing's posts are usually too long and detailed for my brief attention span. although i wouldn't want less information, i need the cued pauses. color me part of the mtv generation.

posted by mrgrimm at 10:36 AM on February 23, 2004

Also - beyond aaronscool's point - fuzz, I was referring to the recently developed ability, based partly on supercomputer modelling, of the US National Weather Service to make somewhat useful 3-6 month seasonal climate predictions. By 'useful', here, I mean better than randomly generated predictions. I wouldn't trust them a year out I suppose, but they are far from useless. See NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (Also, a Google search on climate prediction

Here are the seasonal forecasts, direct from the horse's mouth

Here is a retrospective on the forecasts for the 2002 hurricane season : - "The 2002 Atlantic hurricane season that officially ends Nov. 30, produced only four hurricanes due to a strengthening El Niño, said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hurricane specialists. However, twice the normal number of storm systems (eight) affected the nation, bringing storm surge and severe weather and rain to the nation, including Hurricane Lili, the first land-falling hurricane to strike the United States since the 1999 Hurricane Season. NOAA is an agency of the Commerce Department.

“...A strengthening El Niño suppressed the numbers of hurricanes and weakened storms,” said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of the NOAA National Weather Service. “Thanks to El Niño’s influence, we experienced only four hurricanes--half the number we’ve seen in typical seasons since 1995,” Kelly added.....

Hurricane forecasters at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC), Hurricane Research Division (HRD)and National Hurricane Center (NHC) correctly forecast climate conditions, including the El Niño, would reduce the overall hurricane activity this season. The forecast called for seven to 10 tropical storms, of which four to six could develop into hurricanes, with one to three classified as major.

CPC Director Jim Laver noted they correctly predicted El Niño would suppress the season’s “overall activity” (based on a complex formula used by the scientists that combines the number of tropical storms, and their duration and intensity). He pointed out, here were two more named tropical storms than the range of 7-10 predicted, but because several named storms were weak, and of short duration they contributed little to the scientific measure of diminished “overall activity.“

“Gaining a better understanding of the atmospheric conditions controlling seasonal hurricane activity is at the heart of NOAA extended range hurricane outlooks,” said Laver. “This is our fifth straight year of issuing accurate outlooks for overall hurricane season activity. But future success depends on more research into how global and regional climate patterns affect Atlantic hurricane activity.” "

Also - NEW ON-LINE TOOL TAILORS CLIMATE FORECASTS TO FIT RESOURCE MANAGERS' NEEDS : ""One of the major reasons why natural resource managers don't use climate forecasts is because they don't know how good they are," said Tom Pagano, a University of Arizona researcher, and co-author of the paper.

Seasonal forecasts are made through the use of data from satellites, computer models, and ocean buoys. Scientists predict the climate of future seasons based on interactions between atmospheric pressures and slowly varying ocean temperatures. They then compare these assessments with historical weather patterns.....The on-line tool is currently set up to assess the seasonal outlooks regularly issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) Climate Prediction Center (CPC), which serve as the government's official forecasts.

"Since seasonal forecasts aren't as consistently reliable as short term weather forecasts, it's important that we communicate their performance characteristics in a way that users can understand and exploit the forecast," said Robert Livezey, chief of the NWS Office of Climate, Weather, and Water Services, and a former senior scientist at the CPC. "This work makes substantial progress in this regard for specific users."

Funding for the project was provided through grants from NASA's Earth Observing System, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "

posted by troutfishing at 10:58 AM on February 23, 2004

mrgrimm - thanks, they help me to focus better also. Those lines are a textual info organization tool for me - they help my brain parse text into more digestible chunks.
posted by troutfishing at 11:02 AM on February 23, 2004

I hereby coin what you have my permission to call "Faze's First Dictum of Futurology" -- Whatever is predicted, will not happen.
posted by Faze at 11:06 AM on February 23, 2004

> jfuller - Or is it that you DON'T WANT DON'T WANT DON'T WANT to pay attention
> to the scientific mainstream on this?

Trout, your scientific background will need to be fairly special to be more mainstream than mine. I spent six years running the stable isotope laboratory at the University of Georgia Institute of Ecology (and wrote the lab's webpage in weblint-checked html 1.0, so it should last forever. The text on the pages is mine also, you might want to check out the Overview of Stable Isotope Research and look for egregious mathematical errors.) N.b. The Institute was founded by Eugene Odom, generally also acknowledged as the founder of modern scientific ecology. The institute's directors have included three other presidents of the Ecological Society of America in addition to Gene Odom.

Now then, speaking from a position of absolute scientific orthodoxy, I stipulate that I am certain human activity is having a major impact on the Earth's climate. Oh yeah, I believe in evolution, too.

With that out of the way, I continue to scoff at the Chicken Littles who posted I-told-you-so messages in this thread without noticing that:

1) the thing called a "Secret Pentagon Study" (I'm quoting the thread title, check it yourself) by tranquileye in his FPP, by The Observer and by Greenpeace is not in fact secret, it was reported in Fortune weeks ago, and discussed to death on mefi at that time; and is available as an MSWord file here. Anyone can download it without getting on an FBI watch list or getting sued by the RIAA. There's nothing secret about it , unless you ache for breathless overdramatization. I read the whole thing when it originally became public. Have you read it yet? Or have you just read about it on mefi or in the poor, gullible Guardian?

2) The report was not written by the pentagon, it was written for the pentagon by outside consultants. The pentagon commissions reports about a virtually endless list of "scenarios," including (as mentioned above) senarios in which we invade Canada.

3) The people who wrote the report are not scientists.

Peter Schwartz is a "futurist,", a scenario-dreamer-upper for Global Business Network, and the author of a pre-dotcom-bust book The Long Boom. Amazon review: Among its predictions are a formulation of a "glass pipeline" that seamlessly tracks manufacturing and production processes, creation of a volunteer Global Corps to aid developing nations, the dawning of a true Space Age, and the birth of a unified worldwide society with "well-off people who share certain values that are transcending borders." Heh heh heh.

Doug Randall is another scenario-dreamer-upper with Global Business Network.

In short, both these dudes are science-fiction writers, not scientists.

4) El secreto reporto is not supposed to be science. Its first sentence: The purpose of this report is to imagine the unthinkable – to push the boundaries of current research on climate change

Translated: "Push the boundaries" == "go beyond currently available evidence." This is not intended to be science, it's pentagon wargaming, it's "Let's assume we were invaded by space aliens and try to imagine what that might do to us."

If I were to write some near-future sci fi it would probably be pretty distopian, for climatological (and other) reasons. But at least I am clear on the difference between sci fi and science. Speaking as a person with an extensive hard-science background on top of a Harvard education, I wish you people to understand that the level of scientific discourse on mefi, on any hot-button issue, is not the least bit better than the level of discourse on Little Green Footballs. Frankly, you do better on fat people and George Bush.
posted by jfuller at 11:48 AM on February 23, 2004

troutfishing, despite your sincere belief in one side of this debate, you've still got to realize that those results are intellectual dishonesty of the highest order. Making a quantifiable prediction, having it turn out wrong, and then excusing yourself by saying that some of the storms didn't count, is exactly the kind of nonscientific results-doctoring that scientists are accusing the Bush administration of imposing. The concept of "overall activity" is qualitative, not quantitative.

If that's the best evidence that you have, then I stand by my statement that there is currently no way to make any falsifiable scientific predictions about climate at any time horizon. I'd gladly support further funding for that investigation, though.

aaronscool, the phrase "science has demonstrated that global warming could occur as a result of man made emissions of CO2" is scientifically meaningless. The word "could" makes the statement impossible to prove or disprove -- any observed conditions are consistent with the statement.

Your second statement is simply not backed up by the current evidence. What is scientifically demonstrated is that temperatures are getting warmer. This was the object of politically motivated debate for a long time, and scientists had to work hard to produce evidence to prove it. On the other hand, there are exactly zero scientific papers based on falsifiable hypotheses and observed data that prove either that this warming is outside of the normal range of climate fluctuation, that this warming is in fact due to human activity, that its direction and magnitude can be predicted for any amount of time into the future, or even that it will continue. If you think I'm wrong about this, please provide links to scientific papers.

The current scientific consensus is that at least 20 more years of data are necessary in order to confirm that the current warming trend is outside of normal fluctuations. Theories of global warming argue that significant man-made climate shifts would only occur on that kind of time scale anyway. That excuses them from having to make any predictions on shorter time scales that could be confirmed or disproved any time soon. It's important to note as well that there is currently no theory whatsoever to explain why the global cooling trend (which created alarms over an impending ice age) from 1955-1975 started and why it was reversed.

Scientifically, we've moved out of the "are we observing something" into the "does it mean anything" stage. The media, politicians, corporations, government bureaucracies, and environmental advocacy groups all have trouble understanding that this is the way science advances in new territory, and that sometimes science cannot make predictions.
posted by fuzz at 12:00 PM on February 23, 2004

I'm just glad our leader has a clear religious vision so we don't have to worry about this stuff.
posted by callmejay at 12:03 PM on February 23, 2004

Now then, speaking from a position of absolute scientific orthodoxy, I stipulate that I am certain human activity is having a major impact on the Earth's climate.

The whole CFC debate already proved that pretty conclusively, didn't it? jfuller, if you've got links to some more recent scientific material on human impact on climate, I'd be interested.
posted by fuzz at 12:06 PM on February 23, 2004


My first statement was simply this. What we are seeing now was first predicted to occur by some scientists almost 50 years ago.

My second statement is a one sentence summary of the IPCC's 2001 report on the matter, (the summary for policymakers is a good place to start). This is the consensus of the scientific community worldwide. Their conclusion in both this report and every paper published on the matter in the past 4 years is this: The earth is getting warmer, Man has had an impact on this change in temperature. You are correct in that there is no certainty as to the magnitude of this change (see my car analogy). You are also correct that the scientific community believes a great deal more research is needed to fully understand the magnitude of the changes to come.

What I think people are not getting is that science is giving us predictions but they can't say on June 16th of 2050 the climate will have a 3 degree rise over today they instead say 2 to 11 degree rise. This allows for people who don't understand science to throw up their hands and say "Well I guess they just don't know if it's going to happen at all!". This simply isn't the case today with this subject.
posted by aaronscool at 1:27 PM on February 23, 2004

jfuller - I'd concede that you are 100% correct that the "secret Pentagon report" bears little relation to science. In that, the media hype over it reminds me of the hype over the "secret" PNAC document, "Rebuilding America's Defenses" (secret, my ass - PNAC freely offered it (and still does) on it's website as a PDF ).

That said - and for all of your mainstream scientific credentials - you haven't actually addressed the issue of sudden climate change other than calling the theory's adherents "chicken littles" - How scientific is that ?

You aren't elevating the tone of discourse here by slinging those terms around : research into the phenomenon of Abrupt (or sudden, or sudden) Climate Change is indeed now in the scientific mainstream.


Fuzz - You keep returning to Popper's Falsification principle (wikipedia definition) but I would challenge it's application to many complex systems, especially to climate prediction. I'm not throwing the Popper out with the bath water - I respect his overall concept of validating science and demarcating it from non-science.

But new, nondeterministic and probabilistic fields of research have opened up in the last several decades - and these fields are far less suited to Popper's approach.

Here's the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on Popper's criterion : "Recent discussions by Randall and Wielicki (1997), Shackley et al. (1998 and 1999), Henderson-Sellers and McGuffie (1999) and Petersen (2000) illustrate many of the confusions and uncertainties that accompany attempts to evaluate climate models especially when such models become very complex. We recognize that, unlike the classic concept of Popper (1982), our evaluation process is not as clear-cut as a simple search for “falsification”. While we do not consider that the complexity of a climate model makes it impossible to ever prove such a model “false” in any absolute sense, it does make the task of evaluation extremely difficult and leaves room for a subjective component in any assessment. The very complexity of climate models means that there are severe limits placed on our ability to analyze and understand the model processes, interactions and uncertainties (Rind, 1999). It is always possible to find errors in simulations of particular variables or processes in a climate model. What is important to establish is whether such errors make a given model “unusable” in answering specific questions."

Stephen Schneider, in a visiting lecture at Stanford (July 1997), puts this even more bluntly : "Popper: An attempt to falsify the hypothesis, or the theory, strengthens the theory.
However, falsification works with a limited number of problems.  You cannot falsify the climate. Only subdivision and testing of subcomponents is possible, only aggregate prediction is possible.
Frequency statistics: data, facts – the ideal for science..
Problem: data and facts may only apply to small elements of complex problems."


Does that mean that climate modelling and - generally - attempts to predict complex systems amount to a type of theology or what the Journalist Dan Horgan terms "Ironic Science"? Not at all. A simple thought experiment demonstrates this aptly : A boloid ( a big chunk of rock, in this case) has been observed on a collision course with Earth. Deflection is risky and extremely costly but - in theory - possible. But Bruce Willis and his crew will, most likely, not return from their heroic mission. Should we risk their lives ?

In the ensuing debate, General George C. Scott asks : "Well, Mr. Scientist, what would actually happen if that rock were to hit the earth ? " - to which the scientist would reply "Well, General, it would be very, very bad.". "That doesn't sound very scientific to me," replies General Scott - to which the scientist replies - "Well, maybe not General. But my research informs me that - were we to drop a nuclear weapon in this city, it would be inherently impossible, from a scientific standpoint, to exactly predict the directions in which the pieces of rubble would fly. So would that mean that my estimation of such an event - that it would be "Bad" - would be "unscientific" ? Or - more to the point, would you discount it because it wasn't deterministic enough ? And - personally - would you bring your family to a picnic at ground zero to watch that bomb fall towards you, on the tiniest of chances that some freakish nonlinearity would spare you and your loved ones from being vaporized by the full force of the blast ? I doubt it. "


Here's a simple illustration of long term climate prediction : "Prediction (a bet): as of January 2003 the average hemisphere will be 15C colder +/- 1 degree than July of 2004 (the summer is going to be warmer than the winter). This is an example of a long-term climate prediction. [ and one which humans have been making, with very good accuracy, for thousands of years - my observation ]
Weather may be chaotic, but the climate is usually not. Therefore, some aspects are predictable, and some are not, and one needs to differentiate among them."
(Stephen Schneider, from the above Stanford lecture)


Let me put it this way. The issue here - crucially - lies at the core of chaotic phenomenon : the fragile zone between predictable and and truly chaotic behavior. We NEED to know when we are approaching that boundary, in terms of sudden climate change possibilities. Many researchers now assert that we are indeed pushing up against that fragile threshold.

I've said this before, but I'll rephrase it. If you will ride with me in my car ( a 1989 Volvo 240 wagon ) while I attempt to see if the tires will hold up and not disintegrate and kill us while I see how fast that 2.4 liter motor (a B230F) with 245,000 miles on it will push the car on a flat stretch.... - then I'll belief that your "chicken little" accusations are personally quite consistent with your nerves of steel.

But I know mine are not - I don't think it's wise to push such boundaries to the limit. We all, of course do - but I think that inclination is a very poor basis on which to found government policy.


Here's a more rigorous take on why Popper's criteria is inappropriate here : "You certainly can't 'prove' a complex theory / model to be true, all you can do is hope to gather 'sufficient' confirmatory evidence that for all purposes you are happy with it and it appears to be better able to cope
with a range of possibilities than any other candidate. However if any evidence comes to light that goes against the implications / behavior of the theory / model then something may be wrong with the theory / model and so something must be done about it after some deliberation. So yes, testing is necessary for science but the Popperian method on its own is not sufficient to handle dynamic complexity. Why not?

Popperian falsification as a tool on its own relies on:

(1) Being able to test relationships between system components in a step-wise manner under a ceteris paribus assumption. Such an assumption goes against the operation of complex systems where a major feature is
simultaneous interaction of multiple components. The interaction of the individual relationships ceteris paribus may not be the same as the interaction of the individual relationships simultaneously. Given this confounding feature you may not easily be able to test (& falsify individual) relationship hypotheses. Separating out the contributions of
different components under dynamic conditions with feedback is not so easy, particularly if those components behave in a non-linear, non-deterministic manner (as they appear to do in human systems).

(2) ....If the point is to test a whole model of a human system (a very complex proposition indeed) against real data then there is a problem. The model cannot be regarded as a single simple true or false proposition, particularly under conditions of non-linearity and non-determinism. Given that many models will be capable of generating equivalent behavior then how do you falsify any given one? Falsification here is in some sense the other side of the validation coin and therefore possibly very pertinent to this debate (given Nick
Winder's earlier point about historical processes and invalidation of models). How do you know when to discard a model formulation?"

Here's some Googling on this subject"
posted by troutfishing at 2:17 PM on February 23, 2004

You know, everytime I see a fpp on climate or the like, I know I'll be reading a ton of stuff from troutfishing.

I just want you to know you've turned my Korean brother-in-law into a full fledged environut.

posted by Plunge at 2:55 PM on February 23, 2004

Plunge - I'm not sure whether that's a good, or a bad thing.

Plus, I think that there is more in the world besides mere Good and Evil. There's Annoyance too.

It depends on the flavor of nut, I guess. I like cashews. But those big, fleshy, white bland nuts that often come in roasted nut mixes - 'Brazil nuts' ? : Not so much. Not many people like Brazil nuts. Filberts are OK, I guess. Almonds are good. Peanuts.....well peanuts just are.

I'm not really an environut, honest. I just play one on Metafilter - but, secretly, I yearn for the plush leather of an air conditioned, giant SUV.

Oops. I'm supposed to be writing about climate disaster. Sorry. The nuts distracted me.
posted by troutfishing at 3:13 PM on February 23, 2004

> you haven't actually addressed the issue of sudden climate change other
> than calling the theory's adherents "chicken littles" - How scientific is that ?

Well, I did say "I stipulate that I am certain human activity is having a major impact on the Earth's climate." If you want more, I'll give my opinion that the Earth is in a warming phase, partly or wholly due to human activity, and my further opinion that, though the climate has very great buffering ability, there likely are boundary conditions which, if crossed, would lead to our present stable state realigning into a different stable state that could be very different from what we're used to. OK? I'm with you that far.

But that's as far as science takes us.

The chicken-littlism...

(...could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy... Britain will have winters similar to those in current-day Siberia as European temperatures drop off radically by 2020... by 2007 violent storms will make large parts of the Netherlands uninhabitable and lead to a breach in the acqueduct system in California that supplies all water to densely populated southern California... Europe and the United States become "virtual fortresses" trying to keep out millions of migrants whose homelands have been wiped out by rising sea levels or made unfarmable by drought... "catastrophic" shortages of potable water and energy will lead to widespread war by 2020.)

...takes us far beyond anything that emerges from anybody's climatological model. This is just fetishing the panic du jour.

Hmmm, fetishing the panic du jour. What does that remind me of? Why, it reminds me of troutfishing himself-- in today's thread he's in a terrible sweat over global warming, whereas back in this thread his panties were in an equal but opposite twist over the world being about to run out of oil. Doesn't it occur to y'all that if we're out of oil, all the fuel-burning and rainforest-bulldozing and greenhouse-gas-generating are going to come to a screeching halt automagically? (Thunderous applause.)

Trout, if you must have an end-of-civilization scenario to panic over you have to choose one of these but not both, because they're mutually exclusive.

I quoted this in another thread recently but I can't resist recycling it, it's so widely applicable.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great, and would suffice.

--Robert Frost

posted by jfuller at 3:19 PM on February 23, 2004

Trout, if you must have an end-of-civilization scenario to panic over you have to choose one of these but not both, because they're mutually exclusive.

Actually, they are not mutually exclusive. We may or may not have already screwed our environment, but if we continue as we are until we burn through our natural resources, it is entirely possible that we will.

The last bash of the energy party could be icing on the global warming cake. Then we'll be left with a messed up environment (hopefully without the help of a lot of nuclear-weapons-devastated landscape) and no fuel to power our technology to cope with it. It's bad enough that large numbers of people are going to bite it if we can't make the jump to alternative fuels, but the chaotic, severe weather of an altered ecosphere certainly won't make anything easier.

Personally, I hope the Big Energy Conspiracy™ really is hiding magical fuel engines like some paranoids suggest. Otherwise, our descendants -- and maybe the younger of us -- are going to have to adapt and live a life akin to our forebears before the industrial revolution. I guess things could be worse than that, although it's the transitional period I worry about. People and societies have a proven penchant to put others to the sword when they have to compete for scarce natural resources; and now we have some really big swords.
posted by moonbiter at 4:06 PM on February 23, 2004

hey troutfishing.

Ever consider the possibilty of salt use in the wintertime propping up haline circulation? I haven't tried a calculation but am guessing the amounts would be way too small. Just a thought.

/lives by a salt mine
posted by copmuter at 4:12 PM on February 23, 2004

I'm one of those elusive creatures, the dreaded climate scientist. Have to commend trout and others in this thread - you really know your stuff! I saw the thread and thought I'd need to get in here and do damage control. nope. thanks. back to work on those fish in the barrel.
posted by humbe at 4:56 PM on February 23, 2004

humbe - thanks. It's sobering, really. The "skeptics" here are well informed.

copmuter - well, in theory.....I wondered about that myself. But you'd need to deliver it fairly precisely to those downwelling points in the North Atlantic where the cooling equatorial current sink down to the ocean floor, to flow then back south (this has been known of for several hundred years, the southward flow, along the ocean floor, of barely above freezing water.

Don't worry - somebody will probably try this approach anyway, though the backfire potential is great.


jfuller - "they're mutually exclusive." - it's very likely that when we hit the dreaded oil peak wall, the richer nations of the world will bid up oil prices and so China, India and other poorer nations will burn more coal. This will have a destabilizing effect on world economies. meanwhile, of course, the sulfuric acid from coal burning exerts a cooling effect.....

I don't see the Hubbert Peak as so much of a threat directly - I'm with Julian Simon on this : oil scarcity will spur the development of substitute energy sources. Still, I think that oil scarcity could have an overall global destabilizing effect which is hard to predict.

But - per the abrupt climate change story - if anything even half as big and half as rapid as the Younger Dryas shifts hit us, I find it hard to see how our civilization would not fall apart.

You know the parameters, I would assume.... but you are unconcerned. I think this is a real threat. The oil depletion issue is more a case of gross stupidity and denial which humans would nonetheless probably surmount easily. But a sudden climate shift - and the "epiphenomenon" accompanying such a shift - would be rather harder to cope with.

Also - the lack of comparable past "climate regimes" with which to compare our current situation cuts both ways - ocean circulation might just slow down incrementally and so avoid major nonlinear effects. But - by the same token - we cannot assess the overall effects of dramatically raised CO2 and Methane levels and cannot rule out even more dramatic ramifications - even "Snowball Earth" scenarios. The problem is, as has been said many, many times - we are tampering with the earth's climate systems in great ignorance and the chances that any resulting changing will be to our liking and benefit are slim.

Oh yeah - then, there's the Methane clathrate waiting to boil up out of the oceans.....

There are a number of nonlinearities inherent in the earth's climate systems and - as many have stressed - human civilization has emerged during a period of unusual climatic stability, the Holocene.

So : how lucky do we feel ?


Also, jfuller, I don't buy your comment that "This is just fetishing the panic du jour." The forecasting of specific impacts is NOT, science per se, yes. Science would at least suggest ranges of possible impacts. But - for the historically unprecedented severity of many weather disasters hitting Europe and, indeed, most parts of the globe - it would be imprudent not to anticipate such severe weather.

As I said, you would have to be aware of the example of the Younger Dryas. No "fetish" that.

Severe weather impacts have started already (see my links to insurance and reinsurance company statements up this thread a bit) and we can only expect them to steadily become worse.
posted by troutfishing at 6:47 PM on February 23, 2004

"I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great, and would suffice."
- That's a great multipurpose quote, but actually.......

I'm just buttering you up. See, when the howling blizzards have choked Mass. to death under a blanket of snow and ice, I'll be knocking at your down, down there in the heart of Dixie, begging for a place to stay....
posted by troutfishing at 7:01 PM on February 23, 2004

Wow.. got to this thread late and it's probably long dead.

Question: Trout you say the Thermohaline circulation is down %30 or so. I am having trouble finding that. In fact the salinity graph on the Pentagon report (2nd last page) shows salinity is down only from 34.98 to 34.94 over 20 years. A downward trend, but hardly worrisome.

jfuller-- nice to hear your opinions, that is all this board is about. I hope mainstream science has not so stifled your creativity that you can engage in scenarios and what ifs with the rest of us mortals even with the handicap of a Harvard degree.
posted by stbalbach at 5:59 PM on February 27, 2004

stbalbach - that's what I've read, but I'll go back and check my memory against the facts. Still couldn't a slight change in salinity be critical ?
posted by troutfishing at 10:45 PM on February 28, 2004

Aha. There it is : "....Signs of a possible slowdown already exist. A 2001 report in Nature indicates that the flow of cold, dense water from the Norwegian and Greenland Seas into the North Atlantic has diminished by at least 20 percent since 1950.5" - Robert Gagosian, director and president of Wood's Hole, in his presentation - on Abrupt Climate Change - at the 2003 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Since then, I believe the trend has continued and perhaps accelerated, so - 30% is not impossible - certainly over 20% is correct, and maybe more.

Meanwhile, in researching this I ran across the invaluable "What is the probability of "dangerous" climate change", by Stephen Schneider. This is an especially good, in depth analysis.
posted by troutfishing at 11:23 PM on February 28, 2004

Here's a bit more on that slowdown, from New Scientist magazine. (see quote below)

Also, a relative (by marriage, from my wife's side of the family - my mother-in-law has a certain opinion of him, but I don't know - I've never met the man) - Andy Revkin, writes on environmental issues for the New york Times. He just wrote a piece on this story but seems to have gotten the dates for the Younger Dryas a bit confused - he mentions the date for the Younger Dryas downward temperature shift as 11,500 years ago. This, is simply incorrect. The onset of the Younger Dryas - when temperatures plunged (probably globally) was ~12,500 years ago. At the date Revkin cites, the Earth actually warmed abruptly as the thermohaline circulation resumed. There are other various distortions in the article : "Most experts caution that the data on past changes and current trends are spotty" - well, data on current trends is spotty, but the most recent evidence suggests a considerable slowdown. But as far the first claim - Revkin is, once again, wildly off the mark - almost 180 degrees. There is nearly unanimous agreement now both on the dates and the severity of the Younger Dryas (and other such smaller) shifts.

( Revkin goes on ) "Still, some environmental groups and scientists have suggested the Pentagon study could prompt nations to curb smokestack and car emissions. ....But many climatologists and other experts doubt this. Some argue that focusing on worst-case, least-certain events...." - This is a distortion or an obfustication for the fact that, while it is true - at the moment - that a climate shift of the magnitude of the Younger Dryas shifts is less likely, there is now a widespread consensus among researchers in the field that Global Warming WILL cause a thermohaline current slowdown - if not a complete shut down. That is one of the real bones of contention - slowdown vs. shutdown - and there is, further, no real consensus, though, about the impact of this on Earth's climate though few, if any, assert that there will be no impact or that the impact will be good.

Revkin ends his piece with a quote from Stefan Ramhstorf, a leader in the field, which seems to be taken wildly out of context or at least confusing to Revkin's audience. : " "Two different newspapers wrote articles," he [ Rahmstorf ] said. "One wrote a highly dramatic article like The Observer, confusing a risk analysis with a prediction. The other one wrote there is nothing to worry about, because I said this is unlikely to happen." " - I take this comment of Rahmstorf's to be a rather dry, sardonic observation on the way the media distorts scientific statements, and I imagine Rahmstorf was really rolling his eyes about Revkin's piece - for it's distortions and inaccuracies. Ramstorf, at a press conference in late 2003 (I couldn't pinpoint the exact date, so this is my best guess) told reporters - "In the worst case it (the Gulf Stream) could shut down... it might even happen this century." He did not attempt to quantify the likelihood of that. But my point here is that Rahmstorf is far from unconcerned and, further, he is actually trying to be highly judicious. Rahmstorf, in a february 2003 Nature article, "The Current Climate" (available on Rahmstorf's PIK site as a Pdf), notes that simulations of an oceanic heat transport shut down (complete shutdown) reduces average temperatures over Europe by several degrees celsius (quite a bit!) and a staggering 10 Celsius over Greenland and 20 Celsius over the Nordic seas. So presumeably, in this scenario, Sweden becomes unihabitable, as well as - perhaps, the UK.

Bob Gagosian, director and president of Wood's Hole, has stated that circulation WILL shut down, partially or fully, within 10 to 50 years.* ( see Gagosian's address to the World Economic Forum, davos, 2003 )

But, reading Revkin's piece, one would get the sense that concern over this is mostly sensationalistic Hollywood driven hype.

I am not impressed.

* ( from New Scientist article to to above, top )"....But now Bill Turrell, leader of the Ocean Climate Group at the Scottish Executive's Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen, has found evidence that fits in with Rahmstorf's predictions. He analysed more than 17 000 measurements of seawater salinity between Shetland and the Faroe Islands since 1893.

Turrell found that in each of the past two decades the salinity of the deep water flowing south has dropped by 0.01 grams of salt per kilogram of seawater. So its density has probably also decreased by 0.01 kilograms per cubic metre per decade. "This is the largest change we have seen in the outflow in the last 100 years," says Turrell. "It is consistent with models showing the stopping of the pump and the conveyor belt." In the 1950s the salinity of the outflow was so stable it was used to calibrate equipment.

His findings are echoed by work at the Fisheries Laboratory of the Faroes. Monitoring there suggests the deep water outflow through the channel southwest of the islands is getting warmer. In a study yet to be published, Bogi Hansen of the lab says the level at which water is at -0.5 °C dropped by 60 metres between 1988 and 1997.

Svein Østerhus of the University of Bergen in Norway has also discovered that a deep-sea current closer to the Arctic has gone into reverse. In 1982 and 1983, deep water flowed southwards from the Greenland Sea into the Norwegian Sea at 10 centimetres per second. But in 1992 and 1993, the water was flowing at 1 centimetre per second in the opposite direction. This indicates that the Greenland Sea pump "has been dramatically reduced in power", says Ø sterhus.

"Any evidence that changes in ocean currents are starting to occur is very important," says Rahmstorf. "The freshening and warming of the deep water flowing back into the Atlantic is consistent with global warming but could also have natural causes." "


*From Robert Gagosan's address to the World Economic Forum, davos, 2003 ( two scenarios - note, there is probably a lesser probability scenarios which could occur sooner that Gogosian leaves out, for the dangers of sensatianlism on the part of the press ) : "Scenario 1: Conveyor slows down within next two decades.
Such a scenario could quickly and markedly cool the North Atlantic region, causing disruptions in global economic activity. These disruptions may be exacerbated because the climate changes occur in a direction opposite to what is commonly expected, and they occur at a pace that makes adaptation difficult.

Scenario 2: Conveyor slows down a century from now.
In such a scenario, cooling of the North Atlantic region may partially or totally offset the major effects of global warming in this region. Thus, the climate of the North Atlantic region may rapidly return to one that more resembles today’s—even as other parts of the world, particularly less-developed regions, experience the unmitigated brunt of global warming. If the Conveyor subsequently turns on again, the “deferred” warming may be delivered in a decade."
posted by troutfishing at 11:26 AM on February 29, 2004

Oh - I neglected to post a link to that Andrew Revkin/NYT piece I savaged (above). Here it is :

"The sky is falling, say Hollywood and, yes, the Pentagon" (By Andrew Revkin, NYT, February 29, 2004)
posted by troutfishing at 11:31 AM on February 29, 2004

"Contrary to some recent media coverage, the report was not secret, suppressed, or predictive."
(source: the authors of the report)
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 5:59 PM on March 2, 2004

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