Going Back to Bed With a Bottle of Wine

Sharon May 20th, 2009

Ok, I’m not really, I’m actually off to do soil tests, plant herbs and corn, and start melon seeds.  But I’ve got to admit, it is tempting.  Here’s what’s making me want to put the covers over my head:

“The  most comprehensive modeling yet carried out on the likelihood of how much hotter the Earth’s climate will get in this century shows that without rapid and massive action, the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated six years ago – and could be even worse than that.

The study uses the MIT Integrated Global Systems Model, a detailed computer simulation of global economic activity and climate processes that has been developed and refined by the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change since the early 1990s. The new research involved 400 runs of the model with each run using slight variations in input parameters, selected so that each run has about an equal probability of being correct based on present observations and knowledge. Other research groups have estimated the probabilities of various outcomes, based on variations in the physical response of the climate system itself. But the MIT model is the only one that interactively includes detailed treatment of possible changes in human activities as well – such as the degree of economic growth, with its associated energy use, in different countries.”

And for more good cheer from the same source:

The new projections, published this month in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate, indicate a median probability of surface warming of 5.2 degrees Celsius by 2100, with a 90% probability range of 3.5 to 7.4 degrees. This can be compared to a median projected increase in the 2003 study of just 2.4 degrees. The difference is caused by several factors rather than any single big change. Among these are improved economic modeling and newer economic data showing less chance of low emissions than had been projected in the earlier scenarios. Other changes include accounting for the past masking of underlying warming by the cooling induced by 20th century volcanoes, and for emissions of soot, which can add to the warming effect. In addition, measurements of deep ocean temperature rises, which enable estimates of how fast heat and carbon dioxide are removed from the atmosphere and transferred to the ocean depths, imply lower transfer rates than previously estimated….

To illustrate the range of probabilities revealed by the 400 simulations, Prinn and the team produced a “roulette wheel” that reflects the latest relative odds of various levels of temperature rise. The wheel provides a very graphic representation of just how serious the potential climate impacts are.

“There’s no way the world can or should take these risks,” Prinn says. And the odds indicated by this modeling may actually understate the problem, because the model does not fully incorporate other positive feedbacks that can occur, for example, if increased temperatures caused a large-scale melting of permafrost in arctic regions and subsequent release of large quantities of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. Including that feedback “is just going to make it worse,” Prinn says.”

That’s just the image I wanted in my head right now, the “Wheel O’ Doom.”  Spin the wheel, take yer chances. 

At the moment, the only thing I can think of to do is this – make sure we stop using energy. I admit to grave doubts about how quickly we can adapt to renewables, so my end of this, the place I find hope is this – perhaps, just perhaps, we can make the inevitable realization that we have to have less a little more appetizing, and a little more hopeful.  Because the price we pay for what we have is clearly too high.

 We now return this program to your regularly scheduled dirt.


15 Responses to “Going Back to Bed With a Bottle of Wine”

  1. Susan in NJ says:

    I just read this too. The treehugger summary I read ended with “pretty much the end of life as we know it.” So I that must have subliminally caused me to visit you.

  2. Isis says:

    Do we have any good reason to believe that these climate change models are any more reliable than the market/growth models that failed so miserably? This is a serious (and not merely rhetorical) question, so people’s opinions would be appreciated.

    Now, let me say that I’m not a climate change skeptic, far from it. The climate is changing already, we don’t need any fancy models to tell us that. Essentially, I’m convinced that we are in a good deal of trouble, but when people start tossing out actual numbers (so many degrees in so many decades), well, I’m not sure I have any good reason to believe them. And I find it at least as likely that they are underestimating the risk as that they are overestimating it.

  3. gaiasdaughter says:

    Isis, in answer to your question, I would say that market/growth models are not truly scientific and are based mostly on conjecture by the same people that advocated an economy based on ever increasing debt and ever increasing consumerism — people who have a stake in the status quo. Climate models, on the contrary, are based on decades of data, of continuously refined models to include more and more real-world observations, on ever-improving computer capability, and on ever increasing knowlege of past climatic shifts. There are still a lot of unknowns — the melting of the permafrost is one example, and poorly understood ocean currents for another. Where knowledge is insufficient, the potential impact is ignored (for now) — which means that when the models err, they are much more likely to err on the side of underestimation than overestimation. That is why the trend, as climate becomes better understood, is toward ever more dire forecasts. No one knows for sure, and climatologists would be the first to admit that — which is why they couch their predictions in probabilities.

    Earlier this spring, there was a huge conference held in Copenhagen attended by 2500 of the world’s leading climatologists. One of the findings put forth by the Hadley Met Centre is that even with a Herculean effort to reduce emissions we only have a 50-50 chance of averting catastrophic climate change. The reductions they call for are much more drastic than anything currently being considered.

    All of this is why I have stopped looking to big government to save us. I have just started (and I am a newborn in this effort) to seriously reduce my own footprint — to do what Sharon and others have already done. And I have put my hope in economic decline and peak oil — perhaps the limitations of the world we live in will do for us what we don’t have the will to do — save ourselves from ourselves.

  4. Erika says:

    Is it wrong that I avoid reading the negative stuff? I know we’re headed a certain someplace in a hand-basket, but I don’t need to be reminded of it constantly… I’m just going to continue to try to do the best that I can… it’s pouring outside right now, and I’m loving the fact I won’t have to water my beans today – little does my DH know, that’s ALL I planted in the flower beds in the front yard… the nasturtiums should come up and mingle with the beans, and I have some volunteer chard already up… so I’m just going to be happy for today’s rain, watered beans, and the delicious home-made cherry jam (Thanks, Grandma!) I had on toast for breakfast this morning!

    I just feel better pretending to be oblivious…


  5. nika says:

    Modeling is not MEANT to give specific actual numbers but it can provide a probable range of values. I think that market models are apples to the climate models oranges. Market models are deeply confounded and biased. Think of them as more of a CYA mechanism for money makers.

    As a scientist, I tend to consume this sort of information with an open mind while also appreciating that there are known and unknown confounding dynamics to any sort of systems analysis and modeling. At least with these science (and not market) based models, there are real data that can be used to test the model intensively.

    I guess I tend to be pessimistic (or is that realistic?) and have always assumed that we have profoundly overshot the threshold and that mitigation was a fairytale considering our society is predicated on capitalism and the unlimited growth business model.

  6. Sarah says:

    Erika — I tend to do the same thing…unless the climate news is that New England is going to be uninhabitable in the very near future (which seems unlikely), nothing I read is going to make me act any differently. So I try to at least have a vague idea of what’s going on, but the details will just make me curl up into a panicked little ball.

  7. Eleanor says:

    Wow! That is upsetting. But I firmly beleive we need to pay attention.

    As a biochemist, I agree with what was said regarding scientific models. I would also add that one might want to keep in their mind that science does not deal with absolutes, since you test theories, which are never actually proven with finality. You can get pretty close with a scientific “law” (e.g., the law of gravity). But, in general, you really have to look at how strong the data are and the level of significance. If there is a high probablilit something will occur, we’d better pay attention and act accordingly.

    Any suggestions about how to discuss these issues with those who do not beleive in G.W.? For example, I know someone (a nuclear engineer) who is convinced that this is all due to the convergence/alignment of sun spots (which apparently happens every 100 years or so, or something like that) and it will all go away after a while.

  8. Chile says:

    I hate to be the resident cynic, but it really doesn’t surprise me. Humans have fouled the nest thoroughly and completely, and we aren’t the only species paying the price for it.

    Definitely time to get the h*ll out of the desert, though. :(

  9. villabolo says:

    I highly recommend the books Six Degrees and Under a Green Sky on this subject.

    The important thing to note is that we don’t need to put out five or more degrees worth of pollutants into the sky all by ourselves. Once we raise it to three or so natural feedback loops will kick in. Siberia and the Arctic Ocean will be warmed even more and we’ll have more methane and Carbon Dioxide being exhaled through the melting permafrost and clathrate hydrates.

    It seems to some that nothing short of a total civilization collapse within a decade will stop all this. Even a partial collapse-probably increasing the use of coal which is worse-might fail to stop a major catastrophe.

  10. madison says:

    What this says to me is:

    Educate your children, keep talking about how the world is going to change (age appropriately, of course). If you have fears of not making it to your child’s adulthood, maybe write a letter to be opened at a later date. Emphasize that things are going to change, migrating at some point in the future may be a somewhat useful option. As our lives become more local, we have to balance that against the scary thought that stepping out into the unknown and leaving our local home might someday be the best option of survival. Walk out if you have to, but keep your options open. Cultivate a mindset of impermanence and that home is where you make it.

  11. Uncle Yarra says:

    “Any suggestions about how to discuss these issues with those who do not beleive in G.W.? For example, I know someone (a nuclear engineer) who is convinced that this is all due to the convergence/alignment of sun spots (which apparently happens every 100 years or so, or something like that) and it will all go away after a while.”

    The feedback mechanisms here on earth will not ‘go away’ after sun spots decline.
    He may also talk about the ‘chilling stars’ and how cosmic radiation causes cloud nucleation/formation (which reflects a lot of heat if they are at the right altitude).

    Ask him how close the correlation is after 2003.

    All the climate models keep the same basic premise and modify slightly as new information comes to hand. For the cosmic radiation theory, after 2003, the data does not support a correlation. Thus there is either no validity to the idea or a major rethink is needed.

    Besides, even if Milankovitch cycles are as big a climate driver as some say, and Earth is being warmed by that process, do we really want to add to it with more pollution just when it is getting hot? Talk about adding fuel to the fire…!

    Get him to watch Chris Martenson Crash course and look at the risk matrix and aask him if he still wants to do nothing then.

  12. vera says:

    “Rapid and massive action” is needed, they tell us. Like what? Junk your car, buy a horse?… Although I do know of one rapid massive action that could be done if the farmers cared to do it. Convert plowed fields into pastures and capture vast quantities of carbon thereby. Goodbye golden fields of grain, they actually add carbon to the atmosphere.

  13. Sharon says:

    The reason I’m inclined to take these models somewhat seriously is that they are backed up by so much material that demonstrates consistently that we have understated the problem of AGW at every point. I think we’ve also radically understated the costs of adaptation – the green movement is deeply invested in the idea that “this won’t hurt economic growth, we’ll have new green jobs” – when in fact, it should be phrasing this much harder terms “the time for reflection is over, this will cost us, but we have the potential to save the lives of our own children.”


  14. madison says:

    I watched the movie “Day After Tomorrow” yesterday and one line really stuck with me. When it’s obvious the storm is going to be catastrophic, and the characters are talking about what can be done, the elder says “Save who you can” (or close to that), knowing most won’t be saved. I think we are reaching that moment, when it’s too late… so, do what you can. Decide who you will be in the face of collapse. That’s all you can really do.

  15. @Eleanor

    Try going to http://www.realclimate.org

    If your friend is an engineer, they should find all of the data they could possibly want to confirm that there is no way global warming is sunspots.

    On a side note… I am trying to get sources together for an article on Global Warming (as a guest spot on anther site). Anyone who has any, please drop a line on my site (http://logic11.wordpress.com)

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