How Fast is Global Warming Happening?

Sharon September 27th, 2007

When I began writing _A Nation of Farmers_ last year, one of the first sections I completed was the introduction to the agricultural impact of climate change. I finished it in early March, and felt that I’d produced a fairly cutting-edge synthesis of the implications of Global Warming for food and agriculture - and about the power of food and agriculture to mediate global warming. Pleased that I’d written something useful and that at least one chapter of the book was finished, I sent it off to my publisher for their perusal and turned to other things. I could have just saved myself time and shoved it in the recycling bin, deleted it from my hard drive and taken a nap.

It wasn’t that wasn’t carefully researched or written, just that the data on climate change is coming in so fast right now that what I wrote this spring is now largely outdated. There are now further refinements, subsequent studies and new models to deal with. I subscribe to a number of news feeds, and people send me additional studies and items of interest. My husband, an astrophysicist who teaches environmental physics also tracks the same material. And what, overwhelmingly I’m seeing, and most scientists seem to be seeing, is that global warming is progressing far faster than anyone would ever have expected.

For example, as recently as this spring, the IPCC report was estimating that arctic ice might disappear in the summers as early as 2050, but more likely towards the very end of this century. Research by James Hansen and other scientists at NASA projected an ice free arctic as early as 2023 this year, which stunned the scientific community. In fact, however, this summer’s ice retreat was so dramatic, that in, fact, the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center is now suggesting that the arctic could be ice free as early as 2015, 8 years from now. In less than six months, we’ve jumped our predictions for a major tipping point factor up by a minimum of 30 years. That’s astonishing - and terrifying.

The IPCC’s assessment of when major climate induced famines may occur originally focused on 2050, but yesterday the IPCC released a study suggesting that all agricultural production in Africa may halve in 12 years. Given that Africa presently has millions of people struggling to feed themselves, we can only imagine how horrifying this may be. Or rather, we don’t have to imagine it - almost all of us will live to watch it. India, set to become the world’s most populous country, also stands to lose up to 40% of its agricultural production by mid-century.

A 1 meter sea-level rise, may submerge 1/3 of the nation of Bangladesh. According to James Hansen’s most recent studies at NASA, an ice-free arctic would virtually ensure we pass the critical 2 degree mark, setting in motion a sea level rise of up to 25 meters. A 1 meter rise could happen as early as 2019, 11 years from now, if sea level rises continue as predicted. Such a rise, incidentally, would do irreparable harm to American, Canadian, Australian and European coastal communities as well.

The IPCC report does not include the impact of tipping points on global warming for the most part - that is, it assumes that effects will proceed linearly, in a convenient, orderly fashion, rather than in the irregular way that nature usually does things. We have ample observational evidence, however, that things like ice melting don’t actually proceed linearly, but create feedback loops that accellerate the process. Thus, virtually every scientist whose work I have read, whose studies I’ve seen, or who I see interviewed makes exactly the same point - everything about climate change is happening much, much, much faster than anyone expected.

I’m married to a scientist, and generally speaking, scientists are carefully trained to equivocate - to say what they don’t know, and what the limitations on their knowledge are, to speak in terms of possibilities, rather than absolute truth. One of the most disturbing things about listening to scientists studying climate change, then, is the fear in the voices and words of people not accustomed to be fearful, and the sense that generally speaking, scientists are far more worried than most of us are. We can either believe they are worried because they are foolish, easily frightened and scaremongering, or we can believe they are afraid because they are seeing things they have never seen before with implications that are terrifying, and do not understand why the rest of us are so unafraid.

12,800 years ago, the Younger Dryas climate change occurred. It was the last great climactic shift of the great ice age, and is notable mostly because of its tremendous rapidity - in less 20 years, the world went from warm to cold, entering a 1300 year old ice age. In Maine, over a decade, average temperatures dropped by 28 degrees. But believe it or not, that’s not the disturbing bit of data. As Richard Alley, of Penn State University documents in his studies of Greenland ice cores, when the Younger Dryas ended, it did so even faster, within a decade. Fred Pearce quotes Alley as saying, “Most of that change looks like it happened in a single year. It could have been less, perhaps even a single season.”

The cause of these radical changes seem to have been all the bad guys of present climate change - melting ice, the ocean conveyor belt, releases from soil and water of stored methane and carbon - that is, the planet changed its entire climate in a matter of decades, or less than a decade or a season because of all the things we’re watching right now. And it looks like the first of the great potential tipping points is coming not in 50 years or 40, not when those of us writing now are dead or old and grey and our children grown with children of their own, but very soon, in the next years and decades.

The simple fact is that one of the things we do know is that climate change can happen with astonishing rapidity, and produce radical changes in planetary climate quite quickly. As we gain more and more evidence, one of the things that seems overwhelmingly true is that very little about this is smooth or linear.

Now insert humanity into this. Never before have we had the power to make such a huge change. For example, we could figure in the issue of global dimming alone. Earlier in this post I pointed out that Global Warming is being blamed for a 50% reduction in agricultural production in Africa, especially the Sahel, the subsaharan area many of us in the West associate so strongly with drought and famine. Atmospheric physicist Leon Rotstayn argues that in fact, the drought of the 1980s in the Sahel that led to the Ethiopian famine was probably due less to global warming than global dimming. Neither the IPCC report on climate nor their report on famine in Africa takes full account of global dimming.

Global dimming is an observed phenomenon about which there is comparatively little scientific controversy. It simply points out that atmospheric pollution caused by industrialization has reduced the amount of sunlight we’re receiving. And because sunlight striking water is the largest factor in evaporation rates, we are seeing reduced rates of evaporation. This evaporation fuels the monsoons that run across Africa and Asia providing much of the rainy season warming. Dr. Rotstayn argues that our pollution has damaged evaporation rates so much that the Sahel experienced drought and famine. The same, we are warned, could potentially occur in Asia, where billions of people depend on the monsoons for irrigation.

But here’s the thing. We know that atmospheric pollutions means that we are getting less sun than we would be without it. We must reduce atmospheric pollution of all kinds, lest we plunge up to 3 billion people into famine and drought, not to mention that millions of deaths from asthma, lung cancer and pollution related health consequences - up to 3 million people annually in China alone. But we also know that in the past, the amount of atmospheric carbon we have at present led to warming of up to six degrees. Right now, it has warmed the planet only 0.6 degrees. One of the most likely explanations for this is that we’re simply getting less sun, that a dimming planet has held back global warming. But if we stop polluting, if we do the things necessary to stop global warming, we are likely to reduce our atmospheric pollution as well, leading to a much more dramatic, sudden rise in temperatures.

The arctic sea ice and global dimming aren’t the only factors that could accellerate climate change. But they are two of the most urgent and immanent threats to us. None of this research takes peak oil into account. As we refine our understanding of the real and material limits of fossil fuels, trace metals and other resources, it becomes less and less likely that any long term solution involving a mass build-out of renewable energies is likely to occur. That is, we’re likely to find our solutions to global warming dramatically restricted by the availablility of energy and wealth. No one, with the exception of Richard Heinberg, has so far full grasped how short a time we have to remediate global warming - perhaps only a matter of a few years in which we are rich enough to begin the conversion of our infrastructure.

And, of course, the reality is that we all talk about 2 degrees and 440 or 450 or 480 ppm as though they are absolute limits, and we’ll all be just fine until we hit them. The truth is more complicated. Even if we were on track to reach the “limits” of atmospheric carbon, we have no certainty that they will help us avoid a tipping point - merely a likelihood, the estimates of models that even the scientists themselves admit are probably inadequate to deal with the fact that climate change is happening now, far faster and harder than anyone ever expected.

We cannot know exactly what will happen, but the fact that we cannot know things exactly doesn’t mean that we can’t know anything, or that we have no way of making any kind of rational choice. While Occam’s Razor, for example, is an imperfect logical tool, it also has real merit here - the fact that climate change seems on its own to be accellerating rapidly means that in our search for solutions, we should focus not only 30 or 50 year plans, but on doing as much as we can to ameliorate the harm we’ve done as rapidly as we can. Instead of focusing on CAFE standards and hope for technological breakthroughs, we are simply going to have to accept that having altered our world irrevocably, we have no choice but to live in that world - and thus, to ensure in any way we can, that the world remains livable for those who live today and those who will come after us.


23 Responses to “How Fast is Global Warming Happening?”

  1. Harrison 27 Sep 2007 at 7:19 pm

    I definitely think there is a lot we can do and I wouldn’t rule out any approach to work for change. I do some work with the Auto Alliance and even they are working with congress to help raise CAFE standards to reasonable levels. There’s an energy bill in front of congress right now even and we all need to stay informed. You should check out Drive Congress they have a lot of stats on it.

  2. Sonyaon 27 Sep 2007 at 11:37 pm

    Thank you for that information.

    As I suspect and I’m sure many others do too, this is all accelerating much much faster than any of us could have ever imagined.

    Once that positive feedback loop kicks in it’s like starting a huge machine that we won’t be able to stop.

    This stresses the absolute urgency with which we must all act.

    Personally I’m running an energy descent course in my local region, relocalisation groups in my very local area and I’m also setting my own home and family up for the future.

  3. homebrewlibrarianon 28 Sep 2007 at 2:06 am

    Okay, it’s official, I’m nervous. Up to this point I kept myself on a pretty rigorous schedule of reducing my carbon footprint as well as beefing up my various self sufficiency skills because I figured I had 5-10 years. A friend and I are working on developing a community of like minded folks but as the storm clouds are thickening on the the horizon much faster than expected, methinks we have to pick up the pace a bit.

    My friend actually found the web site with the water levels and if there’s anything to be glad for, very little of Alaska will be affected by even a 12 meter water level rise. Something about having mountains coming right down to the water and big mountain ranges all over the place.

    The weather up in these parts is already different. Since we’re near the axis of rotation, weather can go in any direction. For most of the year, weather for Anchorage comes out of the southeast or south. It makes me wonder how severe and abrupt climate change will affect us. It will probably get warmer but who knows if it will get wetter or drier?

    There’s no time for slacking but it’s also difficult to make lots of necessary and somewhat expensive changes (mostly to bring a building owned by my friend up to and beyond code for insulation, wiring, heating, etc.) overnight. He and I both know that there’s no time to waste but the limitations of what can be done are very real as well. Hopefully, if I keep him focused, by the end of next year the home renovations will be completed.

    On a happy note, I finally got a retractable clothesline installed and hung out the first load last night. No more dryers!


  4. Anonymouson 28 Sep 2007 at 2:25 am

    How exactly did humans cause the Younger Dryas climate change? Guess what, they didn’t. And to think that humans are affecting the climate of the earth now is really quite ludicrous. The climate of the earth has gone through cyclical changes since earth began. We cannot possibly have as much effect as the sun or the earth’s orbit in space or many other factors that we don’t even know about.

    Being a geologist, I realize that humans need to look at the big, longer term picture. We are just a pimple on the earth’s butt.

    And even I, as a geologist and not an English major, know that it is imminent, not immanent as in “But they are two of the most urgent and immanent threats to us.” You make this mistake quite frequently.

  5. Anonymouson 28 Sep 2007 at 3:05 am

    Thank you for the links and the thorough expose!

    James Lovelock would agree with the point you make about the rapidity of climate change and sea level rise. In fact, he said that oceans could rise in a season and we may only have hours to leave vulnerable coastal regions. The higher ocean levels would be carried by a worldwide tsunami.

    We might have less than five years to complete our preparations. Those of us who live in low coastal regions as I do (Southwest FL), should get out while we can!

  6. suburbanfarmgirlon 28 Sep 2007 at 3:42 am

    Like the Anonymous Geologist, I have considered the fact that abrupt climate change has happened before, and frequently (in geologic terms), and long before people were around to cause it.

    However, I’ve chosen a different outlook than Anonymous, for a couple of reasons. One is that there is plenty of scientific evidence, brought forward by some very heavy-hitters, that human activity is having an effect on the climate, and has been for at least a couple of centuries.

    The second is personal; I’m not a fan of fatalism. If there’s a 10% chance that humans are contributing to 10% of the change in climate, and we change our actions by 10% worldwide, then there’s a possibility we may be able to slow the event sufficiently for some species, perhaps even us, to adapt. I prefer acting on that chance to sitting around waiting to see if humans end up in the category of the extinct dinosaur or the ever-hardy cockroach.

    Finally, the belief that we are changing things (for the bad) is inspiring us to change our ways (for the good). Even without the threat of climate change, the destructive path of first-world humans is way overdue for a change. Humans generally take action when they feel their actions will make a difference. As a climate-change-cause agnostic, I’m all for any belief that will get people to treat the earth with some respect.

  7. roelon 28 Sep 2007 at 3:54 am


    Thanks for addressing this. As you know by now, it’s something I focus on a lot; I’ve been noticing for quite a while that the keyword in 2/3 of climate change articles and studies is “acceleration”. I noticed this years ago, and it keeps on coming.

    James Hansen published a background piece this spring that I think those interested should read. Your husband, if he hasn’t yet, is a prime candidate. It’s called Scientific reticence and sea level rise The premise: scientists are way too slow in admitting and recognizing new developments and findings.

    Abstract. I suggest that a `scientific reticence’ is inhibiting the communication of a threat of a potentially large sea level rise. Delay is dangerous because of system inertias that could create a situation with future sea level changes out of our control. I argue for calling together a panel of scientific leaders to hear evidence and issue a prompt plain-written report on current understanding of the sea level change issue.

    Around the same time, Hansen and his team published a study, about which he talks here :
    Huge sea level rises are coming – unless we act now, and which states that by 2100, sea levels won’t just rise by the IPCC’s predicted 59 cm (later corrected to 88 cm), but by 25 meters. Yes, that is 28 times more. This report was not based on computer models, as most climate studies, but on research into ice cores from the Pleocene, if I remember correctly (350.000 years ago).

    If Hansen is right, and don’t forget he’s still the no.1 climate scientist in the US, despite countless White House attempts to discredit or get rid of him, that has unthinkable implications. And maybe the key to our response lies in the word unthinkable.

    Australia is very close to one of the tipping points you mention. Farmers are paid money to abandon land, state PM’s are fighting over water allocations, cities rely on desalination or recycled sewage for drinking water, but leaving is for most unthinkable.

    If Hansen is right, soon the same conundrums will be faced in the US southwest, New Orleans, the Netherlands, Bangla Desh, Southeast China, Tuvalu, etc. But we refuse to ponder the idea that this may happen in our lifetime, even though Hansen and his distinguished team say it will.

    I would nominate him for quite a few Nobel prizes, most perhaps for one that doesn’t exist: courage. He stands up in the face of all odds of politics and money. He says we have max 10 years left, not to reverse, too late for that, but to mitigate. My bet: we won’t even do that, we’ll just keep talking. The existence of the reticent IPCC guarantees that. As does yet another “geologist” claiming that the earth has warmed before.

    Yesterday: Arctic ice free by 2015.

    Also yesterday, our politicians started yet another conference, stating Kyoto can’t be met on account of the economy. And people keep on talking about the green benefits of hybrid cars, and driving less, and recycling, and planting trees. Too late, guys. Do be kind to Gaia, but don’t think that will save you, or your children, we’re too far gone. Gimme shelter.

    I don’t know who here knows Joe Bageant, but he called it by its name: we are living in a hologram, not in reality.

    Soon we will, but that is by no means a consolation. People have one major flaw: they manage to convince themselves they’re smart.

    Last; the only poet ever to become president of a country, far as I know, Vaclav Havel, who wrote these true words this week:

    The planet is not at risk. We are

  8. Anonymouson 28 Sep 2007 at 4:04 am

    Mr. Anonymous,

    Your’s is an arguement that’s been kicked around the table by the Right Wing climate skeptics for some years now, but it’s a faulty arguement as its logic can be easily disproven. Of course we didn’t cause the Younger Dryas climatic shift. So what? It doesn’t prove that we cannot cause a climatic shift of our own.

    Let me give you a more easily understood example. Nobody would argue against the idea that Nature starts forest fires nearly every year mainly via lighting. Lightning probably has been starting fires since there were grasslands and forests to burn - off and on for millions of years. Some years truly amazing fires get going. But you know what? I, little, ol’ me can do the SAME thing. All I have to do is go into the Sierra Nevada on a hot, windy summer day, with maybe 10 gallons of gasoline and a match. Don’t think I can get a big fire going? Well, just look at the major fire not too long ago NW of Palm Springs, Cal. It was arson - something on the order of 100K acres I think.

    This proves by example that this arguement of yours - that only Nature can create a large natural disaster to occur - is false. Nature has her ways of doing big things, and we have ours, both with matches in a dry, windy forest, and, it would seem, with an increasingly carbon-loaded atmosphere.

    Lastly, you also seem to be saying that the appearent obsurdity of Man causing a climatic shift makes the impossibility of the task self-evident. But imagine what other things humanity does that once seemed so obviously self-evidently obsurd? How about speaking in a normal tone of voice in New York and having a conversation with somebody in London? Boy, I bet anybody alive during the Younger Dryas would have believed that was obviously, totally impossible too.

    Now we know different.

    Stephen B.
    suburban MA

  9. jewishfarmeron 28 Sep 2007 at 12:48 pm

    Stephen kindly gave essentially the same answer I was going to, Mr. Anonymous. And yes, I misspell an appalling number of words quite regularly. Amazing they didn’t kick me out of the Shakespeare Society - spelling is the major requirement, of course.

    But I will add one of the remarkable things that I am passably decent at is logic - you know, those old “if a then b…” And I’m quite capable of recognizing a large red herring when one is flopping around the table. Back in the days of natural philosophers, such things were taught among scientists, but those days are sadly past. So perhaps you simply didn’t understand that this isn’t one of those “If not a (that if, if human beings didn’t cause the Younger Dryas) then not b (then human beings can’t cause global warming) - it does not, as logicians like to observe, follow.

    If, however, humans are just a pimple on anyone’s butt, you will then, presumably, be making the argument that nothing human beings can ever do could affect something so large as a major ecological system. Thus, frogs are being born with six legs because of an act of divine intervention, human overgrazing can’t cause desertification, and if we let off all our nukes at once, we’d not cause nuclear winter. I suppose, at least, that’s empowering, if not accurate.


  10. jewishfarmeron 28 Sep 2007 at 12:50 pm

    Harris - I appreciate the links, and I certainly don’t in any sense mean to imply that things are hopeless. What I do think, however, is that you don’t make much progress hunting wooly mammoth with a flyswatter. That is, solutions have to be pegged to the severity of the crisis. By the time enough shift in mileage occurs to make any passage of higher CAFE standards relevant, we’ll be well past that point. Now’s the time to be getting cars off the road.


  11. clifmanon 28 Sep 2007 at 1:41 pm

    The fallacy of anonymous geologist’s argument is refuted by simply noting a single fact: humans have extracted and burned millions of years of stored carbon in a scant two centuries. That we continue to do so at an accelerating rate speaks to our collective insanity. And referring all the way back to the original comment, this is why no level of CAFE standards will ever be ‘reasonable’. A human population nearing 7 billion, many of them driving automobiles, heating and cooling with fossil fuels, eating food produced by agribusiness, etc., etc. is not in any way reasonable or sustainable. My three recommended resources for understanding the big picture are William Catton’s “Overshoot”,
    /” REL=”nofollow”>What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire

  12. Anonymouson 28 Sep 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Actually, if misspellings and grammar are the subject, then have at me. My previous post is chock full of errors, not only spelling ones, but punctuation and grammar too. Here’s a list of what I see in my own post this morning upon a reread:

    Your’s should be Yours
    arguement - argument (no less that 3 times over)
    obsurd - absurd, likewise “obsurdity”
    appearant - apparent

    Let’s put a comma after ol’ me,
    and not end a sentence with an abbreviation as I did with Cal.

    There’s other stuff too I see now including some very poor, if not just plain incorrect, sentence structures. It was late and my eyes didn’t pick up several of the mistakes, especially the “obsurd” ones where I looked and thought that the leading “o” really was an “a”.

    We all know what the other person is trying to say and complaining about spelling while we are staring a soon-to-be monumental climate shift of the type the earth sees only in tens of thousands of years, right in the face is a rather lame activity I think.

    Anyhow, this subject of accelerating Global Warming is just plain scary. For those of us in northeast North America, just what does an Arctic Ocean that’s ice free in September, October, and at least part of November mean? I’m not a climate scientist, but barring new, unforeseen shifts in major world wind and ocean currents (which probably are really a given), I can see New England falls and early winters being qute warm if not down right hot as the Arctic and Hudson’s Bay area is where most of our air masses come from at that time of year. Let’s hope the precipitation at least continues.

    On the other hand, I always wanted to time travel back to a time of climatic shift, perhaps back to when the glaciers were quickly piling on the continent or receeding, or perhaps instead witness a rapidly changing sea level. I’ve read that there is evidence of human settlements out just offshore from the East Coast from when ocean levels were much lower during the last ice ages. Now, assuming I live, I’ll be able to see NYC, Boston, and a whole bunch of other “settlements” join the collection of atlantis’. ‘So much fun it is….NOT!

    Stephen B.
    suburban MA

  13. BoysMomon 28 Sep 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Excuse me, but what difference does it make if climate change is human caused or natural? Granted we all agree that whatever the politicians do is going to be too little too late, not so? (And probably ineffective, or more likely, intensify the problem.)
    The actual results of global warming are the same no matter what the cause. Lowlands will flood. Refuges will search out places to shelter. Desertification will happen in some areas and swampification (is there a word for what I mean?) in others. As far as dealing with the results, the causes are . . . academic. When Long Island goes underwater, it makes no difference if it’s because of SUVs or sunspots.

  14. Anonymouson 28 Sep 2007 at 3:46 pm

    Boysmom, I think the idea was that if it was induced by humanity, we could do something about it. Now, however, I kind of agree with you. At this point preparation is looming at least as large as prevention.

    Stephen B.
    suburban MA

  15. jewishfarmeron 28 Sep 2007 at 3:59 pm

    Boysmom, there’s little difference once nature fully gets ahold of it, but a great deal of difference before we hit tipping points (and remember, we don’t exactly know which tipping points will tip or how). While climate change is bound to continue to some degree, we might be able to have the difference, say, between having the southern half of the US remain habitable my large populations, at least in the east, and it not be. The idea is that we should give nature any pushes. So in that sense, I think it makes a difference.

    That said, I think you’ve got a point - the reality is that we’re not wholly in control now, and will be less so over time. But, for example, we are in control of things like global dimming, so we can also make large alterations that way.

    I think the way I’d describe it is that we are unable to fully constrol the *consequences* of our actions, we can only control the actions and hope that the consequences are positive.


  16. Anonymouson 28 Sep 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Bageant certainly puts the “everything is fake!” worry into an American idiom.

    The idea that consumer society layers over reality with a layer of carefully constructed fakeness that progressively cuts us of from reality, has been a big worry among philosophers since Jean Baudrillard started harping on it in the 70s and 80s (in nearly impenetrable French theory style, oh well). He argues that fakeness passes through 4 phases: the era of the original, the era of the crafted imitation of the original, the era of the cheap mechanical fake-up of the original or crafted fakes, and fourth an era where the fakes have replaced the original so thoroughly that they aren’t even references to the original anymore. First we have lemonade, then we have imitation lemonade, then we have cheap mass-produced imitation lemonade, then we have Lemon-Berry Zest Crystal Light, a mass produced product that isn’t even trying to be fake lemonade even more. And if you become used to fake lemonade, or lemon-berry zest enough real lemonade tastes all wrong and starts to seem like a bad imitation of the fake lemonade-like drinks.

    So what they heck does this have to do with global warming? Baudrillard thinks this process runs all through our way of life. First you have news designed to tell you what is new. Then you have carefully crafted fake news designed to seem like news. Then you have mass-produced cheap fake news, then you have infotainment that is no longer even trying to imitate the process of discovering what is new with reality, but is simply trying to be a viable product on the market. Likewise with politics. First you have attempts to deal with real problems. Then you have carefully crafted attempts to LOOK like you are dealing with the real problems. Then you have cheap mass produced attempts to look like you are trying to deal with the real problems. Then you lose touch with reality completely, and stigmatize it as the “reality based community” because the goal of politics has become to be a viable ideology in the marketplace of ideas, quite a part from any connection to prior reality.

    Consider a October 17, 2004, New York Times Magazine article by writer Ron Suskind, quoting an unnamed aide to George W. Bush:

    The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    Scientific reticinence is based on a fundementally different understanding of the role of reality in our discourse. Science just hasn’t come to terms with how disconnected from reality the political and economic processes which govern the world are nowadays. The idea that global warming is real, our fault, and happening very rapidly is not a
    viable ideology in the global marketplace of ideas, because if it were true it would be depressing and would interfere with the economy, so there is little reason to spread the message. Whether it is true or not is simply beside the point, because that is not how decisions are made anymore and not how political power or political change work. Truth itself would have to be re-empowered, and reality would have to re-intrude upon the fortresses of fakeness, before that kind of ideology could get any real pull beyond a few hold outs. Or at least that is how it seems to me.

    -Brian M.

  17. Anonymouson 28 Sep 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Brian, that is it exactly. Well said.

    Stephen B.
    suburban MA

  18. Anonymouson 28 Sep 2007 at 5:27 pm

    Kerri (or someone else),

    Could you please share the web site you mentioned with the sea level change maps? I’m specifically interested in the northeast.


  19. homebrewlibrarianon 28 Sep 2007 at 5:45 pm

    It’s based out of Great Britain but you can view other parts of the world by selecting the area you wish to view in the upper right. Sea level change goes from 0 to 14 meters.

    Just Googling “sea level change maps” brings up a host of web sites which I haven’t perused.


  20. Kiashuon 29 Sep 2007 at 3:17 am

    “There was global climate change before humans, so how do you know this climate change was caused by humans?”

    “There was lung cancer before cigarettes, so how do you know this lung cancer was caused by cigarettes?”

    “There was heart disease before burgers, so…”

    “There was bleeding before bullets, so…”

    “There was gasping breathing before smog, so…”


    A process may be natural, or man-made; but it may also be natural and at the same time influenced by what humans do. An actual geologist would understand this. For example, landslides are natural, but that does not mean humans cannot create landslides.

    If I have in my family a genetic predisposition to heart disease, this does not mean I should say, “what the hell!” and munch on ten burgers a day. Heart disease may be a “natural process” for me, but that means I should be more careful of what I eat, not less.

    If global warming is a natural process, that makes what we humans do more important to the global climate, not less important. It’s a bit like how if you’re driving a car with unreliable brakes, you need to drive it more carefully than one with reliable brakes.

    If the climate naturally changes by itself anyway, then we’ve got to be more careful with how we interact with it, not less.

  21. Anonymouson 29 Sep 2007 at 11:51 am

    I think that there has been a great deal of reticence among the scientific community to portray exactly how bad climate change will be and how fast it is occurring for a number of reasons. One of course is that many scientists are held back by their countries (such as the US) from accurately portraying their data. Another is that we truly don’t understand the implications of positive feedback loops. I teach Environmental Science and have long been convinced that the positive feedback loops and our lack of understanding of them would be our downfall. So essentially our climate scientists are learning as they go, refining their models and trying to make sense of what they are seeing. It is so very complicated however- as you have pointed out just the combination of global dimming with climate change, let alone the ozone hole and a whole host of other things- trying to figure out how these impact each other- the synergistic effects-is mind-boggling. So combined with the hesitation to be the “boy who called wolf” and raise alerts that might be false;wanting more certainty about what one is writing about beforeone does so- no wonder every publication is inaccurate by the time we get to read it.

    As well- there is the issue of the danger that could arise by instilling a sense of hopelessness in people; if it going to be that bad, well then one might as well enjoy life now and not bother fighting might well be the attitude that would arise. This is a difficult issue for sure.

  22. Jerry McManuson 30 Sep 2007 at 3:30 am

    It’s interesting you mentioned global dimming, it is at the center of a very troubling possible global catastrophe, one of the many scenarios of doom that gave me the now all-too-familiar ‘kick in the gut’ feeling.

    The particulate matter that is blocking a portion of the solar energy from reaching the earth’s surface is known to normally precipitate out of the atmosphere fairly quickly, as little as two weeks. It is only because we are continuously pumping it into the atmosphere that it has a persistent effect.

    So, here’s the scenario:

    First, a global economic crash leads to the widespread shutdown of factories all over the world, especially in the new industrial centers in asia. Hundreds of millions of already poor factory workers in so-called ‘developing’ countries loose their jobs and start getting very hungry.

    Second, the sudden drop in pollution, not just from idle factories but also from less travel in planes, trucks and autos, causes the atmosphere to become much clearer, and the global temperature rises very quickly as the now much clearer atmosphere begins to admit more solar radiation.

    Already suffering from economic depression, billions of the worlds poor begin to die as the climate goes haywire and triggers catastrophic cascade failures across all sectors of our civilization.

    What happens next is anyone’s guess.


  23. Anonymouson 30 Sep 2007 at 8:35 pm

    Yes- there were differences noted just in the few days that planes were grounded in the US following the 9/11 events.

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