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2005: Hottest Year, Or Just Second Hottest?

   This morning NASA revealed that 2005 was the hottest year on record. If it seems like every year in recent memory has been the hottest year on record, that's pretty close to the truth. According to NASA, the five hottest years on record, going back to 1890, are, in order, 2005, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2004. (We don't say "warmest" here, as the word lacks urgency and drama. "Global warming" should probably be changed to "global burning" or "global immolation" or something grabby like that.)

  We now await word from the naysayers. Perhaps they will point out that some other analyses previously declared that 2005 was only the second hottest year, after 1998. They'll say, "See, it's in doubt! Scientists are confused! The numbers are unreliable! Let's all take a long drive and try to clear our heads!"

     Here in Washington, we had a little bit of winter in December, but January so far has been more like your average March. We're just pulling out of what were supposed to be the coldest days of the year, and the thermometer is hitting the 70s. The weatherman will talk blissfully about the pleasant, mild temperatures, but it's all rather ominous. The star magnolias are about to bloom. The bulbs think it's spring, and are kicking into gear. You know how bulbs are -- not too swift. Dim, I think is the word we usually use.

    Here's a striking fact from the NASA press release: Since 1890 the global average temperature has increased about 1.4 degrees F., but a full degree of that has been in just the past three decades. It's a different world than the one many of us were born into. And the bad thing about wrecking the Earth is that it's not the kind of thing where you're given a do-over.

   

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 25, 2006; 8:39 AM ET
 
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Comments

Just let me be the first to mention the frog in the cooking pot...

Posted by: Reader | January 25, 2006 9:16 AM | Report abuse

http://allaboutfrogs.org/stories/boiled.html

Posted by: Anonymous | January 25, 2006 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Obligatory responses:

George Will: Are these the same scientists that were warning us about a coming Ice Age back in the 1970s?

W: I preefer the phrase "climate change". It's so much more nuetral. If you want to know hot, come clear some brush with me at the ranch.

Ditto-head apologist: And what's wrong with a little warm weather? It's pretty damn chilly on the Cape in October. We could all use a little more summer. Think of the possibilities in the sunscreen industry.

Various captive fossil fuel industry scientists: This crackpot global warming theory hasn't been proven any better than smoking causes cancer or evolution.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 25, 2006 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I thought the Cheney-clone on the Day After Tomorrow was the best: "We have to think of our ECONOMY." And then, yeah, the economy stayed healthy right up to the moment that the world was destroyed by a massive earthquake/tidal wave/blizzard/volcano/alien invasion...I don't know, it all got a little confusing.

Posted by: Reader | January 25, 2006 9:32 AM | Report abuse

To anonymous poster on list kit inquiring about my name.

Actually, sir (?), I'm the kind that shaves the face. No, I don't live in Manchester UK.

Name combines elements of vixen and a part of anatomy of the type that does not shave, on the face, anwyay.

Now show yourself, or, get out of my face.

Posted by: Vulvix | January 25, 2006 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Reader, if there was indeed a frog in the cooking pot as you suggest, Karl Rove would attack its miltary service record. It wouldn't necessarily be an unpatriotic frog, mind you--just a frog that was profoundly wrong.

Meanwhile, Pat Robertson would say the reason the frog was in the pot in the first place was because it did something to offend God, and this was its comeuppance. (Possibily it had attempted to marry another frog of the same gender, or advocated teaching in the frog school system that all frogs evolved from tadpoles.)

Bill O'Reilly would claim that he knew many, many frogs, and that there was nothing wrong with the water temperature, frogs just have defective internal temperature-sensing mechanisms, possibly due to improper upbringing and muddleheaded liberal values.

Sen. Sensebrenner and some of the dispensationist religious right will just say that the frog ought to be grateful the pot is getting hotter, since it's a sign of the coming Rapture, when all the good frogs will be magically whisked away to heaven, while the bad frogs remain on earth to become cuisses de grenouille.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | January 25, 2006 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Boiled frog. Ummmmmmmmmm.

Posted by: CowTown | January 25, 2006 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Back to Curmudgeon's Katrina post of yesterday, didn't the weather guy, the one from the hurricane centre send out warnings as much as a week ahead? It seemed to me that no matter what he said or how early he said it, no one listened.

Sometimes we hear things, we know things, but we just cannot accept the possibility of something of this magnitude happening. We refuse to accept the possiblity that its going to happen so we take no action. Like Katrina taking out NO, like the tsunami, like terrorism on North American soil, we did not want to beleive these were possible, but they happened.

No one wants to beleive that Weather change is happening, but well, we so far this winter its been like a nice spring day. Parka required only 4 or so days, and never had to pull out the long johns.

Posted by: dr | January 25, 2006 9:59 AM | Report abuse

The thing about global warming is that the most nightmarish scenarios are, of course, quite low in probability. But not zero.

The scenarios in which we are still alive and able to do something about it suggest that it will take centuries to undo what we have done in mere decades. These are the high-probability scenarios. There is no significant question among atmospheric scientists -- the damage already is done, now we need to decide if we want to do more damage while we wait for the effects to make themselves more apparent.

The scariest scenario is that we turn Earth into Venus #2. The odds are low, but the cost of losing is very high. It's like taking a gamble in which you win with 99.9% probability, but winning only gets you 0.1% on your wager, while losing gets you shot in the head. It's a stupid bet to take, even stupider to do it repeatedly because, after all, you haven't been shot yet, have you?

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 25, 2006 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I think the more telling article was the quite recent one in the WaPo about the harlequin frogs of Central America.

Heard Joel's Kit info on the local ABC News from our esteemed weatherman last night...to be followed by a photo cutline in today's paper that says water fountains iced over in Bucharest, Romania; Vienna's subway tracks cracked, and a German zoo moved its penguins indoors as a deep freeze tightened its arctic grip on much of Europe. (Is it really necessary to move arctic penguins indoors? Egad.)

Global warming is bound to affect the southern climes first. So, out of respect for your frequent "Deep South" poster (Mudge, I'm not *that* close to the Rio Grande--only times I saw it were passing through El Paso), I'm going to ask you to stop driving your vehicles for at least 10 years before Texas turns into a total nudist camp.

Posted by: Loomis | January 25, 2006 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Story about San Antonio's HOT-Seller at the end of the last (Jack Bauer) Kit/Boodle.

Posted by: Loomis | January 25, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

As usual, Science Tim says it best.

Posted by: RD Padouk | January 25, 2006 10:07 AM | Report abuse

... well, at some point we're going to wipe ourselves out completely. My husband and I were talking about that on our morning commute today... I must admit that it's nice to know that once we're all gone, nature will restore our environment and just start all over again without our interference. No more politics, no more problems. I think I'll go meditate now!

Posted by: Miss Toronto | January 25, 2006 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Mudge writes:
(Possibily it had attempted to marry another frog of the same gender, or advocated teaching in the frog school system that all frogs evolved from tadpoles.)

Gee, the story of the climate-induced hermaphroditic frogs has been around...say 10 years, Mudge. Same gender frogs need not apply.

Posted by: Loomis | January 25, 2006 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Good golly. Look at my time tags. I'm time travelling today.

Posted by: RD Padouk | January 25, 2006 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Looks like I have finally found the way to get the last word in. At least until 6:05:59 PM EST.

Posted by: RD Padouk | January 25, 2006 10:15 AM | Report abuse

dr,
Perhaps you can speak to us of Alberta's oil sands--from your perspective.

Posted by: Loomis | January 25, 2006 10:17 AM | Report abuse

RDP: What's really weird is that the time on your comment about the time tags is correctly noted, but the one after it is wrong. This is convincing, but not conclusive, evidence of time travel, indeed.

Posted by: Reader | January 25, 2006 10:19 AM | Report abuse

RD Padouk: Are you doing that on purpose?

Posted by: Reader | January 25, 2006 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Remember the Twilight Zone episode (or was it The Outer Limits?) where everyone was boiling hot because the sun was getting closer and closer to the Earth and people were doing anything they could to get cooler... then it turned out that it was a dream; that the sun was getting farther and farther away and the Earth was getting colder. Or was it the other way around? Anyway... that kept me awake for weeks when I was a kid. I guess Bush et al. were busy that night when the episode aired.

Posted by: TBG | January 25, 2006 10:22 AM | Report abuse

My 6:05:59 post was my first post of the day. I do not know what happened. I implore Joel to have Hal delete it. Something evil has happened. I fear I have stumbled into one of those Donnie Darko temporal instabilities. No good can come of that.

Posted by: RD Padouk | January 25, 2006 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Never mind global warming! We've got a situation here! Somebody get Hal on the phone...

Posted by: Reader | January 25, 2006 10:25 AM | Report abuse

RD, looks like this blog is the "definitive chaotic system" and took umbrage at your comment. Yikes.

Posted by: TBG | January 25, 2006 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Is it human nature or just American nature to wait until a problem becomes a crisis before we decide to do something about it? (I suspect the latter since it wasn't raining when Noah built the ark, after all.) The Cuyahoga River catching fire is my favorite example. Clearly someone must have noticed how polluted it was prior to it bursting into flame.

Of course, with global warming, the stakes are much higher (as Science Tim has succinctly put it). There was a representative from Vanuatu (low-lying Pacific Island threatened with being wiped off the map by rising seas)back in the 90s who, in response to the "scientific doubt" about global warming said, "the evidence, we fear, will kill us."

Posted by: ABJunkie | January 25, 2006 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Personally, I blame all of the global thermal inertia accrued in 2005 on Angelia Jolie.

Well, I suppose Brad Pitt shares some blame in this matter as well, but he's probably more of a deer in AJ's headlights.

At this rate, I might have to mow my lawn before the Uber Bowl. Sheesh.

I suggest the construction of Giant Spoons to stick into The Ocean to act as a heat sinks. The Russian space agency can periodically send them into a geosynchronous orbit continually in earth's shadow to let it cool off, then return it to the ocean. If we do this enough times, and get people living on the coasts to blow on the ocean a bit, maybe we can cool everything off enough to keep the ice caps from melting completely.

"Waterworld" sucked. Who wants to see it again?

bc

Posted by: bc | January 25, 2006 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Dear Miss Toronto, thanks for weighing in. I would hope that there would be a solution or amelioration of the global warming problem that did not require our extinction. I think love of the natural world and biodiversity includes a love of human beings, flawed creatures though they may be. In any case, barring ScienceTim's Venus scenario, humans probably will be more capable of adapting to rapid climate change than will many other species. Adapting to different climates is our shtick. But already we're witnessing a great extinction event similar to what happened at the end of the Cretaceous. That involves more than climate change, it also involves habitat destruction and so on. It's alarming that many people either deny that this is happening, or don't care, or simply can't think beyond the next election cycle.

Posted by: Achenbach | January 25, 2006 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Today's reading assignment-

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/24/AR2006012401163.html

Don't you wish he'd tell us what he really thinks?

Posted by: kurosawaguy | January 25, 2006 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Today's reading assignment-

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/24/AR2006012401163.html

Don't you wish he'd tell us what he really thinks?

Posted by: kurosawaguy | January 25, 2006 10:40 AM | Report abuse

RD, if you don't stop time-traveling we're going to pull your boodle pass.

Posted by: Achenbach | January 25, 2006 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of frogs, my first husband, no longer with us, enjoyed frog legs, the fried kind, and many times he would ask me to fry them. Those things would jump around in that hot grease just like they were alive. I never tried them, but asked him what they tasted like. He said fried chicken. I didn't believe him. In the South it's hard to tell if we're going through global warming or not, because it's always hot and humid here right up until the first snow, if we get snow. It can get cold, but the heat is awful until that time.

Posted by: Cassandra S | January 25, 2006 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I suppose it is worth pointing out that we are currently in an interglacial time period, a relatively warm period between ice ages. These typically last around 10,000 years. Ice ages typically last about 100,000 years. Since the last Ice Age was about 11,000 years ago, our interglacial is pretty long in the tooth. In the late 70's, climatologists were justifiably wondering whether we were soon to enter a new ice age. Now we have the added complication of global warming to deal with. So we can all have our gooses well cooked before they are frozen! It would be interesting to see how our descendents deal with all of this over the next 1000 years or so - but I'll have to content myself with pushing up the daisies (or whatever plant life can survive on my grave).

Posted by: dbc | January 25, 2006 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Once more for the record. I have no idea how I posted 8 hours into the future. I suspect alien intervention.

Please kill it. Kill it now.....

Posted by: RD Padouk | January 25, 2006 10:51 AM | Report abuse

The future's so bright, we all gotta wear shades.

Posted by: Bayou Self | January 25, 2006 10:54 AM | Report abuse

"The monumental ruins left behind by those past societies hold a romantic fascination for all of us. . . . We feel drawn to their often spectacular and haunting beauty, and also to the mysteries that they pose. . . . How could a society that was once so mighty end up collapsing? What were the fates of its individual citizens? -- did they move away, and (if so) why, or did they die there in some unpleasant way? Lurking behind this romantic mystery is the nagging thought: might such a fate eventually befall our own wealthy society? Will tourists someday stare mystified at the rusting hulks of New York's skyscrapers, much as we stare today at the jungle-overgrown ruins of Maya cities?

"It has long been suspected that many of those mysterious abandonments were at least partly triggered by ecological problems: people inadvertently destroying the environmental resources on which their societies depended. This suspicion of unintended ecological suicide -- ecocide -- has been confirmed by discoveries made in recent decades by archeologists, climatologists, historians, paleontologists, and palynolygists (pollen scientists). . . .

"The risk of such collapses today is now a matter of increasing concern; indeed, collapses have already materialized for Somalia, Rwanda, and some other Third World countires. Many people fear that ecocide has now come to overshadow nuclear war and emerging diseases as a threat to global civilization. . . ."

-- from "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," by Jared Diamond

Posted by: Dreamer | January 25, 2006 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, from regrettheerror.com, a site that tracks media corrections ...

Will the real "worst day of the year" please stand up?
Jim Donahue's The Velvet Blog noticed a discrepancy in reporting about the so-called "worst day of the year." The Atlanta Journal Constitution, for example, reported that it was January 23. Then MSNBC goes and says it's January 24. Have a peek in Google News and you'll instantly notice that some outlets say it's the 23rd, while others opt for the 24th. The day was declared by Dr. Cliff Arnall, a psychologist in Wales, so is this a time zone issue? Or sloppy reporting?

Posted by: Bayou Self | January 25, 2006 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Global warming makes me nervous. I wish the federal government would come up with rational policy, but I realize that's beyond the capabilities of the current administration.

On the other hand, the woolly worms have been right about winter so far. In the NC mountains, there are folk tales that the markings of the woolly worm, a caterpillar of a moth whose name I can never remember, predict winter. The more black sections on the worm, the colder the winter will be. When my husband and I were there in October, all the woolly worms were black on either end, with a big brown section in the middle. It was cold around here in December, up to Christmas. So hold on, the end of February and March will be bad!

Posted by: slyness | January 25, 2006 11:05 AM | Report abuse

In 1989, I said that we needed to drive smaller cars and drive them less; in the intervening decade, average Americans have taken to piloting vehicles that would turn General Patton green [vermillion?] with envy.

Author Bill McKibben in "The End of Nature"

Posted by: Loomis | January 25, 2006 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Too bad RD P didn't say something mean about Deborah Howell, then the rogue comment wouldn't have appeared at all!

Posted by: TBG | January 25, 2006 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Joel, you'd commented on the considerable denial in our society that global warming is actually occurring. I think the sources of the denial are cultural, political, and parochial. First, global warming is a "cause" championed by environmentalists, whom we all know are "liberals." Many of them wear pony tails, drink "fair exchange" coffee, and vote Democratic. Also, American Manufacturers, who tend to favor the Republican Party, don't see themselves as benefiting from any recognition of global warming. They may end up being regulated or denied access to cheap energy. Therefore, environmentalism is anti-business and therefore, bad. Finally, if global warming is caused by burning fossil fuels, then we've all been contributing to our own demise. And who wants to take personal responsibility for that? Good Lord, we'd have to change our personal habits like taking a bus or using less electricity. Better to deny that global warming exists. Or, that it all happened during the Clinton Administration.

Posted by: CowTown | January 25, 2006 11:15 AM | Report abuse

To respond to AB Junkie's good question about whether it is human nature to ignore problems until they become crises, I'd have to yes, I agree that it probably is human nature to do exactly that. The problem is, there are people who are paid to anticipate problems and raise red flags, or otherwise take action, whther the rest of us are peacefully abd lissfully dozing or not. So I think it isn't a question of whether you and I are ignoring an impending crisis, but rather, what are the people who are paid (or elected) to anticipate them doing? And that's where the troubling answer is, "Nothing." (In fact, they are doing worse than nothing, being in some sort of denial.)

In the case of Katrina, most of the people whose job it was to warn us of an impending crisis did exactly that--we in fact got the warnings (in spookily accurate detail) that we pay them to forecast. There were other people who got the warning who did nothing--those are the ones who screwed up. (In their own words, they need to be held "accountable," which in my language translates to "publicly humiliated, shamed, and removed from office for gross incompetence.")

It is one thing to ignore a general and vague warning about some potentially far distant event--that's the "human nature" part." It is quite another to ignore a reasonably likely warning that there's going to be a major crisis 48 hours from now, with something like a 60 or 70 or 80 percent probability.

Case in point: there was something like a five-YEAR warning that the Y2K problem was coming. To this day I'm still not sure exactly how "real" that threat was, but the people whose job it was to warn us did so, and slowly but reluctantly most of the relevant parts of society mobilized, and took preventive action. (How much was necessary is arguable, but the point is, people took action, and appear to have solved the problem before much--or any--damage was done.)

Another case in point: we've had adequate warning about avian flu, and people are mobilizing. (Yes, one can argue about how much and how well, but the problem is on everyone's radar screens. So we've managed to overcome our "human nature" propensity to drift, at least once in a while.)

On the other hand, I'm one of those who believes that any day now, the San Andreas Fault is gonna go, and there will be new beachfront property in Arizona, and a couple million casualties. Our preparation for that possibility [read: probability], IMHO, has been about zero.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | January 25, 2006 11:22 AM | Report abuse

From Jeff Morley's WaPo blog: posted at 11:10 AM ET, 01/18/2006

Renewed Doomsday Debate Abroad

It is hard to imagine any American news organization doing what The Independent of London's online edition did this week: give top billing to a dire global warming scenario from a leading environmental scientist.

"The world has already passed the point of no return for climate change, and civilisation as we know it is now unlikely to survive, according to James Lovelock, [mentioned twice in Simon Winchester's book about the 1906 San Francisco quake and so much more--book panned by our own JA] the scientist and green guru who conceived the idea of Gaia -- the Earth which keeps itself fit for life," the liberal London daily reported Monday.

The Independent's coverage was prompted by the upcoming release of Lovelock's new book, "The Revenge of Gaia," in which Lovelock says the Earth is "seriously ill, and soon to pass into a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years."

Lovelock's "profoundly pessimistic new assessment" suggests "that efforts to counter global warming cannot succeed, and that, in effect, it is already too late," wrote the Independent's environmental editor Michael McCarthy.

"In making such a statement, far gloomier than any yet made by a scientist of comparable international standing, Professor Lovelock accepts he is going out on a limb. But as the man who conceived the first wholly new way of looking at life on Earth since Charles Darwin, he feels his own analysis of what is happening leaves him no choice," McCarthy wrote.

"As the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics," he contended.

"Much of the tropical land mass will become scrub and desert, and will no longer serve for regulation; this adds to the 40 per cent of the Earth's surface we have depleted to feed ourselves...Before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable," he said.

Are Lovelock's dire predictions well-founded enough to constitute news?

The Independent followed up with reaction from various environmentalists ...

Lovelock's comments drew virtually no news coverage among the U.S. media.

Posted by: Loomis | January 25, 2006 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Kofi Anan wrote this morning, what about Durfur? Is this a warning also? Does it really matter if millions more die in Africa? As for the environmental warnings we get, we don't really want to do what is necessary to save ourselves, it just seems to hard, so we put it on the back burner. I believe some problems just overwhelm us, and we believe them to be beyond help. Is this the case with Durfur? I know from what I've read this is not a good place and the events taking place there are not helping the people, but what can I do? I know if I were in that place I would want help, any help. That in itself tells me I should do something.

Posted by: Cassandra S | January 25, 2006 11:58 AM | Report abuse

It is so weird that everytime I hit refresh and page down reading new posts and then I get to the bottom and start to read: "Climate is the definitive chaotic system."

It kind of creeps me out.

Posted by: omnigood | January 25, 2006 12:05 PM | Report abuse

TBG, I remember that episode of Twilight Zone!

We grew up in SA Texas without air conditioning, and were accustomed to 100 plus weather in summertime. On the farm in Karnes City, Aunt Dora wouldn't let us play outside after the noon hour without wearing our bonnets because "you'll get a heat stroke" and we had to stay under the huge weeping willow tree. She didn't have an ice-box, but the well water she kept in a galvanized bucket on the porch was cool and refreshing. Uncle Claude worked in the alfalfa fields from sunrise to sundown and carried a canteen of water.

Posted by: Nani | January 25, 2006 12:15 PM | Report abuse

I propose semi-submersible habitats, formed into aquatic communities, as our refuge when we toast the land. It provides a relatively cool environment without having to pump heat using refrigeration systems to cool our homes, (which contributes to waste heat in the environment). There's lots of surface area. No need to mow the lawn. If most of the habitat is below water, with only docking and access points above water, it should be largely hurricane and tsunami resistant (should be...) so long as it is anchored far enough off-shore (a few miles should do it).

However, people tend to be trashy. Throwing loose trash overboard will attract scavengers. On land, we call them "rats", "raccoons", "opossum." In the ocean, we would call them "lobster," "flounder," and "sharks." It's that last group that might be a little worrisome. But they make good eating!

I already have my home and my submersible bicycle half-designed in my head!

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 25, 2006 12:15 PM | Report abuse

omnigood:
AND the time stamp on that "Climate is the definitive etc." is that magic time, 6:05:59PM
The horror, the horror!

Posted by: nellie | January 25, 2006 12:18 PM | Report abuse

It says on the WaPo home page that Bush wants to "rein in soaring health costs."

*Chortle, chortle, chortle. Slaps thigh, wipes tears of laughter from eye.*

Posted by: Curmudgeon | January 25, 2006 12:19 PM | Report abuse

A few boodlers have hinted at one obstacle in the way of fixing this: accountability. The fact is, as humans, we don't care. We just want it fixed.

Starting to fix it does not equate to admitting you caused it. Bush and Friends do not understand that kind of thinking. It's always someone's fault. If it's a Democrat, publicize it. If it's a Republican, hide the evidence and deny. Not that it would be different with most any Democrat in the Oval Office, but Bush seems to be worse than most.

And of course, now that he's taken the stand of "there is no problem", he can't back down because he's never wrong. That's a whole different issue...

Posted by: otter | January 25, 2006 12:21 PM | Report abuse

You know, those extinction comments re: global warming reminded me of this organization: the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. You can check it out here: http://www.vhemt.org

Although, I must confess, I think I'd prefer some other corrective action . . .

Posted by: Paul | January 25, 2006 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Ummm... Isn't one of the traits of a chaotic system that there is no steady state, that it can flip from one seemingly steady condition to another with no warning? (See Gleik's "Chaos", also any of the pretty pictures in "The Beauty of Fractals")

Joel, if you happen to come back to yesterday's Kit to read this... I'd love to read a good investigation about how well climate models are at predicting climate history. We're looking at a 1 deg. F rise and predicting terrible things in a century given the current state of the climate- but given what we know about the current state of the climate, how accurately do those same models predict the past? If they don't agree with history then there's little reason to have faith in their ability to predict the future.

Posted by: Les | January 25, 2006 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Where there was wheat, so there will be rice.

Posted by: reader | January 25, 2006 12:51 PM | Report abuse

What terrifies climate scientists (I count myself as one) when they read these kind of stories, is that people will think that climate change (ok, global warming) is something that you can see from one year to the next. It is not. The reason we are terrified (ok that's a strong word) is that we could easily have a couple of cold years in a row and people would think that the problem has gone away. Perhaps settled down as RD Padouk suggests. In fact, warming is a problem for the centuries. We have increased CO2 by about 30% over the last century; we will double it in the next; perhaps quadruple in yet another 100 years. This will have an enormous affect, though when and where it will impact the globe is very hard to say. The fundamental physics of greenhouse warming has been understood for over a century and I do not see how any system, chaotic or otherwise, will suddenly become colder when forced with an extra heat source.

Posted by: NeilS | January 25, 2006 12:57 PM | Report abuse

The Snopes Urban Legend site presents evidence that the story of the frog in the kettle is baloney (http://www.snopes.com/critters/wild/frogboil.htm). Further proof: I've noticed that every year is hotter than the one before.

Posted by: Literalman | January 25, 2006 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Further to Paul's comment:

According to Daniel Quinn, author of "Beyond Civilization" and the various "Ishmael" books, the only way to curtail population growth is to curtail surplus food production:

"The A of the ABCs of ecology is food. The community of life is nothing else. It's flying food, running food, swimming food, crawling food, and of course just sitting there and growing food. . . . The ebb and flow of all populations is a function of food availability. An increase in food availability for a species means growth. A reduction in food availability means decline. Always. . . . Without exception. Never otherwise. . . .

"There is no species that dwindles in the midst of abundance, no species that thrives on nothing.

"With more people, we need more food. With more food available, we soon have more people . . . Positive feedback, this is called, in systems terminology. . . . Positive feedback is what we see at work in this agricultural revolution of ours. Increased population stimulates increased food production, which increases the population. More food, more people. More people, more food . . . . Positive feedback. Bad stuff. Dangerous stuff."

-- from "The Story of B: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit," by Daniel Quinn

Posted by: Dreamer | January 25, 2006 12:58 PM | Report abuse

SCC:"... act as heat sinks."

Climate change - ha!

The world *really is* going to Hell.

bc
"Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name."

Posted by: bc | January 25, 2006 1:09 PM | Report abuse

My Dad is a ecologist and also had concerns about global warming, until he read "State of Fear". He found Michael Crichton's carefully documented evidence compelling - people are alway getting all doomsday on us (e.g., we'll be out of oil by 2000), but these disasters never come to pass. So many times in the past, well-meaning people have made huge policy changes that made the situation far worse (forest fires in Yellowstone).

I find it awfully convenient that the choices the Bush Administration (==Big Oil) makes always is the one that leads to maximizing profits for its biggest contributors. But that doesn't mean that "doing nothing" isn't sometimes the right answer.

Posted by: mizerock | January 25, 2006 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Achenblog is the definitive chaotic system. It is sensitive to tiny interloping events,but is also well stocked with verbose posts. I have no doubt that eventually the earth will compensate for the impact of the Achenblog. Nobody really knows, though, how long this will take and how fetid or turgid it will get before things settle down.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 25, 2006 1:16 PM | Report abuse

A relative is a geology professor who often talks about a study done in greenland. Every winter, a layer of snow compacts down to ice and over 10's of thousands of years the many layers have come to form one thick layer over the land. Scientists took ice cores and analysed them for age (isotope analyses and counting the layers- much like a tree). They also used a method of isotope analysis that can accurately determine what the average temperature was for that winter.
From this study it was determined that climate goes through "quantum changes" where the ecosystem absorbs and buffers any changes until somehow the buffering capacity is overwhelmed and then things start to change QUICKLY.
If this hypothesis is even partially true, get ready. Winnipeg, one of the coldest cities on earth, has been 11 C warmer this winter than historical data.
And at the most crucial time in human history, along comes dumbya....we're fried...literally and figuretively (spp?).

Posted by: toronto | January 25, 2006 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Remember the first Clinton crisis? No, not "don't ask, don't tell" - massive health care reform. Months of study (including secret, illegal meetings, similar to the secret, illegal energy policy meetings held early in Bush's first term) led to increasingly complicated and expensive plans. Eventually, the political will to change the broken system decided that the status quo was less horrific than the new plans. Wouldn't "doing nothing" have been better than this "fix" made to Medicare? How about Iraq: who here believes that the status quo (continue to inspect) wasn't preferable to invasion and occupation?

Posted by: mizerock | January 25, 2006 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Literalman,

Thank you. I didn't mean to imply that the frog in the cooking pot was a true story, in fact the link I posted identified it as a "frog fable." But you can't be too careful, and anytime we have a chance to mention snopes.com we should take it. That is one of the most important sites on my Favorites List, and I email links to it all the time.

P.S. "reader" is not the same as "Reader" and thank you "reader" for making that distinction. You are welcome and you can use any name you want, but if you want that one, I'll probably switch soon, and you'll be stuck with the confusion of all the thousands (zillions) of posts that have been made by me as "Reader". My fault entirely for not being imaginative enough to come up with a name nobody else would want.

Posted by: Reader | January 25, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Neil S: If fossil fuels are the main driver for CO2 emmisions, and at or near 'peak oil' (and I assume in a few decades we'll be at peak coal and whatever else): then this will be a self-correcting problem in a lot less than a century, won't it?

Dreamer: A clear counterexample to "more food, more people" is dwindling birth rates in first world countries. Sure seems that they are dwindling in abundance. Maybe they (we) just all have something else to do now?

Posted by: Les | January 25, 2006 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I keep hoping that all these dry 75 degree January days we've been having down here in Texas this winter will mean a bunch of rain and 85 degree days in the summer, but I'm afraid it's going to mean more record setting temps (it was 108 down here on September 26th last year!!!) this summer.

(We had a record high number of record highs in 2005).

Posted by: Left of the Pyle | January 25, 2006 1:27 PM | Report abuse

mizerock,

I agree with you for the most part, but, WRT the illegal energy policy meeting with industry advisers that Cheney had: it is an exact parallel with the one H. Clinton had with health sector stakeholders early in Clinton I. And the White House fought furiously to avoid disclosing who was there.
As time goes on, the Cheney move is a relatively minor spec of misbehavior of the whole crew

Posted by: bulemic twin | January 25, 2006 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Yes the earth will eventually compensate, that is when earth climate will be the same as on Venus, all living species, and among them homo "sapiens", the originator of this mess, will have been wiped out from its surface, things will slowly return to normal.

Posted by: smteacsmo | January 25, 2006 1:29 PM | Report abuse

The good news is that really nothing that Bush has done or will do while in office will have that much affect on the changing climate. It has and will take a long time for CO2 to build up (hundreds to thousands of years). It will take much longer for the Earth to respond and bring CO2 back to pre-industrial levels (thousands to tens of thousands of years). We must find another source of energy than fossil fuel and that will take many years. We can make up for our (not just Bush's) past irresponsibility if we make the decision to do so.

Posted by: NeilS | January 25, 2006 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I apologize. I don't know whats happening. I will never post again. I will miss you on. E. This is karma.

Posted by: RD Padouk | January 25, 2006 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Goodbye. I am clearly cursed.

Posted by: RD Padouk | January 25, 2006 1:30 PM | Report abuse

If they had *any* idea what the temperature was in 1890, I'd actually be worried. Instead, this is just the latest NASA hyperactivity about a global phenomena that is barely understood. The footnotes (#8) in the NASA study even says, "substantial error can occur" because of the nature of dividing latitude belts and extrapolating temperature zones based on isolated measurements.

We may be warming - but our science, as far as it has come, is still little more than a couple of guesses past the weatherman.

Posted by: nobcentral | January 25, 2006 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Les -- We may be near 'peak oil', though I doubt it. Nonetheless, there is a boatload of coal and we are no where near 'peak coal'. Don't quote me, but I think that estimates of atmospheric CO2 after all the coal is burned will be somewhere around 5000 ppm compared to present concentrations of 380 ppm. It is self-correcting in the sense that we will be done with coal burning in several centuries (again don't quote me, check Ken Caldeira for details). Then it will take many centuries for the atmospheric CO2 to be absorbed and recycled through the ocean. It will take 'geologic' times to get rid of the 'extra' CO2

Posted by: NeilS | January 25, 2006 1:41 PM | Report abuse

mizerock,

"How about Iraq: who here believes that the status quo (continue to inspect) wasn't preferable to invasion and occupation?"

If you live in DC, it surely was. If you had any dealings with, say, Saddam's two boys, well, then probably not. And if you were a US or coalition pilot who was getting surface-to-air missiles lobbed at you occasionally when you were patrolling the no-fly zone over Iraq all those years, well, probably not, also. Of course if you were getting your pockets lined by the whole 'oil for food' thing you'd want to keep it.

As I recall the status quo was pretty miserable for all concerned. (And yes, I know, so was an all out invasion....)

Posted by: Les | January 25, 2006 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Les:
I think when we talk about population growth and environmental damage, we need to think of it in global terms rather than on a country-by-country basis (or a Third World versus First World basis), given that all the countries of the world are very much connected and dependent on one another. Any food that is produced, whether it's consumed locally or exported elsewhere, is being consumed by *someone*. The world's population as a *whole* continues to increase exponentially. [Daniel Quinn addresses this point in "The Story of B."]

Going back to "Collapse," Jared Diamond's book, Diamond makes the point that past societies in places such as Easter Island were isolated from the rest of the world, and when they ran into environmental problems and the resultant food shortages, they had nowhere to turn -- they were all alone on their island. Today, if one country runs into trouble, assistance will often be provided by other countries. It's a global economy, and a global society. The other side of the coin is that, just as economic assistance flows between countries, so do the effects of bad environmental management. No country can insulate itself from the effects of the world's overall population growth and environmental decline, even if it happens to have a low population growth rate and relatively sound environmental policies.

To visualize a modern equivalent of the Easter Island scenario, we need to think of Planet Earth as an island, isolated in space. If we destroy that -- once the last individual country, or continent, has been destroyed -- where do we go? [Again, this is one of the points Diamond makes in his book.]

Posted by: Dreamer | January 25, 2006 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I'll tell you what, we're doing our best to bring the average global temperature down; it's freaking -18 outside in Anchorage today!

Posted by: Kevin in AK | January 25, 2006 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Restated:

"How about Iraq: what percentage of US citizens, in retrospect, believe that the status quo (continue to inspect) wasn't preferable to invasion and occupation?"

bulemic twin: I don't see how my original post reads otherwise. It's a fairly unrelated aside, but it's not framed as flattering to Clinton or damning of Cheney.

Other even less relevant asides:
Health Card Reform was attacked because we would all be force to carry Number-from-birth Medical ID cards, leading to unwanted Govenment invasion of our privacy (which was code for "communist", back then). Another popular criticism: all single-payer health care systems are explicitly communist, therefore even considering them should be illegal.

Posted by: mizerock | January 25, 2006 1:53 PM | Report abuse

these warm january temps make me uneasy also.
but...russia, japan, and china are getting hit with their coldest winter in a long time.

so...are our warm temps a result of global warming or is is just the earth balancing itself from a temperature standpoint ?

Posted by: nish | January 25, 2006 2:03 PM | Report abuse

MMV was totally hot. That's hot. MI6 in Moscow? It's like John Lennon's fault it's so cold there. Like helloo! The guy who founded Russia! And the Beatles...Duh...that's so hot.

Posted by: Paris Hilton | January 25, 2006 2:13 PM | Report abuse

This talk of global warming is all a part of the vast left-wing conspiracy. Dick Cheney told us that global warming is a myth. And, as we all know, Dick Cheney would never, ever, ever lie.

Posted by: Ed K. | January 25, 2006 2:19 PM | Report abuse

The problem with global warming is that as the atmosphere warms up, it is prone to drastic swings in temperatures. Thus Washington and London have a mild spring-like temperatures during the winter, while Moscow and Athens are uncommonly colder. You will see these types of extremes more and more often in the future. One area swelters in endless drought, another area pounded by unseasonably strong rains.

Posted by: CM Evans | January 25, 2006 2:22 PM | Report abuse

The trees here in Massachusetts are covered in buds. While we get snow every 7 to 10 days, most days it has been over freezing.

My family has diaries of my grandmother's covering the decades from the 30s to the 70s. She records weather daily. Never a period as warm as this.

I feel the chill of foreboding, too.

Posted by: truth | January 25, 2006 2:23 PM | Report abuse

About the denial argument: that humans are too short-sighted and caught up in our day-to-day lives to make any changes, or to prepare for disaster even when presented with ample warning:

Years ago I spent some time with a German general and his wife, when I was still hanging out with my ex-husband. My ex was going through the Army War College in Carlisle. (He was my ex at the time, but the urge to re-examine our pitiful marriage had us giving it a second try.)

One night at dinner the subject of global warming came up. The general was not surprised that Americans still were aguing over the "reality" of global warming -- he'd studied the political system here. But in Europe, they're not arguing -- they're implementing solutions.

The general spoke about green-oriented power plants and designs for significantly less CO2 output. I've read studies about how some European companies, far from being economically hurt, have actually seen overhead budgets decline with the implementation of scrubbers and other retrofitting of power plants. Or complete redesign.

This is a general in the German army. He said there is simply no argument about global warming in Europe. My ex was still trying to offer up what little he knew from the political posturing. I'm not bashing my ex (really!) -- it's all he knew. Which is appalling and a national embarrassment.

An article in today's WAPO (sorry, don't have link) rates New Zealand first in environmental quality (clean water, emmissions, etc.); the northern european countries are a close second. The United States is 25th, or a number close to that.

America is still arguing over global warming because our political system favors all the companies who are afraid they would become extinct if changes to business-as-usual were enacted.

In truth, it's these companies who may go under because of their refusal to change.

Americans (only 25% of whom have college degrees) have been held in thrall to right leaning arguments that have painted global warming as, at best, "unproven," and at worst, "lefty-conspiracy stuff." Americans are also in thrall to huge cars, huge houses, etc.

The argument about warming in this country has been controllled by political spinning, not by any honest accounting of the scientific data.

But with oil prices suddenly at $65 a barrel and not coming down, this country may finally wake up and smell the burning.

When the wallet is hit -- people will make changes.

And yes, the poles are warming up at rates many times higher than temperate latitudes -- which is predicted in some of the warming models. The Arctice sea ice is melting weeks earlier than it used to, threatening the survival of the species like the polar bear, which depends on the ice to hunt and fatten up in the spring.

Glaciers in Iceland are thinning and melting at alarming rates. The same with glaciers in the Andes.

And if the climate warms and changes to such and extent that mechanisms like the Atlantic current system changes, or the jet stream disappears, watch out.

Some ecologists have predicted that we are currently losing at least 25% of all species -- maybe many more. In the tropical forests, where clear-cutting has destroyed huge percentages of canopy, even if the clearing stopped, the forests may not recover -- the effects on the climate caused by the newly bare land and the loss of trees to act as carbon sinks and such -- may be too much. The entire micro-climate (or really, macro-climate) has changed, and the forest can't come back because the new climate favors open scrub land.

i do believe we are already "there." And I feel sick because our future is in thrall to an Administration that still wants to "study the problem," and to a lobbying system that ensures the status quo for the biggest polluters. Only the afore-mentioned wallet-induced changes will begin to wake the country up.

I'm an avid gardener. I have over 300 SF of an organic perennial border-sytle garden, and started growing veggies last summer. I'm watching my dim bulbs come up (have already dug up a number of hyacinths and brought them in to enjoy the blooms). There are new leaves growing on the butterfly bushes. We never really had a killing frost -- I have an annual dianthus in a small pot that is still alive.

I'm like Joel -- I'm creeped out by all of this. I won't watch the weather on TV -- al the smiley faces raving about it being 20 degrees warmer than normal -- day after day after day . . .

Posted by: anon | January 25, 2006 2:26 PM | Report abuse

CM Evans,

Why would a rise in atmosphere temperature cause drastic swings in temperature geographically? What is the mechanism behind this ?

-nish

Posted by: nish | January 25, 2006 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I don't remember blaming Clinton for the failed levees on the Mississippi, mine deaths and hot years. Of course, with the MSM so in love with him, and the wackos that are now so busy hating Bush they are blurry eyed, why would the left-wing be rational? If AL Gore and Hillary would close their traps and stop condescending to black audiences with their "I hear ya" moments, the temperature would go back to normal.

Posted by: Karen | January 25, 2006 2:32 PM | Report abuse

This talk of global warming is making me think of legumes.

Loomis, you asked about the oil sands. I know by the massive work being done there, that the demand, and the price for the stuff will stay high for quite some time. North of Edmonton there is not a hotel room to be had, and the ones that are, are fought over like a hot ticket to the Stanley Cup. The boom is on, no doubt about it. The resource is estimated at 1.7 to 2.5 trillion barrels of oil and so like most humans we Albertans are willing participants in this orgy of oil.

Its not just a corporation or a nation who is at fault for this. Its each of us and our reliance, our use of, our acceptance of the results of oil. Got the big SUV? OIL. Get that cool new gaming system? How much of the product is what is commonly known as plastic? OIL. Got the shoes that are not leather (to save animals of course)but are the hot new thing? OIL. Got that credit card/debit card in your wallet and use it (the physical card)? OIL. How about that new flat plasma tv? How much of that comes from oil? Got your umbrella made of polyester? OIL. It is so deeply intertwined into the western world, heck the whole world. You have to be very, very poor in a third world nation to not have oil as a very large part of your life.

Everyone focuses on climate change and air poluttion caused by oil production and use, and without a doubt that is a major player in this debate. But there is so much more happening from oil, and we are all barely aware of it.

I am conflicted about oil. It affects my really nice salary. It makes us so busy we'd cry if we were not too busy to cry.

I try to compensate away my share of guilt in the world's sorry state by driving a very small Ford car (replacing the old Honda, of which there will be more in my future), I upgraded to the most efficeint natural gas furnace on the market at the time, I try to buy clothing that is natural fabrics (but oil is used even in the production of this), and shoes that are leather. I try to drive as little as possible. I try to live small and toss little.

The one huge stupid extravagance that I really sin with is that my husband leaves home about 15 minutes before I do, but when we get to work, his desk is no more than a dozen feet away from me. We tried car pooling but we'd have killed each other if we have continued. He listens to seriously bad radio station. Even married couples need some space, and mine daily is in my car. Stupid, wasteful, and a major waste of oil, but so far he lives...or would that be I live?

Posted by: dr | January 25, 2006 2:32 PM | Report abuse

we will find out a piece of foam hit the thermometer at NASA and it was all a mistake.

Posted by: Karen | January 25, 2006 2:34 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to try again, it seems Joel deleted my first post. Yes, the globe has warmed; yes, it's a real problem, but why do you have to weaken your arguments by getting so many of your facts wrong? Then people who really don't want to address this serious issue (and I'm not one) have something to attack your credibility with.

See below.

1. According to NWS, the period January 1-24, 2006 is only the 9th warmest on record at DCA. Three of the seven warmest such periods occurred during the 1930s, when the weather over this entire country was quite remarkable for its high-temperature records. It's been unusually warm but not amazingly warm.

2. Alaska, which would be expected to feel the effects of global warming much more than our area, has had quite a cold winter. For example, Fairbanks was -40 at 5 this morning (normal would be about -19), and January has been consistently cold in the Arctic. November was as well. It's also been cold in eastern Europe and Asia. Looking at the records of a little over 3 weeks at one location is almost completely meaningless.

3. The thermometer hasn't hit the 70s in Washington this January, not even close. The highest temperature recorded at DCA so far this January has been 65. No high-temperature records have been set at DCA this month.

4. This January so far has been nearly as much colder than "your average March" as it's been warmer than "your average January."

Posted by: David Policansky | January 25, 2006 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Now would be a good time to talk about externalities: rough outline for someone to flesh out (me?)

1. define
From wikipedia:
An externality occurs in economics when a decision (for example, to pollute the atmosphere) causes costs or benefits to stakeholders other than the person making the decision. In other words, the decision-maker does not bear all of the costs or reap all of the gains from his action. As a result, in a competitive market too much or too little of the good will be consumed from the point of view of society. If the world around the person making the decision benefits more than he does (education, safety), then the good will be underconsumed by individual decision makers; if the costs to the world exceed the costs to the individual making the choice (pollution, crime) then the good will be overconsumed from society's point of view.
2. examples
Salmon at Wal-Mart (salon article)
Oil - people wouldn't buy as many SUVs if all of the externalities were including in the price of oil. As it is, gas is CHEAP, there is plausible denyability about warming, and big vehicles are really convenient if you can afford one.
3. solutions anywhere?

Posted by: mizerock | January 25, 2006 2:42 PM | Report abuse

one of the main problems with using means or averages in explaining rises or falls in temperature is understanding what one is comparing the mean to. It may be correct that the warmest temperatures have occurred in the last decade but warmest when compared to what. What is the average temperature of the Earth? Can we say that the average temperature existed in the period 1890-1990 and that everything above that is too warm. What if the period of 1890-1990 was exceptionally cold when compared to other periods such as 1790-1890 or 1690-1790? What if the rise in temperature is not a deviation from normal temperature but a deviation from an abnormally cold temperature from the past century? In addition there is the problem of measurement. Could the difference in temperature be explained by a more precise method of measuring that did not exist in 1890 or 1920? To set people into a panic about a rise in the "average" temperature is neither logical nor responsible until we know what the "average" temperature really is.

Posted by: doubter | January 25, 2006 2:42 PM | Report abuse

The politicians will start paying
attention to global warming if and only if

1. the hurricane season in the southeast keeps getting worse and worse.

or

2. the gulf stream stops.

Posted by: rtg | January 25, 2006 2:43 PM | Report abuse

David Policansky: I did not delete your post. If it vanished, I apologize -- something weird is happening with the comments softward. We thank you for joining in the discussion -- we LIKE contrarian points of view! I heard that the thermometer hit 71 a couple of days ago -- this from direct testimony, not from National Airport records.

Posted by: Achenbach | January 25, 2006 2:45 PM | Report abuse

And no, I wasn't calling you a softward. I don't use language like that. Just a typo. Software.

Posted by: Achenbach | January 25, 2006 2:46 PM | Report abuse

David Policansky:
Joel didn't delete your comment. It's in the "Ogle-Blog" comments section, right where you left it.

Posted by: Achenfan | January 25, 2006 2:48 PM | Report abuse

[Congratulates self for exercising such restraint.]

[D'oh!]

Posted by: Achenfan | January 25, 2006 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Joel and others,
Yeah DC is having a very warm January, but if you look across the globe you'll see that Moscow and most of eastern Europe is hitting record lows this month. Weather and climate isn't a uniform process. Also I'd like to point out that here in Fairbanks, AK we have probably averaged about -30F over the last 10 days or so. Current conditions are -45F. This makes Moscow look wimpy.

Posted by: Pat | January 25, 2006 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I agree with David Policansky, you can't use a couple warm days or a week in January to prove Global BLAZE, or whatever you want to call it. The fact is, the Earth has warmed less than 1 degree over the last century. The evidence is there, I say it's probably caused by man and needs to be addressed. End of story. Several States have tired of the battle in DC and have passed (or are passing) tougher emissions standards. Hollywood movies aside, common sense is motivating people to make rational decisions on the subject and move forward.

I've lived in DC for almost 50 years and we've almlost always had some mild weather in January and/or February. That's not a scientific fact, it's just an opinion, and it doesn't prove anything. Much like Joel's column and the rants that people post.

Posted by: Mike B | January 25, 2006 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Details aside, the scientific consensus is that global warming is happening and that we're causing it. We probably won't know the consequences until they are upon us. Maybe it won't be so bad, maybe it will be worst case scenario. The point is, in the face of uncertainty, the prudent thing is to get insurance. There's a pretty good chance my house won't burn down, but I know it's within the realm of possibility. Being a rational person (most of the time anyway), I pay for insurance. Yes, that insurance payment has affected my micro-economy, but it sure beats losing everything.

So we don't know what the exact effects of climate change will be, but it is within the realm of possibility that it could be pretty bad. We could have started buying insurance a decade ago in the form of a carbon tax, whose proceeds were channelled into carbon-free energy source development. Maybe a carbon tax would hurt economic growth (as the Bush camp argues), but channeling the money into new industries would stimulate growth elsewhere. It may not be a wash, but you do after all have to pay for insurance.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 25, 2006 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Details aside, the scientific consensus is that global warming is happening and that we're causing it. We probably won't know the consequences until they are upon us. Maybe it won't be so bad, maybe it will be worst case scenario. The point is, in the face of uncertainty, the prudent thing is to get insurance. There's a pretty good chance my house won't burn down, but I know it's within the realm of possibility. Being a rational person (most of the time anyway), I pay for insurance. Yes, that insurance payment has affected my micro-economy, but it sure beats losing everything.

So we don't know what the exact effects of climate change will be, but it is within the realm of possibility that it could be pretty bad. We could have started buying insurance a decade ago in the form of a carbon tax, whose proceeds were channelled into carbon-free energy source development. Maybe a carbon tax would hurt economic growth (as the Bush camp argues), but channeling the money into new industries would stimulate growth elsewhere. It may not be a wash, but you do after all have to pay for insurance.

Posted by: ABJunkie | January 25, 2006 3:06 PM | Report abuse

"But already we're witnessing a great extinction event similar to what happened at the end of the Cretaceous." -JA

Not sure where I stand on Global Warming, but I'm pretty sure that 50-75% of the flora and fauna on the planet are not vanishing, or about to vanish, as is precisely what happened at the end of the Cretaceous. I've looked pretty carefully into this claim, echoed by Greenpeace and many others. The mantra has been repeated over and over again, until, like many other urban myths, it becomes a part of the conventional wisdom; but the claim itself is unsupported and unsubstantiated.

Read about the Cretaceous Period. It was a time of broad diversification in plant and animal life. Ironically, global temperatures were several degrees warmer than today. And reminder, when the those 50-75% of species DID vanish, it took a two-mile wide asteroid, not climate change, to do the trick. Global Warming might be the next big thing, or the next big bust. But perpetuating untrue claims of mass extinction do not advance legitimate concerns.

Posted by: Gregory | January 25, 2006 3:12 PM | Report abuse

doubter asks what we are comparing "average" to, and if the comparisons that are being made are significant. There were other questions, too, some of which were not answered by the apparently professionally-knowledgable NeilS (I am a planetary atmospheric scientist, so the complexities of the Earth atmosphere are not directly within my expertise).

1. Atmospheric scientists are not doofuses. It has occurred to them to calibrate their data and to analyze it for statistical significance. This was not a report from the thermometer on Joel's porch.

2. The temperatures reported for global warming purposes are global annual averages. The matter at issue is climate, not weather. The measurement is from satellite measurements and from many, many ground stations. The thermometer is a well-understood device. Thermometers today are not fundamentally differently calibrated than thermometers a century or two ago, so we can legitimately compare current measurements with old measurements.

3. That was a joke about the warm temperatures in DC in January. The Blogger-in-Chief (BiC) generally appears to be smart enough to understand that his local personal temperature is not representative of the globe. More than I can say for Congress.

4. There are many "proxy" measurements available for the prethermometer past, which have been calibrated by comparison to actual thermometers and our knowledge of physics. Prethermometer temperature determinations have larger uncertainties, yes, but these uncertainties are recognized in data analysis. The temperature is increasing. It is not consistent with being in an interglacial period. The temperature is increasing. The temperature is incresing. The ...

5. Many people dislike climate models, remembering the early days of scientific meteorology (pre-supercomputer) and believing that it still applies to what can be done today. Fine, be a know-nothing. We can compare current conditions with conditions over the last million years. Using proxy measurements from the last million years as a look-up table, you can look-up our predicted temperature based on currrent CO2 concentrations. It is significantly higher than what we have now. You can also look up the time lag between CO2 variations and temperature variations. It is significant. Therefore, we have not yet fully reaped the consequences of the past century. You gotta wait another 50 years or so. I will probably be dead by then, but my kids and grandkids will not be. I care about the world they inherit.

We have to turn a metaphoric supertanker to avoid the rocks. It can be done, but it takes a long time. The earlier we turn, the better chance we have to miss the shoals. Wait too long, and it's too late. Eight years (i.e., the Bush adminstration) matters. Someone took a swipe at Clinton earlier today, regarding why don't we blame him as much as Bush. Well, the Clinton adminstration participated in negotiating the Kyoto protocols, part of taking a step in the right direction. The Bush administration withdrew from Kyoto. That's why.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 25, 2006 3:15 PM | Report abuse

What do NASA's records say for the past 2000 years? 10,000? 1 million? Use your head and think about the period we are talking about here, people, and whether the amount we are talking about is significant. Never before in human history has there been a solution (shutting down industry and autos) looking so hard for a problem.

Posted by: Matt | January 25, 2006 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Gregory -- I share your skepticsm about cries of mass extinction. However, some of the problem is that we are mixing 'deep' geologic time with 'shallow' human time. I don't think that the extinctions of the Cretaceous occurred instantaneously in a tremendous explosion even if a meteorite was the proximate cause. I think they occurred over hundreds of thousands of years. In fact the most credible scientists are arguing that the present day RATE of extinction is comparable to the rate experienced during mass extinctions in the past. How they can know that is a msytery to me, but the main point is that human activities are responsible for rapid extinctions of many animals, from that large mammals that disappeared from North America over the last 13,000 years to the disappearance of many amphibians that appears to be occurring right now. Most is the result of human activity: direct predation and change in environment, of which climate change is just one part. So we may not see the disappearance of 50-75% of all species in the next 100 years, but if humans survive, we may see that in the next 50,000 years.

Posted by: NeilS | January 25, 2006 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Uh, about Kyoto. We were never part of it. Every senator in the US Congress of both parties said no to Kyoto. It was a basic US bashing -- Russia would have been able to sell emissions allowances to countries because they were the biggest polluter. It would have devastated our economy. Clinton never, ever pushed for it. It was the no show job he gave Al Gore to keep him from messing up.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 25, 2006 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Gee, Joel, guess we'll be joining the dinosaurs in the Cafe Oblivion. Make mine a albedo absinthe with a slice of chicken little pot pie, s'il vous plait.

So it was warmer in '05. So what? If you look back in record you'll see more ups and downs than in blueprints for the next Six Flags rollercoaster.

That's because the earth -- not Mother Earth, as some of our Gaia-worshipping environmental friends would have us believe -- yes, the good ol' third stone from the sun, experiences natural variation in climate that predates Eli Whitney's cotton gin. Science -- real science, not the contrived stuff the government scientists are feeding us -- proves this.

Are there manmade greenhouse gas emissions? Of course. Should we reduce them? Of course we should. But let's not confuse something that is, scientifically speaking, a blip, with a force of nature that's beyond our poor power to fix. So if it means my phiz won't turn blue from an arctic wind as I'm waiting for the bus, no complaints.

Posted by: Coalter | January 25, 2006 3:35 PM | Report abuse

ScienceTim-

I applaud your efforts. All the way until you brought Kyoto into it. Repeating now: the Kyoto Protocol was defeated in the United States Senate by a UNANIMOUS vote. I believe it was 98-0.

Now you may say that many, if not most, of those people who voted against Kyoto are actually in favor of some sort of global emissions limits, just not in the form they were proposed in Kyoto. (as an aside, realize that the Europeans have been above their Kyoto limits ever since they were proposed. As has the US. China and India, where the biggest hugest increases in emissions are occurring, would not have had any limits placed on them by Kyoto.) I would agree. Ironically, the emissions credit trading system would be an ideal method that would incorporate a lot of profit motive for Wall Street and Big Oil, but the Bush admin hasn't pursued it very actively.

Now, the other major point here is what is the culpability of the Bush Administration in all of this. I would say generally it's the same as it is on almost all contentious issues. 6 years doesn't establish them as being the primary cause of all that is happening, but they are fully and utterly "tone deaf." Yes, there remains some (very little) question as to whether global warming is human-caused. Notwithstanding, what harm would it be for the Bush Administration to concede that there are many influential scientists who believe that it is. Plus, given the global political environment, how hard would it be for them to make a few more concrete concessions to weaning ourselves from the Middle East oil tit? Give Bush a little credit; in between the handouts to the Oil Industry (and by the way, it's really the energy industry, BP is one of the world's largest manufacturers of solar panels), there is some legitimate incentive to encourage alternative energy in the 2005 Energy Bill. It's just that it would be so easy to do so much more and wouldn't antagonize 75% of the population.

Posted by: AW | January 25, 2006 3:40 PM | Report abuse

That wasn't me at 3:25:50, I think it was addressed to me. I take the point about my misremembery of the history of Kyoto.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 25, 2006 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Kyoto was rejected by the US because it allowed developing nations to let their emissions go unchecked. Even if the US did meet the requirements of Kyoto, global warming would continue. That's not to say that legislation shouldnt be created to solve this very real problem. The only legislation that could truly make an effect would involve having people in the US and around the world make a major lifestyle change. It's very doubtful that that will happen anytime soon or at all.

Posted by: Sam | January 25, 2006 3:42 PM | Report abuse

You write: "...had a little bit of winter in December, but January so far has been more like your average March..."

Well, I wish I was in Washington DC. Unfortunately i'm in Bavaria and we almost freeze to death right now with the coldest January in the last 20 years.

Perhaps you should be more careful when using the word "global" ! The weather in D.C. may not be representative of the planet!

Posted by: Martin | January 25, 2006 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I'll bet the folks in Moscow are also wondering about this winter's ominous weather.

Posted by: Tricky Dick | January 25, 2006 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Sciene Tim, great post.

Kyoto is not about cleaning up the planet even though the politicians say it is. It is if you go through it carefully, it is an economic program.

The way it is set up industrial nations who polute can buy unused credits from poor nations who polute less. But cutting? The whole world would have to have run out of credits before that happens, and I firmly beleive that no poorer nation would run out of credits. Why lose a gravy train? Politicians are many things but they can smell incoming money from a mile away.

I don't see a whole lot of improvement coming from Kyoto. The one benefit is that the management of the thing would have provided employment.

Posted by: dr | January 25, 2006 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Something I read awhile back about global warming suggested that Earth has a self-cooling mechanism. The theory went something like this -- global warming causes ice caps to melt, warmer temperatures cause increased evaporation, increased evaporation leads to increased cloud cover and rain, all of which leads to lower temperatures.

I don't know the validity, can't remember the source, and honestly I'm not 100% sure I'm regurgitating the theory properly. Hmm, maybe if I went and lifted some unrelated quotes from the Sacramento Bee I could get on the front page of the NY Times.

Posted by: kb | January 25, 2006 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Is global warming caused by humans or has dramatic climate change been part of Earth's geologic history since the beginning?

Do Sun spots or the Earth's magnetic field have anything to do with climate change?

I'm not sure humans are as all powerful as some of us like to think we are, but we should take better care of our world.

Posted by: Steve | January 25, 2006 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Good point about 'Human' vs. 'geologic' time NeilS. Must take umbrage with the Cretaceous extinctions though.

Everything I read on the subject suggests that the extinctions occurred rapidly, even by human standards (possibly within 5 to 50 years) and were directly precipitated by the asteroid/cometary impact at Chicxelub (sp?) This discovery was a sea-change in geologic science. Before, global changes (extinctions included) were thought to occur over eons.

Yes, animals have gone extinct in human history, but most have been the result of hunting to extinction or habitat destruction. This is a bad thing. But there is nothing to suggest that the moderate warming trend we are experiencing now (human-caused or no) will eliminate >50% of species on the planet. None. Even the impact at Chix could barely accomplish that. We may hunt or pave species over, but that is an issue for another day.

Posted by: Gregory | January 25, 2006 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Wasn't there some news a couple months ago about Mars getting warmer?

Posted by: kb | January 25, 2006 4:01 PM | Report abuse

My friends in Russia would beg to differ. They are colder now then anything in recent memory. It looks like Martin in Bavaria concurs.

Posted by: Richard Cranium | January 25, 2006 4:01 PM | Report abuse

The feedback and control mechanisms against anthropogenic climate change are the big uncertainties. Are we cooking the Earth faster than it can cope? Global warming increases evaporation, and that probably results in more cloud cover. Cloud cover shadows the ground and limits further heating. However, cloud cover and gaseous water also act as a blanket to retain heat. The uncertainty is over which processes win, and under what conditions. This is a big uncertainty. One plausible answer is: if the temperature goes up too quickly, the heat-retention mechanism wins, and we turn into Venus. Notice, I only said "plausible," not likely.

You need to keep in mind that "weather" is the mechanism by which the Earth copes with variations in its energy input. Hurricanes are a mechanism for redistributing energy from warm surface sea water. The Earth copes very handily in this case; civilization, not as well. Thus, it is not enough to blithely declare "We overestimate our own importance. The Earth will cope." It's true, in its way: the Earth will cope. And we do overestimaet our importance. The Earth doesn't need us at all, and Earth musters forces that could scrape our civilization right off the planet. So be careful.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 25, 2006 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Joel falls into the same lazy mental trap that seems to be the dominant form of reporting on this topic. Everyone really wants to think it is all so simple as "bad mankind heats up the planet".

It's not. Follow the following steps -

1. Is the world getting hotter?
2. If so, is mankind causing it?
3. If so, is there anything we can do?

Answers -

1. The evidence points towards yes. But it has been hotter too in the past.

2. Maybe, maybe not. There are plenty of natural, recoginized phenomena that cause heating and cooling of the planet.

3. Probably not. Certainly not with Kyoto, that exempted the fastest growing countries in the world.

It really isn't as simple as the media would want everyone to believe.

Posted by: Downsouth | January 25, 2006 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Right. Can't be avoided all of this Warming thing. How about getting a coffee on the terrasse during winter while you can? Act nonchalant, please.

Meanwhile another front opens. Now we will have to cut down on fertilizer, too.
NewScientist reports:

"A growing number of scientists say that nitrogen is a problem that we ignore at our peril. While we have been fretting about the consequences of a 10 per cent increase in CO2, levels of polluting nitrogen compounds in the environment have almost doubled. If we ignore them for much longer, the scientists insist, the consequences are likely to be even worse than "just" global warming. Human health, biodiversity, ozone levels and global climate are already being affected. And if we thought the carbon problem was tricky to sort out, we're in for an even nastier shock."

(...)

Ultimately there is one solution that will definitely work, but we're not going to like it. "By and large the nitrogen problem is very much one of technology-driven societies, and the only solution is a revolution to less consumptive lifestyles," says Brian Moss, professor of botany at the University of Liverpool, UK. "This won't happen voluntarily but it may be forced by the combined effects of climate change, the end of the oil economy, rising populations, economic and environmental refugees and the loss of goods and services from the 70 per cent or so of natural ecosystems predicted to have disappeared by 2050. I'll have popped my clogs by then but if you're under 30, maybe even 40, I think you're in for a very rough ride."


MUAH!

Posted by: El Tonno | January 25, 2006 4:08 PM | Report abuse

I recall some time ago on this blog, someone [maybe it was Science Tim? My apologies if not] made the point that it's not Earth itself that we need to worry about, it's humanity. Earth has been here a lot longer than we have, and it will probably endure -- maybe not in it's present form, but in some form. The question is, will anyone be able to live on it? It's not really that reassuring to tell ourselves that the world has seen hot periods before, if there weren't any humans around then. Global warming may be just a normal part of some cycle, or it may have been driven by humans -- maybe a bit of both. Maybe we can do something about it, but maybe we can't. The fact that it's part of some natural cycle doesn't necessarily mean everything's going to be A-OK -- for us, at least. Meanwhile, there are a lot of things we *can* do something about, but it doesn't always happen.

[And you thought *yesterday* was the most depressing day of the year.]

Posted by: Dreamer | January 25, 2006 4:10 PM | Report abuse

[Sorry if I've repeated points that have already been made above. Several new posts appeared while I was writing my comment, including Science Tim's "the Earth will cope" comment -- indeed.]

Posted by: Dreamer | January 25, 2006 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Rather than wasting time trying to harness a dubious global economic policy to equally dubious arguments about mankind's culpability for 'global warming,' we ought to be figuring how to mitigate the deleterious effects of shifting global & regional weather patterns which -- whatever THEIR causes -- constitute the statistical recipe for global climate.

Posted by: Tricky Dick | January 25, 2006 4:15 PM | Report abuse

I thought Dubya deemed "global warming" non-exsistent?

Posted by: FWIW | January 25, 2006 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Here's the future:

1) Dick Cheney resigns in 6 mouths
for "health reasons".

2) Bill Frist becomes VP to kick off
his presedential run and ...

3) New VP squashes Hastert's consideration
of impeachment hearings that would make
him President of the United States.

4) John McCain scratches his head,
wondering how these guys could have
left him out of their plans.

5) Trent Lott returns as head of the
Senete, will full endorsement from Bush.

Spoiler: Frist in big trouble with SEC,
might lose him the VP slot. Then it's anybody's game (except McCain's).

Posted by: vincent | January 25, 2006 4:20 PM | Report abuse

In response to many of the responses regarding natural variations in Earths climate: According to some new ice core samples that are 650,000 years old, the current level of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere is the highest it has ever been. The Japanese have just found ice core samples that are close to 1 million years old. I'm sure analizing these as well will show the same thing.

This means, despite natural variations, people are the current cause for warming.

Additionally, europe depends on the atlantic gulf stream current to bring warmer temps. As arctic ice melts, it cools the north atlantic waters, and slows the gulf stream, potentially causing very cold temperatures. So while the U.S. would get warmer winters, Europe would get colder ones.

Posted by: RG | January 25, 2006 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Our esteemed commentator forgot to mention the bombshell news that, apparently, our plants and trees are at least as responsible for global warming as our cars, blowing a giant hole into most climate change models. If the plants are doing it, heck how the answer be more trees? Maybe the answer is that this stuff is mostly unknowable and hence if the earth is warming, we should all be investing in suntan lotion makers.

Yep, it's cold here in NYC, does that mean an ice age is coming?

Blah, blah, blah. Someone pass me some suntan lotion.

Posted by: Jenkinsons | January 25, 2006 4:23 PM | Report abuse

For Jenkinsons:

Actually, if it weren't for normal global warming, this planet would be too cold to live on. Carbon Dioxide and methane are naturally released into our atmosphere through wetlands, trees, plants, etc. If it weren't for them, the Earth would be too cold. The problem is, as we add more CO2 and methane into the atmosphere through human actions, we are shifting the current balance. So just because trees and plants are releasing CO2 during part of their life cycle, doesn't mean they are part of the problem. It just means they can't be a cure all solution.

Posted by: RG | January 25, 2006 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Look at this, folks! Plants produce methane!!! And this is not a neocon study, is something done by the prestigious Max Plank institute in Germany!

http://www.physorg.com/news9792.html

Posted by: Me | January 25, 2006 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Gosh--hope I don't screw this up with my Tourette's! 8-)
My boss owns oceanfront property...so let ALL the glaciers melt! By my reckoning the NEW COAST OF NORTH CAROLINA will be located about a mile east of Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, NC--just missing Bullock's BBQ--is it getting warm in here?!

Posted by: Toe in North Carolina | January 25, 2006 4:37 PM | Report abuse

As I geologist, I can tell you, 125 years of data is not even one 1/1,000,000 of a blink in the grand scheme of the universe. Not to mention, the first 75 years of that data was collected using mercury thermometers, sling sycrometers, and a farmer's bad left knee. The data we have on global climate is very miniscule of a incredibly brief snapshot of earth history. 2 billion years ago, the earth was completely covered in ice. 300 million years ago, the global climate is estimated to have been way higher than it is now.

Of course we're pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but all of the CO2 that humans pump into the air doesn't even come close to what any major volcanic eruption releases into the air. The 1980s were actually unusually cold climatalogically because of Mt. Pinnutubo's eruption, which dropped worldwide tempuratures almost a full degree on its own (that was not even that "big" of an eruption either).

Can we reduce "greenhouse gas" emission?

Sure, and it will probably make a small impact, but is it cost effective to do that. Our earth has lasted over 7 billion years, and I highly doubt there's anything that humans can do to stop the earth from turning.

Posted by: Russtinator | January 25, 2006 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I shouldn't have attributed something to Joel's intention (deleting my post) that really should have been attributed to my own incompetence (posting in the wrong place and not knowing how to find it). ;-)

The posters who focus on the global facet of this are right. And so are those who point out that a few cold winters or years might take the concern away (unless we really are reaching the end of an interglacial). The global consequence of warming that worries me most is sea-level rise. The next most worrisome to me is the loss of arctic sea-ice and glaciers (not unrelated to sea-level rise, of course).

The least worrisome to me is sensible temperature change; 1.4 degrees F is barely noticeable, if at all, as an annual average, and models and data show that most of that is occurring in winter nights.

I guess I also should (belatedly) thank Joel for raising the issue.

Posted by: David Policansky | January 25, 2006 4:43 PM | Report abuse

MOSCOW, Russia (AP) -- Russia's severest cold in a quarter of a century, with temperatures in Moscow at minus 8 Saturday, has killed at least 40 people and strained the nation's crumbling infrastructure, with residents piling on the blankets and heating bricks to keep warm.


http://www.cnn.com/2006/WEATHER/01/21/russia.cold.ap/

Posted by: Mike | January 25, 2006 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Sigh.

Why is it that climate debates are all the same?

With all due respect to ScienceTim's scientific prowess, there are VAST uncertainties in taking measurements (ocean data - how deep you measure, how often, how much distance, etc), no guarantee that temperature measurements from 1890-1950 are accurate AT ALL (they only measured in the cities back then), extreme difficulties in generalizing data points that are over 1500 kilometers apart, and big questions about how to incorporate the urban heat island effect, among other concerns.

Without getting into a lengthy diatribe about the technicalities of these issues, the sum is, there is still great uncertainty about:

A) if the planet is warming over a long period of time; and,
B) if the rate of warming is faster (and thus more dangerous) than previous warming eras.

To suggest, "well, there's consensus that we're warming" doesn't mean a damn thing since the temp record is 115 years old. Not only that, the IPCC "consensus" was a total fabrication that was politically exploited by the environmental lobby to suggest that 500 of the world's dominant scientists believed the doomsday scenarios of rapid warming, species extinction, desertification, and ultimately, human extinction. That was NEVER agreed upon and most credible scientists would couch their predictions in modest terms.

That being said, I take particular frustration at the climate lobby because they expose themselves to these arguments from the Right and ultimately weaken their cause.

YES, CO2 emissions should be reduced. YES, we should move away from fossil fuels. And, yeah, at the end of the day, warming might be the elephant in the room. But the way to sell it is NOT by talking about warming and alluding to doomsday scenarios (ala The Day After). The way to do it is to talk about oil dependence and air pollution. We're heavily exposed in the Middle East because of oil. We have about 100,000 people a year die in this country because of air pollution. We could shut it down with a massive transition to alternative fuels while at the same time placating the fears of those who believe in the worst possible warming futures.

But continually harping on warming feeds into the hands of the GOP. The AEI machine is fully prepped to dish out the standard (and often all too accurate) indictments of current climate knowledge and undercut momemtum towards a renewable economy. Let's be clever about this.

Posted by: nobcentral | January 25, 2006 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Nobcentral, I'm ready right now! Warren Brown quoted the CEO of the company that's working on hydrogen fuel cells as saying they will be commercially available around 2010. I will buy a vehicle with that fuel system as soon as it's available and affordable.

dr, I'm right with you on commuting with the spouse. My husband and I do, and it's not fun. He likes talk radio, I'm into classical, so our solution is to turn it off. But there is certainly a thing as too much togetherness, and it's not good for a marriage. I just hope I can survive till the end of this year, when I get to retire. Then he has to commute by himself.

Posted by: Slyness | January 25, 2006 5:03 PM | Report abuse

I agree with your post, nobcentral. I'll never understand why both sides of the debate can't just follow the facts as we know them. This includes admitting and addressing the full economic impact of any serious changes to our energy supply/use over the short term. We can't say factually that there isn't a global warming problem any more than we can say factually that switching to alternative fuels or any of the other methods for combating the warming can be undertaken without real and significant changes in our economies and ways of life.

Posted by: biggsikid | January 25, 2006 5:28 PM | Report abuse

[I don't think I could keep a straight face whilst addressing someone as "nobcentral."]

Posted by: Achenfan | January 25, 2006 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Just a bit of fact-checking. Russtinator writes:

============================================
"The 1980s were actually unusually cold climatalogically because of Mt. Pinnutubo's eruption, which dropped worldwide tempuratures almost a full degree on its own (that was not even that "big" of an eruption either)."
=============================================

Pinatubo first erupted (in the past century anyway) in 1991, I think.

Posted by: Beren | January 25, 2006 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I should mention that the last time there was a hurricane season this bad was 1933 when the dust bowl was raging. And... it hasn't rained in Tulsa since October and there are over 300,000 acres burned in OK.

The temperature of the Gulf Stream is down a lot and northern Europe is really cold and snowy.

Surely something major is happening here and we need to not ignore it like the Bushies do.

They seem to me to be a Plague of Brownies doing a Heck of a Job.

Posted by: A Citizen | January 25, 2006 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Rustinator -- Are you suggesting that volcanoes put more than 7 gigatons of CO2 into the air each year? I don't think so. The balance between vulacanism and chemical weathering control CO2 on geologic timescales, i.e., 100,000 to millions of years. Their impact on shorter timescales is miniscule except perhaps at times of continental vulcanism like that which formed the Deccan traps.

Posted by: NeilS | January 25, 2006 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I also wanted to say that Pinatubo's impact on climate was largely due to injection of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere. It reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the ground. Also, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, not 7.

Posted by: NeilS | January 25, 2006 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Global warming is so yesterday. I mean even Canada elected new leaders to avoid all the hot air from another conference. It ain't caused by humans dude.

Hydrogen fuel cells? If you want to replace 1/2 of the US demand gasoline and diesel with hydrogen in 2050 it will take about 1100 1000MW plants to make the hydrogem -- that will about 13,000,000 million barrells per day according to the DOE. At that time US demand will be 20% of world demand. Can you speak Chinese? How about Hindi? Oh -- they are not part of Kyoto? Well, duh! They ain't that stoopid.

I have no problem with nuclear -- but you know what U235 is .07% of all U and runs out in about 40 years -- then you have to build fast breeders to make PU239 out of U238.

The problem is not CO2 it is CO2 from energy that hits the wall in about 2012 when supply hits world demand.

It is called "Peak Oil." Look it up. Look up T. Boone Pickins on it too.

Climate change is a crock to keep people from looking under the energy realities. Crock meaning a big pot of carp not a big aligator that Al Gore wants you to believe.

The frog in hot water is much more interesting than Al Gore!! Lord knows.

Posted by: JV | January 25, 2006 5:54 PM | Report abuse

All this blather about finding a global solution to global warming -- whatever its causes -- smacks of selfish human arrogance at its worst.

Who are WE to say that a gradual increase in the globally averaged atmospheric temperature -- whatever its causes -- is a PROBLEM for all life forms everywhere on this planet and must therefore succumb to a global implementation of a manmade solution?

Better we use that which distinguishes us from all other species to learn how to live with the consequences of a warmer atmosphere -- whatever its causes.

Posted by: Tricky Dick | January 25, 2006 6:01 PM | Report abuse

A lot here I probably should respond to, but I note that a couple of people (such as Jenkinsons at 4:23) are blaming plants for global warming, and someone has including a link backing up the point, supposedly. But the Max Planck Society has directly addressed this distortion of its research:

http://www.mpg.de/english/illustrationsDocumentation/documentation/pressReleases/2006/pressRelease200601131/

On whether this month's mild weather in Washington is related to global warming, obviously you can't attribute the one to the other. That was an anecdotal digression. A weather report, not a climate analysis. Perhaps it should have been more carefully labeled as such.

Posted by: Achenbach | January 25, 2006 6:14 PM | Report abuse

If all you professional hand-wringers really want something to worry about -- something with the potential to render global warming virtually benign by comparison -- I have 2 words for you:

Bird Flu.

Posted by: Tricky Dick | January 25, 2006 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Oh please tell me you did not say bird flu! First Ebola, then Aids -- what next!

We are doomed. Doomed like a frog in hot water. I can't wait for the water to heat -- I am going to jump in a blender right now!

Posted by: JV | January 25, 2006 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Nothing to worry about. Nuclear winter'll take care of that little temperature rise. This is where all that military spending really comes in handy. Bad for our enemies, good for the environment.

Posted by: Mr. Right | January 25, 2006 7:23 PM | Report abuse

And it all boils down to population control. Now there are two dirty words in any conversation. But you think about it. We keep pushing technology, energy conversion, enhanced agriculture are all being pushed (is that so someone can make a bigger profit, gain more power?) to avoid considering measures to keep tabs on the growing world populations. But all those methods create heat, help propagate greenhouse gases and conditions, and raise global temperatures.

Posted by: Jazzman | January 25, 2006 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Read the just released novel, Hotter Than Hell, by Ottawa climatologist Mark Tushingham, Ph.D., where fiction and truth are strangely converging. www.dreamcatcherpubling.ca

Posted by: Walloon | January 25, 2006 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Whew. I am dizzy from the blender.

Right Mr. Right. And it solves Jazzman population thing too.

Wait till the prez of Iran, Ahmadjihad, has nukes and then take him, Iraq, and Syria out at the same time.

Now, just how many people would be really upset by that? Be honest, now.

And if that doesn't work we can drop Ted Kneddy out of a plane over them and squish them all! Two birds with one stone. No-three, solves global warming to boot! Hot damn, let's get to it.

Posted by: JV | January 25, 2006 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Hotter Than Hell,(pub. 11/2005) a novel by climatologist Mark Tushingham is published by www.dreamcatcherpublishing.ca/
It is fiction but it seems to reflect all the predictive trends in climate change right down to the war between Canada and the US over the rights to Canadian fresh water, the largest deposit in the world.

Posted by: Walloon | January 25, 2006 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Night guys and gals. I am off to bed and to read hotter than hell where we steal Canada's water. It isn't Dune with a new title page is it? Is the water really spice and Baron Harkonen really Bush?

I won't even have to use a blanket because of the unseasonable high temperatures out here in California. I do like that -- but that is science fiction too. Temps are pretty much normal for January.

Posted by: JV | January 25, 2006 8:08 PM | Report abuse

wtf is going on here?

Posted by: moo | January 25, 2006 8:18 PM | Report abuse

I weep as I read.

Posted by: Dave in Winterpeg | January 25, 2006 8:19 PM | Report abuse

Three words for you: Bird flu, chickens

Posted by: Cassandra S | January 25, 2006 8:29 PM | Report abuse

When scare-mongers like yourself reach in the bag of tricks and pull out the increase in temperatures since the 1970s ("...a full degree of that has been in just the past three decades), you lose a lot of credibility with those who know the details. Global temperatures had been falling for decades leading up to the 1907s (this of course scared many people at the time who feared a new ice age... my how times change). So choosing that point to show global warming is an unfornate move for a "journalist" to make, but its not surprising; the misuse of statistics is common among those in the media.

The real issue is not whether the earth is warming, obviously it is. The real issues are: (1) what it causing the warming; (2) how much will command-and-control environmentalism help; and (3) is the cost in lost standard of living worth the reduction? So lets stop the fear and loathing and have a real, intelligent debate.

Posted by: Jason | January 25, 2006 8:46 PM | Report abuse

Coming to this late--KB is correct about the melting putting more moisture into the air. In fact, global warming can bring on an ice age by putting more ice into the poles, creating large glaciers that will move down over parts of the continents. An ice age will come again without any help, that's the natural cycle, but global warming could bring it on quicker.

Posted by: Joe | January 25, 2006 9:06 PM | Report abuse

The Kyoto treaty is not necessary for the United States; global warming is the ONE area where UNILATERAL action on our part would be appropriate, effective, and welcomed by the rest of the world. The U.S. is the biggest consumer and the most prolific polluter in the world. We should reduce consumption of resources and production of pollutants, not because we are in danger of melting the ice caps, but because it is THE RIGHT THING TO DO. Do we not have a collective conscience? Where are our principles? What about the famous Judeo-Christian ethic that the country is supposedly built on, wherein the belief is that humans are stewards of the natural world, responsible to God for cherishing and protecting the Earth? What about reverence for native American traditions of respect for natural resources? What about the common sense of "don't [pollute] where you live?" Or the kindergarten rule to "clean up your own mess?" I just don't get it. Are we bad, or just stupid?

Posted by: Reader | January 25, 2006 9:10 PM | Report abuse

It's always interesting how these stories only show up when temperatures are warmer than usual....typically when temperatures are (naturally) quite high such as the summer. Unfortunately...or maybe fortunately, science does not progress as quickly as the flavor of the week in journalism does.

One a somewhat tangental point, does anyone else remeber two summers ago when every shark attack received large amounts of media coverage??? It was only after the summer was over that it was found that the total number of shark attacks was actually less than average?

Posted by: Renier Wolfcastle | January 25, 2006 9:12 PM | Report abuse

It's always interesting how these stories only show up when temperatures are warmer than usual....typically when temperatures are (naturally) quite high such as the summer. Unfortunately...or maybe fortunately, science does not progress as quickly as the flavor of the week in journalism does.

One a somewhat tangental point, does anyone else remeber two summers ago when every shark attack received large amounts of media coverage??? It was only after the summer was over that it was found that the total number of shark attacks was actually less than average?

Posted by: Renier Wolfcastle | January 25, 2006 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Man why worry it is going to happen. The bird flu will come. So professional people pull your heads out of each ours asses and think of something you can to help

Posted by: David Hennings | January 25, 2006 9:18 PM | Report abuse

So what's the purpose of these blogs? When I look at them all I can think of is "Nothing clever to say, just someplace to say it."

Posted by: Big Daddy | January 25, 2006 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Permalink: Thank you for contributing nothing clever to say.

Posted by: Ivan | January 25, 2006 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Permalink: Thank you for contributing nothing clever to say.

Posted by: Ivan | January 25, 2006 9:44 PM | Report abuse

RD Padouk, don't go! The time travelling happened to me, too - well, I thought I had broken the Space-Time Continuum. So I post very gingerly now...but I'm sure it wasn't your fault...

Posted by: mostlylurking | January 25, 2006 10:06 PM | Report abuse

A one degree or less rise in temperature can make the difference between an ice cube and a puddle of water. Globally it is the difference between ice caps and glaciers and higher tides. The largest supply of fresh water in the world is a big ice cube called the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). At meltdown the WAIS would raise sea levels 15 to 30 feet. But just a simple rise of a few inches and a few degrees coastal in water temp can make the difference between a squall and major hurricane damage.

Posted by: shiloh | January 25, 2006 10:32 PM | Report abuse

I became aware of the phenomena of and the potential concequences of global warming around 1981. At that time, the body of data upon which scientists based their conclusions had been accumulating for about twenty five years. Further data collection and the advent of global atmospheric dynamics modeling, in my opinion, have made a pretty convincing case that we are collectively experiencing the advent of global warming as predicted twenty five years ago. Its difficult to understand the general reluctance to buy into the evidence that supports this aspect of meteorlogical/climatological theory in the same way that many people deny the validity of evolutionary theory. Theories, by definition, are the highest form of scientific statement. Governments that deny the validity of such bodies of information and formulate policy on the basis of this denial hardly do the global community any favours.

Posted by: jack | January 25, 2006 10:41 PM | Report abuse

I guess Washington will go back to being a swamp within 100 years-- it's only a few feet above sea level. There are only about 50 other major cities in same boat.

I'm betting the politicians will screw up planning for the climate changes more than they already have with the roads.

We need a better system, one that doesn't have so much corruption, and that does the more responsible thing consistently, rather than doing damage the country as a whole just to get other people's money.

Maybe we should require the people responsible for all the poor zoning to have to live in those cities as legal punishment.

Posted by: J. Osinski | January 25, 2006 10:45 PM | Report abuse

I guess Washington will go back to being a swamp within 100 years-- it's only a few feet above sea level. There are only about 50 other major cities in same boat.

I'm betting the politicians will screw up planning for the climate changes more than they already have with the roads.

We need a better system, one that doesn't have so much corruption, and that does the more responsible thing consistently, rather than doing damage the country as a whole just to get other people's money.

Maybe we should require the people responsible for all the poor zoning to have to live in those cities as legal punishment.

Posted by: J. Osinski | January 25, 2006 10:46 PM | Report abuse

The debate is over. Double the CO2 concentration in less than a half century -- the greatest increase in 450,000 years (that's as far back as the ice record in Antartica goes), maybe longer.

Fossil fuels efficiency -- what you get / what you pay for -- is and always will be limited to less than 30%, closer to half that in many applications (electric generation for example including mining, processing, transportation and transmission energy losses). This is due to the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Not included is the cost of pollution, from strip mining to toxic emissions.

Solar energy, by contrast, is delivered free to your doorstep, without any pollution. it's cost is predictable -- zero -- for now and for all time.

Oh, excuse me. I thought I lived in a rational world and was speaking to rational human beings, who themselves were led by bright, competent leaders, and that by presenting scientific facts, policy would change rationally to match our knowledge.

Wrong planet. I've gotta go.

Posted by: gatorron | January 25, 2006 10:47 PM | Report abuse

The debate is over. Double the CO2 concentration in less than a half century -- the greatest increase in 450,000 years (that's as far back as the ice record in Antartica goes), maybe longer.

Fossil fuels efficiency -- what you get / what you pay for -- is and always will be limited to less than 30%, closer to half that in many applications (electric generation for example including mining, processing, transportation and transmission energy losses). This is due to the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Not included is the cost of pollution, from strip mining to toxic emissions.

Solar energy, by contrast, is delivered free to your doorstep, without any pollution. it's cost is predictable -- zero -- for now and for all time.

Oh, excuse me. I thought I lived in a rational world and was speaking to rational human beings, who themselves were led by bright, competent leaders, and that by presenting scientific facts, policy would change rationally to match our knowledge.

Wrong planet. I've gotta go.

Posted by: gatorron | January 25, 2006 10:48 PM | Report abuse

The Ents are moving inland. Ents are those lumbering tree creatures in Tolkeins' Hobbit trilogy. Studies show that tree regeneration has moved away from the coast about 300 feet inland since 1980, because seedlings cannot survive an inch or so of increase in the coastal salt-water table. The Ents move slowly and rarely according to Tolkein. Are they telling us something - are we listening to the trees?

Posted by: Shiloh | January 25, 2006 11:14 PM | Report abuse

gatorron is incorrect -- solar power is not free. It costs something real to manufacture the solar panels, including obtaining the necessary raw materials through mining and from fossil fuels, used to make plastics. Same problem with fuel cells -- the most energy eficient source of hydrogen with nevisioned technologies is from fossil fuels, not from electrolysis of sea-water. Fuel cells have the useful attribute of concentrating all the pollution into large, immobile, industrial centers, where pollution controls are easier to install, so that's an improvement, at least.

Not to say that solar power and fuel cells aren't a good way to go -- but the equation is not so lopsided in favor of these technologies as one might think. It's impossible to live in the world without screwing up something. It's just a question of whether you (or your civilization) are likely to disappear, anyway, before the damage becomes intolerable.

Posted by: ScienceTim | January 25, 2006 11:59 PM | Report abuse

We're all gonna die!

Liberals say we're going to die from global warming. Conservatives say we're going to die from terrorist attacks and global extremism. Conservatives say Iran or North Koreas will nuke us if we don't take action. Liberals say will all die if we don't switch to alternative fuels.

Yet somehow, life goes on. . .

Posted by: Honestly | January 26, 2006 12:08 AM | Report abuse

Even with renewable or clean energy sources, 3rd World countries will still continue burning coal and oil. These will always be the cheapest form of energy, and the 3rd world countries will still be around for 100 years. There's little doubt that most of the coal and all of the oil will be burned within the next 100 years. What we should start doing now is planning for climate change. There are things that can be done, like planning to move framlands and low-elevation inhabitants over the course of 100 years. That's the cleverest thing that can be done.

These are the things that will come to pass.

Posted by: J. Osinski | January 26, 2006 12:13 AM | Report abuse

No, not WE are going to DIE. Your CHILDREN are going to DIE, and they're not going to be able to have as many children as you have had because of our current lack of investment in energy science and planning.

Posted by: J. Osinski | January 26, 2006 12:18 AM | Report abuse

No, not WE are going to DIE. Your CHILDREN are going to DIE, and they're not going to be able to have as many children as you have had because of our current lack of investment in energy science and planning.

Posted by: J. Osinski | January 26, 2006 12:21 AM | Report abuse

ScienceTim:

Thank you for a rational reply.

Note that I carefully did not say that building solar energy application is free. I said the energy is free. And it always will be.

Solar energy captured, for example, by photovoltaics returns (over a 20 year period) four times the amount of energy required to build a panel. Direct solar heating panels yield on the order of 12 times the energy required to build them.

Non-renewables, as stated, yield something like 15 percent.

So, if you were offered a 300 percent return versus a 15 percent return, which would you take?

Our economics are stuck in the fossil fuel age. This is the reason we do not yet have a renewable energy economy.

It is about to change, though.

Posted by: gatorron | January 26, 2006 6:54 AM | Report abuse

Anyone read Michael Crichton's book? The one that challenges the idea that we're going through global warming at all?

It's hard to get through at the beginning, but he claims his data is real....

Posted by: AEM | January 26, 2006 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Can't wait to see the data a decade from now. Hello SPF-1,000,000!

Posted by: Pressure Cooker | January 26, 2006 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Chriton's book has been addressed by many in the scientific community. He is very selective with his data and his reasoning. In short, Chriton is no scientist. I would take his views on global warming with the same grain of salt as his views on disnosaur cloning.

Chriton only succeeded in convincing the choir. One of the low points in our democracy was when a U.S. Senator held up a fictional novel as the definitive scientific work in the field. Very sad.

Posted by: basic science lesson | January 26, 2006 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Al Gore's Documentary got a rather passionate reception at Sundance.

The movie reviewer Jeffery Wells has some scathing reaction to those who e-mailed him, doubting global warming. Look at the (1/27/2006 11:38 AM) entry under "Wired".

http://www.hollywood-elsewhere.com/

"...if you don't want to believe something, you can usually figure some way of doing that under the guise of subjectivism."

Posted by: mizerock | January 27, 2006 4:03 PM | Report abuse

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