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The Faustian Bargain

Dr Andrew Glikson is an earth and paleo-climate research scientist at the Australian National University. This is his second article for Webdiary (the first was Dangerous climate change: Lessons from the recent history of the atmosphere). References for this article can be found here.

How a carbon-emitting atom-splitting species threatens to turn a planet into a radioactive
3 to 6 degrees c high sea level world


The sensitivity of the Earth’s atmosphere to anthropogenic carbon gases has been underestimated. As the orgy of burning carbon products of 400 million of biological evolution continues unabated, pushed by business, advertisers and consumption-promoting governments, global warming proceeds at a pace faster than projected by the IPCC (Houghton et al., 2001; Rahmstorf, 2007), tracking toward likely climate tipping points. The science fiction-like specter of global warming precludes many from discriminating between the climate and the weather. A well financed denial syndrome frustrates 11th hour attempts at mitigation. Governments, caught between the climate and fossil fuel interests, debate woefully inadequate carbon emission targets (Garnaut, 2008) unlikely to stabilize the rise of temperature, migration of climate zones, sea level and storm intensities (Anderson and Bowes, 2008). Politicians don’t get it, failing to understand they cannot argue with the atmosphere and the oceans. Only a global strategy aimed at immediate deep cuts of carbon gas emissions, innovation of technology for CO2-sequestration and down-draw to levels below 350 ppm (Hansen et al., 2008), albedo enhancement over polar regions and fast tracked reforestation campaigns may be capable of mitigating the worst consequences of runaway global warming. As times goes on, in an increasingly stressed world, the possibility of a nuclear conflagration of hair-trigger missile fleets, by accident or design, becomes a probability. Hapless populations are faced with a non-choice between a greenhouse summer and/or a nuclear winter. Will the powers to be, always willing to use $trillions to bomb peasants in remote corners of the globe (in the name of freedom and democracy), or rescue corrupt bankers, be willing to take all the measures needed to protect the young, future generations and nature?


“The sleep of reason produces monsters”
Francisco Goya


The climate crisis

By contrast to the frozen surface of Mars (0.006 bar; -140oC to +20oC) and the greenhouse atmosphere of Venus (92 bars; 467oC), the Earth’s atmosphere (1 bar)) buffers a surface temperature range of -89oC to +57.7oC through the absorption/ emission effect of infrared radiation by greenhouse gas (GHG) molecules (H2O, CO2, CH4, N2O), allowing liquid water at the surface and thereby life. Had GHG been absent the Earth surface would have been several tens of degrees colder.

Primary energy sources of the atmosphere and oceans are derived from solar radiation, terrestrial heat flow, volcanism and hydrothermal activity, reinforced or mitigated by feedback effects from the hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere. These processes include changes in CO2 solubility in the oceans, drying or flourishing vegetation and the activity of animals. Ocean currents and winds controlled by temperature gradients, salinity and continent-ocean-mountain patterns redistribute the primary and feedback energy forcing effects. During glacial eras the polar continental ice sheets and sea ice provide powerful feedback effects through an increase or decrease in albedo and the exposure or closure of heat absorbing ocean surface areas. Clouds increase the albedo as well as act as a greenhouse warming medium. Short term rises in aerosols (volcanic eruptions, dust storms) affect the Earth’s albedo.

Since 1750 carbon emission from human industry and land clearing resulted in the rise of CO2 levels by ~38%, triggering atmospheric energy rise of +1.6 W/m2, methane levels by 150% (+0.45 W/m2), and N2O +0.15 W/m2 (IPCC, 2007), a rate of increase unrecorded in the recent history of Earth (Figs 1-4). The total energy rise of the climate system during 1961-2003 represents a near-3 fold acceleration of global warming. Increased evaporation due to surface warming results in higher atmospheric water vapor content and precipitation, often associated with cyclones, over tropical and subtropical zones.

By contrast mid-latitude zones are drying up due to polar-ward migration of climate zones by near-400 km (Hansen et al. 2007, 2008), the Murray-Darling being an example. Increased atmospheric CO2 levels result in ocean acidification due to an increase in the role of carbonic acid, decreasing the pH by 0.1, with effects on marine fauna and coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef.

Changes associated with the 20th century GHG rise include rise in solar insolation (+0.06 – 0.30 W/m2) during the first half of the 20th century (Solanki, 2002, 2004), albedo rise due to sulphur aerosols released by carbon burning (-0.5 W/m2), cloud formation (-0.7 W/m2) due to rising temperatures and land clearing (-0.2 W/m2).

The relation between GHG and temperature is calibrated by the parameter of Climate Sensitivity, estimated with a mean value of 3oC per doubling of CO2 levels. The rise of CO2 from 280 to 387 ppm since the 19th century corresponds to temperature rise of ~1.1oC, above the measured mean global temperature rise of ~0.8 oC, though carbon cycle feedbacks and ice melt-water interaction push this value further upward.

The critical role of CO2 and CH4 in governing past climates is demonstrated by correlations of palaeobotanical evidence (plant stomata pore density), glacial sediments and carbon mass balance calculations (Berner, 2004; Beerling and Berner, 2005; Royer, 2006; Royer et al., 2004, 2007; Ruddiman, 2003). Ice core records of the last 740,000 years leave little doubt regarding the role of CO2 and CH4 during the glacial-interglacial Milankovic cycles and Dansgaard-Oeschger (D-O) ~1470 years-long cycles (Ganopolski amd Rahmstorf, 2001) during the last ice age.

The emission of over 305 Gigatons of Carbon since the industrial revolution resulted in conditions not known since the last interglacial termination 124,000 years-ago and are tracking toward conditions analogous to the mid-Pliocene (~3.0 Ma) when CO2 levels reached ~400 ppm, temperatures rose by 2-3oC relative to the 20th century and sea level rose by 25+/-12 metres (Dowsett et al., 2005; Haywood et al., 2005; Zachos et al., 2001; Gingerich, 2006).


Figure 1. Northern hemisphere temperature reconstructions 700AD – 2008, based on multiple proxies (tree rings, coral reefs, pollen, cave deposits, ice cores, oxygen isotopes) compared with sunspot plot. (AR4-IPCC-2007 Fig. TS-20) correlated with the 1600 – 2000 sun spot activity plot of Solanki, 2002. Note (1) close correlation of the “little medieval winter” with low sun spot activity; (2) peak mid- 20th century sun spot activity (0.4 Watt/m2 higher than 1900); (3) decline in sun spot activity from the mid-20th century, decoupled from a rise of temperature anomalies by another 0.5oC).

Figure 2. Global temperature trends 1850 – 2008 (IPCC-2007-Fig. TS.6) and correlated sun spot radiative levels. (1) (Top) Patterns of linear global temperature trends over the period 1979 to 2005 estimated at the surface (left), and for the troposphere from satellite records (right). (2) Annual global mean temperatures (black dots) with linear fits to the data. The left hand axis shows temperature anomalies relative to the 1961 to 1990 average and the right hand axis shows estimated actual temperatures. Linear trends are shown for the last 25 (yellow), 50 (orange), 100 (purple) and 150 years (red). The smooth blue curve shows decadal variations. (3) Variations in the energy level of sun spot cycle (+/- 0.2 Watt/m2) during 1975 – 2008.


Climate impasse developments through the late 20th century and the early 21st century include:

A. Atmospheric CO2 rates, rising to 2.2 ppm/yr in 2007, exceed 1850-1970 rates by factors of ~4 to 5, two orders of magnitude higher than mean CO2 rise rates of the last glacial termination (~0.014 ppm/yr).

B. A rise of mean global temperature of more than 0.8oC since 1850 and 0.6 oC since 1975-6. Mean temperature rise rates of 0.016C/year during 1970 - 2007 were about an order of magnitude faster than during 1850-1970 (0.0017C) and during the last glacial termination.

C. As indicated by paleotemperature studies (δ18O and δD - deuterium) studies of Greenland ice cores (Broecker, 2000; Braun et al., 2005) the atmosphere is amenable to abrupt climate changes and tipping points. Thus the last termination (14.7 – 11.7 kyr) displays extreme temperature changes on the scale of several degrees C in a few years (Steffensen et al., 2008) to decade scale (Alley, 2003; Kobashi et al., 2008), testifying to an extreme sensitivity of the atmosphere and the possibility of climate impasse tipping points (Fig. 5).

D. The rise of mean Arctic and sub-Arctic temperatures in 2005-2008 by near +4oC relative to mean 1951 – 1980 values (Fig. 4). Polar ice caps, commonly referred to as the “canary in the coal mine”, offer a sensitive parameter for global temperature changes, which they exceed by about a factor of X2.

E. Arctic Sea ice melt rates of ~5.4% per-decade since 1980, increasing to >10% per year during 2006-2007 (National Snow and Ice Data Centre [NSIDC], 2008) have surpassed the IPCC estimates.

F. West Antarctica warming and ice melt rates >10% per decade, culminating in mid-winter ice shelf breakdown (Wilkins ice shelf; June, 2008, NSIDC, 2008).

G. Advanced melt of the Greenland ice sheet of 0.6% per-year between 1979 and 2002 (Steffen and Huff, 2002; Frederick et al., 2006)

H. Slow-down of the North Atlantic thermohaline conveyor belt and down-welling water columns (NASA, 2004; Bryden et al., 2005), with attendant danger of its cessation analogous to conditions ~8.2 kyr ago (Alley et al., 1997, 2003).

I. Temperature projections for the North Atlantic Ocean (Keenlyside et al., 2008) may reflect the effect of Greenland ice melt waters, which may lead to transient cooling similar to events recorded in ice cores at ~12,900 – 11,700 (Steffensen et al., 2008) and ~8200 years-ago.

J. Increased frequency and intensification of categories 4 and 5 hurricanes (Webster et al., 2005). An overall increase in the intensity of extreme weather events, i.e. cyclones, floods and fires associated with high summer temperatures.

K. Mean sea level rise rate of ~0.32 cm/yr during 1988-2007 more than doubled relative to the mean ~0.14 cm/yr rate of 1973-1988 and three times those of 1850-1970 (Rahmstorf, 2006). In so far as doubling of sea level rise rates continues at this rate through the 21st century, they may approach rates similar to those of the last glacial termination (1.3 – 1.6 cm/yr) before mid-century, with sea level rise by several metres toward the end of the century as estimated by Hansen et al (2007).

L. Polar-ward migration of climate zones associated with the contraction of the Antarctic wind vortex, resulting in increase in temperature and decrease in rainfall in much of southern Australia, in particular the southwest and the southeast.

M. Increased frequency of the El-Nino events of the ENSO cycle, resulting in increased draughts in northeast Australia, India and parts of east Africa.

N. Methane (CH4), which after ~20 years has X23 times the greenhouse warming effect of CO2, rose by 10 ppb during 2007 (http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice /2008/techtalk53-7.pdf), exceeding the 1850-1970 rise rate (c. 5.4 ppb/yr) and orders of magnitude faster relative to the last glacial termination. Methane deposits vulnerable to small temperature rise reside in permafrost (~900 billion ton Carbon - GtC), high latitude peat lands (~400 GtC), tropical peat lands (~100 GtC), vegetation (~650 GtC) and methane hydrates and clathrates in the ocean and ocean floor sediments (> 16,000 GtC). These exceed the atmospheric level of carbon (~750 GtC), carbon emissions to date (~305 GtC) and known economic carbon reserves (>>4000 GtC). Elevated methane release from Arctic Sea sediments and sub-Arctic permafrost were recently recorded (Walter et al., 2006; Rigby, 2008).

Large scale release of methane is considered the trigger for the Paleocene-Eocene mass extinction at 55 Ma (Wing, 2003; Sluijs et al., 2007). Release of CO2 and methane associated with volcanic and impact events constituted a major factor associated with at least four of the five mass extinction of species, including the Permian-Triassic (~251 Ma), end-Triassic (~200 Ma), end-Jurassic (~145 Ma) and end-Cretaceous (~65 Ma) (Glikson, 2005, 2008).

Figure 3. Global mean radiative forcing since 1750 (AR4-2007 Fig. TS.5). Global mean radiative forcings (RF) and their 90% confidence intervals in 2005 for various agents and mechanisms. Columns on the right-hand side specify best estimates and confidence intervals (RF values); typical geographical extent of the forcing (Spatial scale); and level of scientific understanding (LOSU).

Figure 4. Global temperature anomalies in 2005, 2007 and 2008 in degrees C relative to 1951-1980 (Hansen et al., 2008)


B. The denial syndrome

For the last 20 years or so, through numerous public presentations, articles published in economic and social journals (but rarely in the peer-reviewed scientific literature), extensive media exposure and intense political lobbying, so-called climate change “skeptics”, many of whom affiliated with right-wing groups and fossil fuel corporations, have attempted, continue to deny the reality of climate change, or interpret global warming in terms of natural processes, or claim it is beneficial.

Climate “skeptics”, more suitably referred to as denialists, attempt to advance their cause in two principal ways: (1) present outdated or imaginary technical arguments; (2) claim conspiracy on the part of climate science research organizations and climate scientists, to whom the often refer in derogatory ad-hominem terms.

Using terms such as “alarmism”, denialists do not appear to recognize the professional and ethical responsibility of scientists to alert society to dangers, whether of natural or anthropogenic origin, such as looming epidemics, ultraviolet and cosmic radiation, smoking-related cancer, ozone depletion or the climate impasse.

Many of the denialists have been supported by fossil fuel interests. On 4.11.2006, Bob Ward, Senior Manager, Policy Communication, British Royal Society, addressed to a major oil company, stating, among other: “… I am writing to express my disappointment at the inaccurate and misleading view of the science of climate change that these documents present .… leaves readers with such an inaccurate and misleading impression of the evidence on the causes of climate change that is documented in the scientific literature… My analysis indicates that (your company) provided more that $2.9 million to organizations in the United States which misinformed the public about climate change through their websites.

One example is the film “The Great Global Warming Swindle”, screened by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on 12 July, and which does not display temperatures records since the 1980s onward, omitting the critical evidence for greenhouse-driven climate change during the last 30 years when temperatures rose by ~0.6oC whereas solar radiation oscillated at +/-0.2 Watt/m2.

Denialists repeatedly attack what they call “science by consensus”. However, science, a self-correcting method, advances by trial and error. A consensus emerges when most scientists become convinced by the evidence and arguments for a new theory. Dedicated scientists will keep accumulating evidence and advance arguments which, if convincing, will tilt the balance. However, had it not been for the peer reviewed scientific literature, science would have drowned in a flood of uncontrolled claims, some true and many false.

There is no evidence the denialists are conducting any climate change research. Instead, they are searching for errors, real or imaginary, in the work of climate scientists whose professional integrity they keep attacking. In this respect denialists may be compared with creationists who, for the particular end of denying the relation between humans and the primates, choose to dismiss Darwinian evolutionary theory as a whole.

But attempts at denial of the reality of the climate impasse have already resulted in a delay of efforts at mitigation by almost 20 years. In the words of Hamilton (2008): “But if … skeptics were successful in stopping policies to cut emissions and the IPCC projections turn out to be correct, then environmental catastrophe will follow and millions of people will die. Do they lose sleep over this? Do they worry about how their grandchildren will see them? Or are they so consumed by their crusade that they know they will never be proven wrong?

Most arguments made by climate change deniers can be shown to be false:

1. A common argument relates to historical and geological warm periods, suggesting the current global warming is of natural rather than anthropogenic origin. However, studies of historical temperatures based ice cores, tree rings, corals, pollen, cave deposits, sediments and other proxies (Fig. 1) indicate late 20th to early 21st century mean temperatures exceed those of the Medieval Warm Period (1000 – 1150AD) by 0.5oC. Another argument is that the current warming represents a recovery from the “little ice age” (1600 – 1700AD), a period related to a near-cessation of sun spot activity (Fig. 1). However, sunspot activity has peaked by the mid-20th century, whereas temperatures continue to rise by ~0.6oC.

2. References by denialists to past natural climate changes, including the Emian (124,000 years-ago) when temperatures exceeded 20thc century levels by ~1oC, or the mid-Pliocene (3 Ma) when temperatures were + 2 to 3oC higher, miss the point. It is no more warranted to artificially raise atmospheric temperatures than, for example, destroy the ozone layer or lower the pH of the ocean just because such changes have taken place in the past!

3. Denialists often attribute global warming to an increase in solar radiation. An increase in sunspot activity toward the mid-20th century is correlated with a rise in insolation by about 0.06 – 0.30 Watt/m2, with a mean of 0.12 Watt/m2, an order of magnitude lower than caused by GHG radiative forcing of ~1.6 Watt/m2 (Fig. 3). Concomitant rise in insolation, the effect of aerosols and rising GHG during ~1950 – 1975 partly masked the GHG effect, which is clearly decoupled from the solar effect from about 1975 (Fig. 2). Warming of the upper troposphere, cooling of the upper atmosphere (in part related to ozone depletion), surface warming during winters and nights are consistent with GHG effects rather than solar effects.

4. As it has been suggested cosmic ray activity helps nucleate low-level clouds (Svensmark, 2007), some denialists invoked low cosmic rays to account for global warming. As an inverse relation occurs between peak sun spot activity and cosmic ray activity, this implies an increase in solar radiation parallel with global warming, but such increase has not been recorded from the mid-20th century (Solanki, 2002, 2004). Claims of correlations between paleo-temperature variations based on δ18O and cosmic ray effects read from meteorites (Shaviv and Veizer, 2003) have been refuted by Rahmstorf et al. (2004), who showed the data have been de-trended.

5. In the absence of a common extraterrestrial cause, claims by some denialists as if Earth shares climate changes with Mars and Venus remain unsupported.

6. Another argument by denialists relates to an apparent lack of a top-tropospheric “hot spot” (TTHS) (Singer and Douglass, 2004), an expected consequence of global warming. However, the TTHS has been in fact identified (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/05/tropical-tropopshere-ii/.)(seehttp://www.abc.net.au/%20unleashed/stories/ s2323407.htm).

7. A common argument by denialists is a concentration of climate measurements around cities and conurbations. This argument, which may have had some validity during the earliest days of measurements, is negated by the global distribution of ground measurements, weather balloon measurements and satellite-based measurements over the world’s continents, oceans and polar regions. Hansen et al. (2001) estimate the effect of urban heat sources at ~0.1oC (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/%20Features/GISS.Temperature/ printall.php)

8. Referring to annual to multi-annual mean temperature oscillations related to the ENSO cycle (El-Nino 1998, 2002, 2007; La-Nina 2000, 2003, 2006, 2008), denialists claim the Earth has been cooling since 2002. As shown by global temperature trends (Fig. 3) the decline in the mean rate of temperature rise during 2000 – 2007 relative to 1975 – 2000 correlates with the effects of lower sun spot activity, and in 2003 and 2006 with the La-Nina. In so far as ice sheet melting may result in retardation of the Gulf Stream, a lull in warming, or even cooling of the North Atlantic Ocean, may be expected as a stage in global climate impasse, possibly reflected by projection of Keenlyside et al. (2008). The critical manifestation of global warming comes from the poles, where mean temperatures have increased by up to 4oC.

9. Denialists often criticize computer models, betraying a misunderstanding of their nature which, as in other field in science, constitute tools used to test matches between direct measurements, calculations and intepretations. More than 20 independently developed climate models are consistent with directly observed trends when the effect of GHG forcing is included in the calculations.

10. Claims CO2 increases are beneficial as plant food overlook the drying/burning consequences of the extensive droughts associated with polar-ward migration of climate zones, in particular in mid-latitudes, as in the Murray-Darling Basin. Some crops which may grow faster under elevated temperature also need water, an increasingly scarce commodity in these latitudes. Where precipitation increases due to expansion of the tropics, it is often associated with devastating tropical cyclones. In so far as some agricultural advantages may arise in northern latitudes from thawing of sub-Arctic permafrost, they are more than negated by the release of methane from the permafrost as a powerful feedback effect of global warming. Rising sea levels threaten vast coastal, delta and low river agricultural zones, the habitat and granary for many hundreds of millions people in southeast and southern Asia, northwestern Europe and northeast America, with social and economic consequences which defy contemplation. Not least, ocean acidification and the decline of marine fauna, coral reefs and fisheries, threaten the demise of Earth’s marine environments and a major food source for humanity.

In so far as the scientific method depends on examination of evidence from a range of perspectives, those who describe themselves as climate change skeptics, failing to conduct research, appear to act as advocates of an assumption inconsistent with direct measurements and basic principles of climate science.

Given only minor oscillations in solar radiation and cosmic ray activity from the last quarter of the 20th century, the climate change denial syndrome fails to demonstrate a natural cause for global warming, the highest since the Emian (124,000 years-ago), at CO2 and temperature rise rates one to two orders of magnitude faster than the last glacial termination and currently tracking toward conditions analogous to the mid-Pliocene (~3 million years-ago).

It would prove a huge relief, to say the least, had the specter of dangerous climate impasse been shown to be false or, at least, a purely natural process to which civilization needs to mitigate and adapt. Thus Hamilton (2008) states: “The truth is that if any of the skeptics - especially those who do have some claim to expertise in the area - were to undertake a study that cast genuine doubt on the global warming hypothesis and it could pass the tests of professional scrutiny, it would cause a sensation. If it were confirmed, we could all utter an enormous sigh of relief and shower those responsible with prizes and accolades.” Unfortunately this is not the case.

If and when climate change denialists are prepared to visit parts of the Earth severely affected by global warming, and read the voluminous peer reviewed literature in science journals, perhaps they will realize the gravity of the consequences of their misreading of climate science, before it is too late.

Figure 5. Abrupt climate change events during 14,740 – 11.660 years-ago recorded in Greenland ice core (Steffensen et al., 2008). Age determinations are based on ice varve counting and paleo-temperatures on δD (deuterium) analysis. Low temperatures between ~12,900 and ~11,700 years ago correspond to the Youngest dryas period when large scale melting of Laurentian and Fennoscandian ice sheets resulted in abrupt cooling of the North Atlantic region, demonstrating sharp tipping points and an extreme vulnerability of the atmosphere, ocean and cryosphere to warming and cooling feedback processes.


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Response to Glikson and Ian

Andrew, your references to higher CO2 levels about 3 million years ago are valid but you may have missed the point slightly.

At that time the Earth was not in a glacial state, there was little if any permanent ice on the planet, temperatures were indeed much higher than at present and sea levels were also much higher. The pace of natural CO2 and temperature variation, which were indeed much higher than now, at that time appear to be mainly quite slow, certainly not driven at the rate we have managed over the last 100 years or so. The changes taking place then appear to be driven by tectonic changes in particular the closing of the Panama isthmus and changes in sea currents and northern hemisphere weather which took place over a very long time (probably more than a million years) leading into the Glacial period.

Any ancestors of ours around at the time would have lots of time to adapt and they certainly did not have a population of 6 or 7 billion largely living on coastal flood plains.

At the moment we are somewhere near the top of the last warm peak of the present glacial period which stretches back roughly 2.75 million years throughout which there have been large, variable quantities of permanent ice and CO2 has varied naturally mainly in line with variations in sea temperatures in the polar regions (I believe mainly the Arctic) as well as solar insolation. We emerged from the last glacial maximum into the Holocene only about 10,000years ago and it is only well after this that our population growth and other activities could have had any effect on things at all, and only in the last 260 years or so has fossil fuel sourced CO2 and enhanced greenhouse effect been involved.

Left to its own devices there is little doubt that planet will eventually continue its original cooling trend and there is little doubt that it would have inevitably started to drop into the next glacial maximum sometime about now, so a little global warming (or at least temperature stabilisation) may not be such a bad thing for mankind. The problem is the speed at which we are forcing the climate to react when we pump all this CO2 (and methane) into the atmosphere.

People are attempting to jump to all sorts of conclusions based on ridiculously short sets of data. My tomb on Arctic methane emissions is meant to show that we are like Nero fiddling while Rome burns. While squabbling over carbon emissions, responsibility and damage to the economy we are ignoring the real killer which is creeping up on us which will come from the planet’s natural systems as they respond to the rising temperatures and changed natural balance. When and if it happens it will be very rapid.

I noticed your comments concerning the “sceptics” and am sure we can raise convincing counter arguments. Most people are only looking at a small part of the problem and latching on to isolated causal facts. In reality the entire armoury of planetary systems is disturbed when we add our additional unnatural forcing. We have not just upset one part of the system but many, the whole balance has been changed and pushed out of its equilibrium state. It will never be exactly the same again; it is always changing whether naturally or by being pushed by us. The Younger Dryas cooling seems to merit a separate debate but is certainly explainable. But as yet no one seems to have a completely acceptable explanation for how the various glacial periods ended so abruptly.

I have not completely followed your debate with Ian Read but having followed through his last post I would just like to say this.

CO2 is quite a dense gas and is heavier than the air that it is released into. If there is little wind or turbulence it will tend to gather in low or enclosed areas, particularly if the temperature is low. Most of the scientists (but not all I admit) who were recording high and variable CO2 levels were in low lying, industrialised or highly populated locations where slightly higher and variable readings could be expected because they were taken near the CO2 sources before dispersal and mixing could optimise.

Obviously Ian is correct to point out the discrepancies, which are real, but the higher, more thoroughly mixed samples taken from Polar and Greenland ice cores should be much less varied, less influenced by local emissions and more reliable as should the Mauna Loa readings which are taken at altitude under scrutiny and under controlled conditions. The real point is that they are consistent and the trends are undeniable, even by sceptics.

Fiona: Malcolm, could you please mail the missing jpg file to editor@webdiary.com.au? It has to be published separately on Webdiary before it can be inserted in your comment.

Geo-engineering and albedo

Andrew, I did not respond to your reply viz geo-engineering and albedo enhancement as I was unsure about your comment on fast tracked C emissions. I think that you mean that any geo-engineering program(s) must be combined with radical reductions in C emissions eventually leading to a world with C neutral energy sources? This is certainly exactly what I believe is needed and it may be that all sorts of ecologically benign schemes will be needed in order to achieve this, all being applied together and everyone striving to obtain their own best local solution, but all aiming for C neutral energy. The best commercial solutions will win and carbon emission trading schemes may have their place in changing political mind sets-so long as the result is less C in the atmosphere (I personally doubt that current ETS markets will achieve very much real benefit).

What I do see making a difference is direct carbon taxation, where the additional charge on polluters will reduce fossil burning and fund or subsidise C neutral schemes and prototype development. There are many bright ideas for clean energy and even atmosphere scrubbers but all are un fundable, non viable commercially while in competition with cheap fossil fuel energy schemes and will take centuries to develop to an effective scale capable of actually tackling the problem.

Read my methane posting, we have not got centuries or even a century to tackle this problem.

The Arctic is warming up. The northern sea route through the Arctic will open again this summer becoming a viable trade route to the far-east for the first time in human history.

It is not what we are doing now which is causing this change, it has been taking place for many years, very noticeably since the 70s (and accelerating hugely at the present). What happened before that (whether CO2 or sun- induced) started the climate ball rolling and overcame the inertia of the system to move out of a previous equilibrium state. We are now pushing harder and harder on an already moving ball and it is now moving quickly enough for us to see that fact through the natural “weather” variations. It is going to take a lot of stopping.

Interesting fact: atmospheric methane varied between roughly 700 ppb and 600 ppb through the last 11,000 years of the Holocene. If we say it averaged 500 ppb (0.5 ppm) we are not far out.

With a half life of (say) 10 years each initial 1 kg of methane would produce roughly 1.38 kg of CO2 over each 10 years period and be constantly topped up back to 1kg by further natural emissions of methane (to keep the average constant). Over 100 years an additional 5 kg of methane must be emitted just to maintain the status quo, but at the same time about 13.8 kg of CO2 is produced by the degrading methane. Over 11,000 years that makes about 1,512 kg of CO2 yet the methane content is still the same 1 kg.

In reality the CO2 starts to degrade immediately as soon as it is produced so, with a half life of 60 years the actual accumulated total is much less, probably nearer only 100 kg. (the 0.5 ppb of methane has produced about 50 ppm of CO2, not a huge amount but probably more than enough to counter the global cooling trend throughout the Holocene and so far prevent the onset of the next ice age.

We have raised CO2 levels by double this amount in about 200 years, more than enough to get the ball rolling again.

Ian Read (January 13, 2009 - 10:07pm): "I suspect the Pacific Decadal Oscillation plays a large part in measurable mid-term climate changes, including increased CO2 out gassing during warm modes. Mix the PDO, and the numerous other natural climate-affecting oscillations, with the practice of global land clearances/deforestation (especially in the tropics over the last 50 years) altering albedo and hydrological systems, etc and we get anthropogenic climate change. I doubt very much that CO2 is the problem."

Ian, I think that all of these effects are very relevant and affect the overall picture but I feel that you are wrong about CO2, it just takes a long time to see the effects and in the meantime there is “weather”.

Ian Read (January 13, 2009 - 11:13am): "In other words a fully implemented globally-applied ETS is likely to reduce atmospheric CO2 by only several parts per million. Andrew Glikson, how is this going to make any difference?"

I tend to agree but it might change attitudes and it keeps the debate in the open – over to Andrew.

On the nature of denial

Over years of debating with "climate change skeptics" (or "denialists" or contrarians" - call them what you may) one learns their methods and language, including the following:

1.  Common references to conspiracy theories and ad-hominem, hingeing on the messenger rather than the message. For example attacks on people like Al Gore (not a scientist but who conveys direct observations and conclusions from peer-reviewed publications in science journals), or James Hansen (a leading authority in climate science), or Tim Flannery (a paleontologist and environmentalist) etc.

2.  The liberal use of terms such as "alarmist", "scandal", "swindle", "ecofascists", "chicken little", "green dictatorship, etc. Note that, by distinction, scientists who publish in the peer-reviewed scientific literature keep higher ethical standards than the use of such terms.

3.  The repetition ad-infinitum of the very same, but long discarded, arguments (listed in my article above), simply believing that if a false point is repeated often enough it becomes true. 

4.  These people mostly include retired economists and retired engineers, whose philosophy appears to be that nature can be manipulated open endedly. Rarely do they include biologists. Some are known to have close connection with right wing "think tanks" and vested interests.

It would appear that the only ideology these people espouse is the belief the atmosphere should continue to be used as an open sewer for carbon gases.

Not much time left to save the planet

The world will have to reduce emissions more drastically than has been widely predicted, essentially ending the emission of carbon dioxide by 2050 to avoid catastrophic disruption to the world's climate, according to State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World, released today by the Worldwatch Institute. Yet opportunities abound in renewable energy and efficiency improvements, agriculture and forestry, and the resilience of societies for slowing and managing climate change, according to the book's 47 authors.

"We're privileged to live at a moment in history when we can still avert a climate catastrophe that would leave the planet hostile to human development and well-being," said Worldwatch Vice President for Programs Robert Engelman, project co-director for State of the World 2009. "But there's not much time left. Sealing the deal to save the global climate will require mass public support and worldwide political will to shift to renewable energy, new ways of living, and a human scale that matches the atmosphere's limits."

2009 is going to be a pivotal year leading up to the Copenhagen Climate negotiations in December. We must make sure our political leaders understand the urgency and the need to have zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

The understated effects of methane

Andrew Glikson’s posting “The Faustian Bargain” and his various comments and responses in the subsequent blog are the clearest and most sensible discussions I have seen for a very long time on the subject of climate change. I totally endorse every one of his statements and have found no errors in anything he says, I would however like to add something of my own to the debate which may or may not have some impact:

The growing effects of natural emissions of GWGs are being understated in most current discussions due to the constant reference to the 100 year GW equivalence figures for the gases concerned. Methane has a half life in the atmosphere which is only about 8 to 12 years i.e in the order of 1/10 that of the CO2 being used as the benchmark. If you use the 20 year GW equivalence then methane is at least 73 times more powerful as a GWG than CO2 over the same 20 year period.

Since 1750 the quantity of methane in the atmosphere has risen by 250% despite the fact that it has such a short lifespan (CO2 has risen by only 25%). There is a much larger methane flux “cycling” through Earth’s atmosphere (and doing so more quickly) than is generally realised. Despite the measured and published level of methane being so relatively low, it is now about 1,750 ppbillion i.e. only 1.75 ppm (as compared with the 387 ppm of CO2 currently in the atmosphere). This tiny amount of CH4 is providing roughly 19% of the present Green House effect (ignoring water vapour).


Greenhouse gas % greenhouse warming
carbon dioxide64
nitrous oxide6

Source: The World Resources Institute 1998, World Resources 1998-99: A Guide to the Global Environment (p 175).

Also, once the methane is in the atmosphere it is rapidly destroyed (over it’s 12 year life) basically by radiation induced oxidation processes and it should be noted that each original kilogram of methane will oxidise to form almost 3 kilograms of CO2 plus about 4.5 kilograms of water vapour (which is still ignored).

Due to it’s very low density, methane is very buoyant in air and once released into the atmosphere, it rises very rapidly, mixing and oxidising as it does so to form both CO2 and water vapour at considerable altitude where the water vapour in particular probably exerts a much greater GW effect than it would otherwise do (but this effect is probably unquantifiable and therefore still ignored).

The rate of natural methane release is increasing as temperatures rise (whether that rise is due to a natural solar cycle or due to man’s additional CO2 is basically irrelevant) and will continue to do so, as long as the new mean temperatures continue to be higher than the historic mean. i.e. such releases of methane will not be stopped or controlled until local temperatures in the affected areas are restored to near their original (lower than present), values. The West Siberian peat bogs alone contain upwards of 70 billion tonnes of organic carbon held in the frozen ground as un-composted vegetation. (The figures used here were based on a survey of the top 1 meter of Tundra performed several years ago, more recent figures issued in 2008 based on the top 3 metres are about 4 times the ones used here so I do not feel that I am exaggerating in any way).

With the Arctic warming and permafrost thawing, shrubs and trees are likely to grow on ground formerly occupied by tundra thus eventually taking up at least some of this buried carbon. Because plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, it might appear they could compensate for whatever carbon is released by the thawed permafrost. However, the amount of carbon stored in the permafrost is far greater than that found in boreal shrubs or trees. A mature boreal forest may contain five kilograms of stored carbon per square metre. But the same area of permafrost soil can contain more than 44 kilograms of carbon and at least 80 percent of that could be lost in the form of methane as the tundra warms. It is impossible to grow a dense enough forest on the same site in order to offset the carbon release caused by warming.

Some of the West Siberian carbon is already being released (as a possibly similar mass of methane) as temperatures rise, permafrost regions melt and decomposition rates also start to rise (the CO2 equivalence of this 70 billion tonnes of organic carbon is about 257 billion tonnes CO2). The atmospheric heating effect of this methane release could equate in the short term (using the 20 year GWP of methane) to adding about 5.1 trillion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere from this one area.

If the similar areas of Canada, Alaska, etc are also considered then the natural emissions of methane from surface warming of the Arctic tundra is likely (probably over the next 10-20 years although this is at present impossible to verify) to have an effect similar to that of the addition of more than 10.2 trillion tonnes of CO2.

Because the release is actually mainly in the form of methane gas it will rapidly degrade (over about a 10 to 40 year period) to actually form about three times it’s own mass of CO2 (plus a great deal of water vapour which should rapidly precipitate out and so is again ignored) so its heating effect should reduce after the initial sharp methane spike to that of a CO2 addition equal to nearer only about 513 billion tonnes of CO2.

At present the total quantity of CO2 making up the 385 ppm figure in the atmosphere is roughly 760 billion tonnes and is increasing at a rate of about 15 billion tonnes per year. These new Arctic Tundra emissions will add very considerably to this, almost doubling the present atmospheric level, even if no further CO2 is added by us.

While the additional carbon is in the atmosphere in the form of methane it is probable that sometime within the next 40 years the total transient heating effect from Arctic methane could peak at somewhere near 10 times that of the present CO2 content of the Atmosphere even without taking into account any other emission sources or types.

Rising Global temperatures will cause other but less easily quantifiable natural emissions of GHGs to occur e.g from the warming Southern Ocean, Antarctica, loss of rain forests etc. I am ignoring all such additional effects here except Arctic methane hydrates because I am unable to quantify these other likely sources.

Little of the methane release which has been observed in the Arctic up to now is derived from marine hydrates, however the actual rate of release of methane from both tundra and marine hydrate sources is accelerating as both local and global temperatures continue to rise and remain above historic norms. It should also be noted that the rate of marine hydrate decomposition is greatly accelerated by the introduction of warm water currents (or the change of position of cold currents).

Over about the last 15 years significant changes have occurred in the nature and position of certain of the North Atlantic ocean currents which now appear to penetrate much further into the shallow, permafrost ringed Arctic ocean bringing with them higher temperature water. This warmer bottom water is just one of the factors causing the summer ice loss, albedo changes and general warming of the Arctic regions seen so far. Most importantly, in many areas the higher bottom water temperature is already causing accelerated loss of the previously impermeable hydrate cap within the bottom sediment and permafrost layers.

Scientists aboard a research ship that sailed the entire length of Russia's northern coast during the summer of 2008 have discovered intense concentrations of methane - sometimes at up to 100 times background levels - over several areas covering thousands of square miles of the Siberian continental shelf. It is apparent that many hundreds of methane chimneys have very recently started to appear which represent methane gas venting through previously solid hydrate caps.

As sea temperatures at depth round the Arctic Ocean rim are being seen to rise, this is a process which can only accelerate despite the fact that the rate of change is as yet in most places almost too slow to measure. However, it is believed that 85% or more of the methane in situ (which may be as much as 20% of the world total of marine methane hydrate) would be released following a local sea water temperature rise of only about 3°C.

In particular, Arctic gas hydrates are most vulnerable to future climate change because:

  • it is predicted that temperatures will increase faster in the high latitudes i.e <st1:place w:st="on">Arctic</st1:place> (and perhaps to a slightly lesser extent Antarctic) than in low latitudes.
  • the intercept of the gas hydrate stability zone with the seabed is within the reach of fast warming surface waters. i.e. the hydrates will warm up and start to decompose as the water starts to warm.
  • the water column (pressure) above the vulnerable zone of Arctic gas hydrates is smaller than in warmer oceans allowing more efficient transport of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. i.e. there is insufficient water depth to provide the degree of pressure needed in order to keep the warming hydrate in a stable state and insufficient depth of water for the methane to oxidise or be consumed biologically before rising to the surface.

The release of even a tiny fraction of the total quantity of methane trapped in Arctic oceanic hydrates will result in the addition of many millions of tonnes of methane into the atmosphere giving rise to an ever increasing positive feedback effect and thus to ever higher, faster rising temperatures. New emissions of methane and CO2 from such hydrate decomposition and from other natural but temporary sinks is probably already introducing CO2 into the atmosphere at rates which are comparable with that from mankind’s fossil fuel activities.

These natural methane emissions will continue to accelerate so long as the atmospheric (and local oceanic) temperatures remain above historic levels even if the emission of CO2 from human sources is brought under control or even stopped completely.

If Arctic temperature rise continues unchecked, thus allowing ALL of the local shallow marine hydrates and free methane to be released, it will be equivalent to more than a trillion tonnes of additional methane entering the atmosphere from this area alone.

It is impossible to estimate the time scale over which this release would be made and therefore it is impossible to estimate the size of the temperature spike that could be expected to occur but after oxidation in the atmosphere it would result in an addition of more than 3 trillion tonnes of CO2 (more than 4 times the present CO2 content of the atmosphere) and would be additional to the effects of the methane release from the composting of the warming Tundra peat bogs mentioned previously plus any additional Industrial releases of CO2 which take place in the interim period.

The only way to stop this natural out-gassing process is to reduce the overall greenhouse blanket effect until temperature rise is stopped and then reversed back towards the original levels, even if this process takes several decades or even centuries. Simply slowing down or even stopping our actual outpouring of CO2 in order to stabilise atmospheric levels at some new, higher level will not be sufficient (although it will help by reducing the amount of CO2 which must ultimately be drawn down out of the atmosphere).

The present stated political targets of stabilising CO2 levels at some arbitrary level of 450 ppm or even 1,000 ppm are not realistic and are likely to be exceeded just due to the additional emissions of methane from natural sources within the Arctic Circle alone if temperatures are allowed to remain elevated or rise further.

Any higher target other than a return to the 280-300 ppm figure (or slightly less) of pre industry will mean that Global temperature rise will continue inexorably, as will accelerated natural methane release. Left un checked, Arctic methane releases could without any additional input from other sources, take atmospheric CO2 levels up to near 4,270 ppm, a figure which could later be dwarfed as temperatures rise further and other carbon sinks throughout the rest of the planet break down and form additional methane and CO2 sources.

As far as I can see it, the only possible way to counter this danger is by introducing some form of Geo engineering project immediately on a huge scale, which is capable of removing the present surplus 100 ppm of CO2 from the atmosphere and to trust that the anticipated increase in solar radiation which will occur over the next five years or so as sun spot activity resumes will not negate our efforts.

Anyone got any ideas?

Fiona: Welcome to Webdiary, Malcolm Newell.

Thank you Malcolm

Thank you Malcolm for your favorable comments.

c. 3 million years ago (mid-Pliocene) CO2 levels rose to about 400 ppm, tempratures rose by +2 to 3 degrees C and sea levels by 25+/-12 metres. Humans alrady existed on the planet, though they can hardly be blamed for that change ... .

Whether this "natural experiment" defines an upper limit for ~400 ppm CO2 at  ~3 degrees C is far from clear (one could hardly call this "cold comfort").  It is likely methane emissions took place at that stage but not clear to what extent ( I need to check on this in the literature).

I agree with your comments regarding methane (see my article in Crikey). 

While the precise rate at which CO2 rose c. at 3 Ma is not clear. The current rise at 2.2 ppm/year and 0.016 degrees C/year are two and one orders of magnitude, respectively, higher that during the last glacial termination.

This does not bode well.

Geoengineered albedo enhancement would be at best a band-aid measure, hardly justified unless combined with fast-tracked C emissions at the rate of 7-8 percent/year as indicated by Anderson and Bowes (2008).

Pending a suprise turn by Obama, or near-future extreme weather events which will not leave doubt even in the minds of the "skeptics"(*), the inertia of governments and the power of the carbon lobby almost guarantee inaction. 

One can hardly see them spending a fraction of what they throw at the military and corrupt bankers., toward saving future generations ...

The climate denialists are still powrful, including several coalition members and a couple of government ministers (Note Barnaby Joyce's latest comments.)

The "skeptics" are going to have a "Hay day" if and when early manifestations of the Gulf Stream collapse, resulting in sharp cooling in western Europe and NE USA, take place (as occurred during the "Youngest dryas" 11,700 years-ago and at 8500 years ago, which were otherwise periods of global warming) --- and which these people are going to describe as "evidence for global cooling".

With my best wishes.

Reply to Andrew Glikson

Andrew, I am away from my home computer for the next few days though the following information is what got me interested in the earlier CO2 chemical-based measurements – there may something of use herein:

Becks discussion paper, 180 years of accurate CO2 – Gas Analysis of Air by Chemical Methods available as a PDF here: www.climatepolice.com/Co2_report.pdf

Zbigniew Jaworowski: CO2: The Greatest Scientific Scandal of Our Time, EIR Science, 16 March 2007, and also


Sorry to other readers if this is all a bit dense: I am new to this level of analysis. I should also point out that I don’t necessarily love coal; my friends would never call me a right winger; I am an self-funded independent researcher with no political, industrial and only minor academic connections; I have a passionate interest in qualitative physical geography (including climatology) and environmental science going back over 40 years, and would hate to see science wedged or used for political machinations, which I suspect is the case. While I am sceptical about the impact of CO2 in connection with catastrophic or runaway climate change I think that the impact of tropical deforestation over the past 50 years on the hydrological cycle (and its impacts on climate variability) needs investigating. If people are seriously concerned with anthropogenic CO2 emissions I suggest they attempt to answer the question I posed to Andrew in my first post.

Furthermore, regarding mitigation of anthropogenic CO2: if anthropogenic CO2 emissions are proven to be a problem, we appear have the technology now to deal with it. One process, called Skymine, allegedly captures around 90% of the CO2 emitted from power station emission stacks. By using the waste heat generated by the power station the captured CO2 is mixed with sodium hydroxide to produce sodium bicarbonate or baking soda. This process also removes most heavy metals from the emissions as well as sulphur and nitrogen compounds, and produces chlorine as a by-product – both chlorine and baking soda are saleable products. Such a system would produce around 650,000 tonnes of baking soda per annum per 500-megawatt power station (thus possibly leading to a baking soda disposal problem!). This system has undergone trials and should it prove feasible on a larger scale then it may overcome the engineering, transfer, storage, potential leakage and economic problems involved in carbon capture and sequestration (carbon or CO2 burial). Another CO2 absorption system utilising hyperbranched aminosilica material, though still in the experimental stage, is also showing some promise. These options, I suspect, may well be a cheaper and less economically disruptive approach than the implementation of an emission tradings scheme. Once again, I refer readers to the original question I posed to Andrew.

Further regarding early CO2 measurements

From: Annales de Chimie et de Physique 57:171-3 (1834), 71:116

The CO2 content of the atmosphere was first measured in the 1790s and early 1800s by Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1959) and Joseph Gay-Lussac (1778-1850).

The latter showed from samples collected by a balloon that the CO2 content did not vary, within analytical error, up to an elevation of 8000 m.

In 1834-39*, Boussingault and Lewy, measured CO2 concentrations in France, "far from the exhalations of a city", to a "high degree of perfection". Their results varied only between 0.00028 and 0.00031 by volume (i.e., 280-310 ppm). These data are quoted in volume 1 of Cosmos, by Alexander von Humboldt (1844).

The data are consistent with CO2 concentrations measured in Greenland and Antarctic ice cores, which rise from ~280 to ~295 ppm between 1800 and 1900 AD.

C02 & temperature

Global Warming (whatever the causes) has not ocurred at all over the past 5-10 years. Maybe it will recommence in the future, but it is currently ridiculous to insist that it is accelerating.

Attributing all of the temperature rise since 1850 or so to CO2 does not make sense anyway. By WW2 CO2 concentrations had only increased by about 30ppm. If temperature was that sensitive to CO2, the 80ppm rise in CO2 since WW2 would have caused a temperature rise of several degrees - plainly it hasnt!

In addition ice core analysis shows that sharp changes in temperature at the beginning and end of glacial periods occur hundred of years before the associated CO2 changes. This indicates that temperature tends to govern CO2 levels rather more than the reverse - at least during recent geologic history.

2008 ninth warmest year since 1880

Bill, 2008 was in the top 10 warmest years since the period of instumental measurements began according to the Goddard Institue for Space Studies.

Calendar year 2008 was the coolest year since 2000, according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies analysis [see ref. 1] of surface air temperature measurements. In our analysis, 2008 is the ninth warmest year in the period of instrumental measurements, which extends back to 1880 (left panel of Fig. 1). The ten warmest years all occur within the 12-year period 1997-2008. The two-standard-deviation (95% confidence) uncertainty in comparing recent years is estimated as 0.05°C [ref. 2], so we can only conclude with confidence that 2008 was somewhere within the range from 7th to 10th warmest year in the record. 

Global warming is still occurring, I wish it was otherwise.

The thing to remember is that the ten warmest years have occurred in the last 12 year period, including 2008.

Regarding claims for high CO2 in the 19th century

Perhaps you can help me locate information regarding the type of analytical methods for CO2 Beck and Jaworowski (http://westinstenv.org/palbot/2008/12/17/pre-industrial-co2-levels-were-about-the-same-as-today/) were referring to base their claim of purported high CO2 levels (400 - 500 ppm) in the 19th century?

As you will appreciate, science depends on the following tenets:

(1) Direct observations, measurements and calculations.

(2) Publication in peer-reviewed scientific literature - refereed by authorities in the respective scientific disciplines.

This is essential in order to avoid uncontrolled ambit claims.

From time to time, a new idea in science may not be accepted for publication right away. However, serious scientists advancing serious suggestions will persevere in collecting further data, with an excellent chance of getting their papers through critical reviewers on the next round.

Which means, if Beck/Jaworoowski claim that atmospheric CO2 in the 19th century have any validity, this should be important enough for them to conduct further research.

Contrary to claims by "climate change skeptics", there is no conspiracy among genuine climate scientists. Thus, had anyone been able to demonstrate that anthropogenic C emissions are not responsible for global warming, most of us - including myself - will be more than delighted.

Inherent moral urgency

Climate sceptics are often conservatives and fear the prospect of large-scale government intervention more than the destruction of the human species.

Climate change highlights the difficulties of science opposing established ideologies, not unlike the days of Galileo or Newton coming up against the Church. But science is played out with intense rigour over time in peer reviewed journals and academic meetings.

Its appearance in newspapers is filtered by journalists, few of whom have scientific training. Any climate sceptic with any sort of scientific training is shunned by colleagues but covered in compensatory glory by the far right.

Those who continue to doubt the need to attack climate change, and its inherent moral urgency, would do well to speak to those who will be affected first, the developing world's poor.

Although Australia's small population means our overall contribution to greenhouse emissions is small, we remain the highest per capita emitter in the world, 35 per cent greater than the US according to a recent UN report.

If ever there was an issue on which to take moral leadership, this is it.

Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatry registrar. This from a piece he wrote for the SMH.

He is correct to point out to Australians that we are the highest per capita emitters in the world. That most of the burden will fall on the developing world's poor. We must not let the economic challenges that we are currently facing distract us from the real threat of climate change. We need to change our current economic thinking.

The funny things in life

I love that term "denialist". Does anybody know when or how it originated with climate change arguments? I suspect it's to equate people with holocaust denial - emotional scare tactics or some such guff. Yet, conspiracy theorists such as 9/11 "denialists," call themselves "truthers". Which all leads me to think the terms are probably political in origin - only the idiots (generally failed in another area of life) drawn to the political establishment think they can mind control the masses, with their laughable (in most cases) ideas of propaganda. I could be wrong, yet, I doubt it.

Y'all come back now, hear?

David Ryan: "How many do you have to destroy in order to force everyone into what you consider "equality" and "sustainable growth", considering that the top half does not want to be "equal" and most of the bottom half does not aspire just to be equal? Hmmm?  Since Mao failed so miserably, I'd hate to guess."

Thank goodness for the feelings of "most" people.

The mooted environment taxes are appalling taxes. The mooted taxes hit both production and consumption, hurting the producer and end user (consumer). For exactly that reason it's unlikely such taxes will survive in the intended form. The short-term damage (before the facts unfold in front of our eyes) is the thing to most worry about.

The nature of democracy, being a popularity contest, will mean almost immediate changes to the tax structure when environment taxes are in play. Existing taxes will be removed to counter balance the new taxes - effectively meaning we're all back to square one. Some people marginally better off and some people marginally worse off - as is the nature of taxation.

The "new age environment industry" seems to be of the belief that this "new" money will find way into their hands. Personally, I think they're in for a surprise.

Find a revenue stream, lose a revenue stream, and do-si-do.

Increasing CO2 levels

The capacity of increased atmospheric CO2 to increase temperatures, from whatever the source (natural or anthropogenic), is very limited above 300ppm. From around 300ppm to well over 800ppm the warming effect of atmospheric CO2 declines to about 1ºC or less increase in temperature. Additional atmospheric CO2 makes virtually no difference to temperatures.

To all intents and purposes there is no molecular difference between natural and anthropogenic CO2 in terms of heating behaviour and estimated lifetime in the atmosphere (around 12 years by the way) before reabsorption by oceans, photosynthetic organisms or plant life.

If an emission trading scheme (ETS) is successful in reducing anthropogenic CO2 levels back to a proportion of that emitted in the year 2000 (the yearly level most widely quoted) the effect will be very minor (if, in fact, it makes any difference at all) as this reduction pales into insignificance when compared to natural variations in atmospheric CO2 levels such as those caused by oceanic outgassing (approximately 91 billion tonnes compared to anthropogenic CO2 output of 7.5 billion tons).

In other words a fully implemented globally-applied ETS is likely to reduce atmospheric CO2 by only several parts per million.

Andrew Glikson, how is this going to make any difference?

Response to Ian Read

Once CO2 levels rise above 400 ppm, radiative forcing of the atmosphere reaches the point when the Arctic Sea ice formed (in the mid-Pliocene - 3 million years ago), consistent with direct current observations of Arctic Sea ice melt.

Once CO2 levels rise above 450 ppm, the point is reached when the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets formed (end-Eocene ~ 34 million years ago).

Climate scenarios above 450 ppm CO2 lead to ice-free Earth conditions where large land mammals can hardly survive, let alone agriculture - which only became possible once climate conditions stabilized at the outset of the Holocene ~10,000 years ago.

The anthropogenic emission of >307 GtC, nearly half the atmospheric inventory, result in elevated ocean surface tempratures, with consequence reduction of CO2 solubility.

Combined with Carbon cycle feedbacks due to cleared and burnt vegetation and ice sheet/melt water interaction, these processes lead to positive feedbacks and the rise of atmospheric radiative forcing by near 3 Watt/m2 -- almost 40% of that of the last glacial termination.

There exists vast literature in peer-reviewed scientific journals in this regard. Should you wish to have some these references/papers, let me know your email address and I will send you the information.

Reply to Andrew Glikson

Andrew, thank you for your prompt reply. The nub of my earlier submission, which you did not answer, was: “In other words a fully implemented globally-applied ETS is likely to reduce atmospheric CO2 by only several parts per million. Andrew Glikson, how is this going to make any difference?

Also, in the 6th paragraph of your article you state “The rise of CO2 from 280 to 387 ppm since the 19th century . . .”, etc. You also mention, in reply to Dr Greenman, “280 ppm (maximum of the intergalcials)”. Could you please explain this “280ppm” level in terms of the research of Ernst-Georg Beck. His study reviewed 175 examples of the existing literature that revealed that there exist some 90,000 accurate measurements by chemical methods of atmospheric CO2 between 1826 and 1957 with accuracy better than 3%. He stated that these measurements show precise seasonal and some diurnal variation including that the CO2 concentration in northern hemispheric air has fluctuated exhibiting three high level maxima around 1825, 1857 and 1942, the latter showing more than 400 ppm.  What Beck found was that the pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 level is at least 50ppm higher than the level put into the IPCC climate models that are used to produce future climate projections, and that the models not only incorrectly assume uniform atmospheric CO2 global distribution (it isn’t uniform) but that there is virtually no variability of natural atmospheric CO2 levels from year to year (it does vary). Furthermore, Beck discovered that early atmospheric CO2 levels data have either been disregarded or altered: firstly, by ignoring the high readings obtained by chemical methods prior to 1957; secondly, by applying a long-term smoothing average of the ice core records.  

Your comments please Andrew.

Atmospheric CO2 levels

It would prove a huge relief should anyone demonstrate that, either global warming is not taking place, or at least is not anthropogenic.

Can you state the reference to Georg Beck paper/s?

CO2 levels have been measured by several major research organizations through the 20th century, the classic locality being Mouna Loa, as well as world-wide.  The values agree with CO2 proxy measurements.based on fossil plant pores (stomata), as published in recent papers (Berner, Beerling, Royer).

For up to date compilations of CO2 data look at the website of the Global Carbon Project , which includes major contributions by the CSIRO Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research (http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/)

And as summarized in the IPCC reports, prepared by the highest authorities in climate science.

Any scientist who has relevant evidence CO2 trends are different from those published by CSIRO, NASA, USGS, Hadley-Met, Potsdam etc should publish to this effect in the peer reviewed journals, the only procedure which can discriminate between direct measurments, general circulation models and unproved claims.


Sorry Andrew, should have included references with last post. Don't know if they are both peer reviewed but they raise interesting questions. I suspect the Pacific Decadal Oscillation plays a large part in measureable mid-term climate changes, including increased CO2 ourtgassing during warm modes. Mix the PDO, and the numerous other natural climate-affecting oscillations, with the practice of global land clearances/deforestation (especially in the tropics over the last 50 years) altering albedos and hydrological systems, etc and we get anthropogenic climate change. I doubt very much that CO2 is the problem.

The references:

Beck, E., 180 Years of accurate CO2 – Gas analysis of Air by Chemical Methods (Short version) discussion paper

Beck, E., 2008, 50 Years of Continuous Measurement of CO2 on Mauna Loa, Energy and Environment, Vol 19, No.7

This paper is also worth a read:

Compo, G & Sardeshmukh, P., 2008. Oceanic influences on recent continental warming, Climate Dynamics, DOI 10.1007/s00382-008-0448-9

Simple solution

If the oceans rise an inch next year, then, FOR GOD's SAKE - MOVE! Or build an (air-conditioned) ark.

There's 10 million square miles of virtually uninhabited prime real estate in Siberia and Canada, soon to be crammed with sunbathers and beach-goers if these guys are right! (God must have been thinking ahead on this one, huh?) Even if global warming brings on an ice age, I hear the Sahara was a pretty lush place during the last one 10,000 years ago. (Yeah, some things do change on their own and you can't do anything about it.)

It's cheaper and simpler to deal with the purported consequences than crushing the world economy that these near-sighted atheist socialist eggheads want to do. Geez. They'll kill us all.

Like they'll publish this, real name or not!

Fiona: Welcome to Webdiary, David Ryan.

GRC - don't miss out - get in early

"It's cheaper and simpler to deal with the purported consequences..."

Methinks David Ryan has a point; no use in fighting the inevitable. As such I  reckon we could make a motza from the next big industry - logistics.

I'm gunna start a city relocation corporation. Yep we'll relocate Sydney to Siberia and Townsville to the Tundra and so on.

Ok (I'm on the piss) - but this old albatross is only half kidding.

It's only natural that the climate changes, unfortunately unlike our hunter and collector forefathers we are trapped in one location by our possessions. That'll teach us.

I reckon David is correct; we should be planning how we are going to cope with massive migration and the conflicts (opportunities) which will result.

This could make or break humanity: 

Are we going to share? Or are we going to attack and defend and continue our addiction to war?

Humane co-operation (not competition) of our species will become the necessary catalyst for our survival.

The alternative will be our undoing.

NOW for the important stuff; for those wishing to purchase a share in the GRC (GLOBAL RELOCATION CORPORATION) please send your application for the allotment of 1 (one) share along with a cheque for twenty thousand dollars made payable to "The Albatross" at:


Third Rock / Western Beach

Tristan da Cunha

South Atlantic Ocean

PS,  I guarantee double your money back (in three hundred years and 27 days).

PPS, The type of models I would like to see are those that would assist in the reality (migration etc.) rather than the debatable - it would be good to have a plan, don't you think?

Science facts

1. CO2 is only 0.038% of the atmosphere and only 3% of that is anthropogenic.           

2. Natural Water Vapour causes 95% of the greenhouse effect

3. 12,000 years ago my country Canada, was covered in ice several miles thick. It melted naturally with no help from human activity.

4. The Eemian Interglacial - 125,000 years ago - was much hotter that todays Holocene interglacial.  CO2 was skyrocketing as well. Modern man was not here yet.

5. All interglacials, including today's Holocene, come to an end and we return to an ice age.  This is due very soon.

6. Ice caps are growing, and sea level is dropping. Here is the peer reviewed scientific proof:  http://www.cpom.org/research/djw-ptrsa364.pdf

7. Enjoy the warm while you can, and don't be fooled by a lawyer turned politician who "invented the internet."

8. Best wishes for 2009 

9. The sun is losing power and this is going to be a long term trend. See: http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/23sep_solarwind.htm   

Fiona: Welcome to Webdiary, Dr Greenman. Please note Webdiary's policy on usernames: if you wish to submit comments for publication on the site, a full name is required, not an alias. If you do not give a full name (or supply the editors with a reason why you must use a pseudonym), this registration will be suspended. For Webdiary purposes, a full name requires (preferably) a given and a family name, or an initial and a family name.

NASA's satellite data

I would like someone to comment on the NASA satellite data, which is hard science and not a bogus "computer model". 


Opinion and fact

Dr Greenman,

1.  Anthropogenic emissions of >307 Gigatons Carbon since the 19th century resulted in the rise of CO2 from ~280 ppm (maximum of the intergalcials) to 387 ppm and rising at 2.2 ppm/year (an increase of near-38%, not the "3%" mentioned in your message)  The increase in CO2 includes both direct carbon contributions and feedbacks from warming oceans, biosphere and melting permafrost.

2.  Evaporation of water is a FEEDBACK  EFFECT from surface (land and sea) warming, NOT the primary cause. Thus, the fastest warming occurs in the polar regions (up to 4 degrees C in the Arctic) and also in desert regions, where water vapor are low to very low. 

3.  True, major and extremely fast climate changes (warming and cooling) occurred through geologic time (see: Glikson, 2008: Milestones in the evolution of the atmosphere with reference to climate change, AJES 55, 125). Does this mean humans should artificially change the composition of the atmosphere, with dire consequences?

4.  The Emian is considered to have been about 1 degrees C warmer than at present and sea levels about 4 to 6 metres higher. This gives you an idea of what the current temperature rise (~0.18C per decade) means for civllization in terms of metres-scale sea level rise!

5.  The critical dependence of atmospheric and ocean tempratures on the greenhouse gas levels means a decline to cooler conditions will be delayed, although it is not known by how much.  Had a new ice age commenced, a true "Homo sapiens" would regulate atmospheric temperatures by judiciously emitting limited amounts of CO2, rather than using the atmosphere as an open-ended sewer for carbon gases, as at present.

6.  Not true. Greenland ice sheet spring ice declined by ~16% during 1997-2002. Sea levels are rising at a rate of ~0.35 cm/year, based on tide gauges and satellite-based measurements. Look at the reference list in my article and at relevant USGS and NASA sites.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Everyone is not entitled to their facts ...

Australia's greenhouse gases emissions still rising

The Climate Group's annual Greenhouse Indicator Report, released today, shows emissions from energy use were up by 1.3 per cent , or 3.6 million tonnes, on 2007 levels.

Dr Andrew Glikson reminds us that global warming is still the major threat to all life on this planet. A report released today shows how Australians are failing to control GHG emissions. Governments around the world seem to have forgotten global warming and are hell bent on making sure that the world's economy continues to grow. Instead of wasting trillions of dollars on old industries that have caused the global warming problem, governments around the world should be spending the money on industries that will help us to reduce our GHG emissions.

We need a new economy based on sustainable growth and an equal share for all. Currently the rich, including Australia, are polluting the planet. We must learn to live with out destroying others in the process.

"Equality" and "sustainable growth"

How many do you have to destroy in order to force everyone into what you consider "equality" and "sustainable growth", considering that the top half does not want to be "equal" and most of the bottom half does not aspire just to be equal? Hmmm?  Since Mao failed so miserably, I'd hate to guess.

You people need to look up from your data and models and check out the real world sometime.

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