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Another Twist to the Climate Change Story

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One simple fact is constantly ignored by the climate change skepticism that dominates official thinking in America. The climate and the environment are complex, dynamic systems, and no one claims our interventions are responsible for the totality of climate change.

Nonetheless, this is the straw man attacked constantly by the skeptics, who also constantly use the phrase ‘global warming’, not climate change. Of course, an overall warming of the planet will still cause localised cooling – like here in the UK when the Deep Ocean Conveyer switches off.

We should probably also note that they overlap to a large degree with people who subscribe to the notion of intelligent design, and who therefore probably don’t believe in scientific method. Anyway, both groups are highly selective in the scientific arguments they deem credible.

But our interventions do increase instability, and bring closer the time in which this dynamic system will find a new equilibrium. And it’s highly unlikely that new equilibrium will be as friendly to humans and cute furry mammals as that in which our civilisations have developed and flourished, in which our very species has developed and flourished.

This is a classic example:

Plants around the world are using water much more efficiently, thanks to increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The effect is so pronounced, says a new study, that it is massively increasing river flows and raising the risks of flooding. “We think it has added about 2000 cubic kilometres to annual global runoff, which is a pretty big deal” says Nicola Gedney of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter, UK, who led the study.

The climate and environment are a complex feedback system; major changes trigger adaptations, which will in turn feed back into climate change. It just doesn’t seem that tough an idea to get your head round.

If you want a real scare, check out methyl hydrates:

Then there are the two jokers in the pack. One is represented by the possibility of weakening of the Atlantic conveyor, which could bring renewed glaciation to Western Europe and eventually elsewhere as during the Younger Dryas 12,000 years ago.

The other is represented by the possibility of a runaway greenhouse effect, as at earlier times in the Earth’s history, such as at the Palaeocene / Eocene boundary 55 million years ago. Recent studies of ocean sediments have shown that 55 million years ago the Arctic sea had an average temperature of 20ºC. There was massive die back of marine creatures as carbon dioxide levels soared to between 2,000 and 3,000 parts per million. In each case vast releases of methane, from melting tundra and the release of methyl hydrates from the ocean floor, may have been the cause.

But I suspect those who lead this particular battle of the propaganda and culture wars don’t care – leaving aside the millennialists among them, they represent wealth allied with military power, and may not be unhappy to see a much reduced human population living in fortress-like enclosures (not unlike J.G. Ballard’s Wind from Nowhere) under military and corporatist rule.

And as you probably know, Greenland’s ice sheet is melting twice as fast as we thought three years ago.

Systems, equilibrium, rest states, phase change, feedback. However you describe them, they’re simple concepts.

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About Chromatius

"You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent." Thomas Merton. The Unspeakable.
  • We should probably also note that they overlap to a large degree with people who subscribe to the notion of intelligent design, and who therefore probably don’t believe in scientific method.

    Wow, now there’s a biased statement. I’d guess the exact opposite to be true. The same skepticism and insistance on fact based analysis which causes one to reject a faith-based belief like intelligent design would also naturally cause one to be skeptical and reject a faith based belief like human agency in global warming. In both cases the evidence isn’t there to reach those positions by reason. It requires a leap of faith. Those of us who don’t like the idea of policy based on faith reject BOTH positions.

    I find it amusing that you identify opponents of global warming theory as skeptics, yet don’t seem to grasp that skepticism is a function of the application of reason. It is rational to not believe in things which are not proven and are merely theories. It is irrational to believe in something which is based solely on selective or anecdotal evidence or on computer models which have been proven to be innacurate over and over again.


  • RedTard

    Insulting the intelligence of people who don’t agree with you, aren’t you above that? As usual you have taken the doom and gloom position that the world is coming to an end and the only thing that can save us is massive government intervention, I just don’t see it that way.

    Yes, the climate might rise a couple degrees over the next few decades, but the amount of asphalt will double or triple, the population will put additional strain on the food supply as open spaces dwindle. There are all sorts of problems and none of them should require us to cede more authority to uncle sam. The free market is capable of solving all of them when the time is right.

    Did you know that sunlight reaching the earth everyday provides more than 40 times the energy of all the oil that ever has or will be burned? When oil supply starts to dwindle and it becomes economically feasible businesses will develop alternative energy, not because of their altruistic concerns but because of the trillions of dollars that technology will be worth. Those rich men in suits that you hate will bring the full force of our industry to meet the challenge and save all your whining, sniveling, ungrateful asses. When we switch away from fossil fuels it will greatly reduce the number of greenhouse gasses released and the world will return to some semblance of equilibrium. (we have a great deal more impact than just releasing carbon dioxide)

    In the meantime there is no need shackle our economy or give the government more control.

    I could be wrong, perhaps we will not be able to develop an alternative energy source, in that case a couple degrees of climate change will be the least of our worries when the tap of black gold runs out.

  • godoggo

    Clicked from fresh comments. Just curious whom RedTard was responding to.

  • DN: I’d assumed it would be evident I was referring to scepticism about climate change; not a generic philosphical skepticism (which if this discussion goes on, we might differentiate with the spelling variants).

    I also note what I’m beginning to suspect is your usual technique – attacking a rhetorical aside but ignoring the core argument (but hey, we got there in the end last time).

    And writing off scientific evidence as ‘anecdotal’ is disingenuous in the extreme. As you knew when you wrote it.

    Redtard: The point is if we, or the “full force of our industry”, had began addressing this 30, 20 or even 10 years ago, when in honesty, we knew almost as much as we do know about the overall issue, but of course had much less detail and evidence – our world, and our societies, would be less damaged, less stressed.

    Where’s the insult? they overlap to a large degree with people who subscribe to the notion of intelligent design – not true?

    “and who therefore probably don’t believe in scientific method.” – well certainly not a lot of its output – and that’s without referencing the faith/reality based thing – and I did allow an alternative if that position was considered inadequate: “Anyway, both groups are highly selective in the scientific arguments they deem credible.”

    Is this not true? And even if you believe so, why is it an insult rather than an opinion?

    Now if you suggest the last statement is insulting – “Systems, equilibrium, rest states, phase change, feedback. However you describe them, they’re simple concepts.” – the point was not that people are too stupid to get their head round the ideas, but that they are deliberately refusing to.

    Why? Well that gets back to the irrationalist aspect of politics DN and I almost got round to discussing last time.

    And note how politely and reasonably I discuss the possibility of insult in my own work with someone who described me as “whining, sniveling, ungrateful”.

  • Baronius

    Wealth allied with military power. That’s exactly why I’m suspicious of global warming theory. I want to see people forced into temperature-controlled camps, where we can turn them into an army of intelligent-design warriors. That’s the plan, anyway.