TDB Today: The Climate Tectonics of the Age of Stupid

by Gareth on November 27, 2013

If you haven’t yet read Cindy Baxter’s summing up of the Warsaw climate talks, now would be a good time, because she provides the context for my ruminations at The Daily Blog today: The Climate Tectonics of The Age Of Stupid. Kicking the climate can down the road doesn’t cut it as a response to a major emergency:

The obvious clash between self-interest, self-preservation and political ideology is not new, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that the negotiations are taking place on a strange parallel planet. It’s a world where diplomatic contrivance trumps fact, expedience rules over reality. Keeping the process going is everything — even if it means that the goal you’re aiming at has shifted beyond reach.

And by some happy chance, The Age Of Stupid is being shown in my neck of the woods this week: at the Waikari Hall, 99 Princes St, Waikari, starting at 7-30pm – entry $10. There will be a discussion after the film, with the Hurunui District Council’s biodiversity advisor (and HT reader) Sonny Whitelaw fielding questions. I’ll be there to give her a hand…

{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

nigelj November 27, 2013 at 12:38 pm

The fact that Colin Craig could pull the strings at the next election is a scary thought. ACT are bad enough, but Colin Craig sets a new bench mark in being totally ignorant about the issues.

Dave Frame November 27, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I think I counted about seven errors in the Conservatives’ quiz on their publication on the ETS.* Given that there are only ten questions on it, that’s a superb commitment to scientific illiteracy. It’s perversely admirable that a young party struggling to establish its credibility should shoot itself quite so accurately in its foot.

*Proudly trumpted as their second official publication. Seven errors. In ten questions.

Gareth November 27, 2013 at 7:22 pm

It gets worse: Craig refuses to dismiss chemtrails as nonsense, on TV3 News tonight.

bill November 27, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Gee, did he mention HAARP?

nigelj November 28, 2013 at 8:44 am

Chemtrails and HAARP, all of course the pruduct of the ILLUMINATI. Another fairy story for the gullable.

Fern November 27, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Better be quick and pop the missing ‘e’ in trumpted before anyone notices :)

noelfuller November 27, 2013 at 9:38 pm

No there’s no missing ‘e’ – that spelling is entirely appropriate. Leaving aside an American named Trump consider this phrase from the text “contrivance trumps fact” :)

bill November 27, 2013 at 9:45 pm

This whole thing is trumpt up!

the biofarmer November 28, 2013 at 7:27 am

“It’s a world where diplomatic contrivance trumps fact, expedience rules over reality.”

It is difficult to recall a time when it was not so. Anyone?

nigelj November 28, 2013 at 8:17 am

Things only change when it hits crisis point. For example in America in the 1950s there were no controls on vehicle exhaust emissions, and much industry resistance and denialism.

It took a smog that killed thousands before government finally legislated. Nixon ironically.

the biofarmer November 28, 2013 at 9:04 am

I agree completely Nigel, which why my focus is exclusively on preparation for , and adaptation to impending crisis, which usually arrives from the quarter from which it is least expected. A broader focus is always better when it comes to crisis preparedness.

nigelj November 28, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Biofarmer, adaptation to climate change is only part of the answer. I think its wiser to reduce carbon emissions now, before disaster strikes. We should learn from past mistakes where were were slow to react.

It would be inexcusable to just muddle through and hope we can adapt to major or dangerous climate change. Adaptation on such a scale would be far more costly than prevention if you think about it. It may not even be possible, and allowing major climate change to simply happen would certainly downgrade the natural potential of the planet for future generations.

the biofarmer November 28, 2013 at 4:51 pm

You may be right about all of that. I do not know. But I do not believe that it spells the end of the human race.
It is likely that human populations will reduce at some point in the next couple of hundred years anyway.
But it has been my view for some time that efforts to reduce carbon emissions are likely to fail. That is what I see , and the Warsaw debacle reinforces my view. If there is ever progress on emissions reductions , that progress is at least one or two decades away. That may or may not matter depending on the accuracy of GCMs by that time.

So if dangerous climate change is therefore inevitable one had best be ready. That does not mean that other more serious challenges will not arise in the interim.

So I do what I can do to improve the resilience and ability to adapt in the present situation.

Tony November 28, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Bio,

Might I suggest that you have no idea of the monster you/I/we all are up against.Things will just continue to get worse for hundreds if not thousands of years, there will be no turning back. It may take millions of years for earth to bounce back to the type of climate we once knew. I think it shows an appalling lack of judgment that we continue down this path.

nigelj November 29, 2013 at 8:54 am

Tony, the latest research shows something like 10,000 years for the planet to naturally absorb all the excess carbon dioxide back into the oceans and regain equilibrium.

Thats a rather long period of altered climate. Thats a good reason to aim to reduce emissions, even if the biofarmers of the world complain how hard it is.

the biofarmer November 29, 2013 at 9:37 am

Reducing emissions is what biofarmers do; it’s dead simple within their own domains. Reducing fossil fuel usage and sequestering carbon in topsoil are two of the fundamental principles of sustainable agriculture.

What is difficult is for the tail to wag the dog viz for a handful of people at the bottom of the world to direct China and India , USA , Canada etc. on how to run their respective countries.

Bob Bingham November 28, 2013 at 8:01 pm

I’m not a farmer but in the bigger picture New Zealand is getting drier on the East coast which is the populated area. My web site sets out to explain this, http://www.climateoutcome.kiwi.nz/ Drought is the big killer for farmers and if I was planning for the future I would look after the streams and at least try to keep a supply of good clean water on my own farm.

the biofarmer November 28, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Thanks for that Bob. I’m actually a fairly experienced drought farmer in spite of being on the west coast of the N.I.
There are no drains on my farm which is all recent alluvial soil and very free draining with poor moisture retention where the top soil is thinnest and could best be described as stony silt. On the positive side the river is only 7 metres down so the cultivation of lucerne is a practical way to ensure high production without resorting to irrigation. The first 25 years I was farming here were characterised by droughts almost every year. The farm would go brown in November and in the worst years there would be frost on brown grass in early June. This was the warm phase of the PDO between 1975 and 1999.
Since the cool phase of the PDO began in 2000 it has been completely different, but of course after 2030 or thereabouts , we should return to predominantly el Ninos.
The farm will be well prepared for that eventuality. I actually have several deep artesian wells with 5-6 metres of static head, all unused.Perhaps underground irrigation will be sorted out by 2030.

Murray November 28, 2013 at 8:32 pm

What lunacy Tony! Humans will be long gone in a million years, we were cave men only 30,000 years ago. Where do you get these fantasies from that we will have an affect on the climate that far out? We will have found a way to destroy ourselves or fly to other planets long before then. Trees will again retake much of the land area abandoned by us, soaking up all the carbon and probably throwing the globe into another ice age since carbon is so closely tied to climate. Eh?

And I get ridiculed for making perfectly reasonable statements about the lack of warming. Your a very one eyed bunch on here alright.

Tony November 28, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Murray,

These ideas are based on what has happened on earth in the past, not simply my fantasies. You should read about the Permian Triassic, there is no law of nature that says it won’t happen again. In fact, with our help, we may be able to set a new record since our emissions are exceeding any historic emission rates by at least two orders of magnitude!

I see that Arctic methane ebullition is already trending a non-linear path. Some people are trying to bring this to the attention of world leaders and decision makers, but so far to no avail.

nigelj November 29, 2013 at 9:03 am

Murray do a google and you will find research on how long carbon dioxide will stay in the atmosphere before the excess is taken up by the oceans. My recollection is 10,000 years. A long time.

You seem to miss the point that we are certainly altering the climate for at least the next thousand years, time enough to be really annoying. I feel we will survive the next thousand years without nuclear catastrophe or other big problems so climate change will be the concern. You are being a pessimist if you think we have no future.

Murray November 29, 2013 at 7:17 am

Tony. Can you please explain where the carbon was before it was oil or coal? Please tell me if I’m wrong, but I assume it was once in the air before being taken up by life forms and buried to produce fossil fuels. Why would it be even warmer if only a portion of the carbon is returned to the atmosphere?

nigelj November 29, 2013 at 9:09 am

Murray, any carbon dioxide even one molecule added to the atmosphere absorbs heat. Carbon dioxide absorbs heat energy (simplifying) established by Tyndall around 1850 and confirmed many times over. We have altered the proportion in the atmosphere by about 30% and commonsense should tell you thats significant. Science certainly finds its enough to alter the climate.

Macro November 29, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Murray – might be a good idea for you to investigate what was the global temp when there was all that CO2 in the atmosphere millions of years ago.

nigelj November 29, 2013 at 9:22 am

Murray, carbon dioxide doesnt “come from the air”. It comes from certain rocks that leach it into the oceans and it gets from there to the atmosphere where it causes warming.

Some is absorbed by photosynthesis. It can also be absorbed back into the oceans causing a cooling. It normally exists in a fixed concentration or equilibrium unless something causes the concentration in the oceans to change like a solar forcing.

Right now theres no solar forcing and unlikely to be for a considerable time. We are causing excess carbon dioxide and at a very fast rate, and it will stay in the atmosphere for ages until its naturally absorbed back into the oceans to establish the equilibrium I mentioned.

The point is we upsetting the natural processes that move slowly. We are rapidly increasing carbon dioxide and this gas is the main gas that modulates planetary temperature.

Tony November 29, 2013 at 9:35 am

Nigelj,

I assume 10000 years is the time it will take for existing CO2 to be re-absobed back into the oceans. There must have been a number of assumptions applied for that estimate. For example, does that assume CO2/methane emissions were to suddenly stop tomorrow? What about if the positive feedback emissions double or triple the carbon content of the atmosphere, how long will that take? What also if the ice caps disappear and the ocean conveyor stalls, what impact would that have on the rate at which carbon is absorbed back from the atmosphere? I think the PT extinction was superseded by a prolonged recovery as it was reliant on geological sequestration since most natural biological processes shut down. That was my understanding.

nigelj November 29, 2013 at 10:10 am

Tony Im sure the study is full of assumptions, but probably reasonable ones. The study was based on a business as usual scenario of considerable CO2 emissions for the next two centuries or so by which time fossil fuels will likely be seriously depleted, so little more would be added to the atmosphere.

I wish I could remember where I read this but it was a reputable mainstream science mag.

I actually dont want to quibble over whether its 10,000 years or a million as both are very concerning. And we may be stuck with higher sea levels for much longer.

I agree if a rapid rise in CO2 destabilises ocean currents who knows what would happen. Basically we dont want to have to find out, so we should reduce emissions now.

Gareth November 29, 2013 at 10:19 am

Archer et al, Atmospheric Lifetime of Fossil Fuel Carbon Dioxide. From the abstract:

The models agree that 20–35% of the CO2 remains in the atmosphere after equilibration with the ocean (2–20 centuries). Neutralization by CaCO3 draws the airborne fraction down further on timescales of 3 to 7 kyr.

Tony November 29, 2013 at 10:46 am

“I actually dont want to quibble over whether its 10,000 years or a million as both are very concerning.”

Totally agree. But I guess it is an important point as it depicts another stark perspective, that many people cannot otherwise comprehend. Simply add it to the list like the 350 000 Hiroshima bombs going off every day metric.

nigelj November 29, 2013 at 11:31 am

Tony, I believe we are radically altering the climate, so this comment is playing devils advocate a little. I sometimes wonder if those scary stories help. I think you have to jolt the public and simplify things but really scary stories about nuclear bombs may be a little patronising.

However the information on ocean heat content is important, and needs to be communicated to the public, but somewhat less colourfully maybe. A simple graph in the popular media would get the point across to the public, as its so clear that its increasing without a pause. The graph I have seen is quite dramatic.

Heres the issue to me on communicating the huge scale of climate change to the public. The public think the IPCC reports are all exaggerated hype when the opposite is true, they estimate everything on the low side. Example sea level rise, or climate sensativity.

Or is run by fanatics. Yet everything has to be signed off by governments some of whom are sceptical about cllimate change, so the IPCC reports get watered down.

The IPCC and climate community need to pressure the media to correct this unfortunate perception.

Murray November 29, 2013 at 12:42 pm

I am by no means the pessimist here. I have been trying to explain for some time that we will be fine, climate change or not, we will adapt. I am not so optimistic we will live for another million years though, that’s a pretty long time.

Gareth November 29, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Foolish optimism is much worse than pessimism. At least a (sensible) pessimist will be prepared for the worst.

bill November 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Thus spake Pollyanna!

Seriously, people, get a grip! This reminds me of the old joke about the virtuous christian who stands on his house roof during a flood, calmly awaiting rescue by God. Three small boats arrive and try to persuade him to get in; in each case he refuses, saying God will look after him. Having drowned and arrived in heaven he indignantly challenges his Lord, who says ‘but I sent you three boats…’

If we do endure it’s because science will send us boats, ‘Murray’. As it’s doing now.

But you refuse to countenance science, because you’d prefer it told you something you wanted to hear. What you subscribe to instead is magic.

GWPF the Magic Dragon…

nigelj November 29, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Murray, adaptation will all cost serious money. I hate to think what low lying places like Holland is up against, or areas that already have water supply pressures. Its kicking the can down the road like the american government over its debt issues. Its a copout.

The figures produced by people of standing like Stern suggest prevention is more economical than adaptation. Also remember more extreme weather will impact on people for many centuries, before the system settles down. Thats a lot of adaptation.

Plus why do we want to have to adapt? NZ has enough extreme weather and droughts without more of this to contend with.

Thinking a million years ahead is probably unrealistic. We should be looking at the medium term, a few centuries ahead and not invite obvious trouble like a 2 degree rise in temperature, which is the point where it becomes irreversible and will invite massive sea level rise. Once you breach that costs of adaptation may become very unrealistic.

Thomas November 29, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Yep Murray, I am sure some people thought that adapting to a bit of a list of the decks of the Titanic was going to be just fine….

Rob Taylor November 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm

For a realistic view of what lies ahead of us, Murray, here is a US veteran in the NYT recently:

Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene

The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent.

Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air… Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.

The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/learning-how-to-die-in-the-anthropocene/?_r=2&pagewanted=print

Tony November 29, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Murray,

Just iterating that doesn’t give us cause for optimism. What you need to do is specify the problems likely to be faced, and how these will be solved, and provide some tangible evidence to back your claims.

For example, New Zealand’s glaciers are disappearing faster than anywhere else in the world shown here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Glacier_Mass_Balance_Map.png

This trend at no stage in the next at least thousand years is going to slow down, it will only get worse. This means that New Zealand will eventually have no rivers or aquifers, and with increased severity of droughts, limited supplies of water for storage.

I can see we can get enough water for drinking by desalinisation, but irrigating farmland will be much more difficult. And with a hotter climate, there will be increased frequency and severity of droughts.

Loss of glaciers is just one of many problems, but perhaps you can start by outlining your contingency plan, and perhaps an estimate of the economic cost to implement your plan. Remember that we are an agrarian society so you have to come up with alot of water. I don’t have any numbers, but I imagine that the amount of irrigation that goes on in New Zealand must be a staggering number of megalitres.

Murray November 29, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Tony, you are a true warmist. Thinking the worst no matter how absurd. I will enlighten you to the fact the North Island and most of the South Island have no glaciers, yet as luck would have it the rivers still flow. I would suggest a warmer climate will produce more rain which will increase river flows and recharge aquifers faster. My only reservation is the climate may continue this pause in warming and we will not see these benefits. Research will indicate a warming climate will be good for South Island agriculture, the Upper North Island may have to adapt slightly.

I recommend no action be taken on climate change other than better adapting to the current situation. This will cost next to nothing. Let Holland worry about how they will adapt, NZ is well placed for a slight warming or cooling in my opinion.

Why not wait ten years and monitor the global temperature. If the well publicised pause continues then maybe we can save a few trillion dollars. Let’s be pragmatic.

Rob Taylor November 29, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Thankyou, Murray, I was quite unaware that “pragmatic” has the same meaning as “absurdly reckless and irresponsible”…

bill November 29, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Pollyanna preaches ‘pragmatism’!? Puerile….

nigelj November 30, 2013 at 8:41 am

Murray a warmer climate will not be good for NZ. It produces more rain, but it tends to come in bursts as floods, between periods of more droughts and more intense droughts.

This is not something desirable, anywhere on earth that I can imagine. It will not help NZ agriculture, and adaptation will be difficult. We have enough problems with droughts and flooding now.

You cant blithely ignore impacts on other countries. Thats the height of selfishness, and ignores the fact the world is interrelated, so whats negative for other countries can be negative for NZ.

Thomas November 30, 2013 at 9:44 am

Now Murray, can you support your personal take on the whole idea that a warmer world is better for NZ with credible scientific evidence? Where are your references? If you can not, then you must admit that you are simply sharing your personal conviction, no matter how nonsensical the proposition might be. Facts are not generated by somebodies ideology.

nigelj November 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Leighton Smith and Ian Wishart have a really good try at deriving facts from ideology.

Tony November 30, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Murray,

10 years is a long time, and at 3ppm per year we will be staring down the barrel of 430ppm. If it costs a trillions of dollars now to mitigate atmospheric carbon at 400ppm, what do you think it will cost at 430ppm, when positive feedbacks will be in full swing?

Getting gently lowered into quicksand from a dangling rope is fine, but you are asking that we take a large leap forward with absolutely nothing to hang on to, which is highly dangerous when expert scientists are warning quicksand ahead!

You seem to be ignoring the geological evidence which shows that a warming planet can have devastating consequences. I would be more than happy for you to try it out on your own planet and see what happens, but I think you will find most people if properly informed would be unwilling participants. Unfortunately, the rich get to exert their will over the poor.

Also, there is a difference between snow derived and glacier derived rivers:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selwyn_River_/_Waikirikiri

http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-HaaGeol-t1-body1-d2-d3-d6.html

The snow dependent Selwyn dries out readily, whereas the Waimak is all year round and robust, and is the main source of Canterbury aquifers and irrigation. Take away the Waimak in a warming climate, with hotter drier conditions rendering the Selwyn even less reliable, how do you think the farmers are going to like that? Declining water tables and rising sea levels, that can only spell the demise of Christchurch.

You should read Jared Dimonds book “Collapse” which is the story of past human civilisations self-destruction from the lack of foresight that you seem to be aptly demonstrating here.

nigelj November 30, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Tony / Murray. Jared Diamonds book is interesting. For the consequences of past warming on society its also worth reading the book After the Ice. This is about human society as the last ice age ended, written by an archaeologist.

Sea level rise was very rapid at one point at about 4 metres per century. Something became destabilised, I cant recall the detail. There are archeological records of coastal settlements relocating inland in a series of steps.

the biofarmer November 30, 2013 at 1:54 pm
Murray December 1, 2013 at 11:25 pm

What I don’t understand is how every country is apparently going to suffer. I thought southern regions would just get a climate similar to slightly more northern latitudes. Brisbane is a great city, why would it be a disaster if Auckland developed Brisbanes climate. The Waikato is doing well, why would Canterbury be worse off with a Waikato climate. We all know Southland will be a winner of any climate change. Where is the balance?

Not that any of this will happen given current trends.

nigelj December 2, 2013 at 9:49 am

Murray NZ will warm, but will also get more extreme weather and sea level rise, etc. The overall net affect wont be good for NZ, and is unpredictable like playing with fire.

Even if we werent negatively affected, we should contribute to ensuring other countries arent seriously damaged surely?

Tony December 2, 2013 at 9:50 am

Murray,

The problem with your silver lining in every cloud argument is two fold. If New Zealand developed a tropical climate like Brisbane then don’t expect that equatorial regions will remain static simply because that is what you want to believe. Australia will become more like the Sahara desert. Given its massive surface area and agricultural productivity, that would be disastrous. Australia is already tinder dry and hot, think what another few degrees would do.

Second, you don’t seem to get that the warming doesn’t get to a certain point of convenience and then stop. It will continue to warm, and if we do nothing, up to an average 6oC, which the scientists say will render most of the earth hostile to life.

Murray December 2, 2013 at 11:37 pm

I bet if there were climate scientists in 1900 they would be saying the same thing. ‘We have the perfect temperature and any warming will cause disaster!’ We have been warming for hundreds of years and things have only got better. I’m very confident a bit more warming won’t be a disaster. If you are afraid of warming, go to Thailand for a week, it’s not that scary.

nigelj December 3, 2013 at 10:40 am

We have not been warming for hundreds of years. The trend over the last five thousand years has been a very slight and slow cooling until about 1900.

We now have rapid and significant warming, and in the past rapid change has been associated with species extinctions. Realclimate.org has a published, peer reviewed reconstruction of global temperatures over the last 10,000 years. The article is titled the end of the holocene

Tony December 3, 2013 at 2:21 am

Murray,

Tell you what, we will all rest a lot easier if you can pinpoint times in earth’s history when atmospheric CO2 went through the roof, and life flourished without too serious adverse consequences. If you can do that then you have a point. There are certainly many examples of where the opposite is true e.g. PT and PETM extinctions. These were not due to meteoric impacts, but simply warming events superseded by methane destabilisation as is currently happening in the Arctic before our very eyes. The PT extinction, was due to surface temperatures reaching 50-60oC and ocean temperatures 40oC. Most of the earth became a dead zone that took hundreds of millennia to recover. The science of the PT extinction is quite well understood, and those clever scientists who unravelled the mechanisms associated with the mother of all extinctions have expressed concern that it could happen again. Do you not think it is wise that we should learn from earth’s history?

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