The Collapse of the Climate Change Contrarians and the End of Coal

It is not proper to speak of “climate skeptics,” since all scientists (including we social scientists) are skeptical of all data and theories every day, all the time, and are willing to change our position if enough information and analysis emerges to challenge the old paradigms. But beyond just skeptics, there are always in any debate “contrarians,” people who challenge a theory with little more on their side than radical doubt and deep suspicion, and who unsystematically latch on to every little thing that the theory hasn’t yet accounted for, or which seems to challenge it. Skeptics can be convinced by solid data and argument; contrarians are either harder to convince, or impossible to convince. Some contrarians, as with the billionaire Koch brothers who fund propaganda against climate science, are committed to their position because it is central to their business model.

Climate change skeptics and even some climate change contrarians have increasingly become convinced by the accumulating data that the average surface temperature of the earth is in fact increasing, and that the increase is mainly due to the release by human beings into the atmosphere of masses of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat from the sun and interferes with it from radiating back out into space.

The latest skeptic to become convinced by the evidence is Richard Muller, a physicist at the University of California Berkeley. Muller was obviously a skeptic and not a contrarian, because he is open to evidence. Ironically, his studies were funded in part by the Ur-contrarians, the Koch brother oil magnates.

Muller’s study analyzed all the weather data available since 1750 and found that the average temperature of the earth increase by 1 degree F. from 1750 to 1850, and has increased another 1.5 degrees since 1850, for a total of 2.5 degrees since the beginnings of the industrial revolution.

Muller looked at various natural causes of temperature variation and found that statistically they could explain only a tiny amount of the changes. In contrast, human carbon dioxide production tracked closely with temperature increases to the extent that it almost complete explains the warming observed, just by itself.

One surprise of Muller’s study is that he was able to show fairly rigorously that the human-generated changes began in a steady way in 1750, not, as many climate historians had thought, in 1850 or even more recently.

Humans had ever since the invention of fire and then agriculture put some extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and during times when they burned a lot of trees to clear land for other purposes, they may have caused small temperature spikes. But volcanic rocks and the oceans wash the CO2 back out of the atmosphere if it isn’t in huge quantities, so in the old days humans could only really cause blips. Still, mass deaths of humans, as during the Black Plague or the European-induced epidemics that killed off most of the Native Americans, probably caused colder temperatures for a while in the aftermath.

Since 1750, humans have begun altering the climate in a steady and systematic way, overwhelming the ability of the earth to absorb the CO2 and causing it to build up steadily in the atmosphere, producing long term effects on surface temperature. Human activity in the past 250 years has interrupted and reversed a 2000-year long natural climate tendency toward cooler temperatures. If we go on the way we have been, spewing ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we will produce a tropical planet with no ice on it and will forestall any further ice ages for at least 100,000 years. Since there are places humans now live, such as cities in Sindh, Pakistan, that already reach over 130 degrees F. in the summer, likely the planet we are creating will have large swathes of uninhabitable scorching places on it. Climate change will involve extreme weather events like massive storms, and these in turn may damage the ozone layer, sunburning us all to death.

For a historian, the date 1750 as the beginning of the human-induced Great Warming is full of significance. And that significance is coal.

Britain turned to coal for energy after a long period of intensive forest cutting, which reached its height in the 1600s. Wood and charcoal were used for heating, cooking and industrial processes such as iron-making, and as population grew and recovered from the Black Plague, the British isles were largely deforested. The British then reluctantly turned to coal for energy. Coal is smelly, produces clouds of unpleasant smoke, is relatively expensive to transport, and in every way worse than wood and charcoal. But poor management of forests and substantial population growth (British population doubled 1500-1800 and then tripled in the nineteenth century) pushed people to coal. With the development of a practical high pressure steam engine through the 1700s, coal was adopted as the fuel for these machines.

And off we went on the Great Human Warming experiment, fueled by coal and later on petroleum and natural gas.

One obvious lesson of Muller’s study is that coal should be banned immediately and its mining and distribution should be criminalized. We put people in prison for a little pot, but let the coal industry destroy the earth. A few brave souls are protesting environmentally destructive ways of mining coal. But we should all be protesting the poisonous stuff itself.

By the way, there are only 80,000 workers employed in coal mining in the US. There are 100,000 workers in solar energy and a similar number in wind. I suspect West Virginia and western Pennsylvania could have a lot of jobs in wind turbines, and those states and the federal government should help brave coal workers make the transition.

The other obvious lesson is that we need a global Manhattan project to move to clean energy immediately. We don’t have much time. Carbon dioxide emissions were up 5-6% in 2010. Massive government-funded research and tax breaks could bring down costs of solar and wind quickly and make geothermal more practical. We need to redo the national electricity grid and put hydropumps in hilly or mountainous regions to keep solar- and wind-generated energy flowing during down times. This task has to be our number one priority, more important than fighting a small terrorist organization in distant lands, more important than spending 20 times on the war industries what our closest ally does, more important that imprisoning people for a few tokes, more important than tax breaks for the wealthy, more important than reproductive issues. Our Congress is a latter-day Nero, fiddling while the world burns, and any of them that doesn’t get it should be turned out in November if you care about the fate of your children and grandchildren.

Ronald Reagan used to fantasize that an alien invasion could unite human beings across capitalist and communist systems. Well, Reaganites now have their chance: Climate Change is a kind of alien invasion, threatening the human species, and here is an opportunity to put aside differences and unite to meet the biggest challenge we have faced in our 150,000 years of existence as homo sapiens sapiens. And, yes, this is an issue and a research that could and should unite Arabs and Israelis, both of them among the peoples most endangered by climate change (Egypt’s delta and Tel Aviv won’t be there after a while if we go on like this).

What we are doing in this generation and the next to the earth will affect it for tens of thousands of years, and we could well be putting our survival as a species at risk. We are certainly likely to kill off most other species. Unfortunately, the worst consequences of our current high-carbon way of life won’t be visible for a hundred years or more. I suppose if we’re unable to look that far ahead as a species, or if we let a few Oil billionaires boss us around, it could be argued that we deserve to go the way of the dodo. But I believe in human beings more than that, and believe it is possible for us to mobilize around this task.

38 Responses

  1. Dr. Muller’s findings, published earlier this year by his Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) study group, confirms very specific evidence found a few years ago by scientists studying ice cores in the Antarctic. The rapid rise in CO2 began at precisely the moment man started burning large quantities of coal for industrial use.

    The repeated studies and cnsistent results of some 5,000 scientists working independently and all over the globe leave only Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, US Senator James Inhofe, Mitt Romney, the Koch Bros., and maybe Orly Taitz – well, she’s as rational as the rest of the deniers – as about the only people who still refuse to accept that climate change is here, it’s real and it’s going to kill the earth as we know it.

    As an aside, I didn’t realize that more people are now employed in green industries than work in coal. Thanks for pointing it out.

    • .”….more people are now employed in green industries than work in coal. Thanks for pointing it out.”

      Bears pointing out again!

  2. Details count in countering runaway global warming because only by swift action directed in a concerted way worldwide immediately can a massive spiking of deadly heat rise and totally fatal environmental loss be avoided. The Koch funded plan to check the ‘hockey stick’ temp rise was intended to belittle the findings of science not to back them up. It was too little too late and got discussion going like I’m going to have to point out that it wasn’t 1% temp rise but 1 degree F temp rise to around 1850 and then another 1.5F on top of that.
    Perhaps you should change that because it’s obviously a typo.
    They, the Koch types wanted to inject doubt and confusion.
    They wanted to create appearance of unreliable information.
    They want to push the biggest misconception. Which is the speed of the runaway.. To blur the evidence it is happening.
    They want us taking great pains and pride in cutting each other down about details of things like how Ocean pH has been swamped by Carbon emissions, lagging emissions already emitted, which has literally largely destroyed buffer the Ocean provided.. Previous to man’s use of coal Ocean pH was approx 8.23 and has now dropped to 8.14 representing a 30X increase in free radical hydrogen or acidity. That number 8.23 had held mostly steady since microbes created the atmosphere we Oxygen loving life enjoy since maybe 3billion years ago and we have managed in a few short years to have swamped it from existence, likely permanently because of lag time in surface of Sea’s ability to take up the CO2 loading of sky and because carbonate shell formation and thus deposition of excess carbon in system sequestration into bottom deposits is now a broken system.. There are many reasons and compounding factors affecting transition to a lifeless world not held in check by the open Natural biological systems once able to respond and correct for sudden change but the biggest kicker that will and is in my opinion already starting to happen that will extinguish things in short order is CH4 release from the Arctic Sea’s shelves and melting permafrost deposits on land as well. Arctic Methane Emergency Group want Earth shielding but new finding indicates Sulphate injection to stratosphere in an effort to reflect incoming solar radiation would hurt ozone layer. So perhaps what’s needed is to stop carbon black release and the like and to increase ice albedo by cleaning surface. But I’m disrupted in my effort to get discussion going because Internet is in hands of corporate and not considered communications as should be in the United States.
    Heat from below, incoming radiation from above and an increasingly opaque sky to heat loss to allow lithosphere to stay cool going runaway in short order, like perhaps a few years max. Before it’s irreversible; what’s happening right now. -talk it up.. There is game on to keep Earth below 2C, the nominal amount of heat rise before likelihood of runaway greenhouse effect taking hold. That was COP15 Copenhagen Climate Summit conclusion in Dec 2009 and is likely a high estimate considering findings since of Earth science has indicated there is an acceleration of heat rise.

  3. The driving force behind climate change is the CO2-induced imbalance between incoming solar radiation and energy re-radiated and reflected back into space. Quantifying this effect relies on very old, very well established science.

    Denial of this driving force is close to asserting that 2+2 does not equal 4, and these people are realizing how ridiculous that is.

  4. The “good news” is that Global Peak Oil might “solve” part of the CO2 problem.

    It is absolutely mathematically guaranteed that Global Peak Oil will happen, the ONLY thing that is in dispute is when. The majority consensus is around 2020. After that date, the world will produce less oil every year, while the need for energy continues to increase. That obvious gap will have to be filled some way. If we choose to fill the gap with non-carbon energy, we could help ourselves in spite of ourselves.

    The simple reality is there are ONLY four “permanent” sources of energy (at least “permanent” as compared to human lifetimes):

    – Solar energy – Most of the energy we currently use is just converted and stored solar energy (oil, gas, coal, hydro, wind, photovoltaic, etc.).

    – Internal heat of the earth – No really tapped very much, although the temperature difference between the earth surface and a few miles down a hole can easily be exploited for energy.

    – Gravitational forces – mostly tides, with some influence on the winds.

    – Nuclear fusion – if we can ever figure out how to build power systems that can tap it. While the energy may be “free” once we figure it out, the power stations may be astronomically expensive.

    So when are we going to invest in the “permanent” alternatives?

    BTW – Carter tried to get the US to make the changes necessary 40 years ago, but Americans were too stupid to think about the future so we elected Ronny Raygun who ignored the whole issue of Peak Oil (as did every president and congress since then). Now we have wasted 40 years and STILL refuse to even think about Global Peak Oil, even though it will definitely happen.

    I guarantee that when GPO hits, Americans will scream about why they were “never told” even though Carter tried to tell us 40+ years ago.

  5. Still, mass deaths of humans, as during the Black Plague or the European-induced epidemics that killed off most of the Native Americans, probably caused colder temperatures for a while in the aftermath.

    Really? – the LIA started about 50 years before the Black Death, and the associated famines weakened the European population`s resistance, so the mortality was worse than it might have been.

    Also, it seens that the bubonic plague was endemic in Central Asia, but that population movements due to the cooling of the LIA spread it across Asia to Europe. You`ve got the logic back to front here.

    Also, there are enough quotes from Muller on the net to demonstrate that he was never a sceptic; he may not have liked Professor Mann`s hockey stick, but that doesn`t mean he didn`t accept the IPCC “concensus“.

    Didn`t know that coal was manufactured – always thought it was mined.

    • Do any of your cavils impeach the basic conclusion that we humans are most of the way up the creek and have thrown our paddles off the boat? Or are you just concerned about the integrity of the record?

      Is steel manufactured or mined? Coal gets blasted and dug from the ground and has to go through a whole bunch of processes and of course transport before it gets burned or turned to coke.

      One basic problem is that people like the Kochs, and so many of the rest of us, just do not give a crap about what happens after we die. If things are going to get really bad for our grandkids (or if we have none, there’s another reason for total unconcern), WHO CARES? The attitude is “As long as I can tool around in my Maybach and power up my private jet and run that megayacht between watering holes at 20 or 50 gallons to the mile or steal wealth and bits of the future by “externalizing” stuff like The End Of The World As We Know It, who gives a ripshit?”

      And that’s especially true where the people who so often knowingly and intentionally pull this crap off, one little or large bit of excrement at a time, know there are no consequences for them.

      What are the rest of us sweltering, starving, dehydrating humans going to do, once the shit really hits the fan? These folks own the enforcement structures, have their own private security armies, lots of lawyers and stuff, and of course will live out their lives like the C-Suite-ers in the Soylent Corporation — comfortable, with all the toys and titillation they could want. What are the rest of us going to do? Dig up their bodies and dishonor and despoil them? THAT’s effective dissuasion, now isn’t it?

  6. Re “Coal is smelly, produces clouds of unpleasant smoke, is relatively expensive to transport, and in every way worse than wood and charcoal.”

    I believe this is true except in the most important way from an industrial (and hence profit-seeking) perspective: you get more energy out of coal for the amount of energy you put in.

    As I understand it each transition in energy technology has had the effect, very roughly, of a ten-fold increase in return on investment, from wood, to coal, to petroleum, and – if the transition were completed – to nuclear. This is ignoring the externalisation of other costs, of course. But this is, of course, exactly what most energy companies are allowed to do.

    Actually, I’m not sure the statement is true in another way. Imagine a world where we all switched back to wood as an energy source. How long would it be before there were no forests left anywhere? The statement was probably true when the human population was smaller, but not now: a warning world with some surviving forests is better than a deforested world (which would certainly be warming anyway as a result).

    None of this changes the fact that coal is a terrible fuel, of course.

    • False choices lead to stupid behaviors. this is not either-coal-or-wood, it’s dead-planet combusti-consumption, or wiser alternatives.

      And of course your notion of ROI increases with each “fuel transition” sort of glosses over what are called “externalities,” the manifold ills and pains and gee, like, death of the planet and our species, which, mirabile dictu, the freakin’ MARKET has managed to avoid pricing into the costs of combusti-consumption.

      • I wasn’t intending to imply a choice between coal and wood, or suggest that burning coal as a fuel was a good thing (hence my last sentence). Rather, I was trying to recount how we came to be where we are.

        Juan had already made a comparison of the two and I believe his conclusion, in the scope of that very limited either-or, was the wrong one. My preference is for a fast transition from wood/coal/petroleum to nuclear in the near term, moving to wind/solar/hydro in the longer term (but not ignoring investment in, and development of, these renewables in the near term).

        By the way, I’m not a fan of nuclear either. I just don’t see a realistic path without it in the medium term. Also, some of the new nuclear reactors are (as best as I understand it) both much safer, simply as a result of the physics involved *and* can be fuelled by the waste products of existing nuclear processes, which have to be dealt with somehow anyway. These reactors can thus reduce the danger from existing nuclear waste products and be used to generate energy whilst also being immune to Chernobyl-type events. It seems hard to see how doing this is a bad idea. (Caveat: I’m no expert in nuclear power.)

        George Monbiot has talked about this here:

        link to monbiot.com

        Also, I don’t believed I ‘glossed over’ externalities. I explicitly mentioned them and the fact the energy companies are allowed to get away with ignoring them. I completely agree that the ‘market’ is at fault here and is unlikely to form any part of the solution. I agree with Juan: extracting, selling and burning coal and petroleum as a fuel ought to be, or rapidly become, illegal. Much of the world’s remaining fossil fuel simply needs to be left in the ground.

  7. Thanks for the piece. I did read Muller’s Op-Ed piece yesterday and Jerry Coyne’s comments. You are right on the mark that we should put more effort into solving this problem than wasting our resources on pointless wars and empire building.

    But if we solve this problem (and we should) how quickly do we run into other problems? Don’t we have to limit the human population on the earth? How do we do that in an acceptable manner? Why can’t we have economists study ways to obtain prosperity with no growth? How can we change the culture to lower population growth? There are many issues here that need to be clarified.

  8. I believe there are some things wrong in the last paragraph.

    “and we could well be putting our survival as a species at risk. We are certainly likely to kill off most other species.”

    This seems the wrong way around.

    We are probably putting our survival as a species at risk. And we are definitely putting our survival as a literate, technological society at risk.

    A scenario where a much diminished population of humans continue to survive with stone-age or similar capabilities and, at first anyway the salvage from our current industrial civilisation, seems plausible. Whether such a population could ever again reach a level of technological sophistication approaching ours is debatable: one could easily imagine a sequence of diminishing peaks, a repeat of the history of the last few thousand years, but in reverse. After each peak the survivors are in a worse position for the next rise. Such a population might struggle on for a very long time. But they might also be driven to extinction rapidly. (The effect of climate change on the demographics of disease might play a part here.)

    However, it seems *very* unlikely that we are putting the survival of ‘most other species’ at risk. Perhaps you mean most other macro-species? Certainly a much diminished world, without giraffe and gibbon, whale and wallaby, coral and capybara seems plausible. A world where most or all large species are extinct, including many plant species too. If this happens humans will almost certainly be one of them. Rafts of others may become extinct too. Even now bees are greatly diminished in the UK for example. A lot of this will result not from, or not only from, climate change but also from habitat destruction. Though, of course, the two are linked.

    But ‘most other species’ means mainly micro-organisms, followed by insects. It is hard to see how our actions will make much difference to them. The exception would be if one of the climate change forcings, or a combination of them, or an as-yet unidentified one, caused an unexpected run-away effect heating the planet beyond the capacity to support life (or at least advanced life-forms). I’m not aware of any climate scientist, or climate model, that is currently predicting this though. (I may be wrong.)

    In summary it seems our current trajectory, if not changed, will be catastrophic for human civilisation, terrible and possibly – not necessarily – fatal for our species, and very bad for life on this planet, fully warranting the nomenclature ‘fifth extinct’ which is often used.

    One further thing. The poor old dodo is rather abused. It did not, after all, drive itself to extinction, it was pushed. Before the invasion and wanton destruction by humans – who apparently largely killed the dodo for ‘sport’, since it was not very palatable – the dodo was superbly adapted to its island environment. (It it hadn’t been, it wouldn’t have been there, after all.) Perhaps a better analogy would be a virus so virulent that it kills or incapacitates its host, risking its own chances of survival in the process.

    • So what’s the take-away? Que sera, sera?

      Reminds me of an article by that famous deformed reactionary, John Silber, sneering at what he called “apocalypticists” for worrying about human-induced messing up of the planet — in that case in reference to the then-current concern about science showing the “deleterious effects” of a “nuclear winter,” still a possibility, of course.

      His Alfred E. Newman, “What? Me worry?” conclusion was “So what if all life on the surface of the planet dies? Life will go on! There’s the tubeworms and crabs and little fishies that live amongst the fumaroles and superheated jets of water from those cracks in the planet’s crust, down in the deepest parts of the oceans…”

      Is that an acceptable endpoint-and-potential-do-over?

      • When it gets down to it, Mother Earth may be satisfied to strip things down to bacteria for a major rebuild. Watching the crocodiles and the zebra video (think it was here….), I’m reminded that Gaia doesn’t play favorites and she’s pretty dispassionate about things.

      • I’m afraid I don’t follow you. Having re-read my post I don’t see anywhere where I was ‘sneering’ as you seem to be implying. As for ‘apocalypticists’ – I think the scenarios I described are pretty apocalyptic. They certainly don’t lead me to the conclusion: “What? Me worry?” I place great value on the full natural diversity of the world -and- on humanity’s literate, cultural and technological civilisation. I am very, very worried. For one thing, I am worried that oil companies seem to have bumped the peak oil curve, at least for some decades to come. That is, it seems economically feasible – under our current, market-based, profit-driven system – for oil companies to continue extracting and profiting from oil long past the point where it is ecologically disastrous to do so.

        I don’t think I was even disagreeing with the substance of Juan’s conclusion, just with some of the detail.

        As for acceptable endpoints: I’d like to see a path (a real one – not just vague hopes and sentiments) to a future were our civilisation (in some modified form) can continue indefinitely alongside… no, as part of.. the natural world on which it depends. We already know a lot, perhaps even most, of what needs to be done to achieve this: the rest is down to politics and action. Either the destruction of human society -or- the destruction of even a part of the natural diversity of the world are terrible, terrible consequences by themselves. I want to see both avoided.

    • I believe the basis for concern of runaway heating and mass extinction is based on the existence of methane hydrates. Their dissolution is suspected as being part of the engine of the past mass super-extinction events, meaning 90% of all species. How they counted microorganisms in that, I don’t know.

      But if it is confirmed that the methane hydrates are evaporating, we’re toast. That simple. We won’t have time to save bupkis. Every man for himself, knife-fighting on a lifeboat surrounded by sharks.

      Which simplifies things greatly. I can just start working on my revenge list.

  9. Just as with sea level rise, people misunderstand the implications of even minor changes to climate stability. The world food supply is at its maximum production, and this is based on temperatures staying within certain ranges and rainfall staying within certain ranges. There is almost no spare capacity, so when drought and soaring heat come along, the US grain crops are reduced by (some estimates) half, and widespread famine follow six months to a year later. A few degrees here and there, and marginal changes have major impacts.

    I mentioned sea level rise. A few inches here or there may be just enough to undermine foundation during storm surges where without the extra inch, the foundations would have survived. Marginal changes have major impacts.

    A few percent difference in soil moisture can tip a forest from resilience to susceptibility when parasites invade, leading to dead trees standing, or when a brush fire finds enough fuel to reach the canopy. A few per dent difference in relative humidity can allow the brush fire to sustain itself long enough to reach the canopy. A few minor changes in forest parameters can allow the forest to undergo a permanent state change to grassland.

    Although the big debate seems to be whether we are going to allow major changes to the driving functions, namely CO2, the debate should be how close do we let ourselves get to tipping points, irreversible but only recognizable after the tip, where marginals differences result in drastic consequences.

    I think we need to make it clear that we have used up the buffer in our environment, and from now on, changes we make will have drastic consequences. Unfortunately, to have this discussion, we must have widespread acceptance that anthropogenic climate change is real, and the Kocks and Exxons oppose that discussion, presumably because it interferes with their accumulation of wealth. However, the joke is on them.

    There is very little their money can buy that has any meaning in a depopulated planet.

    • Unfortunately, money can buy “tactical” safety and relative comfort in the short term as the social environment dis-integrates, while you are quite correct that “strategically” in the long run there is no escaping the disaster if, as now seems likely, our industrial “civilization” has proved itself unable to escape its own waste products (CO2 and the resultant heating).

      So, unfortunately, we can expect the selfish to exacerbate all problems with their greed and arrogance as people — our children and grandchildren — begin to die from crop failure and as-yet-unforeseen catastrophes.

      As Kropotkin pointed out long ago, the most sane “survivalists” in crisis situations look to the strengths of society and social networks, not to their individual stockpiles of canned tuna fish, gold and guns.

      As the situation looks ever more dire, it becomes ever more important, at the personal level, that we maintain our supplies of optimism, hope, and willingness to work for change — no matter how bleak the battle. Whatever it takes to get you there, sisters and brothers, this world is too nice to let it go down without one heck of a fight.

      Coming to an understanding of how our own thoughts and actions create all science and all religion, all economics and all politics — which of course has been my intellectual hobbyhorse for 30 years and has helped me become so radical I can’t get published — might just be a crucial tipping point in helping us create a future that actually nurtures our children instead of condemning them to crisis, catastrophe and potential oblivion.

  10. Nature International Weeklyy Journal of Science:Sept 7 2006.

    “The Sun provides Earth with as much energy every hour as human civilization uses every year. If you are a solar-energy enthusiast, that says it all.”

  11. Too much is made of Muller’s conversion – he does not seem to be a very reliable judge. He was positive there was no warming and now he’s positive there is, in both cases without really understanding the evidence. His claim that there was a one degree increase 1750 to 1850 compared to only 1.5 degrees since and that the early increase was caused by CO2 does not make sense since there has been by far more CO2 added recently – especially in the last 60-100 years when others see the real temperature increase (the hockey stick).
    Just leave Muller out of it – there is sufficient evidence without him.

    • I don’t think your comments suggest that we should be more interested in your views than in Muller’s. Do you publish peer-reviewed work in this area?

    • he does not seem to be a very reliable judge

      Funny how none of the “skeptics” were saying this about him before he released his findings. In fact, it was those very “skeptics,” such as the Koch Brothers, who considered him to be so very reliable that they hired him to run the BEST project, which was intended to debunk the broad consensus.

      • I think Sceptonomist identified himself as someone who does believe in climate change. I thought he was impeaching the reliability of Muller but said climate change is proved by many more besides him.

  12. A few numbers regarding oil in this month’s IEEE Spectrum…and the map does enlarge with a click.

    link to spectrum.ieee.org

    And since this conversation went to end of days….I doubt any of you sat through the movie Melancholia…and too bad if so…as it had one of the best endings of any Hollywood movie with this quote….“This Earth is evil, we don’t need to grieve for it… nobody will miss it.”

    • I loved the movie. What a way to die! With your little circle of friends who are disintegrated along with everything else on earth at exactly the same minute. No use worrying about what the world will be like in 100 years. No use worrying about death cause there won’t be any life.

    • My favorite two epitaths for the human race:

      Sanjuro in “Yojimbo”: “Now there’ll be some peace and quiet in this town!”

      Nuclear missile-master Admiral Hiram Rickover in testimony to a Congressional committee: “I do believe that the human race will destroy itself. But new life forms will arise…”

  13. Professor Cole writes: “Our Congress is a latter-day Nero, fiddling while the world burns, and any of them that doesn’t get it should be turned out in November if you care about the fate of your children and grandchildren.”
    Completely true. And this is the real problem, and not just in the United States, which is the extent to which each crisis we confront, no matter how far afield from each other, finds its roots in a crisis of the *elites* who do not know how to govern. The elites act, alright. They seem perversely, in retrospect at least, to be *trying* to do a bad job, proceeding in clearly irresponsible ways, and refusing every opportunity to take on a serious problem. I follow the Italian press and one of the ways Berlusconi’s strange nightmare hold on the Italian people manifested itself was the incredibly long ride of clueless, mistaken optimism that everything was fine. Through changes in policies and laws, elites materially and directly reshape the playing field of national, regional, and world economies. The rules are changed to favor a much more speculative approach that encourages risk. But then when the easily foreseeable crises results, it’s not called a crisis of governance, a crisis of elite competence; no, now the whole problem changes over from being the result of how the system’s rules were rigged, to being a noun phrase, to being “a fiscal crisis.” In this way elites successfully load the community with the debts incurred as a result of *their* folly; their folly is nationalized and takes on the air of a collective responsibility. When it comes to the environment, the Nero metaphor is especially striking. It seems to me to be a widely shared consensus across the elite political spectrum that nothing much can or even should be done to promote renewable energy until and unless market forces permit. There, too, an energy crisis is at the same time a crisis of the elites.

  14. I was just reading the first part of the book “Nixon’s Piano”, about the history of US presidents and racism. This part was about the Founding Fathers, Virginians Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, each privately admitting that slavery was evil and that it could lead to civil war, but publicly refusing to take any stands that could cost them the votes of their fellow Southerners.

    A generation later, because of their silence and hypocrisy, their sons were sunk beyond recall in a cult of slavery, believing it the font of all good and the slightest reform Satanic.

    I think this transition has just occurred in American conservatism in the AGW issue. As recently as 2007 you could see conservatives willing to engage on climate change issues. Now it’s impossible without facing the teabagger inquisition. Once our other shortcomings finally made us desperate to hold onto every economic advantage, any concession to justice became treason. That is what happened with the slave economy too, desperate to hold back the world and the future, murderously desperate.

    Slavery and oil were both in turn means for the “common” working-class white man to live the good life and pretend a special status from God. Not something they could give up lightly.

  15. Peak oil. Oh, yes.

    link to rollingstone.com
    The Third Number: 2,795 Gigatons
    The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.
    The Carbon Tracker Initiative – led by James Leaton, an environmentalist who served as an adviser at the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers – combed through proprietary databases to figure out how much oil, gas and coal the world’s major energy companies hold in reserve. The numbers aren’t perfect –
    **they don’t fully reflect the recent surge in unconventional energy sources like shale gas, and they don’t accurately reflect coal reserves, which are subject to less stringent reporting requirements than oil and gas.**”

    Read more: link to rollingstone.com

    • I should have explained why 2795 gigatons of fossil fuel already bought and ready to sell is so bad:
      “Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit – equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and still stay below that limit – the six beers, say, you might consume in an evening.
      And the 2,795 gigatons? That’s the three 12-packs the fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to pour.

      We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.

      Read more: link to rollingstone.com

      Sorry; I should change my handle to “Cassandra”, but these numbers are pretty terrifying indeed. I’m normally an optimist, but I look at the drought alone and its meaning for our food and our economy. Drought,then there are tornadoes, urban floods, giant hurricane strength, urban and wildfires, quakes from fracking, worldwide drought, can’t remember all the catastrophes of the last few years– it’s not just a little warmer.

      • Well, the good news in the entry below is that with most of the US so dry, we had a record low for July tornadoes. But that required a record drought. The last two years we didn’t have the drought but we had all the killer tornadoes.

        See, it’s the ever wilder variations that stress our agriculture and economy. If it were steadily one thing or the other, new crops would replace old ones – at least if you had the resources of a giant agri-conglomerate and could run old farmers off their land and replace them with employee-peons from countries that are already deserts. But how do you choose between tornado years and drought years? Or floods versus Dust Bowls?

  16. I hope I do not overstep my welcome here by responding with these three web-links. This particular issue has gotten much of my attention for some time.

    In brief: technically we can power humanity with little CO2 emission, and we could have FREE electricity in the U.S.A. to boot. However, I see no evidence intelligent humane socialism (“planning” and “sharing”) will replace fractious panicked selfishness (capitalist exploitation) as humanity’s process for managing its industrialization (how we consume energy). The “I don’t want to miss out” mentality trumps any cooperation on preventing (and adapting to) climate change. The fundamental problem is one of human development: weak moral character and immature psychological development are just too widespread. The fossil record shows that changes of environment have been common, as have extinctions of maladapting species. We can easily become a thin black layer in the sedimentary rocks of a future epoch.

    The Economic Function Of Energy
    27 February 2012
    link to swans.com

    Obama’s Less Bad Arctic Oil Drilling
    30 May 2012
    link to counterpunch.org

    The Righteous And The Heathens of Climate And Capitalism
    12 March 2012
    link to swans.com

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