There are many tipping points

12 07 2007

After the rain 1 - by Tanakawho (creative commons)I normally enjoy visiting James’ place, and this day was no exception. However, this post of his had me scratching my chin. The post is from a while ago, and something about the snarky bored tone got me thinking.

I imagined him thinking to himself as he typed it up. “Why another film? Hasn’t Gore done the subject to death? Can we stop being sanctimonious already?”

But I think that misses the point. The movie isn’t for us, the people who care passionately about climate change and/or work in the field.

The movie is for ordinary people for whom “global warming” is either something to bravely deny (thus showing they ain’t no tree huggers, no siree) or bravely ignore (it’s the end of the Earth, I can’t change that, pass me the keys to the SUV).

I think about what happens when a new breakthrough occurs in science; you see a lot of activity in that same area, a lot of papers applying the new ideas with slightly different parameters. It’s pretty much the same in every academic endeavour. Knowledge proceeds in increments.

Why can’t we think of public awareness of climate change in the same way? The denialists (and the media, though unwittingly) have been complicit in this by reducing “global warming” into a meaningless catchphrase. It’s about time people saw what it really means, and if that means an explosion of docos all touting some different aspect of climate change, just so that ordinary people can see it’s a complex issue, then I’m all for that.

Photo: After the rain 1 by Tanakahwo (creative commons at


Predicting climate change on your PC

16 03 2007


Via, the results of the BBC’s worldwide “Climate Change Prediction” experiment are in. This worldwide experiment was based on distributed computer, in which a software prediction model was sent out to thousands of home PC users. Their PCs ran the program when in screensaver mode, and then sent the results back to the Oxford University servers. The experimental model was based on the hugely successful SETI project, which crunched radio data to try to find a signal from extraterrestrials.

I didn’t know about the BBC experiment, but would certainly have wanted to commit my own computing power to add to the mix, measly though it is . The image above is a screen grab of the world results page. The original image is Java-enabled and has some good news (well, at least not such bad news) for New Zealand:

The experiment predicts a 4°C rise in temperature for the UK by 2080. But how does the rest of the world fare? New Zealand escapes with a lower temperature increase while Alaska should expect a larger rise than the UK. Find out below why different regions of the globe will heat at different rates.

The reason we can expect less warming than the UK is because we’re an island. Water warms less quickly than land, so will help to buffer us from the worst of global warming. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the large continents that form the bulk of places humans live. In Africa and the Americas, temperatures are going to go up on average.

Also, though we may not warm as severely as countries that are on large continents (according to the experimental results, the UK can expect 40C temperatures regularly by the summer of 2080), there are other effects of global warming that aren’t covered by the BBC experiment. Rising sea levels, for one thing, will affect us disproportionately since so much of New Zealand is coastal — we have as much coastline as the US. So it’s not like we’re wiping our brow and saying “whew!”

This is what I mean …

11 03 2007

chips… when I say that those opposed to doing anything about climate change are not only not serious about the threat, they’re gamblers when it comes right down to it.

A recent study indicates that polar bear numbers have risen dramatically in the last two decades, from about 850 in the mid-’80s to 2,100 today. This is enough for Andrei at to contrast it to an AP article warning of the dangers facing the planet: increased disease and drought, and polar bears no longer able to survive in their natural climate.

The source for the AP article is a leaked version of the IPCC’s AR4. The source for the claim that polar bears are thriving? A single study written up in the UK’s Telegraph. And note that while Andrei mentions the parts of the Telegraph article he likes—the increase in bear numbers in Canada’s Davis Strait—he ignores other parts of the article that go against his denialist sensibilities.

Polar bear experts said that numbers had increased not because of climate change but due to the efforts of conservationists.

The battle to ban the hunting of Harp seal pups has meant the seal population has soared – boosting the bears’ food supply.

At the same time, fewer seal hunters are around to hunt bears.

Moreover, polar bear numbers in other parts of the Arctic aren’t exactly on the rebound.

“I don’t think there is any question polar bears are in danger from global warming,” said Andrew Derocher of the World Conservation Union, and a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “People who deny that have a clear interest in hunting bears.”

Bear numbers on the west coast of Hudson’s Bay had shrunk by 22 per cent over the past decade, he said.

“They are declining due to global warming and changes in when the ice freezes
and melts in Hudson’s Bay,” he added. He and other scientists in his group are concerned that the retreating ice in the Arctic may pose a danger to future generations of polar bears because of ‘habitat loss’. “The critical problem is the sea ice is changing. “We’re looking ahead three generations, 30 to 50 years.

“To say that bear populations are growing in one area now is irrelevant.”

Which brings me to my point about climate denialists and the right wing. Despite the mountains of evidence supporting the consensus that humans are responsible for dramatically increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, and that, unless steps are taken to mitigate it, the future is going to be bleak for many species on the planet—denialists have a remarkable ability to ignore or discount all this evidence.

Conversely, they will fasten onto the tiniest data point that supports their contention that the global warming “scare” is overblown, and that the good old days are just around the corner. They seem not to care that they’re engaging in a form of gambling, with the stakes the survival of the planet.

Delusional. Absolutely delusional.

Ian Wishart is embarrassing

3 03 2007

Ian Wishart writes yet another idiotic post about global warming:

So much for anthropomorphic global warming…will
that stop the Left from ranting about it? Probably not, there will be
websites and magazines like New Dawn alleging secret American bases on
Mars burning fossil fuel…

Tinfoil hats, anyone?

The article is about a Russian scientist (an astronomer !) who believes that solar forcing is going to save the whole world. This has cropped up a few times in recent months, and has always been discredited.

(And never mind that it’s anthropogenic, not anthropomorphic global warming… Idiot.)

Wishart gets the link from the World Net Daily, which should pretty much say everything. Although the article is legit, being from National Geographic, Wishart leaves out an important snippet — the criticism of the astronomer from just everybody else.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block in [Habibullo] Abdussamatov’s theory is his dismissal of the greenhouse effect, in which atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide help keep heat trapped near the planet’s surface.

He claims that carbon dioxide has only a small influence on Earth’s climate and virtually no influence on Mars.

But “without the greenhouse effect there would be very little, if any, life on Earth, since our planet would pretty much be a big ball of ice,” said [Amato] Evan, of the University of Wisconsin.

Evan is an actual climate scientist, not an astronomer.

Leaving aside the obvious entertainment value of Wishart’s post, it also underscores a common tactic of climate denialists: cherry-pick a lone contrarian’s views and act as if it shakes the very foundation of the climate change consensus. Pitiful.