Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 14, 2005

Global Warning - Believe It!


The Kilimanjaro as it has not been seen (without snow) in 11,000 years (The Guardian)

(Hat tip to Dismal Science)

The Guardian

Africa's tallest mountain, with its white peak, is one of the most instantly recognisable sights in the world. But as this aerial photograph shows, Kilimanjaro's trademark snowy cap, at 5,895 metres (1,934ft), is now all but gone - 15 years before scientists predicted it would melt through global warming.

. Separately, the graph below was published 2 weeks ago in The Economist and it is the graphic illustration of yet another convincing scientific study that global warming is real:

SOME people do not believe global warming is happening; some believe it is happening, but that it is the result of natural variation; and some believe it is being caused by human activity.

A paper presented to the AAAS by Tim Barnett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, provides further evidence that the third camp is right.

Most published research on climate change looks at the atmosphere. That is partly because the records are good and partly because it is in the atmosphere that the human-induced changes that might be causing it are happening. One of these changes, which would promote global warming, is a rise in the level of so-called greenhouse gases (particularly carbon dioxide) which trap heat from the sun and thus warm the air. Another, which would oppose warming, is a rise in the quantity of sulphate-based aerosols, which encourage cloud formation and thus cool the air by reflecting sunlight back into space.

Dr Barnett, however, thinks that the air is the wrong place to look. He would rather look in the sea. Water has a far higher capacity to retain heat than air, so most of any heat that was causing global warming would be expected to end up in the oceans.

And that was what he found.

Go read the rest of the article, or go directly to the actual research.


Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 14, 2005 at 15:34 UTC | Permalink


Don't worry, Jérôme. I'm sure Bjorn Staerk and other house negroes, errr, house euros (to borrow Steve Gilliard's word), slavishly serving their BushCo masters, will tell you that it is all a utopian leftist wet dream that is divorced from reality and nothing of this is correct. After all, you can see right now the 2 m of snow on your Paris' street, can't you?

The kicker with sea warming is that this will account for a bigger increase in sea level than the mere melting of glaciers and ice shelves - water tending to expand when heated (and the fact that a sizable portion of water is now close to 4C, which is the temp where it is the most dense, will make for some fun in next decades).

Posted by: Clueless Joe | Mar 14 2005 15:53 utc | 1

This would have happened someday, I suppose, in the absence of man-made global warming. Does any know when that might have been?

Posted by: alabama | Mar 14 2005 16:02 utc | 2

the problem is not that halfways educated people like the participants in this forum would doubt global warming. the problem is that those people who SHOULD DO SOMETHING about it do absolutely everything to deny facts which are plain for everybody to see in their immediate surroundings.

fancy graphs like those presented above are not needed to notice that since at least 5 years the weather is weird to say the least. that is not because i say it but because taxi drivers, farmers, workers, academics, old people, politicians and others have commented about this to me at some time. this summer for the first time in 14 years i have missed the birds chirping in the park over the street from where i live, they went away and have not come back. everybody sees it yet the whole political class worldwide denies it, relegates it to the realm of "science" or declare it outside of their realm of competence.

what i would like to know is why the political classes of the world are not failing but outright betraying us. the question may be naive and manisfestation of my denial to acknowledge the depth of the incompetence or irresponsibility or depravity of these people, some of whom i know personally.

yes. why ?

Posted by: name | Mar 14 2005 16:12 utc | 3

Wonder if that scientific finding is realted to this: Apparently there's a cold water "pump" in the North Atlantic Ocean that is responsible for the Gulf Stream bringing warm water up to the North Atlantic, resulting in mild temperatures at high latitudes in Europe. If the temperature of that pump changes, and the stream is halted, there goes the British Isles climate?

Posted by: gylangirl | Mar 14 2005 16:58 utc | 4

This would have happened someday, I suppose, in the absence of man-made global warming.

Yeah, in the long run we are all dead and the sun will explode anyway in 2m years and take the whole solar system with it.

Kind of irrelevant.

This is a man-made catastrophe, one that could have been avoided, the results of which are beginning (only beginning, mind) to manifest. Years when sensible courses of pre-emption were possible have been wasted, and as a result a lot of people are not going to survive. We need to deal, and deal fast, because an estimated 150,000 people are dying each year already as consequence of global warming, and that number is going to be chicken feed as the thing ramps up.

As usual, the poorest and most vulnerable will bear the brunt.

In addition, a related man-made phenomenon, global dimming (caused by airplane contrails), is implicated in some of the recent famines in Africa because of disrupted monsoon rain patterns.

Posted by: Ineluctable | Mar 14 2005 17:19 utc | 5

The earth is warming and temperatures are evening out. I remember in 1971 we had a winter where you couldn't see a fence post. In 1978 we ahd another heavy snow year. I cannot remeber one heavy snow year here in Michigan since 1990. I mean a year where we get 3-6 feet of snow.

On another note, it seems the Bushies have taken on the Chinese philosophy. Madame Chiang Kai-Shek said, "We write our own destiny. We become what we do." Does this mean the Bushies will eventually having a coming out and admit they are fascist? Just a question.

Posted by: jdp | Mar 14 2005 17:37 utc | 6

and meanwhile in the US, I talk to an old friend (engineer who used to work for my outfit). he now has a pretty good academic job back East. but he flies out to the West Coast every 2 weeks to visit his kids from a former marriage. he flies round trip the entire width of N America, every 2 weeks...

... so, of course, sure, we desperately need carbon rationing NOW. it's too late, we all know that; we are not going to save the millions of people and tens of thousands of species doomed by accelerating climate instability. but maybe we could mitigate the impact slightly? as in, prevent a complete die-off of large mammals including ourselves? or are we determined to "go out with a bang", taking as much of the biosphere with us as possible?

frankly I think our big cultural efflorescence (the whole Whiteboy Industrial West shtick) is over, "all bar the shouting" as my old Granddad would say. sheesh -- all that striving, all that ingenuity, all that criminality justified by Higher Goals and Loftier Purposes -- all just more mindless growth-for-its-own-sake, depletion of feedstock, accumulation of waste product, death of mold culture, another petri dish to wash out and start over. what meaning has any human achievement, if the end goal of our achievements is mass suicide/murder?

this weekend I walked a couple of miles to a park just up the coast from my house, with a couple of old friends. when we got there we found the parking lot full of shiny SUVs. people were taking their bicycles off their SUVs (which they had driven maybe 2 or 4 miles from town) to "take a ride in the park." they might ride 6 or even 10 miles in the park. but they would not deign to use the humble bicycle to ride 2 miles to get someplace. only "losers" ride bikes for transport. this is how Americans think, this is how they live, this is how they have taught the rest of the world to dream. this is what other countries want to be when they grow up. it is loathesome. it is obscene. it is the deliberate flaunting of criminal wastefulness. I think there is no hope. people don't awake from hubristic dreams like these until they find the wolf not just at the door, but standing on their chest and drooling.

meanwhile bloggers like Mike Rivero -- whose WRH site is unreliable but often ahead of the pack in scooping major stories -- continue to deride global warming as some kind of Gummint Plot, a FEMA conspiracy, a Big Commie Lie, and cherish crackpot accounts of "bacterial oil generation" and "abiotic oil". doing their best to keep the dreamers from waking up until the wolf actually has their head in his jaws. sometimes I just can't stand living in a culture deliberately hurling itself -- with enthusiasm! -- over the edge.

sorry all, I know I am raving even more than usual, it's just that the disconnect between the research, the facts, the verifiable imagery of a destabilised climate, the urgency of these issues -- and the smug, complacent, "not my problem," "they'll think of something," attitudes of my Amurkan friends and acquaintances, is making me crazy of late.

(in full-on Kassandra mode)

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 14 2005 17:48 utc | 7>Gale A. Norton, today, on ANWAR:

Opponents will pretend that new, less invasive technology doesn't exist. It is important for Americans to understand that it does, and that it works.

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 14 2005 17:48 utc | 8

they would not deign to use the humble bicycle to ride 2 miles to get someplace.

I've often thought of the packed suv, w/ bicycles strapped on top, in a similarly allegorical way: as the consumption of the possibility of infinite mobility; i.e., this is just an emblem of bourgeois status. This image escapes allegory only if the three techniques of transport are completely consumed: The car is driven into the wilderness and destroyed by the effort; the occupants then ride the bikes further into the wilds until the chains snap; then, the individuals set out on foot until they collapse and die.

Something like the brilliant film .

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 14 2005 17:59 utc | 9

The brilliant film Gerry.

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 14 2005 18:00 utc | 10

In 1999, I went skiing in Chamonix. I fell in fog and twisted my knee. The teach brought me down the mountain, slow.

So I spent 3 days in Chamonix, walking a bit but not more. I took tourist trips, hung out in bars, made friends with a newsagent. I went twice to a an exhibit they had there, it was of paintings, engravings, letters, photos, embroideries even, of Chamonix 1800 - 1900 (though they stuck in whatever they had outside of those dates.)

The Mer de Glace (their famous glacier) started shrinking just a bit before 1850. Later, I looked it up, and that seemed to be correct. It is practically gone now, though that depends on how one defines ‘gone’...

Hunt for the glacier, tourist attractions die hard:>Link

Our elected officials are rich, live in towns, have to please voters, therefore always keep bad news hidden (e.g. the official Chamonix sites don’t mention the glacier has melted like synthetic coffee ice on a hot summer’s day).

They get campaign contributions, legally or through underground deals, from Bizness Moguls, because the Moguls can pay (a private clinic for AIDs patients has no money to spare) - they set aside specified sum for buying influence, running propaganda or plain corruption. The system feeds on itself.

People vote for the rich, the powerful, the stars, those who have limos, those who appear good looking or convincing on the TV. Schwarzenegger. Bush with a Halo. Chirac against the Iraq war. And so on.

Posted by: Blackie | Mar 14 2005 18:07 utc | 11

What consumerism does is encourage the consumption of exchange values.

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 14 2005 18:07 utc | 12


what the consumer really worships is the money he has spent on the ticket for the Toscanini concert.

Likewise, the suv allegory is, as Baudrillard might say, the consumption of the sign.

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 14 2005 18:10 utc | 13

Mountain biking has probably convinced more people to buy SUVs than almost any other activity.

Also, the energy used to make a car is something like 90% of the total energy consumed in a car's life cycle. Replacing a functional car with a hybrid makes little sense.

Posted by: biklett | Mar 14 2005 18:40 utc | 14

DeA: Well, since I've already been pigeonholed since a long time here around, I may as well go further ;) In my opinion, the daily driving of fossil-fueled car is tantamount to crime against mankind. I'm already feeling guilty as charge for taking twice a year a plane for some round-trip of 1.500 miles, because I simply don't have car and trains are out of question - well, they wouldn't if I had twice as much holidays.
If mankind is doomed and goes into full die-off mode, than I sincerely hope the end will be grim, nasty, cruel, and the amount of suffering will be unheard of throughout the entire universe, because this fucking stupid species would have deserved nothing less - and I sure wish that the wealthiest will suffer the most for the longest time possible.

Slothrop: Adorno was optimistic. If only they wasted money on Toscanini, I could understand to some extent, but wasting money on McDonald's, SUVs, big boats, fancy private jets, SM parties? I know the comparison to disease is a dangerous one and can be a slippery slope toward our darkest hours, but sometimes I really think a sizable portion of our species is nothing else than a mere parasite without redeeming value. This is certainly true of the entire billionaire elite, as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Mar 14 2005 19:01 utc | 15

Got any idea on the total energy consumed to build your tupperware boat, including the stainless-steel rigging and Monsanto hull?

Posted by: DM | Mar 14 2005 19:22 utc | 16


If mankind is doomed and goes into full die-off mode, than I sincerely hope the end will be grim, nasty, cruel, and the amount of suffering will be unheard of throughout the entire universe, because this fucking stupid species would have deserved nothing less - and I sure wish that the wealthiest will suffer the most for the longest time possible.

How old are you? This is puerile.

Posted by: DM | Mar 14 2005 19:34 utc | 17

@ slothrop

Ya know, the way Ms Norton writes it seems like we are all a bunch of fools not to tap into what is potentially the largest reserve of oil in North America. Why can't things be that easy. Here is all this oil just waiting to be taken out of the ground. She doesn't mention anything about pipelines or housing for the workers who have to tend all this machinery....convenient, no?

As name mentioned above, how is it possible that these so called leaders are so short sighted? They are actually criminally stupid if there is such a thing.

My own selfish reason for not wanting to drill ANWAR is that we should hit crisis mode big time first and then use that oil for transition to another form of energy. It probably sounds really callous but it is about the best we can hope for IMO.

Posted by: dan of steele | Mar 14 2005 20:00 utc | 18

I read a fascinating abstract about the Cambrian-era extinction, the largest mass extinction in history. About 95 percent of then-existing species died out. It now looks like the reason was an increase in average global temperature of 6 degrees C over about 60,000 years (as a result of huge volcanic eruptions pushing greenhouse gases into the air). While the actual extent of global warming isn't known, an average increase of 6 degrees over the next 100 years is a possibility.

I don't think we have any idea what the full consequences of our actions are going to be.

Posted by: | Mar 14 2005 20:11 utc | 19

Perhaps there is no room for conscience
In a world run by criminal negligence?
As a robber and a thief,
I swear there is a wound and a night beyond relief;
And that hate is far too mild a word
For that which I despise, to which I weld this curse:

"Prince of this world, your feet are lice,
Your cloak is rot, your halo -- buzzing flies!"

Posted by: Chuck Cliff | Mar 14 2005 20:43 utc | 20

This Tim Barnett character has a history of making spectacular claims. The debate is over. The data collected over the last 40 years is accurate. My models are perfect. Believe!

Posted by: DM | Mar 14 2005 21:11 utc | 21

DM: contrary to many leftists, progressives and even mainstream liberals, I think crimes should be punished, and not only because it's the best way to redeem someone and make it change, but for punishment's sake, because the biggest suffering shouldn't always be on the victims' side - or if you prefer because I just completely loathe all the bullshit about reconciliation, like it was imposed on S Africa; in some cases, it is possible, but in the most criminally odious cases, the only reconciliation is the reconciliation of the grave. So, if mankind is so fucked-up that it will manage to kill itself like a Darwin-award-winning species, and will take with it most of the planet lifeforms, then it fully deserves the worst fate and the worst end. Notice that I wouldn't be so harsh if humans were just killing themselves without harming the rest of the planet - though the loss of the good and great things and achievements of mankind would pisses me off as it does now -, because it would take upon itself the bulk of the harm it does. Which it doesn't so far - and when it does, it isn't the people who did the fuck-up who suffer but usually the people who are the less guilty. Notice, too, that the final judgment is pending until we can see if mankind can at long last survive and preserve some valuable bits of this Earth, though after much pain and population losses, I fear - my blame being tied to mankind's utter idiocy and ultimate self-imposed demise, it doesn't hold if mankind manages to beat the odds.
Or did you just object to me wishing the worst end to the wealthy elite that ruled this planet and led it to its pityful fate?

Oh, and I would have thought that by now you would expect me to come from time to time with some particularly outrageous bits. I mean, I shouldn't disappoint our good pal Bjorn Staerk, don't you think ;)

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Mar 14 2005 21:40 utc | 22

@DM, you make too many assumptions. my boat is not tupperware. she is steel. Monsanto had little-to-no part in her construction.

her rigging is rope, there is no stainless on deck except grab rails and similar fittings. her engine is older than I am and its power-generated has exceeded its manufacturing energy debts a long time ago. it is of the smallest HP sufficient to move the hull against a 4kt tide. I hope it will outlive me. her masts are whole trees, from a sustainably-managed Canadian forest. she was built by a solo craftsman within 2 miles of the place where she now lies, about 12 years ago. there is not an inch of decorative teak on her. her interior joinery was made from discarded BC Ferry system signboards -- faultless 3/4 and inch marine ply that was being thrown away as garbage. most of her fittings were scrounged from local scrapyards or bartered for.

as compared to the energy and resource consumption of buying a new car every 5 years (I have never owned a car that was less than 20 years old at the time), I think the old girl is fairly frugal. and since she carries 1000 sf of sail on her three masts, I don't expect to use the engine a whole lot.

sure, I admit my debts to the industrial complex -- in the petro-based high-tech coatings that keep her hull from rusting out, in the vast energies that smelted and rolled her steel plate, in the KWhrs that went into the welding, in the petro-based uhmw and Delrin used sparingly for small bushings and fittings. but I also propose that living aboard her in 1/4th or less of the living area I now consume, heating 1/16 or less of the air volume for comfort and inhabiting a heavily insulated space, minimising my electrical usage to fit within the budget of a couple of solar panels and a wind gen -- and pursuing the necessarily frugal life of the low-budget sailor -- I will take far smaller bites of global resources than I do now.

if you were hoping to catch me motoring around in a brand-new Hallberg-Rassy shipped by container from Europe to sunny CA, sorry -- wrong number. I try to live my principles -- not to the extent of a Mother Teresa or a Rachel Corrie, but I do try. it is, if I may say so, somewhat ungenerous of you so eagerly to assume otherwise.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 14 2005 21:44 utc | 23

Hmmm. I hate sharing a bike route with automobiles. It is nerve-racking and very dangerous, especially with young kids just learning to forego training wheels.

The drive-somewhere-else-to-ride-a-bike scenario was forced upon our neighborhood bikers by environmentalists who forbid us from putting bike/walk paths in the woods behind our homes. They wanted to protect nesting areas along existing deer-trails and prevent run-off into the river beyond the woods. The developer was thrilled not to have to install any paths. So we pack up the car and drive to designated bike/walk trails located miles away. NOT OUR FAULT.

Posted by: gylangirl | Mar 14 2005 21:51 utc | 24

I know this is a waste of time but

1. There is no oil shortage and will not be for many millenia. The oil sands and shales have trillions of barrels in them. Also there are vast amounts of methane hydrates lying around on the seafloor. There are currently production limitations which have not been solved due to the (till now) low price of crude extraction.

2. There is no unambiguous evidence of rapid global warming in the temperature data. The most reliable date (MSU from satellites) shows very modest warming over the past 26 years.

3. This alarmist ocean warming data has not been verified by an alternate study. Given that it makes and extraordinary claim, and contradicts previous studies, verification should be sought before hitting the alarm bell. At the Cambrian extinction event CO2 levels were around 6000 ppm. We are not anywhere near that level (around 380 currently) and could not reach that level for many thousands of years or probably ever.

OK everybody, pile on.

Posted by: ed_finnerty | Mar 14 2005 22:20 utc | 25


I admire your ambition to live sustainable life. I don't drive, because cars are evil. But, that's about all I can brag about.

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 14 2005 22:22 utc | 26

Oh I forgot to add...

If the standard interpretation is true it can only be addressed in two ways

1. Massive de-industrialization

2. Massive conversion to a nuclear based society.

This is due to the need to essentially reduce current Fossil Fuel combustion by about 90% to reach the sustainable targets required.

Neither one of these things will happen due to cost.

have a nice day.

Posted by: ed_finnerty | Mar 14 2005 22:28 utc | 27

Ed: You also know that *if* we go into a Cambrian-like scenario (which began with a 6C increase in temperatures), then all the "methan-hydrate" lying frozen on the oceans'bed will be of no use, since it will basically warm up, burst and pop to the surface, making a neat greenhouse runaway.
But yes, it'll take thousands of years to go to 6000 clearly. And then we'd all relocate to Venus, since the weather would be nicer there.

Like Jared Diamond said: "Jobs, not trees!" "Technology will provide us with a new source of wood to move our statues, when the last forest will have been chopped down."

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Mar 14 2005 22:33 utc | 28

Good one Clueless.

I think this release of the methane hydrate was the basis of the novel 'Mother of Storms'.

Given that there are no other options, I am betting on 'moving the statutes with the transporter beam' as a solution. It sort of a 'worst option except for all the rest' situation.

Posted by: ed_finnerty | Mar 14 2005 22:40 utc | 29

Amybody watch BBC 1 showing the Yellowstone Supervolcano tonight?

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Mar 14 2005 23:03 utc | 30

ô i am not heroic
my bicycle still has training wheels

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Mar 14 2005 23:23 utc | 31

i don't get tv, but have been checking the mt st helens volcanocam every now & then. some activity a week ago tuesday. and there's still snow on it!

Posted by: b real | Mar 14 2005 23:30 utc | 32


Given your numerous intelligent and insightful contributions to MoA, and as one of the few people here who provide a link to any personal details, I don’t believe that I am alone in holding you in very high regard.

I may have been assuming much too much with regard to your boat construction, but I wasn’t eagerly assuming much more than the fact that we all owe our comfortable lives to urbanisation, industrialisation, and modernity.

The thing that drew me to Whiskey Bar and MoA, was a search for some release from the brain-screaming insanity of the Iraq war, and the evil lunatics who believe that they can get away with murder. Instead of screaming at Fox news and terrorising my family, the occasional post here somehow helps me to cope just a little bit better.

But I am afraid that I part company with (apparently) – the majority of MoA denizens on a range of other subjects – and in particular – this obsession with Global Warming.

We all have our own particular world-views and outlook. From here – in “post Industrialised” Australia (which barely industrialised in the first place) – the obsession with humanity’s impact on the environment seems a little unreal. Sure, there are issues and problems (phosphates affecting the Great Barrier Reef to some extent, land salination) – but these are issues that can be dealt with without the irrational desire to decimate humanity as some here appear to favour.

Urbanisation, Industrialisation, and Modernity – from around 1830 to the present time – has brought dignity and a meaningful life for many people in many parts of the world.

Problems can be solved. Many parts of 19th century Britain were dirty and polluted (mainly from coal fires). I can remember “fogs” (smogs) – so thick that you could not see you hand in front of your face until it touched your nose (yet we still went to school somehow).

My grandfather started work – aged 13 – in a coalmine. At times, up to his chest in water. Died in his 40’s. Chest condition. Worn out. Not an uncommon story.

What we have today – from high-tech steelmills to dentists drills or radio telescopes – was all bought and paid for by generations that came before us.

A yearning for a simpler “de-industrialised” world seems to me to be some sort of Shangri-La fable, and is certainly not “reality based”.

I do (grudgingly) accept everyone right to have their own religious beliefs – and I believe that much of the Global Warming spiel can be attributed to a “Mother Earth” cult.

But I do object to the overall thrust of Global Warming cultists. That modernity and a decent lifestyle is not for everybody. We can’t have the third world using resources. Modern world bad, living a shitty existence in some squalid village good.

Good God !

Posted by: DM | Mar 14 2005 23:48 utc | 33

In previous discussions about these environmental/saustainability issues, the target of critique is twofold: the danger of possible resource depletion and the problem of socio-economic inequities. Put another way, the discussions are orientedc around the problem of both the domination of nature, and the domination of people. The two targets are interrelated.

Deanander, I think, has done the most to reveal this interrelation. Often, it seems to me, others here focus too much on the domination of nature and the potential dangers. Doing so obfuscates the socio-economic problems, because if the data are read to suggest ambiguities in climate change, etc., then the justification can swiftly be offered that, as per ed finnerty, nothing is so worrisome to vindicate "deindustrialization."

The problem of an "industrialized" form of life, bound as it is to the stupidly excalating consumption of everything, is death. Thge result of this form of life is systemic, strategic immisseration, whose hideous terminus is the image of the marine jerking-off to home movies of murdered Iraqis. A byproduct of this tragedy is perhaps resource depletion and global warming. Much more importantly, no data is needed to know with certainty a form of life oriented to humane conduct is a form of life reconciled to nature.

Ed Finnerty's argument is inadequate because it does not attempt to think through this "dialectic of enlightenmnent." His argument is, so far, bullshit.

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 15 2005 0:54 utc | 34

"data are needed" "immiseration" "escalating" ... long day, sorry.

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 15 2005 0:57 utc | 35

your boat sounds beautiful to me.

Anonymous wrote:
It now looks like the reason [for the Cambrian-era extinction] was an increase in average global temperature of 6 degrees C over about 60,000 years (as a result of huge volcanic eruptions pushing greenhouse gases into the air). While the actual extent of global warming isn't known, an average increase of 6 degrees over the next 100 years is a possibility.

Ed wrote:
At the Cambrian extinction event CO2 levels were around 6000 ppm. We are not anywhere near that level (around 380 currently) and could not reach that level for many thousands of years or probably ever.

Comparing the level of CO2 between now and the Cambrian era seems extremely non-sensical to me.

The variation in CO2 levels would be much more relevant to compare. The CO2 level of around 380 har risen from the 280ish level it has stayed on from the start of written history to the 19th century. The variation in the Cambrian era is unknown to me.

Posted by: A swedish kind of death | Mar 15 2005 1:22 utc | 36

forgot to close the italics [/close italics]

Posted by: A swedish kind of death | Mar 15 2005 1:42 utc | 37

@DM btw the boat on my web page is someone else's :-) the one I plan to live on starting fairly soon is a different animal.

I think you mistake the direction of many people's feelings/concerns. at issue is the question of what a "decent" lifestyle reasonably includes. some of us -- self among them -- accept the math that says that if SUVs and constant plane travel are defined as part of our "decent lives," then those third world people for whom you feel such creditable concern will never live even a far more modest "decent" life. we don't have enough resources for every person to live the (imho grotesque) "American Dream." the singleminded pursuit of that dream by the lucky few condemns billions to indigence, illness, hunger, premature death.

to deny the math requires a religious faith in miracles rather than a reasonable expectation of science or technology, imho. is the planet of infinite size? no. have the laws of thermodynamics been suspended recently? no. so obviously resources are limited.

and the evidence that we are nudging up against those limits is overwhelming, even if we disqualify a destabilised climate as one of the players in the end game. it doesn't take any supernatural faith in some kind of neo-Neolithic goddess cult to perceive the problem. [that's an ad hominem often hurled by defenders of the status quo ante, who meanwhile maintain their own childlike faith in the cult of Infinite Growth and Infallible Technocracy -- a modern variant on the Cargo Cult imho. if any faith in the absence of fact can be called "rational" and if "rational" can be defined as "conducive to survival" then it may well be that a Goddess/nature religion would score as more "rational" than a faith in St Milton.]

there are two solutions to global resource depletion -- well three if you count unchecked resource exploitation leading to massive die-off, but I prefer not to count that one. one is for the first world elite to continue to consume like there is no tomorrow, and to shove more and more people into abject poverty to compensate, i.e. reduce the number of persons who have (by any definition) a decent lifestyle. this immiseration is happening worldwide even as we speak, and is accelerating even in the wealthy nations. the end state is a far smaller elite and a huge mass of hungry peasants. even if we found it morally acceptable, it is not necessarily a sustainable model because the appetite of elites for resource-squandering is unbounded -- cf Rapa Nui. so even if 99.99 percent of the pop is barred from conspicuous consumption, the ruling .01 pct can easily compensate for that by aggrandising their status symbols and their destructive display behaviour. and they are. it is happening all around us: the megayachts, megaSUVs, McMegaMansions.

another alternative is that the wealthy first-worlders scale back enough to share resources with others, learning to live within our means and doing what we can to help others to live within our means. this means giving up the cosy notion that there are two separate resource wallets, "their means" and "our means," and that because we are temporarily richer than they are we have a right to destroy the commons on which all of our lives depend. when China poisons their air with zillions of filthy coal-burning plants, the pollutants eventually reach N Am on the prevailing westerlies. European jet travel damages agriculture in Africa. Americans export their acid rain to Canadian forests. and so on. you can't fart in a crowded elevator without people noticing,

the argument you field here about the consequences of partial deindustrialisation is imho reductionist and is often called the "Shivering in the Dark" gambit -- i.e. asserting that any scaling-back of the excess of the First World hyperconsumer lifestyle is equivalent to an immediate return to the Dark Ages. it is to suggest that somehow if we did not have instant cheap air travel, SUVs, 5000 sq foot homes, high tech cosmetic surgery, high tech medicine devoted solely to extending our 80+ year lifespans by six months or so, 200 channels of cable TV 24 hours a day, 60 inch tv screens, 24x7 air conditioning, cheap sweatshop clothing and snowmobiles and riding mowers and meat for dinner every single day and all the rest -- that our lives would be miserable, unbearable, insupportable. I don't buy it. I don't have -- or choose not to use -- most of those things and my life is a delight compared to 99.9 percent of the human lives on this globe.

it is a profound error to romanticise the past but imho a far greater one to romanticise the present.

the burning question on the table is "how much is enough?" -- if our answer is "nothing is ever enough and we must always have infinitely More and More," then we are headed for extinction as surely as any other critter that multiplies and consumes beyond the carrying capacity of its biome. the position to which I have been driven over 20 years of reading and thinking and doing the math, is that what we in the industrialised G8 currently have -- those of us in the privileged classes -- is Too Much, and that others are paying dearly for it.

I think we can have dental tools in a sustainable future. if we don't manage to make a transition to a sustainable future then it won't matter much whether we have dental tools or not.

what is miserable, unbearable, insupportable to me is watching a tiny percentage of the world pop continue gleefully to squander, in obscene luxury and ostentatious display, the resources that might have been adequate to ensure that "decent" lifestyle for a reasonable majority. it is miserable to watch and it is unbearable to participate.

as to newcomer "Finnerty" -- welcome to the bar, sir -- who wants to bet on the transporter beam as it is "the only possibility" [since the wealthy North could not possibly give up its liposuction equipment, motorised tie racks, electric wheelbarrows etc, perish the thought!] -- so far every civilisation that has made that bet, has crashed and vanished from history. a word to the wise: never bet against the house.

oy oy oy, my feet are killing me standing on this soapbox for so long. soon they will be throwing peanut shells -- or worse. I subside, I relent, I go and sit down and nurse my soda water in a dark corner.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 15 2005 1:45 utc | 38


I didn't bring up the cambrian I was only responding to it. I accept that the atmospheric composition and it's relation to climate and climate change is complex and largely unknown. I think the cambrian data indicate that we should try to find out more.

slothrop. I don't think I was arguing. I was trying to state facts.

DeAnander. I'm actually not a newcomer. I frequented the Whiskey Bar almost since it's start. I don't comment much because I don't generally share the doomster interpretation of current events evidenced here (but enjoy the mental gymnastics involved at arriving at them) and don't really have many worthwhile opinions on polictical philosophy's. I like Russell which I realize excludes me from being taken seriously by the heavyweights.

Posted by: ed_finnerty | Mar 15 2005 2:36 utc | 39

you are not so clueless joe
DM i am shocked. i have no grafts or statistics but i wager that we have done more damage to the planet(muliplied by ?) in the last century than all our predecessors. do you imagine our earth to be a mother of infinite capacity for pain? certainly if we escalate, and we are doing just that, she will respond. life is a delicate balance.
we can ignore these signs, and we will, but the reprecussions still exist. life, it's hard to imagine beyond our own, and i don't expect to be here for the 'final reckoning' but the inevitability of nature balancing itself, and this we are witnessing,is a sure thing.
i just got back from working on a house i bought in '78, in marin, land of excess. my home is the last hold out of the original old small cottage style in a land of mcmansions. and i'm not kidding. these things are huge and everyone drive fancy cars. meanwhile i'm building a 12x16 hut w/ no running water or electricity on some land up north.just for a backup. the world is going apeshit.

Posted by: annie | Mar 15 2005 2:51 utc | 40

I'll bite: if losing the snows of Kilimanjaro is the price that has to be paid for the Barkeep's trip to the Dead Sea conference, then I say "farewell" to the snows of Kilimanjaro. And as for The Snows of Kilimanjaro, I said "farewell!" to that particular "masterwork" a good forty-five years ago (this being a most inadequate, if necessary, step in the formation of a literary terrorist).

Posted by: alabama | Mar 15 2005 3:37 utc | 41

@alabama... and all the Africans -- human and animal -- who depend on the rivers and streams fed by the watersheds fed by the snowpacks of Kilimanjaro? are they also an acceptable sacrifice for the Barkeep's trip I fear you are beginning to sound like Madeleine Allbright, m'friend: "we think the price is worth it." that is an easy thing to think when it isn't us paying it.

snowpack is not merely pretty stuff for wealthy Western turistas to write about or photograph. it is the bank from which we withdraw water during the summers -- the summers that are getting hotter and longer.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 15 2005 4:02 utc | 42

...Call it the case of the missing "greenhouse gas." For years, scientists have been trying to figure out where carbon dioxide goes once humans generate it. Significant amounts billow into the atmosphere. But each year, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been rising only half as fast as humans supply the gas.

The hiding place, it turns out, is the world's oceans. And the implications for marine life are troubling, researchers say. If industrial CO2 emissions continue to increase at their current rate, by the end of the century the surface waters of the world's oceans are likely to become more acidic. Though the change appears subtle, it could threaten key organisms at the base of the marine food chain and further endanger shallow-water reefs, which represent some of the most biologically productive ecosystems on the planet. The absorption of this extra carbon dioxide would induce changes in ocean chemistry not seen for at least 20 million years, some researchers say……

A research team, led by marine chemist Christopher Sabine, took on the herculean task of compiling a global picture of the oceans' CO2 uptake, based on measurements from some 70,000 samples of seawater. The samples were collected worldwide during two large oceanographic projects in the late 1980s and 1990s aimed at measuring ocean circulation and the movement of carbon through the system.

"We've known for years that the oceans take up a significant amount of carbon dioxide," says Dr. Sabine, with the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "But we haven't been able to quantify it based on direct measurements until now."

From 1800 to 1994, the team estimates, the oceans soaked up 48 percent of the carbon emitted from human activities, such as burning wood, coal, oil, or gas

The real surprise, however, came from the impact the results had on the overall picture of the globe's carbon cycle...When the team added the carbon stored in the oceans to the carbon stored in the atmosphere, the total exceeded emissions from human activities alone. After carefully reviewing their data and calculations, they concluded that the "extra" CO2 came from changes in land use, such as deforestation. This suggests that during the same period, the planet's terrestrial bio-sphere became a net source of, rather than a sink for, carbon dioxide.

Marine biologists, meanwhile, worry about what happens to that carbon once the oceans take it up. When carbon dioxide mixes with seawater, it forms a weak carbonic acid. Over millions of years, erosion has supplied the oceans with vast amounts of dissolved calcium from weathered rock on the continents. This provides a natural buffer against the acid, creating chemical conditions to which some key forms of marine life are finely tuned.
Over the past five years, however, evidence has been mounting that rising CO2 levels could pose major challenges to these life forms by altering this balance.

By some measures, rising CO2 levels during the industrial age already have increased the oceans' acidity by roughly 0.1 pH units. By the end of this century, the reduction could reach 0.4 units. That may not sound like much, but researchers point out that each whole-number shift in pH represents a 10-fold change.

Oceans to acid: Oceans act as giant sponges for CO2 - but what eases global warming harms marine life.

…..According to research by Christopher Sabine of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the ocean has taken up approximately 120 billion metric tonnes of carbon generated by human activities since 1800.

"The same pollution that we believe is heating the world's oceans through global warming is also altering their chemical balance," Professor John Raven, chair of the working group, said.

…..The oceans are now slightly alkaline -- the opposite of acidic. Researchers are not suggesting the seas will become as acidic as soft drinks, but they say the shift toward the acid end of the scale is accelerating.

The change over the last century already matches the magnitude of the change that occurred in the entire 10,000 years preceding the industrial age.

Oceans' acidity worries experts.

Climate change may be veering out of control before we understand the consequences, say scientists studying the world's oceans.
If carbon dioxide emissions keep rising, surface waters could become more acidic than they have been for 300 million years - except perhaps during global catastrophes. And this warning follows a report that the biological productivity of the oceans has fallen by six per cent since the 1980s.

"We are changing the chemistry of the ocean and we don't know what it's going to do," says Ken Caldeira, a climate specialist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

As the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere rises, more of the gas reacts with seawater to produce bicarbonate and hydrogen ions, increasing the acidity of the surface layer of water. Ocean pH was 8.3 after the last ice age and 8.2 before CO2 emissions took off in the industrial era. It is now 8.1.

Climate change: Alarm over acidifying oceans.

I think we’ve got ample evidence here to get Ned Ludd a posthumous pardon. As for the rest of you, you’re all as guilty as hell and boy, will I make you pay for it......

Posted by: Mother Nature | Mar 15 2005 5:03 utc | 43

Ah, DeAnander, you strike me at my tenderest point--the prospect that I might visit harm upon our friends the Africans and their marvellous animals, miming all the while the bromides of Mme., no, this isn't possible, my narcissism won't stand for it, and I therefore recant, chanting a palinode and confessing the error of my ways....I bewail the fate of our western acquifers, the cruel parting of the Rio Grande's waters....

Posted by: alabama | Mar 15 2005 5:30 utc | 44

So does anyone around here know what a confirmation bias is?

We clearly have a spectrum of beliefs on global warming here, ranging from that mad righteous psychopathic CluelessJoe (who sits at home cackling evilly over the imminent -- though drawn out -- destruction of the capitalist billionaire class who dine nightly on little children) to happy-go-lucky grizzled ed_finnerty (known of old in this bar), who stares defiantly from the prow of the good ship Progress. He dares the shrinking icebergs, sent after him by the scheming priests of environmentalism, to assault him lest he unleash the might of technology against them. In the middle stands DeAnander, our tortured hero, desperately trying to navigate an honourable course, tortured on one hand by the sirens of technology, singing their seductive songs of shiny new toys, and on the other by the voices of thousands dying in Africa.

We shall speak not of slothrop, man of a thousand faces, shouting slogans through a megaphone from the rocks.

And then there's me, watching God-like (except that I exist, I think), over this play.
What to believe? I share with some of the players the want to believe that things are not as bad as our Cassandras would have us think, but I can't muster the faith to join ed on his look-out. I cannot and will not join with, sympathise with, or indulge those arrogant fools who are looking to the Marxist equivalent of the Rapture.

Here's what I think, as if anyone cares:

  • The evidence that something is happening to climate is overwhelming.
  • Some of it is probably caused by human activity.
  • We are not going to know for sure until it is far too late to do anything about it.
  • Regardless of global warming our current carry on is not sustainable. Global warming is only one reason to do things in a sustainable way.
  • I clock in at about 1.9 times sustainability on the footprint surveys. I'm comfortable with that on the basis that improved technology and bias in the surveys should make up the difference. I don't see any reason, that, with suitable application of technology to streamline the process, everyone couldn't have my lifestyle. I'm quite sure half my footprint is wasted.
  • A footprint of 6 or 7 times sustainability is not acceptable, and technology will not make up that difference.
  • Capitalism per se is not the problem. The problem is uncontrolled, corrupt capitalism. Corrupt anything would have precisely the same effect. Maybe worse.
  • There is a reason we developed all this funky technology. The agrarian idyll of the past was mostly a desperate fight for survival that people normally lost really early on.
  • I really hate factory farming. This isn't relevant really, I just wanted to say it. What the fuck is with the drive to eat cotton wool every fucking day instead of meat a couple of times a week? What is the point? In blind taste testing I'm pretty sure most people couldn't distinguish intensively farmed pork or chicken from cardboard.

Posted by: Colman | Mar 15 2005 9:09 utc | 45

Colman - I am with you...

... just a bit miffed not to to have been inserted somewhere in your nice tableau of the bar... (or am I just cleaning the glasses in the background?) ;-)

The resources of planet earth are finite, but the available energy (in the form of sun rays) is still so many orders of magnitude above our ability to use it that I still think that, with more technology, we'lle be able to use that energy smartly to manage what other resources are actually limited (land, water, certain metals or compounds).

Posted by: Jérôme | Mar 15 2005 11:00 utc | 46

Sorry Jérôme: your position is too close to mine for me to caricature with my limited skills. You're probably down in the guts of Ed's ship, trying to steer it past the icebergs.

Posted by: Colman | Mar 15 2005 11:15 utc | 47

Jérôme: better use of solar energy is probably our best hope of having a decent source of energy in the long run, if only because it's the biggest (well, basically the only) external input of energy into the Earth system. DeAnander mentioned the thermodynamics, and indeed the 2nd rule is a harsh mistress, stating that a close system is doomed to fade and turn into oblivion, sooner or later. For a long time, this didn't look too bad, since we're not really in a closed system, thanks to a daily input from the sun. But now, we use so much energy, that we move further from a semi-open system. If estimates that mankind nowadays consumes half the daily solar input as processed by plants, we're in trouble because we're close to the close system that leads to ruin. Having a not-vegetable-based way to process solar power would indeed be a good way - though the added input of daily energy may create other problems which should be taken into account if a good deal of our future energy comes from there.

Colman: Alas, it seems that disappeared. Too bad, they had that fine model of ice-cap melting doomsday device I bought from them last year, to force global warming down mankind's throat, even if it didn't turn out that way "naturally". But don't tell Crichton about it.

Posted by: Clueless Joe | Mar 15 2005 15:16 utc | 48

Capitalism per se is not the problem - be careful Colman, you're venturing into utopianism. a self-interested, maximizing propertied class w/o an exploited property-less class of wage laborers? where everyone has the same freedom to make economic choices? utopian, i say.

Posted by: b real | Mar 15 2005 16:39 utc | 49

b real, I was attempting to make a distinction between primitive exploitative laissez-faire capitalism and a system in which capitalism is one of the tool used by a society to organise itself, never mind the current system of bandit capitalism practised in the US and exported abroad.

Posted by: Colman | Mar 15 2005 16:56 utc | 50

@Colman, congrats, you actually made Kassandra laugh for a minute there, especially with the "cardboard" remark. What millions of Americans accept as "food" my grandpa would have thrown to the dog. The triumph of mass consumerism is the triumph of quantity over quality. Peasants in Mexico eat better than many middle class people in the US. You and I have found solid common ground -- for an infinite number of reasons, both moral and aesthetic, I hate factory farming. Recommended reading: Coming Home to Eat.

But anyway. So DeAnander is on the bridge in a shouting match with the drunken skipper, yelling "ICEBERGS, YOU FOOL! ICEBERGS!" while on the afterdeck the first class passengers continue to dance, drink, play shuffleboard, and wonder what those cute little white things are floating around them on the darkening waters. And Mr Finnerty comforts himself with the White Star Lines brochure which assures him that the ship is unsinkable and the lifeboats more than adequate :-) But the ship's course is set by the corporate owners and they are damned if they will endure any bad PR or refund a single ticket.

Anybody read Gar Alperovitz yet? New book, America Beyond Capitalism. Allegedly a proposal for some kind of democratic socialism without a totalitarian state, in fact it is said to be somewhat anti-Statist. My anarcho-syndicalist ears prick up. If I get to it first I will report back, otherwise will someone else step up and do some reading?

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 15 2005 18:14 utc | 51


can you please tell me which thread you included the list of suggested readings? thanx

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 15 2005 18:33 utc | 52

@bama, sounds like pretty heavy snark, as in, you may be rebuking me for perceived sermonising. if you prefer your accounting done in paler skin tones, iirc fewer people would have died in Europe's recent record heat waves had there been enough electric generating capacity to keep a/c running for them all. one reason there was not enough capacity was that reduced snowpack had diminished hydro output. Jerome may be able to correct me on this, but I seem to recall reading about this shortfall in electric generation at the time.

snowpack, as I said, is not just pretty stuff for skiers and photographers to enjoy. it is an essential "battery" storing water during the evap/condense/runoff cycle, releasing it slowly over the dry months. no snowpack means summer droughts, river levels so low that irrigated agriculture (and boy do we all depend on irrigation!) is threatened. a lot of nuke plants sit next to rivers and need a steady supply of water for cooling, btw. if the water level gets low enough the nuke plant has to idle down, reducing its cooling load.

it may be selfish and anthropocentric of me to regard snowpack in this utilitarian, structural/systemic light -- its beauty and worth for its own sake I accept without argument. but the implications for all of us -- not just for hungry Africa, to whose suffering we are inured after decades, but every single one of us who depend on irrigated agriculture for our daily bread -- are very serious. hydro power, drinking water, irrigated fields -- snow on the mountains is the source of all these good things. it is not just a matter of "spoiling the view." denuded Kilimanjaro, like the denuded Rockies and Alps, means trouble ahead for basic human activities and needs.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 15 2005 18:48 utc | 53

@slothrop, no, but the search facility might turn it up if we look for, hmmm, references to Jared Diamond, or Daly and Cobb, or... [sheesh, what other authors did I mention] Marilyn Waring perhaps? I gotta run but will take a look later.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 15 2005 18:55 utc | 54

found it, thanks

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 15 2005 19:16 utc | 55

@Dea on snowpacks

Northwest fears tinder-dry summer season

No snow in Washington state means less electricity in Califonia? Is this correct?

Posted by: b | Mar 15 2005 19:21 utc | 56

Gov of Washington declared drought emergency last fri. Looks lake this will be as bad (worse) as the one in 77. The current snowoack is 26% of normal this year.

Posted by: anna missed | Mar 15 2005 20:09 utc | 57

DeA - re the heat wave

There were some problems with electricity generation, but nothing to do with snow caps. The problem was that, with the heat, the temperature of the river water used to cool power plants (both nuclear and thermal) was getting too high and thus the cooling became less efficient and the power plants ditto. The problem was created only because, summer being a low consumption season, EDF (the French utility) was doing big maintenance on a number of plants and could not easily bring them back on line. There were no shortfalls, but price spikes and some imports from other countries, which, for some reason, is shameful in France...

As to the deaths, nothing to do with electricity (very few people have A/C in France), just with extremely high temperatures, especially at night, and people really dying from heat and dehydration, and not just those that were lesft alone. A number of people died despite being cared for. It was really unusual.

Posted by: Jérôme | Mar 15 2005 20:25 utc | 58

Also, the Columbia River (source of much hydro-power) is running at normal flow level unlike most other rivers in Washington which are running between 31% - 57% normal flow (volume) level. The biggest impacts will probably be in domestic water supplies / erosion / agri - irrigation.

Posted by: anna missed | Mar 15 2005 20:30 utc | 59

No snark intended, DeAnander, but tone is always hard to manage in writing. And besides, who knows? Snark, even if unintended, can still happen. But what I'm struck by is this: my knowledge of the elements and their economies being essentially nil, I really can't judge the statements of others about global warming, peak oil, etc. MY sense of what's at stake is very limited, and I tried to indicate this in a brief post yesterday @ 11:02 AM. Showing us a photo of Kilimanjaro, and telling us that the snowcap has disappeared 15 years earlier than global warming experts had predicted hitherto--what can an ignorant person make of all this? What if, for example, we knew that the ice-cap would melt fifty years hence even without global warming? This isn't a mindless question, it's an ignorant one.

Posted by: alabama | Mar 15 2005 20:48 utc | 60

We need for you, the environmentally informed, to take account of this ignorance, and any reckoning of the limits of knowledge on the subject is helpful in such an account. So here's another question, also no doubt absurd: is the melting of the snow on Kilimanjaro a sure sign that the aquifers surrounding it are endangered, and if so, how great is that danger, and how sure is that sign? I'm asking less in quest of positive answers than in an effort to communicate the specificity of my ignorance, which might really and fairly be called "global". I don't want to keep it that way, and that's where I'm coming from for the moment.

Posted by: alabama | Mar 15 2005 20:49 utc | 61

Thanks for the correction Jerome. I seem to recall the reduced hydro story from Europe came from Italy not France, but it is now a dim memory so cannot swear to it. The impact of shallower/warmer waters on power plants relying on river cooling is just as good an example of cascading failure.

In theory, local agricultural failures also cascade, in the sense that they place additional load on long-haul food transport -- or they would in a saner food economy anyway :-) given our insane habit of hauling the average foodstuff some 3 to 5 thousand miles before the consumer actually eats it, local variation due to crop failure may not make much of a difference to the annual fuel consumption and carbon debt of the agribiz sector. Sigh. They certainly make a difference to food prices, and in the third world we allow people to die in large numbers when local food supplies fail, so to those people it makes a pretty big difference when drought or flood wrecks the harvest. I an writing in haste (lunch break) so forgive please a certain jumpiness in the train of thought...

Many things regulate or govern (in the steam engine sense) the runoff of precip from highland to lowland. Snowpack helps deliver a chunk of the winter's precip in a steady drip rather than a flood. Soil absorbency and porosity is assisted by a healthy ecosystem of trees, shrubs, grasses etc. -- when this ecosystem is stripped and the rootmass dies, soil may (a) be displaced in mudslides and avalanches, or (b) turn into impervious hardpan which absorbes almost nothing. In each case flooding becomes more likely as the unchecked volume of water rushes downhill.

In turn the migration of soil down into river and stream valleys tends to choke watercourses and damage the biotic substructures than maintain soil health in valleys. When tree cover is reduced past a certain tipping point, the result can be>a droughtward change in the local climate, thus exacerbating the problem. In other words, deforestation (by chainsaw and axe or by drought) causes drought, and drought causes more deforestation (by wildfire, arson, and the failure of temperate tree species to survive the sudden change of conditions). Thus the desertification cycle; once a thriving biome is wrecked beyond a certain point, the drift towards desert is self-propelling.

It is these feedback loops that make system failures (of which environmental breakdown is just one instance) so unpredictable, and sometimes wildly accelerating. Cascading failure, rather than simple single-point failure, is the cause of most engineering disasters... Complex systems have both resilience (elasticity in which one subsystem compensates for the failure of another, or checks the excess of another) and vulnerability to "chain reaction" or positive-feedback runaway failures. A great deal of the debate over climate change -- aside from purely greed-headed shilling by those who benefit most from the status quo -- is about the relative resilience or vulnerability of essential ecosystems and of human culture.

The Pollyannas assume that either or both elements (humans and the biotic infrastructure we need to survive) are infinitely resilient. The Kassandras assume that cascading failure and unintended consequences are an ever-present possibility or even an inevitability. One thing is for sure -- once a cascading failure starts, it is very hard to apply the brakes.

Most of the problems posed by the human release of too much previously-sequestered carbon (by longstanding agricultural practise as well as by the fossil fuel orgy) are such that our instinctive response is to "solve" them by burning more fossil fuel. More air conditioners, more megaprojects (seawalls, flood barriers, reconstruction after storm damage). More desperately intensive agriculture on the diminishing arable area left to us. More long-haul food transport as the number of productive ag areas declines. Our fishing fleets travelling further and further to seek ocean protein, as we liquidate>
entire fishing grounds. All this means more fossil fuel, more carbon release.

When you were a kid, did you ever have a "Chinese Finger Trap" toy? Right now the industrialised West and its slavish imitators have got a hammer (fossil fuel hyperconsumption married to Taylorism, Cartesian reductionism, monoculture and centralised technomanagerial control). So every damn thing looks like a nail, including our own thumb. Applying yesterday's solution to today's problem just makes today's problem worse. Positive feedback.

I understand Colman's point about the industrial revolution having made (some of) our lives amazingly comfortable and interesting compared to, say, the lives of our great-grandparents. However, we have achieved this by the equivalent of spending our entire life savings on furnishing the livingroom with genuine leather Eames chairs. Looks nice, it's really comfy and the neighbours are impressed as hell, but now there's nothing in the bank. Fisheries, soils, forests, reefs, snowpack, lakes, rivers, species diversity -- we've "spent" them in our rush to have a comfy, stylish livingroom. What does that leave for our kids, or their kids? Is that really prosperity and progress? or just piss-poor household management? Are we truly the wealthiest generation in history -- or the most bankrupt?

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 15 2005 21:16 utc | 62

@bama, I don't know the specifics of the Kilimanjaro watersheds... therefore was committing the sin of generalisation. In general, the loss of snowpack has certain implications. Whether those implications will play out, or play out fully, in this specific instance, we'll see.

As with all living systems, the snowpack/flood relationship is even more complex than my simple "hey this is serious stuff" post. Heavy snowpack that melts suddenly can cause one kind of flooding (spring thaw floods), whereas the absence of snowpack can increase the incidence of overwhelming rain runoff damaging watersheds. The Canadians are studying this right now, trying to guess at the cost of flood reduction and mitigation efforts over the next decade or so as their own snowpacks melt and recede. Google for "snowpack reduction flood" and you will probably find a number of Canadian pubs/papers.>Here is a paper from my local area which I know more about. It deals with another effect of reduced snowpack: increasing salinity in estuarine waters in the Sacramento Delta. The abstract concludes that "Such [projected based on present warming trends] changes would impact ecosystems throughout the watershed and threaten to contaminate much of California’s freshwater supply." This is not a small consequence. The paper is from Scripps and USGS.

Another issue in destabilised weather systems is short-term snowpack, i.e. wildy varying storm temperatures. If you get a series of solid winter lows from the Arctic or AK that build up a good pile of snow on your local mountains, and then you get a wild switch in the prevailing storm track and a big Southern Pacific low rolls through, the warm rain can melt all of that snowpack in just a few days, causing runoff of not only the big precip dump from the Southern low, but the accumulated precip from the previous (one or more) N'ly systems.

Happened in 1996 in Nevada.>Desert Research Institute has some comments on snowpack, drought, and the contribution of manmade aerial pollutants to drought conditions.

Let's look at this another way. Assuming you are a car driver :-) would you reach into the engine compartment and randomly yank out -- or bash with a hammer -- some visible discrete component, and then assume that the car will just go on running fine without it? If you were lucky enough to pick on the windshield washer reservoir you might be right. But if you did it again -- repeatedly -- eventually you would bash or remove something essential. Gee, what can that funny little glass doodad with the mesh inside it have to do with the wheels going round?


I gotta get back to what they pay me for...

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 15 2005 21:37 utc | 63

That's it DeA. We're bankrupt. We don't admit it but we are fighting off the creditors at the door.

Lets fix it by changing the bankruptcy laws pronto.

Posted by: rapt | Mar 15 2005 21:38 utc | 64

From comments on the parallel Kos thread on the same topic, it xwould appear that Kilimanjaro's melting snows are not caused by global wrming, but by changing weather patterns linked to desertification. Not that big a correction in the scheme of things, but let's be precise...

Comment by 'chris at organicmatter'

I decided to check for a reference, and it appears that peer-reviewed science is on James' side on this one, his flippant and seemingly anti-left tone aside.

In the light of understanding the climatological basis for glacier recession on Kilimanjaro, this study addresses the glacier regime of the summit vertical ice walls/cliffs, and provides a clear indication that solar radiation is the main climatic parameter governing and maintaining ice retreat on the mountain's summit plateau in the drier climate since ca. 1880.


Model results also indicate that retreat on the inner ice cap margin was supported by an additional energy source, most probably outgoing longwave radiation from the dark-ash covered summit plateau.


Moreover, this study highlights that modern glacier retreat on Kilimanjaro is much more complex than simply attributable to "global warming only", a finding that conforms with the general character of glacier retreat in the global  tropics [Kaser, 1999]: a process driven by a complex combination of changes in several different climatic parameters [e.g., Kruss, 1983; Kruss and Hastenrath, 1987; Hastenrath and Kruss, 1992; Kaser and Georges, 1997; Wagnon et al., 2001; Kaser and Osmaston, 2002; Francou et al., 2003; Mo¨lg et al., 2003], with humidity-related variables dominating this combination.

Posted by: Jérôme | Mar 15 2005 22:05 utc | 65

This has been a very helpful thread. Thanks to all and sundry!

Posted by: alabama | Mar 15 2005 23:31 utc | 66

DeA: Yep, I remember reading that several counrties came sloe to shut down nuke plants, or even actually shut a few, because there was nearly no water anymore in the rivers, and they couldn't cool them. Faced between reenacting Chernobyl and letting some elder people die from overheating, the authorities chose the latter.
It may have just been water temp in France, but the Po was close to dust bowl in N Italy, and the Danube was so low that ships sunk during WWII and NATO bombings on Serbia were rising out of the water. Though the culprit wasn't lack of snow during winter than a massive evaporation due to the heat, and an overconsumption of water to drink, water the lawn, and other necessary or ludicrous human activities.
I'd also suppose that if people actually would have used AC if they could have implemented it quickly. It probably was one of the few time where it would have been useful. Ironically, I think I heard that AC sales peaked in the next spring, but the summer was pretty mediocre and people just had useless overpriced AC.
Snowpack: there's another big trouble for mountain area. Loss of snowpack means that the whole area stops freezing all year's long. The mountain's side is no longer solidly frozen, and the permafrost melts, disappears. The mountain's side the slides down with the next rain, or for steeper side, you have some big rocks falling down. Some impressive mountainous forms and cliffs actually exist only because the whole thing is frozen deep down and sticks together this way; heat it on, and it comes down. In the long run, this will be a real risk in the Rockies and the Alps, because resorts not only lose their customer base with lack of snow, but their infrastructure can collapse, or be crushed by mudlside or falling rocks - when not the town itself.

Colman: Yep, of course, Western lifestyle is considerably better than 150 years ago, even on average. The trick, alas, as far as I can see, is that 150 years ago some elite had a great lifestyle because it relied on the local (notably British) factory workers to do slave labor for them. Now, the people who can benefit of a good lifestyle are far more, and logically the slave-labor base has been increased to encompass the planet in a globalised capitalist system - instead of a national system in the 19th. The average British misery of Dickens isn't anymore, because we have shifted on a global average misery of Dickensian proportions. In case people overlooked it, half the planet works for 2 dollars a day.
Though I also agree with you that if we can manage to live with a strongly reduced Western lifestyle, it's feasible and most people wouldn't suffer much. Like you, my own estimates are that my way of life should be cut by half to get a sustainable system providing a real life for humans (as opposed to mere survival, which is what most of mankind gets now and which simply can't go on because there'll come a time where they won't accept it and would rather wreck the whole house rather than eternally live like beasts). As far as I'm concerned, this require some serious adjustments, but is doable. More efficient equipment, cutting plane travels even more, better choice of food, and most of all a global effort to change energy sources and electronic tools' efficiency - something no single people can do but that has to be forced upon by govt on the industry. There's still the serious issue of population, because even something like 1/4 of US lifestyle isn't realistic for 6 bio people, imho, so birth control and family planning should be strengthened in a way or another - unless we want to wait for the next bird flu (or a nastier bug, or hunger, or war) to cleanse a third of the species.

BTW, is it just me or is Kos down?

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Mar 15 2005 23:33 utc | 67

changing weather patterns linked to desertification

seems to me there's more than one way to warm a planet (or a region of it).

desertification from human activity is imho as valid a contrib to "anthropogenic global warming" (when it alters local climate) as carbon release from human activity, deforestation from human activity, etc. it is not just driving SUVs that contributes to the problem.

shoulda thought the peat-bog issues, agriculture-related contribs etc. make that pretty clear. let's say the desertification [I speculate, I do not assert solidly] is a spinoff from the Euro air pollution blanketing Africa, and the desertification accelerates shrinkage of snowpack on Kilimanjaro, isn't that just as much "anthropogenic global warming" as if the pollution->shrinkage relationship were immediate instead of one step removed via an intermediate desertification process? at what point do we confidently assert that a phenomenon is only "local warming" and not "global warming"? when it doesn't actually hurt us where we live?

what worries the Kassandras is the synergistic sum of all these activities and insults to climate stability, with an inertia of several hundred years and an ever-acclerating carbon release program.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 15 2005 23:41 utc | 68

Never mind the pessimistic news, we could all move to Death Valley!

Death Valley Blooms

Posted by: Citizen | Mar 16 2005 0:05 utc | 69

btw I have been meaning to respond to gylangirl and have not had time, but let me ask a leading question:

why should we meekly accept the state of affairs in which our public streets are an "industrial hazard zone" choked with heavy equipment (cars) being unsafely operated? in other words, why accept road danger at its present barbaric levels as an immutable given? why simply accept that others have some kind of "right" to endanger our children?

if we wait to use bicycles for transport until the Benevolent Gummint builds us a complete separate-but-equal paved road network exactly replicating the present paved road network, then (1) we will wait forever as (a) no country any longer has the resources to achieve such a duplication and (b) it does not serve the profit motives of the ruling oil-igarchy so no industrialised country will go into major debt to accomplish it, preferring instead to incur debts in foreign wars which are more lucrative; and (2) we would then be actively desiring to expand the amount of paved-over land by about 30 percent. in my town, a full 20 percent of all available land area is already paved over for exclusive or primary use by motorists. to pave over an additional 30 percent of that amount for exclusive bicycle use would require demolishing homes, businesses, schools, parks. there are also some serious topological problems involved in integrating two isolated road networks, implying a recourse to viaducts and underpasses that would make the "smaller" bike network cost far more per mile than any planner would regard as cost-effective.

the obvious solution is that the motorist should not be allowed to arrogate the entire surface of public streets for their own use, nor to menace the lives of others by dangerous driving. the public street is supposed to be public -- we all pay for it. one group of users (the 60 percent or so who are able and empowered to drive cars) should not be permitted to displace all other users, whether by intimidation or simply uglifying the street environment until others do not wish to use it.

blaming environmentalists for opposing the highly destructive (and climate-altering, by the way) and costly project of paving extension for parallel road network construction is imho the result of insufficient analysis.

the only culprit in road danger is the driver. the crowning irony is that by responding to the perceived danger (which is seldom realistically proportional to the real danger, obnoxious as that is), the person who "gives up" and drives everywhere helps to make the roads even more dangerous for the remaining cyclists and pedestrians. in other words, becoming part of the problem is not a solution to the problem.

this is a typical arms-race paradox and ignores the Smeed's Law aspects of road safety and road danger. the strongest correlation between any other factor and cyclist safety does not involve cycle paths, road striping, helmet wearing, or other "obvious" relationships. as with many living systems, the behaviour of humans in transit networks is complex, nonlinear, and often>counter-intuitive [additional>ref from Utah]. the strongest correlation is quite simply between numbers and safety. the more cyclists there are exercising their legal right to use the public roads, the lower the risk for each individual cyclist. fewer cyclists, more danger. more cyclists, less danger. thus the attitude "I am too afraid to ride my bike because the road is dangerous" is inherently self-defeating.

this is a deep topic and one on which I am tediously well-informed, so I will stop here and offer a URL with related essays:>Road Safety
and one with some rough notes and refs on motorist privilege and the endangerment of nonmotorists:>Road (In)Justice

for those truly interested in the politics of bike lanes and cycle paths I suggest "Bike Safety Wars: Motorists Win". to gylangirl I would say, "Don't Cower -- Organise." many communities are reaching the fed-up point wrt road danger. this might be the time to read Engwicht and talk to neighbours about traffic calming and "livable streets." suggest tracking down Mayer Hillman's landmark study of childhood mobility and road danger, of which>this paper is a brief version.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 16 2005 0:22 utc | 70

I would not call what you wrote on your lunchbreak short. Make sure you eat to.

My student town is filled with them. All the motorists know that "bicyclists are insane and should not be counted on driving in a safe way" and writes angry letters to the editor about bicyclists without proper lights. In accordance with Smeed´s law it is extremely safe to ride your bike, compared to other cities. However while I take my risks (and bicycling in slippery weather (still snow) is risky even when the cars go slow), I fully understand if gylangirl does not want her children to take avoidable risks.

Euro air pollution:
goes mainly east. Just as a sidenote.

The natural variations in the climate are in the same magnitude as the predicted effects of global varming (at least according to the meterologists and climatehistorians I talk to). However we do not know enough about the natural variations to know what will come next. Will global varming be piled on top of natural varming or will it in part be cancelled by natural cooling (and of course it is way more complex then just adding or subtracting)? We simply do not know, but if someone recons it will all even out they should immidiately invest in lottery tickets.

it looked to me that you asserted that the shift in temperature in the Cambrian era had something to do with the CO2 level at that time, hence my comment. If you were just pointing out that it was a radically different climate back then, I withdraw my comment. However I still fail to see how it is valid critique of the original statement:

About 95 percent of then-existing species died out. It now looks like the reason was an increase in average global temperature of 6 degrees C over about 60,000 years (as a result of huge volcanic eruptions pushing greenhouse gases into the air). While the actual extent of global warming isn't known, an average increase of 6 degrees over the next 100 years is a possibility.

Lest we skip the possibility that you misunderstod me and not the other way around, I will rephrase my comment:

I assume the number 6000 ppm refered to the end of the extinction period. However (as I am rather ignorant about Cambrian climate) do you have any information of the level before the increase? 5900? 200-300?

Posted by: A swedish kind of death | Mar 16 2005 1:22 utc | 71

Smeed's Law: You can either get something done or take credit for it, but not both.

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 16 2005 2:08 utc | 72


Thought it was something with bikes.

I want to edit my previous post.


Posted by: A swedish kind of death | Mar 16 2005 2:19 utc | 73

@comrade slothrop, that must be Smeed's Other Law... the one I am thinking of is mentioned>here (PDF):

For motor vehicles, research into Safety in Numbers was published in 1949. R J Smeed showed the risk per vehicle is lower in countries where more people drive. Fig 1 demon-strates this for 62 different countries. The risk per vehicle represented by the number of deaths per vehicle (D/V)), is very closely related to the amount of driving (represented here by the number of vehicles per person (V/P)). The curve is a remarkably good fit, suggesting some important underlying principle of road safety may be involved. In 1985, John Adams reviewed Smeed's work and marvelled at how well predictions from 1938 data (when the highest V/P was 0.23) fitted data with V/P of more than 0.5 vehicles per person (Fig 2, drawn on a log-log scale)....

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 16 2005 5:30 utc | 74

oh goodie. Then I was refering to it correctly.

Posted by: A swedish kind of death | Mar 16 2005 12:51 utc | 76

DeAnander. Thanks for the links above. For some reason the block I live on is three times as long as most others. Unfortunately, this allows drivers to get up an unnecessary amount of speed before they have to slow down to run the Stop sign. My neighbors and I have been talking about trying to get the county to put in some speedbumps pre-tragedy. :-( So far, it's mostly squirrels, birds, and bunnies.

Posted by: beq | Mar 16 2005 15:28 utc | 77

NEW SCIENTIST - No matter how well the world controls emissions of greenhouse gases, global climate change is inevitable, warn two new studies which take into account the oceans' slow response to warming.

Even if greenhouse gases never rise beyond their present level, temperatures and sea levels will continue rising for another century or more because of a time lag in the oceans' response to atmospheric temperatures, say researchers.

This time lag means policymakers cannot afford to wait to tackle climate change until its consequences become painful, because by then they will already be committed to further change, they urge. "The feeling is that if things are getting bad, you hit the stop button. But even if you do, the climate continues to change," says Gerald Meehl, a climatologist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Meehl and his colleagues used two sophisticated computer models of global climate to predict what would happen under various scenarios for greenhouse gas emission controls, taking into account the oceanic time lag. Their most optimistic scenario - in which atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are capped at year 2000 levels - would require severe cuts in CO2 emissions, far beyond those set in the Kyoto protocol.

REUTERS - Even if people stopped pumping out carbon dioxide and other pollutants tomorrow, global warming would still get worse, two teams of researchers reported on Thursday. Sea levels will rise more than they have already risen, worsening the damage caused by extreme high tides and storm surges, and droughts, heat waves and storms will become more severe, the climate experts predicted. That makes immediate action to slow global warming even more vital, the teams at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado report in the journal Science.

"Even if we stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations, the climate will continue to warm, and there will be proportionately even more sea level rise," said the NCAR's Gerald Meehl, who led one of the two studies.

"The longer we wait, the more climate change we are committed to in the future."

Virtually no one disagrees that human activity is fueling global warming, and a global treaty signed in Kyoto, Japan, aims to reduce polluting emissions. But the world's biggest polluter, the United States, has withdrawn from the 1997 treaty, saying its provisions would hurt the U.S. economy.

(hat tip: Sam Smith,, Mar 18 2005)

As Mike Roselle commented earlier this month (in>an otherwise rather silly space-filler article)

Speaking of important, useless information on printed material, I was reading a newspaper. After reading it I must say that there was another thing that pissed me off. Climate change. I read about it in the paper this morning. It's here. But that's not what pissed me off. I sorta knew that already. It's the fact that I have been reading about it for some twenty-five years in the same papers. Everyone on the whole planet knows about climate change and what causes it. We've all known for some time. The only scientists who still deny both climate change and the causes of it are on the oil company payroll and even they don't believe what they are saying. They can't really believe that the best way to stop global warming is to burn more coal and uranium. They get paid to say things that they don't believe. So, it's just natural for them to perform their daily duties professionally and diligently.

The only person on the planet who doesn't believe in climate change is either in the White House, or he's out golfing, or invading a small country. This guy is obviously insane or heavily medicated. His handicap alone is evidence of the fact. Although I don't think he loses many golf games. How can we convince this guy that if he is a World Leader (which by the way I also read in the newspaper) that he should read the newspaper? He'd only have to read the headlines. Hell, I'd read more newspapers if I had my picture in them as much as he did.

Like I said, I am tired of just talking and reading about climate change, when there's only one person on Earth who needs to read only one newspaper. I do know how to solve this. If a million lowbaggers come to Washington D.C. on the Fourth of July with small handheld magnifying glasses, we could assemble across the street in Lafayette Park and all focus all our magnifying glasses on the oval office at once and burn a message on the desk Teddy Roosevelt once sat at. I'm working on the messaging.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 18 2005 22:57 utc | 78


Posted by: | Sep 22 2006 16:37 utc | 79

The comments to this entry are closed.