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Hamilton: How to deal with climate change grief

We’ve had the scientific debate and the economics and politics have been discussed endlessly. Yet, Yet, as Sophie Black’s comment on “Oh, sh*t” moments attests, beneath the surface, unexplored, run powerful emotional currents. The climate predictions are frightening. Those who listen to them feel anxiety, fear, rage, guilt, anguish, helplessness, hope and apathy. The prognosis makes them worry about the well-being and survival of children and grandchildren. It destabilises the unquestioned belief in a continuously peaceful and prosperous societies. The health of the planet and its natural marvels is at stake.

What’s going on in the psyche? How do we cope with this profound threat to our conception of the future? Some preliminary answers to these questions can be had by analysing the responses to two recent and seminal interventions, one in Britain and one on the United States. The authors assert that the fight to protect the world from catastrophic climate change is lost and we must now confront the decline of civilisations and collapse of the human population.

The first, published on 17 August on The Guardian website, is an exchange between British environmental writers George Monbiot and Paul Kingsnorth. Kingsnorth argues we need to ‘get real’ and face up to the fact that civilisation cannot survive in its current form. We need to think about what we can learn from it and aim for “a managed retreat to a saner world”.

Monbiot agrees that the situation is irretrievable but objects to Kingsnorth’s apparent complacency and unreal expectation that a saner would eventuate. The transition is likely to be “hideous”, involving billions of deaths. As civilised life falls apart, the psychopaths are likely to take over. He insists that we must fight for a more just and less brutal transition to wherever we end up.

The second intervention is from US climate activist Adam Sacks and appeared on the website of Grist magazine on the 23 August. Titled “The fallacy of climate activism” Sacks argues that environmentalists have mistakenly focused on the symptoms of environmental decline (rising greenhouse gases) rather than the cause, the structural need of the system to grow without end and its promise of ever-increasing physical comfort.

It’s time to tell the truth, he declares: the battle over greenhouse gas emissions is lost and positive feedback effects are taking over. “Our version of life on earth has come to an end”, and the best we can do is try to plan the transition. “How do we survive in a world that will probably turn … into a living hell?”, he asks.

These two interventions represent a watershed in the global warming debate because the authors are saying the previously unsayable, expressing the fear of many scientists and environmentalists that it is too late to avert a catastrophic shift in the global climate.

They provoked a voluminous and rich array of responses, over 700 comments suggesting that the views expressed in the articles are deeply felt by some.[i] For the most part, those who participated in these exchanges are already seriously engaged in the climate change debate. As the vanguard they are in no sense representative of the wider population. Although their views are currently on the fringes of public debate, they will, in my opinion, be at the centre of it in a few years time and perhaps much sooner if the Copenhagen conference in December fails.

Analysing the responses to the interventions reveals a great deal about how the most engaged members of the population are coping psychologically with the threat posed by climate change. A recent paper by Tim Kasser and myself develops a framework that can be usefully applied here. We identify three broad types of psychological response to the threat of a warming globe.

DENIAL. The first type are denial strategies, both the express repudiation of climate science by so-called sceptics and the “casual denial” practiced by many members of the public who tell themselves scientists are often wrong or must be exaggerating. While sceptics pop up in the online debates here considered, neither the Guardian website nor Grist is a sympathetic environment for climate science denial. Those who practice casual denial mostly exclude themselves from debates over global warming and are also not represented in any numbers.

MALADAPTIVE COPING. The second type of response we have called “maladaptive coping strategies”—those deployed to defend against the reality of warming by filtering the facts or tempering their emotional meaning. Methods include: reinterpreting the threat to make it less stressful by telling oneself that humans have solved these sorts of problem before or imagining it to be too far off to worry about; practiced indifference; and, diversionary strategies such as minor behaviour changes (installing low-energy light bulbs) and pleasure-seeking. Practiced by a majority of the population, these strategies entail a refusal to engage seriously with the issue, so we would not expect to find many reactions reflecting these strategies among the online respondents.

However, other maladaptive strategies feature strongly in the two debates. The commonest type from US respondents and the second commonest from British bloggers fall into the category of “wishful thinking” whereby the desired outcome becomes the expected outcome. They mostly fall into two groups, the first of which might be called blind hope.[ii]

“What may seem impossible now may become possible in the future.”

“Any number of probable future versions of our present civilization can and do branch off at every moment.”

“To quote Edina in Ab Fab: Cheer up! It might not happen!”

The second group invests hope in technological salvation.

“We are the pinnacle and we will innovate our way out of species overshoot without sacrificing nary an SUV.”

“We have built these amazing technologies … So let’s evolve and keep looking to find and understand the most workable, enjoyable way.”

“Well, I am a glass half full kind of guy so I hope something techie will save us.”

Although comforting, wishful thinking is maladaptive because it relies on unrealistic optimism and vague assertions about possible futures or human nature.

A second type of maladaptive response involves a form of “splitting”. Often entailing a demand for hard facts or a certain callousness, retreat to the cerebral dulls appreciation of the human suffering at stake. It is related to fatalism, considered later.

“It’s quite silly not to expect a right-sizing of the global population …”

“Sometime this century, the cull will begin.”

“Pieces like this always strike me as kind of mushy … There are no hard facts or numbers … no hard tactical advice, no prediction or even vision of how becoming more apocalyptic would bring about change.”

“Where is the mechanism by which ‘industrial civilisation’ collapses and what does such an idea mean? I mean specifics, and numbers, and facts …”

A related response is akin to the cry often heard in business: “Don’t tell me about a problem unless you have a solution”. It is a typically American sentiment.

“This makes the choir feel good … but what’s supposed to come out of it?”

“There are no useful takeaways from this piece.”

“Despair doesn’t accomplish anything useful.”

“Stop exaggerating and get behind some real solutions”.

Although the arguments, based on a mass of scientific evidence, are startlingly new, a number of respondents used what might be called the “old hat” argument, which allows claims about climate chaos to be lumped in with other debased predictions.

“This essay contains every shibboleth of contemporary environmentalism.”

“Same old song.”

“I’ve grown up with stories of doom and gloom … They all blur into one eventually, and then you can ignore them en masse”.

A variation on this defence mechanism is deployment of ridicule and generalized attacks on environmentalism. Thus:

“The End is Nigh.”

“Isn’t it fun watching two Old Testament prophets bickering about which one’s fire and brimstone is going to be more terrible.”

“I’m strongly reminded of Private Frazer from Dad’s Army: ‘We’re all doooomed!’.”

“Environmentalism has less to do with saving the planet than it does with reining in human aspirations.”

While often used by those who deny the science altogether, ridicule is also adopted by some who are deeply concerned about climate change but differ sharply with the authors over some aspect of the debate. The first is in response to Kingsnorth’s Dark Mountain project, “a new literary and artistic movement for an age of massive global change”.

“Civilisations will decay and crumble while I, Paul Kingsnorth, reign alone and rule absolutely from my dark mountain HQ!! Mwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!”

“Two upper class romantic like to think of the world becoming a simpler (and needless to say, cloth cap doffing) place.”

“Two lovely white educated green blokes.”

ADAPTIVE COPING. Those who repudiate maladaptive strategies, such as those I have described, fall into the third group. Adaptive coping strategies are deployed when the person accepts both the facts of climate change and the accompanying emotions. Emotion-focused coping entails expression of the feelings that follow acceptance of the full implications of global warming. Along with depression, some express anger: “Our politicians, spineless and ineffective as they are, have children. They know their children will die … Are they stupid? Insane?” But perhaps the most common emotion is despair.

“I expect the next 50 years to be business as usual and to hell in a handcart with the lot of us.”

“I despair that many, if not most, close their minds to your sentiment … because they cannot bring themselves to face up to unpalatable reality.”

“If I try to talk to my peers about issues like global warming, I get a sea of glazed eyes and apathetic looks.”

A few express relief at finding others who share their anxiety: “Adam, I think you said very nicely what we all (climate activists) know in our heart is true—that it is very likely too late to avoid crippling warming—but almost never say”, and “I want to follow this topic. Already, I feel some relief talking about it at last.”

Another recognised adaptive coping strategy is to take a problem-solving approach. It involves a kind of intellectual engagement (unlike the intellectualization I referred to which entails an intellectual distancing). It means first facing up to the reality:

“Sorry folks, but we are f*&ked … Humans will survive but billions are going to die.”

“When the TVs go off I dread to think what will happen.”

“Nature’s first great experiment with ‘intelligent’ life will be a failure.”

Others consider the implications and propose forms of action aimed at managing the unfolding disaster as best we can.

“Our job as climate activists is to democratize survivability.”

“It’s not about hope or despair. It’s about facing reality and beginning to think about how we’re going to deal with what’s already in the system …”

“The future of ‘civilisation’ will be regional rather than global …”

“Hope for the best, work for progressive solutions, prepare for the worst.”

Philosophical consolations

Taking a philosophical perspective provides some of the most interesting and poignant responses to facing up to climate change. More prevalent among British than American comment, it is marked by a calm but sympathetic reflection on the human condition.

“Man hands on misery to man,
It deepens like a coastal shelf,
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.”

“It is the fate of all of us to die …”

“It is not the ending that matters, for an end surely comes to us all, it is how we live our lives.”

Others try to place the existential threat in a larger context, thereby diminishing it “in the scheme of things”.

“If the environment changes and we adapt we will survive. If we don’t adapt we won’t survive. Brutal I know but that is how nature is.”

“We must come to terms with the fact that humanity is a part of nature rather than a consumer thereof.”

“Earth might become uninhabitable, but on a thousand biospheres new forms of intelligent life are created with every turn of our galaxy. It all is relative.”

One contributor characterized the difference between Monbiot’s call for action, even in the face of hopeless odds, and Kingsnorth’s apparent capitulation to the inevitable with a Shakespearean reference: “Is this Hamlet’s age-old dilemma … Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?”

More often the philosophizing of contributors took the form of fatalism, a coping strategy that is perhaps maladaptive because it justifies passivity and rules out taking action. The difference between philosophy and fatalism—a subtle shift from a wistful or noble acceptance of the inevitability of death to an indifference to suffering or even a hostility to humanity—is at times hard to detect.

“Civilization collapse is a natural phenomenon.”

“Neither [authors] seem to grasp the evolutionary logic of the human species. Neither realize that life in the Planet has been and will be without us humans … other species have disappeared like dinosaurs, why not us humans?”

“People are just animals. … Their population eventually reaches an equilibrium by balancing dying of starvation and food supply. That is how it has been and how it looks like it’s going to be.”

“Nature decides when resources are insufficient for human requirements, with sickness, famine and war manifesting when necessary.”

“What does it matter if humans are wiped out, or the rest of the planet for that matter? Are we serving some higher force or being? No, everything is completely pointless.”

Humans have always dealt with tragedy by turning it into farce, and the respondent’s philosophizing at times takes a humorous turn.

“[To Paul Kingsnorth and George Monbiot] What do John and Ringo have to say?”

“Currently, we have 6 billion people living in shitty conditions whilst 500 million are watching porn or celebrity TV shows. Is that something worth saving?”

“Actually, the vast majority of those 6 billion are living in shitty conditions AND watching porn and celebrity TV shows.”

“[After the apocalypse] I’ll be the bald guy with the tattoos, third from the left, waving a shotgun in your face.”

“At least we won’t have to listen to Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh any more.”

Between the lines of these online debates another, deeper process of reconciliation is going on, one that arises from the collective engagement itself. Beyond the acceptance of the facts of global warming and the emotions they conjure up, many of the participants reflected on the meaning of climate disruption—not so much its consequences but what it can teach us about the mortality and the human condition.

Although perhaps performed unconsciously, the process has therapeutic and thus adaptive value. A number of psychological studies have shown that, in the same way that traumatic events often lead to personal growth, considered reflection on death tends to bring about a shift in personal goals away from materialistic, self-focused pursuits to an intrinsic and other-directed orientation. That can only be good for the environment.

Of course, not all participants in the online debates engage this way, but it is surprising to see how many do end up trying to make sense of human-induced climate change not through political or social analysis but by understanding it in the sweep of history or the scale of the cosmos. We can expect many more conversations of this kind.

[i] A large majority (500 plus) were in response to the Kingsnorth-Monbiot exchange with an additional 100 or so on the AlterNet website referred to in first footnote, which enabled some comparison of a British and American audience. The Sacks article attracted 100 plus response.

[ii] Some of the comments I reproduce here have been slightly edited to correct spelling errors and to ease readability.

  • 1
    Peter Jones
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    To really understand the physchology of climate change you need to go further than Hamilton goes here, and dig beneath the surface of what people say. I think most ‘maladaptive responses’ can be explained in terms of people’s general sense of powerlessness. The vast majority think something needs to be done about climate change, but can’t see how anything they do could make any difference, so turn towards excuses for not acting.

    People feel this way for a variety of reasons. The environmental movement deserves some of the blame: telling people that they can ‘do their bit’ to help stop climate change by buying energy efficient light bulbs or catching the bus is not only innaccurate, but disempowering. But more fundamentally, people don’t feel they do anything about the environment because they feel, more generally, that they have little control over their lives. The sense of collective power that something like a strike creates is but a distant memory for most workers, and most younger workers have probably never been involved in any political or industrial action in their lives.

    This is because the level of class struggle - in Australia especially - is extremely low. Explaining why would take up more space than I have here. But this won’t necessarily be the case forever, and there might even be an upturn in the near future. Because workers have changed the world in the past, and retain the latent power to do so in future, since without them, the bosses don’t have profits.

  • 2
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Over the millenia humans worried about the end-of-the -world-as-we-know-it, repeatedly, the diffrence this time is that the most authoritative science indicates an abrupt transformation of terrestrial climate to conditions that shaprly depart from those which allowed the emergence of civilization some 8000 years ago.

    Our prehistoric ancestors managed to survive through major climate upheavals (mid-Pliocene 400 ppm CO2, 2-3 degrees C rise, 25 meters sea level rise; glacial/interglacial +/- 5 degrees changes in mean global tempratures) mainly through migration.

    Where will the 6.6 billion humans of the 21st century migrate to? (little prospect for an “escape” are offered by the thin film of water detected recently on some lunar rocks).

    Fortunate are believers in devine supervision, snatching them to heaven when the day comes.

    Less fortunate are believers in Gaia, the living Planet, who feel guilty the species to which the belong has betrayed “mother Earth”.

    Looking at the issue with perspective of natural evolution, the question arises whether any species, including humans, has a choice in the matter?

    Children of the “enlightnment” have been raised with a notion of “free will”, but while limited choices may be presented to fortunate individuals, does an entire species possess free will ???

    In this instance, a ‘free will’ to transform from the principal energy source - fossil fuels - which allowed the emergence of technological civilization some 250 years ago, to other energy sources?

    Unfortunately the atmosphere is not waiting to human decisions.

  • 3
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Never discount humanities ability to adapt….we’ll be fine. When we emerged from the cave centuries ago, would anyone have predicted how well we adapted to a fairly unforgiving world? For mine, life will continue as it always does….might be a little warmer, drier, more fuel efficient, more expensive…but we’ll still be bitching about Climate Change 50 years from now.

  • 4
    Roger Clifton
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Young people should dismiss these maunderings as the helplessness of old age. We wrinklies are supping on the last of the old climate, making excuses about protecting the inheritance of you and yours.

    Yes, there are going to be changes in the climate. How bad will you let it get? There are solutions out there. It will be up to you to make them happen, even if you must take to the streets to push these voices aside. Listen up for the poets of the climate revolution!

    If you really want Shakespeare, try this one from “Henry V”:

    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

  • 5
    Georgina Smith
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Clive for speaking of the horrible unspeakable fear. I’m doing a master of environmental management and most of my friends in this degree have had to face up to the crushing realisation that we’re most likely doomed. It hurts, it paralyses and it angers beyond words.

    I’m 30. I want to have kids and enjoy their adult friendship as my mum does with me. But do I dare bring children into this world? Not only are we overpopulated as it is, but am I going to have to watch my babies die of starvation or war or some other horror as our entire species heaves and disappears? Am *I* going to die of starvation or war?

    All I can do is fight. So I’ll spend my life striving to change our course, because it’s the only hope for any of us. As you say Clive, fatalism equals passivity which equals us (humans) losing everything. Screw that; I’m going to use every single breath to try and avoid that.

    I think one of the comments in the main piece sums it up best, “Hope for the best, work for progressive solutions, prepare for the worst.”

  • 6
    Robert Barwick
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Wait, Chicken Little,” gasped Henny Penny, “Since the sky is falling in, we should discuss how we are feeling?”

  • 7
    James Bennett
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 5:17 pm | Permalink


    I vote no to your children query.

    Your future world sounds a terrible place.

  • 8
    Rena Zurawel
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Robert Barwick
    Brilliant quote! I love it

    When too much is said and talked about usually nothing gets done.
    My climate trauma is caused by the Chinese billionaire who gets mega bucks selling electrical cars.
    We decided to put up solar panels on our roof. Our household uses 4kw of electricity on average. So we wanted to buy solar panels producing 4kw.
    Impossible. By some stupid law the largest panels you can get is for 2kw. We are not allowed to buy 4kw panels as we still have to buy energy from ETSA.
    Monopoly? Are we going to be convicted of plagiarism?
    My climate trauma gets worse and worse every day..

  • 9
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Some mechanisms by people exert their opinions and thus power over others

    Stage 1 - Religion
    Stage 2 - Ideology (eg Communism)
    Stage 3 - Climate Change

    History has shown that the primary protagonists of all these three stages are hypocrites of the first degree, think medieval popes, inner circle communist party memebrs, Al Gore with the 23 room mansion. People obtain power by scaring people - its time to wake up to this.

    Climate change will not cause civilisation to break down. I had a look on wikipedia and to be honest there was nothing there that really comes close. Indeed it would be laughable, if it wasn’t so sad, that there is so much suffering in the world today (war, famine, etc) whilst people are getting caught up in climate change - making costly choices that will make little difference to the end game but where the same money could solve many problems we have right now. A case in point is the worry that climate change will mean more people are exposed to malaria - wake up - 1.8 million people died from diarrhoea in 2008, 1m died from tuberculosis. Where is the grief from these statistics? Read the article again with these statistics in mind and the above article is riduculous.

  • 10
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Clive Hamilton only pretends to keep up with his reading. Otherwise he would at least have discussed recent publication of the news that e.g. some still-believing IPCC scientists think we could be in for a few decades of cooling or, another example, the way that the hockey stick preservationists have been caught out using only 12 selected Siberian tree core samples instead of the dozens available.

    It would be too much perhaps to ask him to pay attention to some serious scientific work which tends to support the sceptics (which I only started to be within the last year of paying close attention to the science and the scientists). However, would anyone who is qualified to do so care to comment on the implications of the facts that the oceans, which have an average temperature of little above freezing point, have a mass 300 times that of the atmosphere and forces acting on them in cyclical fashion over decades, centuries and even millenia from the gravitational interactions with sun and moon? (The specific heat of water is BTW many times that of air, and, just in case anyone overlooks the obvious, the difference just between spring and neap tides gives an indication of the vastness of the forces involved). At least doesn’t it sound as though CO2 which no one suggests is responsible for the ENSO, the North Atlantic Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or a recently discussed equivalent in the Indian Ocean, has nothing much to do with our recent SE Australian drought?

    And what about the 60 year cycle of Indian monsoon failures with its connection to solar and lunar cycles? If that and the other info about cycles of sun and moon lead us to regard them as much better explanations than AGW of all the major climate changes of the past such as the collapse of civilisations in North Africa and the Indian sub-continent and the drying up of the Great Lakes down to the roman and Medieval Warm Periods and on to the Little Ice Age, why should we make vastly expensive investments which will make not a jot of difference to Australia’s climate?

  • 11
    Robert Barwick
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    We’re not interested Julius — our’s is a faith-based initiative.

  • 12
    Michael Wilbur-Ham
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    MMCDONO - I think if you look at those who are working on climate change that almost all have little to gain from action being taken. Al Gore is rich, but do you seriously think that his work on climate change is the most effective way for him to increase his wealth?

    Julies - Why are you grasping at straws to deny the scientific consensus? Do you think that those who devote their profession career to looking into all of this just ignore evidence?

    I’m sure that if you search the net you will find an informative rebuttal to all the point you raise. If not, please let us know.

    ROBERT BARWICK - I do have faith that the majority of scientists are not fooling us (after, what is really in it for them?).

    But they, and I, are evidence based in setting our views. It has been said that Science is the only philosophy based on evidence which results in changing the paradigm.

    Given the enormity of the work on climate change, I’m sure that any scientist who comes up with EVIDENCE that all is OK will deserve a Nobel prize.

  • 13
    Robert Barwick
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    OK, now a serious comment: Hamilton et. al are terrified, but not about climate change, because in the deep, dark recesses of their minds they know how much they have to force themselves to stay “true” to their religious-type mission, which includes consciously ignoring the contradictory evidence, because it challenges more than their beliefs, it challenges their identity.

    They are terrified because two years ago they were leaders of an overwhelming majority of popular opinion — some 68 per cent of the population, according to the Lowy Institute — and within a year that was down to 66 per cent, and now it has plunged to just 52 per cent. They won’t sustain the fervour if this trend continues.

  • 14
    Michael Wilbur-Ham
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 9:55 pm | Permalink


    The overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change is are real threat. The people telling us so are the scientists mainly paid for by our taxes. Whether 90% or just 10% of the population is concerned has no bearing on the scientific data.

    (Unfortunately public concern does have a bearing on what we might do about climate change, and so public opinion is a concern).

    Climate change has nothing to do with the right or left of politics, and nothing to do with religion. In the big picture, either it is true, and unless we take action we and the planet will suffer the consequences, or it is false.

    I, and other rational people, will rejoice if something comes up that proves that climate change is not a threat. As others have said, the world has enough other problems to engage and worry those who care.

    If climate change was solved tomorrow, Clive Hamilton’s career would continue and he would easily find other things to study and write about. Clive would celebrate that this problem was no more. Talk of him being “terrified” is nonsense.

    As I’ve asked before, why do you ignore the evidence? Is it not you that has some hidden agenda?

  • 15
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Sad to see a descendant (as M W-H must surely be) of Wilbur Ham KC so intellectually supine. A pity you couldn’t ask him about how much respect he had for most expert witnesses (which is what, at best, the IPCC clique of scientists are) that he had examined or cross-examined.

    You, it appears, are the one “grasping at straws” because you grasp at what, secondhand, and with apparently no ability or willingness to attempt an assessment of evidence. you choose to accept on faith. Maybe you don’t have the equipment to do the work and maybe trusting others who assert something that might be important is your way of remaining in equilibrium in a world that worries you but perhaps you could do better. At least you might shed a degree of credulity and naiveté when faced with the many possible sources of error both the self-interested and the merely accidental, intellectual or emotional.

    Have you no idea of the motivations of people with serious careers? Having to throw over half a lifetime’s work is barely tolerable. Admitting that the ideas which secured you tenure and now keep the grants, invitations to international conferences and peer approval flowing are all shonky would be worth a huge effort to prevent. And you seem to misconstrue the common references to religion and show no understanding of the point which unfortunately becomes more and more credible however doubtful in once seemed that people who have evolved to need what religion has provided over 1000s of years but can’t believe any of the traditional ones are looking to all sorts of nonsense to give them a sense of belonging and believing in something important. AGW isn’t as nonsensical as some New Ageisms so it satisfies a wider range of needy intellects and psyches.

    Instead of writing of “grasping at straws” why don’t you seek the answers you believe must be there on the Internet to the hypotheses and questions I have raised? You are unlikely to find them there because I am pretty well up to date. A slightly older hypothesis, based on peer reviewed research, is that the rise in CO2 since it began rising seriously about 50 years ago, is actually from the oceans rather than the largely northern hemisphere CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels. I have seen no answer to the careful reasoning and setting out of evidence on which that is based in the year or so it has been available for refutation. You could try helping with that too.

    If, as seems to be true, you do not feel capable of making any judgment on scientific matters or which scientists are making cogent sense at least you might give us the benefit of your economic logic. Do you think Australia should be making large investments (which includes the opportunity costs of foregoing coal fired electricity generation and relying heavily on wind and solar) to reduce CO2 emissions (not that even that is planned: the government’s ETS relies on buying in carbon credits from poorer countries) even though it won’t affect our climate at all? As you should know, it won’t; but we may need money to build protective seawalls for ourselves or others and you would I presume prefer to wasted that money on emission permits and expensive renewables. Or do you share the fantasy that the rulers of countries with populations amounting to billions are going to take notice of Australia’s preaching, or even applaud us for “setting an example”?

    OK I’ll give you a debating point. I think we ought to take a leaf out of the Italian book of how to cheat the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy effectually operated for nearly 50 years. The Howard government was altogether too principled in its refusal to do anything so vacuous and useless as to sign the Kyoto Treaty.

  • 16
    Michael Wilbur-Ham
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 11:25 pm | Permalink


    Yes I am a relative. But in this case the debate is really science and not law. So attacking the person is avoiding the point.

    I admit that I have not devoted several years of my life to the study of our climate. I don’t think that “clutching at straws” is an appropriate description for someone who listens to and respect those who have done the hard work.

    I do have training in rational thought (Engineering), and I believe that I am fairly capable at detecting rubbish.

    I guess the big question is, apart from the scientific experts, who should I be listening to? And what are the “vested interests” of those putting up these alternative views?

    What is the evidence that I (and others) are ignoring? If you want me and other readers to consider evidence outside the mainstream then I think it is up to you to give us a link.

    On the proposal that CO2 is actually coming from the oceans, I’m certain that this is wrong because I have read about studies showing that the ocean are becoming more acidic because of the increased CO2 absorbed by the oceans (by the way, the increase in ocean acidity is probably a greater threat to the Great Barrier Reef than the increase in temperature).

    Talk of building sea walls just shows how little you are aware of what is predicated.

    Clearly our political views and values differ greatly.

    I’m of the view that Australia could take a lead, and if we did the right thing (much, much more than Rudd is proposing) what we do would influence the developing nations.

    Note that the alternative of the rich countries doing next to nothing makes it certain that the developing countries will continue to grow rapidly, thus ensuring the worst case scenarios of climate change.

    I’m also of the view that we should do the right thing, even if the rest of the world does not do as much as us.

    Of course these views will make no sense at all to someone who does not think that climate change is a real threat.

    I have no idea what you are talking about with your debating point.

  • 17
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    In so far as some of the above contributors have serious doubts in the work of thousands of climate scientists, published in the peer-reviewed literature and endorsed by the world’s leading climate research bodies (NASA, Hadley, Tyndall, Potsdam, NSIDC, CSIRO, BOM), the onus is on the contributors to formulate their reservations or theories in coherent way, preferably in the peer reviewed literature.

    What a reflief would it be if they turn out to be right!

    Unfortunately, the following principal observations around the globe, consistent with the physics and chemistry of atmospheric and marine science, pertain:


    Climate change is tracking toward levels which transcend the planetary boundaries which allowed the development of humans over the last 3 million years1. These limits have already been crossed in terms of the rise in greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, Nitric oxide) and extensive loss of species [1]. Given lag effects, looming threats include (A) ocean acidification and phosphorous flux, collapse of coral reefs and the marine food chain; (B) availability of freshwater; (C) conversion of natural forests to cropland, i.e. the Amazon; (D) ozone depletion; (E) atmospheric aerosol loading and (F) chemical pollution by metals, plastics, radioactive nuclei etc.

    The rate of climate change since the mid-1970s, at up to c. 2 ppm CO2 per-year, reaching 388 ppm CO2 and c. 460 ppm CO2-equivalent (including methane), is leading toward c. 1.5 degrees C mean global temperature rise relative to pre-industrial time. This results in carbon cycle and ice/water feedback processes, with consequent (A) extreme rates of polar ice melting, including the Arctic Sea, Greenland, West and East Anarctica [2], which threatens accelerated sea level rise; (B) a progressive shift of climate zones toward the poles, extending the tropics as indicated by intensified cyclones and floods, and enlarging desert regions as manifested by extreme droughts and fires, including in Australia.

    The consequences for human habitats include loss of arable land, fresh water supplies and extreme weather events. The loss of Himalayan snow and thereby decreased river flow, coupled with a failure of the monsoon and sea level rise, threatens more than one billion people in south and southeast Asia. As the polar regions warm [3], the release of methane from the many hundreds of billions of tons of carbon stored in permafrost and shallow lakes and seas, is underway.

    Reports by the world’s leading climate research organizations (Hadley-Met, Tyndall, NASA/GISS, Potsdam, NSIDC, CSIRO, BOM), and in thousands of papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, demonstrate the anthropogenic origin of climate change since the industrial revolution, accelerating since the mid-1970s, beyond reasonable doubt [4]. The Australian continent, dominated by subtropical arid zones, is in particular danger from extending tropical floods in the north and progressive desertification and fires in the south.

    Humans and species can adapt to gradual changes in the environment, and our prehistoric ancestors were able to migrate over much of the world through extreme glacial-interglacial changes. This is not the case with the 6 billion members of present-day civilization, anchored as they are to coastal and valley agricultural lands. The consequences of the extreme rise rate of CO2 at 2 ppm/year will greatly complicate adaptation.

    In my view, an upper limit of 450 ppm CO2, proposed by a range of reports by government organizations, including the Garnaut Review [5] and the Australian Government White Paper [6], can not be sustained, for the following reasons:

    A. The atmosphere has already transcended the CO2-equivalent (including the forcing of methane) level of 460 ppm [7].
    B. A level of 450 ppm CO2 is a mere c. 40 ppm below the upper boundary of c. 500 ppm, which is the upper limit of stability of the Antarctic ice sheet, formed about 34 million years ago. In the Pliocene, 3 million years ago, a CO2 level of 400 ppm led to temperature rise of about 2–3 degrees C and sea level rise of 25+/-12 meters.
    C. There is no evidence that the climate can be “stabilized” at such high level of greenhouse-induced forcing. Due to carbon cycle feedback loops and feedbacks related to ice melt/water interaction, CO2 level of 450 ppm may lead to yet higher greenhouse levels, high temperature levels and possible tipping points.
    D. Not taken into account in many projections are looming emissions of methane, which are already taking place under atmospheric CO2 levels of 388 ppm, or CO2-e levels of 460 ppm.

    In the view of leading US climate scientists there is no alternative to attempts at reducing atmospheric CO2 levels to below 350 ppm as soon as possible [8]. In my view, only a combination of (A) deep urgent cuts in carbon emissions; (B) fast-track development of clean renewable energy systems; (C) an intensive reforestation campaign; (D) application of a range of biosequestration measures, including chemical sequestration and carbon draw-down methods, may be able to prevent further carbon cycle and ice melt feedback effects from triggering dangerous tipping points [9] with tragic consequences.

    1. Schellnhuber, Oxford meeting, 28-30.10.09
    2. British Antarctic Survey, 23.9.09
    3. Polar regions have warmed by a mean of up to 4 degrees Celsius since the mid-20th century (NASA/GISS).
    4. Contrary arguments, by a handful of climate change denialists, are unreferenced or derived by deceptive alteration of scientific data.
    5. Garnaut Review.
    6. White Paper/CPRS
    7. Copenhagen Synthesis Report
    8. Hansen et al. 2008. Target CO2: Where Should humanity aim?
    9. Lenton et al., 2008. Tipping points in the Earth climate system.

    Andrew Glikson
    Earth and paleoclimate scientist

  • 18
    Michael Wilbur-Ham
    Posted Friday, 16 October 2009 at 11:50 pm | Permalink


    What is your vested interest?

    If climate change was solved tomorrow would you still have a job, or are you only saying this to stay employed?

    Are you on the gravy train doing this work, or do you think you could earn more if you changed employment?

    I’m sick and tired of all this talk about “vested interest” from the deniers, so please forgive me for bluntly asking these questions.


  • 19
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    In so far as this comment is aimed at testing a contributor’s scientific ethics, I do not believe this forum is suitable for this type of inquiries. However, in this particular instance, I can state my contributions in the field of climate change are purely voluntary in nature and receive no funding support from anyone. As an Earth and paleo-climate scientist of 40 years experience, as well as a humanist, my ONLY vested interests is in the future of the young and new generations

  • 20
    Tony Kevin
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    An interesting correspondence took a sudden turn for the worse halfway through, with the entry of the usual denialist peddling of factoids. How tedious these presentations are, and how they degrade and discourage useful debate - as Gresham’s Law says, bad money drives out good. Thanks, Andrew, for your valiant attempts to shed scientific light on the murk of denialism. We read you even if the denialists do not.

    Returning to the matter of Clive Hamilton’s fascinating essay, I was not sure if I could find myself amywhere in his categories. I am probably closest to the group who ‘Hope for the best, work for progressive solutions, prepare for the worst.’

    I think there is still a rational basis for hope - certainly not the facile nonsense that science and technology will always provide, but a hopeful reading based on history of the capacity of some - but not all - societies to respond effectively to existential crises, once they have correctly recognised them as such. Britain in World War Two is probanbly my best example.

    See my letter 99 on the current OSM Crikey ”Rooted” thread, and my new book ‘Crunch Time’ . Thank you, Clive.

  • 21
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 4:36 am | Permalink

    Very long article but no actual facts. Base arguments on science not your personal opinion.

    We have seen record high rain fall across Australia, two huge snow seasons, mostly very cool summers, Lake Eyers has filled, as have all the NSW and Qld. dams, and even the Melbourne dams are above last years levels- with the wet months of Spring still to come.

    Record high amounts of ice are forming on the poles. The real science points towards a cooling phase due to the change in ocean currents.

    High solar flare activity on the Sun is the only real cause of increased temperatures on Earth. Flare activity is currently very low.

    Its just the old henny penny the sky is falling story from your childhood Clive.

  • 22
    Richard Murphy
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Andrew: Thanks for your handy precis of the Facts surrounding global warming. It is sobering indeed that a forum like this is home to so many denialists.

  • 23
    Robert Barwick
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Sobering indeed! Oh for a world of uniform thought.

  • 24
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Georgina - can I just share something with you? As I knew in 1985 that it was fairly likely our world would be custard within my lifetime, you might be interested to know why I decided to have children anyway?

    While the disaster scenarios you envisage are not beyond possibility, they are not likely to be worldwide and there is every chance small pockets of humanity will be able to survive the changes. At the heart of us, we are an adaptive species, and as long as we’ve had suitable education, we can cope with very primitive conditions, and even thrive in them.

    Yet, here I was, surrounded by all these incredibly smart thinking people, who were not having children in droves. Was I really assisting those future miserable human beings, by not reproducing and educating my own offspring into having the kind of insight I also did? Who was going to look after all our precious knowledge? Who would apply the lessons learned from the past, if we smart people did not have sprogs and raise them to replace us?

    Sure, I wrestled with myself over this, and seriously did ask the question whether humanity deserved to survive. Because I’m a big softie, I decided “yes, even though most are not very nice, really, but they’re fun and clever and all that good stuff too “. So I’ve had three kids, and raised them against all odds, to think and question and generally be pests to climate change deniers. No, they’re not entirely happy about the timing, but they’d rather be in it than not!

    One thing I’ve learned since 1985: it really is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. Loving other people is a big risk to take, but so is changing to renewable energy.

  • 25
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    One of the really silly arguments put forward by climate change ‘denialists’ is that people who advocate change are doing so because they are on some kind of mission of personal gratification, agrandisment or professional promotion (see Robert Barwicks previous comments regarding maintain the fervour). This is ridiculous because, clearly, if you believe the natural foundations of society are about to crumble making life much worse then you will be delighted to be incorrect. No-one gets an award if we are right - its pretty much bad all around. The only ones who could be said to have a vested interest in an outcome are people who plan on being dead by the time the consequences of their actions come about. Which is why I really think the consensus of public opinion which will matter is that among people about 40 and under. Speaking for myself, I’m not keeping the lights running so the boomer generation can have a quite retirement.

  • 26
    Robert Barwick
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Tony Kevin, you don’t want a useful debate, you’ve already dismissed those with opposing views as “denialists”. Conveniently, Professor Hamilton has offered up something you are all comfortable to debate between yourselves — how you feel.

    As for the wannabe Mother Theresas — we’re too sincere to have a vested interest — of climate change, give me a break. All your angst and hand-wringing about disaster scenarios will accomplish just one thing: a speculative financial trading regime which will have zero impact on the climate, but generate enormous profits for charities like Al Gore’s buddies at Goldman Sachs, AND kill enormous numbers of people, in developing countries especially, who will be further denied economic development — but that prospect may help the anti-population lobby like poor Georgine sleep at night.

  • 27
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink


    I wish the suggestion the Earth is coooling was correct.

    The superposition of the greenhouse forcing effect, the ENSO cycle and the 11 years-long sunspot cycle, results in a zig-zag overall upward trend, with a mean T rise of +0.8C since 1750, a further +0.5C rise masked by the sulphur aerosol effect, and yet unspecified rise due to Arctic Sea ice melt with its albedo loss and infrared absorption feedback effects.

    For a science-based discussion read “Is the climate warming or cooling” by Easterling et al. 2009 ( GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 36, L08706, doi:10.1029/2009GL037810), where the abstract reads:

    Numerous websites, blogs and articles in the media have claimed that the climate is no longer warming, and is now cooling. Here we show that periods of no trend or even cooling of the globally averaged surface air temperature are found in the last 34 years of the observed record, and in climate model simulations of the 20th and 21st century forced with increasing greenhouse gases. We show that the climate over the 21st century can and likely will produce
    periods of a decade or two where the globally averaged surface air temperature shows no trend or even slight cooling in the presence of longer-term warming.”

    For those interested in reading the science, the trend plotted by Easterling et al. 2009 leads to 4 DEGREES WARMING through the 21st century and therefore climates the Earth did not experience for about 15 million years (mid-Miocene), i.e. before humans appeared on the planet.

    However, it is clear from many of the comments above that there are those who essentially do not accept the scientific method and see the climate change issue as an opporutnity to vent their resentment toward science and scientists by accusing them of dishonesty, often using ad-hominem.

    This calls for two questions:

    (1) Have these people read basic climatology text books ? If so they should be able to understand the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WEATHER AND THE CLIMATE, between decade-scale trends and annual or multi-annual variations.

    (2) In so far as they have not read the essential and up-to-date peer-reviewed scientific literature, have they taken into account the possibility they may be mistaken and thereby the consequences for the young and future generations of the continuing use of the atmosphere as an open sewer for carbon gases?

    Andrew Glikson

  • 28
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink


    For thouse interested in climate science projections, the recent Oxford conference will be of interest, as in quotes from a recent article by Stephen Leahy (10.10.09)

    Eighteen months ago, no one dared imagine humanity pushing the climate beyond an additional two degrees C of heating, but rising carbon emissions and inability to agree on cuts has meant science must now consider the previously unthinkable. “Two degrees C is already gone as a target,” said Chris West of the University of Oxford’s UK Climate Impacts Programme. “Four degrees C is definitely possible…This is the biggest challenge in our history,” West told participants at the “4 Degrees and Beyond, International Climate Science Conference” at the University of Oxford last week. A four-degree C overall increase means a world where temperatures will be two degrees warmer in some places, 12 degrees and more in others, making them uninhabitable. It is a world with a one- to two-metre sea level rise by 2100, leaving hundreds of millions homeless. This will head to 12 metres in the coming centuries as the Greenland and Western Antarctic ice sheets melt, according to papers presented at the conference in Oxford. Four degrees of warming would be hotter than any time in the last 30 million years, and it could happen as soon as 2060 to 2070. “Political reality must be grounded in physical reality or it’s completely useless,” John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told the conference. Schellnhuber recently briefed U.S. officials from the Barack Obama administration, but he says they chided him that his findings were “not grounded in political reality” and that “the [U.S.] Senate will never agree to this”. He had told them that the U.S. must reduce its emissions from its current 20 tonnes of carbon per person average to zero tonnes per person by 2020 to have an even chance of stabilising the climate around two degrees C. China’s emissions must peak by 2020 and then go to zero by 2035 based on the current science, he added. “Policymakers who agreed to a two-degree C goal at the G20 summit easily fool themselves about what emission cuts are needed,” Schellnhuber said. Even with a two-degree rise, most of the world’s coral reefs will be lost, large portions of the ocean will become dead zones, mountain glaciers will largely vanish and many other ecosystems will be at risk, Schellnhuber warned. And there is the risk of reaching a tipping point where the warming rapidly accelerates. The planet has already warmed 0.74 C over the past century and the warming is now increasing at a rate of 0.16 C per decade, according the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 report. With 2008 emissions at the very top end of the IPCC’s worst case estimates, it is time to look at what that may mean for the planet, said Richard Betts of the Climate Impacts research team at the Met Office Hadley Centre in London. Continuing on the current high emissions path means average global temperatures would increase by 4.0 to 5.6 degrees by 2090. Brazil, much of Canada, parts of the U.S., Siberia and Central Europe would be eight degrees warmer than in the past 50 years, computer models show. Rainfall in the north will increase but wet tropics will become 20 percent drier. The models are based on human emissions alone, and do not include heat-amplifying feedbacks from melting ice or changes in carbon sinks. When those are factored in, it moves the timetable forward so that “reaching four degrees by 2060 is a plausible, worst-case scenario” with the median being 2070. By 2100, 5.5 degrees is possible, he said. Few places would experience the global average temperature, Betts cautioned, noting that the computer models show the Arctic warming 15 degrees while many other regions of the world would experience 10 degrees of additional warming. These scenarios do not include potential tipping points like the release of the 1.5 trillion tonnes of carbon in northern permafrost or the melting of undersea methane hydrates. What would the world look like when it is four degrees warmer? It will likely mean one to two billion people will not have access to adequate fresh water because of the major shift in rainfall patterns, said Nigel Arnell, director of the Walker Institute for Climate Systems Research at the University of Reading in Britain. Up to 15 percent of existing or potential cropland - and 40 percent in Africa - will become too dry and too hot for food production. While there might be some gains in northern areas like Canada and Russia, generally the soils there are not suitable for crops, he said. Flooding will affect at least 500 million people because sea levels will rise more than one metre by 2100. The somewhat contentious issue of future sea level rise has been resolved with a new omputer model that almost perfectly matches the historical changes in sea level since 1880, reported oceanographer Stefan Rahmstorf at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The new model projects sea level rise by 1.2 to 1.9 metres from 1990 levels by 2100, said Rahmstorf. “We’re expecting a really big sea level rise in the longer run,” he said.”

    Andrew Glikson

  • 29
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    @Robert Barwick

    I don’t even believe Mother Theresa didn’t have vested interests.

    The point is, however, that everyone wealthy enough to be posting on this blog by the very fact of their comfortable, western existance has a vested interest in the status quo which far exceeds anything which they could hope to gain by enriching Al Gore and Goldman Sachs (?). To argue that a position in favour fixing climate change is purely self interest would require some reasoned view as to how this argument exceeds everyones self interest in continuing their nice carbon rich lifestyle if only this was a remote possibility. The only reason you would contemplate doing so is a sense of personal, impending doom - a nice book tour would not cut it. Personally, I would much prefer to continue with life as it is - I just don’t think thats a remote possibility.

    As for the 3rd world (which I consider a fairly Mother Theresa argument in itself since, really, how much do you care about them when they are not justifying your current lifestyle) their lives are, like everyones, at stake one way or another. Being underwater does not bode well for the good citizens of Bangladesh.

  • 30
    Michael Wilbur-Ham
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    I am a rational person with a scientific bent.

    If someone told me that there were fairies at the bottom of the garden, I would be highly skeptical.

    If they told me they were still there, I would go and have a look (of course expecting to see nothing).

    If, to my surprise, I did see fairies, I would accept this evidence and agree that there were what looked like fairies at the bottom of the garden.

    But I would still be highly skeptical that they were real fairies and not some fancy audio-visual trick or other explanation.

    But, if I was able to do further ‘experiments’ (perhaps talk to and hold one of the fairies), and I eventually had to rule out all other explanations that I could think of, I would admit that, yes, it seemed that there really were fairies at the bottom of the garden.

    If, on the other hand, when told that there were fairies at the bottom of the garden I just denied the possibility, and refused to take a look, and ignored all the media fuss and scientific study that followed, and took comfort from the words of a scientist or two who also refused to look at the evidence and said that fairies were impossible, then I would not be a skeptic, but a denier.

    In all the comments posted on Crikey in the last few days related to climate change I have not read one comment from a climate change skeptic.

    Everyone who has questioned climate change has taken comfort from something they have heard, and looked no further. They have not looked at the evidence of the majority of the worlds scientists, and they have not even done a quick internet search to find out why the consensus science disagrees with their reason for dismissing climate change.

    What evidence would it take to make me believe in fairies? A lot. But if the evidence was there then I would eventually believe.

    What more evidence would it take for a climate change denier to believe in climate change? (Please post some answers!)

    Perhaps climate change deniers should be honest and admit to us (and themselves) that they believe climate change is a load of rubbish just because they don’t like the idea and its consequences.

  • 31
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    @Andrew Glikson

    As you are, by avocation (?) a “palaeoclimate scientist” would you care to give an explanation of the such major climate changes in the past as the Roman and Medieval Warm Periods and following Little Ice Age(s), the drying out of the Sahara and collapse of the Egyptian Old Kingdom (while there was, was there not? an ice age in Northern Europe), the collapse of the first Indus civilisation, the drying up of the Great Lakes? Clearly none had anything to do with AGW.

    When the oceans have a mass 300 times that of the atmosphere and much greater specific heat as well AND they have been like that and had huge gravitational forces acting on them in a cyclical way for thousands of years, doesn’t it strike you as intuitively more likely that a major climatic effect results from such huge forces than comparatively modest changes to atmospheric composition. The best logical answer I could anticipate you is that we now have something extra, unknown in the Holocene hitherto, and that the feedback effects from evaporation of ocean surface water then falling as rain and giving up latent heat to the atmosphere are sufficiently known and proven to be a reliable reason for predicting disaster if the world’s people don’t change their ways. But, given the known scale of climate changes in the past, such as those I have referred to, and the fact that they have to be explained by SOME large forces which don’t include AGW, do you accept that you need to be particularly sure of the evidence on those feedback effects before you can deny that old causes are still the one’s that count for the 21st century? No doubt you are aware that the very distinguished and experienced climate scientist William Kininmonth has written that the IPCC’s parameters for the poleward transmission of the heat energy given up as the latent heat of condensation (into rain) are a long way out. Do you have a comment on that?

    And what do you say to the work of Dr Ian Wilson on long cycles of gravitational forces (of which I can cite the peer-reviewed paper on the influence of the Jovian planets on the sun http://www.publish.csiro.au/nid/138/paper/AS06018.htm - since the publication of which he has done much more work on cycles depending on the sun and mood) and of Dr Tom Quirk, a particle physicist who has given reason for questioning the sources of increased CO2 in the late 20th century atmosphere (see, amongst his publications http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/mscp/ene/2009/00000020/F0020001/art00009

    Sources and Sinks of Carbon Dioxide
    Author: Quirk, Tom

    Source: Energy & Environment, Volume 20, Numbers 1-2, January 2009 , pp. 105-121(17)

    Have a look too at earlier work presented to the Lavoisier Group at http://www.lavoisier.com.au/articles/greenhouse-science/climate-change/Quirk2007.pdf

    If you are interested in the wider implications of Ian Wilson’s work have a look at this too:

    Can We Predict the Next Indian Mega-Famine?
    Author: Wilson, Ian R.G.

    Source: Energy & Environment, Volume 20, Numbers 1-2, January 2009 , pp. 11-24(14)


  • 32
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Been thinking long and deep on all your contributions here. Altakoi, you are absolutely correct that none of us can say we don’t have a vested interest in this topic. We all obviously do.

    It’s led me to some uncomfy thinking that I don’t like being with by myself, so decided to share it.

    Is there a real question we are all failing to ask and could it be …

    Is climate change forcing us to consider which lives are worth saving and which ones aren’t?

    And is all the upheaval and emotion actually generated because we know that we humans can’t safely make that judgement with our current systems? While we still have paradigms where there have to be “winners” and “losers”, or “good” and “bad” people, is the real dissonance caused by having to decide who the lusers or bad people might be?

    Isn’t easier in that scenario, to decide that this question doesn’t have to be answered because the sky actually isn’t falling? And fight like blazes your position with whatever evidence you can scrounge, so you don’t have to ask this question of yourself?

    Because, after all, the answer might be you, mightn’t it.

  • 33
    Michael Wilbur-Ham
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 6:28 pm | Permalink


    Have you done an internet search to try to answer the questions you ask Andrew?

    I would be very surprised if you were not able to find answers to at least some of the issues you raise.

  • 34
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Re ROBBI64

    Yes, that is my belief. It is a polite convention in our society to pretend that people are rational, and that their actions are informed by their intellect, not by their deepest convictions, prejudices or fears. Of course, if you actually look at our politics, you can see how thinly rationality runs.

    I believe that if there was a simple, easy solution to climate change - say magical star trek antimatter reactors - then there would be no argument against decarbonising the economy. More importantly, the intellectual squabbling over the ‘evidence’ simply would not occur, because no-one would be threatened enough to bother.

    Its the same with creationists; one could mount just as good a theological justification for intelligent gravity - the theory that things fall down because God makes them - as for intelligent design. But strangely, no-one protests against meetings of aeronautical engineers or tries to holiday on biblical aircraft because there is no threat in a scientific understanding of gravity.

    The problem with climate change is one of actions, and all the scientific denial is just post-hoc justification for actions which do not reduce CO2 emissions. One can’t entirely blame people - its been a good ride, the industrial world has benefited hugely, and it seems a bit unfair that the ecology is calling time out. If I hold anger for anything its the sheer wanton wastefulness of our economy over the past 60 years. Ask yourself - did we get everything we could of out of these Co2 emissions or was a lot of the stuff we did really, when all is said and done, pretty unnecessary or downright awful. We could have gotten another century out of the carbon age if we had just insulated homes, designed cities with PT, not bought cars on the basis of p-enis size and decided not to be so fat. But there you have it.

    The reason I point out that we all have a deep emotional vested interest in business as usual is simply to point out the absurdity of arguing that climate scientists are trying to change the economy just to get famous, important or their faces on the tellie. I expect the number of people who will prefer a post-carbon world to this one in rich countries is tiny - basically the hairy deep ecology crowd. But I expect the number of people who will prefer the world at 500ppm Co2 to a post-carbon world is zero.

    And yes, the dissonance does depend on whether you think you will be a winner or a loser. My support for decarbonising the economy largely stems from the “OS moment” which is, the longer we go one, the smaller the chance any of us have of being a winner. Once the glaciers in Asia melt, once the snow-pack in the US fails and once there is a permenant drought in Australia climate change is going to change very rapidly into a matter of food and international security (see Glyn Dyer - the climate wars) and no-one is getting out of that scenario in one piece. You think we have population problems, or refugee problems now? try it when entire countries starts submerging and/or disintegrate into failed states.

    So although I believe the rational science is on my side, my support also is informed by a healthy - emotive even if rational - fear of the consequences of getting this wrong. I have no time for people who want to wring the last few moments out of the carbon age because its not an option I have, hence my view that it also depends a lot on how old you are.

  • 35
    Evan Beaver
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Julius, you killed yourself with this phrase:
    “doesn’t it strike you as intuitively more likely”. Science is not based on intuition.

    How on Earth could you determine anything to do with climate intuitively?

    Science is often not intuitive. That’s the beauty of it. Is quantum entanglement intuitive? Does that mean it’s not true?

  • 36
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Karl Popper.

  • 37
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Oh and on Clive’s article, good summary and framework I thought of my loose jottings the other day, to quote myself (naturally!):

    But here’s the utility of this group therapy - I’ve understood for a while now, like 3 years maybe, that the psychological effects of civilisation unravel will be perhaps the biggest deal. Some will be in denial. Some full of wrath. Some panic. Hysteria. Wicked violence and numbing selfishness. The nihilists and hedonists. And then there will be the practical cool headed constructive adaptable centred peaceful types who will want to build a future of some kind that is better. We are going to need alot of those last lot of people.

    This therapy is probably a necessary phase to avoid acting out all the negative stuff and nurturing the alpha group of ecological people.”

    Additionally Georgina Smith reads like a real doll.

  • 38
    Posted Saturday, 17 October 2009 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Response to Julius .

    Answers to your questions are mainly contained in the publications and reviews below, written by leading authorities in the field. Should you have specific questions, I will be pleased to elaborate.

    (1) The IPCC Chapter # 6 - Paleoclimate
    http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-chapter6.pdf contains a summary of paleoclimate observations based on the up-to-date peer-reviewed scientific literature, prepared by some of the best authorities in the field (listed below)

    (2) I also recommend Hansen and other leading US paleoclimate scientists, 2008: “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim? (James Hansen,Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, David Beerling, Robert Berner, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Mark Pagani, Maureen Raymo, Dana L. Royer and James C. Zachos)

    (3) My own paper “Milstones in the evolution of the atmosphere with reference to climate change” (AJES 2008) is available on the internet.http://www.zeroemissionnetwork.org/files/MILESTONES_19-6-07.pdf

    IPCC Chapter 6 - Paleoclimate
    Coordinating Lead Authors:
    Eystein Jansen (Norway), Jonathan Overpeck (USA)
    Lead Authors:
    Keith R. Briffa (UK), Jean-Claude Duplessy (France), Fortunat Joos (Switzerland), Valérie Masson-Delmotte (France), Daniel Olago (Kenya),
    Bette Otto-Bliesner (USA), W. Richard Peltier (Canada), Stefan Rahmstorf (Germany), Rengaswamy Ramesh (India),
    Dominique Raynaud (France), David Rind (USA), Olga Solomina (Russian Federation), Ricardo Villalba (Argentina), De’er Zhang (China)
    Contributing Authors:
    J.-M. Barnola (France), E. Bauer (Germany), E. Brady (USA), M. Chandler (USA), J. Cole (USA), E. Cook (USA), E. Cortijo (France),
    T. Dokken (Norway), D. Fleitmann (Switzerland, Germany), M. Kageyama (France), M. Khodri (France), L. Labeyrie (France),
    A. Laine (France), A. Levermann (Germany), Ø. Lie (Norway), M.-F. Loutre (Belgium), K. Matsumoto (USA), E. Monnin (Switzerland),
    E. Mosley-Thompson (USA), D. Muhs (USA), R. Muscheler (USA), T. Osborn (UK), Ø. Paasche (Norway), F. Parrenin (France),
    G.-K. Plattner (Switzerland), H. Pollack (USA), R. Spahni (Switzerland), L.D. Stott (USA), L. Thompson (USA), C. Waelbroeck (France),
    G. Wiles (USA), J. Zachos (USA), G. Zhengteng (China)
    Review Editors:
    Jean Jouzel (France), John Mitchell (UK)
    This chapter should be cited as:
    Jansen, E., J. Overpeck, K.R. Briffa, J.-C. Duplessy, F. Joos, V. Masson-Delmotte, D. Olago, B. Otto-Bliesner, W.R. Peltier, S. Rahmstorf,
    R. Ramesh, D. Raynaud, D. Rind, O. Solomina, R. Villalba and D. Zhang, 2007: Palaeoclimate. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical
    Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
    [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press,
    Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA

  • 39
    Posted Sunday, 18 October 2009 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    Evan Beaver

    Why do you bother? If you want to be a nitpicker who says nothing about the

    substance you need to protect yourself with sound logic and a knowledge of relevant

    facts. You may or may not have some knowledge of applied science but you certainly

    don’t know or have forgotten much about the history of science and the history of

    scientific discovery in particular. Whether or not you subscribe to the ideas of

    Lakatos, Kuhn et al. about sudden leaps towards paradigm shifts you ought to know

    and acknowledge that intuition has always been a major part of scientific

    discovery and advance.

    That is not the main point here, however, because your nit picking fails as logic.

    In your example about the non-intuitive nature of some knowledge of quantum physics

    you assert correctly that saying that the non intuitive character of A is not proof

    that A is wrong but that doesn’t get you far if the case to be examined is whether

    there are alternatives to A. Apart from anything else you fail to see that

    inviting the reader to use his intuition as to what was “likely” was a way of

    drawing attention to the prima facie plausible case for considering whether huge

    forces acting on oceanic masses (300 times the mass of the atmosphere) might be

    better for explaining great climatic changes of the past that are clearly not the

    product of AGW - with the corollary that, if they do offer plausible explanation,

    their place in the explanation of recent and current changes should be closely


  • 40
    Evan Beaver
    Posted Sunday, 18 October 2009 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Read Andrew’s articles and get yourself up to speed.

  • 41
    Posted Sunday, 18 October 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Our prehistoric ancestors managed to survive …” the last being the operative word. And how did they plug in their flat screens & fill up the 4WD?
    “People” being tenacious, determined & having no choice will always struggle on, whether it’s cutting down the last tree or buying the last CDO (some dill must have been the “last to die for a mistake”).
    It’s the quality of the life, not bare survival that is pertinent. There are few vested interests (ie reaping bigbuck$) in AGW compared to the denialist camp desperate to maintain the rapacious stus quo at least until they die, being well past their use-by date already.
    The problem is always the young bloods eager to fill their shoes, keen for”their whiff of cordite”.

  • 42
    Posted Sunday, 18 October 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Intuition is an essential element in human thinking. However, inherent in the scientific method is the testing of ideas and working hypotheses through:

    1. Measurments

    2. Calculations

    3. Comaprison of theoretical interpretations with direct observations in nature and the laboratory.

    4. The peer review “falsification” process, namely submission of papers to scientific journals to be scrutinized by experienced reviewers for (1) the quality of data; (2) consistency of interpretations with basic physical principles and the laws of nature .

    5. It happens every once in a while that a theory is advanced which challenges previous understanding. In this case, the onus is on the author to demosntrate the evidence or, if insufficient, to go back to the field a collect more data to allow the theory to be confirmed or otherwise.

    Untested intuition can not substitute to the verification process.

  • 43
    Posted Sunday, 18 October 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I was wondering where MPM had gotten to. Seen him anywhere about, AR?

  • 44
    Posted Monday, 19 October 2009 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    Andrew, I read the stuff you suggested with interest, especially what was new to me like your article which, however, didn’t seem to be answering my concerns about Holocene events. Orbital forcing I note seems to be mentioned usually as an explanation for the beginning and end of Ice Ages but doesn’t include consideration of the major gravitational forces. (BTW, I haven’t stopped to check whether your account of scientific method rates an A but note that it is irrelevant to the way I brought intuition by way of shorthand into the conversation).

    Clearly there has been quite a bit of modeling on some major and/or sudden climate changes, generally characterised as regional, during the mid-Holocene and perhaps are the justification for David Karoly’s answering questions such as mine about ancient events with somewhat airy reference to modeling being able to explain them.

    I am reminded that I have already asked some sceptical scientists about what might be an answer to my questions. That is to compare the magnitude of different sources of energy inputs into global climate. For example, the release of energy from the Earth’s core through mid-ocean fissures and plate edges is apparently relatively insignificant. But what about the gravitational forces on the oceans? My “intuition” tells me that it is possible to impart energy which would by making the oceans

  • 45
    Posted Monday, 19 October 2009 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    ….which would be making the oceans swirl against rough ocean floor and coast line with potential to generate a lot of heat because I can conceive of a globe being swung on a string about one’s head within which globe there were physical elements which interacted to generate energy because of the centrifugal motion of the global object. One trouble with that seems to be that such gravity induced energy would cause the oceans to warm up, would it not?

    Clearly it is possible that great climatic changes of the past may be shown to be regional and/or caused by factors which cannot be repeated in less than many millenia (e.g. the final collapse of massive glaciers after an Ice Age has essentially come to its sudden end) and, to the extent that past events can be explained well enough to ensure that they do not contribute to doubts about modeling which is focused on the current climate and CO2, the key questions would appear to be whether the feedback effects that are needed to explain why increased CO2 emissions are dangerous are correctly modeled.

    So, as well as inviting more specific answers to the questions I have raised above, I would be very interested to know whether, for example, you disagree with William Kininmonth that the IPCC models have used parameters for poleward transport of energy which are way out and whether, apart from faith in IPCC authority, you can say why.

    As I write this I can sympathise with the intuition that, if CO2 emissions have been rising to well above pre-Industrial Revolution levels from unprecedented human action and there has been a worrying rise in global temperatures (even if the worries are only because of unusual but well known temporary events such as droughts or whatever caused people in the 1950s to blame weather events on nuclear tests) it is worth taking very seriously the possibility that some virtually irreversible harm will be done if we don’t curb emissions or counter the effects but that does not make me lose perspective on the way intelligent people can line up to enforce dogma for reasons which are more psychological or sociological than rationally scientific. It is silly to suggest, as some comment above did, that those who are sceptical about some scientists’ motivation and its effect on their published work are suggesting that the scientist might want to see the feared changes come about. But, given that it is easy to rationalise conducting studies, and asking for money to fund them, that will tie up all loose ends in a field of such potential importance to mankind, and given the way career paths are structured, why would you disbelieve those scientists who tell you they can’t get funding for their less AGW committed approaches to climate change and conclude that, since most people prefer gravy on their tough meat the gravy train is attractive. And they would be no worse surely than theologians (the brightest and best educated of their generations studying the most important of subjects for the welfare of mankind) who did their best of enforce orthodoxy for the good of mankind and their careers though we now think there intelligence was radically misused.

  • 46
    Posted Monday, 19 October 2009 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    Michael Wilbur-Ham

    You refer to climate change and “deniers” “sceptics” (whom you say you haven’t found it the blog comments - really?) as if they were people who were unaware that climate as well as weather is on a course of perpetual change with or without manmade perturbations. Do you actually know any sceptics about AGW? Do any of them doubt that climate changes and is changing? Do any deny the possibility that the world’s atmosphere is in fact still in a long term warming phase (which some

    attribute to the ending of the Little Ice Age after the last Maunder Minimum), that

    greenhouse gases make some contribution to this and, indeed, that CO2 emissions

    from fossil fuel burning (notwithstanding the Energy and Environment article by

    Dr. Tom Quirk) is a contributor to some current and future warming?

  • 47
    Posted Monday, 19 October 2009 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Andrew: on the other hand I come across articles like this which seem to be saying that minor changes in the albedo of the earth caused by fluctuations in cloud formation can explain recent warming (over-determined one might think as there is increasing CO2 and supposedly increasing water vapour greenhouse effect as a result plus the natural continuation of the warming since the last Ice Age and also the (last) Little Ice Age). Have you any comment or any specific link to comment?

    Earth’s Radiative Equilibrium in the Solar Irradiance
    Author: Hertzberg, Martin

    Source: Energy & Environment, Volume 20, Numbers 1-2, January 2009 , pp. 85-95(11)

    The average equilibrium temperature for all the Earth’s entities involved in its radiative balance with the Sun and Space, is given by:

    T(e)[K] = 278.9[(1 − α)/ε]

    The controlling factor is the ratio of the absorptivity, a = (1 − α), to the emissivity, ε. The quantity α is the Earth’s albedo. It is shown that relatively modest changes of only a few percent in α, brought about by variations in cloudiness, are sufficient to account for the observed 20th Century variations in Earth’s measured temperature, provided that such variations in cloudiness can cause an imbalance in the ratio (1 − α)/ε. The analysis suggests that in the long run, the absorptivity to emissivity ratio is near unity, as required by Kirchhoff’s radiation law, which ensures a moderate average temperature of about 5.7 C for the Earth’s surface entities. That calculated temperature is in fair agreement with the observed average temperature of those entities, whose mass average is dominated by the mass of the oceans. Except for the influence of clouds on the albedo, no assumptions are needed regarding the detailed composition of the atmosphere in order to explain the observed small fluctuations in the 20th Century temperatures or the larger, longer-term variations of Glacial Coolings and Interglacial Warmings.
    Document Type: Research article

    DOI: 10.1260/095830509787689295

  • 48
    Posted Monday, 19 October 2009 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    PS. When you consider what a struggle the followers of Jesus had to establish his minority view that God loved us (obviously ridiculous we can now see and held to be so by the great and good of his time) rather than being above-all judgmental and demanding, or merely numerous - not to say two or more faced if one were inclined not to be too ethnocentric, and that now we can see the passions of these highly intelligent, eloquent and ethically serious men as rather absurd, does it not make one wonder about the psychology of fervent belief in disastrous AGW as much as about the mental processes of sceptics and deniers?

    I don’t mind people with nodding acquaintance with science like Michael Wilbur-Ham getting serious about a serious subject. After all one could hardly be a public person in Melbourne without not only choosing an AFL team to support, preferably by accepting its No. 1 membership, but occasionally showing signs of enthusiastic support. I can even accept that enthusiasts might not feel obliged to do the study and develop their critical faculties for forming their own views on the output of the small minority of the world’s scientists, though a majority (for what that is worth cf. Marshall and Warren’s Nobel Prize for demolishing the consensus on ulcers) of those doing research as climate scientists, but what about applying some sensible economic analysis, with the only serious mathematics coming in if you want to apply the late great Frank Plumpton Ramsey’s work (and that of his epigones) on the appropriate discounting of the future? It certainly raises questions of how much one wants to do for one’s great-grandchildren, for the fertile multitudes in poor countries where people speak languages we don’t and believe in religions that are not ours, and so on, but it doesn’t stop us wanting to know whether spending money (if only by making everything we do much more expensive and de facto and real taxes higher) on CO2 abatement will make us better or worse off when we want to build the latest and best power plant, help the Bangladeshis or build the sea walls at Coogee (a metre or so should get us through to the next century).

  • 49
    Posted Monday, 19 October 2009 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Altakoi - I assumed that MPM et al (if not a single entity) had simply entered new IDs (eg Julius)because their verbosity, middling-to-good grammar, word style & intent (to rabble-soothe & derail any thread that might threaten the status quo of neocon, laissaiz faire, rip-rip-woodchip devil take the hindmost.
    I reply relunctantly because this just FEEDS TROLLS! Don’t give them any response, it’s the one certain cure for their existence.

  • 50
    Posted Monday, 19 October 2009 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Probably sound advice.

    Julius (?MPM).

    The semantic argument that everyone believes in climate change because everyone knows the climate is always changing is just denialist 101. “Climate Change” might be as unfortunate a term as “Global warming” but what everyone knows is the point of the debate is whether humans are causing it and, if so, what to do about it. If it helps you, think of it as “Fall of industrial civilisation causing climate change” before you let free with theories about how this is all perfectly normal, because thats what we are all talking about.

    The second argument from the denialists handy book of strategies is to argue that dissenters have changed the paradigm of science before and so, by the very fact of not agreeing with the scientific consensus, those who do not believe AGW is a problem are the prophets of a new scientific consensus. To break a scientific consensus, like proving H Pylori causes stomach ulcers, you need evidence for what you are proposing - not just a refusal to accept what other peoples results support. If anyone, anywhere can come up with a plausible reason why CO2 at 500 ppm+ is not harmful I, for one, am happy to hear it.

    The usual objection to this is the feeble “you can’t prove a negative’. That is true but, as I have been trying to point out, the opposite of AGW is not the negative proposition “anti-climate change’ but a positive assertion that continued change is not harmful. It is as open to scientific proof is is the proposition that continuing to increase CO2 is harmful.

    At which point denialists often refer to the fact that all science is eventually proven wrong although they don’t exactly know why at this point, although the reference to Jesus an example of this bewilders me. My understanding is that the early Christians managed to prevail by converting the Roman emperor and so getting with the power, which they abused for the next 1500 years to the great detriment of nacent scientific enquiry, but they might have been a plucky band of heros as described.

    In any case, most science is not eventually proven wrong in the sense that it is 180 degrees diametrically at odds with new theory. Einstein did not prove Newton wrong - gravity really does make things move pretty much as Newton said - he just refined the description of the phenomenon. Ditto genetics and evolution, etc. So it is possible that the science of AGW will be proven wrong in some specific like, for example, we have 50 years rather than 20 years but it is very unlikely it will be proven wrong in the general conclusion that we have little time. And these small differences make almost no difference to our decisions at this point about whether to act - its not like we appear in danger of going overboard with reductions.

    So under all the verbiage about science, is a refusal to accept the real scientific challange of the skeptical position. Find a plausible theory, and back it with observations (no cheating with made up graphs like Heaven and Earth now) which support the contention that doubling or tripling the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will result in a climate much like the one which has supported human civilisation.