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Global Warming To Save The Planet?

Is global warming our best friend? And could Fallen Angels, the dystopian novel about the consequences of a new Ice Age by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn be more science than fiction?

That’s the inference from a study on climate variation being covered by the BBC this morning.  According to the Beeb (not normally a source of comfort on the subject of climate change), an international team of scientists headed by Cambridge University researcher Luke Skinner projects that sometime in the next 1500 years a devastating new Ice Age will descend on Planet Earth.  As in past Ice Ages, glaciers would cover much of the northern hemisphere, many species would face extinction and the productivity of the biosphere would diminish as fertile farmlands went under the ice.

But, the scientists say, that won’t happen now, thanks to man’s new best friend: greenhouse gasses. Rising levels of CO2 will offset the natural forces leading to a new Ice Age, saving civilization from its greatest test yet.

Via Meadia has no idea whether this is true. The study was published in Nature Geoscience, for what that is worth. Here at Via Meadia we would not be surprised if another team of very prestigious scientists from another group of leading universities produced an equally logical and interesting paper tomorrow saying just the opposite. Other scientists will warn us that we will cook before we freeze: that global warming will have such extreme effects that civilization may not last long enough to see the next Ice Age because global warming will have wrecked the ecosystem and led to mass warfare and starvation long before the cooling sets in.

That seems to be Luke Skinner’s view.  The Beeb quotes him as saying:

“It’s an interesting philosophical discussion – ‘would we better off in a warm [interglacial-type] world rather than a glaciation?’ and probably we would,” he said.

“But it’s missing the point, because where we’re going is not maintaining our currently warm climate but heating it much further, and adding CO2 to a warm climate is very different from adding it to a cold climate.

“The rate of change with CO2 is basically unprecedented, and there are huge consequences if we can’t cope with that.”

Via Meadia merely notes that all this underscores our lack of knowledge about the basic climate system of our planet, and how man made changes interact with natural cycles to produce the climate we live in. We will understand it better by and by, but in the meantime, there is a lesson for greens: the world is not going to consent to the radical changes the global greens want anytime soon.

Greens need to shift their focus. Instead of maintaining — in a shrill and futile way — that concern over carbon emissions should become the number one priority of domestic and international policy everywhere, greens need to look for ways at integrating the kinds of energy policies they want with the priorities that other people have.  And by other people, I don’t mean investment bankers and politicians who want governments to create artificial markets (as in carbon emission permits) off which they can make billions of dollars in speculative profits. I also don’t mean large agribusiness interests who want to make out like bandits from the ethanol scam.

Shifting the US tax burden from labor to energy, for example, makes sense from an economic development point of view as well as from an environmental one. Swapping payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare for a revenue neutral carbon tax would support employment and accelerate the existing trend in the US economy away from energy intensive activities and technologies toward information intensive ones. That would be a good thing, even if we weren’t worried about global warming.

And if the glaciers start to push south, we can always change direction.  As they say in Fallen Angels, if it gets too cold we can always throw another log on the fire.

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  • Soul

    If this turns out to be true, it’s a good thing I moved to Florida!

  • dearieme

    My principal objection to the Global Warmongers isn’t that the fundamental proposition (that high release rates of CO2 could land us in trouble) is necessarily untrue, but that their attempts to support the argument seems largely to involve incompetence and dishonesty. Why, I ask myself, if there is good evidence, do these lying liars lie so much?

  • Brock Cusick

    I propose a giant orbital magnifying glass with varying magnification hanging between Earth and the sun. That way if it gets too hot, we can refract some sunlight away from Earth to cool it down. And if it gets too cold we can concentrate some more sunlight at the planet until it warms up again.

  • BillH

    Brock: And, put a giant cache of TNT on it to blow it to smithereens, when we learn it has unintended consequences that threaten to destroy us.

  • Steve Case

    That a warmer world with more CO2 would, in most respects, be a better world is never considered by our left-wing media.

    This item, “Global Warming to Save the Planet” will quickly become a “Move along, nothing to see here” item.

  • Don

    This WRM post is ridiculous and gives a 180 degree misrepresentation of the Nature Geoscience paper, which says that a new ice age would probably begin in more than 1,000 years if humans had not put gigatons of CO2 into the environment by burning fossil fuels. The paper points out that anthropogenic global warming swamps by many times the much weaker forces that will come from orbital sources.

  • Bruno Behrend

    The idea that we have any more than an infinitesimal impact on the climate is pretty specious.

    The earth has been warmer than it is now, and it will warm and cool as it pleases no matter what we do.

    If we shut down CO2 production tomorrow, the earth would continue to warm, and we’d all be starving, broke, and dying.

    Conversely, if we invented ways to remove, sequester, or reduce CO2 through some technological means, the Warmists would work feverishly to prevent such a solution.

    It is political control they are after, not a clean environment. All their alarmism is based off of climate models that have failed at predicting anything.

  • back40

    “Shifting the US tax burden from labor to energy, for example, makes sense from an economic development point of view as well as from an environmental one.”

    No, it does not. The failure to grasp the fact that economic development depends on energy is an intellectually crippling defect. Worse, the toothless caveats about “revenue neutral” taxation fail to grasp the reality of government.

  • OOwensby

    The Niven, Pournelle, and FLynn Novel can be downloaded for free at the Baen Free Library:

  • Jim.

    If these CO2 levels are “unprecedented”, that means we really can’t be certain how they will work out. To make matters worse from a certainty point of view, our models really aren’t very good.

    We’d almost be better off with the soletta idea, or a fleet of satellites to skim ionizing radiation across the atmosphere to form clouds and increase Earth’s albedo (which might actually work, probably far more cheaply than most Green ambitions.)

    In the end, though, we won’t know all that much about controling a planet’s climate until we start to fiddle around with terraforming Mars. Until then, it’s guesswork and ignorance combined with dire consequences… hardly an ideal situation.

  • J R Yankovic

    “Greens need to shift their focus. Instead of maintaining — in a shrill and futile way — that concern over carbon emissions should become the number one priority of domestic and international policy everywhere, greens need to look for ways at integrating the kinds of energy policies they want with the priorities that other people have. And by other people, I don’t mean investment bankers and politicians who want governments to create artificial markets (as in carbon emission permits) off which they can make billions of dollars in speculative profits. I also don’t mean large agribusiness interests who want to make out like bandits from the ethanol scam.”

    I can’t imagine a more succinctly elegant way of stating what – as I understand it – you people have been trying to drive home for months now (and however poorly heeded the message may be).

    Of course nobody’s perfectly insightful – not even the wonderful folks in Meadialand (under which heading I include all commenters). But keep the common sense rolling in anyway. Keep up your patient, balanced, steady focus on what is inexorably real, as distinct from the mere willfully ideological. Naturally we all know how boring real things are – how stubbornly, if you will, God-made and God-encompassed they are, and how tediously God-inspired is any real attentiveness to them on our part. Neither one SEEMS to offer much in the way of really exciting human creativity and innovation (though I think actually the reverse is true). But keep the steady focus – looking neither to the left nor to the right is I believe how Proverbs puts it – coming all the same. I get this sneaking sense that you’re helping even those who will hate you for it.

    “It is political control they are after, not a clean environment.”

    I wonder if that isn’t more or less (equally?) true of everyone who’s got a dog in this particular fight. So maybe it’s time we called off the dogs, and started reasoning together like decent God-(rather than SELF-)made human beings?

  • Celsius1939

    The earth may be warming, but we still do not know the reason. It is not very likely that it is due to man for a myriad of reasons.

  • Kris

    So Luke Skinner is willing to affirm without reservation that we are headed towards runaway global warming, but as to whether we would be “better off in a warm [interglacial-type] world rather than a glaciation”? Probably, but let’s not be too hasty in reaching unwarranted conclusions. :eyeroll:

    “As they say in Fallen Angels, if it gets too cold we can always throw another log on the fire.”
    If it gets too cold, we won’t have logs. (I recommend the novel.)

  • WigWag

    It is always a mistake to rely on the popular press for the interpretation of an article that appears in a scientific journal. Science writers are almost always too uneducated, too misinformed and too dumb to interpret what these articles mean.

    Professor Mead does his readers a disservice when he blogs about a scientific issue that he reads about in the New York Times or hears about on the BBC.

    If his point is to generate light rather than heat, most of his posts about global warming do little more than provide a forum for his readers, who are mostly as ignorant of the subject matter as he is (and I am) to vent their considerable spleen. The reality is that Mead’s commentary on global warming is as uninformed as the commentary of those who hold the opposite view that he does.

    The only thing about this post that makes any sense at all is Mead’s reference to science fiction; virtually everything written about global warming in the popular press and online, both pro and con, is little more than science fiction if not outright fantasy.

    As for the article from Nature Geoscience (which is a very prestigious journal as all of the various “Nature” publications are), here is the abstract for those knowledgeable enough to understand it. I’m certainly not; I doubt that the BBC or Via Meadia is either.

    “Determining the natural length of the current interglacial” (P.C. Tzedakis, J. E.T. Channell, D.A. Hodell, H. F. Kleiven, L.C. Skinner)

    Nature Geoscience, Year Published: 2012; Received: 23 May 2011; Accepted 28 November 2011

    “No glacial inception is projected to occur at the currentatmospheric CO2 concentrations of 390 ppmv. Indeed, model experiments suggest that in the current orbital configuration—which is characterized by a weak minimum in summer insolation—glacial inception would require CO2 concentrations below preindustrial levels of 280 ppmv. However, the precise CO2 threshold as well as the timing of the hypothetical next glaciation remain unclear. Past interglacials can be used to draw analogies with the present, provided their duration is known. Here we propose that the minimum age of a glacial inception is constrained by the onset of bipolar-seesaw climate variability, which requires ice-sheets large enough to produce iceberg discharges that disrupt the ocean circulation. We identify the bipolar seesaw in ice-core and North Atlantic marine records by the appearance of a distinct phasing of interhemispheric climate and hydrographic changes and ice-rafted debris. The glacial inception during Marine Isotope sub-Stage, a close analogue for the present interglacial, occurred near the summer insolation minimum, suggesting that the interglacial was not prolonged by subdued radiative forcing. Assuming that ice growth mainly responds to insolation and CO2 forcing, this analogy suggests that the end of the current interglacial would occur within the next 1500 years, if atmospheric CO2 concentrations did not exceed 240±5 ppmv.”

  • Victor Erimita

    It is clearly every human’s moral duty to immediately begin driving Hummers, turning up the heat, leaving the lights on and otherwise increasing their respective carbon footprints by as much as possible. Earth First terrorists must start torching car lots filled with Priuses. Unsustainable energy sources, such as solar and wind, which produce no CO2, must be abandoned. Anyone who disagress(hereinafter, “Deniers”) must be vilified and perhaps even jailed. The debate is over!

  • Toni

    Let’s see, WigWag. Your point is that nobody but scientists understands the debate, so Prof. Mead and everybody else should shut up about global warming? Are there other scientific debates which you think should be barred from public discussion?

    If that wasn’t your point, what was it?

  • a nissen

    So much food for thought!

    In a strange way #11 and #14 say the same thing, or at least I find myself strongly agreeing with both of them. One caveat to #14— WRM, do not stop posting germinating thoughts on how “climate change” for less than pristine reasons overpowers longstanding interests in a healthier environment. For example, Diamond lists 12 reasonably equal considerations impacting the survival or failure of past civilizations.

    A possible 13th: compartmented elites “communicating” solely in shop talk so as to 1) mask uncertainty, 2) restrict privileges, and 3) enforce control

    We “other people” need to insist that a plain language version by the same author accompany all shop talk purporting importance. Relying on reporters to do this is as set-up-to-fail as it is highly susceptible to a mass movement of routinely demanding reference to first, not second-hand accessible language of all popularizing reporters.

  • Stephen

    So, he “does his readers a disservice when he blogs about a scientific issue that he reads about in the New York Times or hears about on the BBC.” Heh. Glad we cleared that up.

  • John Shade

    The theory that more CO2 will have a negligible effect on the climate system is holding up well over this past 30 years of the Great CO2 Scare. Irresponsible people have however been making a great impression on public affairs, and private fears, by arguing the opposite. First by saying it was all bad, that CO2 would do us all in. Now we have some of the same ilk saying it is actually pretty good, the CO2 will save us. O tempora! O mores!

  • John from Iowa

    So according to WigWag, scientists are a high priestly caste (to use Peter Robinson’s formulation) that should rule over us common folk.

    This despite the fact that they are human and driven by the same hunger for power, money, and advancement that tempt us all in that we are not by nature angels.

    What of the corrupt gatekeepers who control the peer review process and who have turned “climate science” into a joke by means of corrupt power politics that would make Tony Soprano blush? Michael Mann at Penn State? Phil Jones at the University of East Anglia’s CRU?

    Ah yes, but I’m not smart enough, well enough informed, or credentialed enough to have an opinion on this.

    This just goes to show that the AGW hysteria is the latest iteration of the Progressive, leftist impulse to have the stupid commoners be ruled by a class of all knowing philosopher kings.

    Thanks but I’ll pass.

  • Delayna

    When in doubt, I always assume that the MSM writer is too stupid to understand the science he is writing about. But a moment’s search found this link:

    Which tells me that co2 levels in the carboniferous era were as high as 1500, yet somehow Earth failed to become too hot for life to survive.

    Also that for most of the last 600 million years, atmospheric co2 was higher than it is now.

    Current co2 is 390 ppm, about 2.5 times the minimum required for plant life, and about 1/25th the level that might slightly affect humans negatively. It strikes me that lowering co2 is a bad idea in a hungry world.

    If the warmists were only playing games with their own livelihoods and lives, I’d turn on the vid camera and hold their beer. Since they persist in gambling with my chips, I want them to shut up.

  • teapartydoc

    This is why scientists should abandon cargo-cult science in droves. It is destroying any credibility the form of inquiry has left. Remember: although we live in a highly technological world, technology is art, refinement based on existing knowledge, not science, and even though the average Joe does not know this consciously, he knows it nonetheless, and this fact makes him just as likely to discount those affiliated with speculators in science as those who did so when clocks and waterwheels were the big thing.

  • John Marshall

    I used to be a fan of Larry Niven but his books were definitely fiction with very little science.

  • Michael Babbitt

    People who want to believe in global warming as the end of the habitable Earth will continue to believe in it despite any contrary data or interpretation (such as that a warming world is much better for most creatures). They are, sadly, more wed to the idea of the climate apocalypse (unless we perform an apocalypse of our economy) than many today are to their spouses – and by a long shot. Nothing will change their minds unless the tide of opinion changes in their insulated worlds.

  • WigWag

    “Let’s see, WigWag. Your point is that nobody but scientists understands the debate, so Prof. Mead and everybody else should shut up about global warming? Are there other scientific debates which you think should be barred from public discussion?” (Toni)

    No, Toni, I don’t object to public debate about global warming or any other scientific issue, what I object to is debate that is uninformed and ignorant. When it comes to the issue of man-made global warming most of the debate is simply stupid with both sides reaching their conclusions not based on data but based on preexisting political inclinations. The irony is that this isn’t science it’s anti-science.

    The popular scientific press is the main culprit in dumbing down the debate about complex scientific issues and no institution is guiltier of this than the New York Times. Broadcast outlets like the BBC (which Professor Mead relied on for this post) are also guilty.

    Providing an opinion about the content of a journal article without reading the article but instead, assuming that a summary that you heard on the radio or television is correct, is simply unwise. That appears to be what Professor Mead did in this case; he’s done it many times before.

    It’s his blog; he can do what he wants, but if the goal is to shed light not heat, his approach to this issue doesn’t succeed. Professor Mead has blogged on global warming many times; his posts in this area are rarely edifying; the comments that appear on these posts (as opposed to his other posts) are almost all silly and uninformed.

    It’s a case of the misinformed leading the misinformed. Mostly I don’t blame Mead though; it’s the science press that is so incompetent, inclined to grandstand and motivated to advance a political agenda that anything they write is compromised. When it comes to politics, foreign affairs or even sports, most of us have sufficient expertise to critique what the press says; when it comes to science, most of us don’t.

    One more thing; John from Iowa (January 10, 2012 at 6:49 am), I know exactly what you mean about the “priestly class” aka the elite snobs who think they have more expertise than the rest of us. Next time someone in your family needs to have their gallbladder out, why call the surgeon; I am sure you have the expertise to remove it yourself. Who needs the scientists at the University of Iowa to work on figuring out why cancer cells metastasize and what drugs might inhibit the process; instead we should just call you. Next time, the Large Hadron Collider needs a tweak it’s comforting to know that we don’t need the “priests” all we have to do is call John from Iowa to get the job done.

  • juslissening

    Prof. Mead, may we call WigWag a supercilious illegitimate? He seems intent on proving everyone’s point about the snooties.


  • a nissen

    I usually don’t recommend books until I have finished them, but Wig Wag’s tempest in a teapot suggests I make an exception and recommend Tim Flannery’s “Here on Earth” (2010) in which he extends the absolutely necessary eye opening he began with “The Eternal Frontier” as to the essential role of change in Earth’s shaping and future.

    Diamond’s praise on the jacket back says it best: “Suppose you want to be well-informed, but you’re busy and don’t have the time to read lots of books. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was one delightfully written book that told you everything you’d like to know about humans, the Earth, sex, sperm counts, war, our future, and hundreds of other subjects? Here it is.”

    Dig in and let’s all talk again.

  • Jim.

    Thank you WigWag, that abstract was very hepful in understanding the article.

    Basically, given the assumption that CO2 levels control ice ages, the author concludes that CO2 levels control ice ages.

    Perhaps you would also be interested in joining the author’s new Tautology Club. (The first rule of Tautology Club is… the first rule of Tautology Club.)

  • William Hughes-Games

    No (or very little) doubt that our carbon emissions are putting off the next glacial. The longer we can maintain, say, 300ppm CO2 in the air the better but this is missing the point. If we push the system up too far, we could well release vast quantities of methane from buried clathrates and experience a rather large heating. This would shift grain growing areas and before we caught up and adapted to the new climate regime, there would likely only be the Lovelock number (1b) or less of us left. Some would say this is a good thing. The 6b dead might disagree.

  • Jim.

    Also, WigWag:

    You would probably be surprised to learn just how many of us here have a solid science background and relevant technical experience.

    Personally, I have a numbe of years’ exprience with stochastic computer models, specifically high-precision Kalman filters. This experience has taught me that the results of computer models, even the best of them, have to be taken with a grain of salt. I’ll go into more detail here when I have more time; for now let me just say that when someone says they have a computer model that predicts the future, it’s safer to roll your eyes than it is to waste trillions of dollars implementing their plans, no matter how urgently expressed.

  • John from Iowa

    To WigWag #25. Believe it or not I am not anti-science. But I will stick to the science born of the scientific method a la Karl Popper. Scientific evidence born of multiple, independent, falsifiable, and reproducible experiments and tests is the great light of Western civilization since the Enlightenment.

    That’s why I am heart-broken that real data driven science such as that has been highjacked by highly degreed hacks who can make their computer models say anything they want about a distant and untestable future, so that they practice more in delusion, power politics, and science fiction than in real science. All that is left is an appeal to authority rather than reason, persuasion, and evidence. And nothing can disprove their theories. This is not scientific.

    And while we are at it, absolute certainty is not scientific. Look at the finding by the scientists at the LHC about neutrinos possibly traveling faster than the speed of light. Other scientists didn’t say “impossible” and stone them to death. They are very skeptical, but they are continuing studies to confirm or deny their finding.

    I say save science from those who have debased it so by trying to claim its mantle without practicing its most important principles.

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