Who Pushed the Alarmist Domino – Scientists or the Media?

Few have missed the fact that Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, published two days ago is a reworking of 1990s ‘runaway global warming’ hypothesis, now dubbed ‘Hothouse Earth’. The abstract:

We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene. We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. If the threshold is crossed, the resulting trajectory would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies. Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.

Positive feedback worries have taken a back seat in climate debates in recent years, as more concrete understandings of the climate system developed, the Precautionary Principle was settled on and somewhat de-emphasised (or simply buried under mountains of verbiage), and as observations failed to support prognostications from the alarmists’ end. Now that Silly Season is here, however, the new report has prompted some discussion about its categorically alarmist tone, and whether this is real, or an illusion manufactured by the media. More on that shortly.

The article and its reinvention of runaway warming is interesting to me for two reasons. First, there is the naked alarmism itself, and its authors’ rush to move from ‘science’ to the overt and explicit declaration of political imperatives. There is broader (than the article) acknowledgement that the paper is highly speculative. In which case, why define such concrete political terms? As I have long argued, it seems clear, when this paper is seen in context, that its political premises precede by decades any scientific claim it can make. Indeed, both Johan Rockstrom and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber are notable for their stated desires for a ‘dream of a world government and geocybernetic control‘. Though such terms as ‘global government’ often accompany somewhat hasty alarmism of its own, in this case, it is not hyperbole, nor unfounded.

Second, and similarly, the Stockholm Resilience Centre, which is home to, Rockstrom and Schellnhuber is notable for a reformulation of the Limits to Growth hypothesis of the late 1960s as ‘Planetary Boundaries’. Planetary Boundaries was the theoretical framework of Mark Lynas’s 2011 tome ‘The God Species’, which equally tried, and failed, to reformulate environmentalism as some kind of pro-human, science-based perspective. (Read my review at Spiked).

Lynas takes his inspiration from the work of Professor Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, which aims to offer ‘research for governance of social-ecological systems’. According to Lynas, Rockström and his associates – referred to by Lynas as the ‘planetary boundaries experts group’ – believe that they have identified nine fundamental measures of the planet’s ecological health that human development must not interfere with, if ecological catastrophe is to be avoided.

And as I have tried to explain then and since, even attempts to reformulate environmentalism say much more about the environmentalist than the environment.

According to Lynas, Gaia is a metaphor for a ‘universal scientific principle’: the emergent property of self-organisation in complex systems. But the metaphor looks far more like those who invoke her than ‘nature’. The preoccupation with ‘self-regulating systems’ seems to coincide with a desire for the regulation and systematisation of human life. We have to presuppose a great deal to take this account of life on Earth at face value, and even more to start organising society around the principle. Indeed, we might now be able to call this ensemble of presuppositions about ‘balance’ and ‘self-organisation’ environmental ideology. Lynas, like many environmentalists, presupposes both balance and the system which produces it. They claim evidence for it in science, but the claim precedes the science. Scientists have looked for Gaia, but they have not found her. Perhaps scientists and science are not so immune to ideology, after all.

Greens reinvent their failed doctrines in order to overcome their crises. Indeed, we could see all environmentalism as precisely that: an attempt to overcome political crises. The neomalthusians of the late ’60s and ’70s emerge as the economic boom collapses, oil shocks ricochet around the world, and ill ease dominates politics. In the UK, the 1970s are an era of ‘managed decline’, IMF loans, deep industrial disputes, and ‘winters of discontent’. Climate warriors are keen to emphasise the scientific facts underpinning their outlook, but the historical context of their movement is far more revealing to understanding it.

The scientific facts of such strong claims for the “collective human action” “required to steer the Earth System”, and for “stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies” cannot and should not be taken at face value. And the ideological underpinnings of those claims must also be exposed before any sense can be made of the science or the politics of the Stockholm Centre’s dire work. On Twitter, and across the debate, however, there is great resistance to the idea that mere ‘politics’ can shed any light on alarmism. Only scientific evidence is acceptable as a rebuttal to the speculative alarmism, and the design of the political order it is the foundation of.

More sensible comment has claimed that the paper is merely a ‘perspective piece’. Here’s Tol, citing Betts.

‘This’, indeed. But the wider debate takes little interest in the nuances of academic publishing formats and stranding.

I copy Richard Bett’s series of Tweets below (rather than embed the Tweets), to give a flavour of his defence, or rather account of the article. It is not yet complete, and he has offered his response to the Climate Feedback website, which has not yet been published, and which may offer more insight from perspective inside the ivory towers. There is much to agree with him about. But I also have found his and other scientists’ understanding of the debate, and scientists’ responses to the excesses of their colleagues somewhat impotent, and far too forgiving.

This is the “Hothouse Earth” paper that was all over the news yesterday.[LINK] It is a “perspective” piece – basically an essay rather than new modelling or data analysis, in which the authors present an argument supported by existing literature. (Thread)

The authors draw on a very diverse set of literature to paint a holistic picture of how a chain of feedback processes or events could *potentially* take place and lead to very large climate warming once a threshold is passed, and also how the risks of this could still be avoided.

The term “Hothouse Earth” is used to describe the conditions that could potentially occur, which are outside those of cycles of ice ages with milder periods in between that have occurred over the last few hundred thousand years (ie: within the experience of the human species).

A key point is that even though the pathway towards “hothouse” conditions could be started this century (maybe decades?), the extreme conditions themselves would not occur for centuries or millennia. This does not seem to have been mentioned in media coverage that I have seen.

The authors also state that they are taking a “risk averse” approach in suggesting that 2C global warming can be regarded as a potential “threshold”.

They have not discovered that 2C is the tipping point, just suggested it.

Again this is a key point not made in media coverage.

The 2C number is supported by comment and review literature which in itself is based on previous literature, so they have not come up with new analysis supporting this as the suggested threshold.

The authors argue that 2C can still be avoided if humanity takes concerted action to reduce ouor warming effect on the climate.

Personally I find it an interesting thought-piece that is worth reading. Its not new research though.

I suspect one reason it has got so much traction is the use of the “Hothouse Earth” term at a time when everyone’s talking about heatwaves.

One thing that strikes me about the “tipping points” literature is that there’s a lot of review papers like this that end up citing each other!

Here’s one that @dougmcneall, myself & colleagues wrote a while ago [LINK] (£)

We need more actual research on this!

Betts appears to be claiming that the alarmism is introduced by journalists. No doubt this is in part true. However, my point, made by others also, is that it is up to climate scientists to challenge each others’ work, and the excessively alarmist copy it generates in the media. This new paper, ‘perspective’ piece or not, is such an opportunity to bring a more sober perspective to the now hackneyed alarmist perspective, that for most of the past three decades of climate debate has not been taken. Climate science does not seem able to discipline itself, nor politics, nor the media, in spite of claims that it is essential for the correct formulation of policy and public ‘awareness’. By contrast, we can find many ‘rapid reaction’ teams of scientists and organisations to quickly deal with claims, counter to the political agenda, which are an impediment to it.

Put simply, Betts makes too many excuses for the authors of the hothouse paper. That it broadly aligns with the consensus so far as it is represented by the IPCC only speaks to the text’s lack of precision. For instance, Betts says, ‘The authors argue that 2C can still be avoided if humanity takes concerted action to reduce ouor warming effect on the climate.’, but this says nothing about the plausibility of a ‘domino’ effect causing ‘hothouse Earth’, which is the substantial point. It is a bit like suggesting that the plot of Godzilla is useful advice to policy-makers because we know that radiation can cause genetic mutation, and that genetic mutation could cause lizards to become larger, and after all, we know that really big lizards did once walk the Earth. As so often in debates about the environment and climate, the matter of degree is omitted, even if Betts does point out that the scenario is unlikely perhaps even for millenia.

But the more troubling problem for Betts is that the origin of the alarmism he claims is the fault of the ‘media’ is in fact the authors themselves. Here is a transcript of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, which featured the paper yesterday.

—–

R = Johan Rockström; S = Ovais Sarmad; I = Interviewer (Mishal Husain?).

I: And the current heatwave has probably made some people think about global warming in a new and more concrete way. A report released today is warning of the risks of a ‘hothouse Earth’, trigged by global temperatures rising by around 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Currently we are at about a one-degree rise. The authors of the report warn that once we hit two degrees, the Earth’s natural equilibrium could be irreversibly disrupted. We’re joined by Professor Johan Rockström, executive director of the non-profit Stockholm Resilience Centre who is one of the authors of that report. Good morning, professor.

R: Yes, good morning.

I: Can you explain why you say that about a change in the Earth’s natural processes?

R: Yes, we have so much scientific evidence today. To begin with from paleo-climatic science actually {inaudible} that over the last one million years, the planet has quite harmoniously been shifting back-and-forth between ice age and inter-glacial periods of {inaudible} cycles of roughly one-hundred-thousand years. And we are now {in/at} an inter-glacial. We’ve been there since the last ice age – some twelve thousand years back. And at one degree Celsius rise in temperature that we have caused… humans have caused by burning fossil fuels predominantly… is the highest temperature on Earth since the last ice age. And we’re reaching the edge of the highest temperatures on Earth in all the inter-glacials over the last one million years. So that shows that we’re starting to reach, or hitting the ceiling of the bio-physical limits of a stable planet. Secondly, we have so much evidence today that the biosphere – the living, natural part of the planet – have the ability to absorb and dampen our warming by sucking up carbon dioxide, taking up heat, reflecting back heat from ice sheets. And that this capacity is what has kept the planet stable and that we risk crossing tipping-points, with these systems shift over from self-cooling to self-warming.

I: {short interruption}

R: Together this leads to the conclusion {inaudible}…

I: And you think that that kicks in at a rise of around two degrees Celsius?

R: We’re starting to see the cracks in the resilience of the Earth’s system. We have already one degree Celsius indications that rapid ice melts makes them… makes ice sheets absorb more heat than reflected back. We’re seeing permafrost going. We’re seeing… you know… lessened capability of oceans and land and {inaudible – forests?} to take up carbon dioxide. The scientists… science that is published {inaudible – start?} indicating that two degrees Celsius may be a threshold when these tipping points occur.

I: Yes, I mean, you you you say ‘may be’, because what you’re describing isn’t it a worst-case scenario… The point where rather than soaking up the carbon dioxide, the oceans and the former glaciers start chucking it out into the air?

R: No it’s not a worst-case scenario. It’s an intrinsic biophysical, non-negotiable part of how the Earth’s system is configured. Somewhere out there, science shows clearly that there is a planetary threshold. The question is just where is it? When do systems like the oceans and forests tip over from being self-cooling to become self-warming? We now start seeing the scientific evidence that this threshold, this tipping-point may actually be at a lower temperature than we previously thought. And we’re starting to see indications that it may be at two degrees.

I: Well, listening to that from Bonn is Ovais Sarmad who is the Deputy Executive Secretary from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – that’s the organisation that work towards the Paris Accord. Good morning, Mr Sarmed.

S: Good morning to you and to the audience and professor.

I: What do you think of what you heard from Professor Rockstrom, this point about where the threshold is, to trigger this change in the, err, in the Earth’s natural, err, processes? I mean, that, that, that, is something which has profound implications for policy.

S: Absolutely. Yes. And where we’re sitting here from the United Nations {inaudible} actual physical location my office is just right one the river Rhine. And I’m seeing the river already receding and seeing the banks here on both sides of the river. It’s quite scary and then Spain and Portugal struggling with forty degrees plus. Japan. Err, Greece seeing people fleeing to the sea. Sweden. California. Many other places and the… we’re trying to bring all that science and the politics and the debate to closer to home, so to speak. And err, inform the world at large that, how serious it is. The situation… it’s no longer cyclical and as the Professor said in very startling terms… scientific facts, that it is extremely serious and we have to do something about it now. And the Paris Agreement is the framework which has a very solid and robust framework {inaudible} to implement now, soon, sooner than… {inaudible under interruption}.

I: Yes, but there are… there are a lot of doubts aren’t there about whether it’s going to be implemented as planned? And indeed even if sticking to err, to a two-degree target… even if it is possible to stick to that.

S: It is. There are of course the political challenges as it happens in multi-lateral systems but err, Paris Agreement is the only framework we have. And as international citizens, we need to stick to that and push as much as possible and that’s exactly what we’re doing. I’m actually an optimist and I’m very hopeful that, err, increasing the ambition and explaining to the general public the impacts and as we’re seeing it now, we can prevent the damages that err, the professor explained.

I: Professor Rockstrom do you share that that that optimism, that the damage can be prevented or do you think that we need a lot more ambition in policy on this area?

R: The damage can be limited. We also know that, err, we we not only can decarbonise the world economy in line with the Paris Agreement, we also benefit from it. We have more and more evidence about the economy, our health, socially, and equitably even security-wise, we gain from decarbonising and becoming sustainable. This paper lends scientific support for the Paris Agreement. And it shows that we should do everything we can to avoid reaching two-degrees Celsius, as an aim for the one point five degrees. Remember that the writing is ‘stay well below two’ in the Paris Agreement.

I: Johan Rockström, Professor Rockström and Ovais Sarmad of the United Nations, thank you both.

—–

Rockström is given several opportunities to mitigate the alarmism that Betts claims belongs to the Today Programmes’ presenters and producers. The interview asks him, ‘you say “may be”, because what you’re describing isn’t it a worst-case scenario…’. But Rockström denies it, saying, ‘No it’s not a worst-case scenario. It’s an intrinsic biophysical, non-negotiable part of how the Earth’s system is configured‘, and that ‘We’re starting to see the cracks in the resilience of the Earth’s system’. Nowhere is this presented as speculation rather than fact; the author does not explain that this is a scenario that may, but probably won’t play out for thousands of years rather than soon; there is no sign of caution, but plenty of urgency.

This is why I cannot take at face value Bett’s subsequent claim that ‘the media have missed out the key caveats of deep uncertainty and long timescales’.

It is climate scientists that are at fault here, and it is climate science’s failure. Scientists, Betts included, want scientists to inform policymaking, and to enjoy special status in that process. But they seem to have excluded themselves, their institutions, and their science from any possibility of fault.

Scientists and science have not confronted alarmism. They have not been able to resist the political colonisation of their science epitomised by the work of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. They have allowed themselves to be first flattered by, and then to become the servants of a political doctrine that swept debate out of the academy and the campus.

To be charitable, I suggest that this is the consequence of science being elevated, but not being equal to the task it has been set. It cannot bear the weight of what is expected of it: the moral questions, the political, economic, and social questions, the false promises of security, equity and health that are claimed it can produce.

If I am right, then the answer is for scientists and science to say so, and to admit ‘we don’t know’, and that ‘we cannot know’. It is not good enough to invoke ‘best available evidence’, or to claim that ‘more research is required’, and to suggest that this or that is ‘more likely’ than another thing, and that egregious work is more or less in keeping with the ‘consensus’. The ambiguity that abounds allows anything and everything to be encompassed by the climate perspective. Science has been reduced to endless reports comprising only weasel words, and a cowardly refusal to debate meaningfully with itself, or with outsiders.

But that cannot happen until scientists take the initiative. I am not holding my breath.

—–
UPDATE.

Richard has offered some clarification, saying that ‘I should keep saying “media coverage” as I did earlier, rather than just “media”‘.

I take this to mean that this includes scientists, but that this somehow leaves intact the standing of academic publishing and ‘perspective pieces’, or any other speculation of climate scientists.

But if that is so, what is the difference between academic publishing and ‘the media’? Academic publishing just becomes a slightly posher, and concomitantly (and problematically) aloof form of ‘media’.

Even as a think-piece, the article in question is dire. That it emerges after 3 decades of increasing resources available to climate science and searches for global agreements, without a meaningful critical response from within the academy is an indictment of climate science.

—–
UPDATE 2.

Matthew Nisbit has a series of tweets which shed a bit more light on what I think Richard was getting at.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The sense here seems to be that it is the media which allows scientists to elevate their alarmism unchecked.

Pielke adds that the IPCC as the balancing point for climate stories has diminished.

Nisbit’s points are somewhat blunted by his reference to Eric Holthaus’s piece in Grist (among other equally questionable opinions). Holthaus, like Grist broadly, is unashamedly irrational and emotional, and hardly given to balance more than apocalyptic mental breakdown. We see here a fairly familiar trope – a dispute between climate activists of various shades of green merely concerned about the ‘effectiveness’ of doom, rather than any wider or deeper concerns with political fear-mongering. The dispute, such as it is, is that saying something will happen is discouraging, whereas saying that it could happen is encouraging of action.

If this is nuance, I am the fairy godmother. As I pointed out to one of the authors, the difference between ‘will’ and ‘could’ in the context of unfounded alarmism is not unlike an attempt to mitigate the crime blackmail or of kidnap for ransom by saying that nothing bad would happen if the victim coughs up the cash. The report is clearly intended to limit the choices available to politics to such an extent that there is no meaningful choice at all. For example:

Kate Marvel does not mean by ‘no’ that the absurdly alarmist paper is just that, she means that if we all accept its premises and act according to its political imperatives, the world will be saved.

All of which lets alarmist authors and their peers in the ‘scientific community’ off the hook. I don’t think scientists really understand the mess they are in.

UPDATE 3.

Judith Curry has an analysis of the paper. She does not speak about the origins of its alarmism vs the media’s contribution, but does try to find value in the paper.

Her main point seems to be that it is the overbearing policy prescriptions that are the paper’s weakness, but that the remainder helps to ‘spur critical thinking and analysis’. I’m not convinced there is more to the article than policy prescription, let alone an exercise in the philosophy of science or working out how to work out what the worst-case might be. Rather, it would seem more valuable to first understand how policy prescription precedes the ‘science’.

UPDATE 4.

Richard Betts has tweeted a link to the Climate Feedback analysis of Jonathan Watts coverage of the paper in the Guardian.

Curiously, though Richard gives the paper a ‘low’ credibility rating, the analysis differs markedly.

Five scientists analyzed the article and estimate its overall scientific credibility to be ‘high’.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, because all that Climate Feedback is really capable of is marking sceptical articles as ‘low’ and pro-climate articles ‘high’. The reviewers very much tend to the alarmist side. For instance, under a review of a recent article covering heatwaves in the US which proclaims that, Climate change is supercharging a hot and dangerous summer, Daniel Swain, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Los Angeles, Institute of the Environment comments that,

This is a reasonable title for the piece. While climate change is not the only factor in recent extreme and record-breaking heat, it is an important and pervasive one. The notion that climate change is “supercharging” heat extremes is an accurate one.

It is not a reasonable title for the piece. And the analysis lacks a historical statistical, as well as a social perspective on ‘impacts’. The fact of slightly longer, slightly warmer statistical trends does not straightforwardly equate to significantly longer and more intense heatwaves with more serious consequences for people. The US and UK, for instance, have suffered longer and hotter heatwaves, with much greater ‘impact’ in the past, even if we experience more ‘heatwaves’ today. The notion of a ‘supercharged’ summer is utterly misleading.

Recalling that Richard’s overall claim that it is the ‘media’, not science which is alarmist, I think we can conclude for now that media alarmism is amplified, not mitigated, by science and scientists.

UPDATE 5.

Jaime points to Richard’s latest mention of the paper — an article at the Conversation.

Betts is keen to stress the caveats:

With some exceptions, much of the highest-profile coverage of the essay presents the scenario as definite and imminent. The impression is given that 2°C is a definite “point of no return”, and that beyond that the “hothouse” scenario will rapidly arrive. Many articles ignore the caveats that the 2°C threshold is extremely uncertain, and that even if it were correct, the extreme conditions would not occur for centuries or millennia.

But as pointed out, one of the co-authors neglect the caveats given the opportunity of media attention. It is hard to rule out the possibility, then, that as discussed above, the ‘caveats’ are simply fig leaves for the authors’ desire to create political urgency.

The blandest, sanitised reading of the paper, offered by Betts and Curry, is that it is merely a scientific exercise. But the search for ‘tipping points’ one way or another, is a half century of failed political experiments with cybernetics. Decades on, Gaia has not been found; no tipping point has been located; Spaceship Earth remains grounded; the myth of ‘balance’ remains just that. Yet the promise from cybernetics that discovery of the planet’s service manual will provide unambiguous policy instruction from Mother Nature persists, even though the home-brewed geodesic domes were abandoned, and the diaspora of the autonomous collectives that built them settled in conventionality long ago.

Explicitly or implicitly, the understanding is that a systems perspective must be possible. Rockstrom says it himself:

It’s an intrinsic biophysical, non-negotiable part of how the Earth’s system is configured. Somewhere out there, science shows clearly that there is a planetary threshold. The question is just where is it?

There’s no evidence for it, but ‘science shows clearly’ that it exists. Rockstrom admits he cannot locate it, but claims nonetheless that ‘we’re starting to reach, or hitting the ceiling of the bio-physical limits of a stable planet‘.

We cannot ignore Rockstrom et al’s contemporary political motivations. We cannot ignore their attempt to reformulate yesterday’s failed experiments. And we should not fail to ask what kind of world they want, never mind what kind of world it will be. Their work is not about the climate.

After all, it would be more interesting, wouldn’t it, to ask what are the actual environmental constraints of society. There is good evidence that they are far wider than the ‘resilience’ experts claim. We should, then, depart from the notion of ‘resilience’, to ask what better use could be made of our lot instead of paying so much undue attention to these doomsayers.

38 thoughts on “Who Pushed the Alarmist Domino – Scientists or the Media?

  1. Ben,

    “…the Precautionary Principle was settled on and somewhat de-emphasised (or simply buried under mountains of verbiage), and as observations failed to support prognostications from the alarmists’ end.”

    My personal view is that the de-emphasis of the precautionary principle (pp) has correlated with the de-emphasis of uncertainty. The pp only applies when uncertainties are so significant that probabilities (and hence risk levels) cannot be reliably calculated. Consequently, uncertainty aversion has to be the order of the day. Unfortunately for the purposes of alarmism, saying “we do not know the risk levels but it’s better to be safe than sorry” wasn’t exciting the public enough. So the pp was quietly dropped and replaced with the mantra, “What uncertainties?” This, of course, had to be accompanied by the promulgation of the meme that sceptics are irrationally obsessing over non-existent uncertainties. Worse still, the sceptics disingenuously cite uncertainties that they know don’t exist.

    Having now made such a strong play regarding the lack of uncertainty, the alarmists can’t now re-introduce the pp. You can argue one way or the other, but not both at the same time.

    As for the central theme of your article Ben – yes, the climate scientists cannot blame the current situation on the media. We can all see what happens when scientists start to see advocacy as their primary role.

    Like

  2. As I have said before, these climatists destroying classical geological and paleoclimate understandings of our world and how it works. They do it intentionally to serve their “noble” cause. They do science a great disservice by contorting “Hothouse” into meaning one good old-fashioned summer in the Northern Hemisphere (preceeded by a brutal winter in many places). For what hothouse and icehouse actually mean see my post:
    https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2018/08/07/summer-hothouse-silliness/

    Like

  3. BTW, the most revealing comment was this one.

    Professor Johan Rockström, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and one of the authors of the paper, is a leading expert on positive feedback mechanisms. He told the BBC “What we are saying is that when we reach 2 degrees of warming, we may be at a point where we hand over the control mechanism to Planet Earth herself.”

    He added: “We are the ones in control right now, but once we go past 2 degrees, we see that the Earth system tips over from being a friend to a foe. We totally hand over our fate to an Earth system that starts rolling out of equilibrium.”

    Like

  4. Richard Betts points out that the 2C tipping point is just reported by comments that repeat other comments. Seems if enough folks keep on repeating something often enough, and any objections are shouted down, or kept away from the mainstream, then it will be accepted as being valid.

    In this context, consider a key graphic in the newly published PNAS Paper.
    Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene
    Will Steffen, Johan Rockström, Katherine Richardson, Timothy M. Lenton, Carl Folke, Diana Liverman, Colin P. Summerhayes, Anthony D. Barnosky, Sarah E. Cornell, Michel Crucifix, Jonathan F. Donges, Ingo Fetzer, Steven J. Lade, Marten Scheffer, Ricarda Winkelmann, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber
    doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1810141115
    Key graphic

    Ten years ago there was another paper published at PNAS
    Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system
    Timothy M. Lenton, Hermann Held, Elmar Kriegler, Jim W. Hall, Wolfgang Lucht, Stefan Rahmstorf, and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber
    PNAS February 12, 2008. 105 (6) 1786-1793
    Key graphic

    Many of the tipping elements are repeated. Yet in the past decade there had been no clear evidence of these tipping elements coming true, despite global emissions still increasing.

    Like

  5. The are redefining Scoteses definition of hothouse, and they are using the term anthropocene. They are venturing in the geology realm where they clearly are lacking expertise. Who on earth did the peer review of this garbage?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hans. Colin Summerhayes is a geologist, and should know better. Humans would exhaust all possible reserves of fossil fuels long before greenhouse (= hothouse) conditions could arrive.

    Like

  7. “And at one degree Celsius rise in temperature that we have caused… humans have caused by burning fossil fuels predominantly… is the highest temperature on Earth since the last ice age. And we’re reaching the edge of the highest temperatures on Earth in all the inter-glacials over the last one million years. So that shows that we’re starting to reach, or hitting the ceiling of the bio-physical limits of a stable planet.”

    Unmitigated BS, and much the same claim is made in the actual essay itself. As I’ve already pointed out, the claim that we’ve caused most or all of the warming since pre-industrial times cannot be substantiated. Also, it’s highly likely that the planet was warmer, naturally, several thousand years ago during the Holocene Climatic Optimum and it was very likely warmer during the Roman warm period and about as warm during the Medieval warm period. That’s just the Holocene. The interglacial before the last, the Eemian was even warmer still, as much as 8-10C warmer at the Greenland summit and generally 4-5C warmer at northern latitudes. east Antarctic was also 3-5C warmer probably and sea level was several meters higher.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I assume that things are PR not news, cutNpasted
    If the first comment below a news narrative doesn’t debunk it, then final paragraphs usually give the prime source away :
    You’ll see phrases like “the research was funded by X NGO”
    or sudden quotes from NGO activists,

    Like

  9. And now for some informed scientific commentary (cough)…

    “The evidence indicates our planet still might stand a chance of averting a complete climate catastrophe as long as my colleagues and I belong to a cabal of charlatans who are secretly paid huge sums of money to trick everyone into believing excess greenhouse gases will precipitate record-breaking natural disasters and worldwide famine. Otherwise, we’re all doomed.”

    https://www.theonion.com/climate-researchers-warn-only-hope-for-humanity-now-lie-1828171232

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yet in the past decade there had been no clear evidence of these tipping elements coming true, despite global emissions still increasing.

    I don’t there was any prediction that they should have come true in the last decade. These are typically slow feedbacks that operate on quite long timescales. They may also require us crossing temperature thresholds that we have yet to cross.

    Like

  11. There’s no evidence for it, but it’s a scientific fact…

    R: We’re starting to see the cracks in the resilience of the Earth’s system. We have already one degree Celsius indications that rapid ice melts makes them… makes ice sheets absorb more heat than reflected back. We’re seeing permafrost going. We’re seeing… you know… lessened capability of oceans and land and {inaudible – forests?} to take up carbon dioxide. The scientists… science that is published {inaudible – start?} indicating that two degrees Celsius may be a threshold when these tipping points occur.

    I: Yes, I mean, you you you say ‘may be’, because what you’re describing isn’t it a worst-case scenario… The point where rather than soaking up the carbon dioxide, the oceans and the former glaciers start chucking it out into the air?

    R: No it’s not a worst-case scenario. It’s an intrinsic biophysical, non-negotiable part of how the Earth’s system is configured. Somewhere out there, science shows clearly that there is a planetary threshold. The question is just where is it? When do systems like the oceans and forests tip over from being self-cooling to become self-warming? We now start seeing the scientific evidence that this threshold, this tipping-point may actually be at a lower temperature than we previously thought. And we’re starting to see indications that it may be at two degrees.

    Like

  12. Apologies, Stew. Wait until you see the next post… I will try to add headings, but not summaries.

    Like

  13. There are no ‘tipping points’ discussed in this essay, which in the past have demonstrably led to abrupt regional and global climate change/changes in global circulation. As ATTP says, it’s all about slow earth system feedbacks which the authors call ‘tipping cascades’ and which they speculate may be triggered irreversibly by the planet’s surface temperature reaching an arbitrary globally averaged mean of 2C above pre-industrial. There’s no real reason to describe slow earth system feedbacks as ‘tipping cascades’ and precious little evidence to suggest that they only kick in when some definite threshold of global mean temperature is reached – but it does add to the drama and it does help sell the idea that we can stop this Hot House Hell future simply by drastically dialing down the climate CO2 control knob.

    By the way, Richard has written about the essay at the Conversation.

    https://theconversation.com/hothouse-earth-heres-what-the-science-actually-does-and-doesnt-say-101341

    Like

  14. Thanks, Jaime, I’ve put an update linking to Richard’s new article up above, and added some more comment.

    Like

  15. “The blandest, sanitised reading of the paper, offered by Betts and Curry, is that it is merely a scientific exercise. But the search for ‘tipping points’ one way or another, is a half century of failed political experiments with cybernetics. Decades on, Gaia has not been found; no tipping point has been located; Spaceship Earth remains grounded; the myth of ‘balance’ remains just that.
    There’s no evidence for it, but ‘science shows clearly’ that it exists. Rockstrom admits he cannot locate it, but claims nonetheless that ‘we’re starting to reach, or hitting the ceiling of the bio-physical limits of a stable planet‘.”

    Ben is correct; the search for ‘tipping points’, or in this latest propaganda exercise, ‘tipping cascades’ is a largely political venture. ‘Balance’, i.e. a ‘stable global climate’ is largely a myth. Climate on regional scales is forever changing; the notion of a ‘global climate’ is a mere hypothetical construct predicated on a largely meaningless globally averaged surface temperature.

    This latest uber alarmist essay states that we have very likely already ‘broken’ the Quaternary ice age/interglacial cycle, thus ‘condemning’ the planet to remain in Holocene-like conditions in perpetuity, therefore avoiding the next major glaciation. That’s bad apparently! But it’s worse than that even.

    According to the authors, we are at a ‘fork in the road’, where one way points to a hot house earth and the other – via Earth system stewardship (i.e. global governance/Marxist/socialist shakedown) – leads to a stable Holocene-like never ending interglacial where we all live happily ever after, the weather is never that extreme and milk and honey flows forth from the belly of a contented Gaia. Basically, we can live forever in a new Golden Age, a Nice Anthropocene, or we can die horribly in a Nasty Anthropocene. Your choice. You git what you deserve. Buy an electric car and install solar panels now or condemn your children’s children’s children’s . . . . . . children to the Inferno.

    If we don’t immediately abandon our energy intensive, fossil-fueled lifestyles, then, when we ‘inevitably’ reach 2C in the next several decades, the hothouse earth trajectory will become ‘locked in’ and we will only be able to watch helplessly as the earth gets hotter and hotter over hundreds of thousands, even millions of years. This is the Nasty Anthropocene. Its inception or not is entirely dependent upon a politically convenient Master ‘tipping point’ which will unlock and activate all the other tipping points in a fearful cascade ending in Thermageddon. It’s little wonder that the alarmist press got so excited about this; it’s another take on the ‘we only have five years to save the planet’ scenario. The fact that the tipping cascades will take millions of years to fully manifest their pernicious effects upon the global climate is neither here nor there; the critical ‘point of no return’ lies just a few decades ahead.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. The alarmists are in full bore science denial. Actually, they are now bold enough to openly declare it.
    There 8s no physical pathway to a dangerous “hothouse Earth”.
    There is only fiction and deceut supporting their claim.
    And the lead author has a direct phone line to the Pope and was knighted by HRH.

    Like

  17. For ATTP to continue his banal pose that alarmists have not been shoving end-of-the-world hype giving us mere years to “save” the Earth is predictable.

    Like

  18. Ron,
    That quote is amazing. It reveals the anti-science miasma at the heart of climate change fanatics.
    Climate has never not been in the “hands of the Earth”.
    And climate has never “been our friend”.
    Promoting either of those delusional myths should get the purveyor dismissed out of hand.

    Like

  19. > First, there is the naked alarmism itself, and its authors’ rush to move from ‘science’ to the overt and explicit declaration of political imperatives.

    Climate ‘believer’ and renewables promoter Michael Liebreich has some harsh words on this.

    “What a crock! Instead of focusing on the science and identifying tipping points and trajectories, the abstract meanders off to demand global government. Mixing science with socialist demands usually means the science is crap, and as a conservative I can’t be bothered to read it.”

    “The point is not whether new governance and value systems are needed. The point is that being good at computer models of the climate IN NO WAY gives credence to someone’s political or social views. Scientist-activists are a big part of why we’ve ended up in such a mess.”

    “It’s clear that “What we have is not working”, but the reasons why are controversial and bollox-all to do with climate science.
    The weaponisation of scientists has alienated conservatives and lies at the heart of the failure to act – though no one on the left will admit it.”

    “Look, climate science has lost the conservative half of the population to deep, deep scepticism. I’m trying to explain WHY, with a real live example, and getting the expected groupthink push-back.”

    “Yes, a body of hard climate science, unsullied by activism or junk social ‘science’, would absolutely make climate action more likely – by making it harder for sceptics to dismiss it. It would also be more intellectually robust, which seems not to bother some people on here.”

    Two days later, he’s still having to repeat and explain this simply point to the clueless on twitter.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. “The blandest, sanitised reading of the paper, offered by Betts and Curry, is that it is merely a scientific exercise.”

    Granted for Betts. But for Curry, notwithstanding that she sees scientific value in the probing of such scenarios, so apparently in this case at least some contribution (and useful questions) even within the context of the authors’ dramatised approach, I’d personally characterise her assessment as ‘balanced’, rather than ‘bland’. For instance she says:

    “The apparent point of this paper is to spur ‘action’ on changing the world to prevent this hypothetical consequence ~ 1000 years in the future: decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.
    A paper about climate outcomes on a millennial time scale would seem to be completely irrelevant to any conceivable policy.”

    …which comment identifies a non-scientific main purpose in producing the paper, and also completely undermines that purpose. Plus her point about raising the scientific bar, i.e. there is valid science to pursued in that direction, but this paper doesn’t reach the bar. She doesn’t explicitly say, for instance, ‘these scientists are propagating the narrative of imminent climate catastrophe to force preferred radical policy’, but the above comment is everything but.

    Like

  21. I put it strongly, Andy. However, I think Curry is wrong on this point, too…

    “A paper about climate outcomes on a millennial time scale would seem to be completely irrelevant to any conceivable policy.”

    After all, what was The Stern Report? It was possibly one of the most ‘relevant’ document to policy ever produced, but traded on those timescales. When do ‘future generations’ become so distant their welfare should not be our #1 priority in the present? There is little guidance from the green camp on this point, other than waffle about discount rates and so on, to clearly mark the point at which our N x great-grand children have to make it on their own. And that seems to be the point: to give concrete numbers to the climate perspective in fact undermines it, because concrete numbers give a foundation to perspective, turning the political imperative into a technical challenge. Greens prefer to be able to shift the goalpost, up the ante, and sustain the FUD. It’s always worse than we previously thought, and it must be possible to always be worse than we previously thought.

    If the exercise was just that, a discussion within a scientific discipline, it would be *after* it has been understood that politics has entirely set the parameters of the ‘discussion’.

    Like

  22. @Ben: I don’t recall whether she’s ever taken a position on The Stern Report. But unless I’m missing something, I can’t see that her line you quote is incompatible with your own following paragraph (and as you imply for all papers or reports where a highly emotive narrative of climate catastrophe dominates actual science or economic theory, general perception of their value or relevance will be heavily skewed and indeed messaging will also be malleable to purpose), even if she hasn’t pursued that point to its logical conclusion for this or other papers (including Stern). Curry does also add that ‘If the paper wasn’t so heavy on the policy prescriptions, it would be a much more credible contribution’. Taken with the above quote too (and even though I understand you may have put it a little strongly), I’m still not seeing why you read her position as mainly believing this paper is a ‘scientific exercise’. She states that the point of the paper seems to be to spur policy (i.e. not science), and also it’s main weakness is its policy prescription content (i.e. not science). So I find little room to see these statements as descriptive of a ‘scientific exercise’ (only, or even mainly), notwithstanding that Curry also sees value in the approach of probing worst-case scenarios (yet not enough value in this particular paper for it to actually make the bar). I took ‘raising the bar’ to mean it would be great if this line of inquiry was pursued properly (i.e. with actual science), as Curry has encouraged, and hence not as Steffan et al have done.

    Like

  23. Andy, the point re Stern is that it is influential WRT policy, and has a timescale Judith rightly says shouldn’t be pertinent to policy, but is.

    Almost everyone now agrees, it seems to me, that the overbearing policy blackmail is just that. Where we differ is on how interesting a value-free investigation of the papers’ scenarios is possible, or would be useful, given Richard or Bett’s caveats. Once we’ve ruled out the politics, it would seem to me to be like atheists searching for evidence of God. It’s not a radical disagreement.

    Like

  24. @Ben: Okay. Indeed emotive pressuring for policy is endemic, and if we ruled out the politics then for sure 99.999% of the world and more would lose interest, as indeed they ought to for highly speculative research. But in principle at least, I can see that there is potential scientific value in this line of inquiry, done properly, not least because any of those avenues that depart from the simple CO2 control knob theory are likely very under-nourished, due to long entrenched group-think. And what scientists don’t find on a particular avenue can be very useful too, should that occur.

    Like

  25. The domino theory that Rockström mentions in the Radio 4 interval does not seem credible when one starts putting some numbers to it.
    There has been 1°C of warming so far with no catastrophic issues. Minor localized issues maybe, but nothing significantly large on the scale of a planet with a 510 million km² surface area. Yet another 1°C of warming and we could get the domino’s toppling? With climate highly variable, indeed chaotic, across the globe, could it be that the “hothouse” folks look at those facts or data sets or analysis methods that support for their beliefs, and do not notice the obvious elements that contradict it?
    An indication is at the policy level. Proponents of climate mitigation keep pointing to the aspiration of the UNFCCC Paris Agreement to control global GHG emissions consistent with 2°C, or 1.5°C of warming.
    (Article 2.1(a)). Article 2.2 states

    This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

    Article 4.1

    In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, ……

    Those “developing” countries now account for >60% of global emissions and have >80% of the global population. To achieve close the emissions gap (See below graphic from the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2017) means that other developed countries (EU, Japan, US etc) have to take up the difference. For 1.5°C emissions pathway might not even be maintained even if all the OECD countries achieve a 100% reduction by 2030. The “hothouse” guys have a solution. “We” should suck CO2 out the atmosphere. But to put actual figures of quantity of CO2 per annum needing removing (and therefore a cost estimate) would show the gap between their beliefs and political realities. That in turn ought to lead to questions as to why just an additional 1°C or so of warming can lead to tipping points global catastrophism.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. The problem with Stern’s eceonomic report is that it is considered for anything other than an example of a really bad economic report. If he wrote a financial analysis of similar quality into a legal disclosure it would be fodder for plaintiffs to use against him.
    His choice of discount rates alone marks it as a childish (to be diplomatic) exercise. His time horizons are equally so.
    But since the climate consensus implicitly relies on childish reasoning…
    Dr. Curry has frequently pulled her punches in critiquing the intellectual leaders of the consensus for her own reasons. Her restraint is admirable. She has certainly not been treated with similar restraint.

    Like

  27. More blatant politicisation from the lead author here:

    Co-author Will Steffen told The Intercept that the “obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics.”

    Contra much of the apocalyptic coverage around “Trajectories,” runaway climate change of the kind described in Steffen and his co-authors’ paper is very likely preventable. The ways to prevent it just happen to go against the economic logic that has dominated the world economy for the last half-decade, to scale back regulations and give major industries free reign.

    “I would say regulation every time: throw people in jail, fine them, do whatever you need to do.”

    Like

  28. Will Steffen and his gang are the risable twits.
    The “hothouse” fantasy they are selling is not merely preventable. It is not plausible.
    There is no physical pathway to get from the climate we have and are experiencing now to any sort of hothouse they are pitching.
    If anyone should be facing jail, it is the charlatan rent seekers like the authors of this bit of cli-sci scifi. At least fiction authors, when pushing apocalyptic crap, write it honestly as fiction.

    Like

  29. aTTP it’s very simple really. The scientific debate is about the most likely value of climate sensitivity and the most likely emission scenario. Not about worst case science fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. From Paul Matthews @ 15 Aug 18 at 10:45 am

    Consider Will Steffen’s quote again.

    “obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics…..”

    The aim is reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. But where is Steffen and the other alarmists preaching to all the countries of the world?
    Where is he trying to convince those countries which are dependent on fossil fuels for a large part of their GDP? Russia, Iran, Kuwait, Turkmenistan, Venezuela etc.
    Where is he trying to convince those countries which stated in the INDC submissions that there were more important priorities like economic growth, reducing poverty and political stability? Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bolivia etc.

    The failure of climate alarmists to relate models to the natural world is given away by a failure to recognize that they do not speak for the whole world. If stopping global warming was the opinion of real experts, they would try to be a bit more inclusive by relating to other perspectives and winning these countries round.

    Like

  31. Again, in that latest example, we can ask who pushed the alarmist domino.

    And again the answer is clearly the scientists.

    The paper is here

    “A modest 0.5-m rise in sea level will double the tsunami hazard in Macau

    and the press release is here

    “Climate change sea-level rises could increase risk for more devastating tsunamis worldwide

    Like

  32. The assertion about tsunamis reads rather oddly.
    The claim that “risk of tsunamis increase by 50%” implies that amongst its many evils climate change increases the frequency of tsunamis 50%.
    That is nonsense. Climate change cannot change the under ocean earthquakes that cause tsunamis. So why write the assertion so poorly?
    Perhaps they are claiming that a slr of 0.5 meters will increase damages from tsunamis by 50% in Macau. If so they should make their claim clearly
    That claim is also probably nonsense. But at least it is not the gibberish of their present nonsensical antiscience claim.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.