The Schellnhuber Equation

Graham Readfearn has an article in the Guardian titled:

Scientist’s theory of climate’s Titanic moment the ‘tip of a mathematical iceberg’

Formula for climate emergency shows if ‘reaction time is longer than intervention time left’ then ‘we have lost control.’”

drawing our attention to an article in Nature by Timothy Lenton, Johan Rockström, Owen Gaffney, StefaRahmstorf, Katherine Richardson, Will Steffen & Hans Joachim Schellnhuber.

Redfearn summarises it as follows:

When is an emergency really an emergency? […]Rather than being something abstract and open to interpretation, Schellnhuber says the climate emergency is something with clear and calculable risks that you could put into a formula. And so he wrote one.

Emergency = R × U = p × D × τ / T

In a comment article in the journal Nature Schellnhuber and colleagues explained that to understand the climate emergency we needed to quantify the relationship between risk (R) and urgency (U). Borrowing from the insurance industry, the scientists define risk (R) as the probability of something happening (p) multiplied by damage (D). For example, how likely is it that sea levels will rise by a metre and how much damage will that cause. Urgency (U) is the time it takes you to react to an issue (τ) “divided by the intervention time left to avoid a bad outcome (T)”, they wrote.

Schellnhuber, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, tells Guardian Australia the work on the formula was just the “tip of a mathematical iceberg” in defining the climate emergency. […] There is a time lag between the rapid cuts to greenhouse gases and the climate system reacting. Knowing if you have enough time tells you if you’re in an emergency or not. Schellnhuber used “standard risk analysis and control theory” to come up with the formula, and he was already putting numbers to it.

As a matter of fact, the intervention time left for limiting global warming to less than 2C is about 30 [years] at best. The reaction time – time needed for full global decarbonisation – is at least 20 [years].” As the scientists write in Nature, if the “reaction time is longer than the intervention time left” then “we have lost control”. […]

Prof Will Steffen, of the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and a co-author of the article, says: “Emergency can mean many things to many people. But there are some hard numbers behind why so many people are saying we are in a climate emergency. This formula sharpens our thinking. So we have 30 years to decarbonise and to stabilise our pressure on the climate system.” […]

There are a range of these intervention times left,” Steffen says. “How long do we have before [the Greenland ice sheet] goes? Maybe we have 20 to 25 years and then we might be committed to losing Greenland.[…] “Our reaction time has to be fast and to decarbonise by 2050 we have to really move now. That’s the point of [Schellnhuber’s] maths. “To err on the side of danger is a stupid thing to do.”

John Ridgeway, our resident expert on Risk, may have something to say on this, but there are some points about the article that seem to call for my particular expertise, which is in O-level arithmetic. I checked the Nature article to make sure that Readfearn had got the sums right, and he has. The Nature article ends:


We define emergency (E) as the product of risk and urgency. Risk (R) is defined by insurers as probability (p) multiplied by damage (D). Urgency (U) is defined in emergency situations as reaction time to an alert (τ) divided by the intervention time left to avoid a bad outcome (T). Thus:

E = R × U = p × D × τ / T 

The situation is an emergency if both risk and urgency are high. If reaction time is longer than the intervention time left (τ / T > 1), we have lost control.

We argue that the intervention time left to prevent tipping could already have shrunk towards zero, whereas the reaction time to achieve net zero emissions is 30 years at best. Hence we might already have lost control of whether tipping happens.

Well, yes, you may argue that, but not with that formula you don’t. All the formula does is assert that an emergency is a risk times urgency. Urgency is measured in time divided by Time, and therefore has no units, but is simply a ratio. Risk is a probability and Damage is presumably measured in money or some econometric equivalent, like lives lost, psychological trauma, destruction of planet etc. Ergo Emergency is also defined in £s sterling. Odd, that.

So in order to estimate how much time we have left before we need to react to a particular Emergency, all you need is the Schellnhuber formula and a mathematical trick (Geoff’s Nature trick) which I learned about sixty years ago, which involves multiplying or dividing both sides by the same thing. Following this simple rule, I derive:

τ = ET/pD

Readfearn gives two examples to which this formula might be applied: sea level rise and the Titanic. Taking the latter one first: the limiting case is when the reaction time τ = time till you hit the iceberg T. In which case the probability of disaster is 1, and E = D, or Emergency = Damage, measured in £s sterling, loss of lives, jewellery, mummies etc. If the probability is near zero, then τ is very large, and Emergency and Damage both also tend to zero and the captain has all the time in the world. In any case, he can be reassured that, whatever the odds, since E is proportional to D, and p is a fixed number (either 1, if τ≥T,or somewhere between 1 and zero if τ<T) then the time he has to save the ship is proportional to the time before they hit the iceberg. Zeno would be proud of Hans Joachim.

For sea level rise, you can consider the case of a rise of one metre as Readfearn does, or 1 foot by the end of the century, which is in line with current trends, or any rise you like, since any old level is going to be reached some time or other. So let’s consider a rise of x ft at time T and give it a probability of 1. So τ = ET/D.

Let us further make the reasonable assumption that the reaction time to alert is equivalent to the intervention time left to avoid a bad outcome. This is what people do when they see something obviously going wrong. They fix it. This was the case with sea level rise in e.g. the Netherlands where, as soon as they realised sea levels were rising, many centuries ago, they started building dikes, canals etc. at 3mm per year, or faster if conditions permitted. It follows that E = D or, in layman’s terms, the Emergency equals the Damage. And, likewise, the Damage equals the Emergency. Well done Hans.

I invite those of you who are less mathematically challenged than I am to play with this fascinating formula devised by Potsdam’s finest. Assume (as I am sure we all do) that the probability p of something horrid happening is 1, and you find that, by the arithmetical conjuring trick I performed above, E = τD/T, which means that, for an Emergency of a given seriousness, you can reduce the Danger by spending more time τ reacting to the alert.

On the other hand, for a given Danger D, the more time τ you spend reacting to an alert, the greater the Emergency which will result, and Schellnhuber has the formula to prove it.

Which is why I’m leaving my Christmas shopping until the 24th.


  1. Postscript:
    The main problems I can see are:
    1) The fact that Emergency is defined in units of pounds shillings and pence suggests a logical error somewhere. Remember those trick questions in primary school about how many men does it take to mow a 5 acre field and the answer comes out at thirty bushels?

    2) Probability of Damage is treated as an independent variable in the definition of Risk, but the conclusion is that it is dependent on the relation between τ and T. Shouldn’t p be replaced with something, possibly k(T- τ)/T? I’d try it myself, but I’m afraid of going wrong with the brackets.

    3) Isn’t this equation what scientists call a mathematical model? Do they ever get things a bit wrong in their formulation of these things?


  2. Thanks Alan. It was on my mind, but I didn’t know what it was called
    I’ve often wondered if the Drake Equation wasn’t responsible for the attraction to things climatical felt by astrophysicists. It must be comforting to come back from deepest outer space to the relative certainty of climate science, where the unknowns can usually be estimated to within a magnitude or two.


  3. Geoff “Oh you are awful, but I do like you”. Looked in vain for the astrophysical input, but knew when I read the name of lead author that the paper might be trash (TL had form at UEA).


  4. The infamous (I hope) ERUPT IT OUT equation, as it reads in English.

    Another reason to believe that Nature has reached a new nadir. I once considered it the pinnacle of science. Now it seems to have lost the necessary disinterest.

    It seems that when the Time remaining until the event happens (T) reaches 0, the Emergency (E) reaches infinity, or infinity plus one if you like. At that point it doesn’t matter how disastrous the Disaster (D) is. It could be a small graze on a child’s knee. But the Emergency would still be infinite.

    Of course, unlike Zeno’s arrow, there is a time when the Disaster has passed. At this point the Emergency becomes negative, & it becomes something else altogether. A big sigh of relief mebbe?


  5. Geoff,

    I haven’t the time to read your article properly at the moment, but just quickly looking at the Schellnhuber Equation one can instantly see that it is mathematical nonsense. Insofar as the management of a risk may be deemed time-critical one may presuppose that the calculation of the risk level has already factored in the urgency. To reduce a risk one can either militate against its realisation (i.e. act to reduce the probability (p)), or mitigate the impact associated with realisation (i.e. act to reduce the damage (D)). At any given time, p and D will be based upon the current feasibility of risk management, and so p and D will increase over time, the longer that action is deferred. Put another way, Urgency (U) is already a function of Risk (R), and so E = R x U is gibberish. In risk management, the emergency is reached when the Risk (R) exceeds an agreed threshold.

    I’ll get back to you later today when I have had time to read your article properly. In the meantime, I will just say that it is this sort of nonsense that makes scepticism so dangerously easy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “There are a range of these intervention times left,” Steffen says. “How long do we have before [the Greenland ice sheet] goes? Maybe we have 20 to 25 years and then we might be committed to losing Greenland.[…] “Our reaction time has to be fast and to decarbonise by 2050 we have to really move now. That’s the point of [Schellnhuber’s] maths. “To err on the side of danger is a stupid thing to do.”

    ‘OMG, just 20 to 25 years before Greenland goes into irreversible total meltdown and catastrophic sea level rise and catastrophic shut down of Atlantic thermohaline circulation and “tipping points” – and stuff! But, we’ve got this really simple formula which shows us clearly how we can avoid climate Armageddon and it’s just the “tip of a mathematical Thunberg” really.’

    What can I say? I agree totally – to err of the side of stupid is indeed a very dangerous thing to do.


  7. The context for understanding the rise of the “tipping point” notion is provided by a 2018 paper in Environmental Research Letters Defining tipping points for social-ecological systems scholarship—an interdisciplinary literature review. As the title suggests the researchers are not studying the earth, but rather people’s perceptions about the earth. This growing field of environmental psychology confirms how “climate change” muddles social and physical sciences.
    Paper is
    My synopsis is


  8. This equation also appears to ignore a balance of risks. If the proposed risk management policies are likely to produce more damage than the problem, that would nevertheless not show in this equation. It effectively justifies infinite action to avoid an emergency. In this sense, the Titanic example is an invalid comparison against CC scenarios. Even compared to the much smaller max damage function of losing the Titanic, the risk management is trivial for this case – going slower (so arriving a bit later) plus having more look-outs with binoculars. Whereas combating CC / SLR via carbon neutrality achieved in say 2050 (governments) or 2025 (XR), and featuring RE, cannot come without very its own serious risk issues to society and the environment. If the Titanic were pulled by 400 rowboats manned by all its passengers and crew out in the freezing cold Atlantic night, it would no doubt be safe from sinking due to an iceberg collision. But what would the toll on the inexperienced passengers be after a few weeks of this? How many wouldn’t make it to the US? Yet according to the equation, this is a legitimate solution. As John implies, if D is already a complex function taking into account all issues, so might for instance be *net* damage, then the hard maths is done somewhere else and the equation provides no extra insight or use.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Prompted by Andy’s excellent Titanic row-boat analogy, last Friday I was reasonably pleased about getting the damage balance roughly right (within 480 characters) both in the morning and evening, starting with my old schoolmate Barry:

    We should do a post on the Michael Kelly report (speech) for the GWPF, skilfully edited by Andrew Montford, sometime soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    I didn’t know lead author Tim Lenton was at UEA. He’s now at Exeter. Here are some of his recent publications:
    Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity
    Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system,
    Anticipating critical transitions
    Early warning of climate tipping points
    Gaia and natural selection.

    Quite heady stuff to sum up in an equation with a mere seven unknowns.

    Your point about urgency being already a function of risk is what I was struggling to express I think in point 2) of my comment at 4 Dec 2019 10.46pm above. What you can perhaps unravel systematically and mathematically the rest of us can at least recognise, as through a glass darkly, as being totally unfounded bollocks.

    The Schellnhubers remind me of the kind of successful charlatans in market research who could bedazzle clients with charts saying things like Consumer Satisfaction = Product Acceptability + Market Penetration, (or any other permutation of any such three concepts.) Or their many imitators in the academic world of post modernism for that matter.

    The point I continually try to make by wandering out of my depth into these shark-infested waters is to point out how very shallow they really are, and how even a non-swimmer like me can pick up some gems among the flotsam.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Geoff. TL was at UEA and played around with Precambrian tipping points – in particular the appearance of free oxygen within the atmosphere. I forget the details but this is dated as after the last appearance of detrital pyrite (= no free oxygen) and before the first banded ironstone (= iron in oxidized form). This of course impinges upon geology in a sort of major way. Yet Lenton wanted the topic all for himself and he and his postgraduate student refused to discuss it. This was all very odd because, before UEA, I taught at Toronto and had seen the rocks in question first hand.
    UEA had a major advantage in that it allowed interaction between people of very different specialities. Lenton sort of never cottoned onto that. I had little time for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Richard Betts and others are to present ‘new science’ on tipping points tomorrow afternoon in Madrid – to be chaired by Leo Hickman, ex Graun journalist, now boss at Carbon Brief!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. GEOFF,

    I have now had chance to read your article and postscript comment, and I can readily see that you had picked up on the unmistakable whiff that the mathematical bullshit was releasing into the atmosphere. You may not have expressed yourself exactly as I had, but you don’t have to be a vet to know when you have trodden in dung.

    My immediate thought had been to wonder how a supposedly respectable journal can allow such a fundamentally flawed article to be published. However, when I consulted the article, I could see that it was just another exercise in tipping point porn, and so was right up Nature’s street. The mathematics are given in a throw-away inset box towards the end of the article and had little to do with what had preceded – it was just an attempt at bullshit baffles brains, much like the marketing examples you cited. Here is my proposed contribution to the bullshit canon:

    Ridgway’s Equation: E = R x U

    Which means: Emotional over-reaction = Ridiculousness of concern x Uncritical acceptance


    Yes, your point is also valid. These people never seem to think that risk management actions can have unpredictable and equally severe consequences. How many fires result in huge numbers of victims trampled to death in an attempt to escape? Why do people think that evacuees are advised to move swiftly towards the exit but not to run or push?

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Of course, that should have read: ‘Ridiculousness of concern’.

    My one chance of achieving viral notoriety, and I blew it!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Surely Ridgeway’s equation has been superseded by Josh’s conjecture:
    E = R x U x M
    Emotional over-reaction = Ridiculousness concern x Uncritical acceptance x Media over-reaction



    Tim Lenton was at UEA and played around with Precambrian tipping points – in particular the appearance of free oxygen within the atmosphere.

    Pre-Cambrian tipping points? That takes us back a bit. I bet the ediacarans didn’t know what hit them. I see from Wikipaedia that some experts refer to this as the Oxygen Holocaust. Is there anything a scientist won’t do to get his name in the papers?


  17. @ Ron Clutz – 05 Dec 19 at 1:57 pm

    Thanks for the link to -

    thank god someone has a clue what zero means!!!


  18. Schellnhuber has been at this stuff a long time, he was Research Director part-time at the Tyndall Centre, in its early days, something which aggrieved Tom Wigley, who wrote to Mike Hulme in the following vein:

    28 May 2002 from: Tom Wigley
    subject: schell
    to: Mike Hulme

    Every time I see things like this I cringe ….

    Berlin, 6-7 December 2002
    Plenary speakers include Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Oran Young, chair of the IHDP Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change project; and
    John Schellnhuber, director of PIK and research director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

    “You know I have no respect for this guy. My position is fully justifiable; one just has to look at his background and training, and his publication and citation records. Quite clearly, he has contributed nothing of value to the science. But even a very competent person could not possibly hold down two responsible, full-time jobs like this. Is he being paid only 50% by both institutions? Is he spending 50% of his time at UEA? Has he contributed anything significant to the research or research initiatives/planning of the Tyndall Centre?”

    Wigley wanted to challenge his continuing employment, but in spite of this peer opprobium, two years later, he was awarded a CBE (honorary) 01/11/2004, cited for his his [non]science contributions. Tom Wigley kept quiet.

    “Tyndall Centre Director receives CBE – Professor John Schellnhuber, a Director of both the Tyndall
    Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research in Germany has been awarded an honorary CBE in recognition of his key contribution to climate change science and to UK and German co-operation.”

    In 2009, there was more Royal approval when he received Prince Charles on a visit to Potsdam,

    He achieved greater influence on becoming a “climate adviser” to the Pope:
    “But this time, with the power of Pope Francis’ encyclical earlier this year calling global warming a moral issue and an even more energized interfaith community, Schellnhuber feels the world’s faithful are watching and will hold world leaders accountable.

    On Saturday night in a downtown Paris chapel, hundreds of people, many of them prostrated on the ground, sang and prayed for the climate negotiators and mostly for the world. Faith “is much deeper” than science, said Caroline Bader of the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation.”

    How has “Schell” managed to keep in the public eye all this time? Perhaps because he promotes Apocalypse and people love the idea of Apocalypse. Repent your carbon sins, the hour of doom is nigh….and if you can chuck a few trillion dollars into the pot before the Apocalypse, you might just be saved.

    Spiegel online 2010:

    Our basic principle is that all humans have equal rights to the atmosphere. Why should a German be allowed to emit more CO2 into the atmosphere than someone from Bangladesh? No, we must divide the quota equally and fairly among all nations.

    SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is there no way out?

    Schellnhuber: In a special study we describe a possible way out. …we came up with a scheme whereby industrialized nations can buy emission quotas from countries with lower levels of CO2 output. The money made through this global trade in emissions could then be put towards financing environmentally friendly technology and developments in those countries.

    SPIEGEL ONLINE: So industrialized nations would have to pay massive sums of money?

    Schellnhuber: Yes. Up to €100 billion ($142 billion) annually. The West would give back part of the wealth it has taken from the South in the past centuries and be indebted to countries that are now amongst the poorest in the world.

    That was the continuing message after the failure of Copenhagen to monetise Kyoto and then we got Paris:

    “Highlights include agreements on energy and global ecosystem governance. In an extraordinary evening on Sunday 31 May, 2015 the delegates of the COP21 “Make It Work” simulation reached a visionary, last-gasp deal to protect the planet.”

    “Apocalypse tomorrow” is still the theme and hence the rhetoric of the last couple of years, “Hothouse Earth”, (Schellnhuber, Rockstrom and Steffen), SR 15, the Oceans report, on and on it goes as they seek to finally realise the Kyoto Holy Grail, a global CO2 tax, via the Paris Agreement, in Glasgow next year. I eagerly await the contributions from our own politicians to that event.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. Wonder why Tom Wigley was concerned. Don’t think he was at UEA in 2002. Mind you he was wasn’t wrong to be concerned. I rarely saw Schellnhuber, – once when he was introduced as the all bells ringing superheavyweight new addition to ENV that was to propel us stratosphere-wards; a couple of times striding down corridors very purposely, and then no more. Later the grapevine suggested he no longer was associated with UEA. A ship passing by night, causing barely a ripple. I never learned why, and wasn’t particularly interested.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Dennis, Alan,

    I think this story nicely illustrates an important point that we should all keep in mind: An ignorant person can still rise to the top of their profession and be lauded by dignitaries as long as they have mastered the art of bullshitting. Claiming to have used “standard risk analysis and control theory”, to come up with an equation that betrays a lamentably fundamental misunderstanding of both standard risk analysis and control theory is the hallmark of a bullshitter par excellence. As I have said several times now, when it comes to risk management, it is high time the world stopped treating these clueless amateurs as if they were experts.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. John. It could well be bullshitting but could just be inadvertently straying into areas where you have no expertise. If you combine this with arrogant and misplaced superiority you may not even recognize your incompetence. At UEA we would always warn our students doing their final year research dissertation, when writing up not to stray into another’s speciality. Misuse of statistics was extremely common. My time reviewing manuscripts for journals indicates that, in my specialist areas of Sedimentology, bullshitting and shear incompetence are common and may be difficult to separate from each other. The Schellnhuber equation, however, is an example that is difficult to top.

    Earlier, I did a disservice to the Drake equation. Subsequent enquiry reveals that Drake and his colleagues knew full well that many of the terms in the equation were unknown, or even unknowable, but the equation was formulated as a device to ensure all the variables had been identified. I don’t believe the Schellnhuber equation had this very limited intent.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Schellnhuber is a master propagandist and anti-fossil fuels political activist, a fully fledged Global Warming Goebbels who uses his privileged position as a Professor of Theoretical and Atmospheric Physics and founding director of PIK to push for global action on a non-existent climate emergency.

    He’s known Merkel since at least 1995 and has been heavily involved in the German Energiewend which has pushed millions of German people into fuel poverty by driving up the cost of electricity to the highest in the EU, wrecked the landscape and swallowed up vast sums of public money whist effectively doing nothing to reduce the country’s GHG emissions.

    He’s been floating the concept of “tipping elements” and tipping points in the climate system for years and it seems his BS is now being fully embraced by the IPCC propagandists as the latest weapon with which to induce widespread fear of an imminent climate apocalypse. COP25 has today ran a session on tipping points and Richard Betts and the Met Office have climbed on board to warn of the possibility of the thermohaline circulation shutting down because of the melting Arctic.


  23. It fascinates and annoys that the climatocracy keeps revisiting demonstrably phony things like a collapse of the thermohaline currents.
    There is literally no evidence that the ocean currents are linked to CO2 levels.
    Yet here we are, watching these shamans run it up the flagpole yet again.


  24. Schellnhuber – The Man for All Equations:

    This example is from 1999 –

    “Understanding the Earth system”

    “At the highest level of abstraction, the make-up of the Earth system E can be represented by the following ‘equation’:E= (N, H)(1)where N= (a, b, c, …); H= (A, S).This formula expresses the elementary insight that the overall system contains two main components, namely the ecosphere N and the human factor H. N consists of an alphabet of intricately linked planetary sub-spheres a (atmosphere), b (biosphere), c (cryosphere; that is, all the frozen water of Earth), and so on.

    The human factor is even more subtle: H embraces the ‘physical’ sub-component A (‘anthroposphere’ as the aggregate of all individual human lives, actions and products) and the ‘metaphysical’ sub-component S reflecting the emergence of a ‘global subject’.

    Global environmental change is all around us now, and the material components of the Earth system, N and A, are behaving like a strongly coupled complex.”

    He was a co-author here, which invokes the Drake Equation:

    It seems UAE’s ship in the night was not averse to transmitting a slightly deceptive position, as apparently he wasn’t there often: 2004
    “Since 2001, he is also research director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, UK, and professor at the Environmental Sciences School of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK”

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Alan,

    You are right; it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between someone who is self-knowingly bullshitting and someone who is unwittingly out of their depth. I choose to put Schellnhuber in the former camp simply because he seems to have enjoyed a level of success that is incommensurate with his grasp of the subject-matter he chooses to pontificate upon. This suggests that he has a talent of sorts, but not necessarily one to be proud of.

    That said, risk management is a notorious subject for those who are unwary, since it seems on the surface to be such a simple subject; so much so, that everyone assumes that it amounts to little more than common sense, requiring no particular expertise or training. That’s what I had always thought, before my professional duties required me to take it more seriously.


    I was going to take the piss out of Schellnhuber’s ‘elementary insights’, but I decided instead to let it go. Your latest post deserves to stand by itself. No further commentary is required.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Re Schell motivation – If the ultimate cause is huge and emotively committed idealism / beliefs, causing in turn a range of enormously blind biases, then I guess unwitting is closer than bullshitting. But given that rationality would be subverted in such a case, this is to some extent a different flavour than both. Below is footnote 7g) from this post :

    [HANS JOACHIM SCHELLNHUBER] Theoretical physicist. Chief (German) government advisor on climate and related issues during Germany’s EU Council Presidency and G8 Presidency. Director, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Via the German Advisory Council on Global Change (2013): ‘If we do not turn down the heat we shall collide with the planetary guard rails. In order to alter our course and to prevent the Earth system from breaking down, we must re-invent ourselves… For instance, the 2 °C climate-protection guardrail has been picked up internationally and adopted by many nations. A comparison: if the temperature of the human body increases by only 2 °C [AW: normal body temp is ~37], we call it fever. If the temperature exceeds 40 °C, one organ after the other breaks down, and finally the whole human system collapses. First of all we have to decarbonize the energy systems worldwide, which means replacing fossil resources with renewable ones in order to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 °C. This will only be possible if every single person is prepared to question his or her way of life. In order to be able to stay within the guard rails, we have to put things on the right track in this decade! …Such fundamental processes of change require creativity and innovation. And – above all – a world society of global citizens that presses ahead with solving problems that cannot be solved by single countries.’
    Plus more on those guardrails or ‘boundaries’ and what the world society of global citizens may look like, via Humans and Nature, Expanding the Democracy Universe (2013): ‘The global pursuit of economic growth and individual wealth in an environment with limited resources and capacities will soon hit the ‘planetary boundaries’ and may tear this cultivated world and its breathing inhabitants apart by making their living space uninhabitable and their existence unsustainable. Most importantly, the climate challenge calls for worldwide rational and concerted action… In addition to the reforms and constructive steps each state can make, we should implicitly create innovative concepts to respond effectively to the climate crisis. One crucial concept is the idea of a global democratic society. This society could be represented by a small set of global institutions that support the sovereign countries as assembled within the United Nations in working out solutions to problems that require concerted transnational action. Let me conclude this short contribution with a daydream about those key institutions that could bring about a sophisticated—and therefore more appropriate—version of the conventional “world government” notion. Global democracy might be organized around three core activities, namely (i) an Earth Constitution; (ii) a Global Council; and (iii) a Planetary Court. I cannot discuss these institutions in any detail here, but I would like to indicate at least that:
    • the Earth Constitution would transcend the UN Charter and identify those first principles guiding humanity in its quest for freedom, dignity, security and sustainability;
    • the Global Council would be an assembly of individuals elected directly by all people on Earth, where eligibility should be not constrained by geographical, religious, or cultural quotas; and
    • the Planetary Court would be a transnational legal body open to appeals from everybody, especially with respect to violations of the Earth Constitution.
    In order to dovetail the die-hard system of national governance with the global institutions, a certain percentage of national parliamentary seats should be earmarked for “Global Ombudspeople.” Their prime mandate would be to ensure that the first humanitarian principles, as sketched above, are observed, not least in the interest of future generations. This is no less and no more than a vision to extend democracy across space and time. Unprecedented challenges like anthropogenic climate change remind us that such dreams need to come true — soon.’

    He goes on quite a lot more about his ideal society and how it should be organised / implemented. I have a feeling that what he means by ‘democracy’ in this context, might not match what the majority of people tend to think it means.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. When I look up Schellnhuber’s Wiki entry, I can’t help but feel jealous. He studied theoretical physics at post-doctoral level, specialising in solid state physics and quantum mechanics, before going on to enjoy a hugely successful scientific career. I studied theoretical physics at post-doctoral level, specialising in nuclear physics and quantum mechanics, before dropping out of university to embark upon a non-scientific career that was notable only for its abject obscurity and lack of success. And yet, when it came to it, I gained sufficient understanding to appreciate that the equation E = R x U has to be twaddle since the calculation of U is already factored into the calculation of R. Schellnhuber, on the other hand could not see this, even though it is central to the validity of all else that he stands for. So, in a very important sense, it is he who wasted his life, and not I.

    There, now I don’t feel so jealous.

    Liked by 3 people


    On the question of who’s wasted their life, there’s another way of thinking about it:

    Andy’s first quote above suggests that the origin of the 2°C limit, which someone in the Climategate emails (Jones?) said had been “plucked out of the air,” is to be found in Schellnhuber’s metaphor about the effect on the human organism of a prolonged fever of +2°C. At +2°C human organs break down and we die. Therefore the same will happen to the earth. Hence the UN’s 2°C (revised to 1.5°C) limit. Take away a figure you’ve just thought of (1°C since 1860) and you’ve got the suicidal official treaty-imposed energy policy of the industrialised nations, and the predicted end of the world in 12 years time, all because of a figure of speech.

    What was that about a butterfly flapping it’s wang in Norwich causing retired actresses to wet their leotards in Los Angeles?

    Liked by 2 people

  29. John: The pinnacle of Schellnhuber’s success, for which you had I assume no possibility of a counter in your meagre CV, was surely his appointment as climate adviser to the Pope. (Thanks Dennis, as ever.)

    Now this is a segue into a point of theology so I’ll keep it brief. First up, there’s Roger Pielke’s superb post in Forbes yesterday:

    And this comment on one, for me, important piece of etymology:

    I say etymology but ‘history of ideas’ would also be fair. How we should interpret apocalyptic literature is key to a rational approach to near-first century thinking. To summarise wildly, the western tradition has taken these ‘political cartoons’ of the day far too literally. They weren’t talking end of the world, after all, but major shifts in world power. (Google NT Wright and apocalyptic for more.)

    And aren’t we sceptics, and those dissidents like Roger who don’t accept the moniker, getting it right in exactly the same way? The end of the world is, in fact, a bad joke, taken literally, based on ‘the science’. But global power-seeking has not gone away and lies just beneath the surface lies. Schellnhuber’s position within the papacy can be seen as a portent of more trouble to come.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. A bit OT, but…

    The Beeb can’t stop talking about a gloomy new IUCN report that apparently shows that climate change is robbing our oceans of oxygen.

    The IUCN report doesn’t show that, of course. Same old same old. The Beeb and the IUCN have been doing this crap for twenty years and more. Climate change might one day exacerbate something, therefore climate change is the cause of the current something.

    Some of the Beeb’s coverage has acknowledged that agricultural runoff is the main cause, some hasn’t even mentioned it.

    Here’s an edited MP3 of an IUCN spokesperson on Radio 4’s PM programme this afternoon. The interview started with runoff then went quickly downhill and drowned in the usual tropes.

    (The IUCN does wonderful work but alas seeks headlines so much that its output can’t always be trusted. And if you can’t *always* trust it, it should never be trusted without delving deeper, and who has the time to always do that? Default position: it’s as untrustworthy as UCS, SkS, etc.)


  31. partial quote from the article in Nature –

    “The palaeo-record shows global tipping, such as the entry into ice-age cycles 2.6 million years ago and their switch in amplitude and frequency around one million years ago, which models are only just capable of simulating. Regional tipping occurred repeatedly within and at the end of the last ice age, between 80,000 and 10,000 years ago (the Dansgaard–Oeschger and Heinrich events). Although this is not directly applicable to the present interglacial period, it highlights that the Earth system has been unstable across multiple timescales before, under relatively weak forcing caused by changes in Earth’s orbit. Now we are strongly forcing the system, with atmospheric CO2 concentration and global temperature increasing at rates that are an order of magnitude higher than those during the most recent deglaciation.”

    seems to me they are pissed we are not heading for an ice age?

    ps – “order of magnitude” the term has always confused me

    pps – wonder if “Emergency: do the maths – We define emergency (E) as the product of risk and urgency. Risk (R) is defined by insurers…” came from or helped by –
    Munich Re –


  32. Here’s the Kelly Equation, which I used to use in emergency situations. Not so much recently, though.


Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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.