Monday, April 13, 2015

A Train Wreck Avoided

As has been reported, the American Physical Society has requested comments on its Draft Statement on Earths Changing Climate. There was some amusement value in how the draft was presented.
“We have taken great care throughout this process, including focusing on consensus building that has resulted in a solid, science-based statement,” said William Barletta, POPA chair. “We now look forward to hearing from the Society’s membership.”
Those bunnies who have not been following what only a rabett of good will could describe as the rope-a-dope stylings of the APS Panel on Public Affairs, may need to do some reviewing, but the clatter of falling teeth filled the arena as Barletta described the workshop that Steven Koonin put together to educate the drafting panel he had carefully packed.
As part of the process, the Review Subcommittee convened a workshop on Jan. 8, 2014, with six climate experts. “We used this meeting to delve deeply into aspects of the IPCC consensus view of the physical basis of climate science,” said Barletta. “The Review Subcommittee’s goal was to illuminate for itself, for the APS membership, and for the broader public both the certainties and boundaries of the current climate science understanding.”
Anyhow, after wiser heads got in front of the moving train, the following statement emerged
On Climate Change: Earth’s changing climate is a critical issue that poses the risk of significant disruption around the globe. While natural sources of climate variability are significant, multiple lines of evidence indicate that human influences have had an increasingly dominant effect on the climate warming observed since the mid-twentieth century. Although the magnitudes of future effects are uncertain, human influences on the climate are growing. The potential consequences of climate change are great and the policies of the next few decades will determine human influences on the climate for centuries.

On Climate Science: As summarized in the 2013 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there continues to be significant progress in climate science. In particular, the connection between rising concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases and the increased warming of the global climate system is more certain than ever. Nevertheless, as recognized by Working Group 1 of the IPCC, scientific challenges remain to our abilities to observe, interpret, and project climate changes. To better inform societal choices, the APS urges sustained research in climate science. 
On Climate Action: The APS reiterates its 2007 call to support actions that will reduce the emissions, and ultimately the concentration, of greenhouse gases, as well as increase the resilience of society to a changing climate. Because physics and its techniques are fundamental elements of climate science, the APS further urges physicists to collaborate with colleagues across disciplines in climate research and to contribute to the public dialogue.
Eli, not being at all shy, although frequently ignored (Cassandra was too, and that had a cost), submitted the following

My criticism of the draft statement is the lack of urgency.  Given that damage to the climate through emission of greenhouse gases accumulates and remains, this is a serious omission and I would strongly recommend inserting the second paragraph of the previous statement at the end of the current draft
The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.
The evidence that the damage will persist for centuries is inherent in every model of the carbon cycle from the simplest to the most complex, and dealt with by the IPCC WG1 reports.  The reason why urgency is needed at every point is explained by Stephen Gardiner in a Perfect Moral Storm
the presence of the problem of moral corruption reveals another sense in which climate change may be a perfect moral storm. This is that its complexity may turn out to be perfectly convenient for us, the current generation, and indeed for each successor generation as it comes to occupy our position. For one thing, it provides each generation with the cover under which it can seem to be taking the issue seriously – by negotiating weak and largely substanceless global accords, for example, and then heralding them as great achievements – when really it is simply exploiting its temporal position. For another, all of this can occur without the exploitative generation actually having to acknowledge that this is what it is doing. By avoiding overtly selfish behaviour, earlier generations can take advantage of the future without the unpleasantness of admitting it – either to others, or, perhaps more importantly, to itself.
In addition, I have comments on the process.  When APS schedules a policy statement it should ensure that the membership of POPA for that year includes several that have expertise and are respected in that area.  What happened in the case of the Earth's Changing Climate statement was seriously embarrassing to the Society and totally avoidable.

In the case of the Earth's Changing Climate statement, the chair of the drafting subcommittee was a serious mistake as, to be generous, his naivety about the physics of climate mislead both him and the drafting subcommittee.  Those doubting this would do well to read and exchange between Isaac Held and the committee from the experts's interview and a reply to the drafting subcommittee's chair from Andrew Lacis, a leading climate scientist

Second, it was disappointing to see that the panel selected to teach the drafting committee about Climate Change consisted of three mainstream experts and three outliers (Christy, Lindzen and Curry).  There are also those who are existentially frightened by what they see as the threat of climate change .  They were not represented, nor am I saying they should necessarily be in equal number, but I do say that the Panglossian outliers should also have not been involved.  There is a professional consensus in this area and if the drafting committee would need lessons  (which it should not) then extremists can only mislead non-experts

Eli has heard from others with slightly different takes.  It is certain that the draft statement is considerably stronger than the originally proposed one.  That is welcome.  Eli and friends had awaited a train wreck.  If one is recommending how to proceed when the need for dealing with the threats of climate change are acknowledged, the draft statement's emphasis on global warming as risk management can be rigorously defended.

However, as readers of Rabett Run know, the threat of climate change has NOT been acknowledged by a blocking minority and IEHO, a call to urgent action is still needed to get through their opposition.

It is important that the draft statement emphasizes the considerable human role in warming, the likelihood it will get worse in the future, and the serious risks involved. It also emphasizes the importance of reducing emissions.

On the other hand, the bunnies and the bunny clutchers know that there are elements of the APS membership who will fight to weaken the statement, and even a slight retreat from the strength of the statement as currently written would be an unacceptable loss.  

Given that, at a minimum it is important for the membership to get behind the statement and back it. Shoving the Overton Window in the direction of strengthening the draft statement will help offset the voices that will no doubt cry out for eviscerating it and, if loud enough, might even succeed.

Postscript:  As Hank says in the comments below:
I think in hindsight the APS will appear, well, to be physicists doing their usual thing, standing on the tracks and squinting into the light wondering why it's getting brighter faster and faster.


Russell Seitz said...

Let's see what Isaac Held thinks about it.

Bernard J. said...

The APS trainwreck may have been averted for now, but there's a greater one still in play.

Freeze the gif halfway through, and that's where humanity is with respect to climate change. Unfortunately I don't think that the time interval for action would scale up as much as the train does in the analogy...

I hope that the APS seriously considers this in all of its future deliberations and announcements on the matter.

John Mitchell said...

This is my submission


Human agricultural activities are determined to have impacted the Earth’s atmosphere beginning approximately 6,500 years ago. These activities have prevented a return of the Earth’s climate to a glacial state that, in the absence of these impacts, would have likely occurred during the last 2,000 years.

Subsequent to the industrial utilization of fossil fuels, human contributions to atmospheric greenhouse gasses have grown to dominate the Earth’s climate. This anthropogenic effect is currently expected, with a high degree of certainty, to increase the Earth’s globally averaged surface temperatures over the next several decades. The results of this global warming will be widespread and their impacts will vary significantly among regions. In many areas this experience of global warming will be catastrophic and will greatly increase the potentials for extreme disruptions of the regional social, economic and security environments.

These effects of current global greenhouse gas abundances, in the absence of significant adaption efforts, are already occurring and are therefore incontrovertible.

If globally significant mitigation actions are not taken immediately, future climate change events will continue to grow in both intensity and frequency. These events will produce wide-scale hardships that will work as a threat multiplier, compounding the impacts of social, economic and security threats on a global scale. It is very likely that these compounding effects, coupled with the growing potential for non-linear natural feedback mechanisms, will prevent the continuation of modern society within the next ten decades.

Fernando Leanme said...

i am completely objective and don't belong to this society, but I can pass on my comment should any members wish to pass it on:

This society is presumably a scientific society, therefore the statement should emphasize the basis for the position taken by those who adhere to the statement. This position is based on the acceptance of a climate sensitivity range, and the possibility, which can't be quantified, that the upper extreme can cause a lot of harm.

The statement should also acknowledge that a portion of the membership feels the climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases is overestimated, and that it's likely the world will warm but we will avoid entering the extremely dangerous realms.

It should then clarify that the membership, in general, agrees the world is warming, that greenhouse gases are a significant cause, and that eventually the green house gas concentration will increase to such a point that, even if climate sensitivity is within the lower ranges the ocean will change as it acidifies.

Then it should go on and explain that humanity must seek to gradually reduce green house gas emissions as well as take other actions needed to withstand the impact of climate change, which to this point is hard to quantify, but which definitely requires some action.

Now I want to toss the APS and the climate wonkocracy a curve ball: what if our fossil fuel resources aren't as large as you think, or have assumed? I see lectures, articles, blog posts and speeches in which wonkocrats assume we have an endless supply. But that's a fairly naive, and unsupported belief.

And if you doubt this point, just wait until oil prices reach $100 per barrel by January 2017 and think about the implications.

Bryson said...

How some members of the society 'feel' about what the climate sensitivity really is is irrelevant, just as whether or not I felt like I might die at 40 was irrelevant to whether I should buy life insurance to secure my family's well being if I were to die. The evidence is extremely clear: we cannot rule out high climate sensitivity (and neither can we rule out very substantial costs for BAU even if sensitivity is in the middle of the range). Whistling in the dark is not a responsible choice.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

I think it's too late, frankly. We already have "millennium droughts" occurring in California and Australia, and lesser record-setting droughts in Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and East Africa. Norfolk VA and Miami FL are already affected by sea-level rise. 70,000 people died in the European heat wave of 2003. But we STILL have people like Mr. Objective above who aren't quite sure, and want to go slow, and he represents half the American electorate. In the face of this kind of suicidal militant ignorance, I really see no hope for saving this civilization.

Fernando Leanme said...

BPL, you and I don´t share the same information, nor do we have the same education and background. I took my comment above, and reformatted it a little bit, and started dropping it around to see if I get some traction

Feel free to call me suicidal if you wish. I see my approach as conciliatory, unbiased, socially sophisticated, innovative, normal, generous, ad nauseam.

luminous beauty said...

"i am completely objective."

Pull the other one Fernando.

Hank Roberts said...

"... it's got bells on ..."

As an aside, is there a Cassandra Collection anywhere that this sort of thing should be archived?

I was just browsing another of Cassandra's contributions, now instantly recognizable

I think in hindsight the APS will appear, well, to be physicists doing their usual thing, standing on the tracks and squinting into the light wondering why it's getting brighter faster and faster.

Maybe the universe is shrinking, that'd explain it ....

EliRabett said...

If other members of the APS put their comments up here, Eli will add them to the OP or start another. John Mitchell do you object?

Barton Paul Levenson said...

FL: I see my approach as conciliatory, unbiased, socially sophisticated, innovative, normal, generous

BPL: You forgot humble.

Hank Roberts said...

> Isaac Held
op. cit.

Awaiting further comment, eagerly.

Aaron said...

Physics is about eternal and universal truth.

APS missed the truth of the situation. This goes back to a failure to properly model ice sheet behavior in IPCC AR1. At that time, members of the APS should have made sure the models incorporated our best understanding of ice physics.

The judgement of history on the members that allowed this to happen will be more brutal than anything I care to say. I do not believe in hell, but I do believe in the judgement of history, and the members of the APS have written themselves a poor obituary.

Russell Seitz said...

"physicists doing their usual thing, standing on the tracks and squinting into the light wondering why it's getting brighter faster and faster."

Because the LHC directors have decided to shim the magnets themselves

Steve Bloom said...

Aaron: "This goes back to a failure to properly model ice sheet behavior in IPCC AR1."

To be fair, that wasn't and still isn't possible. But they should have been a bit more humble about the obvious knowledge gap.

Arthur said...

Here's my comment - I should probably post it on my blog some time too..

Every claim in this statement appears to be correct according to my understanding of the problem. Succinct is also good. However, several phrases seem ambiguous:
1. "increasingly dominant" - is that saying (accurately - over 100% of warming since 1950 is human-caused by the vast majority of estimates) the human influence is now "dominant" or just that it is increasing? The following sentence also uses the word "growing", redundant with "increasingly". I would recommend to remove "increasingly" from the earlier sentence, it adds nothing but ambiguity to the paragraph.
2. "more certain than ever" - "certain" is accurate, but with the qualifiers it becomes unquantified and ambiguous. Are we at 1% certainty (but more than before) or 99%? How about the word "established" with some explanation of why - for example "the connection ... has been established observationally in accordance with decades-old theoretical predictions".

There is a lot missing from the statement - fundamental physical and chemical principles lead to some of the worst of the expected consequences. Ocean acidification. Rising sea levels (from both ocean warming and melting icesheets) will continue long after we stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels. More extreme weather (heatwaves, drought, rainfall, storms) follows directly from statistics of extremes and the dependence of water vapor partial pressure on temperature, though details on regional impacts are very complicated. Physical intuition regarding chaotic systems suggests poking them by tweaking parameters can lead to completely unexpected responses - accentuating the uncertainty and risk associated with continued human modification of the planet.

The statement as it stands is almost bland, understating the potential (based on physical principles) for grave concern. But - at least the statement appears to be factually correct. It would be interesting to have a bit more openness about the process in which this was developed (what did earlier versions of the statement look like?) but in general some kudos are in order for delivering a concise and accurate statement that at least expresses the most important issues clearly.

Fernando Leanme said...

Barton, my approach is also generous and informative.

For example, here´s a snappy little summary of the Energy Information Agency´s 2015 outlook. I give you a single page with the juiciest material, and a link to the very lengthy and boring report if you wish to read it

After you look it over, tell me whose approach may not be more effective. Or you can go divest your fossil fuel stocks.

snarkrates said...

Hysteria is not helpful. Members of the scientific societies have to come up with statements that reflect the consensus of their members while not doing violence to the science.

And, pray, why is it the responsibility of APS to ensure the physics of everything is correct in climate models? Methinks you might want to get a clue how science actually gets done. It would make you a more effective proponent.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

FL: Or you can go divest your fossil fuel stocks.

BPL: My wife and I already have.

afeman said...

Oooo Doppler sh-

Mal Adapted said...

Aaron: "Physics is about eternal and universal truth."

If only. No, the best even physics can hope for is "inter-subjectively verifiable" truth, and only tentative and conditional agreement among physicists on that.

That said, Science is still the only method we've found for predicting the future that's superior to divination with a sheep's liver. "Even physicists" must cultivate humility, though, for pride goeth before a fall.

Hank Roberts said...

> eternal and universal truth

As understood by local mayflies, of course:

JohnMashey said...

~40 years ago, I used to run across people writing C code whose results were equivalent to UNIX grep(1) with the right flags, maybe with a UNIX shell procedure. The message to people was: know what exists and save invention for things that need it. There was a long campaign to get people to re-use software rather than spending much effort reinventing.
a) Expert(s) write and review useful new program
b) Less-expert people use it,
c) Less-expert people spend a lot of time debating it, writing a new program from scratch, less capable than a) and arguably buggier.

Wikipedia has a long list of statements on climate by science societies.

I know this leaves room for far less creativity and committee meetings, but here's a process:

1) POPA reads Wikipedia to find other statements.

2) POPA selects a few recent ones by societies filled with domain experts, like 2013 AGU (2013) statement, with list of (reviewers, all but one concurred or GSA (2013), with its panel, who together have 1000+ peer-reviewed pubs of which many are relevant. And there are others.

3) The POPA statement then becomes in total:
"We concur with Society X and encourage physicists to learn about climate science and when appropriate get engaged with research efforts.

That's the equivalent of the 1-line shell script that invokes grep with the right options.

Personally, I'd probably pick X = AGU, but I might be biased:
1) I know or know the work of more of the people on review panel
2) The one dissent is actually a positive :-)
3) I'm an AGU member as well as APS.

EliRabett said...

So John what was your comment to Kate Kirby?

John Mitchell said...

I submitted to Dr. Jaffe in March during the panel discussion.

EliRabett said...

Excess of John M's here. Eli meant John Mashey. Apologies!

Fernando Leanme said...

Barton, divesting stocks is like wearing high heel sandals to a track meet.

Did you read the Energy Information Agency's 2015 outlook? I put a link to the summary I prepared in an earlier comment. The EIA forecast says Obama's proposal to reduce CO2 emissions won't be met, that renewables will not take off as a major contributor by 2040, and that oil prices will climb relentlessly as the existing reserves are depleted.

Let me give you an insight: the world will consume less fossil fuels in the future because prices will be too high, and the industry won't have the technology to extract sufificient volumes to satisfy demand.

I have a comment for the APS: recommend fast paced research in geoengineering.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

FL: Let me give you an insight: the world will consume less fossil fuels in the future because prices will be too high, and the industry won't have the technology to extract sufificient volumes to satisfy demand.

BPL: Let me give YOU an insight: The civilization of Earth will collapse in 2028, +/- 6 years. It doesn't much matter what we do at this point. I divested in fossil fuel stocks because it was the right thing to do, not because I thought it would make a difference.

Hank Roberts said...


Hank Roberts said...

PS for BPL:

"I asked Christopher Reyer how much hotter he thought the planet would be by the year 2100.... his best personal guess, a single number.

'I guess it should be between three and four degrees hotter. We used to think that we were headed for +8°C, but that will never happen. We are not even on track for +6°C because economies will be collapsing long before we get there....'"

Barton Paul Levenson said...

'I guess it should be between three and four degrees hotter. We used to think that we were headed for +8°C, but that will never happen. We are not even on track for +6°C because economies will be collapsing long before we get there....'

BPL: Unless, of course, we set off geophysical runaways that will make the problem much, much worse even if our industrial economy breaks down. Clathrate release, for instance.

John Mitchell said...

Arctic sea ice loss at summer solstice will produce a regional forcing that is equivalent to almost doubling CO2 globally. This will severely impact permafrost disassociation and possibly lead to a self-sustaining microbial decomposition. Speleotherm data indicates nearly universal permafrost decomposition with only 2-3C warming than today on the global average. This regional effect will produce a non-linear temperature response with anomalies as high as 20C above seasonal norms, as well as increased cloudiness during the winter months. Combine this albedo forcing, 350 to 1000 Gt of carbon from permafrost, boreal forest and tropical peat fires and the reduction of ocean DMS from acidification and we can easily reach 8C by 2100, on the way to 16C by 2300. This is under BAU until collapse scenario.

Jim Eager said...

Fernando still fails to grasp the purpose of the fossil fuel divestment movement. It's not an economic strategy, it's a public education strategy meant to undermine public support for the track meet.

Jim Eager said...

Hank, we don't have to go above 3-4C for civilization to collapse, we just have to sufficiently disrupt industrial-scale agriculture.

We're already well on the way in California. Now just combine it with another Russian heat wave and wild fires, and/or an Australian heat wave and wild fires, and/or a rogue or failed south Asian monsoon, all in the same year.

If we don't get our act together pdq, it's just a matter of time before the shit hits the fan.

neverendingaudit said...

> Let's see what Isaac Held thinks about it.
Another interesting bit:

DR HELD: No — well, yes, they are. I’m sorry. They are both in chapter 10 of AR5. In fact, they are both right next to each other in the summary of chapter 10. And so, for people who read chapter 10, these are two different statements. And it’s discussed in some detail in chapter 10.

DR. CURRY: The issue is what showed up in the summary for policymakers.

DR. LINDZEN: And the press release.

DR. CURRY: And the press release, yes.

DR. KOONIN: That’s not science, but it’s important.

DR. HELD: I want to stick to the science. I am not saying it's not important.

You're welcome.

Fernando Leanme said...

BPL: and the basis for a civilization crash in 2028 is what? An epidemic? Nuclear war?

Fernando Leanme said...

BPL: and the basis for a civilization crash in 2028 is what? An epidemic? Nuclear war?

Fernando Leanme said...

Here's the latest OPEC monthly report.

They forecast an increase in oil and other liquids consumption (OPEC is disguising the figures by adding biofuels and natural gas liquids to the total).

Barton Paul Levenson said...

FL: Agricultural crash due to drought secondary to global warming.

Brian said...

Fernando - EIA has consistently and vastly underestimated renewables growth to date. I believe that report estimates a best case tripling of renewables by 2040, when the current annual growth regularly exceeds 50%.

The people primed to believe in conspiracies would go nuts over this if they paid any attention to it.

Jim Eager said...

BPL, it's not only drought, too much rain can be just as lethal. In the summer of 2010 while the Russian wheat crop was being ravaged by drought Pakistan's crops was being washed away by rogue monsoon floods. And while Australia's Murry River basin in the south baked dry, fields in Queensland drowned.

Fernando, are you really that dense? Agriculture is what makes civilization possible, not fossil fuels. Agriculture on the industrial scale required to feed a population of 7 billion and counting requires predictable and reliable precipitation, something we are loosing as climate warms and changes. Agriculture is civilization's Achilles' heel in a changing and disrupted climate.

Susan Anderson said...

I'm puzzled by the removal of my comments. Did I say something wrong?

EliRabett said...

Susan, absolutely not, and Eli replied to you and that is gone too. Very strange. Appreciate it if you repost.

Susan Anderson said...

Not to worry. I'm a sporadic visitor, here's a recap.

Because of a variety of inputs from Tenney, RabettRun, and elsewhere my father, PW Anderson (Nobel '77, amorphous semiconductors), who is 91, and I located his copy of the APS comment email.

At first he thought the statement was OK, and read the FAQs which emphasized that the new statement was more "succinct". There's nothing wrong with his mind, and while he will consult with me about climate, particularly the appalling politics, he thinks for himself.

Having extracted a promise from him to keep an open mind while I hunted for good arguments on the subject, he eventually arrived at the conclusion that he would comment, and also mention it to his friends.

My rough rendering of what he told me (and I can be sloppy, mind you), was that he felt it was peculiar to emphasize succinct as a desirable goal and that the science and events have become clearer over time, so emphasizing uncertainty was inappropriate. (I call it weasel language, with no insult intended to Stoat.)

(ps, some of us are targets for certain underhanded web activities at times, though one is not skillful enough to trace the problem(s) ... fwiw)

Susan Anderson said...

Russell, you might be amused to know that I also took the opportunity to show PWA some vvattsupwiththat posts which made him laugh.

Mal Adapted said...

BPL: "FL: Agricultural crash due to drought secondary to global warming."

Here in the American West, the ongoing drought is a serious topic. AGW-deniers are trumpeting recent findings of regional multi-year droughts occurring on millennial time scales, as "proof" the current drought isn't related to AGW.

They're ignoring the difference between previous droughts and the current one, which is that it's warmer now. Evapo-transpiration rates have risen with temperature, depleting soil moisture earlier in the growing season; mountain snow packs have declined because winters are warmer, leading to reduced stream flow and reservoir storage at the time of greatest demand by crops and natural ecosystems; forests are entering fire season at historically low fuel moisture levels, ready to burn.

The upshot is that even if changes in regional precipitation can't yet be attributed to AGW, nevertheless orchards are being uprooted, desert species are expanding their ranges and forests are giving way to scrubland. Meanwhile, deniers deny.

Russell Seitz said...

Susan , as tomy view of uncertainty science and politics part polemic company when either, or worse, both , of the parties to a debate, paint the data in brighter colors than the error bars.

In the days before the crash, and the post Joe Kennedy SEC put a stop to it , stock jobbers long and short made an art form of painting the tape, a practice not unheard of in the climate wars.

One solution that I have tried to teach is to unplug the data set entirely, and shove the result in faces of those who cavill about the other fellow's taste in cherries.

Unfortunately, the Society for the Suppression of Rubber Graph Paper has no standing in the conflict.