Glum and Glummer? Or is There a Glimmer? Fact-Checking “The Newsroom”.

December 5, 2014

The piece above has gone viral – it’s Aaron Sorkin’s overly gloomy “it’s all over, why bother” take on climate change.
I maintain it’s the lazy way, – just as toxic, and wrong, as ‘it’s all a plot, there is no warming”.

It’s gotten enough traction that Climate Desk has done some fact checking, and Mike Mann was asked about it in a recent radio interview, excerpted below.

James West in Mother Jones:

The scene is odd for a number of reasons. The Newsroom packages its drama based on last year’s events, and at that time, the news that the world was approaching 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had been publicly anticipated for weeks. So, not a scoop in any way, or anything that anyone following the science didn’t already know.

But putting that aside, let’s take a look at Sorkin’s “facts”, as presented in the episode. How do they measure up? Let’s go line-by-line through the scene above.

In the weird parallel universe of TheNewsroom, I’m not sure when these “latest measurements” were meant to have been taken. But he’s right. We covered this at the time: The world passed that 400 ppm threshold for the first meaningful way in May 2013, when the daily mean concentration of carbon dioxide was higher than at any time in human history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The measurements are indeed taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii; you can follow what’s known as the “Keeling Curve”—a measurement of atmospheric concentration of CO2—on Twitter, naturally, thanks to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Depends what you’re defining as catastrophic failure, I suppose.  Say you were born last year, when I assume this episode was meant to be set. If we follow along current emissions trends, the planet will be 3.96°F-8.64°F (2.2°C–4.8°C) hotter than preindustrial times by your retirement. (You can type your birth year into this cool interactive, driven by data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to check how hot it will be when you’re old). That’s above temperatures recommended to be in the supposedly “safe” zone by the IPCC, and could definitely result in a variety of “catastrophes” and “failures”. As deaths increase due to things like extreme weather, droughts and wildfires, this statement seems true enough when applied to individual episodes of calamity, which will surely increase. (The number of annual deaths in the UK due to heat, for example, is predicted to rise by 257 per cent by 2050.) The EPA official is right, in one sense. But it’s also arguable that deaths are already and will continue to be linked to climate change events. The line in the script infers the failure of the planet as a whole, which I think is artful flourish to illustrate just how glum this fellow is feeling.

In addition to the Mother Jones piece, Dr. Michael Mann appeared on the “Brad Blog” radio show, and answered questions about the “Newsroom” piece.

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Mother Jones again:


Yup. That’s what the science says. The last time the atmosphere clocked 400 ppm it was 3 million years ago—the “Mid-Pliocene”—when sea levels were as much as 80 feet higher than today (see this 2007 research paper authored by a group led by NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University.) I’d probably add an “around” or “about” before the “80 feet higher” in the above statement; the studies leave a margin of error. But this statement checks out.

His point is sound, but I’d like to see the writers’ sourcing—these numbers seem to date to around the late 1990s. According to a more recent 2011 NOAA report, 55 percent of the world’s population lives within 50 miles of the coast. The UN has a slightly different number: Over 40 percent of the world’s population, or 3.1 billion, lives within 60 miles of the “ocean or sea in about 150 coastal and island nations.” In the US, 39 percent of the nation’s population lived in counties directly on the shoreline in 2010.

He’s talking about the “carbon budget”, and again this is sound, despite Newsman Will’s growing anguish at a pretty devastating interview. The 565 gigaton number was popularized by Bill McKibben in a 2012 Rolling Stone article that Newsroom writers seem to have read. The number is “derived from one of the most sophisticated computer-simulation models that have been built by climate scientists around the world over the past few decades” (done by financial analysis firm Carbon Tracker) and is what we can add into the atmosphere by mid-century and still have a reasonable chance of success of staying below that safe two degrees warming threshold. Our grumpy scientist is so despondent because, yes, 2,795 is the number of gigatons of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves in the hands of fossil-fuel companies and petrostates. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn, writes McKibben. Carbon Tracker says 80 percent of these assets need to remain unburned.


All of these things are predicted by the IPCC—I mean, not the permanent darkness thing, I don’t think that’s meant to be scientific. But yes, as we reported in May this year, Europe faces freshwater shortages; Asia can expect more severe flooding from extreme storms; North America will see increased heat waves and wildfires, which can cause death and damage to ecosystems and property. Especially in poor countries, diminished crop yields will likely lead to increased malnutrition, which already affects nearly 900 million people worldwide.

So, in all, well done Newsroom. Informative, accurate, if a little heavy-handed on the doom and gloom.

27 Responses to “Glum and Glummer? Or is There a Glimmer? Fact-Checking “The Newsroom”.”


  1. Sorkin’s intent, which I think was heavy-handed but needed, was to try and shock his viewers into waking up and seeing what is happening. We have gotten into a climate funk over the past eight years, and we need to jump-start a green movement again. Was it Hollywood? Yes. But it was a powerful moment and a necessary wake-up call to our nation.

  2. Paul Whyte Says:

    I see the intention of the fossil fuels owners, hell bent on burning all that they can and the support that this has currently is the really depressing part of our current climate moment.

    On the other hand the OPEC’s refusal to drop production and the financial instability that brings to unconventional fossil fuels does show a large crack in the facade.

    There is the historical fact of change that gets repeatedly seen that the powers that be, control the media so that all the forces for change get hidden till their control breaks and change happen very quickly and obviously.

    So the feeling of depression is factually incorrect. It’s a demoralising stodge that only serves the media mogels claims at our control.

    There are so many visible changes now that I suspect that we have past a turning point where media control of the apparent story that nothing is changing is well past its “grounding line” and nothing can stop its increasing rush towards what is really happening.


    • Paul – Case in point of

      “ontrol the media so that all the forces for change get hidden till their control breaks and change happen very quickly and obviously.”

      and

      “we have past a turning point where media control of the apparent story that nothing is changing is well past its “grounding line” and nothing can stop its increasing rush towards what is really happening.”

      ?

      Germany’s Biggest Utility, E.ON, Is Divesting Fully From Centralized Power Plants

      E.ON will lose $5.5 billion this year, largely due to financial troubles with its conventional power business

      wholesale prices for coal and gas have spiraled downward and decimated the value of centralized power plants. Falling consumption is also hurting sales in Germany and throughout Europe.

      “As energy storage devices become more prevalent, customers will be able to make themselves largely independent of the conventional power and gas supply network.”

      That last one especially. Earthquake. Thats a utility executive speaking. Not Jeremy Rifkin.

      http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Germanys-Biggest-Utility-Is-Divesting-From-Centralized-Power

  3. jimbills Says:

    So, it’s basically correct, but it’s just as toxic as outright denial?

    Here’s what I see:
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/09/carbon-dioxide-emissions-greenhouse-gases

    And:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2014/06/global-coal-usage-reaches-44-year-high/100760/

    Mann says we’re already seeing dangerous effects now, but it’s not hopeless if we manage to cap CO2 at 450 ppm, even though people like Dr. Hansen say the actual safe limit is 350 ppm, and even though the Arctic will almost certainly melt completely before 2050, and we’ll probably have other positive feedbacks as well, but fine – let’s say we need to cap it at 450, and everything will be hunky dory.

    To really do that, we need radical change – do the math on what we’re adding in CO2 per year and how much we’d need to cut to keep it below 450 ppm. It’s major change – rapid energy transition, re-formatting transport, agriculture, and industry quickly on a global scale, doing all the changes without adding fossil carbon use in the developing world, etc., and we’d really need to do all this before 2050, let alone 2100.

    The Sorkin clip is fictional. We don’t actually get someone coming out and saying how dire the situation is. Instead, we get an examination of how nutty the Westbrook character is. We do get happy pieces on coal usage dropping in the U.S. and how technology is super cool, though.

    I don’t think we’ll act quickly enough either way, as I don’t think we’re ‘wise man’ but ‘mad ape’, but we only act aggressively when we’re facing a crisis. I don’t think we should portray climate change as anything but dire and a major crisis. We need to have our asses kicked on a regular basis instead of being told comforting stories. The Westbrook character, to me, knows this isn’t going to happen, and we’re just going to keep plowing on as before. He is gloomy, yes – but frankly, I’d like to see a real reason why we shouldn’t be gloomy.

    The Sorkin clip is basically a dramatic situation. Put a guy like Westbrook in a spot where the strongest impulse is to spin the situation into a positive story. Have the character refuse to allow the spin. What happens?

    • indy222 Says:

      Yes – exactly how I read the science too, and the psychology. Dissecting Mann’s response, I see him absolutely in the camp of “don’t give people the excuse of saying it’s hopeless”.
      We need to tell people what the latest unspun science says – studies such as Vaks et al. 2013 (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/340/6129/183.abstract) which show that at only +1.5C the entire permafrost melts, which contains about 2x the entire atmosphere’s carbon. Combine that with the work of Solomon (2009), and Wigley & Weaver (2010), Gillette et al. (2011) and others, that temperatures stay constant even if we somehow eliminate ALL human carbon emissions and put a lid back on Arctic methane too. PALEOSENS collaboration shows that adding in the slow feedbacks to the “fast” feedbacks raises the equilibrium climate sensitivity from the ~+3.5C you often hear, to +7C…. and you get long term disaster. It’s no wonder so many only want to talk about mid century or 2100 – because the future as revealed by cold hard science is very grim if we don’t figure out how to remove CO2 from our atmosphere rapidly. But look at the Gibbs free energy of the process and you quickly conclude that it will take energy of the same order as the “gift” we got in the first place, to pull that CO2 back out – where is that going to come from? How much carbon is going to be emitted immediately just to manufacture the 1000x of solar panels necessary for the changeover to solar? We’re in big trouble, and those who advocate putting on a happy face so we don’t make people go hopeless, are instead motivating people to put it all on the back burner and “figger smart people somewhere will save the day, so business as usual”.

      • jimbills Says:

        The psychology is so important here. We have a tendency to think that what we’ve done in the past hasn’t had much effect, but what we do in the future is what really matters – which is only half true. Making a mistake in the past doesn’t erase that mistake.

      • j4zonian Says:

        No matter what we do now times ahead will be the hardest and harshest times humanity has ever faced. It’s very likely billions will die in war, chaos and disaster caused by climate change–no matter what we do now. It’s very likely hundreds of thousands of species will become extinct including many of those most loved–no matter what we do now. It’s entirely possible that the combination of toxicity, climate catastrophe and war, including nuclear war, will destroy all life on Earth. We’re in a dire situation, and we need to act immediately, to save what we can and avoid whatever harm we can still avoid.

        But the tundra won’t melt instantly. It will take a long time for methane in the tundra and Arctic clathrates to emerge. Other tipping points are the same, and if we have the political will, that is, if we can overcome the psychological afflictions of conservatives, we can not only stop emissions, we can sequester all the carbon emitted in the industrial age through reforestation and low-meat organic permaculture. As far as the best science shows we can still stop the worst from happening.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          “It will take a long time…..”?????

          “Other tipping points are the same….”?????

          Really? Suppose it won’t take “as long” as we expected (as shown in the latest thoughts about when the Arctic will be ice-free in summer)? Suppose that we have already exceeded one or more tipping points but simply don’t know it because of ignorance and/or lag time?

          “…..and if we have the political will, that is, if we can overcome the psychological afflictions of conservatives”. You are joking, of course. Top of the front page of today’s Washington Post reads:

          “Fight on climate rules is brewing”
          “New push follows GOP victories”
          “Lawmakers, lobbyists meet to plan legislation”

          “Oil, gas and coal interests that spent millions to help elect Republicans this year are moving to take advantage of expanded GOP power in Washington and state capitals to thwart Obama administration environmental rules.

          “Industry lobbyists made their pitch in private meetings last week with dozens of state legislators at a summit of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry-financed conservative state policy group.

          “The lobbyists and legislators considered several model bills to be introduced across the country next year, designed to give states more power to block or delay new Obama administration environmental standards, including new limits on power-plant emissions.

          Read the rest and stick with the reality you understand in your first paragraph rather than the wishful thinking you display in your second.

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/fossil-fuel-lobbyists-bolstered-by-gop-wins-work-to-curb-environmental-rules/2014/12/07/3ef05bc0-79b9-11e4-9a27-6fdbc612bff8_story.html

          • j4zonian Says:

            Thinking everything is hopeless when it’s not is as bad as or worse than denying there’s a problem at all. It foments more complete inaction even more surely than the various levels of denying delayalism. As David Roberts has said, 2 degrees rise is bad, but 4 is worse; 6 is worse than 4 and 10 is worse than 6. Although some things are unavoidable now, at any point we can start to take action and probably prevent even worse things from happening. Of course there’s an ultimate limit to that and no matter what we do we may still fail. is that a reason not to try? If you say yes why are you bothering to post here? Why not just garden, golf, have as much sex as you can or whatever does it for you until you or we all die?

            We already have passed at least one tipping point: ice is melting. The more ice that melts the lower the albedo of Earth is and the faster it warms. But there’s a limit to that, with several lower plateaus, as Arctic ice and glacial ice disappear. Each has a maximum effect and then stops worsening warming. Each one takes some time. I’m doing a lot–in fact I’m dedicating the rest of my life–to avoiding the worst of climate catastrophe. If some tipping points happen faster than we think–not unlikely, given that that’s happened with almost every one–what would you suggest I and people like me do? Promise to become zombies or vampires and continue our activism after death?

            Tell me please exactly what part of the second paragraph is incorrect and therefore wishful thinking. Nowhere do I say we will do any of those solutions or that it will be in time if we do. I say we could, and unless you know of an overwhelming preponderance of science that says otherwise, why spread your personal despair? Why not get into therapy instead?

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Let’s reply to this comment in pieces. “Exactly what part of the second paragraph is incorrect and therefore wishful thinking”, you ask?. How about nearly all of it? Read it again carefully and tell us that it is not a statement of “bright-sided” and wishful thinking. Unless you are omniscient, you have little or no basis in fact for saying any of these things.

            “But the tundra won’t melt instantly.”
            (What is “instantly” on a 4-1/2 billion-year-old planet? Is “over a span of 500 years” effectively the same as “instantly”? 100 years? 50 years?)

            “It will take a long time for methane in the tundra and Arctic clathrates to emerge”.
            (See above. What is “a long time”? Does anyone have any real idea or is this a known unknown? Once they start to degas will there be any stopping them? Will that not begin a huge positive feedback loop?)

            “Other tipping points are the same”
            (Other? Which? They’re the “same”? Do we even know what the tipping points are? Or what positive feedbacks may result or are already occurring with all of them?)

            “…and if we have the political will, that is, if we can overcome the psychological afflictions of conservatives…”
            (If? Big word there. The “afflictions” have been developing since before Reagan’s time and in many ways are getting worse. What’s the cure?)

            “….we can not only stop emissions”
            (STOP emissions? Really? How? And how soon? In time to avoid disaster?)

            “….we can sequester all the carbon emitted in the industrial age through reforestation and low-meat organic permaculture”
            (Ah, you answered! We can SEQUESTER ALL THE CARBON EMITTED IN THE INDUSTRIAL AGE!!!!! Through reforestation? And freakin’ “low meat organic permaculture”????? Lord love a duck! If that’s not wishful thinking and bad science, I’ll eat the duck raw).

            “As far as the best science shows we can still stop the worst from happening”
            (This is the only near true statement you made, except that it is still dependent on us not having already exceeded some irreversible tipping points or not doing so in the near future. It all comes down to the questions of how much time do we have left and do we really understand what’s happening. Known unknowns again).

            It is not enough to now say “Nowhere do I say we will do any of those solutions or that it will be in time if we do”. That doesn’t change the essential nature of what you said, which is perhaps more than just wishful thinking. You appear to be bouncing around in the first three stages of the Kubler-Ross model, and if anyone needs therapy, it’s you. I have been in the same place as you but have gotten through it. I never did hit a stage of “personal despair” though, something else you have misjudged, nor did I ever “deny” or “bargain”. I went rather quickly to a state of acceptance of reality (although I am still a bit angry), and am living life in a reasonably “happy” state (considering). Perhaps that’s because of my training in science and psychology.

            .

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Let’s tackle this paragraph next.

            “Thinking everything is hopeless when it’s not is as bad as or worse than denying there’s a problem at all” etc.

            More tiresome philosophizing and navel contemplating. I have never said that it’s hopeless on any comment I’ve made on Crock. My unbending message has been that those who say it CANNOT be hopeless and spout bright-sided crap are the ones that are doing the disservice. They and you are the ones in denial, and your wishful thinking is what’s “worse”. We don’t know if it’s too late or not, we are not making progress on carbon emissions fast enough, and people need to be put in touch with the reality of that, NOT the “ifs” of your last paragraph. You are actually working hand in hand with the “skeptics” and deniers to sow FUD, and that’s what “foments inaction”.

            “….at any point we can start to take action and probably prevent even worse things from happening”?

            “….Of course there’s an ultimate limit to that and no matter what we do we may still fail….is that a reason not to try?”

            We CAN START? PROBABLY? PREVENT EVEN WORSE? That’s just rhetorical BS and arguing both sides, and the question is NOT that some are not “trying” but that some (too many) are standing in the way. It’s a huge and complex problem and the real truth is that human evolution and the immutable laws of nature have brought us to this point and we may be well down the road to self-extinction id we don’t stop BS-ing and turn it around right now.. Since people like you seem unable to deal with that possibility, others like me “bother to post here” in the hopes that you will give some serious thought to the issue.

            I will simply respond in kind and say GFYS to “If you say yes why are you bothering to post here? Why not just garden, golf, have as much sex as you can or whatever does it for you until you or we all die?”.


  4. Dr. Mann states there is still time to prevent meters of sea level rise. I think this is incorrect according to the literature. And, it may happen sooner than people once thought given the West Antarctic Ice Sheet predictions.


  5. The piece makes it seem like this is all going to happen tomorrow, like falling off a cliff. But I don’t see that it exaggerates in any other way. It’s just cancelling out the human tendency to dismiss things past our lifetime. 80 feet. Maybe not. But once we go past 20′, who cares? I just can’t square Dr. Mann’s interview with what is known about global warming. Maybe if we put the engines in full reverse with massive sequestration of carbon captured out of the air, then perhaps Dr. Mann’s somewhat rosy view will occur. Given the lag we’ve seen with ozone hole reduction, I have little hope that even a zero emissions goal will slow global warming for many decades or centuries following.

  6. andrewfez Says:

    They forgot endless war (weren’t there leaked White House reports that say folks in Washington intend to stay at war for at least 10 or 20 some more years?), and the possibility of nuclear war, wars between countries targeting power plants which wreak global economic damage (didn’t Israel destroy Gaza’s main power plant in their last lawn mowing venture?). U.S. draft goes back into effect – that sort of thing…

  7. adelady Says:

    “Maybe if we put the engines in full reverse with massive sequestration of carbon captured out of the air, then perhaps Dr. Mann’s somewhat rosy view will occur. Given the lag we’ve seen with ozone hole reduction, I have little hope that even a zero emissions goal will slow global warming for many decades or centuries following.”

    I’m fairly certain that – at some point – we’ll go into WW2 style emergency production and reallocation and rationing of certain activities and resources. Just as nobody cared about the fantastic rate of producing bomber planes, unless that the rate was too slow, we’ll eventually get to the point of not caring how much it costs to do certain things. Example, the last estimate I saw was that it would cost $25 billion dollars a year just to offset one year’s worth of current carbon emissions by quarrying, crushing and spreading olivine and similar CO2 absorbing rocks. It won’t be very long, a few decades, maybe sooner, before we’ll start thinking that that’s too little and we’ll do twice as much in half the time and hang the expense. And keep on doing it until it’s “done”, just as we did with keeping on keeping on until the war was over. We’ll also do all the other necessary things – it’ll be too little too late for some, but we’ll do it.

    The “Newsroom” piece was really about people like me. I honestly believed 30+ years ago that we would get this under control before it got too bad. I thought Rio was the start of “something” even though it was all terribly vague and non-specific about who should do what and when. Who’d have thought that 25 years after husband and I bought our solar hot water service that any other option should still be available in Australia now? It’s ludicrous. And heartbreaking if you think too long that all of this could have been avoided if only I and others like me had worked harder. That’s a bit silly. Thousands upon thousands of other people worked really, really hard and they didn’t succeed.

    30 years ago was when we needed to get started if we were to avoid any catastrophic effects. Those days are gone and there’s no point in people like me weeping and wailing over lost opportunities. But people can make the best of a bad job when we have to. Stopping some things and slowing down others means that we can at least avoid, slow down or ameliorate s.o.m.e. of the worst effects in more places than we would otherwise.

    And that’s what we should do. Even if we sometimes cry into our pillows at night.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      ” it would cost $25 billion dollars a year just to offset one year’s worth of current carbon emissions”

      That’s about one week’s worth of fossil fuel sales in the U.S. Peanuts. Quite a bargain, actually – let’s do it.

      • greenman3610 Says:

        sounds pretty cheap.

      • jimbills Says:

        Geoengineering is pure madness to me, largely because of unintended consequences. Our default pattern as a species is to ‘fix’ problems with the ‘solution’ leading to 5 more problems, and on and on it goes.

        Here’s a study on olivine. It’s not so perfect as all that:
        http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/1/014009/article

        “Olivine dissolution might also lead to a substantial input of iron into the ocean. Its impact on the marine biology might be a subject for future studies.”

        http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/fertilizing-the-ocean-with-iron

        “Large-scale iron fertilization, in altering the base of the food chain, might lead to undesirable changes in fish stocks and whale populations. Increased decomposition of sinking organic matter could deprive deep waters of oxygen or produce other greenhouse gases more potent than carbon dioxide, such as nitrous oxide and methane. The plankton-choked surface waters could block sunlight needed by deeper corals, or warm the surface layer and change circulation patterns.”


  8. Quoting McKibben? Wrong. He’s been wrong on virtually everything. His message is a sell-out these days and most of us know it.

    We do not have a “carbon budget” anymore. The whole “2C” mantra was and still is, total hogwash. There is already 3.4C locked in – if we stopped burning all fossil fuels TODAY. We can therefore, never acheive the bogus 2C warming “limit” (arbitrarily picked by an economist no less).

    Anybody that thinks we can be safe at 450ppm is simply denying reality. At 298 – 400 ppm we’re already experiencing irreversible feedbacks and dangerous climate change. Did they miss the news that Antarctica melt is now already deemed irreversible? There are a thousand other data points – how can anybody keep spewing this nonsense?

    Let’s face the facts. Civilization is incompatible with sustainability (in the true sense of the word). “Industry” will NEVER be compatible with habitability or a tolerable climate by its very nature. All these people are doing is moving the deck chairs around before the music stops and calling it “fun” (BAU). I call it insanity. It’s a guaranteed recipe for total failure.

    Let’s face the truth – we’ve done nothing. We won’t do anything. We will fail. The evidence of this is now fact (already). We’ve had decades to solve this, but refuse. The science and evidence keep piling up – but we keep ignoring this, still pretending we’ve got the time, and the “soon-to-be-realized” will power and political support – which never, ever happens. All we’re doing is lying to ourselves.

    In the words of Kevin Anderson: “In the quarter of a century since the first IPCC report we have achieved nothing of any significant merit relative to the scale of the climate challenge. All we have to show for our ongoing oratory is a burgeoning industry of bureaucrats, well meaning NGOs, academics and naysayers who collectively have overseen a 60+% rise in global emissions.”

    Regarding the review of the Newsroom clip – not very good. The points presented in the clip are easily backed up with current science and facts and the conclusion presented is just as factual – we’re fucked and most of us are still too fucking stupid to realize it.

    It’s time to stop pandering to corporate interests and self-delusions and admit to the truth of what is unfolding upon us all.

  9. Gingerbaker Says:

    ” There is already 3.4C locked in – if we stopped burning all fossil fuels TODAY. ”

    I do not think this is correct. In fact, I don’t think it is even close to being true.

    One needs to be very careful throwing easy factoids like this about. Which is definitely NOT in the lexicon of Kevin Anderson.

    • jimbills Says:

      It depends on the climate sensitivity. It’s been mentioned before, but the IPCC estimates do not include a lot of positive feedbacks that we know are happening, and as a result, it’s likely to be too conservative.

      Here’s an article last year from Joe Romm:
      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/05/12/1993531/climate-sensitivity-stunner-last-time-co2-levels-hit-400-parts-per-million-the-arctic-was-14f-warmer/

      “It is worth noting that a 2009 analysis in Science found that when CO2 levels were this high 15 to 20 million years ago, it was 5° to 10°F warmer globally and seas were also 75 to 120 feet higher.”

      One basic camp (there are others) of climate denial is that man is having an impact on the composition of the atmosphere, but that the climate sensitivity to CO2 is very, very low, and as a result, we shouldn’t bother acting about it.

      I think Peter is concerned that if we start pitching a very high sensitivity, however, people will become paralyzed and decide to just give up (and therefore not act as well). I think I’m probably the most skeptical of humanity here, but I think this concern is misplaced. Our strongest instinct is survival. We aren’t just going to give up and say, well, there’s nothing we can do about it, so la di da.

      There is a tiny minority that for their own reasons are suicidal. They might think there’s no point and bring on the apocalypse, yo. But the vast majority is not that way. They will react when their life is on the line.

      We need to consider the FULL range of climate sensitivity when discussing these matters, with the acknowledgement that we aren’t 100% sure how it will play out. From a risk management perspective, though, wouldn’t it be wiser to assume the high side is a legitimate possibility?

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        15 to 20 million years ago, the CO2 concentration was constant – which would not be the case if we ” if we stopped burning all fossil fuels TODAY”, so the analogy is not a good one.

        But agree with you about the under-reporting of higher sensitivities and their consequences. 🙂

  10. adelady Says:

    “We need to consider the FULL range of climate sensitivity when discussing these matters, with the acknowledgement that we aren’t 100% sure how it will play out. From a risk management perspective, though, wouldn’t it be wiser to assume the high side is a legitimate possibility?”

    Well. Yes, but … Err, umm, aah.

    My feeling is that we can’t really discuss that until we have enough people with a long enough perspective. It’s hard enough to get people to think seriously about their grandchildren becoming grandparents themselves and what the world those children grow up in will be like when they become adults – some time (well) after 2100.

    The one thing we have in our favour – once we establish thinking about a longer term perspective, centuries to millennia – is that, in Milankovitch terms, we’re supposed to be on a long slow slide to a reglaciation. Thinking longer term about slowing the effects of melting icesheets and glaciers, every time we delay a metre of sea level rise or a cubic km of ice melt, even by half, we’re giving ourselves time to allow our improving knowledge, technology and our efforts generally to get more in line with the longer term natural cycle.

    Our wins will be pretty small beer at first compared to the unavoidable massive losses (droughts, famines, fires, floods, heatwaves for the next couple of centuries at least) but they’ll signal that we can survive, some of us may even thrive, if we persist and never, never, ever give up.

    If we can persist, we can eventually, a few more centuries, use the planet’s inclination to lower temperatures and reglaciation (even though we ‘ll skip the glaciation itself almost regardless of what we do) to get more reasonable processes and technologies established and a more manageable climate compatible with agriculture and human habitation. (Though we can’t expect that agriculture to be exactly the same as what we have now, if for no other reason than the loss of all those delta lands lost to the sea.)


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