Climate Change: The Great and Silly Debate

Climate change is a primary factor in the history and development of human civilization.  It caused the earliest migrations out of Africa. It led to the transition from hunter-gather to agricultural society. It gave rise to the development of cities and to the state. It ended many civilizations and allowed others to rise.

Arguments about climate change are what my friend Perry Fisher called the “great and silly debate.”  It is great because climate change is serious and affects all of Earth’s inhabitants. It is silly because it doesn’t matter what we think about it. The effect of the debate is to make one side or the other feel better or worse about what is happening whether we like it or not.  To say that climate is always changing, that temperatures have been higher during previous periods of Earth history, or that deviations from the warming trend invalidate its truth, ignore geological context and miss the point.

Climate is among the most complex of earth’s natural systems. It is absurd and presumptuous to think that its complexity may be reduced to a few simple debate resolutions which can be judged with a winner and loser declared.

The emphasis on carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases is both relevant and unfortunate. Emissions are properly the focus for the latest episode of planetary warming and were a factor in historical climate change. At the same time, a preoccupation with CO2 obscures the importance of other factors including solar irradiation, earth’s planetary fluctuations, volcanic activity, and secular variations in ocean temperatures and currents.

Many on both sides of the climate debate believe that the science is settled. Science is not about settling debates among silly humans. Science is not even about solving problems.  Engineers solve problems after scientists help them understand the problem.

Science is about describing the present state of things. Scientists attempt to explain what is observed based on its key components, patterns and trends.  That explanation is called a hypothesis and there is rarely only one hypothesis for any investigation. Each must be tested and modified until one emerges as a paradigm.

The current climate paradigm is that climate is changing and that the outcome of this change will have important implications for humans and other species.  Few dispute this. The great and silly debate is about whether or not human activity is to blame and what if anything humans should to manage the change.

I am not going to write about who is to blame or what should be done. Instead, I hope to provide a geological framework.

Climate and The Agricultural Revolution

Human migrations out of Africa probably occurred in response to climate change caused by Earth’s orbital variations or Milankovich cycles.  Waves of hunter-gatherers spread north- and eastward in roughly 20,000 year cycles that began about 106,000 years ago and ended about 15,000 years ago. Migration of pastoral farmers came later.

The agricultural revolution had nothing to do with technology. It was a climate-change revolution.   The agricultural revolution took place when climate stabilized and warmed 12,000 years ago (Figure 1).

Humans understood the connection between plants and the seeds from which they grow at least a million years before the agricultural revolution. For most of the Pleistocene temperature changes of up to 8°C over periods of one or two centuries were common making agriculture impossible. Farming was established as early as 37,000  when climate temporarily warmed. It was abandoned after about 2,000 years when colder temperatures returned.

Figure 1. Holocene temperature variations from Greenland ice surface temperatures. Source: Dalum Hjallese Debate Club: https://www.dandebat.dk/eng-klima7.htm and Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

 

About 5,000 years ago, the mid-Holocene environmental crisis brought widespread drought to north Africa. That resulted in new waves of migration into the Levant but this time many of the migrants were farmers. Agriculture soon spread  into sparsely-populated Europe. A dramatic deforestation began there as land was cleared for farming.  Forests were largely replaced by grassland and arable land by about 2,200 years before present.  The transformation of forests into farmland across the Mediterranean resulted in the beginning of increasing CO2 levels that we see today.

Climatic Evolution of Earth

Temperatures were warmer, not colder, than today through most of geologic time.  They key to that statement and to the great and silly debate is geologic time.

Climate change has evolved largely from the interplay between the sun and earth’s atmosphere. Incoming solar radiation has increased over earth’s history. Solar heating is modified as incoming energy is scattered or reflected back out of the atmosphere by clouds, particulates and earth’s surface.

CO2 levels were higher than pre-industrial values (278 parts per million) for most of the last 420 million years (Figure 2). In other words, the long-term decrease in CO2 largely compensated for the increase in solar output.

Figure 2. Temporal evolution of climate forcing. (a) CO2 data (blue circles) and LOESS best fit (blue line).(b) DFCO2,sol for data (blue circles) and LOESS best fit (blue line). Red line is a linear best fit and 95%. Source: Foster, Royer and Lunt (2015): https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14845 confidence interval for least squares regression through the DFCO2,sol data (blue circles; m¼ 0.004±0.001 1 s.e.m., R2¼0.01, P¼0.0003). Black line is least squares fit through the LOESS best fit resampled to original data density (blue line; m¼0.008±0.001 1 s.e.m., R2¼0.06, Po0.0001). Icehouse time intervals are indicated by a black band and greenhouse intervals by a white band. Source: Foster, Royer and Lunt (2017): https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14845.

Figure 3 shows the same data on a logarithmic time scale to compare more recent earth history with its more distant geologic past. Among the various projections on the right-hand side of the figure, RCP8.5 represents the “do-nothing” or business-as-usual scenario. It indicates CO2 values by early in the next century that exceed levels from more than 99% of the last 420 million years.  A return to unstable climate would make agriculture impossible again.

Figure 3. Temporal evolution of CO2 and Paleogene formation of ice caps. Source: Leonard and Berman (2019): https://www.artberman.com/wp-content/uploads/Climate-Change-Transitional-Role-of-Fossil-Fuels_Commodities_APR-2019-1.pdf; modified from Foster et al (2017) and Montanez (2018).

Regardless of the reliability of this projection or the ultimate causes for the rise of post-industrial CO2 levels, the message is clear.

What lies ahead during the lifetimes of our grandchildren will most probably not be comparable to anything since the development of multi-cellular life on Earth.

 



43 Comments

  • David

    So rising CO2 will likely cause the earth to warm over the next 100 years? This would make agricultural productivity greater although we don’t completely understand everything about human’s impact on the climate?

    • art.berman

      David, I don’t know how to respond in a polite way. You either didn’t read the post or don’t understand it.

      If I told you that the medical procedure you are about to get has never been tried before, how would you assess the risk?

      I’m telling you that the likely future is for higher temperatures than have ever been seen on earth before. I suppose you are ready to sign up for a return to unstable climate and the likely drought produced by unprecedented surface temperatures.

      Good luck with higher crop productivity without water.

      Best,

      Art

      • David

        Thank you for the answer and article. I am not “ready to sign up” for anything and was just trying to ask a question on your conclusion after reading the article.

        Maybe it is my ignorance, but I also don’t understand why warmer temperatures would necessarily lead to a lack of water on the earth. If anything, evidence would appear to be the opposite, as polar icecaps would melt and temperatures increased, surely there would be a corresponding increase in evaporation and rainfall – noting as you state that we don’t really know completely as there is no historical precedent for such a large increase in temperature over a short period. There were much larger animals (dinosaurs) during other periods with higher carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which must have coincided with large volumes of water and plants being converted to energy.

        Evidence seems to be that higher temperatures have coincided with greater agricultural productivity over human history as you state in your article.

        • art.berman

          David,

          The whole point of my article is that few things–and certainly not climate–are simple and can be understood with a few debate propositions. Climate is a complex system. Change one thing and a cascade of other things interact differently and change in ways that are difficult to predict or understand.

          Climate stability is the foundation of human civilization. Stability occurs empirically withe a delicate balance of solar energy, atomospheric albedo, surface reflection and non-condensing gases. Violate that balance and climate instability results. Agriculture becomes unreliable–as it was throughout the Pleistocene–and the world cannot feed itself. Wars and mass migration are not a pretty thing.

          On a more micro scale: less snow and reservoirs empty, and rivers go dry. Rain is nice but it’s rivers that do the work for agriculture. Really difficult to farm without water.

          Less water drives mass migrations first to cities, then to other countries. Syria x 1000. Melting snow and ice means higher sea levels so coastal cities must be abandoned. More mass migration.

          I intentionally wrote the post without blaming anyone or suggesting solutions. I wanted people to focus on implications.
          Your comment about increased crop productivity with higher CO2 levels really annoyed me because it so completely missed the point and made me feel like I had wasted my time writing the post.

          Best,

          Art

    • Geoff

      You ask: “So rising CO2 will likely cause the earth to warm over the next 100 years?”

      Short answer: Yes, potentially beyond human civilisation’s ability to adapt to the changing environmental conditions, within the remainder of this century.

      Longer answer: Earth’s climate history previews our hot future.
      The last time planet Earth’s atmosphere was so rich in CO2 was millions of years ago, before modern humans existed.
      The current level of GHGs already in the atmosphere indicates a global average of 1.75–2.4 °C of warming (at equilibrium) above pre-industrial age.
      How much hotter and more hostile Earth’s climate will be later this century is dependent on how much more human-induced GHG emissions are put into the atmosphere from now on.
      If humanity cannot rapidly reduce GHG emissions from now on (i.e. the latest science indicates 50% reduction by 2030, and net-zero by 2040 – NOT 2050) then we risk civilisation collapse before 2100.

      See the YouTube video titled “Keynote Debate Can the Climate Emergency Action Plan lead to Collective Action? (50 Years CoR)”, duration 2:23:08, that included Professor H. J. Schellnhuber CBE, Director Emeritus, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research; Member, Pontifical Academy of Sciences; and Member, German Advisory Council on Global Change, presenting an Aurelio Peccei Lecture titled “Climate, Complexity, Conversion” on 17 October 2018. The key moment to view is from time interval 0:23:23 to 0:26:45, which should answer your question.

      Also view “Climate Reality Check 2020”, by Ian Dunlop and David Spratt, published in October 2020, that draws together current climate research from around the world to present 20 critical observations, insights and understandings to help inform and guide the stark choices that now stand before us.

  • EroiMystical

    Yes, climate-change discussions have crowded out energy-depletion (and other ‘depletion’ issues)” – link @ energyskeptic

    No EROEI can be positive – ever – by Physics.

    To store energy from the sun for reuse, humans must capture that energy in Life first.

    Nature has given humans more-or-less 3 trillion barrel of oil-equivalent, readily captured in earlier Life, well kept stored underground, but humans have burned them all in 300 years.

    Our civilisation has been in a vicious campaign to destroy all fossil fuel reserves the quickest possible – animating what could be recognized a choreographed circular reality…

    This is mysticism indeed: why humans have done that to themselves?

    Fossil fuels were so mystical and even satanic, future philosophers will keep writing what fossil fuels have meant for humans and why humans have decided to destroy them intentionally so quickly at the speed of light – until the end of time.

    Wail.

    • Geoff

      EroiMystical,
      You state: “No EROEI can be positive – ever…”

      Incorrect.
      EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) is defined as the RATIO of Energy Returned relative to Energy Invested to deliver that energy, and must be a POSITIVE number.

      EROEI (aka EROI – Energy Returned on Investment) is usually expressed as X:1.
      If X is less than or equal to 1 then the energy source is a net “energy sink”.

      If X is less than 6, then some studies suggest that industrial civilization is locked into a death spiral where an ever increasing fraction of its economic output (GDP) is spent on energy at the cost of an eroding standard of living.

      If X is less than 3, then the energy system is so poor that industrial collapse and regression of civilization to agrarian-age economics is an inevitable consequence.

      I recommend interested people watch the YouTube video titled “Peak Oil Postponed? – Charles A. S. Hall”, duration 36:35, where Professor Charles A. S. Hall speaks of his concept “Energy Return on Investment” (EROI) at a seminar arranged by think tank Global Challenge in Stockholm in 2012. From time interval 22:08 through to 24:52, Professor Hall discusses the concept of society’s hierarchy of ‘Energetic Needs’.

      • EroiMystical

        Geoff,

        Get a rope and a bucket down a well to lift crude oil.

        The energy in the crude oil lifted will never be enough to offset the total energy expended in the tools and efforts drilling the well, making the rope, the bucket, feeding you, sustaining your well-being to perform that work lifting the next bucket.

        Keep repeating the process, wear and tear will take you down and your children need to replace you.

        It is Life, and its super capacity to replicate, what has confused humans to think fossil fuels are exempted from the laws of Physics (generations of coal miners have died very poor. and still, in China, children in India and elsewhere).

        Fossil fuels are not exempted from the laws of Physics.

        More-energy-for-less is a human dream, even if the energy store in the context is the incredibly energy-dense fossil fuels.

        There never was and will never be something like positive EROEI – ever – by Physics.

        Non audited coal burned at the coal pit mouth, free of charge, part of the lease agreement, since the 1700s in Britain and the US – has played havoc with our civilisation, even faking Science, Economics and Knowledge itself.

        To date, Iraqis are never able to fathom where all the revenue from their oil has gone since 1927.

        Nobody dares telling them – it is actually spent back, mostly overseas, in helping extracting and exporting more oil!

        This far, Iraqs 38 million population today never enjoy any meaningful urban grid electricity. Grid and localised electricity supplies are working a Swiss Watch for the oil industry consuming most of the national capacity, though – there never was and will never be something like positive EROEI – ever.

        And that’s why you find most of oil production in 3rd world nations and Russia is nationalised not a coincidence – fossil fuels production is actually an energy-sink and bankrupt – by Physics!

        Wail.

        • art.berman

          Mystical,

          Life requires positive EROI. That doesn’t mean that all energy enterprises are postive but your statement is simply ridiculous.

          Art

          • EroiMystical

            Art,

            Death is a demonstration of that there is no such thing as positive EROEI, or why Life cannot fix itself from that positive EROEI to eternity?

            Replication in Life has tricked humans to believe and mistakenly promote thoughts that Life, extracting fossil fuels or ‘renewable’ energy systems represent a positive EROEI.

            Humans are wrong.

            A positive EROEI is a violation of the 2nd Law, and that is impossible.

            Humans see this ridiculous being so harsh to their existence – and who blames them!

          • art.berman

            Nonsense. You have no understanding of thermodynamics. Talk to my friend Charlie Hall who invented the concept of EROI and he will tell you to learn before displaying your ignorance of EROI and physics.

            I will not engage further with you because you neither understand nor respect the fundamentals of science.

            Art

  • FeralAndroid

    It is not mysticism. We are genetically wired to consume all the available energy in order to reproduce. We over consume, then die off. Men who acquire and consume more energy have a better chance of attracting a mate and thus passing their genes on. We can study this, but we can not change this any more then we can change the expansion of the sun.

    • EroiMystical

      This contradicts the literature produced by humans, since the antiquity:

      The turning point of Joseph’s experience in Egypt occurs when he interprets a pair of dreams for Pharaoh. He realizes that Egypt will soon experience seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of famine. Joseph is put in charge of the preparations during the years of plenty, so the people can survive the coming years of famine“.

      The plan has worked a treat, as the story goes!

      Yes, it is a nightmare of competing tendencies: Centralising the sharing of fossil fuels to a plan – would have been no less than Communism, along its tyranny and systemic killing of humans.

      But centralising the pricing of fossil fuels is also no less than a Communism disguised Capitalism!

      Humans needed more morality and ethics dealing with fossil fuels, and that would have set them apart from their primitive animal kingdom.

      What guides them in that quest should have been the finite nature of the energy store they are dealing with.

      They’ve failed the test, and that one-off energy is now almost gone.

      Wail.

  • FeralAndroid

    Actually the quote from the bible supports my position. It took a message from god in order for the Pharaoh to actually save anything for the future, going against his natural inclination to consume everything during the years of abundance.

    Society does produce a few savers, and more so during hard times. But during many years of plenty, the savers look like idiots. Until they don’t.

    Is Art Berman our Joseph?

  • Tim

    As geologists, we can certainly ascertain that multicellular life has spent most of its existence in a hothouse setting. The icehouse is the relatively rare setting.

    The hyperbolic assumption that our grandchildren experiencing temperatures a few degrees warmer at most will subject them to conditions that have never been experienced by multicellular life is laughable.

    As a geologist myself, you cannot be serious with that statement. It strikes me as absurd to the degree that for anyone familiar with the history of earth, your statement is utterly discrediting. The PETM was 12-14 C warmer than present and that’s comparatively recent geologically. By definition, the multicellular life then experienced temperatures higher than our grandchildren will in their lives under the absolute worst feasible scenario, and its not even close. The earth was completely ice free.

    As recently as the Pliocene, when we diverged from Chimpanzees and started our path through Australopithecus and down the Homo line, temperatures were 4-6C warmer than present, in line with where the severe scenarios see us in the 2100s and forward. So not even multicellular life, but primates of our own direct lineage have experienced this before.

    CO2 cannot go much below where it was at the end of the last glacial maximum. At 180-200ppm all plant life on earth ceases as photosynthesis stops. So the energy transition argument is that CO2 can never go much beyond the level at which all life sits in a precarious metastable position just above the death of the carbon based biosphere ever again?

    Your solar forcing chart is interesting but if CO2 is at or near its minimum viable level for carbon based biosphere to function in this current ice age, and the sun keeps getting brighter over the next tens of millenia ( as it will do) the temperature will warm continuously no matter what we do. The absolute bounding conditions allow for no other conclusion

    We already know this. Within a billion years, or perhaps less, most multicellular life on earth will cease to exist for this reason. Trying to keep the earth from warming as the suns luminosity increases is a fools errand. Better to burn everything we can and get off of it before we are stranded here.

    • art.berman

      Tim,

      Show data, not words.

      Best,

      Art

    • Geoff

      Tim,
      You state: “The hyperbolic assumption that our grandchildren experiencing temperatures a few degrees warmer at most will subject them to conditions that have never been experienced by multicellular life is laughable.”

      Modern humans and the agricultural crops and livestock humans depend upon for food to sustain us are adapted to the climate conditions of the Holocene epoch (i.e. during the past 11,700 years). Increasing temperatures threaten a cascade of feedbacks that could push the Earth System irreversibly onto a “Hothouse Earth” pathway, beyond human civilisation’s ability to adapt. Do you wish to take that risk for the lives of your (and others) grandchildren?

      I would urge you (and everyone who sees this) to view Professor H. J. Schellnhuber CBE presenting his Aurelio Peccei Lecture titled “Climate, Complexity, Conversion” on 17 October 2018. The key moment to view is from time interval 0:23:23 to 0:26:45, that includes a slide titled “Where on Earth are We Heading: Pliocene or Miocene?” See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK2XLeGmHtE

      Professor Schellnhuber says the Earth System is heading towards two possible climate system alternatives before the end of this century (i.e. before 2100):

      1) A climate state similar to the “Mid-Pliocene” was 3‒4 million years ago,
      where atmospheric CO2 levels were in the range of 400‒450 ppm,
      where global mean temperatures were in the range of +2.0‒3.0 °C relative to pre-industrial age,
      and sea levels were in the range of +10‒22 m above current level (stabilized over centuries); OR

      2) A climate state similar to the “Mid-Miocene” was 15‒17 million years ago,
      where atmospheric CO2 levels were in the range of 300‒500 ppm,
      where global mean temperatures were in the range of +4.0‒5.0 °C relative to pre-industrial age,
      and sea levels were in the range of +10‒60 m above current level (stabilized over centuries).

      The climate state alternatives are path dependent. Professor Schellnhuber suggests humanity and human civilisation “might adapt” to “Mid-Pliocene” like climate conditions, but “Mid-Miocene” like climate conditions would be where “human civilisation would simply not exist”.

      I’d also suggest looking at the peer-reviewed PNAS paper titled “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” by Will Steffen et. al., that explores the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced. The critical threshold is indicated to be around 2 °C above pre-industrial age.

      Tim, you finish with: “Trying to keep the earth from warming as the suns luminosity increases is a fools errand. Better to burn everything we can and get off of it before we are stranded here.”

      Eventually, the Earth will become uninhabitable due to the increasing luminosity of the Sun (rising 1% every 110 million years) leading to runaway evaporation of the oceans by about 1.1 billion years, and silicate materials decreasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations within 600 million years to levels below the threshold to sustain photosynthesis. But these timescales are many orders of magnitude greater than the climate emergency facing us right now and over the next few decades.

      And go where, Tim? There’s no planet B accessible within the limits of our current technologies. If you are thinking of Mars, I’d suggest it’s much more hostile compared with Earth is now. Mars has more hazards including, lower gravity field (38% of Earth’s) and lower light levels (about 59% of Earth’s), and there’s a lack of a magnetic field that allows solar winds to steadily strip away Mars’ wispy atmosphere (1% of Earth’s, well below the Armstrong limit where water boils at normal body temperature). Any Mars colony would need to be shielded against the hazards of ionizing solar and cosmic radiation – probably necessitating underground habitation.

      Why wreck a perfectly good habitable planet we are living on now, Tim?

  • Paul Grund

    Mr. Berman, A different sort of issue. It’s not quite too late to avoid catastrophe, but human nature causes people to avoid acting until they’re actually experiencing a hardship. As long as our TVs work, and nobody is starving, we won’t take action. But in the case of Climate Change, if conditions get so bad that we do act, it will be too late to avoid Armageddon. One possible solution is for Government to step in now to impose strong emissions regulations, and foster renewable energy, cap & trade, carbon taxes. But that solution is only hypothetical in our contentious two party system, and is unlikely to happen. Another possible solution is education, but it’ll take a generation to get courses in place and another to train folks about the problem- again too late. Any ideas?

  • Robert

    Dear Art,
    Excellent topic and article,I’ve read it a couple times, and the introduction to
    https://www.dandebat.dk/eng-index.htm
    Wonderful reading.
    Thanks again,
    Robert

  • Zeke Putnam

    Personally, I appreciate your work. I have followed you for some time. My analogy of our present situation is the Titanic. In third class, they’re dying but up in first, I hear academic discussions about sinking and buying a new car. Keep up the work. Old guys, like me, need people like you around

  • TJandTheBear

    Doesn’t the imminent decline in fossil fuel availability render most of the Climate Change debate silly? If anthropogenic then it will already decline involuntarily; if not, then we’re simply along for the ride. Either way it would appear the only great debate is how to adapt since change must necessarily be the base assumption.

    • art.berman

      TJ,

      Not at all. First, there is no imminent decline of fossil energy except in the imaginations of energy amateurs.

      Oil and other fossil energy sources are the most productive fuels that man has ever found. Humans self-organize around energy and have never gone from a more productive to less productive energy source. The worse the economy gets, the less tolerant people will become about climate-friendly fiscal projects that cost more and deliver less.

      Best,

      Art

      • Javier

        “there is no imminent decline of fossil energy”

        Isn’t oil energy in decline since 2018? The oil refining capacity is expected to be reduced permanently by 1.7 mbp/d in 2020-2021 due to refinery closures. That looks as a decline to me.

        • art.berman

          Javier,

          Sure but the comment implied that the oil age is over. Peak oil was probably reached in late 2018 because of lack of available capital (other people’s money) to continue over-production.

          Best,

          Art

    • Geoff

      TJandTheBear,
      You state: “Either way it would appear the only great debate is how to adapt since change must necessarily be the base assumption.”

      Human civilisation is unlikely to adapt to a global mean temperature rise of +3.0 °C or more, relative to pre-industrial age. As the majority of the Earth’s surface is represented by seas and oceans (71%), it’s inevitable that continental inland temperatures would be significantly hotter. That means continental inland locations that are already seeing heatwave temperatures around 45‒47 °C (113‒116.6 °F) now, will likely see 55‒57 °C (131‒134.6 °F) in future (with only +2.0 °C mean global warming, likely on current GHG emission trajectory before 2050). These are lethal conditions for humans, agricultural crops and livestock.

      For perspective, on 16 Aug 2020, Death Valley in California’s Mojave Desert recorded 130 °F (54.4 °C).

      In the YouTube video titled “Keynote Debate Can the Climate Emergency Action Plan lead to Collective Action? (50 Years CoR)”, Professor H.J. Schellnhuber CBE said (from time interval 0:46:57):

      “So, this is just in order to underpin some of the things. And looking forward, I mean, I excuse for… I apologise for that, but… we have actually ended the ice age cycle, the, er… the glacial dynamics for good, or for bad, or for whatever – that’s how it is. But your question is of course extremely important, because… I… I once coined… We had a meeting at the Belgian Academy of Sciences and I coined this expression, which became quite… quite, er… sort of seminal, actually: ‘Avoiding the unmanageable and managing the unavoidable.’ So you see, avoiding the unmanageable would be three, four, five, six degrees. I’m, I’m pretty sure we cannot adapt to that. But if the world warms by one… it has warmed already by one degree, and actually half of a degree is masked by air pollution. So if you would clean the air over China and India and so on, you immediately would… you get another half degree. So, one-and-a-half degree – we are there already, ja? But if we stop it at two, er… two-point-five degrees maybe… and actually CO2 stays within the carbon cycle for more than twenty-thousand years. People think this is a matter of a hundred years. Yes, it goes into the sediment, but it’s re-mineralised and goes back into the air, and so on. So it’s longer lived than plutonium, actually, ja? Atmospheric CO2!”
      See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK2XLeGmHtE

      Climate change is a much bigger threat than COVID-19.

      “If we don’t solve the climate crisis, we can forget about the rest.” – Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany
      See: https://horizon-magazine.eu/article/i-would-people-panic-top-scientist-unveils-equation-showing-world-climate-emergency.html

  • Javier

    Dear Art,

    Thank you for the interesting article about climate change from an expert in fossil fuels. While I agree with most of what you say, I’d like to add some details.

    “Farming was established as early as 37,000 when climate temporarily warmed. It was abandoned after about 2,000 years when colder temperatures returned.”

    This is not correct. The paper you cite is about modeling (i.e. not real science). There is no solid evidence that the Natufians ~ 13,500 B.P. developed agriculture. The first solid evidence of agriculture dates from ~ 10,500 B.P. from a later culture. Agriculture only became possible with the arrival of the Holocene at 11,700 B.P.

    “About 5,000 years ago, the mid-Holocene environmental crisis brought widespread drought to north Africa. That resulted in new waves of migration into the Levant but this time many of the migrants were farmers. Agriculture soon spread into sparsely-populated Europe.”

    Actually farmers from the Levant and Anatolia moved into the European side of the Aegean during the 8.2 kyr cold climate event, and were making inroads into Europe by 7,500 B.P. By 6,000 B.P the megalithic culture had navigated the coasts of the Mediterranean reaching Portugal, Brittany and England.

    “In other words, the long-term decrease in CO2 largely compensated for the increase in solar output.”

    This is an undemonstrated hypothesis. The faint sun paradox has not been resolved. There are lots of possibilities besides GHGs including changes in albedo or the amount of emerged land.

    “RCP8.5 represents the “do-nothing” or business-as-usual scenario.”

    This is not correct and I think it is important that you know it. RCP8.5 is an implausible worst case scenario. It assumes an increase of Earth’s population to 12 billion by 2100. It assumes that the centuries long progress of technology will slow down. Most importantly, it assumes that three centuries of evolution to ever more efficient energy sources reverses and coal becomes the major source of power for the world, producing as much energy as all the other sources combined. Does this look to you as a business-as-usual scenario?

    See if figure 5 of this article looks credible to you:
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-011-0149-y

    • art.berman

      Javier,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      Kent Flannery, who pioneered archaeological studies of the emergence of farming, observed that “we know of no human group on earth so primitive that they are ignorant of the connection between plants and the seeds from which they grow.” https://ucl.rl.talis.com/items/0E0F3C64-F66D-A34B-791F-E242798EB963.html

      The reference on earlier farming did indeed come from a paper on modeling but that mention was not part of their modeling. There are other sources for experiments in farming much earlier than 10,500 years B.P. including https://www.nature.com/articles/nplants201793?utm_medium=affiliate&utm_source=commission_junction&utm_campaign=3_nsn6445_deeplink_PID100017430&utm_content=deeplink that puts some of this activity as far back as 45,000 yBP.

      I stated in my post that I did not endorse RCP8.5 but it is the public record as a credible forecast despite all of its flaws.

      Best,

      Art

      • Javier

        Art, the reason why agriculture was not developed during the Pleistocene, but was developed independently at least seven times during the early Holocene must necessarily be environmental. The experts are pointing to a clear global factor that affects plants, the low CO2 levels during the Pleistocene.

        Sage, Rowan F. “Was low atmospheric CO2 during the Pleistocene a limiting factor for the origin of agriculture?.” Global Change Biology 1.2 (1995): 93-106. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2486.1995.tb00009.x
        “Agriculture originated independently in many distinct regions at approximately the same time in human history. This synchrony in agricultural origins indicates that a global factor may have controlled the timing of the transition from foraging to food-producing economies. The global factor may have been a rise in atmospheric CO2 from below 200 to near 270 µmol mol(-1) which occurred between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago.”

        Richerson, Peter J., et al. “Was agriculture impossible during the Pleistocene but mandatory during the Holocene? A climate change hypothesis.” American Antiquity 66.3 (2001): 387-411. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2694241
        “Several independent trajectories of subsistence intensification, often leading to agriculture, began during the Holocene. No plant-rich intensifications are known from the Pleistocene, even from the late Pleistocene when human populations were otherwise quite sophisticated. Recent data from ice and ocean-core climate proxies show that last glacial climates were extremely hostile to agriculture -dry, low in atmospheric CO2, and extremely variable on quite short time scales. We hypothesize that agriculture was impossible under last-glacial conditions.”

        Gerhart, L. M., & Ward, J. K. (2010). Plant responses to low [CO2] of the past. New Phytologist, 188(3), 674-695. https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1469-8137.2010.03441.x
        “The emergence of agriculture among early human societies appeared throughout the world between 5000 and 10 000 yr ago, and this represents a rather short time span with respect to evolutionary change, particularly for crop plants. Sage (1995) proposed that such synchronous origins may have been the result of a common global factor, more specifically the rise in [CO2] from 200 to 270 ppm that occurred between 15 000 and 10 000 yr ago (Fig. 9).
        A plethora of past work strongly suggests that the increase in [CO2] that occurred between 15 000 and 10 000 yr ago may have been large enough to have had a profound impact on crop productivity, and hence on human subsistence patterns (Sage, 1995; Fig. 9).”

        Regarding RCP8.5, credibility is in the eyes of the beholder, but what is clear is that it is not business-as-usual. It is obviously useful to define a worst-case scenario as business-as-usual to promote an agenda.

        • art.berman

          Javier,

          Climate varied during the late Pleistocene and there were warmer periods that lasted hundreds or even thousands of years. Humans are resourceful and inventive. It makes sense to me that agricultural episodes occurred just as they did for the Natufians before earlier in the Holocene.

          Best,

          Art

  • Terence

    I would just like to add a few extra points for consideration for anyone thinking about how the future will or could unfold. It is probably safe to assume in previous large changes in the last tens of thousands of years that with regard to the humans present, there were large intact wildernesses with huge tracts of forests and abundant wildlife and diversity. Today as climate bands move around abit, almost nothing of this former stock of nature’s capital exists. We tend to have just fragments. And given the large populations now, surely then our vulnerability is greatly increased and even more if we have reasonably sized changes in the next few decades.

    I know some people might say we have great technology now, but I would tend to disregard that. From what I can see lots of biological tech like GM crops, mono-crops, high yield crops are all fragile and are more about increasing profitability in the immediate term at the expense of everything and I suspect are actually more fragile and sensitive to change -i.e. drought, temperatures swings and high temperatures.

    I notice this is a recurring theme when some people talk about the future and say it will all be fine because of statements like more CO-2 will great for plant productivity. I also suspect that the loss of diversity particularly whether that be of plants, insects or pollinators can’t but have unforeseen negative consequences. The level of hubris from the techno optimists types is quite often astounding.

    Anyhow I think the main point of the essay is spot on, in its general conclusion that tinkering with the system is not such a good idea.

    On a slightly separate topic, it is clear the massive over reaction to Covid -the number and stats around it just do not add up, -are more indicative that the pre-existing massive debt bubble which was going to burst anyhow and all the other global problems, that this is more likely a pre-emptive strike (.i.e. the WEF Great Reset after they make most firms go bust) by the global oligarchs to try and do a controlled implosion of the global economy and of the population size so as to reduce the over-capacity problem and increase the chance of surviving (themselves) whatever is coming. Not that any of these people could be trusted for anything. But it does make you wonder, is there a connection. So maybe we are actually right in the storm of change now even though we appear to be all pondering something other than the present.

    • art.berman

      Terrence,

      I appreciate your articulate reflections.

      I am an enthusiastic user of technology but believe people have an almost religious belief in its ability to solve all problems. In that way, it is like an addiction that allows us to continue bad behavior because it absolves us of responsibility for that behavior. I am an oil and gas professional and have a hard time convincing people that technology does not create energy. It’s just a means of transforming energy into work. This is an alien concept for many.

      I have written in other posts that Covid was a trigger but not the cause of our present economic problems. From your comments, I don’t feel that I need to say more.

      Best,

      Art

    • Geoff

      Terence,
      You state: “I notice this is a recurring theme when some people talk about the future and say it will all be fine because of statements like more CO-2 will great for plant productivity. I also suspect that the loss of diversity particularly whether that be of plants, insects or pollinators can’t but have unforeseen negative consequences.”

      The consequences are not unforeseen by some. It’s known that CO2 levels enhance plant growth. It’s also known that increasing temperatures due to the ‘greenhouse effect’ of increasing atmospheric CO2 levels will do far more damage to plant growth and survival, and will consequently diminish human food supply. Perhaps you mean that the mainstream media are avoiding these discussions?

      Serious damage from global heating is already being experienced (i.e. unprecedented wildfires, higher rates of evaporation, 45+ °C heatwaves, severe storm damage, diminishing crop and pasture yields), and, whatever we do, things will get worse over the next 10-30 years, maybe sooner.

      Climate model simulations indicate:
      1.5 °C warming reached in the year range 2026 to 2028, best estimate (for all simulations);
      2.0 °C warming reached in the year range 2038 to 2058, best estimate (for most simulations, except SSP1-1.9).
      See Table 1: https://esd.copernicus.org/preprints/esd-2020-68/

      As temperatures continue to increase, the risk of multiple “breadbasket failures” will increase. Breadbasket failure is defined as a major yield reduction in annual crop cycle of a breadbasket region where there is a potential impact on global food systems. In a recent study of global hotspots of heat stress due to climate change showed areas of Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia and North America (40–60 degrees N.), which include the major grain producing areas of the world, as being particularly vulnerable.
      See: http://www.bu.edu/pardee/files/2017/03/Multiple-Breadbasket-Failures-Pardee-Report.pdf

      The shelves for food at the Supermarkets may become empty. Clean water supplies may become increasingly limited. Starving people are more susceptible to disease. These are ‘threat multipliers’ for geopolitical instability.

      These are the ‘unthinkables’ that we all need to start thinking about. Perhaps then, humanity might just act collectively to avoid civilisation collapse (and perhaps human extinction) before it’s too late. How bad do we want it to get?

      You also state: “On a slightly separate topic, it is clear the massive over reaction to Covid -the number and stats around it just do not add up…”

      What are you saying, Terence? COVID-19 is a hoax? The COVID-19 stats are bogus? Remove the social restrictions and let COVID-19 rip through the population (and in doing so overwhelm the medical services)?

      US COVID-19 deaths are now at 274,000+. It’s likely that number will pass 300,000 before Christmas 2020, and potentially pass 400,000 in early 2021 (before any vaccines can be deployed at large-scale).

      Per CDC, leading causes of death in the USA in 2018 were:
      Heart disease: 655,381
      Cancer: 599,274
      Accidents (unintentional injuries): 167,127
      Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 159,486
      Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 147,810
      Alzheimer’s disease: 122,019
      Diabetes: 84,946
      Influenza and pneumonia: 59,120
      Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 51,386
      Intentional self-harm (suicide): 48,344

      COVID-19 looks serious to me, and it isn’t over yet. Who knows where it will end? And there’s also a growing cohort of many “long COVID” sufferers that may require ongoing long-term care.

  • John

    Hello Art – thanks for you insights. I’ve enjoyed your video discussions with various people and look forward to exploring your writings as time goes on. Do you think fracking technology can remain in wide use given the toxicity involved and the number of people who have become ill as a result of fracking operations near their homes? I’ve been watching documentaries from years past that are quite riveting on that score.

    A recent acquaintance, Jim West, has pointed out that hydrogen cyanide poisoning symptoms are a match for those attributed to the virus and that the original Covid-19 hot-spots were in toxic areas near refineries. I had a significant bout of hypoxia in April and I’m fairly close to a Marathon refinery, so I’m very curious about this potentially confounding factor.

    Can you comment on the idea that some or even many of the chemicals used in the fracking process actually travel along and are mixed with the fracked oil on its way to the refinery? Have you heard that refineries have been requesting higher HCN limits? I’ve been working on sourcing that information independently. I’d assume, if they have, that they have a good reason to do so. I have looked at the chemistry of NOx compounds and the reactions that create HCN but I’m no chemist. Could this kind of toxicity be one of the dirty little secrets we’re facing going forward; where theoretically every barrel of oil from any domestic source is considered relevant to perhaps national security and that we’ve finally arrived at a ‘whatever it takes’ point, where even if some people have to walk away from their homes that’s a small price to pay?

    On another front; where has all the surplus energy gone? I’m assuming the dollar-bankruptcy side of the equation doesn’t preclude that surplus energy was extracted. I just doubt that the dollar is a reliable measuring-stick after reading some of Tim Morgan’s SEEDS work if I understand it correctly. Is the system just buying time? I’m wondering if the surplus has been squandered or maybe that it was used for something actually worthwhile; something other than just maintaining business as usual?

    Appreciate your input on any of the above. Best regards and thanks.

    • art.berman

      John,

      I am no apologist for the oil and gas industry but I am confident that the “riveting” videos you have seen are largely propaganda by the environmental industry. Yes, it is an industry that attacks other sources of energy that compete for capital.

      Fracking is an industrial-scale process that is used to meet consumer demand for refined products, natural gas & natural gas liquids.

      Like any industrial process, there are risks and occasional accidents. That does not justify them but it is equally true for all such processes—-for example, the wildfires caused by improperly maintained electric power and transmission equipment in California. There is no comparison of the deaths and damage to human life and health between the wildfires and fracking. The exploitation of the information for self-serving purposes is the difference.

      The surplus energy you refer to is being used by everyone in the form of petroleum products, jobs, services and revenue from exports. I don’t know where people get the mistaken idea that there is no longer an energy surplus. The problem is that we—-not they—-have borrowed against it with debt.

      Those who blame oil companies for climate change are infantile. Oil companies and everyone who continues to use and benefit from the products it provides are responsible. Blaming does nothing but make those doing it feel self-righteous as they continue to expect electric power and refined products on demand. If you drive an EV in the US, most of it’s electric power comes from coal or natural gas.

      Energy is a complex system. When amateurs get involved, beware of their veracity and motives.

      Best,

      Art

  • Geoff

    Art, your post concludes with:

    “What lies ahead during the lifetimes of our grandchildren will most probably not be comparable to anything since the development of multi-cellular life on Earth.”

    The evidence I see indicates not just your grandchildren’s generation, but probably also your children’s generation will likely be witness to unprecedented changes never before seen in all of human history.

    I’d suggest there’s profound ignorance of the problems facing humanity among many people, including elites.

    Disruption is now inevitable. Humanity will inevitably face large-scale climate disruption: either planned by way of rapid, whole-of-economy and society emergency transition to restore a safe climate for humanity and civilisation; or much worse unplanned chaos because of increasingly more hostile physical conditions that will consequently induce social and economic system failure.

    The National Climate Emergency Summit published on Thursday (Feb 4) a YouTube video titled “RESET.21 | MATTERS OF FACTS: THE SCIENCE OF GETTING IT RIGHT” that presents the proceedings of the first forum of RESET.21 on Tuesday (Feb 2) in Melbourne, Australia, duration 1:22:23, moderated by Jo Chandler – Science Writer & Journalist.
    See event profile: https://climateemergencysummit.org/matters-of-facts-event-profile/

    From time interval 0:04:04: David Spratt – Research Director at Breakthrough National Centre For Climate Restoration, co-author of “Climate Reality Check 2020” – on:
    * sensible risk management for existential threats,
    * sea level rise to 2100,
    * sulfate aerosols ‘masking’ warming,
    * “Hot House Earth” scenario,
    * climate ‘tipping points’,
    * large-scale carbon drawdown is now vital

    From time interval 0:24:57: Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick – Climate Scientist, UNSW Sydney – on:
    * heatwaves and wildfires (mainly Australian context + briefly on global context)

    From time interval 0:40:04: Sir David King – Former Chief Scientific Adviser for the UK – on:
    * CO2 equivalent is now circa 500 ppm
    * ice melting and sea level rise,
    * geoengineering technologies

    From time interval 1:02:16: Q&A session
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V8pTQnCp40

  • Dwight

    Your snarky comment about scientists help engineers understand is the problem. Engineering is the only answer. Elon understands this even though he’s not an engineer. He talks about getting into space, desalinization of ocean water and more efficient transportation systems. The earth’s climate will change with or without humans. Engineering our way in conformance to the earth to the betterment of human kind is the only answer. BTW your not the only one who denigrates engineer. That idiot Matt Damon did the same thing in the Martian.

    • art.berman

      Dwight,

      I did not denigrate engineers–quite the opposite. I have always valued working with engineers.

      You may disagree with Matt Damon but he’s no idiot.

      Best,

      Art

  • James Hansen, from a 2011 paper titled Paleoclimate Implications for Human-Made Climate Change

    “Solar luminosity is increasing on long time scales, as our sun is at an early stage of solar
    evolution, “burning” hydrogen, forming helium by nuclear fusion, slowly getting brighter. The
    sun’s brightness increased steadily through the Cenozoic, by about 0.4 percent according to solar
    physics models (Sackmann et al., 1993). Because Earth absorbs about 240 W/m2
    of solar energy, the 0.4 percent increase is a forcing of about 1 W/m2
    This small linear increase of forcing, by itself, would have caused a modest global warming through the Cenozoic Era.

    Location of continents also affects Earth’s energy balance, because ocean and continent
    albedos differ. However, most continents were near their present latitudes at the beginning of
    the Cenozoic (Blakey, 2008; see Fig. S9 of Hansen et al., 2008), so this surface climate forcing
    did not exceed about 1 W/m2
    .
    In contrast, atmospheric CO2 during the Cenozoic changed from about 1000 ppm in the
    early Cenozoic (Beerling and Royer, 2011) to as small as 170 ppm during recent ice ages (Luthi
    et al., 2008). The resulting climate forcing, which can be computed accurately for this CO2
    range using formulae in Table 1 of Hansen et al. (2000), exceeds 10 W/m2
    CO2 was clearly the dominant climate forcing in the Cenozoic.”

    “The strong global warming trend between 60 and 50 My ago was presumably a
    consequence of increasing atmospheric CO2, as the Indian plate subducted carbonate-rich ocean
    crust while traversing the Tethys Ocean (Kent and Muttoni, 2008). The magnitude of the CO2
    source continued to increase until India crashed into Asia and began pushing up the Himalaya
    Mountains and Tibetan Plateau. Emissions from this tectonic source continue even today, but
    the magnitude of emissions began decreasing after the Indo-Asian collision and as a consequence
    the planet cooled. The climate variations between 30 and 15 million years ago, when the size of
    the Antarctic ice sheet fluctuated, may have been due to temporal variations of plate tectonics
    and outgassing rates (Patriat et al., 2008). Although many mechanisms probably contributed to
    climate change through the Cenozoic era, it is clear that CO2 change was the dominant cause of
    the early warming and the subsequent long-term cooling trend.”

    “3.1. Milankovitch climate oscillations

    The varying orbital parameters are (1) tilt of Earth’s spin axis relative to the orbital plane,
    (2) eccentricity of Earth’s orbit, (3) day of year when Earth is closest to the sun, also describable
    as precession of the equinoxes (Berger, 1978). These three orbital parameters vary slowly, the
    dominant time scales being close to 40,000, 20,000 and 100,000 years, respectively.

    A satisfactory quantitative interpretation of how each orbital parameter alters climate has
    not yet been achieved. Milankovitch argued that the magnitude of summer insolation at high
    latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere was the key factor determining when glaciation and
    deglaciation occurred. Huybers (2006) points out that insulation integrated over the summer is
    affected only by axial tilt. Hansen et al. (2007a) argue that late spring (mid-May) insolation is
    the key, because early ‘flip’ of ice sheet albedo to a dark wet condition produces a long summer
    melt season; they buttress this argument with data for the timing of the last two deglaciations
    (Termination I 13-14,000 years ago and Termination II about 130,000 years ago).

    https://arxiv.org/vc/arxiv/papers/1105/1105.0968v2.pdf

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