Casaubon's Book

Charles Greene and colleagues confirm what the evidence has added up to – that we’re probably already too late to avoid crossing major tipping points, and that the scientific consensus has been in error – but not like the right wing wants you to believe. Instead, the compelling evidence for climate change is that even the most rigorous scientists have understated how radically our world is changing.

As one of the authors of “A Very Inconvenient Truth,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Oceanography (March 2010), Greene said that he and his co-authors conclude that the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 4th assessment report underestimates the potential dangerous effects that man-made climate change will have on society.

“Even if all man-made greenhouse gas emissions were stopped tomorrow and carbon-dioxide levels stabilized at today’s concentration, by the end of this century the global average temperature would increase by about 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 2.4 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, which is significantly above the level which scientists and policymakers agree is a threshold for dangerous climate change,” Greene said.

What’s going to be really important is what we do with this information, as it begins to seriously penetrate mass consciousness. Study after study has shown we are much closer to critical tipping points than expected – most probably too late to fully turn back. It would be easy to abandon the struggle to limit emissions altogether, but of course, we have to be able to articulate the critical difference between 2.5 and 6 degrees C.

That’s not going to be an easy challenge in a world that doesn’t handle subtlety very well. I have argued for many years that we are going to, in the end, have to turn to the language of sacrifice and selflessness, of unity in the face of potential disaster – even potential failure – and that we are better off (because we then achieve at least honesty) choosing that language early, rather than only when we are compelled. This is just another bit of evidence that we will be compelled.



  1. #1 Russell
    March 24, 2010

    Where in your post is the “good news” your headline promised?

  2. #2 Sharon Astyk
    March 24, 2010

    Sorry, I thought the sarcasm was obvious. There’s never any good news on the climate front, unless you count the “good” news that iceland’s volcanos might give us a bit of a respite. Tough on iceland though.


  3. #3 moo
    March 24, 2010

    I’m afraid climate change “skeptics” aren’t going to be convinced by *any* amount of scientific evidence, as long as that evidence is being used to make a projection (i.e. extrapolate into the future). The only evidence they would not dismiss, if the human lifetime weren’t so limited, would be retrospective evidence; and you can be sure they would continue to voice irrationalisations and denial even then ..

  4. #4 Greenpa
    March 24, 2010

    And, alas, this is NOT news. Nor are the causes beyond analysis. The problem is, we have no person or body designated to analyze the process at the level required.

    Please read this; from my blog, April, ’07.

    I would like to hear reaction to that, from scientists.

  5. #5 mousedude
    March 24, 2010

    someone needs to invent a new puncutation mark to indicate sarcasm or satire, since they don’t translate to text very well. like quotation marks, but snarkier.

    Russel, she was being sarcastic. she meant `~good~’ news.

  6. #6 darwinsdog
    March 24, 2010

    “What’s going to be really important is what we do with this information…”

    Absolutely nothing can be done. Even if humans all dropped dead, abruptly ending anthropogenic emissions of high heat capacity gasses altogether, positive feedbacks have already kicked in that make unprecedentedly rapid climatic warming inevitable and, indeed, ongoing. It isn’t the magnitude of change that is catastrophic, it’s the rate of change being far, far too rapid for selection & range shifts to keep pace with that is devastating biodiversity. Humans could conceivably adjust to anthropogenic climatic warming if it was the only global perturbation to be dealt with, but ACW is only one of several major stressors driving down biodiversity at a rate which qualifies the current, ongoing extinction pulse as the sixth great dieoff of the Phanerozoic. There is absolutely nothing that humans can do to mitigate or adjust to the utter demolition of the flora & fauna that serve as components of ecosystems upon which our very lives depend. The so-called “tipping points” aren’t drawing near. They are all long since “tipped.”

  7. #7 Greenpa
    March 24, 2010

    darwinsetc: “There is absolutely nothing that humans can do to mitigate or adjust to the utter demolition of the flora & fauna ”

    I’m aware of a paper in preparation that details a hitherto unmentioned possibility. Sorry I can’t say more than that- but it’s not “assisted migration”; something potentially far more powerful, and actually easier to accomplish.

    But still a huge amount of work. Just maybe- not “nothing”. Just trying to encourage everyone to keep thinking- we definitely haven’t thought of everything; not even close.

  8. #8 darwinsdog
    March 24, 2010

    I’m all for encouraging people to continue thinking, but eventually you must reach some sort of a conclusion. The Pharaohs, reportedly, spent a good deal of thought on how to live forever and as far as I know they’re all still dead. If I scale up the trebuchet my son built for his high school physics class a few years ago, and use it to lob a river boulder at your greenhouse, you’d better think fast about how to keep the rock from descending when it reaches the apex of its ballistic arc. May as well think, while you’re at it, about how to keep a population rapidly approaching two full orders of magnitude above the carrying capacity of the biosphere, from crashing. Think all you want. Some things just can’t be done.

  9. #9 Kermit
    March 24, 2010

    darwinsdog: I’m a paleface, and like all palefaces I’ve had an experience at some point in my childhood where I woke up on the beach, red and painful. There was *nothing I could do to prevent it from getting worse at that point. But I still grabbed my things and trotted for the shade. The proper response is *not to say “Well, it’s going to get worse no matter what I do, so I’ll just stay out here for the last few hours of sunlight left.”

    There is a difference between global impoverishment and the collapse of civilization; between seeing three billion people die and seeing 6 billion die; between losing 50% of current species and losing 90%.

    I might lose the fight. But the fight isn’t over as long as I breath.

  10. #10 Kerrick
    March 24, 2010

    Some associates of mine %who are not a bit clever or satisfied with themselves% use % as sarcasm delimiting tags.

  11. #11 Crunchy Chicken
    March 24, 2010

    Well, aren’t you being Miss Mighty Chipperpants this morning? Thanks for spreading the good cheer. I was hoping for some actual “good news”, but I should know better by now.

    Hey, I’ve got a lucrative business proposal for you! Forget the guns and ammo, I think we need to start stockpiling cyanide capsules. I’ll supply the West Coast with “Crunchy’s Cyanide Capsules” and you can handle the East Coast with “Casaubon’s Cyanide Capsules”. Distribution will be easier that way.

    The midwest will, unfortunately, have to rely on “Greenpa’s Goodnight Tablets”, which don’t really work because you end up hallucinating about him whispering “hitherto unmentioned possibilities” in your ear, yet you keep waking up, no matter how many tablets you take.

  12. #12 Greenpa
    March 24, 2010

    Crunchy- lol!

    darwinspeke- history is totally, utterly, absolutely- NOT on your side. Examine the history of innovation. All the biggies came as a huge shock to the zillions who knew for a fact that it was impossible. Seriously- all of them.

    It is the quintessential nature of true innovation that the majority of mankind cannot conceive of the change.

    Your statement, when reduced to logic, actually reads: “I know everything.”

    Which I doubt is what you intended, or actually believe.

    The chant of “there is no silver bullet!” has become a matter of faith. The possibility I referred to is not a complete silver bullet either- but I contend that in the current intellectual atmosphere, if a true silver bullet DID appear- with Jesus Christ, Buddha, Moses, and Mohammed holding it up for all to see, personally – the overwhelming reaction would be sardonic disbelief.

  13. #13 darwinsdog
    March 24, 2010

    Natural history isn’t on the side of my argument for impending human population collapse & extinction? Populations have exceeded the carrying capacity of their environment indefinitely, then? Individuals, populations and species, once having arisen, have persisted forever after? Consumption of finite resources has been infinitely protracted? Wow. Guess I was wrong.

  14. #14 zeeeperkowpie
    March 24, 2010

    darwinspeke – the rhetoric you’re using is what causes the general public to turn off the climate change channel. Nobody is going to listen to that kind of nonsense. Obviously you don’t care about the general public, otherwise you would use more care, but there are others who would like to be able to communicate their concerns. You are making that more difficult.

  15. #15 darwinsdog
    March 24, 2010

    So it’s all about how the “general public” perceives issues, and not at all about the reality of the situation, zeep? The truth makes it more difficult for you to communicate your “concerns” to this “general public,” does it? In other words, my message, grounded firmly in the facts of population biology, ecology, and resource studies, makes propagandizing for your agenda more difficult? Is this what you’re saying?

  16. #16 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2010

    evidently, my sarcasm-meter is broken, too. I had exactly the same thought as #1

    Time to activate the Plan For The Zombie Apocalypse.

  17. #17 doug l
    March 24, 2010

    So..there’s now no point in trying to constrain our buring of coal and oil? Darn.

  18. #18 Greenpa
    March 24, 2010

    darwinsshitzu- That’s an interesting argument you’re having- but it’s no longer the same one I’m engaged in. Is it likely the population will crash? uh, duh. Is there “absolutely nothing anyone can do about it?” – not demonstrated, and unlikely.

  19. #19 Ed Straker
    March 24, 2010

    Lovelock will be laughing in his grave when this is done playing out.

  20. #20 dltrammel
    March 24, 2010

    Oh Jadehawk, don’t tell me I have to start worrying about zombies now too 🙁

  21. #21 Sharon Astyk
    March 25, 2010

    Sorry the sarcasm didn’t come through. What also didn’t seem to come through is the fact that I don’t think this means we’re doomed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it is good, but human beings have fairly extreme adaptability written into their genes. This doesn’t mean “we can burn all the coal we want” – it means that those critical differences between “we fixed it” and “we did all we could to make it work as best it could” are even more critical. I won’t be selling cyanide capsules any time soon. This news sucks, of course, but life and hope go together – and by hope, I don’t mean the casual wishing emotion, but the kind of hope that makes you break a sweat and put your back into things.


  22. #22 Sharon Astyk
    March 25, 2010

    Deanna, that does seem profitable. But do they have to be capsules? I’m thinking highly flavored fruit beverages to be sold in “vending machines o’doom.” Greenpa, Man O’Mystery can mix interesting hallucinogens into his.


  23. #23 dewey
    March 25, 2010

    Greenpa – Can you at least tell me which journal to watch? About to pop with curiosity now.

  24. #24 darwinsdog
    March 25, 2010

    Adaptation is the outcome of natural selection. Individuals don’t adapt, populations do, as gene frequencies shift according to whatever selection pressures the environment imposes. Individuals may adjust, acclimate, acclimatize, adjust… but they do not adapt. Humans are as adaptable as any other species but the rate that a population adapts is a function of generation time. Humans have long generation times hence adaptation in human populations is slow in real time. If the term “adaptation” is being interpreted/used as a generic synonym for “change,” then we are failing to communicate precisely.

    Humans are quite clever & canny in a primate sort of way, but anyone who expects humans to demonstrate long term resilience or longevity after the fashion of the dipnoi or Limulus, for instance, is just fooling him- or herself. The fire ape will indeed burn all the coal it can grub up, if it gets the chance. When has a person, suffering from cold, ever declined the opportunity to warm him- or herself out of consideration for others or for the environment? And as for being “doomed,” each and every one of us is “doomed” to die. In like manner, each and every species is “doomed” to extinction. Is anyone stupid enough to dispute this? Likewise, populations that exceed the carrying capacity (K) of the environment crash. This is another simple fact of nature. Does anyone dispute the fact that human population is currently in gross excess of K, as temporarily allowed by the clever fire ape trick of oxidizing reduced fossil carbon? And does anyone deny that reduced fossil carbon is a finite resource that is rapidly being depleted? Connect the dots, folks. What do you think is going to happen to a population in gross excess of carrying capacity when the means by which it has effected such gross excess of K becomes scarce & unaffordable? Is that when the miracle we can’t tell anyone about yet is supposed to happen? The myth of personal immortality (& of species perpetuity) apparently dies hard.

  25. #25 Sharon Astyk
    March 25, 2010

    DD, I think we’re talking past each other. I don’t know that anyone here expects to magically escape death – but there are various possible scenarios for overshoot and decline, some of which are extremely acute, and some of which aren’t. We are talking about several simultaneous things – first of all, how much physical, social and psychological adaptation we’ll have to do in the lifetime of any given human, then how much populations will have to adapt over the coming centuries. As you point out, it doesn’t make sense to blur the two.

    And in both cases, how the scenarios play out over time offer a range of possibilities – some of the factors are external – the rate at which climate change occurs, etc… some of them are psychological, culture and involve smaller groups than the species as a whole. But culture and action are highly adaptable too – that’s why some humans have pulled back from the brink of collapses in various ways, or delayed those collapses over time. Sometimes they haven’t.

    Saying we’re doomed to death, or that as a species we’re doomed to die out isn’t a very useful observation – the particulars matter here. Soon or late, few or many, how our circumstances are changed and reduced matters as much as the fact that they will be. And that outcome has not been wholly written.


  26. #26 Greenpa
    March 25, 2010

    Dewey- I know it’s likely to be more than a year, and the journal is not chosen yet. It might well come in any related to genetics, evolution, ecology… :-).

    I will say it’s not some magic nonsense about “looky, we’ve taken a gene from oil palm trees and incorporated it into rabbits so they poop white chocolate!” kind of thing. Looks more like hard sense- 5 universities I’m aware of are scrambling after it (badly, as usual).

  27. #27 Greenpa
    March 25, 2010

    and, Dewey, Crunch, et al- my point was not to irritatingly tantalize; but to illustrate that “absolutely nothing can be done!” is silly. Vast regions of the universes of thought and reality are utterly untouched by humans. So far. Best we keep thinking, I think, and not forget that.

  28. #28 darwinsdog
    March 25, 2010

    “Jesus will save us” has been replaced with “technology will save us,” in the minds of the faithful. Technocopian fantasies of reprieve from reality are appealing, until we realize that for every technological “solution” to a perceived problem, several new problems are created, and that it was technological tinkering that got humanity & the biosphere into the mess it’s in, in the first place. Geoengineered “solutions” to anthropogenic climatic warming will likely be attempted, with the outcome of hastening ecosystem and population collapse instead of postponing them. Or genes will be recombinantly inserted into some staple crop allowing it to fix nitrogen, or some such madness, with enormous attendant unforeseen consequences. Humans are clever apes indeed, but not wise. Meddling in natural processes messes things up. This has always been the case and there’s no cause for hope that things will be any different “this time.”

  29. #29 Greenpa
    March 25, 2010

    Darwinspoodle- you are barking at the choir. We’re all kind of having a hard time understanding why. I’ve written statements nearly identical to your latest.

    You may want to consider the possibility that your own attitudes have passed from reason into the realm of faith.

  30. #30 Crunchy Chicken
    March 25, 2010

    Greenpaps – You’ve got rabbits that poop white chocolate? What kind of breeding program are you running out there in the Big Woods? I think your Greenpa’s Tasty Tablets are going to be vastly more popular than my cyanide capsules, even if yours don’t work.

    I better rethink my marketing plan and formula…

  31. #31 A
    March 25, 2010

    Greenps at 7: “I’m aware of a paper in preparation that details a hitherto unmentioned possibility. Sorry I can’t say more than that- … something potentially far more powerful, and actually easier to accomplish. But still a huge amount of work. Just maybe- not “nothing”. Just trying to encourage everyone to keep thinking-….”

    If this is so great, but needs more work, wouldn’t it be good to publish something preliminary sooner? Then others could start working on it too, and perhaps the great thing could arrive earlier? And you would still get credit to have started it all. Or is it another perpetuum mobile-type invention?

    Then, there are problems of scale. It is easy to fly across the Atlantic faster than anybody thought 150 years ago, but to Mars, you’ll be in transit for ~6 months, no matter what.
    Similar, the earth’s climate is not easily changed by a single intervention. Though cutting down on greenhouse gases may help (but slowly).

  32. #32 Greenpa
    March 25, 2010

    Crunchy- 🙂 yup, marketing is always a big key-

    A- “If this is so great, but needs more work, wouldn’t it be good to publish something preliminary sooner? Then others could start working on it too, and perhaps the great thing could arrive earlier? And you would still get credit to have started it all. Or is it another perpetuum mobile-type invention?”

    If I understand their thinking- it entails a true paradigm shift, that wonderful thing everybody is always craving. But- if you study the history of real paradigm shifts- it’s always a very painful process; never, never, never welcomed as a wonderful new thing.

    Darwin and Natural Selection comes instantly to my mind. There is a really, really good reason why On The Origin Of Species is so long, dogged, and repetitive (and kind of hard to fight your way through). Charley knew full well it would NOT be greeted with cheers- so he labored, for may years – to at least make the logic and evidence – irrefutable.

    The scientific world took 50 years to accept it (one funeral at a time, as Planck put it). The rest of the world is still dragging- and it hurts us. You realize that some 60% of Usacos do not believe evolution is proven?

    And- a huge amount of how we got into this mess (as in Peak Everything) – is jumping into new technologies /processes/practices without fully thinking them through. “Hey, huge power dams are GREAT! Let’s build more!” “Superhighways will jumpstart the economy! Jobs and wealth for all!” Etc.

    Personally I have to agree that going slow is often a better way to get to a good end, instead of just “an” end.

  33. #33 darwinsdog
    March 26, 2010

    It’s impossible to “think through” all the implications & ramifications & consequences of a new technology. Nature is much too contingent, interconnected & quirky for all the consequences of innovative interference in natural processes to be foreseen a priori. Nature wasn’t broken and so didn’t need “fixed” by human meddling. Human perturbations invariably upset natural processes in unpredictable, detrimental ways. Such perturbations, even when relatively benign in & of themselves, interact in synergistic, nonadditive ways, compounding problems enormously. “Don’t just do something, stand there,” should be our operational mode. To just leave natural processes alone does the least harm. Left to its own devices nature will heal itself from the damage inflicted by humans, and ecosystem integrity & biodiversity will recover.

  34. #34 Greenpa
    March 26, 2010

    “It’s impossible to “think through” all the implications..”

    No! Really??

    So, sit on our ass is your recommendation?

    I can assure you; from long personal experience, however, that it is not particularly difficult to think BETTER, and DEEPER, and VERY LONG RANGE – if you only try.

    It is not, at all, that we can’t- it’s that we’re trained not to; and our predecessors didn’t, ever.

    So- sit and watch if you want to. Some of us aren’t sitting.

  35. #35 vertalio
    March 27, 2010

    I too have sounded like darwinsdogs daddy, full of fate. And with good reason, as he notes. But also, as Sharon and G’pa note, paths through may exist for those that persist, both human and Other. I’m not a humanist anymore, so don’t care that the bulk of h. sapiens won’t pass thru the bottleneck, but that doesn’t mean we all can’t. And I care deeply that as many of the Others pass thru that bottleneck as possible. That’s the path I want.

    Much of the CC problem is the speed of change. Trees migrate 11 miles a century, and will need to migrate 11 miles every year of the coming century. This in the face of diminished population, diminished vectors, lack of fungal attendants, degraded conditions, and man-made impediments to migration like cities and highways. Given all that, one path is to move trees ourselves, sowing in places ahead of the Correction. Most will not thrive, but some will. Eventually those can expand and continue. I’m not suggesting introducing invasives, but varients of natives, in an attempt to pre-seed diversity before we lose the easy ability to travel a thousand miles ourselves.

  36. #36 darwinsdog
    March 29, 2010

    You’re entirely correct that it’s the rate, and not the magnitude, of ongoing ecological change that is driving populations & species to extinction, vertalio. And you are also correct in pointing out that human caused habitat fragmentation greatly compounds problems due to such rapid change. Because change is happening far too rapidly for natural range shifts to keep pace with, your idea of “pre-forestation” may have merit. But because it is likewise occurring far too rapidly for selection to keep pace with, I would expect such efforts to be largely futile. There are biotic & edaphic differences, as well as climatic, between conditions at different latitudes, that tree species may not be well adapted to. But your idea may be worth a try, and is a positive contribution to dialog, unlike much of the substanceless technocopian millenarianism often spouted in these fora.

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