What do I think

A reader writes in bafflement:

William, I just can’t tell, through what seems to be all the increasing cynicism (you also seem to be going a tad CAish), what you position wrt anthro climate change (how much, why, and what we should do) and the other changes wrought by us is anymore. On a slightly different but linked tack, is your party still your party? Or are you beggining to think like a sceptic that now we’ve done the first two (it’s not happening, it is happening) that it’s now too late and we might just as well go full speed and wreck the place but have some good old hedonistic fun in the process? I’m, as I say, really not entirely sure what you think anymore.

Oh dear. Yes I am feeling rather more cynical, but on the main science my opinions are much the same: I wrote in 2004 and its still fine. And no, its still not too late to do something about it.

What I’ve become much more cynical about is the chance of people deciding to do something about it. There are some small scale signs of progress, but overall the impression is, oddly enough, that given the chance most people will go for cash-and-consumption now and hope someone else will fix the problems later. And of course, we have many environmental problems other than global warming. In the UK, and around Cambridge, we have too many cars. Unlike GW, this is a problem that definitely impacts people now and degrades their quality of life. And the main response is to widen the roads to accomodate more cars, because the impact seen by the planners is the economic impact of traffic jams. The environmental impact of pervasive noise pollution and a degraded landscape appears to be invisible by comparison.


  1. #1 Fergus Brown


    What appears to be coming out of the blogosphere recently is a general awareness that what is being presented to us as climate policy/action, is in reality energy policy, ‘sexed up’. Does this match with your perceptions?

    [If you mean “what is being presented”, then no. If it was pure energy policy it would have no CO2 component -W]

    Also: is there any significance to the big, messy scars at the inner edge of the Ross Ice Shelf atm? I’d have asked by email, but have no idea how to work that damned page on wiki.

    apologies for the irrelevance, and regards,

    [Dunno. A new berg broken off? -W]

  2. #2 Adam

    I guess a follow-up question would be: What problems do you see arising from GW?

    In the comments of the RC piece you say:

    “my POV (and it isn’t much more than that – I’m no specialist in the consequences, other than sea level rise (shameless self promotional link there…)) – is that we (and the ecosystems that surround us) are likely to have problems coping with “rapid” changes from the current state that we have got used to. You say “a little bit of migration” – but in these days of national borders, that could be a major problem. Of course, its a political not a scientific one”

    What rapid changes do you think possible, and what do you think are their probabilities?

    As this is the conversation probably that should be happening, it would be interesting to get a collection of views from a wide range of climate scientists (even if it means POVs from outside areas of expertise, as I’m sure their opinions will be formed from some knowledge through discussions with the experts). We could point at the IPCC report, but I think it would be interesting as an extra to that.

    On your point on other pollution, is this not normally linked to C or CO2 emission as well? Could the two (more general pollution & GW) be tackled together, and would this be a better angle, or should the GW part be dropped anyway, either in the assumption that clearing other pollutions would reduce CO2 emissions, or that they don’t really need to be reduced?

    It has to be noted that not all pollution reduction will reduce C or CO2 emissions (clean air act, catalytic converters, etc.).

    [You can think up any number of rapid change possibilities. Greenland or W Antarctica “sliding into the sea” are the obvious ones. The trouble is assigning them meaningful probabilities -W]

  3. #3 Lubos Motl

    William, now you may copy the statement of Dr Hulme, the boss of the Tyndall Pyndall Tandall Alarmist Institute or how it’s called, that he is also increasingly chastised by the [econuts]. ;-)

    Concerning parties, I was completely disgusted by the so-called “conservative” party of the U.K. who propose even crazier programs to reduce carbon production by 80 percent or some craziness of this kind.

    They’re not alone: SPD in Germany must try to stop CDU – CDU wants to be even more ecoradical than the EU headquarters.

    I am now pretty sure that if I were British, I would be voting for Tony Blair if I got the chance. Isn’t the world getting crazy?

  4. #4 Hank Roberts

    >rapid change possibilities …. assigning meaningful probabilities

    Isn’t work being done now with remotely operated vehicles up under the edge of the ice shelves, along the grounding zones, to look at what happens as tides and waves and warmer ocean water affect the zone there?

    Purely speculatively, I’d imagine:

    Worst case, ice caves and tunnels developing, the ice lifting off the mud at high water and melting channels so it doesn’t reconnect as well with each cycle, more cracking allowing more fresh water to penetrate down to the grounding zone — simple salinity measurement perhaps?

    Best case, the ice is sticking to the mud and the rift zones freezing solid again.

    Just speculating, but I recall mention of work being done in this difficult land-sea-ice interface area, I thought by the British Antarctic Survey.

  5. #5 Eli Rabett

    While we can go back and forth about the issue of tipping points in climate change, the history of public policy clearly establishes that it is dominated by such sharp transitions,. I think we are on the edge of one wrt climate change, much as with, for example the clean air and water acts in the US.

    There may be significant actions in the near future.

  6. #6 fergus brown

    Lubos: We won’t have a chance to vote for Mr. Blair, he’s ‘retiring’ (has been for a year or so, now). When he goes, he’ll be replaced, for the foreseeable future, by the current chancellor, Gordon Brown (no relation), who apparently thinks that ‘climate change’ is a setting ofr the air conditioning system in a Mercedes. He’s also primarily an Economist, which could be a good thing, but I wouldn’t count on it…

  7. #7 Lubos Motl

    Thanks, fergus, I knew about the retirement – that’s why I wrote about the “chance”. We will see what Gordon Brown does. ;-)

  8. #8 Hank Roberts

    Another bit that might make serious work on ice fracturing more useful, if it’s still an open question how much surface melting changes glacier structire?

    Propagation of water-filled crevasses through glaciers is investigated based on the linear elastic fracture mechanics approach. A crevasse will penetrate to the depth where the stress intensity factor at the crevasse tip equals the fracture toughness of glacier ice. A crevasse subjected to inflow of water will continue to propagate downward with the propagation speed controlled primarily by the rate of water injection. While the far-field tensile stress and fracture toughness determine where crevasses can form, once initiated, the rate of water-driven crevasse propagation is nearly independent of these two parameters. Thus, rapid transfer of surface meltwater to the bed of a cold glacier requires abundant ponding at the surface to initiate and sustain full thickness fracturing before refreezing occurs.

    Also: http://www.physorg.com/news85844283.html

    “There are no disagreements on facts, just what the facts mean for action and institutions. Some people believe that facts dictate these answers, I see much more conscious choice involved.” — RP Jr., Prometheus

  9. #9 Hank Roberts

    p.s., as to whether people will take action, it’s not like people have to start from scratch deciding what’s worthwhile doing. The basic decision’s already law:

    Warren Burger, opining on the Endangered Species Act: “It is clear that Congress intended to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction whatever the cost.” (TVA v. Hill 1978)


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