Can the party of Reagan accept the science of climate change?

I was going to blog about what bunch of ponces the Police were in the video for Wrapped around your finger (great music though; speaking of which Nice legs, Shame about the face applies today. King of Pain is better, but they don't look so stupid).

Anyway, what I decided to talk about today is Sherwood Boehlert's op-ed in the WaPo (as I believe the hip dudes call it). Which I'll quote in near-entirety (truncated a little for brevity and for bits I find not wrong but detracting from the otherwise excellent message):

Watching the raft of newly elected GOP lawmakers converge on Washington, I couldn't help thinking about an issue I hope our party will better address. I call on my fellow Republicans to open their minds to rethinking what has largely become our party's line: denying that climate change and global warming are occurring and that they are largely due to human activities.

National Journal reported last month that 19 of the 20 serious GOP Senate challengers declared that the science of climate change is either inconclusive or flat-out wrong. Many newly elected Republican House members take that position. It is a stance that defies the findings of our country's National Academy of Sciences, national scientific academies from around the world and 97 percent of the world's climate scientists.

Why do so many Republican senators and representatives think they are right and the world's top scientific academies and scientists are wrong? I would like to be able to chalk it up to lack of information or misinformation.

I can understand arguments over proposed policy approaches to climate change. I served in Congress for 24 years. I know these are legitimate areas for debate. What I find incomprehensible is the dogged determination by some to discredit distinguished scientists and their findings.

In a trio of reports released in May, the prestigious and nonpartisan National Academy concluded that "a strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems." Our nation's most authoritative and respected scientific body couldn't make it any clearer or more conclusive...

There is a natural aversion to more government regulation. But that should be included in the debate about how to respond to climate change, not as an excuse to deny the problem's existence...

The new Congress should have a policy debate to address facts rather than a debate featuring unsubstantiated attacks on science. We shouldn't stand by while the reputations of scientists are dragged through the mud in order to win a political argument. And no member of any party should look the other way when the basic operating parameters of scientific inquiry - the need to question, express doubt, replicate research and encourage curiosity - are exploited for the sake of political expediency. My fellow Republicans should understand that wholesale, ideologically based or special-interest-driven rejection of science is bad policy. And that in the long run, it's also bad politics.

What is happening to the party of Ronald Reagan? He embraced scientific understanding of the environment and pollution and was proud of his role in helping to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals [*]. That was smart policy and smart politics. Most important, unlike many who profess to be his followers, Reagan didn't deny the existence of global environmental problems but instead found ways to address them.

The National Academy reports concluded that "scientific evidence that the Earth is warming is now overwhelming." Party affiliation does not change that fact.

This is what I (and many others, perhaps most notably mt), have been saying for ages.

[* Update: the description of Reagan is far too simplistic, and probably wrong - see the comments. I'd say it is allowable as political rhetoric as an effort to convince Republican-type folks that they don't have to be the enemies of the environment; but maybe it would be better omitted, or re-phrased to refer only to ozone.]

[Update: Russel Seitz points out that he said pretty well the same thing back in 2008. And more: RP in the comments points out that "the original Senate vote for the
Montreal Protocol was 83-0" - can you imagine that, nowadays?]


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What is happening to the party of Ronald Reagan? He embraced scientific understanding of the environment and pollution

Are we talking about the same Ronald Reagan? Ronald "approximately 80 percent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation" Reagan? That Reagan?

[Well alright. There is a small amount of be-nice-to-your-hero to try to drag folk along -W]

Since not everyone is familiar with Rep. Boehlert:

1) In 2005, when Reps. Barton & Whitfield wrote letters to Mann, Bradley, Hughes, Boehlert pushed back hard, telling them they should ask for an NRC panel to reoport on such issues.

2) NAS President Ralph Cicerone offered them an NRC panel, they turned it down ... then got Wegman recruited in September.

3) A month or so later, Boehlert asked for an NRC panel, which was run by Gerald North.

From scientist friends who've known him, I've never heard anything but high respect. It was a real loss when he retired.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 19 Nov 2010 #permalink

Yes, he may not have originated it, but certainly Reagan first popularized the demonization of environmental causes and environmentalists. This actually goes back to his 1966 campaign for CA governor. But that was coupled with a pragmatic willingness to go along with proposals to protect and improve the environment so long as they failed to grind too severely any economically-important axe.

Over the course of 30 years, Republicans seem to have decided it's beneficial to them to take the Reagan-era approach to an extreme. Because the Democrats are weak compromisers on almost every issue, doing so has benefited the Republicans in the short term (voters like firmness and probably also just want to stick a pacifier in the screaming entitled baby's mnouth), but it's just a matter of time before it bites them in the butt.

Of course the Republicans have given this treatment to a range of issues, not just environmental ones. As it's been said (Mencken?), for every hard problem there's a solution that's both simpler and wrong. IIRC he also said that nobody ever lost any money underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 19 Nov 2010 #permalink

Looks like what is needed is Science 101 for the incoming representatives and legislators. make sure it includes basic statistics as well, and leave the bibles at the door.

Any volunteers?

The WaPo message might be excellent, but Republicans around the country listened to the recent hearings and heard and understood Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (who was actually refuted by Lindzen, his own puppet scientist.)

Essentially: there is more CO2 in beer than there is in the atmosphere, and how 'bout Mars?

There never was a party of Reagan. It's always been the party of Rohrabacher. Reagan knew how to tame the savage beast about the same way Seifried and Roy did. Reagan just got his act of the stage before he became lunch.

We are tired of the doom sayers and world government types that use "science" to ramp up hysteria. Period.

[I notice that you put science in quotes, presumably because you have some doubts about the science. But what do you doubt, and (if it is one of the bits that the NAS is OK with): why do you put your judgement above theirs? -W]

By RalphieGM (not verified) on 19 Nov 2010 #permalink

Looks like what is needed is Science 101 for the incoming representatives and legislators. make sure it includes basic statistics as well, and leave the bibles at the door.

Any volunteers?

Teach science to Merkin conservatives? Ha! You may as well read Shakespeare to a bunch of barnyard animals.

By caerbannog (not verified) on 19 Nov 2010 #permalink

Given the older demographic that elected the Reps the attitude may well be that all the predictions of doom don't affect me directly (my kids and grandkids but...). For example being 60 anything much after 2035 does not concern me much as I will be either be senile or dead at the time. So if you want to succeed you have to pitch to the younger crowd to vote in off year elections. One way to do that is to start a push for national mail voting ala Oregon, no in person voting at all. Mail voting makes the excuse of not having time not viable. Then not voting is done without any real excuse except that you don't care.

The "science accepting" Democrats have controlled both houses of Congress since Jan. 2007 with a filibuster proof majority in the Senate Jan. 2009 - Mar. 2010 and passed no climate legislation. The new Congress can do no worse.

Actions necessary to reach energy transformation do not require climate as a rationale.

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 19 Nov 2010 #permalink

What's your count for "filibuster-proof" starting January 2009, Paul? Remember the Democrats are

That was Session 1 of the 111th Congress.
I recall it being not that simple to get together 60 votes; the Democrats are still, as Will Rogers said, "no organized party"

Counting, that magic filibuster-proof number wasn't there:


They did have "a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority at the start of the current [second] session" but still trouble getting 60 votes.

I expect that many Republicans will be denying the science around climate change after Florida is mostly a shoal south of the state of Georgia.

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 19 Nov 2010 #permalink

after Florida is mostly a shoal south of the state of Georgia - just the kind of unsupported by consensus science exaggeration the encourages laymen to "reject the science".

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 19 Nov 2010 #permalink

My personal theory is the Republican party is an adversarial party rather than a governing party.

[They might almost agree with you, in that I'm sure they regard themselves as a party of small government, so in theory at least would be happy with the idea of "not governing" in some sense -W]

It functions best when it has an adversary of some type to oppose: Communism, civil rights advocates, radical Islam, et al. Now that the threat of Communism has effectively ceased to exist and the threat of radical Islam is diminishing, the GOP is floundering in search of a new opponent. Since racial bigots and religious fundamentalists have been the core constituency of the GOP for several decades, it is only natural that Republicans should attack the perceived "intellectual elites" of the scientific establishment. It is not a conflict between ideologies, but rather a struggle between the intelligent and the stupid. (That may seem insulting, but stupidity is often a conscious choice.) Hence, it is a waste of time trying to appeal to their intellect as Boehlert is attempting to do. The message must be delivered in terms that Republicans can understand and embrace.

By DreamQuestor (not verified) on 19 Nov 2010 #permalink

I know that facts are meaningless on the intertubes, since facts are just the corporeal manifestations of unprovable and vacuous and competing ideological belief systems, but Ronald Wilson Reagan ran on a platform of proving that you could govern on a platform of lying so much and so fecklessly that physics itself would cast a shadow of doubt on itself just by existing. And it has obviously worked.

Yays !!!

Sherwood Boehlert, like a lot of 1970s era Republicans in the U.S., has been a stalwart defender of the fundamental rights of people to such basic things as clean air and clean water, neither of which last time I checked had atomic structures which suggest an ideological proclivity. Ronald Reagan and James Watt and Anne Gorsuch believed otherwise.

Are we talking about the same Ronald Reagan? Ronald "approximately 80 percent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation" Reagan? That Reagan?

And the Reagan who also essentially claimed (and acted as though he believed) that specialties within science such as forest ecology, population ecology, etc were "junk science", who blocked a wide variety of habitat protection efforts on federal lands, who ordered the US Forest Service to ignore NEPA, the USFMA and ESA (which led to a legal trainwreck in his successor's term, i.e. Bush the Elder), etc.

Boehlert is making a political appeal that he hopes more moderate elements in the Republican Party will pay attention to. Those more moderate elements are essentially those that grew up with the Reagan right. The current tea bagger crew are as far to the right of Reagan as Reagan was to Nixon (remember that though he bombed the crap out of SE Asia, Nixon opened relations with the PRC and detente with the USSR, the latter policy the subject of hatred and scorn by the Reagan Republicans), but no one in their right mind would label Reagan any kind of friend to science-based policy regarding the environment or conservation.

If he supported the phasing out of ozone-depleting chemicals (something many current Republicans insist don't exist), it's only because Nancy Reagan's Astrologer told him to.

"after Florida is mostly a shoal south of the state of Georgia - just the kind of unsupported by consensus science exaggeration the encourages laymen to "reject the science"."

Just exactly how so, Paul? Please do explain in detail.

You would have more of a point if you looked at the history of the Republican party in the USA. A hundred years ago, they were the progressive party (with a little p, there was a Progressive third party as well), standing for clean government, for regulation of food and drugs quality, in favour of National Forests, and against the almost unlimited monopoly economic powers of railroad and steel trusts. In short, about everything they now stand against. Florida does have a realistic chance of being around for the next hundred years.

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

re: shoal
I wouldn't have put it that way.
However, here is a Florida map.
You can change the sea level rise to see which land will be below sea level (which does not mean actually under water).
I'd guess:
2100AD: 1-2meter
2200AD: 3-6m
2300AD: ?? but the webpage goes to 14.
Compare that with FL population map. So, at that point, it looks like about 80% of the current population's homes are underwater, since (except for Orlando), most of the dense population (red) is on the coasts. But, I would agree, even at +14m, the shrunken FL peninsula is still more than a shoal. FL high point is 345 ft, mean = 100 ft, so some of it will around for a while.

Looking at the UK flood map at +14m, the waters would be lapping at North side of Cambridge. If the Stoat were still around, he could row out to the sea directly.

If something is below sea level, and it rains there, the water stays unless you pump it, most visible in the Netherlands. Pumping uses energy, and by then it won't be from fossil fuels. At least the Netherlands doesn't have hurricanes.

Of course, the Dutch are smart about water, see images of netherlands floating houses.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

Hyperbole is a turn off to the unconvinced. See here. If you think arguments based on low probability worst possible case scenarios are persuasive, good luck. Of course, if you simply ask if it's a good idea to as rapidly as possible replace the use of fossil fuels, there's no need to argue about climate at all.

As a split ticket voter currently registered Democratic, I find "the other side is evil" partisanship both amusing and self destructive. In 2008, I did make the case that McCain was a better choice for voters whose most important issue is climate.

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

Paul Kelly:

after Florida is mostly a shoal south of the state of Georgia - just the kind of unsupported by consensus science exaggeration the encourages laymen to "reject the science

Just a few moments spent in google led me to sources that suggest that a 2 foot rise in sea level would lead to a loss of 10% of Florida's land area. That's "south Florida" within most people's error bars...a 2 foot rise in sea level over the next century is not "unsupported by consensus science".

C'mon dho. Phil didn't say "south Florida". He said "Florida is mostly a shoal south of the state of Georgia". Had he said a possible 10% land loss was within the 100 year error bars, given that Florida is mostly surrounded by the sea, there would have been no reason for my comment.

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

No sanity there.

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

Reagan's complicated. Doesn't fit into a pigeonhole very well.

On the one hand, there was James Watt, Anne Burford/Gorsuch, and stacking the EPA's Science Advisory Board.

On the other hand, Reagan's counsel to the Task Force on Regulatory Relief, C. Boyden Gray, was one of the early and vocal champions of "cap-and-trade" emissions regulations (not for CO2 at the time, but for other pollutants), and Reagan chose to pursue the Vienna accord to protect the ozone layer over the objection of his chief of staff Don Hodel. According to Richard Benedick's account, "an initiative by President Reagan succeeded in making protection of the ozone layer the first priority among environmental issues requiring common action [by the G7]." Conversely, John Dingell (a Democratic Congressman representing Michigan) was a key opponent to the ozone accord. Reagan personally took leadership on this issue and became "the world's first head of state to approve a national position for the ozone negotiations." [R.E. Benedick, Ozone Diplomacy (Harvard, 1991), Ch. 5]

Reagan also strongly supported the creation of the IPCC, although his motive for doing so was to put the scientists under the control of politicians.

It's much more interesting to look at the real history, in all its messy complexity, than to ignore everything that doesn't fit a stereotype.

By Jonathan Gilligan (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

Oops. Don Hodel was Secretary of the Interior, not White House Chief of Staff.

By Jonathan Gilligan (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

PK, kindly try to acquire a clue about the science: There is no question at all but that BAU will lead to sea level rise far greater than that needed to convert FL into shoals (actually much of it quite a bit deeper than that). There is a question about how long that might take and, in connection to that, whether we might be able to get away with a brief excursion to high levels as long as we very rapidly reduced them afterwards. But the basic fact is that 550+ ppm CO2 (and possibly rather less) is incompatible with the presence of significant ice sheets on this planet.

[Incompatible with the continued presence of Greenland; but nonetheless it still takes a long time to melt. Not so sure about Antarctica - don't think that melts under 550 ppm -W]

The approximately 60 meters of SLR that would result are more than sufficient to leave only a small northern portion of the central Florida ridge still above water.

This is a bit more speculative, but IMHO the sharp rise followed by a sharp reduction idea is a non-starter because of non-linear feedback effects that will take things all the way (e.g. disruptive current changes, in particular the Agulhas, and/or big methane burps from Artic permafrost or East Siberian shelf hydrate deposits).

Your know-nothingism about this stuff has become tedious.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

A "low probability worst possible case scenario", a "doomsday"? Don't make me laugh. The CO2 we release today will be warming the climate for many centuries, and even without that Greenland and the edges of Antarctica are and will be slowly melting even if the climate stays stable at current temperatures. Florida as a reef? Need to wait a few hundred years, that's all. A blink of geologic time.

I was expecting a comment back about how it would take well over a hundred years for Florida to become a coral reef, and that political parties change far faster than that. The Democratic party went from pro slavery to civil rights in less than 100 years. 50 years from now, Republicans might be the party supporting science, and backing efforts to slow climate change. So notice that I said "many Republicans will be denying the science", not the Republican party. Not all Democrats were in favour of getting rid of Jim Crow laws.

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink


I don't have much loyalty to any political party, so their history and future aren't of much interest to me. In addition, I believe the actions that will actually bring climate mitigation will largely occur outside the political arena.

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 20 Nov 2010 #permalink

If we persist with BAU the climate will not stop warming in 2100, Florida will be well and truly underwater before the world's coal reserves have all been burnt (ie: sometime in the next 200yrs).

If we can plan 300yrs ahead for such things as stopping the leaning tower from falling down for the next 300yrs, surely we can put similar fore-thought into an engineering problem that adversly effects the entire planet.

What many are missing is that mean sea level is just a start. Place that are above mean sea level flood quite nicely with a storm surge, and generally these come quite frequently, esp. in Florida. In that respect hurricanes are like horseshoes, bocce, and nuclear war.

As someone who was on the ground and knows people who were at ground zero, the Reagan administration played the Pielke game with the Montreal Protocols and acid rain. Delay was the policy in face of convincing evidence that delay had costs.

William, were we disagreeing (since we both quoted the 550 ppm figure)? IIRC Deconto and Pollard's modeling results were for 550 ppm as an upper limit for EAIS survival (other than a possible relict in the mountains), although Hansen seems to think it's lower. There are also the more recent (than D&P's) results for the mid-Piacenzian showing 25+ meters SLR with CO2 in the 350-400 range, which requires a partial loss of the EAIS (and I suspect is why Hansen thinks 550 is much too high, although I think D&P did say it was the upper limit).

[I'm ready IPCC AR4: The Antarctic Ice Sheet is projected to remain too cold for widespread surface melting, and to receive increased snowfall, leading to a gain of ice. Loss of ice from the ice sheet could occur through increased ice discharge into the ocean following weakening of ice shelves by melting at the base or on the surface. In current models, the net projected contribution to sea level rise is negative for coming centuries, but it is possible that acceleration of ice discharge could become dominant, causing a net positive contribution. Owing to limited understanding of the relevant ice flow processes, there is presently no consensus on the long-term future of the ice sheet or its contribution to sea level rise.

Dunno what you mean by D+P. is the obvious one, and even talks about "leaving only small, isolated ice caps on West Antarctic islands", but that is WAIS not EAIS. Refs?

More of me disagreeing with Hansen is… -W]

Alan, based on present knowledge (but see below) 200 years is a little quick for losing all of Florida (i.e. for complete melt). The key thing to bear in mind is that the point in time where the melt becomes committed is probably centuries in advance of when the bulk of the melting will occur. Thus are the PKs of the world allowed their delusions. BTW, some scientists have speculated that we have already passed that point for the GIS and EAIS.

But that present knowledge is based on studies of the past, and the forcing we are applying to the climate system has no real precedent. The PETM is often mentioned, but while forced by GHGs it differed in major ways from present climate (~10^2 x slower, climate at the start already too warm to support permanent ice, so no ice-albedo feedback and no permafrost methane reservoir, and hydrates a lot deeper) and besides was so long ago that fine-grained details are hard to discern.

The recent glacial cycles are similar to present climate, but not only are there big differences between the present GHG forcing and the orbital forcing of the glacial cycles (with among other things a huge difference in where the forcing is being applied, noting also that the glacial cycles involve seasonal and latitudinal changes in forcing rather than an overall increase), the transition from a glacial to an interglacial is an imperfect analogy for one from an interglacial to a Piacenzian-like state.

The upshot is that while the past guarantees us that we will melt the ice sheets under BAU (and probably much lower emissions than that) within perhaps a milleniuum, it can't exclude nasty surprises that will cause things to proceed much more quickly. We can hope that the models will be able to tell us something about those surprises before they happen, maybe even soon enough to do something about them.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 21 Nov 2010 #permalink

Eli: you are right about acid rain, wrong about ozone depletion. You should read Richard Benedick's book. The Reagan-era State Department and EPA (under Lee Thomas) really did lead the way in forging the Vienna Convention and Montreal Protocol.

(I was there too, and I dare say I was closer to ground zero than you were.)

By Robert Parson (not verified) on 21 Nov 2010 #permalink

Paul Kelly:

low probability worst possible case scenarios are persuasive

Uh, Paul, you said "unsupported by consensus science", not "low probability".

Two different things.

But that's the kind of confusion I've come to expect from you (and that makes Keith Kloor so enamored with you).

Oh, and yes, he obviously meant South Florida, or doesn't realize that central and northern Florida are higher in elevation. Many people unfamiliar with the state don't realize that then central/northern portions of Florida aren't part of the flat low-elevation part epitomized by the (mostly drained and developed) Everglades.

Jonathan Gilligan has it basically right, although I would say that it was the Reagan Administration, rather than Reagan himself, that was "complicated" when it came to environmental issues. There were multiple, competing factions within that administration - on one side there was the State Department, which really did take the lead in establishing the 1985 Vienna Convention and the 1987 Montreal Protocol. On the other, there was the Department of the Interior, led by Donald Hodel (successor to James Watt), which was strongly opposed. Reagan chose to go with State, and signed the protocol in December 1987. The Senate ratified it in March 1988 by a vote of 83 to 0.

The GHW Bush adminstration also supported regulation of ozone depleting chemicals, signing on to the London Amendments, which banned CFCs outright, in 1990. Ozone depletion denialism didn't really take root in the republican party until the House takeover in 1994 and the 1995 Doolittle-Delay hearings.

By Robert Parson (not verified) on 21 Nov 2010 #permalink


Went from the general to the specific at Phil's request. How's this: Assigning certainty to low probability worst possible case scenarios is unsupported by consensus science. The link cited is a study suggesting such assertions are counterproductive.

I think KKloor likes me because I encourage you and others to focus on the goal of energy transformation rather than the reasons one may have for supporting the goal.

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 21 Nov 2010 #permalink

From an anonymous admirer with a bad hand:

One addendum is, Boehlert was the one who opposed Barton's attempted witch hunt vs. Mann, Bradley, and Hughes several years back. But Boehlert is out now, and Barton is now the leading candidate to resume is Energy committee chairmanship. I forget who is supposed to be the leading candidate for Boehlert's old committee, but, iirc, it's someone on Barton's direction.

Of course Boehlert also prettifies Reagan's record. Reagan is the one who started the 'trees pollute more than man', 'welfare queens in white coats' characterization of scientists, managed the department of Interior (via Watt) on the basis no need to conserve as the End Times were at hand.

PK, what you don't get (and won't get, I suspect, in any real sense) is that, broadly speaking, such events are *not* low probability, rather we don't know enough to assign them a probability. But the risk of any number of them is sufficient cause for precipitous GHG reductions. See e.g. this current news:

THERE may come a point, if the world warms enough, when parts of the tropics will become so hot and humid that humans will not be able to survive. Models predict that this could start to happen in places in as little as 100 years in the worst case scenario. Now, observations show the process is already under way.

Oh, oops, another model failure.

Also in the news, folks in South Dakota and Nigeria are collecting some of the many benefits of climate change. Doubtless they'd all like to know when exactly they can expect their pony.

Speaking of ponies, it turns out that it's not so easy to grab the brass ring while riding one.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 21 Nov 2010 #permalink

William, this stuff is pretty much all post-AR4, so we go to the Copenhagen Diagnosis, which says on p. 46:

"The newly extended records reveal that current greenhouse gas levels (~385ppm) are at least 40% higher than at any time over the past 800,000 years. We must travel back at least two to three million years, and perhaps as far as fifteen million years, to the Pliocene and Miocene epochs of geological time to find equivalent greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere (Haywood et al. 2007; Raymo et al. 1996; Kürschner et al. 1996; Tripati et al. 2009)."

and then on p. 47:

"When the Earth last was 2-3 °C warmer than now, during the Pliocene 3 million years ago, sea level was 25-35 meters higher due to the smaller ice sheets present in the warmer climate." (This is stated without cites, but probably refers to PRISM results from a number of different papers.)

Which leaves us with the known unknown of timing and whether, in the immortal phrase of Dirty Harry, we're feeling lucky.

[This doesn't support what you said earlier. All Antarctica is ~60m, so to get your "other than a possible relict in the mountains" you'd need to melt far more than 25m's worth. But more than that, 3 Myr is a long time; if E Ant would take 10 kyr or 100 kyr to melt we wouldn't much care. Plus - CO2 wasn't 550 ppm 3 Myr ago (not even convinced it was as high as 385, whatever the Copenhagenies may say; see e.g., so that 2-3 oC came from something else; so it might have different results -W]

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 21 Nov 2010 #permalink

William, I hadn't noticed before, but looking through the D&P paper you mentioned it says: "Except for small variations along the Wilkes margin and in inlets such as Prydz bay, East Antarctica is stable throughout the simulation and nearly all of the ice-volume variability
is due to West Antarctica." As the simulation includes the mid-Pliocene, these results are palpably wrong. No wonder Hansen thought they were too conservative. To be fair, though, it's early days for this sort of modeling, and I suppose the EAIS problem doesn't mean there's nothing of value in the WAIS results (the subject of the paper, after all).

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 21 Nov 2010 #permalink

Looking yet farther to Naish et al. (2009), which discusses the data upon which the D&P paper is based, it says:

"Far-field geological evidence for palaeoshorelines up to 25m above present are consistent with ice-volume estimates fromdeep-ocean d18O data, and imply deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet, the WAIS and the marine margins of the East Antarctic ice sheet (EAIS) during the warmest early Pliocene interglacials."

[Errm yes. But if you look at their fig 2 they have modelled variations of SLR of ~25m over the past 1 Myr - the recent past. That doesn't seem very plausible. There is a lot of interesting stuff there, but I'm not really convinced this is the best way of looking for the future contribution from Antarctica -W]

"Modelled Antarctic ice volume reduces to 203106km3, or +7m in equivalent sea level (Fig. 2), and involves the complete deglaciation of WAIS together with a loss of up to +3m in equivalent sea level (5%) from the marine margins of the EAIS. If complete deglaciation of Greenland (+5m) also occurred during this time, then the Antarctic ice-sheet history from isotopes, proximal data and numerical models is in good agreement with the early-Pliocene eustatic sea-level fluctuation amplitudes of +10â30m reconstructed from far-field sites such as the uplifted shallow-marine Wanganui basin (New Zealand)."

Hmm, they just mentioned the one NZ site, the paper reporting which coincidentally shares a first author with the one above. Anyway, 7+3+5=15 meters does agree with that nice wide 10-30 meter range, but not so much with the CD's 25-35 meter range. The CD does mention P&D (2009), but only:

"A recent modeling study has suggested that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would begin to collapse when ocean temperatures in the vicinity of any one of the ice shelves that surround it warm by about 5°C (Pollard and DeConto

So the CD authors clearly thought P&D (2009) lowballed the EAIS loss.

Your opinion of all this, William?

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 21 Nov 2010 #permalink

PK"Assigning certainty to low probability worst possible case scenarios is unsupported by consensus science."

I'm somewhat puzzled by this statement.

Would you please explain why a slow rise in sea level (say 10 meters over the next 300 to 500 years) is "low probability"? And also is the "worst possible case"? And is "unsupported by consensus science"?

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 21 Nov 2010 #permalink


It's doubtful anyone reading your original comment would think it was in terms of the timescales mentioned in your most recent. As I said, if you think these types of statements are an effective form of persuasion, good luck. To me, the error is continuing to focus on winning a debate about climate rather than on reaching the goal of replacing fossil fuel.

I prefer to refer climate science questions to William, but, here goes. Taking the longest time of 500 years, a 10 meter rise requires a 2cm/yr average increase over the entire period. This is about 10 times the current long term trend.

[10m rise is, very roughly, Greenland and the WAIS gone, plus maybe some fluff from thermal expansion and small glaciers. I think that is unlikely in 500 years; 5m would be quite plausible though, so it isn't way out. As usual, finding respectable refs for the long-term stuff would be best -W]

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 21 Nov 2010 #permalink

Paul, don't kid yourself, KKloor likes you because you advance his two purposes stirring up comments and delaying action on climate change

Robert Parsons may be right about the Montreal Protocols not being delayed by the do more research or do something else crowd (and Eli does remember a lot of dust being kicked up in the air by Fred Singer, who was REALLY plugged into Seitz, the Marshall Institute and the Reagan/Bushies)but certainly for acid rain, tobacco, sidestream smoke, etc. you are working in an old tradition.

PK. Anyone? Really. What about the host of this blog, for one? In the setting of this blog, I would expect an overwhelming majority of readers would assume I was talking at least hundreds of years. Average person in a more general setting, you do have a point. Outside such a setting with people knowledgeable about climate, I should make the time scale clear, if I was to make such a comment.

So why did you assume I was talking NOT about hundreds of years, but something very much shorter?

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 22 Nov 2010 #permalink


Whatever K's reasons, it's nice to be quoted and I'd be honored if you did so at your hutch.

Your second paragraph is off base. I advocate "doing something else" because: a) Government imposed pricing schemes are not going to be implemented soon, and b) They wouldn't be effective if they were.

Nor have I ever said action requires more climate research. IMO the biggest delayers are those who insist that anything other than the aforementioned schemes is "doing nothing".

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 22 Nov 2010 #permalink

Yeah, I'm like the person above who doesn't have any strong feelings for either party...

But then I'm a Socialist, so at this point (and pretty much throughout my life) that has made me a Democrat. And I will be, (especially now, with the GOP taking their stunts to a new low) until the end...

Unless we get a Socialist Party.

Fortunately, I'm in Wisconsin, so the Democrats are pretty much a socialist party. Bad thing about Russ Feingold and Tom Barrett.

PK: "This is about 10 times the current long term trend."

This is a classic zombie misrepresentation. The ice sheets having thermal inertia, the response to warming is necessarily logarithmic. Small now becomes big later. Try to remember this.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 22 Nov 2010 #permalink

Eli writes:

"Robert Parsons may be right about the Montreal Protocols not being delayed by the do more research or do something else crowd (and Eli does remember a lot of dust being kicked up in the air by Fred Singer, who was REALLY plugged into Seitz, the Marshall Institute and the Reagan/Bushies)but certainly for acid rain, tobacco, sidestream smoke, etc. you are working in an old tradition."

First of all, Robert Parson, like the Montreal Protocol, is singular, not plural. (Sorry, just had to get that out there - I have had to deal with people appending an "s" to my surname since elementary school. It still bugs me.)

More substantively - the Reagan Administration (Lee Thomas at EPA, George Schultz at the State Department) not only did not *oppose* the process that led to the Montreal Protocol, they actually created it. Once again, I recommend Richard Benedick's book. As Eli frequently advises, RTFR.

if you look up the articles by Singer, Seitz et al, you will find that they all postdate the Montreal Protocol. Singer's big National Review article was published in 1989. In the late 1980's, these people were all well outside of the mainstream. They started to get a foothold in 1992 - during GHWB's election campaign, wherein he started trying to make fun of Al Gore by calling him "Ozone Man" - despite the fact that the gap between GHWB's position and Gore's position on this issue was miniscule (both were in favor of complete cessation of CFC production, just on different time scales.) They didn't really get into policy-making positions until 1995.

By Robert Parson (not verified) on 22 Nov 2010 #permalink

PK So why did you assume I was talking NOT about hundreds of years, but something very much shorter?

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 22 Nov 2010 #permalink


No time frame came to mind when I read your original comment. My reaction was that it was an example of counterproductive language. I linked to a news article about a study that may support that view. Even if you had said "in 500 years when Florida is a shoal....", my opinion of it as persuasive language would be the same.

Since you obviously feel it is effective communication, let me once again say good luck with that.

By Paul Kelly (not verified) on 22 Nov 2010 #permalink


Examples of counterproductive language are your usage of "low probability worst possible case scenarios" and "just the kind of unsupported by consensus science exaggeration". With the single assumption of BAU until the fossil fuels are mostly burnt or "BAUUFFMB" (more on that below), Florida becoming a coral reef is not a worst possible case scenario by any means. It's not a low probability event. It is not an exaggeration. It is what should be expected, with the cities flooding in hundreds of years, and the higher land following over thousands of years. BAUUFFMB will lead to very roughly 2500 ppm. At 550 ppm I suspect that William is correct, Greenland probably isn't stable, EAIS probably is stable(1). Citation for William. At 2500 ppm? Do you really need to ask?

There are far, far more terrible possibilities from climate change than the slow flooding of Florida. An effective criticism of my statement might have been focused on the time scale, or on the changeability of politics and/or technology.

The assumption of BAUUFFMB is place where the opinions of probability vary. Any assessment as to the probability of BAUUFFMB is political/economic and not really part of climate science. Some might think that we are just a few years away from a global agreement that will limit CO2, some might think that improving "X" technology will make fossil fuels uneconomic and so on and so on. Agreements depend on politics, and on political parties, and such were not stable over the past 100 years, why would they be stable over the next 100 years? Technology has changed just a little as well. I do not see how to assign probabilities to BAUUFFMB. Do you?


[Thanks for the paper. But as for Florida, I think you've both pretty well said all you mean on the issue; its clear now what you both meant and hopefully you both know that. I certainly do -W]

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 23 Nov 2010 #permalink

That's a very out-of-date paper, Phil. Later the same authors tightened the critical CO2 level for a substantial EAIS to 750 ppm. Tripati, whose new method yielded by far the best data match so far, says it's more like 500 ppm. Both assume equilibrium BTW.

Also of interest, Tripati doesn't think MPWP climate had a chance to get to equilibrium (with maximum 350 ppm CO2) notwithstanding that as much as half of all the ice melted. If she's right, and if Naish et al. are right about the fast response of the Plio-Pleistocene glacial cycles, we in trouble.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 23 Nov 2010 #permalink

Excess "the" found in last posting. Florida will probably never be completely flooded. "and higher ground", rather than "and the higher ground".

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 23 Nov 2010 #permalink


The single assumption of BAU is what causes your thinking to go off course. Your goal is to create a different and better BAU. Focus on the goal.

Phil, just to add that while P&D did say 750 in a subsequent paper (which William linked above), and while I can't find a specific subsequent number, based on their most recent paper (the one related to Naish et al.) it seems unlikely they still think it's that high. Presumably we'll be hearing from them at some point soon, especially since Tripati explicitly called out their 750 number as wrong.

Eli is a greedy bunny. I'd like a future without additional major damage to the eco-sphere. But perhaps Eli would like that as well. Neither of us seem to care much for ponies or pixie dust, though.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 23 Nov 2010 #permalink

A public apology to Eli: I didn't intend to be so dismissive. (No, to be honest, I did so intend, but I should not have.) You've been posting great stuff over the past decade while I've been a very lazy bunny, all too often letting others do the hard work, ignoring the big questions and instead arguing about minutiae and sniping from the sidelines.

I do think it's important to get the details right - and in this case, I think Sherwood Boehlart is right, the Reagan Administration (to be precise, the State Department and the post-Gorsuch EPA) deserve much credit for taking the lead in negotiating what is widely regarded as the most successful environmental treaty ever negotiated. But I hasten to add that the present day Republican Party has been running away from this genuine accomplishment of theirs for the past 20 years. As I pointed out earlier in this thread, the original Senate vote for the Montreal Protocol was 83-0. In 1988, this just wasn't controversial. Sadly, things have changed, thanks to Cato, GMI, et al.

By Robert Parson (not verified) on 23 Nov 2010 #permalink

I just spent a few minutes noodling around Tripati's site. She certainly seems to be tearing quite the swathe through paleooceanography, although she's now only ~30. It turns out she started college at 12 and got her PhD (under Jim Zachos) at ~22. Everyone now take a brief moment to feel inferior.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 23 Nov 2010 #permalink

10m rise is, very roughly, Greenland and the WAIS gone, plus maybe some fluff from thermal expansion and small glaciers. I think that is unlikely in 500 years; 5m would be quite plausible though, so it isn't way out. As usual, finding respectable refs for the long-term stuff would be best -W

Assume all fossil fuels burnt over the next 200 years. This will be somewhat more than three doublings of CO2. The central estimate of temperature increase per doubling of CO2 is 3C over a century(1), and somewhat more over longer time periods. A somewhat smaller than central estimate of warming (that keeps the math simple) is that temperature would warm linearly for two hundred years to 10C, and would stay at that value for the time period of interest.

Sea level is projected to rise at 3.4mm/year/C (2). Based on this, the estimated time for the sea level to rise 10 meters is about 400 years.

One reason why this estimate is a bit too quick is that mountain glaciers and ice caps are a significant part of current sea level rise, and they will be mostly melted before 2400 (3).

The carbon release assumption is pure guesswork, as the future of human politics, economics, technology and population size is very unknown for 200 years into the future. The greenhouse gas increase is understated, as likely potential methane hydrate releases and biological soil releases are not included. The temperature increase is understated as the 3 C warming is for a 100 year time period, and that is about half of the equilibrium temperature increase. The CO2 level is overstated as it would be falling from about 8X in 2200 to about 4x in 2500 mostly due to ocean uptake. The last two seem to mostly cancel out (4).

Greenland and WAIS total 14 meters of sea level rise(SLR), likely thermal expansion over 500 years is very roughly 3 meters SLR, and small glaciers and ice caps are at most 0.25 meters SLR total as then they are all melted. At 10C warmer, some net melting from EAIS seems likely (5). So 10 meters of SLR in 500 years would be roughly half of both Greenland and WAIS, expected thermal expansion, and a bit from both EAIS and small glaciers and ice caps.

[Yes, I think you could give you that conclusion, given your premises. I think my main objection would be your burning-all-fossil-fuels. I think that is unlikely; IMHO much past 2xCO2 ish is unlikely.

However, that really is just my personal opinion; and you've presented an alternative scenario. I don't see any meaningful way to decide which is more likely to happen; or any way to make present-day policy depend on it. Its just too far in the future. In fact, I would not want to have present-day policy try to determine emissions past 2100 -W]


(2) S. Rahmstorf, Science 315, 368 (2007)…

(3) Nature Vol 439|19 January 2006…

(4) Nature Reports Climate Change 20 November 2008 "Carbon is Forever"


By Phil Hays (not verified) on 25 Nov 2010 #permalink