The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉
Main Topic: Debunking A Doomsday Climate Forecast
Dear Diary. Ever since starting this website in 2017 we have been asking the questions, how fast is the globe heating due to carbon pollution, and how much warming can occur before our environment is irrevocably harmed? In the last couple of years I have read that the consensus is we only have until around the year 2030 to get our carbon house in order before it’s too late to save civilization as we know it. I’ll always be asking the “how fast how bad” questions to better inform my readers on what actions they need to take in order to preserve a decent way of life for their progeny.
What if the answer to the second question is it’s too late? What if true science discovers that no matter what we do, various tipping points will be crossed such that we will see our coasts devastated from sea level rise, along with all the other foul effects from climate change coming to fruition? This would mean that all of my efforts for mitigation and yours are moot. My record research would be no more than counting the drip, drip, drip of water going into a sinking Titanic…just an academic exercise. Collectively, this would mean that the entire human race would give up hope, which would be a psychological species killer.
Climate scientists that I communicate with on a regular basis insist that it is not too late, though, although the window for action is closing. Last week we had a study coming out saying that no matter what future actions we take, it’s too late to prevent horrendous changes to our climate. One big red flag going up here concerning the paper is that the authors are not renowned climate scientists. In life, always look for certain credentials when touting the credence of anything, questioning sources.
Here is a Gizmodo article on that study. You be the judge:
Climate Scientists Debunk ‘Point of No Return’ Paper Everyone’s Freaking Out About
On Thursday, a new study came out warning that even if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide, the world has reached the “point of no return” for climate change. The paper claims that’s because Arctic permafrost—carbon-rich, permanently frozen earth made of rocks, water, and dead wildlife—is melting irreversibly, and it could continue to heat the planet for centuries by releasing carbon dioxide. Terrifying, right?
The only solution, the authors indicate, is to suck carbon out of the air with carbon capture, which is yet unproven to work at scale, or to employ even more dangerous geoengineering technologies. The study’s results and conclusions have been covered widely and a bit breathlessly, but here’s the thing: The analysis has some big problems.
“To be frank, the paper is crap that should not have passed any competent peer review,” Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and energy systems analyst, said. “It’s an interesting thought experiment, but its results should be taken with extreme skepticism until more complex Earth System Models produce similar results.”
The problems with the study begin with its title, which refers to the “melting of permafrost.” That’s a red flag because as Merritt Turetsky, an ecologist who directs the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder, noted, permafrost thaws rather than melting.
“Pockets of ice stored here and there within permafrost can melt,” she said. “But these are very distinct processes.” The distinction, she said, makes her think the researchers don’t really know what permafrost is.
Even before getting into the body of the study, the authors credited made me lift my eyebrows. They’re not climate scientists, they’re business school professors. And it shows in the report, because their model is simplistic. Climate researchers have spent decades building out models that account for the intricacies of the climate. More complex models, for instance, better illustrate the ocean’s circulation patterns, which can have a large effect on warming in the long term. They also more accurately display how much water vapor is in the atmosphere, which is short-lived but common natural source of warming. The new paper’s model misses a lot of this.
“It doesn’t explicitly include things like large-scale movement of air and water in the atmosphere and ocean,” Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said.
The new report also overestimates water vapor concentrations, which lead the model to run unusually hot. Yet another major flaw in the model also overestimates methane emissions’ warming potential. The authors claim that methane will be the chief driver of future temperature increases, but in doing so, they exaggerate the temperature increase that the methane concentrations in their model could produce.
More advanced models, said Marvel, are “more tethered to reality” in their illustrations of water vapor concentrations and the timeline on which Arctic ice is melting and permafrost is thawing. This lets them provide a more accurate picture of how and when these changes could create feedback loops where melting and thawing unleash more more greenhouse gas and thereby heat the planet. Due to these inaccuracies, the oversimplified model misrepresents how much warming we’d really see if we drew down our emissions immediately.
“Modern complex Earth System Models generally show minimal future committed warming after zero emissions, even taking our best estimate of future permafrost melt into account,” Hausfather said.
Specifically, the new report sharply contrasts with the most recent findings from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Governmental Panel on Climate Change and the European Geosciences Union.
“Folks are missing that its a simple model created by non-experts,” he said. “I’m also worried that there is a bit of a bias to cover it given its purported dramatic findings.”
He noted that a 2019 meta-analysis of 18 Earth System Models, in fact, found that immediately stopping greenhouse gas emissions would drastically limit warming, but received far less coverage than the new paper.
To be clear, no climate experts are arguing that warming feedback loops aren’t a concern or that thawing permafrost releases methane. And it’s definitely not to say that we shouldn’t act to draw down emissions quickly. But Marvel said that by placing the focus on greenhouse gas from thawing Arctic ground, the authors’ suggestions for the future are all wrong.
“I want to be clear: thawing permafrost is likely to result in a net increase in atmospheric methane concentrations. And methane is a potent greenhouse gas. But methane concentrations are increasing sharply right now, and it’s not because of permafrost,” she said. “It’s because of the oil and gas industry and large-scale agriculture.”
It may be predictable to say, but it turns out we need to draw down our carbon emissions and phase out of oil and gas immediately. The necessary changes won’t be easy to push through. As a groundbreaking 2018 IPCC report said, they’ll require “unprecedented changes across all aspects of society.” But the alternative is much worse, even without the permafrost methane scare.
“If we manage to get our emissions all the way down to zero, falling atmospheric CO2 concentrations will more than offset any additional future emissions from permafrost melt,” Hausfather said.
Staff writer, Earther
I too question whether or not we have crossed the proverbial Rubicon on climate, but I trust experts like Dr. Michael Mann on the physics behind our main two questions. On large scale prevention, I do have grave reservations on the collective will of Earthlings to save civilization, though, but there are encouraging signs.
Politically, at least since 2017, things have worked out well despite what Trump has done in this country. Knowing that the Democratic Party is the only major political body willing to tackle the climate change problem, a series of events have gone our way. The House of Representatives got back in that party’s hands in 2018 with young lawmakers who understand the urgency of the climate crisis, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, getting elected. In 2017 nobody knew who Greta Thunberg was. Now we can look to her for being a great European leader on climate.
Most recently Trump was dumped during the 2020 election, but control of the Senate has yet to be decided until after a January 5th Georgia runoff election. The Biden Administration is our last major hope to correct our direction on climate, and in my opinion, it’s not too late to do so. I’ll report more studies that can help to answer our “how much, how bad” questions as we move through the critical 2020s. Together let’s see just how “dire” these read.
Here are some of Monday’s and Tuesday’s “ET’s:”
Here is more climate and weather news from Tuesday:
(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)
Now here are some of today’s articles and notes on the horrid COVID-19 pandemic:
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Guy Walton “The Climate Guy”