May 23, 2013

Global Civilization

Live Long and Prosper

Is what kills you
If you ignore it for long enough


97 out of 100 active climate researchers are CONVINCED that human induced climate change is underway.

John Kennedy (1917 – 63):
[In] the final analysis, our most basic common link is that …
  • we all inhabit this small planet …
  • we all breathe the same air …
  • we all cherish our children's future, and
  • we are all mortal.
(Commencement Address, American University, 1963)

Mark Pesce (1962) [Futurist]:
One of my friends taught me long ago that: reality is that which kills you when you ignore it long enough.
(Dangers of digital tribalism, Sunday Extra, ABC Radio National, 17 May 2015)

Alistair Cooke (1908 – 2004):
[As for the] pollution of the atmosphere, the cities, and the rivers — the destruction of Nature.
I find it impossible to believe that a nation that [has produced so many] ingenious human beings … is going to sit back and let the worst happen …
(David Heycock, The More Abundant Life, America, Episode 13, 1972)

Rachel Carson (1907 – 64):
The balance of nature is not a status quo; it is fluid, ever shifting, in a constant state of adjustment.
Man, too, is part of this balance.
Sometimes the balance is in his favor; sometimes — and all too often through his own activities — it is shifted to his disadvantage.
(Chapter 15, Silent Spring, 1962)

Kim Robinson (1952):
[In the late 21st century] capitalism writhed in its internal decision concerning whether to destroy Earth’s biosphere or change its rules.
Many argued for the destruction of the biosphere, as being the lesser of two evils
(2312, Orbit, 2012, p 124)

Philip Dick (1928 – 82):
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
(How to Build a Universe that Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later, 1978)

Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936):
Cities and Thrones and Powers
    Stand in Time's eye,
Almost as long as flowers
    Which daily die:
But, as new buds put forth
    To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth
    The Cities rise again.
(Cities and Thrones and Powers, Puck of Pook's Hill, 1906)

James Cameron:
There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.
(Terminator, 1984)

Lesley Hughes [Distinguished Professor, Climate Change Ecology Group, Macquarie University]:
We've had about a degree of warming so far.
If we get to one and a half degrees that's the warmest planet than at any time since humans have evolved.
(The Silent Extinction, Big Ideas, ABC Radio National, 18 February 2015)

James Hansen:
Human-made climate change is … the greatest threat civilization faces.
(Storms Of My Grandchildren, Bloomsbury, 2009, p 70)

Tim Flannery:
If humans pursue a business-as-usual course for the first half of this century, I believe the collapse of civilisation due to climate change becomes inevitable.
(The Weather Makers, Text, 2005, p 209)

Al Gore:
[What] is at stake is the set of environmental conditions and the health of the natural systems on which our civilization depends.
(The Future, 2014)

Ross Garnaut [Professor of Economics, Australian National University]:
With human society, if you give it a big enough shock, things fall apart. …
We've got plenty examples of history.
Germany, at the time arguably … in the 20's and 30's … the best educated community … in some sense one of the highest points of civilisation … had the shock of … very high unemployment for a period and the normal moral foundations of society fell apart …
That's the sense which I see civilisation threatened by [an] increase in temperature of four degrees.
We would be giving human society such a big shock, displacing so many people, shaking the foundations of organized society to an extent that it's unlikely that normal patterns of political and social organization would survive.
And so then you do get disintegration of civilisation as we know it.
(Cutting Carbon: Australian Answers to a World Problem, Big Ideas, ABC Television, 12 June 2014)

William Nordhaus:
Once we open the door to consider catastrophic changes, a whole new debate is engaged.
If we do not know how human activities will affect the thin layer of life-supporting activities that gave birth to and nurture human civilisation and if we cannot reliably judge how potential geophysical changes will affect civilisation and the world around us … should we not be ultra-conservative and tilt towards preserving the natural world at the expense of economic growth and development?
Do we dare put human betterment before the preservation of natural systems and trust that human ingenuity will bail us out should Nature deal us a nasty hand?
(Climate Change, 1996)

Alfred Wallace (1823 – 1913):
[The atmosphere is] a most complex structure, a wonderful piece of machinery, [which,] in
  • its various component gases,
  • its actions and reactions upon the water and the land,
  • its production of electrical discharges, and
  • its furnishing the elements from which the whole fabric of life is composed and perpetually renewed,
may be truly considered to be the very source and foundation of life itself.
(Man's Place in the Universe, 5th Ed, 1905, pp 258-9)

Dan Kahan:
[There] is no logical connection between what you propose to do to solve a problem and whether there … is a problem in the first place.
Either the earth is heating up, it's being caused by humans, and it's going to have a bad effect — or not.
[Whether] those are true propositions or not does not depend [on how] you're proposing to deal with that problem …
(Water Institute Lecture, 2009)

Nate Silver:
Human beings have an extraordinary capacity to ignore risks that threaten their livelihood, as though this will make them go away.
(The Signal and the Noise, 2012, p 25)

Myron Ebell:
[If it turns out we're wrong about anthropogenic climate change, then] I'll have to say I’m sorry and I wish we could speed up our efforts to reverse the policies that we have supported here at [the Competitive Enterprise Institute.]
(Climate of Doubt, PBS Frontline, 23 October 2012)

Richard Lindzen:
[The] likelihood over the next century of greenhouse warming reaching magnitudes comparable to natural variability seems small.
(MIT Tech Talk, 27 September, 1989)

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 – 59):
A false notion which is clear and precise will always meet with a greater number of adherents in the world than a true principle which is obscure or involved.
(Democracy in America, 1835, Bantam 2011, p 189)

A Potentially Hazardous Experiment

Thomas Graedel: Professor of Industrial Ecology, Yale University
Paul Crutzen: Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1989)

Humanity's unremitting growth and development [are not only] changing the chemistry of the atmosphere but are driving the earth rapidly toward a climatic warming of unprecedented magnitude.
This climatic change … constitutes a potentially hazardous experiment in which everyone on the earth is [being forced to take] part. …

[Evidence] indicates that a major decrease in the rate of fossil-fuel combustion would slow greenhouse warming, reduce smog, improve visibility and minimize acid deposition. …
[The] solution to the earth's environmental problems lies in a truly global effort, involving unprecedented collaboration by scientists, citizens and world leaders.

The most technologically developed nations have to reduce their disproportionate use of the earth's resources.
[And] the developing countries must be helped to adopt environmentally sound technologies and planning strategies as they elevate the standard of living for their populations …

With proper attention devoted to maintaining the atmosphere's stability, perhaps the chemical changes that are now occurring can be kept within limits that will sustain the physical processes and the ecological balance of the planet.

(The Changing Atmosphere, Scientific American, September, 1989)


Rachel Warren: Dangerous Interference With The Climate System

International Energy Agency: The 6°C Scenario

Clive Hamilton: Four Degrees and Beyond

Tim Flannery: Adapting to Climate Change

Tim Flannery: Carbon Nation

Climate Change: False Consensus and Pluralistic Ignorance

George Marshall: Cone of Silence

Catalyst: Arboreal Ecocide

Michael Shermer: Climate Change Sceptic

Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report

Guy Pearse: The Road to Hell is Paved With Coal

State of the Climate 2014

Stranded Coal

James Hansen: Protecting the Home Planet

Naomi Oreskes: A Part of the Solution

Arlo Guthrie: The Last Tree

Daniel Kahan: Local (Mal)Adaptation

Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis

The Human Dimension

Naomi Oreskes: The Second Fall of Western Civilization

Expert Consensus on Climate Change

Media Coverage of Climate Change

Public Opinion about Climate Change

Bill McKibbern: Doing the Math

Emissions Trading: Theory and Practice

Impacts of Climate Change

A Cherry-Picker's Guide to Climate Change

Merchants of Doubt: Climate Science

Seven Degree Fahrenheit (Four Degree Celsius) World
CSIRO: Days over 35°C per year

Kevin Trenberth: The Only Planet We've Got

Lee Kump: The Last Great Global Warming

John Cook: Human Fingerprints on Global Climate

Climate Change Research Centre: Climate Science Update 2009

Climate Institute: The Critical Decade

Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation

Scientific American: Sea level rise

Merchants of Doubt: Scientific Knowledge

Mike Hulme: Reframing the Climate Challenge

Spencer and Christy Mislead the World

A Call to Arms

Uncertainty Cuts Both Ways

Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity

Climate Change 2007: Implications for Australia

Business As Usual = Recipe For Disaster

Would you like to do more?

Global Civilization

Climate Change Roulette

Dieter Helm:
[In the 14th century] the north European Little Ice Age [exposed] populations to malnutrition, leading to epidemics like the plague [which] may have reduced the European population by a third.
(Carbon Crunch, YUP, 2012, p 53)
(The Little Ice Age was a regional temperature anomaly of about -0.3°C.)

  1. All civilizations are founded upon their natural resource base.
  2. Any civilization which undermines its foundations creates the conditions for its collapse.

There is the potential for widespread famine, disease, war and mass displacement in the second half of the 21st century.
Human population is expected to exceed 9 billion by mid-century.
Depopulation and the collapse of nation states could potentially kill one third ie 3 billion people — equivalent to the total population in the middle of the 20th century.

Uncertainty Cuts Both Ways

Simon James:
It is accepted that man's carbon dioxide emissions are causing an amount of warming of the climate.
However, the magnitude of any future warming is highly uncertain.
The IPCC acknowledges that its understanding of a number of key natural climate drivers and feedbacks is 'low' or 'very low'. …
(Michael Bachelard and Deborah Gough, Majority report: why the consensus is all the rage, The Age, 11 September 2011)
Global average temperature is subject to warming factors (positive forcing) and cooling factors (negative forcing).
Quantification of these factors is expressed as units of 'radiation forcing' (RF) measured in W/m^2.
Positive numbers indicate warming drivers, negative numbers reflect cooling drivers.

Global average radiative forcing in 2005 with respect to 1750

(Adapted from Figure 2.4, AR4, 2007, p 39)
Radiative Forcing Components RF (W/m^2) Level of Scientific Understanding
Long lived greenhouse gases +2.64 High
Ozone (net) +0.30 Medium
Surface albedo (net) −0.1 Medium-Low
Aerosol: direct effect −0.5 Medium-Low
Aerosol: cloud albedo effect −0.7 Low
Stratospheric water vapour from CH4 +0.07 Low
Linear contrails +0.01 Low
Total Anthropogenic Effect +1.72


Variations in solar irradiance since 1750 +0.12 Low

Total Net Anthropogenic Effect


Factors in which scientific understanding is Medium-High = +2.94
Factors in which scientific understanding is Medium-Low = -1.34
Net = +1.6

The warming influence of the well understood factors outweighs the cooling influence of the poorly understood factors by a ratio of more than 2:1.
+1.6 RF represents a significant anthropogenic warming driver.
Total forcing is +1.72 of which 7% is natural (solar irradiance) and 93% is anthropogenic.

The consensus view, then, is that the most influential and best understood climate factors indicate that net warming is underway.
One contrarian argument is that the uncertainty surrounding the cooling factors leaves open the possibility that they are being grossly underestimated eg perhaps the -1.34 figure is really -2.68.
However, other than appealing to wishful thinking, it would equally valid to say that the cooling factors are being over-estimated by factor of 2 (-0.67).

AR4 (p 30):
The 100-year linear trend (1906-2005) of 0.74 [0.56 to 0.92]°C is larger than the corresponding trend of 0.6 [0.4 to 0.8]°C (1901-2000) given in the TAR [Third Assessment Report, 2001] …

Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity


The actual rise in temperature in response to any given level of forcing is determined by:
  • The inertia of the climate system eg ocean buffering of heat and C02.
  • positive feedbacks — amplifying the effect on temperature of a change in radiative forcing, eg warm air holds more water vapour (more heat trapping), melting ice reducing surface albedo (more heat absorbed by ocean, less radiated back into space), cloud heat trapping, ocean and/or rainforest switching from being net carbon sinks to carbon sources with increasing temperature, permafrost defrosting and destabilisation of deep ocean methane hydrates (methane release).
  • negative feedbacks — dampening the effect on temperature of a change in radiative forcing, eg negative lapse rate, cloud albedo.

These factors are summarised in the term 'equilibrium climate sensitivity' (ECS).

AR4 (p 38):
  • Best estimate is 3°C for a doubling of C02 levels.
  • > 66% likelihood that it falls between 2 to 4.5°C.
  • < 10% chance that it is below 1.5°C.

One contrarian argument is that ECS is low [< 1.5°C] ie increasing C02 levels will result in little temperature increase.
However, low sensitivity fails to explain the magnitude of past temperature variations in response to:
  • orbital variations — glaciations (Milankovitch cycles) and hyperthermals (Sexton et al, 2011)
  • atmospheric release of C02 secondary to tectonic activity — Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum

Climate sensitivity is calculated on the basis of a doubling of C02 for mathematical convenience.
This does not mean that a less than doubling of C02 is not without significant risk.
John Perry:
Physically, a doubling of carbon dioxide is no magic threshold …
If we have good reason to believe that a 100% increase in carbon dioxide will produce significant impacts on climate, then we must have equally good reason to suspect that even the small increase we have already produced may have subtly altered our climate.
(Energy and Climate: Today's Problem, Not Tomorrows, Climatic Change 3, 3: 223-25, September, 1981)

Some researchers have argued that the most serious consequences of global warming might be avoided if global average temperatures rose by no more than 2°C (3.6°F) …
Stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations at 450 ppm [cf pre-industrial level of 280-290 ppm] would only result in a 50% likelihood of limiting global warming to 2°C, and that it would be necessary to achieve stabilisation below 400 ppm to give a relatively high certainty of not exceeding 2°C.
(22 December 2011)
The other area of uncertainty is how effective attempts to mitigate GHG emissions in future will be.
The IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) describes 6 standard projected scenarios with 'best estimate' temperatures by the end of the century of 1.8-4.0°C [1.1-6.4] (AR4, p 45).

Business As Usual = Recipe For Disaster


The Problem

Increasing heat (infra-red) trapping due to rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations
[There is a greater than 90% likelihood most] of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is … due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [Green House Gas] concentrations.
(p 39)

[There is a greater than 66% probability that unmitigated] climate change [will], in the long term … exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt.
(AR4, 2007, p 65)

The relative contributions to the enhanced greenhouse effect from pre-industrial times to 2011 … are:
  • CO2 (64%),
  • CH4 (18%),
  • synthetics (12%) and
  • N2O (6%).
(CSIRO/BOM, 2012)
The earlier effective action is taken to address the problem, the lower the likely climate related economic and human costs will be and the lower the risk of irreversible changes.
The longer action is delayed, the greater the likely costs and the higher the risk of abrupt and/or irreversible changes.

The Solutions

Reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being added to the atmosphere

Greenhouse gas emissions by sector

Power stations21.3%
Industrial processes16.8%
Transportation fuels14.0%
Agricultural byproducts12.5%
Fossil fuel retrieval, processing, and distribution11.3%
Residential, commercial and other sources10.3%
Land use and biomass burning10.0%
Waste disposal and treatment3.4%

Carbon dioxide

  • Low emissions energy sources: solar, geothermal, hydro/wave/tidal, nuclear and wind.
  • Carbon capture and storage for high emission energy sources: coal and gas.
  • Increasing energy efficiency/decrease energy intensity.
  • Non-food crop derived biofuels for transportation. Promote mass transportation, cycling and walking.
  • Substitute other materials for cement in building materials.


  • Reduce meat consumption.

Nitrous oxide

  • Reduce nitrogen fertiliser usage/wastage.

Increase the amount of greenhouse gases being removed from the atmosphere

Reduce the amount of heat trapped by high (cirrus) cloud

Increase the amount of heat reflected by low cloud (albedo)


  1. Global Trends of Measured Surface Air Temperature, Journal of Geophysical Research, 92: D11, pp 13,345-13,372, 20 November 1987.
    James Hansen and Sergej Lebedeff.
  2. The Garnaut Climate Change Review, September 2008.
    Ross Garnaut.


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