One Climate Carousel is Not Stoppable

By Keith Kloor | July 15, 2013 12:41 pm

In 2009, a study led by NOAA and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) carried a sobering title:

Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions

The media pounced with equally sobering headlines, like this one from NPR:

Global Warming is Irreversible, Study Says

Since then, there have been similar (sometimes modified) pronouncements. As the Guardian reported in 2011, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that the world was on the cusp of irreversible climate change. Last year, a different batch of scientists said the same thing.

This repeated warning about “irreversible climate change” is usually accompanied with a last chance pitch, as in: Act Now or Climate Catastrophe is Assured. But convincing the world to hurry up and get off fossil fuels is not as easy as selling the “smart mop” or “buns of steel” on late night informercials. Some scientists have also become concerned that people may be misunderstanding this whole “irreversible climate change” thing. So the lead author of that 2009 PNAS study (the one with “irreversible” in the title) recently co-authored a piece in Science called, “Irreversible Does not Mean Unavoidable.”

If that only confuses you more, go to Skeptical Science (or Climate Central) for the distinction between “irreversible” and “stoppable.” The short version is that a certain amount of warming is already here but the rate of warming can be arrested if we stop putting greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Nobody realistically expects that to happen anytime soon, though, so we know the planet is going to continue to warm. We just don’t know how much and what the full effects are going to be down the road. While I’m no alarmist, as the parent of two young children I’m not exactly sanguine about the trajectory the world is on.

But wait–hold the presses!–a new study gives us hope, according to the Guardian:

Dangerous global warming could be reversed, say scientists.

Are you enjoying the carousel ride?

File:ManègeLR1.jpg

[Image via Wikipedia]

  • Tom Scharf

    That would be the problem with the “act now before it’s too late” argument. Eventually the deadline passes.

    The trendy new age politically correct term to use is “this is our last best chance” to solve the problem. The scientists simply didn’t get their talking points from one of the many centers of climate change communication filled to the brims with very serious people.

    We all know that those scientists that produce “boring” output such as realistically stating the uncertainty and many possible technical solutions aren’t going to give the environmental media circus what it desires.

    We want fear!

    When do you want it?

    Now!

    • balance

      Urgency does not equal fear. Warnings about importance and the avoidance of certain consequences isn’t fear mongering unless you infer that from your own fear.

      • peedee

        And Consensus® does not equal Science but the Warmists push their (false) consensus rubric everytime theres a slow weather day. Climate Tithe!l

    • Matt B

      How about Weather.com? Today they give us “What the West Coast Could Look Like if Climate Change Continues” (it turns out everything is under 25 feet of water but those lazy Californians don’t even bother to move)……along with “Climate Change Could Put Energy Sources at Risk” which brings for the stunning information that “Climate-related disasters have already costs tens of billions of dollars” “and it’s getting worse”, and while it’s never said you do get the feeling that it’s the fault of SUV Joe and Soccer Mom Jane Suburbia……..but you know it was them that did it…….but wait! Good news! They also tell you that “Bill Clinton to Push Clean Energy in Puerto Rico”, so at least there’s a Commonwealth of the US that is talking a good game about reducing the droughts/floods/hurricanes of my grandchildren……..I bet Bill did that speaking fee gratis…..

      Does anyone know if any of these predictions/projections are going to pan out? Nope. Are they all rather frightening? Yep. Is there any “false balance” on Weather.com where the evil Koch Bros get to bluster their anti science message? Nope. And finally, can Weather.com deliver an accurate 10 day forecast?

  • jfreed27

    We are at 400 ppm CO2; 450ppm is considered the point of no return. To get to 450 ppm we would have to put another 565 Gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

    For perspective, if we developed all the Keystone bitumen, it would put about 1700 Gigatons of CO2 out there. So, yes, I am concerned, even alarmed.

    But, then, so is a body surfer when the lifeguard issues a shark alert.

    • Tom Fuller

      450 ppm is a political line in the sand, not a scientific one. In the same way that McKibben’s 350 is. The same way that 2C is. As has been admitted by the people who drew the lines in the sand.

      • jfreed27

        The Center for American Progress and the world’s top climate scientists, now believe 450 ppm is the upper bound.

        http://grist.org/article/parting-company-with-mckibben-and-maybe-hansen/

        You are free, of course, to make any assertion you like, for any reason you choose, even political.

        However, I will go with the scientists, rather than a snarky claim without evidence. For example, your attitudes about Al Gore or Bill McKibben or James Hansen couldn’t interest me less.

        • jh

          “believe”

          ‘nuf said.

          • jfreed27

            From evidence, not fossil fueled stink tanks

          • Tom Fuller

            jfreed27, I would appreciate it if you produced or linked to any evidence that either 2C or 450 ppm CO2 (volume) are in any way scientific measurements of upper bounds beyond which we should not venture.

        • Tom Fuller

          Hi jfreed27, Of the people and groups you mention, only one-James Hansen–is a scientist. Al Gore is a politician with a self-proclaimed bias. The Center for American Progress is a political blog. Bill McKibben is a political activist. James Hansen is a good and respected scientist who is gravely concerned about the effects of future climate change. However, I am unaware that he has ever said there was an acceptable upper bound to either CO2 ppm (volume) or land surface temperature rises.

          In fact the only people I recall drawing these lines in the sand were making political points, not scientific.

          • peedee

            Hansen has a degree n astronomy and is violating the Hatch Act by using his public tax dole position with NASA to push a PACagenda.

        • peedee

          “Center for American Progress is a 501(c)3 PAC and McKibben is a former New Yorker gossip columnist.”
          WarmistManifesto®

    • peedee

      Careful…Past The Tipping Point® implies there’s no reason to squander ANOTHER $80 BILLION on climate research, especiallt since CO2 levels havent been this LOW since the Carboniferous Period.

  • jh

    I dunno, Keith, seems like the climate concerned could get a few marketing tips from the Buns of Steel people.

    Hey – you better thank me for this one – how ’bout selling carbon offsets with authentic replica LP’s by Iron Butterfly and a real doobie from the 60′s rolled with genuine Zig-Zag papers for Washington and Colorado residents?

    • Tom Scharf

      I’m not buying unless I get 2x for only the cost of extra shipping.

  • Buddy199

    It’s like a husband stumbling through the front door at 2 AM with lip stick on his collar. Every time the story changes more credibility is lost.

  • peedee

    The Science is Settled proved to be ‘difficult’ because it implied there’s no reason to waste ANOTHER $80 BILLION on publicly funde climate research.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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