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I’m a Climate Realist – not a skeptic!

 A Climate RealistI think it’s time to start a new meme – Climate Realist. I’m proud to be a Climate Realist and I invite everyone to become a Climate Realist, and thus really allow the human race to move forward to an environmentally sustainable future, rather than continue to act like Chicken Little and endlessly debate, is it or isn’t it warming?

What is a Climate Realist you ask? Well, a Climate Realist will generally think more along these lines:

  1. The Earth’s climate is (gently) warming
  2. The Earth’s climate has been (gently) warming for 10,000 years
  3. Human’s maybe playing a minor role in affecting the climate by burning fossil fuels, clearing land and changing the albedo of the planet, pollution and probably some other things I can’t think of off the top of my head
  4. CO2 is a small part of our atmosphere – water being the biggest greenhouse gas by far
  5. The climate change models are just that – models, and although they are constantly being refined to more accurately predict the temperatures of the last 165 years or so, they have not been terribly good at predicting the future. Ever.
  6. If we stop ALL man-introduced fossil fuel emissions tomorrow, the world is still likely to keep on warming.
  7. Other things influence warming – as is increasingly become evident as ‘suddenly’ the ocean… the sun… microbes… and a whole host of other factors are being introduced into climate models to explain the relative flattening of temperatures since 1997 despite ever increasing amounts of CCO2 in the atmosphere
  8. So maybe, we ought to start looking at adapting to climate change – not just us, but also looking at how we impact the ENVIRONMENT so as to assist the other participants in the global ecosystem in adapting as well.
  9. In other words, we have to be realistic.

Recently, Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, gave a talk before the US Senate which I think rather accurately sums up how a Climate Realist thinks. I was appalled to read comments by many afterwards who called him a denier and a skeptic. Greenpeace have of course, long ago disowned their co-founder (in “web time” anyway). There is nothing in his speech about saying the world is NOT warming. Or cooling… In fact, his closing remarks are very, very much a realistic appraisal of the whole situation:

“If we wish to preserve natural biodiversity, wildlife, and human well being, we should simultaneously plan for both warming and cooling, recognizing that cooling would be the most damaging of the two trends. We do not know whether the present pause in temperature will remain for some time, or whether it will go up or down at some time in the near future. What we do know with “extreme certainty” is that the climate is always changing, between pauses, and that we are not capable, with our limited knowledge, of predicting which way it will go next.”

And really, even the IPCC jumped on the Climate Realist bandwagon this year with its Working Group II report, However, it has to be said, the media didn’t like it much and this report did not receive the headlines other reports have received.

So yes, I’m tired of being called a climate skeptic because I don’t have any issues with there being a general pervasive warming trend on the planet, I never have – as just about any Earth Scientist knows, the world is still in an ice age, it’s been colder in the past, it’s certainly been warmer most of the time and the temperatures are likely to fluctuate going forward. But I do take issue with this tunnel vision approach that humankind can control the climate of the world by simply not using fossil fuel.

Why are Climate Realists perceived to be Climate Skeptics?

I think it’s because any conversation with someone who believes we are doing catastrophic untold damage to the planet  by burning fossil fuels seems to think that the only way to prevent the predicted climate catastrophe is to stop burning fossil fuels. That’s it – and our woes will magically vanish with the CO2. So if a Climate Realist starts to talk to someone who thinks its ONLY human’s faults for any warming on the planet, the conversation goes like this:

THEM: “Do you think the Earth is warming?”
ME: “Yes, but…”
THEM: “There is no but – you agree the Earth is warming!”
ME: “Of course, but it’s been warming for ten thou…”
THEM: “Ha HAH! So you admit the planet is warming!”
ME: “I’m not going to deny that, but you have to realise…”
THEM: “Then you agree with the other 97% of climate scientists that the planet is warming!”
ME: “Well, the planet has been warming for ten thou..”
THEM: “Ssshh!”
ME: “But there is to it than just that question”
THEM: “No. No more questions, the science is settled.”
ME: “I think you’ll find…”
THEM: “Sssh.”

I first encountered this about 10 years ago when I gave a talk on climate change to about 50 people, and at the end of it, one young lady came up to me afterwards, in tears and hysterical, yelling at me for condemning the planet to being a hell hole because I didn’t support the fact the planet was warming. I have to admit, I was astonished! I tried to explain to her that if anything, I was her worst nightmare because I had just given a talk which said the world had been warming for the last 10,000 years and I thought I’d tried to convey that there are a lot of factors that we know – and some we are only beginning to grasp – that both cool and warm the planet, and guess what – humans have had pretty much nothing to do with it for the first 8,000 years or so! Nothing. Zip. Nada. And now we think we have uniquely contributed to warming of the planet in just the last 165 years only? Think about it – we weren’t influencing the planet’s climate for approximately 9,835 years as it warmed in fits and starts. At all. And now suddenly only we are the only thing causing warming by burning fossil fuels?!

The questions global warming alarmists should be asking

I thought the answer was obvious – human’s don’t control the climate. They never have. I doubt very much we have the ability to right now. Are we influencing it? *Shrug* Maybe… but probably not terribly significantly. And in case we think we are having a significant impact, I have the following questions for all climate alarmists:

  1. How much CO2 does the human race produce annually?
  2. How much CO2 does mother nature produce annually?
  3. How do we even know either figure?
  4. If we didn’t cause all of the approximately 1.5-1.75C temperature rise in the last 150 years because we didn’t contribute all the CO2 to cause the warming, then what proportion did we contribute?
  5. How long would it take to remove ALL man-introduced CO2 if we stopped burning all fossil fuel tomorrow?
  6. How long is it going to take if we DON’T stop all fossil fuel emission burning tomorrow (and bear in mind the cuts proposed won’t even make a dent on reducing temperatures)?
  7. Is it not possible we have contributed to climate change in other ways currently not being measured, for example – agriculture – fields vs forests might have changed the albedo of the Earth, similarly, pollutants in the atmosphere may not just be seedling clouds but changing the vegetation which in turn, may affect CO2 taken in by plants an affect the albedo?
  8. The planet warmed approximately 3-4oC between the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago and the late 1800’s. During that time, CO2 levels increased from approximately 180 ppmv CO2 to 280 ppmv CO2. What caused the temperatures to rise 4oC since the last ice age, while CO2 levels only rose 100pmmv while the temperatures have risen only  1.5oC since the 1850’s, and  CO2 has risen from 280 to 397 ppmv? IS there another factor at play with more recent warming??
  9. And finally, why 2°C? Why will preventing the temperatures rising 2°C prevent a ‘catastrophe?’ Where is the scientific research and evidence to establish that magic number?

Find the answers to those questions, and you might find yourself also becoming more of a Climate Realist. However, the last time I asked those questions of a Global Warming supporter, they backed off in a mighty big hurry and said they didn’t have the time to find the answers. So I’ll try and provide answers to these questions at the end of this article.

Does it mean I can do nothing if I’m a Climate Realist?

Heck, no! It means that now you have a better idea that focusing on just fossil fuel emissions is a disaster! It means we aren’t trying to adapt at all! But it also means you are being realistic in what can and can’t be achieved with what we have and what we are.

I mean why is there such hysteria? Why are we so worried about the planet warming? Why now and no other time in history? Have you ever asked that question?

Well, I think the answer lies in the human population. In the last 10,000 years, and particularly in the last 3,000-4,000 years, humans stopped being nomadic, and became settled. We began to cultivate crops and domesticate certain animals. To do this, we needed water. So we built settlements near water sources like rivers and harbours. As our population grew, we built even more infrastructure to pump water to our settlements and sources of food. And we began to tap underground supplies of water.

Today, we number over 7 billion people on the planet – that is over 7,000,000,000 people – and rising. And an awful lot of us live close to the coast in cities that have grown up around those harbour settlements or along rivers where we transported goods. And 7 billion people to feed requires a LOT of food – you don’t think the Chinese with over 1 billion people are growing all their food in China do you?! And as we develop ever larger settlements along the coast, it’s no longer a case of abandoning a few huts made of trees or straw but moving massive ‘permanent’ structures. Expensive!

I think once the western world accepts that the story is not a simply “If we stop burning fossil fuel emissions, we will all live happily ever after,” we can start moving on to the cold, hard, nitty gritty truth of living in a world where we cannot ‘stop’ climate change, and start adapting. And that is going to involve asking and doing some very hard things like:

  • Realising that the governments attempts to grow economies endlessly is having a huge, devastating impact on the environment in multiple ways
  • Being realistic about the fact we can’t stop all resource exploitation and development and think everything will be fine – we need to find a balance between resource exploitation and environmental destruction
  • Start working on making sure the population doesn’t keep on growing exponentially forever
  • Stop building on river flood plains unless you are going to build houses that can withstand periodic flooding
  • If houses are to be built in dry forests prone to bushfires, then the houses need to be fireproof with fireproof bunkers for the people
  • We should probably start working together to create migratory corridors for other living species – both mobile (animals) and not so (plants) to move along to  adapt warming weather
  • We need to start understanding the ocean better – not just from the chemical composition side of things but also the ecosystems in there.
  • We need to move to sustainable sources of fuel (and/or cleaner sources) for both health and reasons and because fossil fuels are at the end of the day, finite and we need a lot of energy to sustain over 7 billion people at today’s standards!
  • A lot of geopolitical instability has arisen because of the location of fossil fuel. Continuing to explore alternative sources of energy is a good thing, but with 7,000,000,000 people on the planet,we need to be realistic about how energy demands for a growing human population are going to be met in a non-fossil fuel environment, and that may entail some currently undesirable choices.

These are just a very small sample of the things we can start to address if we all started to be Climate Realists. And these are NOT easy things to address! Some things can be done locally, other things have to be done on a global scale. But if we continue to think if we stop using fossil fuel for our energy, then that will stop the planet for warming (or cooling) and thus there will be no more floods, storms,bush fires etc, then we are going to be ill-prepared when the planet continues to warm without our input!

In conclusion…

So join me in telling the world we need to all become Climate Realists – and start moving to making the world a better place, without this obsessive focus on one solution for the woes the human race has created. It’s not going to be easy, because there an awful lot of people who don’t want to view the world as complex system with many variables influencing the ecosystems of the planet – one solution is so much easier! But, if we can get the climate skeptics and the supporters of warming to become realists, well then, in the words of beauty queens all over the world, by being climate realists, we can:

  • Clean up the environment
  • Work towards a more sustainable future for the planet
  • Eradicate a lot of pollution related health issues
  • Have world peace

Think about it!

 

A quick, not terribly successful attempt to find answers to questions about controlling climate change
In an effort to duplicate your search to answer these questions, I have sought answers on the Internet only, and not not used scientific journals which are difficult for the public to access. I spent approximately 3 hours – it’s not easy!)

  1. How much CO2 does the human race produce annually?
    It’s hard to get a straight answer on this – believe it or not, it would appear we don’t actually know and we have to guess. Estimates range from 6 gigatons of CO2 (which might just be the US contribution) to 35 gigatons of CO2.
    Sources: Discovery Channel, EPA, USGS, Wikipedia
  2. How much CO2 does mother nature produce annually?
    This one is even harder to track down… It would appear about 150 – 750 gigatons of CO2 moves through the global system each year. That is not the same as knowing how much is actually introduced as CO2 through natural processes though as no one is out there measuring how much CO2 is absorbed by plants or emitted by volcano’s each year or evaporated from the ocean or trapped in rocks each year or expelled by all the animal life on the planet etc etc… It has to be said, the Internet is not a good source for finding an answer as its obscured by estimates of how much is emitted and how much is absorbed by natural processes.
    Sources: Skeptical Science (not a great source!), IPCC
  3. How do we even know either figure?
    As noted above, we can’t know the exact figure really for either – it is estimated and has can be seen, the estimates have quite  wide variation in them, quite possibly in part due to misquoting by various sources (e.g. is the 6 gigatons – global or US?! – depends on your source!). There are many natural and human-exacerbated sources for CO2 emissions – and a lot of natural processes which are removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The climate change models are an attempt to understand this, but they cannot currently factor in every variable of the complex ecosystem we live in, including the invisible microbe world.
  4. If we didn’t cause all of the approximately 0.8°C temperature rise in the last 150 years because we didn’t contribute all the CO2 to cause the warming, then what proportion did we contribute?
    The latest warming trend is deemed to have begun in 1865 with the advent of the Industrial Age. Since then, the world has reportedly warmed 0.8°C and CO2 concentrations have increased from 287 ppmv CO2 to 399 ppmv CO2. Hmm. I’ve just spent 25 minutes looking for an answer – I’ve read before its in the 40-75% but I can’t find an answer right this minute. The one reference which said 75% was referring from the 1950’s to the present, not the entire present where the rise in temperature was less; in other words, it depends on your time frame!About the best I can find is articles that do imply we aren’t the only cause of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere and that it is generally thought we contributed to much of the warming since the 1950’s. No real accounting for the fact CO2 concentrations continued to rise since 1997, but the temperatures did not warm as much (1950 – 13.98°C, approx. 300 ppmv CO2; 2013: 14.6°C, 399 ppmv CO2)
    Sources: National Geographic, NASA, Journal of Geophysical Research, Goddard Institute for Space Studies (NASA), Current Results
  5. How long would it take to remove ALL man-introduced CO2 if we stopped burning all fossil fuel tomorrow?
    Oh wow… this one certainly varies – 5 years, 20 years, 200 years to undefinable…
    Sources: Skeptical Science, The Guardian, IPCC
  6. How long is it going to take if we DON’T stop all fossil fuel emission burning tomorrow (and bear in mind the cuts proposed won’t even make a dent on reducing temperatures)?
    See Question 5…
  7. Is it not possible we have contributed to climate change in other ways currently not being measured, for example – agriculture – fields vs forests might have changed the albedo of the Earth, similarly, pollutants in the atmosphere may not just be seedling clouds but changing the vegetation which in turn, may affect CO2 taken in by plants an affect the albedo?
    Yes – deforestation, burning and it’s really hard to find much else as most articles want to refer to our overwhelming contribution from consuming fossil fuels. Well, as a scientist, I think that is an oversight – for example, if deforestation has caused the albedo to change by 10%, that might be significant! I suspect it hasn’t, but it would be nice to know!
    Source: PlanetSource
  8. The planet warmed approximately 3-4oC between the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago and the late 1800’s. During that time, CO2 levels increased from approximately 180 ppmv CO2 to 280 ppmv CO2. What caused the temperatures to rise 4oC since the last ice age, while CO2 levels only rose 100pmmv while the temperatures have risen only  1.5oC since the 1850’s, and  CO2 has risen from 280 to 397 ppmv? Is there another factor at play with more recent warming?
    Well hot damn it – it’s difficult again to find this information on the web – it is STAGGERING how many graphs are out there which have dramatic spiking lines – but no scale on the left side so I have no idea if that spike represents a change of 0.1, 1.0 or 10.0 degrees (for example). However, as to what else can cause warming, the odds are we began to drift out of the last ice directly ebcause of rising greenhouse gases – but because something happened to trigger a rise in greenhouse gases.The most obvious triggers appear to be an increase in the sun’s output (radiance). What caused the sun to increase radiance? That could be either part of the Milankovitch Cycle or the sun increased output through processes we don’t know about. Anyway, it got warmer… and things began to melt… and with the melting, greenhouse gases trapped in the ocean and permafrost began to increase and things got warmer. However, although there is no disputing a rise in CO2 over the last 10,000 years and undoubtedly it helped warm the planet – remember, the trigger 10,000 years ago was most likely a ball of very hot gas that shines brightly in our sky – and ignoring its impact on heating this planet – which seems to be the way of the climate models, is a mistake.

    There are probably other things also contributing to global temperatures, including volcano’s and pollution – although as an Earth Scientist, I would argue that the 20th century had a low level of volcano’s compared to the 19th centu, which contrasts with the IPCC!
    Sources: Temperatures over the last 10,000 years from icecore
    CO2 levels over the last 10,000 years, What caused the end of the last ice age, Variation in solar radiation and Earth temperature, Sources of warming

  9. And finally, why 2°C? Why will preventing the temperatures rising 2C prevent a ‘catastrophe?’ Where is the scientific research and evidence to establish that magic number?Huh. This was harder than I thought! I iamgine most people think it comes from the IPCC. Instead, it appears to actually be a number that has been agreed upon by over 100 countries based on the work done by the IPCC. So let’s just say, there is a lot of politics behind the 2°C. Interestingly, because of the political origins of the 2C limit to warming,  deniers will say there is no scientific basis for this number therefore we should aim for less of a rise because the only sure thing we do know is that the temperature is sort of OK right now – so let’s not allow the temperature to rise anymore. Meanwhile, the skeptics will also argue there is no scientific basis for a 2°C rise so there is no guarantee the predicted 2°C will result in anything catastrophic. Bit of a conundrum when both sides are arguing there is no scientific basis to attempt to limit warming to 2°C by ceasing fossil fuel consumption!
    Source: Climate Emergency Institute, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Nature

 

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