NOAH’S RAINBOW SERPENT – observations by Ian MacDougall

Good Planets are Hard to Come By



GUEST POST: Good Planets are Hard to Come By – Andrew Glikson

ANU Earth and paleoclimate scientist Andrew Glikson puts an extraordinary amount of effort, well above and beyond the call of duty, into keeping the rest of us informed on the science behind the global warming issue.

The Earth’s climate system is commonly likened to a supertanker, meaning that in order to avoid disaster later in the 21st Century, we have to start turning the wheel now. Unfortunately there is a political problem in this, because the short-term interests of many in politics and business demand all ahead full.  –IM



 As sea level rises the planet is drowning in an ocean of untruths

 Andrew Glikson

Earth and paleoclimate scientist, Australian National University

We’re simply talking about the very life support system of this planet.  (Joachim Schellnhuber, Director, Potsdam Climate Impacts Institute, advisor to the German government.)

The sleep of reason produces monsters (Francisco Goya)

While Earth is undergoing a sixth mass extinction in its history, dominated by oxidation of hundreds of billion tons of carbon derived from fossil ancient biospheres, with consequent shift in the state of the atmosphere-ocean-cryosphere system, the feeble efforts of civilization to mitigate the climate is drowning in medieval conspiracy theories aimed against climate scientists by vested interests and fundamentalist man-over-nature ideologues.

The release of more than 320 billion tons of carbon (GtC) from buried early biospheres, adding more than one half of the original carbon inventory of the atmosphere (~590 GtC) to the atmosphere-ocean system, has triggered a fundamental shift in the state of the atmosphere at a rate of 2 ppm CO2/year, a pace unprecedented in the geological record with the exception of the effects of CO2 released from craters excavated by large asteroid impacts.

Recent paleoclimate studies, using multiple proxies (soil carbonate 13C, boron/calcium, stomata leaf pores), indicate that the current CO2 level of 388 ppm and CO2-equivalent level of 460 ppm (which includes the methane factor), commits warming above pre-industrial levels to 3 to 4 degrees C in the tropics and 10 degrees C in polar regions [1], leading to an ice-free Earth.

Such conditions existed in the early Pliocene (5.2 Ma) and mid-Pliocene (2.8 Ma) Pliocene, about the time Australopithecine bipeds were emerging from tropical forests [2]. Pliocene climates changed gradually and pre-historic humans responded through migration. There is nowhere the 6.5 billion of contemporary humans can go, not even the barren planets into the study of which space agencies have been pouring more funding than governments allocated for environmental mitigation to date [3].

It appears difficult to explain to the public and politicians that, at 460 ppm CO2-equivalent, the climate is tracking close to the upper stability limit of the Antarctic ice sheet, defined at approximately 500 ppm [4]. Once transcended, mitigation measures would hardly be able to re-form the cryosphere, which serves as the Earth’s thermostat, from which cold ocean and wind current emanate – keeping lower latitudes cool. Once the ice melts the atmosphere-ocean system shifts to greenhouse Earth conditions such as existed about 15 Ma (mid-Miocene), before 40 Ma (Eocene), and much of the Cretaceous (141 – 65 Ma), when only small burrowing mammals could live on land.

 About 2.8 Ma, the mid-Pliocene, temperatures rose by at least 3 degrees C above pre-industrial and sea levels rose by 25+/-12 metres [5]. About 15 million years ago the rise of CO2 to near~500 ppm resulted in global temperatures about 4 degrees C above pre-industrial level and sea level by about 40 metres. Since the early 20th century the rate of sea level rise increased from about 1 mm/year to about 3.5 mm/year [6] (1993 – 2009 mean rate 3.2+/-0.4 mm/year.)

The world is in a lag period, when the consequences of human greenhouse gas emissions and land clearing are increasingly manifest, including atmospheric energy levels which drive hurricanes and is shifting climate zones toward the poles, with consequent desertification of temperate zones, i.e. southern Europe, southern Australia, southern Africa. The desiccated forests become prey to firestorms, such as in Victoria and California.

Global warming is modulated by the ENSO cycle, including relatively cool La-Nina phases (Figure 2). Studiously ignorant climate change deniers, who would like to call themselves “sceptics”, use these cycles to claim “global cooling” [7]. In contravention of basic laws of thermodynamics (Stefan-Boltzmann law, Kirchoff law) which underlie the infrared absorption/emission resonance effect of greenhouse molecules, they invoke the role of short-lived (9 days average atmospheric residence) water vapour but neglect the long-term effects (centuries to millennia) of the well-mixed CO2 and nitric oxides. The increased frequency of the El-Nino is tracking toward conditions of permanent El-Nino, free from the effects of polar-derived currents (Humboldt Current, California Current). Such conditions existed about 2.8 Ma ago [8] (Figure 3).

Climate change is appropriately described as a global oxygenation event affecting geological carbon deposits as well as the present biosphere. At 2 ppm/year the scale of carbon oxidation exceeds the highest recorded geological rate of 0.4 ppm/year, recorded at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary at 55 Ma when about 2000 GtC were burnt, triggering an extinction of species [4].

Hopes for a meaningful binding agreement in Copenhagen, described as “the most important meeting in the history of the human species.” (Joachim Schellnhuber), and for a supposed presidential “Messiah” to wave the magic wand, collapsed in December, 2009, in the sorry mess of vested and tribal interests.  

The international system required to protect the lives of the young and future generation is failing. According to the Global Carbon Project “Carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and land use changes reached almost 10 billion tonnes in 2007” [9].

The oil industry, the biggest enterprise on the planet, has cost the US more than $US1 trillion in 2008, due to rise to US 23$trillion during 2010-2030 [10]. Australia, the world’s largest exporter of black coal, is in a class of its own, producing 820 million tons coal in 2008-2009, of which 261 tons were exported [11]. With total domestic emissions in 2006 at 372 MtCO2, emissions per capita of 18.2 ton are similar to those of the US, not counting emissions from exported coal and liquefied gas [12].

Nor do the big corporations show much inclination to channel profits into clean energy industries. Instead, supporting a massive disinformation campaign [13], they fund conservative think tanks which support medieval anti-science lobbies, fabricating “data” and conducting libel against scientists [14]. Masquerading as “sceptics”, they aim to discredit the IPCC, research organizations and scientific journals, cf. Nature, Science, New Scientist.  Presumably their claims of “conspiracy” include the pioneers of atmospheric physics – Joseph Fourier, John Tyndall, Svante Arrhenius and Guy Chalendar?

Deniers seek uncertainties in future climate projections, cf. dates of Himalayan glacier melt or Amazon deforestation, described as “frauds”, ignoring the inherent uncertainty of any future predictions. Most of all they ignore the fact that, to date, the IPCC has underestimated ice melt rates, sea level rise, feedback effects and the proximity of tipping points.

Combing thousands of stolen e-mails, deniers extract single words out of context, placed on hundreds of phoney web sites titled by fancy names as “The Climate Science Coalition”. It does not sound as if writers in these blogs are familiar with the basic laws of physics, a weakness they over-compensate with toxic remarks on environmentalists.

Charlatans reign supreme, the media being only too happy to increase its ratings by giving them a dream run on an issue on which the lives of the young and future generations hinge. That a coalition of “man over nature” ideologues and eccentric frauds will enjoy propaganda successes points to many factors, including “dumbing-down” media policies, but on a deeper level the natural inclination by many to avoid bitter realities they may need to confront.

The spectre of Australia’s two major parties, the one professing, the other hardly pretending, to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence, battling over alternative strategies for 5 percent emission reduction relative to 2000, would have been funny had the implications not been so serious.

Governments continue to pour the planet’s dwindling resources into genocidal wars (US$1.4 trillion in 2008) and bank bailouts (US$0.7 trillion).  Entertainment and media are projected to cost US$2 trillion in 2011. Between 1958–2009 the US (NASA) spent US$823 billion on space exploration [15] searching among other for water and microbes on other planets. Now they have found water on Mars and the Moon [16], while pH of the terrestrial oceans has declined between 1751 and 1994 by 0.075 (8.179 to 8.104) [16].

Good planets are hard to come by

1.            Pagani M. et al. 2010.

2.            deMenocal P.B. 1995.

3.   Budget#Annual _budget.2C_1958-2008;

4.            Zachos J.C. et al. 2008

5.            Haywood M. and Williams M. 2005.

6.            Rahmstorf S. 2007.

7.            Easterling D.R. and Wehner M.F. 2009.

8.  ;312/5779/1485









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