Calls of urgency from climate scientists

Well, if you’ve been reading the BraveNewClimate blog regularly, then I’m sure you’ve certainly heard quite enough of my opinions on climate science and its policy implications this year! My thanks to all regular and occasional BNC readers for taking an interest in staying up-to-date with the latest issues on global warming — and perhaps even more importantly, in creating an online community here with your constructive and (almost always!) useful commentaries. I really do appreciate the feedback and discussion I get here — it is a major motivating factor in me doing the blog.

But as we approach Christmas 2008, I thought it an appropriate time to hear from some other scientists working on climate change.  So here is a selected collection of quotes that I thought most aptly described the mainstream science view on the deadly seriousness of the climate crisis:

The current situation of the world in relation to the climate problem is that we’re in a car with bad brakes driving toward a cliff in the fog, and the fog is the scientific uncertainty about the details that prevent us from knowing exactly where the cliff is. The climate change sceptics are telling us that the fog is a consolation and that we shouldn’t worry because we’re uncertain about the details, but of course any sane person driving a car toward a cliff in the fog and knowing that the brakes are bad, that it takes the car a long time to stop, will start putting on the brakes, trying to slow the car, without knowing exactly where the cliff is but just in the hope that by putting on the brakes we’ll be in time to keep from going over the cliff. You don’t have to be sure that you can still avoid going over the cliff to put on the brakes, you want to do it in any case. And that’s what the world should be doing with respect to the emissions of greenhouse gases that are causing this climate problem. There’s a chance we’ll go over the cliff anyway but prudence requires that we try to stop the car.

John Holdren (President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard, and Director of the Woods Hole Research Center — John is President Obama’s new science advisor), Feb 2007

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The faster and deeper we cut our greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years, the better our chances of averting a tipping point…

We must close that gap (between the science and the policy-makers) and begin to move our energy systems in a fundamentally different direction within about a decade, or we will have pushed the planet past a tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to avoid far-ranging undesirable consequences.

James Hansen (Head of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies)

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The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming… and now as a sign of climate change, the canary has died.”

Dr Jay Zwally, glaciologist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Dec 2007

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“There is no doubt in my mind that this is the greatest problem confronting mankind at this time and that it has reached the level of a state of emergency.”

Professor David de Kretser, medical scientists and Governor of Victoria, July 2008

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We are in an extremely precarious and urgent situation that compels immediate action.”

Professor David Karoly, Meteorologist, University of Melbourne, June 2008

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Human beings are now carrying out a large scale geophysical experiment of a kind that could not have happened in the past nor be reproduced in the future. Within a few centuries we are returning to the atmosphere and oceans the concentrated organic carbon stored in sedimentary rocks over hundreds of millions of years. This experiment, if adequately documented, may yield a far-reaching insight into the processes determining weather and climate.

Roger Revelle & Hans Suess, Earth Systems scientists, 1957

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If carbon dioxide is the most important factor [in the earth’s climate], long-term temperature records will rise continuously as long as man consumes the earth’s reserves of fossil fuels.”

Gilbert Plass, empirical climatologist, 1959

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The Greenland ice sheet is likely to be eliminated [within 50 years] unless much more substantial reductions in emissions are made than those envisaged [and will] probably be irreversible, this side of a new ice age.”

Jonathan Gregory, climatologist, University of Reading, April 2004

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The more the climate is forced to change, the more likely it is to hit some unforeseen threshold that can trigger quite fast, surprising and perhaps unpleasant changes.”

Richard Alley, palaeoclimatologist, Pennsylvania State University, Jan 2002

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We are upsetting the atmosphere upon which all life depends. In the late 80s when I began to take climate change seriously, we referred to global warming as a “slowmotion catastrophe” one we expected to kick in perhaps generations later. Instead, the signs of change have accelerated alarmingly.”

David Suzuki, geneticist and science populariser, Canada

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Physicists tend to be supercritical of strong conclusions, but the data on global warming now indicate the conclusions are not nearly strong enough.”

Leon Lederman, Nobel Prize for Physics, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory

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It was certainly possible to argue that other, smaller effects would cancel greenhouse gas warming, but the burden of proof belonged on those who made such claims. Yet even as the evidence piled up on the side of the most reasonable assumption, the public repeatedly spun off in weird directions, with every “what if” given equal weight. It was as if a murder defendant caught with a bloody weapon in one hand and a written confession in the other were acquitted on the theory that an alien might have beamed him into that position.”

Charles Wohlforth, author of “The whale and the supercomputer. On the northern front of climate change”, 2004

[Regarding mitigation] “If you ask me whether any of this is ever going to get done, if I were to bet on it, I would bet 20 per cent it’s going to get done and 80 per cent it won’t. But if it doesn’t get done, we’re going to be very sorry.”

Dr Wally Broecker, palaeoceanographer and climatologist

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Global warming is almost a no-brainer at this point. You really can’t find intelligent, quantitative arguments to make it go away.”

Jerry Mahlman, climatologist, NOAA

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Global warming is one of the most serious challenges facing us today. To protect the health and economic well-being of current and future generations, we must reduce our emissions of heat-trapping gases by using the technology, know-how, and practical solutions already at our disposal.”

Union of Concerned Scientists, official statement

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“[O]ur long-term security is threatened by a problem at least as dangerous as chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, or indeed international terrorism: human-induced climate change. … The impacts of global warming are such that I have no hesitation in describing it as a ‘weapon of mass destruction.’ Like terrorism, this weapon knows no boundaries. It can strike anywhere, in any form.”

Sir John Houghton, atmospheric physicist, 2003

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It is a very sweeping argument, but nobody can say for sure that 330ppm is safe,” he said. “Perhaps it will not matter whether we have 270ppm or 320ppm, but operating well outside the [historic] realm of carbon dioxide concentrations is risky as long as we have not fully understood the relevant feedback mechanisms.”

John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 2008

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[At Poznan] “Minister after minister claimed that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had said dangerous climate change can be stopped by preventing average global temperatures from rising by 2 °C, and that this can be done by reducing CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050. Neither statement is true.”

Philippe Ciais, climate scientist, 2008

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If you know of other interesting quotes from people researching the science of climate change (physical basis, impacts and adaptation, mitigation) — from any discipline within the broad field of climate science — plesase post them below. Indeed, this could end up being a useful compilation of ‘rational views’ with which to help counter the ‘650 leading scientists say…‘ nonsense.

Merry Christmas to you all.

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10 Comments

  1. Sobering reading Barry!
    Merry Christmas to you all on this excellent blog – I have learned so much – not much of it comfortable. Thanks to you all.
    Let’s hope for a Happy New Year and some real action on AGW/CC- as the penny finally drops for the politicians.

    Like

  2. “The climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks.” – Dr. Wallace Broecker

    Although I think it should say “and we’re locked in the cage with it, and every time we poke, the sticks get chewed shorter.”

    Like

  3. If the next generation does not do better than my “Not So GREAT GREED GRAB Generation” of elders has done to protect Earth from reckless environmental degradation and resource dissipation, then I cannot even imagine what the future will look like for those who are alive 40 years from now. The “pale blue dot” may not be so beautiful a place to inhabit in 2050, I fear.

    Our children will do better; but first they will need to understand that the patently unsustainable overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities which their elders so adamantly and relentlessly advocate will have to be forsaken….soon. Accepting human limits and Earth’s limitations, and behaving accordingly, could be a goal worth achieving.

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  4. Tangentially related:

    “… Upon investigation, it appears that in nontrivial evolutionary models the expected behavior is not always in accord with the norms of the standard theory of decision as ordinarily applied. Many classically irrational acts, e.g. betting on the occurrence of one event in the knowledge that the probabilities favor another, can under certain circumstances constitute adaptive behavior.
    One interesting interpretation of this clash is that the criterion of rationality offered by classical decision theory is simply incorrect (or at least incomplete) as it stands, and that evolutionary theory should be called upon to provide a more generally applicable theory of rationality.”
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/n1785154342r3415/

    “Biologically rational decisions may not be politically possible once investment has occurred.”
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/315/5808/45

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  5. QUESTION: Can we share an understanding of the attacks on climate scientists by saying loudly and clearly that their assailants’ activities are venal efforts to spread garbage and junk science, based upon nothing more or less than the duplicitous promulgation of ideological idiocy?

    ANSWER: Are the many hostile efforts toward climate scientists for the sole purpose of shoring-up and building trust in a con game; to support the most colossal pyramid scheme in human history…..a modern version of the ancient Tower of Babel called the Global Political Economy? Only this modern Economic Colossus is not made of stone, but rather built out as a “house of cards”. All of it is a patently unsustainable, gigantic ruse perpetrated by a tiny minority of outrageous consumers, reckless consolidators and relentless hoarders of wealth and power.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population
    established 2001
    http://sustainabilitscience.org/content.html?contentid=1176

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