Climate change: time playing tricks

Written By: - Date published: 11:03 pm, May 21st, 2016 - 18 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, Environment, global warming, science, sustainability - Tags:

bIn April 2006, the American PBS network screened the documentary “Dimming the Sun” about the (then) newly discovered phenomena of “global dimming.”

The documentary claimed that global dimming, where man made pollutants such as soot, ash and sulphur particles in the atmosphere block out solar energy (and also change the quality and type of cloud cover, further blocking solar radiation), had likely fooled scientists into underestimating how powerful the global warming effects of greenhouse gas emissions actually are.

I presume most of this documentary was filmed and written in 2005/early 2006, ten to eleven years ago. My takeaway: now that an entire decade has rolled by, we have fallen into that very human trap of conveniently moving the goal posts and fooling ourselves into thinking that we still have tomorrow to make our ‘real’ move, because, ahhh serious climate change is still avoidable. Just think positive and be inspired!

When in reality the timer to successfully change the course of our civilisation probably ran out quite some time ago.

At the time of the doco, Jim Hansen was a head scientist with NASA. He is currently with Columbia University.

This is a copy and paste of different sections from the documentary transcript:

JAMES HANSEN: Our estimate for the particle forcing is minus-one-and-a-half-watts- per-meter-squared. So that would imply a cooling of more than one degree Celsius.

NARRATOR: In other words, while the human greenhouse effect has produced 2.6 to three watts of extra energy for every square meter of the Earth, global dimming has subtracted about 1.5 watts, so, more than half the warming effect of our greenhouse emissions has been masked by the cooling effect of particle pollution.

Perhaps this is why, despite a large rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases, until recently, the temperature rise has been hard for most of us to notice.

PETER COX: We’re going to be in a situation, unless we act, where the cooling pollutant is dropping off while the warming pollutant is going up. CO2 will be going up and particles will be dropping off, and that means that we’ll get an accelerated warming. We’ll get a double whammy. We’ll get reducing cooling and increased heating at the same time, and that’s, that’s a problem for us.

JAMES HANSEN: If the particle forcing is what we estimate, about minus-1.5 watts, that would imply that removing that forcing would cause a global warming of more than one degree Celsius. That’s more than the warming that we’ve seen already, so this is a huge factor.

NARRATOR: If we continue as we are, combining reduced air pollution with an increase in greenhouse gases, temperatures could rise by a further two or even three degrees Celsius. That’s as much as five degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century, much sooner than current models predict.

JAMES HANSEN: But, in my opinion, three degrees Celsius is not the level of dangerous interference; that’s the level which guarantees disaster.

JAMES HANSEN: I think we have less than a decade to avoid passing what I call “point of no return.” I think we have to keep global warming less than one degree Celsius, or we’re going to get very bad effects. And the problem is that to achieve…to keep the warming less than one degree Celsius, we have to level off the emissions and get them to decline before the middle of the century, substantially.

Right now, the course that we’re on—plus 2 percent per year in greenhouse gas emissions—well, if you continue that, even for 15 years, it’s a 35 percent increase. And then there’s no way that you could possibly meet this alternative scenario with warming less than one degree Celsius.

I bolded and italicised Hansen’s comment above:

I think we have less than a decade to avoid passing what I call “point of no return.” I think we have to keep global warming less than one degree Celsius, or we’re going to get very bad effects.

To recap: he made that statement just over one decade ago.

And at the time of this documentary the scientists interviewed said that climate warming 0.6-0.8 deg C above the historical norm had been observed. And that anything over 1 deg C warming was going to lead to “very bad effects” (James Hansen).

Remember those numbers. 0.6 deg C to 0.8 deg C of warming seen back in 2005/2006.

Well, Bill in his recent post “Nice weather down here” noted that NASA had reported April land and sea temperatures that were 1.29 deg C above the historical average.

Yes, that’s only 0.6 deg C warmer in 10 years, and of course, April was probably just a rogue high. Like March before it, February before it, January before it, December before it,…you get the idea.

Then think about another 0.6 deg C increase in the next ten years. With the emissions already in the air today, that kind of rise is already “baked in” regardless of what we choose to do or not do.

In other words, my pick is that we will see almost 2 degrees C of warming not by 2100, but in the 2020s. And if we ever significantly take down the cooling particulate pollution that we are pushing into the air, we will see another degree C of warming on top of that within literally days. (I refer to the research mentioned in the documentary about the measurable temperature changes which occurred across the entire USA when all aircraft were grounded for the 3 days after 9/11).

I encourage everyone to read the documentary transcript I linked above in full. Or watch the full ten year old doco here:




18 comments on “Climate change: time playing tricks”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    I came across this doco during research for my next climate action by 2030 post, which I will still be doing.

  2. Bill 2

    Well, here’s hoping the poorly understood phenomena of cloud formation at different altitudes (particularly high altitude) in a warming world and the impact those clouds will have (various positive and negative forcing) throws up some pleasant surprises…

  3. mauī 3

    I prefer the Nicole Foss aproach to climate change.

    Tony, I stand by my position with regard to climate change. I prefer to focus on issues we can actually hope to do something about. As I wrote, the interventionist actions we are most likely to take with regard to climate change are likely to be counter productive. Economic depression, which is set to happen anyway no matter what we do, is far more likely to have a beneficial effect on climate than any conscious action we might take, although there is uncertainty in this respect also, given the contrasting timeframes for CO2 and global dimming. If collapse does help then it will do so without our active intervention. If it does not in fact help, then there is nothing we can do that will make any positive difference.

    There are many potentially catastrophic things we cannot change, such as the possibility that Yellowstone might erupt or the polarity of the earth’s magnetic field might change, but losing sleep over them is not going to help. It just disempowers us and makes us less inclined to change the things which are within our power. I see no point in focusing activist attention on such issues, although they are of intellectual interest as manifestations of complexity (always inherently interesting). I will not be changing my focus, as I feel it maximizes my potential to be effective. Plenty of people are addressing climate and ignoring more proximate issues, which to me feels like a large missed opportunity.

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      Not everyone will feel the same. But I am empowered by facing the real, unvarnished truth of our situation.

      I do like Nicole Foss, and have heard her speak in NZ.

  4. Keith 4

    This country has steadfastly ignored the problem.

    Doing away with the carbon emmissions trading scheme and leaving an appearance we still had one, aka anything National does when its pretending for votes sake it taking something seriously, has failed.

    Appointing the village idiot Nick Smith as Climate Change Minister showed Nationals intent to do nothing and roll back any changes already in legislation to counter climate change.

    Buying fraudulent carbon credits not only failed, it showed anyone taking an interest that we had no interest in climate change apsrt from Nationals standard window dressing.

    Carrying on with and expanding the intensive dairy farming policy is ruinous to our environment.

    Having oil exploration as a major policy plank says we dont care about climate change.

    Building more motorways instead of environmentally friendly rapid mass transport such as rail means we don’t care about climate change.

    Having no coherent Land Transport policy that interconnects rail to roading means we don’t care about climate change (North Auckland Line likely to part close very soon)

    Appointing Paula Bennett as Climate Change Minister is the ultimate one fingered salute to climate change and only reasserts NZ’s position that we are still not taking this seriously and are in fact in denial and simply don’t give a shit so as far as National are concerned its more of the illusion management strategy. Just like sending Judith Collins to the anti corruption summit.

    So in summary to a party whose reason for being is personal enrichment at any cost we are stuffed. Nothing is going to change in NZ until they are kicked out and also when voters start taking this seriously!

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      youve missed the entire point of my post and have instead made a point for continuing the entire futile status quo morass.

      Labour designed an ETS which was dead easy to gut. National gutted it. The original would have only changed our emissions around the margins. The current is a joke.

      So? Why argue over the position of the deck chairs?

      • Outdoor 4.1.1

        That’s because your first post was futile, while it is easy to point out the faults with the current government his last paragraph summed up the problem so we need to provide reliable information & workable ideas so voters make the right (Left) choice.

  5. Cricklewood 5

    I am of the opinion that we are well past the point of no return in terms of a climate change. I do expect that there will be a number unforseen effects both positive and negative as the temperature increases.
    As such I think the likes of trading schemes and other money go rounds are meaningless. We should now be looking towards preparing for a warmer world. Things like building standards, planning towns and cities away from low lying coastal areas, flood protection, securing water supplies, the national grid, food supplies etc etc. There is still to be prepared for the inevitable and to help mitigate a humanitarian crises

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      thank you for understanding the point of this post. I am advocating for fierce change and strong action. But not this bullshit pretend and extend that we can do now anything in time to avoid the brunt of climate and energy catastrophe. Its time to get real.

      And in finally stopping extend and pretend, we can get NZ ready, and we can get Kiwis ready.

      • weka 5.1.1

        Great to hear that so clearly stated. It’s pretty much where I am at as well, and I know others here feel the similarly.

        I still come down more on the side of prevention of the worst of it as the way to mitigate, but I think we are probably more on the same side than we realise 🙂

        If you are making a call to action, I’m up for that.

  6. Jenny Kirk 6

    I tend to agree with you, Cricklewood. We seem to have passed the point of no return – the climatic catastrophies that are happening here but mostly elsewhere worldwide are indicating this.
    And its what environmentalists such as those in Forest & Bird are also saying. They’re now talking about how to manage, and to save vulnerable species, from climate “disruption”. The Whangarei District Council has started to identify hazardous coastal areas (to the consternation of some of the elite who live in those places). Are other councils doing the same?

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      yes down in Dunedin there is a clear understanding of all our vulnerable areas, and steps like increasing the minimum floor level of builds in these areas have been undertaken.

  7. weka 7

    So is this what is going on in the general public? That many people still think there is time to prevent climate change at all? Or perhaps that people know it’s here but are stuck in this idea that we can somehow make it all better.

    Many of us here on ts don’t harbour those illusions, so we argue over how bad it is and how much leeway we have. My sense is that things are going to change much faster than previously thought, so good to see that is being backed up by solid theory (I don’t generally focus on the maths because I already think the situation is dire).

    Look forward to you next post CV.

    • Colonial Viper 7.1

      Thanks weka, really appreciate your comments. Totally agree with you that climate change is upon us far faster than the models of even 10 years ago predicted were possible.

      I think the mainstream public is starting to grow vaguely uneasy and I think that the establishment is trying to take steps to placate that uneasiness with the appearance of concern and activity.

      Underneath it all however the system just rolls on. National promises to appoint some GHG committee, while Labour promises to tackle the economic problems of high technology.

      The security and surveillance state is being slowly built up because some in the elite get that it will be their last method of control when it comes down to it.

      Meanwhile no business or political leadership is saying what you and I know: that there is zero chance that the status quo is going to survive the next 20 or 30 years.

      So IMO we must get moving with new modes of political and personal activity. We can still make life much better for each other both now and in the future if we stop kidding each other, and start getting real about a resilient low carbon future in the face of major climate disruption. And elite/establishment push back.

      • Robert Atack 7.1.1

        CV “I think the mainstream public is starting to grow vaguely uneasy” ….
        I think most of the MSP block it out, or simply can not do the math.
        I remember watching a Skyp talk Derek Jensen gave to the Occupy protesters, can’t remember it verbatim, but the guts of what Jensen said was that New York needed to be turned back into a swamp, they couldn’t work out, for that to happen they would have to ‘go’.
        And that is the whole shit fest in one, for ‘us’ to do SFA about climate change a lot of people are going to have to die ….. before a lot of people die ??? kind of pointless.
        When I talk to door knocking religious people, I ask them to picture a length of rope from Auckland to Wellington = Earth’s history, then with a hair laying across it at Taupo, that ‘bump’ is us, who gives a fuck? I’m sure the planet doesn’t )
        When the MSP start protesting outside the maternity wards, as well as, or instead of energy multinationals, then I might think the GDP (general dumb public) are working it out.
        Still have 2.6 million of them, backing this system?
        But then apart from protesting outside hospitals, and making yourself very unpopular, there is SFA we can do.
        I’ve picked up more intelligent dog shit, than the combined brains of the global leaders, but then that is just how it is, “Garbage in, garbage out” GC
        Still it is interesting in a sort of anthropological way, to study our fall?
        Not that I am looking forward to it at all.

  8. dukeofurl 8

    Im not sure about the human CO2 forcing of about 2-3 W/cm2

    The IPCC gives a number of between 1.1 to 3.3 W/m2 for the human forcing ( 2.2 being the mid point)
    And this graphic which shows the warming and cooling components doesnt seem to have a “1.5 W/m2” for a cooling forcing from a single source ??
    Unless large error bars are considered

    We still have a large uncertainty with the Climate sensitivity ( to CO2) being 1.5 to 4.5 C but could be from 1.0 to to as high as 7 C

    • Df
      I wouldn’t take anything from the IPCC, as being remotely recent, they are at best 5 years behind the facts. And very much under the thumb of TBTP.
      The simple fact is the last time the environment was @ 400 ppm CO2, there was no ice, and parts of the global oceans would have been 20 – 40 meters higher than they are now. And the largest mammal was meant to be the size of your thumb nail? The IPCC and 99% of scientists wouldn’t tell ya that.

  9. Jenny 9

    Great post. CV.

    Unfortunately both major parties, are still in denial.

    New Zealand as a country needs to get serious about climate change.

    It will be a terrible scandal if the 2017 election is another BAU election, where climate change barely gets a mention.

    As I have been saying for many years now, New Zealand’s position and role in combatting climate change could be significant.

    New Zealand needs to make a statement to the world, and when I say a “statement’ I don’t mean words, we need to take action.

    As Sir Peter Gluckman says on the government website, New Zealand’s greatest contribution to fighting climate change will be by setting an example.

    Anything we do here on the climate change front will be closely followed by commentators in our cultural cousin and ANZAC partner across the Tasman, who unlike us are a major emitter. Australia is also the world’s biggest greenhouse emitter per capita, Australia is the world’s biggest coal exporter.

    But also, unlike us, Australia is suffering the effects of climate change far more acutely.

    Despite being only responsible for 0.2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions what we do in New Zealand is important.

    The first thing we need to do, is to seek a mandate for comprehensive action.

    2017 general election opposition parties must campaign on a platform to send the deep sea oil drillers packing, (and explain why).

    Opposition parties need to campaign for a program to close all coal mines, and to immediately cancel the current planned development of new ones, (and explain why).

    Opposition parties needn’t wait…

    Opposition parties need to start putting up private members bills right now, that challenge the government’s commitment to business as usual.

    James Hansen has identified coal as the most dangerous fossil fuel of all. According to Hansen, if we can’t stop coal it is all over for the climate.

    I would suggest a private members bill making coal a controlled substance, banning its transmission across our borders.

    And seriously constraining coal distribution, use and sale, within them.

    And then campaigning for this and other measures in the election.

    On the Transport sector, a promise to plough the $11billion ring fenced for motorway construction into public transport instead. (a sure vote winner in grid locked Auckland).

    Campaigning for the ending of dairy conversions by Landcorp. Would be another good positive signal.

    So is any of this likely?

    Unfortunately no.

    I have been told by opposition MPs that climate change will not be an election issue in 2017. These MPs are adamant that the 2017 will be fought over the economy. (just like every other election)

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