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Living without our fridge – 4-6C hotter

Written By: - Date published: 12:56 pm, January 1st, 2017 - 100 comments
Categories: climate change, global warming, science - Tags: ,

My first degree about 35 years ago was in earth sciences. And one of my lifelong passions has been reading the history, prehistory, and evolutionary history of humans. I picked up the classic habit of those skills – a better appreciation of timescales than individual lifetimes. Which is what makes me rather cynical about the farcical attempts of humans to stop crapping in our narrow evolutionary space over the last century.

In measuring paleoclimates over the medium term (ie less than a few million years and more than the human evolutionary history),  the major two natural factors are greenhouse gases and aerosols. Over the medium term timescales, they are generated by the average levels of vulcanism, but are persisted by the ability of the volatile surface of the earth to wash them into sediments. That has a cyclic trigger (measured in tens of thousands of years) driving it due to planetary orbital and axial positions and the resulting insolation effects on the northern land masses.


There are also slower changes due to the continential landmasses drifting into different parts of the globe and their effects on vulcanism, planetary insolation and ocean currents. There are also very long term changes in the suns overall output. However these effects tend to act over tens of millions of years, and for me, are less interesting because they are outside even our evolutionary history. Of course the scientific illiterates do blather on about these – see some of a links and discussion of pseudo-science in “Record heat despite a cold sun“. But basically they operate on too long a timescale to be of much interest over the next couple of centuries.

Persistent climate effects over thousands of years are mainly buffered by the accumulated changes in greenhouse gases in the volatile gases and liquids in the few kilometres at the earth surface. That is because, unlike atmospheric particulates and aerosols, some of the greenhouse gas effects are remarkably persistent. CO2 in particular is both persistent in the atmosphere and gets replenished because it accumulates in ocean water, getting released decades or centuries later.

Human societies since the development of wide scale agriculture over the past five thousand years have acted like persistent volcanic eruptions. They have managed to cause a shift in the pattern in the usual post glacial pattern, apparently largely due to the clearing land for crops and the greenhouse effects of their crops on climate – probably especially rice production.

In the last 200 years, the human effect of forcing the earth to regurgitate vast amounts of sequestered greenhouse gases in the form of hydrocarbons and other carbonates like limestone has been occurred at an unprecedented rate. It  has been way in excess of any natural geological effect because of the speed at which it has happened. However the effect of pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and oceans is well known in geological history – everything is going to heat up.

Just to give an idea of the scale of human intervention, have a look at the last 4 million years of CO2 levels while modern humans have been evolving.

Proxy (indirect) measurements of atmospheric CO2.
Data Source: Reconstruction from ice cores at NASA.
Credit: NOAA

Broadly speaking over the last 4 million years, until humans started interfering, the CO2 goes up and down based on glacial periods. Those glacial periods are largely triggered by orbital and axial shifts with a bit of vulcanism thrown in to replenish the greenhouse gases.

Note that I didn’t refer to glacial periods as “ice ages”. They aren’t. We have been in an ice age continuously for at least the last 40 million years. Ever since Antarctica slid into the south axial polar region while dinosaurs were still the dominant animal phyla 65 million years ago. After Antarctica built a substantive icecap it dropped the world into a deep freeze compared to the ‘normal’.

Humans and all of the other primates evolved over the last 66 million years in a frigid planet. It is a world that we and most species on earth are adapted for. The rapid and now inexorable human driven  rise of temperatures in all of our world wide habitats over the next thousand years will cause all species  to have problems with most of the places we currently live.

Living on an high latitude ocean island with temperature buffering water around us as we do in NZ is just about optimal. But it is hard to see how humans can live with the kinds of temperatures and climate that I’m expecting in the inland tropics. We’re on track for an average 4-6C increase worldwide in the next 100 years (as far as I can see there is nothing to prevent it – se my last paragraph).

But it is likely to be a lot higher in the tropical interiors  because of changes in how those ecosystems handle increased temperatures.

We will see even higher temperatures in the polar and sub-polar areas as increased precipitation in the polar deserts causes more melt directly or via glacial movement.

This year’s 15-20C above normal temperatures in the Arctic is probably just going to be normal in a few years as the northern ice store disintegrates.

East Antarctica will take more time to drop out of its deep freeze simply because it is so dry that precipitation of snow will take a lot of time to build up. That will limit glacial movement because of the geography.

However where warmer oceans touch ice as they did for most of the 20th century in the Antarctica peninsula, then expect rapid melting. Changes to wind and the repair of the ozone hole have slowed the ice melt there for the last decade, but further warming and melting is inevitable over the coming decades.

West Antarctica over the past decade has started to get the rapid effects of warming oceans and more precipitation giving faster movement of ice to the melt.

In a few hundred years, we have melted the worlds polar and sub polar fridges and may have a place to put the few remaining people from the burning tropics. But that really assumes some rationality we have come to not expect from humans. Like markedly reducing the burn of fossil stores of carbon – something that isn’t happening.

About the only thing that is good is that the rate of increase is reducing. However that still means that vastly more greenhouse gases are going into the atmosphere and oceans than are being removed. Most of that will keep coming back again and a again over the following few thousand years.

It is the barbaric culture that treats the worlds fragile ecosphere as a  free-to-dump zone that is really the problem. It appears to have forgotten the basic rule of life. If something appears too good to be true – then it isn’t good. Start looking for the gotcha.

With the amount of fossil carbon released from hydrocarbons and limestone already the gotcha genie is out of the bottle and starting to get mischievous. I can’t seen any political way of actually substantially reducing the rate of fossil carbon release in the next few decades. It’d need to drop to something like a quarter of the current level to have much of a long term effect. So I may live to see the level of atmospheric CO2 to hit double the pre-industrial level of 280ppm (depending on how the stent+drugs holds out). At that kind of level, at best, we can expect to see 4-6 degrees Celsius average sea-level temperature rise by centuries end. I’m glad that I don’t have kids. While I’m pretty sure that humans will survive complete with their society, this century is going to be a lot harder than the one I spent most of my life in.


I am uninterested in having discussions with people who don’t read my post and respond to that. If you want to push your own unsubstantiated and unlinked beliefs then use OpenMike to push your own barrow. If you want to place links into the discussion – then make sure they are relevant to the post. If I look at them and I don’t think they are not or I find people who clearly haven’t read down to this, then I will hand out educational bans. Stay on the post topic – there is more than enough in there to piss many people off.

100 comments on “Living without our fridge – 4-6C hotter”

  1. David H 1

    Agreed. I notice it suffering from Chronic Bronchitis, and the difficulties in breathing it comes with. But last year was the worst for difficulty in breathing. High heat and high levels of CO2. So not only are our children going to suffer, but the old and infirm are going to die in larger numbers, due to complications from heat, and increased CO2 levels. I Can already feel it.

  2. Corokia 2

    Cutting CO2 emissions to a quarter should have been do-able and compatible with a decent lifestyle. It wouldn’t involve all the “living in caves” bullshit that deniers rant on about. Its a crime that the climate emergency isn’t being treated seriously.

    • lprent 2.1

      Agreed. But there is a significiant lead time associated with any infrastructure change. That was something that should have started in 1990 rather than starting to change it (in some places) now.

      • Corokia 2.1.1

        Yes. Back when James Hansen first spoke to Congress about climate change. Back at the 1st Rio summit. Back when oil companies were writing internal memos about global warming while starting to fund denial.

      • Mrs Brillo 2.1.2

        It started in1987 when Lange’s government established the first Ministry for the Environment. Its first (and so far the best) minister, Geoffrey Palmer made it his mission to streamline the country’s raggle taggle environment law by consolidating about 97 statutes covering every aspect of resource management and consulting with all interest groups. You would have had to be particularly dense or distracted to have missed the message that the climate was changing, global warming was involved, and we were going to have to put the health of our environment at the centre of our resource use planning.

        The extraction industries’ response was to establish the Tasman Institute to spread misinformation and doubt and delay. Developers and other major resource users have argued for the RMA to be “amended” ever since it was passed. The MSM have played a grubby and consciousless role since they worked out which side their bread was buttered on.

        The Clark government should have continued to push for Palmer’s vision. I expected better of them, to be frank. As for that other crew, they will not pursue any course of action which inhibits their ability to rape the planet for fun but mostly profit. Anyone would think that they did not have children.

  3. Ad 3

    I am in Hawkes Bay on a vineyard for the break and have explored a good way up the Napier-Taihape Road and a number of other roads. One generous tasting-room session at a time.

    It’s a landscape long cleared of most native bush, infested with rabbits, hedgehogs, ryegrass, and pines, for ridge after ridge over 100km of high hills from the central mountains almost to the coast.

    Vidals and Selaks are pushing their vineyards right up the Matapiro River flats for hundreds and hundreds of hectares of new planting over the last few years. There are also plateaux of dairy going deep into country that is exceptionally dry four months of the year or more.

    Viticulture uses far less water than dairy when measured from grass to glass. But you can get a real sense of how much less of an impact extensive sheep farming has on the thousands of rolling blonde-yellow hills, and how much it is being altered at speed.

    I support how the large vineyards are bringing fresh capital and technology, and both high and low-skill jobs. Hawkes Bay needs that. I have relatives who work incredibly hard to do that. And as all the rivers get lower and lower each week, I can see how the Ruataniwha dam and others in consideration are tempting. It’s a brutal country.

    But the march of intensive farming deep into higher and dryer hills of permanent landscape change feels like humans trying to sustain a riskier and more fragile existence on this super-dry land.

    • lprent 3.1

      Yeah, but the history of agriculture in this country has been one of taking insane risks. Like cutting the forest from the hills for sheep and watching the hills sluice into the sea. I remember reading an analysis of the ‘sheep’ country on the east coast back in the early 80s and deciding that it was way worse than cutting the rainforest in the Amazon basin. Far more futile and unsustainable

      • Ad 3.1.1

        Standing on top of any of Hawke’s Bay’s dry, hot ridges with vast blond folded fields rolling away, it’s now impossible to imagine a pre-contact forested realm. There’s not a mote of respite for Monbiot’s “wilding” imagination, near-nothing self seeding other than rye grass, pines, and willows in the river valleys. That’s not for lack of squinting and trying to imagine an alternative world there.

        Non-industrialised natural form is reduced to a few hawks, and the Tui competing with Minor birds in occasional flax clumps.

        Other than the climate, this natural order is neither controlled by humans, nor does it exist without it.

        New Zealand’s compressed timescale is a global marker, as one of the very last major land masses colonized and settled. My granddad still remembered the great burnoffs in Tatramak, and my uncles out of Rotorua were still using great steel rollers to crush hillside forest for pasture when I was a child in the early 1970s. That’s not even a century.

        Beginning to remind me of those big 4-5 degree temperature shifts in the course of a hundred years that accelerated the Paleolithic.

        • lprent

          My grandfather was still dropping kauri not far north of auckland when my mother was a child. Since she was born in 1939, I would guess post war.

  4. garibaldi 4

    A very good post lprent. Thank you.
    You are more optimistic about man’s survival than many and your time frame .to me, seems on the optimistic side because of the unknowns of how rapidly the planet is going to ‘react’ to the unprecedented changes being caused by man.
    For our children and grandchildren I hope you are correct.

  5. Paul 5

    A 4 to 6 degree temperature rise will see the end of civilisation as we know it.
    It may also mean that humans, like most other species, will go extinct.
    Of course, climate wars over rapidly dwindling resources would see an even more abrupt ending.
    Read a farewell to Ice by Peter Wadhams to see the consequences of the melting of the Arctic Ocean.
    The feedback loops that will eventuate from this are sobering.

    • lprent 5.1

      It is highly unlikely. I realize this is a daft bit of stupidity beloved of people not thinking every time I transit through Singapore or hong kong. The less said about people currently ‘living’ in Cambodia’s climate the better.

      And this will be a whimper process rather than one that goes with a bang. Societies with inadequate processes or engagement like Syria or Libya will implode. Most will not

      • Colonial Viper 5.1.1

        Conservation biologist Guy McPherson has it right. The end of modern civilisation will come with the end of habitat capable of sustaining industrial grain farming.

        It doesn’t matter how good your political process are when your wheat harvest has failed for the third year in a row.

      • Paul 5.1.2

        Dr Kevin Anderson, a highly respected climate scientist would disagree with you .


        As would Peter Wadhams.

        [lprent: I just read the transcript you linked to. As far as I can see he is saying exactly what I am. While the link is valid for the post. Your use of it indicates that you didn’t read my post.

        Banned for 1 week for not taking notice of the warning at the bottom of the post. ]

        • lprent

          Depends on the population reliant on that food and the effects of the climate change where it is farmed.

          Since the areas it is farmed are not in the tropics or the poles, I would be more worried about emptying aquifiers than weather effects for a number of decades.

          And the world population will at least stabilize before anything gets too severe.

          I am afraid that most people who love catastrophic scenarios have their heads so firmly stuffed up their arse that they seldom get to use their brains. Also for some reason they appear to have never bothered to develop a sense of timescales or logistics

          • Colonial Viper

            How about the one to two billion people who already have marginal food and water security. Although, they can probably all die off and not have much impact on the global top 20% where we are.

            Catastrophic for them, but not for us.

            • lprent

              The ones who are currently marginal are

              1. Generally not reliant on “industrial grain farming”. So I guess you gave up on that argument.

              2. They will be subject to more frequent weather and water issues with their food crops. But generally relatively small areas from a global perspective at a time. In other words not that much different from what we have now. The usual problem is recognising it early enough to get the food in before the politics goes to crap.

              Which generally just continues the push to industrial farming and urbanisation which (for better or worse) usually makes it easier to grow food successfully and to distribute it.

              Strangely these days it is unusual (outside of wartime) to have starvation in urban areas.

              • Colonial Viper

                Strangely these days it is unusual (outside of wartime) to have starvation in urban areas.

                People can often get enough cheap calories. They can’t necessarily get enough fresh micronutrients.

                1. Generally not reliant on “industrial grain farming”. So I guess you gave up on that argument.

                I’m just getting started. My main point: the first class passengers on the Titanic get to pretend to each other for just that little bit longer than the poor people in steerage that ‘nothing catastrophic’ has happened.

          • Andrea

            “I would be more worried about emptying aquifiers than weather effects for a number of decades.”

            A little concern for soil pollution with salinity and excess fertilisers in pursuit of grains for uses other than food supplies may also be in order.

            And when what comes up from the aquifers is hot, tainted, and carcinogenic then ‘traditional’ crops such as wheat, sorghum, and soy are not going to produce to last century’s levels.

            Which opens the doors to the desperation of genetically modified plants. I wonder what we’ll look like once we add those elements to our DNA? I wonder if anyone will start adapting us to live comfortably at higher temperatures… We’ve been fattened up on junk foods for years. Perhaps Big Biz could stealth-fed us – yeah,nah. Crazy conspiracy thinking:-)

            • Colonial Viper

              Add in peak phosphorus: easily accessible supplies of high purity phosphate ore are likely to peak in the next few decades.

  6. Colonial Viper 6

    ” While I’m pretty sure that humans will survive complete with their society”

    That’s for a privileged few in a few lines lucky locations. But the global market economy will be over.

    Btw unavoidable 2 deg C warming by 2030 is my pick.

    • Paul 6.1

      2 degree warming already unavoidable.

      • Colonial Viper 6.1.1

        That’s my opinion too, which means that people running around selling the idea we can still avoid it are nothing more than hopium merchants.

      • lprent 6.1.2

        Currently the value is about 1.2C above 1850. About 0.4C of that is likely to be inherent variation. The nominal unnatural increase is about 0.8C.

        The likely underlying value if we removed pollution aerosols is about 1.7-1.8C. It’d probably be a good idea not to remove too many high atmospheric pollutants too fast. They’re reducing the insolation.

        2C will probably be more like 2050-70 depending on how much white sea ice is left in the arctic over summers. 2030 is too early. Remember that we just had the el nino and aren’t likely to have more than another one between now and then.

        Most of the effect at present as both heat and CO2 is being sucked into the deep ocean currents and will probably be there for at least decades and likely;y for over a century depending which current it is in.

        Basically you are wrong.

        • Colonial Viper

          Three things:

          1) It takes roughly 30 years for half the warming of today’s CO2 emissions to be expressed as measurable temperature change.

          2) The oceans have so far absorbed 95% or so of the extra heat retained due to increased GHG levels.

          3) The heat absorbed by the melting of one tonne of Arctic ice is enough to heat one tonne of water from 0 deg C to 79.8 deg C.

          Re: 1) This means almost none of the warming of the CO2 emissions of the last ten years is registering yet in terms of actual warming. I also agree that 2 deg C warming is utterly unavoidable.

          2) There are scenarios which suggest that in the next few decades, the ability of the oceans to keep absorbing the large share of heat that it has been taking up is going to fail.

          3) Including: once all Arctic sea ice is gone all year round (probably in the 2030s if not before) massive quantities of heat will no longer be absorbed by melting ice and will instead cause massive temperature increases.

          • lprent

            I agree. But you seem to be forgetting something. It is called Antarctica.

            Someday figure out exactly how much heat has to be given up to melt ice at the icebox rather than in the ice tray.

            FFS: go and figure out what it takes to melt 2-3 kilometres or more of solid ice. Then read the frigging title of the post. And start thinking rather than listening to some idiot northerners with a European arctic fetish.

            • Colonial Viper

              And start thinking rather than listening to some idiot northerners with a European arctic fetish.

              Will NZ still be able to grow enough wheat and corn for its own population – perhaps.

              But once you work out which hemisphere the vast majority of global wheat, rice, oats and corn production occurs in, it may become clearer to you how important northern hemisphere climate stability is to human civilisation.

              Soy is the only large scale staple crop I’ve found that is majority grown in the southern hemisphere.

              • Shona

                NZ grows the best oats in the world outside of Scotland. South Otago grows barley and rye extremely well.Amaranth and Spelt and buckwheat grow anywhere in NZ.
                NZ used have very good wheat production in Canterbury Otago and Southland. We now have Dairy farms in all the areas where these grains were grown. Goodman Fielder Wattie shut down their grain mills in South Otago and Southland back in the 80’s early 90’s and refused to allow the lease of them to any business that wanted to mill grain again.Multinational bastard scum ended the production of grain in NZ. And colluded to increase Dairying.
                The skill set of our farming sector has narrowed considerably in the last 30 years.We are fools and deserve to starve for becoming disconnected from the land and our heritage, These are seen as cultural values worth preserving in countries like Japan and France. We are dumbarses.

                • Colonial Viper

                  Thanks for all this valuable info, Shona.

                  I buy nothing but Dunedin made Harroways oats for breakfast.

                • VictoriaX

                  We could make 7 time more profit by growing oats to make milk than we make by using cows. Also without the environmental damage caused by the dairy industry.

            • John ONeill

              Hansen reckons that once Antarctic melting starts in earnest – which seems unavoidable, since the base of the big glaciers slopes down well below sea level- we’ll get a war between the meltwater and the tropics, which will still be heating up from CO2 and its positive feedbacks. Hence his title ‘ Storms of my Grandchildren.’

    • TheExtremist 6.2

      Good thing Trump hasn’t stacked his administration with climate change denialists then.

      • Ad 6.2.1

        We don’t need to worry much more about the leadership of the collective political order – Paris 21 is as good as that’s going to get.

        China, Germany, and Japan, and the state of California – have governments that still try. Those states – and the businesses within them – are the ones to watch for society evolving within the +2 degree era.

      • Clump_AKA Sam 6.2.2

        That would imply there are rational arguments being made on both sides rather than 99% of applicable scientists saying one thing and the Republican party of the US (and literally no other major group) saying “nah nah I can’t hear you”

        • Andre

          The Russians don’t seem very interested in doing much to mitigate climate change. They probably think they would benefit from the world being a few degrees warmer.

          • Clump_AKA Sam

            I don’t blame you for judging Russia like that when all you hear from major networks is the Russians are coming. Besides if we are fair, climate solutions on a global stage is going to come from China

          • lprent

            I suspect that they simply don’t have a economy vibrant enough to do anything. They are pretty useless at doing any interesting tech in country these days.

            Not bad when individuals escape the place though.

            • Clump_AKA Sam

              Id beg to differ. The pentagon was saying something similar months before Russia jumped into Syria. Then Russia pulled out unmanned drones, cruise missiles, new satellite tracking capabilities. They’ve been able to sustain a division a long way from home. They made the jump from a 3rd world military to 1st world in literally 6 months which is unprecedented. Poeple also say there economy is mostly petro chemicals which isn’t true, it’s actually 60% agriculture. And they didn’t have to clear cut forests. I’m happy to search for links if any one wants me to

              • lprent

                Umm. I think that you are an ill-informed fool who obviously drinks propaganda like sucking down the koolaid. All of the capabilities you listed are old.

                They have had cruise missiles for at least 30 years to my certain knowledge.

                They were flying UAVs before the Israelis did.

                The GLONASS network has been going up since the mid 80s and I think that they finished their constellation about 1995 – not much different to the US.

                They were fielding divisions far from the soviet union back in the 1970s.

                If you want to play pretend – take it to OpenMike.

                • Clump_AKA Sam

                  Russia is doing its bit: https://youtu.be/YF1b0bXK0og

                • Colonial Viper

                  They have had cruise missiles for at least 30 years to my certain knowledge.

                  Even Nazi Germany had cruise missiles. So yes in a manner of speaking you can claim that these capabilities are “old.”

                  But they didn’t have modern Russian cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, of conducting precision strikes from up to 2,500 km away, able to be launched from almost any small inconspicuous patrol vessel, which have the ability to conduct supersonic evasive maneuvers in the terminal phase of flight to avoid a target’s defensive countermeasures.

                  Another new capability: while the Russians now have ground to air systems capable of knocking out US Tomahawks far from their target (eg. the S400), the Americans appear to have nothing which can similarly knock out Russian Kalibrs.

      • Colonial Viper 6.2.3

        Good thing Trump hasn’t stacked his administration with climate change denialists then.

        As opposed to Obama and Clinton Administrations dedicated to Climate Change lip service?

        • TheExtremist

          At least they didn’t outright deny it in total.

          • Colonial Viper

            yeah, give them credit for substanceless liberal virtue signalling then.

            BTW why on earth did Barack Obama green light more deep sea drilling after Deepwater Horizon, when he had the perfect excuse to shut it all down?

            Why did he allow the US Army Corp of Engineers to keep building the Dakota Access Pipeline and tolerate the abuse of native americans by white law enforcement?

            Why did Barack Obama allow a massive destructive fracking boom all over the country under his watch?

            But at least he doesn’t deny climate change!

  7. jimekus 7

    Centuries End – be damned. A 50gt methane burst is on the cards after any August-September from now on and, with atmospheric lows and warm seas invading the arctic, unheard of lightning strikes are sure to rise. Should an ignition take place then within days 6C increase around the globe is expected by Peter Wadhams. Worse long term effects will happen over the decade.

    • lprent 7.1

      Not really. What you should be looking at is the problem with methane escaping the water column. There isn’t that much of a difference, so it tends to stay in the water rather than going to gas, and it tends to trickle out rather than pulse.

      I doubt that we’d get a major underwater pulse simply because it replies on having a warm water current current going deep enough to get well below the existing phase point, having a large enough surface seafloor area and having enough time to allow a phase shift to gaseous. It’d be more likely to trickle out over several centuries.

      Which is what you see in the geological history.

      There is more of an issue with methane getting released from tundra

      • RedLogix 7.1.1

        Some of you may know that for the past three months I’ve been working in the Canadian sub-Arctic. In an exceedingly remote location that until very recently had almost no useful internet.

        At this time of the year the temperatures are usually between -40 to -55 degC.

        So far this year they have been in the range -20 to -35 degC.

        So that messes with the idea of only 4 – 6 degC of warming.



        • lprent

          Not really. 4-6C is a nominal average across the globe. Like all averages you have to treat it with caution.

          The subpolar regions were always the areas that would get the largest increases in temperatures, just as the Antarctic peninsula throughout the 20th and up did up until the last decade. The northern polar regions don’t have nearly as much ice as the south, and while the north is getting heat waves, the south hasn’t shifted significantly to date.

          The massive bulk of the world hasn’t had significiant increases, just a few areas and mainly the cool rather than really cold ones.

          To me, in your terms, you are equating a chaotic bed flow and trying to say that a laminar flow will be the same.

          But the down latitude effects of the curent northern subpolar and polar changes (probably el nino related) into eurasia and north americia are going to be interesting to watch over the next 4-5 years. I suspect that each time they get a shift like that in the land ridden north, then the effects are persistent until the next event.

          • RedLogix

            Yes I realise I was taking a bit of a shortcut there. The sub-polar regions were always going to warm more than anywhere else; but here we are already at the predicted upper limit of that increased warming for these regions, and the real impact of all that excess carbon has yet to hit.

            Just in case anyone reading your links was imagining that the 15-20 degC above normal sub-polar temperatures were somehow hypothetical, or too far away … well they are not. I can step outside right now and it’s my lived experience.

            • lprent

              Yeah I know. 🙂 15-20C at the sub-polar regions and even up as far as the actual north pole

              But the predictive models at any more detail than some kind of a black-body are about as good as the geological data we have. We simply don’t have a lot of data about how things shift except at a “average over a century” kind of level. That is what the geological record shows. So the models aren’t bad averaging over a few decades, but totally useless at less than a decade.

              For instance, the Antarctica peninsula is a good case in point. It kept exceeding the models expectations for temperatures increases and ice retreat for decades. Now ..


              The tip of the Antarctic peninsula has cooled over the past 15 years, scientists have found, but the discovery does not mean global warming has stopped.

              Researchers analysed air temperature data from the area, which covers about 1% of the continent, and found it had warmed quickly from the 1920s until the late 1990s, as climate change drove up global temperatures. Since then, temperatures have fallen.

              The scientists said the change is related to local changes in wind patterns, partly driven by the recovery of the ozone hole. If carbon emissions continue to rise at the current rate, they expect temperatures on the peninsula to rise by several degrees by 2100.

              Of course the sea temperatures are still killing calving ice sheets. But since you as likely to go swimming there as you are where you are, you aren’t as likely to notice that as you are to notice a slushy mud underfoot.

              Air isn’t nearly as hard to change temperatures as water is. And air can and will change drastically over a diurnal cycle through to even a yearly cycle. But it isn’t that useful as a predictor of future events unless you see it doing something for a reasonably long period of time.

        • greywarshark

          Hi Red Logix
          You are at the coldface! Thanks for saying hello and telling us of the facts on the spot.

      • jimekus 7.1.2

        Methane only stays in the water given sufficient depth. The depth that warm surface water mixes down below to already warm water to reach the 50m sea floor on the The East Siberian Arctic Shelf depends on wave height which in turn depends on wind going from hot to cold areas. These recent waves in turn destroyed lots of ice. Even on the tundra a couple of years ago the plumes were tens of meters wide and then went to kilometers wide and Guy McPherson has been saying in 2016 they are now hundreds of kilometers wide.

      • Draco T Bastard 7.1.3

        What you should be looking at is the problem with methane escaping the water column.

        You mean like this?

        “It has recently been documented that a tongue of relatively warm Atlantic water, with a core at depths of 200-600 [meters] may have warmed up some in recent years,” Gustafsson explained. “As this Atlantic water, the last remnants of the Gulf Stream, propagates eastward along the upper slope of the East Siberian margin, our SWERUS-C3 program is hypothesizing that this heating may lead to destabilization of upper portion of the slope methane hydrates. This may be what we now for the first time are observing.”

        The researchers are quick to point out that they are just a few weeks into their work, and this is a very much speculation. However, the very fact that these plumes are there is worrying enough.

        And this?

        While scientists believe that global warming will release methane from gas hydrates worldwide, most of the current focus has been on deposits in the Arctic. This paper estimates that from 1970 to 2013, some 4 million metric tons of methane has been released from hydrate decomposition off Washington. That’s an amount each year equal to the methane from natural gas released in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout off the coast of Louisiana, and 500 times the rate at which methane is naturally released from the seafloor.

        “Methane hydrates are a very large and fragile reservoir of carbon that can be released if temperatures change,” Solomon said. “I was skeptical at first, but when we looked at the amounts, it’s significant.”

        • Colonial Viper

          Also, current amounts of atmospheric methane generates warming that is approx equal to having an extra 50 ppm of CO2.

  8. Pat 8

    interesting you should outline a realistic scenario of 5-6degC average warming by century end and continue on to unrealistically conclude humans and society will continue to function in that environment (hell they barely function now)


    the habitability zones in the graphic to the side make interesting viewing…..in as far as I have seen no serious climate research team has suggested 6 degree average warming will be anything other than an unmitigated disaster, not some drawn out inconvenience such as you describe. Indeed you note the current 15-20 deg artic warming on the back of less than a 1.5deg average increase …..you may wish to consider what occured the last time the poles were 30deg warmer.

    • lprent 8.1

      It will be an unmitigated disaster.

      However in human terms it will be a very long and long drawn out one. What that means is that it will cause a lot of failed industries and areas as climate pushes changes to long established practices.

      However, we have had a history of exactly that over the last five centuries as technologies changed and we carted diseases and species over the globe.

      Have you run across any buggy whip manufacturers or craftsmen creating chinese clogs recently? In the west, there are few jobs that are even remotely similar to those that were present in 1815 or 1850 or even 1900. These days there are few places in the world that are operating societies as they were even as recently as 1917.

      Humans are highly adaptive. So are the ecologic systems that we establish around us.

      We haven’t had as much time to observe natural systems in climate driven transition purely because the last 10,000 years have been remarkably settled climatically until now. But the genes of most species are ancient and highly adaptive to disaster that make the upcoming ones look like a picnic.

      I haven’t read his book, however I suspect that a journalist and environment activist who “…holds a degree in history and politics from the University of Edinburgh…” is about as useful in understanding the phase shifts of methane hydrate as most journalists -> it is good for a shocking headline.

      If you are going to put in a link, then FFS put in one that is worth reading.

      Like this one.

      What was interesting about that rather nicely written piece was the descriptions of the adaptions that the sequoias have to environmental conditions that are currently rare. I dug around after I read it and found some pretty good papers about them that were even more interesting. It looks they can handle most of the environmental changes of the last 30 million years with ease and they stick around the rockies because they is where they get a drink

      • Pat 8.1.1

        “If you are going to put in a link, then FFS put in one that is worth reading”

        the Royal Society that awarded the 2008 Science Writers award don’t appear to agree with your view of his ability to assess the relevant research…but what the hell, belittling unread is easy, eh?

        • lprent

          Yeah? I tend to find that science writers who actually have science degrees usually are more competent.

          Which is why the prize that he won was for “…the aim of encouraging the writing, publishing and reading of good and accessible popular science books”.

          I guess that actually knowing some of basics of the science involved means that I’m not his target audience.

          • Pat

            “I guess that actually knowing some of basics of the science involved means that I’m not his target audience.’

            and yet you promoted this?…..http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21712066-sequoias-outsized-role-americas-environmental-history-climbing-worlds

            with the comment…”It looks they can handle most of the environmental changes of the last 30 million years with ease and they stick around the rockies because they is where they get a drink” …as if it were relevant when the article itself clearly states….
            “With such advantages, the sequoias are playing only a minor role in a third great public debate, over climate change. Even as the pines succumb to beetles and the firs go up in smoke, the giants look able to endure—at least for a while. Yet there will be a limit to that. Sequoias need vast quantities of water; Mr Ambrose and Ms Baxter calculate they use more than two tonnes a day in summertime. And there are multiple indicators, including drought, dieback, shrinkage of the Sierra Nevada’s snowpack and a slight retreat of the sequoia’s southern range, to suggest such volumes could soon be unavailable to them. “I worry about them. I worry about them a lot,” said Mr Ambrose, working deftly to dismantle his scientific rig from the very top of Munz, while being peppered with journalistic questions from a neighbouring branch.”

            as timescales were a feature of your original post perhaps you may wish to consider the following…
            “Mammals survived Eocene temperatures; this is when early primates appeared. Some horses, however, shrank to the size of house cats, adjusting through evolution to a diet altered either by heat or carbon. Today’s organisms and ecosystems may not be able to adapt to warming over the next 200 to 300 years—an instant on the geological time scale, says Scott Wing, the Smithsonian Institution’s curator of fossil plants.”


            You may also wish to consider the conservative nature of the scientific reports…..4 years ago Larsen C was predicted by the leading scientists studying it that its collapse was likely but not for some 2-300 hundred years due to its size and consequent melt time…


            Larsen B took 2 weeks to collapse

            Yes undeniably your superior scientific knowledge outstrips even that of those studying these impacts and we have plenty of time and will adapt….never mind that we have numerous examples of failed states even without the likely stressors we will see in our own lifetimes…..all good then.

            • Colonial Viper

              Currently the Earth is warming around 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than most species can successfully adapt to.

              A 4 to 6 deg C temp change should take place over the course of several hundred thousand or several million years.

              Not over 100 years.

              Some seem to think that Homo Sapiens are going to be the exception to this rule and that most, though not all, of us will get through it relatively fine.

              I have my doubts.

  9. Red 9

    Thanks LPrent, great to read something on a difficult topic without the dooms day, the end is nigh and political hyperbole but with a level of gravitas supported by evidence that there are serious issues ahead I think climate change debate been rolled into the whole left and right debate, it’s all neoliberalism, JK, West vs East fault etc etc is half the problem in regard to getting people to respond rationally to it, collectively and transcending political persuasion. maybe living in a dream world on this however

    • One Anonymous Bloke 9.1



    • Andre 9.2

      Something I find immensely frustrating about New Zealand’s (lack of) response to climate change is that eliminating most of our fossil fuel use over a reasonable time frame would actual be quite an economic boost. That has to appeal across the political spectrum. It would just be a painful hit to established big players, who have frankly had a pretty good ride for a long time.

      I fail to see how it’s in New Zealand’s interest to send billions of dollars overseas every year to buy oil, when some of that energy could come from renewable electricity.

      Building new wind, geothermal, pumped hydro storage plants to allow closing Huntly and other fossil stations is an obvious economic boost. As a bonus, developing expertise here could lead to export industries, as I seem to recall one of the electricity was selling geothermal expertise overseas.

      The list goes on and on… But instead we’re doing things like replacing Kiwirail electric locomotive with diesel, Nova energy is trying to build a new natural gas power station in the Waikato, among many other steps in the wrong direction.

      • Colonial Viper 9.2.1

        Something I find immensely frustrating about New Zealand’s (lack of) response to climate change is that eliminating most of our fossil fuel use over a reasonable time frame would actual be quite an economic boost. That has to appeal across the political spectrum.

        Neither the Green Party nor Labour is going to set any serious short to medium term (5 to 10 year) milestones around this.

        Irrelevant milestones for the 2040s, 2050s and 2060s that no current politician will ever be held accountable for, sure.

        • Clump_AKA Sam

          God forbid that a western political party actually has a manufacturing or jobs policy. The free market would go into WTF mode, and say, Neo-brats do it better

          • Colonial Viper

            God forbid that a western political party actually has a manufacturing or jobs policy.

            Trump has and he got voted in on it. Having said that, to more precisely address your point, the Republican PARTY establishment clearly does not.

            So you are probably still right.

          • Draco T Bastard

            A jobs policy is great idea.

            Jobs tearing down fossil generation and replacing it with renewable generation.
            Jobs from recycling all of the private motor vehicles after we’ve banned them and the increase in jobs from the boosted public transport.
            Jobs in R&D as we look into sustainable ways to live.

            Yep. A jobs policy is great – as long as it’s the right jobs.

            • Clump_AKA Sam

              Western democracies can’t do long term planning because communism. In New Zealand we have this kind of knee jerk, reactionary style of planning. We couldn’t possibly do what China does and have 5 year economic plans that every one works towards.

              I have little faith in mainstream to change because they’ve drunk far to much cool aid. If you strip out everything from all mainstream textbooks, you’re left with a sentence that says capital accumulates. Which is just a theory.

              It’s not just a theory it’s a religious belief held by mainstream. Now we are trying to boost everything that we’ve suppressed or destroyed (with capitalism???)

              All capitalism was used for is to say capitalism is better than communism and to destroy unions. If we are going to have real change its going to come from students who create the society they want.

              • Colonial Viper

                If we are going to have real change its going to come from students who create the society they want.

                I guess that’s a nice idea, but there’s no way that will change anything in time.

                The fifty plus year old leadership class has to get onboard NOW. (Not saying there is any likelihood that will actually happen).

                Eighteen and nineteen year olds have no political power or financial capital to do fuck all. And by the time they do it will be the 2040s.

  10. Colonial Viper 10

    We’ve just had the two warmest Novembers globally in 2015 and 2016. (2015 was marginally warmer than 2016).

    El Nino is no longer a warming influence now relative to Nov 2015 when it was much stronger.

    And yet we are still sitting at warmest ever levels.

    • lprent 10.1

      How fast do warm air masses move? How fast do warm water masses move? It takes a while for a large amount of heat or cold to disperse and dissipate.

      • Colonial Viper 10.1.1

        Quantitatively, the Oceanic Nino Index which tracks variations in Pacific ocean surface temperatures went from a decadal high around Dec 2015 to firmly crossing into a cooler La Nina-like temperature range by August of 2016.

        It would be reasonable to suggest that the Nov 2015 global temperature record high was boosted in part by the strong El Nino ocean temperatures at the time.

        However the Nov 2016 global temp was almost as high as the record breaking Nov 2015 a year earlier. BUT this time ocean temps as tracked by the ONI were almost 3 deg C lower than a year earlier.



  11. Draco T Bastard 11

    Living on an high latitude ocean island with temperature buffering water around us as we do in NZ is just about optimal. But it is hard to see how humans can live with the kinds of temperatures and climate that I’m expecting in the inland tropics. We’re on track for an average 4-6C increase worldwide in the next 100 years (as far as I can see there is nothing to prevent it – se my last paragraph).

    Yep. Which is pretty much why I’m saying that NZ will be closing our borders in the next decade or so. We simply cannot afford the millions that will be trying to get here.

    I know that there’s a lot of people that will say that we have to help them and take them in but we really can’t afford to. That’s real economics based upon real physics and, no, there are no technological fixes for it either.

  12. Paul Campbell 12

    So a totally dumb question … Why don’t we all rise up and do something? Are we all just frogs being brought to a nice summer?

    • Draco T Bastard 12.1

      Most of us in the West are actually too comfortable and simply see neither a way to change nor a reason to – yet.

  13. adam 13

    Thanks LPrent, a good read.

    I going to say one theme common in most of the science fiction I’ve been reading of late, is this is the end of a ‘golden age’. In quite a similar way you have written about, things are going to get tough. How tough, we could debate over and all get quite grumpy, but there is truly little point.

    On a gardening point, my tomatoes have got hammered by the new flying aphid, and the disease it is spreading. One of the new life forms appearing to adapt to warmer world, so people should drop the world is ending argument – the world will go on, even if we humans don’t.

  14. Macro 14

    The current rate of warming is around 0.7 Degrees C per century. That’s roughly 10 times faster than the average rate of ice-age recovery warming in the paleo- past.
    Taking the most recent year into account increases the rate to around 0.73 Degrees Per Century.
    Next year is expected to be a lower temperature (around 3rd highest recorded temp) than the last 3 record years which have been boosted by the strongest El Nino in 18 years, as the ENSO cycle moves to La Nina and the Pacific returns to acting as a heat sink rather than a heat source.

    There is no question that warming will continue and that we hitting a tipping point especially in the Arctic.
    Just what the average surface temp will be by the end of the Century is any ones guess. As for sea level rise, the rate over the past century has been 17 mm per decade. However, the current rate is around 33 mm per decade, and increasing ( the recent dip in the chart is due to higher rainfall on drought affected land, and increased snowfall from moisture saturated air in Antarctica – as airtemps increase by 1 degree C the water content of the air can increase by 4%)
    SLR lags behind temp rise, but having said that there is evidence from paleo studies that it can be quite rapid as ice sheets collapse. I have linked above to research of one Greenland Ice sheet that is particularly unstable, and by itself could result in 1 ft of sea level rise. As for the Larsen Ice sheets they are also unstable and could well collapse rapidly.
    I am currently reading Dr Dale Jamieson’s book”Reason In A Dark Time Why the struggle against Climate Change Failed and what it means for our Future. Dale Jamieson is a philosopher and a realist. Lord Stern sums the book up thus:

    He argues that we are heading down a dangerous road and will likely have to face a much more difficult world. But he also argues that there is so much we can do individually and collectively to make a difference, and warns the best must not be the enemy of the good. This is a very thoughtful and valuable book and should be read by all those who would wish to bring reason to a defining challenge of our century

    • Colonial Viper 14.1

      The current rate of warming is around 0.7 Degrees C per century.

      check out what the rate of warming has been over the last 30 years. You’re going to find that we’ve risen more than 0.2 deg C globally in that time, which is what your rate of 0.7 deg C/century suggests.

  15. Mike Bowler 15

    Got to say, Lprent, this thread is a pleasure. Mainly due to the strict rules you laid down at the start.
    I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with The Standard of late because of the dominance of the trolls and those who seek to combat them.
    Cheers to all and a happy New Year.

  16. Macro 16

    I was going to post this on another Post, “The Role of Drought and Climate Change in the Syrian Uprising: Untangling the Triggers of the
    Revolution” Francesca de Châtel. Published online: 27 Jan 2014, but I think it is as Pertinent here – particularly in the context of just how we manage our future and what are likely to some of the challenges that humanity will face in the future.

    As in other Arab countries, the uprising in Syria was triggered by a series of social, economic and political factors, including, in this case, growing poverty caused by rapid economic liberalization and the cancellation of state subsidies after 2005, a
    growing rural–urban divide, widespread corruption, rising unemployment, the
    effects of a severe drought between 2006 and 2010 and a lack of political freedom.
    More recently, media and analysts have also suggested that climate change plays an indirect role in the Arab Spring and the Syrian uprising

    My bold.
    In the aftermath of such a drought people want to know if such an extreme event was caused by Climate Change. However these are bad questions to ask and no answer can be given that is not misleading. It is like asking if Kane Wiliamson hits a ton in a test innings if this is caused by his batting average being 49.44. One cannot say “yes” but on the other hand saying “no” falsely suggests that there is no relationship between his most current innings and his batting average. The best that can be done is to give a probability that climate change may have contributed to the event. In the above example of the severe drought of 2006 thru 2010 which lead to a famine and a horrendous rise in basic food prices in the Middle East, It has been assessed that the the event was 2 to 3 times more likely to occur as a result of AGW.

    Basically the effects of Global Warming are here and now – and they are only going to exacerbate, not ameliorate, in the future.

    • Clump_AKA Sam 16.1

      500 years after Alexandre the Great, you use to be able to sail from the Caspian Sea to Afgahnistans Ox river, now the Ox river disappears into irrigation systems not far from where it starts. Now Kazakhstan is trying to expand this irrigation system. But to be honest, if it feeds there people, I’m not going to criticise. I’d prefer to pay a bit extra taxes so we can distribute cash to where we want it to make a difference

    • Jenny 16.2

      As in other Arab countries, the uprising in Syria was triggered by a series of social, economic and political factors, including, in this case, growing poverty caused by rapid economic liberalization and the cancellation of state subsidies after 2005, a
      growing rural–urban divide, widespread corruption, rising unemployment, the
      effects of a severe drought between 2006 and 2010 and a lack of political freedom.
      More recently, media and analysts have also suggested that climate change plays an indirect role in the Arab Spring and the Syrian uprising
      My bold.

      Macro @16

      My Goodness Macro. Golly Gosh. Could it be true? And we have been told so often and at great length that it was all a long laid out plan of regime change, by the Western powers and foreign invaders. Nothing at all to do with crop failure drought and neo-liberal austerity imposed on the local population.

      (Sorry Lynne, couldn’t resist)

  17. Jenny 17

    “I can’t seen any political way of actually substantially reducing the rate of fossil carbon release in the next few decades.


    Firstly my apologies if it has been mentioned before, (I haven’t had time to read the thread, but I will for such an important topic), one suggested “political way” to fight climate change is the World War II solution. ie Rapid Global Mobilisation of a size and scale and speed, similar to that achieved to successfully wage the war on fascism.

    This “political” solution has the utility of already having been achieved.

    And also the hindsight benefit of how it was achieved.

    The first lesson of history;

    The United Nations like its predecessor the League of Nations will fail.

    Just as now, as was then, multinational organisations and conventions failed.

    Just as now, as was then, endless rounds of high profile meetings by world leaders and politicians, despite achieveing consensus and delivering high sounding resolutions and issuing dire warnings, little else was achieved.

    (A process we are seeing being repeated).

    What really set the world in action to mobilise globally was when one sole country acting unilaterally set the pace.

    And this is how it will be done again.

    (and in fact is how all global political change is achieved)

    In lieu of any other country mobilising on the scale necessary to catch the world’s attention and give a lead.

    I have argued that New Zealand is well placed to be that global leader.

    (We have taken this role before, universal suffrage, the welfare state, anti-nuclear, anti-apartheid)

    Lynne writes; “Living on an high latitude ocean island with temperature buffering water around us as we do in NZ is just about optimal.”

    In my opinion this favoured optimal status ,where we of all humanity will be the least negatively affected, gives us a moral imperative to act.

    So how should we go about it?

    Lynne Prentice has made a start with the first post on the first day of the year.

    We need to carry on this iniative and make the 2017 a climate change year.

    In this year we need to make climate change an election issue.

    How do we do that?

    The first thing we need to do is to get rid of the National Government Labour Party consensus on deep sea oil drilling. This is vitally necessary step, so as to create a point of difference between the opposition and the government, which can then be argued out on the hustings and in the TV debates.

    It is my opinion that this single issue and point of difference between the opposition parties and the government will carry the day for the opposition parties. The arguments for taking action on climate change are irrefutable.

    Polls indicate that 80% of the population are opposed to deep sea oil drilling. Polls also indicate that over 50% want the government to do more on climate change.

    These are big figures, much bigger than the percentages that the opposition currently hold.

    Remember leadership is the key.




  18. Jenny 18

    I have read a lot of stuff on climate change, and the above treatise LPRENT is in my opinion one of the best. Concise accurate undramatic knowledgable technical.

    But what can technicians and problem solvers do about climate change?

    Obviously a lot and at the same time very little, because climate change is primarily a political problem not a technical one.


    “People say “this is a Manhattan Project, this an Apollo Project”. Sorry, those are science projects. Fusion is a Manhattan Project or an Apollo Project… The rest of this is more like retooling for World War II, except with everyone playing on the same team.”

    Saul Griffith,
    on converting the world to clean energy

    “This has not been a scientist’s war; it has been a war in which all have had a part.”

    Vannevar Bush,
    on World War II

    Climate change is the problem of our time, it’s everyone’s problem, and most of our problem-solvers are assuming that someone else will solve it.
    I’m grateful to one problem-solver, who wrote to ask for specifics —

    “How do you think the tech community (startup community, or any community) can contribute to tech and/or policy solutions on a global scale?”

    the scale and rate of change required is often unappreciated. Saul Griffith has a good bit about this, suggesting that what’s needed is not throwing up a few solar panels, but a major industrial shift comparable to retooling for World War II.
    In 1940 through 1942, U.S. war-related industrial production tripled each year. That’s over twice as fast as Moore’s law.

    In order to avoid the more catastrophic climate scenarios, global production and adoption of clean energy technology will have to scale at similar rates — but continuously for 15 years or more.
    The catalyst for such a scale-up will necessarily be political. But even with political will, it can’t happen without technology that’s capable of scaling, and economically viable at scale.
    As technologists, that’s where we come in.

    But to create that missing political will.
    As political activists that’s where we come in.

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