Too alarmist?

I’m posting the video below for two reasons. One is that I’m interested in people’s views as to whether it is too alarmist or not? I like what I’ve seen of Thom Hartmann, but the video is clearly (both through what is said and the background music) intended to present an extremely alarming picture. It’s hard not to feel alarmed when watching it. I can’t really tell if what’s being presented is actually plausible, but it does appear as though there is a scenario in we could potentially see enough warming by 2100 to reach some kind of tipping point. Even so, does a video like this do more harm than good by both being too alarmist, and also playing into the hands of those who’ve had success in using undue alarmism as way of undermining the basic climate science message.

There was, however, another reason why I wanted to post this. I’ve been asked by someone whether or not we should really be concerned about the potential release of lots of methane. The Arctic-news site seems to have a number of recent posts about Arctic methane measurements and the posts seem to be indicating that we should be concerned. The recent paper by Hope et al. (2013), which used Shakova et als. (2010) methane release model, was – however – heavily criticised by many (Gavin Schmidt being one) for being completely unrealistic. Michael Tobis has a post called Climatifact: Seven points in support of Shakova? Or not? What was quite interesting about this is that this was partly a debate between Michael Tobis and Guardian writer Nafeez Ahmed. Nafeez Ahmed had been defending the Shakova model but eventually conceded that he had not realised that there was not much evidence (if any) to support the model assumptions. I thought this quite a positive situation in that a journalist actually delved deeper into a topic and eventually realised that they may have been mistaken in their original views. I wish more would do the same.

Anyway, what I’m getting to is that posting the video below gives me the opportunity to ask if anyone knows more about the significance of methane and whether or not we should be concerned about some kind of catastrophic methane release in the next 100 years or so. Maybe, more completely, what is our current understanding with regards to methane and what is the potential for a major methane release within the next century?

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79 Responses to Too alarmist?

  1. Rachel says:

    It is only alarmist if it is exaggerating the threat and I don’t know whether it is or not so I am curious to read the comments you get. I have read some of Nafeez Ahmed’s articles and they are very alarming. If this is a genuine threat, but a very unlikely one, then we still ought to prepare for it. Just because something is unlikely to happen, doesn’t mean we should take precautions.

    I thought the video was good. Better than the last Thom Hartmann video you posted 🙂

  2. I guess there are two related issues. Is the information credible? If what is presented is a possibility, then one could argue that it is credible if on the alarmist side. The other issue, though, is that even if it is credible, does such a video do more harm than good just because of the style of the debate? Of course, that does seem as though one is then playing a a marketing game, but that is probably unavoidable at some level (as long as what’s presented is honest).

  3. Regarding methane, I think the prevailing opinion remains that it is a very important threat in the long run, but that there is no realistic mechanism proposed for an abrupt release in the space of a few decades or a century. It’s impossible to disprove such wild speculation because it isn’t specific enough to refute, but the proponents of it have systematically avoided providing any coherent evidence in its support.

    The video is similar. It strings together a bunch of statements that are individually unobjectionable or at least defensible, but leaves an impression that is excessive.

    My response to the video is not that it is wrong in the sense that any specific claim made is untrue (legitimate researchers are quoted making defensible arguments), but that taken as a whole it is part of the problem.

    It plays to emotions, effectively, and uses facts in a scattershot and disorganized way to present an impression, rather than to make a coherent case.

    I don’t know whether it’s possible for democracy to really act on a balance of evidence rather than on emotional manipulation. It may be the case that efforts like this are really what is needed to avoid continuing on our present suicidal course. This to me seems cynical, but perhaps it is realistic. If it is, the whole idea of democracy is called into question, but these days, that’s sadly not hard to do.

    I also am concerned that such efforts may backfire even in the cynical but perhaps realistic world where democracy’s appeal to reason is hopelessly limited. By promoting a sense of inevitability about our doom such efforts actually support the status quo, which benefits as much from panicked paralysis as it does from indifference.

  4. Rachel says:

    In answer to whether the video, if accurate, does more harm than good, I am inclined to say no. Don’t people want to know the truth? I do. Even if it’s horrible I still want the truth. I’ve never agreed with sugar-coating stuff to make it easier for people to digest. I realise that I’m not like other people but the true story must be told otherwise people in the future will criticise the lack of warning about the urgency of the problem. If initially people reject the story because it’s too alarming to think about, then tell it again and again until they do accept it.

    My son is autistic. When the doctor diagnosed him, it was a great relief for me but I have learnt that for other parents, they became depressed. At first they reject the diagnosis and get a second and maybe third opinion. Eventually they came to accept it but they needed the truth up front and repeated to them a number of times first. I think that’s what we need here. Be truthful and repeat it.

  5. Michael, thanks for the comment. Very useful. I think your assessment is similar to mine. Those being interviewed all seemed credible and didn’t say anything that seemed wrong, but the video was clearly intended to play on emotions and that is always a bit of a concern when presenting something scientific.

    As to what we need to do today in order for people to take notice and start acting, I now know that I don’t have a clue. My gut feeling is that we will just be forced to wait until it becomes completely obvious that we need to act, and then hope that we can still act to minimise the damage.

  6. Ahhh, I think there are two ways to perceive the damage it might do. Does it scare people too much? The answer to that I would say is no. What I was meaning by “more harm than good” is that it could be used by those who want to claim that there is too much alarmism and, hence, that the scientific evidence is being misused and therefore those presenting the evidence can’t be trusted. So, really do these videos work or do they end working for those who keep complaining about too much alarmism – “see, I told you so” type of arguments.

  7. Rachel says:

    Oh, it seems like I’m always misunderstanding you.

    People are always going to complain of alarmism regardless of whether it is due. As long as it is not alarmist – in the sense that it is telling an accurate story and remaining true to the science – then I think videos like this work.

  8. I think I’m easily misunderstood (at least that’s my normal excuse) 🙂

  9. Rachel says:

    No, it’s because I read things too fast and then jump to conclusions.

  10. Tom Curtis says:

    On the science in question, I defer to AR5:

    “Anthropogenic warming will very likely lead to enhanced methane emissions from both terrestrial and oceanic clathrates. Deposits of methane clathrates below the sea floor are susceptible to destabilization via ocean warming. However, sea level rise due to changes in ocean mass enhances clathrate stability in the ocean. While difficult to formally assess, initial estimates of the 21st century feedback from methane clathrate destabilization are small but not insignificant. It is very unlikely that methane from clathrates will undergo catastrophic release during the 21st century (high confidence). On multi-millennial timescales, such methane emissions may provide a positive feedback to anthropogenic warming and may be irreversible, due to the difference between release and accumulation timescales. {6.4.7, 12.5.5} “

    (My emphasis)

    I think we can reasonably call a video suggesting imminent doom (total extinction) based on a scenario the IPCC assess as “very unlikely” with “high confidence” too alarmist. When coupled with the unsubtle mood music and over the top projections of impacts (total extinction of all life), this video falls into the same category of science reporting as such classics as “The great global warming swindle”.

  11. Thanks Tom. Yes, if the IPCC says with high confidence that catastrophic methane release in the 21st century is very unlikely then this video would seem like a bit of an own goal.

  12. To be short:
    It’s too alarmist.

    The long why:
    Firstly this video is designed to get an emotional response with the narrative it uses, the pictures/video it uses, and the music it uses. Anyone who has a bit of a background in video editing and script writing will recognise this instantly.

    The individual statements made by the scientists, and a few others, by themselves aren’t wrong or alarmist. Considering what is published in the literature they’re giving a fair description. However, how it is edited makes those statements tell a story that isn’t supported by the literature.

    The first person they used a clip from already was talking about centuries, yet the video gives the impression that this is a short term risk. It isn’t a short term risk with the time it takes to warm up oceans. It will eventually be the consequence of no mitigation and current trends of CO2 emissions. But it was already pointed out that it’s very unlikely to happen this century (see IPCC comment).

    Permafrost is a different story and this one is the wild card that can come into play this century. It’s indeed already destabilizing and we’re not sure how it will react and how fast. But with what we know it’s probably not a big pulse, more of a sustained release (the big question is when and time scales).

    This video is trying too hard to sell the dangers of the road we’re currently on. This could have been told in a way that is more detailed, represents the topic fairly, and conveys the real short term and long term threats (I find this a tad insulting towards the intellect of the average viewer). That story is already ‘alarming’ enough to spur people into action. And that video would actually inform the viewer far better than this one.

  13. Rachel says:

    But the video does not say that methane release will happen this century. He doesn’t give a time frame and he even says that the tipping point may be centuries away. And he doesn’t predict the extinction of all life. He just says that the Permian mass extinction wiped out 95% of all life. Is this wrong?

    I don’t really understand why the line is drawn at the year 2100: anything that happens before this year is supposedly alarming, while everything that happens afterwards is nothing to worry about. Seems a bit arbitrary to me.

    I agree that the music is not so great.

  14. I think the problem is that his graphs went to 2100. Maybe if one was concentrating very carefully it would be clear that he was referring to in the coming centuries, but even I got the impression that he was referring to what might happen around 2100. So, I tend to think that it is too alarmist. Partly because of what Tom pointed out – it would be easy to argue that it is not consistent with the IPCC conclusions – and partly – as Collin points out below – the style is clearly intended to provoke alarm. I don’t think you need both to appear to exaggerate or to have scary sounding music and narrative to present the scientific evidence in a way that should make it clear that being alarmed isn’t an unreasonable response.

  15. BBD says:

    The PETM started from a substantially warmer baseline than the present and appears to have been a response to a sustained release of CO2 over a long period (eg Cui et al. 2011; discussion here)

    Yes, the current rate of CO2 emission is apparently much higher than the rate that triggered the PETM and yes, permafrost melt is the wildcard. But even so, I suspect the majority view is correct: the video is alarmist.

  16. BBD says:

    Good to see the Tobis Gipper here btw 🙂

    MT is a man who tries to keep the conversation civil.

  17. Sou says:

    I guess everyone sees it differently. You asked about “the next 100 years or so” but the video put the risk in the context of centuries, not decades.

    One of my peeves is that people keep talking about the next 100 years – or less now, the next 86 years, as if that’s all that matters and as if the climate is going to stop changing on the stroke of midnight on the 31 December 2099. It’s what we do now that will affect earth not just for the next few decades, not just for the next few centuries, but for the next few thousand years and beyond.

    (By the way, I’m not suggesting that’s what you’re doing, Wotts. I’m talking in general.)

    I used to think that many people were capable of thinking generations ahead. I’m not so sure any more. I don’t think enough people give sufficient consideration to the impact of our current behaviour on the long term future of humankind and all life on earth.

    On the video itself, going by the comments so far, maybe it could have been more clear. And maybe it shouldn’t have talked about the destruction of all life on earth if temperatures rose 6, 8 or 12 degrees. Maybe the worst would be that only 50%, 70% or 90% of life would be annihilated over the next few centuries or millenia. Isn’t that bad enough?

  18. Sou says:

    I’ve just re-read the comments and see that Rachel made the same point that I did, and more concisely 🙂

  19. Rachel says:

    I’m with you on this one Sou. People talk of 2 degrees and the year 2100 as though everything stops with both. Our society seems so short-sighted. We build stuff that falls apart after 10 years. Even toasters don’t last more than 5 years these days. It’s short-term profits over everything else.

    If there’s a risk that something catastrophic will happen after the year 2100 and that is accurately conveyed in a video, then I don’t see how it can be considered alarmist. If there are mistakes in the video, then that’s a different matter and they should be corrected. Something can’t be considered alarmist just because the music is scary.

    Someone said something to me today with regards to communicating climate science to the public. They said that the public do not understand what 2 degrees warmer means. It doesn’t sound like anything to worry about so most of the public is not concerned.

  20. BG says:

    I think another new finding may say that the release was quite rapid:

  21. BG says:

    I was kinda sitting here thinking about the same as you two. Here (in the US) we get a steady drumbeat about the ‘Founding Fathers,’ yada, yada, yada. Hey, 1776 was 237 years ago (if I did my math right). What would people be saying now, 237 years later, if they had conveyed to us some nasty ‘hothouse’ conditions, from which there is no turning back the clock. Other than ‘let’s sit tight for a 1000 years for things to settle back down.’

  22. Yes, of course I agree that the next 100 (or 86) is not all that matters and we shouldn’t ignore what might happen in the following centuries. I don’t think my question misrepresented the video (intentionally or not, it did give the impression that we could reach a tipping point by 2100) but I was also just using the video as a way of finding out more about what we know (and don’t know) with regards to methane and I’ve certainly learned a few things I didn’t know 🙂

  23. BBD says:

    Thanks for bringing this up. Here’s a link to the full paper if anyone is interested. I will read it now.

  24. idunno says:

    Here’s the most relevent page from Wikipedia, without any scary music, but it scares the Bejaysus out of me:

    Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov seem to be the world experts on the situation in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf; where there are large shallow methane hydrate deposits in a sea which has already undergone a remarkable change of state in recent years, changing from mainly ice-covered to mainly ice-free by summer’s end:

    Here is a link which aggregates a lot on their work,..

    (Shakova appears to be slightly the more optimistic, cheerful soul between the two of them.)

    Wotts, last time I visited you were fed up, sounding depressed and snowed under with work. If you think that getting into this can of worms is going to cheer you up, well, words fail me, but I doubt for your longevity. Absolutely none of my business, but however bad getting that pile of paperwork done may seem, I reckon it can’t be worse than this.


  25. Thanks. I guess I was a bit fed up, but a good rant did me a world of good. Plus, I’ve got more done this week than I had expected I would. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you put your mind to it.

    I suspect getting involved in a discussion about methane with people who may disagree but are still constructive in their criticism will be a nice change to the type of discussions I’ve had with some 🙂

  26. BBD says:

    Well, Wright & Schaller (2013) is either the most important paper written about the PETM since it was identified, or completely wrong 🙂

    If the authors’ apparently reasonable and convincing interpretation of the repeated pattern of sedimentary deposition in the cores they examined is correct, then they have described an annually resolved record of the onset of the PETM itself. From this, they infer that ~3000 GtC was released to the atmosphere in just 13 years. The likely cause shifts from the formation of a large igneous province to a bolide impact.

    Wow. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. Thanks again BG for posting this up.

  27. toby52 says:

    I think I remember David Archer (he of U of Chicago who occasionally blogs at Real Climate) saying that if we could not control CO2 emissions there was no point in worrying about methane – we were screwed anyway. That may not have been the way he put it, and I hope I got it right! However, ever since then, I have tended not to get excited about methane.

  28. idunno says:

    Too alarmist, or not enough?

    Just found this

    Read it and weep, or don’t read it and sleep.

  29. I had seen that and the first thing that sprang into my mind was that some would look at this story and say “see, it’s happened before and it was even faster. What’s happening now (if anything is happening) must be natural.”

  30. BG says:

    BBD has a link to the full paper in comment @ 6:07pm above.

  31. Sorry for asking dumb questions: Tom quotes “It is very unlikely that methane from clathrates will undergo catastrophic release during the 21st century (high confidence).” OK – but what do we know about when a “catastrophic release” (by some given definition, maybe the temp doubling the video mentions) becomes inevitable? i.e. some sense of the range of accumulated co2 that may hit it? That’s key, isn’t it? Not whether it happens in the next 90 years but when we’re at risk of having set the boulder rolling down the hill for future generations?

  32. I think that’s a good question and is what Sou and Rachel were discussing earlier. However, as I think BBD was pointing out, the PETM started from a higher baseline, so a 6 degree rise then would have been more significant than a 6 degree rise today. So, the general view – if I understand it correctly – is that it is unlikely that we will reach a methane tipping point by 2100. That, however, does not mean that we should be unconcerned since if we choose to do nothing then we will, potentially, reach such a tipping point at a later stage and that, in my opinion at least, is something wen should be aiming to avoid.

  33. dbostrom says:

    Gavin of RC alluded to some doubt about whether the layers involved are truly varves, i.e. annual deposits. Unfortunately Gavin was not forthcoming about specifically why this question about the deposition frequency is in play.

  34. BBD says:

    The PETM provides evidence that when a large amount of CO2/CH4 (~3000 GtC) is released into the atmosphere, global average temperature rises by ~6C with substantial polar amplification. At a fundamental level it doesn’t really matter whether the release took 10ka or 13 years – the peak response and the ~150ka it took for temperatures to return to pre-PETM levels are the things of greatest relevance to understanding potential future climate change.

    The rather revolutionary conclusions of Wright & Schaller (2013) about the rapidity of the release are very interesting in their own right and hopefully will stand out from the inevitable noise.

  35. BBD says:

    To be clear, the essential point is that we *do not* want to release ~3000 GtC from geological sinks, either rapidly or slowly.

  36. Tom Curtis says:

    If Wright and Schaller are correct about the seasonal resolution of the marlborough clay, then that would demonstrate that the PETM is not an example of a clathrate gun. Rather it must have been (as they suggest) from massive volcanism or from impact of a large carbonaceous meteor.

  37. Steve Bloom says:

    Or possibly a runaway burning of Antarctic permafrost, per another recent paper.

  38. Steve Bloom says:

    Although Mora et al. seem to have hit on something in terms of getting the public to pay attention (despite no significant new science in the paper).

  39. Steve Bloom says:

    I’ll have more to say on this all too interesting topic, but for now I’ll point out that the extensive shallow clathrate deposits we see in the Arctic today couldn’t have existed at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary. IOW warming from deep currents is thought to have been needed to set off much deeper deposits (and on a pretty large scale to overcome bacterial action in the water column), which IIRC is the basis for David Archer (among others) saying that the process can’t be all that fast. By extension, it makes sense that the present shallow deposits would be set off much more quickly. But how quickly? My concern is that the inability of the models to handle a transition from current to Pliocene-like climate (see), with the shortfall focused on polar amplification, is masking a rapid increase in water temperatures that would closely follow an initial summer sea ice-free event, and that this will be enough to do the job (with land permafrost deposits likely to be involved as well). Note that Ballantyne et al. (2013) (no public copy, sorry) found that the models can do mid-Pliocene climate nicely given ice-free initial conditions. Also, while the Pleistocene-era shallow Arctic clathrate deposits would have been present in recent interglacials, from what I know it seems unlikely that they would have been subjected to the same sort of fast warming pulse as at present; IOW, even if they did melt out to some extent, it would have been a much slower process with little climate impact. Now I need to read that new paper.

  40. Steve Bloom says:

    Here’s the DeConto et al. (2012) paper proposing an Antarctic permafrost role for the onset of the PETM. IIRC they’re not excluding clathrate involvement at a later stage. In a nutshell, the advantage of this hypothesis over the clathrate one is its ability to explain the subsequent series of increasingly less strong hyperthermals.

    Please to add the close tag above? TIA.

  41. Rob Painting says:

    The meteor impact hypothesis is rather weak. There were repeated hyperthermals throughout the Eocene coinciding with orbital parameters. See for example De Conto et al (2012) – Past extreme warming events linked to massive carbon release from thawing permafrost.

    The PETM still remains a great mystery, as all of the hypotheses for the source of the carbon have rather significant problems.

  42. andrew adams says:

    Well while we’re on the subject of alarmism, here is a piece which certainly overdoes the apocalyptic language.

    Apocalypse Now: Unstoppable man-made climate change will become reality by the end of the decade and could make New York, London and Paris uninhabitable within 45 years, claims new study

    The irony is that it appears in the Daily Mail of all places.

  43. Steve Bloom says:

    Although if it happened under present conditions it would go all the way to 12C. There’s no reason for it to stop at 6 degrees.

  44. Rachel says:

    If must be true if it’s in the Daily Mail 😉

  45. Steve Bloom says:

    Just so, Rob. I linked a public copy below.

  46. Steve Bloom says:

    Maybe they had that abandoned Trafalgar Square graphic laying around and really wanted to use it. Although I do wonder, why is it always Trafalgar Square, why not e.g. Milton Keynes? 🙂

  47. Rachel says:

    Yes, I’ve just been looking at this –

    Very easy to understand.

  48. The Daily Mail loves hyperbole. And, next week, they’ll have an article decrying alarmists, referring back to their own reporting of the week before.

    But, if you count the articles up, by about five to one, the Daily Mail is a denier rag. The others are there for it to claim balance.

  49. Steve Bloom says:

    Yeah, although the correction on that last Rose article was a rarity for them. Given everything else going on, I have to suspect both the correction and the tone of the new article are not unrelated to the Privy Council business (and to l’affaire Miliband as well).

  50. Just wanted to say thanks to everyone for the comments. It’s been very interesting and useful and I’ve certainly learned things that I did not know and, I believe, there are others who have found the discussion very informative.

  51. Tom Crowley says:

    “By promoting a sense of inevitability about our doom such efforts actually support the status quo, which benefits as much from panicked paralysis as it does from indifference.”

    This in my opinion has to be questioned. We are not rational ask any bookmaker, politician or dealer. Anyone who has sold anything will tell you the product or concept was brought on emotion. If you doubt that, the advertising world the MSM the banking and fossil corporates have no opposition from a bunch of intelligent people with a warning to humanity about the only world they live in.
    This is really getting down to watching TV while the house is burning time.Now dont tell me we are going to be found dead on the couch by the firefighters from panicked paralysis ?
    Nobody told us. Kill the messenger. This video is only going to be seen by the choir, ironically this post might be seen by a few deniers. I watch the media, the alarmist story is the only thing to get attention. The vast majority of people are uncomfortable on this subject, as long as a debate goes on, the verdict unannounced they can afford to wait.
    I can only provide my own testimony here. I would have considered myself knowledgeable from 30 yrs ago.I knew the basics, I read the papers followed the politics of cutting emissions. In hindsight equipped with more than enough to talk about it but not enough to really understand or do something about it.
    In June of 2012 some newspaper article on The Arctic melting rate triggered my internal alarm system enough to go in search of more information. Lots more information later and I shed a tear watching Shakova video at 7 min mark. We are emotional beings with response to short term horizons of threat. Personally speaking when Climate became personal in my horizon I started then and only then to attempt to do something. If only 15% “get it” thats enough for everyone to “get it”. Denial in my opinion will soon be a flat earth concept.
    When your raw emotional side kicks in as in the part where you propose marriage, cry at your childs birth or bury a parent meets the reality of implications of our changing world I think there can only be one outcome. Yes it does stop you dead in your tracks but not permanent. All anyone wants in this life is to make sure the next generation have a better one.
    The Status Quo cant handle Climate Change.The political establishment still responds to the people,stopping missiles being launched on Syria the best recent example.The simple fact is that cutting emissions kills the economic growth paradigm. Just because the perfect alternative is not sitting packaged on the shelf does not mean we have to continue on the current path.
    This is actually the greatest get out of jail card for world politicians. Instead of trying to flog the dead horse with impossible promises of growth and jobs they can declare a world emergency. I can see them on the plinth of some future G20 stage managed with the Madmen of the world presenting the alarming calamity of positive feedback just discovered. Mobilisation of the world with immediate effect. All debt wiped out and reset button hit,basic income, cars banned, free roof paint.brownouts….. At some stage something radical has to be tried as the current plate spinning exercise is getting harder to maintain.

    I have read and listened over the past year to the volume knob being raised by climate scientists and a few journalists. I really think that the more uncomfortable it makes us the closer we are to our own tipping point. Everyone talks about the weather and as the cost in lives and damage from extreme events increases they do not want to be the fool who was the last to start talking about why the ice cap melting has screwed the weather.I know when I post articles like this one on twitter they are read without comment or usual twitter banter engagement.But uncomfortable as it makes us its here in our time affecting us. going to get worse for our kids and no one can be certain after that.

    We are the most aggressive clever species on this planet. History has shown when we collaborate we are simultaneously at our most dangerous and creative. As for methane release being alarming, it is. So it goes to the heart of this question
    “I don’t know whether it’s possible for democracy to really act on a balance of evidence rather than on emotional manipulation. ”
    I think if we don’t act soon people will only have “panicked paralysis” option.
    For me we had 30 years of dithering and mother nature is in no mood to give us more time.

  52. Yeah right. Did you see what he did with Tom Fuller’s comments? You might not remember because you, at the time, were busy bashing windmill owners.

  53. Personally, I’ve been very impressed with how Michael Tobis conducts himself, but am unaware of what may or may not have happened with regards to Tom Fuller’s comments. However, I don’t really want this to degenerate into a discussion about whether or not a particular individual is civil or not.

  54. BBD says:

    More cheap shots at delegitimisation. What would be left of you if we took away the malice and dishonesty?

  55. andrew adams says:

    I guess some people might see Milton Keynes being laid to waste as a not altogether undesirable consequence of AGW 😉

  56. andrew adams says:

    Oh sure, I don’t suppose this is any great conversion on the Mail’s part. Everything is always at the extremes for them so AGW is either a hoax perpetuated by environmentalists and governments or something which will wipe out civilisation as we know it (not that the truth is necessarily half way between those extremes).

    I guess it’s a bit like how they divide foods between those that cure (or prevent) cancer and those that give you cancer.

  57. andrew adams says:

    Meanwhile, a bit OT but this is the most entertaining climate related news story of the day.

    And this is one of the best comments ever

    (Her reply to the first comment is pretty good as well)

  58. BBD says:

    @ JHS

    But, if you count the articles up, by about five to one, the Daily Mail is a denier rag. The others are there for it to claim balance.

    You are dead right there. Here’s an overview of the sources used by the DM for climate-related stories. Well, well. The vast majority comes from the GWPF thanks to Paul Dacre’s chumminess with Lord Lawson. I believe both share a broadly similar worldview.

  59. Too right. And it’s always worth checking out the familial connection between the Lawsons and the Moncktons.

  60. BBD says:

    Yes I know about Rosa. I’m quite interested in the GWPF, actually. Small world, isn’t it?


  61. BBD says:

    I think I’m in love.

  62. Earthling says:

    “Don’t people want to know the truth? I do. Even if it’s horrible I still want the truth.”

    Yes, of course, but what’s “the truth,” and how do you know you’re being told the truth?

  63. Rachel says:

    That’s a separate question. My statement follows from the assumption that you (or somebody) already knows the truth. Should you tell person X the truth even though it will crush them? Or do you fluff it up a bit so as not to alarm them? I’m not a fan of distorting the truth just to make people feel better.

    If you want to discuss more philosophically, “what is truth”, then you’re talking to the wrong person.

  64. Rachel says:


    (sorry for the double smiley. I hit the wrong reply).

  65. Rachel says:

    Can anyone tell me whether this recent paper by Mora et all is any good? I mean, is there any constructive criticism of it that I should know about or has it been generally supported by the scientific community? And more specifically, is the app at the Washington Post correct?

  66. Steve Bloom says:

    Generally supported, yes, and I would characterize the small amount of flack it’s gotten as more envy than anything else. It couldn’t really be more than that since all the paper did was update (per the new model runs) known material and give it a slick presentation.

    The graphic appears to be taken directly (and accurately as far as I can see) from material on the paper’s very fancy website. Somebody involved with this knew exactly what sort of thing the media likes.

    Oh, and I see that in the last day or so the clever folks at Nature have made the paper open access. Good for them, although I suspect their decision had a lot to do with driving traffic to their site.

  67. idunno says:

    (Replying to Rachel, a couple of posts up)

    The Mora paper is being discussed here…,598.0.html

  68. Rachel says:

    Thanks Steve and Idunno.

  69. Martin Lack says:

    With my thanks to Rachel for bringing this post to my attention, I now repeat what I have said to her on my own blog:

    What does too alarmist” actually mean? Is there evidence that we are nearing a tipping point beyond which change will accelerate faster than we can possibly adapt to it? Yes there is. Is there evidence for previous mass extinctions caused by such change? Yes there is. We are not talking about prophecies based on faulty interpretations of Biblical texts here. We are talking about evidence of palaeoclimatic analogues for the change we are now observing. Therefore, as a geologist, I think people should be alarmed but, importantly, I do not think we should be fatalistic. There is a great deal of evidence that methane release from Arctic permafrost seabed is already happening. Even more unfortunately, as the video suggests, we will only be sure we have passed the tipping point when it is too late. Based on my understanding of Permian palaeoclimatology (something I fist studied in southwest Devon in 1986), I believe we are running very short of time to prevent a runaway greenhouse effect (i.e. less than 10 years) but, crucially, I also believe that it is not yet too late to stop it.

  70. Martin Lack says:

    I agree with you, Rachel. However, I am unfamiliar with the debate that has been going on about the modelling. See also my response to the blog author, below.

  71. Martin Lack says:

    Correct me if I am wrong but, it is my understanding that, methane release rates from boreal permafrost and arctic seabed have already been observed to be accelerating? These two observed trends are amongst the 10 positive feedback mechanisms already active, as identified by Guy McPherson (of Naturebatslast fame). All of this being as summarised on my blog earlier this year.

  72. Yes, I tend to agree. My concern with this video essentially relates to whether or not it will be effective. Partly, it could be used as ammunition : “see, we’ve been telling you that these people are too alarmist”. Noone can really dispute that the style is intended to invoke feelings of alarm. The other issue is that, as others have pointed out, there is low confidence in the likelihood of some kind of methane bomb. This mean that we don’t really know but it does mean that some can claim that this video is based on uncertain evidence. So, in sense, I just worry that it could work the wrong way. To be fair, though, I don’t actually know what will work and – like you – think we we’re running out of time to prevent a certain amount of damage. Whether the timescale is 10 years or not, I don’t know but at some point in the not too distant future it will probably be clear that we should have acted earlier and then we may wonder we didn’t present more in the style of this video. Hindsight is 20:20 vision though.

  73. Rachel says:

    Martin, I believe arctic methane release is accelerating but apparently not fast enough to be worried about a “methane belch”. There are some scientists who think 50 billions tonnes could be released within a decade (see, but this is hotly contested by others. (see

  74. Martin Lack says:

    Given the evidence of what is already happening and Nature’s preference for all things non-linear, I think the ‘low confidence in methane bomb’ in IPCC AR5 is a good example of the way in which national governments get to tone-down things they do not want the public to hear… Having one positive feedback mechanism in play (e.g. bright ice being replaced by dark water in the Arctic Sea) would be bad enough. Having numerous positive feedback mechanisms in play simultaneously makes for a highly-unpredictable situation where things could get a great deal worse very suddenly.

  75. But even people have some very odd ideas – IMO. I had a discussion (on Twitter) with someone a few days ago who’s basic argument was that they could find evidence (greening of the deserts) that suggested benefits from increased CO2 and warming. However, they claimed, they could find no evidence that anything catastrophic had yet happened. I tried pointing out that this was the whole reason for trying to do something now (to avoid anything catastrophic happening) and that if something catastrophic had indeed already happened, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion (i.e., we’d all agree that something should be done). That argument didn’t seem to be seen as particularly credible.

  76. Pingback: Arctic emergency? | And Then There's Physics

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