Open Mind

George Monbiot pulls no punches

January 26, 2009 · 75 Comments

Categories: Global Warming

75 responses so far ↓

  • Georg Hoffmann // January 26, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Hilarious. If you think about it I guess the Shell guy really is on the “green”, “transparent” and relatively “concerned” side of the buiseness.

  • Zeke Hausfather // January 26, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Some good stuff in there, though I think Monbiot’s criticism of the Easyjet folks for not applying a discount rate to their carbon offsets is a bit tenuous. The marginal difference in impact of a ton of carbon emitted today and 5 years from now is fairly negligible, given that the current impacts of climate change are small relative to the future impacts of climate change. After all, damages increase exponentially with temperature (which is a reason why short-term albedo-related GHG abatement projects like painting your roof white are problematic, but that’s another story).

  • David B. Benson // January 27, 2009 at 1:35 am

    Zeke Hausfather // January 26, 2009 at 8:45 pm wrote “… damages increase exponentially with temperature …” Could you write more about this viewpoint?

  • naught101 // January 27, 2009 at 8:26 am

    Zeke Hausfather // January 26, 2009 at 8:45 pm
    “…albedo-related GHG abatement…”

    That doesn’t make any sense. You can’t reduce GHGs by increasing the albedo of something. I wish people wouldn’t conflate the two…

  • michel // January 27, 2009 at 11:02 am

    George largely destroyed his credibility with his readers recently, when he attacked the AGA in his Guardian column. You will not all know what the AGA is. Its a sort of huge kitchen stove that burns continuously, winter and summer, and consumes some 2500-3000 liters or so of fuel oil annually. It maintains all cooking surfaces and ovens at constant temperatures, and in the summer you open the doors and windows to keep the kitchen bearable. Yes, even in an English summer.

    So rural middle class Britain is infatuated with this diabolical machine, because it suits their cooking habits, they do not require adjustable temps for the kind of food they like, and it has romantic associations for them.

    George was brave or foolish enough to wonder whether burning a thousand or two liters of fuel oil in the summer in order to cook was really Green, and concluded it wasn’t, at which point the entire ecology movement in the UK turned off him and stopped reading.

    It was a Reagan moment - the moment at which Reagan found it impossible to understand that if he, an advocate of small government and no deficit, increased military spending beyond all previously known peacetime limits, the result would be a huge deficit and bigger government. He knew that would not happen. Well similarly, the ecological movement in the UK knows that the AGA is Green, and that when they burn their thousand+ liters in the summer, that too is Green. As Green as green wellington boots and green Barbour jackets.

    George also further alienated the few readers he then retained by admitting to considering voting Tory. Because Labour is going to build a new Heathrow runway and expand air traffic, which the Tories will stop. So, he mused, maybe the right thing to do was vote Tory?

    Similarly, his readers know that Labour=Green, and that Labour runways are different from Tory runways. Labour’s do not contribute to Global Warming. George might not be one of us. He was showing dangerous signs of thinking, for the first time in 20+ years.

    So don’t rely on George as a spokesperson for Green UK. He is losing it, very fast.

  • dhogaza // January 27, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Though I doubt whether or not Michel’s analysis of UK politics is any more accurate than his assessment of climate science, the fact is that Monbiot’s credibility on environmental affairs doesn’t depend on any way on the reaction of his readers.

    This is just another way of saying “well, if 1/2 the US doesn’t believe in evolution, then modern biology is clearly bogus”.

  • Zeke Hausfather // January 27, 2009 at 3:10 pm


    I’m quoting the Stern Review on the exponential damages part, but it makes intuitive sense. The damages associated with 1 degree C warming are quite small, 2 degrees is somewhat bad, 3 degrees is quite bad, and you quickly head off into potentially catastrophic impacts. The exponential relationship between damages and temperatures is a function of both non-linear responses in the climate system and the limits of adaptive capacity of humans and the natural environment to rapid temperature change past a certain magnitude.

  • JCH // January 27, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Has he done a similar interview with British Petroleum?

    For most of my time in the oil industry natural gas has sort of been a curse. Places served with a pipeline and a natural gas market already had way way too much gas. In Texas we would groan when we hit natural gas. “Oh no, not more of that useless crap.”

    The world is full of drivers, and they demand crude oil. Nigeria had/has it. It also had no market for the associated natural gas. It was trash. There is no way to extract the oil without also extracting gas. The Nigerians would have objected strenuously to having their oil exports shut down, so this is not all on Shell.

    In Nigeria the production companies have invested billions in gas liquifying plants, and in the transportation systems and storage facilities necessary to get the stuff to a market. They can do that now because the historic situation with respect to natural gas has changed.

  • michel // January 27, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    George is getting even worse. Read today’s fulmination about Labour:

    Along the way, almost every policy that distinguished [the present government] from John Major’s corrupt and pointless regime has been abandoned.

    The difference between these two moments is that now there is nowhere to turn. There are the minor parties, but they have been systematically excluded by another broken promise: the failure to reform the electoral system. New Labour has engineered the worst of all worlds; it has sustained a system that ensures only one of two parties has a chance of power, and it has rooted out the policies that made a choice between the two worthwhile. At least when the Tories were in government we could dream of something better.

    It is fitting and unsurprising that the scene of the new scandal is the unelected second chamber, whose proper reform Blair and Brown have spent 12 years avoiding. The deregulation of the banks, the love affair with the neocons, the failure to tax the rich, Peter Mandelson … is there any slithering cop-out that has not now returned to haunt this government…

    He is making a serious point, joking apart, that something very odd is happening in Britain to political positions on the environment and economy. In practical terms, the Tories are further to the right on the role of government than Labour, but also more committed to environmentalist measures. The Liberals are further to the left than Labour (which is not hard) but they also are more committed to environmental measures. Well, Labour is hardly committed to them at all, what with new runways, roads and subsidies for car manufacturers.

    Both Liberals and Tories are also in opposition, from both left and right, to the assault on civil liberties which the Labour Party has been leading.

    Its not surprising that George is voicing anger and confusion. The old certainties are being torn up in front of him, and he and lots of others really are having to choose between Labour and the environment. And Labour and civil liberties too. And Labour and sleaze. Its a sea change, and goodness knows how it will work out in the end.

    Its comparable in scale to how it would be if Republicans and Democrats were to switch positions on the environment. Amazing.

  • David B. Benson // January 27, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Zeke Hausfather // January 27, 2009 at 3:10 pm — Thank you.

  • pough // January 27, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    michel, thank you for the peek into Bizarro World, where you can describe two examples of responsible journalism as “losing it” and “getting worse.” Me am ungrateful!

  • dhogaza // January 27, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Its comparable in scale to how it would be if Republicans and Democrats were to switch positions on the environment. Amazing.

    To a large extent that did, in reagan’s day. After all, it was during Nixon’s administration that most of the US environmental laws were passed - ESA, NEPA, NFMA, Clean Air Act, etc.

    And at the moment, auto-zone and coal-zone old-fashioned labor democrats are already screaming about Obama’s first steps towards curbing greenhouse gases.

  • Adam // January 27, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    From Monbiot’s column where he mentions Agas:

    “So where is the campaign against Agas? There isn’t one. I’ve lost count of the number of aspirational middle-class greens I know who own one of these monsters and believe that they are somehow compatible (perhaps because they look good in a country kitchen) with a green lifestyle. The campaign against Agas - which starts here - will divide rich greens down the middle.

    But it is even more stupid to dismiss all environmentalism as a middle-class whim. It’s the poor who live beside polluting factories, whose lives are wrecked by opencast mining, who can’t afford to move away from the motorways or flood zones. They are hit first and worst by climate change. Those who claim that all environmentalists are middle or upper class ignore the tens of millions of peasants and labourers who have mobilised on green issues in South Asia, Africa and Latin America(7). They indulge a transparent sophistry: some greens are aristocrats; all green issues are therefore the preserve of toffs.”

    One or few rich people (you need to be to buy an aga) who think they are “green”, like to own Agas (even fewer than the number of “green” people who own barbours and green wellies). Many in the environmental movement cheered those sentiments.

    Here’s the full article about the fact that virtually nothing separates Labour & the Tories:

    The only certainties in UK politics in in the last fifteen years was that Blair’s (now Brown’s) Labour would be no different to the Tories. No certainties lost there.

  • Timothy Chase // January 27, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Zeke Hausfather wrote:

    I’m quoting the Stern Review on the exponential damages part, but it makes intuitive sense. The damages associated with 1 degree C warming are quite small, 2 degrees is somewhat bad, 3 degrees is quite bad, and you quickly head off into potentially catastrophic impacts.

    I had thought of it that way, but I wondered if there might be a more physical reason as well — and I think I may have one. (Note: this is coming from someone who wouldn’t ever claim to be an expert.) According to the Clausius-Claperyon relation, water vapor pressure is an exponential function of temperature, and therefore the rate of evaporation (with consequences for drought) and general strength of the hydrological cycle (with consequences for flooding) should increase roughly exponentially with the increase in temperature. Then water flux will of course have its effects upon atmospheric flow and ocean circulation, and of course the same relation will govern methane vapor pressure, etc..


    [Response: Vapor pressure is an exponential function of negative inverse temperature, so I don't think water vapor forcing will necessarily be an exponential function of temperature. And of course greenhouse forcing due to water vapor isn't proportional to the vapor pressure anyway.

    I think talk of "exponential increase" should usually be taken in a colloquial rather than mathematical sense. For example, "damage increases exponentially with temperature" probably can't be demonstrated, and I very much doubt that each increase of x degrees leads to a doubling of damage. In the colloquial sense, however, "increases exponentially" is often used to indicate that something shows a nonlinear behavior, with rapidly increasing slope.]

  • Kipp Alpert // January 27, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    David B.Benson: Positive feedback loops grow exponentially. The Arctic is a good example. Less Ice means less reflectivity, and more warming; Another is the boreal forests. More warmth more insects, and leaf damage, trees dying. Each season the problem grows larger. Warmer waters, take in less CO2. So, this is why I think that the IPCC projections are a little conservative. Later, Kipp

  • Dave A // January 27, 2009 at 10:04 pm


    You could well be right about George. Nick Cohen in his book ‘What’s Left?’, notes that he was about to give a speech to a Green gathering in The Netherlands (IIRC) when he realised that to achieve their aims they would need to have totalitarian government.

    Insights like this can be devastating.

  • Dave A // January 27, 2009 at 10:09 pm


    I realise my last comment could be read wrongly!. Cohen was referring to George M about to give a speech.

  • Zeke Hausfather // January 28, 2009 at 1:43 am

    Tamino is correct, of course. I should have written “increases nonlinearly”, but that does not have quite the same ring.

    That said, there are some impacts that do follow fairly exponential curves, at least up to a point. I recall a Nordhaus paper awhile back demonstrating that you can model the financial damage from a hurricane striking a given location by the wind speed ^ 3. Of course, this relationship clearly would not hold true between a hypothetical hurricane with winds of, say, 1000 mph and 1100 mph, given that everything would be destroyed either way.

  • Timothy Chase // January 28, 2009 at 5:12 am

    Tamino wrote:

    [Response: Vapor pressure is an exponential function of negative inverse temperature, so I don't think water vapor forcing will necessarily be an exponential function of temperature. And of course greenhouse forcing due to water vapor isn't proportional to the vapor pressure anyway.

    I wouldn’t say that water vapor pressure forcing is an exponential function of temperature, but that water vapor pressure is an exponential function of temperature, more or less along these lines:

    Water Mass Analysis and the Deep Ocean Circulation
    Claes Rooth

    I. General Background

    The main effect of the ocean on the atmosphere is due to the sea surface temperature because the salinity variations are too small to significantly affect the water vapor pressure, and the roughness of the sea surface is also relatively unimportant. The sea surface temperature affects the atmosphere primarily by controlling the evaporation rate (the water vapor pressure doubles for every 10 C rise), and also by a smaller sensible heat transfer.

    Notes on the 1976 Summer Study Program in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics at The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, pg. 56
    (Emphasis added)

    Then the effects upon the hydrological cycle should be more or less proportional to the water vapor pressure — as a rule of thumb — or so I would presume.

    With respect to radiative forcing, I would expect that to grow as a logarithmic function of the water vapor pressure — just as for carbon dioxide. But since water vapor pressure grows as an exponential function of temperature (roughly doubling with every ten degrees Celsius), this will result in a linear change in radiative forcing…

  • Timothy Chase // January 28, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Actually, the equation that would probably be most relevant to what I was trying to communicate regarding the behavior of the climate system as a function of temperature would be the Arden Buck Equation (1996) for saturation vapor pressure as a function of temperature for moist air — an empirical result that works well in the range -80 - 50 C:

    pw = 6.1121 exp((18.678 - T/234.5) T/(257.14+T))

    Arden Buck Equation

    However, when you run the equation for the range 14.5 C to 20.5 C the effects upon saturation vapor pressure do not deviate that far from the linear. As such, I do not be that the deviation from linearity from the rough doubling of saturation vapor pressure for every 10 C is that significant within the range that we are interested in, that is, the first 6 C.


    Moreover, it doesn’t make sense really to speak of the exponential behavior of a physical or economic system as a function of some physical parameter unless one specifies the dimension over which the expoential behavior is being exhibited. Of course, there is just such a dimension that is mentioned in the piece Zeke references: economic costs.

    But what generates costs? Exceeding the engineered tolerances or capacities of human structures. And tolerances are typically built to withstand conditions for a given time frame, e.g., the water level tolerances of a levy made to withstand anything up to a hundred year flood, such that when the hundred year flood suddenly becomes the once every decade or five years flood we are in trouble.

    No doubt the same principle applies to ecological systems. What was the sort of drought that occurs once every five hundred years may end up taking place every decade or so, such that a given region never has the ability to fully recover from the previous drought and enters a state of decline. What we are more likely to see might be thought of as phase transitions, from ice to open sea, forest to desert, where the regional dryness of the underbrush makes possible fires on a far larger scale than might otherwise exist, or a city which goes from being able to afford to stand in place or grow to one that is faced with regular catostrophic costs and enters a state of decline.


    Incidentally, here is Gore’s opening statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

    We’ve Arrived at a Moment of Decision
    Al Gore
    Posted January 28, 2009 | 10:43 AM (EST)

  • Dave A // January 28, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Timothy C,

    Gore says

    ” Our economy is in its deepest recession since the 1930s. And our national security is endangered by a vicious terrorist network and the complex challenge of ending the war in Iraq honorably while winning the military and political struggle in Afghanistan.”

    And then immediately says

    “As we search for solutions to all three of these challenges, it is becoming clearer that they are linked by a common thread - our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels”

    Now, logically tell me how these two statements are related?

  • chriscolose // January 28, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    I have a paper out that (I think) gives a somewhat decent treatment of climate feedbacks, with a little mathematics to it. Equation 17 relates the saturation vapor pressure to temperature (Clausius-Clapeyron). There’s clearly a near-exponential relationship.

    On the conversation– Absorption of longwave radiation changes like the logarithm of the concentration, so it’s the fractional changes in water vapor mass that count. Most of the water vapor feedback occurs in the upper troposphere (not the boundary layer), and more in the tropics than the extratropics. At the poles, a significant amount of the water vapor feedback is in the shortwave spectrum but globally the longwave component is more important by almost an order of magnitude.

    btw– Monibot’s stare with those eye’s is priceless.

  • Dave A // January 28, 2009 at 9:28 pm


    Tell me, please do, what you think when you read such hyperbole/drivel from Gore?

    “Most importantly, as long as we continue to depend on dirty fossil fuels like coal and oil to meet our energy needs, and dump 70 million tons of global warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, we move closer and closer to several dangerous tipping points which scientists have repeatedly warned - again just yesterday - will threaten to make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable destruction of the conditions that make human civilization possible on this planet.”

  • dhogaza // January 28, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    Where’s the hyperbole except in the mind of denialists who don’t think AGW is real?

  • Timothy Chase // January 29, 2009 at 1:37 am

    Dave A quotes Gore, “‘As we search for solutions to all three of these challenges, it is becoming clearer that they are linked by a common thread - our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels…’”

    … then asks,

    “Now, logically tell me how these two statements are related?”

    We have been intent upon manipulating and supporting despots and despotic regimes in the Middle East due to its oil reserves since at least the Shah of Iran. (See for example “Modern Times” by Paul Johnson, the first edition of a fairly conservative history of the twentieth century from World War I up to the eighties.)

    We supported a genocidal Sadam Hussein as a counter-weight to the theocratic regime that took over Iran. When the pre-Taliban Afghanistan government was placed in power by the Soviet Union, we supported Afghan resistance fighters, taught them how to fight and supplied them with over-the-shoulder earth to air missiles — and they became the future Talaban and Al Qaida. We to went into the war in Iraq in order to establish over a dozen permanent US military bases and thus establish a platform from which to project US power throughout the region. And as the price of oil rises, so do the prices of products that we buy and the principals on the loans that we take out from China –when China appears destined to become the world rival superpower to the United States. The higher the prices on the oil rise the more indebted we become to China.

    And I must say that as an Objectivist I wasn’t at all surprised by Tiananamen when it first appeared on my television screen. They are ruled by a government that has been continuously in power since Mao Tse Tung killed 60 million of his own people — largely through the collectivization of agriculture and consequent mass starvation. By comparison, Hitler was responsible for “only” 11 million non-war related deaths of his own citizens and Joseph Stalin for 30 million of his. I don’t relish the thought of our country being so heavily indebted to that regime that it can increasingly dictate the conditions of our “relationship” with it.

    However, looking at the text of Gore’s blog entry, what you quoted was simply a lead-in to the testimony that he will give, and I am sure that he will go into some of this in greater detail later in that testimony.

  • Ray Ladbury // January 29, 2009 at 2:42 am

    Dave A., Perhaps you could indicate where what Gore is saying is inconsistent with the science. We know there are tipping points. We know some of them are near. We know that some of them could completely destroy any hope we have of maintaining a climate like that we have known throughout human civilization.

    As to the connection between the wars we are in and our our fossil fuel dependence… why in the hell would we care about Iraq if they didn’t have oil and we didn’t need it?

  • Timothy Chase // January 29, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    More on Gore…

    Nasa JPL AIRS (Atmospheric Infrared Sounder)

    … supplied images used in Gore’s testimony this week.

    They have a webpage on it here:

    AIRS CO2 Images used in Al Gore’s Testimony to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee

    … and they link to the full testimony here:


    John Kerry gives an extended introduction. States that the glaciers of the Himalayas supply water to nearly a billion people, but may be gone by 2035.

  • Kipp Alpert // January 30, 2009 at 2:54 am

    Ray Ladbury: Sometime in the future, our children and grandchildren will look back and read about James Hansen and Al Gore and see them in the same light that we see FDR and Churchill. Even though I think Hansen and not Gore should have one the prize, they stood up and were counted. They made a difference, in a hostile political climate. There were many before them, who should be recognized, and scientists do live in glass houses.

  • Kipp Alpert // January 30, 2009 at 4:45 am

    DaveA: Perhaps Al Gore believes in something you can’t, which is the human race. The only person that has been so full of himself, full of so much drivel, is you. Your constant whimpering is obnoxious. State your position, if you have one. Instead of complaining about the menu, go eat at Icecap. They need some new blood, since they won the Science blog award. They won while having zero comments on most of their threads. That’s good denial, but not as good as obstruction.

  • guthrie // January 30, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Speaking as a Briton who has been reading Monbiots works for years, have heard him speak, and has friends with Agas, I would like to confirm that Michels comment about losing readers and credibility is utterly bonkers.

  • Jay // January 30, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    I’ve been studying the AGW evidence & refereed papers & so forth & I fail to see what the near or long-term concern is about.

    If CO2 reaches some very high figure, say 1000 ppm, plants will thrive — which is good. Sure some areas will become harsher, but many others will become more habitable. Sea levels will rise a bit, or a lot, and some coaslines will be underwater…but there will still be coastlines. And whatever happens will take a hundred, or hundreds, of years.

    I have no doubt people can adapt at that leisurly pace. Evidence exists for that under the Greenland glaciers, where some old ‘Viking’ farms are currently buried under ice but for which the title/deed information is still on record.

    With a hundred, or even 10 or 20 years, to adapt the human race will be just fine. For a benchmark consider World War II, where most of Europe & the settled & industrialized parts of Russia, and much of Japan & China, were devestated to rubble in — relative to the pace of AGW changes — an instant on a comparable time scale. Millions died, families were destroyed, survivors were crippled phyically and/or emotionally, and the infrastructure to keep them alive and going was destroyed.

    And everybody did just fine in the long run. We as a species will have no problem adapting at a much much slower pace than we subjected ourselves to in two successive world wars. Especially when AGW includes some positive effects unlike war, which had none.

    To believe otherwise and see only gloom & doom when the facts include quite a lot of optimism, is to sell us short as a species. Things may become different, but in many places not by much, and in many things will be better.

  • dhogaza // January 30, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    If CO2 reaches some very high figure, say 1000 ppm, plants will thrive — which is good.

    You need to get out more. Obviously you’re getting your science from “refereed climate denialist sites”, not papers.

    Most plants in real life aren’t CO2 limited - water and soil nutrients are the limiting factor. Don’t believe it? Ask a farmer why they 1) irrigate and 2) fertilize.

    With a hundred, or even 10 or 20 years, to adapt the human race will be just fine. For a benchmark consider World War II, where most of Europe & the settled & industrialized parts of Russia, and much of Japan & China, were devestated to rubble in — relative to the pace of AGW changes — an instant on a comparable time scale. Millions died, families were destroyed, survivors were crippled phyically and/or emotionally, and the infrastructure to keep them alive and going was destroyed.

    And everybody did just fine in the long run.

    I see. So those who would rather see us avoid the pain and misery associated with millions dying, becoming homeless, starving etc are dumb, because the human race will survive the pain.

    Better that you get to enjoy driving your humvee for the next few years than you make changes in your lifestyle that may avoid that “trivial” future pain.

    While “the pace of change” in WWII was faster than changes due to global warming, remember that …

    1. WWII barely touched much of the world. Most of those living in Africa, and all of those in South and Central America, weren’t impacted at all.

    2. global warming is truly global in its effect.

    3. The very shortness of WWII is one reason why recovery was possible. It stopped. Global warming isn’t going to stop. Adaptation and recovery, rather than being necessary for a few years of conflict and perhaps a decade of recovery as in WWII, is going to be necessary forever in terms of human civilization - PNAS just published a paper pointing out that the climate change pipeline for CO2 we’ve already added stretches out for 1,000 years in the future. And we’re increasing CO2 each moment …

  • dhogaza // January 30, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Especially when AGW includes some positive effects unlike war, which had none.

    None? Not even teflon? How about jet air travel? Microwave generators? Modern computers?

    Randy Newman wrote a song that more or less encapsulates your philosophy. The chorus includes the line “let’s drop the big one … and see what happens”.

  • gmo // January 30, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Sounds like Jay mostly ignored the “AGW evidence & refereed papers” and focused on only the “so forth”.

  • David B. Benson // January 30, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    At 1000 ppm CO2 24/7, most people are not going to feel very good, be very active, etc.

    Just those carrying around oxygen tanks for some relief now and then.

  • Ian Forrester // January 30, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    Jay, your post is so full of nonsense and misinformation that it would take too much effort to show you all your ridiculous mistakes.

    However, I will point out one of your denier stories which is just a bunch of lies.

    You said: “Evidence exists for that under the Greenland glaciers, where some old ‘Viking’ farms are currently buried under ice but for which the title/deed information is still on record”.

    This is just rubbish. The farm that was uncovered was buried by sand and silt which came from melting of the glaciers and was never buried under ice. This story goes round and round in the denier blogsphere but it is just a bunch of lies.

    You can check out the truth by following this link:

    Or you can Google “Gården under Sandet” which is Danish for “the farm under the sand”.

  • Climate Criminal // January 30, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Jay, as Ian F has indicated, you are are spreading myth and denial.
    “..,Especially when AGW includes some positive effects..,”

    So far, I have not identified any worthwhile beneficial effects attributed to any amount of AGW.

    Do you have a peer-reviewed source / reference for this?

    Or is this something you or one of your denial colleagues dreamed-up?

    It seems very likely that AGW will stimulate further warming, cause dead zones in the oceans, and new research indicates that we can expect ~10% extinction rate of species for every degree of warming.

    Even if we ignore every other effect, with advantages like these, I believe that we would be much better off without such ‘positive effects’.

  • Dave A // January 30, 2009 at 9:41 pm


    Gore doesn’t believe in humanity, he’s a politician who believes he “knows” what is best for the rest of us.

    If he really believed in humanity he would not be making millions of dollars out of climate change and cap and trade.

  • Dave A // January 30, 2009 at 10:01 pm


    You’re not going to believe this but I might be beginning to see the light! The latest PNAS paper by Solomon et al essentially says that climate change is irreversible. If we can’t stabilise CO2 at 385ppm, which of course is not going to happen then it could rise to 600ppm or even 1000ppm. At that level sea levels might rise by up to 2 metres by the year 3000!

    So if it is irreversible what is the point in trying to do anything about it? Shouldn’t we just accept it and concentrate our efforts and resources on mitigation and addressing problems we might be able to do something about, like reducing world poverty, improving peoples health, combatting malaria etc.

    I look forward to joining you in this new world.

  • Dave A // January 30, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Ian F,

    If you read the link you provided it does not say that the farm was buried by sand coming from melting glaciers.

    It suggests that one thing that might have happened was-

    ” Sheets of ice sliding down the mountain toward GUS may have pushed sand over the eastern coast of Greenland, burying the Viking settlements”

    It also notes that the land was farmed for some 400 years before it was buried by the sand and that then it was preserved in the permafrost for 500 years - indicating surely that the climate cooled considerably over that period.

  • Kipp Alpert // January 30, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Jay: I would like to put a fallacy to rest. You need a balance of three processes that make up photosynthesis. More co2 does not increase the amount or production of any plant. Trapping the energy of the Sun in the chloroplasts is the first step of photosynthesis. This light energy is converted to chemical energy and then stored. The light reactions are the photo part of photosynthesis. These reactions split water molecules, providing hydrogen and an energy source for the Calvin cycle. The Calvin cycle is the series of reactions that forms simple sugars using carbon dioxide and hydrogen from water.
    Again, carbon dioxide from the water, not ambient co2 from the atmosphere. The Calvin cycle is the synthesis part. You fertilize with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. There have been experiments with extra co2, and trees grew faster, taller, and very yellow. What happens when you over fertilize your vegetables.The same thing as adding co2. Kipp

  • dhogaza // January 31, 2009 at 12:08 am

    So if it is irreversible what is the point in trying to do anything about it?

    I’ll be more than glad to buy you unlimited quantities of heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine. And assist you in taking a cocktail containing very large doses of all three.

    Since your future death is irreversible and there’s no sense in trying to do anything to live beyond the next microsecond, right?

    Sheets of ice sliding down the mountain

    Why were they sliding down the mountain?

  • Ian Forrester // January 31, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Dave A, please re-read the comment by Jay. He said “Evidence exists for that under the Greenland glaciers, where some old ‘Viking’ farms are currently buried under ice”. That is completely false. You do know the difference between a glacier and permafrost, don’t you? If not go and do some more reading before criticizing me for something which was entirely correct.

    You are a typical denier troll.

  • Hank Roberts // January 31, 2009 at 1:14 am

    Tamino, Dave A is right, he’s not credible.

    He’s apparently copypasting techrepublic’s spin instead of bothering to actually read the actual paper, which is easy to find.

  • Ray Ladbury // January 31, 2009 at 1:47 am

    Dave A., OK, so let me get this straight. You are willing to accept the established science as long as it doesn’t mean you have to do anything about it? That ’bout right? Whatever, dude, but I think that if you are looking for new material for your apologia for inaction, you might want to look elsewhere. There is a very real difference between our odds in a world with 500 ppmv and 1000 ppmv. It makes a difference both in terms of consequences and in terms of mitigation.
    As to your suggestion of doing something about poverty, disease, etc., I’m all for it. What I dispute is that we must make a choice between the environment and development. They are the two aspects of the same problem called sustainability. So, Dave, what have you done lately to alleviate poverty or malaria?

  • Kipp Alpert // January 31, 2009 at 3:41 am


  • Jim Eager // January 31, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Dave A., the Norse Greenlanders were not farmers (another myth of the denialsphere), they were dairymen. The only significant “crop” they grew was winter forage for their cows, plus various root crops in their household garden plots. You can look this stuff, you know.

  • Dave A // January 31, 2009 at 7:56 pm


    Perhaps they were “sliding down the mountain” because the glaciers were growing because the temperature was cooling, as perhaps evidenced by the fact the buried farm was preserved in the permafrost for 500 years afterwards.

    Ian F,

    Yes I do know the difference between a glacier and permafrost. I merely pointed out that the link you gave didn’t actually corroborate what you said and was indicative of cooling even if this didn’t actually cover the farm in glacial ice.

    Jim E

    The link Ian F gave talked about “farming” - I merely borrowed their terminology.

  • Farmer Giles // January 31, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Are you saying that us dairymen are not farmers”

    “not farmers…dairymen”

  • Dave A // January 31, 2009 at 8:08 pm


    I already have the paper and the supplemental information thanks, but your link will be helpful to others.


    Surely you can recognise irony?

    On the poverty front I have made my small contribution by giving a monthly sum to Oxfam since the mid 1970s when I was a penurious graduate just out of college.

    I have also, as you know, espoused and advocated many ‘left’ causes over the years. How about you?

  • Ian Forrester // January 31, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Dave A, quit spouting out utter nonsense. Admit that the farm was not covered by glacier advance (which didn’t happen).

    Also think (if that is possible for you) about how permafrost develops and what you would expect if you added more soil over a layer of permafrost over a long period of time.

    Your denier logic is seriously flawed when it comes to what happened in Greenland. It didn’t get a whole lot colder at all, maybe a little bit but nothing like the deniers are incorrectly alluding to.

  • lee // January 31, 2009 at 8:56 pm


    When that farm was covered with sand, temperatures were cold enough that it froze into permafrost very rapidly - rapidly enough that animal dung was preserved without significant decomposition.

    It was uncovered when the sand thawed - no longer permafrost - and started eroding, uncovering the farm.

    The people who discovered that farm first noticed the stench of animal dung, thawed and available for decomposition for the first time in hundreds of years - decomposition that did not happen when it was first covered.

    And you think that this somehow indicates that it was warmer when the farm was covered than it is now?

    Your credibility is buried deeper than that farm ever was.

  • lee // January 31, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Farmer Giles:

    They were ‘grass’ farmers, grazing and haying in many cases on seasonal growth on top of permafrost, with small supplemental household gardens. They were not farmers of large-scale cultivated crops.

    And they were always marginal - it was routine throughout the history of the Greenland settlements for the less favorably situated farms to get wiped out over a winter, and then be re-established from the more favorably-sited farms. Only the most favorable farms could support cattle at all - and they were the smallest cattle known in husbandry, anywhere, ever. All but a handful of the most favorable farms relied heavily on seal meat for their food, even though seal meat was reviled. Later in the history of the settlements, cattle nearly disappeared entirely, and even the most favorable farms showed a heavy reliance on seal meat.

    The myth that this was some kind of farming paradise are specious, at best.

  • Duane Johnson // February 1, 2009 at 4:08 am

    I’m surprised that noone has commented on Kipp’s discussion (January 30, 2009 at 10:53 pm) of the use of CO2 by plants. I’m sure greenhouse growers would find his statements very naive, since plants definitely utilize CO2 from the air, and CO2 generators are commonly used to increase levels to several times the ambient level. In fact, low CO2 levels are a problem in tightly sealed greenhouses as they attempt to conserve heating energy in cold weather. Increased CO2 definitely leads to increased production in most plants. As CO2 is increased, some other nutrient may be limiting, but it is a mistake to deny its positive effect on plant growth. It’s as naive as denying any effect of CO2 in radiative heat transfer.

  • dhogaza // February 1, 2009 at 4:57 am

    Increased CO2 definitely leads to increased production in most plants. As CO2 is increased, some other nutrient may be limiting, but it is a mistake to deny its positive effect on plant growth.

    Of course, before pumping CO2 into greenhouses, the operator ensures that soil nitrogen etc are not limiting factors through heavy use of fertilization, etc.

    I don’t think Kipp is likely to argue that CO2 can’t possibly be a limiting factor.

    However, most plants in the real world aren’t limited by CO2, which is why farmers concentrate on irrigation and fertilization.

  • Sekerob // February 1, 2009 at 10:08 am

    … which ends up for a large part in the surface waters and flooding to sea, where dead-zones develop due to oxygen shortage, for instance.

  • JCH // February 1, 2009 at 11:27 am

    A recent experiment in the part of the world that is not under glass:

  • Ray Ladbury // February 1, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Duane Johnson, It is also naive to deny that increased CO2 does not help facilitate growth of all plants equally. Poison ivy, for instance does extremely well when CO2 is high. So do many other weeds.
    Agriculture is less a matter of “helping plants grow” that it is a matter of keeping the plants you want to grow from being overrun by more vigorous unwanted plants–that is, weeds. Now add to this a seasonal cycle when days of frost are few or absent, and I’d say you got a problem. Perhaps it is naive to deny that CO2 can facilitate plant growth in some situations, but I would contend that it is more naive to confuse fetid with fertile.

  • Dave A // February 1, 2009 at 10:26 pm


    I didn’t say it was warmer when the farm was buried than it is now. What Ian F’s link indicated was the area had been farmed for around 400 years before it got buried.

    Presumably this meant the climate was good enough for a certain type of farming. Then the farm was overwhelmed by sand perhaps forced over it by ’sliding glaciers’. The farm remains were then preserved in the permafrost for approx 500 years.

    This surely indicates that it got COLDER from the time when the area was farmed until fairly recently.

    So it was quite possibly warmer when the area was farmed than it was in the subsequent 500 years. Now it is perhaps warmer again but not necessarily any more than it was before the farm got buried.

    Ian F,

    You posted the link, I just pointed out the implications of what it said.

  • Duane Johnson // February 2, 2009 at 1:22 am

    Ray Ladbury (February 1, 2009 at 12:09 pm)

    Ray, I happen to have a small midwestern farm growing 120 acres of primarily corn and soybeans using no-till farming. In the fifteen years that I’ve owned it, there have been substantial increases in yields attributable to many factors, including plant genetics, appropriate fertilization, and of course, the weather. I think my understanding of the nature of farming is likely to exceed your own, including how to deal with weeds. Of course weeds also grow better under more fertile conditions. That’s why the hoe and the modern physical and chemical equivalents were invented.

    Since CO2 has no odor, I can only assume your fetid vs. fertile remark was your attempt at a clever word play, even if it is devoid of meaning.

  • Ian Forrester // February 2, 2009 at 2:32 am

    Dave A you still do not understand how permafrost forms.

    It does not have to get colder for something which was once not frozen to become locked in permafrost if it is buried. There was most likely permafrost under the farm while the Vikings occupied it.

    The key is that the depth of unfrozen ground above the permafrost is related to average temperature. If 3 feet of soil or sand is added then the depth at which permafrost occurs will be raised by 3 feet.

    So stop saying that because the farm is now locked in permafrost it had to be colder. It doesn’t.

    In case you don’t know about permafrost there is usually a depth of soil above the permafrost which thaws in summer allowing plants to grow. The soil under that layer is permanently frozen. The depth of the unfrozen soil relates to average temperature. So if you keep piling soil on top of permafrost that which was originally able to thaw in the summer will no longer be able to and will become permanently frozen, just like the farm, even though average temperature has not changed. The depth of unfrozen soil in the summer will remain the same.

  • P. Lewis // February 2, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Dave A, if

    This surely indicates that it got COLDER from the time when the area was farmed until fairly recently

    is meant to relate to glaciers and their advancement (rather than to permafrost), then it (the indication “that it got COLDER from the time when the area was farmed”) still ain’t necessarily so.

  • Bob North // February 2, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Ian, Lee, P. Lewis -

    It is correct to note that the fact that the farm was buried in permafrost does not necessarily indicate that it was colder between the farm’s burial and the present. However, I don’t believe it is a stretch to suggest that in fact Greenland was colder between the time of burial and the recent past, as evidenced by ice core data (e.g., Dahl-Jensen et al 1998 ). These authors suggest a decrease of 2K between the MWP and LIA

  • Barton Paul Levenson // February 2, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Farmer Giles, you’re such a ham!

    (Let’s see who gets that one. Heh heh.)

  • Lee // February 2, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Greenland almost certainly got colder at the end of the Norse settlements - that was almost certainly one of the reasons for the settlement’s failures. Bob North is correct to point this out. I don’t know many people who dispute this. We know that it was sufficiently warm for settling when the settlements were founded, we’re pretty sure that dropping temperatures happened at the failure of the settlements, and were likely one causal factor.

    But the fact of permafrost over the farm in the sands in not evidence for that, for the reasons Ian Forrester points out.

    The “Greenland Norse farms under ice” false meme is most frequently used to “prove” that it was warmer then than now - ‘all those flourishing farms then, and now its all ice!!! Score!!!!’ But there are no Greenland Norse farms covered by ice. Not now, not ever. It is worth making this point again.

    Yes, it was warm, then got colder, and now is getting warmer. Much warmer. The farm under the sands is, if anything, evidence that it is warmer now than when it was buried - I made the argument above. There is better evidence. One of the strongest, IMO - modern Greenland grass farmers are getting two cuts of hay in a summer, and a few farmers are experimenting with three cuts, on the same fields the Norse hayed on or just next door to them, while also sometimes grazing animals on the fields. The Norse farmers got one haying, plus grazing, and in poor years didn’t get that - one of the most common reasons for overwinter failure of a farm was insufficient hay due to a poor summer haying season. Grass is grass, hay is hay - this is due to longer growing seasons, and stronger growth during the growing season - ie, temperature.

    Remember this point started in this thread with Jay’s absurd statement that we know farms under ice and have title records for them, and that this indicates that adaptation is possible. It’s the first time I’ve seen the ‘farms under ice’ meme used for some point other than “it was hot then!!!’ Neither point is supported in any way by the farm under the sands.

  • BBP // February 2, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    You’re going off topic and you’ll have to pay the toll, keen as you may be to display your knowledge of philoligists, this should be moved to the open thread before things drag on.

  • Jim Eager // February 2, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    “The link Ian F gave talked about “farming” - I merely borrowed their terminology.”

    In other words, Dave A admits that he has no idea what he is talking about.

  • Chris S. // February 3, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Re: CO2 & plant growth. Do those who propound the ‘AGW is better for plants’ POV take research such as this into account?

  • Dave A // February 5, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    Jim E,

    Just noticed your comment above,. If you are some kind of expert on this topic why don’t you tell us all about it?

  • michel // February 6, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Turns out that George maligned the AGA.

    It only puts out 35% more CO2 than the average UK house. He said five and a half times. When you think that it cooks, heats and does hot water for that, well, maybe this was a case of not letting the facts get in the way of a good rant? AGA houses are also typically standalone, larger than average, not terraced, and located in the country, where its colder than in the cities.

    Got to check George’s facts, you can’t just assume he has got it right.

  • Hugh // February 6, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    From memory, Agas cook [beautifully] and heat water, but they do little to heat any space other than that of the room in which they are situated. Rayburns (which can be wood fueled, whereas Aga’s are coal, oil, gas or lecy fueled) are the ones that run rads. Same company, very different product.

  • Nelson // February 6, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    As a comment in that thread said, they’re great for drying tea towels and making toast.

  • Dave A // February 6, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Jim E,

    This is what Schweger, who excavated the farm, said in the link Ian F provided

    ” At GUS, the amount of organic matter and the quality of soil increased and sustained farming for 400 years,” says Schweger. “If they were poor farmers, then virtually all the farming in North America is poor farming.”

  • Lee // February 7, 2009 at 1:46 am

    Dave A // February 6, 2009 at 11:10 pm :
    So they were reasonably good grass farmers. What does this have to do with the relevant points under discussion?

  • Dave A // February 7, 2009 at 9:56 pm


    I was replying to a couple of posts by Jim E. What does your post have to do with that?

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