November 27, 2005
Ice Core Climate Record Extended To 650,000 Years

Another 210,000 years have just been added to the ice core climate record.

Two new studies of gases trapped in Antarctic ice cores have extended the record of Earth’s past climate almost 50 percent further, adding another 210,000 years of definitive data about the makeup of the Earth’s atmosphere and providing more evidence of current atmospheric change.

The research is being published in the journal Science by participants in the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica. It’s "an amazing accomplishment we would not have thought possible" as recently as 10 years ago, said Ed Brook, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University, who analyzed the studies in the same issue of this professional journal.

"Not long ago we thought that previous ice studies which go back about 500,000 years might be the best we could obtain," said Brook, who is also the co-chair of the International Partnerships in Ice Coring Sciences, a group that’s helping to plan future ice core research efforts around the world.

650,000 years is a long time to have such a history of the Earth's' atmosphere's constituents. But the scientists now think they can go back further than 1 million years.

"Now we have a glimpse into the past of up to 650,000 years, and we believe it may be possible to go as much as one million years or more," Brook said. "This will give us a fuller picture of Earth’s past climates, the way they changed and fluctuated, and the forces that caused the changes. We’ll be studying this new data for years."

As the data become more solid about the atmospheric conditions of the past, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the current conditions of the past 200 years are a distinct anomaly, Brook said.

"The levels of primary greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are up dramatically since the Industrial Revolution, at a speed and magnitude that the Earth has not seen in hundreds of thousands of years," Brook said. "There is now no question this is due to human influence."

Humans have created atmospheric conditions unlike any seen in the last 650,000 years. That ought to give anyone pause. We should be concerned about what this portends for the future. It could be good. Or it could be bad. It will certainly be different. Shouldn't we at least be trying a lot harder to develop energy technologies that do not use fossil fuels?

Last night I was watching an excellent History Channel TV show about climate changes on the Earth from the early Middle Ages to today. The warming period that preceded the 14th century cooling was an amazing period. Food production surged. Fish populations surged near Europe. Grapes for wine were grown in Britain 300 miles north of where grapes are grown in France today. Europe's population surged by 50%. Swamps dried out and this led to a big decrease in malaria. Climate change is not necessarily automatically bad in its effects.

However, that warming might have triggered a flow of melting glacial water into the North Atlantic that then caused the Atlantic Conveyor to stop bringing warm water up from the south and that might have triggered the cooling that started in the 14 century (said cooling had the River Thames freezing solid every winter in England). But then again, that cooling might have been caused by volcanic eruptions, lower solar output, and other natural phenomena. The take-home lesson I got from the show was that if you have had fairly stable climate for a few centuries then best you start expecting a big shift. The climate is just not stable for many centuries running.

CO2 levels are now 27% higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years before the Industrial Revolution.

EPICA is the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica. The new ice core, initially described in 2004, is from a site in East Antarctica known as EPICA Dome C. This work represents a long-term European research collaboration and appears in two studies and an accompanying “Perspective” article in the 25 November 2005 issue of the journal Science, published by AAAS the nonprofit science society.

One study chronicles the stable relationship between climate and the carbon cycle during the Pleistocene (390,000 to 650,000 years before the present). The second one documents atmospheric methane and nitrous oxide levels over the same period.

The analysis highlights the fact that today’s rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, at 380 parts per million by volume, is already 27 percent higher than its highest recorded level during the last 650,000 years, said Science author Thomas Stocker of the Physics Institute of the University of Bern, in Bern, Switzerland, who serves as the corresponding author for both papers.

I do not favor immediate regulations on CO2 emissions that would put a big damper on global economic growth. However, the continued rise in CO2 emissions really ought to be reason for serious concern by all prudent and rational people. We do not know what this rise in CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gassess is going to do to the global climate system. We really ought to make a very large push to develop technologies that would allow us to generate large amounts of cheap energy from non-fossil fuels energy sources.

The human-caused changes in the atmosphere have been made in a short period of time as compared to the length of most natural climate cycles.

“We have added another piece of information showing that the timescales on which humans have changed the composition of the atmosphere are extremely short compared to the natural time cycles of the climate system,” Stocker explained.

Though the recorded record made by humans does contain incidents of large climate changes that came on within the space of a single year. So the climate does sometimes shift very rapidly.

A half million years ago the interglacials were warmer and longer lasting.

The new work confirms the stable relationship between Antarctic climate and the greenhouse gasses carbon dioxide and methane during the last four glacial cycles. The new ice core analysis also extends this relationship back another two glacial cycles, to a time when the warm “interglacial” periods were milder and longer than more recent warm periods, according to the European researchers.

The fact that carbon dioxide and methane levels were lower during the relatively mild warm periods of the two additional cycles, compared to the warmer warm periods of the last 400,000 years, is especially interesting for the study of climate sensitivity, which is a measure of how the climate system reacts when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations double, explained Science author Dominique Raynaud from LGGE in Grenoble, France.

The new atmospheric and climate records from the EPICA Dome C ice core also indicate that the response of the natural carbon cycle to climate warming remains the same over time – in terms of the mechanism involved and the degree to which greenhouse gasses further amplify climate change, explained Science author Jean Jouzel from LSCE and Institut Pierre Simon Laplace in France.

Recent interglacial warming periods have been only 10,000 or so years long. Worryingly, we are already 10,000 years into the current interglacial. Anyone feel a chill coming on?

The new ice core analysis provides insights on our present interglacial warm period through a glimpse into Antarctic climate and greenhouse gas concentrations during the most recent warm period that is relatively similar to our current warm period. Known as Marine Isotope Stage 11 or MIS 11, this analog warm period occurred between 420,000 and 400,000 years and is not completely covered by the Vostok record.

The similarities between our current warm period and MIS 11 are primarily due to a similar configuration of the orbits of the Earth around the Sun: the relative positions of the Earth and Sun are thought to be the key driver of ice age cycles.

On an optimistic note, the MIS 11 warming period which was during a period with a similar orientation between the Earth and Sun wasted at least 20,000 years and so maybe we don't face an massive cooling any time soon.

“MIS 11 shows us that the climate system can indeed reside in a warm period for 20,000 or 30,000 years, something that we can’t say based on the last three warm phases which are no longer than about 10,000 years each,” said Stocker.

We are currently about 10,000 years into our current warm period.

The new papers also document MIS 13 and 15 -- two warm periods more distant than MIS 11 that may have been about as long. The idea that MIS 13 and 15 were long warm periods contrasts the argument scientists have made in the past suggesting that our current warm period is exceptionally long.

Sooner or later natural processes will kick the Earth's climate into a state greatly changed from what it is today. When that happens do you favor or oppose measures to engage in massive scale climate engineering to dampen the extent of the changes either locally or globally?

For example, suppose a big warming took place. Would you favor cloud seeding over Greenland to increase snow build-up as a way to reduce melting of the Greenland ice pack? Or would you prefer to see much of Bangladesh and south Florida submerged under rising ocean waters?

Or suppose we were hit by a half percent decrease in solar energy output similar to that which happened during the Maunder Minimum of 1645 to 1715 where the decrease in sun spot activity reduced solar output and deepened an existing cooler period. Suppose at the same time we were hit by a massive volcanic eruption or even a few of them and the sulfur in the atmosphere helped cause an even deeper cooling with snow falling in New England during June and July. I'm describing a period of history that happened just a few hundred years ago. So such a scenario is not far-fetched or improbable.

Given a big cooling would you oppose or support making all buildings and roads black so that they absorbed more light energy? Or if this happens 50 years from now and we have cheap space launch at that point would you oppose or support the launching of a satellite system of reflectors to aim more light at some part of the Earth to warm it up?

My take on the climate is that it is not as stable as is widely believed. We ought to expect change just from natural processes. Throw in our own increasing effects on the atmosphere and we ought to have an even greater expectation of change. This view makes me think we need better tools for adapting to climate changes. Certainly we need more rapid development of better technologies for energy production and energy conservation. We also need better agricultural technologies that would allow us to more rapidly change crop mixes to fit with climate changes and to develop crop strains that are more resistant to whatever weather might throw at them. If climate changes become big enough at some point we'll even need climate modification technologies.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 November 27 12:56 PM  Climate Trends

John Brothers said at November 27, 2005 2:47 PM:

The ice core information was a real eye opener. Until this, I hadn't seen anything that seemed definitive about the relative magnitude of the recent changes.

James Bowery said at November 27, 2005 2:56 PM:

How much money would it be worth to validate the calibration of these measurements?

It seems something on the order of the NSF's annual budget could be justifiably spent.

Invisible Scientist said at November 27, 2005 3:06 PM:

It appears that at this rate, by 2025 the CO_2 level will increase to a level that is 50 % more than its previous levels in history. At that time, if there is a small increase in global temperature, some experts fear that the methane trapped under the earth or the ocean will also start to evaporate, and methane is much worse than CO_2 for trapping heat. At that time there might be a catastrophic rise in temperature.

On the bright side we won't need to spend money on heating oil or natural gas, but summers will be more expensive since air conditioning will be necessary.

Patrick said at November 27, 2005 3:36 PM:

Is there any record of the undersea methane hydrates being released in the Medieval Warm period, which was hotter than today?

James Bowery said at November 27, 2005 3:47 PM:

Since methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, I would expect that if things got warm enough that methane hydrates were being released during the Medieval Warming that there would have been much more pronounced climate change. The condition underwhich methane hydrates start being released is a very critical question I haven't seen addressed.

Tdean said at November 27, 2005 7:48 PM:


The release of methane from methane hydrates doesn't require long term warming. It is in fact happening now in the arctic regions where it is stable a very shallow depths and is a component of permafrost. ( As melting of the permafrost accellerates, the organic rich soils may dry out and catch fire, releasing megatons of CO2 and they may become highly unstable, sliding downslope, exposing methane ice which quickly decomposes and releases the methane into the atmosphere. In any case, once thawed, the organic matter collected there is subject to rapid oxidization via bacterial action or fire and a former carbon sink becomes a fierce carbon source that amplifies global warming. Since this occurs in the arctic where greenhouse warming is much more intense to begin with, there is a strong potential for a rapid runaway situation to occur, releasing far more carbon than expected under current scenarios.

Sub sea methane hydrates which occur at shallow depths along continental slopes in temperate regions around the world, are dangerously unstable critters in a warming environment. If warm water starts to move down the slope along the hydrate boundary, it could begin a slope destabilization process that uncovers the hydrate in a cascade of landslides as the hydrate rock goes from the strength of concrete to the strength of mush when the methane bubbles away.

THere are quite a number of processes like these that can feed forward and lead to drastically worsening climate change, but few that work the other way. One is cloud cover as the oceans warm, which will increase the albedo of the earth, but this could also be associated with disasterous storms and and an unstable or cyclic climate that could disrupt agriculture and ecosystems around the wrold.

Like a lot of other short-sighted "free marketeers", Parker shudders at the thought of regulating CO2 lest it "puts a big damper on economic growth". But he seems incapable of weighing the probability of disasterous economic outcomes as rapid climate change accellerates and unfolds in dramatic and unexpected ways. The free market simply cannot by itself provide sufficient incentive to reduce carbon emissions effectively. WHat we need is a supply of international leaders who have backbone and an understanding of risk and insurance. If we can reasonably reduce the likelihood of climatic disaster by reducing emissions with a minimal disruption of economies during the transition away from fossil fuels, reduction by regulation is a very viable and likely optimal path. But developing a consensus amoung counties with a large stake in fossil fuels may be impossible. Who would be willing to march into the oil fields of the Middle East for the purpose of plugging them?

PacRim Jim said at November 27, 2005 9:18 PM:

Since the earth's orbit around the sun has decayed over this time, perhaps the closer proximity to the sun accounts for some of the temperature rise.

silchiuk said at November 28, 2005 4:26 AM:

This is being exciting now. Telling the future from one ice coring someplace, like throwing the bones. Dem bones, dem bones you are knowing that? Is being time for shreiking and running for hills now?

D. F. Linton said at November 28, 2005 7:09 AM:

Human being are dumping increasing amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and unless we intend to deny the benefits of modern civilization to the peoples of Asia and Africa militarily, such dumping will increase greatly during the course of this century regardless of any "virtuous sacrifices" of the Kyoto signatories.

If the record of the climate of our planet shows anything it shows that there is no such thing as climate stability. It has been suggested that the onset of a new ice age may have been forestalled by early human greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Currently the outputs of elaborate, multi-disciplinary computer models are used to urge all manner of authoritarian schemes address global warming. Unfortunately even the most dedicated opponents of human freedom would have to admit that no government diktat will affect the sunspot cycle, the orbital dynamics of the solar system, or the rate or intensity of volcanic eruptions.

Rather like Goldilocks, we clearly like the planet just as it is. We need to develop the engineering capabilities to damp out unwanted climate changes regardless of their source:

If the planet is getting too warm we can:
(1) transfer more heat into the deep oceans, perhaps as a side effect of exploiting ocean thermal temperature differences for power or fresh water production.
(2) reduce the amount of solar heat gained by increasing particulates in the atmosphere.
(2.a) nothing more exotic that artillery would be required to deposit large quantities of dust or sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere,
(2.b) a relatively modest lunar facility with a small O'Neill mass-driver could deposit large quantities of lunar dust into the upper atmosphere or perhaps into the Earth-Sun Lagrange point.
If the planet is getting too cold we can release large quantities of short-half-life, high global-warming-potential gases into the atmosphere relatively easily.

Anthony Kendall said at November 28, 2005 7:52 AM:

I agree that engineering the climate of our planet on a large scale may be an important means of reducing the effect our CO2 emissions are having on the climate. However, we do not have anywhere near the knowledge to ethically begin an undertaking such as spreading dust in the upper atmosphere. There is a difference between the unintended experiment we have been conducting with CO2 and an intentioinal effort to modify Earth's dynamic systems.

Technology will be important in staving off some of the more harmful effects of global warming, but until we can confidently understand the climate system we cannot conduct such experiments that may have horrifying unitended consequences. Adding a bit of dust, finding we added too much, and then pumping a few more engineered greenhouse gasses is a bit like drinking too much alcohol then taking some speed to balance things out.

D. F. Linton said at November 28, 2005 8:32 AM:

Dust falls out of the sky and the Earth-Sun Lagrange point is dynamically unstable (stuff drifts away). Unlike CO2 short-half-life, high GWP gases decay quite rapidly. Without continuous inputs things will return to the base condition. No one is saying this has to be done today, just sometime this century.

Kurt said at November 28, 2005 9:39 AM:

Once again, those who are serious about the global warming issue need to get real and promote the utilization of nuclear power. Nuclear power is the ONLY way to generate the terawatts of electricity demanded by a modern civilization and, yet, not produce "greenhouse" gases. Designs such as the integral fast reactor (IFR) effectively deal with the nuclear waste problem. There is no longer any legitimate argument against nuclear power. The way to "regulate" CO2 emissions is to build lots and lots of nuclear powerplants. At least 1,000 in the U.S. alone (I prefer 2,000-3,000).

There is another option which is the old L-5 space thing with the solar power satellites. The proposed space elevator (if its possible) should make this scenario more doable. My thinking is that the "global warming is imminent" people really do not believe that global warming is real and, therefor, they do not promote REAL solutions like nuclear power or space solar power. They are just using it as a marketing ploy to promote thier left-wing anti-industrial, anti-freemarket agenda. In other words, they are still stuck in the 1960's. We often call them "60's rejects" or "granolas". Like anti-nuclear hysteria (see below), this is a generational phenomenon and will go away with the death of the baby-boomers.

The good news is that publications such as the New York Times and LA Weekly (which is as left as one can get in the MSM) have recently carried articles suggesting the nuclear power be reconsidered. My thinking is that the anti-nuclear power hysteria is generational. Another one of those baby-boomer things like water beds and lava lamps. Once the boomers start to die off, then support for nuclear power will grow in this country. I believe that nuclear power is good regardless of whether global warming is real or not and should be pursued.

We need a minimum of 1,000 nuclear plants (IFR design) to get free of fossil fuels. 25% of the output of these plants generates electricity. The rest would produce synthetic hydrocarbons, hydrogen, or some other fuel as replacement for the fossil fuels currently used in transportation.

Kurt said at November 28, 2005 10:54 AM:

I had a thought about the CO2 thing. In addition to nuclear power, why not reduce CO2 emmissions in this country by reducing or stopping immigration? Population growth is the wellspring of increased energy consumption (and consumption in general) and almost all of our population growth is due to immigration. In addition, the U.S. puts out most of the greenhouse gases.

So, why not put two and two together and use the greenhouse hysteria to promote sensible immigration reform?

Perhaps this is too sensible of idea for "pie in the sky" green types.

If greenhouse hysteria can be channelled effectively to promote nuclear power and sensible immigration reform, then maybe it can be put to good use afterall.

rather rapid said at November 28, 2005 11:11 AM:

nobody ever mentions oxygen levels. given the level of deforestation has their been any change in atmospheric oxygen????

momochan said at November 28, 2005 1:27 PM:

There are many enviros, including myself, who are open to the nuclear option. It's too bad that newer technology such as pebble-bed has not been explained more widely.

However, I have heard that uranium mining releases methane from underground. I have not seen any quantified estimates of this though. Does anyone have this information?

Methane does bring me to rather rapid's point about oxygen. It has been said that methane, while a powerful greenhouse gas, does not last long in the atmosphere. That's true, but what happens is that it becomes carbon dioxide -- not much of a comforting thought. And I believe that this conversion involves stripping free oxygen out of the atmosphere. This may be what happened during the end-Permian event; the air at sea level became as oxygen-poor as the tops of high mountains, so that many more animals perished than would have otherwise.
I did see once in print that % oxygen in our air has declined slightly in recent years...gotta find that reference...

Kurt said at November 28, 2005 2:57 PM:

A third proposal for dealing with CO2 without sacrificing standard of living would be to eliminate the tax credit for more than two dependents. I don't know where it is on the internet, but there was one such proposal titled "Two Is Enough" where it was argued that with the automation of manufacturing and increasing technology, that large families are no longer necessary for our economic future. We no longer need the armies of factory workers to fuel economic growth. The author cited other arguments in favor of this in that large families usually represent lower levels of parental investment (in socio-biological terms) and, thus, reducing a "low parental investment" culture in our country.

His arguments were quite sensible and most people identified with them (except for the fundamentalist psychos, of course).

In any case, energy consumption is ultimately a function of population and population growth. If growth of energy production is seen as bad, then population growth should be viewed the same way. Much discourse on Randall Parker's website here, with regards to human capital and societal issues, could be summed up as "quality is better than quantity". I think that a consensus can be reached between the more rational environmental groups and the immigration and population growth reformers to tackle these issues in a sensible manner.

The platform for such a movement could be:

1) Widespread utilization of nuclear power of advanced designs such as the integral fast reactor and pebble-bed reactor.

2) Immigration reform to reduce immigration to the U.S., especially low-IQ, low-skill types. The level of immigration allowed could be linked to energy production in the U.S.

3) Elimination of tax credits for more than two dependents.

4) A series of X-prizes for the development of new or novel forms of energy production (cold or hot fusion, ZPE, and the like) similar to that of the space X-prizes.

All four of these proposals are far more sensible ideas for reducing greenhouse gas emissions than "regulation by international bureaucrats" which was suggested earlier here. I think that moderate democrats and republicans can be encouraged to support all four of these points.

gmoke said at November 28, 2005 3:41 PM:

Nukes will fix everything!!!!

Don't matter that there are some studies that show the fuel cycle for nukes releases CO2 and other greenhouse gases on an order of magnitude of coal or oil. Don't matter that we have no politically feasible way to deal with the wastes and haven't adequately budgeted for waste disposal and decommissioning of the nuke plants. Don't matter that the last thing a sane person would want to do in a world that is facing catastrophic terrorism is to make more beautiful targets the guarantee mass destruction if they are sabotaged.

Nukes will fix everything!!!

And if nukes won't fix everything then we can do all sorts of neat stuff in space!!!!

How about building an industrial system based upon zero emissions and high efficiency instead? A consumer economy that allows every child around the world to afford a solar rechargeable light so that they can read in bed? An economy that provides decent jobs without contamination to every person who wants to work? An economy that is more like a globally linked farmers market than WalMart's bastard love child with McDonald's and no job security or health care for the permant casual workers?

We are a solar powered society. We have always been a solar powered society. We will always be a solar powered society. Just count the photons that grow the crops in America - that's already three times the entire energy budget of the USA. Imagination is the critical deficit and the longer we keep saying, "Nukes!!!" and "Space!!!" as if they are magic panaceas the deeper in the hole we will go.

Caulk your windows. Install that low flow showerhead. Get compact fluorescent lights to replace those incandescent bulbs. Put your TV and computer on a power strip and eliminate the phantom loads. Do those small things all throughout the society and then start maximizing all those south-facing windows, walls, and roofs for solar collection and we will build jobs and stimulate imaginations and begin to do something useful in the face of our own stupidity with greenhouse emissions and all the other CRAP we fling like monkeys fling their fesces into the air.

And don't talk to me about BIG PLANS and one size fits all solutions. I'm tired of seeing pipsqueaks try to devour the moon.

Kurt said at November 28, 2005 4:25 PM:

The notion that nuclear power generates greenhouse gas emissions is pure hogwash. Also, the integral fast reactor design effectively eliminates the nuclear waste problem. Nuclear power generates less greenhouse gases per kilowatt of electricity produced than Earth-based solar power (the industrial processes for making solar cells are far more wasteful than nuclear power, per kilowatt generated). The Japanese and Chinese are going nuclear in a BIG way. We should too.

The problem with Earth based solar is that the energy density of light hitting the Earth is simply way too low to provide the terawatts of electricity necessary for modern civilization. Also, I don't know of anyplace in the U.S. where the sun shines 24/7 365 days a year at a constant intensity. If such a place exists, then we can build the solar collectors there. Space-based solar power makes sense. Earth-based does not.

Energy conservation is good, but it is no more substitute for energy production any more than dieting is a substitute for food. The idea that we can conserve our way to economic growth and job creation is a sick joke. It is true that the ratio of energy production growth to GDP growth has decreased since the early 70's. However, this certainly cannot go to zero. Indefinite growth without increased energy production is not possible. Job creation, of course, requires economic growth.

Having lots and lots of energy generated by nuclear and space based solar will generate far more jobs and economic prosperity than a so-called zero-emission economy. Besides, this IS the ONLY way to get a truly zero-emission economy. To have a long-term future, we need to open up the High Frontier anyways. Space-based solar power is the way to do this

As I mentioned before, the whole anti-economic growth green thing (and the attendent anti-nuclear hysteria) is a generational thing. It is an outgrowth of the 60's culture and the Vietnam war. Once the boomers are gone, this stuff will go away with them. We just have to wait another 20 years or so for the granolas and other 60's rejects to die off.

Tom said at November 28, 2005 4:29 PM:

Kurt: "So, why not put two and two together and use the greenhouse hysteria to promote sensible immigration reform?"

It seems obvious that we aren't any better off if would be immigrants were to produce the same amount of CO2 at home. So the question is, would they produce less CO2 at home. Maybe, maybe not. If they have a car, a house, and A/C at home, they'd probably produce about the same amount of CO2. If they were worse off economically, they probably wouldn't produce as much. Would it be ethical to suggest that some other group of people should be poor so that you can continue to produce more than your share of CO2? It seems to me the answer is no.

You might be able to make ethical arguments against immigration, but this doesn't strike me as one of them.

Tom said at November 28, 2005 4:38 PM:

"Don't matter that there are some studies that show the fuel cycle for nukes releases CO2 and other greenhouse gases on an order of magnitude of coal or oil."

Can you point to such a study?

The most obvious sources I can think of would be fuels used in mining and construction. But with a sufficient carbon tax, these kinds of fuel uses would likely be replaced by electrical power.

Kurt said at November 28, 2005 4:56 PM:


The immigrants would consume the same amount of energy back home as they would if they come to the U.S., but since they would not be in the U.S., it would reduce the amount of energy (and greenhouse gases) produced in the U.S. Since most of the developing world is exempt from any kind of CO2 emission limits (under Kyoto and other treaties), these countries can increase their CO2 emissions while remaining in compliance with any of these treaties they choose to sign.

The U.S., on the other hand, would be able to reduce its production of CO2 and other gases without compromizing our economy and standard of living. This is win-win in that the global warming people get what they want, we get what we want, and the developing world people get what they want.

The idea that nuclear power (fuel cycle) produces more CO2 and methane emissions than fossil fuel use is farcical. I don't know where "gsmoke" got this from. I think he is a troll and does not actually believe the stuff he has written here anyways. So, it can be disregarded.

If the space elevator can be built, it would make space-based solar option cost competitive with nuclear and other conventional sources of energy. I have always liked the space-based solar option because it provides the economic basis for opening up the High Frontier, which is something mankind will need to do anyways if we are to have a long-term future.

The greens are correct in one sense that the Earth is ultimately finite (although we are not anywhere near the limits yet - see Julien Simon's "The Ulitimate Resource") and that we have to get space-bound if we are to have an unlimited future.

Kurt said at November 28, 2005 5:23 PM:

I think this global warming, even if real, is a bunch of hoo-haa over nothing. So, the sea level goes up 2mm per year. Thats about 8 inches in 100 year. So BFD. Why is this a problem? Recently, I went to an oceanfront place that I used to play on when I was a child, 30 years ago. As far as I could tell, the ocean hadn't risen at all.

I honestly think this global warming hoo-haa will blow over in a few years. The Senate passed a resolution back in '98 (99 to 0) stating that they will never sign a treaty that goes against our economic interest. I highly doubt this sentiment will change, especially if we have another recession (which is likely).

There are many things I disagree with Bush on. But one thing I totally agree with is that economic growth and technological innovation is a good thing and that reducing economic growth to deal with a perceived problem 50-100 years later has got to be about the dumbest thing that we could do.

The point is, the larger our economy is, the more advanced our technology is, the more capabilities and resources we have available to deal with any problems we might have in the future. There is no such thing as being too rich or too good looking.

Tom said at November 28, 2005 5:57 PM:

"Since most of the developing world is exempt from any kind of CO2 emission limits (under Kyoto and other treaties), these countries can increase their CO2 emissions while remaining in compliance with any of these treaties they choose to sign."

I guess that's true if your goal is simply to comply with treaties. So would outsourcing industry to exempt countries. (Hmmm...) However, neither does anything positive for decreasing global CO2 production.

Tom said at November 28, 2005 6:00 PM:

"I think this global warming, even if real, is a bunch of hoo-haa over nothing. So, the sea level goes up 2mm per year."

I think a much bigger deal would be increases in typhoon and hurricane intensity and frequency.

Randall Parker said at November 28, 2005 7:46 PM:

Immigrants come to the United States to make more money. Most come from much poorer countries. There's a very strong correlation between per capita GDP and per capita energy consumption worldwide. When Mexicans leave Mexico and start working in the US they do burn more energy and increase CO2 emissions. The argument that immigration restriction would slow CO2 emissions increases is correct.

I'm already for immigration restriction for other reasons such as reducing crowding and reducing the growth of the lower class and reducing the growth of the crime rate.

Randall Parker said at November 28, 2005 8:27 PM:

Regarding nukes and who is serious about green house gas emissions:

1) We aren't going to decrease green house gas emissions without really big technological advances. The competitors to fossil fuels have got to become cheaper in order for the competitors to displace fossil fuels in the marketplace.

2) Getting most of the countries in the world to agree to a regime even stricter than Kyoto is not going to happen. China isn't going to sign up and in 20 or 30 years China will be emitting more than the United States - and the US will be emitting more.

3) The existing signatories to Kyoto are not on a path to meeting their agreed targets for CO2 emissions reduction. So even Kyoto has failed for those who signed up to it.

4) The regulatory path is not going to work. The path of increased R&D funding has a better chance of working. But the R&D path is not going to work as long as those most concerned about GHG emissions fail to advocate the R&D path. The failure of the GHG worriers to advocate the R&D path makes me wonder if they are serious. Are they just foolish? Do they not see that the only way to solve the problem is advances in technology?

5) People can argue until they are blue in the face about the safety of the current nuclear reactor designs or the problems with nuclear waste disposal. But surely a faster rate of research could produce reactors that are safer, cheaper, and which produce less waste. What I want to know about each opponent of nuclear power is whether they support or oppose a more rapid rate of R&D for better reactor design.

6) The environmentalists who oppose nuclear power and at the same time fear GHG emissions are comparatively quiet on the subject of R&D for photovoltaics. If they took half their time they spent opposing nuclear power and stumping for GHG emissions reduction and instead invested that effort to support increases in government funding of other energy sources then we'd be a lot better off.

As it stands I think I'm in a very small group of people advocating a huge acceleration of R&D as an answer to all our energy problems. That's unfortunate.

Kurt said at November 28, 2005 10:09 PM:

If global warming is a real problem, of course the R&D path is far more sensible than any kind of regulatory path. Why would anyone right in the head NOT advocate an R&D path to solve these problems? Are there ANY problems that cannot be solved through aggressive R&D?

The fact that the global warming pundits do not advocate the R&D path should make it clear that they are not serious about solving the problem of global warming. In which case, their discussion is completely meaningless and trivial.

A faster rate of nuclear research would not only produce safer and more efficient reactors, it would result in the discovery and commercialization of new nuclear processes that could be inherently safer than the current fission and fusion processes that we know of now. Examples include fission of U238 and thorium with neutron sources (like the IEC) that are not chain reactions. Such processes are inherently safe in that they cannot result in criticality accidents and cannot be used to make bombs. I suspect there are other such processes waiting to be discovered. Economical transmutation of the elements may be possible. Nuclear science is in the same state of infancy that chemistry was in 100-150 years ago.

Tom said at November 29, 2005 3:29 AM:

Randall: "When Mexicans leave Mexico and start working in the US they do burn more energy and increase CO2 emissions. The argument that immigration restriction would slow CO2 emissions increases is correct."

The assertion that immigration restriction would slow global CO2 emissions increases may be correct, but if so, it strikes me as saying "keep other people poor so I can continue to release more CO2", which isn't a very ethical argument.

Re: R&D as a solution to the energy problem, I think that R&D will go a long way. I don't necessarially believe it will take us all the way, at least until fossil fuels become extremely scarce. Given that R&D into procuring fossil fuels is going to continue, our ability to get fossil fuels will continue to improve over time, so much that is not economical to recover today may be economical tomorrow.

So in my mind, the question should be, how much CO2 are we willing to put in the atmosphere? If we can set this number, and figure out a reasonable transition curve that gets us there, and R&D keeps us within that curve, we're fine without regulation. But if it doesn't, we had better start regulating at some point. One of the best ways to regulate strikes me as a carbon tax, which will continue to let the markets allocate CO2 production in an efficient manner.

My guess is that we won't stay within reasonable limits, because fossil fuels are cheap and abundent, and I expect them to remain relatively cheap for a while. I still think that there are some minor regulations that would be reasonable today, such as setting limits for phantom electric usages when certain devices (e.g. TVs) are off.

Tom said at November 29, 2005 3:42 AM:

Another change that might make sense would be a reevaluation of minimum insulation standards for houses. I suspect that they're based off a lower energy price than we're seeing today.

Jonas Cord said at November 29, 2005 10:37 AM:

I don't mean to be a knee-jerk contrarian - I just can't help it sometimes - but I fail to understand how, if CO2 levels are higher than they have been for 650,000 years, and CO2 is a major cause of warming, why it isn't the warmest it's been in 650,000 years. Or is it? What am I missing?

I'm not looking for an argument, I'm actually curious as to what the answer is.

momochan said at November 29, 2005 1:10 PM:

Jonas, the answer to your question is that we are quickly heading towards temperatures higher than any seen in 650,000 years. The earth is an enormous system, so there's a lot of inertia to overcome. You can see an analogy right on your stovetop. Say that you see a big pot of water over a high flame. But you touch the water and it's still cold. What's the most likely explanation? That pot was put on the stove quite recently. Come back in a little while and you'll have a pot of very hot water. And hot water is what we are in, because with the planet, there is no way to take the pot off of the stove.

silchiuk said at November 29, 2005 1:42 PM:

jonas is being right that much more is involve than co2. simple mind want to reduce to one molecule this is unproductive in long run. anyone looking at this study and thinking it is being supportive of pet theory is small minded. life is being too complex for most simple monkee.

Tdean said at November 29, 2005 3:23 PM:

Jonas & Momochan,

The earth is warmer than humans have ever measured. It is possible that the earth could be warmer than it ever has been in the last 650 K years but we have only temperature proxies for past climate. Some of them are based on isotopic partitioning of gasses, some are biological some are mineralogical. But they are all limited in their environmental scope and accuracy. The important aspect of the ice studies is that we are changing things in terms of the energy balance of the earth much faster than nature does except in the catastrophic cases of giant volcanic eruptions or meteor impacts which are extremely rare. The record shows that the earth's climate system is highly chaotic, subject to very rapid changes even when it isn't being rapidly forced by very large human impacts. It is foolish to expect that the hammer blow of near instantaneous and huge forcings of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses and other environmental disruptions will not lead to rapid climate change that will disrupt worldwide economic systems. Scientists may continue to argue whether or not the current unprecedented hurricane disasters are a direct result of global warming, but the ocean surface temperatures have risen as expected with the rest of the global temperatures and those record high water temperatures are clearly associated with the development of the huge storms. I believe most climate scientists would say the relationship between hurricanes and global warming is highly probable. If so, we all can say that we have been affected by global warming in a material way. And we may be just at the cusp of a very large climate excursion.

Kurt said at November 29, 2005 6:18 PM:

Actually, global warming (if it is real) will not result in more powerful typhoons. The reason is that typhoon intensity is based on ocean water temperature. All of the predictions (as well as geological evidence) indicates that the warming occurs mostly in the temperate and polar regions, not the tropics or sub-tropics. The warmer regions will just extend further north and south of the equator. The storms will not get stronger, they will just move further north (and south) of their current zones.

Here is an extract of what a friend of mine has to say about global warming. It is in response to a question from a major fund manager:

>You think warming up is all that is going to happen in terms of climate,
>weather, and land mass effects? Just a little loss of beach-front property?
>Enlighten me!

no, it won't just be warming.

Weather patterns will change.

There will be a LOT more rainfall (more energy added to the air, more
water due to warmer oceans).

Net result, currently 80% of land is arid, after this, less will be
arid, more get enough rain to grow stuff.

Significant severe weather patterns will be experienced in wider areas
than get them now, hurricanes, tornadoes, severe thunder storms, etc.

The climate on the central northern Russian plain and in northern Canada
will be similar to Minnesota or Iowa. Arable land suitable for cultivation
will go up several hundred percent in North America and North Asia.

The availability of more tillable land will greatly increase opportunity
for the poor and downtrodden by pushing food prices way down. Very much
more good quality food available at low prices. The whole world could afford to
go on the Atkins diet and eat organic food.

This means tons of ecological change and the liberals will go
psychotically ravingly insane, but normal human beings in farming and husbandry will
probably figure out how to take dramatic economic advantage of this.

The quality of ecological niches may improve enough that commercial
hunting again becomes possible in north america (as it is in Australia today,
and as commercial fishing is). All the sudden the indigenous subsistence
hunters would be raking in the bucks.

This would also greatly reduce energy demand for heating. Less cold
weather. Less snow and ice, safer driving, etc.

I think the ocean also ends up with more plankton and a lot more fish,
but I haven't looked into that so much.

A lot of northern africa and central asia would become arable (and green
and wild) as it was 6-8 000 years ago due to increased rainfall that is more
widely distributed in the world.

Lots more overcast days in places subject to that.

Lots of migration of warm weather species northward, and squeezing of
cold weather species.

Lots more opportunities for outdoor activities and sports.

Actually skiing and winter sports wouldn't take as much of a hit as
you'd think due to the greater precipitation. Mostly it is in mountainous
areas - the exact location of the resorts may well have to change, but there
wouldn't be a massive loss of the activity in most locations that have it now.

More storm activity and possibly mildly rising sea level would spell
problems for those with nice oceanfront property, or the need for a lot of urban
renewal and modest relocation in seaside cities. No big deal. In a
real economy buildings get knocked down and put up all the time. But the parasites
who love their beachfront condo they inherited, or who make a lot of money off of
having today's key real estate, would not do well as things change.


It sounds to me that global warming is a good thing, not a bad thing, and should actually be promoted.

Randall Parker said at November 29, 2005 7:08 PM:


I agree that in a warmer planet we ought to be able to grow more food. Growing seasons will be longer and areas which are too cold to grow any food would be able to grow food. Plus, yes, it makes sense more water will evaporate and come down as rain.

Some regions will be winners. Siberia, Canada, and Alaska come to mind. But I wouldn't want to be in Bangladesh if the Greenland ice cap melts. If we could find a way to preserve large amounts of water in ice then the flooding problem could be much reduced.

Tdean said at November 29, 2005 11:15 PM:


Sure, we all should listen to you and your friend about storms and climate change rather than scientists who have actually done research that shows a clear increase in intense hurricanes over the last two decades. ( Ocean temperatures are going up all over the earth, not just in the arctic and the storms are gettin stronger, just as the models say they should. And the models show the storms getting worse as the warming continues.

Rising CO2 will produce more precipitation and more warm weather on average. But the damage comes from more intense storms and an unhinged climate that changes radically over short time periods. No one would benefit from that. We already are seeing extreme flooding periods followed by extreme droughts that then lead to massive fires that release the carbon stored in the plants. Rain forests that had never in history seen a drought have burned to the ground in recent years and we can expect that to continue until the ecologically rich forests become scrub land waste. Then you and your friend can ride your four wheelers in ever more exotic places.

Tom said at November 30, 2005 3:24 AM:

Kurt: "All of the predictions (as well as geological evidence) indicates that the warming occurs mostly in the temperate and polar regions, not the tropics or sub-tropics. The warmer regions will just extend further north and south of the equator. The storms will not get stronger, they will just move further north (and south) of their current zones."

Can you give a source for that?

Here's another prediction (based on modelling) that says we'll be seeing a heck of a lot more cat 5s:

Bode Bliss said at December 10, 2005 3:35 AM:

The record shows we've been in a chill for the last 50 million odd years. The ice epoch might be nearing it's normal end and we should be ready for 100 million years of warming, or the next ice age is 15 thousand years or so away. In case of a new ice age, the climate should warm for another 5 thousand years. Two ice ages ago, half of the western ice sheet of Antarctica melted and most of the sea ice of the Arctic melted.

AndyB said at May 9, 2007 1:10 PM:

You should check into a paper done recently by Ernst-Georg Beck. He compiled over 90,000 CO2 measurements taken between 1812 and the present, before ice core measurements became popular. The chemical measurements were accurate and extensive, done by some of the pioneers of biology, chemistry and the physical sciences. These clearly show that CO2 has been higher than now multiple times during that period. The ice core values are shown to be consistently under-representing actual values by 30% to 50%. The direct measurements were ignored because the did not match the anthropogenic warming theory.

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