December 29, 2009
Global Warming Won't Prevent Ice Age

Writing in Technology Review Duke University prof Franklin Hadley Cocks says even if a worst case scenario for global warming happens in a couple thousand years we'll be headed into the next Ice Age.

Even if the rate of growth could be moderated enough to stabilize levels at about 550 ppmv, average temperatures might well rise by about 5 oC--with devastating effects for us earthlings, such as rising sea levels and dramatic changes in weather patterns.

But even that warming will not stave off the eventual return of huge glaciers, because ice ages last for millennia and fossil fuels will not.In about 300 years, all available fossil fuels may well have been consumed.Over the following centuries, excess carbon dioxide will naturally dissolve into the oceans or get trapped by the formation of carbonate minerals. Such processes won't be offset by the industrial emissions we see today, and atmospheric carbon dioxide will slowly decline toward preindustrial levels. In about 2,000 years, when the types of planetary motions that can induce polar cooling start to coincide again, the current warming trend will be a distant memory.

For the last couple million years of the Quaternary Period You can see by looking at long term temperature graphs that the interglacial periods have been shorter than the glacial periods. Our civilization is very much a product of the current Holocene/Anthropocene interglacial period. We should try to make this period last.

I would prefer we didn't burn up all the limited supply of fossil fuels now so that we could burn them later when we really need to heat up the planet. But the average human discount rate precludes that sort of restraint and long term planning. We effectively can't even plan for 50 years from now. 2000 years is out of the question.

But I'm thinking 2000 years from now what we (those of us who live long enough to get full body rejuvenation and then avoid accidents and war) can find other ways to heat the planet. For example, we could use nuclear or solar energy to power synthesis of methane. Or we could synthesize and release the much more potent trifluoromethyl sulphur pentafluoride (SF5CF3). Or we could synthesize the most potent greenhouse gas nitrogen trifluoride, NF3. It is 17,000 times more potent than CO2. Surely in a couple thousand years we (or the artificial intelligences that take over the planet) will be able to find many ways to prevent the next ice age. So, absent an extinction event that wipes out intelligent life on the planet I do not expect the next ice age to happen on schedule.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 December 29 05:04 PM  Climate Trends

Bruce said at December 29, 2009 7:27 PM:

"In about 300 years, all available fossil fuels may well have been consumed."


The US has 4 trillion tons of coal, of which 489 billion tons are commercially recoverable, of which 263 billion tons are recoverable today.

That 6.5% (263 billion tons) = 146 years. Assuming no one looks for anymore coal and no new mining technology is discovered.

NG keeps being found. Then there is methane hydrates. 350 - 3500 years worth:

However, I agree the ice ages are inevitable. As are planet killing impacts. We should spend our R & D money on more important things than keeping plant food out of the atmosphere.

Fat Man said at December 29, 2009 8:33 PM:

1: If we burn fossil fuels, it will get warmer, and that will be a disaster, and then there will be an ice age, and that will be real disaster.
2: If we don't burn fossil fuels, there will be an ice age sooner, and that will be a real disaster.

Ergo: There will be a real disaster no matter what we do. Therefor, what we do is of no importance.

OK. I am glad we cleared that up.

As you were, gentlemen.

Party on, dudes.

PacRim Jim said at December 29, 2009 9:13 PM:

The powerful better start staking out land in the tropics.

Mthson said at December 29, 2009 11:32 PM:

I wonder how the far-left plans to deal with the next ice age, considering they actually argue for ceasing human technological advancement.

LAG said at December 30, 2009 6:34 AM:

"I would prefer we didn't burn up all the limited supply of fossil fuels now so that we could burn them later when we really need to heat up the planet."

I thought this was a technology blog? Somebody's forgetting that we already have a few other ways of keeping warm and that we're likely to have invented a few more in the intervening years before the carbon-powered lights go out, if they ever do.

Randall Parker said at December 30, 2009 8:29 AM:


Too lazy to read the full post?

mib said at December 30, 2009 10:07 AM:

Short term thinking. In 2000 years, there should be no need to heat up the planet. With technologies that should be developed long before then, humans will have the capability to adapt our own bodies to the harsher climate. I expect my posthuman body to be capable of surviving the vacuum of space, surface of a star, etc...

This doesn't preclude heating of the planet for recreational, scientific, or "preservation" purposes.

Randall Parker said at December 30, 2009 10:17 AM:


Unless humans want to drill thru 1 mile of ice they aren't going to be able to visit NYC during an ice age.

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan said at December 30, 2009 1:42 PM:

"Surely in a couple thousand years we (or the artificial intelligences that take over the planet) will be able to find many ways to prevent the next ice age."

Artifical Intelligences? My money's on the social insects or the cockroaches.

comatus said at December 30, 2009 1:49 PM:

Not able to visit NYC? Omigod!
All together now, brave Futurists:
(1) Squat;
(2) Pee.

I left out the whimpering.
You've already got that down pat.

baldanders said at December 30, 2009 2:14 PM:

It's probably a good thing that average humans have a discount rate that keeps them from trying to plan for events two-thousand years from now. We just don't have enough information about what things will be like then to be able to plan sensibly on that kind of time-scale. But as long as we remain a technological society, one that continues to understand the world better as time passes, it is a pretty safe bet that people two-thousand years from now will be in a much better position to deal with things than we are now, even if we can't predict what resources they will have at their disposal.

Significant climate change is inevitable without human intervention. It seems to me that the smartest thing to do is to maximize wealth over a reasonably short time-scale (say, 100 years at the outside), and if we spend public monies on the problem it seems to me that they would be best spent on basic research that will allow us to avert or adapt to that change, and to other problems that might crop up in the future.

Uriel said at December 30, 2009 2:58 PM:

"Even if the rate of growth could be moderated enough to stabilize levels at about 550 ppmv, average temperatures might well rise by about 5 oC -with devastating effects for us earthlings, such as rising sea levels and dramatic changes in weather patterns."

Uh, yeah, ... riiight; sure they will. I guess the news that Global Warming is bunk travels slowly in some circles.

So, we can add Technology Review to the list of fraudulent "peer-reviewed" journals; add professor Cocks to the long list of fraudsters in "science" and academe; and add Duke University to the list of schools I wouldn't let my kids even visit.

KenB said at December 30, 2009 3:00 PM:

Will the artificial intelligence that takes over the planet care about an ice age?

don said at December 30, 2009 3:01 PM:

Talk about hubris in an infinite universe. Drop some acid while on the Golden Gate Bridge and you can solve your climate problem in about thirty minutes, and fly like turkey while doing it.

papapap said at December 30, 2009 3:13 PM:

or whatever happened of humanity could simply relocate to the areas that are not covered in ice like we did last time, that would be easier and simpler too.

we don't know what the world will be like in 50 years, we only have a good idea of what it will be like in ten years and what it could possibly be like in 20 years, so many things can happen in so little time; i guess it's nice to know in 2k years there could be another ice age, so many things could happen in the mean time.

Bob Badour said at December 30, 2009 3:15 PM:


Time keeps on slippin' slippin' slippin'
Into the future.
Fly like a turkey
To the sea.
Fly like a turkey
Let my spirit carry me.

Ya know, I hear if Benjamin had had his way the song might even have started out that way.

Roderick Reilly said at December 30, 2009 3:20 PM:

Even if the rate of growth could be moderated enough to stabilize levels at about 550 ppmv, average temperatures might well rise by about 5 oC--with devastating effects for us earthlings, such as rising sea levels and dramatic changes in weather patterns.

And the Earth hasn't been this warm before? Profound change, perhaps, but "devastating?"

Also, where does the assumption of 5C come from? 2-3 deg. F more likely, and probably from what is most likely a slow crawl out of the Little Ice Age (which was no Ice Age, just colder)?

And so-called AGW would have happened only in the last half century at best, if at all. Not enough human industrial and emmission activity prior to that to have made a difference.

Brett Bellmore said at December 30, 2009 4:12 PM:

Orbital mirrors would be more practical, I would think, what with their potential to force temperatures in both directions, and modulate temperatures locally, rather than just globally. Besides, if you need more heat to fend off an ice age, it might as well come with more energy to drive the ecosystem. Finally, you might make them wavelength specific; I'm sure we could shift the spectral mix landing on Earth towards something plants could use more efficiently.

crosspatch said at December 30, 2009 6:20 PM:

If one looks at ice core data from the past few thousand years, you might notice that cooling started about 0 AD. We have some ups and downs since then but generally our temperatures now are cooler than they have been for most of the past 5,000 years or so. Think of it like driving East across Nebraska. You have a series of rolling hills and you go up and down but generally you are losing altitude as you drive East. I believe the cooling has already started and we should be drilling what Arctic resources we have available while we can still get at them.

Right Wing Nutter said at December 30, 2009 8:43 PM:

There's no need to synthesize semi-exotic gasses like NF3. There are millions of tons methane hydrides sitting on the sea floor. It's only 20x more effective as CO2, but there's a lot of it and pumping it to the surface shouldn't be that difficult 2 millenia hence.

NA said at December 30, 2009 9:05 PM:

Agreed Randall,

The next ice age will probably not "happen on schedule." And remember that this is one professor's idea, regarding something which is extremely speculative. As for CO2 dissipating, we don't really know how quickly CO2 can be absorbed back in, or what longer term climate patterns will be as a result of a period of intensely amplified greenhouse gas concentrations -- and I would venture to fairly comfortably say, that includes this Duke Professor Cocks.

There are also other contributors to climate change in addition to CO2 caused by fossil fuel burning, including nitrous oxides, the fluorcarbons you make mention of (sulfur hexafuoride has a GWP over 23,000 times greater than CO2, more than NF3), methane, the loss of carbon sinks, etc.

As for being on schedule, it is likely that the effects of our current net emission additions are being underestimated, for a number of reasons: Most notably due to the lag of several decades or more between a climate forcing such as increased greenhouse gases, and the brunt of its effect due to the time it takes to heat oceans. Another reason is that almost nothing associated with this phenomenon moves on a linear scale, and there are a lot of systemic changes that are starting to take place that naturally self amplify. [Nor is this speculation at this point.]

Some of the more interesting, basic, and in fact at the same time widely misunderstood science associated with this issue can be found here in a piece which also secondarily addresses a classic purveyor of misinformation on this topic, replete with plenty of supporting documentation and links. The next part of this same series provides a little bit more information regarding the unknowns (as opposed to the knowns), and an interesting, scenario as to how climate could spin out of control a bit faster than those not living, say, in high mountain regions, might like.

NA said at December 30, 2009 9:23 PM:

Right wing nutter

You are right about the methane sitting on or near the ocean floor -- this is largely tied up in clathrates. There is evidence to indicate that some of this has been bubbling to the surface in small, pockmarked areas. In one, a small ship was found sitting right in the middle (it's an extremely small area, and highly coincidental for a ship to have sunk right over one) completely upright, with no signs of damage. One explanation is a burst of methane bubbles rising to the surface which would have sufficiently reduced the water's buoyancy to the point where a ship would simply plummet straight downward, with no foundering. Similarly, those jumping overboard would sink also.

We have no idea how much is down there, but the "estimates" are upwards of a trillion tons, to several trillion tons. And what seems to play a key role in keeping this methane largely in check, as opposed to exploding to the surface apart from an occassional fizzle, is pressure, and temperature(cold.) And that temperature is slowly changing.

As far as solving this rapidly rising greenhouse gas challenge in a way that does not simply lead us to more centralized control, dictate, rules rather than incentives, and inefficiencies, what is wrong with this approach to use the power of the market to solve the problem, and far more effectively than any otherwise complex series of bills could ever do. (Just look at the recent health care debacle, where Dems were so scared of how they look when their opponents criticize them they couldn't even put together a decent bill despite having a strong majority and the White House, in effect proving many of their critics right in the process.)

Convoluted bills ain't gonna cut it. We're not going to solve this problem unless we learn to inspire the market to quickly change and shift its parameters of growth, and stop de facto subsidizing really heavy environmental (and now climatological) externalities.

NA said at December 30, 2009 9:49 PM:

Cross patch,

You should read this post. (Just focus on the science, ignore that it rips Palin, but really, it should be clear that Palin really doesn't understand the issue and is not one -- whatever your views -- that you would really want to be listening to on an issue of scientific substance anyway if she has to keep misrepresenting information in order to make her points. Where is the trust there?). And some of the many non partisan leading scientific organization reports linked therein, before concluding that we are in a cooling period, or even that at this point the data really matters, when the issue is physics driven. (although the data does support warming: NASA)

Fat man

All the speculation and ice age this, heating that, is confusing. But keep in mind a few things. The physics that underlies climate change is not speculation; it is happening now, and it is being prompted by changes (atmospheric concentration levels) that are changing -- rising -- at what is geologically breakneck speed. Now is a lot different from 2000 years from now. We have no idea what things are going to be like 2000 yers from now.

Also see comment above; the next ice age timing issue is complete speculation, and, while interesting, appears to be the work of a few professors or one professor. As for what is happening right now, despite what you have read by a lot of interests that really (for ideological reasons, I think well addressed here)have confused the issue by putting out a lot of erroneous information, there is in fact a pretty widespread consensus as to the basic issue, as opposed to debate regarding modeling, amounts, degree and rapidity of effects, etc. (See link at top of this post as to what the incontrovertible science on this is, behind this consensus, which is in fact the more imporant fact here.) Also, for a great resource of references, skip to the very bottom of this post and see the list of references, with links. (Definitely don't read the piece itself if you like the Washington Post newspaper, or think it is "liberal" -- just go to bottom for the references.)


I'm not a member of the far left (not even sure there really is one) and am a pretty big critic of the "left" as currently defined (particularly when it comes to framing and presumptousness), but I don't think the argument is to cease or even retard technological advancement (talking about mainstream left, not a random luddite or something..) just to change its nature so that we start to do smarter things when it comes to not wreaking ecological and biological havoc upon the world we inhabit. Not sure I see how continuing to use rather polluting, finite, (and, in the case of oil, national security compromising) fossil fuels instead of prompting technological progress to rapidly shift over to much more sensible and smarter fuels, is ceasing technollogical advancement. We will always advance in this way whether we like it or not, it is in our nature.

The question is how sensibly do we proceed forward now that we have reached the point where we really can have a profound impact upon the entire physical world that we inhabit (and our kids and as their kids will), both wittingly, and unwittingly.

Brett Bellmore said at December 31, 2009 5:08 AM:

"The physics that underlies climate change is not speculation;"

SOME of the physics that underlies climate change is not speculation. The problem is, you don't get to really frightening levels of warming without leaving the solid physics behind, and getting into speculation about large positive feedbacks. The models that are being relied on aren't pure, physics driven models, they've got a HUGE amount of speculation built into them.

baldanders said at December 31, 2009 7:01 AM:

NA: First off it really makes very little sense to talk about the "basic physics" underlying global warming. We can, of course, calculate the total forcing of a given amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but the amount of warming you'd see from that is not something that most people would find very alarming. What matters is the feedbacks, and you can't calculate those with just "basic physics." With all due respect, anyone who says that "basic physics" has much bearing on this question is either uninformed or disingenuous.

I think that there is much less consensus around this issue than you seem to think there is, at least in the important areas. But what's important is the evidence. For instance there is a very real consensus that the basics of Darwinian evolution are true. But it is not necessary to invoke that consensus in arguments about evolution- it is only necessary to point to the overwhelming evidence we have of evolution through natural selection. There is no comparable evidence for catastrophic AGW. In fact, it is impossible to unambiguously attribute any of the warming we've seen in the last century to human influence. And, contra your assertion, there is quite a lot of evidence that the changes we've seen in the latter half of the 20th century are not all that out of the ordinary, and certainly not in any way "breakneck."

Now, I would agree that, all other things being equal, we should be leery of changing the composition of the atmosphere. It's certainly not possible to rule out the possibility that increased CO2 will lead to catastrophic warming- but that's the sort of thing that is very hard to rule out (it's not possible to rule out the possibility that our efforts to reduce emissions will lead to catastrophe either.) But I would tend to agree with Wally Broecker that changing the composition of the atmosphere is uncomfortably like poking a sleeping dragon.

The problem is that we're almost certainly going to find out what happens when you poke that dragon. Right now the only source of energy that can replace a significant amount of our fossil fuel use is nuclear, which is a pretty hard sell politically. All other problems with nuclear aside, coal will remain a lot cheaper than nuclear for the foreseeable future. The Chinese may make a lot of noises about climate change, but they will actually only accept changes that benefit them. So the coal is going to get burned until someone comes up with a replacement that is cheaper than coal, and there's nothing like that on the horizon. I sometimes hear people say that we need a "Manhattan Project" for alternative energy. The problem with this is that we're not ready for one, just as we would not have been ready for the actual Manhattan Project in 1907, when Rutherford had yet to discover the nuclear structure of the atom (hope I have the dates right on that, I didn't actually check.)

I do think that we will develop viable forms of alternative energy. I don't know what they will be (though I have a feeling they won't be wind or terrestrial solar.) I would be very surprised to find out that we will still be primarily using fossil fuels in, say, 2150. But if there's going to be catastrophic AGW it's more likely to be caused by the first 400ppm increase in CO2 than by the second or the third. And it's a pretty safe bet that we're going to see that increase. Attempts to forestall that increase are very unlikely to work, but they are very likely to lead to perverse outcomes that reduce our ability to adapt to whatever change4s in climate we do see, whether natural or man-made.

Engineer-Poet said at December 31, 2009 9:12 AM:

If mankind wants to prevent an ice age, the lack of fossil fuels won't be a problem.  Nitrous oxide works fine and has an atmospheric lifespan of only about 150 years (it won't endure into the next warming phase).  SF6 (3200 years), NF3 (740 years) and their kin are less desirable because they can't be controlled as quickly.  Adding black carbon to snow deposits will help keep them from enduring over summers.

It appears much easier to control an ice age than a warming episode.

baldanders:  We already had the Manhattan project, and some follow-on research.  The science was done 40-50 years ago already.  We are not in the situation of going from the squash-court reactor to Hiroshima in 2 years, 8 months and 4 days.  What we need to do is to displace an old, established but clunky technology (light-water reactors using enriched uranium oxide fuel) with molten-salt reactors burning thorium and metal-fuelled fast spectrum reactors burning spent LWR uranium and actinides.  The technical problems are well-known and mostly solved, but we have political and economic interests defending their established business models.  This is a completely different problem, and much easier to solve once the necessary impetus is available.

Dan Pangburn said at December 31, 2009 10:55 AM:

All average global temperatures since 1895 are predicted by a simple model. There was no need to consider change to the level of CO2 or any other greenhouse gas. Global warming stopped in about 2004.

The model, with an eye-opening graph, is presented in the October 16 pdf at (The PDO index indicates a substantial measure of sea surface temperatures but not all so replace all references to PDO with EOT for Effective Ocean Turnover)

This model predicted the ongoing temperature decline trend. None of the 20 or so models that the IPCC uses do.

baldanders said at December 31, 2009 11:10 AM:

Engineer-Poet: I guess I wasn't clear enough about what I was saying. When I was talking about a Manhattan Project for alternative energy I was talking about non-fission energy. I agree that we likely could significantly reduce CO2 emissions using nuclear, or at least that the technology is there to do it. But I don't think that will happen, for a couple of reasons. First, nuclear is pretty much anathema to a lot of the people who are pushing for alternative energy. Second, there is a lot of fear of nuclear in the general populace, and there will therefore be a lot of NIMBYism around it. Third, while I don't think nuclear would be prohibitively expensive, it's hard to imagine that it can be made as inexpensive as fossil fuels, particularly given the regulatory regime under which it would almost certainly be. And I think that it will be impossible in practice to prevent other countries from taking advantage of the price difference.

I don't think we'll see a wholesale changeover to non-fossil sources of energy until there is a strong economic incentive for it. And I don't think it will be possible to impose such an incentive in a way that works as intended- the incentive can't be artificial, nor can it be long-term. Look at what's happening in energy policy today- we see perverse outcome after perverse outcome, because people almost always act in their own short-term interest. If we switch entirely to nuclear for electrical generation we'll just see production move to China and India, and this will likely be encouraged by regulations ostensibly meant to reduce carbon emissions.

Randall Parker said at December 31, 2009 3:23 PM:

Brett Bellmore,

I like climate engineering methods that can be adjusted rapidly. Controllable satellites that can rotate to increase or decrease their cross section for hitting the sunlight would allow adjustment in the amount of sunlight that gets thru.

Methane is a lot more adjustable as a heating gas than carbon dioxide due to its much shorter half-life in the atmosphere. We would need to look at any heating gas and consider the possibility of needing to reduce a heating effect when trying to stop an Ice Age.

Same holds for cooling gases and other cooling techniques. We need to be able to stop them if they turn out to do too much cooling or cause too much in the way of side effects (e.g. droughts).

Curiously, the biggest climate engineers today are the Chinese. They are not only the biggest CO2 emitters. They also do a lot of rain cloud seeding. I wonder whether they systematically study the efficacy of their cloud seeding efforts.

Another Ford said at December 31, 2009 5:26 PM:

Here are some charts that may provide some insight and context to past warming and/or cooling:

NA said at January 1, 2010 7:35 PM:

"SOME of the physics that underlies climate change is not speculation. The problem is, you don't get to really frightening levels of warming without leaving the solid physics behind."

Actually, you kind of do and you kind of don't. It's really a combination of physics -- heat drives climate, long lived greenhouse gases trap heat, we are adding enormously to ambient atmospheric concentrations of heat trapping gases, and basic climate science. That is, the earth is somewhat in stasis. When you throw it out of stasis, things start to change more rapidly. A scenario, just by way of example, is examined here:

In other words, climate does NOT work on a linear scale (almost nothing in nature does.) water melts far faster than air. once global temperatures start to shift, water pools on ice fields, filling cracks, which brings 1) water, not air, which melts ice far faster, 2) much warmer temperatures than the air potentially, and 3) pressure. As the process gets exacerbated, more ice melts, leading to larger pools, larger fizzures, loss of ice, an an decreasing albedo from the warmer land or sea surface, from ice or snow, etc. (see link it gives a little more on the example.)

What is physics is that climate is a function of heat and GHG, and that climate is not linearly correlated with these levels, either. Thus what would change the earth radically is if some external event, or "forcing" drastically altered those levels. This is what has happened in the past, so far as we can tell. And now, we are the ones creating the effect. (See the link above, part II of the series, it covers a lot of the basic science, and all kinds of links if you want more info).

What is really important here, and what is often overlooked is that there is assuredly a lag of several decades or more between cause and effect when it comes to a lot of climate forcing -- it takes a LONG time to heat up the oceans, to begin with. And if heat ultimately drives climate, oceans more directly drive it. And we will see the effects of our impact long after, not during, not before, its cause has been instituted.

This is why, among other reasons, all this focus on "data" is so misplaced, even though the data does clearly corroborate, but it is less consequential than the physics, and the fact that we keep adding to these levels

I'm going to just throw something else out here. There is a lot of resistance to the idea that we can really severely effect long term climate -- when clearly we can, doing far more than a simple huge asteroid hitting the earth millions of years might have done -- most likely because of concerns about cost. But in the long run, it is suggested that these concerns are misplaced, and why they are, here.

Randall Parker said at January 1, 2010 9:53 PM:


It seems reasonable to expect some positive feedback from warming. After all, you melt ice, the Earth becomes darker, and it absorbs more light.

The $64 trillion dollar question is just how big is the positive feedback? Near as I can tell we do not know. Since we really have opened Pandora's Box and now are opening still more boxes in Pandora's closet we are going to find out.

If of positive feedback is large and a +5C warming is what we are going to get then at some point we are going to have to intervene in a really big way to stop it. Right now we ought to accelerate the development of all the technologies that will make that intervention cheaper:

- 4th generation nuclear power.
- electric vehicle batteries.
- even bigger wind turbines.
- more ways to make PV cheaper.
- ways to electrify rail more cheaply.

baldanders said at January 2, 2010 8:52 AM:

I think it's reasonable to assume that there are positive feedbacks. I don't think that it's reasonable to assume that the net feedback is positive, though it certainly could be. In a system as complicated as the climate you're pretty certain to have both positive and negative feedbacks, so the question is what is the net feedback. That's a horrifically complicated question, but in fact it's terribly oversimplified, because there's no guarantee that the feedbacks are the same at different temperatures/CO2 levels. In fact, the system could be so sensitive to initial conditions that the difference between a large shift in climate and no shift might hinge on very small differences. We have no way of knowing. The climate models are very clearly completely useless in terms of making predictions about the actual effects, and I'm baffled that people try to pretend otherwise.

If I had to lay money on the question, at even odds, I wouldn't bet on there being strong positive feedbacks, at least not at the temperatures/CO2 levels we're talking about. One reason for this is that as far as we can tell there have been times in the past when CO2 levels were a lot higher than they are now, but temperatures have actually been significantly lower. That argues against a strong positive feedback- though it's certainly not conclusive. But I think you need to posit some fairly strong countervailing negative forcing at that time to account for it. The other reason I suspect that there isn't a strong positive feedback is that the earth does seem to be able to remain quite cool for long periods of time, and can clearly return to a cold state from a warm one. Systems that simply have a strong positive feedback tend not to do this. But again, that's not conclusive as we can't account for all the other forcings there may have been during those times.

NA: There are some problems with your argument about stored heat in the ocean. The main one is that there's no empirical evidence to support it. In fact we can't find this "missing" heat in the oceans. Now, again, this is not conclusive, as we are not yet able to positively determine how much heat is stored in the oceans.

Randall: Well, I certainly agree that if we saw a +5 C warming over a short time scale (say, less than 1000 years) it would be pretty dire. I think that on balance the empirical evidence we have suggests that increased CO2 is not likely to cause anywhere near that much warming, although it can't be entirely ruled out. And we need to balance fears about AGW against the evidence we have that the climate sometimes changes that due to natural forcings, and does it very quickly with very little warning. It would be foolish, IMHO, to hurt our ability to adapt to natural climate variation in an effort to forestall anthropogenic climate change.

I'd certainly support greater funding for a number of the technologies you list. I'm very skeptical about wind, and more guardedly skeptical about terrestrial solar. This is partially because I see land use as a bigger environmental issue than CO2 emissions. It may also be a bit of a knock-on effect of having grown up around a lot of engineers working on solar. I'd certainly be in favor of greater use of nuclear power. But let's note that this is not what most of the people who are most vocal about AGW are suggesting. They are instead suggesting measures that will significantly slow technological innovation, while at the same time increasing the power of governments and shifting a lot of money around in ways they find congenial.

Beyond that, if there's one thing the history of technology tells us it is that a lot of speculation about the future is made moot by unforeseen advances. If we're serious about being able to deal with climate change, whether anthropogenic or natural, along with a host of other potential dangers (some of which we may be completely unaware of at this point) we should be doing everything we can to promote advances in the fields that are the most likely to give us greater ability to manipulate our environment. Fields like miniaturization/nano, genetic engineering, and materials science (three fields in which I expect to see a great deal of convergence over the next few decades.) Basic research in these fields may very well open up technologies that are a lot more effective in dealing with problems like AGW than anything that's even on our radar at the moment.

Bob Badour said at January 2, 2010 10:05 AM:


Large blocks of link-free text tend not to get read. I have a couple friendly pointers:

1) Pick the most important point and ignore the rest.
2) Say more with fewer words.
3) If an issue, nuanced enough and important enough, moves you to invest the time writing a longer piece, make the incremental investment to find appropriate references online and link to them. That additional work makes the difference between reaching an audience and wasting your investment.

Randall Parker said at January 2, 2010 11:59 AM:


I will second what Bob said: Most people (myself included) are not reading your large text blocks.

Look, opinions are a dime a million. People want evidence.

Dan Pangburn said at January 3, 2010 3:31 PM:

All average global temperatures since 1895 are accurately predicted (standard deviation of concurrent measured minus predicted temperatures since 1900 is 0.064 C) by a simple model using the first law of thermodynamics and the time-integral (same as ‘running total’ if time steps are equal) of sunspot count.

The effective sea surface temperature oscillation (zero change over a period) was discovered. There was no need to consider any change to the level of CO2 or any other greenhouse gas. Climate change is natural.

The model, with an eye-opening graph, is presented in the October 16 pdf at (The integral of the PDO Index indicates a substantial measure of sea surface temperatures, as does the time-integral of ENSO 3.4, but not all so replace all references to PDO with ESST for Effective Sea Surface Temperature).

This model predicted the ongoing temperature decline trend. None of the 20 or so models that the IPCC uses do.

The Argo float ocean temperature measurements show that global warming stopped in about 2004 (graph on pp4 of ).

baldanders said at January 4, 2010 3:47 PM:

OK- let me condense it for you. There is no good evidence for catastrophic AGW. When you post saying "Look guys it's reasonable to assume that the feedback is positive" and then offer a scenario about ice and albedo all you are doing is offering opinion, and clearly uninformed opinion at that- well, it's your blog so I suppose you are entitled to post uninformed opinion to your heart's content. I do feel the need to qualify things, and I suppose I could trim my posts by 50% or more by not qualifying them. But, I feel impelled to admit what many people will not- I can't predict the effects of increased CO2 on climate.

Engineer-Poet said at January 4, 2010 4:45 PM:
All average global temperatures since 1895 are accurately predicted (standard deviation of concurrent measured minus predicted temperatures since 1900 is 0.064 C) by a simple model using the first law of thermodynamics and the time-integral (same as ‘running total’ if time steps are equal) of sunspot count.
No they aren't.  Global temps aren't a function of the exponential moving average either.

What kind of fool are you, to believe something so easily shown to be wrong with a trivial search?

Bob Badour said at January 4, 2010 6:06 PM:
When you post saying "Look guys it's reasonable to assume that the feedback is positive"

baldanders, If you read carefully, you will see that's not what he said. Some effects will be positive feedbacks. Some effects will be negative feedbacks. He also said: "The $64 trillion dollar question is just how big is the positive feedback? Near as I can tell we do not know." Contrast that with your own position: "I can't predict the effects of increased CO2 on climate."

Bob Badour said at January 4, 2010 8:32 PM:

P.S. Your shorter comment has one huge advantage over your longer comment: Someone read it.

I am not saying that to hurt you or to gain some rhetorical advantage. I want people to read your posts. The way to get people to read is information scent. Brief posts advertise "easy catch" and well-researched posts with links advertise "nutritious meal".

If you write for the sheer joy of writing without any regard for having an audience, that's self-indulgent. I am hardly in a position to criticize anyone for that. Just be aware the indulgence is limited to yourself. On the other hand, if you write to be heard, be heard.

It doesn't take a long post to say: "I don't know, and I strongly doubt anyone else does either."

To get people to read a long post that says that, one needs to fill it with the evidence that others who have put in real effort don't know either. If you want to write long, qualified posts, please do. Just do so in a way they get read.

baldanders said at January 4, 2010 10:13 PM:

Bob: I appreciate that you're not trying to hurt me with your post. You needn't worry. I won't bore you with the details, but I had an audience well before most people knew there were blogs, and I had feedback (sometimes very hostile feedback) well before most people knew there were comments. I wasn't thin-skinned under my own name, so I'm not likely to be hurt by comments directed at a pseudonym. I don't post much anymore, but the sites I started back then still get substantial traffic.

Randall did indeed say "It seems reasonable to expect some positive feedback from warming. After all, you melt ice, the Earth becomes darker, and it absorbs more light." Now, you could argue that he didn't mean that the net feedback would be positive. Unfortunately his comment was so net-friendly that it's impossible to know what he meant by that. If he meant what he seems to have meant it is safe to assume that he is not worth listening to on this subject, and probably not worth listening to on any other subject. That's the problem with not qualifying things. You wind up saying monstrously dumb stuff. I'd rather not be read than be on record saying things that dumb, even under a pseudonym.

Bob Badour said at January 5, 2010 8:11 AM:

baldanders, But Randall did qualify his statement: "The $64 trillion dollar question is just how big is the positive feedback? Near as I can tell we do not know." Omitting the qualification from your excerpt doesn't remove it from the original.

SF said at January 5, 2010 10:50 AM:

In the village where I live, one of the most widely believed conspiracy theories is that the government is already doing geoengineering (chemtrails).

Dan Pangburn said at January 5, 2010 2:16 PM:

You obviously did not understand the research. Perhaps you did not even look at the paper. There is nothing on the web, other than what I have put there, regarding the time-integral of sunspot count or applying the first law of thermodynamics to the global warming issue so it is unclear what you searched for and did or did not find. Those who understand the physics and the engineering analysis can verify the findings presented in the paper.

See Change said at January 5, 2010 7:00 PM:

Dan Pangburn and baldanders, yours are good comments and links, I enjoyed reading them.

seldon27 said at January 25, 2010 9:18 PM:

I read a lot of stupidities all around. When I look at websites like iceagenow or futurepundit, I wonder where is the little common sense needed in every human being, and especially by a scientist.. they clame the glaciers advanced and the arctic cap too.. wow! I mean people are desperate in switzerland and austria, covering their ice with artificial blankets to stop the accelerated melting, the northern passage opened first time in 2008 and last year too.. and yet, we 'march toward an ice age which can happen anytime'.. man! how much stupidity can one take.. and the saddest thing is that big names are involved into this..

Dan Pangburn said at April 27, 2010 8:05 AM:

Climate change is natural. Belief in human caused global warming is a mistake. Average global temperatures for at least 114 years and counting are accurately calculated (coefficient of determination, R2 = 0.86). There was no need whatsoever to include the effects of change to the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide or any other greenhouse gas. See how and eye-opening graphics at

Wrangler Wayne said at April 20, 2011 5:51 PM:

In his paper, Qing-Bin Lu, a professor of physics and astronomy, shows how CFCs - compounds once widely used as refrigerants - and cosmic rays - energy particles originating in outer space - are mostly to blame for climate change, rather than carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. His paper, derived from observations of satellite, ground-based and balloon measurements as well as an innovative use of an established mechanism, was published online in the prestigious journal Physics Reports. As well, there is no solid evidence that the global warming from 1950 to 2000 was due to CO2. Instead, Lu notes, it was probably due to CFCs conspiring with cosmic rays. And from 1850 to 1950, the recorded CO2 level increased significantly because of the industrial revolution, while the global temperature kept nearly constant or only rose by about 0.1 C. Check out the article: Study shows CFCs, cosmic rays major culprits for global warming

Jenna said at June 6, 2014 8:18 AM:

Overall, averting an ice age seems to be an easy problem compared with tackling global warming and trying to keep people from burning up all the fossil fuels that are relatively easy to get.

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