February 06, 2010
Water-Stressed Trees Convert Less CO2 Into Biomass

Warming will reduce winter snow pack and therefore reduce tree growth in summer due to lack of water.

Contrary to conventional belief, as the climate warms and growing seasons lengthen subalpine forests are likely to soak up less carbon dioxide, according to a new University of Colorado at Boulder study.

As a result, more of the greenhouse gas will be left to concentrate in the atmosphere.

"Our findings contradict studies of other ecosystems that conclude longer growing seasons actually increase plant carbon uptake," said Jia Hu, who conducted the research as a graduate student in CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department in conjunction with the university's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES.

The study will be published in the February edition of the journal Global Change Biology.

Working with ecology and evolutionary biology professor and CIRES Fellow Russell Monson, Hu found that while smaller spring snowpack tended to advance the onset of spring and extend the growing season, it also reduced the amount of water available to forests later in the summer and fall. The water-stressed trees were then less effective in converting CO2 into biomass. Summer rains were unable to make up the difference, Hu said.

While not mentioned in this press release, outright drought is especially problematic for use of trees to capture CO2. Pine needs water in order to produce resin that protects against beetle infestation (yes, trees have active defensive mechanisms against pests). Without enough water pine trees will get killed by beetles. Obviously dead trees release CO2 rather than absorb it. Warmer winters make this problem worse by reducing snow pack and also by not killing the beetles. More beetles survive warmer winters and cause more damage to trees.

While longer seasons and higher CO2 will increase plant growth in many areas that won't happen where drought and reduced summer water run-off makes water a bigger limiting factor than CO2 for plant growth.

Why do I assume CO2 will cause warming? Absorption spectra (and with a decent explanation here and here) I respect physics.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 February 06 09:30 PM  Climate Feedbacks

Bob Badour said at February 6, 2010 10:32 PM:

I especially respect physics when I accidentally drop a 1' diameter 3' log of white birch on my steel-toed boot and watch it bounce harmlessly off to the side.

Physics is a good thing to respect.

Not Buying the SCAM said at February 7, 2010 1:59 AM:

If you are so hot on absorption spectra, then I suggest you go take a look at the bands of the whole trace and tally up H2O / O2 / O3 and see how that compares to the meager amount that CO2 absorbs.


Fat Man said at February 7, 2010 8:35 AM:

"Warming will reduce winter snow pack and therefore reduce tree growth in summer due to lack of water."

or it won't:

Global Warming Speeding Tree Growth?.

Whatever floats your boat. Ain't AGW grand? You can say anything and get the media to report it as if it were interesting or important.

Lance said at February 7, 2010 9:49 AM:

What warming are you talking about?...What is the earth's temperature 'supposed" to be?

Randall Parker said at February 7, 2010 11:59 AM:

Not Buying the SCAM,

You are buying the SCAM that has been funded by ExxonMobil and the coal companies. You are their tool.


I'm practical about this question. I think the temperature of the planet should be low enough to prevent the melting of Greenland and the Antarctic. I like South Florida and the eastern coastal cities and want to be able to visit them without wearing scuba gear.

Fat Man,

As I try to make clear: Higher CO2 will increase plant growth in some areas and decrease it in others.

You ought to read some books about climate research. That's what I'm doing. Works way better for one's understanding than listening to the talking points crafted by Frank Luntz, the CEI, and other tools of ExxonMobil and Massey Energy. I say this as someone who even owns lots of oil company stocks. I'm confident of their ability to continue to fool the masses. Meanwhile, I am interested in knowing the truth and discussing the truth with those interested in the truth. Want to get interested in the truth? It is very interesting.

Brett Bellmore said at February 7, 2010 12:25 PM:

I respect physics, too. I'm looking at the chart in your first here, and the absorption curve for CO2 in the relevant range is pretty close to rectangular, and essentially saturated out. Which makes it fairly clear that doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere isn't going to anywhere near double the impact from CO2 on our heat budget. In fact, as the Wikipedia article on radiative forcing states, "The relationship between carbon dioxide and radiative forcing is logarithmic so that increased concentrations have a progressively smaller warming effect."

But every discussion I see of global warming assumes that the radiative forcing of each additional ppm of CO2 is identical to the previous ppm. Which isn't physics, it's alarmism.

SF said at February 7, 2010 12:26 PM:


Predicting which areas will be wetter and which dryer is one of the weakest aspects of climate science. All we know is that there will be some of each. I printed out this article a few days ago, but now it seems to be only for subscribers.

Theo Richel said at February 7, 2010 12:54 PM:

It is true that some time ago Exxon sponsored the skeptics movement with some 10 million. They know humans do not heat the planet in a dangerous way, but they are not allowed to say so. Now big oil has shut up and intends to make big money on cap and trade. Please demonstrate how big oil tries to obstruct cap & trade and similar measures. You will not find any proof because they are going to win big in this business. Meanwhile the alarmists receive billions for propaganda to scare the hell out of our kids.
And with regard to your remark about 'want to be able to visit Florida without scuba gear'... that is a great one. I would like to swim in the sea without the moon falling on my head. Please get your priorities in order. According to the Copenhagen Consensus global warming ranks about 25th on the list of the worlds biggest problems. And I think they exaggerate. The earth hasnt warmed in the past 10 years. And you have apparently missed the news of the past few months that shows that climate science has made an absolute mockery of peer review.
Have you already read these book about climate change: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1450512437?ie=UTF8&tag=wattsupwithth-20&link_code=as3&camp=211189&creative=373489&creativeASIN=1450512437 or this one: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1906768358?ie=UTF8&tag=bishil-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=1906768358

lance said at February 7, 2010 2:37 PM:

Are you saying that when Greenland was actually green, Florida and the east coast was underwater? And supposing that was the case (even though I am not buying it), wasn't the ability of Greenland to produce crops and be more hospitable to humans more advantageous than having more beach in Miami? Civilization thrives during warm periods.

One the funding issue, you have shown yourself to be a non serious person. A serious person would not comment about the Exxon Mobile money without mentioning the geometrically higher amounts going into the whole AGW camp.

It's cold here now, I think I'll go outside and burn all my Exxon Mobile money to produce some AGW.

Jake said at February 7, 2010 3:03 PM:

The whole concept of CO2 capture by forests in America is faulty.

The Forest Service manages our forests by locking them up, letting them rot and letting them burn.

Once the trees hit the forest floor they start releasing green house gases. And when they burn, not only are greenhouse gases released but huge amount of pollution is also released into the air. The US Forest Service is the worst polluter in America.

Thus US forests in the long term provide no CO2 capture and greatly add to the pollution burden.

Bob Badour said at February 7, 2010 3:05 PM:


Civilization did not thrive at all when Greenland was last green.

Whether increased sea levels benefit or harm humanity depends on the amount of land lost versus the amount of arable land gained. If North America loses an area twice the size of Greenland, the farms in Greenland won't be much of a bargain.

But I have additional reservations. Even with warm polar regions, the growing season in the arctic might not be all that great. The sun's rays will still strike at a very acute angle spreading those rays over a larger area than in places closer to the equator.

Randall Parker said at February 7, 2010 3:45 PM:


Thousands of people work as climate scientists. If you find a small number who fudged their data can you therefore reject them all? That makes no sense.

In any large human undertaking you are going to find people who are dishonest or foolish or corrupt. Some people have gotten in trouble with fake data in cancer research. So then are all cancer researchers unreliable? I would say the vast majority are very honest. Ditto for the physicists and other scientists who do climate research.

Some time ago Exxon sponsored skeptics? They stopped? I think Exxon stopped funding the Heartland Institute in 2006 according to one account I came across. But have they really stopped funding the climate skeptics or just changed which organizations they fund?

BTW, sea surface temperatures are up sharply in January 2010 as measured by a satellite. A longer term rise in sea surface temperatures seems to have flattened off since 2005. Both those links are from a well known skeptic site, wattsupwiththat.com.

lance said at February 7, 2010 4:37 PM:

Humanity did not thrive compared to what (and the thriving here refers to the ability to feed themselves, and expand their population)?...The little ice age? I beg to differ.

you still refuse to acknowledge the enormous sums of money that support AGW. Gore alone has probably made more than Exxon spends. And the IPCC reports is being proven the fairy tale that it truely is...Oops, sorry..."peer reviewed" fairy tale.

Bob Badour said at February 7, 2010 6:04 PM:


I don't know exactly when was the last time Greenland was green. It was before the last ice-age, though. Ergo, there was no civilization at all the last time Greenland was green because civilization didn't start until after the last ice-age ended.

Trying to move the goal posts simply demonstrates your intellectual dishonesty.

Randall Parker said at February 7, 2010 6:58 PM:


The enormous sums to support AGW? The US spends over $1 trillion per year on energy. The vast bulk of that is spent on fossil fuels. The companies that sell fossil fuels have enormously more to spend to influence opinions than the companies that sell wind, solar, and the like.

Facts are such pesky things:

Oil and gas companies spent at least $154 million on lobbying last year, potentially besting a field of rivals battling to shape climate and energy policies and setting a new record for the industry.

Influence efforts by the oil and gas sector grew at least 16 percent in 2009 from the $132 million spent in 2008, according to an early analysis of new lobbying disclosures by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The total reflects spending for the first nine months of 2009 plus 80 percent of reports filed for the past three months.

The electric utility industry, meanwhile, spent at least $134.7 million on lobbying last year. Combined, the two traditional energy sectors paid out nearly 10 times the $29 million that alternative energy companies allocated for lobbying efforts. Environmental organizations spent at least $21.3 million last year on lobbying.

That's lobbying money. They've got other ways to buy influence that doesn't show up as lobbying. Does money paid to CEI or Heartland have to get reported as lobbying money? Anyone know?

XOM (ExxonMobil) alone has a market cap of over $300 billion. The solar companies are chump change by comparison. The most successful solar photovoltaics company is First Solar. Well FSLR has a market cap under $10 billion and so it is worth about 3% of XOM. Do you think FSLR can buy the kind of influence that XOM can buy? The revenue difference between XOM and FSLR is even bigger.

IPCC: You can find out of thousands of scientists a few that come up wanting in their standards of conduct. But pointing out the flaws of these few does not nullify all the work done by thousands of others.

You should look at the science and listen less to those who generate rhetoric. Al Gore isn't a scientist. If you want to listen to critics of scientists my advice is listen to scientists criticising scientists. I've even pointed readers at news reports that include scientists criticising scientists. If you want to approach this rationally the scientists should be away more persuasive than the talking points coming from mouth pieces funded by XOM and MEE.

lance said at February 7, 2010 7:34 PM:

actually I am a very reasonable person and old enough to read and make my own conclusions. Hell, I even was old enough in the 1970's to live thru the global cooling scare. You make many good posts and points, but are myopic on this topic. No all us who are not convinced of AGW are rubes, deniers, partisans or toadies of energy lobbies.

Look at the things you say beyond what you believe is the science. You denigrated the money spent AGW while completely ignoring the money going to support it. Hell, there is even a trillion $$ financial exchange set up around trading carbon credits. When things get so perverse that even NASA is is fudging their data, your support becomes shaky.

If your trying to convince folks, your going about it all wrong.

When someone can tell me what the temperature is supposed to be (you did not tell me, just straw-men about Greenland and the east coast), I will listen more.

When the weatherman can tell me what the weather will be next week, I will list more.

When politics and income redistribution are removed from all of the proposed solutions, I will listen more.

When the carbon gurus can explain the medieval warming period while the atmosphere contained less carbon, I will listen more.

When folks like yourself yell, denigrate and question my motives, I will not listen.

lance said at February 7, 2010 7:37 PM:

no humans during the last ice age?

And on the dishonesty comment...GFYS

Bob Badour said at February 7, 2010 8:34 PM:


Nobody is yelling. You are deluded.

We have had humans for about 5 million years. We have had civilization for about 5 thousand years. As I mentioned before, trying to move the goal posts simply proves your intellectual dishonesty.

When you mentioned Greenland and civilization, you were just a loon talking out of your ass.

Randall Parker said at February 7, 2010 9:13 PM:


The funny thing here is that I'm not taking a strong position for AGW as definitely a huge crisis. I have written many posts along the lines of "if global warming becomes a big problem". Those posts end up generating angry responses from both strong denialists and believers in the AGW theory.

I stated that CO2 is a greenhouse gas because it really really is. This is not controversial even to the scientific critics of the view that a big warming is going to occur in this century. Swedish physical chemist Svante Arrhenius in 1896 did the first calculation on how much CO2 would warm the planet. The people who show up to deny this and point to water vapor haven't done their homework.

Your feelings: I listen to people denigrate my own motives daily. I just suck it up. One of the prices to pay for writing to an audience. Look up in this thread and you'll see someone add no information and call me an idiot. If you want to engage in the public arena you gotta have a thick skin.

Myopic on this topic? I'm reading lots of articles and books on it. I'm working hard to create an informed opinion. So far all the people who've attack my motives, call me an idiot, told me I'm myopic, told me I must not have read the leaked Hadley emails (read some of them btw), that I do not know about the scandal with the Chinese researcher and the rural/city temperatures (er, I linked to the Guardian's excellent reports on it), etc have shown no signs of having made an attempt to learn the underlying science. When I read that the overwhelming majority of a large number of scientists believe something I figure I need really good evidence before I disagree with them. I'm reading looking for that evidence. Not finding it.

So far the attacks on AGW rely on finding flaws by a small number of scientists followed by attempts to assert that these flaws and failures repesent the general quality of the work in the field. I see no signs that's the case.

I asked a Ph.D. physicist what he thinks about AGW and he said he'd need to spend a year studying the research in order to have an informed opinion. He then added that he finds the vast bulk of the attacks in the popular press on AGW to be ignorant of basic science. He's not impressed and he's got the mental skill set needed to make sense of it.

Removing politics from solution: Government has to require the implemented solutions. So politics is very much involved, necessarily so.

The Medieval Warm Period wasn't as warm as today.

Randall Parker said at February 7, 2010 9:39 PM:

Assorted links:

Real Climate has a link list on whether the MWP was all that warm.

The Guardian continues their excellent coverage of the Hadley email leak with info about this leak and previous leaks on climate research.

My own view on the leaks: A lot more data ought to be in the public domain. Data whose collection is funded by governments which is used to make arguments for very large changes in the world economy should be open to inspection by all.

Randall Parker said at February 7, 2010 10:06 PM:

The scientists who understand climate thing AGW is real:

While the harsh winter pounding many areas of North America and Europe seemingly contradicts the fact that global warming continues unabated, a new survey finds consensus among scientists about the reality of climate change and its likely cause.

A group of 3,146 earth scientists surveyed around the world overwhelmingly agree that in the past 200-plus years, mean global temperatures have been rising, and that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.

Peter Doran, University of Illinois at Chicago associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, along with former graduate student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, conducted the survey late last year.

The findings appear today in the publication Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union.

The climatologists are more certain than the meteorologists. The climatologists have the more relevant skill set.

Two questions were key: have mean global temperatures risen compared to pre-1800s levels, and has human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures.

About 90 percent of the scientists agreed with the first question and 82 percent the second.

In analyzing responses by sub-groups, Doran found that climatologists who are active in research showed the strongest consensus on the causes of global warming, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role. Petroleum geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 and 64 percent respectively believing in human involvement. Doran compared their responses to a recent poll showing only 58 percent of the public thinks human activity contributes to global warming.

"The petroleum geologist response is not too surprising, but the meteorologists' is very interesting," he said. "Most members of the public think meteorologists know climate, but most of them actually study very short-term phenomenon."

Okay, as I see if if one is going to disagree wtih 97% of the climatologists who do research then one has to come up with some really good reasons and that one has to do some hard work to even understand enough to disagree. The idea that someone with only a casual knowledge can be certain that the climatologists are wrong strikes me as folly.

another Randall (Paul) said at February 7, 2010 10:24 PM:

Bob Badour, I respect Physics too. Whether humans have been here 5 million years is a moot point, but I also drink Coke now and then so that possibly qualifies me for being a member.
Now, when I open a can, I have noticed that the gas pressure seems to be somehow related to the temperature of the can. Looks to me like when the water is cold it can hold a lot more "carbonic acid gas" than when it is warmer - certainly if it's warm that gas is bursting to get out into the atmosphere. And I don't think anybody gets at the can to inject more gas just because I left it out on the bench.
Of course there is a solubility constant for every gas in every liquid, and we all know that cold ocean waters contain more oxygen. I was just wondering if the same might apply to CO2 - oh, sorry, I forgot about my can of Coke - of course, if the oceans are warmer due to Global Warming, and they must be or it wouldn't be "Global", then they must also give up a little bit of their dissolved CO2 ???
Seems to me that the link propounded between atmospheric CO2 and ocean temperatures (more CO2 produces higher temperatures) is pretty much like trying to tell me that my can of Coke is warm because of the higher CO2 gas pressure in the can.
Perhaps we could do some research - look at Pepsi, Crown, Guarana, etc. and of course use beer as the control in every case.

Theo Richel said at February 8, 2010 3:30 AM:

If indeed a majority of climate scientists would view the issue as you say they do then what would that prove? Nothing at all. Ten years ago I got in touch with Aubrey de Grey and I think you will agree with me that he doesnt represent the majority view in the scientific world. And so? Is he a denialist of what should be 'normal' aging? Aging is something where goverments have not canonized a particular view, debate is still allowed here and I am sure you like to watch how De Greys views gain ground, in spite of authorities and scientific 'consensus'. I know you sometimes phrase the AGW issue in uncertain terms, yet your use of the word 'denialist' clarifies your position. This is a word that is meant to block any debate, to force strict obedience, to make it easy for people: do not look at this persons CV, do not read his publications... he is dangerous! A denialist.

And then what is a denialist?
Someone who denies that CO2 has a role in keeping the planet warm? I do not think they exist, this is a physical fact.
Someone who denies that climate may change? They would also have to deny the ice ages. I do not know of anybody who takes that position
Someone who denies that humans put a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere? There are no such people.
Someone who denies that more CO2 will increase the temperature on earth? There are no such people.

There are however a lot of people who DOUBT whether the undeniable increase of CO2 will lead to a DANGEROUS increase of temperature. That is not a form of denial, simply because you can not deny something that hasnt happened yet. These people do not even deny the possibility of a dangerous warming, they only very strongly doubt it. And they find they are not allowed to. And you accuse them of being paid by Exxon Mobile as if that invalidates their arguments, and you use that accusation without knowing whether it is still true. I am sure you do not want to be an enemy of science, but wrt AGW you have definitely taken that position.

Randall: who pays you?

Bob Badour said at February 8, 2010 7:10 AM:


The term "denialist" does not cut off meaningful debate. Unthinking denial, on the other hand, does cut off meaningful debate.

You might not be a denialist. I won't be bothered going back over all your comments etc. to evaluate that. Regardless, some of the folks who show up here are denialists. Just as some of the folks who show up here are alarmists.

Both denialists and alarmists respond to all evidence with knee-jerk rhetoric. Denying the existence of denialists and alarmists cuts off thought. Real thought. A thinking person will have great skepticism when it comes to both groups.

Personally, I think most of the arguments on all sides are misguided. I have been reading Aubrey for closer to 15 years having first run into him on sci.med.life-extension in the mid-90's. I hope to live long enough to see the earth change in geological time. In geological time, many places that are now habitable land will cease to be. In geological time, many places that are now navigable waterways will become habitable land.

At some point, humanity will have to come to grips with the fact that we have been building cities in all the wrong places. Southern Florida? No matter what we do, it will probably submerge someday no matter what we do today.

Do we need to change our concepts of property ownership? How do we deal with new land currently not owned? How much effort do we exert trying to preserve land owned by others from inevitable destruction?

jb said at February 8, 2010 10:51 AM:

Watts Up had a recent article about AGW-induced changes in water availability - apparently a great many people will get less water, but a great many more will get more.


If this is also true of trees - then we'd see, on net, more carbon absorption by trees in the future. That may be a big if.

Fat Man said at February 8, 2010 11:57 AM:

Randall: your response to my comment, which cited nothing other than articles you had published, in a critique of the media, was, at best, intemperate. One of the reasons that I have enjoyed this site is that you have been temperate and impartial. AGW, may, or may not, heat up the planet, but it certainly has heated up people around the internet. Ad-hominums are not refutations, anecdote is not the singular of data, constant repetition does not create consensus.

Randall Parker said at February 8, 2010 12:17 PM:

Fat Man,

I hesitate to even write about global warming because I get so much crap every time I just report on the research. But as I read books and read the details of how exactly XOM and company use front organizations to try to intimidate the press into not writing about it I become more determined to write about it anyway.

I shouldn't go off on you. Sorry about that. I'm feeling irritated by what happens in the comments sections of posts I do related to AGW. What passes for discussion on AGW on blogs ends up being lots of smoke and insults.

You made a good point about CO2 and logarithmic response. How CO2 concentration warming response scales is on my list of questions. So far the books I've read haven't addressed it. But UPS just dropped off a new load of books from Amazon. Perhaps James Hansen addresses it.

th said at February 8, 2010 5:17 PM:

gee parker, I didn't hear you complain when the moronic masses were on your side just 6 months ago stupidly believing all the AGW hype. Much has changed since then, hasn't it? Now according to mr parker, they've become the exxon-mobil paid stupid masses. Isn't it funny how your 10,000 or whatever consensus peer reviewed so-called scientist idiots sat idly by while your govt/media liars pushed AGW up the masses asses only to find it's all pure bullshit. Now everybody except parker gets it. Get this parker, exxon mobil had nothing to do with your catastrophic stupidity, thats on you buddy.

Randall Parker said at February 8, 2010 5:58 PM:


I want to have an intelligent. informed, rational conversation about climate science with people on either side of the AGW debate or those in the middle. AGW is an important issue. Learning about it is an important endeavor. But instead of rational conversations I get comments like your own. You offer no evidence. You instead assert some position. You are more interested in conflicts between personalities and your own need to rant.

th said at February 8, 2010 6:23 PM:

"Randall: who pays you?"

who else but the public sector.

Randall Parker said at February 8, 2010 9:14 PM:

th, Theo Richel,

I do not work for the government or in any energy industry. I do not work for a PR or lobbying firm. My employers do not care about my blogging and it is unrelated to my job.

In the past I've been accused of working for the nuclear power industry because I'm pro-nuke. A petroleum geologist couldn't imagine how I could be pro-nuke unless I was getting paid for it. But really those big industries have better ways to get out their messages.

Theo Richel,

ExxonMobil: As I've been at pains to explain to Engineer-Poet, few of those who mouth the talking points of paid shills are themselves paid shills. I think it unlikely that someone in the pay of XOM is going to show up here attacking AGW. They've got much better leverage where they can get their messages out via CEI, Heartland Institute, Cato, etc and then let op-eds and TV commentators reach far larger audiences.

When I recently read from a 2002 Frank Luntz memo about how to attack the AGW politically that I came to appreciate just how effective big corp misinformation campaigns can be. The elements of his strategy show up in the mouths of many people who have no idea where their ideas came from.

Denialists: Think it a pejorative term? Well, I guess so. People who haven't tried to learn enough science to know what they are talking about who deny something that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists believe are behaving in ways that do not measure up well according to my standards for how you should approach scientific issues.

The plenty of people who doubt? There are also plenty of people who deny evolution happened. But you won't find many people with Ph.D.s in genetics who deny it. Similarly, of the subset of people who've got the scientific training needed to examine the issue where do they come down on AGW? How about NAS members? Or Nobelists? The doubters get really thin in those ranks of the best of the best. I find that telling.

The funny thing here is that I've been pretty unsure about AGW myself but haven't really until recently put much effort into learning about AGW. I was more concerned about Peak Oil and started this blog to promote SENS anyway. Go back a couple of years and you can find people accusing me of denialism just for not being certain about the topic.

But the denialist commenters who get so irate whenever I post anything about climate research who accused me of being a firm supporter of the AGW theory were mostly so rude and ignorant that they spurred me to start reading heavily. Yes, I started reading recently on AGW because people accused me of being a big believer in the AGW theory when all I was doing was posting interesting press releases on a topic that much have relevance to our future.

So thanks to all the unjustified insults from people who insisted if I wasn't for them I must be against them now I'm reading heavily on AGW. The evidence for AGW looks stronger than I expected. Still haven't formed a final firm opinion. But, I've noticed that the vast majority of the skeptics and outright emphatic opponents of the AGW theory who show up here offer no scientific arguments for their positions. A Ph.D. physicist who himself doesn't know enough about AGW to say if it is correct warmed me of this. He finds the mainstream skeptical talking points on AGW to be nonsense.

I do not see the analogy with Aubrey de Grey. Biologists do not see him as a crack-pot. Some of them think he's overly optimistic. But he's well within the mainstream in terms of accepting the body of knowledge about molecular genetics, stem cells, and the like. Plenty of Ph.D. biologists agree with him as to the potential of what he's promoting. Lots of them respect him. Look at who he hangs with and which research institutions he can visit and get warm receptions.

Randall Parker said at February 8, 2010 9:31 PM:


Actually, Aubrey de Grey has more in common with AGW researcher James Hansen than with the AGW skeptics. Hansen was ahead of the rest of the AGW researchers in taking a number of positions. He got a lot of criticism from colleagues because he saw the patterns before they did and took positions that struck them as too radical (see Ph.D. physicist Mark Bowen's book Censoring Science for the details). These other climate researchers now agree with him. Hansen is extremely smart and has worked the problem for 80 hours a week for decades. So far he's the best mind I've come across on AGW. I've just started reading his book.

Theo Richel said at February 9, 2010 12:35 AM:


I have given you several things that denialists do not deny. These are scientific things so you can not in a generalized way say that denialists deny 'the science'. It must be something specific and obvious and proven: just what do denialists deny?

Bob Badour said at February 9, 2010 6:47 AM:
And then what is a denialist?
Someone who denies that CO2 has a role in keeping the planet warm? I do not think they exist, this is a physical fact.

If none exist, why do some folks argue here that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas? Or question how it acts as a greenhouse gas?

Someone who denies that humans put a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere? There are no such people.

By ignoring the science and simply dismissing the scientists who measured the increase in CO2, such people act as if they deny we put a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere, and actions speak a lot louder than words.

Someone who denies that more CO2 will increase the temperature on earth? There are no such people.

Apparently, you have not paid enough attention to what some folks write in the comments on Randall's blogs.

Theo Richel said at February 9, 2010 7:57 AM:

I am in the middle of the climate debate here in Europe. You say: 'If none exist who do some folks argue etc'. This is just not a point of debate between skeptics and the other side. Prominent skeptics like Lord Monckton, Fred Singer (please spare me your comments on these people, that is not an issue here), just do NOT deny that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Ask the question on a website like WattsUpWithThat or Climate Audit whether they deny CO2 is a GHG. It is easy for you check it, go to that site and check whether your ennemies do indeed say that.

Your second remark is what I feared generalized uncontrollable statements that we ignore 'the science'. WHAT science do we ignore? The increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is no point of debate. CO2 increases, it does. Show me a skeptic who denies it.

Your third point, again check the skeptic websites above and ask there (if you dare). The point of debate is only the extent to which CO2 will increase the temperature. Skeptics say: 1 degree Celsius at the max because of all sorts of physical restraints and the other side does not contest that but thinks that there are positive feedback mechanisms that will make this effect bigger. That is a possibility say the skeptics, but so far we only see negative feedbacks. That is essentially what the whole debate is about.

Now again: what do denialists deny according to you?

Steved Koch said at February 9, 2010 9:00 AM:


It is possible that you don't understand how inflammatory it is to use the term "denialist". It is a takeoff from the phrase "holocaust denialist" (i.e extremely insulting). Most AGW skeptics think the AGW science is not settled, they are skeptical. They are not sure how much the planet is warming or how much people contribute to that warming or if things like cap and trade are the best solution if AGW is for real (and the A is the major cause for the GW).

Bob Badour said at February 9, 2010 10:47 AM:

Theo, I have no enemies. I am certain Randall has even fewer than I do.

Show me a skeptic who denies it.

The skeptics do not deny it. The denialists deny it. Have you not paid any attention at all? Or are you just a troll?

Your third point, again check the skeptic websites...

Your objection was to Randall's (or any) use of the term "denialist" here in the comments to this blog. It makes no difference whether someone exists somewhere in the world who is not a denialist. I am not a denialist. Randall is not a denialist. Everybody knows non-denialists exist. All that matters is some of the people who post here are denialists and any prohibition of the term would require at least an Orwellian pretense of delusion.

I have already made clear: Denialists deny one or more of 1) that global warming is or could be a problem, 2) that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, 3) that global warming could have any deleterious effects.

I have not made as clear: Alarmists deny one or more of 1) that current technologies exist which allow us to wait and see, 2) that current climate models can have errors larger than their predictions, 3) that climate changes naturally.

Both groups engage in mindless rhetoric to score points as if AGW is a football game and not a subject of scientific inquiry.

Theo Richel said at February 9, 2010 1:35 PM:

Bob then name me a prominent denialist, maybe I can agree.

Bob Badour said at February 9, 2010 2:29 PM:

Like I said, I won't be bothered going back reading these comment threads. Given the general lack of tuition, I found them boring the first time.

There are plenty of both denialists and alarmists who show up here, though. Whether they are prominent is irrelevant to whether we need to refer to them.

Nick G said at February 9, 2010 3:19 PM:


current technologies exist which allow us to wait and see

I assume you're thinking about climate engineering, like particulates in the upper atmosphere. I'm concerned that these won't help ocean acidification. What do you think?

Bob Badour said at February 9, 2010 4:09 PM:

The oceans had coral and other shellfish when the atmosphere had a lot more CO2 than today. If AGW is a dire emergency, ocean acidification is very much less important.

As Randall has remarked elsewhere, natural selection is relentless.

Nick G said at February 9, 2010 4:35 PM:

Judging from the charts in Wikipedia, you have to go back about 25M years to get to levels similar to today. A lot of evolution has happened since then. I should think that going back to the environment of 25M years ago in the space of 50 years would be quite a shock.

What would you estimate the effect would be? Would a significant percentage of shellfish & coral species go extinct?

Bob Badour said at February 9, 2010 5:16 PM:

I think coral would adapt very quickly. I am not sufficiently familiar with the reproductive cycles of shellfish or algae to make detailed predictions.

We are harming the oceans in much more significant ways than acidification in any case. We have mined multiple species to the edge of extinction.

Nick G said at February 9, 2010 8:19 PM:

I think coral would adapt very quickly

That sounds reassuring.

We are harming the oceans in much more significant ways than acidification

That, not so much.


Well, what about tipping points? What if, say, a very large piece of ice now on land slides irretrievably into the ocean (and I think there are other candidates being proposed) - would stabilizing temperatures with upper-atmosphere aerosols make any difference? Can we put Humpty-Dumpty back together again?

Bob Badour said at February 9, 2010 8:35 PM:

Do you know of any very large pieces of ice ready to slide rapidly and irretrievably into an ocean?

Nick G said at February 9, 2010 11:13 PM:

Yes, I have the impression that there is serious concern about such things. I'm also under the impression that there are several other candidates for tipping points (aka strong positive feedback towards irreversible change).

Look, I'm not here to play games. I'm just looking for information. If you feel have any to share on the topic, that's great. If not, that's ok.

Anyone one else want to comment in a serious way on the topic of tipping points?

Theo Richel said at February 10, 2010 1:45 AM:

Well since you apparantly refuse to answer I consider myself the winner of this debate. Thanks

Bob Badour said at February 10, 2010 7:11 AM:

Fill yer boots!

Steve Koch said at February 10, 2010 3:41 PM:

IIRC, the last time a tipping point occurred, it was because an ice dam (that formed a huge lake) broke and the water from that lake flowed very rapidly into the North Atlantic. As a result, the NA became less saline and this disrupted the Gulf Stream. Since the Gulf Stream normally warms western Europe, western Europe got a lot colder quickly. This event occurred at the end of an ice age (which is why the ice dam broke).

I am not aware of any current situations that are potential tipping points.

Steve Koch said at February 10, 2010 4:29 PM:

Here are some more tipping points (from nextbigfuture):
"Among the tipping points John Holdren listed were: the complete disappearance of Arctic sea ice in summer, leading to drastic changes in ocean circulation and climate patterns across the whole Northern Hemisphere; acceleration of ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, driving rates of sea-level increase to 6 feet or more per century; and ocean acidification from carbon dioxide absorption, causing massive disruption in ocean food webs".

Randall Parker said at February 10, 2010 6:33 PM:


Some denialists deny that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Some deny that it amounts to much. That amounts to pretending not to deny while really denying. The physicists have done the calculations. James Hansen says CO2 increase since 1750 has added 1.5 watts per square meter of forcing.

Some say there are negative feedbacks that balance out the positive feedbacks.

Now, you might be having scientific debates in some venues. But I get very little science out of most skeptics or outright denialists. My own experience is that if I'm even suggesting that we ought to seriously entertain the arguments of AGW theorists that I'm a nut, an idiot, and lots of other very very clearly pejorative terms. Denialist seems pretty mild stuff by comparison.

Go into my Climate Trends archive or other Climate-related archive and read thru a few years of comments. It is all very disappointing. Few are interested in science.

Nick G, Bob,

Regards tipping points: In the last 10 years or so the researchers on glaciers have been surprised to find how much glacier movement can accelerate. As more water travels down the base of each glacier that water acts like a lubricant. Also, ice that falls off near the ocean stops serving as a backstop. There's work been done on far down each glacier goes down to hit ground off the coast line. They didn't know 20 years ago (or I think even 10 years ago) how fast the Antarctic's shelf dropped off beyond the coast line. Some of the results here have not been encouraging.

The big fear is that we'll replay the Pliocene with the oceans 80 feet higher. My guess is a consensus will build for large scale climate engineering before that happens. I started my climate engineering category archive before knowing much about climate science basically because I wanted to how SOL we would turn out to be if the AGW theorists were right. I was reassured to read that while Gregory Benford (UC Irvine physics prof and science fiction writer) figured we wouldn't summon up the will to cut down GHG emissions and that the result would be unacceptable warming that Benford thinks climate engineering is easy to do (albeit with risks).

Steven Koch,

Insulting to be called a denialist? I think people should grow thicker skins. It seems a succinct way to describe a position where most who hold it know little of the science and where the vast bulk of the scientists who know the relevant research hold an opposing view. I've had little success getting people to state coherent views about how, for example, James Hansen is totally wrong. My sense is that they do not know.

What I see going on is an emotional reaction by people who feel their lifestyles are threatened. They see it as yet another attack of the Left on the good life. They resent even having to examine the evidence. Speaking as someone who leans pretty far Right I think Frank Luntz, ExxonMobil et. al. have done a terrible thing by whipping up tribal passions that block rational thought.

I've been involved in the Peak Oil debate for far longer than the AGW debate. In the Peak Oil debate most "doomers" don't get insulted for being called doomers. It is a succinct way to describe their position. Some really do hold extreme views on when oil production will peak, how fast world production will decline, and how far down society will collapse as a result. The funny thing is that the Peak Oilers (and I am one) are pretty well fringe on either side of the political spectrum (though the last oil price spike changed that somewhat).

Randall Parker said at February 10, 2010 6:39 PM:

Regards tipping points, I have no idea of the quality of this study but here's a recent report about unpredictable tipping points:

A new University of California, Davis, study by a top ecological forecaster says it is harder than experts thought to predict when sudden shifts in Earth's natural systems will occur -- a worrisome finding for scientists trying to identify the tipping points that could push climate change into an irreparable global disaster.

"Many scientists are looking for the warning signs that herald sudden changes in natural systems, in hopes of forestalling those changes, or improving our preparations for them," said UC Davis theoretical ecologist Alan Hastings. "Our new study found, unfortunately, that regime shifts with potentially large consequences can happen without warning — systems can ‘tip’ precipitously.

"This means that some effects of global climate change on ecosystems can be seen only once the effects are dramatic. By that point returning the system to a desirable state will be difficult, if not impossible."

Regards the ranks of the skeptics: Near as I can tell the smartest AGW skeptic who is well known is Richard Lindzen of MIT. He's reportedly extremely smart at math and an NAS member to boot. But I can't figure out whether he's developed a model that he thinks provides substance to his skepticism. I find it hard to find high quality info from skeptical quarters. Not saying it doesn't exist. I'm still looking. But most of the skeptical and denialist books are political hack jobs.

Randall Parker said at February 10, 2010 8:22 PM:

To be more precise: James Hansen says from 1750 to 2000 the forcing from CO2 increased by 1.5 watts. He also believes the combined forcing from N20, CFCs, CH4, ozone, black carbon aerosols, and other human-caused changes added another 3 watts of GHG forcings.

By contrast, he thinks net natural increases in climate forcings were about .5 watts over about the same time period.

He also provides error bars for each group of forcings. His error bar on black carbon aerosols is much larger than his error bar on CO2 for example.

I'd like to read skeptical takes on AGW theory that express their skepticism in ways that invite easy comparison. Do they deny the size of some of these forcings? Do they have quantitative values for negative forcings that cancel these out? What do their models look like?

Mostly I get passionate claims that AGW theory is a conspiracy and that it has been discredited by Hadley Center emails or a bad section in the IPCC report about Himalayan glaciers. There's an old saying about forests and trees. But a more applicable one might be about bushes and redwood trees.

Mark in Texas said at February 11, 2010 5:14 AM:

I wouldn't look to land based sinks for that much impact on atmospheric CO2 levels. Most of the photosynthesis that happens on earth is done by phytoplankton in the littoral waters of the oceans. If you want to sequester carbon that has been released into the biosphere by combustion of fossil fuels, encouraging phytoplankton growth out in the blue water ocean where there are currently not enough nutrients close to the surface where the sunshine is available is probably your best bet. Some of the plankton eventually falls below the thermocline where it will be isolated from the biosphere for a few thousand years but most of it is consumed by zooplankton and fish. Phytoplankton are sort of like the grass on a savannah. Herbivores it it and are in turn eaten by other creatures up the food chain.

My pet recommendation would be to build pipelines at third world cities along the sea coasts and transport their raw sewage a few hundred miles out to sea, preferably to where it will be carried farther out by ocean currents. In addition to fertilizing the open ocean, this would reduce cholera, typhoid and other water borne diseases caused by dumping raw sewage into the same rivers that people use for drinking water.

Steve Koch said at February 11, 2010 8:20 PM:

AGW is a really interesting topic, including the IPCC. Right now the IPCC is really getting battered (eg: India has decided to form their own version of the IPCC because they don't trust the IPCC). The ClimateGate investigations are just now getting underway (the results of those investigations may be very interesting). Let's see what happens over the next few weeks and months and revisit the topic as new developments pop up.

BTW, Jim Hansen is clearly an AGW activist. Don't you worry that activism may not be compatible with an unbiased scientific approach?

Randall Parker said at February 12, 2010 9:13 PM:

Steve Koch,

Jim Hansen an AGW activist? No. Given just how much he knows and how much research he's done the amount of time he's put into speaking publically is really small. It is just that when he has spoken he's made really big splashes. To get a much better understanding of the man and of the politics around AGW read Mark Bowen's book Censoring Science.

As for activism not being compatible with unbiased science: If scientists do not tell us what they know then we will be left with the political spin professionals controlling the debate. Bowen's book provides a penetrating look that leads to.

Lance said at February 13, 2010 5:43 AM:


Dr. Phil Jones, the man at the center of the Climategate scandal, has for the first time admitted that the Medieval Warm Period could have been warmer than the present day, flying directly in the face of the stupid Hockeystick Graph that caused so much of the Climate panic in the first place. From the BBC report, titled “Climate data ‘not well organised“:


Bob Badour said at February 13, 2010 6:25 AM:


I don't see the connection.

The hockey stick purports to show an increase in CO2 not temperature. Is it not possible the Medieval Warm Period was warmer for some reason unrelated to greenhouse gases?

I don't see how that has any bearing on greenhouse gases and their effects.

Steve Koch said at February 13, 2010 8:44 AM:

We're going to have to agree to disagree about Hansen. He is clearly an activist, an agenda driven guy. Once scientists become activists, objectivity goes out the window.

I went Bowen's own website and followed a link to a review of the book that you recommended. The review was quite negative:

"The book begins with 100 pages filled with mind-numbing details of the George Deutsch story, though he is ultimately a minor character in the drama.

Then, when he finally gets to the science, Bowen is frequently incautious. He fails to label clearly the worst-case scenarios, which opens him up to criticism as an alarmist rather than as one sounding a needed warning. He frequently overstates the scientific case, for example writing: "So it would seem obvious that if the oceans heat up, we should expect more intense hurricanes. (When all is said and done the physics of this question is probably about as simple as that.)"

Since hurricanes result from a complex interaction between oceans and the atmosphere and are easily disrupted by phenomena such as wind shear, few atmospheric physicists would call that conclusion obvious.

Ultimately, the book feels more like a paean to Jim Hansen than a probe "inside the political attack" on him. This will be disappointing to readers who pick up the book looking for good journalism as well as good science.".

Think I'll pass on this book.

Reviewer Ph.D. Physicist and author Fred Bortz blogs about science and books from slightly to the left of the middle of the road.

Steve Koch said at February 13, 2010 9:06 AM:

"The hockey stick purports to show an increase in CO2 not temperature."

The hockey stick graph in the IPCC report plots temperature vs time, CO2 is not plotted.

Discrediting the hockey stick graph was important to some because it showed that climate temperature can go up even when CO2 does not change much. To some it was important because it showed flaws in the IPCC process. It is interesting that even after the hockey stick graph was discredited, it still appeared in the subsequent 2007 IPCC report.

lance said at February 13, 2010 2:50 PM:

I actually meant to address that to Randall.

It has to do with Randall's point that recent temps were warmer than the medieval warming period. Since that is not proven the case, expalin that whole carbon/temp connection and the human impacts on carbon. Medieval suv's perhaps. And it is widely viewed amongst us deniers (some within nasa), that Hansen is an activist. Perhaps if he releases his unedited data, since he had to publicly change some of his massaged data already.

You I basically ignore your points as they are complete obfuscation and tackling straw men. You are as irrelevant as you are dishonest.

th said at February 13, 2010 4:25 PM:

badour, the agw climate models are a disaster, the agw empirical evidence, ie hockey stick, is even worse, mountains of evidence discrediting agw are out there, just in large blocks of print.

Bob Badour said at February 13, 2010 4:44 PM:

If the large blocks of print are link-free, the "evidence" isn't worth a heck of a lot.

lance said at February 13, 2010 6:21 PM:

I had link...and here's more...Now Phil Jones backs off on that consensus along with Mann

The British scientist in the middle of November's ClimateGate scandal says that contrary to what Al Gore and many in the media claim, the debate concerning manmade global warming is not over.


Randall Parker said at February 13, 2010 10:51 PM:

Steve Koch,

Not saying Bowen's book is perfect. But you can read it to find out when Hansen has actually stepped up into public fora to make his point. What is surprising is that he hasn't done so very often. It is his body of work that speaks the loudest.

As for someone being an activist and therefore one should dismiss them: Doesn't that count on both sides? If so, who does that leave standing?

I do not see the logic of dismissing someone just because they speak in favor or against assorted policy prescriptions.

My advice: Stop looking at the personalities and look more at the research.


I just read that BBC interview I do not see how Phil Jones has backed off from what he believes at all.

Lance said at February 14, 2010 6:12 AM:

I did not say he backed off his belief's, he is backing off certainty of the soundness of the data...He and you can keep your belief's regardless of the data...That being said, how do you account for the medieval warming period in your co2/temp view?

And there is more.....

The United Nations climate panel faces a new challenge with scientists casting doubt on its claim that global temperatures are rising inexorably because of human pollution.

“The temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change,” said John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a former lead author on the IPCC.

The doubts of Christy and a number of other researchers focus on the thousands of weather stations around the world, which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years.

These stations, they believe, have been seriously compromised by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from site to site.

“The story is the same for each one,” he said. “The popular data sets show a lot of warming but the apparent temperature rise was actually caused by local factors affecting the weather stations, such as land development.”


Lance said at February 14, 2010 6:48 AM:

Synopsis from Above:
Professor Phil Jones of Britain's University of East Anglia has admitted in an interview with the BBC that there has been no statistically significant warming in the earth's atmospheric temperatures since 1995.

"Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon. And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming

Again, Randall...Your statement that current temps are greater than medieval warming period may be bunk. If that is the case, please explain how that could be?

Lance said at February 14, 2010 10:18 AM:

Reading the article shows latest desperate argument which is that only denialists who do not use scientific methods could believe that the medieval warming period from North Africa to Greenland was really "Global" in scope. Jones first demands that the rest of the Globe's history be analyzed . This is the absurd argument, saying that tests haven't proved a rising CO2 level causation theory 100% wrong yet, and therefore it has been proven correct. If any part of a theory is invalid or cannot be substantiated, is that a scientifically valid theory? Is that why they rely on a consensus, because the science is NOT settled?

Randall Parker said at February 14, 2010 3:28 PM:


Look at the table of warming periods in that article. In each of the periods where he says there is statistical significance there's a wider range of years. You need more data points to achieve statistical significance. 1995 to the present involves too few years to achieve statistical significance. That's hardly an argument against AGW in recent years. Every time period in his table with statistical significance involves 21 or more years.

Come back in 2017 and we can see if the period since 1995 continues the same trend seen in those previous periods. Read the man's full answer:

B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

lance said at February 14, 2010 6:06 PM:

Seriously...Is that your only take away from Mr. Jones' interview with the BBC? Nothing to make you go...huh? His interview is all over the blogs and media and you feel there is nothing to see. Medieval warming, no statistical warming for 15 yrs, no/lost data, must be AGW because we haven't proven it isnt?????

You are not objective so I will drop out of this discussion cause you treat this as a religion, not science.

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