Climate scientists then and now

It’s been interesting the last few months on TSW seeing up close how climate change deniers operate.  To me any way, but maybe not to everyone reading TSW for insights about public land management.  I don’t think this is the place to debate the scientific nuances of global warming, point by point (nor is it the place to be debating Hillary or Hunter).  At the risk of feeding the trolls one more time, I’ll say one more thing about what I think about the broader climate issue, and then try hard to disengage.

This article (partially excerpted here) is actually about the role of scientists (one of Sharon’s favorite topics), and its actual title is

Why many scientists are now saying climate change is an all-out ‘emergency’

After a few years of record-breaking temperatures and extreme weather events, Ripple’s experience is a sign of how climate scientists — who once refrained from entering the public fray — are now using strident language to describe the warming planet. References to “climate emergency” and “climate crisis,” once used primarily by activist groups like the British-based Extinction Rebellion or the U.S.-based Sunrise Movement, are spiking in the academic literature. Meanwhile, scientists’ communication to the media and the public has gotten more exasperated — and more desperate.

On Monday, scientists released a paper showing that the world’s “carbon budget” — the amount of greenhouse gas emissions the world can still emit without boosting global temperatures more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — has shrunk by a third. The world has only six years left at current emissions levels before racing past that temperature limit.

“There are no technical scenarios globally available in the scientific literature that would support that that is actually possible, or can even describe how that would be possible,” Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, told reporters in a call.

Tim Lenton, one of the co-authors on Ripple’s most recent paper and a professor of earth system science at the University of Exeter, said that 2023 has been filled with temperatures so far beyond the norm that “they’re very hard to rationalize.”

It wasn’t always this way.

In the 2000s and even early 2010s, most scientists shied away making any statements that could be seen as “political.” Jacquelyn Gill, a professor of climate science and paleoecology at the University of Maine, said that when she was doing her PhD in those years, senior academics warned her against deviating at all from the science when interacting with the media or the public.

Hassol said that the shift is simple. In the 2000s, she said, climate change wasn’t yet at the level of an emergency. She recalls a 2009 report called “The Copenhagen Diagnosis,” which analyzed climate science to date and made suggestions for how to reach net-zero carbon emissions. If world governments had acted swiftly, the world would have had to cut emissions only by a bit over 3 percent per year. “We called that the bunny slope,” Hassol recalled.

If, on the other hand, governments waited until 2020 to start the transition, cuts would have to be much steeper — up to 9 percent per year. “We called that the double-black diamond,” she said. Despite the brief respite in CO2 emissions during the pandemic, humanity’s trajectory has veered closer to the double-black diamond.

If my communication has gotten “more exasperated – and more desperate,” maybe this is why.

26 thoughts on “Climate scientists then and now”

  1. 1. It’s the WaPo
    2. “Some climate scientists we interviewed think some things..” other ones.. naah, let’s not interview them.
    3. Words are easy, histrionic adjectives easy, providing energy hard… ask the Germans who are keeping their coal plants open.
    4. What exactly did the quoted scientists ask the governments to do? Was it possible?

  2. Jon: Please stop. NO ONE is “denying” that the climate is changing — just you making that claim and you are obviously wrong, biased, and resorting to name-calling to prove your point. It’s not a good look and isn’t effective in changing anyone’s opinion. Except maybe of you for your persistence in continuing this nonsense.

    Yes, of course the climate is changing. Always has and always will. NO ONE is “denying” it. Why you persist in this nonsense is a little baffling. To think this is how “deniers are operating,” as if it is an opposing team or something, sounds paranoid, and maybe that’s your problem.

    Other than your baseless name-calling I generally enjoy reading your comments, appreciate the bulk of your posts, and enjoy the occasional debates when we disagree. But this is just irritating nonsense and not at all credible. Please stop.

  3. Part 2. Also, we’re talking about Bill Ripple here. I used to know him at OSU in the 1990s. He became known a few years ago through self-promotion and his multi-thousand signatures of “concerned climate scientists” that included a veterinarian in Canada and a PhD in Africa named Mickey Mouse. This is what he does to get attention. I’d suggest a visit to the CO2 Coalition website for some alternative perspectives from some real climate scientists from around the world. But that would require an open mind, and you obviously prefer Bill’s attempts to gain fame, funds, and political influence. “Science” in the 21st century.

  4. “There are no technical scenarios globally available in the scientific literature that would support that that is actually possible, or can even describe how that would be possible.”

    So let me get this straight. Scientists demand global governments do something that is completely impossible, and then get mad that governments aren’t doing the impossible? Maybe there’s your problem. Come up with something that actually is possible to do and maybe countries will actually try to do it. Otherwise you might as well tell everyone the only acceptable solution is to go back in time and prevent the industrial revolution, for all the good you’ll do.

    And of course nevermind the fact that environmentalists have been blocking the one policy approach that actually would result in significant decarbonization for years, namely a massive build out of nuclear power. Instead the countries like Germany where the folks who claim to care most about climate change are in charge have been closing nuclear power plants and switching back to coal. Way to go guys. If climate change is really the emergency these scientists claim it is, you would think their policy prescriptions would actually prioritize solving it rather than making it worse. A little consistency in climate advocates’ own messaging would go a long way to showing everyone else we should actually care what they think.

    • Regarding “a massive build out of nuclear power,” there are limits to supplies of this power source as there is with all hard rock metal mining and milling (and also potential sea water extraction). It’s been a while since I looked into the subject; there has been work done to calculate economically recoverable resource quantities. E.g., (2020).

      Conversion of those quantities into how much power can be produced and for how long is needed to determine how much of current fossil fuel energy production can be replaced by nuclear power, and for how long. There’s also the issue of replacing energy dense fossil fuel liquids with electricity (or hydrogen) because uranium (and thorium) generated electricity does not compete directly with liquid fuels. There are lots of transition costs that have been reported on at length by Smil and others.

  5. Sharon – Apparently the scientists originally asked us to ski down the bunny hill, which seemed possible at the time. I think the fact that “some” scientists have shifted their thinking is news by itself. As to your disparagement of the Washington Post, and your earlier comment about comparing WaPo and Fox (TV), the latest “Media Bias” chart shows the former as “skews left,” and latter bordering on “hyper-partisan right,” with the WaPo being much more reliable.)

    Bob – If the search tool here worked at all, I’d find the quote from you that the “climate has not changed” (though I think you qualified it by saying “in the northwest”). But this wasn’t aimed particularly at you. And I think the phrase “climate change deniers” is understood by most to encompass the waffling that “the climate is always changing” but denying our role in that, a view which has been clearly endorsed here by some.

    Patrick – I agree with your last sentence, and I think that’s what the scientific “consensus” about the causes of climate change means. I think it’s a lot harder to come to consensus about the solutions, but that’s why we have elections.

    • That’s the heart of the problem though, because the climate debate is not fundamentally about science but about policy. Most accusations of “climate denial” have nothing to do with science but are simply about policy disagreements. And most of the controversy surrounding climate change comes not from scientists describing physical processes that are happening, but because a group of scientists have decided that they alone are qualified to make definitive pronouncements about a wide variety of public policy issues that have nothing to do with their fields, all while ignoring a host of other issues, tradeoffs, and unintended consequences that are wrapped up in their preferred policy prescriptions. And if you don’t accept every piece of their policy agenda, you are called a climate denier.

      This has created a toxic environment where someone can agree that climate change is happening but disagree that promoting renewables is the best way to solve it, or they dispute the idea that to stop climate change we must abolish capitalism, and they will be called a climate denier solely because of that policy disagreement. That’s why that term is no longer helpful, because like many other political epithets, it has been overused to the point of becoming meaningless.

      • Thanks, Patrick: Total agreement. The discussion has degenerated into name-calling because it is based on politics, rather than actual science. The Bill Ripples of the “sciences” community aren’t helping by their blatant fear-mongering in (so far mostly successful) attempts to achieve personal and political power and attention. In my opinion, based on documented observations.

        • “The discussion has degenerated into name-calling because it is based on politics, rather than actual science.”

          I disagree: There is a large and growing body of “actual science” that you and others refuse to acknowledge. IMO TSW has, at least on this topic, degenerated into a subsidiary of the anthropogenic climate change denier blogosphere that you and others cite repeatedly. Largely a waste of time.

          Have at it. (And this is not an invite for more un-moderated sheep dip from Anon.)

          • Hi Toby: Can you cite some “actual science” — and I am pointedly excluding taxpayer-funded modeling — that supports the idea of imminent Apocalyptic Global Warming (“AGW”)? I have made it clear in this forum and other places that the word “denier” is also considered abrasive name-calling by many involved in this discussion. So far as “actual science” in opposition to these scare stories, I’d recommend that you spend some time on the other side of the fence with products of scientists belonging to the CO2 Coalition — probably won’t change your mind, but might alter your perception of those “actual scientists” who have come to different conclusions than your own:

            • You exclude “taxpayer-funded modeling.” Science is science; authors of peer reviewed studies/papers have to include a statement of funding sources and potential conflicts. If you insist on excluding from consideration any study with a dollar of government money in support, you are limiting the universe of “science” to an extent that is not reasonable. I focus on the quality of the work and reputation of the authors.

              I do look at “the other side” now and then and sometimes I agree. E.g. I tend to agree with much of Everett’s “Wind and Solar are Competitive with Fossil Fuels only in Subsidized Price, Not in True Cost” but the real point is that wind and solar cannot possibly replace fossil fuels in quantity or quality or without fossil fuels to do the metals mining and refining to keep them running. You have yet to respond to my argument and sources pointing out that fossil fuels are going to run out. What then?

              I have never argued for (or against) Apocalyptic Global Warming (“AGW”) per se. My sense is that we are clearly in consumption if not population overshoot, which together with high levels of inequity (political and economic) puts our civilization at high risk of some form of collapse in the next few decades. I guess you could call that “apocalyptic” but I have the sense that “collapse” is always local. Most of us live with a family in a comfortable house or apartment (if we’re privileged) in a neighborhood and city (or rural community) that provides for our physical (income, food, utilities) and social needs. “Global” is not applicable to our experience of life on a day to day basis.

              IMO, global warming is just one of a series of interrelated problems that make solutions difficult to define and implement. I am a believer in systems analysis to understand what these problems and possible solutions are. “Everything is connected to everything else” is the first law of ecology. I continue to study and read extensively on all topics related to “sustainability.”

              Here’s a few publications from my studies that I consider to be on point, wtih a focus on top level syntheses and analysis:
              • Burger et al 2012, “The Macroecology of Sustainability” –
              • Day et al. 2013, “Sustainability and place: how emerging mega-trends of the 21st Century will affect humans and nature at the landscape level” –
              • Richard Miller and Steve Sorrell, Editors, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Theme Issue “The Future of Oil” (2013) –
              • Safa Motesharrei et al., 2014, “Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY): Modeling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies” –
              • Yadvinder Malhi, 2014, “The Metabolism of a Human-Dominated Planet” –
              • Schramski, Gattie, and Brown, “Human domination of the biosphere: Rapid discharge of the earth-space battery foretells the future of humankind” (2015) –
              • Will Steffen et al., 2015 “The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration –
              • Charles A.S. Hall (with Kent Klitgaard (“Energy and the Wealth of Nations: Understanding the Biophysical Economy” 2017 2nd Ed. textbook) –
              • Gaya Branderhorst, 2020. “Update to Limits to Growth: Comparingthe World3 Model With Empirical Data –

              I add just for you Bob: I engage with you because I believe you really believe climate denial; you are authentic. You appear to me to be grounded in a very libertarian ideology. I have some of that myself; while I came of age in the anti-imperialist era of the Viet-Nam War and call myself a democratic socialist—meaning anti-capitalist (I went to Columbia College starting in 1968)—I never tolerated sectarian leftists any better than I could right wing reactionaries. Look up “imperialism of idiots” to see what I’m talking about.

              • “you are limiting the universe of “science” to an extent that is not reasonable”

                More to the point, I think you would be limiting it to funding dominated by those who want to make money from it.

                • Jon, who among them does not want “to make money from it” in the sense of being funded.. climate scientists do.. renewable energy people do.. ENGO’s do.. ???

                  • Sure the researchers want to get paid, but that’s not my point. The point is the people who would be paying them would want to make money based on the results of the research, and most of that money that is not government money is in corporate hands (not ENGOs). Where there is money to be made in protecting the environment, such as renewable energy, is not very common.

              • Hi Toby: Thanks much for this thoughtful response. I’m pleased you think I’m an “authentic denier,” but continue to greatly dislike that phrase for reasons stated too often. And yes, I am mostly a Libertarian when it comes to politics and was even an Oregon representative to the national convention in Colorado around 1980. That was also the last year I voted in a Presidential election until I voted against Biden in 2020.

                So far as excluding modeling from my statement about peer reviewed science, it’s is based on years of experience. Science might be science, but modeling is modeling — and not science. Just a tool, like GIS or spreadsheets and with absolutely no ability to predict the future.

                I did write a report on peer review that was transparently peer reviewed by 18 others, mostly PhD scientists in relevant fields. Went nowhere but a little press attention because it discredited — and exposed through inference — the current system, which seems to be falling apart and was only implemented in the 1950s, when I was in grade school. Now a very profitable racket for academic publishers and tenure aspirants. In my opinion, based on experience.

                • I was speaking to the funding, not the modeling.

                  “…until I voted against Biden in 2020.” lol — there’s an implication here; who did you vote *for*?

                • Scientists predict the future, based on what they deem (based on the best available science) to be the best methodology (including tools) to do that. The fine print should always include something about confidence in the methodology and the predicted outcome.

      • I find it hard to distinguish between science saying that human carbon emissions are disrupting the climate and politics saying we shouldn’t try to stop carbon emissions. If you believe the latter it’s hard to see how you could not deny the former (whether you believe it or not).

        • Jon: “Science” is saying nothing of the sort. That’s a political statement from the outset — the so-called (and easily disproven) assertion that “scientific consensus” is that we are experiencing some kind of “climate catastrophe” is a purely political statement. Putting the “97%” figure in conjunction with this statement is even more ridiculous. Science isn’t a voting process, and neither is it a consensus-type of decision making. These approaches are simply science being politicized in order to support someone’s stature, fundraising efforts, and/or beliefs. Actual scientists are a skeptical lot, not a consensus building operation. That’s politics.

        • I would think it would depend on the actual effectiveness of the proposed policies in reducing carbon emissions. If the policy is something that requires the US to basically commit economic suicide in order to get a 0.000001% reduction in global carbon emissions, then it’s arguably not worth it. The idea that we should enact any and every policy that reduces carbon emissions regardless of the economic and social costs is not science, just a myopic view of public policy that refuses to acknowledge that there are numerous other issues in play not just climate — each of which must be considered and balanced. These are the kinds of policy tradeoffs that are supposed to be made by our elected representatives, not scientists in one specific field.

        • I’ll just repeat – “science saying that human carbon emissions are disrupting the climate” is not a political statement. It’s the result of research and analysis. To claim this is political is just another form of denial.

  6. I find it outrageous that the forest management agencies focus on climate adaptation actions (such as density reduction with commercial log removal) that will actually increase carbon emissions, instead of working on actions that meaningfully harmonize adaptation and mitigation, such as non-commercial thinning + prescribed fire, increased riparian protection, mature & old-growth forest conservation, and road system rescaling and storm-proofing.

    • So commercial thinning makes climate change worse but non-commercial thinning makes it better? And regarding “road rescaling”, what exactly do you think has been happening with tens of thousands of miles of roads closed on National Forests since the 2005 travel management rule?

  7. I am just baffled by the climate skeptics and those that refuse to err on the side of caution. For the skeptics out there, it’s not rocket science, it’s basic chemistry. As the concentrations of CO2 and CH4 rise the atmosphere traps more heat, that’s a fact. The changes to temperature have largely followed the science predictions. Most of the skeptics have made their decision and there’s no evidence one could provide to convince them otherwise.

    For those that don’t think it’s going to be bad…what if you are wrong? There are many lines of science support to suggest things are going to be very bad. Why are you willing to risk so much when the consequences of being wrong would cause ecosystem failures at a global scale, result in human casualties of massive proportion, cause untold economic disruption, and increase the probability of war (which is often what happens when resources get tight)? These are the consequences of being wrong.

    Alas, the “world” has “chosen” to err on the side of risk. I do a lot to reduce my personal effect on carbon, but I certainly could do more. It’s disheartening to personally err on the side of caution and give up things for what I believe to be the greater good, only to see others (most of an entire political party!!!) not care or totally disregard basic science. With that as the situation, I understand why so many don’t bother and would rather believe it’s not a big deal. It is human nature to change our beliefs in order to rationalize our choices when those choices are inconsistent with the facts.

  8. Hi Anonymous: You cite “basic chemistry” for your statement that “As the concentrations of CO2 and CH4 rise the atmosphere traps more heat, that’s a fact.” I would term this as an unproven hypothesis that is unraveling as actual facts become documented that challenge this assertion.

    Too, I would also assert that your statement that: “Most of the skeptics have made their decision and there’s no evidence one could provide to convince them otherwise,” is also inaccurate. Not sure where you got this idea, but it seems to be a strong bias that you hold in support of your own viewpoint. I have been in contact with dozens of scientists through the past few decades that are extremely skeptical of the “climate catastrophe” pronouncements of others because “no significant evidence” has been presented too make them think otherwise. That is way different than simply refusing to accept opposing hypotheses.

    If you were a real person it would be easier and more productive to discuss, but thank you for not using your anonymity to attack others and for the purpose of presenting a reasonable viewpoint.


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