"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dr. Kenneth Green vs Horatio Algeranon

I do not see any evidence that the Ken who thinks walruses are dying in massive numbers because they are unrepentant liberals with an axe to grind (see comments at the link) is the same as thinktanquista Dr. Kenneth Green, whom we have had as a visitor hereabouts on a prior occasion.

But I did discover that the latter Dr. Kenneth Green is competing with our old friend Horatio in the field of climate and sustainability related rhyming verse. See for yourself.

More Top Notch Stuff

Perhaps most importantly:

Please and thanks.

There's also two more important climate meta-science pieces:

and Stoat has the latest installment on

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thought-Provoking Week

A whole bunch of interesting stuff to react to this week. The conversation, which advances in fits and starts, has done some advancing.

A very careful effort to rebut Monckton was put together by a team of people who have been ??ist targets of late, drawing upon experts in each Monckton assertion. It got coverage in the Guardian, and plenty of blogosphere reaction (Angliss, Bickmore, Cook, Littlemore, Mandia, Romm, Verheggen), but not elsewhere.

Regarding the limited interest of the press, a veteran science communicator was overheard to say
I didn't expect it to get a ton of pickup initially. It's good educational material for discrediting Monckton's arguments, but because his testimony was from a few months ago, I think a lot of reporters didn't see enough immediate news-value to write on it. Unfortunately, good, credible scientific analyses always take longer to put together than a powerpoint deck full of misinformation, so the contrarians typically enjoy a "deadline" advantage.
which bears some thinking about. Of course, by "contrarian", he meant ??ist, the point of view which must not be named.

On that note we have Lubos Motl staking out the anti-Rosen point of view with an appeal to a one-dimensional model of intelligence, at which, as a (presumed brilliant because he can think in eleven dimensions) string physics guy, he clearly claims an outstanding position. The trouble with his position is that it rules out democracy altogether. It's essentially not just a plea for continued cowardice in journalism, but also a plea for the most unworkable imaginable aristocracy; a world run by the idiots-savant. So no thanks on those grounds. Otherwise it's unworkable: Lubos' argument essentially allows no mechanism for governance to be informed by science at all.

On the other hand, in what looks like a breakthrough (but possibly won't be, old habits die hard), there is some real progress in the difficult journalistic art of letting science speak for itself at Dot Earth. Revkin's Laughlin piece leads to a follow-up article, and a similarly structured piece a couple of days later, that looks like what a serious science journalist with a good network of contacts ought to come up with.

Along with the stunning and depressing piece by Anthony Doerr, an apparently brilliant writer and sane thinker of whom I was shockingly unaware until this morning, we have a similar jolt of pessimism from Monbiot that made a bit of a splash.

But in my opinion, among all this fascinating stuff, the best thing written in the past few weeks was Bob Grumbine's. Bob has captured the essence of the science/sustainability problem perfectly.
I think a crucial part of that error is a failure to understand how science works. While you and I (and others) look at it and see masses of scientists from different areas and reach a conclusion, others don't. The extra piece of knowledge we have is that science has to hang together as a coherent picture. If climate people were seriously wrong about the radiative properties of CO2, then CO2 lasers would not work. And so on through a very, very long list. Conversely, if climate types were seriously wrong about CO2's radiative properties, laser specialists would look at the climate work and point to the errors and that'd be the end of the wrong climate CO2 work.

Instead, they take the view that science is story-telling. Laser physicists go along with the climate people because the climate folks are telling a story that the laser folks like, not because there's any particular evidence in favor of it. The "It's a liberal conspiracy", or "They only say this because they want to impose one world government" responses are part of this. The he said -- she said journalistic line is exactly this, as the science is presented as two stories the reader is chosing between. They think the scientists are doing the same thing.
(How would they know differently?)
Aye, there's the rub.

That's the problem. In America at least, science teachers do not understand science, and in particular, they do not understand this key constraint that makes science work. The idea is absent not only among the general public, but even among educated and prominent people. I have been calling it "coherence".

Even many engineers fail to understand how coherence works in science, even though it's equally a core tool in engineering. Everyday plumbers and auto mechanics (the better ones being by no means unintelligent) experience the constraints of coherence every day, but in a relatively small and clear-cut domain. The fact that coherence works at large to distinguish science from non-science, and that for all its flaws, the scientific culture is sufficiently robust to manage this distinction reliably, is really not understood. I don't know if we can get anywhere without getting this point across.

Though Bob usually has a much more down-to-earth close-to-the-evidence style than I do, he has described the key quandary better that I have ever managed. Dang.

Update: Note also that Bob points us to this interesting discussion.

Anthony Doerr on Geoengineering

Read the whole thing. It starts
During my sophomore year, 1992, 1,500 scientists, including more than half the living Nobel laureates, admonished in their Warning to Humanity: “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”

So what have we done? Not much. From 1992 to 2007, global CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels rose 38 percent. Emissions in 2008 rose a full 2 percent despite a global economic slump. Honeybees are dying by the billions1, amphibians by the millions, and shallow Caribbean reefs are mostly dead already.2 Our soil is disappearing faster than ever before, half of all mammals are in decline, and a recent climate change model predicts that the Arctic could have ice-free summers by 2013. Unchecked, carbon emissions from China alone will probably match the current global level by 2030.

The god thou servest,” Marlowe wrote in Dr. Faustus, almost four hundred years before the invention of internet shopping, “is thine own appetite.” Was he wrong? How significantly have you reduced your own emissions since you first heard the phrase “climate change?” By a tenth? A quarter? A half? That’s better than I’m doing. The shirt I’m wearing was shipped here from Thailand. The Twinkie I just ate had 37 ingredients in it. I biked to work through 91-degree heat this morning but back at my house the air conditioner is grinding away, keeping all three bedrooms a pleasant 74 degrees.

My computer is on; my desk lamp is glowing. The vent on the wall is blowing a steady, soothing stream of cool air onto my shoes.
h/t Andrew Sullivan. Anthony Doerr, whom I had not heard of until today, lives in Idaho, writes "on Science" column for the Boston Globe, and is a 2010 Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Flood Water Release

I can't resist passing along another boston.com Bigger Picture picture: floodwaters being released from Three Gorges Dam, from a typically (for boston.com) spectacular set on China.

I really don't know how they keep funding this amazing work, but I sure hope they don't stop.

Buy something from Boston.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Peak Oil? Or not?

So what are we to make of the Farrell and Brandt graphic found at Romm's?

If it holds up, it tells us that "peak oil" is not looming at all.

It's always been a question: will "peak oil" get us before "global warming" does? The stock answer from the climate community has been that "peak oil" is an economic problem with relatively little impact on climate. That is, we accepted "peak oil" fears and presumed that the bulk of the risk from fossil fuels came from coal reserves, which looked to be much larger than oil or natural gas.

A fellow named David Rutledge at Cal Tech has even been arguing that coal reserves are overestimated. He's been taking the position that, as a consequence, the whole climate issue is overblown, since all the fossil fuels would be going away soon.

Here's Rutledge's picture (from his powerpoint):

So, worry about energy supplies, he says, but not about climate. We are running out of fossil fuels too soon to worry! I actually ran Rutledge's idea past Stephen Schneider on the day I met him. He dismissed it out of hand.

But if Farrell and Brandt are right, then Rutledge is wrong. In their schema there is plenty of reserve of fossil fuel, not even counting clathrate deposits as a fuel. (Whether they count as a feedback is out of scope here.)

Admittedly, half of F & B's projection is coal. But there are great swaths of petroleum potential from the new natural gas ("fracking") supplies (GTL), tar sands, and enhanced production from sites that were played out to the limits of old technologies. The uncertainties are huge, but if we consider the high end, we see that we have tapped barely a twentieth of liquid fuel potential, and the production costs leave room for profit even under present pricing.

Also, presumably F & B maximize liquid fuel production at the expense of stationary energy plants. This is arguably what will happen if we don't attend to transportation infrastructure, after all.

But it's also worth noting that these methods double to quadruple the impact of each unit of energy consumption. If the sources and efficiencies of fossil fuel recovery continue to grow (in what would ordinarily be seen as the "techno-optimist" scenario) that leaves a whole lot of room for baking the planet.

People talk a lot about uncertainties and then get all worked up about climate models. The sensitivity is between 2 and 4, okay?

It would be nice if we knew within a factor of ten how much carbon we are worrying about! Please and thanks.

Potential Liquid Hydrocarbons and Impact

A couple of excellent, highly informative infographics, via Joe Romm, viaFarrell and Brandt of U C Berkeley.

Figure 1. Global supply of liquid hydrocarbons from all fossil resources and associated costs in dollars (top) and GHG emissions (bottom). EOR is enhanced oil recovery, GTL and CTL are gas- and coal-derived synthetic liquid fuels. The CTL and GTL quantities are theoretical maxima because they assume all gas and coal are used as feedstock for SCPs and none for other puposes. The lightly shaded portions of the graph represent less certain resources. GHG emissions in the lower figure are separated into fuel combustion (downstream) and production and processing (upstream) emissions by a dashed line. Results are based on costs and conversion efficiencies of current technologies available in the open literature. Gas hydrates are ignored due to a lack of reliable data. The GTL cost estimates assume a range of $0.5 to $2 per MBTU.

See Brandt and Farrell (2006) for details. (Brandt A R and Farrell A E 2006 Scraping the bottom of the barrel: CO2 emissions consequences of a transition to low-quality and synthetic petroleum resources Clim. Change)

Warlord of Mars

Thanks to the Baron for noting this article on R-TX31 Congressman John Carter's website.
The Warmers are back.

They were thoroughly discredited just last year in the international "Climategate" scandal. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and their pals from the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit in Great Britain were caught red-handed, through their own email communications, to have intentionally falsified the scientific data on which they claim that human activity is a leading cause of global warming. Further, they were found to have hidden their own research results that showed world temperature not rising, but actually falling over the past several years.


Global warming is simply a chicken-little scheme to use mass media and government propaganda to convince the world that destruction of individual liberties and national sovereignty is necessary to save mankind, and that the unwashed masses would destroy themselves without the enlightened global dictatorship of these frauds.


Every form of alternate energy should be researched and developed to the fullest extent possible, including solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal sources. We should encourage continued development of hybrid, natural gas, and total electric vehicles.

We don’t have to raise taxes or electric bills to do any of this. We don’t have to pass punitive new regulations on homes or businesses. We don’t have to kill hundreds of thousands of oil or coal industry jobs.

We don’t have to take anybody’s freedoms, or sacrifice one whit of U.S. sovereignty to any global entity to achieve these improvements for our environment or economy.

All of which is why the Warmers have fought against every one of these common-sense solutions for decades.
"Simply." I like that.

Remarkably, this fellow represents the mostly upper-middle class suburbs of Austin in Williamson county (along with a rural fringe heading NNW from there which is not very populated). Are people in Williamson County really so tolerant of this level of fantasy in their public representative?

To my pain and sorrow, an ambitious fellow who works for the Williamson County Republican Party did a presentation at the Austin Python User Group a few months back for his clever get-out-the-vote semi-automated phone call management software. It struck me as a very cynical effort, but the guy knew what he was doing both technically and politically. I suspect he would find nothing to object to in Carter's rant, not because he believes it, but because it apparently attracts more votes than it repels.

Maybe he's from Mars too.

And maybe the people who might think this is unreasonable aren't aware of it.

(Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5swAtWd96)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Me on "Disruption"

This was September 8. I specifically advocated for "Climate Disruption" over "Global Warming".

I don't normally read from a prepared text, so I was a bit awkward.

The event was not a success; it was a press conference for a statewide environmental lobby that no press showed up for :-/ . I was actually talking to an empty room, the event organizer, the other speaker, and a cheap handheld video recorder...

But I stand by every word. Given three minutes to speak to Texas, I chose to emphasize "disruption" over "warming".
Humans have become the dominant force on our planet. A hundred years ago or further back, when the land changed, when the ocean changed, when the air changed, it was nature that did it. Now, when the land changes, or the ocean changes, or the air changes, it's us.

One of the biggest changes we are making is in how energy flows through the atmosphere. We do this with various pollutants including carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is the most worrisome for two reasons: first, much of our technology is built on a platform of fossil fuels, and second, because nature has no way of quickly getting rid of the extra carbon that we pump into the system.

The result of these changes in how sunlight flows into the earth and how heat makes its way back out is climate disruption. The most well-known part of this climate disruption is global warming, and global warming is real enough, and measurable. But to focus on "warming" leaves people with the idea that the changes are going to be gradual and gentle.

The way that the earth moves energy around from the light coming in to the heat going out is called "weather", and the usual patterns of weather are called climate. When we shift the inputs and outputs around, we change the climate, and that means we get weather we are not used to. When it rains in Pakistan as it would in a wetter place, or it warms in Moscow as it usually does here in Texas, the people, the ecosystem, and the infrastructure are unprepared, and unprecedented disasters may strike. The more we disrupt the climate, the worse these changes will get.

Climate scientists are not a very politically adept group, and there are clever people who don't want our results to be heard. We need to start taking real science seriously and to ignore the nonsense propagated by people with a financial stake in business as usual. It is our responsibility to future generations to take this problem seriously, and to look at ways not just to reduce, but ultimately to eliminate carbon-based emissions.

"Disruption" Disruption

As Steve Bloom says, "A brain-dead echo chamber constantly recycling discredited and irrelevant talking points."

Sightings of this particular teapot tempest:

C3 (Climate Cycles Change) confuses the last thirteen years with "last week":

Over the past week, the Obama administration has introduced the new terminology of "climate disruption" in order to advance the necessary fear-mongering that elites of big government and big business plan to literally prosper from. Much like the war armament merchants of decades past, who hyped the potential of war in order to sell more arms, the merchants of "evil" global warming do the same.

Luckily, modern fear-mongering has become less effective, as evidenced by the recent desperate changes from "global warming" to "climate change" to today's idiotic phrase of "climate disruption.
Via AtlanticWire:
J Wesley Smith: " Resorting to word engineering demonstrates a substantial lack of confidence in the effectiveness of hysteria advocacy."

Malkin: "makes the push to sell 'global warming' as more dangerous than it really is. Sounds like somebody’s starting to feel uncomfortable because the icecaps and Greenland ice sheets aren’t melting fast enough"

Horner: "Also like 'climate change' this trades off the risible 'at this rate!' hysteria on which the movement dined out during its 'cooling' and 'warming' heyday, in return for the claimed ability to point to everything as its evidence"

J.D. Longstreet (a gem, this one):
So, for the past few years they have been searching in the “round about” for another term to apply to the worldwide hoax originally known as “Global Warming.” Last week they rolled out the shiny new piece of propaganda. Now the term is: (Are you ready for this?) “Global Climate Disruption.” Yep! That’s it! Just sorta rolls of the tongue -- doesn’t it? … OR NOT!

Now they have gone from bad to worse to just plain pathetic.

The thing that puzzles me is the apparent oblivion in which those people live. They apparently have no idea that we “poor souls” outside their academic enclaves and liberal-socialist compounds can see through them as thought they were one-way mirrors.
Purple Scorpion (a lovely muddle):
The climate has ALWAYS changed. So how do we tell natural change from anthropogenic disruption? What evidence could falsify this "theory"? - if it's any more than a slogan.

Is it only disruptive change that is anthropogenic? I seem to recall there were some quite sudden changes a few centuries back. I bet they felt disruptive at the time, when temperatures plunged in short order. Economies were not advanced, there was no global trade in food, crop yields could not be boosted, so people starved to death.


A commenter at watts up with that notes that CO2 was only supposed to produce long term warming. So what does the "theory" claim has been responsible for these (inherently unpredictable?) "disruptions"? Indeed, what were they?
James Lewis at American Thinker goes with the Scientists' Conspiracy reading:
The wild hypothesis of "catastrophic anthropogenic global warming a hundred years from now," is so obviously harebrained sci-fi that no sane person can believe in it.

Dr. Holdren's newest brainstorm? Forget all that warming stuff. No, we are now supposed to believe in something called "global climate disruption."

That way, some wildly overpaid, "internationally respected" climate modeler can predict that in a hundred years, things will get two degrees warmer, colder, or neither one nor the other and still predict the end of the earth. That'll be a couple of hundred million dollars for more life-saving "research," if you please.
But Delingpole thinks it goes deeper:
photo caption: "Holdren: yep, a total AAAS"

President Obama’s Science Czar John Holdren is worried about global warming. Having noticed that there hasn’t actually been any global warming since 1998, he feels it ought to be called “global climate disruption” instead. That way whether it gets warmer or colder, wetter or drier, less climatically eventful or more climatically eventful, the result will be the same: it can all be put down to “global climate disruption.”

And that will be good, because it will give Holdren the excuse to introduce all the draconian measures he has long believed necessary if “global climate disruption” is to be averted: viz, state-enforced population control; a rewriting of the legal code so that trees are able to sue people; and the wholesale destruction of the US economy (“de-development” as he put it in the 1973 eco-fascist textbook he co-wrote Paul and Anne Ehrlich Human Ecology: Global Problems And Solutions).
And so it goes, with not one single, ahem, "skeptic" bothering to listen to the actual, semantic distinction between "global warming" and "climate disruption". Let's get this straight folks. Global warming is still happening. Global warming won't kill you. Nobody lives in a global average place. Climate change that is too fast might kill you. Deliberate activity that is known to disrupt the climate is reasonably called "climate disruption". It is that activity that is the problem that we can address. Or could, if people who don't have any understanding of it stopped lying about what they understand.

The news story is this: it's amazing how they all go on about the same thing sometimes, even if there isn't any news behind it. Almost as if it were coordinated.

Now we can surely expect the mainstream media to pick it up as if it were actually a news story. (Fox has already obliged, of course.)

Why don't the press, instead, talk about where these stupid talking points come from and how they explode like this? Now that would be a story. But of course they won't, because the press is a disembodied neutral and completely effectless entity which can never be implicated in anything.

(I wonder why people are so proud of their association with something that by their own definition cannot possibly have any influence!)

By the way "climate disruption" suffices. No need to say "global climate disruption".

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Climate Disruption

1) The globe is warming because of greenhouse gases

2) Global mean surface temperature is not in any way directly consequential

3) Global mean surface temperature is scientifically interesting as a measure of anthropogenic climate change

4) The climate is changing due to anthropogenic forcing at a rate very rapid compared to natural change, largely because of greenhouse gases

5) The changing climate is increasingly consequential and the consequences go up steeply as change accelerates

6) The more we rock the boat, the more the boat rocks

7) Global warming is happening. But global warming is not the problem. Accelerating anthropogenic climate change is the problem. "Climate disruption" is an excellent name for this problem, because it captures the idea of willful interference that interrupts the normal course of events.

8) To say "climate disruption" is not to deny global warming. Global warming hasn't gone anywhere. Saying "climate disruption" is stating the whole problem. Ordinary expectations of weather patterns are going to be less useful as time advances, and this will probably cause a lot of dislocation and confusion.

Update: Collecting naysayer types suddenly making a fuss about this nomenclature. I note that I've been using it consistently for over a year by linking to Harvey Taylor's news. Please provide links in comments.

Update via Paulina Essunger in comments:
Scientists' Statement
Global Climatic Disruption
June 18, 1997

We are scientists who are familiar with the causes and effects of climatic change as summarized recently by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We endorse those reports and observe that the further accumulation of greenhouse gases commits the earth irreversibly to further global climatic change and consequent ecological, economic and social disruption. The risks associated with such changes justify preventive action through reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases. In ratifying the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United States agreed in principle to reduce its emissions. It is time for the United States, as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to fulfill this commitment and demonstrate leadership in a global effort.

Human-induced global climatic change is under way. The IPCC concluded that global mean surface air temperature has increased by between about 0.5 and 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 100 years and anticipates a further continuing rise of 1.8 to 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit during the next century. Sea-level has risen on average 4-10 inches during the past 100 years and is expected to rise another 6 inches to 3 feet by 2100. Global warming from the increase in heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere causes an amplified hydrological cycle resulting in increased precipitation and flooding in some regions and more severe aridity in other areas. The IPCC concluded that "The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate." The warming is expected to expand the geographical ranges of malaria and dengue fever and to open large new areas to other human diseases and plant and animal pests. Effects of the disruption of climate are sufficiently complicated that it is appropriate to assume there will be effects not now anticipated.

Our familiarity with the scale, severity, and costs to human welfare of the disruptions that the climatic changes threaten leads us to introduce this note of urgency and to call for early domestic action to reduce U.S. emissions via the most cost-effective means. We encourage other nations to join in similar actions with the purpose of producing a substantial and progressive global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions beginning immediately. We call attention to the fact that there are financial as well as environmental advantages to reducing emissions. More than 2000 economists recently observed that there are many potential policies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions for which total benefits outweigh the total costs.

The Framework Convention on Climate Change, ratified by the United States and more than 165 other nations, calls for stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at levels that will protect human interests and nature. The Parties to the Convention will meet in December, 1997, in Kyoto, Japan to prepare a protocol implementing the convention. We urge that the United States enter that meeting with a clear national plan to limit emissions, and a recommendation as to how the U.S. will assist other nations in significant steps toward achieving the joint purpose of stabilization.

Initial Signatories
  • Dr. John P. Holdren
  • Dr. Jane Lubchenco
  • Dr. Harold A. Mooney
  • Dr. Peter H. Raven
  • Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland
  • Dr. George M. Woodwell
Signed by 2409 scientists as of June 11, 1997

Friday, September 17, 2010

Felicitaciones, Mexico y Mexicanos!

This week was the Mexican bicentennial.

Boston.com (as is its way) has stunning photographs of the celebration in the DF and elsewhere.

I don't know who will read this in Mexico, but if anyone does, my congratulations and my respects on this occasion, and all my fervent best wishes for the coming century!

Revkin on Laughlin

Revkin gets it very badly wrong. (Update: and walks it back a tad, thanks to yours truly... but not far enough to not continue to be hopelessly wrong in exactly the same way as before! See the asterisk.)


Here’s Will’s column from Newsweek extolling the virtues of an essay in the current issue of The American Scholar by Robert Laughlin, a physics Nobelist who contends that the climate system is far beyond man’s capacity to influence, inadvertently or otherwise.

I replied:

It is an incorrect summary of Laughlin's position that the climate system is beyond man's capacity to alter inadvertently. He claims that all the fossil fuels WILL be combusted and that a climate crisis WILL ensue. He treats it as given that we do not have the capacity to restrain ourselves from doing so.

"On the scales of time relevant to itself, the earth doesn’t care about any of these governments or their legislation. It doesn’t care whether you turn off your air conditioner, refrigerator, and television set. It doesn’t notice when you turn down your thermostat and drive a hybrid car. These actions simply spread the pain over a few centuries, the bat of an eyelash as far as the earth is concerned, and leave the end result exactly the same: all the fossil fuel that used to be in the ground is now in the air, and none is left to burn. The earth plans to dissolve the bulk of this carbon dioxide into its oceans in about a millennium, leaving the concentration in the atmosphere slightly higher than today’s. Over tens of millennia after that, or perhaps hundreds, it will then slowly transfer the excess carbon dioxide into its rocks, eventually returning levels in the sea and air to what they were before humans arrived on the scene. The process will take an eternity from the human perspective, but it will be only a brief instant of geologic time."

Except for the presumption that effective policy is impossible, this is in fact, perfectly consistent with the consensus IPCC view of the world. In fact, it is an excellent summary of that view.(*) It says that man will create a very large perturbation, and that in the very long run, far beyond normal human time scales, things may return to normal if there's no further disruption.

Laughlin simply asserts (without bothering to defend it) that we lack the willpower to stop this crisis, so we shouldn't bother. This may make him a political ally of those who say we shouldn't bother, but he is scientifically making a very different case.

You state that the confusion abounding in the public's mind is independent of the performance of the press. This, in an article whose structure is based on a fallacious reading of one of the positions it addresses, is more than a little bit ironic. I would like you to try getting it right for a while before coming to such a judgment.

(*) I should have said "parts of that view"

Image: xkcd

My latest:

I appreciate being mentioned in your correction, and I hate to be churlish, but in my opinion your correction is still incorrect!

You originally said "Here’s Will’s column from Newsweek extolling the virtues of an essay in the current issue of The American Scholar by Robert Laughlin, a physics Nobelist who contends that the climate system is far beyond man’s capacity to influence, inadvertently or otherwise."

In the correction, you removed the last three words. But the last three words are tautological, and can be replaced by "if you please or if you don't please", or "if pigs have wings or if they don't", or by nothing at all, without changing the logical (as opposed to rhetorical) meaning of the sentence at all. You chose replacing them with nothing, which is one of the cases which does not change the logical meaning of the claim. Since it was wrong before, and its meaning has not changed, it is still wrong.

I realize that actually fixing your claim will do some damage to the structure of the rest of your article, but a mistake is a mistake. I am glad you admitted your mistake. Now why not go ahead and fix it?

Update 9/18: I just submitted:

To be fair to Andy, the final paragraph of Laughlin's essay does support the reading in Andy's article. To be fair to me, the rest of it doesn't. My eyes had thoroughly glazed over by the time I got to the end; the whole idea of looking at policy issues on geological time scales was something I found utterly pointless, so the fact that he actually reversed himself at the end escaped me. Andy may have read the concluding paragraph and glossed over the bulk of it. Both of us assumed that a physics nobelist could at least manage to be broadly coherent about his key points, but it appears in the final analysis that he has not.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Favoring Curry

Amidst all the peculiar efforts to redefine statistical reasoning, we find this comment by Judith Curry:

actually climate research was a pretty quiet field until the late 1980′s. At this point, the alarm was sounded and some influential scientists brought this issue to the international policy table, and we ended up with the UNFCCC and the IPCC. By stating that the science demanded a certain policy (stabilization of greenhouse gases to prevent dangerous climate change), postnormal climate science was born. Consider an alternative universe where the scientists provided a range of scenarios to consider and included natural climate variability in the mix, and recommended that suite of policy options be developed to help reduce societal vulnerability to future climate change, both of the natural and anthropogenic variety. In this alternative world, I don’t think things would have become so polarized and one can even envision the IPCC assessment topics and strategy as being different.

This hypothetical asserts facts that are not, to my knowledge, supported.

1) Did IPCC ever "demand" a particular policy? Where? In listing policies, did it fail to mention reducing societal vulnerability? Where?

2) Did IPCC ever fail to consider alternative scenarios? In what sense? Which working group failed to do so at what juncture?

3) Did IPCC fail to "include natural variability in the mix"?

While I am not an unalloyed enthusiast of IPCC, I find these claims unsupported at best. It would be interesting to see evidence for and against these claims, particularly within the assessment reports.

Update: Judith responds at her blog thus:
Michael, you misinterpret what I said. Read the history of the UNFCCC, for which the IPCC is charged to provide information for. I did not say the IPCC demanded specific policies, but rather individual scientists did claim that the science demanded emissions reductions, which gave birth to the UNFCCC and the precautionary principle on dangerous climate change. The IPCC has given inadequate attention to solar variability and its uncertainties and it has WAY discounted the impact of the major multi-decadal and longer ocean oscillations on interpreting the 20th century temperature record.
I am not sure what to do with this. It still seems like unsupported assertions to me.

Pakistan Acute Crisis Ongoing

Sept 15, 2010. AP:


Mr. Holbrooke and the Australian foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, visited Kot Addu, a hard-hit area in the Muzaffargarh district, where they observed field hospitals and camps.

“I have seen many disasters in my life, but I have never seen this kind of disaster where people are now camping along the roads living in desperate conditions,” Mr. Holbrooke said.


KARACHI, Pakistan — The world will only be able to fund around 25 percent of the tens of billions of dollars needed to rebuild Pakistan after the floods, and its government will have to make up the shortfall, the U.S. envoy to the country warned Thursday.

Richard Holbrooke said America would not condition its assistance to the country, but warned that the U.S. Congress might not be generous if it felt that Pakistan was not taxing its own citizens enough.

Pakistan's rich have traditionally not paid much tax on their income or their property — either because they evade them or are exempt — and the country's collection rates are among the lowest in the world. Critics have pointed to this shortage of revenue in recent weeks as Pakistani leaders have sought international aid. The country's economy is surviving on international assistance, and the floods are expected to badly slow economic growth further.

"I don't want to withhold money they need, but I think we have to be clear that the Congress is going to be reluctant to give money if the money is filling in a gap because people are not paying taxes," said Holbrooke during a visit to Karachi.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Barack Obama was, unsupected by anyone, born in Kenya. You heard it here first!

He was the heir apparent (Barack) to the throne (Obama) of Daberce-en-Daboolce, a province of Kenya, but a chief of a rival tribe was in ascendancy. Nobody knows what happened to his parents, but a loyal family aide raised him in seclusion in the brush above the fabled island city of Zanzibar, where the last of the treasure of Daberce-en-Dabools remains hidden to this day. The aide, Cabbis-Cabbis Nosaks knew that his hiding place would likely eventually be betrayed, so he sought a way to sequester the lad during his youth in a way that would allow him to gain strength and resources in a faraway land, so as to eventually recover the throne of Daberce-en-Daboolce.

Cabbis-Cabbis, after quickly inducting the five-year-old into the tribal religion, met up with an adventurous young American midwestern girl in the Phillipines, and convinced her that she should spend the rest of her life pretending to be a single white midwestern mother of limited resources with a black child. How could she turn down an opportunity like that? Cabbis-Cabbis counted on the Barack's facility with languages so that he would pick up English, his second language, with sufficient facility to become a renowned professor of law, a prominent citizen of one America's greatest cities, a famed orator, and ultimately its president. The success of this part of the plan is well known.

Of course, there is great doubt as to what the Barack could possibly be up to.

It is clear that the Barack of Obama has little interest in the presidency, having done nothing but extract the bulk of US forces from a major conflict, saved the world from an imminent financial collapse, begun the difficult process of health care reform on a promising note, and brought the topic of environmental sustainability to the table as a top level issue in the country's minds. By comparison, by this date in the previous administration, his predecessor had read the entirety of My Pet Goat in kindergardens and day care centers in several states, in one case under conditions of considerable stress and confusion. (This all really is well-known, isn't it?)

It all comes clear once you understand the Barack's entitlement to the Obama (throne) of Daberrce-en-Daboolce. The purpose of obtaining the presidency, all along, was to gain control of an elite secret service unit, as well as the US Treasury, which is buying that unit a bunch of Super-Secret Ultra-Laser-Guided Computer-Smart SuperWeapoNs. Obama and the platoon, many of whom were in "ACORN", his private militia, have been training in a secret suburban location outside the beltway with the new SSULGCSSWN units.

The platoon, the Vienna (Va) Redhots, also plays a smokin R&B set at a local brew-pub on alternate Tuesdays, but most of them don't plan to go pro. The Barack is on keys, mostly with a Hammond J-3 sort of a sound. They plan to convert Air Force 1 into an armored tour bus, take the teen scene on Zanzibar by storm, and meanwhile find the missing clue to the missing treasure. They will then proceed back to Daberrce-en-Daboolce, where the evil mayor has just unexpectedly resigned, and recover Datrone (the seat of government).

This whole nefarious plan might have succeeded, but the Obama failed to account for one thing: the eagle eyed-vigilance of Joe Biden.

"Climategate" is also completely true.

Look. If we are going to lose, let's at least laugh. Because if this is how democracy dies, it is ludicrous enough to be funny.

It's just a silver lining, friends, here comes that cloud again. But it is, at least, to laugh.

Duck Curry

Judith Curry from the Currysphere:
"evidence for a hypothesis is represented as green, evidence against is represented as red, and the white area reflecting uncommitted belief that can be associated with uncertainty in evidence or unknowns....

As a litmus test question, I prefer the following:

Will the climate of the 21st century will [sic] be dominated by anthropogenic warming (green) or natural variability (solar, volcanoes, natural internal oscillations)?

which is the question with the greatest policy relevance, IMO. My scores on this one are

  • green 25%
  • white 50%,
  • red 25%.
Hmmm. Never mind the tiny sensitivity of climate implied. Just consider the clarity of thought involved here.
Do you think this creature is a duck?

Duck: 25%
Not duck: 25%
Unsure: 50%

I am 50% uncertain whether it is a duck, and I am equally 25% certain that it is a duck and that it isn't a duck.
Well, that clears it up, thanks.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Texas Republicans Deluded

Governor Perry:
It is unconscionable that unelected bureaucrats at the EPA have declared carbon dioxide a public danger despite a lack of scientific evidence to support their ruling. This action should be of grave concern to all Americans, especially Texans, in light of the recent "Climategate" scandal, which uncovered data had been manipulated and destroyed in order to falsely show a preordained result.
John Carter, R-TX31 (Round Rock, Temple, Stephenville)
Global warming is simply a chicken-little scheme to use mass media and government propaganda to convince the world that destruction of individual liberties and national sovereignty is necessary to save mankind, and that the unwashed masses would destroy themselves without the enlightened global dictatorship of these frauds.
etc. etc.

Lamar Smith (R-TX-21; Eastern San Antonio, Western Austin, Boerne, Bandera, Leakey): "We now know that prominent scientists were so determined to advance the idea of human-made global warming that they worked together to hide contradictory temperature data."

Michael Burgess (R-TX-26; Eastern Fort Worth, Richland HIlls, Denton): "Numerous reports now suggest that the scientists at CRU intentionally excluded data that did not fit into their political agenda..."

See Stupid Goes Viral Deep in the Heart of Texas by RLMiller.

A commenter there asks an excellent question:

A conservative who is friends with a friend of mine on FB tried to start a global warming debate with me by saying that he is a scientist, that the data has been fraudulent, and that scientists with opposing views have had their work suppressed. I've encountered a couple of scientists already who are conservative or libertarian politically and use their greater knowledge of science to try to beat me over the head with why we're wrong. These people are educated, not ignorant. What to do?

My guess is that he is not a scientist, actually. Anyway, what to do?

Update: I note that this article was exactly coincidentally written with Simon's argument that such articles should not be written.

He is right of course. Reaching out to conservatives is crucial during those few months when America isn't in the thick of an election cycle. Without some Republicans who see things clearly, the whole world is at a standstill.

Right now, though, what we need, at least in these parts, is for the uncommitted general public to feel free to see these particular Republicans as the dangerously credulous fools they are.

image via mymodernmet.com

Cultivating American Ignorance

I don't usually just link to a prominent blog without having anything much to add. I figure if Joe Romm says something important y'all will just notice it without my help. But by God, this is such a repulsive corporate decision that even now in 2010, after all we've seen in the past couple of years, I am floored by it.

Is this the height of cynicism or the height of cowardice? You decide. Vote in the comments below. I'd also ask, if cynical, what are Time/Warner trying to achieve? If cowardly, what are they afraid of?

How is the world supposed to reach a sustainable condition if its most powerful interest is a democracy whose voters are encouraged to remain ignorant?

Update: I mean, look at the thing. They borrowed a school bus, parked it in a random spot in a parking lot, and photographed the side of it up so close you couldn't see the New Jersey corporate landscape in the background. Then they shopped a bunch of kids in the window, shopped the sky blue, and shopped the tire black for good measure.

And it has nothing to do with good schools. Do good schools encourage their kids to stand on the seats of a school bus with their whole body leaning out the window? (Note that the way the kids appear, there are some missing seats in the bus. Also I think the scaling of the kids doesn't match the scale of the bus, but there I'm not totally sure.)

If this garbage wasn't done in a great hurry under great pressure, the graphics talent at Time needs to be good and fired. On top of everything else it may be the worst Time cover ever.

Update: Apparently this is nothing new. (h/t TB in comments) I note that in the first and third of the three cases shown the US cover was of obviously inferior design quality, and even the middle case, though arguably effectively designed, might have been put together quickly.

Monday, September 13, 2010

From a "climate" feed

Interesting, perhaps not in the intended way.

Peak Oil vs Climate Change: Food Security

I just watched a delicious Kunstler anti-suburban rant, and though I live not unhappily in a town that violates every principle that Kunstler advocates, I think he's absolutely right about urban design. (and am sadly bemused by Austin's feeble attempts to try some.)

But I don't buy his peak oil Long Emergency idea. I don't think we are running out of oil fast enough to matter.

So what does that mean for the futurist?

(I always wanted to be a "futurist", and I haven't got all that much future left. So call me a futurist, I won't mind. As far as I can tell, a futurist is someone who doesn't know anything much about the future but gets paid to give entertaining keynotes anyway, mostly because of thinking about the future pointlessly but obsessively.)

And I want to talk about the Future Salad.

I am really not worried about my 3000 mile salad, as I've explained a couple of times before. If there's any civilization at all, getting the energy to move food around will not be a problem. Food is light and valuable; energy costs per unit are not about shipping. The stuff that gets hard to ship is stuff like gravel, sand, ore. The heaviest industries will relocate closer to raw materials. Roadbuilding may get expensive, and not a minute too soon.

But it will still be cheap to ship a tomato form wherever it is to wherever the cheeseburger is that wants it. Or, perhaps, the grainburger, since the cheeseburger is a major greenhouse gas emitter among foods...

Now, I've seen nothing anywhere about year over year variability outside the ENSO question. So NOTE THAT THIS IS SPECULATION. But it seems to me that the faster things change, the more climate transients we will experience. This is sort of a natural extrapolation from a systems engineering perspective. There's no guarantee in nonlinear systems, but in a typical linear system, the more it is pushed out of equilibrium, the more ALL MODES are excited, including modes that may not matter much in natural conditions. That means all the real oscillations famous, obscure and unknown on any scale that has a "memory", i.e., components with state persistent over multiple years.

I am a bit surprised that I haven't come across anybody addressing this question. (I have half an idea why. Consider which subculture's turf this would naturally fall upon.) I'd appreciate any correction on this front, either about somebody already having looked at this, and/or whether it's a reasonable expectation. Suppose my hunch is right, though.

The problem is that it won't be all that cheap to grow a tomato. Why? Because nobody will know when and where to plant the thing. Frank Dobie quotes an old Texas saying that "Texas has no climate, only weather". And as the rest of the world becomes more like Texas, the whole concept of climate will get swamped by the concept of climate change. You won't know from one year to the next what to expect. You will plant the wrong stuff at the wrong time in the wrong place and the wrong stuff will fall out of the sky onto it.

The only defense is massive diversification. The winner will own farms in many places, and will plant stuff speculatively. (There will finally be private sector jobs for people who can make climate models behave sensibly, but failures will still be commonplace.)

Peak oil localizes. Climate change (at least with disruptive interannual variability) globalizes. The small holding cannot be safe against year over year variabilities and extreme events that can swamp productivity. The dispersed global operation can. Peak oil is good for back-to-the-land fantasies, but climate change concentrates food power and water power in the control of vast continental and global scale holdings.

That's because 1) I think climate change is a big deal and 2) peak oil isn't. And 3) I suspect year-over-year variation is going to be a very big deal in agriculture under full-blown climate change.

That is a risk I haven't seen addressed anywhere. Anyone out there know better?

If I'm right it means the best strategy is to hedge your bets, and only enormous holdings will be able to do that.

So I figure the future salad still will come from a dozen farms in a dozen countries. But they'll all be owned by Coca-Cola or Pepsico. And it will be expensive.

Another possibility is to grow food indoors.

Either way, the return of the small-farm pioneer homestead lifestyle imagined by Kunstler and so many others in the "transition movement" won't happen. Climate change is not the only reason that it doesn't seem like a good bet to me.

The Breakthrough Idea

The thing is that the Breakthrough people and their allies, among whom one must include Lomborg and Pielke Jr. at this point (and I'm betting on Kloor to line up real soon), are not asking for the technologically impossible. They are asking merely for the technologically possible at an economically impossible cheap price.

This really makes mindbogglingly little sense to me.

If carbon "costs" more in dollars such that clean energy is therefore competitive, vs. clean energy costing less via pixie dust, all that happens outside the energy sector is that energy costs more.

This leads to a balance between 1) a larger proportion of activity dedicated to acquiring energy 2) improved energy efficiency and 3) exactly the innovation which was wanted in the pixie dust strategy. It's too bad that this is morally equivalent to a Stalinist nightmare for reasons which continue to escape me, because otherwise it actually looks like a perfectly sound right-wing solution: account for externalities and coax the market to do the right thing.

I mean, you still get to look for the pixie dust! If it's really out there, a cost on carbon pretty much means somebody will find it. And if it's not out there, we do not all face a stupid, avoidable cataclysm.

Am I missing something? Aside from the Stalin thing, I mean?

We already have the technology. All the Breakthrough people are trying to do is negotiate with Nature over price. But Nature doesn't haggle. (Because, you know, of her monopoly position and all.)

Breakthrough thinking basically amounts to an idea that if we delay action on climate forcing, the price will go down. It's clear that at some point, if we delay too long, the price will start to go up. The argument is only whether we have passed that point.

I'd say it isn't even a close call anymore.

But it's an interesting question. If economics made any sense there would be an objective way to estimate this; it's a totally objective question if you have an objective definition of cost. If it's not too late to procrastinate yet, when will it be? How long should we wait for a price breakthrough that might not happen?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Warmist Coup at Amazon?

Christopher Booker, after throwing in passing the usual baseless dig at William's fine efforts to keep Wikipedia's science articles representative of science rather than of lunatic conspiracy theories:
The proselytisers for man-made global warming have long exercised a tight stranglehold over the contents of Wikipedia. The editors of that online source of all knowledge are ready with lightning speed to ensure that its entries related to climate change are purged of any hint of dissent from the party line – and that entries for “climate sceptics” are given a viciously dismissive twist,
asserts that
Now it seems a similar coup has taken place on Amazon, the online outlet which is Britain’s largest bookseller.

Over the past year, Amazon’s list of global-warming bestsellers has been wholly dominated by sceptics, with my own book The Real Global Warming Disaster standing for months at number one. At the end of last month, however, all the more recent sceptical books were suddenly removed from the list.
How silly.

It's the beginning of a school year. People, rather than buying books recommended by self-aggrandizing paranoid columnists and superstitious, confrontational clergy, are buying books recommended by professors who know what they are talking about. I feel confident in reassuring Mr. Booker that the unfortunate normal, democratic, anti-elitist order of things he recollects with such poignant nostalgia will restore itself shortly.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Curry Blogs

Jeff Id writes,
It looks like Dr. Judith Curry has decided to start down the road of climate blogging. This should be an interesting experience and I’m glad that someone else in climate science is willing to address concerns of the public in a direct fashion.
I will take the rare opportunity to agree with Jeff Id. I have concerns about Curry's approach, which seems quite oblivious of the long history of the controversy surrounding the science. Sometimes this fresh perspective is helpful; other times it falls into one of the many traps that have been set over the past twenty years for the unwary. This will be interesting to watch, indeed.

Here. RSS here.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Tom Fuller is so attached to the position he is carving out for himself and, apparently, so far beyond the realm of intellectual rigor, that the fact that I went to a significant amount of trouble to introduce him to the outlines of ice sheet science just a few days back, an article to which he issued multiple responses, that not a single word of what I said appears to have been grasped by him.

Instead he has come up with a thoroughly toxic article on the subject which he is spreading from the ecumenical platform of Watts Up, the site that will run anything about climate as long as it isn't true.

My sympathies for Fuller being in over his head have evaporated. If this isn't willful ignorance I don't know what is.

Things Break deconstructs Fuller here.

The point is not only that Fuller is wrong, which he is, and woefully so. The point is that I made an honest effort to communicate. Fuller demonstrably had enough information to write an article based on evidence, as he had read up on the actual evidence here.

It's well known that people will see what they want to see and disregard the rest. It's a shame when someone decides to make doing that their life's work, though. A real, crying shame.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Seeking, er, Duly Diligent Consideration Tactics

I am rerunning Toles' Emergency Procedures cartoon, because Byron Smith has added a ninth step. I'd like to offer a prize to someone who can provide a step 10 strong enough to stand with Byron's step 9, but I can't afford it and I can't afford the lawyers to figure out how to do it if I could.

So I am handing out traditional, old fashioned pulp-publishing no-prizes instead. Only In It for the Gold no-prizes are hereby titled No Gold Medals, and Byron surely gets one for his (slightly edited)
9. Consider that fire may actually reduce the building's heating bill. Commission study by think tank to investigate.
Another No Gold Medal to he-who or she-who comes up with point 10.

Update: Tony Lee got an LOL out of me with 10. Maintain that those involved in fire detection cannot be involved in firefighting policy. If they insist on getting mixed up in firefighting policy, we get to ignore everything they say.

That said, probably the best punch line in keeping with Toles' original cartoon and audience is oquantril's 10. Under no circumstance sound an alarm. This would be alarmist.

No Gold Medals are being prepared for both contributors as I write! Many thanks to all contributors.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Oh, Bother

Hermine has our number.

Update 8 Sep: The number is five.

Fortunately for us in East Austin, the line has moved a teensy bit to the west. Of course, that may not be fortunate on the whole, because the hill country to the west is more prone to flash flooding. There was still a massive wall of cumulus tower taking up half the sky a couple of hours ago but things are back to normal now. Here's the cume:

My neighborhood got about 5" (12 or 13 cm or so). The creek behind our house handled it without difficulty.

Looks like Round Rock is in the bullseye. It will be interesting to see how a prosperous Texas suburb handles a 15"/24 hour rainfall. I expect it will come through like a trooper.

Nice pix here and here. Most of the flood damage shown is from the next county north, much of it at a low-lying trailer park, the rest around Round Rock and Georgetown in the bullseye. The last few are wind damage in far south Texas (Raymondville) near the landfall site.

The San Gabriel river (above) often trickles so slowly through Georgetown that you can't really tell which way is downstream.

A few folks around here were pretty badly hit, especially in this low-lying trailer park.

and some modestly wealthier folk had a hell of a mess in their back yards.

There's some really amazing sights in this video (preceded by commercial message) for anyone familiar

with Barton Spring Pool. (Yes, that is the sissy stairway leading down to the shallow end of the pool.) Apparently this is not unprecedented at Barton Springs.

One of my mother-in-law's most endearing habits is to say something sort of peculiar, pause, and then say "In Polish, it rhymes!" There are things you wouldn't expect to rhyme in English that rhyme in Texas ("bend" and "wind" for instance). Here we have another example: in Texas, "around" rhymes with "drown" (and has the same number of syllables).

More informative signage.

A well known Austin small business was hit.

The pictures of the parks still being relandscaped from the prior massive flood are a good indication of how desperately this part of the world wants to be wild. Droughts and floods and nothing in between. That's Texas for you. Nothing unusual hereabouts, just your everyday 15 inch downpour on parched land.

Perhaps I'm taking this too lightly, but we did get off easy. Hermine wasn't even a Cat 1, remember, just a strong tropical storm.

I guess, there's no telling what the future holds for Texas, but what the future holds for everyone else is, basically, Texas. Hang onto yer hats.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Steve Bloom points out on a thread I had, oddly, hoped would be about Benin, that Tom Fuller is in Fuller bloom over at WUWT(*), accusing me again of being an alarmist, when I am merely alarmed about the state of the world (as described by Schellnhuber and Rockstrom and Foley). I truly wish I weren't. I truly wish those guys were wrong. I truly wish I were wrong. But Fuller is not pulling together a convincing story, even though he seems to think he is.

Like Fuller, I am eager to find evidence for the incorrectness of my views, but unlike Fuller, I have a more deeply elaborated understanding, and consequently am a bit more skeptical and harder to convince of alternative hypotheses.

The present kerfuffle comes down, apparently, to Fuller's claims about the Antarctic ice balance. Since I know or am at one degree of separation of some of the more prominent and talented researchers in the field of the mass balance of the great ice sheets, it reasonably falls to me to follow up and try to tell the whole story.

Before I look into it any further, let me state what my current understanding is. We can test out whether it is correct, but this is where I start.

The balance of evidence in mt's brain
as of early September 2010,
on the subject of


1) First of all, the equilibrium response to a 3 C warming is enormous. If we hit the (approximately known and likely by now unavoidable) 3 C threshhold, and at that point civilization has no more capacity to think in the long term as we do today, we are looking at sea level rise in the tens of meters. This means Greenland will substantially be melted down to the rock, the WAIS (**) will totally disappear, and a substantial fringe of West East Antarctica will probably also be bare. The primary evidence is the geological evidence of seas that deep in the previous interglacial approximately 100kA ago.

2) It is considered nearly certain that the ice sheets will NOT respond quickly enough for the tens of meters of sea level rise which we would eventually expect with a 3 C rise to happen in this century (whew!) or even this millennium. But we would expect that level eventually if CO2 stays elevated high above quaternary (the past 2,000,000 years) values.

3) Rather than having a single time constant, though, the disintegration of ice sheets has recently been determined to be dynamically complex and operating on numerous time scales.

(Understanding the concept of time scales is key to understanding paleoclimate and clymate dynamics. As an example common everyday occurrence in some places I used to live is frozen puddles. Cold climate folk know that a puddle exposed to cold develops a film of ice first, and eventually freezes all the way through. The amount of time for it to gain or lose the thin film of ice at the top is much shorter than the time it takes to freeze through. Whether you are discussing whether the ice is superficial (say because you care about reflected light) or frozen solid (say, for traffic safety) determines a time scale of interest when you look at the weather.)

4) An ice sheet is in mechanical balance between large scale gravitational forces causing it to splay out and various small scale stresses and strains causing the ice to "like to" stay put.

5) On large physical scales, ice is a very viscous fluid, whose viscosity is sensitive to temperature. So different parts of the ice sheet flow at different rates. At the weakest points in the geometry, outlet glaciers form, which amount to areas where there is a steady flow of ice into the sea, which is where icebergs form.

(Icebergs are very different from sea ice.)

6) In a stable climate, the glaciers and the accretion of ice on top of the ice sheets are in rough balance. However, we know that the behavior of individual glaciers can be episodic, and important ones can grind to a complete halt, or conversely, speed up a great deal.

7) Imagine a huge mound of frozen grape jelly on a picnic table in the sun on a hot Texas afternoon. It will take a long time for the jelly to turn completely runny, though we know that will be its ultimate fate. Most of the jelly is a foot thick, but near the edges of the table it slopes off steeply. A tiny bit of the edge of the table is visible.

We know it will eventually run off the table, but consider how it might starts off. As the jelly warms up, it gets a little softer, and it can no longer sustain the steep slope. So it starts to spread. And the bits of spread that fall off the edge of the table no longer offer their viscosity to help hold up the rest of the pile.

The bits that fall off the table are like icebergs.

Near term sea level rise is about the fact that increasing temperature causes a gravitational instability at the steep edges. As long as the temperature increases, the edge of the ice sheets gets further into disequilibrium, and the ice sheet will retreat in much the same way as a beach retreats under rising sea level, where a small change in forcing yields a large response because the system needs to find a new physical slope.

8) It is also the case that the tops of the ice sheets, as they warm and hence receive more moisture, will be accreting. It will take a very long time before that mechanical signal becomes significant at the edges where the action is. Meanwhile, the tops of the ice sheets can somewhat mitigate sea level rise. The tops of the ice sheets constitute a true mitigating feedback to sea level rise, and in the short run this effect may dominate.

9) Both physical reasoning and paleoclimate evidence indicate that warming ice sheets do shrink, though. You were expecting, maybe, the Easter Bunny? So in the long run that effect is swamped by the shrinking edges, which makes sense in a simple model because the size of the accreting area shrinks.

10) A fellow named Christian Schoof appears to have worked out the mechanism for abrupt sea level rise such as the 14 kA event when sea level rose some 15 meters in 400 years. The mechanism has to do with ice sheets that have compressed the land the lie on enough that their bases are below sea level. Only certain geometric configurations of the outlets of such ice sheets are possible. If an ice sheet melts back or surges forward from one of these configurations, it is likely to reconfigure rapidly. There is only one such conditionally configuration on a large scale on earth at present, in the Amundsen Bay off the West Antarctic Ice sheet. If it were to retreat behind a certain ridge, it would become mechanically unstable, and a process would begin whereby it would eventually destabilize an ice basin large enough to cause an abrupt sea level rise of approximately 2 m.

11) The mass balance of Antarctica as a whole swamps the events in this area now, so the GRACE instrument may not pick them up. But nobody knows how quickly the destabilization will occur once the ice sheet lets go of its sill in the Amundsen embayment, which as I understand it, it already has. Once it starts, a one-time and abrupt sea level rise of about 2 or 3 meters in a few decades is plausible.

12) As for the Antarctic ice balance itself, I was coincidentally just looking at this picture in the Copenhagen Diagnosis yesterday

Here we see various estimates of the Antarctic mass balance over the past fifteen years. This is strongly suggestive of a significant change over that period.

Here, by the way, are comparable estimates for the Greenland mass balance:
13) A press release just yesterday (!) amounted to a major correction to GRACE estimates of mass flux. This is apparently a correction for isostatic rebound. It is good news because it means our worst fears that might be gleaned form the above graphs may need reconsideration.
Based on this principle, previous estimates for the Greenland ice cap calculated that the ice was melting at a rate of 230 gigatonnes a year (i.e. 230,000 billion kg). That would result in an average rise in global sea levels of around 0.75 mm a year. For West Antarctica, the estimate was 132 gigatonnes a year. However, it now turns out that these results were not properly corrected for glacial isostatic adjustment, the phenomenon that the Earth's crust rebounds as a result of the melting of the massive ice caps from the last major Ice Age around 20,000 years ago. These movements of the Earth's crust have to be incorporated in the calculations, since these vertical movements change the Earth's mass distribution and therefore also have an influence on the gravitational field.
The corrected figures are reported in a multi-author paper in the Nature Geoscience by Wu et al. Quoth Wu:
According to our estimates, mass losses between 2002 and 2008 in Greenland, Alaska/Yukon and West Antarctica are 104±23, 101±23 and 64±32 Gt yr−1, respectively. Our estimates of glacial isostatic adjustment indicate a large geocentre velocity of −0.72±0.06 mm yr−1 in the polar direction. We conclude that a significant revision of the present estimates of glacial isostatic adjustments and land–ocean water exchange is required.
This is a significant correction, but it nevertheless remains the case that the mass flux is clearly negative from all major ice sources. Of course, there's little reason to expect that this won't eventually be the case. The question at hand is when, and the answer is already, but the GRACE satellites may be weighing in on the low side for the next question, which is how much.

14) There is a geoengineering project called ice911 which I believe is worth considering that may fix the ice sheet problem.

(*) - WUWT is jargon on both sides of the climo-blogo-fence for "Watts Up With That", a blog of the sort that one refers to with a "nofollow". Watts has articles of varying degrees of sophistication, with the common thread that most of them are deeply confused. This does not mean everything said on WUWT is false. It means that all points of view are welcome, which is to say, scientifically informed opinion is vastly outnumbered and openly mocked. Watts provides a real service by providing a window into what people actually are thinking. How our society sunk to such a gnarled tangle that politically significant numbers of nonscientists see scientists this way is a subject I take up often, but not this time. Suffice it to say that articles on WUWT are often a horrifying mashup of information and disinformation, and that most readers have no serious basis to tell one from the other.

(**) - WAIS: West Antarctic Ice Sheet

"It is hard to understand many of those who are convinced that climate change will destroy civilization."
That is a near-empty class. I consider myself among those who hope that climate change will not destroy civilization, and choose to act on that basis.
And according to some scientists working with GRACE measurements, Antarctica is losing ice. Not just the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet, which has been predicted to melt and succumb to mechanical pressure since the 1930s, but also the vastly larger ice sheet covering East Antarctica.

And sure enough, the ‘apocaholics’ are all over this, using it to reinforce their unrelenting drumbeat of doom-laden predictions of disastrous sea level rises.
But this is actually quite strange. According to climate change theory, ice should be increasing in Antarctica–the (very slight) increase in temperatures and the natural increase in precipitation should result in more snow over Antarctica which gets compressed into higher levels of ice. The same phenomenon is both predicted and observed in Greenland, by the way.
Both phenomena exist. At issue is which one wins. In the end, of course, ice sheets do shrink when the planet warms very much.
"Instead of using this as proof of global warming"
huh??? Sorry, what does that even mean?
" Because this is observed data working against the principles of their theory"
uh, nope, remember, there is a tradeoff, one which Fuller actually described himself
"But they cannot pass up the chance for a quick and easy headline that reinforces the ‘all disaster, only disaster, 24 hours a day’ routine."
"Certainly all measurements before GRACE showed increasing ice in Antarctica, as they do today."
There's Fuller's hat, providing us with anti-information again.
"My guess (I’m not a scientist and do not claim to know) is that there are still a few bugs to work out in how they are doing this."
This turns out to be quite true and an amazingly well-timed guess.
"So the paper referred to by scare artists like Michael Tobis of Only In It For The Gold "
a - I am not a "scare artist"

b - It was Fuller who raised this paper
"says the Eastern Antarctic has lost 57 billion tons a year–plus or minus 52 billion tons."
I only said that - 57 +/- 52 was a decrease. I do not know to which paper Fuller refers, and can't seem to track down the original where he raises it. Fuller's name-calling is one thing, to claim that I raised some paper in the conversation after he himself brought the figures to the table is something else. (I looked all over the place and can't spot the conversation where this even came up, but I'm pretty sure the numbers came from Fuller and completely sure I didn't come up with them.)

Not all measurements of ice mass balance are via GRACE, as is obvious from the long record of Greenland estimates. John Cook has a nice piece on this on Skeptical Science.

It is one thing for Fuller to get the science wrong. On quantitative arguments requiring a little subtlety, one assumes he knows no better. But he is here making misleading statements on events of which he was a part. This can't be written off just as intellectual hubris.

And then a repeat of the claim that seems to me totally at odds with the facts:
Other measurements, consistent with climate theory, have consistently shown the Antarctic gaining, not losing ice.
No. That is wrong. Say it twice and it's still wrong.
Fuller seems to believe in making up facts to tell a convenient story. I don't think this constitutes helping.