Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 27, 2015

Why Pope Francis stands out

Pope Francis firmly believes that the problem of global warming should be vigorously addressed as soon as possible.  His view appears to come from a healthy dose of common sense (he knows what the scientific experts think), but also from his understanding of Christian Doctrine.  Yet, many Christians in the USA do not accept Pope Francis’ view on this issue.  I agree with Pope Francis on climate change, of course, but in my case, that is primarily because I am a scientist who has studied this issue for many years. So why does Pope Francis stand out so far ahead of most other Christians on this and other issues? Having been exposed to the doctrines of Christianity in my own life, I think I understand why Pope Francis’s view on climate change is so much clearer and stronger than those of most Christians. In a nutshell, I believe this because Pope Francis considers the example provided by Jesus of Nazareth to be the cornerstone of the Christian faith rather than other aspects of the faith that others might consider to be of equal or even more importance.

Upon my own exposure to Christian Doctrine starting from childhood, I learned a great deal about the teachings of a carpenter from the small village of Nazareth who Christians came to believe was the Son of God. The most important message Jesus of Nazareth delivered was how we should live our lives. That message comes through repeatedly in the first four gospels of the New Testament. It is also summarized in his “Sermon on the Mount” and has been condensed further into what is known as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  These simple statements struck me as being perfectly suited to and even essential for those living in a democratic form of government where power and responsibility are placed with the people.  I happen to consider this portion of the Christian faith to be the most important and it seems to also be for Pope Francis.

The complete Christian Doctrine also includes other parts, of course, that might be just as important or even more important to many Christians. These parts deal with what happened after the crucifixion of Jesus. The Apostle Paul repeatedly tells us in his many contributions to the New Testament that the physical Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into Heaven where he sits at the right hand of God. Paul also goes on to explain that all who believe in that resurrection and also that Jesus is the Son of God will be “saved” – that is, allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven upon their physical death.  

Like many others, I have often wondered about and even questioned aspects of these additional portions of official Christian Doctrine. The obvious reason is that some of it is clearly illogical and superstitious relative to the contents of the first part concerning the teachings of Jesus.  Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul insists throughout his many contributions to the New Testament that “salvation is based on faith and not on ‘works of the law’”, so there you have it. Paul’s view became official Christian Doctrine.

By definition, Pope Francis represents the faith of Catholic Christianity with respect to all of its aspects and I am sure he does that. But compared to previous Popes, he seems to place much greater emphasis on the lessons provided by the Nazarene carpenter. To Pope Francis, that appears to be the central theme of Christianity. The Pope’s namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi who was a Catholic friar of the 12th century also felt that way. So where Pope Francis has departed from his predecessors and from many who presently claim to be Christians is that he has moved from talking the good talk to actually walking that walk as laid out by Jesus of Nazareth. The simplicity of his lifestyle, his emphasis on helping the poor and preserving human-friendly conditions on our planet are all radical departures from past papal practices.

By returning to the kind of issues that the Jesus of Nazareth focused on, Pope Francis has, I understand, become a disappointment to many Catholics and Christians.  Some of these disappointed souls might have preferred to see a papal attitude more like many of his predecessors – where the main objective was to root out various forms of heresy. Other disappointed Catholics lob softer criticisms, such as that of the Catholic Jeb Bush when he recently said: “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope.  I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”

The problem with Jeb’s view is that politics has always been and always will be about who we are as people. Our views on central political questions such as the economy, the environment, abortion and civil rights depend on our basic beliefs concerning our duties to others and about how we live our lives.  These are fundamentally moral issues and Bush’s remarks make it sound as though he thinks the outcome of political battles is not affected by those basic values.

Pope Francis might be called a radical, but if he is one, that is only because he speaks in the language of the common person and is calling Christians to embrace the simple and clear mandates of their faith as expressed by Jesus of Nazareth.  In doing so, Pope Francis appears to be awakening a portion of the world that has become dead to Christianity. If he’s breaking new ground, it’s because he’s reminding people of what it means to be a follower of and not just a believer in Jesus Christ. Pope Francis is reminding us that followers of Jesus Christ should focus more on the welfare of all of the Earth’s inhabitants and on the gift God has given us, that is, the Earth itself, and less, perhaps, on our own self interests. In short, Pope Francis has reminded Christians that it is just as important to “behave” as it is to “be saved”.  With all due respect to the Apostle Paul, I also happen to believe that the former leads to the latter.

So thank you, Pope Francis, for coming to visit us!  My previous declaration in a post last June entitled “Halleluiah, our leader has arrived!” was clearly not misplaced .

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 21, 2015

Two Proofs that the Deniers have achieved their goal

We should not delude ourselves – the Deniers of man-caused global warming have, in fact, achieved their goals and I will provide two proofs of this in this post.  But first, we must recognized what has been and still is their goal.  Contrary to common belief, their goal has not been to get the public and their elected officials to actually believe that fossil fuel combustion would have no effect of the Earth’s temperature  –  as they have repeatedly claimed.  Also, their goal has not been to get the public to believe that our grand kids will be OK if we continue to burn fossil fuels  –   as they have also claimed.  Their goal has also not been to get the public to believe that the alternate, renewable means of energy production would not work –  as they have repeatedly claimed.  No, none of these statements describe their real goals because they have known for years, just as I have, that all of those statements are false and eventually would be found to be so. That is, the Deniers never expected any of those statements to be believed in the long run by the general public.

OK, so what has been the goal of the Deniers?  It is simply this: to create conditions and attitudes that would promote the continued use of fossil fuels for as long as possible. That’s it. The opportunity that the Deniers still have is that our planet still contains enormous quantities of fossil fuels and there are still countless fortunes yet to be made by using them.  Thus, their financial investments in those reserves are still enormous.  The Deniers therefore hope that the world will continue to take its chances on the continued use of fossil fuels if they can continue to create a sufficiently high level of confusion, doubt and distrust concerning the science involved. They have bet that these efforts, along with the ever-present mental laziness and greed inherent in human beings, will continue to do the job. This strategy has worked exceedingly well, to date, and shows every sign of succeeding into the future.

So why do I say that the Deniers have achieved their goal? There are two very clear facts that provide proof of their unqualified success. The first proof concerns the only score card that matters – the level of carbon dioxide in our background atmosphere.  That number is now slightly more than 400 parts per million (ppm) CO2.  Prior to the Industrial Age beginning in the mid 1800’s, that number was 280 ppm and had never exceeded 300 ppm during the previous three million years.  In the first decades of the Industrial Age that number began to increase at a rate between 0 and 1 ppm per year.  Throughout the 1900’s,  it was increasing at a rate between 1 and 2 ppm per year.  Today, it is increasing at a rate between 2 and 3 ppm per year. This number is the best means we have for monitoring how mankind is doing with respect to controlling its CO2 emissions and from them, it is clear that mankind is in no way getting better at controlling them – in spite of all the hype to the contrary provided by our fossil fuel industries. Things are getting worse and emissions are now grossly out of control with no signs of improvement.  It should also be noted that once there, the new elevated level of CO2 will remain in the atmosphere for several centuries continuing to heat the Earth well beyond natural levels.

The second proof that the Deniers have achieved their goal is sorry state of a critically important piece of legislation that simply must be passed if the problem of climate change is ever to be seriously addressed. That needed legislation is known as a Carbon Tax, or a fee charged to fossil fuel producers and users for the use of our atmosphere as a waste disposal dump for CO2.  As we now know, the costs of addressing the problems caused by the excess carbon in our atmosphere will be somewhere between enormous and astronomical –  depending on when we finally halt those emissions. And why should future generations, only, be asked to pay those costs?  Shouldn’t today’s users of fossil fuels make that payment right now – as they choose to burn fossil fuels?  In spite of the exceedingly clear and fair logic behind a Carbon Tax idea, it has gotten nowhere, to date, in Washington DC and this simple fact also provides proof that Deniers of man-caused global warming have achieved their goal. Until Carbon Taxes are applied around the world, there will be no level playing field for the other means of energy production and those based on fossil fuel combustion will continue to have its unfair cost advantage.  If an appropriately stiff and steadily increasing Carbon Tax is finally implemented, the Deniers know that the fossil fuel industries will be put out of business within in a couple of decades. Thus, the absence of a Carbon Tax today continues to ensure a bright financial future for the fossil fuel industries. As long as they provide (seemingly) cheap forms of energy, why would their use ever be discontinued?

Thus, our planet races ever faster today towards its own destruction. Perhaps the best hope for corrective action in the future might be the occurrence of some catastrophic event clearly linked to climate change – such as the complete and continuous flooding of some of the world’s largest coastal cities. When that occurs, perhaps the Deniers will acknowledge that they have made enough money off the demise of our planet and finally stop resisting corrective actions.  Don’t count on that, however. More likely they will simply move on to the final stage of Denial – which is to claim that it is too late for anyone to do anything about it.

Alternatively, perhaps some other controlling force of humanity that has survived up to that point will finally insist on forceful action.  I don’t know what form of government that might be but it might not resemble the one we presently have in the USA.  Note, for example, that in the Republican Debate of last week, the only “wisdom” offered by the candidates of that party was that our government is not capable of successfully addressing climate change – and, therefore, there is no point in trying! Thus, by their own admission, the Republican leadership is saying that a democratic form of government run by Republicans could not successfully address this problem.  I hope the other half of our political system has greater respect for the potential of our American financial and political systems.

So yes, the Deniers have indeed achieved their goal, to date, and are a long ways towards collecting the full 30 pieces of silver for their services to the fossil fuel industries. The future of humanity now hinges on the “rest of the story” to be played out in the current decade. Will the powerful forces of human ignorance and greed continue to win out over a higher level of understanding and conscientiousness?  For the sake of the latter possibility, I am very pleased to note that we have every discipline of modern science, as well as the Pope of the Catholic Church, on our side.  This is a good sign because climate change is both a scientific and moral issue.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 17, 2015

The Republican “debate” on climate change, Not !

During the five-hour, two-part, Republican presidential debate last night there was only one mention of man-caused climate change – delivered near the very end of that marathon program when viewership was greatly diminished. The short, dismissive comments that followed that single question took less than three minutes before the debate moderator abruptly changed the topic to vaccines.

Only three of the fourteen candidates were asked to respond: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.  All three argued that nothing should be done by the American government to combat the problem.  All three backed up their argument with the erroneous claim that government efforts would not do anything to solve the problem.

Why, I am asking myself today, did the moderator not at least ask each of the fourteen candidates to explain their views on this issue.  By asking only three to respond – two of which were already known to be hard core deniers of the problem – appeared to me to be a predetermined means of protecting the other candidates from potential embarrassment.  At the same time, each candidate was asked for his or her views on topics of far less importance, such as the legalization of marijuana, for example.  What’s going on here?  Isn’t the issue of climate change more important than any issue related to marijuana?

I have been consistently very disappointed with and critical of the Republican Party on this web site.  Gosh, I wonder why. Could it be because they don’t seem to give sufficient consideration to our future beyond tomorrow.  In view of what their Business-as-Usual preferences will be doing to subsequent generations, I wonder if they have no sense of shame, concern for others, or humility. If that is the case, it should come as no surprise that their front-runner is none other than the know-it-all bully-of-all-bullies, Donald Trump, who I have read is not concerned about climate change. Nevertheless, I would have preferred to have heard directly from Mr. Trump last night his latest views on this topic.

In any case, it appears that if the issue of man-caused global warming is to be appropriately recognized and addressed, those efforts will have to come from the Democratic Party.  Fortunately, that party does appear to have some grownups within it’s leadership whose interests and concerns include the welfare of our grandchildren and future generations.  I look forward to that debate and hope its moderators do not protect the Democratic candidates from the tough questions associated with this most challenging issue of our times.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 16, 2015

Exxon knew decades ago !

After intensive investigation, InsideClimate News is currently releasing a history of Exxon Corporation’s engagement in the science of climate change starting back when that field was in it infancy. The story spans four decades, and is based on primary sources including internal company files dating back to the late 1970s, interviews with former company employees, and other evidence, much of which is now being published for the first time.

Turns out, Exxon conducted first-class, cutting-edge climate research starting in the 1970’s. Then in the late 1980’s, not liking what it’s scientists were finding,  decided to discontinue that research and, instead, put its resources behind climate change denial, thereby promoting doubt about the scientific consensus that its own scientists and others from American Universities and government laboratories were coming to. By the time of NOAA’s James Hansen’s historic testimony before a Senate committee concerning the rapid advance of global warming in 1988, the denial and doubt campaigns of Exxon had already begun and, as we know, have continued to the present time.

A full account of the first portion of this story can be seen at

Note that additional chapters will be forthcoming.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 28, 2015

 Zero carbon emissions by 2050 with no economic downsides

A new paper by Jacobson et al. of Stanford University demonstrates how all of the energy needed to support our present standard of living in the USA could be provided by alternate, non-carbon-based sources of energy even without assistance by nuclear reactors by the year 2050, only 35 years ahead.  Note that this includes ALL ENERGY needed for heating and cooling, electricity, and transport – thereby bringing CO2 emissions to near zero. In addition, the financial benefits of following this course would outweigh those associated with our continued use of fossil fuels for energy production.  The entire paper can be seen at

The paper begins with the following statement of its broader context:

“This paper presents a consistent set of roadmaps for converting the energy infrastructures of each of the 50 United States to 100% wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) for all purposes (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, and industry) by 2050. Such conversions are obtained by first projecting conventional power demand to 2050 in each sector then electrifying the sector, assuming the use of some electrolytic hydrogen in transportation and industry and applying modest end-use energy efficiency improvements. Such state conversions may reduce conventional 2050 U.S.-averaged power demand by B39%, with most reductions due to the efficiency of electricity over combustion and the rest due to modest end-use energy efficiency improvements. The conversions are found to be technically and economically feasible with little downside. They nearly eliminate energy-related U.S. air pollution and climate-relevant emissions and their resulting health and environmental costs while creating jobs, stabilizing energy prices, and minimizing land requirements. These benefits have not previously been quantified for the 50 states. Their elucidation may reduce the social and political barriers to implementing clean-energy policies for replacing conventional combustible and nuclear fuels. Several such policies are proposed herein for each energy sector.”

And the paper ends with this summary:

“Based on the scientific results presented, current barriers to implementing the roadmaps are neither technical nor economic. As such, they must be social and political. Such barriers are due partly to the fact that most people are unaware of what changes are possible and how they will benefit from them and partly to the fact that many with a financial interest in the current energy industry resist change. However, because the benefits of converting (reduced global warming and air pollution; new jobs and stable energy prices) far exceed the costs, converting has little downside. This study elucidates the net benefits and quantifies what is possible thus should reduce social and political barriers to implementing the roadmaps.”

Looks as though the only question is – will human beings prove to be smart enough to take a course of action that will be beneficial in all regards – financially, environmentally, and morally – or will they blindly continue their fatal addiction to the 6th element in the Periodic Table?

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 26, 2015

Helping Obama get to the Promised Land

President Obama’s views and actions on the issue of climate change so far have been similar to those that were taken by our two leading civil rights Presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson.

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that Lincoln’s sympathies were on the side of the abolitionists who wanted the institution of slavery to be terminated as soon as possible throughout the entire USA.  But we also now know that Lincoln believed he would be more successful in accomplishing that goal if he initially embraced a compromise position – allowing slavery to continue in the deep South but not allowing it to extend to the new western states. Thus, Lincoln initially offered both sides something they wanted while his own views then changed to his preference in response to the horrific events brought on by the American Civil War.  Lincoln was an extraordinarily savvy politician who managed to keep the Union together and to abolish the institution of slavery in just four years – an almost unbelievable feat at that time.

Lyndon Johnson was also an extraordinarily savvy politician who managed to bring the freedom Lincoln had won for the slaves of America to a higher level of ensured equal rights. Johnson had previously been a classic “Dixiecrat”, a southern Democrat in favor of racial segregation. Therefore he had good rapport with many politicians of the southern states whose support he needed to pass long overdue civil rights legislation. By gaining substantial support from southern Republicans and by clever procedural maneuvers, he was finally able to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed.

Another strategy that both Lincoln and Johnson used was to encourage the Abolitionists and the Freedom Marchers of their respective eras to push for their agenda as forcefully as possible. Johnson even advised Martin Luther King to lob strident personal insults at his President – because it would “make his job easier”, Johnson said.

So what makes me think that Obama is following the paths of Lincoln and Johnson in dealing with the present issue of climate change? One is that the sheer magnitude of the climate change problem is so daunting – even more so than those of slavery and civil rights. And while the problem of global warming cannot be solved overnight, major steps forward can be facilitated by ongoing alarming events related to climate change, just as they were during the Civil War and Civil Rights eras. Another reason for thinking that Obama is following in Lincoln and Johnson’s footsteps is that he surely knows the detailed history of the antislavery and civil rights movements like the back of his hand – including the shrewd political maneuverings that finally led to successes.

So, like Lincoln and Johnson, Obama sits in the middle of a conundrum – knowing what final outcome he prefers, but also very well aware of the exceedingly difficult barriers to getting there.  Thus, he regularly provides some “good news” to both sides of the issue so that neither side runs away from the negotiation table.  In his speeches, he very clearly demonstrates that he has no doubt at all about the reality of man-caused global warming and our urgent need of strong action.  And at the same time, he allows environmentally questionable gas and oil explorations to proceed. His recent announcement concerning cuts to coal-powered power plants have probably won him some friends in the environmental corner but did not constitute a major setback for the fossil fuel companies because coal-fired power plants were already being phased out in the USA due to our surpluses of cleaner and higher energy content natural gas. On the issue of the Keystone XL pipeline, Obama seems to be aware of the folly associated with the development of this very dirty and low energy form of fossil fuel, but his actions so far have left the fossil fuel industries thinking that his administration might ultimately allow its construction.

Thus, just as Lincoln was hounded by the abolitionists and Johnson by civil rights advocates, we should continue to hound President Obama for not doing enough to end our use of fossil fuels. Tinkering with cutbacks, grants, offsets, and carbon credits might help a bit but will not be nearly enough to solve to problem. Only the abolition of fossil fuel use will do the job.  If and when President Obama manages to get a stiff carbon tax in place – either in his remaining 18 months in office or from some other post-presidency involvement – only then will he have achieved his equivalent of  Lincoln’s 13th Amendment or Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964.  If he is successful in that endeavor, Obama will be remembered as a skillful politician of the Lincoln and Johnson ilk who somehow did the right thing concerning a seemingly impossible task. Our job is to continue to hound and drive him towards that goal.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 11, 2015

The Hansen paper viewed as a pie plate with ice cubes

In a recent post, I drew attention to the latest publication by James Hansen et al. (see it at ) which is sure to have a huge impact on our understanding of the most imminent effects of climate change resulting from greenhouse gas warming.  I believe that the issue addressed in this paper is so important to everyone – not just professional scientists – that I will try to provide here some additional assistance is understanding its contents via a simple analogy.

Ordinarily, we assume that increased  levels of warming will result in increased temperatures, right?  Isn’t that, after all, what “warming” is all about?  But not so, actually.  As more heat is deposited into the Earth by our out-of-control greenhouse effect, there is another means by which that excess heat is dissipated that does not result in increased temperatures. That mechanism is simply the melting of ice – by which huge amounts of energy is absorbed with no change in temperature.  And with the use of simple analogies associated with the melting of ice in a pie plate, we can better understand both the Hansen paper referred to above and why this means of heat dissipation is so very important to us – of more immediate importance, perhaps, than the temperature increases we usually focus on.

What the Hansen paper is all about can be better understood by doing the following “thought experiments” (which can also be done literally in one’s kitchen, if one wishes).  Imagine a simple pie plate about one foot in diameter with edges of about one inch in height.  Then add a bunch of standard (one inch) ice cubes to it and just enough water to cover the very bottom of the plate to a depth of only about 1/8 inch. Then place a thermometer in the middle of this ice-water mixture and a towel under the plate thereby providing a bit of heat insulation from the counter top.

Now position a standard clip-on lamp directly over the center of this ice-water mixture and begin recording the temperature indicated by the thermometer as the ice slowly and steadily melts and the depth of the water level increases.  What one will observe for the next many minutes as the ice melts is that the temperature of the water does not change at all.  Until almost all of the ice is gone, the water temperature will remain at the freezing point of water, which is +32 degrees F.  Only after that point when the ice is nearly gone, will the temperature then begin to increase beyond 32 degrees.  According to the laws of thermodynamics, this result is entirely expected – no surprises, so far.

Now let’s change the above experiment somewhat so that it more closely mimics our planet –  by placing two or three ice cubes only at the very top and the very bottom edges of the pie plate – thereby creating north and south “poles”.  (For those actually doing this experiment, two strings taped to the top and bottom of the plate will prevent these ice cubes from sliding away from their polar positions).  Again we also add enough water to fill the plate to a depth of about 1/8 inch.  With a thermometer again placed in the water at the center of the plate, we again suspend the lamp over the center of the pie plate and again start recording the temperature.  Now, if we do not stir the water at all, we will observe an increase in temperature with time, as would be expected, right? Since there is no stirring, the water in the center of the pan is now going to increase in temperature immediately upon application of extra heat from the lamp.  If one moves the thermometer to the water-ice mixture existing at the top or bottom of the plate, the temperature at those two locations would be 32 degrees F as in the first experiment, right?  Since the center of the plate is now farther from the poles, its temperature is less affected by the ice at the poles.

Next, let’s additionally improve our rough simulation of the Earth by introducing some stirring of the water, lightly at first and then progressively stronger. After all, we know that our oceans consist of numerous strong currents by which heat is being continuously transferred between all of its regions. As the degree of stirring is increased in our experiment, the temperature observed at the middle of the plate will then decrease, right?  If the degree of stirring is made sufficiently vigorous, the temperature at the center can be made to decrease downwards most of the way to that measured at the “poles”.

Lastly, repeat the experiment above using different levels of constant stirring and note the time required for the length of the ice cubes at the poles to decrease in size to approximately one-half their original size under each condition of stirring. One will certainly find that this measured “half-life” of the ice cubes deceases with increased stirring, right? This happens because increased stirring brings the total heat within the plate to its polar regions more rapidly, thereby causing the cubes to melt more quickly.

So that’s it.  Very simple experiments with results that are in line with common sense, right?  But  what do these simple experiments tell us about what the Earth is likely to do in response to our extra greenhouse gas heating?  It tells us several very important things, as related below.

First, there are, indeed, two different mechanisms by which the extra heat provided by greenhouse gases is dissipated.  One is via temperature increase and the other is via the melting of ice. In addition, these experiments show us that the loss of ice can occur with either no or little change in temperature (as in the first experiment and in a later one with ice “poles” and vigorous stirring).

Secondly, these experiments tell us that the rate of ice loss at the poles of our over- heated world will depend on the degree of “stirring” or heat transfer provided by our oceans.  That is, the speed and efficiency of heat exchange between our mid latitude oceans and our polar glaciers will be determined by ocean currents and ocean-glacial interfaces – factors that we are just beginning to understand as related in the Hansen paper.

Thirdly, one of the most detrimental and immediate consequences of global warming is expected to be an increases in our sea levels and the simple experiments related above suggest that large increases in sea levels can occur with relatively little changes in the Earth’s average temperatures. This is especially true  if the “stirring” or heat transfer between the poles and the lower latitudes via our oceans is relatively efficient.  Just how efficient that transfer of heat is constitutes an extremely important question about which too little has been known up to the present.

In any case, the simple thought experiments described here allow one to better understand the purpose and goal of the paper by Hansen et al.  Its goal is to understand and determine the speed by which the extra heat of our planet is transferred to the polar regions, where most of the world’s ice is.  And what they discovered is that the rate of heat transfer will be increasing much more rapidly during the coming decades than was previously expected. As a result, their prediction is that sea levels will rise by about 10 feet by the year 2100 if our “business-as-usual” rate of fossil-fuel consumption continues – instead of less than 3 feet as was previously thought.  In order to prevent that outcome, Hansen et al. conclude that atmospheric CO2 levels would have to be reduced from its present level of 400 ppm back down to about 350 ppm. Given that our background CO2 levels are currently increasing at a rate of about 3 ppm per year and that atmospheric CO2 is removed very, very slowly by natural processes, a return to 350 ppm constitutes is an exceedingly formidable task that is doable only if extreme measures are immediately undertaken .

The main reason we have not previously been aware of these exceedingly dire predictions is that we  have not sufficiently understood the details of the “mixing” processes illustrated by the simple experiments provided above – as they play out on our planet. The Hansen paper is therefore particularly important because it attempts to understand  those processes and, in doing so, finds that these heat transfer factors are, indeed, determining ones  with respect to the changes in our sea levels that are expected to occur during the current century.  And  in case you missed the point previously, an increase in the sea level of 3 meters by the end of this century would render many of our coastal cities, including New York, London and Shanghai, uninhabitable!

Finally, thanks to Heart Climate Scientists for the following relevant cartoon.

2015 Toon 32

And Hansen et al .predict that the rate of glacial melting and fresh water production will be increasing exponentially with business-as-usual practices throughout the current century!  Yes, there does appear to be some very good reasons for becoming VERY ALARMED and for undertaking extreme and immediate actions, does there not?  The only question is are human beings going to be up to this task or will they simply continue to enjoy the fossil-fuel-fired party while it lasts?  That is the BIG QUESTION of our era – and, unfortunately, is still one that is masked by so many other issues of far less immediate importance.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | July 28, 2015

Will it be Hillary or Bernie on climate change?

A couple days ago Hillary Clinton came out with her statement on Climate Change (see it at:  I had expected her to say pretty much what she did say and was thereby disappointed. We have already seen too much of “all of the above” approaches to the energy question.  While she is clearly in favor of our continued development of alternate means of energy production, she did not say enough about our need to discourage future use of fossil fuels.  Most significantly, she did not even mention our need for a tax on future carbon emissions.

Hillary is a shrewd and experienced politician, of course, and I am sure she knows that if she does not win the specific election in question, her long term agenda will not get to first base.  Therefore, I could envision that if and when she is in office, she might gradually take a much firmer stance against fossil fuel use.  I don’t know that, of course, and am only guessing here about her real plans. Without that guess, however, I would not vote for her at the present time.

This is because we now have another candidate, Bernie Sanders, who is “all the way there” with respect to what I believe has to be done – as soon as possible – that is, instantly upon election – if we are to have any hope in the battle against global warming.  Bernie is forcefully behind the only factor that will really make a difference.  That is an increasingly stiff tax on the combustion of all fossil fuels (see his stance at:   We cannot continue to use our atmosphere as a free-of-charge dump for the disposal of carbon dioxide.  It already has way too much of this greenhouse gas in it and the extra we add to it every day will remain there for several centuries.  Only a stiff charge for the continued disposal of that waste will enable us to develop the carbon-free energy and financial systems we absolutely must have within the next decade.

So my question to myself is:  who should I vote for – the seemingly powerful candidate that would very probably win and whose outlook might possibly get all the way to a carbon free economy later – or the one who is clearly already all the way there but might not have the political clout to defeat his Republican opponent in the 2016 Presidential election?  It’s a good thing that I still have more than a year to watch and decide.  If Bernie’s level of public support continues to increase – that would pull me in his direction.  If Hillary shows me that she “get’s it” concerning the real problem before us – that would also affect my vote.

I should add here that if Vice President Joe Biden decides to throw his hat in the ring, I would also consider voting for him. I have the highest respect for Biden and the service he has provided to our country throughout his long career.  In addition, if he were to run, I am sure that his views on climate change and how to address it would be just as forceful as those of Bernie Sanders.

Concerning other potential candidates who might have a clue concerning the looming problem of climate change – the GOP has made things far too simple for me.  It still appears than any candidate that makes it through their “vetting” process will have to be either an actual or a pretend scientific retard who will have to show his or her disdain for our nation’s scientific organizations. They will have to be in sync with the “I am not a scientist” and “its all a big hoax” national leadership of their party.

This last point made above is, perhaps, the saddest part of the dilemma in which we now find ourselves.  How the United States of America in the 21st  Century came to have one of its only two major political parties reduced to such a state of utter anti-intellectualism would be enough to make many of its founders, certainly including Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin, to be ashamed of what they have produced.  How is it possible that over those more than two centuries, the understanding of our natural surroundings by approximately half of our political representatives has actually “advanced” backwards? God help us if any of those scientific Neanderthals of the GOP is elected in 2016!

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | July 23, 2015

James Hansen speaks again

Anyone who has followed the science of climate change is by now well aware of Dr. James Hansen and the central role he has played in climate science over the last three decades.  Therefore, his most recent paper coauthored by 16 others, to appear very soon in Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry (an-open-to-public peer-reviewed journal), will be drawing a great deal of attention – as it should.

Dr. Hansen has suspected that the sensitivity of our climate to changes in our greenhouse gases has been significantly underestimated in climate models, to date, and this most recent paper supports that notion.  New insight into the magnitude of climate change is provided in this paper by its inclusion of ice sheet dynamics – a factor not previously understood well enough to be included in models.  A key and possibly controversial point made in this paper is that the amount of fresh water being produced from the melting of glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will increase exponentially – rather than linearly – with time if our planet continues on its current course of warming.

As a result of this additional insight, the authors argue that our goal for limiting future global temperature increase should be changed from +2.0 C to +1.5 C because an increase of 2.0 C will prove to be far too distressful to our present civilization. Specifically, the authors predict that an increase of 2.0 C will cause sea levels to rise about 10 feet by the year 2100 instead of 3 feet, as was previously predicted by the IPCC. A sea level rise of 10 feet would obviously cause horrific damage, making numerous coastal cities, including New York, London, and Shanghai, uninhabitable.

So who is this guy, again, who brings us this most distasteful news at a point in time when we are not even on track for limiting future warming to 2.0 C?   Ever since James Hansen first sounded the global warming alarm in his historic testimony to the US Congress back in 1988, he has consistently been ahead of the scientific curve. His predictions have generally been both more dire and more accurate than those of the IPCC.  This new paper also offers some “good news”, however.  That is. it explains what we can do to avoid temperatures in excess of 1.5 C. Perhaps the moment has finally come when Congress will do more than ignore his advice. We will soon see. Time for needed action appears to be running out.

For a preview of the paper in question, see   Keep an eye out for its impact in the next week or so.  Also note that this paper has not yet gone through the normal scientific review process which will very likely take several weeks and result in at least some modifications of the initial version.

(note added on 7/27/2015).  Dr. Hansen has now provided an op ed in which he describes his recent paper in a condensed and lay-public friendly manner while also providing a link to the full paper.  I highly recommend that you have a look at:

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | July 17, 2015

Are our plants about to turn on us?

First, consider the following facts.  Over the Industrial Age, mankind caused the emission of about 580 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. This has changed the level of atmospheric CO2 from 280 ppm to 400 ppm.  If all of that extra carbon emitted by mankind had stayed in the atmosphere, the level of CO2 today would have been 550 ppm rather than 400 ppm.  Thus, we know that only 40% of the extra carbon emitted stayed in the atmosphere and about 60% went elsewhere – about 30% to the surface layers of the oceans and about 30% to plants.

So yes, what the Deniers like to say “CO2 is plant food” is true at the moment – even though the atmosphere does not like the 40% it gets (because of the global warming it causes) and the oceans do not like the 30% they get (because of the increase in acidity it causes).  And now even that simple statement about “plant food” is being questioned as it pertains to the future – because plant scientists are finding that plants are becoming stressed by changes associated with climate change.

Increased levels of carbon dioxide have caused plants to grow faster, but in the process other nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, that are required for further growth have become limiting factors.  In addition water levels and climate conditions have worsened in many regions.  All of this appears to be reducing the ability of plants to soak up that 30%  portion of mankind’s extra emissions.  In addition, as the ocean surfaces warm and become more acidic, the oceans are also expected to take up a continuously smaller portion of the excess carbon.

Therefore, an increasing fraction of our total carbon emissions in the future are expected to stay in the atmosphere because plants and the oceans are expected to take up less of it.  In addition, as global warming continues we can expect to see some vegetation that used to be sinks for carbon turn into actual sources of carbon.  One example of this is the organic matter presently stored in the permafrost of the Arctic.  As those regions of the world get warmer, that organic matter will be broken down by microbes and converted to gaseous CO2.  Also an increase in the death of trees in some of our most massive rain forests is being noted and as they decay CO2 is emitted.

Since none of these factors have been included, to date, in the IPCC’s estimates of future CO2 levels, our “allowed” future emissions of carbon – if we are not to exceed a temperature increase of 2.0 C – will have to be significantly lowered  relative to previous estimates.  Thus, when we hear today that we have just 35 years left at current emissions rates before we cross the dangerous climate change threshold, we should reduce that time limit by 5 to 10 years.  All of this is because nature will be quietly boosting her own carbon emissions over the coming decades and an increasingly larger fraction of all emissions, both natural and man-caused, that will be staying in the atmosphere.

Sorry, but that appears to be the way the mop will be flopping. Those hoping for an easy way out of the corner we have painted ourselves into will continue to be disappointed.  Gosh, it would be nice to be able to be a Denier – if only I weren’t cursed with a knowledge of the science involved!

For more details and references to these sobering additional insights, see:

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.