Archive for the ‘James Hansen’ Category

"The Climes, They Are A-Changin`"; Or, Dylan Does Copenhagen

December 6th, 2009 No comments

Apologies, but I can`t resist:

I saw a news item earlier today – “Copenhagen climate summit borrows Dylan’s voice” – that indicates that the COP 15 organizers (the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to which Pres. George H.W. Bush & Congress made US a party) are making informal use of Bob Dylan`s “A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall” as a conference theme (“UN to release ‘Hard Rain’ film with Bob Dylan tune on eve of climate talks | Spero News“). 

Well, a different Dylan song popped into my head; tweaked very slightly, it goes like this:

The Climes They Are A-Changin’

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the climes they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the climes they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the climes they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the climes they are a-changin’.

Dylan`s original, The Times They Are A-Changin` is here.

I intend no offense here to anyone; those with different predilections on climate and the problem of government and rent-seeking will see this and other Rorshach Blots differently.

But for readers that have made it this far, I note the following:

Bob Murphy on James Hansen and the "Civil War on the Left" over Waxman-Markey; where is criticism of pork for coal?

July 15th, 2009 No comments

James Hansen, a leading climate scientist at NASA (head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies) and Columbia University, last week`published a scathing criticism of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in the Huffington Post, and Bob Murphy noticed.

Bob offers a rather schizophenic view, expressing both:

  • admiration of (a) Hansen`s insistence – despite pressure from others on the left to dampen his criticism – that, given the risks posed by emissions of greenhouse gases, the Waxman-Markey bill is far from adequate and (b) Hansen`s criticism of the driving role provided by rent-seeking fossil fuel interests; and
  • amusement at the “fireworks” on the left that Hansen`s criticims will set off.

Oddly, it doesn`t seem to occur to Bob that Hansen`s criticism, despite flack from others, that Waxman-Markey is too weak in in the face of the risks that Hansen perceives, lends further credibility to Hansen and his concerns.  If Hansen takes his concerns THIS seriously, then perhaps othes should take him more seriously as well.  (Though to his credit, Bob does link to Hansen`s latest attempt to explain his understanding of climate risks).

It`s also odd that Murphy completely fails to explore Hansen`s criticisms of all of the subsidies to coal that the Waxman-Markey bill gives away, and ignores Hansen`s strong recommendation of a much leaner carbon-pricing strategy, rebated carbon taxes, of the type actively supported by Exxon and many others (not solely on the left).  Why is that libertarians refuse to criticize the 800 lb. gorilla in the room, while refusing to support carbon taxes?  For some at least, it appears that there is a decided lack of interest in biting the hand that feeds them, but wouldn`t a push against subsidies for coal and for a more transparent and less-burdensome climate still be salutary?  In a blog post that addresses Hansen`s stance, the Wall Street Journal asks the same question.  The NYT covers Hansen`s position as a news story.

I copy below a few remarks that I left at Bob`s blog (light editing):

Bob, it`s nice to see you respect Hansen for sticking to his gunds, but
it sounds like you`re mainly expressing schadenfreude, with the hope
that he might forestall W-M.

But Hansen is not taking his own
“rhetoric” seriously, but his own views of the SCIENCE. And those
views, while they hopefully turn out to be wrong, are no laughing
matter. (Presumably you know how to check Hansen`s website directly for
his scientific publications.)

On policy, as I have pointed out a number of times, Hansen has come out strongly in favor of pork-lite, rebated carbon taxes;
too bad that libertarians have showed so little interest in pushing for
carbon policies that are least damaging, but instead, but fighting
everything tooth and nail have instead contributed (inadvertently?) to
massive subsidies for coal.

You might also enjoy the sight of Dennis Kucinich, for reasons similar to Hansen, voting against Waxman-Markey.

But pork aside, I think that Joe Romm, in his response to Hansen, has the better arguments. On the question of pork, I note the continuing lack of criticism of old King Coal [by yourself and by Rob Bradley].

Thorough defense by Joe Romm of Waxman-Markey against "carbon tax + dividend" James Hansen; where is "Principled Entrepreneurship" Bradley on fat subsidies for coal?

July 12th, 2009 No comments

Joe Romm`s defense of Waxman-Markey against climate scientist James Hansen (who prefers rebated carbon taxes and a faster phase-out of coal) is effective and worth a read.

Notably, however, Romm makes no attempt to justify all of the pork now in the bill, including the huge subsidies to coal (Congressman Ed Markey: “We have in huge subsidies for clean coal. Huge. Much more than we have in for renewables.”), which are one of the reasons why Greenpeace has wtihdrawn its support for the bill.

Hope springs eternal that Rob Bradley, in his “free-market” MasterResource energy blog, his Institute for Energy Research or their more blatant PR arms like “grass roots” American Energy Alliance (or side-kick Bob Murphy) will criticize past or ongoing rent-seeking  (“political capitalism”) by King Coal, but so far it looks very much like the piper is calling the tune – to the extent that Rob Bradley bans commentators who note the lack of balance in the application of “Principled Entrepreneurship” (which Bradley has trademarked!).


Overlooked by those warmed by climate rhetoric ("alarmist" or "denialist") – the fact that our most important commons have NO property rights rules

March 12th, 2009 1 comment

Roger Pielke, Jr., a political scientist who rather persistently blames politically naive climate scientists for the very natural fact that there is a politicized debate over climate policy,  posted last week at his Prometheus website a guest commentary by Michael Zimmerman, Professor and Director, Center for the Humanities and Arts at the University of Colorado.  Zimmerman’s post, “Coal Trains, Death Camps, and Recent Anti-Modernism,” which only recently came to my attention, apparently addressed politically-oriented remarks and actions by climate scientist Jim Hansen.  “Apparently”, I say, because the essay itself has been taken down by the author in light of factual errors and other criticism made of it, both at Prometheus and around the blogosphere (which sometimes does not lap so strongly at my distant shores).

But having finally been drawn toward Roger’s site by the fuss and taking a look through comments, I felt compelled to make a few comments, despite my inability to read the actual post.  I felt particularly struck by the commonness of a refrain we are hearing from various pundits who prefer to question the good will or sanity of environmentalists over the harder work of engaging in a good faith examination and discussion of the underlying institutional problem of ALL “environmental” disputes:  namely, a lack of property rights and/or a means to enforce them. 

We can see this not only in George Will‘s recent piece about sea ice, but also in the ongoing series of posts by the supposedly “free market” libertarian Rob Bradley and his co-bloggers at MasterResource.

With that as background, here is what I posted at Roger’s (emphasis added):

I’m sorry I missed the fun; did anyone happen to archive Mr. Zimmerman’s work, apparently so flawed that it required a withdrawal rather than an update or two?

Roger, I note the criticisms of you and Mr. Zimmerman at Things Break, and have to say I agree with them: Perhaps Mr. Zimmerman has never carefully read the man whom he attacks in his piece, but you have, and it’s crystal clear that Hansen has ALWAYS been talking about coal’s relationship to species extinctions, not coal’s impact on humans. I’m surprised that you would post such an obvious misreading of Hansen.

I think I can agree with tomfid and Len Ornstein without the benefit of reading Zimmerman’s piece. It’s clear that we have no ability to instantly replace coal, but it’s also clear that even without the climate change issue, coal is not even now bearing its environmental costs – witness the roughly $1 billion TVA flyash spill, the 25,000 or so annual deaths that the American Lung Assn attributes to coal, etc – w/o even getting to China and India. Investors make profits, while losses are shifted to others. There’s hardly anything conservative or socially beneficial in that business model.

It’s also very clear that, far from wanting to return to a golden age, environmentalists (largely a well-to-do/wealthy slice of America) have quite legitimate concerns about the future, and about our uncontrolled, widespread and large-scale experiments with our planet. Find me someone ranting about “Malthusians” or somesuch, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t understand – or refuses to acknowledge – the difference between wealth-creating markets based on private property / contracts protected by law, and the tragedy of the commons situations that result when there are NO property rights (atmosphere, oceans) or when the pressures of markets swamp indigenous hunter-gather community rules.

Just look at how the oceans are being trashed and strip-mined of fish, for an alternate example. It is a first order priority of mankind to grapple with the problem of managing our commons, before we irreversibly impoverish them. For the atmosphere, the handwriting has long been on the wall, though those who profit by externalizing risks have done a pretty good job of scribbling all over it.

Of course, while on the one hand the “skeptics” manage to so completely ignore their supposedly much greater understanding of markets, on the other hand, we hear very little talk about markets from most of the enviro pundits.   Even if scientists have a right to be worried, that doesn’t really tell us what we should do. 

So what’s the deal?  Here’s a perfect opportunity for skeptics to educate the supposedly market ignorant, but they refuse, preferring to focus instead on why concerned scientists must be wrong, how concerns about climate have become a matter of an irrational “religious” faith, or that those raising their concerns are “misanthropes” or worse.

Both sides, it seems, prefer to fight – and to see themselves as right and the “others” as evil – rather than to reason. 

While we should not regret that we cannot really constrain human nature very well, at least Austrians (a breed of libertarian-linked economists, for any visitors not already familiar with these pages or the great LvMI organization that hosts them) ought to be paying attention to the inadequate institutional framework that is not only poisoning the political atmosphere, but posing risks to important globally and regionally shared open-access commons like the atmosphere and oceans (which are probably are in much more immediate and grave threat than the climate).  And they also ought to recognize that there are important economic interests that profit from the current institutional framework and have quite deliberately encouraged the current culture war.

(One such economically interested party, Exxon, has recently stopped funding one culture war outfit, Rob Bradley‘s climate “skeptic” shop – “MasterResource” – which remains dedicated to trumpeting relentlessly pro-coal talking points – e.g., civilization will collapse if we try to substitute nuclear, gas or other technologies for coal, or try to make coal investors pay for the climate and other environmental risks that they shift to society as a whole!)


Jim Hansen warns of slow-motion disaster and welcomes future public trials of fossil fuel CEOs for buying government delay

June 27th, 2008 5 comments

Prominent climatologist Dr. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, who has long been warning of the long-term consequences of man’s essentially uncontrolled experiment with the world’s climate through emissions of GHGs (CO, methane and CFCs), soot and agricultural practices, has recently ramped up his message that urgent action is needed in order to avoid triggering “dangerous” climate change in the form of rising temperatures and an irreversible melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps. 

1.  Hansen has apparently decided that it is time to take the gloves off in a battle that he thinks requires government action, which action he views as having been delayed by fossil fuel firms that have benefitted from (and underwritten efforts to stall movement away from) the status quo.  Accordingly, in order to shift the political balance, Hansen has decided to call not merely for decreases in GHG emissions, but direct leverage against the fossil fuel companies (in an op-ed at the Huffington Post):

Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including disguised funding to shape school textbook discussions.

CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature. If their campaigns continue and “succeed” in confusing the public, I anticipate testifying against relevant CEOs in future public trials.

The fossil-industry maintains its stranglehold on Washington via demagoguery, using China and other developing nations as scapegoats to rationalize inaction. In fact, we produced most of the excess carbon in the air today, and it is to our advantage as a nation to move smartly in developing ways to reduce emissions. As with the ozone problem, developing countries can be allowed limited extra time to reduce emissions. They will cooperate: they have much to lose from climate change and much to gain from clean air and reduced dependence on fossil fuels.

(emphasis added)

Is this rhetoric appropriate?  Certainly not, even as the frustration that underlies it is an understandable manifestation of the frustration that is common (and perhaps unavoidable) in politicized fights over the use of government to satisfy one’s preferences over the preferences of others (viz., “rent-seeking”).  Granted, much is at stake (particularly if Hansen’s views of the risks are correct), and my sympathies are with Hansen (I am persuaded that his concerns have merit, and the rent-seeking by fossil fuel firms is undeniable), but such rhetoric is inappropriate as long as it is unsupported by allegations of actual criminal behavior – as opposed to simple frustration that the fossil fuel firms have been effective in lawfully manipulating the political system for their private gain. 

While a libertarian may sanction the use of moral suasion and opprobrium – even civil litigation – to strong-arm one’s opponents, calling for criminal sanctions by the state against those have successfully manipulated politicians and bureaucrats is a step that simply compounds the underlying illness of statist rent-seeking.

One suspects that Dr. Hansen is simply playing a public relations game, and is not serious about the “state trials”, as he has not called for the firms to be muzzled, but rather expressed his opinion and hope that they should some day be held to account for their actions.  Well, Dr. Hansen is certainly entitled to his opinion AND to castigate fossil fuel firms for behaviors that he objects to; while his rhetoric is disturbing, at least he’s only volunteering to be a witness and not prosecutor, judge and jury.

Sadly, differing preferences over how to use resources are inevitably politicized when there are no clear owners of such resources or ownership is socialized through government ownership or regulation.  The fossil fuel companies and their heavy users have clearly been rather adept at manipulating political levers up until now; whether Dr. Hansen’s effort to turn up the heat on them will be effective or simply provides them with more ammo remains to be seen.

2.  On another level, I do think that Hansen’s rhetoric on this is unfortunate, as it is likely to detract from his scientific message, which he elucidates very well in articles, presentations and scientific publications available at his Columbia U. webpage (linked above).  It also draws attention away from his specific policy positions, which have been critical of pork and bureaucratic management of the type presented by the Warner-Lieberman bill.   Hansen has recently expressed strong preference for a simple carbon tax that is fully rebated on a per capita basis, as further noted in the same op-ed (in which Hansen sounds very much like George Will, who also prefers a carbon tax over cap and trade):

Carbon tax on coal, oil and gas is simple, applied at the first point of sale or port of entry. The entire tax must be returned to the public, an equal amount to each adult, a half-share for children. This dividend can be deposited monthly in an individual’s bank account.

Carbon tax with 100 percent dividend is non-regressive. On the contrary, you can bet that low and middle income people will find ways to limit their carbon tax and come out ahead. Profligate energy users will have to pay for their excesses.

Demand for low-carbon high-efficiency products will spur innovation, making our products more competitive on international markets. Carbon emissions will plummet as energy efficiency and renewable energies grow rapidly. Black soot, mercury and other fossil fuel emissions will decline. A brighter, cleaner future, with energy independence, is possible.

Washington likes to spend our tax money line-by-line. Swarms of high-priced lobbyists in alligator shoes help Congress decide where to spend, and in turn the lobbyists’ clients provide “campaign” money.

Hansen’s “tax and 100% dividend” proposal, which he floated earlier this month, is based on Peter Barnes’s “Sky Trust” cap and dividend approach outlined in “Who Owns the Sky: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism” (Island Press, Washington, D.C., 2001) and reviewed here.

3.  Libertarian legal scholar Jonathan Adler cited Hansen’s op-ed at the Volokh Conspiracy blog; I copy below a few comments that I noted in response:

Jon, first, let’s not forget that Hansen is specifically addressing not only oil cos but also the coal firms like Peabody and Massey – firms that are leaving massive messes because either they deal in publicly owned and bureaucratically administered land or because they’ve managed to capture the police, prosecutorial, judicial and political machinery where they operate, as well as the favor of the administration and federal regulators [see my blog post here].

Second, all of his words about public trials notwithstanding, Hansen is obviously waging battle in the courts of public opinion, which is obviously something he has every right to and, far from infringing libertarian principles, seems entirely consistent with them. As Gene Callahan has recently noted,

One way negative externalities can be addressed without turning to state coercion is public censure of individuals or groups widely perceived to be flouting core moral principles or trampling the common good, even if their actions are not technically illegal. Large, private companies and prominent, wealthy individuals are generally quite sensitive to public pressure campaigns.

After all, if libertarians had their way and government stepped out of the roads and regulatory businesses, it’s long been the libertarian position that private actions, including lawsuits against road owners, would lead to voluntary collective actions and large damage suits that would better manage resources by incentivizing reductions in pollution and other externalities. (In this context, there are, of course, private action suits now under way against the major fossil fuel firms for climate change damage; these face obvious hurdles, but a libertarian might wish for success, simply to breathe a little more life into common law remedies and take the pressure off of the demands for state action.)

Libertarians do not, as a matter of principle, object to informal public pressure. It is simply Hansen’s implication that criminal trials are more appropriate than the common law tort mechanism – which is sadly not too well known and admittedly rather withered due to the success in polluters in subverting injunctive remedies and in capturing the resulting regulatory process – that offends.

On the policy end, of course Hansen does have a statist proposal, but it is probably the cleanest one out there: the carbon tax and 100% rebate proposal, which would put all carbon tax revenues back in the pockets of Americans and than cut short alot of the rent-seeking and pork-management efforts now underway. That’s why George Will has recently concluded that a carbon tax is the best approach.

Antarctic cooling? Or WHY "The Antarctic Ain’t Cooperating" [Updated]

March 3rd, 2008 4 comments

[Significant update at bottom] 

I’ve decided to put up this little post in connection with Walter Block’s recent post,, in order to avoid having my comment stuck in a spam filter (I’ve found that comments with too many links get caught).

I see I missed providing a cite to a recent article by Andew Revkin at the NYT on what scientists think of some of this winter’s screwy weather (the topice of Block’s post):  

Skeptics on Human Climate Impact Seize on Cold Spell,  March 2, 2008:

Here’s a little information that shows the progress of understanding of climate change affecting the Southern Hemisphere and Antarctic:

The IPCC’s 2001 report says: “For the change in annual mean surface air temperature in the various cases, the model experiments show the familiar pattern documented in the SAR with a maximum warming in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere and a minimum in the Southern Ocean (due to ocean heat uptake).”

Ozone Hole Is Now Seen as a Cause for Antarctic Cooling, May 3, 2002:

Science 3 May 2002:

“Despite an overall global warming trend, temperatures over large parts in the interior of Antarctica have exhibited a small but distinct cooling trend during the past several decades. Thompson and Solomon (p. 895; see the news story by Kerr) present evidence that high-latitude Southern Hemisphere circulation changes during the past few decades reflect a systematic trend in regional atmospheric circulation. Trends in tropospheric circulation trends can be traced to the recent cooling of the lower stratosphere caused by photochemical ozone losses.”

Study Shows Potential for Antarctic Climate Change, Oct. 6, 2004:

“Since the late 1960s, the SAM [Southern Annular Mode] has more and more favored its positive phase, leading to stronger westerly winds. These stronger westerly winds act as a kind of wall that isolates cold Antarctic air from warmer air in the lower latitudes, which leads to cooler temperatures.

“Greenhouse gases and ozone depletion both lower temperatures in the high latitude stratosphere. The cooling strengthens the stratospheric whirling of westerly winds, which in turn influences the westerly winds in the lower atmosphere. According to the study, greenhouse gases and ozone have contributed roughly equally in promoting a strong-wind, positive SAM phase in the troposphere, the lowest part of the atmosphere.”

Antarctic cooling, global warming? 3 December 2004:

King penguin faces extinction due to climate change, 11/02/2008:

Antarctica is Cold? Yeah, We Knew That, 12 February 2008:


In comments below, Geoffrey Plauche points to a post entitled “The Antarctic Ain’t Cooperating” at the “World Climate Report” – the website run by former climate scientist, now policy critic Pat Michaels, as “criticizing … the alarmist hype coming from some scientists, some politicians and others (like Gore), and particularly the media”.  While a review of the post certainly shows criticism of the press (not scientists) for incomplete disclosure and discussion of data about Antarctica (a criticism that is not in itself unfair), a little further digging reveals that it is Pat Michaels who is being deceptive – for self-acknowledged political and business reasons – by failing to refer to or provide additional background information that show that there is plenty of evidence indicating that while Antarctica may be warming more slowly than elsewhere (which was not unexpected), there are ample signs of warming and other changes consistent with GHG forcings.

Pat Michaels describes the “World Climate Report” as “concise, hard-hitting and scientifically correct” and “exhaustively researched, impeccably referenced, and always timely”.   It is intended as a “response to the global change reports which gain attention in the literature and popular press” that “points out the weaknesses and outright fallacies in the science that is being touted as “proof” of disastrous warming” and is “the perfect antidote against those who argue for proposed changes to the Rio Climate Treaty, such as the Kyoto Protocol, which are aimed at limiting carbon emissions from the United States”.  Michaels trumpets World Climate Report as the “definitive and unimpeachable source for what Nature now calls the “mainstream skeptic” point of view, which is that climate change is a largely overblown issue ….”

But who produces the World Climate Report?  Pat Michaels’ personal and self-described “advocacy science consulting firm”, New Hope Environmental Services.  And who hires Pat Michaels?  Well, firms that have a direct financial stake in trying to hang onto their present ability to emit GHGs free of charge into the global atmopsheric commons, of course, even though Pat does his best for his clients’ sake to keep it under his hat.;  It is not surprising that particularly heavy users of the global commons (clearly electric utilities and coal producers in Pat’s case) would like to continue to operate under the same sweet terms that they have up until now, but other users of the global commons of course have the right to their own preferences as well.  But why the secrecy?  Why aren’t the electric utilities and coal producers who support Pat, instead of funding one-sided arguments about science, willing to be straightforward about their preferences so all commons users can discuss how to manage the atmospheric commons?  I suspect that it has something to do with the small problem called “rent-seeking” whenever governments are in the middle of a problem – viz., these fossil fuel interests are trying to influence government in order to get (manintain!) favorable treatment, as opposed to trying to come to terms with others.  Thus the desire to mask their behavior and muddy the science – to influence public opinion and government – rather than forthrightness. 

In other words, Pat Michaels is in the business of selling climate policy positions.  This is clearly manifested in posts like “The Antarctic Ain’t Cooperating”, which while “scientifically correct” is much less than scientifically complete, and misleadingly so.  This shows that his motivation isn’t really so much to clarify as it is to muddle – in order to advance his own policy preferences and/or those of his clients.  While Pat is fully entitled to his own preferences, he is not entitled to his own facts.  If Pat wants to really advance our understanding of climate developments, he should be providing a rounder picture, rather than feeding factoids to those who are happy to pretend (or continue to fool themselves) that there is no scientific case for ongoing climate change (and a significant human role in it).

But as “skewed but technically accurate” science is what Pat’s clients want, it’s hard to fault him for doing his best to be responsive to them.  But it nevertheless behooves us to be aware, when Pat speaks, who has actually paid for his voice, and why, so we might better know how to weigh his words.

Allow me to expand on the information I’ve already provided above by quoting relevant parts of two recent publications that provide a fuller picture of develoments in Antarctica:

1.    The British Antarctic Survey released in December 2007 a statement about climate change in Antarctica entitled “Climate Change – Our View”:  Among others, the BAS statement concludes (with some rephrasing):

  • The Southern Ocean is a significant sink for both heat and carbon dioxide, acting as a buffer against human-induced climate change.

  • Since the commencement of continuous observations of Antarctic climate in1957-58, surface temperatures have remained fairly stable over much of Antarctica, although individual station records show a high level of year-to-year variability, which could mask any underlying long term-trend.

  • By contrast, large and statistically-significant warming trends are seen at stations in the Antarctic Peninsula. Over the past 50 years, the west coast of the Peninsula has been one of the most rapidly-warming parts of the planet. Here, annual mean temperatures have risen by nearly 3°C, with the largest warming occurring in the winter season. This is approximately 10 times the mean rate of global warming, as reported by the IPCC. The east coast of the Peninsula has warmed more slowly and here the largest warming has taken place in summer and autumn.

  • Significant warming has also been observed in the Southern Ocean. Upper ocean temperatures to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula have increased by over 1°C since 1955. Within the circumpolar Southern Ocean, it is now well-established that the waters of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) are warming more rapidly than the global ocean as a whole. A comparison of temperature measurements from the 1990s with data from earlier decades shows a large-scale warming of around 0.2°C in the ACC waters at around 700-1100 m depth.

  • Analysis of weather balloon data collected over the past 30 years has shown that the Antarctic atmosphere has warmed below 8 km and cooled above this height. This pattern of warming in the troposphere and cooling in the stratosphere is seen globally and is the expected signature of increases in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. However, the 30-year warming at 5 km over the Antarctic during winter (0.75°C) is over three times the average rate of warming at this level for the globe as a whole.

  • Subtle but important changes have occurred in the atmospheric circulation around Antarctica. Since the early 1960s, atmospheric pressure has dropped over Antarctica and risen in the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere, a pattern of variability known as the Southern Hemisphere Annular Mode (SAM). These changes have resulted in a strengthening of the westerly winds that blow over the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. Stronger westerlies will impact on ocean currents, upwelling and mixing, but the consequences of such changes have yet to be fully understood.

  • Recent climate change has driven significant changes in the physical and living environment of the Antarctic. Environmental change is most apparent in the Antarctic Peninsula, where climate change has been largest. Adélie penguins, a species well adapted to sea ice conditions, have declined in numbers and been replaced by open-water species such as chinstrap penguins. Melting of perennial snow and ice covers has resulted in increased colonisation by plants. A long-term decline in the abundance of Antarctic krill in the SW Atlantic sector of the southern ocean may be associated with reduced sea ice cover.

  • Large changes have occurred in the ice cover of the Peninsula. Many glaciers have retreated and around 10 ice shelves that formerly fringed the Peninsula have been observed to retreat in recent years and some have collapsed completely. Furthermore, 87% of glaciers along the west coast of the AP have retreated in the last 50 years, and in the last 12 years most have accelerated. The Antarctic Peninsula is contributing to sea-level rise, at about the same rate as Alaska Glaciers.

  • Analysis of global measurements of atmospheric CO2 indicates that the Southern Ocean carbon sink has weakened significantly since 1981. This reduction in the capacity of the ocean to absorb CO2 has been attributed to increased upwelling of carbon-rich waters associated with strengthening of the westerly winds. Although future changes in the ability of the Southern Ocean to sequester CO2 are not completely known, this will be a key factor that helps shape global climate.

  • Most of the IPCC model experiments do simulate the observed strengthening of the circumpolar westerly winds, suggesting that this phenomenon is a robust response to changed climate forcing.

  • Further experiments have indicated that changes in anthropogenic forcings, particularly stratospheric ozone depletion and increases in greenhouse gases, have made the largest contribution to the strengthening of the westerlies. Recent climate observations show that changes in the strength of the westerlies strongly influence temperature variations on the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.

  • Taken together, these two results suggest that a significant fraction of the recent observed changes in climate in this part of the Antarctic can be attributed to human activity with a reasonable degree of certainty. Further support for this view comes from analysis of marine sediment records which enable us to examine how the extent of Antarctic Peninsula ice shelves has varied over time. While some of the smaller ice shelves in this region have periodically grown and decayed over the past 10000 years, the Larsen-B ice shelf appears to have been stable throughout this period until it collapsed suddenly in March 2002. This suggests that recent warm temperatures are exceptional within the context of the last 10000 years, making it unlikely that they can be explained by natural variability alone.

  • Many of the theories that seek to explain the circumpolar warming of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current also have the strengthening of the westerly winds as their root cause. Whilst there is not yet a clear consensus on which are the mechanisms that are most important, there is increasing evidence that a significant part of this change is ultimately driven by human activities.


2.  In May 2007, ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS published “Scientific reticence and sea level rise” by James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute,, which discusses in part recent developments in the Antarctic:

  • Positive feedback from the loss of buttressing ice shelves is relevant to some Greenland ice streams, but the West Antarctic ice sheet, which rests on bedrock well below sea level, will be affected much more. The loss of ice shelves provides exit routes with reduced resistance for ice from further inland, as suggested by Mercer and earlier by Hughes.

  • Warming ocean waters are now thinning some West Antarctic ice shelves by several meters per year.

  • The Antarctic peninsula recently provided a laboratory to study feedback interactions, albeit for ice volumes less than those in the major ice sheets. Combined actions of surface melt and ice shelf thinning from below led to the sudden collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf, which was followed by the acceleration of glacial tributaries far inland. 

  • The summer warming and melt that preceded the ice shelf collapse was no more than the global warming expected this century under BAU scenarios, and only a fraction of expected West Antarctic warming with realistic polar amplification of global warming.

  • Modeling studies yield increased ocean heat uptake around West Antarctica and Greenland due to increasing
    human-made greenhouse gases.  Observations show a warming ocean around West Antarctica, ice shelves thinning several meters per year, and increased iceberg discharge

  • As the discharge of ice increases from a disintegrating ice sheet, as occurs with all deglaciations, regional cooling by the icebergs is significant, providing a substantial but temporary negative feedback. However, this cooling effect is limited on a global scale as shown by comparison with the planetary energy imbalance, which is now sufficient to melt ice equivalent to about one meter of sea level per decade.  Yet the planetary energy imbalance should not be thought of as a limit on the rate of ice melt, as increasing iceberg discharge yields both positive and negative feedbacks on planetary energy imbalance via ocean surface cooling and resulting changes of sea ice and cloud cover. 

  • Global warming should also increase snowfall accumulation rates in ice sheet interiors because of the higher moisture content of the warming atmosphere. Despite high variability on interannual and decadal timescales, and limited Antarctic warming to date, observations tend to support this expectation for both Greenland and Antarctica.  Indeed, some models have ice sheets growing overall with global warming, but those models do not include realistic processes of ice sheet disintegration.  Extensive paleoclimate data confirm the common sense expectation that the net effect is for ice sheets to shrink as the world warms. 

  • The most compelling data for the net change of ice sheets is provided by the gravity satellite mission GRACE, which shows that both Greenland and Antarctica are losing mass at substantial rates.  The most recent analyses of the satellite data confirm that Greenland and Antarctica are each losing mass at a rate of about 150 cubic kilometers per year, with the Antarctic mass loss primarily in West Antarctica. These rates of mass loss
    are at least a doubling of rates of several years earlier
    , and only a decade earlier these ice sheets were much closer to mass balance. 

  • Warming [in Antarctica] has been limited in recent decades, at least in part due to the effects of ozone depletion.  The fact that West Antarctica is losing mass at a significant rate suggests that the thinning ice shelves are already beginning to have an effect on ice discharge rates.  

  • Warming of the ocean surface around Antarctica is small compared with the rest of world, consistent with climate model simulations, but that limited warming is expected to increase.  The detection of recent, increasing summer surface melt on West Antarctica raises the danger that feedbacks among these processes could lead to nonlinear growth of ice discharge from Antarctica.

Did global warming stop in 1998? Jim Hansen says NO.

January 15th, 2008 No comments

Inquiring minds might want to take a quick look at what Dr. James E. Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies has to say:

The year 2007 tied for second warmest in the period of instrumental data, behind the record warmth of 2005, in the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis. 2007 tied 1998, which had leapt a remarkable 0.2°C above the prior record with the help of the “El Nino of the century”. The unusual warmth in 2007 is noteworthy because it occurs at a time when solar irradiance is at a minimum and the equatorial Pacific Ocean is in the cool phase of its natural El Nino – La Nina cycle.

“Global warming stopped in 1998” has become a recent mantra of those who wish to deny the reality of human-caused global warming. The continued rapid increase of the five-year running mean temperature exposes this assertion as nonsense. In reality, global temperature jumped two standard deviations above the trend line in 1998 because the “El Nino of the century” coincided with the calendar year, but there has been no lessening of the underlying warming trend.

Solar irradiance will still be on or near its flat-bottomed minimum in 2008. Temperature tendency associated with the solar cycle, because of the Earth’s thermal inertia, has its minimum delayed by almost a quarter cycle, i.e., about two years. Thus solar change should not contribute significantly to temperature change in 2008.

La Nina cooling in the second half of 2007 (Figure 2) is about as intense as the regional cooling associated with any La Nina of the past half century, as shown by comparison to Plate 9 in Hansen et al. ( and updates to Plate 9 on the GISS web site. Effect of the current La Nina on global surface temperature is likely to continue for at least the first several months of 2008. Based on sequences of Pacific Ocean surface temperature patterns in Plate 9, a next El Nino in 2009 or 2010 is perhaps the most likely timing. But whatever year it occurs, it is a pretty safe bet that the next El Nino will help carry global temperature to a significantly higher level.

Competing with the short-term solar and La Nina cooling effects is the long-term global warming effect of human-made GHGs. The latter includes the trend toward less Arctic sea ice that markedly increases high latitude Northern Hemisphere temperatures. Although sea ice cover fluctuates from year to year, the large recent loss of thick multi-year ice implies that this warming effect at high latitudes should persist.

Based on these considerations, it is unlikely that 2008 will be a year with an unusual global temperature change, i.e., it is likely to remain close to the range of (high) values exhibited in 2002-2007. On the other hand, when the next El Nino occurs it is likely to carry global temperature to a significantly higher level than has occurred in recent centuries, probably higher than any year in recent millennia. Thus we suggest that, barring the unlikely event of a large volcanic eruption, a record global temperature clearly exceeding that of 2005 can be expected within the next 2-3 years.

In other words, despite cooling factors such as the ongoing La Nina and our position at the lowest point on the solar irradiation cycle, global temperatures remain high (and the five-year running average continues to climb) because of anthropogenic forcing factors, and unless there is a major volcanic eruption like Pinatubo in the new few years, we can expect that the next el Nino will bring new global high temperature records.

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