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Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages 
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 Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages
A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic
by Peter Wadhams


Please use this thread to discuss Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages.



Tue Jun 16, 2020 6:40 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages
Chapter Four – The Modern Cycle of Ice Ages – provides more fascinating deep history based on planetary geology, as essential context for our modern climate catastrophe.

As noted in Chapter Three, the glacial cycle has dominated our planetary climate for the last few million years, with the advance and retreat of ice from the poles every 100,000 years and the resulting rise and fall of sea level as vast quantities of water have been locked up in ice and then released into the ocean.

The Pliocene Period ran from 5.3-2.6 MYA (million years ago), and was much warmer, with sea level 25 metres higher than today. Then the combination of planetary background temperature and regular orbital cycles produced just the right mix so that changes in seasonal light levels would lead to more ice remaining through the summer rather than melting. Over thousands of years, that tiny change was enough to make an enormous wall of ice two miles high, stretching all the way from the North Pole to Manhattan before retreating in the 100KY cycle. These glacial bulldozers left piles of rubble as their calling cards, known as moraines. One example is Long Island in New York.

The warmer temperature in the Pliocene meant the parts of the planet that are now desert had plenty of rain, with savannah and rainforest much more widespread. Wadhams says it used to be thought that the joining of North and South America ended the Pliocene, but now tectonic analysis shows this event happened about 20 MYA, substantially cooling the planet by cutting off warm Pacific water from the Atlantic from that earlier date. Together with the isolation of Antarctica at the South Pole caused by its split from Australia 30 MYA, the tectonic shifts led to the gradual expansion of ice, until the cyclic ice ages started in the Pleistocene.

The main climate oscillation in the early Pleistocene was the 41KY (kiloyear) planetary tilt cycle known as obliquity. The angle of the earth’s axis varies between 21.6 and 24.5 degrees. When the tilt is near 24 degrees the seasons are extreme, and when it is near 21 degrees they are mild. If you imagine being at the North Pole during a bigger axial tilt, the Arctic Circle would be much bigger, and therefore the seasons would be much colder in winter and warmer in summer.

The steady gradual tectonic-induced cooling had enabled an ice sheet to grow on Greenland and turned Antarctica into a planetary air conditioner. The mid Pleistocene transition occurred when the planet had cooled just enough for the next orbital factors, the axial wobble and the orbital roundness, to kick into gear to amplify the obliquity effect. The 26KY wobble of the earth’s axis is known as precession of the equinoxes. It means that every 21KY the axis rotates around the seasons. The 5KY difference (26-21) is due to the fact that the whole orbital ellipse is rotating against the stars every 113 KY in the other direction from precession, which should get your spatial imagination well juiced.

When northern summer is at the point of the orbital ellipse closest to the sun, the perihelion, we have an interglacial, or an ice retreat known as an interstadial, because more of the winter snow melts each summer. At the opposite point, when northern summer is furthest from the sun, at aphelion, less winter snow melts in summer, and the glaciers steadily advance. Therefore the date of the perihelion (now 3 Jan) is a major climate indicator. Interestingly, Indian Yuga mythology matches closely to this cycle, with its myth of the cycle of Golden and Iron Ages.

The other big factor is the roundness of the orbit, known as eccentricity, which changes due to the gravitational interactions between Earth’s orbit and the other planets, mainly Jupiter and Venus. When all three ellipses are lined up, Earth’s orbit is more oval, and when they are orthogonal our orbit is rounder, a bit like the weekly pattern of tidal amplitude in the ocean driven by the angles of the sun and moon.

The snow that has accumulated on Greenland and Antarctica has created ice core records going down to bedrock at about a million years ago, providing an amazing fossilised record of ancient air in tiny compressed bubbles. The ratio of oxygen isotopes reveals the temperature at the time the snow originally fell. Wadhams calls this a perfect thermometer for past climates. These bubbles also show the amount of carbon dioxide, methane and dust, stacked in perfect chronological order until close to the bottom, where geothermal heat melts the layers. A study of Antarctic ice timed 116 volcanic eruptions over the last 2000 years, prompting forensic detective work to link these ice signals with the volcanoes that caused them.

The most remarkable thing over the last million years is how similar the glacial cycles are every 100,000 years. Gradual descent of temperature to a glacial maximum is followed by a rapid increase of temperature to a brief interglacial. It is a mystery why this sawtooth pattern is so regular, or why the increased albedo at the glacial maxima does not cause ongoing cooling to a snowball.

* Note - not all the information here is from A Farewell to Ice.


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Post Re: Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages
Robert Tulip wrote:
The warmer temperature in the Pliocene meant the parts of the planet that are now desert had plenty of rain, with savannah and rainforest much more widespread. Wadhams says it used to be thought that the joining of North and South America ended the Pliocene, but now tectonic analysis shows this event happened about 20 MYA, substantially cooling the planet by cutting off warm Pacific water from the Atlantic from that earlier date. Together with the isolation of Antarctica at the South Pole caused by its split from Australia 30 MYA, the tectonic shifts led to the gradual expansion of ice, until the cyclic ice ages started in the Pleistocene.

Wadhams also makes the interesting statement that under Pliocene conditions, the ancestors of early man wouldn't have been able to begin agriculture, simply because the conditions were too extreme--"extreme downpours and heat waves." But I wonder if better climate alone could have accelerated the evolutionary development needed to get to the "improved"homo that could conceive of agriculture. I tend to doubt it.
Quote:
The snow that has accumulated on Greenland and Antarctica has created ice core records going down to bedrock at about a million years ago, providing an amazing fossilised record of ancient air in tiny compressed bubbles. The ratio of oxygen isotopes reveals the temperature at the time the snow originally fell. Wadhams calls this a perfect thermometer for past climates. These bubbles also show the amount of carbon dioxide, methane and dust, stacked in perfect chronological order until close to the bottom, where geothermal heat melts the layers. A study of Antarctic ice timed 116 volcanic eruptions over the last 2000 years, prompting forensic detective work to link these ice signals with the volcanoes that caused them.

The science is breathtaking. It's a shame that the honest admission of things we still don't know about climate and climate history can lead some people not to trust anything science says about GW.

We sometimes are told that we should be thankful for our carbon-based economy, because warming will be better, overall, for our species than cooling would be. Wadhams doesn't entirely dismiss a possible benefit to delaying or even preventing the next ice age."But the problem is that we are clearly overshooting," likely producing "a warming faster than the earth has ever had in its history." If we had been able to moderate our carbon pumping early enough, we'd be looking at a less scary scenario now.

Thanks, by the way, for summarizing the material so expertly.



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Post Re: Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages
DWill wrote:
the honest admission of things we still don't know about climate and climate history can lead some people not to trust anything science says about GW.
More precisely, scientific honesty is used as an excuse for denial by people with a political agenda based on ignorance and vested interest. The problem arises less from scientific honesty than from the political use of science by climate activists, especially from the impossible demand that the only climate solution is to rapidly decarbonise the economy. The political polarisation means that climate activists assert that their beliefs are scientific in order to increase their credibility, but this has a negative effect when critical analysis shows the belief is not scientific. The big problem is that decarbonisation can only deliver a tiny fraction of the cooling needed to sustain the Holocene stability of sea level and ice and snow cover, but climate activists falsely pretend that complete decarbonisation would be both possible and sufficient as a means to deliver climate stability. That seems to me to be the main cause of the denial reaction, which also latches on to scientific uncertainty as a secondary issue.
DWill wrote:
We sometimes are told that we should be thankful for our carbon-based economy, because warming will be better, overall, for our species than cooling would be.
Really, the main reason to be thankful for our carbon economy is that it has delivered unprecedented abundance and peace, which we should aim to sustain further. We should look for ways to combine high energy use with climate stabilisation, which requires mining of carbon from the air and sea to cut the current dangerous warming forcing. An automatic eventual result of warming is sea level rise, which will be a disaster for our whole coastal infrastructure and environment. As well, the risks of unknown tipping points from warming are immense, so we need to step back from that dangerous foolish precipice.
DWill wrote:
Wadhams doesn't entirely dismiss a possible benefit to delaying or even preventing the next ice age.
Of course we should not create a new ice age, as it would make Canada and Northern Europe uninhabitable. The aim should be to regulate the atmosphere to sustain the Holocene Goldilocks temperatures by setting GHGs at the required level. We have definitely ended the Milankovitch period of glacial oscillation, since deliberate and accidental human effects will completely swamp orbital climate sensitivity for the foreseeable future.
DWill wrote:
"But the problem is that we are clearly overshooting," likely producing "a warming faster than the earth has ever had in its history."
The main reason for the overshoot, as far as I can see, is the failure to view global climate as a topic of industrial ecology, using all wastes as inputs to create new assets. That is a paradigm shift that the world economy has to make.
DWill wrote:
If we had been able to moderate our carbon pumping early enough, we'd be looking at a less scary scenario now.
Not true. That is a pervasive and pernicious myth. Only carbon removal at scale can create a safe scenario. The damage has already been done by past emissions, which commit the planet to inevitable future warming unless they are removed. Even a hypothetical decision to completely end emissions in 1990, banning all burning, would still have left enough carbon in the air to produce big sea level rise over the next few centuries. This idea of “moderating our carbon pumping early enough” is widely discussed as an alternative history, but fails to engage with the physics of committed warming and the resulting need for carbon mining.
DWill wrote:
Thanks, by the way, for summarizing the material so expertly.
You’re welcome. Climate change is a topic that I believe should be central to planetary security, as the fundamental strategic driver of stability. Peter Wadhams has a clearsighted perspective on climate that should be far more prominent in the public debate. Sadly, as he explains later in the book, some of his key scientific findings have been simply ignored by the IPCC, showing how politics trumps evidence even in such an essential existential crisis.


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Post Re: Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
the honest admission of things we still don't know about climate and climate history can lead some people not to trust anything science says about GW.
More precisely, scientific honesty is used as an excuse for denial by people with a political agenda based on ignorance and vested interest. The problem arises less from scientific honesty than from the political use of science by climate activists, especially from the impossible demand that the only climate solution is to rapidly decarbonise the economy. The political polarisation means that climate activists assert that their beliefs are scientific in order to increase their credibility, but this has a negative effect when critical analysis shows the belief is not scientific. The big problem is that decarbonisation can only deliver a tiny fraction of the cooling needed to sustain the Holocene stability of sea level and ice and snow cover, but climate activists falsely pretend that complete decarbonisation would be both possible and sufficient as a means to deliver climate stability. That seems to me to be the main cause of the denial reaction, which also latches on to scientific uncertainty as a secondary issue.

Well, that does put a new spin on denialism, or adds another layer to it. As far as the beliefs of climate activists not being backed by science--in that one aspect you highlight--it is also true, I believe, that scientists themselves don't tell us that we can't fix climate by reducing emissions. So is there really any science that activists are bucking? I'm using 'science' in the sense of what is coming from scientists. Geoengineering to address the problem is still the view of a very small minority of scientists, or would you disagree? The scientists may not be facing the facts you present for various reasons.
DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
We sometimes are told that we should be thankful for our carbon-based economy, because warming will be better, overall, for our species than cooling would be.
Really, the main reason to be thankful for our carbon economy is that it has delivered unprecedented abundance and peace, which we should aim to sustain further. We should look for ways to combine high energy use with climate stabilisation, which requires mining of carbon from the air and sea to cut the current dangerous warming forcing. An automatic eventual result of warming is sea level rise, which will be a disaster for our whole coastal infrastructure and environment. As well, the risks of unknown tipping points from warming are immense, so we need to step back from that dangerous foolish precipice.

The 'vision thing,' as a President Bush once called it, is where we've always disagreed. I don't see continual pushing of energy-production limits as leading to a sustainable--or even a desired--vision for the future. It's true that by material and health measures, a greater proportion of the population is well-off, but by no means has intensive energy eliminated poverty and misery. One reason is that there is no limiting mechanism under the freedom of capitalism, so that those most in need don't receive enough of the benefits. The rich get richer, which means using more of the energy for wants rather than needs. Communism/socialism has done no better--worse. We then talk about spiritual revolution as the answer, but our hedonic needs are powerful, and not for the most part bad in themselves, so why should we stop? Being hopeful makes the most sense, but it is difficult.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
"But the problem is that we are clearly overshooting," likely producing "a warming faster than the earth has ever had in its history."
The main reason for the overshoot, as far as I can see, is the failure to view global climate as a topic of industrial ecology, using all wastes as inputs to create new assets. That is a paradigm shift that the world economy has to make.

So difficult to achieve. Apple recently committed to being carbon-neutral by 2030. But it has resisted "right to repair" legislation that might be the only way to get to a circular economy. It's no good making products that can't be easily repaired by the consumer. It's ridiculous that I can't replace the battery in my Iphone as easily as I can my flashlight.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
If we had been able to moderate our carbon pumping early enough, we'd be looking at a less scary scenario now.
Not true. That is a pervasive and pernicious myth. Only carbon removal at scale can create a safe scenario. The damage has already been done by past emissions, which commit the planet to inevitable future warming unless they are removed. Even a hypothetical decision to completely end emissions in 1990, banning all burning, would still have left enough carbon in the air to produce big sea level rise over the next few centuries. This idea of “moderating our carbon pumping early enough” is widely discussed as an alternative history, but fails to engage with the physics of committed warming and the resulting need for carbon mining.

I'm not saying that now we can do what's needed through emissions reductions. And perhaps in reality, it wouldn't have been possible for us, back in the 80s or 90s, to achieve the cutbacks needed to reduce our risk of climate disaster. That is to say, we might have wanted the economic growth, seeing it as less painful and more immediately threatening than warming. But if we had managed to effect significant yearly reductions, I can't see how that would not have put us in a better place today. It's obvious to me that we need to be talking about reducing the damage, not returning the earth to Holocene levels of stability. Even with geoengineering, that's what we need to be aiming at. And this all happens while we figure out how to run our economy carbon-neutrally.



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Post Re: Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages
DWill wrote:
Well, that does put a new spin on denialism, or adds another layer to it.
I interpret climate denial against the depth psychology of the collective unconscious. Climate denial is in conflict with empirical evidence, but is sustained as an irrational emotional reaction driven by complex cultural clusters of beliefs. The reactionary process involves the placement of climate against the conservative-progressive political spectrum. Conservative social and economic values react against the alliance between climate science and progressive politics.

The new spin I suggest is that the reactionary attitude gets traction from an unconscious underlying accurate perception that the emission reduction prescriptions proposed by progressive politics cannot in fact deliver climate stability. That means the key conversation in climate politics should be to explain to conservatives the need for climate stability, and to suggest ways to achieve this without forced emission reduction.
DWill wrote:
As far as the beliefs of climate activists not being backed by science--in that one aspect you highlight--it is also true, I believe, that scientists themselves don't tell us that we can't fix climate by reducing emissions.
The IPCC is being dragged kicking and screaming to accept this basic science. Its 1.5°C report in 2018 recognised through gritted teeth that all climate models that hold warming below two degrees involve a massive role for carbon removal.
DWill wrote:
So is there really any science that activists are bucking?
Of course, and that is the point of Wadhams’ book. He is highly perturbed by the non-scientific influence on IPCC, for example saying at page 111 “the IPCC 2013 Fifth Assessment Report signally fails to give warning of the early demise of Arctic ice, but instead adopts a ‘consensus’ view that it will be much later this century before the ice disappears. This consensus involves consciously ignoring the observational data.”
DWill wrote:
I'm using 'science' in the sense of what is coming from scientists. Geoengineering to address the problem is still the view of a very small minority of scientists, or would you disagree? The scientists may not be facing the facts you present for various reasons.
I haven’t seen any surveys of scientists’ views on geoengineering, which would be very interesting. As I noted, the IPCC has endorsed carbon removal, but not albedo enhancement. Most scientists are cowards, and are easily intimidated by green bullying. Few are willing to discuss the lack of evidence behind the rampant view that the war on coal is the only way to fix the climate.


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Post Re: Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Well, that does put a new spin on denialism, or adds another layer to it.
I interpret climate denial against the depth psychology of the collective unconscious. Climate denial is in conflict with empirical evidence, but is sustained as an irrational emotional reaction driven by complex cultural clusters of beliefs. The reactionary process involves the placement of climate against the conservative-progressive political spectrum. Conservative social and economic values react against the alliance between climate science and progressive politics.

Whatever my political rivals are for--well, it must be bad! That's probably a big part of the dynamic between conservatives and progressives on climate. Conservatives also are more averse to what they see as alarmism than are progressives. So you see many conservatives not denying GW, and even agreeing that we're a causer of it, but they don't think things are as bad as usually presented by activists. Lomborg I think is in that category.
Quote:
The new spin I suggest is that the reactionary attitude gets traction from an unconscious underlying accurate perception that the emission reduction prescriptions proposed by progressive politics cannot in fact deliver climate stability. That means the key conversation in climate politics should be to explain to conservatives the need for climate stability, and to suggest ways to achieve this without forced emission reduction.

Conservatives are going to latch on to the objection to the Paris agreement--that the U.S. can't reduce emissions enough to meet its national target. The economy would take a dive, and even then..... But they're equally keen on the perceived injustice of developing economies getting off the hook (which I think is a wrong view). Whether this attitude of conservatives could make them more amenable to geoengineering is unknown, but other attitudes, such as anti-big-government, could make that unlikely.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
As far as the beliefs of climate activists not being backed by science--in that one aspect you highlight--it is also true, I believe, that scientists themselves don't tell us that we can't fix climate by reducing emissions.
The IPCC is being dragged kicking and screaming to accept this basic science. Its 1.5°C report in 2018 recognised through gritted teeth that all climate models that hold warming below two degrees involve a massive role for carbon removal.

That's good, about carbon removal, right? I'm understanding that you don't think CR will work by itself.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
So is there really any science that activists are bucking?
Of course, and that is the point of Wadhams’ book. He is highly perturbed by the non-scientific influence on IPCC, for example saying at page 111 “the IPCC 2013 Fifth Assessment Report signally fails to give warning of the early demise of Arctic ice, but instead adopts a ‘consensus’ view that it will be much later this century before the ice disappears. This consensus involves consciously ignoring the observational data.”

Wadhams, writing in the early 2010s, thinks (p. 88) that summer sea ice will be gone by 2020. I take it that this won't happen, but it makes little difference to the world if the actual date is a few years later. Wadhams says that advocates of "a much later date must show why the ice volume should deviate above the trend." You wouldn't expect that experts would have such an expectation. The belief that climate undergoes quick changes back and forth, even within periods of just a few years, is a feature of lay thinking, which tends not to distinguish climate from weather.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
I'm using 'science' in the sense of what is coming from scientists. Geoengineering to address the problem is still the view of a very small minority of scientists, or would you disagree? The scientists may not be facing the facts you present for various reasons.
I haven’t seen any surveys of scientists’ views on geoengineering, which would be very interesting. As I noted, the IPCC has endorsed carbon removal, but not albedo enhancement. Most scientists are cowards, and are easily intimidated by green bullying. Few are willing to discuss the lack of evidence behind the rampant view that the war on coal is the only way to fix the climate.

I might let scientists off the hook here, because in the end their reluctance to advocate for specific actions is best, on balance. "War on coal"? We don't see that in the U.S., as gas fracking and solar have put the moribund industry on its heels anyway. For Australia, the future of coal is a very big deal, I take it. I suppose I could generate a friendlier feeling toward coal; it isn't spilled or spewed all over the oceans and doesn't need huge, energy-consuming refineries. But near to where it's produced, the environmental damage is large, and it contributes hugely to dirty air. That isn't to mention, of course, the CO2. I have to continue to think of the prospect you seem to raise--geoengineering so that coal can continue to be mined and burned--as one that doesn't stand much chance of acceptance.



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Post Re: Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages
DWill wrote:
Whatever my political rivals are for--well, it must be bad! That's probably a big part of the dynamic between conservatives and progressives on climate. Conservatives also are more averse to what they see as alarmism than are progressives. So you see many conservatives not denying GW, and even agreeing that we're a causer of it, but they don't think things are as bad as usually presented by activists. Lomborg I think is in that category.
Automatic gainsaying is the central theme of the partisan attitude. Each rival focuses on what is good in their own view and what is bad in their opponents’ view, failing to see that only some sort of reconciliation between conflicting views offers any hope, or what we might call prospect of salvation. The reconcilers are consigned to the margins of debate. I find this interesting to frame in a Christian light, seeing the work of reconciliation as the Bible says, as despised and rejected. The psychological insight here is to critique the human instinct to focus on tactical advantage with no thought for the strategic consequences. What is needed is an integrated story that assesses the good and bad in both sides of the political debate.

I am using ‘salvation’ here in the provocative physical sense used by Jesus in John 3:17, that we should save the world rather than condemn it. That sense of salvation does not mean the lame idea of souls physically going to heaven, it means transforming our planet into a liveable place.
Conservatives see the progressive idea of salvation through decarbonisation as absurd and dangerous due to its severe economic impact. On top of the economic disruption, Lomborg adds the problem that full achievement of current Paris Accord pledges would slow temperature rise by a fraction of a degree at immense cost, doing effectively nothing to stop global warming. This argument was used by Trump in his explanation of the US withdrawal from Paris.
No one on the progressive side accepts that this argument is based on evidence, instead they just drink the tribal Kool-Aid and slam Lomborg as a denier, as if that settled the matter. Meanwhile Lomborg is widely and constantly published in prominent conservative media, such as the Wall Street Journal and others around the world. His recent rebuttal of the review of his latest book by Stiglitz illustrates the failure of progressives to engage this debate respectfully. While I don't agree with Lomborg's complacency on climate, the poor quality of the debate enables conservatives to just ignore arguments about the dangers of climate change.
DWill wrote:
Conservatives are going to latch on to the objection to the Paris agreement--that the U.S. can't reduce emissions enough to meet its national target. The economy would take a dive, and even then..... But they're equally keen on the perceived injustice of developing economies getting off the hook (which I think is a wrong view). Whether this attitude of conservatives could make them more amenable to geoengineering is unknown, but other attitudes, such as anti-big-government, could make that unlikely.
That objection is only a small part of the real problem, which is that full achievement of Paris pledges would have minimal effect on global warming, and so appears pointless. This is why I say a completely different way of thinking is needed, a public private partnership (PPP) involving fossil fuel companies and governments to work out economic methods to ramp up carbon removal, accepting ongoing emissions as the quid pro quo. The PPP model should be designed to make carbon removal a profitable commercial industry, mainly aiming to use carbon for infrastructure construction, to address the criticism of big government.
DWill wrote:
That's good, about carbon removal, right? I'm understanding that you don't think CR will work by itself.
Emission reduction is important, but I expect it to provide about 10% of the cuts needed in radiative forcing, with the remaining 90% coming from carbon removal and albedo enhancement. The biggest travesty in climate politics is the insane idea that we must prevent discussion of this 90% factor because it might reduce focus on the 10% factor. That is exactly the reverse of sound policy, but this alleged “moral hazard” is the biggest blockage to implementation of geoengineering solutions.
DWill wrote:
Wadhams, writing in the early 2010s, thinks (p. 88) that summer sea ice will be gone by 2020. I take it that this won't happen, but it makes little difference to the world if the actual date is a few years later. Wadhams says that advocates of "a much later date must show why the ice volume should deviate above the trend." You wouldn't expect that experts would have such an expectation. The belief that climate undergoes quick changes back and forth, even within periods of just a few years, is a feature of lay thinking, which tends not to distinguish climate from weather.
You are jumping ahead to Chapter 7, on the future melting of sea ice, so I will discuss that in detail in the thread on that chapter. What Wadhams actually says there is that the trend seen in the Pan Arctic Ice Ocean Monitoring and Assimilation System indicates an ice free September by about 2020. You can see the actual results at https://forum.arctic-sea-ice.net/index. ... #msg279694 with graphs showing summer ice since 2005 for the main Arctic basins. For example, in 2005, the Beaufort Sea had half a million square km of ice at its annual summer minimum, with the drastic decline to more than a month of zero ice in recent years.
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DWill wrote:

I might let scientists off the hook here, because in the end their reluctance to advocate for specific actions is best, on balance. "War on coal"? We don't see that in the U.S., as gas fracking and solar have put the moribund industry on its heels anyway. For Australia, the future of coal is a very big deal, I take it. I suppose I could generate a friendlier feeling toward coal; it isn't spilled or spewed all over the oceans and doesn't need huge, energy-consuming refineries. But near to where it's produced, the environmental damage is large, and it contributes hugely to dirty air. That isn't to mention, of course, the CO2. I have to continue to think of the prospect you seem to raise--geoengineering so that coal can continue to be mined and burned--as one that doesn't stand much chance of acceptance.
Australia is a massive coal exporter, with the IEA expecting production to rise 1.4% annually from 409 million t in 2018 to 444 million t in 2024. I think that generates about 5% of world emissions. Support for this industry is bipartisan, following the failed attempt by the Labor Opposition to run on an anti-coal agenda in the 2019 Federal election. Climate activists see this as horrendous, but the realities of politics and economics make it unstoppable in the short term. Banging your head against a brick wall is never a good strategy. What is needed is ways to balance and exceed these emissions by removing the produced CO2 from the air. As with sanitation, there is no benefit in trying to stop production of waste; what is needed is ways to treat the waste that has been produced.


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Post Re: Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages
Robert Tulip wrote:
As with sanitation, there is no benefit in trying to stop production of waste; what is needed is ways to treat the waste that has been produced.

Great post. This caught my attention at the end. I think there is indeed a benefit to stopping waste production, even in sanitation. Think of the wealthy people of the world not pigging out as much. You have less feces and urine to treat as waste; you have less pressure on food supplies. That is a greater benefit than any use we might think to make of the wastes themselves (which we're not doing anyway). In terms of a circular economy that manages carbon, the point is similarly not to, as much as possible, get as far as needing to turn waste carbon into something we can use. It's not guaranteed that we can we can generate healthy markets for those wastes, or that their value would outweigh the environmental costs of producing them. "Recycle" is listed last in the "5 Rs" partly for that reason.



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Post Re: Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages
DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
As with sanitation, there is no benefit in trying to stop production of waste; what is needed is ways to treat the waste that has been produced.

Great post. This caught my attention at the end. I think there is indeed a benefit to stopping waste production, even in sanitation. Think of the wealthy people of the world not pigging out as much. You have less feces and urine to treat as waste; you have less pressure on food supplies.
I confess that in all my efforts to shed those extra pesky pounds from my waistline this benefit you suggest to the pressure on the sewage treatment works has not been mentioned in any of the diet advice I have read. When I say “no benefit”, I mean that economic analysis will show that investment in the prevention of defecation will do nothing to clean up our rivers and seas, if meanwhile we are filling them with untreated shit. But that is the exact analogy for the climate situation: we see constant calls to cut the amount of waste we add to the system while ignoring how the waste we have already added creates the major clear and present danger to world security for this coming century.

With such study of how to create a circular economy, experts have created measurement tools such as life cycle assessment and techno-economic analysis. My impression is that the aggressive political advocacy for emission reduction has created an intimidating environment for such objective collection of evidence. The strong likelihood is that the result would undermine the popular assumption that stopping emissions is the best way to fix the climate, a finding that advocates of rapid decarbonisation would find unwelcome.
DWill wrote:
That is a greater benefit than any use we might think to make of the wastes themselves (which we're not doing anyway). In terms of a circular economy that manages carbon, the point is similarly not to, as much as possible, get as far as needing to turn waste carbon into something we can use. It's not guaranteed that we can generate healthy markets for those wastes, or that their value would outweigh the environmental costs of producing them. "Recycle" is listed last in the "5 Rs" partly for that reason.

Sanitation systems do in fact create markets to convert waste to assets on the principle of industrial ecology. Here is an example, using sludge as fertilizer.

We already now have the problem that 650 billion tonnes of carbon have been added to the air by human industry, and this waste is destabilising the planetary climate. So we are already in the situation of needing to look for the most economic way to treat the waste problem, either by burying it at the bottom of the sea or underground, or by transforming it into useful commodities.

A circular economy in which we continue to mine and burn fossil fuels and treat the resulting waste by massively expanding the transformation of the resulting CO2 into biomass seems to me to be a far more likely, effective and practical solution to the climate crisis than the futile efforts to cut emissions.

I call this the 7F strategy – industrialising algae photosynthesis to produce fuel, food, fodder, fertilizer, fish, forests and fibre. But the scale of transformation needed is immense. My calculation is that achieving net zero emissions would need industrial algae production on 1% of the world ocean, and even then, most of the collected carbon would still return to the air, so the scale to actually fix the climate just with this method would require about 10% of the oceans. That of course faces formidable scientific, engineering, economic, ecological and political obstacles, but it is the type of idea that should be considered.

Meanwhile the actual climate policies of world governments equate to chiding people for eating so much, while doing nothing to invest in sanitation, on the spurious basis that this empty moralising will help reduce the massive defecatory pollution of our environment. Sure there are many benefits of reducing obesity, but in this thought experiment a future of thin people floating in a sea of poisonous stench could have been avoided by relatively small investment in objective analysis of measures to fix the problem through sanitary engineering.


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Post Re: Ch. 4: The modern cycle of ice ages
I think that at bottom, Robert, is a difference over consumption. It's classic Wizard-Prophet. Wizards see either no point in or no possibility of, limiting consumption in order to reduce waste and other ill effects of our civilization. They see our consuming as infinitely extendable and inseparable from human destiny. Prophets passionately believe our rampant consumption will write the end of our story and is the tragic flaw in our nature.



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