Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It gets boring running around being a Cassandra

Being a Cassandra is often boring in the sense that it is so predictable. You know from the start that whatever you say will be ignored and, when it is not ignored, it will generate all sorts of insults as a response. On the other hand, some of us seem to have taken this role and, just as the Cassandra of the Iliad, we keep trying to alert everyone of what is going on with climate change and resource depletion. Who knows, maybe not all Cassandras will always be ignored - after all, she was right! Here are some thoughts on climate change from Bruce Sterling's talk at the 2011 Art and Environment conference. The wolf is in the living room, he says. A true Cassandra; and perfectly right.

Bruce Sterling:

Climate change has lost all its sci-fi tinge in my lifetime and is now a melancholy and tiresome reality

There hasn’t been a year when I haven’t written about climate change. It’s one of the most obvious things to predict.

It’s just kind of a blunt reality that the fossil-fuel enterprise has done a regulatory capture of the entire planet, and we’re involved in a war for oil, and it’s the curse of oil, and it’s a war for a curse that’s endless and happening. You know, it gets boring running around being a Cassandra. Starting Earth Day in 1970 was a pretty late start considering the multicentury scope of this problem.

I will pass the rest of my lifetime in the shadow of climate change. It’s not about warning people in 2011, or trying to avert or defuse a misfortune. The wolf is beyond the door. The wolf is in the living room. This is the anthropocenic condition. This is how we live. This is force majeure. It’s here. It’s very obvious.

There are no national forests. You cannot protect a forest with a nation. There are forests that protect nations.

The global climate crisis is the climate crisis and it’s global because the globe is an externality. “Don’t pollute you, don’t pollute me, pollute that fellow behind me.” Just throw that into the atmosphere because the atmosphere is somebody else’s problem."

The thing that encourages me or sort of offers daylight is there’s no pro-climate crisis party. There’s no government that actually likes the idea of wrecking the climate. It doesn’t really benefit anybody. It really is an externality. It’s just something that’s entropic.

h/t Big Gav


  1. But Ugo, Isn't there still some "intrigue" in finding which of the lauded "true solutions" to resolve our mad war with nature would end up far worse than the disease??? Seems... like most of them unfortunately.

  2. Great post Ugo, and these greek ceramics were/are truly something ..

  3. Who said there is "no growth" after peak oil???

    Students turning to prostitution to fund studies

    BTW, all economists should be happy!


  4. Ah, but Ugo it is a fascinating time to be a skeptic. You get to wonder why a third of the stations (almost all in the midwest) in the USA show a slight fall in temperature over the past hundred years (see the BEST report). Whether the "hot spot" in Siberia used to estimate Arctic temperatures has anything to do with the huge amount of gas that is being flared in Western Siberia. You get to understand how a cabal of "reputable" scientists and journalists work to keep papers that oppose their views aren't published (even when later shown to be correct). And you get to watch the unbelievable mess that is being made of our energy future by those who put ideology over practicality.

    Interesting times, my friend, interesting times!

  5. "Ah, but Ugo it is a fascinating time to be a skeptic. "

    more annoying than anything i should think, what with even 'skeptic' funded studies agreeing with the consensus that warming is happening.

  6. Dear prof. Summers, with all the respect, "global warming" did NOT slow down, check this recent global temperature analysis with extracted "anthropogenic signal":

    Global Temperature News



  7. Dave, you are a good scientist with the right skills, the intelligence, the culture. What are you doing with a "cabal" of half-wits and paid misinformers? You don't belong there. You can recognize good science when you see it!

  8. Ugo:
    I am, unashamedly, an experimentalist. When I went to a conference and someone gave a paper on a new way of doing something in my field, one of my great joys was to go home and try and reproduce the work, so that I could better understand it and then try to apply it. That is the joy of being, in my case, an engineer. (The field is the application of high-pressure fluids).

    So when I got jumped all over for reviewing a book that said there was a Medieval Warming Period and a Little Ice Age, I went away and looked. There were hundreds of studies of the latter from all around the globe (see Jean Grove's "The Little Ice Age") all of whom were supposedly immediately proved wrong when Dr Mann wrote one paper with dubious statistics and inverted data (I have read Mia Tiljander's doctoral dissertation). This seemed decidedly odd to me, particularly the vituperation with which my relatively innocuous comments were received by those advocating AGW.

    So I began to look more deeply. The GISS data for the United States comes from stations that are generally those with the highest adjacent populations of any in each state, they are also at lower elevations that the state averages. I ran enough correlations to find that temperature is a function of the log of adjacent population (typical r-squared around 0.14) which means that some of the temperature rise can be explained because of urban growth.

    I don't say that temperatures have not risen, I am more skeptical about the cause. The MWP is now given increasing recognition again, even the good Dr Mann has come to admit it happened after his earlier plot denied it. If Vukcevic is correct on the 11-year lag in correlation between the AMO and the NAO then the world is going to get colder soon - an idea that should be falsifiable in two or three years - which is fascinating to wait for.

    That is the point, if you roll over and believe that the "science is settled" and the rest is boring, then you miss all the pleasure of finding new things and explanations, and in looking at what is going on and trying to find explanations that are more credible than the already falsified predictions that Dr Hansen made at the start of this debate.

    I was not kidding, getting the real data and seeing what it says is interesting, even fascinating. I use TOBS because the "official" temperatures have already been "adjusted" and this demonstrably reduces correlations with parameters such as latitude and elevation, indicating that these modifications (which virtually always increase current temperatures relative to earlier ones, typically doubling the reported temperature rise) and then seeing what it says allows me to make up my own mind and see who is telling the truth and who not (any you are right and the fault is not all on one side).

  9. Dave, I wish the science were settled; then I would know what is going to happen; everyone would know what's going to happen and we would all agree on it and on what's to be done. The problem is that the science is NOT settled. That's what scares me - and it scares a lot of people. It is settled enough that we understand that what we DON'T know can destroy us.

    Dave, please, don't take this debate as a personal challenge or offence. People are aggressive because they are scared and, in my opinion, correctly so. You know better than me that climate science is not based on such details as this stupid "hockey stick" that I am starting to hate deeply. Damn the hockey stick: it is not a problem of whether the medieval period was half a degree hotter or colder. It is not a question of how hot or cold is a particular region of the United States. It is a question of more than half a century of work by thousands of scientists. They have built up something that's called "climate science". It will never be "settled" because science never is. But it is good science, and the more we work at it, the better it becomes.

    Let me say it once more: you are a good scientist, you are a man of culture and of knowledge. You belong to the side of science, not to the side of denial. Think about that!

  10. Ugo:
    I have continuously posted the changing thought patterns I have gone through since I wrote the first post on the MWP several years ago. (You can find it here ) It even begins in Sardinia.

    I have just finished reading some of the e-mails sent by "The Team" in which they discuss suppressing data, hiding doubts, cherrypicking values - all to further "the cause." I did not have "a cause", I just started looking at what the data tells me - I confess to the fatal bug of curiosity and the urge to answer too many "why"s. And my pay next year does not depend on what I find this year. I have told agencies in the past to fund my competition (it was on cavitation around drill bits) because their answer was right, and better than mine. That is what science is, finding the truth, not supporting "the cause."

  11. Dave, I beg you: reconsider your position. We are not dealing with an intellectual game. It is not a question of who is right and who is wrong. There are many uncertainties in the measurements, in climate science there is surely plenty of sloppy work and of nasty people who are working just for the pride of getting press coverage. But there is also enough good work done - and excellent work done by people who are doing their best for the sake of science and of humankind - that we know that we are toying with something that can potentially destroy our lives, the lives of our children, and those of our grandchildren. And, seen in this way, yes, we do have a cause: it is the most important cause I can imagine, ever. It is a cause for survival, first, then for the freedom and well being of everyone. Please, think about that.

  12. Ugo:
    Part of the problem that I have is with the hysteria that is now a matter of rote when many folk are writing about climate change stories. If one looks at stories, for example, on the Nile Delta or Bangladesh one finds that in this type of delta it is important that sediment be continued to settle in the delta to overcome the compression of previous layers with time. In both cases it is documented that this sediment is no longer happening to the level it should (see Aswan High Dam for eg) and so there is a rational explanation for the sea rise problem - but they are, instead, vociferously blamed on climate change due to global warming.

    The Sahel is actually greening, though recent theoretical papers suggest that this is a myth. The MWP was (apart from in the South west of the US where the drought were a disaster) largely a period of benefit for mankind relative to the problems of disease etc seen in the Little Ice Age. Yet these facts are hidden, data is manipulated and cherry picked, and explanations beyond "the carbon did it" are not examined in order to paint a picture over what a disaster the world is heading into.

    The fact that the central US has not warmed in 100 years suggests that the warming is more focussed in the seas, which heat the edges. So this leads on to the question of why have the seas been heating for that period, and the impact of the sun. Understanding what is really happening is a fascinating study and chasing down what is causing what is a great detective puzzle, while just accepting the word of a cabal of scientists who have been shown, through their e-mails, to be willing to play games with the truth, and who are contemptible in their treatment of dissent is, as you admitted when you wrote the post that I respond to, boring - and let's face it, not really science either.

  13. Sorry I forgot the references, which are posts on The Nile Problem and here is Bangladesh .

  14. Dave, I think you are not lost to the "cause". Allow me to suggest that you are placing too much importance to details that have no relevance for the big picture of climate change. Apart from that, you have the right approach - it is science, and for everything we observe there has to be a scientific explanation (and that has nothing to do with old e-mails).

    So, I invite you to keep studying the matter. I think you'll follow the same route that I followed: I started being much more worried about peak oil than about climate change, but after some years of work I am now of the opposite opinion. Climate change is real, is dangerous, and it is now. Please, think about that!

  15. Ugo, I see that Jean Grove's 'Little Age' is cited here -- as often elsewhere -- to substantiate a 'sceptical' stance.

    This provides an interesting case in point. Jean Grove was no ‘climate sceptic’ in commonplace sense of the term. On the other hand, she /was/ a professional sceptic, in the intellectually scrupulous sense that is familiar to her colleagues and former pupils still engaged in climate science. She would have welcomed being remembered for scepticism; but she would have rebelled against the use to which her work is now put by those caught up with the hockey stick, and wedded to entrenched positions.

    It needs to be appreciated that Jean Grove was not in the least bit sceptical about the greenhouse effect, nor indeed about the evidence for recent anthropogenic warming that had accumulated between the publication of the first edition of her book in 1988 and her death in 2001.

    As will be evident from consideration of her final publications (including an important paper on the Medieval Warm Period), she was perfectly happy about the fact that her work on past climate presented complications for /some/ of her colleagues, but she was also receptive to new work. Unlike many of those who cite her work, she was prepared to let new evidence change her position. This can be calibrated in the pronounced differences between the first edition and the second posthumously published edition of her monograph on the Little Ice Age (1988, and 2004). The development of her thesis reflects the nuanced response of a true sceptic to the transformation of climate science in the 1990s: a sceptic who was not frightened to consider new evidence that forced her to revise an earlier position.

    You may be interested is the recent thoughtful statement on the nature of uncertainty in climate science by her husband and long-term collaborator, Dick Grove. You can read it here:

    Those who cite Jean Grove's work to think more carefully about the nature of scientific scepticism, and to examine exactly -- on the basis of evidence -- what it is that the term ‘scientific consensus’ implies.

  16. Oops.
    A couple of edits:
    For ' in commonplace' read 'in the commonplace'.
    For 'Those who cite Jean Grove's work to think' read 'Those who cite Jean Grove's work would be well advised to follow her example and think'

  17. Very interesting story. Thanks, Jonathan!



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)