Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Climate: a 9/11 moment?

The North Pole has never been ice-free for the past 3 million years, at least. Is what we have seen this summer dramatic enough to spur people to action to fight climate change? Apparently not.

Maybe the moment will come when everyone will wake up to the climate situation. Something will happen; something so big, so horrible, so terrifying that people will watch the news in TV while telling themselves: "it is happening now, it is happening to us!" That could be a "9/11 moment" or, perhaps, a "Pearl Harbor" moment. Then, we may finally start doing something against climate change.

On the other hand, a general "aha" climate moment may never come. Already plenty of big, horrible, and terrifying things have happened, with most people barely noticing. Think of the melting of the North Pole of this year. It had never happened on this planet for the past 3 million years, possibly as many as 13 million years. Isn't that dramatic enough? Apparently not, because the mainstream press barely mentioned it.

Most people just don't seem to be able to connect the dots, to see the relation of climate change to all what is happening around us. Will we boil a little more every summer, always expecting next summer to be better? Will we run out of oil and blame speculation? Will we starve and blame the financial crisis? We have already seen environmental concerns being swept away from the political agenda by concerns about the financial crisis, the cost of gasoline, jobs, security, and all the rest. So, how are we going to react to the next climate crisis? Maybe retreating even deeper into denial.

Back to many centuries ago, Rutilius Namatianus left us a report from the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. He saw disaster all around him: Rome sacked, the roads destroyed, the legions defeated, people dying. And yet, he couldn't understand the reasons for what he was seeing. He saw all these events just as temporary reverse of fortunes. Rome has been in trouble before, Rome will be great again, he says.

But none of those in charge during the last decades of the Empire could understand what was happening (with perhaps one exception). They could only keep doing what they had been doing before, always hoping that the following year would be better than the past one. Perhaps that will be our destiny, too. There is a difference, though. If the Romans were blind to what was happening to them, we were warned in advance but we chose to close our eyes.


  1. Ugo,

    Thank you for posting this. I hadn't read your 2009 article published on TheOildrum and found it very interesting and informative.

    At the risk of making a controversial suggestion, you could write to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. He is talked about as a future Conservative Party leader and hence potential Prime Minister. Whilst he has cultivated an image as an eccentric, he is a classics scholar, mayor of a large international city, and has just presided over a very successful Games.

    You could argue that he is, at least, trained for his current role!

    Uncanny parallels!


    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Mike. But we wrote to many politicians, here in Italy, and never anything happened. I believe that politicians are just front men for bigger powers staying behind them. I think those powers have the destiny of the planet in their hands. Will they understand what's going on? Who knows?

    2. Ugo,

      There is a quote by Frank Luntz in the chapter on repetition in Joseph Romm's book, Language Intelligence:

      "there is a simple rule:

      You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again and again and again and again and again, and about the time you are absolutely sick of saying it is about the time your target audience has heard it for the first time."


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I don't know why Mr. Zu has removed this interesting comment. I'll post it for him. Doesn't it give everyone that horrible sinking feeling......?


      Papa Zu has left a new comment on your post "Climate: a 9/11 moment?":

      The caption under the image above is scientifically inaccurate and you nedd to notify
      your source for that caption that thry are wrong. The Arctic has been ice free on
      numerous occasions as little as 6,000 years ago. There are dozens of paleoclimate studies
      that support this fact. Here is an example.

      You need to differentiate for your readers sea ice vs. and ice free Greenland. We are in
      no danger of Greenland being ice free. There is very good news at the south Pole where
      sea ice extent set a new historic record for either pole and has been determined (as
      outlined in a new paper coming out)that ice mass balance in the South Pole has been

      Yhis is why open debate is needed, as people need to know facts.

      Posted by Papa Zu to Cassandra's legacy at September 30, 2012 8:09 AM

    2. In any case, when trolls appear, you know that you are doing something good.

    3. FYI, I erased and rewrote my post to make it easier to comprehend and I dropped the Antarctic information because it was not discussed in your post. By troll do you mean someone who presents scientific evidence that you are unable to respond to and that refutes your claims?

    4. Ugo,

      I have trolls on my blog too. A lot of them, and every day... endless fight. Though I am not fighting anymore, just describing things - and even for that I am evil (for trolls).

      But you really only know you are doing *good* things...


  3. The caption under the image above has nothing to do with sea ice extent which is what the image is showing. It is confusing because there are dozens of paleoclimate studies demonstrating that the Arctic sea ice extent has been ice free during summers on numerous occasions in the Early Holcene Period and as recent as 6,000 years ago. Here is an example.

    It has also been demonstrated that the Arctic Ocean was as much as 10 degreesC warmer than the 20th Century average at times during the last 12,000 years than it is today. This is all documented and published in peer reviewed journals.

    It is important to distinguish between sea ice extent and Greenland ice mass balance when discussing Arctic ice melt.

  4. Thank you, Ugo, great thoughts. Special thanks for the link to your talk of 2009. Nice reading for a rainy Sunday evening...

  5. Maybe it will be ice free next year.

  6. Yes people will double down in denial. Here in the Northeast of the US, article after article is appearing saying how beautiful the fall foliage is this year. It's simply insane, because the leaves look terrible, far worse than last year which was worse than the year before. But there are many people who earn money from tourists who come to see the autumn display, and so they either lie or are blind themselves. I took a bunch of pictures, yesterday, and posted them here, they show how trees really are faring:

    One of the things that cracked me up recently, along the lines of denial, was the utter panic that ensued after it was reported that due to the extreme drought and lack of feed for ruminants, there would be a bacon shortage. You'd think - no duh...but Holy sweet jesus! That story was picked up and reverberated, terrorizing porcine Americans everywhere for about 24 hours when it was swiftly quashed by TPTB - there WILL BE NO BACON SHORTAGE! It was all a mistake!!!


    1. Gail.

      Thanks for your work !!

      I was surprised and stunned. Is no one else reporting or studying this phenomenon?

  7. FYI even Skeptical Science acknowledges that the Arctic was ice free in the Holocene Optimum 10,000 years ago. Ricardo the author of the Skeptical Science piece links several of the studies that he found as a PHD Physicist in Italy. Ugo is wrong about the Arctic not being ice free for 3 million years. Call me a troll if you like but the truth is available in scientific papers.

    1. You are just not getting it, man. You and the likes of you had a good time, so far, trolling around on climate. Now, you are being swept away by the events. It was fun as long as it lasted. Now it is game over.

    2. The likes of me is someone that studies climate science and has had the opportunity to have an exchange with NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve who is an expert on Polar ice. She sees no tipping point in Arctic ice. She is also aware that the Arctic was ice free in the Holocene Optimum. The likes of me discuss climate science with several climatologist and I have family members who design and work with climate models. You seem unaware of the science to me and I can assure you that no climatologist I have spoken with makes the extreme comments that you do.

  8. Hello Ugo,

    Nice piece, and it is indeed quite amazing how, a lot following what is now labeled as "climate gate", the climate aspects have been swept away from the scene especially in the US.

    Otherwise regarding "Empires falling", to me a key event that could have been a wake up call, and that "we" unfortunately managed to more or less cover up, was the 1971 US peak and ensuing first oil shock.
    That it is still mostly refered to as the "oil embargo" or "arab embargo" tells a lot about the denial level.
    About this was reading yesterday on google books Leonardo Maugeri "The Age of Oil: The Mythology, History, and Future of the World's Most Controversial Resource" (following reading the critic of his report on the oil drum) :
    especially chapter 8(rise of arab nationalisms) and 9(first oil shock) which are fully available online.
    And it is really a good example of "trying to escape the banality of resources constraints aspects", but also quite interesting regarding historical aspects.
    Typically being able to write both :
    and then :
    or :

    And "of course" also "making fun" of "limits to growth report":

    PS : too bad we didn't manage to meet in Paris, hope it can happen soon some other time.


    1. Note : James Akins April 1973 paper "The oil crisis : this time the wolf is at the door" is really a key text around this :

  9. Excuse me, Papa Zu: but why we should have an Artic free of ice in summer, like, may be, 10.000 years ago, when the orbital situation of Earth is very different now, and is not justifying, by itself, an Artic summer with no sea ice? What other strange factor acting on climate, could be at work now? Mmmm, let me think....


    "it is happening now, it is happening to us!"

    climate change is back in the news!


    Fausto Ghini

  11. We humans have really conquered nature now with the first man-made-hurricane in history.
    No lets find a way to stop hurricanes from ever occuring again.
    If we only knew how?

    By the way, Al Qaida will never again be so succesfull as on 9/11. Completely destroying three skycrapers with just two airplanes. I wonder why the black boxes from those two planes were never found?



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)