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

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The climate emergency: time to switch to panic mode?

The latest temperature data have broken all records (image from "think progress"). At best, this is an especially large oscillation and the climate system will be soon back on track; following the predictions of the models - maybe to be retouched to take into account a higher climate sensitivity to CO2 concentrationsing temperatures. At worst, it is an indication that the system is going out of control and moving to a new climate state faster than anyone could have imagined.

James Schlesinger once uttered one of those profound truths that explain a lot of what we see around us: it was: "people have only two modes of operation: complacency and panic."

So far, we have been in the "complacency" mode of operation in regard to climate change: it doesn't exist, if exist it is not a problem, if it is a problem, it is not our fault, and anyway doing something about it would be too expensive to be worth doing. But the latest temperature data are nothing but spine-chilling. What are we seeing? Is this just a sort of a rebound from the so-called "pause"? Or something much more worrisome? We may be seeing something that portends a major switch in the climate system; an unexpected acceleration of the rate of change. There are reasons to be worried, very worried: the CO2 emissions seem to have peaked, but that didn't generate a slowdown of the rate of increase of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. If nothing else, it is growing faster than ever. And then there is the ongoing methane spike and, as you know, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

What's happening? Nobody can say for sure, but these are not good symptoms; not at all. And that may be a good reason to switch to panic mode.

The problem is that societies; specifically in the form called "states" do not normally show much intelligence in their behavior, especially when they are in a state of panic. One of the reasons is that states are normally ruled by psychopaths whose attitude is based on a set of simple rules, mainly involving intimidation or violence, or both. But it is not just a question of psychopaths in power; the whole society reacts to threats like a psychopath: with the emphasis on doing "something", without much concern about whether it is the right thing to do and what would the consequences could be. So, if climate starts to be perceived as a real and immediate threat, we may expect a reaction endowed with all the strategic finesse of a street brawl: "you hit me - I hit you."

A possible, counterintuitive, panic reaction might be of "doubling down" in the denial of the threat. That could lead to actions such as actively suppressing the diffusion of data and studies about climate; de-funding climate research, closing down climate research centers, marginalizing those who believe that climate is a problem; for instance classifying them among "terrorists." All that is already happening in some degree and it may well become the next craze, in particular if the coming US elections will handle the presidency to an active climate denier. That would mean hard times for at least a few years for everyone who is trying to do something against climate change. And, perhaps, it would mean the total ruin of the Earth's ecosystem.

The other possibility is to switch all the way to the other extreme and fight climate change with the same methods used to fight terrorism; that is, bombing it into submission. Of course, you cannot bomb the earth's climate into submission, but the idea of forcing the ecosystem to behave the way we want is the basic concept of "geoengineering".

In the world of environmentalism, geoengineering enjoys more or less the same reputation that Saddam Hussein enjoyed in the Western press in the 1990s. That's for good reasons: geoengineering is often a set of ideas that go from the dangerous to the impossible, all ringing of desperation. For a good idea of how exactly desperate these ideas can be, just take a look at the results of a recent study on the idea of pumping huge amounts of seawater on top of the Antarctic ice sheet in order to prevent sea level rise. If it were a science fiction novel, you'd say it is too silly to be worth reading.

However, it may be appropriate to start familiarizing with the idea that geoengineering might be the next world craze. And, perhaps, it is better to take the risk of doing something that could go wrong than to do nothing, considering that we have been doing nothing so far. Don't forget that there are also good forms of geoengineering, for instance the form called "biosphere regeneration." It is based on reforestation, fighting desertification, regenerative agriculture and the like. Removing some CO2 from the atmosphere by transforming it into plants can't do too much damage, although it cannot be enough to solve the problem. But it may stimulate also other fields of action against climate change; from adaptation to switching to renewable energy. Maybe there is still hope..... maybe.


  1. The spike is worrying ... but couldn't it have something to do with the huge forest fires that engulfed vast swathes of land from Indonesia to Alaska? That combined with all the methane leaking from fracking sites and permafrost.

    1. ??You ask as if saying yes would be reassuring, as tho' these are temporary causes. I suspect all three are part of the effects becoming causes in the feedback loop.

  2. I just spoke to an Australian scientist whose latest paper finds that to avoid going over 1.5 degree C warming (the point where Pacific island nations flood) we have to cut fossil fuel emissions in HALF by 2020. I'd say that's a mega project, greater than World War Two. It's time to panic.

  3. Break out the Bikinis! Soldotna is the next Miami Beach!


  4. There actually _is_ a science fiction novel that includes pumping seawater onto the Antarctic continent to reduce sea level--and it's a rather good one: book 3 of Kim Stanley Robinson's "Science in the Capitol" series. I recommend the trilogy, which starts with Forty Signs of Rain; it's a good story about climate change, the practice of science, politics, child rearing, espionage, and many other things. (It was published in 2007, well before the study you cited that debunked the scheme, but feels rather prescient.)

  5. "That could lead to actions such as actively suppressing the diffusion of data and studies about climate; de-funding climate research, closing down climate research centers, marginalizing those who believe that climate is a problem"

    You must be talking about our current crop of politicians posing as the Australian Government. You forgot to mention paying lip service to to taking action on global warming while at the same time doing nothing effectual about and actvely campianing at world level to ensure that no actually expects you to actually take action

  6. panic mode? nope, not if it means humans have to change their "non-negotiable" lifestyles.

  7. "Panic Mode" brings to mind the "Operation Independence" of US President Nixon. It involved massive, accelerated development of nuclear power… and did more to put the kibosh on nuclear power than everything else combined. It also brings to mind the "Great Leap Forward" and "Cultural Revolution" of China… which were developmental, cultural, economic and other type disasters wrought on China. (I used to work in Nuclear; my daughter-in-law was a child in China, often on the streets while her parents were being "reeducated".)

    The US industrial makeover during WW2 remains an amazing event. I despair of anything suchlike these days. Witness the miasmal morass of governance in the US (my country) these days, the rest of the world seemingly trying to follow suit.

    But if we look at it, we can read the writing on the wall: "mene Mene Tekel Upharsin" which, translated, means "Have you got it coming!" I hear the beating not of distant drums; they're only a few blocks away by now. The time to get out the torches, tumbrels and Remington 870's approaches fast.

    The time to put the finger on the Button and press hard approaches fast.

  8. So, you are willing to posit that geoengineering is NOT the reason for the warming, but a SOLUTION? Have you no honor? Geoengineering has been operational since at least 1946. PERIOD. Do your research. Isn't it an odd coincidence that the abnormal rise in temps, most usually associated with CO2 emissions, just so happen to coincide with the onset of global climate manipulation?
    I am NOT saying global industrialization is not a big part of the problem, but if you look at the patents for SRM's side effects we see the exact results that were noted. Is that just a coincidence too?
    In a world gone mad, madness seems to prevail.
    Geoengineering cannot work, will not work and IS not working. Period

    1. Sometimes I have this feeling that I stepped by mistake into a multi-dimensional gateway and I was funneled to another planet, somewhere, in a Galaxy far, far away....

  9. So many invented 'facts'.
    Until scientists are not benefiting from so called 'global warming' ... I don't believe one word about climate change being anything but normal.

    more discussion here...

    1. Sometimes, I have this feeling that we might be able to have a rational debate on global warming. Sometimes, just sometimes......

  10. If the ocean and the vegetation do not take out their 40% share of industrial emissions over the coming decades (e.g. if the net amount absorbed by the major CO2 sink, which is the ocean, declines even slightly) then the CO2 in the atmosphere will likely increase, even if we manage to burn fewer tons of fuel and constrain industrial methane release. It does not look as though we know how the ocean is behaving yet.

    Perhaps more importantly, if the positive feedback reactions to existing 'forcing' long talked about by James Hansen kick-in big-time (albedo in the arctic and so on) then we could be in for further sudden climate change especially in polar regions and in particular in the Arctic, whatever the upcoming CO2 scenario. 'Flip' changes are not unknown in the ice records and given the sheer speed of increase in 'forcing' these could prove the climate models gradualist predictions somewhat irrelevant. Isn't that btw the definition of catastrophe mathematics: continuous change in a variable suddenly giving rise to a flip change in the effect?


  11. Thanks again for this funny piece! Altough my giggling reminded me somewhat to the laugh of madness. We are going down the drain, what else should we do than laugh about it? A deep existential attitude.

    Concerning the panic mode, i recommend reading a post by tamino ( ), in which he calculates the residuum of the temperature curve after subtracting all known influences, and comes to the conclusion, that the current maximum is, from a statistical point of view, still a peak, but no outlier.

    Concerning the mentioned psychopathology, a lot of this seems to happen in "gods own country", which is always and in many ways astonishing for us in the museum Europe. So please do not equate GOC with the world!

  12. "The problem is that societies; specifically in the form called "states" do not normally show much intelligence in their behaviour".

    This lies in the nature of the state itself, which we are remarkably ignorant about, despite the many thousands of social and political scientists claiming expertise in understanding it.

    It is not because they are dumb, but because their own dependency on the state (which, more often than not, is their employer) blinds them to the obvious. Namely, that the purpose of the state is not to serve society at large and its long-term survival, as we are led to believe, but to facilitate its SELF-exploitation to the narrow and short-sighted personal advantage of its ruling elites and favoured (especially wealthy and academic) clients, at the expense of society at large and its long-term survival.

    Instead of understanding it, academics rationalise the state, presenting it to us as our nation, when in truth it is no such thing, not a "nation state", but a mercenary "patron state" deceitfully posing as a nation, in order to legitimise itself, its ruling elites and the immense power they wield and abuse, for purpose described in the previous paragraph.

    I elaborate on these ideas in this blog:

  13. For some reason this comment didn't appear in the list, so I am reposting it on behalf of the author.


    Hi Ugo,

    WRT "panic mode" - I have my doubts there will ever be much collective panic directly associated with climate/oa.

    Panic mode is already being triggered as evidenced by human drama associated with the end of growth (ie, immigration, economy, political upheaval, rights issues, etc, etc, etc) and this is a great distraction from climate/oa.

    Climate change is being reduced to a mere a back-drop for more "pressing concerns" in our [aggregately] not-so-sapient minds.

    But then again, maybe that panic will actually do more in the long run to curb climate change than panicking over climate change...

    Who can say?


  14. Based on much past performance IEA, NASA and NOAA data (among others) cannot really be trusted or be taken at face value. Junk interpretations based on junk data guarantee junk science which guarantees junk policies and junk initiatives with truly "anthropogenic" outcomes and impacts. The only thing I can relate to in this post is that there are lots of psychopaths around and not only among state leaders. Something truly threatening. If I had to choose between complacency and panic I probably would choose complacency. Fortunately without challenging Mr. Schlesinger as far as most people are concerned I think "alert awareness and evolving appropriate adaptive action" is at least one other option for some. The word amused also could be added. The world looked at on almost every scale of space and time has always been full of surprises. It is most unlikely that it will not continue to be, notwithstanding the growing legions (we are now after all 7.4 billions and no longer only a few tens or hundreds of millions) of modern day seers (of course now also armed with models of all types) layered onto the Cassandras and prophets of times past who are convinced that only the unsurprising surprises which their lenses can see will come to pass unless of course forestalled by again guess who and guess what and guess how.

    Hoping not to be burned at the stake for misplaced complacency or insufficient panic or sufficient panic of the wrong kind I look forward with much optimism to whatever the future may bring.

    But I do think the post would perhaps have been more convincing if the red dot on the top right had been three times higher and twice as big for "more impact" . Next year it could then also come down a bit to prove whatever theory or improvement best fits the bill then.

    1. You see, in Italy we have several ways to describe this kind of attitude. One is "he reads only his own book" (legge solo il suo libro). Once you decided that everything that comes from science is junk on the basis of your own evaluation of past performance (whatever you mean with that), then you can comfortably remain in your state of complacency. Until water rises up to your nose.

      But this comment of mine would make sense only if we were having a rational debate and, of course, we aren't. I thought to erase it, but decided to leave it here just as a reminder for me of how useless the so called "debate" is.

  15. Dear Ugo, I believe the ray of hope is provided by bio-char, the soil amendment that hugely speeds up carbon sequestration. It has been estimated that if 10% of the world's croplands were amended with bio-char, we could reverse global warming regardless of how much fossil fuels are being burned.



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)