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Climate Hustle

Geologists and climate change denial

Posted on 9 June 2011 by John Cook

This article was originally published at ABC Environment yesterday. I'm doing my best to respond to comments over there but it's not easy - perhaps SkS readers can help me out :-)

Of all the people that doubt the science of climate change, geologists seem to be the most vocal. But they, of all people, should be the most concerned.

I was headed to the Sydney ABC studio to talk about my new book on climate change denial. What was unique about this interview was my coauthor Haydn Washington and I would have the opportunity to answer questions from callers. Considering the topic at hand, we expected some demanding questions from those who doubt the climate science. On the way, I declared to Haydn I'd put money on someone bringing up past climate change. In every interview over the weeks following the launch of our book Climate Change Denial, the same question always arose: "Climate has changed naturally in the past so how do we know current climate change is caused by humans?"

Haydn wisely didn't accept the wager. And sure enough, the first caller (listen) introduced himself as a geologist and proceeded to discuss past climate change. Afterwards, I reflected on geologists and the perception that they tend to be sceptical about human-caused global warming. Australia's most well known skeptic, Ian Plimer, is a geologist, as is another well known sceptic Bob Carter. But is the characterisation that geologists are mostly sceptics accurate?

One survey of earth scientists found that while 97 per cent of actively publishing climate scientists agree humans are changing global temperatures, only 47 per cent of economic geologists (those who study geology with a view to its commerical exploitation) concur (pdf). In fact, among all earth scientists, economic geologists are the most sceptical.

Similarly, in response to the consensus on global warming, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists "respects these scientific opinions but wants to add that the current climate warming projections could fall within well-documented natural variations in past climate and observed temperature data". You'd call that type of endorsement damning with faint praise.

However, the broader community of geologists seems convinced by the evidence that humans are causing global warming. The European Federation of Geologists says climate change is predominantly caused by anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and poses significant risks to human civilisation. The Geological Society of America concurs that "greenhouse gases have been an increasingly important contributor [to global warming] since the mid-1800s and the major factor since the mid-1900s". The Geological Society of London states that "evidence from the geological record is consistent with the physics that shows that adding large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere warms the world and may lead to: higher sea levels and flooding of low-lying coasts; greatly changed patterns of rainfall; increased acidity of the oceans; and decreased oxygen levels in seawater".

So climate scepticism seems strongest among geologists closely linked to the mining and fossil fuel industries. Perhaps the words of Upton Sinclair shine some understanding on the forces at play here: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

Regardless of motive, the question of past climate change is certainly an important one that provides much insight into how our climate behaves. Plimer's conceit is that as a geologist, he has taken into account Earth's past while climate scientists have ignored it. This is a curious position considering there is an entire field of climate science, paleoclimatology, that examines past climate change. What do they find?

Climate has changed in the past. Sometimes it changes quite dramatically. Why? When something causes a change in global temperature, such as varying solar activity or changes in the Earth's orbit, feedbacks amplify these changes. The atmosphere grows more humid and as water vapour is a greenhouse gas, this traps more heat. Arctic sea ice melts, causing the exposed ocean to absorb more heat. The feedbacks aren't so large that they lead to runaway warming but they are enough to amplify one degree of greenhouse warming to three degrees of total warming. Many different periods throughout Earth's history, from the last few millennia to millions of years ago, yield remarkably consistent results establishing this amount of climate feedback.

When geologists bring up past climate change, they're actually citing evidence for climate feedback. Dramatic swings in global temperature, dragging the planet in and out of ice ages, are possible because of these feedbacks. Renowned paleoclimatologist Wally Broecker sums it up beautifully: "The paleoclimate record shouts out to us that, far from being self-stabilising, the Earth's climate system is an ornery beast which overreacts to even small nudges."

We have already given our climate a big nudge. How do we know it's us causing the warming and not natural causes? Because we've directly measured it. Satellites measure reductions in heat escaping to space - direct empirical evidence that carbon emissions are trapping heat. Surface measurements measure more heat returning to Earth, confirming the increased greenhouse effect. We see many signatures of greenhouse warming such as winters warming faster than summers, cooling upper atmosphere with warming lower atmosphere and nights warming faster than days. The case for human-caused warming is based on many independent lines of evidence.

The feedbacks that amplified past climate change are now amplifying the warming caused by our carbon emissions. We're measuring more water vapour in the atmosphere, a strong feedback. Arctic sea ice is disappearing and satellites measure less sunlight reflected back to space - another significant feedback. The Earth's past and modern measurements all paint a consistent picture - our climate is already overreacting to our "nudge".

The peer-reviewed literature on past climate change sends a strong message, in stark contrast to what we hear from petroleum geologists. Past climate change is not a source of comfort. It's a cause for concern.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 107:

  1. Great article, and I think your replies on the ABC site have been very good. Gracious and to the point.
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  2. It is time to point out, yet again, that the only reason there is any debate on the issue of climate change and the need to do something about human CO2 emissions is that about $1 billion per day in profit for the carbon industry is at stake. Remember that fundamentalist free-market ideology could not stop the world doing something about ozone depletion, profits were simply not high enough.
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    Response: [JC] Don, I don't think it's quite that simple. Climate change is a much more significant & problematic issue than ozone depletion as fossil fuel permeates every part of society. Consequently, there are a number of psychological issues such as fear of change, finite pool of worry quota, etc that get in the way of people accepting the risks of climate change.

    Also, it's more difficult for people to conceptualise climate change. The idea of the ozone layer is quite visceral - a protective layer shielding us from deadly radiation inexorably being eaten away by our pollution. Long-term climate trends are not as vivid a concept. Of course we go into these issues in detail in our book :-)
  3. Yes John, there is certainly an imbalance. Some of it is certainly do with the geologist's links to the extractive industries, and perhaps guilty, certainly fearful, recognition, that digging up minerals in huge volumes and burning or melting them isn't a process that is going to be able to continue in its form of the last 200 years for much longer.

    But I have a feeling that some of it is more visceral than this, a feeling that geologists, those physically rugged explorers of deserts and mines, and untrammelled mental explorers of billions of years of the history of earth's crust with its massive changes in geography and climate, are a bit above all this fiddling around with what they see as minor changes in a period of 40 years or so, a period without geological meaning.

    When I first visited a late Pleistocene site I was to spend a lot of time (as a palaeoecologist) working on, I was greeted by a dinosaur palaeontologist, who had reluctantly had to be involved, telling me he had no interest in this site (some 30,000 years old) because these sediments were just the scum you removed to get to the interesting palaeontology. There is also I think a sense that they (I think especially of Plimer here) have seen so much bigger swings of climate in the past that they can't conceive this current change as anything but a tiny little blip, a mosquito biting a mammoth perhaps.

    They have also it seems no ability, humans having had no involvement in creating previous climate change, to imagine us humans having any role in changing the climate at all (a constant theme of denier blogs and posts). Nor do they seem able (being a descriptive and not a predictive science) to make the imaginative jump from seeing trends now to outcomes in the future, when molehills do indeed become mountains.

    I don't, I'm afraid, have any useful suggestions. A pity, having them on board would certainly be useful in terms of looking at precisely what we are in for based on previous experience. Perhaps there is something in the mindset that makes you become a geologist, or that develops once you are there, that makes them impervious, by and large, to an interest in the Earth's future to match their interest in its past.
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  4. Re: geologists and climate change denial
    I can not speak for all geologists, but as a geologist I think that if fellow geologists are scientists, they will judge climate science and global warming by the evidence. And most geologists are scientists. Those that are not are the most likely denialists. Most economic geologists are supported by the energy companies (e.g., coal and petroleum) and they have their prejudices and vested interests. Also, most deniers are conservatives and we have conservative geologists.

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  5. Not aware of any climate skeptics in my group - and we oil,gas, coal focused.
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  6. While I generally sympathise with parts of the aobve article, there are points at which I do not.

    First to David Horton's misunderstanding of extactive industries (if I read him right).

    1) Extractive industries have been going on since the stone age, and will go on for at least 10,000 years more. For most minerals, you simply can't 'run out' of them. We only mine the very highest grade top of the resource pyramid, and the huge volumes of various minerals in the earths crust will sustain most minerals for tens of thousands of years. (Flannery also got this concept totally wrong in the Future Eaters book, where he said mining industries in Australia are on the way down-look at Austrlia's mining industry now).

    Take for example, Aluminium. We only mine it where the earth's processes have concentrated it to a point which is economic to extract, however Al is in virtually every rock-you will only 'run out' of Al when we run out of rocks. Pretty much the same goes for all other minerals, with a few possible exceptions such as those produced organically only under special conditions, such as liquid fossil fuels. (But we have tar sand oil resources for several hundred years+ yet, but these are nore difficult to extract).

    So, in contrast to Horton's comment that we cant 'keep digging up minerals and burning or melting them in huge volumes as in the last 200 years', we have at least 10,000 years of Al resources in Australia alone at current extraction rates, and other minerals. However if David means these minerals wont run out, but simply are too energy intensive and contribute too much to global warming, then that is a very different argument. But even then, there will always be mineral demand as long as I sit on this chair and write on this PC.

    2) To the above arcticle.

    You havent mentioned rate.

    Rate of warming and the way the earth responds by reducing energy pertubations is as important as the long term level of change. (This is why David Evans abandoned the AGW consensus. In his words there is good evidence that the earth responds to warming by depressing further warming). The geological record strongly suggests that earth changes are generally very slow (the old catastrophist versus gradualist positions). Although there are exceptions. One scientist puts it: 'Earth history is like the life of a soldier, long periods of boredom followed by short periods of terror'. The AGW argument is solely in the field of 'short period of terror'.

    So with reference to past climate change, the rate is as important as the degree. 1.5-6 degrees of warming with doubling C02 might be in the ball park (I think more like 0.1-0.5), but not if it takes 1000 years.

    ( -Ideology snipped- ).

    Economic geologists work daily with uncertainty, and they feel that market forces are generally better, in the long run, at regulating human exageration, which is why they are skeptical of AGW, because it is an academic-based movement largely outside of market regulation.

    If an economic geologist exagerates an oil find, drilling and science coupled with investors (ie market forces) eventually finds this out, but if an academic exagerates rate and degree of warming, only less effective and much weaker market and social forces are in place to bring this kind of exageration down to earth, eg longer term observation (eg lack of warming) and democratic principles (voters voting out a carbon tax, for example). 'Peer review' is useful as an internal regulator but can be weak, peers can be self-selecting and are also prone to consensus groupthink etc.
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    [DB] Speaking of geologists and warming rates:

    "The rate of release of carbon into the atmosphere today is nearly 10 times as fast as during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), 55.9 million years ago, the best analog we have for current global warming, according to an international team of geologists."


  7. However, David Evan's has failed to provide any convincing
    evidence for such a belief. Normal natural climate change does not involve changing atmospheric composition at such a rate as human have done. I agree that rate is what matters.

    "And also, university salaries, reserach grants etc are also paid for/funded by the promotion of AGW, so this is fundamentally no different to the claim about scientists in the fossil fuel industries skeptical about AGW because of their salaries."

    This is patent nonsense. Funding agencies fund scientists to find out what isnt known without regard to what outcome the research has. Noone researchs "AGW" - they only research climate. Fossil fuel disinformation is only interested in "research" that can cast doubt.

    If we get climate sensitivity wrong, then we eventually find out too. Better hope it isnt on the wrong side the uncertainty.
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  8. Thingadonta @6
    True, we only mine the very highest grade top of the resource pyramid but please note that the very highest grade top is coming down. At the gold and copper mines I deal with in my work the average yeild in both resources has fallen from 6 down to 3 grammes per tonne. In other words the amount of ore needing to be processed to produce the same amount of metal has doubled in the last 2 to 3 years. Recent briefings about the role of the company I work for warn us that remaining metal ore stopes here in Australia are trending to be of lower yield and deeper down under the ground. Costs of extraction and ore processing are increasing as a result. After all, you have to tunnel further and deeper to reach the ore and then process twice as much of it to obtain the same amount of metal as you did before.
    Admittedly, things may well be different for coal or aluminium mining.

    As for rate of warming, plenty of peer reviewed evidence, including that sourced from geological records, clearly points to a rate closer to 3 degrees when feedbacks are included. Plenty can be found at this site.

    I also expect that the scientists who are more likely to be influenced by income rather than scientific integrity would be the ones who go for the big salaries in the corporate sector an not the folk who perform the less financially lucrative university of government positions. (Of course, that is only my personal opinion.)
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  9. It's not just geologists. I've seen the same tendency in some archeologists. I wonder if some of it is because they are used to dealing with climate changes but not doing attributions of all the changes because they don't have the required detailed data. Does this lead to some of them thinking of climate as something that just changes? That is, because they can't do attributions they fall into the trap of thinking of attributions as impossible and/or unnecessary.
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  10. "if David means these minerals wont run out, but simply are too energy intensive and contribute too much to global warming," that's what I meant. However as Stevo notes, high grade easily extractable ores are getting harder to find.
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  11. Polish geologists are also skeptical: Attitude of the Committee of Geological Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences to the question of impending of global warming. They argue that the current increase p.CO2 may be largely of natural origin (Point 7: "Warming of the oceans reduces their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide whereas a smaller area occupied by permafrost intensifies decomposition of organic matter in soil and therefore, stimulates increased emission of greenhouse gases.").
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  12. "They argue that the current increase p.CO2 may be largely of natural origin" - you are just being silly now Arkadiusz - we have the isotope signature, and we have the measure of how much CO2 has been industrially produced which matches the increase in the air. Are you guys really going to continue believing that the global warming at a fast rate seen over the last 100 years, and especially the last 40, clearly matching, and accounted for by, that increase in CO2 is just coincidence? Some coincidence, some belief, some obsession, extreme danger for the rest of us.
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  13. Arkadiusz - wow, that is embarassing. Either this was written by uninformed lobby within the academy or Polish geologists are somewhat misinformed. The feedback of Pt7 is slow - it hasnt cut in yet thank goodness as the oceans are still moping up nearly half our emissions, and carbon isotope accounting shows that increase in CO2 in atmosphere is from fossil emissions. How come they dont know that? See CO2 is coming from the ocean
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  14. Well, one of these Polish geologists gave an interesting interview for Polska Times. Quote: "At this time [decades], the CO2 content [at the Warsaw crossroads] has increased nearly a thousand times [?], because such increase in the number of cars. However, annual average temperatures haven't increased by even a single degree."
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  15. Ive noticed as other posters have that climate change deniers are often conservatives. But then the key thing about conservativism is its opposition to change and the key thing about climate change is unprecedented change.
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  16. Very interesting and insightful article. It's strange how people who have some of the best tools for understanding how dangerous climate changes can be (think Snowball to Hothouse Earth as an example) have those within their ranks who would claim it's nothing to worry about. I've certainly come across the attitude of geologists that the past 100 years (or past 10,000) is a pathetic timespan of no consequence, and that the Earth will happily survive whatever climate change befalls it. Of course, they seem less concerned about the development of civilisation and agriculture that has occurred during a very stable past 8,000 years...

    You get a similar reaction from some of those at the other end of the earth observation spectrum - meteorologists. Of course our favourite denier is a weatherman, but also a number of weather forums are surprisingly dominated by climate skeptics. It should be noted that there are some prominent meteorologists like Jeff Masters doing a great job of understanding and explaining climate change.

    I think the issues for the skeptical meteorologists and weather enthusiasts focus around several issues: the failure to grasp that unpredictable weather does not mean unpredictable climate (though they happily accept that summer will be hotter than winter); a general feeling of 'nature' being too big and powerful for us to make any difference to it; and a deep belief in cycles, possibly derived from observing the annual meteorological cycle. The sad thing is that, in their way like the geologists, meteorologists and weather enthusiasts are in the perfect position to observe the strange goings-on in the weather system that are the signals of climate change.

    Both groups don't like to see humans as capable of being an agent of change to the things they study, despite it being rapidly clear that humans are creating their own geological epoch (the Anthropocene), and are influencing spectacular changes and events in weather.
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  17. Heh, heh, heh.

    We have known about the geologist link to denial activism for years. I don't think it is a coincidence that if you want a profitable career in science a teenager would look at where the jobs are and notice that many geologists work in the fossil fuel industry.
    If you combine that with parental influences and careers advice from schools and colleges that have connections with industry employers, then you get the geologist migration.
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  18. rockytom what is an economic geologist??
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  19. It would be interesting to know if there was a correlation between the age of Geologists and potential denialist traits. If you were at University earlier than 1980, then you are unlikely to have had much exposure to the explosion of knowledge in Earth Sciences from the various ocean and ice-core drilling programs that began in the mid 70's.

    It may just be the same old duffers that still can't accept plate tectonics!
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  20. Arkadiusz Semczyszak, you have dragged that one up before, almost a year ago.

    I hope it's alright to also drag up my response :

    However, the Polish Academy of Sciences, as a whole, support the conclusions of the IPCC, as shown by this statement in Polish. Perhaps Arkadiusz can confirm or deny the contents ?

    That statement represents the views of all the Divisions and Institutes, including the Division of Earth and Mining Sciences, of which The Institute of Geological Sciences is a part. Alongside them in that Division, but not denying, are The Institute of Geophysics, and The Institute of Oceanology.
    The Division of Mathematical, Physical and Chemical Sciences don't appear to be denying either.

    The geologists are virtually gish-galloping : it's warmed/cooled before without human intervention; it's too soon to know for sure; CO2 has been higher in the past; political correctness; too expensive; etc., etc.
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  21. Thingadonta reckons
    1) Extractive industries have been going on since the stone age, and will go on for at least 10,000 years more. For most minerals, you simply can't 'run out' of them.
    Yes you don't run out of minerals you run out of the money go mine them.

    We don't make our cars out of gold or burn diamonds in our fuel tanks. Scarcity will put a stop to the practical use of many minerals.

    If grades go down by a factor of 10, the mining machinery gets 10 times bigger, the processing machinery gets 10 times bigger and the investment gets 10 times bigger. The only reason we can mine a lot if stuff now is because we have a very rich society that can provide the necessary capital. If there is a serious economic set back in our future it's game over. There are no rich minerals sources left that would provide a starting point that could allow the restoration of our current state of wealth.
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  22. Skywatcher,

    I think you're right about how the intuitions that geologists and meteorologists develop in their work can mislead them about climate change. I've noticed a different set of misleading intuitions among people in information technology. They confuse climate models with the programs that are used to estimate them. They think that the models are as fragile as the programs that they write.

    But the big distorters are ego and ideology. Some might say money but generally that has as little credibility when made against deniers as it does when made by them. I think for people in the fossil fuel industry protecting their sense of vocation is probably more important than protecting their profits. They want to see themselves as doing something useful and resist any idea that that their whole career has been in something that is now doing more harm than good or will soon do so. And this ties in with ideology and having a position on the environment as an identifier for their side. Too many people are more interested in beating ideological opponents than in finding the truth. Let yourself see ideological opponents as evil and you stop considering that they might be right on some things. This happens on all sides. If you attribute to an opponent a motive that he or she knows to be false you have just machine gunned your credibility with them.
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  23. SteveBrown wrote: "If you were at University earlier than 1980, then you are unlikely to have had much exposure to the explosion of knowledge in Earth Sciences from the various ocean and ice-core drilling programs that began in the mid 70's."

    There seems to be something similar to this with alot of 'meteorologists' too... especially the television weather reporter variety. Many of the older and/or more conservative ones seem to be violently opposed to basic global warming science while most of the younger ones accept it as established fact.

    There will always be some of that with any new advance in science, but global warming faces the added problem of corporate and political opposition. Scientists who might otherwise 'keep up to date' are less likely to do so when the new science runs counter to their biases in other areas. Fortunately, those who have tried to 'revise' their religion to make opposition to global warming science a matter of faith (like evolution and abortion in the past) have mostly failed. That could have been a disaster far greater than the problems we face with political and economic biases.
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  24. A point that is often overlooked by the deep time climate skeptic geologists is that there was life back then but not human life. And there was of course no human civilization and in particular no USA as it looks at the moment.

    I am pretty sure that the conservatives that form the base of the "climate skeptic" movement have no intention of returning to some deep time climate changed past where the best we can manage is living in trees.
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  25. @ 11 Arkadiusz:
    Then the Committee of Geological Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences is in complete disagreement with its mother body, the Polish Academy of Sciences, who have endorsed the conclusions of the IPCC.
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  26. In Brazil the denialist bunker is Geography, which apparently is more of a social science here than elsewhere. They love the conspiracy theory of an imperialist evil USA plotting to control developing countries through emission targets.
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  27. #26: Odd one, that, and a pity to hear it. In the UK, departments specialising in geography have provided a lot of the supporting hard observational science, from glaciology, geomorphology, remote sensing and interferometry through to various kinds of climate change modelling and estimations of the impact of various emissions scenarios. But it goes to show that your specialism does not automatically define your position, just as there are a good number of meteorologists and petroleum geologists (I know quite a few) who clearly understand the science.
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  28. Lloyd Flack makes a good point; a certain amount of the skepticism from some geologists and archaeologists has to do with their narrow focus on how paleoclimate changed, but not why it changed. Geologists especially view the Earth through its almost 5 billion history and sometimes have a difficult time resolving their vision from the "big picture" to shorter time spans. I do agree that having an economic conflict of interest is also a very strong incentive to want to deny AGW, but it isn't the only one.
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  29. skywatcher at 22:50 PM on 9 June, 2011

    Yeah, I heard that Geography here is taught more as a social science. I think that allows for more distance from the physics involved.

    Anyway, you're right about the specialism that does not automatically define your position.
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  30. The discussion about geography is only scratching the edges. Yes, geography is much more of a social science than a hard science, but it does tnclude the effects of human activities on the environment. The effects are less to do with the chemical or physical effects of CO2 emissions, than with the changing structure of the land and populace. Much of the climate focus concerns deforestation and urbanization. Hence, these factors are given considerably more weight by geographers than by atmospheric physicists. This compares with geologists giving greater weight to paleoclimatology, meteorologists giving greater weight to natural responses, or oceanographers giving greater weight to the PDO, etc. Those working directly in a particular field see the effects in the field more clearly than others, but also tend to over-extend their importance.
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  31. Geologists (and others) should watch Richard Alley’s 2009 American Geophysical Union (AGU) lecture on CO2 and climate change over geologic time.

    As a student of hard rock geology (BS & MS) in the 70s and early 80s, I learned virtually nothing about paleoclimatology, even as paleoecology was the only part of paleontology that interested me. My relevant climate science education really started a couple of years ago when I intentionally read about how and why CO2 is a greenhouse gas, really basic physical chemistry, I’m embarrassed to admit. I wanted to understand why “some people” were saying “AGW”.

    A significant event in Phanerozoic time that may have caused climate to change as rapidly as it is now changing is when the Siberian traps poured out at the end of the Permian. Try Stephen E. Grasby, et. al.’s hypothesis on Catastrophic dispersion of coal fly ash into oceans during the latest Permian extinction or an article based on it titled Massive volcanic eruptions + coal fires = the Great Dying.
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  32. Be careful about painting all geologists with the same brush. The Canadian Geophysical Union is also convinced by the evidence that humans are causing global warming.

    Then again, I concur with this statement:

    "So climate scepticism seems strongest among geologists closely linked to the mining and fossil fuel industries".

    Think the coal lobby in Australia and the USA, two mention but two examples. Also think ClimateAudit.
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  33. You quote the following...
    "The paleoclimate record shouts out to us that, far from being self-stabilising, the Earth's climate system is an ornery beast which overreacts to even small nudges."
    So I have a question...

    If the climate is not self-stabilising, why did the over-reactions that the paleoclimate record is "shouting to us" about *not* lead to runaway global cooling or warming, such that we are now in either a deep-freeze, or baked-dry situation?

    I don't understand how you can say that the Earth exhibits strong positive feedback (i.e. far from self-stabilising) during climate changes? The fact that we are here at all (and not enjoying a never-ending ice-age, or global meltdown) quite clearly shows that, historically at least, there must be some, as yet unidentified, braking effect (negative feedback) within the system? Otherwise we would already have found ourselves at either extreme I mention above would we not?

    Please explain...
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  34. Steve Brown
    It would be interesting to know if there was a correlation between the age of Geologists and potential denialist traits. If you were at University earlier than 1980, then you are unlikely to have had much exposure to the explosion of knowledge in Earth Sciences from the various ocean and ice-core drilling programs that began in the mid 70’s.

    I would bet that you were right on this Steve, from observation there is certainly correlation on the alarmists side, i.e. the younger an activist is, the more catastrophic the predictions.
    (Note, based on observations only!)
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  35. Alexandre
    In Brazil the denialist bunker is Geography, which apparently is more of a social science here than elsewhere. They love the conspiracy theory of an imperialist evil USA plotting to control developing countries through emission targets.

    You never know, both ideas are not incompatible. The USA in an imperialist way could be using the problems of climate change to conveniently prop up it’s own economy. By the way, if Geography is seen as a Social Science, by what route do they get to commenting on the validity of Climate change Science ?
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  36. MajorKoko, you might want to read all three levels this article and post any responses/questions there.
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  37. Garethman, I have to take exception at your use of "alarmist." You imply that "alarmist" and "denialist" are binary opposites. That's clearly not true. You also fail to define "alarmist." Can you point out any poster on this site who you would consider to be an "alarmist"? And could you point out any climate scientist who you consider to be an "alarmist"? You might want to reply an a more appropriate thread.
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  38. MajorKoko@33,

    In addition to the link DSL has provided here is a quick summary of terms:

    positive feedback - Climate responds to increase the magnitude of the original forcing. Does not mean that the warming/cooling continues without limit. Example: 1 degree of original forcing results in 3 degrees of net change after feedbacks.

    negative feedback - Climate responds to decrease the magnitude of the original forcing. Example: 1 degree of original forcing results in .5 degrees of net change after feedbacks.

    The Broecker quote uses "self-stabilizing" as a synonym for negative feedback. The climate will still stabilize in the sense that feedbacks will be finite, even though they are positive.

    The geological record serves as evidence for a positive feedback because the magnitude of temperature swings seen is too great to be explained without taking positive feedbacks into account.
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  39. garethman at 02:56 AM on 10 June, 2011

    by what route do they get to commenting on the validity of Climate change Science ?

    They don't. I've engaged in some unfruitful debates with geographers here, and the basic pattern is what you see with denialists elsewhere: copy/pasting arguments they don't really understand, and if you respond to them, they just move on to some other denialist meme.

    The USA in an imperialist way could be using the problems of climate change to conveniently prop up it’s own economy.

    Geopolitics is a complicated game, and a major player like the US can play rough. The problem, of course, is when people get lost in these yummy conspiracy plots and forget to look at the evidence. The US could be the worse nasty exploiter of the world, but IR would still be obstructed by CO2.
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  40. Without going deep into sociological interpretation, scientist most sensible to climate change are those: used to playing with model or seeing the impact of climate change first hand. The first criterion affects older and lab rats scientist. The second criterion impacts those working on very long and very short time scale (Geologist and meteorologist).

    This match my own observations.

    Off course, political orientation play also.
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  41. Would be interesting to see the percentage of geologists who haven't worked in the fossil fuel industry who are contrarian vs those who have.

    Interestingly, Richard Alley has many years of experience in the oil industry, but is very knowledgeable on climate science, but he's also spent many years studying climate science.
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  42. MajorKoko @ 02:44 AM on 10 June, 2011

    Walker and Hays (1981) describe A Negative Feedback Mechanism for the Long-term Stabilization of Earth’s Surface Temperature. Richard Alley describes this million year (+) weathering of silicates (rocks) process in his 2009 AGU lecture very nicely.

    My favorite book as a teen was Earth Abides. I’d like our descendants to abide with it (the Earth), and we humans don’t have a million years to get CO2 back down naturally in order for us to live in the pleasant Eden we've had these past ten thousand (or 2 million) years. We really need to 1) prevent greenhouse gas concentrations from skyrocketing they way they have been for 75 years and 2) figure out how to sequester CO2 in order to get us back to the proverbial 350. If we don't act individually, collectively, and soon, I fear Arctic region positive feedbacks (including methane release) will only exacerbate the weather extremes that seem to be on the increase and which modeling predicts will increase.
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  43. "I don't think it is a coincidence that if you want a profitable career in science a teenager would look at where the jobs are and notice that many geologists work in the fossil fuel industry."

    Now that is slander. I dont think I have ever met a single colleague who went into geology for the money. If you want to work in the field however, you have to take the jobs that are going.
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  44. SteveBrown @ 19 says,
    "It may just be the same old duffers that still can't accept plate tectonics!".

    Like say, Charles Lyell?
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  45. I've often wondered about this question. Aside from the economic angle which is pretty obvious, I think there is a component related to the "type" of science we find in geology. As a field geologist working for the USGS in the early 80s I was witness to a time when all the old paradigms were (rightfully) under assault. It was a wide open world for geologic interpretation out in the mountains of Alaska.

    You could have 4 different geologists look at the same critical and interesting rock outcrop and get four different views of what the rock meant in terms of the bigger picture. Often those different views depended on what big picture model each individual geologist was carrying around in their head.

    That kind of environment tended to be kindest (professionally)to the geologist who was the most colorful and the best arm waver. Short term, big egos with compelling stories that they would defend to the death tended to dominate. Over the following decades, the day to day work of science would sort out who was right and who was wrong, but short term that didn't much mater because the relevant data was so slow to accumulate.

    What I bring away from that experience is that field geology went through a period where big egos that were skilled at defending their positions at all costs came to the fore. Being a contrarian also didn't hurt at all because you were in a field where the whole model that had existed 20 years before was going out the window. I personally witnessed very good and careful scientists who had grown up with the old model, being blown away by a very poor scientist for whom I had very little professional respect. He had basically jumped on the bandwagon and was riding it full speed wherever it would take him. Turns out it was the right bandwagon though.

    Bottom line - a lot of geologists grew up professionally in an era where big egos, contrary opinions and vigorous defense of positions untethered by hard evidence were not "punished" so to speak. It therefore doesn't surprise me that a lot of the "big name" deniers are geologists. They are kind of taking a skill set that worked in the context of the geology plate tectonics revolution and applying it to a topic and a field where it doesn't work at all. I don't think, however, that they are necessarily representative of geologists on the whole.
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  46. Geo77
    thanks for sharing your experience. I'd like to add, as a physicist, that similar problems are common to many, if not all, fields of science at times of more or less big paradigm shifts.
    And there's one more point. We all grow up in our field of science with very specific views and tend to approach interdisciplinary problems from our angle. It's a good thing if we put our (scientific) ego aside, a disaster otherwise.
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  47. Welcome back! (to myself!!) (I haven't posted anything here in a long time.)

    Basically, John Cook's observations are correct. I see five fundamental underlying causes for the high proportion of skeptics and AGW Denialists among my fellow geologists:

    1) scientific skepticism. This springs from a recognition among geologists that earth processes are extremely complex, and our understanding of them is subject to various interpretation. Many geologists have been trained rigorously to consider multiple working hypotheses to avoid the pitfall of subscribing unquestioningly to any single interpretation. This leads to a healthy skepticism regarding the validity and accuracy of the prevailing view.

    2) Awareness of past climate change. To a much greater extent than most groups, geologists are keenly aware that Earth's climate has changed substantially, repeatedly, and naturally in the geologic past. For this reason, geologists tend to see recent climate change in this context, and want to know what's so unique about contemporary climate change that makes it different from past, natural events. This is, of course, a question that climate science is well prepared to address.
    (By the way… This is the end of the justifiable reasons for skepticism among geologists. And frankly, in my opinion, these two are less important than factors #3, #4, and #5, which follow)

    3) Fundamental ignorance of climate science, coupled with an insidious inability to recognize the degree to which this ignorance impedes valid understanding of contemporary climate change

    4) parochial bias, especially among those of us working in the fossil energy industry. There tends to be a “circle the wagons” response that kicks in when we feel "under attack", especially on issues relating to the environment. Included under this heading would be a sense of “[self-] righteous indignation” that the contributions the fossil energy industry has made to quality and longevity of life worldwide is largely unrecognized and unappreciated.

    5) Political and social ideology Unfortunately, I've seen many of my colleagues gravitate toward the insidious influences of the right wing media, which tends to portray AGW as some sort of international left-wing conspiracy. (Don’t ask me to explain further, as the entire notion is so fantastically absurd.) Nevertheless, it's had a huge impact on what geologists believe, especially considering the influence of the first four items listed.

    I have personally taken an active role in trying to promote a better understanding of climate science among my colleagues. An essential element of this is the ability to recognize the difference between valid skepticism and "Denialism". As a participant in an online discussion group on climate change which has many petroleum geologists as members, it's my impression that AGW Denialism is “running out of gas”, (to use a petroleum-related metaphor!) Skepticism will always play an essential role in the scientific method, but Denialist arguments are becoming hackneyed and tedious.

    Geologists have an important role to play, both in improving our understanding of climate change (both past and present), and effecting attainable remedies.
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  48. Welcome back CG. Nice to see you again.

    I think you're dead on target with #5 especially. I find it really sad that this issue has become such a political fight. It's so wrong and utterly pointless. It does nothing except prolong and exacerbate what is likely to turn into a major problem for coming generations.

    There was a great article on CP today about solar energy becoming cheaper than other sources of energy. My most sincere hope is that this transition to new and cheaper forms of energy happens quickly.
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  49. @thingadonta, #6

    Sorry, but you are just not making sense. You are talking about minerals in general, the article was talking SPECIFICALLY about minerals used as FUEL. Sure, Australia has more Al reserves than anyone knows what to do with, but the same is conspicuously NOT the case for coal and oil.

    So your post is completely ruined by this fallacy of treating all mineral extraction cases as the same, when your interlocutor clearly had in mind the special case of mineral extraction for FUEL.
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  50. @LazyTeenager at 22:12 PM on 9 June, 2011

    >A point that is often overlooked by the deep time climate skeptic >geologists is that there was life back then but not human life. And >there was of course no human civilization and in particular no USA >as it looks at the moment.

    True, but the primitive life then present does remind us of denialists in certain political parties in the US;)
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