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What does past climate change tell us about global warming?

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate

Greenhouse gasses, principally CO2, have controlled most ancient climate changes. This time around humans are the cause, mainly by our CO2 emissions.

Climate Myth...

Climate's changed before

Climate is always changing. We have had ice ages and warmer periods when alligators were found in Spitzbergen. Ice ages have occurred in a hundred thousand year cycle for the last 700 thousand years, and there have been previous periods that appear to have been warmer than the present despite CO2 levels being lower than they are now. More recently, we have had the medieval warm period and the little ice age. (Richard Lindzen)

Greenhouse gasses – mainly CO2, but also methane – were involved in most of the climate changes in Earth’s past. When they were reduced, the global climate became colder. When they were increased, the global climate became warmer. When CO2 levels jumped rapidly, the global warming that resulted was highly disruptive and sometimes caused mass extinctions. Humans today are emitting prodigious quantities of CO2, at a rate faster than even the most destructive climate changes in earth's past.

Abrupt vs slow change.

Life flourished in the Eocene, the Cretaceous and other times of high COin the atmosphere because the greenhouse gasses were in balance with the carbon in the oceans and the weathering of rocks. Life, ocean chemistry, and atmospheric gasses had millions of years to adjust to those levels.

Lush Eocene Arctic 50 million years ago

Lush life in the Arctic during the Eocene, 50 million years ago (original art - Stephen C. Quinn, The American Museum of Natural History, N.Y.C)


But there have been several times in Earth’s past when Earth's temperature jumped abruptly, in much the same way as they are doing today. Those times were caused by large and rapid greenhouse gas emissions, just like humans are causing today.

Those abrupt global warming events were almost always highly destructive for life, causing mass extinctions such as at the end of the PermianTriassic, or even mid-Cambrian periods. The symptoms from those events (a big, rapid jump in global temperatures, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification) are all happening today with human-caused climate change.

So yes, the climate has changed before humans, and in most cases scientists know why. In all cases we see the same association between CO2 levels and global temperatures. And past examples of rapid carbon emissions (just like today) were generally highly destructive to life on Earth.

Basic rebuttal written by howardlee


Update July 2015:

Here is a related lecture-video from Denial101x - Making Sense of Climate Science Denial

Last updated on 6 August 2015 by pattimer. View Archives

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Comments 751 to 775 out of 883:

  1. @ 750 MA Rodger

    WOW MA Roger what would I do without your knowledge and brilliance?

    I immensely thank you for your response!

  2. Here we go! My favorite denier is back to attacking me.

    Why don't you tell us about the severe weather up through the 1700s? Oh, that's right, you can't, because nobody recorded it.

    I'm guessing you're totally oblivious to the fact that the Romans grew grapes in Britain and made wine. The Emperor Hadrian was drinking and enjoying that wine.

    I responded with a NOAA link that stated.

    Clues about the past climate are buried in sediments at the bottom of the oceans, locked away in coral reefs, frozen in glaciers and ice caps, and preserved in the rings of trees. Each of these natural recorders provides scientists with information about temperature, precipitation, and more. Many of these have some type of layers, bands, or rings that represent a fixed amount of time, often a year or growing season. The layers vary in thickness, color, chemical composition, and more, which allows scientists to extrapolate information about the climate at the time each layer formed.

     

    Response:

    [PS] Desparation to be retreading that old one. Try here.

  3. What does wine making in England have to do with anything? The Romans brought it to England, so what? They liked it, and it was unknown there until then. The climate made it possible, although never ideal. It was cultivated in England almost without interruption until the tax laws of the 19th century discouraged production, and later WW1 activity demanded the land. It was cultivated throughout the so-called little ice age as well. What does that show? That England's climate was stable for about 2000 years. Big deal, like we didn't know that.

  4. England's climate today is far more conducive to growing grapes for the wine industry than at any point in recorded history.

    I'll post the links tomorrow.

     

    Your denier is clearly desperate and unencumbered by an education in the science in question.

  5. @ [PS] LOL that's a new one on me. I had never heard of it so it must be a desperate attempt by this denier!

    @753 Philippe Chantreau

    I thought the same thing...what the heck does wine making in England have to do with anything. Glad to be able to expose this denier as he's been commanding the stage for quite some time as if he's some sort of expert! *rolled eyes*

    @ 754 Daniel Bailey

    Agree his house of cards has been slowly tumbling down since I arrived to "educate" him.

     

    Thanks everyone I've been learning a lot from you all!

  6. Here's those details and links on vineyards then vs now:

    While England had 42 vineyards at the time of the Domesday Book, as is well known, there are now over 300 commercial English vineyards today. So the climate today in England is much more conducive to wine-making than during the Roman occupation of England.

    http://www.english-wine.com/vineyards.html

    "It is generally agreed that the Romans introduced the vine to Britain. It has also been inferred that the climate in Britain at that time was warmer. At the end of the first century AD, however, the writer Tacitus declared that our climate was “objectionable”, and not at all suitable for growing vines.

    Today, there are vineyards in nearly every county of England and Wales, and there are vines now planted in Scotland. Much of the acreage and vineyards lie in the southern part of England, and more specifically Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. Those few hundred acres first planted has now grown to over 5,000. In the last ten years alone, the acreage planted has more than doubled, and nearly tripled since 2000. Last year, around 1 million vines were planted – the highest planting in a single year, and perhaps a higher volume is set to be planted in 2018. All of this will lead to some substantial increases in production."

    Emphasis and underlining added.

    https://www.winegb.co.uk/visitors/background-info/history-of-the-industry/

    By 1977, there were 124 reasonable-sized vineyards in production – more than at any other time over the previous millennium. The website of the English wine producers suggests that at present extent of vineyards in Britain probably surpasses that of the Medieval Warm Period between circa 900 AD to 1300 AD.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/07/medieval-warmth-and-english-wine/

    New Scientist Link

    Warmer now

    https://www.eh-resources.org/historical-climatology/

    In case anyone was wondering about Vikings and vineyards:

    Let me…assure you that the last wine plants to grow in Greenland were those that grew…60 million years ago.”

    LINK

  7. @ 756 Daniel Bailey

    Thank you!

    Is our current Holoceen cooler than previous interglacial periods...thus there is nothing to worry about? A denialist posted this.

    From my understanding we should be in a cooling era but as we all know we are in a warming era.

  8. Current peak global temperatures have already exceeded those of the Eemian OR the Holocene, looking at the land station data (red):

    Modern warming warmest in 126,000 years

    http://www.columbia.edu/~mhs119/Temperature/T_moreFigs/

  9. Since the peak temperatures of the Holocene 7,000 years ago, global temperatures naturally cooled 0.8 C.

    Over the past 100 years, the warming from human activities has warmed the globe 0.8 C, utterly erasing that natural 7,000-year cooling.

    With plenty more warming to come.

    Last 20,000 years

    Bigger image here.

  10. Thank you so much Daniel Bailey!

    A denier is claming these things:

    The irrefutable scientific evidence is that Earth is always warmer and wetter, never warmer and drier. That will increase the amount of arable land and also increase food production. That's good news for farmers in foreign States, but not good news for American farmers who will have difficulty competing globally.

    The irrefutable scientific evidence also shows that in all 8 recorded Inter-Glacial Periods, the sea levels rose 3 meters to as much as 14 meters, even when CO2 levels were 260 ppm to 280 ppm CO2.

    So, whether CO2 levels are 260 ppm or 400 ppm makes no difference, because the sea levels are going to rise 3 meters to 14 meters no matter what happens.

    Are these claims accurate?

  11. Also is this accurate?

    Antarctica was warmer 1,000 years ago, long before the industrial revolution and before there has been an increase in CO2 attributed to man.

  12. I'll have more to say tomorrow, but as a preliminary answer, you're chasing the dog's tail.  Stop.

    Demand evidence for their claims, including source citations.

    Pretty much every single item you quoted is a baldfaced lie or untruth.

  13. He claims to have irrefutable evidence.

     

    Make him damn well show it.

  14. @ 762; 763 Daniel Bailey 

    Done!

    I look forward to your responses!

    Thank you!

  15. Warmer and wetter is true - CC relation requires it. However, the very broad pattern (with lots of regional exceptions) is that the wet get wetter, dry get dryer. There is no guarantee of more arable land where you want it. Does mean he now accepts global warming? More like "I will believe any nonsense that can justify sitting on our hands". More likely latter and as we said before, you are wasting your time.

    Warmer in Antarctica 1000 years ago? Umm, let's see that evidence.

  16. And for science - eg observations and models, try here. The Palmer drought index looks at both precipation and evaporation.

    However, I doubt your denier will open any evidence that might contradict what they would like to believe. If someone isnt prepared to let data inform their opinion, then it isnt worth arguing.

  17. TVC15 @760/761,

    It is a smorgasbord of denialist assertions you present.

    ☻ The "Antarctic was warmer 1,000 years ago" assertion looks a little difficult to uphold in any way. There are reconstructions from ice core data (for instance Ciais et al (1994) fig 7) which shows Antarctic temperatures over the last 10,000 years waggling about by a maximum of about a degree centigrade. (Note the Ciais et al graphic is sensibly using an 'average-over-the-last-5,000-years' as a datum.) The thermometer record (eg Berkeley Earth) shows recent warming of a similar amount (although there is a lot of variability in the warming depending where you are in Antarctica) so this evidence suggests it was colder in Antarctica 1,000 years ago. The image below is gleened from a posting on the planet Wattsupia and appears to be based on data from Marcott et al (2013). The 1,000 years ago temperature again is shown as being colder.

    Antarctic holocene temperatrure

    ☻ The interglacial sea level has been discussed before, introduced up-thread @715. It was shown that only two of the last 8 interglacials had higher SLR than today, not all eight. The SLR will mainly depend on how much of Greenland & Antarctica melts out, a process that stopped in this present interglacial 8,000 yers ago, and AGW is the process that is doing that melting today.

    ☻ The "Earth is always warmer and wetter, never warmer and drier" assertion isn't correct. The missing word word is 'atmosphere' which will be, as scaddenp @765 points out, wetter under the CC relationship. So if we have more wet in the atmosphere, will that translate firstly into more rain always falling on the earth beneath. Globally apparently not. This NOAA graphic shows global temperature and global rainfall are not well aligned. (The graph is from here and is for precipitation over global land)

    Global Land precipitation anomaly graph

    And secondly, as scaddenp @766 describes, even if rain and temperature were inexorably linked, that warmer atmosphere is demanding to be always wetter than it was when cooler and will thus be sucking more moisture right out of that very same land to re-charge its wetness.

     

  18. Here's a question I've often thought of related to past climate... In periods of a hothouse Earth, like the cretacious, what would the weather have been like? All we ever see are illustrations of dinosaurs in lush tropical landscapes. There would have been a helluva lot more energy in the climate system and so many more extreme weather events.

  19. I'll address a portion of that, now that scaddenp and MA Rodger already weighed in on the rest.

    "The irrefutable scientific evidence also shows that in all 8 recorded Inter-Glacial Periods, the sea levels rose 3 meters to as much as 14 meters, even when CO2 levels were 260 ppm to 280 ppm CO2."

    Again, saying that there is irrefutable evidence pretty much ensures that he's making that claim up.  If he had such "irrefutable scientific evidence", he'd have cited it.

    Part of the fallacy on display here is the presumption that interglacials are interchangeable and equal.  They are not.  They are the confluence of orbital factors and the "memory" of the climate over time (climate memory has been demonstrated to extend some 800,000 years or more, depending upon the metric in question).  A consilience of studies point out that the best analogue for the modern Holocene Interglacial is MIS (Marine Isotope Stage) 19 (per Giaccio et al 2015, Yin and Berger 2015, Vavrus et al 2018, etc).

    Looking at the 5 most recent interglacials, we see that sea levels are not identical (from Grant et al 2014, Figure 2):

    Grant 14, Fig 2

    From Dutton et al 2015, Figure 1, we see that sea levels from previous interglacials are tightly tied to temperatures...and we know from innumerable studies that global temperatures are tightly intercorrelated with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels:

    Dutton 15, Fig 1

     However, emerging evidence (from Grant 2019) for that Mid-Pliocene sea level on the very right-side of Dutton 15, Figure 1 above is that sea levels associated with an atmospheric composition of carbon dioxide like today saw a contribution of about 20 meters just from the Antarctic Ice Sheet by itself.  I believe Rob DeConto is coming out with a similar paper soon on that subject.

    Grant 2019, Fig 6.10

    Figure 6.10 The Whanganui RSL record on the left with the precession-paced MPWP and obliquity-paced late Pliocene sections highlighted with different GIS, AIS and NHIS configurations and SLE illustrated for interglacial and glacial extreme conditions relative to present-day Antarctica (0 m; central figure). The anti-phased 15 m amplitudes of the MPWP are interpreted as 5 m from GIS offset by ~20 m from AIS present day to peak interglacial. Higher amplitudes would then include larger-than-present AIS (nearing LGM; Clarke and Tarasov, 2014). While the late Pliocene amplitudes include increasing NHIS contributions and smaller interglacial configurations.

    To sum for this portion, previous interglacials are as unique as are your fingerprints, but contain similarities constrained by physics, with sea levels of the time correlated with global temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

    At present, the human burning of fossil fuels is driving an atmospheric composition and temperature associated with a time when sea levels were over 20 meters higher than at present, imperiling coastal port cities around the world and threatening areas where over 2 billion people currently live.

  20. Thank you, scaddenp, Daniel Bailey and MA Rodger!

    I'm with scaddeep's statement: "If someone isnt prepared to let data inform their opinion, then it isnt worth arguing".

    I realize how utterly useless my efforts are in trying to help the "deniers" understand the science that supports human caused climate change.

    I have learned so much from you all when I post the denier claims. I thoroughly appreciate the responses as you provide me with insights that I would not have been able to discover myself.

    However I've grown tired of dealing with the deniers. If they can't understand what they are seeing all over the globe right now as I type this there is no amount of science that will open up their minds.

    Here is just another sample of the type of denier minds out there.

    i have looked at a lot of evidence from both sides of the argument, and i dont need someone to tell me what my conclusions should be. and there is PLENTY of geological evidence that this round of warming is nothing more than a natural event, one that had been going on for the last 2 million years, ever since the north and south american continents collided. 100,000 years ago the arctic was ice free. and as has been noted many times by many people in many ways, here are a few truths you need to take into account;


    1: we are out of the last period of glaciation by only 15,000 years roughly
    2: the AGW crowd is complaining about an increase of 1 degree C over 150 years, but there is geological evidence that 15,000 years ago the temperature went up by something more like 10-15 degrees C in TEN years.(i didnt know there are that many SUVs back then, who knew?)
    3: we are still ten degrees COOLER than at this same time during the last intergalciation period, and the one before that, and the one before that for the last 2 million years. and its funny how the AGW crowd FAILS to take into account previous interglaciation periods, and what was NATURAL warming.


    and if you think that i am just being crazy, then why is the IPCC scientists solution always more regulations and more taxes and redistributing the wealth of the developed nations to those nations that are still developing? and why is it that all the so called climate change protocols penalize the developed nations, mostly western europe and the US, and ignore the rest of the world? why is china given a pass, along with india? two of the highest CO2 emitters in the world?


    if the AGW message was more consistent, and required ALL countries to stick to the climate change protocols, then perhaps their message might be more acceptable, and more people might actually listen to them.
    in the end these protocols are nothing more than a way for the UN to control the worlds population, and to work to usher in one world government with the UN running things, and no national sovereignty of any kind.

    now you claim i am a science denier, but that isnt the truth here. i suppose you also consider the science settled, and that is NEVER the case. the science is NEVER settled, except in the case of the closed minded, non scientific lemmings.

    I see no point in spinning my wheels on a mind such this.  

  21. TVC15 @770,
    Well, let that be a lesson for you!!
    Denialism isn't logical. It turns folk into swivel-eyed loons.

    To correct his nonsense-
    ♣ It was 3 million years ago (not 2) that North & South America collided and joined up, a process that did kick off the Arctic glaciation which then resulted in c3 million years of ice ages. And over tha last 1 million years the ice ages were significantly bigger. Presumably the present warming that is bringing this 3-million-year-period to an end can be blamed on the collision of the USSR and the Republic of China with the United States of America, these all constituting significantly large land masses.
    ♣ You probaly could argue the Arctic was ice-free 100,000 years ago but only through the peak of the summer melt season (as in the Arctic Ocean having the levels of summer ice we would declare today to be ice-free).
    ♣ 15,000 years ago we were still coming out of the last ice age. We were out nearer 10,000 years ago (as the graphed ice core data clearly shows).
    Ice Core Temperatures
    ♣ The extreme global temperature changes since the Last Glacial Maximum were nothing like "10-15 degrees C" except at a regional level (ie Greenland). And the period over which these increases occurred (the data graphed shows two large sudden Greenland increases in the last 20,000 years - +12ºC at 14.5kybp  & +9ºC at 11.5kypb - which were not 10-year periods of increase but 200-year periods. I don't think the ice cap volumes exist in the northern hemisphere to achieve a repeat performance today.
    ♣ The relative temperature of different interglacials has been discussed in this thread before and so we know the swivel-eyed loon is having difficulty hearing this particular message. So, yes, we do think he is "just being crazy" and that craziness is why he has such difficulty accepting the science and its implications.
    ♣ With regard to emisions controls, we can, of course, treat all people on Earth equally as the denialist wishes. The science says that anthropogenic CO2 emissions of more than 700Gt(C) will be bad and with 7.7 billion folk living on the planet, that would be an allowance of 91t(C) per head(historical) ('historical' as your allowance-use is handed down from previous generations).
    So let's calculate that allowance using Global Carbon Project figures and present-day population. Note these GCP territorial emission data only go back to 1959. Getting full historical figures would be possible (& correcting for increasing population could be factored in) but the general result will not change. That would mean that China still had an outstanding carbon allowance of 54t(C) per head, India 82t(C)/head while the good old USA has exceded its allowance and so has to pay back 238t(C)/head into the collective kitty. If full historical emissions were included, the US pay-back would be greater still, not qute as great as the UK pay-back if taken to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. (From 1959 the UK pay-back is a trifling 47t(C)/head). Luxembourg from 1959 has a pay-bacl 0f 199t(C)/head but would be the country facing the biggest carbon-emissions pay-back with full historic figures.

    Denial is a sad thing to behold. Denialist folk become happy to dismiss the evidence witout any assessment of what they are ignoring. It is simply done. "The IPCC assessment reports? A complete pack of lies!!"
    More telling is the misuse of the remiaining information that you do accept. As you are ignoring whole swathes of actual data, your sources tend to be limited and adjusting the findings beyond that limited evidence becomes a necessity. So some, no all previous ice ages were warmer, golly, 10 degrees warmer, 20, 100 degrees warmer. We should be grateful we live now and not then!!!!
    And how does the following rate on the scale of untruthfulness given it comes from a real climatologist, abet a retired one. It's from Lindzen's seminar at the UK House of Commons in 2012. (@ 32.20mins in the first videoed part of his talk linked here. (You-tube link here)

    "Does it [20th century temperature increase] matter?"

    "Okay so some points to take away from the global mean temperature anomaly record. Changes are small. They are in the order of several tenths of a degree. Changes are not causal but rather the residue of regional changes. Changes in the order of several tenths of a degree are always present at virtually all time-scales. And obsessing on the details of this record is more akin to a spectator sport or tea-leaf reading than a serious contributor to scientific efforts."

    "Say, at least so far. I mean if some day I shoud see the changes are twenty times what I've seen so far, that would be certainly remarkable but nothing so far looks that way."

    The implication is that we have here a retired climatologist who considers a gobal average temperature increase of less than (0.7 x 20=) 14ºC to be unremarkable. Are we then supposed to take such a retired climatologist as a serious authority on climate?

    What perhaps we cannot judge is how much a denier knows he is misrepresenting the data he presents, that he is effectively lying. I suppose gross exageration can be justified because the denialist message is to them the correct message and, and denialists don't have the resources to counter all the lies that you climate alarmists generate with all your fake IPCC science.

  22. "Thank you, scaddenp, Daniel Bailey and MA Rodger!"

    For my small contributions, you are most welcome.

    "i have looked at a lot of evidence from both sides of the argument"

    If only there were actual sides.  Because that would imply that both "sides" were roughly equal.

    In the discussions around global warming and its anthropogenic causation, there are those who focus on the science using the scientific method and logic, seeking reproducible evidence that best explains what we can empirically measure.  We call them scientists, the real skeptics.

    Then there is everyone in the extremely small but vocal minority, those who ignore the above in favor of slander, innuendo, unsupported assertion and character assassination in favor of promulgating false equivalence to support the ephemeral facade of "debate" and "sides".

    But it is not about the science, the bulk of the science was settled, decades ago. Deniers posing as skeptics set up a charade tableau of false equivalence to poison the well of public acceptance of that science.

    A parsimonious harping at the font of stolen, out-of-context and context-less emails proven not germane to the science is continuing on in the prosecution of the agenda of denial.

    Truth, science and reputable journalism all sacrificed to the unholy alter of false equivalence under the guise of promulgating a fallacious "debate".

    There is no debate. All that remains is the informed and the uninformed.

    Those professing the false equivalence of "both sides" are the journalist in this story.

    Moral, dear readers:  Don't be that journalist. 

    The discussion surrounding the science of climate change and its human-causation are a Möbius strip comprised of 170 years of evidence from hundreds of thousands of scientists from virtually every country on the planet.  Meaning that from an evidence perspective, only one side exists, because only one side uses evidence.

    Even the petroleum extraction companies researched the subject themselves and affirm the unassailable facts, physics and evidence of AGW.

    Per the oil companies, which admitted it in court, under oath:

    "The issue is not over science. All parties agree that fossil fuels have led to global warming and ocean rise and will continue to do so, and that eventually the navigable waters of the United States will intrude upon Oakland and San Francisco. "

    The People of the State of California vs BP PLC et al (page 6, line 6).

  23. About the "2 sides of athe argument" thing: there is really no such thing when considering all the aspects of climate science studied, the weight of the evidence leaves no doubt. I remember a video clip by James Hansen in which he expressed the problem in the simplest possible visualization: imagine a square meter of the Earth, put a little candle on it, close to one watt of output. Seems like a very little thing. Now put one on every square meter of the planet's surface: every square meter of every ocean, every square meter of the Arctic, Antarctic, every square meter of every city, and of every desert, every square meter of the mountains, plains, every single square meter of the surface of our home planet. This is so staggeringly enormous that it defies the imagination. We humans are not well equipped to think about tis kind of thing and prioritize our other silly preoccupations down.

  24. @ 772 Daniel Bailey

    For my small contributions, you are most welcome.

    Daniel, your contributions have been an enormous help to me...nothing small about them! I am grateful to each person here who responds to the things I post as I've learned so much from all of you!

    @ 771 MA Rodgers

    Well, let that be a lesson for you!!
    Denialism isn't logical. It turns folk into swivel-eyed loons.

    I agree! I've come to realize that there is no point in discussing science with people who are anti-science or not literate in science. It's a huge waste of my time! If they are literate in science but want to learn then that's a different scenario and I feel happy helping them understand scientific concepts.

    However when scientifically liberate people make false statements about science such as the climate deniers do I feel it's a duty to a certain point to expose their misinterpretations or myth spreading lies.

    You guys have helped me to better do that!  

    Thank you!

     

  25. Ops I meant when scientifically illiterate people make false staements...

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