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Wally Broeker: Father of “Global Warming”, in a Warning to his Granddaughter

Posted on 19 June 2018 by greenman3610

This is a re-post from the Columbia University Earth Institute

Wallace Broecker from Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is one of the world’s greatest living geoscientists. He discovered the “global conveyor belt” that connects the world’s oceans and can cause to abrupt climate change. His pioneering work on the carbon cycle and melting polar ice made him the “grandfather of climate science.” But to Anna Keyes, he’s just “Grampy.”

anna keyes

Filmmaker Anna Keyes, granddaughter of Wallace Broecker, interviewed him about climate change and climate skepticism.

Growing up, Keyes didn’t realize that her grandfather was something of a science celebrity. “When you’re a kid, you think everything in your life is the way it is for everyone,” she says. “I was like ‘I have a scientist grandfather, no big deal.’” She’d seen photos of Broecker with Bill Clinton, and with the Pope, but the reality of her grandfather’s importance didn’t hit home until middle school, when she and her mother were flown to Rome to see him accept an award from the Italian president.

“I’ve come to understand him differently over time,” Keyes explains. “The older I get, the more I appreciate being his grandchild.”

So, when she was in college and there was a contest about sustainability and combating climate change, she decided to interview her grandfather. The resulting video is posted on Keyes’ Vimeo page, and you can listen to the audio right here:

“Not only was this a conversation, but it was a collaboration,” says Keyes. “Science can be very academic or in a bubble, and there needs to be people to communicate science to an everyday person. It felt special to me to be able to bring my skill set to spread the word about his work.”

Keyes graduated college last year, and now works at the New York Transgender Advocacy Group and as a freelance filmmaker.

Although her work doesn’t usually focus on climate change, she hopes the video will open a few minds to the very real threat of climate change. She also hopes it will inspire others to use their skills in media and outreach to think about showing science through a new lens.

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Comments 1 to 20:

  1. Excellent video that simplifies the issues down to the essentials and very heartfelt.

    Most climate scientists make a huge effort when speaking in public, but they are not trained in public speaking and rhetorical debate, and in my experience they sometimes lack clarity and confidence. Science is often presented as a series of arguments with the conclusion at the end. I have heard one scientist run out of interview time before he even get to the important points.

    But many perfectly good books have already been written on the climate issue and there are many good structured video presentations. It's not as if theres a magical way of packaging the message that "CO2 is causing global warming" that will suddenly change the denialists minds.

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  2. Wallace Broecker is a hero and when scientists and others like him begin to get the recognition they derserve then perhaps we will be beginning to take global warming seriously.

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  3. "perhaps we will be beginning to take global warming seriously"

    Every science body on the planet and the research from the petroleum extraction companies all take AGW seriously. 

    Perhaps you refer to the jaded and wrong public opinion developed due to years of paid lobbying on behalf of fossil fuel interests and wholly-owned politicians voting against the welfare of their constituents...

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  4. A somewhat biased set of statements based on recent (say, last 200 ytears or so) data and knowledge, and ignoring the aparent fact that there aere just too many unknowns on the subject.

    It is also disconcerting, to me, that too many opinions are stated as facts.

    The statement "people don't have to believe...." implies to me that it is necessary to believe in such theories, even if not fully understood: this to me is tantamount to brain washing or indoctrination, since, to me, believing does not explain a thing in science.

    It is implied that all crude oil is burnt, when in fact only about 70 % is burnt.

    Towards the end, something is stated about "removing all of the CO2 from the atmosphere": this could for sure result in the mass extinction of most vegetation and of most living beings on the continents and islands....

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  5. Thanks for sharing this with us.  Your grandfather is a personal hero of mine and I am proud that Chicago can call him our own.  Best wishes to both of you.

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  6. The point Wallace Broecker makes about the companies and investors who own the buried fossil fuel resources being very determined to profit from those resources being burned is not limited to companies and investors.

    The promotion and defense of exploiting the Oil Sands of Alberta are the result of lots of Deliberate Bad Thinking by more than the corporate executives and investors. The current Federal Leaders and many of the Provincial Leaders defend/promote the undeniably unacceptable desire. In March of 2017, PM Trudeau stated “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil and just leave it in the ground. The resource will be developed. Our job is to ensure this is done responsibly, safely and sustainably.” That is populist misleading claim-making, done for very Bad Reasons. And in spite of being undeniably Bad, it is liked by a significant portion of the Canadian population.

    I have provided more information related to this "Bad Thinking" in a comment on the OP "The legal fight to leave the dirtiest fossil fuels in the ground" Posted on 14 June 2018 by John Abraham.

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  7. dudo39,

    You can become more aware of all of the observations and evaluations and understanding that have been expanding and constantly improving since Arrhenius (and before Arhenius in the 1800's), fairly accurately estabished the fundamentals of what the excess CO2 from burning fossil fuels would do (review the SkS History of Climate Science here - or go to the Resource tab at the top of the page and choose Climate History). 'Belief' is not required when awareness and understanding are possible, which are possible regarding the unacceptabable impacts of the ultimately dead-end pursuit of benefit from the burning of fossil fuels.

    As for removal of all the CO2, that can easily be understood to be the removal of all the excess CO2 that has been created by the burning of fossil fuels, returning CO2 levels to 280 ppm (currently over 400 ppm and rising - see the NOAA history of CO2 levels here). However, removing the excess atmospheric CO2 will not reverse all of the damage done. A lot of the CO2 is absorbed in the ocean where it reacts to change the acidity of the oceans, which will not be reversed by removing the human increase of the CO2 from the atmosphere.

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  8. @dudo39

    The podcast does not imply you have to "believe".

    It does not imply all the crude oil is burnt.

    It does not say anything about removing "all" the CO2. 

    Are you sure you are not letting your preconceived and confirmatory biases affect your listening skills? Perhaps you should listen a little harder and with a more receptive open mind to what others are saying, even if you do not agree with them. 

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  9. OPOF:

    If humans reduced the CO2 in the atmosphere the excess CO2 in the oceans would outgas and the oceans would return to normal pH.  That means that to reduce atmospheric CO2 we have to remove essentially all of the CO2 we have emitted, rather than just the amount remaining in the atmposphere.  A big job.

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  10. michael sweet,

    I am aware of that eventual correction. But that is a much long time being corrected, a massive length of time compared to a typical human lifetime, unlike the rate of temperature and climate correction that will occur with a rapid correction of atmospheric CO2 levels. And the damage to shellfish and coral will take even longer to correct.

    I could have added that understanding, but where do you stop, because the details and amount of ocean damage and the duration of correction then needs to be added, and then more about all related impacts due to the ocean damage ....

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  11. why am I a denier if in 1100 ad, Eric the red discovered Greenland and it was green ?   the earth was 3-5 degrees f warmer than today and co2 was ten to 12 times higher also according to ice core data,,,,obviously it was not from mankind as fossil fuel burning did not occur until industrial revolution around 1700 ad,,,,,,,I suggest solar activity is the driver ,,,we just came out of a mini ice age and thats why it seemed like the  north pole was melting away ,,,but lets be serious and not succumb to fear pandering by psuedo scientists,,,,it goes very deep ,but I will refrain from the politics starting with the 1967 iron mtn report

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  12. Phil @ 11 ,

    your mention of the Iron Mountain Report is quite refreshing!   What a delightful spoof  --  a piece of exceedingly droll satire.   Though on the whole, it builds on the original ideas of Orwell's "1984" which were really more masterfully created by Orwell himself.

    But I have wandered off-topic from climate science.

    To return : Phil, it is time you made the effort to "be serious".   Please learn some science, and you will cease with the Flat Earth views you have expressed.

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  13. Phil, we call you deniers because you get so many things wrong, and remember all this nonsense you write is easily googled and checked, and so why wouldn't we lose patience with you?

    One example "the earth was 3-5 degrees f warmer than today and co2 was ten to 12 times higher also according to ice core data,,,"

    I have no idea where you get that from. Ice core data only goes back a million years and C02 concentrations were about 300ppm compared to about 400 ppm currently.

    Go back further and using other evidence and the PETM ( paleo eocence thermal maximum) 65 million years ago was 14 degrees celsius warmer than currently and had CO2 concentrations of around 1000 ppm, so less than 3 times more than today. This shows you just how much trouble we are getting into.

    Your claims about the sun are merely suggestions, so without much merit and have been refuted with hard data if you look at the "climate myths" list on this website, and falsely calling qualified people pseudo scientists is particularly ironic given your own rhetoric, but I doubt you would grasp this.

    I have no idea what the mountain report is about, but if Eclectic says its interesting I better have a look!

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  14. Nigelj @ 13 ,

    Harrumph . . . my apologies for my poor communication, if it gave you the impression that the Iron Mountain Report qualifies as "interesting".

    The Report can certainly be described as droll satire . . . but (as the old saying goes) --> Brevity is the soul of wit.   And the Report's wit is far from briefly executed: it counts as exceedingly droll, for it is exceedingly long for its purpose.   In comparison: Mr Blair's masterpiece "1984" is not a particularly short novel, but it contains several themes, all masterfully executed and disturbingly relevant to our times.   Very little drollness to be found, apart from the irony (in today's health views) of ordinary Party members using saccharin while their bosses use sugar.  (It brings to mind that recent wonderful comment by a refugee/migrant hoping to go to live in the USA because "I want to live in a country where poor people are fat.")

    And my apologies for digressing.

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  15. michael sweet,

    I am trying to develop a better understanding as a basis to present a brief statement about the negative impacts of increased CO2 that potentially will not be corrected/reversed by a future reduction of the already created impacts, and the impacts that would take a very long time to correct/reverse.

    I may have been incorrect in believing that the negative impacts on shellfish and corals will eventually be reversed. The increase of CO2 could lead to extinctions of many of these organisms, and extinction is not reversible.

    Instead of my comment@7 stating: "However, removing the excess atmospheric CO2 will not reverse all of the damage done. A lot of the CO2 is absorbed in the ocean where it reacts to change the acidity of the oceans, which will not be reversed by removing the human increase of the CO2 from the atmosphere."

    I would now say something like: "However, removing the excess atmospheric CO2 will not reverse all of the damage done. A large percentage of the excess CO2 created by burning fossil fuels is absorbed in the ocean where most of it chemically reacts resulting in a change of the acidity of the oceans (and that CO2 will start coming back into the atmosphere as the atmospheric CO2 levels are reduced). Many of the impacts of the increased CO2 changes to ocean chemistry - such as extinctions of coral, shellfish and other carbonate life forms - will not be reversed by removing the human increase of the CO2 from the atmosphere. Many other impacts will be very slow to be corrected by removal of the excess CO2. Even a rapid reduction of CO2 back down to 280ppm (or at least down to 350 ppm) would need a continued CO2 removal as the ocean slowly 'gives back' CO2 that had been rapidly absorbed."

    And even that statement does not briefly address everything that is related to this incredibly harmful global geoengineering 'experiment' that 'future generations have to try to live with or correct' that is created by current and prior generations not caring to responsibly limit their ability to enjoy 'their lives', choosing to create problems that caring responsible current day and future humans have to try to correct (rather than correcting their understandably unsustainable and damaging 'Pursuits of Happiness', and fighting against any effort to 'limit/correct their behaviour' as an unfair limit of their freedom to believe what they want to excuse doing what they want to do).

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  16. OPOF,

    There is currently no technology for removing CO2 from the atmosphere in bulk.  If technology existed the job is far beyond immense.  It is not clear where the CO2 could be stored.  How could you pay the cost?

    Until I see answers to these questions I see no reason to discuss the effects of removing CO2 from the atmposphere.  The projected cost is so high that I see no reason to think any significant amount will be sequestered. 

    It is worth doing research to see if a technology for CO2 removal can be found.

    Since the ocean is not saturated with CO2, if emissions were to cease the ocean would absorb a lot of CO2 and atmospheric levels would decrease.  That would be bad for the ocean but temperatures would be less of a problem.

    I agree that the future should not be saddled with this problem.  The sooner action is taken the smaller the problem will be.  Installing renewable energy ASAP will lower CO2 emissions.

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  17. M Sweet, there actually is technology to suck CO2 out of the air, and costs are cheaper than were thought, according to an article in Nature Journal.  This is a very recent article you might not have come across. I have also seen studies showing there are enough porous rock formations and old oil wells for a huge volume of CO2 storage.

    Having said that, I'm distinctly 'sceptical' and I include it just for information, and in my view it is last resort material. It also seems like it would have enormous political difficulties, because it would require considerable subsidies. We all know what the correct solutions are.

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  18. nigelj and michael sweet,

    I agree that rapidly reducing the burning of fossil fuels is the required action.

    And the consequences of that activity that are not reversible make it clear that what has already been done is unacceptable. A target limit like 1.5 C impact is understandably still going to produce unacceptable consequences. Actions to further correct the harm that has been done to the future generations should be understood to be required.

    Some examples of other consequences that are not reversible are:

    • collapsed structures of over-drawn aquifers. Some aquifer have been drawn down so much that the geological structures they occupied have collapsed, meaning they can not be recharged to their previous capacities.
    • Contamination of ground water/aquifers by leaked liquid fossil fuels. This can be very difficult to 'completely clean up'.

    And CO2 removal can be understood to be required because even 1.5 C impact will result in understandably harmful consequences that the future generations of humanity will have to try to correct or live with.

    And the required actions, including the removal of CO2, undeniably require the richest, most powerful and most fortunate to 'behave the best - be real leaders of development in the required direction', behave better than anyone less successful than they are. The required corrective actions can clearly be understood to be 'at the expense of their potential opportunity for more personal benefit', and they have to be required to 'like that'.

    Getting away with behaving less ethically undeniably results in a competitive advantage. The temptation to win that way will always exist. Effective means to correct people tempted to behave that way is clearly required, the sooner the better.

    And that correction of attitudes will undeniably be required to achieve the required corrections of what has developed and sustainable future development. That correction will require the biggest winners be the most ethical and most helpful. There needs to be effective limits on their ability to abuse excuses like 'what they did cannot be proven to be illegal' (particularly because their winning can lead to bad laws being written and bad law enforcement occurring in their favour)

    Anyone not wanting to lead the pursuit of sustainable development for the future of humanity is welcome to step down from any unjustified higher position in society they may have mistakenly achieved, the sooner the better, until they learn the importance of being better.

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  19. OPOF and Nigelj,

    I think that we basically agree.  I prefer not to post more on this topic.

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  20. Michael,

    There is well proven technology to remove large enough quantities of bulk CO2 to be significant. It is organic agricultural technology and there are many multiple examples depending on which crop we are discussing. Not only is this technology cheap enough to afford at scale, it actually would yield a net profit over conventional agriculture.

    I discuss it in detail here:

    Can we reverse global warming?

    You are not clear where the carbon would be stored? Lets be clear. There is more carbon missing from our agricultural soils worldwide than extra in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial error. We have more than enough room to store this carbon in the soil.

    As for costs? Higher SOC leads to higher yields and profitability for farmers. There is no cost to pay, only increased net profits to receive.

    So it is clearly big enough. But is it fast enough? Just because the soil sink is by far large enough and couldn't possibly ever get saturated worldwide before running out of CO2 excess, that doesn't mean it would necessarily sequester the carbon at a fast enough rate.

    Back of the envelope calculations for the rate at which we reach "break even" vs current emissions rates gives us 8 tonnes CO2e/ha/yr as the break even average if these new carbon farming methods were applied to all arable land worldwide. Real world at scale measured 10 yr case studies of working farms measured 5-20 tonnes CO2e/ha/yr increases in SOC. 8 tonnes CO2e/ha/yr is squarely in the range of 5-20 tonnes CO2e/ha/yr. So it is possible.

    This means we have a working model that can ideed fix this problem. Now as far as your exhortation to immediately install renewable energy systems. I actually agree with that 100%.

    Just because the soil sink is large enough and the rate of sequestration fast enough, doesn't mean it won't be a logistical nightmare accomplishing the training and monitoring required to 100% convert agriculture worldwide to these new more modern production systems. And that's even with an eager and motivated farming community. But add the factor that many farmers are resistant to is almost certain there will be holdouts to antiquated "green revolution" industrialized systems.

    So the real solution won't be keeping emissions the same and sequestering CO2, but rather in reducing emissions a % and improving agriculture a complementary %. Reduce emissions 50% then sequester more carbon 50%. Reduce emissions 80%, then increase sequestration 20%.  Whatever can be done right now as long as both combined = >100%. Then we would be in drawdown. And instead of a negative side effects drawdown into the ocean, we have a beneficial drawdown into our soils. We have working solar, wind, and hydro systems to reduce emissions while still providing the energy we need and we have working agricultural systems to increase sequestration while still providing all the food we need.

    Lets not get all wrapped up in trying to do this all one certain way or all another way. Combined it becomes relatively easy.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] That is off-topic here.  Any wishing to respond may do so, at the link given.

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