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Skeptical Science New Research for Week #32, 2019

Posted on 13 August 2019 by Doug Bostrom

Clinical speech

From Barber and Burgiess' Scarcity and Safe Operating Spaces: The Example of Natural Forests

Scientists suggest placing planetary boundaries on human-induced threats to key Earth system sinks and resources. Such boundaries define a “safe operating space” on depletion and pollution. Treating any remaining “space” as a depletable economic asset allows derivation of optimal and actual rules for depletion. We apply this analysis to natural forests, and find that the critical asset is tropical forests. The size of the safe operating space and assumptions about the annual rate of tropical deforestation matter significantly. In the most critical scenario, actual depletion could occur in 11–21 years, whereas optimal depletion is 65 years. The optimal unit rental tax equates the actual price with the optimal price path. The tax rate and its amount vary with the depletion scenario and increases over time. However, if the environmental benefits of tropical forests are sufficiently large, the remaining safe operating space should be preserved indefinitely.

Hence we learn that "optimal depletion" of natural forests is best scheduled over 65 years. The specification of "optimal" in this case teeters on the summit of a mountain rooted in an orogeny of possibly adequate inference and deduction incorporating necessarily highly simplified models of human behavior and real world features. Errors in this vertiginous mental model are potentially quite costly. 

Outside of formal economic concepts our notions of "optimal" continued existence vary by local culture and local exigencies.  Discontinuities of cultural identity and immediate physical resource requirements, expectations and priorities are often found at international borders.

Meanwhile the term "planetary boundary" is not primarily about lines on a map circumscribing political units but refers to necessary limits on human behavior in order for Earth to continue functioning well enough for us not to experience a notably sub-optimal future. Thinking of Earth as a life support system (which it of course is), it's not really controversial to suggest that as a piece of machinery it has limited capacity, with various subsystems residing within brackets of maximum sustained performance. These are not radical concepts, not to we humans who are after all skilled builders and operators of machinery. Planetary boundaries are simply logical extension and application of what we already know about the successful maintenance of important equipment. Machinery has limits and needs to be attended.

Mutual agreement and acceptance of what are obviously mandatory planetary boundaries will succeed to the extent that international boundaries are softened and adapted for the specific purpose of mutually assured non-destruction. Operation of Earth within planetary boundaries will require some degree of relaxation and subordination of sovereign autonomy for every country on the planet; effective maintenance of the planet as an optimal living space will require building a planetary regulatory system, one resembling a conventional governmental system in some features as a matter of practical necessity. The need for operational technical systems governance of the planet's life support mechanisms is an inevitable conclusion arising from recognition of planetary boundaries, and such governance is implausible as a spontaneous emerged feature of a disorganized rabble of fully autonomous nation states.

We may either pull together a little more and have an easier future or we instead may choose the hard way. 


42 titles, 11 open access.

Physical science

Midlatitudes unaffected by sea ice loss

Minimal influence of reduced Arctic sea ice on coincident cold winters in mid-latitudes

Persistent acceleration in global sea-level rise since the 1960s

Decadal global temperature variability increases strongly with climate sensitivity

Contrasting ice algae and snow?dependent irradiance relationships between landfast first?year and multi?year sea ice

Relationships between tropical ascent and high cloud fraction changes with warming revealed by perturbation physics experiments in CESM

The Relationship between United States East Coast Sea Level and the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation: a Review

Brief communication: On calculating the sea-level contribution inmarine ice-sheet models (open access)

Projected Changes in Interannual Variability of Peak Snowpack Amount and Timing in the Western United States

Recent contributions of theory to our understanding of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation

No proportional increase of terrestrial gross carbon sequestration from the greening Earth

Future hot and dry years worsen Nile Basin water scarcity despite projected precipitation increases (open access)

Climate Response to Pulse Versus Sustained Stratospheric Aerosol Forcing

Pliocene warmth consistent with greenhouse gas forcing

An improved estimate of the coupled Arctic energy budget

Weakened impact of the developing El Niño on tropical Indian Ocean climate variability under global warming

Why Does Global Warming Weaken the Gulf Stream but Intensify the Kuroshio?

Ecological water stress under projected climate change across hydroclimate gradients in the north central United States

Evaluating model outputs using integrated global speleothem records of climate change since the last glacial (open access)

Design and evaluation of CO2 observation network to optimize surface CO2 fluxes in Asia using observation system simulation experiments (open access)

A new approach for assessing climate change impacts in ecotron experiments (open access)

Deep soil inventories reveal that impacts of cover crops and compost on soil carbon sequestration differ in surface and subsurface soils

Drivers and modelling of blue carbon stock variability (open access)

Role of climate model dynamics in estimated climate responses to anthropogenic aerosols (open access)

Quantifying the contribution of anthropogenic influence to the East Asian winter monsoon in 1960–2012 (open access)

Projections of climate changes over mid-high latitudes of Eurasia during boreal spring: uncertainty due to internal variability

Extreme Precipitation Events under Climate Change in the Iberian Peninsula

118?year climate and extreme weather events of Metropolitan Manila in the Philippines


Ocean acidification and high irradiance stimulate the photo-physiological fitness, growth and carbon production of the Antarctic cryptophyte Geminigera cryophila (open access)

Global warming promotes biological invasion of a honey bee pest

Flexibility in a changing arctic food web: can rough?legged buzzards cope with changing small rodent communities?

Back home? Uncertainties for returning seized animals to the source?areas under climate change

Human affairs:

Climate and society in long?term perspective: Opportunities and pitfalls in the use of historical datasets

Linking residential saltwater intrusion risk perceptions to physical exposure of climate change impacts in rural coastal communities of North Carolina

Is hope good for motivating collective action in the context of climate change? Differentiating hope’s emotion- and problem-focused coping functions

Synergistic and antagonistic effects of land use and non?native species on community responses to climate change

Evidence-informed climate policy: mobilising strategic research and pooling expertise for rapid evidence generation

The climate mitigation opportunity behind global power transmission and distribution

California climate adaptation trust fund: exploring the leveraging of cap-and-trade proceeds

Impacts of climate change on tomato, a notorious pest and its natural enemy: small scale agriculture at higher risk (open access)

Climate-driven changes in CO 2 emissions associated with residential heating and cooling demand by end-century in China (open access)

Scarcity and Safe Operating Spaces: The Example of Natural Forests


Please let us know if you're aware of an article you think may be of interest for Skeptical Science research news, or if we've missed something that may be important. Send your input to Skeptical Science via our contact form.

The previous edition of Skeptical Science new research may be found here. 


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Comments 1 to 4:

  1. Unfortunately in the New Research for Week #32, 2019 all the articles in Nature Climate Change are erroneously not open access, but behind a paywall.

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  2. Thanks for the heads-up eschwarzbach. For human eye and machinery alike the lack of standard nomenclature or other consistent indicators for open access is a bit of a challenge. We're working on it. 

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  3. Doug, thank you for providing this list and the introductory comments which I both very much appreciate! (Will not repeat this every time, but until now I only uttered general thanks to the team; someone is doing the work though ..).

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  4. Here is something else that goes with the Zang et al (on  carbon sequestration) paper cited above:

    Increased atmospheric vapor pressure deficit reduces global vegetation growth

    The old and tired argument that CO2 is plant food seems not to be borne by evidence.

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