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Climate Hustle

An Open Letter to the Future

Posted on 20 March 2012 by climatesight

This is a re-post from Kate's ClimateSight blog

To the citizens of the world in the year 5000:

It’s 2012, and nobody is thinking about you.

These days, Long Term Thinking means planning for 2050, and even that is unusual. Thoughts of Future Generations don’t go beyond grandchildren. If my government knew I was thinking about people three thousand years in the future, they would probably call me a “radical”.

However, three thousand years isn’t such a long time. The ancient Greeks flourished about three thousand years ago now, and we think about them all the time. Not just historians, but people in all walks of life – scientists, policymakers, teachers, and lawyers all acknowledge the contributions of this ancient civilization to today’s culture. Our society is, in many ways, modelled after the Greeks.

I was walking outside today, at the tail end of the warmest winter anyone can remember in central Canada, and thought to myself: What if the ancient Greeks had caused global climate change back in their day? What if they had not only caused it, but understood what was happening, and had actively chosen to ignore it? The effects would still be apparent today. Global temperature might have stabilized, but the biosphere would still be struggling to adapt, and the seas would still be gradually rising. What would we think of the ancient Greeks if they had bestowed this legacy upon us? Would we still look upon their civilization so favourably?

The Golden Rule is usually applied to individuals living in the same time and place, but I think we should extend it across continents and through millennia so it applies to all of human civilization. Before we make a major societal decision, like where to get our energy, we should ask ourselves: If the ancient Greeks had gone down this path, would we care?

The future is a very long time. Thinking about the future is like contemplating the size of the universe: it’s disturbing, and too abstract to fully comprehend. Time and space are analogues in this manner. 2050 is like Mars, and the year 5000 is more like Andromeda.

I can handle Andromeda. And I can handle the concept of 5000 A.D., so I think about it when I’m outside walking. My first thoughts are those of scientific curiosity. Tell me, people in 5000 – how bad did the climate get? What happened to the amphibians and the boreal forest? Did the methane hydrates give way, and if so, at what point? How much did the oceans rise?

Soon scientific curiosity gives way to societal questions. Were we smart enough to leave some coal in the ground, or did we burn it all? Did we open our doors to environmental refugees, or did we shut the borders tight and guard the food supply? How long did it take for Western civilization to collapse? What did you do then? What is life like now?

And then the inevitable guilt sets in, as I imagine what you must think of us, of this horrible thoughtless period of history that I am a part of. But with the guilt comes a desperate plea for you to understand that not everyone ignored the problem. A few of us dedicated our lives to combating denial and apathy, in a sort of Climate Change Resistance. I was one of them; I am one of them. With the guilt comes a burning desire to say that I tried.

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Comments 1 to 42:

  1. I suspect the ancient Greeks didn't put a lot of thought into their descendents 3,000 years into their future (e.g. today).

    However, it must be noted that they and their fellow humans did not possess the means to radically alter the living conditions of their distant successors - whereas we do, and indeed we are doing just that (in addition to radically altering living conditions in our own lifetimes).
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  2. I walk my two dogs everyday in and around my neighborhood.As I walk I tend to look down a lot,and very often I find nails,screws,etc. (hundreds over the years)that can cause a flat tire.I pick them up despite the fact that I have a bad back,and sketchy knees.I do this,because I would want someone to do the same for me.
    I have had flat tires (usually caused by nails and screws) many times in my life,and it is always a pain in the neck.It can also put people in a life threatening situation,for example on a busy highway trying to change a tire,or sudden loss of control resulting in a serious or fatal accident.So with those thoughts in my mind,I cannot pass up those potential hazards.I pick them up.
    You could use a nail left on the road as a metaphor for the carbon footprints that we leave for future travelers on our planet.Let's not leave them something that might be the final nails in their coffins.
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  3. Excellent. It is far too easy for humans to ignore what is real, but far off.

    I know, there are reasons for this. Sometimes it's even adaptive--as when we focus on what we can control, and ignore what we have no influence over. But the current situation demonstrates that this tendency can also be horribly dangerous.
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  4. Nicely written, although a bit beyond the reach of most people's conscience.

    It's nice to see a pro-science blog from the Canadian prairies - an oddball within the heart of Canadian conservatism and anti-science.
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  5. A timely post, which raises our sights above the immediate crisis we are facing.

    When we bury our 'letter to the future' in a time capsule, perhaps we should also include a modern equivalent to the Rosetta Stone, providing keys to translation across as many languages as we can, for there is no guarantee that our generations in 3000 years will have the dubious benefits of our language, or level of education, or analogues to our technologies.

    IMHO, due to the destruction of much of our habitat, there is no guarantee that Homo sapiens sapiens will be recognisable as the dominant species in 3000 years, in spite of Senator Inhofe's assurance that God is in control and everything will work out fine.

    Will anyone be around in 3000 years, to dig up our time capsule? Perhaps we had better make it strong enough to endure burial for a much longer time, or shoot it out beyond Pluto on a NASA mission, ready to be collected like post restante mail addressed to the next hi-tech civilisation that arises. Perhaps our letter should begin "Dear Intelligent Species, ..."
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  6. Very nice sentiment, and actually, is a bit optimistic in thinking that there would be an educated and organized enough human civilization around in the year 5000 to be able to read and understand this electronically posted comment. Even if you printed in out on paper in several of the major languages of today, and hid it away in some vault, it is still a bit of a stretch to imagine that there would be an educated person able to read a language from 3000 years prior. Such an education to read ancient languages would require an advanced civilization, and an advanced civilization requires a fairly stable climate and robust food supply.
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  7. Hey, Kate!!!!

    Very well written! I love this (both the style and the sentiment). Kudos.
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  8. @5&6 - Though this is ostensibly "a letter to the future", it is, of course, first and foremost, a letter to the present, through the rhetorical device of addressing the future.

    @1. The ancient Greeks deforested Greece and caused the local extinction of various megafauna (including the lion). Plato was already musing on the causes and effects of deforestation. Greece has never really recovered ecologically from this, and the soil erosion it suffered as a result has been one of the sources of its subsequent poverty.

    @Kate. Thank you. An excellent and moving letter.
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  9. On a number of occasions I've made the point that humans are able to think back in history to past events, and to care about the morality/ethics of these same events, but that they are completely intellectually/culturally unequipped to project a similar analysis (and caring) into the future. The emerging sea level rise hockey stick thread is one example on Skeptical Science.

    The thing is, most humans seem to be as unable to perceive the significance of having such a concept pointed out, as they are of perceiving the importance of forward thinking in the first place. Is this a genetic or a cultural limitation? I don't know. Perhaps it's both.

    As Westerners we should be ashamed that other, non-technological cultures such as the Native American Nations - who were at the time of the peaks of their nations hunter-gatherer societies - neverthelsss had the sophistication of thought to enshrine ecological sustainability into their decision-making with a dictum to think back over seven generations of their ancestors, and forward to seven generations of their decendants. If a hunter-gatherer society can look forward seven generations, why should a global technological society not look forward to at least the time span of 70 generations, or even of 700? If we are able to (pipe) dream of one day reaching the stars, we should be simultaneously thinking about what we need to consider in order to arrive there...

    On the matter of the duration of a Western society remaining sufficiently intact to read a letter to the future I, along with many others, am as pessimistic as Doug H and R. Gates are above, about the chances... Combining climate change with:

    1) ocean acidification
    2) deforestation and habitat destruction
    3) over-fishing, over-hunting, and general species loss
    4) topsoil depletion
    5) water depletion
    5) pollution
    6) other environmental/ecological destruction

    and there's not a lot of wiggle room left to keep an organised human society going, especially at the global level.

    It's only if a critcial mass of humans can very quickly start caring about what life might be like for their decendants in 3 000 years time, that there might be more than a forlorn hope for the integrity of our societies.
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  10. Kate, Thanks for a thought-provoking article. Unfortunately governments have difficulty thinking beyond the next election.

    GaryB, Regarding your remark about "the Canadian prairies ... the heart of Canadian conservatism and anti-science" - you might want to do a bit of research on Saskatchewan, birthplace of public medical insurance. Alberta it ain't.
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  11. Where did anyone get the idea that there's no thought about thousands of years ahead? It's been a mainline theme in science-fiction for over a century. From the Time Machine to Foundation, connections of the human present to far-future consequences has been fertile ground - for everything, from archaeology missions to find out what happened, all the way to utopian fulfillment.

    So what's the want - an encyclopaedia message sent out (done that); a survival ark of species' DNA (got one)? Deep Thought? It it's time, effort, and money, to gain the gratitude of the future ... it's a non-starter. It's royal emotion and good conscience.

    The Greeks paid no attention to environmental concerns - if they could exploit, they did exploit. So did the Romans. So did everyone throughout history (the noble-savage Indian romance is someone else's storybook).

    The focus on the pollution problem today - affecting up to a century from now - is, and should be, the focus of everyone demanding a response.
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  12. While Kate's concern is understandable, the situation 5000 years from now will be very different to how she pictures it; the earth will be well into the next ice age. Large parts of Canada, northern Europe and Russia will be under metres of ice. Ice core data suggest that ice ages are arid times and climate refugees will be fighting to get closer to the equator and the remaining agricultural land. Global temperatures will be lower but we will have squeezed every drop of warming fossil fuel out of earth. Those who are alive in 5000 years time will look back on our period as the age of profligacy.
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  13. Ron Manley - the long atmospheric lifetime of CO2 means the Earth will probably not experience another 'ice age' for tens of thousands of years. See work by David Archer & Victor Brovkin for instance. 25% of fossil fuel emissions stay around effectively 'forever' on human timescales.
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  14. owl, you said it "science-fiction" - the future is compartmentalized, walled off, too much to deal with, but it comes all the same, and far too quickly.

    It's also uncomfortable, imagining a future world without being in it.

    These thoughts preoccupy me as I seek to achieve some significance and a new mission in my unusual life. It would however be nice to leave the world in a better place than I found it, and be remembered for a positive contribution to it.

    Maintaining a strong education and cultural system is a very high priority as we are not born with knowledge, wisdom and morality.
    Each new generation of humans need constant "programming" to avoid reverting to cave people.

    Electronic storage may be too volatile to survive, though Google and Facebook are doing a good job of archiving humanity and individuals. I hope they store the information in EMP proof shelters in at least 5 locations around the world, in case of nuclear war, or medium asteroid strike.

    Also consider that we are on the cusp of designing our own evolution, and traits - I think that whatever society may be around in 5000 years time will be humanoid hunter-gatherers or immortal silicon/carbon hybrid electronic lifeforms based on novel DNA, or a mixture of both, as the gaps between rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, intelligent and stupid and improved mate selection systems (dating sites) continue to increase.

    As our population multiplies and forms an inverted pyramid increasingly reliant on its support system being ever more efficient with fossil fuels, skills, science, optimized agriculture and transport, when something fails, it will fail catastrophically. Especially more likely if the anti-science backlash continues.

    I don't think the general population has any real idea of how close to the brink we are.

    Yes, it would be good to leave a message saying sorry - carved in stone or titanium, or encoded in our DNA...
    Perhaps the seed bank in Svalbard or in Yucca Mountain may be a good place to start.

    That's enough for now!
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  15. @10 Alces
    Now that Saskatchewan has found oil/oilsands in the north and shale gas in the south, we may have to re-evaluate.
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    Moderator Response: [JH] Please provide source material and explain who "we" are and what is to be re-evaluated.
  16. RonManley, you obviously believe this despite the science saying otherwise. What is the source of such a belief. Though the statement
    "Those who are alive in 5000 years time will look back on our period as the age of profligacy" is undoubtedly true. Hard to imagine any fossil fuel still around so I hope they get fusion sorted by then.
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  17. Thanks for a very thought provoking article.

    It has long been a thought of mine that those living in nations who can be seen to have done least to combat climate change are going to face the wrath of other nations when the public eventually cottens on to just how deep the ungazi is. Recompence will be the minimum demand, I suspect. In particular, I am very glad that as of this moment, none of the funglestrumpet line will be living in or anywhere near the good old U.S. of A. when that time comes.

    Can't see anyone on either side of the great divide who will take the action on climate change so urgenty needed.
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    Moderator Response: [Sph] Political rant in violation of the comments policy snipped.
  18. re 15- here are a couple of links to the Saskatchewan oil sands/Bakken field. The one from the Pembina Institute is the most thorough ( a second one from the Manitoba government outlines the possibilities of Bakken field exploitation in southeastern Saskatchewan (
    The 'we' only refers to those who may have to re-evaluate the hope that the history of the Saskatchewan government as referred to by Alces @ 10 would keep that province from following Alberta's path once economic factors .
    Sorry that my computer skills are not up to providing direct links. Hope these help.
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    [DB] Hot-linked URLs.

  19. jimb 15 and 18: The Bakken and other oil finds will be developed, whether a right or left leaning provincial government is in power. The future of the Saskatchewan oilsands is uncertain because the deposits are so deep and borderline economic to extract. The company most involved in exploration and promotion of the Saskatchewan oilsands is under bankruptcy protection.
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  20. re 15- here are a couple of links to the Saskatchewan oil sands/Bakken field. The one from the Pembina Institute is the most thorough ( a second one from the Manitoba government outlines the possibilities of Bakken field exploitation in southeastern Saskatchewan (
    The 'we' only refers to those who may have to re-evaluate the hope that the history of the Saskatchewan government as referred to by Alces @ 10 would keep that province from following Alberta's path once economic factors .
    Sorry that my computer skills are not up to providing direct links. Hope these help.
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  21. Kate writes …

    “Tell me, people in 5000 – how bad did the climate get? What happened to the amphibians and the boreal forest? Did the methane hydrates give way, and if so, at what point? How much did the oceans rise?”

    Unfortunately, we will not have to wait 5,000 years to get answers to these questions. The answers will be evident to our grandchildren this century and we can already provide good estimates of the state of things to come.

    Slow feedbacks, especially albedo loss, methane emissions and sea level rise, are already having an effect and with global warming will be exacerbated by reduced aerosol emissions and the end of solar quiescence. Warming in temperate regions and the Arctic (so called amplification) is neither unexpected or a sudden event. Both have been made inevitable by emissions arising from burning of fossil fuels - as has the triggering of slow feedbacks over which we have no control.

    The outcome from these events has been outlined by many climate scientists and include:
    • seasonally sea-ice free Arctic within a decade,
    • passing the tipping point heralding collapse of the Greenland/W. Antarctic ice sheets,
    • sea level rise of up to 5 metres by 2100 with most of the rice occurring after 2070,
    • Sudden or chronic emission of Siberian methane producing sudden irreversible climate change before 2100,
    • Reduction of population and at worst extinction of plant and animal species due to infections and loss of habitat,

    We know these are likely outcomes our continued burning fossil fuels. We know that this combustion is not necessary to meet our energy needs, yet we persist in it because vested interests prefer short term profit to avoidance of longer term disaster and because governments, having been repeatedly warned of these outcomes, lack the political will to take action to curb and, as rapidly as possible, eliminate CO2 emissions. We have a choice and so far, the wrong choice has been made.
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  22. Wow.

    I only just looked at this article. Love it Kate.
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  23. ScientificSkeptic I don't think AGW will be the end of us as a species either. However I rather doubt that many people will think that is a good reason not to worry about it. I think it will almost certainly be the end of many human beings, whos life is worth exactly the same as yours or mine. I think it is also likely to cause a lot of hardship and misery in many parts of the world that don't have the resources to adapt to change as easily as we could.

    Most codes of behaviour are quite familiar with the concept of the "golden rule", i.e. treat others as you would wish them to treat you. I very much hope this will still be an important foundation of societies in 3000 years time. If not we will undoubtedly have regressed.
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  24. 25, ScientificSkeptic,

    You have it backwards.

    You are being asked to gamble your comfort and lifestyle in about 20 years, and that of your children and grandchildren and all their descendants, against your "thought" that "the threat from AGW is rather exaggerated" (an opinion not shared by scientists, the people who actually know) and the unfounded fear that taking action is somehow going to "gamble our lifestyles."

    Mitigation now is not nearly that expensive or that bad. The Inhofe's and the Monckton's of the world want you to think so, but taking adequate action now is not going to cause suffering.

    Failing to take action that is required anyway due to increasing energy demands and falling fossil fuel resources, so that the people who hold those resources can make maximal profits before everything comes crashing down, that's the "gamble" of "our lifestyles."

    I suggest you use this site to learn more about the facts of the issue. Stop looking for the Hollywood extremes and pay attention to what the science really says.
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  25. Hi Dikran,

    As you know, AGW is real (not a prediction) and it is happening now (again not a prediction) and it is already having costly impacts (e.g. Coumou and Rahmstorf 2012, Nature), both in terms of lives lost and fiscal losses.

    Yet, despite this overwhelming evidence that a global disaster is in progress, some continue to deny that we have a serious problem on our hands (e.g., the poster at #23 and #25).
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  26. Perhaps it is time we put the record of our times on clay tablets, fired them and concealed them all over the world. Our paper won't survive and likewise our floppies, stiffies, DVD's and flash drives. Perhaps the best thing we could do for these people of the future is to record the greed of our bankers and CEO's and the role vested interests played in our society. Dark ages have happened repeatedly in the past but this time it will involve the whole world. Perhaps we can keep the next organized society that rises from the ashes from making the same mistakes. We aren't having much success with this one.
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  27. SciSkep#25: "I think the threat from AGW is rather exagetated "

    And this opinion is based on ... ?

    For a counter opinion, based on actual research, see Trenberth's latest:

    The average anthropogenic climate change effect is not negligible, but nor is it large, although a small shift in the mean can lead to very large percentage changes in extremes. ... It is when natural variability and climate change develop in the same direction that records get broken.

    Perhaps you will ask: What records get broken? Heat, drought, fire, flood, famine... Exaggerations, not.
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  28. Arguments like "Earth will be fine" and "humans won't go extinct" really bother me. Personally I'd like to set the bar a little higher for our species than 'not going extinct'.
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  29. ScientificSkeptic@25

    We are not "being asked to gamble our lifestyles on a woolly prediction" we are, rather, obligated to make policy decisions based on the best science we have. Business-as-usual is a choice, too.

    As for "cut to the bone", well, I would like to hear why you think that proposals to make users of fossil fuel energy pay now, for the consequences of their putting CO2 into the atmosphere, will be all that costly. Prominent economists like William Nordhaus don't think so. See here also.

    I hope that you are correct about the higher quality of life in 5000AD. You are certainly correct to say that humans have a great capacity for adaptation that will continue--we'll quickly adapt to a carbon tax, too--but one thing that sets us apart from other animals is our ability, limited and imperfect though it is, to see the future. Here's hoping that we use that ability wisely. That's what Kate's article was about.
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  30. william@28
    Coincidentally I was thinking about this subject this very morning.

    Clay tablets are cumbersome and fragile. Stamping the words into thin metal sheets (like giant dog tags) and stuck in binders would be more durable. This has risks of its own. In the post pox-eclipse world the person who finds such a book might destroy it to use the metal.

    Not the kinds of future I want for my kids and (potential future) grand kids.
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  31. More evidence that manmade climate change has been impacting the global climate system:

    “The past decade has been one of unprecedented weather extremes. Scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany argue that the high incidence of extremes is not merely accidental. From the many single events a pattern emerges. At least for extreme rainfall and heat waves the link with human-caused global warming is clear, the scientists show in a new analysis of scientific evidence in the journal Nature Climate Change. Less clear is the link between warming and storms, despite the observed increase in the intensity of hurricanes.”

    Source:”Weather records due to climate change: a game with loaded dice,” press release posted by the Potsdam Institute for Climatic Impact Research on March 25, 2012.

    To access the entire press release, click here.

    Note: The entire press release will soon be posted verbatim on SkS.
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  32. Additional thought on post Composer99@1

    There is one example still visible today where the ancient Greeks did not look to the future. Because they needed tall trees for their warships, and the need for ships was great, they stripped the hills of their trees. The trees were not replanted. The dry Greek hills used to have trees! The Greeks may not have changed the climate of the world, but they permanently changed the landscape and ecosystem of the Greek peninsula - and not for the better.
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  33. @ScientificSkeptic:

    For the human race, there is no Planet B.
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  34. "I think its effect is exagerated, however, because big claims make big headlines."

    What sort of logic is this? If your understanding of what the effects of climate change are comes from headlines, then please live up to your moniker and look at AR4, WG 2 for what the science says.

    "If our best models cannot accurately tell us the weather Friday week, how can we believe ones that tell us we'll be drowning in a hundred years time?"

    Please see Science can predict the weather to get an understanding of the science around this old chestnut.

    "In any case, we cannot control our climate and it is pure hubris to believe that we can."

    "Control" no, but your already agree that we effect it. If we stop changing the atmosphere, then we stop our component to climate. Climate that changes slowly, we can handle. Its very rapid change that causes the problems.

    "I believe all of those people deserve the same standard of living."
    Then why would you deny it to them - climate change affects many of the poorest countries worst. Sure, let them grow - by cutting the emissions in the West so they can grow emissions without damaging the atmosphere. Do you expect international climate agreement when the West, responsible for most of additional CO2 in the atmosphere to date, wont make cuts?

    Going by our past record, sudden, unpleasant population crashes result from not taking enough notice of rapid environment change. That's one way to adapt but its not a nice one.

    SS - you seem to arrived at your current position from a considerable misunderstanding of the science and related issues. Its great that you have found SkepSci. Take some time to look over the arguments and get a proper understanding of the science.
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  35. SS#35: " Earth's atmosphere and the conditions that have resulted at ground level have always changed, albeit at a geological timescale rather than one of a rolling live news feed."

    Exactly. The changes we now see are neither geologic nor natural. That they are visible and widespread should disturb you. Now try to focus on specifics rather than vague generalities which sum to 'it will all be ok.'
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  36. scientificskeptic @35 shows in two phrases why he is not being skeptical:

    "If our best models cannot accurately tell us the weather Friday week, how can we believe ones that tell us we'll be drowning in a hundred years time?"

    The impossibility of accurate short term prediction of weather is a result of weather being chaotic. This is encapsulated in the so called butterfly effect, ie, that the weather is chaotic so that a flap of a butterfly's wing can cause a hurricane. However, while apparently believing that so small effect can have such large consequences, the self named "ScientificSkeptic" believes that we can double the CO2 in the atmosphere with negligible consequences. If AGW deniers truly believed that climate was as chaotic as weather, they would by violently opposed to any perturbation of climate, right down to stratospheric air traffic.

    In fact, what they actually believe as demonstrated by their practice is that climate is fundamentally predictable, and fundamentally stable. So stable, in fact that you can double or even triple CO2 content and the effects will scarcely differ from natural variability, which they assume to be low over the medium and even long term (in historical terms). Reference to the unpredictability of weather in a climate debate shows only that the referrer has not thought out the logical implication of their claims - that they are feeding us sound bites, not reasons.

    "The main point is how we adapt as a species. Going on our past record, we're pretty good at it."

    A similar point can be made about the self named "ScientificSkeptic's" main refrain. His argument depends on the assumption that humans are ultimately adaptable so that adapting to a four degree plus increase in global temperature will not be a problem; but also on the claim that we will be unable to adapt to any means taken to avoid such an increase. Again, he does not follow through his claims with reasoning to ensure consistency.

    If adapting to a $200 US$ per tonne carbon tax, for example will have significantly harmful effects (as he wants to claim) then adapting to a four degree plus temperature increase must logically also be capable of resulting in significant harm. Given that, he owes us reasons why he thinks one to be more harmful than the other, but no reason is given.

    What he has in fact done is provided us with slogans in lieu of thought. Because they are slogans, he feels no need to apply them consistently. And because they are slogans, they are empty verbage serving no greater purpose then to identify which camp he is in.

    Sadly, you rarely find better from any self named AGW "skeptic". It is because of this that they have to call themselves "skeptics", because nobody else would based on their reasoning.
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  37. @Tom Curtis #39:

    Well said!

    Suggest that you transform it into a blog post article -- perhaps titled, "Open Letter to a 'Climate Skeptic.'"
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  38. Scientific Skeptic, I wonder if the people in Queensland, Texas, Russia, Pakistan and Thailand (amongst many others) that have been impacted directly by large floods, droughts and heatwaves, of a type known to be exacerbated by AGW, think that these are just a "... woolly prediction about what might happen in 100, 200, x000 years time ..."? Hansen et al 2011, document the observed increase in extremes of heat. Fancy a 3-sigma heat event whose odds of occurrence in any one location have increased 100-fold (from ~0.13% to ~10%)... are ya feelin' lucky, punk?
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  39. ScientificSkeptic, you just need to be a little more careful and precise. You just made what appears to be a general claim: "The science is dubious." The fundamental science of the theory of AGW is anything but dubious. We've known about the possibility of AGW almost as long as we've had a directly-recorded temperature record. What exactly do you find dubious? Is it the modelling? If so, take it to one of the models threads. Put up or shut up.

    I happen to agree with you that there are problems on the horizon that are at least as big as AGW. Peak oil and peak water are two. Yet the situation is much more complicated than that; the synergy between the dominant mode of production, its resulting culture, peak oil, peak water, AGW, and the rapidly growing population is describable only in broad terms. It is clear, though, that AGW is a problem that will make all other problems much worse. If it were happening in a managed economy, with a well-informed democracy and a culture of trust, then I would say, "This is not a problem. We will see the danger and work out the best solutions." We're living in conditions that are the reverse of those listed. The economic mode determines the interests of the people. The democracy is generally clueless (name your country). Trust is not a cultural feature of the current economic mode.

    Interestingly, and perhaps fortunately (eventually), the solutions to the big problems are isomorphic to a large degree. Fix the moral failure of forcing ten billions to fight for food/energy over the next century, and we can hardly end up failing to address AGW. Problems and solutions are tied too closely together. However, if we don't do something about AGW now, the changes that occur (shifting weather patterns, biosphere adaptation problems, infrastructure replacement, the decline of the ocean as a food source, etc.) will drain resources--resources that could be used to fund education, research, and development to provide the technological miracle that will allow us to continue with unfettered economic growth and to avoid having the grand (and probably rather bloody) change in consciousness. In other words, the longer we wait to address any of the big problems, the more difficult it gets to address any of the big problems.
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  40. I don't understand people like ScientificSkeptic who seem to think that AGW is only a problem if it results in catastrophe such as mass extinctions. I live in a fairly northern location, in a transition between boreal forest and prairie ecozones. With a couple degrees of warming, perhaps conditions might improve for certain agricultural crops hereabouts, but not for forestry. Even with a longer growing season, the luvisolic soils that have developed under forest cover on glacial till simply will not grow wheat like the chernozemic soils that developed on the lacustrine deposits of glacial Lake Agassiz. Winters aren't cold enough to kill the Mountain Pine Beetle larvae anymore, and it's looking as though that epidemic is likely to expand from the lodgepole pine forests of B.C. and Alberta into the Jack pine of Saskatchewan and possibly eventually across Canada's boreal region as far as Newfoundland and Labrador. Forestry workers aren't generally seen as tree-huggers but many of them are concerned.
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  41. SS - I believe the moderator may be pinging you for repeating earlier statement but without any supporting evidence. Scientific skepticism would require that you cite some published papers to support the idea that models are good enough, etc. Instead you repeated statements that you would know were untrue if you had looked at the science. At the moment, it does not appear that your opinion is based on science.

    As to what would happen next, if everyone accepted your defeatism, then the evidence indicates that more people will die than if we took action, and future generations will pay a higher cost than if we mitigated emissions. Excuse us if we prefer to advocate for some action instead.
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  42. william @ 26 and pjamm @ 30, clay tablets are fragile and metal tablets are prone to be recycled.

    Perhaps stone tablets would be more durable. Perhaps they could be stored on a mountaintop somewhere in the Middle East. Maybe we could even boil down our warnings into a few simple rules: ten might do the job.

    In the arid regions, stone tablets on a mountaintop should be good for a few millennia, until the next tribe of lost souls discovers them. You never know, it might start a movement of some kind.
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