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Channeling Kurt Vonnegut

Wed, Apr 25, 2012

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I presented at SUNY-Fredonia on 2 April 2012. The standing-room-only audience, in a room with 200 chairs, included about 30 students from a class on Kurt Vonnegut and similar number from a class on environmental chemistry. I was informed the Vonnegut students would be attending the day before the event, so I asked their instructor to bring a copy of Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country. I was even less prepared than usual, so the whole routine is extemporaneous. My apologies in advance for the poor sound quality: You’ll need to crank up the speakers to hear any part of this presentation.

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My monthly essay for Transition Voice was published today. It’s here. After the essay was submitted, new data appeared to substantiate that all life on Earth will be gone by mid-century: methane release will accelerate exponentially, release huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere and lead to the demise of all life on earth before the middle of this century. Carpe diem.
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25 Responses to “Channeling Kurt Vonnegut”

  1. Robin Datta Says:

    Bigger and more receptive audiences as the storm draws near?

  2. Ayla Says:

    Hi Guy – can you please explain to me, step by step, the analytical extrapolations the linked blog article makes? While I understand and agree with the broader implications suggested by other published literature with regards to methane release, substantiate is a strong word to use for a blog article that has not been peer reviewed.

  3. Kathy C Says:

    In case folks missed it Curtis posted this at the end of the last topic

    Lovelock backs off.

    http://www.countercurrents.org/glikson250412.htm

    A quote in case people don’t want to look at the article
    But now Lovelock states [1]:

    “ The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time… it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising — carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that”, and “ The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened” and “ The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now”.
    Kind of hard to see Lovelock (give up, get bought out, go senile, ? take your choice) given all the evidence supplied in the Transition article Guy wrote.

  4. Guy McPherson Says:

    Thanks for your question, Ayla.

    First, take a look at the first figure (graph) in this article. You’ll note methane release went exponential in 2010. Methane is much more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas (about 25 times more powerful).

    Second, study this emergency warning from the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, particularly this line: “The latest available data indicates that a sea ice collapse is more than likely by 2015 and even possible this summer (2012).” The video below provides a nice overview.

    As Lovelock was fond of pointing out, before he completely turned on a dime, Earth’s climate flips quickly from one state to another. It’s happened in the past many times, even without our disastrous inputs.

  5. Victor Says:

    Let’s give Lovelock a little space here. Most are interpreting what he has to say as a complete turnaround. I don’t think this is true at all. What he is saying is that global temperatures are not occurring as he and others expected them to, nor as fast.

    He is NOT saying that he was wrong about global warming, nor about mankind’s part in that. It’s only a timing issue, and an admission that scientists don’t know as much as they thought about climate factors.

    As Guy points out, the fact is that the climate IS changing. Global temperatures might not be rising as fast as we thought, but temperatures are not the only factor to be considered.

    The mass release of methane is extremely troubling. Almost 2 years ago I remember reading that Siberia was beginning to release her methane via melting of the tundra. This is a direct result of warming. And it is irreversible and accelerating.

    Although the earth as a whole has not warmed as quickly as we would have supposed, the Arctic is! And the Arctic is the most important first stage of global warming. Once the methane cathrates begin their expulsion of methane to the surface, which might well be what is happening now, we will likely begin to see in the next few years substantial global warming – as the blog Guy showed us indicates.

  6. Ron Parry Says:

    If one is arguing that massive methane release will follow the complete disappearance of Arctic sea ice, its important to remember that the currently accepted dates for such an occurrence are somewhere between 2037 and the end of the century. For a detailed discussion of the complexities involved in predicting the complete disappearance of the Arctic sea ice, see: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2012/04/arctic-sea-ice-volume-piomas-prediction-and-the-perils-of-extrapolation/#more-11432

  7. Kathy C Says:

    Victor, did you just read the Lovelock comments which I posted or did you click on the link and read the rebuttal too. I think he is quite adequately refuted. More importantly however he had pinned his hopes on nuclear as the way to avoid climate change and well now post Fukushima that looks like a rather bad choice. So to be not so hard on him perhaps he just can’t quite deal with the fact that there is no solution (other than the hope that the industrial economy will collapse next week and with it billions of human lives wiped out). It is hard to accept such a dire solution, so perhaps he is just hoping the whole thing will go away.

  8. Todd Cory Says:

    next time please consider putting a mic on he person speaking so they can be heard

  9. Tom Says:

    Geez Louise man! How am i supposed to “stay positive” in the face of this kind of evidence?

    i think the reason the mainstream doesn’t report this on the nightly news is that it would surely cause widespread panic and cause most people with any kind of grey matter between their ears to positively LOSE IT! Civilization is hanging by a thread NOW, so by summer (or surely fall) we’re likely to start the roller coaster ride to craziness as things go from bad (now) to worse (by then) environmentally, politically, socially, and psychologically.

    Those who aren’t prepared (like me) may as well accept that their days are surely numbered. i’m not preparing because i think i landed on the wrong planet and only want to be out of here whenever it’s time. im through talking about it, warning people who won’t listen to their lying eyes and ears, preferring to live in the 24/7 trance-world we’ve built. Humanity caused their own demise! What a collossal joke! So much for being “made in the image and likeness of God.”

    Buncha bums is what we are.

  10. Ron Parry Says:

    Perhaps I should add that the disappearance of Arctic sea ice does not necessarily lead to the immediate and massive release of methane. A survey of the literature suggests that the release of clathrate-bound methane is likely to be a fairly slow process. Of course, significant uncertainties surround this issue. Bottom line: I don’t think we should panic just yet.

  11. The REAL Dr. House Says:

    Ron Parry, Bottom line: I don’t think we should panic just yet.

    Is there ever a time to panic? Panicking never solves anything no matter where you are in a crisis. Perhaps I’m misreading the intent of your post, but while I’m sure you’re right about there still being “significant uncertainties surrounding this issue”, the time to do something about this was 30 or 40 years ago. Guy and many others have laid out very convincing evidence that continuing business as usual until we’re really sure is exactly what got us into this predicament, and that the only way to avert climate catastrophe is to end the industrial economy right now. Maybe even that will not be enough.

  12. Victor Says:

    Kathy

    Yes, I did read the article, and a couple others that have come out as a result of this statement of his.

    Lovelock has said on many occasions that in his opinion it is too late – that we can expect billions to die. I am not aware he has changed his mind on that. It is, however, a matter of timing and process. He really expected global temps to flare up exponentially, and when they didn’t over the last decade or so, he admitted that he had been wrong and perhaps had overstated the degree of temp rise. I really don’t think that he is saying it won’t happen – only that at the time we didn’t understand enough about the earth to predict how and when it would happen.

    I think most people seem to be saying that because he says ‘We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now” that he is backing off global warming. I don’t think he is. He is simply being more careful now in his words. At least that is how I interpret what he said.

    I think people such as Lovelock, and myself as well, have been surprised by the earth’s capacity to absorb CO2. And that has led to a lot of sceptical statements about climate change not really happening.

    At some point, however, the world passes from a CO2 sink to a CO2 emitter. At that point, I suspect we will also be surprised as to just how fast the conversion will take, and how how quickly temps will rise as a result.

    I think we are on the edge of a quantum rise, and when that finally happens, it is all over. And I think Lovelock, if you questioned him extensively about that, would basically agree with scenario. OTOH, stranger things have happened…. ;-)

  13. Robin Datta Says:

    Snake-eyes?
    400 Chernobyls

  14. Victor Says:

    Robin

    Very interesting report on ‘climate dice’. The world maps provided certainly get the message across as to the changing variability of climate across the globe.

  15. Kathy C Says:

    Victor, after writing I checked out some of the links in the article – like this one from 2010

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8594000/8594561.stm

    Where he says “‘We’re not really guilty. We didn’t deliberately set out to heat the world’” Of course we didn’t set out to heat the world, but of course we are guilty for continuing to heat the world once we understood what we were doing.

    This article further says “Prof Lovelock does not pull his punches on the politicians and scientists who are set to gain from the idea that we can predict climate change and save the planet ourselves.
    Scientists, he says, have moved from investigating nature as a vocation, to being caught in a career path where it makes sense to “fudge the data”.” and contains the clip where he says it. I presume he is referring to climategate where the information from personal e-mails of some climate scientists was taken out of context and used to tar all. Are all the climate scientists who say we are warming, fudging the data. I think not. He does not say which ones he is talking about so saying this is unfair to all the scientists who have never fudged a bit of data in their life.

    He says “Renewable technology ‘doesn’t really work’” – I agree

    “At the age of 90, Prof Lovelock is resigned to his own fate and the fate of the planet. Whether the planet saves itself or not, he argues, all we can do is to “enjoy life while you can”.”

    Ah ha – well since he has not much life left he can say that – but what about the rest on the planet, those already suffering and dying from climate change. I understand how he feels in ways, but that is pretty lame coming from someone who gained such worldwide status from his books. Oh well, forget all I wrote and just enjoy life……

  16. Kathy C Says:

    Victor, do you think I could write Lovelock and get a refund on my copy of “Revenge of Gaia”? When someone sells me a defective product and acknowledges it was defective they usually issue a refund.

  17. Victor Says:

    Kathy

    do you think I could write Lovelock and get a refund on my copy of “Revenge of Gaia”?

    LOL….you can try.

    Scientists, he says, have moved from investigating nature as a vocation, to being caught in a career path where it makes sense to “fudge the data”.

    Actually, I happen to agree with him here to some degree. The pressure to publish is intense, and often funding depends upon the results of the study. There is a lot of jury-rigging in other areas of science, especially in oncological and neurological studies that have surfaced recently. G. Glenn Begley produced a commentary in the journal ‘Nature’ recently in which he found that the results of 47 of 53 major studies in cancer could not be replicated. It caused quite a storm. Of the reasons cited, he noted,

    But they and others fear the phenomenon is the product of a skewed system of incentives that has academics cutting corners to further their careers.

    George Robertson of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia previously worked at Merck on neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. While at Merck, he also found many academic studies that did not hold up.

    “It drives people in industry crazy. Why are we seeing a collapse of the pharma and biotech industries? One possibility is that academia is not providing accurate findings,” he said.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/28/us-science-cancer-idUSBRE82R12P20120328

    I suspect these findings can be replicated across many fields of science, and for the same basic reasons.

    I am not saying that all global warming studies are faulty, but the pressure is certainly there for quick results and publicity-producing announcements that generate more funding.

    Just as in the world of global economics, the ‘economy’ is the most important factor, so too in the science industry, continued ‘funding’ is paramount. Scientists are not angels. They are people with the frailties of people.

    In the end I won’t cast dispersions on Lovelock. I prefer to wait for more from him – and I suspect there will be more as he might not have been aware that his statement was going to generate such controversy. If then he proclaims to the world unequivocally that he has been wrong about global warming and that it is a complete fraud, then I will be more than happy to denounce him and his works. Until then, I think we are over-reacting if we denounce him on the basis of a quite ambiguous statement.

    Ah ha – well since he has not much life left he can say that – but what about the rest on the planet, those already suffering and dying from climate change.

    Many of us on this very site have said the exact same thing. And you never denounced us – at least not publicly…. :-) As I recall, he even said that same thing in Revenge.

    Prof Lovelock does not pull his punches on the politicians and scientists who are set to gain from the idea that we can predict climate change and save the planet ourselves.

    Well, it’s true. And it’s true no matter which side of the argument you are on – the faithful as well as the deniers – there are a lot of people intent on profiting politically or economically from global warming. He is not disparaging ALL scientists. He is only stating a fact.

    In the end I must say that I think Lovelock is backing off the extreme position he took in earlier works. He is not backing off the ultimate result, but he is making room for the possibility at least that he could be wrong and that something might come up in the way of a solution. I think he doubts that, but he is doing what any other scientist would do and distancing himself from an uncompromising position.

  18. Kathy C Says:

    Victor, do you think James Hansen is jury rigging the data?

    I have no doubt that many scientists who work in any area related to pharma are pushed to fudge data. I know some scientists have fudged data for the sake of their career. But do you really think that climate scientists are fudging data to get a cut of energy trading schemes? If you think that climate scientists are fudging this data then the links that Guy posts to support his writings are all suspect.

    Very neatly Lovelock excludes himself from ever doing anything to promote his career or make money like those other unnamed scientists, although clearly he has made money on
    (2006). The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back – and How We Can Still Save Humanity.
    and no doubt made more money on
    (2009). The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning: Enjoy It While You Can.

    But I will remove my denunciation and wait and see where he goes from here and if his latest equivocation is totally disproved by the climate events are increasing and accelerating.

  19. Ron Parry Says:

    To the REAL Dr. House:

    I’m certainly NOT advocating that we sit around and do nothing. We need to take climate change very seriously and aggressively push for changes in business as usual.

  20. Victor Says:

    do you think James Hansen is jury rigging the data?

    Absolutely not.

    But I will remove my denunciation and wait and see where he goes from here and if his latest equivocation is totally disproved by the climate events are increasing and accelerating.

    Good girl… :-)

    To note – I do not believe that he said ‘climate events are not accelerating’ – he said temps are not accelerating like he expected them to. Big difference….

  21. Kathy C Says:

    Victor, “I do not believe that he said ‘climate events are not accelerating’ – he said temps are not accelerating like he expected them to. Big difference….” duly noted – heck being back in your good graces feels better than trashing Lovelock :)

  22. Kathy C Says:

    Robin, Yes, 400 Chernobyls. The grid will go down sometime, likely EMP or Solar Flare in the near term, lack of maintenance in the almost near term, and lack of fuel in the slightly longer term. If the nuclear power plants are not mothballed before that Fukushima has shown us what will happen when cooling water can no longer be pumped. To see why it is unlikely that this will happen see the costs and time frames for decommissioning at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_decommissioning Besides as oil begins the downslope no one will want to give up on nuclear power.

  23. Kathy C Says:

    For further commentary on why the nuclear power plants will not be shut down in time see this Orlov essay I posted once before http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2012/04/fundraising-in-extremis.html

    I think the full lesson Fukushima has finally sunk in – unfortunately there seems no viable solution.

  24. Guy McPherson Says:

    An essay by Sandy Krolick has been posted. It’s here.