Report of the National Research Council on “Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years”

What do the scientists (in peer reviewed journals) say about global warming?

To set the stage, here is an excerpt from White House press gaggle on February 20, 2006 on board Air Force One:

Q There was a report on television last night about the — about global warming and demands contribution to the atmosphere, and so on, was — is the U.S. government — does the U.S. care that the polar ice caps are melting? And this whole sort of energy reform that you’re putting forth, does the environment play any part in it?

MR. HUBBARD: I’ll let Scott take that one.

MR. McCLELLAN: What was your question.

Q It was a story on “60 Minutes” last night about global warming and — what’s the administration’s position on any of this energy reform, or whether it’s –

MR. McCLELLAN: The United States is leading the way in investing in the kind of technologies to help us address greenhouse gas emissions. That’s something we — remember, we’re on track to meet the President’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas intensity that he outlined. And we also have joined in partnerships around the world to invest in research and development when it comes to climate change. It’s an issue that the President takes seriously, and we announced the Asia Pacific Partnership, remember, and that is an initiative to help lead the way to address some of these issues associated with climate change.

Q Do you take Michael Crichton on the issue seriously?

MR. McCLELLAN: What’s your question?

Q There’s a story –

MR. McCLELLAN: I think what I can point to — I’m not going to get into talking about private meetings he’s had, but look at the initiatives we’ve outlined, look at the leadership the President is providing to address the challenges of climate change. It is an issue that we take seriously, and that’s why we’ve been investing billions in research and development to better understand the science of climate change. That’s why we’ve initiated partnerships, like the Asia Pacific Partnership, to address these issues, as well.

Q But Michael Crichton as an expert or a novelist the President enjoys reading?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President read his book, and he was glad to have the opportunity to visit with him.

Q — believes as expert opinion?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you should look at what we outlined, Jessica. If you want to ask the President about it, you are — you’re welcome to do that at some point. But I’m not going to get into talking about private meetings that he has.

Thanks. [Emphasis added -- mdc]

Well, I’m an admirer of Michael Crichton‘s books, including The Andromeda Strain and Airframe, so I was intrigued when I heard he’d written a book critiquing the idea of global warming. After reading a little, I thought I’d check on what the scientists have to say.
(By the way, Crichton has an A.B. from Harvard College, M.D. from Harvard Medical School, but no degree in atmospheric sciences. The NRC is a private nonprofit associated with the National Academy of Sciences that provide advice to the U.S. Government under Congressional charter.) From the report:


Figure S-1: From NRC (2006).

The confidence bands associated with each of the projections are displayed in subsequent figures in the report.

There is a related question of whether warming is due to human activities or the end of a little ice age. Here is the summary for Chapter 10, entitled “Climate Forcings and Climate Models”.

  • The main external climate forcings experienced over the last 2,000 years are volcanic eruptions, changes in solar radiation reaching the Earth, and increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases and aerosols due to human activities.
  • Proxy records are available for reconstructing climate forcings over the last 2,000 years, but these climate forcing reconstructions are associated with as much uncertainty as surface temperature reconstructions.
  • Greenhouse gases and tropospheric aerosols varied little from A.D. 1 to around 1850. Volcanic eruptions and solar fluctuations were likely the most strongly varying external forcings during this period, but it is currently estimated that the temperature variations caused by these forcings were much less pronounced than the warming due to greenhouse gas forcing since the mid 19th century.
  • Climate model simulations indicate that solar and volcanic forcings together could have produced periods of relative warmth and cold during the preindustrial portion of the last 1,000 years. However, anthropogenic greenhouse gas increases are needed to simulate late 20th century warmth.

Food for thought, as projected temperatures for Tuesday and Wednesday rise to 98 degrees here in Washington, DC, 12 degrees above the historical mean for August. See here for discussion of global record breaking temperatures.

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27 thoughts on “Report of the National Research Council on “Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years”

  1. Grzegorz

    Dr. Chinn,

    “Food for thought, as projected temperatures for Tuesday and Wednesday rise to 98 degrees here in Washington, DC, 12 degrees above the historical mean for August.”

    This is a misleading statement; it would seem to imply that global warming is the identifiable cause for this spike in temperatures.

    I’d refer you to this petition signed a few years ago:

    These are, to the best of my knowledge, professional scientists with relations to this issue. Their professions vary from: oceanographers, atmospheric scientists, to astronomers.

    Funny; I’ve never seen this perspective ever brought up in newspapers or on television news casts. I’ll found it searching the web.

    Sure global warming is an issue that needs to be dealt with. But this issue needs to be dealt with honestly without politics being injected into the debate.

  2. M1EK

    That petition has been debunked thousands of times by thousands of people. Here’s just one:
    “Scientific American took a sample of 30 of the 1,400 signatories claiming to hold a Ph.D. in a climate-related science. Of the 26 we were able to identify in various databases, 11 said they still agreed with the petition – one was an active climate researcher, two others had relevant expertise, and eight signed based on an informal evaluation. Six said they would not sign the petition today, three did not remember any such petition, one had died, and five did not answer repeated messages. Crudely extrapolating, the petition supporters include a core of about 200 climate researchers a respectable number, though rather a small fraction of the climatological community.”

  3. menzie chinn

    Grzegorz: I didn’t say it was a cause. But I put the link to the article for your perusal; you can make your own decision. However, my key piece of evidence was the NRC/NAS report, and here I stress that it is a survey of peer reviewed articles. As M1EK noted, anyone can sign a petition.

  4. JDH

    I, too, am a big fan of Michael Crichton. I’ve read all his books– my two favorites were Timeline and The Great Train Robbery.
    But I must say that State of Fear was a bit disappointing. I say this from a literary, not a scientific perspective. Basically, Crichton’s goal with this book was to write a critique of the scientific evidence on global warming. To do so within the medium of an adventure novel required the characters in the book to deliver long speeches, augmented with copious diagrams, that really don’t succeed as a literary device. Plus, the premise behind the plot is a tad far-fetched, even if you bought Crichton’s scientific conclusions.

  5. Joseph

    You’ve got to wonder about an administration that gets its environmental advice from Michael Crichton, its medical and biological advice from radical theologians, its foreign policy advice from Tom Clancy and FEMA director from a horse show.

  6. biker

    But though, after both coasts are underwater only the real heartland will remain – of course, DC will need a good levee system . . .

  7. vorpal

    I would be interested in a study that looked at temperatures vs. carbon _sequestered_ in the ground, rather than carbon in the atmosphere.
    The reason I would be interested is because, we don’t know what the ultimate CO2 levels of the atmosphere will be, because of positive feedback. If we know hom much CO2 is sequestered now, and what the temperature of the Earth was when an equivalent amount of CO2 was sequestered, then we might get an approximation of what the equilibrium temperature might be.
    In other words, it seems to me that the amount of carbon and other GHG’s in the ground and water is what matters, not the amount currently in the air.

  8. spencer

    Grzegozr, did you read this?
    Published: July 27, 2006
    Correction Appended
    IN the debate on global warming, the data on the climate of Antarctica has been distorted, at different times, by both sides. As a polar researcher caught in the middle, I?d like to set the record straight.
    In January 2002, a research paper about Antarctic temperatures, of which I was the lead author, appeared in the journal Nature. At the time, the Antarctic Peninsula was warming, and many people assumed that meant the climate on the entire continent was heating up, as the Arctic was. But the Antarctic Peninsula represents only about 15 percent of the continent?s land mass, so it could not tell the whole story of Antarctic climate. Our paper made the continental picture more clear.
    My research colleagues and I found that from 1986 to 2000, one small, ice-free area of the Antarctic mainland had actually cooled. Our report also analyzed temperatures for the mainland in such a way as to remove the influence of the peninsula warming and found that, from 1966 to 2000, more of the continent had cooled than had warmed. Our summary statement pointed out how the cooling trend posed challenges to models of Antarctic climate and ecosystem change.
    Newspaper and television reports focused on this part of the paper. And many news and opinion writers linked our study with another bit of polar research published that month, in Science, showing that part of Antarctica?s ice sheet had been thickening ? and erroneously concluded that the earth was not warming at all. ?Scientific findings run counter to theory of global warming,? said a headline on an editorial in The San Diego Union-Tribune. One conservative commentator wrote, ?It?s ironic that two studies suggesting that a new Ice Age may be under way may end the global warming debate.?
    In a rebuttal in The Providence Journal, in Rhode Island, the lead author of the Science paper and I explained that our studies offered no evidence that the earth was cooling. But the misinterpretation had already become legend, and in the four and half years since, it has only grown.
    Our results have been misused as ?evidence? against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel ?State of Fear? and by Ann Coulter in her latest book, ?Godless: The Church of Liberalism.? Search my name on the Web, and you will find pages of links to everything from climate discussion groups to Senate policy committee documents ? all citing my 2002 study as reason to doubt that the earth is warming. One recent Web column even put words in my mouth. I have never said that ?the unexpected colder climate in Antarctica may possibly be signaling a lessening of the current global warming cycle.? I have never thought such a thing either.
    Our study did find that 58 percent of Antarctica cooled from 1966 to 2000. But during that period, the rest of the continent was warming. And climate models created since our paper was published have suggested a link between the lack of significant warming in Antarctica and the ozone hole over that continent. These models, conspicuously missing from the warming-skeptic literature, suggest that as the ozone hole heals ? thanks to worldwide bans on ozone-destroying chemicals ? all of Antarctica is likely to warm with the rest of the planet. An inconvenient truth?
    Also missing from the skeptics? arguments is the debate over our conclusions. Another group of researchers who took a different approach found no clear cooling trend in Antarctica. We still stand by our results for the period we analyzed, but unbiased reporting would acknowledge differences of scientific opinion.
    The disappointing thing is that we are even debating the direction of climate change on this globally important continent. And it may not end until we have more weather stations on Antarctica and longer-term data that demonstrate a clear trend.
    In the meantime, I would like to remove my name from the list of scientists who dispute global warming. I know my coauthors would as well.
    An Op-Ed article on Thursday, about the use of climate studies, included an incorrect date. A study found that part of Antarctica cooled from 1986 to 2000, not 1996 to 2000.
    Peter Doran is an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

  9. Brrrrr Cold

    One of the best collection of graphs and discussions was done in response to Stuart Stanford’s piece at TOD.
    There were excellent graphs posted by both the author and readers. Just scrolling down and looking at graphs only, several inescapable facts become obvious.
    1) The relative stability of the climate over the past 10,000 years is a major ANOMALY.
    2) The stability of the sea level has correspondingly been incredibly flat over the past 8,000 years, and has historically fluctuated hundreds of feet from where it is today.
    3)Over the past 50 million years, the earth’s average climate has cooled from an average of 22 degrees to 12 degrees centigrade.
    4)CO2 levels have been on average falling from values around 2300 ppm 175 million years ago to levels around 350 ppm today, although I admit they have risen in the past 50 years or so.
    5)Ice ages have been coming in cyclic fashion, and we are overdue for the next one
    6)As oil will be peaking in the next -1 to 30 years, I would far rather take my chances with a little warmer temps and a little higher sea level than trying to survive the alternative, which would be having the average temp falling 1-2 degrees. If such a thing happened, we would quickly burn through our natural gas stocks in a few years, and then what?
    7) If you are really concerned about global warming, then rather than injecting CO2 into the ground, it would be more effecient to bury plastic bottles in landfills than to recycle them as solids are more dense than liquids, and the plastic traps carbon in a non-biodegradeable form.
    OK, let me have it.

  10. C Thomson

    OK global warming is occuring. And the world’s population will grow from the current 6.5 billion or so to 9 billion on reasonable projections.
    How to do something about global warming that doesn’t require doing something about population growth is a question that may not have an answer. Anyone who has been to China recently may have noticed lots of new roads and new cars. Plus the use of lots of soft coal…
    And how do we pursuade folks in North America, Europe and Japan dramatically to rein back economic growth? Starting yesterday? Any bets on when the US gets carbon taxes?
    Let’s just plan for a warmer world and get on with it now. Or wait until 2008 and vote for Al Gore if you believe that plenty of verbal white noise will provide a solution. “Ah feel yer heat…”

  11. Stormy

    Ironies of ironies: If or as we clear the air of the heavier particles so that we may breathe, we may well accelerate global warming.
    Particulates emitted into the air from plants, vehicles, etc. actually depress global warming in much the same way that volcanic activity does, reflecting light back. Think of all those little particles as mirrors, cooling the earth. The key phrase here is Global Dimming, which has been quite significant. Yet despite all our heavier pollutants, the earth continues to warm. (Thank you, CO2 and other greenhouse gases, which have a much longer lifetime in the atmosphere than does, say, water vapor.)
    You know, you really do not have to be a scientist to acknowledge the footprint, handprint, and breath of mankind on the planet. I would certainly say that it helps in the finer points of the argument. In that regard, I second Stuarts suggestion that economists start making regular visits to
    But again, you do not have to be a scientist to see what is happening. Look at some of the satellite photos of, say, China. Or drive around Los Angeles or New York City.
    Global warming is our breath on the planet. Realclimate deals only with a fraction of the problem. Look at our footprint on the planet. Fish stocks are being rapidly depleted, water resources are dwindling, estuaries and rivers increasingly fouledthe list is endless. Again, you do not have to be a scientist to see these and much more. You just have to be semi-comatoseor have lived for fifty or sixty years.
    If your view is myopic, then you will move from one of these issues to another, without connecting any of the dots. At each dot, you will argue that it is either not significant enough in and of itself or you will claim that the correction is economically too costly.
    Everything has its costs. At some point in the not so distant future, these costs will enter the economic calculus. They simply have to. The very ideas of growth and profit will have to be recast. Deregulatory fever and privatization of everything under the sun, the sicknesses that that they are, will finally create those conditions that will give us real pause. Maybe then we will argue for more than a very simplified version of financial transparency.
    What is the real cost of an activity; who should shoulder it?

  12. Mark E Hoffer

    Why does this issue, AGW caused by GHG, have the same “You’re either With us, or Agin’ us”-feel to it, found with “Peak Oil” ?
    The sturm and drang associated with both discussions should be enough to make the rational observer pause in accepting any of the “conclusions” and “solutions” being proffered by the adherents of either of the postulates.
    GHG emmissions are simply signposts along the trail of inefficiencies. I would think that a much more rational approach would expound on the benefits, both Economic and Financial, that greater utilization efficiencies would bring. With AGW given as a potential downside, as opposed to an unarguable fact.
    Nowhere is it argued, by the vaunted minds populating “peer-reviewed” literature, that our (the U.S.) economy is set up, via subsidy by our “government” itself, on the predicate of: Waste.
    The technology to put “Smokestacks” out of business has long been with us. In so doing, whole sectors of our current economy, Industrial-Gas Supply(Great consumers of energy themselves), would be made redundant.
    Nope, none of that. The solution to pollution, in that camp, is yet more Gov’t intervention.
    re : “Peak Oil”: Anyone else find it of interest that NASA can find Hydrocarbons on terrestrial bodies away from Earth?
    Why is there little to no discussion about the potentiality of Oil being “abiotic”? But, we only hear, repeatedly, that: “0il is a “Fossil Fuel””. How does that pass for honest discourse?

  13. Stormy

    The following article is something to chew on:
    Paul Crutzen, nobel prize winner for his work on the ozone hole, has suggested we need a “radical contingency” backup plan, because the attempts to address GW have been so pitiful:
    “Professor Crutzen has proposed a method of artificially cooling the global climate by releasing particles of sulphur in the upper atmosphere, which would reflect sunlight and heat back into space.”
    Yup, we need particulates, gang, all those tiny mirrors. Crutzen is offering his version of a volcanic blast.
    Crutzen is no light-weight.
    Oil is a hydrocarbon, but not all hydrocarbons are oil. Oil on Mars or Neptune or Titan? I do not think those are the hydrocarbons that are there.
    More importantly, oil we presently use has biomarkers indicative of its origin–and those biomarkers clearly state: Not abiotic.
    Now, it might be possible for an “oil” to be abiotic. One never knows. So far, we have not discovered any.
    For an interesting discussion on this debate, see

  14. Stuart Staniford

    My personal view is that there’s simply no room at this point for an intellectually honest person to look at the evidence with any care and not conclude that human induced global warming is a massive threat over the course of the 21st century (albeit that the exact size of it is still subject to major uncertainties – just as the threat of, say, terrorism is).

    The problem is not at all trivial – in a predominantly fossil-fueled civilization, almost all economic activity implies carbon emissions, and current carbon emissions are probably an order of magnitude above what might have been safe. It’s not at all clear that we haven’t already caused serious harm that we just haven’t had time to fully understand the effects of – there’s another degree F or so of warming that’s essentially in the pipeline over the next few decades as the oceans come into equilibrium with the current CO2 concentration (ie even if we stopped emitting altogether tomorrow). That’s almost certainly enough to eventually cause a sizeable O(10ft) adjustment in sea level – we just don’t know the ice sheet response time).
    This is not to say there’s no benefit to acting. All of the land that will be flooded, storm-damaged, etc is likely to be needed in one way or another and the more we can mitigate the problem, the lower the overall cost will be.
    I am strongly in favor of market based solutions to the problem. We need to make it expensive to emit carbon and lucrative to capture it from the atmosphere. If we create a business model, then the venture capital community and the world’s entrepreneurs will try hundreds of different things to solve the problem and the market can decide what is the cheapest approach. Without the incentives in place, there’s no business model and world’s engineering community will not get nearly as far on the problem.
    My gut feel is that the capture side of the equation is going to prove more promising than the emissions side. The flows of carbon through the biosphere are much larger than the fossil-fuel based economy, so relatively small proportionate changes in how much carbon is sequestered by plants could have a big effect – and soil capture in soil is dependent on soil chemistry (and therefore, maybe, speculating wildy, amenable to manipulation).

  15. menzie chinn

    Stuart Staniford: Thanks for the useful link. [Addition] And for the second comment.

    Joseph: Overall I agree. Except I do wish somebody in the Administration, or at least the SecDef and the NSC advisor, had read Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor before they took office (and paid attention to the 6 August PDB after they took office).

    I think Stormy and C Thomas identified some important points: what are the costs of burning fossil fuels, and what should be done about the effects, respectively. For the costs and some planning that might be useful, see the DoD commissioned report on how global warming will worsen our security concerns. In other words, the marginal private cost of burning a barrel of oil does not equal the marginal social cost, and hence we have a negative externality. So while we’re beefing up border security and building dikes, we might also want to think about measures to reduce total carbon emissions (not just carbon emissions per unit of GDP as the President has set as a goal) by using market-based mechanisms.

  16. Mcwop

    I do not think economic growth needs to be significantly sacrificed to reduce CO2 emissions. However, the solutions are not politically feasible. Actions that need to be taken are as follows:
    1) Eliminate fossil fuels from electricity production, which means we must rely on Nuclear (to meet growth demands), and to a lesser extent sources such as wind, and fuel cells. Nuclear is a non-starter, because environmentalists are vehemently against it.
    2) Automobiles are a more difficult, and must get more efficient, but this is not likely to happen. In the US is a politically dead because of the UAW. The other problem is that China will get/demand cars, and even if the cars are fuel efficient, more of them still equal more CO2 emissions.

    So in the end, nothing will be done. Those that believe in GWT will continue to beat those who don’t over the head, under the misconception that if only they would believe, and then something will be done. The problem is that those that do believe will reject many of the solutions.

  17. Mark E Hoffer

    Thanks for the link. I thought that his, Richard Heinberg’s, article was reasonable and well done.

  18. Michael Mitton

    I find it very amusing that Bush read Michael Crichton’s book, despite claiming he doesn’t read much, but he said he wouldn’t see Al Gore’s movie. Bush doesn’t have the slightest interest in the science of climate change.

    Also, make sure you note that political speak from McClellan on how the U.S. is reducing “greenhouse intensity”. This is their turn of phrase that allows them to pretend they’re doing something about global warming. All it means, though, is that we’re reducing the CO2/GDP ratio. I guess that’s better than nothing, but I’ve never heard that the CO2 matters less for climate change if only we produce more widgets.

    Finally, just to reiterate an earlier poster, is an excellent blog that’s written by scientists in the field.

  19. Meh

    Somebody recommended realclimate so I will go ahead and recommend the great critiquer of realclimate Steve McIntyre at
    Climate Audit
    Menzie Chinn,
    Before you make any conclusions about what climate scientists say about global warming I would recommend the Wegman et al Report (7-14-06) indicating the total lack of independent peer review within the climatology community. Not to mention this report includes confirmation of McIntyre’s discovery of leading AGW proponents poor use of PCA.

    Here is the press release from the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

    For obvious reasons these hearings were kept out of the news.

  20. Stormy

    I think it is good for people to travel between realclimate and Climate Audit. They should test the arguments of each out on the other.
    By the way, realclimate does have a relatively recent thread on the Wegman hearings.

  21. menzie chinn

    Meh: Thanks — I had read the Wegman report executive summary already, but your comment inspired me to read further. Principal components analysis took me back to graduate school, but besides the nostalgia inducing effects, I found this comment of interest:

    We note here that we are statisticians/mathematicians who were asked to comment on the correctness of the methodology found in MBH98/99. In this report we have focused on answering this question and not on whether or not the global climate is changing. We have discussed paleoclimatology only to the extent that it was necessary to make our discussion of the statistical issues clear. The instrumented temperature record makes it clear that global temperatures have risen since 1850 CE. How this present era compares to previous epochs is not clear because the uncertainties in the proxies. However, it is clear that average global temperature increases are not the real focus. It is the temperature increases at the poles that matter and average global or Northern Hemisphere increases do
    not address the issue. We note that according to experts at NASA’s JPL, the average ocean height is increasing by approximately 1 millimeter per year, half of which is due to melting of polar ice and the other half due to thermal expansion. The latter fact implies that the oceans are absorbing tremendous amounts of heat, which is much more alarming because of the coupling of ocean circulation to the atmosphere. (See Wunsch 2002, 2006). [page 50]

    For those who wish to continue the debate, I leave you with the Wegman committee’s 7th finding:

    As mentioned in our introduction, much of the discussion on the ‘hockey stick’ issue has taken place on competing web blogs. Our committee believes that web blogs are not an appropriate way to conduct science and thus the blogs give credence to the fact that these global warming issues are have migrated from the realm of rational scientific discourse. Unfortunately, the factions involved have become highly and passionately polarized. [page 49]

    Which I take to mean “don’t cite blogs on scientific issues” (not necessarily my view — all I know is I’m going to crank up the airconditioning tomorrow).

  22. jm

    It appears to me that those scientists who disagree with the idea that carbon dioxide greenhouse effect is the major cause of global warming are not arguing that there is no global warming, but rather that the cause is other, natural factors such as increased solar activity. It also appears that there is sufficient noise and uncertainty in the measurements that neither side can prove its position, and that the simulations of climatic effects of greenhouse emissions are not sufficiently realistic and complete as to give definitive answers all can agree upon.
    So the issue is then how we should go about decision-making in the presence of this uncertainty.
    Many decades ago Peter F Drucker made the excellent point that the most important question to ask when making any decision is, “What if it is wrong?” Is it easy to reverse course — to undo the effects of the decsion? If not, then one must be very conservative and cautious.
    Clearly, once the CO2 is in the atmosphere, there’s no practical way to get it out, if it turns out that the majority view is right.

  23. Valuethinker

    The evidence of the last 5 years (at least) is that the scale of the global warming problem has been massively underestimated.
    This isn’t 2 degrees C hotter by 2050, this is 5 degrees, and maybe 10 degrees by 2100.
    That latter number (23-24 degrees fahrenheit) is enough to end civilisation by making the planet’s mid latitudes practically uninhabitable, crippling food production, and causing mass migration and war.
    In addition, the pace of melting of the Greenland Ice cap is much greater than expected, and the Antarctic region is beginning to show similar signs. By 2100 very large parts of the planet now heavily inhabited (like the United Kingdom, and Florida) could be completely under water, or at least under water during bad storms.
    So the question is whether we can trigger the necessary level of alarm, and how fast. and then what to do.
    On the last:
    - the technology exists now for a radical reduction in CO2 production by civilisation, at a cost which would certainly be no more than the Cold War cost, and probably less than victory in WWII. As we move onto that track (roughly, doubling world GDP and halving total CO2 production ie a 4 fold reduction per unit of GDP) that technology will get a lot better and cheaper (the learning curve effects).
    The kind of number we are talking about is probably 10-20% of world GDP or 4-10 trillion dollars. The US has spent on Iraq as much as Kyoto was going to ‘unacceptably’ cost the US.
    So we can solve the problem of global CO2 emission– or at least manage it to the point where the pace at which the world gets hotter should slow down (allowing us to adjust where and how we live in time).
    - on the first two questions the problem is political and institutional. Ironically, bad weather which *may* not be related to global warming, such as Katrina and this month’s heat waves, will probably have the greatest impact on political opinion.
    Human beings and societies aren’t good at thinking and acting very long term– they are geared, perhaps by evolution, to react to short term changes. There is an environmental catastrophe at the core of most societal collapses (eg ancient Greece and Rome, where the problems of soil exhaustion and deforestation were well recognised by writers of the time).
    - the key thing that has to happen is the world’d coal (and aviation and other heavy carbon producing) industries have to be neutralised politically. They are the big carbon producers and they are the ones who finance sabotage of anything to do on Global Warming. They are also the industries where the abatement cost will be particularly painful.
    The key interest group that needs to be won over is American Evangelicals, who are an increasingly powerful, and election-deciding, group in US elections. In both 2000 (by staying away from the polls due to a late revelation of GWB’s drunk driving charge– this at least is Karl Rove’s thesis) and in 2004 (by winning Ohio and Florida) they were electively decisive.
    The US is 25% of world CO2 production. If it does nothing, then the rest of the world will not make significant progress.
    One evangelical was quoted as saying ‘do you really think God would let us burn ourselves up?’,,1797397,00.html
    Another Washington lobbyist on the religious right said: “Rich is just being stupid on this issue. There may be a debate to be had but . . . people can only sustain so many moral movements in their lifetime. Is God really going to let the Earth burn up?”

  24. ChrisA

    From the graph as presented you can clearly see that temperatures started rising sharply around 1800 or so, yet the rise in CO2 only began post 1950′s. The gradient also seems to remain the same as pre and post 1950. So Occam’s razor would suggest that the best answer is that whatever caused the warming before 1950 is causing it after 1950.
    On the argument that we should assume CO2 is responsible in case it is, this ignores the very real costs of a forced reduction in CO2 emissions. These costs are not trivial if you are poor Chinese or Indian.

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