Rates of Change, Creatures of Habit

Periodically I see members of the Consensus try and vary their argument about Climate Change. Instead of warning us about the Grand Total of temperature or sea level rise, they talk about how quickly it might happen and how the rate of change is actually more threatening than the total.

That line of argument seems to be becoming more common as the Grand Totals are adjusted downward. Nobody seems to be talking anymore about the Six Degrees of Immolation that was such a popular meme a few years ago, nor about the 3 Meter Backward Somersault With Reverse Twist that sea levels were going to do. Now it’s the fact that it might happen in a few years–even less than a decade–that should alarm us. They say that we evolved in a stable climate and that rapid change can be well… almost catastrophic.

At first that might seem somewhat ridiculous–that (say for example) a quick rise of 2C in surface temperatures could truly pose a threat to an advanced civilization with our access to energy (for air conditioning) and advanced technologies for monitoring and combating sea level rise.

Sadly, that advanced civilization is really only available to the 1.2 billion of us living in the developed world. Rapid change could in fact be a real threat to those in the emerging economies that are home to the other 5.8 billion of us.

This may explain the vehemence of those who refuse to admit that there has been a pause in the climb of surface temperatures. If their argument is that temperatures can climb rapidly, even if they convince us of the possibility (and I am convinced that it is possible–it has happened in the past), that doesn’t get them anywhere unless they can also convince us that it’s happening now.

And it’s not.

Similarly with sea level rise, something like a very rapid melt of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet could produce an almost instantaneous sea level rise that would scare the heck out of us and harm quite a few. But without any idea of when that might happen, the 3mm per year current sea level rise has no power to frighten–that’s 1 foot a (Oops.) century. Amusingly, some scientists have actually lowered estimates of sea level rise from earlier in the 20th Century–so they can then claim with a straight face that the current sea level rise is happening at double the rate of 50 or 60 years ago. Sadly, we’ve seen that story before.

Despite all that, I do give some credence to worries that accelerated impacts of climate change may prove a serious threat. This is not because we are stuck at a low level of mitigation technology–we’re far from that.

I just wonder if in the developed world 21st Century Man is as strong, adaptable and clear-headed as his forebears. I’m actually not at all worried about how people in the Philippines or Indonesia will react to quick climate change. They’re smart, quick thinking and adaptable. It’s we in the developed world who I see (with many exceptions of course) as sluggish, overly dependent and frankly out of shape.

To be clear, I see no present evidence of any acceleration of either the phenomena described as global warming nor impacts. Temperatures have plateaued at a high level–just ask consensus scientist James Hansen. Sea level rise has been a very stable 3mm a year or less for a very long time. Xtreme Weather is an alarmist myth.

And it’s a very good thing.




6 responses to “Rates of Change, Creatures of Habit

  1. ” the 3mm per year current sea level rise has no power to frighten–that’s 1 foot a year.” 1 foot per century?

  2. I believe that climate can change quickly, but that the rapid changes are not the result of co2 accumulation, but things like land cover and soot. We can change them fast and we can unchange them fast.

    • I’m pretty much on board with what you write. I confess that I’ve been worried about WAIS stability since before the whole controversy about climate change began. They’ve been writing about it sliding into the ocean since the twenties or thirties.

  3. “a very rapid melt of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet”

    My understanding that even in the worst case scenarios this process will take on the order of 200 to 900 years, and they don’t envision any form of a rapid melt to begin for at least 100 years. Add about 4 feet if it all melted.

    There is some propaganda effect when they use “very rapid” in geological time but do not specify this in an article for public consumption. It’s typically millennial scale.

    I also read recently that it is not air temperature that will produce a rapid melt, it is sea temperatures. So the thinking that rapid air warming will melt the big ice cube up north real fast isn’t entirely accurate. Have to remember that it below freezing there for most of the year.

    I suppose one could imagine the entire ice sheet falling off into the ocean, but I don’t think there is any person who really believes that can happen.

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