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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

History shows that . . .

[CO2] Levels similar to those now commonly regarded as adequate to tackle climate change were associated with sea levels 25-40m (80-130 ft) higher than today.

That’s meters. That’s enough to drown a 10-story building. That’s enough to make several billion people move to higher ground or die. Or both. It won’t be pleasant for the people they move in on either.

And that is not conjecture or a probability statement or an extrapolation.

The new research was able to look back to the Miocene period, which began a little over 20 million years ago.

At the start of the period, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere stood at about 400 parts per million (ppm) before beginning to decline about 14 million years ago – a trend that eventually led to formation of the Antarctic icecap and perennial sea ice cover in the Arctic.

The high concentrations were probably sustained by prolonged volcanic activity in what is now the Columbia River basin of North America, where rock formations called flood basalts relate a history of molten rock flowing routinely onto the planet’s surface.

In the intervening millennia, CO2 concentrations have been much lower; in the last few million years they cycled between 180ppm and 280ppm in rhythm with the sequence of ice ages and warmer interglacial periods.

Now, humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases are pushing towards the 400ppm range [c. 380ppm now], which will very likely be reached within a decade.

“What we have shown is that in the last period when CO2 levels were sustained at levels close to where they are today, there was no icecap on Antarctica and sea levels were 25-40m higher,” said research leader Aradhna Tripati from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

“At CO2 levels that are sustained at or near modern day values, you don’t need to have a major change in CO2 levels to get major changes in ice sheets,” she told BBC News.

The elevated CO2 and sea levels were associated with temperatures about 3-6C (5-11F) higher than today.

So, there you have it. The last time greenhouse gases were this high, there wasn’t a 2% chance of melting ice sheets. There was a 100% chance.

Does that mean it will happen again? We’ll probably see. Because the answer to, “Do you want to risk the whole planet to find out?” appears to be “Yes.”

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32 Responses

  1. And yet the scientific illiterate will be making the decisions NOW that will be affecting life on this planet for generations.

    The deniers will be out in force — demanding that this is bogus.

    Many of the “boomer” generation do understand this science and were behind Earth Day so many years ago.

    One would think that parents and grandparents would give a damn about the world they will be turning over to the next generations.

  2. According to the Bible when Noah built the Ark his neighbors laughed.

    When the Flood came they begged him to let them inside, but it was too late.

  3. No worries – Obama just won the nobel peace prize. The award will encourage him to stop global warming in its tracks within no time.

  4. I’m pretty sure global warming is a myth, kinda like that hare-brained theory of evolution I keep being pestered with.

  5. All I can do is hope the scientific consensus is somehow mistaken, because I can’t do a damn thing to turn our civilization to a safer course if it’s true. 😦

    • There’s always a chance the scientific consenus is incorrect, in whole or in part. Scientists are no better about jumping on the bandwagon than other people.

      Here’s a story from the BBC today…What Happened to Global Warming?

      It doesn’t really refute climate change but does call into question the current models again.

      • I read the article. It looks like that we may have a decision at the end of the next 5 years when we actually discover whether it is hotter or cooler than the projections. We do need to pay attention to science but we probably also need to remember that science gave us some projections that did not play out—like the nobs on your head and criminality, frontal lobe operations, some of those theories about what causes cancer, how the world began and other famous lists one could compile. And then also remember that science has given us a lot of other things that seem to be right on.

  6. Maybe the lead title here should be : Be Confused, Be Very Confused.

    One thing for sure, there is enough cognitive dissonance there to keep the right and the left going for quite some time.

  7. jangles, I don’t think you quite grasped the gist. This is not a theory. This is the fossil evidence of what CO2 levels and sea levels have been for the past 20 million years. 400ppm CO2, which is about where we are now, led to the polar ice caps — both of them — melting the last time it happened.

    Could something be different this time? Sure. They could melt faster. Or we could have enough particulate pollution to screen out some of the sun and maybe they’ll melt slower.

    So far, melting has exceeded predictions. The Arctic shipping passage was almost entirely open last year. I think that’s about 20 years ahead of predictions.

    The debunked theories you mention achieved debunkedness precisely because data with this degree of clarity was found. What these data debunk is the idea that there’s much confusion.

    So, no, don’t be confused.

    • Do you think we can really stop it anymore?

      • If we were willing to put about 2-3% of global GDP into it, the according the some top flight economists (Lord Stern, Krugman), yes, we could.

        That’s what kills me. Even though it gets more expensive each year we don’t do much, it’s still cheap enough so we’d barely notice, if we did it.

        Lord Stern also worked out an estimate of what it’ll cost sometime within the next few decades to do nothing: 20% of global GDP.

        So we do nothing. Such a deal. Not.

    • You don’t seem to have a firm grasp of the realities yourself. What you have is instead a belief that the current data means what the current model says. Chances are it does, but it is a theory none the less.

      Since the record average high temperature occurred in 1998 and it has cooled each year since overall. What explanation does the climate model give for the current arctic melts? Does it take into account local temperature variations? If this model is like others I’ve seen, it is a very gross predictor and the accuracy is vastly overstated as a matter of course.

      None of that negates climate change but I hate to see people become too enamored of geological data.

      • The argument that climate change data are dubious because X has or has not happened in the last 10 years, or last summer, or whenever, are the result of common fallacy. It’s the same as saying, “There’s no recession because my cousin’s income is the same as last year.”

        One or a few data points on a much larger trend can always be cherrypicked to make any argument you’d like.

        Climate change is evident in the statistics, in the aggregate, and in the long term. So much so that 99% of climate scientists agree that there’s a trend and which way it points. (See, for instance, this paper in Science.) The scientists who disagree turn out to be geologists, or economists, or physicists, or others without enough background to see their own ignorance.

        Picking a ten-year window (or eleven years, I believe, in a recent BBC piece) is evidence of inability to understand the methodology, not evidence of unchanged climate.

        The article itself is behind a paywall, but at least read the abstract and then take a minute to think about whether what you said makes any sense.

      • “Since the record average high temperature occurred in 1998 and it has cooled each year since overall. ”

        This statement is only partially correct. Yes, the warmest average high worldwide was indeed in 1998, but it has *not* “cooled each year since overall. ” The second-warmest average high was this year. Furthermore, temperatures have been above average for the last 31 years straight. Furthermore, 2009 represented the highest average temperature in recorded in the southern hemisphere, as well as the warmest ocean surface temperature ever recorded.

        1998 was an atypically warm year (something that has more effect on land temperatures than ocean temperatures, by the way) – the trend line is still upward.

        For a quick glimpse of what August 2009 looked like, take a peek at this from NOAA’s National Climate Data Center:


        More from the NCDC:

        “August 2009

        The combined global land and ocean surface temperatures for August 2009 ranked as the second warmest August on record since records began in 1880. The combined global land and ocean temperature anomaly was 0.62°C (1.12°F), falling only 0.05°C (0.09°F) short of tying the record set in 1998. Sea surface temperatures (SST) during August 2009 were warmer than average across much of the world’s oceans, with cooler-than-average conditions across the higher-latitude southern oceans and the northern parts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The August 2009 worldwide ocean SST ranked as the warmest on record for a third consecutive month—0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average of 15.6°C (60.1°F). This broke the previous August record set in 1998, 2003, and 2005.”

        You may also wish to take a look at this tidbit:


        In the interests of full disclosure (and at the risk of outing myself):

        I have worked at both NCAR and at NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory (although I do not currently work at either institution). I’m reasonably familiar with the guts of the CCSM model. I also know both the authors of this paper and the folks at ORNL.

        Relph, I hope they’re wrong, too…but I don’t think they are (and I think the last couple of years have pretty clearly shown us all that “hope” is an insufficient basis for policy).

  8. I’m sorry, I can’t think of anything to saytoday. I’m still speechless about The Nobel Peace Prize. Is that the place where pot is legal? (Amsterdam) Trying to find an explanation – I’m sure Obama’s head will not fit through the door.

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