The Cost of Cold

Vermont on Friday. Photo credit: Washington Post

When climate gurus calculate the net cost of a warmer climate, do they assign any benefit to the reduction in extreme cold? From a Washington Post article about how Vermonters are dealing with temperatures 25 to 30 degrees below zero:

This stretch of extreme cold has taken a toll on much of the Eastern United States, bursting water mains, fracturing pipes, rendering car batteries useless. The frigid weather has turned tragic with news reports of weather-related deaths from South Carolina to North Dakota, in a storm that led to rare snow in Florida and record coastal flooding in New England. … The cold has been especially hard on people like [Todd] Alexander, who have fixed incomes or live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford higher than normal utility bills. ..

Even with low-income heating assistance, weather like the stretch residents are enduring now has the capacity to throw the working poor over the financial edge. Heat must constantly be running to survive. Furnaces can break down. Fuel will run out more quickly than anticipated. The cold costs money.

Here in the Richmond area, I’ve heard the same quip a half-dozen times this week: Where is global warming when you really need it?

Update: Coal exports through Virginia’s ports are slowing because coal cars are freezing and need to be run through thaw sheds, reports the Virginian-Pilot.

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55 responses to “The Cost of Cold

  1. Sorry, but the quipsters do not understand that one of the consequences of global warming is more extreme weather events of all types including more extreme cold events.

    A warmer atmosphere, acidifying oceans, and ocean current alterations caused by salinity changes from freshwater additions from melting glaciers can upset our standard weather patterns throughout the year. We are pumping more energy into our oceanic and atmospheric systems that drive our weather patterns. That manifests in many different ways, including periods of extreme cold.

    There are many factors that contribute to this including changes occurring at the core of our planet that are altering our magnetic field which is reducing our shield that normally deflects high energy particles from the sun and interstellar sources.

    We don’t fully understand all that is going on. But it seems reasonable that if you make considerable changes in a short-time (the several hundred-year industrial revolution) to a system that has been fairly stable for a long time (at least in terms of human lifetimes), things are going to change.

    It is a bit of a puzzle to me why we don’t remove the alterations that we are responsible for, especially since much of the solution is energy efficiency and renewables which are cheaper than the conventional means we are using that are contributing to the problem. You don’t even have to buy into the climate issues. There is ample evidence that the combustion products and harm caused by extracting fossil fuels creates significant harm to humans, irrespective of any climate effects.

    The solutions exist. They are cheaper and less harmful than what we have been doing. We are supposed to be an intelligent species. What’s the obstacle?

    By the way. We just experienced another Polar Vortex event. After the dispatch and other human management issues were resolved after the last Polar Vortex, we didn’t experience the events that many have been using as an excuse to build more pipelines. According to Bloomberg, “with a one-two punch of heavy snow and bone-rattling cold on the way, grid operators say this: We’re good.”

    In the Northeast, they have seen gas prices surge a bit and needed to rely more heavily than normal on some oil-fired units. But the experience was nothing like what happened in 2013-14. Yet, the Northeast has avoided the addition of new pipelines and their energy efficiency goals are only partially met.

    PJM said, “Everything looks to be on track to remain reliable.” In the Midwest and the Southwest Power Pool they had a few hiccups, but they have “not experienced any operational issues that we’ve been unable to mitigate.”

    “This week, PJM has operated with as much as 19,000 megawatts of outages, mostly due to mechanical failures — though a small portion of that resulted from plants having trouble procuring gas. PJM still has more than 25,000 megawatts of reserve margin, Pilong said. “From a generator performance perspective, we’ve seen very consistent performance this entire week.”

    The demand for gas in the U.S. is being driven by the export market. Over two-thirds of the 13.7 Bcf/d capacity of the Transco pipeline is headed for export, either over pipelines to Mexico, or to LNG terminals for export to South America, Europe of Asia. This will only increase domestic prices far faster than necessary. Do we really want to pay billions extra for expensive new pipelines that will aid in increasing gas prices too? We can have all of the gas we need using the pipelines already in the ground. Why not use all of that capacity in Transco to serve VA, NC, and SC, instead of paying more to send the gas to another country?

  2. I agree with TomH, it’s a cute quip, and a terribly misleading one, whether it comes from the President or you, Jim. There really is a difference between average climate and local, short term weather.

    Global warming is climate change, measured in terms of average annual heat gain to the atmosphere over the entire Earth and subtle consequences in the Great Heat Sink that is the ocean, which has been slowly warming, with all the consequences for corals bleaching and glaciers and ice shelves melting and higher water temps in the tropics breeding more intense hurricanes, all the stuff that we have been reading about.

    Weather effects are consequences too. It may seem contradictory that the cold over eastern North America since Christmas is caused by increased heating elsewhere, but that is the case. When average temps in the Pacific Ocean rise (especially during “El Nino” years — thus the name “El Nino-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, for this multi-year cycle in the Pacific), the jet streams are driven further north, towards Alaska, and then swoop down over the eastern Rockies and the upper Midwest in a sort of rebound bringing the cold Polar air with them. This swoop south over land, in the eastern US, is accentuated when the circulation of water and air in the North Atlantic (called the “North Atlantic Oscillation” or NAO by the climate folks) is in its “positive” phase (meaning the semi-permanent high pressure system north of Iceland shifts east, allowing the cold air to move into the North Atlantic and even across it to northern Europe, rather than being pushed north over Hudson’s Bay and Greenland). Notwithstanding all this colder air dropping from Canada over the eastern US, despite all this ENSO and NAO activity, the annual AVERAGE temperature over ALL the northern hemisphere is higher, and ocean temps are steadily increasing annually.

  3. Advice for those moving by foot over long open distances at temperatures 25 to 30 degrees below zero.

    Keep entire body dry under an easy moving breathable wind shell from head to foot, and keep your whole self moving naturally and easily within that shell over your constant and regular and easy movements that are now hyper-efficient (so you can’t over heat or over stress or or waste a calorie), and keep moving along thus while also eating small power-packed bits consumed in perfect tune with your internal furnace’s energy consumption, so as to keep your entire body and self, all of its various aspects and parts warm and singing and happily in tune with the world around you, most particularly your hands and your feet and your head, all these mine shaft canaries, warmed from your deep insides, so you are kept smiling by the ongoing pleasure and wonderment of your being right there, right then, doing what you and they and your whole body are doing in unison there in the great world around you, because you’re at the outer edge of the primal heartbeat of life, as fully alive within your entire self and being, doing all of what you and they are are meant to do, as you can ever be.

    • On the other hand, should you be a Canada goose, find yourself a patch of firm river ice out in middle of a good sized wide river, and fluff your feathers out and hunker down onto that patch of ice, and stay there, enjoying the season, preferable in the company of at least a hundred or so other Canada Geese.

      • Except in the Maryland parts of the Chesapeake Bay between December 15 and Feb 3. During those times the smart goose will be alert for the glint of sunlight off a Beretta 669 Field III shotgun.

  4. The interpretation of the phrase Global Warming is an example of lazy sound-bite thinking that has become too much of a norm… in an era where many folks simply don’t want to really understand complexities but just want the “bottom line”.

    Global Warming is a poorly chosen phrase used to describe significant changes in earth weather patterns – the result of changes to the atmosphere that in turn cascades into other changes.

    Changes to climate means changes to BOTH summer AND winter … with more extreme and less predictable weather – floods, drought, wildfires… mega hurricanes that we’ve not seen before that cause tidal surges and 1000 year rainfall events… AND extreme winter weather the result of changing wind patterns further north.

    We saw unprecedented tidal surges in New Jersey and New York the followed by rainfall we’ve not seen before in Houston.. and the power grid wiped out in parts of Florida , Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as well as a half dozen other Caribbean islands.

    Flooding in Norfolk and Portsmouth, Miami and Boston are now being experienced…

    We are literally redefining the metrics for 100 year, 500 year and 1000 year flood events… FEMA is going broke trying to compensate.. for the extreme events it never contemplated in it’s actuarials.

    but aside from all the above.. here’s an entirely different question.

    Why did Civilization proceed and accelerate in places like Europe – with significant winters and not in the warmer locales of Earth ?

    One might think . the year-round warmer parts of earth would propel the most advanced civilizations.. and NO.. I’m NOT buying the Jared Diamond theory.

  5. Jim, your post today is unworthy of you. Surely you understand that climate change affects all extremes of weather, not just average temperature. And for any reader tempted to fall for the misleading quip, please read Siddhartha Mukherjee’s compelling personal essay in the current New Yorker for a clear view of how homeostasis works. Just as the body can decline to death, so can an organization or an environment. See if this link works for you:

    • Oh, really. I prefer to wonder at the spectacular world we live in, including all the great echoes of our past, not least the dozens upon dozens of ice ages that have so gloriously and grievously visited us in our current iteration for the last 700,000 years.

      Lets us all thereby get a life. Namely the one we find ourselves in and have been in since time marked deep within us, and take from those markings and those echoes, the joy and awe and wonder at who are are and where we came from, and the senses and memories of those who got us here. For God’s sake, give us a life for the time we can grasp it.

      • Point well taken. Sometime over the last 30,000 years this (photo below) was filled with ice, several miles deep. Had it not been filled with ice, we would not see this fjord today. At the same time, the Susquehanna River flowed down a narrow channel to the edge of the continental shelf many miles east of Hampton Roads today, through a broad alluvial valley and coastal plain. They lie under Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic today. At its edge, I catch oysters and crabs and fish today.

        When things change only on a geologic time scale, perhaps we should “go with the flow” and not fight the causes of change but “get a life” and enjoy the consequences. Is there any wisdom from old age? One thing, certainly, is that asking the politicians of all the nations of the world to act together, voluntarily, at an immediate cost to the short term economic interests of a majority of their citizens, in order to halt a nearly invisible process that scientists say will affect people’s grandchildren (but not entirely negatively), is — an unlikely sell. Another thing, certainly, is that we get more selfish with all our investments — including in cleaning up the environment — as the time frame for payback within our lifetime grows shorter. Going with the flow is very tempting. My children will adapt to climate change, and relocate their homes if necessary.

        Even so, I hate to see the piles of trash on beaches, and I have taught my children to care about preserving the better aspects of the environment we all share. I realize that rising sea levels will displace a lot of people from cities and farmland built on the remaining coastal plains of an earlier geologic era. Where will they re-settle, and at what political and social and economic cost? We are not a few forest nomads any longer.

        So, let us not forget “the joy and awe and wonder at who are are and where we came from, and the senses and memories of those who got us here.” And at the same time, let us not forget that how we got here was not entirely stasis, but slow, evolutionary, change, and the future will bring more such change, and we have some present, custodial responsibility for how that future will unfold.

    • “So can an organization or an environment.” Or a political system. Thank you for the reference; “homeostatic resilience” is a concept for the times. If only so many issues of the New Yorker did not accumulate unread beside the bed.

      • I always appreciate, indeed marvel at, your balance and fairness, and do here as well. But the New Yorker! That is a bridge too far, one as if by force I had to abandon after the death of John Updike, its last claim to legitimacy.

  6. ” NASA Says The Global Effort To Repair The Ozone Hole Is Working”

    A new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows the fruits of this treaty. Using data from NASA’s Aura satellite, scientists have discovered that there has been 20 percent less ozone depletion in the Antarctic since 2005.

    “We see very clearly that chlorine from CFCs is going down in the ozone hole, and that less ozone depletion is occurring because of it,” lead author Susan Strahan from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said in a statement.

    Hopefully enough folks will follow a similar path with Global Warming..

    here’s what our spectacular world actually looks like these days, by the way:

    some of us do recognize this… and others .. don’t

  7. I get the idea we should continue to look for sources of renewable energy that are not based on fossil fuels. I get the idea we should be careful with anything we emit into the air.

    But the idea that humanity knows what is normal climate and can define what is normal climate is likely the most arrogant thing I’ve observed in my more than 60 years on this planet. We do know that the earth’s climate has varied wildly over the millennia. We know that climate has affected civilization and that humanity has survived changes in climate. But we sure should be humble enough to say we are somewhere on a journey from some climate to another and that’s about all we know. We stand in our arrogance and claim the temperatures in the late 1900s were the correct and normal ones that must be maintained.

    Similarly, the idea that changes in the earth’s temperature (even assuming accurate measurement without making adjustments to fit curves) affects and effects every weather event is also human arrogance at its worse. We have California’s goofy Governor claiming the State’s fires are caused by climate change, when forestry experts know that suppressing every forest fire causes the growth of more underbrush that fuels massive fires. Fire is a normal part of a forest’s life and they need to occur and when they occur they result in less severe fires. I learned that in the mid-70s working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Yet California has repressed all fires for many years. That can’t be a prime cause of California’s fires.

    Similarly, the idea we have the most extreme weather today is preposterous. Until this year, the United States has not had a major hurricane hit in years. Barbados has not had a direct hit since September 1955. The 1930s experienced some of the hottest summers and coldest snowy winters in recorded history. Etc. Etc. Did anyone ever listen to their parents and grandparents discuss weather and climate experiences?

    I read last fall predictions we’d have considerable cold this winter because of the buildup of snow in Siberia in October. I suppose heavy Siberian snow in October never happened before. Only since Climate Change.

    I strongly suspect few of us would accept a single cause for most other things in life – from economic success or failure – to obesity – to long life – to unacceptable traffic volumes on I-95. Yet, mention the phrase climate change and it causes everything.

    And I’m still waiting for someone to justify the 1970s’ prediction of another ice age because global temperatures were falling with today. Ditto for a fair and honest discussion of the adjustment of temperature measurements to fit an expected curve. When I was in school, any student who adjusted data points in an experiment got a bad grade. Now they get more federal funding.

    The Climate Change f/k/a Global Warming is more about politics and power than it is about science.

  8. The weather columnist in the Crozet Gazette, which I get up here at Wintergreen (and use to light my fires), noted in this issue that the cold snap so far ranks in the top 20 in local records, but is hardly at the top of the list. Yeah, it’s cold. Been cold before, will be cold again.

    A steady reliable and low cost supply of natural gas looks pretty darn good to me (in my case here, propane). What will it cost to HEAT those homes in New England, compared to what it would cost when the greenies kill all fossil fuels? Hmmmm?

    • Ok, 48 hours later I suspect the period since the first of the year may now top the list of recent record cold snaps. 🙂 But it still doesn’t prove anything about “anthropomorphic climate change” either way. And I very much prefer the heat I get from propane to the heat I get from a heat pump, so go go natural gas….

  9. Our approach to climate change can indeed take various strategies from adaption, recognizing in part that not all changes would be bad, to the other extreme, trying to mandate zero carbon emissions, immediately.

    Need I say more? No need to do so.

    • The photo I posted above is a recognition of change, not all of which is bad. The photo LarryG posted above is a call for action to reverse the situation immediately.

  10. Some of you seemed to miss the point of the post entirely. I wasn’t asking if climate change is real or whether renewables are a good idea. I was asking whether those who calculate the costs of climate change take into account all factors. My sense is that climate change advocates look exclusively at the negative side of a warmer climate and none of the beneficial aspects. We hear how we’ll get more malaria — but not how we’ll get less influenza. Maybe the experts have looked at the human and economic cost of cold and deducted it from the cost of higher temperatures to get a net benefit/loss. But if so, we never hear about it. When I get chastised for even bringing the subject up, I sense that the critics are not entirely objective on the subject.

    I also think TMT is raising some valid points. We hear all the time that rising global temperatures means more volatile weather — more heat in the water and atmosphere drives more radical shifts in weather patterns, stronger hurricanes, more droughts, more bad stuff all around — never good stuff, just bad stuff. So let’s run the play book in reverse. Do colder temperatures mean the opposite — milder swings in weather conditions? If we rolled the temperature back enough, would we reach the point where earth was Gaia-like? Would we experience fewer droughts, fewer hurricanes, fewer epic weather events? Were the Ice Ages, by virtue of being really cold and having less heat in the oceans and the air, a period of more benign weather?

    By the way, at what temperature were nasty weather events were at a minimum? 1980?

    I thought it was the difference in temperature that drives weather, not the absolute temperature of the weather. (Otherwise, how would we explain weather patterns on Jupiter?) But I’m not a meteorologist, so I don’t know. Perhaps someone could explain to me.

    • Climate change is the 3rd rail of American politics so you really cannot touch it and not get shocked.

      According to Wikipedia:
      The third rail of a nation’s politics is a metaphor for any issue so controversial that it is “charged” and “untouchable” to the extent that any politician or public official (or blogger) who dares to broach the subject will invariably suffer politically.

      It is most commonly used in North America. Though commonly attributed to Tip O’Neill,[1] Speaker of the United States House of Representatives during the Reagan presidency, it seems to have been coined by O’Neill aide Kirk O’Donnell in 1982 in reference to Social Security.[2]

      The metaphor comes from the high-voltage third rail in some electric railway systems. Stepping on this usually results in electrocution, and the use of the term in politics relates to the risk of “political death” that a politician would face by tackling certain issues.

    • But I suspect everyone participating on this blog is beyond shock, or at least beyond political death, from third rails.l

      Jim, my understanding of weather is amateurish — but as I understand it the major “jet stream” patterns over land tend to be driven by the effects of warmer or colder water in the adjacent oceans, and in the short run (months or a few years) the distribution of warmer water within ocean basins is the result of ocean currents, like the Gulf Stream. So extreme weather isn’t just a function of temperature differences but also the extent to which masses of polar or tropical air are pushed south or north of their usual latitudes for extended time periods. And these larger scale changes in temperature distribution patterns over land are responding to the changing patterns over water. And there’s a lot of research going on these days about water temps and ocean currents. I figure the pros must have learned a little about this since they can model it fairly well now at least a few days out, and within more general parameters even a month out.

      I am not one to say climate change is all bad. I’ve said, here, in the past, we don’t understand nearly enough about why we’ve had ice ages, alternating with sandy beaches right up to the Fall Line, to be confident what our fossil fuel CO2 additions to the atmosphere have done to change things, let alone how reversible the change is or whether it’s worth the cost to reverse it. But: there are other costs from burning fossil fuels (eg, mining, transportation, ash disposal) that we should be trying to avoid. There is evident harm already occurring from changing ocean temps and that confirms warming is currently occurring even if we didn’t cause it (although it’s likely we did). And if that continues, say, enough to raise sea-level just 10 feet, there will be massive population displacements from low-lying cities and farmlands to deal with, in the not very distant future, putting aside entirely the question of causation.

      So we are faced with a certain big cost if we do nothing and warming continues, or the possibility that for a much smaller cost we might be able to mitigate or even avoid the big cost, while at the same time making changes in fossil fuel use that we ought to make anyway for unrelated reasons. I’m persuaded, on balance, that’s a gamble worth taking.

      • Acbar –

        By all means get a copy of and read “Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind” by Lyall Watson, published by William Marrow in 1985.

        It is a taproot source of the English Patient’s knowledge. Surely your recall the English Patient’s gorgeous histories and expressions of them.

        How he told us about the forces and powers and influences of the exotic winds that swept, eddied, curled, and danced, into and across the Levant and the North African deserts during the times of the Great Wars across ages from Herodotus to Alexander to Hannibal to Caesar and Antony and up to almost today to Rommel and Patton.

        Recall all this history and wisdom, ancient and modern, the English Patient told us. And from whence it came. And not least from whence the Heaven’s breath winds came during all these times, and what the winds did there during these 2600 years, and where the winds went, and how the winds returned again and again as the genesis of new and unique forces that swept onward still, now being among the eternal truths that rule our world.

        So the English Patient told us how those winds generated themselves again and again, shape shifting all the while all of us and our world, as they built for us their own lands and waters and weathers as their heats and colds, acting as master creators, moved and mixed and swept across far far flung spaces and lands and waters only to return as new winds that yet again swept into and across the Levant and African lands and the peoples of three and now four millennium, and all the centuries within those millennium – the tribes, nomads, battalions, and companies then traveling there amid the particulars of these new found weathers that then, like always before and after, were at work, caressing, shaping, modulating, and scouring drifting and moving places where today we still walk among oddities, extremes, and eccentricities, places marked indelibly thus by Heaven’s Breath that still and will always dance and play in endless combinations all over the earth, working God’s will upon it.

        “Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind” is a world treasure.

      • He of the hundredth monkey? About whom it was said, “He had a flair for vivid phrases, and, in particular, a sharp eye for the paradoxes of life. He once remarked that “if the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.””

        • Ah, a fellow traveler! But the Hundredth Monkey proves the point!

          All science has limits, and shortcomings, as Einstein said.

          Thus, for example, it takes a Sri Lankan-born Canadian poet, a Canadian nurse, a Canadian thumb-less burnt out intelligence officer, a young Sikh sapper in British army, and a horribly burnt Hungarian cartographer Count on morphine and dying, it takes all of these souls locked in a bombed out Italian Monastery amid an obliterated battlefield atop a hill, to tie together for us all the otherwise loose ends need to build for us a new reality of many new things. Such as showing us how forces loose in world like the ghibli and haboob and sirocco haunt us and always will, no matter what our sciences says.

          Acbar, these are your Hundredth Monkeys, the wild assortment of Hundredth Monkeys, telling us about ourselves and our world. We critically need people such as these to set us all straight, including not least our “university research scientists.”

          Thus too we need our Humanities professors to tell us their tales of these monkeys, teachers who never loose their nerve and gumption. Otherwise all science is lost and runs amuck, loose and careless in our world.

          So Buck up boys, and girls. Strings of failures mark and litter all your roads to revelations.

    • Jim –

      On certain narrow levels, the damage done to us by upward trends in temperature versus downward trends in temperature is complex and paradoxical, a mixed bag as you suggest.

      But the overarching reality of climate change is dramatic and clear and indisputable. Insofar as concerns the humanoid experience, cold trends have killed far far more people.

      Indeed cold trends have wiped out entirely and irrevocably whole populations of humanoid peoples. Heat has never done so. Thus, on the British Isles, since 7000,000 years ago, more than a dozen ice ages have utterly destroyed, to the last male and female, all human life on those islands for thousands of years. DNA that survives to this day of the oldest traceable human inhabitants of those islands go back less than 10,000 years.

      Pray for heat. Not for Cold.

  11. re: ” But the idea that humanity knows what is normal climate and can define what is normal climate is likely the most arrogant thing I’ve observed in my more than 60 years on this planet.”

    It’s the other way around.. Arrogance and ignorance is to think you KNOW that you are NOT causing harm or just as bad – require irrefutable proof because taking even safe but sorry, precautions because we simply don’t know

    We have folks these days that believe bloggers or boat captains living on Tangier who have zero scientific credentials and backgrounds – we give their views more credence that we give hundreds of scientists around the world who have a lifetime of academic knowledge and study. It’s bizarre.

    TMT – 98% of the world’s scientists have no doubts about what the data shows. To disregard the data – and science by claiming it is “arrogant” just boggles the mind.

    Millions of people quit smoking – even though no scientist on earth can tell them with absolute certainty that smoking will given them cancer …

    If the skeptics had done with the Ozone Hole what they are now doing with Global Warming – disaster would likely have resulted.

    We have people today – who still say that the whole CFC -Ozone hole issue is a hoax and that Science has told a conspiratorial lie about it and there was never any need to reduce it, that it’s a fabricated lie and that we’ve always had it expanding and shrinking over time – and that it’s arrogant for us to think we caused it much less can change it.

    The doubters.. they don’t seem to care that if THEY are wrong – that the earth IS imperiled… they seem more concerned with blaming science for being “arrogant” the same Science we rely on other things in our lives.. fromc cancer to DNA, etc. … LORD have mercy. Science is now a “fraud”. Luddites reign.

  12. I must rise to the defense of logic. What TMT called arrogant was something I agree with: “the idea that humanity knows what is normal climate and can define what is normal climate.” “Normal climate” is the operative term here. In the context of the past 30,000 years or so, sea level has risen and fallen across the Earth over 250 feet from where it is today — a total swing of over 500 feet. The eroded ancient river banks of the Rappahannock overlooking the flat fields of Historyland Nursery in Essex County; the sharks teeth my children found everywhere in the sand around the football stadium parking lot at Landover, MD; these are evidence of how high, how far inland, the ocean rose. And the ancient channel of the Susquehanna across the continental shelf from Cape Charles to the shelf’s edge shows how low, how far away, the waters receded. This is known fact. We also know the changing level of the ocean in such a geologically-short timeframe must have reflected how much water was trapped on land in higher latitudes as snow and ice, somewhere between none and double what is there today. But why did the earth warm and the ice melt? Why did the earth cool and the glaciers grow? We don’t know.

    So, why is today’s ocean level “normal”? We don’t have any rational reason to think that it is. It just happens to have been approximately at this level for the past 6000 years or so; so it’s “normal” in terms of recorded human history.

    I will freely concede that in the absence of any other likely cause, and given what we know about the effect of greenhouse gases on climate, the addition of huge amounts of human-caused CO2, from the burning of forests (and fossil forests), is the likely cause of today’s global warming trend. But SOMETHING ELSE caused the warming and cooling cycles of the past, the expanded tropics and the ice ages. The resulting 500+ foot swing in ocean levels dwarfed anything reasonably predicted to result from man-released CO2.

    So what is “normal climate”? What is the natural baseline against which we should measure our human impact? How constant is that baseline, and why? I completely agree with TMT, it’s arrogant for us to say, based on the clear geologic evidence before us and our limited knowledge of climate causation. Indeed, TMT said, first, “I get the idea we should continue to look for sources of renewable energy that are not based on fossil fuels. I get the idea we should be careful with anything we emit into the air.” TMT said nothing whatever implying that what we have done to the world’s climate is acceptable — just, that we don’t know what is “normal.”

    Thus I agree with you and TMT also: we have messed with the environment, including with things we do not understand, in ways we must accept responsibility for. The plastic on the beach in your photo is shameful. The pollution of our air with NOx in so many cities is equally so. The increment of CO2 we have spewed forth may be invisible and harmless to breathe, but it has consequences we do not understand, and some we do, and they are not harmless to the oceans and to sea level. We should care for the environment, seek to understand it better through science, and stop making excuses that we should do nothing because we are not sure what to do. All that said, we are no closer to knowing why there have been ice ages and ages with no ice at all. We do not know what is “normal climate” on this earth.

    • I find that to be a very reasonable assessment.

    • The most interesting question to me is why Acbar can be so reasonable and logical, and so many other people cannot, but approach hysteria instead, including apparently the acclaimed “99%” of our self proclaimed Climate Experts.

      Goodness me, this ice this week has changed my entire waterfront. A little over 200 years ago this river was typically frozen across from December to March, says the daily diary of Doctor who practiced just down river. The entire shoreline now, 634 miles of it in a single country, was then far different.

      The British Isles have come and gone numerous times in the memory of men who walked that place, and we go around getting mass hysteria on movements of factions of inches.

    • re: ” “I get the idea we should continue to look for sources of renewable energy that are not based on fossil fuels. I get the idea we should be careful with anything we emit into the air.” TMT said nothing whatever implying that what we have done to the world’s climate is acceptable — just, that we don’t know what is “normal.”

      Well ,. why would you do ANYTHING with renewables at all.. if we do not believe science when it says fossil fuels are potentially causing catastrophic changes to climate?

      Is this essentially the position of many who doubt science on the green house ga/CO2 issue – i.e. we don’t want or need CPP – there is no problem – it’s a made-up lie.. by “arrogant” would-be scientists?

    • Your question illustrates the problem: it’s not an “all or nothing” choice between belief and disbelief in harm from fossil fuels. We do know that added CO2 causes warming. We do know that the current episode of probably-human-caused warming is going to raise ocean levels and cost $trillions to build dikes and raise homes and/or to relocate lowland populations, and if it would cost less than that to ameliorate it, that would be worth doing. We do know that along with the CO2 comes particulate emissions and NOx and ash disposal so there are benefits entirely apart from less CO2. Look at those beaches littered with plastic trash! Look at the air pollution in Beijing!

      Just because we don’t know the natural causes of the ice ages does NOT mean we are absolved of blame for the harm we know we do. All I’m trying to say is, when it comes to climate, we are messing with something much bigger than us, something that we barely understand a piece of. Also, carbon sequestration as commonly touted (“grow more rain forests”) leaves me cold: the fact is, most living things are going to be burned or rot into the soil tomorrow, releasing back to the atmosphere whatever carbon was locked into their fibers; they are transitory storage not a permanent solution. So I agree with Jim, the air of righteous certainty that pervades some opinion pieces on the subject of global warming can get offensive.
      But you ask, “why would you do ANYTHING with renewables at all”? First, from an economic point of view renewable power generation is very efficient; why generate electricity less efficiently than we have to? Second, the store of fossil fuels on the earth is limited, and in the long run mankind needs those limited stocks more for making chemicals and plastics and fertilizers than for “wasting” them on boiler fuel. Third, as mentioned, burning fossil fuels has other negative air pollution and ash consequences besides CO2, in addition to the mining and drilling issues and the transportation issues. Let’s just use renewables as much as we can, learn how to to store it cheaper, transport the electricity (not fuels), and work on reducing energy consumption per capita of all kinds.

      Finally, you assume those who express any skepticism about CO2 abatement are people who “do not believe science when it says fossil fuels are potentially causing catastrophic changes to climate.” I am ashamed to admit, there are entirely too many people out there who do not believe science; who think the MSM should be dismissed as “fake news” because they are engaged in a liberal conspiracy to undermine traditional social and religious values. Indeed, these are people who say, “we don’t want or need CPP – there is no problem – it’s a made-up lie.. by “arrogant” would-be scientists.” I disagree with such people fundamentally: they deny the evidence staring them in the face, and they deny reasoned analysis; they deny logic itself; they refuse to think for themselves.

      The debate ought to be based in science. But science does not establish a clear, causative link between fossil fuels and “catastrophic changes to climate.” Science gives us nuanced answers about the relationship between green house gases and climate change, and evidence that there are other, much larger causes we don’t understand. Moreover, some scientists oversimplify these relationships when it comes to public policy remedies, in part because so many academic discussions of all this are caught up in scrambling to win political support for research funding; and in part because it’s damned hard to explain climate issues even to other scientists without resorting to generalizations and simplifications. Also I think most scientists see only their own part of the larger puzzle. Ask a scientist what we can do to moderate global warming and he will say, simply, cut back on C02 emissions. But ask him how to do that, or how much good that will do, and he will say something like, “That’s all we can do and it’s better than nothing.” Ask most utility executives off the record whether the CPP is a good idea and you’ll hear basic acceptance along with more subtle concerns, like, “Yes, for a lot of reasons, but it is expensive, and I fear that the public will blame us, not the CPP, for the increased cost of electricity,” or, “Yes, but the transition to phase out and clean up all those old coal units is going to be hell,” or, “Yes, but emissions mitigation has to be the long term commitment of every utility and every other energy retailer or my competitive position will be hurt unfairly,” or, “Yes, but I don’t trust the regulators and legislators not to change their minds.”

      In short, there are indeed people who think global warming is a “made up lie.” Not everyone on this blog is one of them.

      • In short, there are indeed people who think global warming is a “made up lie.” Not everyone on this blog is one of them.

        Acbar, I am not one of them either. Global warming is not a made up lie, likely it is happening best I can discern. The problem of course is why, and with what consequences, and what might be best done about it, but beyond the science, my greatest and overriding concern is human nature, and a world of dysfunctional governments and science community, including not least our own. I do not trust human nature one whit to effectively solve this global warming reality absent the most conservative, well documented, thought through, practical, and cost effective do no harm steps (remediable or curative) possible, or do nothing. (for example, today’s global warming may well save us from the next ice age).

        What I do really do fear is the high likelihood that certain political forces once in control will quite likely do us terrible harm, wasting vast sum of monies on problems they cannot fix or only make worse, doing us all harm, along with our planet in the process.

        So experience tells me the far greater problem here will be the usual one since history began, certain peoples and groups quest for for personal advantage: money, status, power, influence, attention, pride and hubris, among the other Seven Deadly Sins, while abusing everyone else in the process. Why will that not happen this time?


    Third letter to the editor in today’s TD is also very interesting. Acbar’s final statement is spot on my attitude – any valid explanation for climate changes today also has to explain those of the past, and variations of water vapor in the atmosphere might be a better hypothesis than CO2. Al Gore and his ilk are not doing science.

    • Well, you’re right Al Gore, a favorite punching bag for the right is not doing science but who are his “ilk”?

      Are you speaking of the scientists that Gore does believe that the Gore-beaters do not?

      How many folks BELIEVE in Global Warming but don’t believe Al Gore?

      He’s the skeptics poster boy , right?

      I thought it interesting that on the same page was a letter about Rachel Carson which if you remember at that time she wrote Silent Spring – she was the Al Gore of that time from the folks who also thought she was wrong and just doing a “hit” piece on harm to the environment and she suffered similar personal attacks from te “skeptics” of that time:

  14. Geeze guys… Do WE KNOW things about the earth and the changes that have occurred over time – AS A RESULT of scientific inquiry?

    When science actually accesses data from the past via looking at things like layers of rock along a riverbank or fossil records… we ARE developing knowledge that we did not have before.

    From that accumulated – and accumulating knowledge we can deduce some causes – like what happens when a huge volcano blows up and eventually covers the earths atmosphere and in turn affects the weather – for years.

    We KNOW THESE THINGs because science and scientists investigating it – tell us so – we have no other way to verify if they are “lying” about it. If someone wants to say that it’s arrogant for science to tell us that the cause of weather patterns in the past was certain things – like volcanoes… we DO HAVE A CHOICE. We can put some credence to it or we can say it is arrogant and for some say they don’t trust the science and prefer to believe in alternative explanations.. e.g. creationism… or similar.

    With regard to MODERN DAY science – again – science investigates the impact that pollution has on the environment. Whether it’s mercury or lead or dioxin or Kepone….. OR CFScs . Again whether or not a particular substance causes harm in the environment is a scientific endeavor – and again not without challenges to it – especially when it comes to pollution and whether there is a cause and effect relationship.

    I DO NOT consider it “arrogant” for this process to take place and I also do not think the result is or has ever been 100% absolute certainty – it’s often is an evolving consensus of scientists … we had that with CFCs and the Ozone Holes.. there was never and never would be absolute proof of it – much less any prediction of the varying levels over time… the bottom line assessment was that CFCs WERE a cause and that if the holes go bigger – there would be even more impacts – perhaps catastrophic.. or not… but science WAS concerned and concerned enough that they did recommend that we stop using CFCs… not exactly a simple thing when they were widespread in the economy of the world…

    Was it arrogant for science to do that? To do that investigation and then to recommend to the world that we cut back / stop using CFCs because science believed there was harm and it would increase and perhaps become catastrophic?

    I DO NOT believe it was arrogant for science to do that.

    I actually expect and am grateful that as humans we do practice science for our own benefit and protection.

    The whole idea that a cabal of scientists are conspiring to tell lies to other humans on Global Warming is nothing more than a conspiracy theory in my view.. and to not believe science – as we have in the past – and do now in virtually every other area from cancer to DNA to polio to alzheimer’s , etc, etc.. that’s just ignorant.

    Science can be and IS wrong sometimes but it’s more of a safe then sorry exercise where the underlying premise is don’t gamble about what you don’t know – .. take precautions – and as time goes by they turn out to not needed then we back off… but our HISTORY when it comes to pollution and harm – is virtually always that we underestimate the impact and as time goes by – we find out it’s even more dangerous than initially.

    We’re never going to get absolute proof of anything and predictions are never going to be dead on accurate.. but what science does is warn us that something is going to happen.. and we don’t just know the extent of it and can argue about it but the “something” they’re often pretty sure about.

    And THAT is no more arrogant than this and THIS is what science looks like:

    Is this arrogance for science to develop all these models when most all of them are WRONG?

    Even though most all of them do not get the prediction dead on accurate does that invalidate them and make the folks who did the work – “arrogant”.

    These hurricanes are an analog for how science actually works. I’m not pointing them as global warming but instead the scientific process by which science does “models” to look at what might happen – and when most of the models have some level of agreement – we DO take action. Yes there are arguments about evacuating millions of people for nothing when the hurricane veers .. huge economic costs..

    But do we the say that it’s arrogant for them to do this and we do not believe in what they are saying?

    come on guys.

  15. Since Acbar mentions sea level rise in several posts, here is a new study that just crossed my computer screen (I get live updates from for some reason):

    Postulating the weight of the extra water from global warming maybe causing the sea floor to sink, thus explaining why sea level rise has not been as bad as predicted.

    I don’t know if its worse for sea level to rise or sea floor to sink, but the implication is the models probably fail to comprehend real world behavior.

    How do we handle that uncertainty? That’s the whole argument. Some say, to be “conservative” (meaning “safe”) we must assume the very worst to save the planet, and some do not agree with that.

  16. I do not think we need to assume the worst case – no more than I have with other issues such as CFCs …

    But you hit the nail on the head as to what to do about uncertainty…

    And I go back to the hurricane modelling because it actually is in the same scientific realm of weather and climate – NEITHER of which can be predicted with absolute certainty and for which there may be dozens of models for the same thing they are trying to model .

    We watch hurricanes form way out in the caribbean… and a “track” is provided that is compiled from a variety of models… that “track” has
    no claim of guaranteed accuracy – and they do tell you that.

    As the hurricane gets closer – they actually provide a “cone of uncertainty”

    Here’s an example of that:

    Even THAT cone is caveated .. by saying they have a “confidence” level of 95% or so.

    The point being that you DO have predictions but you don’t have guaranteed proof of a specific track… AND YET – we DO take actions – that DO cost thousands, millions of dollars to “prepare”.. windows are boarded up.. drinking water is obtained and stored.. candles and batteries bought.. and people evacuated …buying fuel .. staying in motels, etc.

    And then the hurricane only hits one place – not all the places that expended time and money to prepare.

    Contrast that to a “cone of uncertainty” for Global Warming where you have skeptics saying that it is “arrogant” for science to try to model it and develop a cone of uncertainty – much less that we should spend a dime as a precaution or burn less fossil fuels if we can.

    Admittedly – it’s a way bigger problem that one hurricane but the process is very similar … it involves getting historical data when you can’t.. try to develop prospective data for what you don’t have and then model it – not once and not with one model but a LOT so that you DO end up with a similar cone of uncertainty…

    But here things go off the rails – with some folks adopting a binary approach – where they simply doubt the science all together and instead adopt a different belief… as to what is or is not – what might be and what will not be.

    Imagine people taking the attitude that since they cannot precisely predict the track of a hurricane – it PROVES the science is BOGUS and those practicing it are developing models that are DEMONSTRABLY WRONG!

    Than add on a conspiracy theory about scientists owning stock in bottled water and emergency generators.. etc.. and you get the flavor of the Climate Science debate…

    You don’t have to get the absolute, incontrovertible truth from on high – to believe that there is something called Global Warming and that there is potential for disaster – no more than you have to have that level of assurance for hurricanes or even the CFC Ozone Hole dilema.

    You just have to believe that people who do study Climate are legitimate and have seen something that concerns them – and it should us.. for anyone where “science” is generating .. information.

    What too many are expecting is something like a “timeline’ of when you get lung cancer based on how many cigarettes you are smoking … and if science cannot give you that exact number then Science is “not believable” and arrogant because just saying that smoking cigarettes can lead to lung cancer is not good enough for someone to stop smoking.

    I agree with TBILL – that uncertainty IS the issue but it’s a lot more to it than a yes or no…

  17. …well, there is no uncertainty for some

  18. Let’s further look at Climate Change from the perspective of risk management. Generally, one estimates the likelihood of a “bad result”; attempts to estimate the economic loss of such a bad result; and then figure out what measures need be taken to prevent such a result or to mitigate the losses. The more remote the likelihood of a bad result, the less that should be spent prevent or mitigate the bad result. Similarly, the greater or lesser the likely economic loss, the more or less one should be willing to spend. But one would never spend more than the costs of the bad result to prevent or mitigate the effects of such a bad result.

    In a sensible world, we would turn to “climate scientists” to estimate the climatic changes caused by warming. But then they need to step out of the process. They have no expertise in describing the effects of a bad result. Engineers are in a much better position to estimate the impacts of a two-foot or three-meter rise in the water levels at Norfolk. Agriculturists are in a much better position to estimate the impacts on wheat, corn, pine forests of a two degree increase in average temperature or a one degree decrease in temperature. State highway departments can best estimate the impacts on road maintenance of winters that are 20% more or less snowy. Etc. Etc.

    Similarly, one would turn to the same non-climate scientists to propose prevention steps or, most likely, mitigation measures and their costs. We’d need economists and actuaries to pull everything together. At which point, the appropriate public and private decision-makers would select prevention or, most likely, mitigation measures that cost less than the predicted damages.

    I recognize that a number of non-climate scientists are involved in the Climate Change process. But the workings seem dominated by climate scientists, political hacks and the all-knowing media. Why?

  19. Why? asks TMT who by now has made it easy: money, status, power, influence, attention, pride and hubris, among the other Seven Deadly Sins. Thanks TMT.

  20. I’ve talked too much here; but suffice it, Larry and I and TBill and TMT and even Jim are now largely in agreement on the frame of this debate, which is the relative weight to be given to various scientific arguments about climate change; and remain in disagreement about what should be done. Perhaps not even fundamental disagreement, but disagreement about major details. That’s fair.

    I do blame the way we fund research science and promote scientists in academe for the strident comments made by some climatologists. The field is full of self-interested folks willing to have their governments impose costs in the $trillions to achieve questionable technical goals with highly contentious policies. Doing nothing, however, may impose huge costs also. What are the trade-offs? The Paris Accord was not a panacea, but it was a start toward grappling with the facts and the science and the politics behind all this, and we should rejoin the effort (if only to keep a seat at the table).

    • Acbar – I read your last comment after I posted a comment above that would have been my response, in any case. You have far more confidence in the powers, processes, capabilities, and virtues of all humankind to rearrange the natural forces of the earth than I do, and I fear turning over the tools to another Prometheus to try is risky business of the most serious kind, in my view.

  21. I don’t believe that global warming is a “made up lie” either — if you define global warming as the increase in global temperatures that have taken place over the past century. What arguably could be a lie is the massaging of the historical temperature data to make it appear that the temperature increase is greater than it actually was. But have temperatures gone up? Of course? Are temperatures currently hotter than at any time since we have been recording them? Yes. Is CO2 a warming gas? Of course.

    After that, it gets dicey. The CO2 warming effect is mild. The global climate models predicting dangerous temperature increases and glacier melting are based on the assumption that there is a large feedback effect in which CO2 pushes temperatures higher, which evaporates more water, which is itself a greenhouse gas, which then pushes temperatures even higher. That effect remains unproven. Indeed, the International Panel on Climate Change has acknowledged, the temperatures predicted by most climate models have not occurred, setting off a great hunt for the “missing heat” that should have materialized but didn’t.

    I suppose you can say that “science” says that higher temperatures will have adverse effects on the environment and human society. My problem is that scientists have looked for adverse effects only, not positive effects. What scientist would get a federal grant for demonstrating that warmer temperatures had a beneficial effect? It would never happen. Yet, as I described in the post, cold weather does have adverse effects which milder temperatures in some climes would ameliorate. Higher CO2 levels in the oxygen also act as an atmospheric fertilizer promoting plant growth and protecting against drought. A pretty big effect, if you ask me.

    Finally, there is nothing scientific at all about the proposed solutions to global warming — the idea that we must re-engineer the global economy to reduce CO2 emissions. That’s pure ideology — an ideology preferred by people who are already predisposed to find fault in the capitalist system and to advocate greater power for government.

    A lot of people, like Larry, conflate all these issues into one big mega-issue, which they call global warming. And then they insist that there is a scientific consensus for the whole ball of wax. That is laughably wrong. It’s not a claim that any intelligent scientist would claim.

    As for solar and wind, I think they’re great. They don’t pollute. And the technology is advancing nicely. And when it’s economical to rely upon them — arguably now — then, by all means, let’s use them.

  22. Global warming is expected to cause change, not all of which would be bad of course, as Jim said. Here is a map forecasting the shift in wine growing regions of the world expected by 2050, based on current climate predictions. Red means wine-growing areas lost due to drought. Green is where current wine-growing areas will survive. Blue means areas that are expected to become newly hospitable to wine-growing. There’s more blue than red.

    • Recall the Roman baths at Bath, England. Hardly a place of rough garrison duty for the Roman Legions, this was wine country amid mild sunny weather rich in grapes even pomegranates amid the vapors of warm spring bath waters and languorous women who surely, given the luxurious accommodations still extant, had soon softened the tough Legionaries who’d earlier conquered Gauls on the mainland then the Gaels and Briton Celts in Isles, but now under the gentle daily assault of Britannia’s wine, women and song reached a point of human desiccation where even Hadrian’s Wall failed to protect those dissolute Roman warriors.

      So now, 2000 years later, based on this Historic record, I imagine stunning blonde Russian maids deeply tanned, plucking grapes, sipping red wine, reclining on chaise in Red Squares bright warm sunshine overlooking the Moskva River. Surely Eastern Europe, Syria, the Ukraine are long forgotten.

    • Your maps lead me to ask the question: Does a landowner have a right to maintain his/her existing way of life at an existing location? More specifically: Does a successful wine grower have a right to continue growing grapes in an existing location? If so, who has the responsibility to protect that right if the right can be extinguished by a change in the climate?

      • Good question!

        Surely the fearless pioneers at busting open new seams of Constitutional Justice up at Yale Law School are hard at work on that problem. Likely, too, it will be then a litmus test for all nominated for the Supreme Court, given that Pocahontas will take up the cause in her lunge to left, yet another arrow in her quiver, to beat off any assault now or in the future mounted by Oprah.

  23. Acbar’s map of wine country in 2050 shows Britain returning to the wonderful weather it enjoyed during Roman Times. And surely, too, these shifts shown on the map will greatly improve the the now dour humor and likability of the Russians, transforming Putin and his crew into happy go lucky Neapolitans.

    • Ah, who wouldn’t want to be a Neapolitan? Imagine St. Petersburg on the Bay of Naples, Kotlin Is. become Capri. Imagine the sandy beaches of Hudson’s Bay, the villas on the islands of Alaska!

      Imagine the Amazon and Congo and Ganges basins become like the Nile, passing through uninhabitable desert to hard-scrabble deltas.

      • Ah, yes. Another big disadvantage would be that Putin could go shirtless nearly year round and likely he would given the ladies then sunning themselves on chaises in Red Square.

  24. Recall the Roman baths at Bath, England. Hardly a place of rough garrison duty for the Roman Legions. No this was wine country amid mild sunny weather rich in grapes, even pomegranates, and vapors of warm spring bath waters and languorous women who surely, given the luxurious accommodations still extant, had soon softened the tough Legionaries who’d earlier conquered Gauls on the mainland and Gaels and Briton Celts in the Isles, but now were under the gentle daily assault of Britannia’s wine, women and song, reaching a point of human desiccation where even Hadrian’s Wall failed to protect those dissolute Roman warriors.

    So now, 2000 years later, based on this Historic record, I imagine stunning blonde Russian maids deeply tanned, plucking grapes, sipping red wine, reclining on chaise in Red Square’s bright warm sunshine overlooking the Moskva River. Surely Eastern Europe, Syria, the Ukraine are long forgotten by those attending these ladies.

  25. Here is an article that refers to more evidence that the left continues to lie about Climate Change. One example that jumps at me is the County of San Mateo, CA filing a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil that alleges “[T]here is a 93% chance that the County experiences a devastating three-foot flood before the year 2050, and a 50% chance that such a flood occurs before 2030. Average sea level rise along the County’s shores are expected to rise by almost three feet by the year 2100, causing multiple, predictable impacts, and exacerbating the impacts of extreme events.”

    Meanwhile, the City told bond investors the County was “unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur, when they may occur, and if any such events occur, whether they will have a material adverse effect on the business operations or financial condition of the County and the local economy.”

    The County should face Rule 11 sanctions in court and an SEC investigation. And, hopefully, some jail time for the elected officials and senior staff.

    And, of course, the MSM will not run with this one.

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