Acid Tripwire

Worse than the brown acid.

Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics and co-director of the Lorenz Center in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, has found that when the rate at which carbon dioxide enters the oceans pushes past a certain threshold — whether as the result of a sudden burst or a slow, steady influx — the Earth may respond with a runaway cascade of chemical feedbacks, leading to extreme ocean acidification that dramatically amplifies the effects of the original trigger.

That’s from the MIT press release on Rothman’s new paper, published in PNAS.

The MIT release continues:

Scientists know that when carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves in seawater, it not only makes the oceans more acidic, but it also decreases the concentration of carbonate ions. When the carbonate ion concentration falls below a threshold, shells made of calcium carbonate dissolve. Organisms that make them fare poorly in such harsh conditions.

Shells, in addition to protecting marine life, provide a “ballast effect,” weighing organisms down and enabling them to sink to the ocean floor along with detrital organic carbon, effectively removing carbon dioxide from the upper ocean. But in a world of increasing carbon dioxide, fewer calcifying organisms should mean less carbon dioxide is removed.

“It’s a positive feedback,” Rothman says. “More carbon dioxide leads to more carbon dioxide. The question from a mathematical point of view is, is such a feedback enough to render the system unstable?”

To answer that question, Rothman surveyed the carbon record for the last half-billion years of Earth history, and then built a mathematical model of the carbon cycle in the upper ocean to help him analyze the current, human-driven injection of carbon dioxide into the climate system.

When he introduced carbon dioxide at greater rates, he found that once the levels crossed a critical threshold, the carbon cycle reacted with a cascade of positive feedbacks that magnified the original trigger, causing the entire system to spike, in the form of severe ocean acidification. The system did, eventually, return to equilibrium, after tens of thousands of years in today’s oceans — an indication that, despite a violent reaction, the carbon cycle will resume its steady state.

This pattern matches the geological record, Rothman found. The characteristic rate exhibited by half his database results from excitations above, but near, the threshold. Environmental disruptions associated with mass extinction are outliers — they represent excitations well beyond the threshold. At least three of those cases may be related to sustained massive volcanism.

“When you go past a threshold, you get a free kick from the system responding by itself,” Rothman explains.

I should emphasize that all this is a theoretical approach to the question. Rothman is a mathematical geologist, not a field guy, and his business is building formal representations of complicated systems to probe action in the real world that can’t be measured or experimented upon directly.

His prediction, then, is just that, a statement about the likelihood, not the certainty of a given outcome.  But that caveat doesn’t mean this is “just a theory.” Quite the reverse: because the model builds in solid and known physics, and is driven by dozens of observations in the historical record, this theory is one supported both by the math and the gold-standard of empirical measurement.

It’s scary, in other words, because it represents a rigorous attempt, using stable, well established knowledge, to depict a scary, inhospitable future:

In other words, if today’s human-induced emissions cross the threshold and continue beyond it, as Rothman predicts they soon will, the consequences may be just as severe as what the Earth experienced during its previous mass extinctions.

I should add that I know Rothman a little — my students made a short film about a lovely little piece of work he and his students did on the branching networks of ground water drainage systems.  Just i that one encounter, on a question he tackled mostly for fun, it was easy to see that he’s an impressive thinker, combining mathematical intuition with a nose for earth-science problems that can be expressed in tractable systems of equations.

That doesn’t make this work right; it does make the suggestion that there is a chance we’re close to a trigger of a runaway feedback in the oceans a prediction to take very seriously indeed.

The TL:DR of all this?  One — there’s a risk that major and on human-lifetime scale irreversible changes for the worse are either very near or already baked into the way we’ve hacked the climate system.  The need to squelch that hack, to stop pouring carbon into the atmosphere, is thus even more urgent than we thought.

A second implication amplifies that urgency:  Rothman’s math is simple (at least for him). It exposes one vulnerability, one potential feedback that could go against preserving the basic ecological support system human society depends on. But the climate system is big, incredibly complicated, and potentially hides a bunch of such triggers.

You can read this study, that is, as a case study, an example of how something seemingly well removed from direct warming issues (the physics and chemistry of the shells of microscopic ocean animals) can produce profound global effects.  So, if acid oceans haven’t terrified you enough, remember that where there’s one such hidden mechanism of major disruption, there may well be others.

As most of you know, I have a son. He’s nineteen now, and I find so much of my dread these days is bound up in my fear that I will leave him a world that is vastly more precarious than the one I inherited from my parents.

I do not have a good answer for myself on that, but it is one more reason why current politics seem to me to be life-or-death.  If we have any time left at all to keep the damage from climate change manageable, we don’t have that many years.  The longer the GOP holds power, the worse our chances become.  Go Science! is not the rallying cry that will win next year — but it’s damned important, even so.

And on that cheery note: have at it!

Images:  Joseph Wright of Derby, The Orrery, c. 1766

Albrecht Dürer, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1498


97 replies
  1. 1
    SFAW says:

    Cue the “Fake News” tweets from the Lying-Moron-in-Chief in 3 … 2 … 1 …

  2. 2

    It’s really hard to call a tipping point in these multiequilibrium models. It’s hard to know if you’ve included all the equilibria. So far, climate science has provided a number of surprises in both the “right” and “wrong” directions.

    I’d rather not use one result to try to get people’s attention. The problem is the sum total of everything. But that doesn’t get people’s attention, particularly in these times of the Narcissist-in-Chief.

  3. 3
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    We’re boned.

  4. 4
    jl says:

    Looks like a nice paper with a fairly simple model and interesting data. Many processes in climate science are run by feedback loops between highly skewed distributions, all skewed in the same direction. Put those into nonlinear multi-compartment models, and you have systems the pumps out results that are very difficult to forecast precisely, and full of surprises.

    Eventually you’d like to do some time series estimation, that is free to depart from the assumptions of a specific model, and see if the parameter estimates are consistent with the model. I have no clue if there are enough data to that for this research yet. That line of research is well underway for effects of injection of fossil carbon into the atmosphere. The results are unsettling: the models are too conservative, and underestimate the global warming effects, and evidence that the cooling particulate pollution are masking more of the warming effects of carbon that previously thought.

  5. 5
    jl says:

    May be duplicate of a comment that just got eaten

    Looks like a nice paper with a fairly simple model and interesting data. Many processes in climate science are run by feedback loops between highly skewed distributions, all skewed in the same direction. Put those into nonlinear multi-compartment models, and you have systems the pump out results that are very difficult to forecast precisely, and full of surprises.

    Eventually you’d like to do some time series estimation, that is free to depart from the assumptions of a specific model, and see if the parameter estimates are consistent with the model. I have no clue if there are enough data to that for this research yet. That line of research is well underway for effects of injection of fossil carbon into the atmosphere. The results are unsettling: the models are too conservative, and underestimate the global warming effects, and evidence that the cooling particulate pollution are masking more of the warming effects of carbon that previously thought. Edit: problem is that the cooling effects of particulate pollution will always lose out eventually to the warming effects of pumping fossil carbon into the atmosphere. You have to pump out a continuously increasing rate of particulate pollution to fend off the effects of an ever increasing stock of fossil carbon in the atmosphere. Eventually, the choice is suffocate or burn.

  6. 6
    jl says:

    So, bottom line is that Cole needs to put out another feel-good ‘this damn garden’ post to balance out the happy time vibe, since this post is kind of downer. Though, an elegantly intellectually interesting downer.

  7. 7
    jl says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Don’t let the downer side of it get you down. Think of the excitement! With models and data like this, some probability that we are less boned that indicated, but more probability than normally assumed in economic risk analysis that were are totally boned much more than we can imagine.

  8. 8
    NotMax says:

    Contrary to common belief, the problems stemming from the brown acid were not that it was tainted, they came from it being too pure.

    In its way a metaphor for the purity pony set.

  9. 9
    pat says:

    Is it possible that we have already reached the tipping point? I’m thinking of the melting permafrost that will be releasing massive amounts of carbon, the melting Antarctic ice sheets, etc. None of that is going to be reversed, it seems to me.
    Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House. Reagan’s first action was to remove them. Obama signed the Climate Accord. Trump’s first action was to get us out of it. History will not be kind to the repubs.

  10. 10
    Patricia Kayden says:

    Christian fundamentalists don’t believe in climate change science because White Jesus is coming and is going to burn it all down anyways. Unfortunately, they’re running things now so nothing will be done to address the climate change crisis for now.

  11. 11
    jl says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: if it seems a downer, just remember the bracing excitement of it all! With research like this a smaller probability than is usually assumed in economic risk analysis that we are not nearly boned as much as the model indicates, and a much higher probability that we are much more boned than we can possibly imagine.

    Bad faith policy makers are taking advantage of the natural caution of scientists, especially the ‘hard’ sciences. The scientists feel they have to be quite sure before they make a claim. That builds some excess caution in the models. And then you put those cautious results into economic decision cost-benefit models that have implicit assumptions that build even more caution (and becoming increasingly clear IMHO, that the economic models are just plain doing it wrong in risk discounting and they need to change)

    The alarmists on climate change have an increasingly strong case. Hope the 2020 election results change who is in charge, or we will be in for a real hurting. The earth and oceans will be fine in a million years or so. So, really no problem. As a GOPer said, not like when the sun bloats up and swallows the earth all. It’s really like a climatalogical cash flow crisis. And hey, who has managed to survive those better than Trump?

    Edit: presenting the results in terms that lead directly to predictions and forecasts rather than clunky old school hypothesis tests is the way to go with climate science.

  12. 12


    Put those into nonlinear multi-compartment models, and you have systems the pump out results that are very difficult to forecast precisely, and full of surprises.

    (Raises hand…)They said there’d be no math.

  13. 13
    Citizen Alan says:


    Is it possible that we have already reached the tipping point?

    Personally, I believe we have. It’s why I’m incredibly glad I have no children and why I honestly don’t have any aspirations about living past the age of 65 (because the Great Die-Off will have started by then).

    History will not be kind to the repubs.

    There will be no history.

  14. 14

    @Patricia Kayden:

    White Jesus is coming and is going to burn it all down anyways.

    Sure that’ll just release more carbon.

  15. 15
    NotMax says:

    @Patricia Kayden

    “Holy cow, I step away for a few millennia and just look at what you yahoos have done to the place!”


  16. 16
    Ruviana says:

    @pat: Sadly they will take us with them.

  17. 17
    jl says:

    @NotMax: It is research like this that makes me think the climate change purity pony set has it right, and the maximal Green New Deal has it right. Propose bold change on climate policy, and if there are bitter pills for some sectors or the economy, package it with generous economic guarantees. The crappy capitalist shill and neoliberal sellout Paul Krugman has argued the same, if you want to search for some of his NYT columns on it over the last year.

  18. 18
    acallidryas says:

    Even if this particular feedback loop isn’t correct, the issue of ocean acidification is something people are not well enough aware of or terrified about. (Although the ‘not terrified enough’ covers most aspects of climate change.

    The oceans are a major, major carbon sink and one of the really scary aspects is if they can’t absorb carbons at the same rate they have, in which case there is a lot more carbon in the atmosphere. But far more well established is that more carbon does indeed lead to more acidic oceans, which does indeed mean that shellfish can’t make their shells. Given that these are such a basic part of the ocean ecosystems, and that the oceanic ecosystems are also under other stressors, it’s an open question what happens to that fragile balance as things like, say, oysters, start to die off.

  19. 19
    Keith P. says:

    We could neutralize the acid by adding a bunch of baking soda, but then we have a bunch of volcanoes to deal with.

  20. 20
    oatler. says:

    Killing off the plankton. Do you want soylent green? Because that’s how you get soylent green!

  21. 21
    JimV says:

    There may be better answers to the Fermi paradox but this is a plausible one to me: sentients evolve to the point of being smart enough to dominate, over-populate, and destroy their own environment, but not smart enough for enough of them to foresee the consequences and take action in time. Particularly as life-styles keep getting better and better before the deluge, for those who are causing most of the problem.

    Let’s stop driving cars (walk or use public transportation), stop having more than one child, and stop using electronic devices for pleasure or convenience. Who’s with me?

  22. 22
    jl says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: BS alert to unwary commenters, that comment is chum spewed out by a confessed math econ geek, who hung around the chemistry building during his UCLA days for the fun of running with that crowd.

  23. 23
    John Cole says:

    Link to the short film?

  24. 24
    germy says:

    Climate change is here staring us square in the face as the challenge of our time. We have a roadmap w/ H.Res. 109 #GreenNewDeal and we need to act on it. The lives of our children and grandkids depends on it!— Bill Pascrell, Jr. (@BillPascrell) July 15, 2019

  25. 25
    Jay says:


    We are well past the tipping point. The permafrost is already melting, the taiga and tundra are burning and the Arctic is burping methane creating craters large enough to swallow 3 story buildings.

    So far, in June and July, Inuvik has surpassed Lytton and Ossoyus as Canada’s “hot spot”. It’s a little crazy when the Arctic is 10 degrees warmer than the Southern Interior of BC.

  26. 26
    Elizabelle says:

    I think “Go Science!” Is a great rallying cry. It certainly works with the young and the smart. Climate Change is a real concept to them, and the contrast between the parties could not be more stark.

  27. 27
    Martin says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: This is an important point. But the importance of a theory like this is to help the public understand that not all systems are linear. In fact, almost none are, but most people can only do linear predictions so we tend to impose linear models onto nonlinear systems and then are surprised when things don’t turn out as expected.

    We may not know where the inflection point is, but educating the public that there is one out there should help.

  28. 28
    Fair Economist says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Agree that you don’t want to hang too much on one result, but I do think it’s important to convince people of the truth that if we move too far from the current climate we face a real risk of truly catastrophic outcomes, and that’s why it’s so important to meet the 2C goal (which at least guarantees no temperature-driven feedbacks), and, if we can’t make that, that we need to stop as soon as possible, even at great cost.

  29. 29
    jl says:

    @Jay: I think that is overly pessimistic. The feedback loops, some of the positive and self-reinforcing, will always operate at every place along the distributions of the driving variables. But there is a point or segment that can be reached along those distributions where an uncontrollable positive feedback loop takes over that cannot be controlled by reducing the rate of injection of fossil carbon into the atmosphere. Then you’d need to go to some more drastic measure, like massive geo-engineering to suck carbon out of the atmosphere a lot more rapidly than you put in. And if you go to far past the tipping point, no human way to get that done. We don’t know if we have reached those kinds of critical tipping points yet.

    The scary thing is that, with the skewed distributions most of the driving variables have, and nonlinear systems, it is extremely difficult to estimate when we will be at the that kind of catastrophic tipping point, of if we have already gotten there.

  30. 30

    @Martin: @Fair Economist: Won’t disagree with educating the public, but what I worry about is that an inflection point is predicted and then doesn’t happen. That undermines confidence in the models. So stick with the more mundane and overall effects, which are indeed, as several commenters have pointed out, being overshot.

  31. 31
    Jay says:

    BTW, the Yukon River hit 72F/22c at the Blue Ford Counting Station.

    The salmon runs have just started there, and salmon stop swimming and start dying at 70F/21c.

  32. 32
    chris says:

    As if there aren’t enough nails in the coffin.

  33. 33
    jl says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:I think your point is related to my thinking that expressing this kind of research as predictions and forecasts of the range of plausible effects is the way to go. If we wait for data to confirm that we’ve past a critical tipping point, then we might as well give up, since that is inherently very difficult to estimate, even with an order of magnitude more data than we have now or will have in the foreseeable future.

    But nearly all the recent data says “Yeah, the models were wrong, they gave us a false sense of security, things are worse than we imagined or the scientists thought’. And that has nothing to do directly with IDing a tipping point in a specific nonlinear model.

  34. 34
    🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳🌷 says:

    @Citizen Alan:

    Then why not just let the missiles fly now and get it over with if the situation is so hopeless? I think I’d rather be vaporized in a thermonuclear explosion now than die any number of horrific deaths in the chaos from the effects of climate change in my middle to later years

  35. 35
    jl says:

    @🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳🌷: i guess that is where the Trumpster Iran policy, or Trump deciding to let his soulmate Kim have nukes comes in. For that, they just might have a plan B, God bless us, every one.

  36. 36
    pat says:

    @🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳🌷:

    Hey, remember all the talk and the fears of “nuclear winter?”

  37. 37
    Jay says:


    The Arctic hit it’s permafrost melting point last year. 70 years early.

    And the taiga is basically water, rock, methane ice and a huge mass of sequestered fossil carbon, covered by a thin veneer of life.

    Earthworms, nematodes and other soil organisms are invading the Arctic. All a 5 year study can tell us so far, is some help sequester carbon and methane as part of soil processes, and some release massive amounts of carbon and methane.

    So Nunuvit has banned fishing with earthworms.( As that seems to be the prime mechanism of transfer,).

  38. 38
    jl says:

    @pat: Trumspter plan might be that a small size nuclear war is a very effective short run climate policy. Don’t give them any ideas.

  39. 39
    jl says:

    @Jay: it is very worrying, yes, but doesn’t address my point. But I have no problem with driving that info into every voter’s eyes, ears, and head. It is scary and dramatic and worrisome.

  40. 40
    Damned_at_Random says:

    @pat: Seems to me we are approaching the point where history’s judgment is irrelevant. I had no children but I have a niece, nephew and stepdaughter (and step-granddaughter) who are very dear to me and I shudder to think about the choices to be forced upon them.

    Meanwhile, power is concentrated in very silly people – politics is covered like a sport because we, the general public, are assumed to be too disinterested, or just stupid, to deal with serious consideration of life-or-death issues. Every issue is a competition between extremes with no discussion of trade off or compromise to advance the common good.

    Maybe we get what we deserve as a species. We manage to reduce disease and early death through public health and sanitary advances but continue to reproduce beyond the carrying capacity of the planet. We are bacteria on a petri dish, consuming all available resource until we die from out own accumulated waste products. Unfortunately, we take a beautiful biosphere with us.

    I maybe a little inclined to pessimism

  41. 41


    But nearly all the recent data says “Yeah, the models were wrong, they gave us a false sense of security, things are worse than we imagined or the scientists thought’.

    That’s the message to get across. Although I’d phrase it a bit differently.

    The models are good, but not perfect. The distressing thing is that they have consistently predicted that things are better than they are. So we have to assume that new predictions are right or optimistic.

    That could be tweaked, but I think it includes the emphases I want.

  42. 42
    Dan B says:

    @Fair Economist: During the climate accords the scientists wanted 1.5 degrees as the goal. The negotiators said 2 because it’s a simpler number. It appears at 1.3, or whatever we are at currently, we’re already trighering some disastrous feedbacks. We just had the hottest June and July is heading towards the hottest month ever recorded.

    While the fuse is burning the dynamite is stable.

  43. 43
    🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳🌷 says:

    I guess. A limited regional exchange would only postpone the inevitable, along with a few other nasty side effects. I only hope Earth doesn’t experience a runaway greenhouse effect, which likely happened to Venus long ago. Surely, there has to be a way to remove the carbon from the atmosphere? Artificial heat sinks, carbon sequestration, something

    I’ve read about it. Maybe that’s the super rich’s super seekrit plan to “fix” climate change

  44. 44
    jl says:

    This could be on-topic since it is another kind of acid trip:

    Conway To Reporter Who Asked About Trump’s Racist Tweets: ‘What’s Your Ethnicity?’
    ” In comments about the ongoing fallout from Trump’s tweets earlier on Tuesday, Conway said that “we are sick and tired of many people in this country” and that the four congresswomen — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) — represent the “dark underbelly” of America. ”

    And the context of this story is Conway asking a Jewish reporter what his ‘ethnicity’ was in response to a question, and implicitly contrasting her goy European heritage to his.

    So, Scalise was telling the truth yesterday, when he said they would be ‘talking about it more’? And McConnell said questioning Trump’s deranged tweets was the kind of damaging talk taking the country to the brink? Looks like the Trumpsters and the GOP will adopt Trump’s deranged outbursts as a strategy. It didn’t work in 2016, so they think if they ramp up the ugliness, be more direct in in-your-face about it, and target more groups and wider sectors of society, it will work this time?

    Next 16 months will be very ugly and dangerous.

  45. 45
    Jay says:

    @🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳🌷:

    Life will go on. Maybe we won’t, maybe a few will build resiliant communities that survive off jellyfish, squid and farmed lichens.

    But life will go on.

    Living in a Western Nation means that a short, ugly and brutal end to your life, is much less likely than someone somewhere else, like India.

    We have no idea where the tipping point is, or was, and 0 clues at what a “runaway” climate change atmosphere will stabilize at.

    Theres a huge array of things we can be doing, now and in the future, to mitigate climate change, and none of it is dystopian Geoengineering.

    But we are not doing any of it.

  46. 46
    Hoodie says:

    @🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳🌷: One scary potential is that, sometime in the not too distant future, someone may actually contemplate launching a nuclear war to cool the planet, reduce population, prevent migration, etc. Seems fantastical a la Thanos in Infinity Wars, but we currently have people advocating for walls and other inhumanities to keep out the southern hordes, so it’s not inconceivable, especially since Trump et al. have pretty much dismantled previous efforts at nonproliferation.

  47. 47
    Cermet says:

    Yes, his current idea is theoretical but what isn’t theoretical at all is that AGW will, in thirty to fifty years (we are, even now, seeing this trend clearly) make the equatorial regions – most all of India, southern China and South East Asia, much of the Middle East and a good part of Africa and South America uninhabitable for humans – period. Billions of people living in these regions now will be driven away due to weeks of 24/7 100 F + with humidity above 80% both days/nights. Without AC, human life is impossible under those conditions. Yet posters here and esle where ignore the real elephant in the room for human induced global warming. This isn’t gonna occur – its starting. INdia is seeing multiple days of 100 F + already. If this aspect is ignored, all else is window dressing – wake up and post this critical problem that will dwarf all others in the near future.

  48. 48
    Jay says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    DeSmog Blog had a study up about a year ago, in which Climate Change Scientists confirmed that they had self censored their predictive models to avoid being accused of being alarmist.

    “Working the Refs” has consequences.

  49. 49
    Jay says:


    Google Human Dew Point.

  50. 50
    Aziz, light! says:

    Creatures that make calcium carbonate shells are not the crux of the problem because they represent a relatively small percentage of ocean biomass. Most of the carbon settling to the ocean floor is from the bodies of ocean organisms in the normal cycle of life and death, not from shells.The problem is that a higher acid level, combined with warming of the water, reduces the amount of oxygen the water can hold. This will lead to die offs and extinctions throughout the ocean food chain.

  51. 51
    Fair Economist says:

    @Dan B: We are indeed already committed to some nasty effects, like 20 feet of sea level increase. However, the world went through the Eemian warming to that temperature 120,000 years ago and came out OK, so we can be pretty confident that if we stopped CO2 emissions now or in the relatively near future the globe will not have large new uninhabitable areas, most species will still have places they could live in, the air will still be breathable, etc. Not so if we don’t stop very soon, and the further we go the higher the chance of catastrophe.

  52. 52
    lamh36 says:

    Wow. Republicans just forced a vote to try and strike
    ‘s plainly true statement that Trump telling black and brown congresswomen to “go back where they came from” was racist. Republicans could well vote tonight to wrap their party around Trump’s racist attack.

  53. 53
    lamh36 says:

    Nine Democrats are listed as No Vote with respect to restoring Pelosi’s Soeaking Privileges. Let me find out who they are…

  54. 54
    David 🎅🎄Merry Christmas🎄🎅 Koch says:

    @jl: They tired it during the Virginia races in 2017 and got slaughtered. They tried in 2018 and lost by 9,743,703 votes. Even in the rust belt, they got their asses handed to them. The current generic ballot has them losing by 9 points, which signals a wave.

    The danger is to civilians. I expect more synagogues, mosques and black churches to be targeted.

  55. 55
    Zinsky says:

    @Aziz, light!: And, a dead ocean means a dead earth. The problem is that human beings are not hard-wired to respond to slowly emergent threats. A large catastrophic event, with an unarguable link to global warming is needed, to spur a sense of urgency and make people aware of the urgency of the situation. Maybe, a massive ice mountain, calving off the Greenland glacier, that creates a tsunami that inundates New York City, is what is needed to break the paralysis.

  56. 56
    lamh36 says:

    #BREAKING: House votes against striking Pelosi’s comments blasting Trump from record (link:

    BAM Pelosi’s comments stand…

    , returning to the floor as the House votes on whether to strike her words, via
    : “I’m proud of my remarks and I’m glad they’re getting the attention they’re getting.”

  57. 57
    Cermet says:

    @Jay: Sorry, just get dew point references but if you are saying there is a clear linear scale, not really the point; we know this about humans. Above 100 F, humans, even in low humidity are in trouble if they do anything except sweat to cool. High humidity just kills even at under 100 F if one works; again, it has to be 24/7 not a few days or a couple nights.

  58. 58
    Damned_at_Random says:

    @Cermet: I read the linked article just before I came here for some amusing John Cole drama to lighten the mood. Instead I wound up on this thread.


  59. 59
    lamh36 says:

    Just now in Iowa
    discussed personally being told to “go back to where you come from” and said what we all already know about Trump, he’s a coward, a bully, and an embarrassment. But more importantly she told everyone who has ever been told that, “You belong.”

    And this is how she ended.

    “To speak to the ideals of who we are and promises of who we are as a nation….And speak with the authority of the strength of who we are of knowing, out of many come one….and he needs to go back to where he came from.”

  60. 60
    Another Scott says:

    James Hansen – Saving Earth – 11 page .pdf


    I should terminate this epistle about time scales. Saving Earth is a century-time-scale problem. There will be significant overshoot of global temperature as well as overshoot of atmospheric greenhouse gas amounts.
    We are already into overshoot territory, but not very far as yet. This is no time to give up.

    The science of climate change is more important than ever. We must find a way to navigate back to a situation in which the planet is close to energy balance and climate is reasonably stable.

    The most urgent task is to phase down fossil fuel emissions. There is no one simple solution to this. It will take a lot of positive actions, and also pressure on the fossil fuel industry, from multiple directions, pressure on them to become a clean energy industry.

    One objective of Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions must be to help advance the date at which political leaders of the great powers recognize their need to cooperate on global energy policies.

    We can help achieve that goal by clarifying the urgency of the situation, which is a mutual threat. We must stress the overall simplicity of the planet’s energy balance, its carbon cycle, and the role of fossil fuels in altering the natural systems.

    The potential to address global climate change will be much improved via active cooperation between China and the United States. That cooperation seems essential for both achievement of a global carbon fee and for development and world-wide deployment of breakthrough technologies.


    (Emphasis added.)

    There’s a lot of good information there, though I’m disappointed that he thinks that making things easier for 3rd parties in the US should be a non-negligible part of the effort…


  61. 61
    Jay says:

    @Aziz, light!:

    The great majority of the biomass of the oceans, consists of plankton and zooplankon, most of which relies on a calcium shell to form and survive.

    As early as 2008 studies confirmed that ocean acidification was causing plankton and zooplankton losses.

    Some species, ( cocolithiphores) however, used the increased carbon to uparmour, which is also a problem, as they release gaseous carbon as part of the process, and they also become inedible to parts of the food chain.

  62. 62
    lamh36 says:

    “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

    ― Toni Morrison

    h/t twitter

  63. 63
    Redshift says:


    It didn’t work in 2016, so they think if they ramp up the ugliness, be more direct in in-your-face about it, and target more groups and wider sectors of society, it will work this time?

    That would fit with most GOP policy arguments, all the way from tax cuts pay for themselves to brutality will stop immigration – we know we’re right, the only reason it didn’t work was because we didn’t do it enough. Rational thought isn’t their strong point.

  64. 64
    pat says:

    Does anyone know of a science fiction book that tries to predict the course of evolution in a hot earth?
    I know the earth has been through many climate changes in the past, which have contributed to evolution of various species, including us….. Are there predictions about the evolution after a radical warming event?
    Other than the cockroaches, of course.

  65. 65
    lamh36 says:


    But…but…didn’t her hubby George write an op-ed calling Chump a racist🤔🤔. This is why I have no use for George Conway or Kellyanne Conway…the two of them are playing an “Angel vs Devil” con game Hers Kellyanne’s Devil & along come George’s “Angel” act every time then

  66. 66
    Mike in DC says:

    The fundamental question is how much further damage is done by, say, 2 more decades of dithering(I think the more dramatic effects will start to appear by then and force the issue with policy makers, over the objections of the slowly weakening fossil fuel industries). There are hopeful signs, in the general sense that renewable energy is coming along quickly, that electric cars are beginning to proliferate into the consumer ecosystem, and that research into carbon mitigation strategies and technologies is under way. But I have no doubt that there will be global extinctions, much pain and suffering and unnecessary human deaths because of a failure of political will and/or blatant short-sighted greed and stupidity.

  67. 67
    Jay says:


    There are a lot of places which will become deadly to try to inhabit, as work is required to inhabit and the 24/7 doesn’t apply. It’s as low as 6 hours assuming a healthy adult.

  68. 68
    Tom Levenson says:

    @John Cole: Coming after I make sure that there are no lingering embargo promises.

    The film was done three or four years ago, but we didn’t publish it at the time because there were still papers to come out. We never got round to closing that loop.

  69. 69
    Redshift says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: One thing that’s always infuriated me are the conservatives who argue that the models are uncertain/speculative, so we shouldn’t risk the economic harm (which they exaggerate.)

    So the climate models aren’t reliable enough, but economic predictions over decades are indisputable?

    Yeah, I know it’s bad faith pocketbook fearmongering. It still pisses me off.

  70. 70
    Jay says:

    Goodwill pulls paychecks from disabled workers

    by: Mark Maxwell
    Posted: Jul 16, 2019 / 12:04 AM CDT / Updated: Jul 16, 2019 / 03:48 PM CDT
    CEO blames state’s minimum wage increase

    SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — An iconic nonprofit thrift store is crying poor in the face of looming payroll increases, and it is announcing plans to layoff disabled employees in order to take on the extra cost.

    However, the 501(c)(3) organization pays no taxes, collects state funding, was awarded state contracts, and has special permission from the federal government to pay disabled workers well below the minimum wage floor.

  71. 71
    dnfree says:

    My very primitive comparison to this is a computer system I once worked on. We monitored its performance as it ran hundreds of jobs and supported hundreds of real-time users. We could kill jobs or lower their priority if we noticed the performance deteriorating. But sometimes, the graph of system performance would hit a point such that the system would be locked up before we could do anything to save it. The graph of performance would seem to be rising slowly, and then suddenly it would jump to 100% of resources in use and it couldn’t be saved. We called that “kneeing up” because the graph looked like a bent knee suddenly bending upward. At that point we had no choice but to stop and restart the system–there was no recovery. I fear that our global system, which appears to be deteriorating at a worsening rate, could suddenly “knee up” and we have no recovery.

  72. 72
    Harbison says:

    @Patricia Kayden:

    I believe that reincarnation of Black Jesus will arrive shortly as prophesied by Elder Nippy Baines in “Chicken Leg.”

  73. 73
    Ruckus says:

    @Citizen Alan:
    I was amazed when I made 50. Then 65.
    Now 70.
    So now I figure I need to hit 95, just for shits and giggles.
    What the hell else you going to do?

  74. 74
    Jay says:

    NEW: A senior DOJ official said AG Barr made final call on decision not to move forward in prosecuting Officer Pantaleo in #EricGarner's death, siding with EDNY recommendation over DOJ's own Civil Rights division, which *recommended prosecution.*— Alex Mallin (@alex_mallin) July 16, 2019

  75. 75
    Aziz, light! says:

    @Jay: Only a relatively small number of plankton species use calcium in their structures; the large majority uses silicon or cellulose. Or so the oceanographer in my office tells me.

    I’m a science editor, not a scientist.

  76. 76
    jl says:

    @lamh36: It was very wise of AOC, Omar, etc. to emphasize that Trump’s outburst was a distraction from his policy failures and betrayal of his promises to ordinary working voters, point out Trump’s failures and betrayals and contrast those to their proposals, and explicitly state that they were not going to counter with displays of outrage and hurt, and because Trump is just doing what they expect him to do.

  77. 77
    GxB says:

    @Cermet: And the MAGAts one key policy point is immigration [of brown people]. Subconsciously they know, but you know, we wouldn’t want to upset the market.

  78. 78
    Dan B says:

    @🇺🇸🌎 Goku (aka Amerikan Baka) 🗳🌷: There are some very promising technologies to sequester co2. One is Metal Organic Frameworks. These are good for smokestack capture, for whatever fossil fuel plants remain. The issue will be cost. We need to get through to the 10% that they should not count on surviving a climate catastrophe and investing in carbon capture is preferable to the dangers that technologies like sulfur particles present.

  79. 79
    Cermet says:

    @Damned_at_Random: Thank you; none here (front page posters) seem to understand AGW at all and are letting the big picture escape them as they look at minor details; this and this alone is the single issue that will determine human fate within fifty years – period. The ocean has seen and survived higher temps than we will create – yes, bad for terrestrial life but the oceans ‘aren’t gonna die. I care about humans that had fucking zero to do with AGW unlike us and Europe (china and India are attempting to catch up.) But the posters here just are too lost either because they don’t understand the real issue or are being mislead by reading details that, frankly, miss the real danger.

  80. 80
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Cermet: I think you are very wrong in that judgment; we may have different ideas about how to communicate the danger, but that’s a far cry from not seeing this as an existential issue. I refer you to my closing note about my son.

  81. 81
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Tom Levenson: @Cermet: Also — how on the nose do I have to be? The Dürer image is pretty blunt.

  82. 82
    Cermet says:

    @Jay: Scary and terrible but most don’t know these real facts and what it means – the main posters are not doing their job. That is true of climate scientist – this is THE issue facing humankind – just we elite humans have AC and can ignore these facts. Tragic.

  83. 83
    GxB says:

    @Fair Economist: Quick google says ~40% of the world population lives within 100km of sea level. No matter what we do, drastic disruptions loom. I remain convinced humanity will do the right thing – once it exhausts all other options.

    Well, actually, I see all the MotUs snapping up vast tracts of ‘insurance’ land, and allowing a few million of the meekest of us peons to live. They have to have someone to continue servicing them into a new bold age of palm trees on Hudson Bay.

  84. 84
    jl says:

    @Cermet: if I understand you correctly, I agree that the immediate danger to humanity is not IDing tipping points, but the economic, epidemiological and agricultural effects implied by current trends, which recently have been leaving the average model predictions behind.

    Maybe you could suggest some topics?

  85. 85
    Dan B says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Cheryl; A couple thoughts about communication: Target Audience. I believe there are several audiences that need different messages. The 10% seem to be uninterested in the science or economics of greenhouse gases or alternative technologies. We need to persuade enough of them that they should invest in renewable energy and CCS because it’s prudent when the future is uncertain. Uncertainty disturbs them so the message doesn’t need to be Antarctica collapses in 2030. It’s important that some research is pointing in that direction. Buying some insurance is prudent. They’ve got the money so they need figures about how much it will cost and strategies for rolling out the technologies.

    Another audience is the middle class. Their power is in numbers and less in dollars. A message that we are all doomed is paralyzing. Talking up the promising technologies and the jobs that can be created is likely to be more effective, combined with pushing local politicians and influencers. One way to do this is to tell stories about renewables. We put retirement money into solar PV in rainy Seattle. It’s paid off with a better return than leaving it in our savings.

    We will be sharing our stories – sort of like the consciousness raising of the Women’s Movement and the coming-out stories of Gay Liberation. Stories are a powerful tool. We can sneak in some about the dangers of the climate crisis as part of our motivation without wallowing in disaster-porn.

  86. 86
  87. 87
    low-tech cyclist says:

    As most of you know, I have a son. He’s nineteen now, and I find so much of my dread these days is bound up in my fear that I will leave him a world that is vastly more precarious than the one I inherited from my parents.

    I do not have a good answer for myself on that, but it is one more reason why current politics seem to me to be life-or-death. If we have any time left at all to keep the damage from climate change manageable, we don’t have that many years.

    My son is twelve, and I know all too well how you feel.

    It feels totally personal with me: I don’t want to go to my grave knowing that I failed him. And we may have already done so, but there’s a chance we haven’t, and can still prevent catastrophe in time. We’ve got to at least try. And I can’t understand why more people of my generation don’t feel that way about their kids or grandkids.

    And the last thing I want to hear is “how are you going to pay for it?” If we have to do like Republicans and borrow every last penny, that’s still a hell of a lot better than global environmental catastrophe. And if we’re already on the way there and can’t do anything about it, everything else is deck chairs on the Titanic, so who the hell cares how we pay for it?

  88. 88
    low-tech cyclist says:


    Quick google says ~40% of the world population lives within 100km of sea level.

    You may have meant within 100m of sea level. Or perhaps within 100km of the sea? Not sure which.

  89. 89
    Bill Arnold says:

    Not sure what your point is. Calcareous plankton species are part of the puzzle but e.g. diatoms are not calcareous, and interestingly do sex so evolve quickly: Diatoms Have Sex, and Ammonium Is a Turn-On (Mindy Weisberger, July 12, 2017)
    Perhaps the broader point is that the effects of acidification and surface water warming on marine life including phytoplankton are inadequately modeled, though it looks pretty dire. (I’ve skimmed maybe 10 papers on the subject. Scary material.
    We need a real plankton specialist to opine. :-)

  90. 90
    J R in WV says:

    Makes me glad to be pushing 70 and childless. I wish I didn’t have so many younger friends who may have to worry about this.


    The Hudson Bay area will be a shallow ocean covered land, it’s all too low to stay above sea level even in the short term. Like buying “insurance land” in Florida — Trump’s estates will mostly be underwater.

  91. 91
    Damned_at_Random says:

    @pat: Hope I haven’t been dead-threaded.

    I don’t know squat about evolution on a hot planet, but I spent 20 years in the Mojave desert (Ridgecrest, actually, though I left in 2006) and if I were a betting troll, I would bet on little things that den underground and are active at night, or estivate most of the year. Lizards thrive, as do insects and arthropods. As far as plants go lots of thorny perennial scrub and annuals that show up only when conditions are right. As a check on my hypothesis, the first critters to colonize the Mount St Helen’s blast zone were little critters that live in burrows.

  92. 92
    Anotherlurker says:

    @Jay: “Goodwill” has been a scam from day 1. They are 1/2 a step up slavery in that they prey on those least able to defend themselves. Get a look at the salaries of their management.

  93. 93
    Bill Arnold says:


    One scary potential is that, sometime in the not too distant future, someone may actually contemplate launching a nuclear war to cool the planet, reduce population, prevent migration, etc.

    Would need some controlled nuclear firestorms (with extensive monitoring of effects) every few years. Technically doable, politically unlikely (?).
    Gigacide is however the plan, I am certain. (Let’s say 2-4 billion fewer humans?) Stupid plan even for selfish evil people. Firstly, it presumes that technological civilization won’t collapse. Also, fossil fuel billionaires, in the fullness of time, are all Hitler-scale (or worse) genocide perpetrators. They and their children will pay.

  94. 94
    J R in WV says:

    I’m thinking (Sci Fi like) that giant mylar mirrors in geostationary orbit might be a solution. Reduce the solar energy input over hot spots, turn some on edge for more sunlight as needed. High tech, low impact.

    I know it’s more complex than that, but I don’t know enough to perceive the downside issues and propose solutions for them.

  95. 95
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @pat: There’s Boichi’s manga, “Hotel” which was expanded and updated from its original version. You can read a fan-translated version of it here.

    TL:DR; everyone dies, an AI-driven “hotel” attempts to sustain a capability to rebuild the planet’s biosphere after things cool down thousands of years from now.

  96. 96
    NotMax says:


    The Permian mass extinction (see here) provides a blueprint of sorts as to how things might play out. The big difference, though, being that took place over thousands of years as opposed to the few hundred we’re dealing with now.

  97. 97
    Jiminy's Cricket says:

    Its far too late. If you lived out here in the Pacific, you could see these changes daily in the environment and it is already accelatrting rapidly and out of control.. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.
    I wonder if we will set off the nukes as well? That would be the coup de grace..

Comments are closed.