Sandy : Lessons From The Wake Of The Storm


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    Nicole Foss

    Disaster and Preparedness: How Well Are We Doing? Superstorm Sandy has been a devastating experience for many, and will continue to be so for a long t
    [See the full post at: Sandy : Lessons From The Wake Of The Storm]


    A long time ago, before TAE, I made a priority list and tried to find the best ways of implementing it in the event of disasters.

    Its pretty basic stuff.

    Money/tokens/bartering supplies or skills
    Communication/social interaction

    Its not much different than what you would want to consider if you were to go on a wilderness camping trip.


    There’s been an interesting discussion on Steve’s Blog, where he also pointed to having some board games to combat boredom; for the ultimate ironical mindless fun, I would recommend LIFE. You simply can’t beat the cynicism of playing The Game of Life in an end of the life as we know it situation. Oh, backgammon helps too, it’s most popular boredom killer I’ve known.


    So lets see disaster strikes and we work together as a society. People help strangers. Survival of the whole quickly takes precedence over capitalism.

    I keep getting that its crazy talk to say that capitalism will succeed and we will not work together socially. Any attempt at a resource based society will fail, American will never stand for it.

    News flash. In this disaster it took no media, no government regulation, in fact no efforts by anyone to direct, people just knew what was right.

    Maybe we do stand a chance. Maybe we are prepared to base our lives on sustainability.


    Forget growth.

    Every disaster is One step forward two step back.

    Don’t look back. You’ll see the cliff.

    What lies ahead is only a small pot hole.

    New York is asking for $30billion from Fed.

    In making the case for federal aid, the governor’s advisers provided a staggering inventory of need as the city and state continued to rebuild in the storm’s deadly wake: $3.5 billion to repair the region’s bridges, tunnels and subway and commuter rail lines; $1.65 billion to rebuild homes and apartment buildings; $1 billion to reimburse local governments for overtime costs of police, fire and other emergency personnel; and several billion dollars in federal loans and grants to affected businesses.

    Businesses throughout the city and state lost $13 billion after being forced to close for days either because of damage to their property or because employees could not get to their jobs with travel restrictions widely in place, according to Cuomo aides.

    The amount the governor is apparently seeking would exceed the roughly $12 billion in FEMA disaster aid currently available in Washington without action from Congress, where there is likely to be strong opposition to more spending.

    Art Myatt

    Occupy Wall Street has been doing exactly the kind of community response Nicole recommends. See, for instance:

    To prepare in your area, you could do worse than participating with your local “occupy” group.


    Here is what Mitt would like to eliminate concerning FEMA.
    Give the responsibility to the states and even better to give it to private industries.
    He did not say anything about stopping the flow of money to the states or the oversight of this money.


    Its an interesting web page full of information.

    Go help yourself.


    Regardless of potential budget limitations in the future, FEMA will continue to fulfill our most important mission to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we will work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

    Proposed funding levels for specific PPAs are as follows:

    Salaries and Expenses (S&E): FEMA requests $789.172 million, 3,771 positions, and 3,576 FTE.
    This represents a net decrease of $197,956 million, and a decrease of 726 positions, and 695 FTE as compared to FY 2012 Enacted (P.L 112-74), with directed transfers.
    For FY 2013, 726 positions and 681 FTE will be funded with transfer from the State and Local Programs appropriation.


    Compare the Sandy disaster to the disaster we caused in Iraq. Iraq has so much more damage there is probably no comparison. Same with some other countries we have invaded.


    Great One, there, Nicole! Worked with some Mormons 30 years ago that convinced me, using your argument, being less of a burden on others, meant being able to assist them better. So, we put away stores from that point forward. More than once, it fed us between jobs,. Here in Cally, Earthquake Preparedness info is everywhere, always. Tethered gas wrenches to bleach!

    Jal, basic list,

    Right on. I have lived off grid in a cheap used travel trailer, in the disasters of construction recessions before (and natural ones). I learned more from those experiences than all the book learning in the library, on matters of “survival”. Learned to Okie rig most everything needed to get by.

    Around here, we have no bully pulpit, consisting of millions of squeaky wheels with which to garner media attention, therefore FEMA political posturing. No, when shit strikes, we’re on our own. Matter of fact, Sacramento and Eugene don’t even know Southern Oregon and Northern California exist.

    We here, can pretty much make it OK without all the “amenities” people think they need. It was interesting sometime back, to see young folks actually engaging in verbal conversation down at the coffee, when the fiber optic cable that carries all communication and internet traffic was burnt in a wild fire. All credit/debit card transactions, ATM etc, ceased. Tourists, passing through without cash, were mortified when even motels and restaurants wouldn’t accept cards, let alone gas stations. And we are a good part of a tank away from where they came, so they were stuck.

    The “Man from Glad” fixes us up for rain gear and hot showers, Alcoa lines us up for solar cooking and reflectors behind Granpa’s old kerosine lamp. Cheap inverter on the pickup keeps us in lights, so we can see to clean up the Quake mess. (made a wire harness out of an old cord with which I can have the entire house lighted in minutes after power goes out.) Because of uncertainty in these parts, we don’t let fuel run much below 3/4 tank. I bike more than drive anyway.

    I would recommend taking a trek into the deep woods or out into the central Nevada desert sometime, for a couple weeks or a month or so, loading everything you think you will need in the car, and see what happens. Go once in January and once in August, just for variance. Don’t have a car? Rent one, it’s worth it.

    We like go a couple times a year. After that, you’ll have it pretty much figured out. Especially the priorities. And it is much easier to put all that in a 500 sq foot condo, then a Honda Civic!


    p01, amusement,

    When the K lamp comes out, the books do too. Real paper ones. Brette Harte and pal Mark. If I were in NY right now, maybe “Roughing It”, would be on tap. Or maybe Mc Carthy’s little road trip. Or Kerouac and Dean Moriarty tearing down Rt 66, or Jack stranded in Mexico City, monkey on back, no money, no hope.

    Like life on “Ron’s” property in the hills, back when I was flat broke and free, living in 90 square feet. Where I first learned about the lamp and foil. Never had so much time to read, as then. My wealth was in 5 gallon buckets.

    Wash the dishes, wash the socks, take warm shower if I remembered to put the bucket in the truck in the sun, porta potti if it was raining out, pack water. No cell service, no internet, no utilities, no bull shit.

    And before, at Georges place, when the flood hit, in 98, I simply jacked the old trailer up on pallets, and borrowed a canoe till the water went down. Muddy waterline was evident on the wheels for years after that.

    Oh, and don’t forget HDT’s Walden.


    Your comments about insurance companies failing to pay really strikes a chord with me here in New Zealand. Two years after the Christchurch earthquake, people I know personally are still struggling to get the compensation they’re owed from insurers. At this point I’d say every dollar unpaid so far has rapidly diminishing chances of ever being paid. Christchurch was the largest “insured disaster” ever—there have been bigger quakes but apparently not with so much coverage at stake. Now I have to wonder if Sandy now takes that prize. And given insurance companies may be suffering diminished returns on their own investments the past couple years, it really makes you wonder if they have anywhere near enough money to cover Sandy.


    Good point.

    I think which insurers get bailed will depend on “who” holds their annuities in their retirement portfolios. That’s been the trend.

    For everyone else, guess it’s just print up Sandy Bonds and sell ’em to the Fed. It has unlimited resources. The man said he will never run out of money as long as he has Ctrl p on his keyboard.

    Meanwhile, where did I hear we have the biggest bond bubble in 200 odd years? Ah, no one cares. Back to Jack K and Dean M.


    Another lesson: Sandy was wake-up call.

    Blackouts lasting for months can be caused by a surprisingly possible solar storm.

    See Perspectives at to understand why and how.

    Otto Matic

    Congress basically told FEMA to go get stuffed as far as getting more funding from them

    FEMA has to essentially raise it’s own capital using a mandatory FEMA flood insurance scam.

    FEMA has spend the last few years redrawing flood plains all over the U.S. and NOT just on the coasts but inland along waterways of any shape and size.

    If FEMA determines your property is in one of their New Improved Flood Zones, you will have to buy their flood insurance, Period.

    It’s quite pricey if you are in The Danger Zone Areas, determined of course by FEMA itself.

    Basically, the same way Freddie and Fannie backstop almost ALL mortgages in the U.S., so FEMA is backstopping flood/storm insurance policies because no private insurance company is dumb enough to (re)insure properties over and over and over again in the same ever expanding FLOOD ZONES, because they are losing propositions as Climate Change grabs the utterly outdated actuarial/weather tables by the balls and squeezes the phucking life out of them.

    FEMA can FORCE ANYONE with a mortgage to buy their over priced flood/storm insurance with a condition written into most new mortgages owned by Freddie and Fannie, which is virtually ALL of them at this point.

    A friend said FEMA wants almost $9000 a YEAR for his east coast cottage, that’s way more than even the property taxes and the property has never had any significant storm damage in it’s 120 year existence.

    FEMA now will have a license to steal, not just from the idiots building on barrier islands but everywhere in the country. Some estimates have 35-40% of the entire U.S. land mass classified as potential flood zones. Just think where FEMA decides where the 100-500 year flood plains are and then bills you for it.

    Also this is a brazen attempt by the Lizard Overlords of Finance using FEMA as their vehicle to prop up property values especially along the coast.

    If you don’t have FEMA flood insurance, you will NOT be able to EVER sell the property (except for cash) to anyone because the banks won;t lend the buyers a dime for the mortgages (which they of course always sell to Fannie and Freddie)


    Hi, This is my first post, so I beg some indulgence. I am a great admirer of The Automatic Earth, and have been following the site for some three to four years. It was a great pleasure, as well as a privilege, to meet Nicole and Ilargi when they came to Waiheke Island, New Zealand, earlier this year. Without this site I would never have understood the issues around deflation/inflation.
    Once again Nicole has written a thorough analysis, and my thanks to her for that. My problem is that here is a full article on this extreme weather event with nary of mention of its underlying cause: global warming. And hardly a mention in the comments either. I noticed the same thing with Nicole’s otherwise brilliant recent article on the economics alternative energy sources. The best I’ve ever seen – but where does it leave us? Burning fossil fuels by default?
    I’m starting to get a sense of cognitive dissonance when I move from my other sites of interest, Skeptical Science, Hot Topic and Real Climate, to The Automatic Earth. The resounding silence on global warming by the US political system during the election seems to be repeated here, as if we can talk about these things, these disasters, and the details of dealing with them, without talking about about their climate context. Now, even the World Bank and Bloomberg is talking about it but not The Automatic Earth.
    It may be possible to argue that, for the purposes of this site, the causes of these extreme weather events can be ignored – but how viable is that position? Is it now an implicit denialism? The cost of global warming related events world wide have, to my knowledge, not been properly quantified, but must least run into the hundred of billions by now, if not trillions. They are bound to be underestimated. At what point does climate change appear on the ledger? It’s only going to get worse.
    One of the criticisms levelled at mainstream economics is that it attempts to maintain a firm distinction between the economy and the environment, as well as externalising environmental and social costs. If Sandy proved anything, it is the fallacy of that position.
    The picture on the CNN business website of sandbags stacked along Wall Street says it all.



    A very long time ago, I studied civil engineering and even worked as one for a while, before realising that it was an under-valued profession and I moved to greener pastures. We were taught to estimate how much to spend on flood-defences and suchlike.

    I did a quick search and found the following book from 1961:

    “Flood in New York, Magnitude and Frequency”

    I suspect that if you looked at the historical record, you may find that quite a few serious floods occurred in the past in New York. This one was aggravated, as we all know, by a full moon:

    I am not saying that “climate change” does not have something to do with it – since the climate has never been a fixed factor anywhere for any long period of time. I am simply pointing out that we do not – and never have – lived in non-dynamic world. Frankly, this book from 1961 probably has some estimate of the chances of something like Sandy occurring.

    Nicole Foss


    How would a discussion of climate change have added to this article? The point was to deal with preparation for disasters given that disasters of all kinds will happen and are only probabilistically predictable. This was not meant not be about storms specifically, but to address resilience and preparation for whatever may be thrown at us.

    Not couching my arguments in terms of climate is a deliberate choice. IMO the best way to get people to do something about climate change is not to address it directly. If people’s focus is climate they are thinking at a global scale that is disempowering, and will be imagining that they have far more time than they actually have to prepare. It is a recipe for inaction.

    Contrast that with making the same argument in terms of financial crisis and peak oil, which are far more immediate and personal. Many of the same actions need to be taken either way, but presenting the need for them in financial and energy terms means people are far more likely to actually do something. That something will most likely have direct or indirect benefits from a climate perspective as well.

    Climate discussions typically focus on global top-down initiatives, such as government policy or large scale projects. These are destined to fail. All of them. Not only will they fail, but they will make matters worse in the meantime, and will therefore be counter-productive. There is nothing to be gained from such a top-down approach. What matters is people’s behavioural response, from the bottom up. The aggregate of behavioural change is what delivers benefits.

    I am very concerned that too strong a climate focus will lead to large scale interventions along the lines of geo-engineering (google it – very scary stuff). Humans would generally rather continue business as usual and deploy some techno-fix to deal with the consequences than to change behaviour in a way that matters. Governments are already doing this, and the potential for large unintended consequences, and quite possible perverse, is significant. This is the kind of thinking that goes into top-down solutions, and it leads nowhere good. Some people will make a lot of money in the short term by doing such things while the underlying problem will get worse. That kind of thinking is what got us into trouble in the first place.

    I encourage relocalization, decentralization, small scale, resilience, reduced dependencies, simplicity, community, flexibility and emergency preparedness. This is what we need to do for reasons of financial crisis and peak oil and climate change, and a host of other factors arising from reaching limits to growth. Climate is not ignored here, even though it is not specifically addressed.


    I encourage relocalization, decentralization, small scale, resilience, reduced dependencies, simplicity, community, flexibility and emergency preparedness. This is what we need to do for reasons of financial crisis and peak oil and climate change, and a host of other factors arising from reaching limits to growth. Climate is not ignored here, even though it is not specifically addressed.

    You forgot one thing.
    Debt freedom which will also result in overall freedom.


    Hi – Just lost a whole hour’s work here, told I was logged off? Any advice?



    Sorry about the length – did my best to cut it back!

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Nicole. I did realise that not framing your Lifeboat discussion in terms of global warming was a strategic decision, which I think served your purpose quite admirably, and I appreciate the further point that it may be more effective in terms of getting practical things done not to talk about the Global Warming context. I would suggest, however, that your strategy has its dangers, particularly given that silence on the matter may be interpreted as an endorsement of an increasingly untenable denial of man-made Global Warming (AGW), or foster the sort of complacency on the issue evidenced by Nasim’s post – which repeats the thoroughly discredited notion that what we are witnessing is nothing more than natural variation.

    I find your suggestion that we are best not raising the issue because of the crazy ideas of the geo-engineers, of which I am well aware, a little odd, even given that I share your aversion to these top-down solutions. (I’m a bit puzzled also as to why you would assume that I was not aware of these dangerous notions, unless you were implying that anyone aware of them would not be raising the matter at all…) Acknowledging the reality of global warming should not depend on our fear of some of the wackier proposed solutions, nor should we allow this fear of fanatics to determine the manner in which we understand and contextualise climate-change related events. I don’t see us cowered into silence like this in any other field of enquiry.

    More moot, however, is your claim that the financial crisis and peak oil ‘are far more immediate and personal’ than AGW. What could be more ‘immediate and personal’ than Hurricane Sandy, a AGW related event, certainly not caused by the financial crises or peak oil, and the very occasion of this discussion? Try putting your claim to 25 million Pakistanis displaced by rogue monsoons in the last two years, or Inuits watching their environment and livelihood literally melting in front of their eyes, or indeed those good ol’ denialist farmers in Texas watching their land fry under extreme drought. The effects of AGW are very immediate, very personal and very widespread, I would have thought. Your claim suggests that you do not, in fact, accept that Sandy, and by extension other weather extremes, are related to AGW

    Rising sea levels are now an uncontested fact. We are adding about an inch a year, which doesn’t sound like much until you realise that over the past 100 years we have added twelve inches to global sea levels, and that rate of rise is itself rising. That’s a lot of extra water sloshing around. For New York, the implications couldn’t be clearer, not for some far off future, but right now. Preparing our lifeboat for the US East Coast without taking this data on board as it were, on the assumption that we will return to BAU for the climate, might well see us making the wrong grass-root decisions and wasting a lot of time and effort, such as building useless walls or attempting to rebuild communities in low lying and therefore threatened areas.

    NASA’s James Hansen has amply demonstrated that by adding C02 to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels we are constantly ‘loading the dice’ in favour of climate-change enhanced weather events like Sandy. We have reached the point where all extreme weather events have a AGW background, as do some commodity prices such as corn and wheat – and we’ll see more of that trend.

    I think we need to robustly and straightforwardly acknowledge the role AGW is playing in our lives now without putting everyone into a panic or paralysing local action, so that we can see our way forward sensibly and realistically. If we don’t do that we are in danger of fostering the illusion that there is nothing going on here but ‘acts of God’, or the vagaries of ‘Mother Nature’, or some bogus ‘natural variation.’ Remember the old adage: context determines meaning…

    As I see it, the financial crises, AGW, and peak oil are inextricably linked, the three major strands of the Mother of all Crises upon us now – ultimately, excluding one of these threads from the analysis will lead to a distorted picture of the nature of this crisis.

    Thanks for your patience!



    “Rising sea levels are now an uncontested fact.”

    References please!

    Here is the situation for the Maldives which lie in the Indian Ocean:

    I strongly suspect that the readings your information is based on comes from piles that are sinking.

    I think that I am currently living only around 1-2 meters above sea-level, and there is certainly no panic going on locally. In fact, the houses along the shore are selling for over one million dollars. Here is a plot of land right on the sea-shore and barely above sea-level and it is selling for around $200/sq ft.

    Here is an image based on 1993-2010 satellite data. It suggests that where I am and the Maldives have the sea rising at 3mm/year (1/8th of the rate you mentioned).

    Of course, according the satellites, some areas have the sea-level dropping – off New York, for example. 🙂

    Frankly, it is all a red herring and what Stoneleigh is putting the emphasis on is vastly more important and certainly more immediate.



    Here are some links, mostly related to Sandy and New York. I can supply more general, global data if you wish. Apologies, by the way, for the complacency remark, nobody involved with TAE is complacent as far as I can see; it’s just that no natural cycles have been identified that could explain present extreme weather patterns, which have to be seen as whole to grasp their import. We must ‘connect the dots’ as Bill McKibben puts it. Cherry picking data is a danger, as global sea levels are not rising the way water does in bathtub, but are affected by a variety of local conditions, including sinking sea floors (from accumulating weight) and the gravitational effect of large ice masses, such as the Greenland ice sheet, on surrounding water.

    Anyway here are some links:

    New York sea level rise – Battery Park gauge graph with comment and other graphs.

    Lakoff’s orignal post – putting Sandy in context.

    Brief comment on Lakoff by Yale Global

    More good stuff about Sandy from SkS. What are the right questions?

    Meteorologist Jeff Masters at the Wunderground blog is a great source of reliable data. Here he is as co-author

    Interesting angle with regards to empirical knowledge

    article on Pacific Sea levels

    Excellent general background to AGW, Jeff Masters

    More informed comment

    Excellent moving graph from Sk S showing temp rises globally

    Peter Sinclair has made a series excellent short videos, even if some of his attention getting tricks are a bit corny.

    Four more Sinclair vids concentrating on sea-level rise.

    Finally, last but not least, a graph of C02 levels for the past ½ million years from NASA

    If you look at this last graph you realize that, given the heat-trapping properties of C02 (discovered in the 1820’s), there is no way we can be adding 30 billion megatons of fossil fuel C02 (plus methane and nitrous oxide) to the atmosphere without causing global warming; and there is no way we can be creating this warming without creating the conditions for such weather events as Sandy. I have already expressed my admiration for Stoneleigh’s article, and I am in awe of her knowledge and analytical skills – her posts on fukushima were a touchstone during the course of that crisis (which is still not over, as I understand it).

    My point is that an incomplete view of any event will eventually give rise to an incomplete analysis – and possibly wrong action.

    Nicole Foss


    We simply can’t say that any specific event is or is not a result of climate change. Climate science is probabilistic. The probability of a Sandy-like event may have gone up, but direct causation still can’t be drawn.

    I think there is clearly a cycle of natural forcings, since substantial variations have been occurring for much longer than we have been having any effect. We don’t understand this element and do not know where we lie in this cycle. Any effect humans have could either be accentuated or muted by such a cycle, but we do not know the net effect.

    Nor do we understand the extent of global dimming, the residence time for particulates in the atmosphere or the impact of coming finance/energy changes on emissions of greenhouse gases or particulates. We know CP2 has a long residence time and particulates have a short one, but do not know where the net effect will lie as we move into major changes.

    We also do not know where we lie in relation to tipping points and spirals of positive feedback. We know they exist and can be very powerful, but again have no idea of the net effect of different feedback loops. We do know the system is highly complex and non-linear, so we can certainly say that predictions of a linear relationship between CO2 and temperature cannot be drawn. Reality is far more complex than that.

    Climate science is far more complicated than most people think, and the existing models do not factor in vital elements. We don’t know nearly as much about it as we think, and our ability to make specific predictions in the face of this uncertainty is shaky. This is another reason I rarely discuss the issue. As soon as I open my mouth I have to spend a very long time explaining the complexity involved.

    Geo-engineering isn’t really common knowledge, so I would have no way of knowing who is and is not aware of it. Besides, replies here are for more than just the person who asked the question. Some lurkers may know and some may not.

    I still think that relocalization and decentralization measures are the best way forward on this issue, as with finance and energy. These are more motivational due to scale and immediacy. I answer questions on climate change in all its complexity if people ask at my talks, but I don’t find raising the issue in the talk itself very helpful. Maybe I’ll write a piece on it for TAE one day.


    stoneleigh post=6204 wrote: We simply can’t say that any specific event is or is not a result of climate change. Climate science is probabilistic. The probability of a Sandy-like event may have gone up, but direct causation still can’t be drawn.

    The Lakoff article on huffpo introduced the concept of “systemic causation” and quite effectively contrasted it with direct causation, I think. (I wonder if Kiwipoet had referenced that more directly in her/his lost comment, given that s/he referred to it as “Lakoff’s original post” in the subsequent one.)

    That said, when a commenter has that much to say, with pertinent links (which cover the matter extensively), I don’t see the value in asking one of the TAE administrators to say it for them, beyond a request along the lines of, “How about a piece on climate change from your perspective?”

    In general, a “say more” or “do more” request probably warrants a donation. 🙂


    I have just a quick addition to what I consider a “must have” when things will be bad. Musical instruments, cheap ones are fine. Books and cards are great, but can get old. Simple things like kazoos and plastic harmonicas (my local music store sells plastic harmonicas and kazoos for a dollar) or recorder flutes or any cheap and easy instrument can make for some entertaining times when you tire of games.

    I also always have a soccer ball and a few frisbees in my truck.


    Thanks Stoneleigh for your reply – and I hear your call for a donation, which I will make directly. I’m a writer/pensioner with a part time lecturing job at a university in New Zealand (and I’m male!) so you will be able to appreciate my constraints. However, a donation is richly deserved for the value I have had from TAE.

    A couple of issues arise from our correspondence.

    My impression is that the uncertainties around the phenomenon of warming have been exaggerated in order to delay any effective action on climate change. And I don’t mean geo-engineering – delay will make that nightmare much more likely.
    ( see:
    I don’t see that we can ignore the role of the Koch brothers and their Heartland Institute, along with a willing Murdoch press and Fox News, in deliberately obfuscating the matter and exaggerating the uncertainties.

    Nor are the uncertainties in any way reassuring. They suggest, when we look at the IPCC (The UN International Panel on Climate Change) predictions in the past, that we have consistently underestimated the effect on the climate of the .8 degree C increase we have seen so far, since the beginning of industrialization.

    Your point about the complexity of the issue is similar. Like the uncertainties, the complexities can be used to disempower us with regard to phenomenon, make us think that it’s all too difficult for our poor brains to grasp, and therefore best left to the experts. This reminds me of how some economists present their theories – it’s all too complicated for you poor (and getting poorer) folk to realize that you are in the process of being ripped off. Yes, in some of its ramifications AGW can be very complicated, but, in essence what is happening is quite simple to state and to understand. I’ll try it in one, er, two simple sentences.

    Global warming is a consequence of the laws of physics, namely, the capacity of carbon dioxide and some other trace gasses to trap heat by absorbing ultra violet light. Increasing the amount of those gasses into the atmosphere by pulling carbon out of the ground and burning it will, must in fact, heat the planet, creating an energy imbalance which will disturb climate patterns.

    The complexities can’t hide, or be made to hide, that simple fact.

    There is a huge ongoing flow of data confirming this now. The flow is so enormous it’s hard to keep up. Just this week, for example, scientists have been able to finally quantify how much sea-level rise is due to the melting of the polar ice sheets. Here’s a link to the BBC report.

    And this week, too, I learned that ice that hasn’t seen the light of day for 30 thousand years has now been exposed on Greenland due to ice melt. (

    Where I think TAE could usefully do some research, and I’d be happy to put some money in the slot to help it along, is what has become known as Bill Mckibben’s maths. This is where peak oil, the financial crises and the AGW crisis meet. We know how much carbon dioxide is locked up the fossil fuel resources now available, and how much warming would result from burning that fuel. The problem is simple. If we burn all known and available reserves we will drive the temperature of the planet up five degrees very rapidly indeed – but we have to dig it up and burn it because it has already been sold. So McKibben has done the figures on that. It would also be enlightening to have your opinion of NASA’s Jim Hansen’s radical carbon tax proposal, which, unlike any other put forward, would see the income gained returned to the people – which is probably why it has been ignored. Hansen writes about the idea here. ( )

    Finally, sorry for these long posts! At present, I can only post once a week at present, and have to save it all up!

    Nicole Foss

    I didn’t ask for a donation, it was another commenter making that suggestion. Please don’t feel pressured.

    I find that the uncertainties have been understated rather than overstated. We don’t know how many feedback loops there are, or how they interact. We don’t know if we’ve passed a tipping point with regard to any one of them. We are having effects not just on CO2, but also importantly on methane and water vapour. We don’t understand the cloud distribution effect that comes with water vapour changes.

    In the past, major climate disruptions appear to have been primarily methane feedback loop related. We don’t know if this is part of a cycle of natural forcings. There clearly is such a cycle, since we have seen major fluctuations predating our influence as a species, but we don’t understand it at all. Therefore we don’t know where we may lie within it, and whether it might be accentuating or diminishing AGW. Previous methane events are not reassuring, to put it mildly, as they lead to mass extinctions.

    We don’t really understand global dimming either, but we do know it’s having the effect of reducing incident solar radiation substantially. This may or may not be a result of geo-engineering. We know that three days without planes in the air after 9/11 made a noticeable difference.

    What we do know is that the climate system is highly non-linear, so we simply can’t make linear predictions from CO2 levels to temperature changes. As you point out, the models have consistently underestimated the observed effect. I have very little faith in the models. We could easily be looking at a worse scenario, but we honestly don’t have enough information to make accurate predictions, especially in the light of the huge changes to economic activity and human behavioural response that are coming.

    None of the top-down ‘solutions’ will have any positive effect. In contrast, they will probably make things worse by generating more hot air and more ponzi financialization. I see no need to encourage any of them for that reason.

    What works are small scale initiatives in the aggregate, and I very much encourage those. I just don’t do it with climate mitigation as the stated goal, because framing issues in global terms is disempowering. We need to shift our focus to the local scale. That is where the real solutions lie, whether we talk about finance, energy or climate. Anything else is pretty much a waste of time and energy, or worse, counter-productive.


    Hi Stoneleigh – some observations:

    ‘We are having effects not just on CO2, but also importantly on methane and water vapour. We don’t understand the cloud distribution effect that comes with water vapour changes.’
    C02 and Ch4 (methane) cannot be lumped in with water vapour. C02 and Ch4 (and nitrous oxide) are greenhouse gases (GHGs) that have the capacity to trap heat in the atmosphere. The water-vapour issue is largely a red-herring, distracting us from the central issue of fossil fuel use, although water vapour does amplify GHG driven warming. (See:
    What is know for certain with regard water vapour is that there is now approx 5% more water vapour in the atmosphere than thirty years ago as a result of temperature rises – which is why we are more likely to get huge, and costly, downpours when six months or a year’s worth of rain will fall in a few hours or days, the kind of phenomena we are increasingly seeing.

    ‘I have very little faith in the models. We could easily be looking at a worse scenario, but we honestly don’t have enough information to make accurate predictions, especially in the light of the huge changes to economic activity and human behavioural response that are coming.’
    In fact, we have had computer models of climate change now for long enough to be able to compare what the models predict with the actual data, and the models are pretty reliable. What they haven’t been able to model successfully are the non-linear feedback loops you mention, and, since these are already having an effect on the climate, the models are really too reassuring. lists lack of faith in the models as a climate myth, one of their top ten.
    If you look at the graph provided, you’ll see satellite observations tracking the high end of the range of IPPC predictions very accurately. (I can’t get the graph to paste in)
    The only human behavioral response that will affect the ongoing rise of temperatures is to stop using fossil fuels, and I don’t see how, culturally, this is going to happen without a full and open acknowledgement of the problem. Anything less only serves the interest of the rogue fossil fuel industry.

    ‘We don’t really understand global dimming either, but we do know it’s having the effect of reducing incident solar radiation substantially.’
    Note John Cook at skepticalscience again: ‘Atmospheric aerosols caused a global dimming (eg – less radiation reaching the earth) from 1950 to 1985. In the mid-80’s, the trend reversed and radiation levels at the Earth’s surface began to brighten. From 1950 to the mid-80’s, the cooling effect from aerosols was masking the warming effect from CO2. When aerosol cooling ended, the current global warming trend began.’

    ‘In the past, major climate disruptions appear to have been primarily methane feedback loop related. We don’t know if this is part of a cycle of natural forcings. There clearly is such a cycle, since we have seen major fluctuations predating our influence as a species, but we don’t understand it at all. Therefore we don’t know where we may lie within it, and whether it might be accentuating or diminishing AGW.’
    I find these sentences unusually vague, except that you seem to be down-playing the problem. This could be a subtle variation of ‘the Cimate’s changed before,’ argument. In fact the human contribution to global warming can be clearly seen against the ‘white noise’ of natural variations and cycles.

    I would like to put the question the other way around. Given the known property of GHGs to trap heat in the atmosphere, and given we are at present putting 30 billion megatons of C02 alone (not to mention methane and nitrous oxide) every year, and rising, how can we not be causing rapid heat rise?

    ‘…framing issues in global terms is disempowering.’

    Why? If it’s a global problem, which it is, it is simply false not frame it in appropriate terms. How else can it be framed? We have no such difficulty giving the right global context to the great ponzi scheme of international finance; it does no harm to those suffering from austerity in Greece, for example, to know that there are fellow sufferers in Spain, and elsewhere; quite the contrary it helps mobilize them.

    Libertarians have enormous problems with AGW because the problem seems to enquire massive government action, and intervention. My point is, that whatever the solutions might turn out to be (the collapse of the financial system might be a start) we need a clear-eyed view of the problem to begin with.

    And the problem is the burning of fossil fuels

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