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"Predict and survive" - or not

Richard Black | 18:52 UK time, Thursday, 8 January 2009

There's an intriguing question asked in the pages of the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this week.

In a nutshell, it is this: can we forecast sudden, possibly catastrophic environmental changes by monitoring long-term trends?

thermometerpa203.jpgAs Reinette Biggs and her co-researchers point out, what can happen is that a trend gradually worsens for a while, but manageably, until there is a quick, catastrophic flip over into another state - the starkest example being from a species in existence to a species in extinction.

The term de jour for these changes is "tipping points". And although it's been bandied around in the arena of global warming for the last four or five years, the example this group uses in the PNAS paper involves fisheries, in particular the collapse of the Grand Banks cod stocks off the coast of Newfoundland in the early 1990s.

The collapse appears to have produced a "regime change". Once, adult cod kept numbers of smaller fish such as capelin down by the simple expedient of eating them. The depletion of adult cod has enabled capelin to thrive - and now, they are taking their revenge by eating juvenile cod so fast that few make it to adulthood.

The predator has become prey; the ecosystem has flipped over into another "regime", and may never return.

Scientists and fishermen - and Canadian politicians - knew in advance that the cod population was declining. But if there had been something to tell them it would result in a probably irreversible collapse, and by when, would they have done something about it?

Reading this bit of research took my mind back to the World Conservation Congress in October, and a conversation I had there with Jonathan Baillie from the Zoological Society of London.

Part of Jonathan's job is to devise new ways of monitoring declines in biodiversity. He pointed out to me that for all the talk of global changes, human society only has one continuous long-term record of a key global environmental trend - the carbon dioxide measurements made at Mauna Loa in Hawaii for more than half a century.

When I first thought about it, I decided Jonathan must have erred. The Central England Temperature Record dates back to 1659, and measurements of sea level using tide gauges began in Amsterdam not long afterwards. Britain's "first phenologist" Robert Marsham began recording the arrival of spring in 1736, while historical documents recording the timing of events such as grape-harvesting go back even further.

But after a bit more deliberation I realised that he had a point. Interesting and valuable as they are, all of these longer historical records are registering consequences of some environmental change; they are telling us nothing about the causes, and nothing about whether sudden change lies ahead and whether it will be reversible.

coralusfws203.jpgSo what Reinette Biggs and her colleagues set out to ask in their simple model of an ecosystem very like the Grand Banks cod and capelin conumdrum was this: is there anything in the record, any signals that in retrospect could have shown that a huge change was coming, and indicated whether anything could be done to stop it?

If so, what would that tell us about using a similar prediction technique in the future?

Their conclusion basically was "no", for the Grand Banks fishery, or for anything else: "Indicators cannot at present be relied upon as a general means for detecting and avoiding ecological regime shifts."

The situation regarding projections of climate change impacts would appear to back up their view.

For all the talk of tipping points analogous to the cod collapse - irreversible melting of the Greenland icecap or drying out of the Amazon rainforest - uncertainty surrounds the precise temperature rises that could make them happen, and the precise greenhouse gas concentrations that would lead to these temperature rises, and whether reductions in emissions could reverse them.

The situation becomes even more complex when you look at the multiple pressures that crowd in on ecosystems and species. The most acute issue for the Wyoming Toad is the fungal disease chytridiomycosis that is threatening amphibians worldwide; but the Red List of Threatened Species also lists salinity changes (possibly linked to climate), invasive species, "predation, pesticide use, irrigation practices, and lack of genetic diversity".

Sort out an early warning system for that lot if you can.

Environmental monitoring is increasing. Satellites now watch over a plethora of parameters including forest cover, clouds, ice extent, and gases in the atmosphere.

Countries such as the UK have set up "biodiversity indicators" such as the numbers of key species, water quality, the extent of sustainably managed woodland, and even the amount of time that people spend volunteering for nature conservation tasks.

But for all that, we are a long way from knowing what to look for in the streams of data these projects produce; a long way from being able to tell what will survive without our help, what are the most important interventions to make, and when the deadlines for making those interventions will arrive.

So where does that leave us? In the words of Reinette Biggs: "While this research develops, management for unwanted regime shifts will depend on existing approaches that hedge, avoid risk, maintain ecological resilience, or build social resilience to cope with unexpected change."

In other words, "predict and survive" is for now an unfeasible doctrine for environmental protection; deploying a bit of prudence and a bit of planning is, she suggests, probably the best we can do.


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  • 1. At 11:18am on 09 Jan 2009, Eco_ben wrote:

    This is interesting.

    Climate change commentators often refer to tipping points as when things start accelarating rapidly, but do not always recognise them as points of no return. Just that the affects get a lot worse a lot quicker.

    Regime shifts are different, they are tipping points of no return. Once reached, that is it.

    It is important, that this distinction is made when referring to tipping points.

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  • 2. At 12:13pm on 09 Jan 2009, PAWB46 wrote:

    Most systems are stable and negative feedbacks ensure stability. Like a marble in a bowl; move the marble and the negative gravity feedback ensures the marble oscillates around the bottom of the bowl. Invert the bowl, balance the marble on the bowl and it is unstable; any movement causes it to fall off. However, the marble in the bottom of the bowl can move to a new stable state if given enough kinetic energy to lift it over the rim of the bowl. That is a tipping point. The climate is stable on the timescale of thousands of years, since negative feedbacks cause the climate to change about a mean value (energy say). However, on longer timescales, earth-sun effects (orbit, tilt, precession) can reduce the energy from the sun to the earth and cause the climate to tip from the current state (inter-glacial) to a new stable state (glacial). Similarly on geological timescale (many millions of years), plate tectonics can rearrange the land masses and cause enormous climate changes. Fortunately we are currently in a stable inter-glacial state, although the Milankovitch cycles are less favourable and some suggest that we are overdue to tip into another glacial period. It could be triggered by something like the eruption of a super-volcano (such as Yellowstone, which has recently become active).

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  • 3. At 12:58pm on 09 Jan 2009, l4dbill wrote:

    Being unable to identify tipping points before they occur is a large part of the risk of continued global warming.

    The argument of "lets wait until the science is in" should work like this:

    We'll strongly reduce co2 emissions until the science is in. If the science comes in saying there's no problem, then we can start emitting again. If you don't understand sufficiently how a complex system works, the last thing you do is play around with it.

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  • 4. At 1:10pm on 09 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:


    The precautionary principle is all very well and good, but wouldn't the vast sums of money being spent to prove global warming is real be better spent on providing clean water for millions of people world wide who have no access to clean water? Try buying One water rather than other brands if you really want to make a difference.

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  • 5. At 2:08pm on 09 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    or perhaps we should ask Sting to protect more of the rain forest being destroyed by the Greens relentless pursuit for everything "agro"? ;)

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  • 6. At 2:48pm on 09 Jan 2009, Plants4Life wrote:

    I work in 'in situ' conservation in the UK and would like to suggest that nothing tangible - ie with a positive impact on the ground - will be achieved if we continue to divert resources into 'tipping point' research. My concern is that waiting for such points to be defined before we agree the viability of a course of action closely resembles the activities of a certain musically inclined Roman Emperor.

    Indicators are most useful as implements for raising awareness of the plight of species/habitats and ecosystems, particularly with government - very often they are the critical factor in securing funds and in setting targets for the future. Yes, we do not make the best use of the information provided by the biodiversity indicators but they give at least some data from which the effectiveness of current conservation actions can be measured.

    Can I also suggest that it is important for us to understand that simply because climate change is now the 'hot' topic, the other threats to our wildlife including habitat fragmentation, eutrophication, pollution, invasive species etc etc remain as serious concerns as before. Conservation of our environment has always been a moveable feast (sorry for the cliche) - there is no state of perfection that we can aim for, nor is there a clear line in the sand or on the temperature dial below which all is OK and beyond which we all die.

    The critical action for me everyday, as Reinette Biggs notes, is to build adaptive capacity and resilience into our landscapes and to strengthen connectivity between our ecological networks, at species, habitat and ecosystem levels.

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  • 7. At 4:24pm on 09 Jan 2009, drmattprescott wrote:

    Given that we don't have another planet to move to, if we get our present experiment with the planet's climate system wrong, I think we should definitely adopt a precautionary principle and reduce our carbon emissions through greater energy efficiency and use of renewables.

    When fighting in a war, many would agree that it makes sense to keep your head down, if you are to avoid being shot, as waiting for proof could be extremely bad for your health.

    Many of the solutions to climate change are simple and low cost - a bit like ducking your head - yet large numbers of people will argue against taking any precautions until they are blue in the face.

    The stubbornness, resistance to change and risk taking tendencies of human beings are our own worst enemy, especially when it comes to avoiding the serious, long term risks posed by climate change rather the serious, short term risks posed by bullets.

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  • 8. At 5:05pm on 09 Jan 2009, PAWB46 wrote:


    What experiment is that? The earth's atmosphere is at a very low concentration of CO2 compared with the past. Negative feedbacks will adjust for the miniscule effect we are having on the atmosphere.

    Renewables and greater efficiency won't solve our energy problems. You must therefore be advocating a vast expansion of nuclear power if you want to reduce CO2 emissions.

    Since warming is good and cooling is bad, the precautionary principle would tell us to prepare for the devastating effects that global cooling could have (diminished food supplies and hypothermia for a start).

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  • 9. At 5:11pm on 09 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    Dr Matt

    I think you are quite right to point out that we only have one planet and we need to take care of it. Avoiding pollution, over fishing and stripping the world of resources gets my vote every time, but it is not even clear that there is a problem with the climate.

    If we are to adopt the precautionary principle, would we not be better off with tried and tested technology to provide our energy needs? Nuclear energy is a tried and tested technology that has the ability to provide energy needs now, not some time in the future when we have discovered how to store the energy from wind turbines or other alternative energies.

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  • 10. At 5:17pm on 09 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    As a follow up to PAWB46, Jaworowski (spelling?) has already shown that CO2 levels were higher pre-industrial era and measurements since then have been cherry picked by scientists.


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  • 11. At 8:46pm on 09 Jan 2009, Veli Albert Kallio wrote:

    The huge difficulty of making accurate predictions for abrubt system changes is well-understood in mathematical modelling. It is called chaoticity, a system that is highly chaotic will by definition be highly unpredictable due to interactions of many variables or factors limiting quantitatively attainment of enough data to make a calculation. A good example of a highly chaotic tipping point is when a snowflake lands on a slope triggering an avalanche. No one ever in right mind could make suggestion to calculate the load to resolve the timing when the avalance is due from trillions of snowflakes that had been falling before the tipping point is reached.

    The climate change has many tipping points which are well understood, but hard to translate into concentrations of CO2 or temperature that would give us the tipping point when the Amazon will have 3-year long draughts that would kill its treecover. Or, which amount of the Arctic Ocean sea ice cover needs to be removed to desabilise greenland. The tipping point can be well understood in principle, but that does not mean that it ever can be pinned down in time projections.

    The information theory distinguishes between hard problems and soft problems. There are defined problems well understood but not resolvable in practise. But there are also problems that are unknown because the estimated models are wrong in their first assumptions.

    Above type of forecasting problems are more akin to old adage GIGO, meaning carbagge in, carbagge out. A good example of this is An Inconvenient Truth, or An Inconvenient Debate when UK governement was taken to courts over Al Gore's video that referred to Abraham Ahrenius (a Chemistry Nobel Prize winner) older model where the climatic concentrations of CO2 were driving ice ages and interglacials. The later research more inklined to point out that CO2 was more like respondent than the driver of CO2 concentrations. The present model is that Milutin Milankovits (1941) model of gradual orbital forcings (sunlight variations) due to earth's orbital changes drives glaciations and interglaciations and CO2 follows these.

    It goes without saying that there is a thing called Murphy's Laws and our principals have made a complaint to the United Nations General Assembly that even Milutin Milankovits idea is wrong and it interferes the historical views and experience of some nations. So, they say the West is entirely wrong and the ice age was caused by forcing from geothermal fluctuations on the Mid Atlantic ridge and volcanic eruptions and build-up of Iceland Jan Mayen ridge caused superheating of ocean and this then led to a rapid pile up of snow on the land causing a fast ice age and resulting cooling.

    If so, all this UK High Court decision on Al Gore, so much sarcastically enjoyed by the petroholic lobby may see tables turned around once again if carbon-14 is pulled out from beneath Greenland ice core, the sunken cities on bottom of Bay of Cambay do not show up erosing of 15,000 year melting of the ice, but evidence of ice sheet slide-out and rapid land containment failure. As per this the Melville Bay coastal rocks will be studied whether there is signs of failure, subsidence or seaward movement as Greenland terrestrial ice cover responds to the imminent loss of the cooling Arctic sea ice.

    Science and knowledge is changing and advancing and the above just shows once again that we need to act based on caution rather than responsively due to uncertainty and the long lead times the Arctic permafrost and sea warming takes that is many years of committed warming beyond a complete freeze up of fossil fuels.

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  • 12. At 11:24pm on 09 Jan 2009, l4dbill wrote:

    #Re 10:
    You mean Beck, not Jaworowski. And that's exactly the kind of psuedo-science that gives sceptics a bad name. Makes it obvious that they are just trying to deny in any way they can.

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  • 13. At 09:09am on 10 Jan 2009, Maurizio Morabito wrote:

    Excessive risk management, aka the fixation on risk avoidance using mathematical modeling, has just ruined the international financial system.

    Is it really wise, and does it really follow the precautionary principle so many people are enamoured of, to stick to the same attitude regarding the environment, and in particular climate change?

    Risk is part of life and many unknowns face us every second of our existence. We should grow up to that fact, rather than worry about everything and anything we do.

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  • 14. At 09:18am on 10 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:


    No I mean Zbigniew Jaworowski, did you not read the link?

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  • 15. At 10:14am on 10 Jan 2009, BritinAussie wrote:

    There's a much easier way to spot sudden environmental crises and it happens in two steps:

    1. Receive press release from Greenpeace.
    2. Cut and paste into BBC News website.

    Its straightforward and simple and requires no critical faculties, leaving plenty of time to go to the pub.

    There are no "tipping points" in the climate. The earth's climate has remarkably large negative feedbacks which have kept the Earth habitable despite the Sun increasing in luminosity by 25% over the last 4 billion years and by occasional large asteroid impacts.

    There are "tipping points" in climate models, but these reflect the unphysical assumptions put in them by the modellers. Those "tipping points" are leverage for more funding for the climate modelling that feeds the headlines that get posted into the BBC.

    Carbon dioxide has been much more prevalent in the atmosphere over most of geological history and the current amount if anything, is near the low point over all of that time.

    All of this is in the literature, but being as it involves basic physics, its no wonder that Matt Prescott fails to grasp the significance.

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  • 16. At 10:54am on 10 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:


    The same uncritical reporting occured when the BBC trumpted Manns latest HS, which has again been shown to be wrong, incuding the same statistical analysis errors pointed out by McIntyre and Wegman, and Mann even managed to confuse Spain and Africa giving artificial raised temperatures in Africa. OK, mistakes happen, but you would think something as important and controversial as this, would at least be given the once over for errors? Looks sloppy to me.

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  • 17. At 11:09am on 10 Jan 2009, PAWB46 wrote:

    BritinAussie (15) and CuckooToo (16):

    Perhaps Richard can tell us why the BBC is so quick to report unsustantiated articles/press announcements as if they are facts?

    Every day you see items posted in the 'Science and Nature' section quoting predictions from climate models which have absolutely no basis of evidence. At least the BBC should provide them with a health warning stating that climate models have no predictive value.

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  • 18. At 5:42pm on 10 Jan 2009, EGreenhalgh wrote:

    Should someone not be looking at chaos theory?

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  • 19. At 5:56pm on 10 Jan 2009, Beejay wrote:

    The Greens are hell bent on inventing chaos and crisis where none really exists.

    Remember the huge outcry about trees being decimated to produce supermarket bags and how the Green hysterics caused the supermarkets to turn to plastic bags?

    Then a convenient 30 year mind fade later they pillory the supermarkets for producing what they the Greens had screamed before decades earlier!

    See how Green wind farms have helped power generation during the present cold spell? Not in any way. Having wasted billions of tax payers money on wind farm subsidies the Greens have gone strangely quiet about alternative power generation with respect to wind. I wonder why?

    By the way..... CO2 is not a poison and/or a polluter. Tipping points? The only one I want is the one that tips Al Gore, Hansen, Mann, Holdren etc into obscurity.

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  • 20. At 6:22pm on 10 Jan 2009, PAWB46 wrote:

    If you want to see how all those wonderful wind turbines have been doing in this 'cold spell', see

    Greenpeace: no science there!

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  • 21. At 06:30am on 11 Jan 2009, Beejay wrote:

    Something odd here. If one uses PAWB46's link to the Telegraph url - via the Beeb you get an error 404 page.

    Try and route through them and the relevant page appears!

    Someone's in denial!

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  • 22. At 07:55am on 11 Jan 2009, PAWB46 wrote:

    globalclaptrap: Thanks for the working link.

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  • 23. At 01:31am on 12 Jan 2009, l4dbill wrote:

    Re 15: "There are no "tipping points" in the climate"

    The state change between glacial and interglacial would suggest otherwise.

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  • 24. At 08:50am on 12 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:



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  • 25. At 08:55am on 12 Jan 2009, PAWB46 wrote:

    Here's a fine example of the BBC posting meaningless articles on the 'Science and Nature' section. What is the purpose of the article 'Carbon cost of Googling revealed'? It is a meaningless article, presumably meant to be another alarming story of AGW, without any basis in fact. How do we know where Google data centres get their electricity? It could be nuclear and thus carbon free.

    In the meantime, I will throw a few more logs on the fire to try and combat this global cooling!

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  • 26. At 09:21am on 12 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:


    In fairness I think the report is more about the IT industry than Google and I can imagine that the global use of energy by IT does have a very large carbon footprint - probably as large as flying, but how do you tax IT on a global scale without sending all the IT companies scurring to low carbon-tax economies?

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  • 27. At 1:36pm on 12 Jan 2009, Polly wrote:

    globalclaptrap: what is odd about the link is that it has been incorrectly pasted (with an extra and unwanted period at the end.

    Nothing sinister about the BBC at all.

    Dang, conspiracy theorists are everywhere!

    Here is the new direct link

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  • 28. At 1:43pm on 12 Jan 2009, long_walker wrote:

    @ 20 PAW, 21 globalclaptrap

    If you want to use PAW's link, you'll need to delete the extraneous full stop off the end of the URL.

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  • 29. At 3:13pm on 12 Jan 2009, Veli Albert Kallio wrote:

    Hi, I love to suck paw-paw, cuckoo and chicken (although I try to be more vegan like the IPCC’s President Rajenda Pachuri recently suggested at the UN climate report):

    According to PAWB46 (8.) ‘The earth's atmosphere is at a very low concentration of CO2 compared with the past.’ The fact that dinosaurs did breathe far more carbon dioxide has no relevance for us as no one is today equipped with the lung system of dinosaurs. It is necessary to correct your view because that the present 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen gas ratio did not apply: the ancient air bubbles trapped in amber reveal concentration of oxygen to have been much higher somewhere around 30% v. 20% we breathe today. CO2 in carboniferous or Jurassic era are no reference point for us today as far as I can see dinosaurs walking here with us today. These concentrations are historic which present ecology is not adapted. If one were to follow this line of false argument that the change of reference climate never matters for ecology, we can probably start planting palm trees in Greenland. Surely you succeed.

    This argument further down also needs correction: ‘Negative feedbacks will adjust for the miniscule effect we are having on the atmosphere.’ So, it just ‘happens’ that the Arctic Ocean melted… Some say, the 2007 melt was just a ‘blib’ or ‘one-off anomaly’. If so, how then the nuclear submarines that have measured thinning ice since 1950’s with a sustained downward trend. You try to stipulate is that during this period, the sea ice has started to melt at lower temperatures. Change of physics.

    In Australia the belly is up as much the climate is down when looked from UK perspective. BritinAussie (15.), please provide evidence for your accusations that BBC receives press releases from Greenpeace and then cuts and pastes them into BBC News website resulting in false news. ‘Its straightforward and simple and requires no critical faculties, leaving plenty of time to go to the pub.’ Let me ask you, how do you know Richards and others beer sipping habits? Are you going for beers to see Richard there in the pub too? What an alcoholic Aussie you are! Get more XXXX, less BBC!

    Britin, tell it to the New South Wales’ farmers in Australia that there is no "tipping points" in the climate that changes plant ecology. You incorrectly refer to ‘remarkably large negative feedbacks’ which have kept the Earth habitable despite the Sun’s 25% increased luminosity over the last 4 billion years that will help us out. There is astronomic error: when the Sun was formed from collapsing interstellar gas cloud, all the planets initially mopped up the gas from space to form the proto-planetary gas disk like seen in numerous Hubble Space Telescope images. Only the most flat-footed creationist can possibly dispute the Hubble Telescope images. Over 4 billion years ago the initial atmosphere of the Earth was made of 95% hydrogen and 5% helium like that of sun. What does then 25% sunlight change matter over 4 billion year ago as the Earth’s initial atmosphere did not consist any oxygen. Over the billions of years its composition gradually changed into another soup of gases, possible for life, which then has remained as a self-regulating system ‘Gaia’ (due to photosynthesis).

    There is no need to fabricate falsehoods to deny the highly detrimental effects and unsuitability of CO2 in excessive amounts released by increasing human activities.

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  • 30. At 4:30pm on 12 Jan 2009, PAWB46 wrote:


    Sorry, you just aren't making sense.

    I din't know the Arctic Ocean melted in 2007. That's news to me and I'm sure it is news to the scientists that monitor sea-ice cover. I do know that the sea-ice around the Antarctic is increasing at an unprecedented rate.

    And of course, there is no evidence to link any of the climate changes to CO2. We've just been experiencing a pleasant bit of natural warming since the Little Ice Age, to which hopefully we won't be returning any time soon. Warmth is good!

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  • 31. At 5:24pm on 12 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:


    CO2 - read link please - shows CO2 levels are not unprecedented evens recently as pre-industrial times

    Could you then explain what is wrong with that analysis?

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  • 32. At 6:29pm on 12 Jan 2009, Beejay wrote:


    There plenty of creatures around now that shared the air dinosaurs once breathed. So what?
    CO2 is not a poison/pollution.

    The Earth's climate variations should not be part of religious fanaticism, which is where the greenies and Al Gore etc., are taking it.

    About as relevant as Dragons, Fools Gold, Tulip Trading and Aliens in saucers.

    Facts not GI-GO predictions, massaged by academics who 'prove' their point by telling porky pies.

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  • 33. At 8:15pm on 12 Jan 2009, l4dbill wrote:

    Re 31: what is wrong with that analysis is that the earlier measurements were inaccurate, suffering from contamination. It's ridiculous to simply take the mean of all the points as Jaworowski has done. The smooth nature of the mauna loa measurements since 1958 highlights the flawed nature of those earlier measurements which are all over the place.

    As for Jaworowski's ice core claims see Hans Oeschger’s letter to ESPR:

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  • 34. At 06:39am on 13 Jan 2009, TJ wrote:

    This is interesting. Your article reinforces my thoughts that the natural world is a doomsday device careening from one cataclysm to another. It's like someone trying to commit suicide but being found at the last minute and reluctanly being rushed to emergency and brought back to life.
    I just find it so hard to imagine how any life has survived, let alone evolved, under such circumstances and conditions.
    Am I alone in these thoughts?
    Yours in awe..........

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  • 35. At 07:33am on 13 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    @l4dbill #33

    Jarorowski's paper is peer reviewed and published (and remember how difficult it is to get a paper published).

    Oeschger's letter is not peer reviewed and is only published becuase the website link is alarmist. Let Oeschger publish a peer reviewed paper and I will read it.

    I find it a little strange that alarmists can read a published paper and claim it is wrong with no real evidence to back up that claim other than an opinion. Isn't that real denial?

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  • 36. At 10:34am on 13 Jan 2009, Richard Black (BBC) wrote:

    PAWB46 and BritinAussie, I'll return to the comment I made a few weeks ago; I cannot believe the inner workings of the BBC News website is the most interesting thing we have to discuss here.

    Nevertheless, let me just say this. Since the beginning of 2009 there has been only one story on the BBC News website that deals with the projections of climate models. We don't write about it every day, though if there was a news story about a subject we would of course write about it every day if we considered it to be newsworthy enough. And to claim, BritinAussie, that we routinely cut and paste releases from Greenpeace into news stories with no application of critical faculties is just untrue. That is not the way we work. Organisations such as Greenpeace generate a large number of press releases (as you can see from the feeds from from Greenpeace International and from Greenpeace UK), and for us the organisation is just one potential source of news among many, its output to be assessed editorially as with every other possible source.

    Eco_ben, you're right to raise the distinction between tipping points and regime shifts. But to me, one of the interesting things about this piece of research was the suggestion that you wouldn't be able to predict which tipping points would become regime shifts, and which would be reversible. Plants4Life, thanks for your lucid comments - I'm afraid you may find that 2009 turns out to be another year when the amount of political attention on climate change obscures the other issues that you mention, but we'll do our best here to keep them in the news.

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  • 37. At 1:29pm on 13 Jan 2009, l4dbill wrote:

    Re 35: Oeschger and others have published papers on ice core methods in stark contradiction to Jarorowski's claims. We should take Jarorowski's paper and ignore all these others when Jarorowski doesn't even work in this field? Not me, I am sticking to what the experts in the field have concluded. That is the ice cores are reliable enough to show that preindustrial co2 levels were below 300ppm.

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  • 38. At 1:58pm on 13 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    Jarorowski has 40 years experience in glacial studies.

    I think that qualifies him.

    If and when others can prove him wrong in peer reviewed and published papers, his work stands.

    But I guess it will still be dismissed by alarmists and the IPCC

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  • 39. At 6:15pm on 13 Jan 2009, Veli Albert Kallio wrote:

    Let me be frank, your comment is right. Ref. PAWB46 (30.), the Arctic Ocean did not melt (100%) in 2007, only 40 % more melting occurred than during 1960-1990 years averaged. (I intended to refer to the 2007 melt season in the Arctic Ocean 2007 and something was lopped off the text when editing and pasting.) Thank you!

    But you too make mistakes. Your own argument appears squarecircular.

    Here are more of your squarecircular paw paw on the menu today:

    PAWB46 (8.): ‘Negative feedbacks will adjust for the miniscule effect we are having on the atmosphere.’ This statement appears on the litany to claim that carbon dioxide emissions are negligible because there are negative feedbacks that keep the CO2 concentrations from growing year after year. This is totally wrong, Charles Keeling’s measurements have shown a steady increase every year since 1957, most recently the build up of excess CO2 has been growing above 2 p.p.m. during each 12 month period. This is untrue square bit in your squarecircular approach.

    After that your argument (8.) goes merrily round about saying roundly that renewable energy is no good to solve the CO2 problem, where you admit it as a problem or at least a potential problem because it suits your argument: ‘Renewables and greater efficiency won't solve our energy problems. You must therefore be advocating a vast expansion of nuclear power if you want to reduce CO2 emissions.’ Good! Nuclear is good at solving CO2 problem, I agree. Is this your change of heart? No, this is a typical squarecircular argument that leads the perspective from canvass like in Indiana Jones roll-ball-nonsense clips without any coherent storyline. All the way above until now you had been trying to refute the climate change, global warming and now you say that there is, or potentially is, an energy problem to be fixed with nuclear power.

    A “problem denial” is a typical characteristic behaviour associated with people who are compulsive smokers or alcoholics. At times they are admitting that they have a problem, then suddenly and vehemently deny there is any problem when come to the next off licence selling them a bottle of whisky. A true petroholic is all the same. Should I give a psychological definition for this syndrome, because there is one? Better not, as your squarecircular argumentation is just a basically confusion just like a painter may muddle up his projections in a complex object on canvass when painting at the other end. Here your canvass is climate change leading to Pablo Picassos Guernica.

    But on a rare point with you, I whole heartedly do agree that we need a vast expansion of nuclear power capacity. The supply-side economics of all replacement power generators is tightening supply and longer queues, therefore, we better to use them all to get rid of the CO2 problem as quickly as possible which the round side of you seem to agree so wholeheartedly.

    Thou shall win his argument and who will shout out the loudest, whatever the content therein…

    Just so, your criticism of Richard PAWB46 (17) is equally futile slander. ‘Perhaps Richard can tell us why the BBC is so quick to report unsubstantiated articles/press announcements as if they are facts?’ You claim that day after day the 'Science and Nature' section quoting predictions from climate models which have absolutely no basis of evidence.’ You also say that the climate models are not used for predictions, so for what are these then made? Surely the weather is not the same as a climate, the weather model tells what the weather is tomorrow, the climate model just tells what the moving averages are and within what probability and frequency the extreme weather events are more likely to occur as the atmospheric composition changes.

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  • 40. At 2:56pm on 14 Jan 2009, Veli Albert Kallio wrote:

    Further inspection of replies have discovered further inappropriate misstatements and utter falsehoods on the responses given that have not yet been corrected.

    I fully agree CuckooToo (4.) that vast sums of money needs to be put in clean water and food provision for millions of people is needed and there exists ethical bias, thinking that saving souls tomorrow are somehow more valuable than the poor millions dying at present. But CuckooToo fails to recognise that ‘if one puts too much sugar in coffee, one cannot put some salt into coffee as its antidote’. This is just what is happening today when carbon dioxide that warms the climate, and sulphur dioxide that cools the climate are added by man to the atmosphere. Both of these act as antidotes, but at what cost? The former forms carbonic acid, while the latter forms sulphuric acid and both acids together then drive sea water pH down acidifying the oceans. So, giving the poor a glass of water today is not good antidote if there is no glass of water for tomorrow due to hydrological changes caused by global warming. Thus your stated solution is as good as salt in over-sweetened coffee cup.

    Deliberate misinformation has been spread by Globalclaptrap (19.) who suggests that ”Having wasted billions of tax payers money on wind farm subsidies”, where Gordon Brown has spent it? I want my hands onto that money coffin, where are your billions of pounds budgeted you say that have been spent by the UK government to build wind turbines. This is a false misrepresentation: the UK government has not built thousands of wind turbines, nor made any of the large capital investments you say to build wind turbines, that you falsely stipulate here as a major cost to the tax-payers in the past. I have not found any multibillion budget items spent by Gordon Brown when he was chancellor of exchequer. Such a sums of money has not been spent by him.

    You are pure liar stating utter falsehoods with a philosophy of arguing that who screams the loudest wins the argument whatever the content. “By the way..... CO2 is not a poison and/or a polluter. Tipping points? The only one I want is the one that tips Al Gore, Hansen, Mann, Holdren etc into obscurity.” Do you say, CO2 is not a pollution? How about Charles Keeling and his annually growiong CO2 concentrations in the air rising every year since 1957. Do you say, CO2 is not a poison? How about the acidification of the ocean (pH change of sea water from slightly alkali to acidic) resulting in 10% coral calcium exoskeleton growth decreases. (Coral animals seem hell-bent throwing off their skeletons into cup board, I suppose.)

    PAWB46 (20.) at 6:22pm on 10 Jan 2009 points that over the last few days the wind turbines were not sufficiently turning. How about the rest of year? The power generation emission for a day does not matter what extremism you seem to expect. Nonsense, given that in a calm day by definition there is not wind around. So, burn then fossil fuels hell bent for moment to make up the gaps. What truly matters is not a 100.00% continuous energy out put by the wind turbines. Even coal-fired power stations and nuclear reactors must be taken down from time to time unless you advocate and induce Chernobyl-style break downs. The non-polluting renewable energy output, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year is what matters in the long, cumulative run. Not the temporary lack of wind or machinery breakdowns.

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  • 41. At 7:15pm on 14 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:


    You make the assumption that CO2 is the cause of global warming As I and others have pointed out, there is nothing unusual about CO2 levels. Please, please, please refer to Jarorowski's work and also, please try telling the many people that don't have clean water to drink that tomorrows people are more important. You cannot condemn today's people on a theory that has not been proved.

    Just because some lobby has managed to persuade government bodies that CO2 is a pollutant doesn't prove anything. Are you saying that every living animal pollutes the atmosphere simply by breathing? Are you saying that plants feed on a pollutant?

    The point about wind turbines is they don't always turn (and remember they don't turn when there is insufficient wind and when there is too much wind) and we can't store the energy as yet. We must have 100% back up for wind turbines if we are to keep the lights on. Isn't it just a waste of money just to have a green energy that is unreliable? We simply cannot guarantee that wind will provide our energy.

    Yes, other energy sources have to be taken down, but we can plan for that, so it's not a problem, we can't plan for the wind not blowing unless we have 100% back up.

    I don't have a problem with wind turbines, it's just that we cannot rely on them to provide our energy needs.

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  • 42. At 07:09am on 15 Jan 2009, Beejay wrote:

    VeliAlbertKallio please note.....
    "Wind electricity price is inflated to £90/MWh

    As of January 2006 the wholesale price of electricity has risen to about £45/MWh (compared with c. £20/MWh a couple of years ago).

    The implication is that the net subsidy, currently about £45/MWh, roughly doubles the value of wind electricity to c. £90/MWh (and prior to 2005-6 price changes, it almost trebled it).

    This is probably the largest per unit subsidy ever paid for any commodity and the wind power industry has gained similar advantage in most other countries through either similar direct subsidy or, as in the US, through tax-breaks to wind power companies.

    At present, coal-fired generation receives a per MWh subsidy which is less than a 25th of the wind subsidy. Gas-fired generation has never been subsidised and nuclear ceased to be subsidised in 1995-6 and has incidentally repaid with interest the bail-out loan made to it some years ago."

    Read some more, but don't loose your cool like the last time......

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

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  • 43. At 11:49am on 15 Jan 2009, Beejay wrote:

    Comment 42 had a URL by Dr John Etherington which is not broken.

    Google "Dr John Etherington wind" and read the results.

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  • 44. At 08:00am on 21 Jan 2009, Morgaine_VLB wrote:

    There is a simple method used in wildcrafting: never take more than 10% of the healthy growth of anything harvested in any given area. If you do, you are likely to endanger its ability to survive. The assumption here, is that conditions will change in unexpected (and sometimes unfortunate) ways, and enough of a species must be left to repopulate in the event of blight/illness, natural disaster, etc. That these things will happen is inevitable, it's a matter of when. Modern society plays roulette, betting the disaster won't happen this time. Ancient societies realized that the price of a miscalculation was simply too high. Loss of a whole species could have a powerful impact on human quality of life or even on survival.

    Modern people don't like this concept because it is easier to simply strip the land of its resources, stockpile them, and control supply and demand (thus profit), while hoping that stocks will replenish by the time it's time to strip them again. This system appeared to work since its inception in the 1940s because we were oblivious to the signs of its true effect. Now we are addicted to the method and reluctant to change it because it will change profit flow. Apparently, we'd rather be dead than have our profits come on a different schedule or not be able to monopolize supplies...

    I believe extinction is what results when a species can no longer adapt to rapid changes in environment, isn't it?

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  • 45. At 1:14pm on 21 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    "I believe extinction is what results when a species can no longer adapt to rapid changes in environment, isn't it?"

    Interesting article about orangutans being unable to adapt to mans lust for replacements to oil:

    When will the Greens learn to think through their ideas before unleashing them on the environment?

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  • 46. At 2:41pm on 23 Jan 2009, Steve - Iver wrote:

    CuckooToo @ 45
    An interesting link.

    The plight of orangutan communities is an issue that I got involved in a little some 3 or 4 years ago, over the very same subject - palm oil v rain forest - the natural habitat of the orangutan.

    Petitions and rallies in the UK, some aimed at Supermarkets over the sale and therefore demand of Palm Oil, some aimed at politicians to attempt to change opinion, were used as limited tools to raise awareness and effect an opinion change, but I fear it was all in vain.

    I even visited some of the sites open to the public in Borneo during a visit there and was appalled at the devastation but important though all of that is, it is but one of the many many many projects going on around the globe to address various environmental and species protection issues that are gathering momentum. I fear it is the micromanagement of such issues that is the mistake we are making.

    I don't see micromanagement as wrong, but I don't feel it can work on its' own.

    Taking the arctic (again) as an example, some (not all) in the science community look at the arctic, and the antarctic, as a 'smoke alarm' early warning or measurement system of the global situation at large. The arctic, specifically, is now being researched more than ever before.

    The sea ice that makes up the arctic ocean in the winter is diminishing at a faster rate than ever before - polar bears may have no solid land (ice) to survive on during the summer months within our lifetime.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that the arctic is made up of something in the order of 2,500,000 square miles of ice. It is considered, I understand, that the ice making up a large proportion of that mass should be no less than 2 meters thick at its' thinnest point, in order to survive the summer and assist in the recovery of the ice in the following winter. Current evidence collected during a recent visit to the North Pole, and submitted back to NASA to back up satellite imagery obtained by them has confirmed that the 2 meter limit is now exceeded, the average being around 1.5m thick at the thinest point. Of course, there are thicker regions, but they are getting less and less too.

    With the thin ice being under minimums, it makes it more difficult when the ice returnes the following winter, exposing rock outcrops and fjords further south, meaning that the polar bears have less food sources to explore.

    There are positives to be gained too, an increase in walrus populations, has been observed, but it is not agreed whether that was due to a change in environment or a change in the law, protecting them from hunting in the 1950s.

    I think that in our world, we expect to see results from our actions, at least in a way we can measure with some degree of speed. Changes in the environment can be quick, from an earth timeline perspective, but changes applied by our intervention can take years to become apparent, generations even.

    I have no doubt that some of the changes made already will have a future positive effect, but we just done know for fact. Computer models using statistical data and trend analysis are the best means we have available.

    As humans, we need to make life changing decisions on how we are treating our earth, otherwise the earth will make those life changing decisions for us - then I guess we will have reached the tipping point, whether they actually exist or not.

    Your comment - when will the greens learn etc., just goes to prove the point that too many cooks really can spoil the broth.

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  • 47. At 3:17pm on 23 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    @ SHLA2UK

    The Arctic has been almost ice free in recent times - 6-7000 years ago:

    And we know that climate change can happen very quickly within a human lifetime:

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  • 48. At 3:51pm on 23 Jan 2009, Steve - Iver wrote:

    47. At 3:17pm on 23 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    And we know that climate change can happen very quickly within a human lifetime:

    CuckooToo - thanks and yes, I was aware of both of those items - coming as I do originally from NE England, the Dogger Bank is famous and the stories, told almost like myth and legend, are well known. The English Channel also was flooded around an area close to what is now the Isle of Wight where a community of pre-history humans lived, artifacts have been found, and previously a landbridge existed to connect southern Britain to mainland Europe.

    Please don't misunderstand me, I am not attempting to contest any opinion or belief posted here, but as a person who has a great interest in the subject, I am trying to weigh up each and every opinion I read.

    As you will probably see, my opinion has shifted a little following research made on this and other sites during the time I've posted and I, like many other people, am attempting to see the right way forward for the betterment of everyone.

    I've watched for years as various theories are proven and disproven, rehashed and unpicked and like you and everyone else, I have an opinion, but is it right or wrong?

    I'm open to suggestion, creativity and guidance whether by this means and / or research.

    As you may have seen, I've just posted on the 'ice cool analysis' blog stating that 5 years of statistics is really no basis for a long term solution, but I guess it is something of a starting point.

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  • 49. At 5:02pm on 23 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:


    I too am finding this blog refreshing, in that most people seem to be prepared to listen and consider other views.

    And I agree 5 years isn't long enough to establish a trend. In my opinion, 30 years isn't long enough either, expecially when good quality data has only been available for 150 years or so. Of course, a third of the worlds weather stations being abandoned (mostly in colder places) doesn't help with the quality of temperature data, but, hey, nothing is perfect.

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  • 50. At 5:24pm on 23 Jan 2009, Steve - Iver wrote:

    49. At 5:02pm on 23 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    a third of the worlds weather stations being abandoned

    Is this true? Do you know why or which type?

    Considering what I'm writing about, you might be surprised to find out that I work in iT - one of the worlds contributors to damage to our environment, and also in aviation, one of the other contributors, but in those worlds, I have access to other information too, and in particular (thinking aviation here) to Met data.

    I know how Meteorological data is collected and also know that every airport has a local Met Office that feeds data into that system. I'm not talking just weather here, but lots of statistical data is formed from all sorts of surface and upper weather info collected from various sources. That data helps with forecasting and statistical modelling.

    What type of weather stations have been closed? Are we talking about unmanned monitoring stations or Met Office stations? Each have their part to play, but I'm wondering if the closure of some may be connected to the increase in capture of data from satellite sources. Pilots - and if you consider the amount of flights that traverse our planet daily - also contribute with PFRs - post flight reports - that tell of the weather 'up there' which is relevant to Met Office forecasting too.

    Maybe the closure of the third you refer to is due to increased accuracy elsewhere, increased input from elsewhere - I'd be interested to know if that is the case.

    It would be interesting to see something that might show this visually - a chart showing the location of stations before and after closure, with an overlay of current sources.

    I'm only curious as in my 27 years of experience in the world of aviation, weather forecasting has enjoyed increased accuracy year on year to the point where we can now produce quite accurate 5 day and to a lesser extent 10 day forecasts that we couldn't hope to achieve a few years ago, suggesting that maybe, the closure of some of those weather stations was more to do with redundancy than with economics.

    A good point - and worth more looking into. Let me see what I can dig up.

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  • 51. At 7:07pm on 23 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:


    Weather station closure - start here and follow the links:

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  • 52. At 10:20am on 24 Jan 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    Something else to consider about predicting the future climate, sea levels etc:

    At this moment in time, as far as I am aware, none of the climate modellers predicted the slow down of the Greenland glaciers, although I am sure that we will soon hear stories about how the slowdown was exactly what was expected or "they haven't really slowed down, the glaciers have speeded up, we just needed to adjust the data"

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