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A New Ice Age? 449

barakn writes "Scientists have savaged the new movie The Day After Tomorrow, which depicts global warming causing a new ice age and freezing New York solid. The movie follows on the heels of a report to the Department of Defense in February, written by two guys who are not climatologists, about the implications of global warming triggering the growth of ice sheets in the northern hemisphere. There is a plausible theory which suggests that melting ice may release enough fresh water to halt circulation of warm water from the Gulf Stream, thus significantly cooling Europe and the east coast of North America. Note that this theory depends on melting ice, not growing ice, which may be one reason scientists find the ice age scenario so hard to swallow. New satellite evidence suggests a part of this circulation may already be slowing down. Those on the North American west coast will not have to worry about ice sheets, but changes in Arctic ice could mean the western drought will be permanent. For those of you who would rather do something before it's too late, iron seems to work, but the long-term ecological implications are still unknown."
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A New Ice Age?

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  • Move it! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Sicarii ( 768338 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @09:12AM (#8890985)
    Oh shit!...time to move to another planet...
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @09:13AM (#8890991) Homepage
    I refuse to forget how many times popular science has been wrong.

    there is your answer... "popular science"

    it diesnt say accurate science, or proper science or even real science... but popular science...

    they only print that which is "popular" at that time. Many times their articles are complete bunk and sensationalized to the point of being redicilous... and they have ALWAYS been that way.

    Popular science is for the Lay person that likes to be entertained... go grab one of the real science journals for accurate information.
  • by WIAKywbfatw ( 307557 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @09:17AM (#8891002) Journal
    Maybe because climate change caused by global warming is potentially (note, I said potentially) a man-made disaster waiting to happen, whereas drilling down to the Earth's core isn't actually happening and being hit by an asteroid the size of Texas is highly unlikely for the immediate future.

    The attitude of a lot of people here on Slashdot with regards to global warming amazes me. This is something that could possibly devastate society as we know it, perhaps not for us, but for our children or our children's children, but there's a great many people who either dismiss it as never going to happen or something that can be easily controlled without any major shifts in lifestyle or attitude.

    Someone once said "This is a fragile ball we're living on. It's a miracle and we're destroying it." That's a hell of a lot closer to the truth than any politician, especially any politician who's made a killing from exploiting fossil fuels, will ever admit to.
  • Terraforming (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 17, 2004 @09:22AM (#8891014)
    Why is it that people here* are so dismissive of climate change on Earth, but if it's terraforming on Mars, nary a criticism (of the scientific theory) is heard...

    * a generalisation, yes, but just look at some of the comments so far!
  • by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @09:29AM (#8891035) Journal
    I don't think the parent was referring to the magazine "Popular Science" but rather the current theories that permeate society, eg: "Global warming" and "We only have 20 years worth of oil reserves left". (That second one was popular around the 1970's, and 30 years later they still say we have 20 years worth left...)

    Unfortunately, it's popular science that the laymen take as truth. The public has SO MUCH blind faith in science its disturbing. Everyone figures "well these guys are scientists, so they must know what they're talking about" - It's not that that the public is stupid (debatable...) but rather they are just so uninformed about how everything works that they really can't critique the claims.

    And all too often the laymen are the policy makers and social/political reactionaries. That's when the problems start.
  • non-linear systems (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Transcendent ( 204992 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @09:40AM (#8891073)
    Note that this theory depends on melting ice, not growing ice, which may be one reason scientists find the ice age scenario so hard to swallow.

    Because our climate is probably not bound by a purely linear occurrence of events. It is full of rebounds, snap-backs, and whatever else you want to call it... like oscillations.

    Just because the melting of the caps is the result of global warming doesn't mean that doing so will not trigger a rebound, causing more of the northern hemisphere to freeze. Just like freezing the caps and lowering the sea level will (theoretically) uncover methane deposits in the soil, releasing greenhouse gasses and thus warming the planet again. So stopping the nice current bring warm water up to northern Europe will cool it down, allowing more ice caps to form. Sure, one they're formed the currents might start up again and warm up Europe, but like I said, it works in oscillations.

    What really surprises me is why so many people have a hard time swallowing this. Even looking back at the history of Earth's climate shows numerous ice ages and warm periods. CO2 levels have done the same as well.

    Some people just need to think a little bit longer down the line. Or maybe they disregard the claims so they don't loose grant money? Not flaming, just a warranted curiosity...
  • by tadmas ( 770287 ) <`david' `at' `tadmas.com'> on Saturday April 17, 2004 @09:47AM (#8891094) Homepage

    Or perhaps our probes are polluting the Martian atmosphere? ;-)

    Are you implying that these scientists' predictions of doom are wrong? That would mean that they're just "stretching the truth" to get more grant money and don't care about being credible!... oh, wait.

  • by 56ker ( 566853 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @10:01AM (#8891140) Homepage Journal
    I think some people have a hard time seperating science fiction from science fact as science fiction slowly becomes science fact (at least in hard sci-fi as opposed to science that's been twisted to be implausible by dramatic licence).
  • by eclectro ( 227083 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @10:04AM (#8891155)
    If that recollection is true, then we're still in an "Ice Age" and should expect the world to be getting warmer if the "Ice Age" is in fact coming to an end

    This is what I call "Dubya" science or speak, as this is something like what he would say.

    The fact is that we are conducting a worldwide uncontrolled experiment on mother earth, as we pump evermore quantities of CO2 in the enviroment.

    There has never been a greater amount of CO2 in the enviroment than right at this point of time.

    This outpouring of uncontrolled CO2 started with the industrial revolution and hasn't slowed since.

    Likewise, the temperature of the Earth has been rising steadily and at a faster rate.

    People may scoff at and dismiss a 1 degree raise in the earth temperature as nothing important, but there is one fact of physics that is incontrovertible;

    Ice is frozen at 32 degrees, ice is *water* at 33 degrees

    Which means that we start losing the polar ice caps with a one degree change in the earth's climate.

    Startling evidence has occured that this shows this very thing may be happening - The north pole turns to water on a regular basis, and a huge part of the Antartic ice sheet has broken off.

    I'll let somebody else post the links or google it. One of them was an old slashdot story.

    So scientists or whoever can diss the movie all they want, but it is just a matter of time before some weather related event occurs that will come back to bite us in the collective but in a big way due to global warming.
  • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @10:09AM (#8891183) Homepage
    I believe the book was called "Comming of the global super storm" or something like that. But then again, Art Bell has been known to provide shock entertainment. When it comes to this guy, just sit back an enjoy the fun. He would want it that way.

  • by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @10:17AM (#8891217)
    I don't think the parent was referring to the magazine "Popular Science" but rather the current theories that permeate society, eg: "Global warming" and "We only have 20 years worth of oil reserves left". (That second one was popular around the 1970's, and 30 years later they still say we have 20 years worth left...)

    Your gross (though common) oversimplification of the claims doesn't counter the fact that the amount of oil is limited ... unless you are hypothesizing either an infinite amount of oil or some currently unknown process that is replacing it as fast as we can use it? When the reserves will run out, whether in 5 years or 50, is a relatively unimportant detail compared to the fact that they will. Yes, there is uncertainty about the timing -- should we gamble that it will be later rather than earlier?

    The attitude that "it hasn't happened yet therefore it won't happen" is even sloppier thinking than what you are criticizing.

    The only way to avoid be caught unprepared for changes in the availabilty in resources is to prepare for those changes. Why is this so hard to understand?

  • by fw3 ( 523647 ) * on Saturday April 17, 2004 @10:23AM (#8891241) Homepage Journal
    That it's far too early to call whether these studies, models etc are going to be right / wrong. 'Prediction' is a dangerous business.

    Generally, in any case by no means every theory/prediction made about climate has been wrong. Case in point James Lovelock (who happens to be one of the two founders of what's generally known as the Gaia hypothesis) and co-researchers *accurately* predicted the medium-long term results of CFC release on the ozone layer.

    Science is inherently wrong, because it's the art of better explaining what we don't know. Another related case in point. Up until a dozen years ago physical oceanography uniformly concluded (based on theoretical models and very limited data sets) an understanding that the deep ocean flow was uniform and slow.

    A friend of mine at WHOI put some cameras on the floor of the northern Atlantic, one day they were thinking their hardware had flaked 'cause they couldn't see anything. What was happening was silt was being stirred up by a high velocity current. What they discovered was that oceans have 'weather patterns' which operate much as atmospheric weather, fronts, low&high pressure areas etc.

    This completely blew away established theories of physical oceanogrpahy (and happens to be directly related research to the abrupt climate change and ocean conveyor research article referenced in this post).

    I'm glad you feel safe, however concluding that you're safe because prior research has been wrong is not a great recipe for the long term. The CFC / ozone problem is one of the first instances of scientific results materially impacting environmental policy at the global/international level. If rapid-onset ice-age is a possiblity (this has been pretty well established). And if a 'lens' of low-density fresh water over the northern oceans can trigger this abrupt change we would be foolish to conclude there's no risk worth further understanding.

  • by PHPhD2B ( 675590 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @10:23AM (#8891243)
    Ah yes, the intuitor guy. An engineer* who seems to wish he's a scientist. And instead of educating himself further he puts up a web site with some equations (mostly 7th-11th grade physics ones) and keeps talking in "I don't think a real scientist would ..."

    And his silly attempts at savagery shows that he never quite GETS it - check out his "review" of The Core. It completely has eluded him that "The Core" is a funny little 50s type sci-fi movie, not a documentary.

    * I'm an engineer myself but I've been trained to actually find the truth, not make surmises about what I *think* scientists would say our do - I'd go ask some of them!

  • Previous Ice Ages (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tehanu ( 682528 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @10:24AM (#8891246)
    I'm not sure how bunk the notion of Global Warming causing an ice age is (esp. since the article seems to be slashdotted so I can't read it) nor have I watched the movie. I remember when we were studying planetary science, one of the chief questions was what caused ice ages, esp. connections with the Earth's orbit and rotation. Mind you this was some years back, but if I recall correctly, one of the things we focused heavily on was the fact that the geological evidence shows that just before Ice Ages, the Artic regions have record peaks in their temperatures. It seemed that no-one was too sure about why this was the case but what seemed to be popular was how very high Artic temperatures affected the percentage of the ocean covered by ice and the different amounts of heat that land and water absorb (and also how the Southern Hemisphere was different because of its different ratio of land to water). This seemed to be pretty established physics at the time and no-one mentioned anything about global warming. Though the question of just exactly how this all worked was still up in the air. It just seems that people are applying what is known about past Ice Ages and theorising that if record high temperatures in the Artic Circle which preceded previous Ice Ages played a direct role in the Ice Ages (and you have to admit, it's pretty reasonable to assume this), global warming may eventually result in an Ice Age as well due to the same conditions that caused previous Ice Ages.
  • by moonbender ( 547943 ) <moonbender@ g m ail.com> on Saturday April 17, 2004 @10:25AM (#8891254)
    It can't be "accurate science" or "proper science" or "real science" because there is no control, nor is there any way to run any experiments to actually measure any cause-and-effect relationships.

    Wrong. While it is not possible to run experiments as such, it certainly is possible to make certain predictions based on the underlying physics and look how the predictions turn out based on empirical data. Then the theory is either validated or not - in which case you modify the theory trying to account for the difference. Or, in briefer terms, you apply the basic scientific process.

    And of course it is still absolutely possible to run many experiments on a smaller-than-global scale - the outcome of which help the understanding of the global climate and help predict it's future development.

    And even if either guess is true, there's no way to be sure that the problem was caused by man.

    That's true. There's no way to be sure of anything per se. There are ways to be reasonably sure of it based on a given set of information, though.

    Well, except if the older "global cooling" predictions were really true, then we should be cranking out the greenhouse gases, right?

    No. I haven't been around to read about the older predictions, so I might be wrong. However, I imagine a global warming can well induce a severe global cooling, and the other way round. And furthermore, it might well be that the previous claims were just wrong - and the underlying assumptions corrected since then in the process I described above. Of course, now you're saying "Well, what if they're wrong again?!" - that's just the problem with any scientific claim, it can always be wrong. Unless you've got some indications that the current theories are failing, though, it'd be probably be wise to assume they are correct. If on the other hand you do have such indications, you probably should do some research into the matter and find out if either you're wrong, or they are.

    And as for the original poster saying: "I refuse to forget how many times popular science has been wrong."

    I'm not sure what exactly "popular science" is supposed to refer to, but science is one of the few fields were being wrong is not that bad. Newton's laws on gravity have also been proven wrong, but they were still an incredibly important discovery. And while you refuse to forget how often science was wrong, you do seem to forget how often it has learned from those errors and corrected them, and how often science is right. Also: Try reading a book some day. [amazon.com]
  • by bankman ( 136859 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @10:29AM (#8891268) Homepage
    BTW I do not agree with your quote as planet Earth has withstood worse things than humans and continued. What might not survive are the humans!

    Reminds me of Hoimar von Dittfurth who once said, and I paraphrase, that "mankind shouldn't be so arrogant to believe that it can destroy the earth. The earth will have destroyed us long before that." Like you, I completely agree.

  • Good idea... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @10:41AM (#8891313)
    For those of you who would rather do something before it's too late, iron seems to work, but the long-term ecological implications are still unknown.

    Yeah, there's a good idea. I read that article and while on the surface it seems like a grand idea, it's the second part of your statement that concerns me. We don't know the long-term ecological implications and frankly, I think we'd be more likely to do long-term damage than long-term good. I just don't trust our knowledge of global warming and cooling

    I think for now we're much better off sticking with reduction of greenhouse gas creation until we better understand our environment.

    Here's the problem. Scientists say, "we've got global warming," and hey, maybe we do, but the Earth also goes through cycles of warming and cooling that are natural, and we don't entirely understand these yet. So now scientists aren't sure if we've got global warming or if we're simply in a natural warming stage. Yes, we do have manmade greenhouse gases. There's no question, but how much this is actually affecting global warming is up for debate.

    There are many unknowns. And as we like to quote from the White House, some of those unknowns are known. Some of them are unknown. Until we really understand how global climate operates (maybe in 50 years, maybe longer), I don't think we should do anything to cause any intentional major changes because the damage we could wreak may be well beyond our ability to control, before it's too late.

    But that's just my opinion.
  • by the argonaut ( 676260 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @10:42AM (#8891321) Homepage Journal
    BTW I do not agree with your quote as planet Earth has withstood worse things than humans and continued. What might not survive are the humans!

    Unfortunately, we seem to have the attitude that if we're going down, we're taking every other living thing with us.
  • by provolt ( 54870 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @11:00AM (#8891412)
    I'd say the enormous increase in rates of cancer over the past century was the result in large part of industrial waste, but that would be arrogant of me.

    This is a bogus argument. Of course the number of reported cancer cases has increased over the last century. There are two strikingly obvious reasons.

    First, people have a much longer life expectancy today than people did a century ago. We've eliminated a lot of the things that used to kill people (simple infections, food poisoning, etc). Many of the people that would have gotten cancer, died from something simple that is non-fatal today.

    Second, we know so much more about cancer today. We know how to diagnose it. If you go back 100 years, I would guess that there were thousands of farmers who died of a "cold" but really had skin cancer. And skin cancer is easy to see compared to pancreatic cancer, bone cancer, and other internal cancers.

    A century ago people might have died of cancer (if they lived long enough to get cancer), but it's unlikely that it would be reported as a death from cancer. The rise in cancer rates may be related to industrial waste, but that claim cannot be reliably made because there is no way to find valid cancer statistics from 100 years ago.

  • by Tesla Tank ( 755530 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @11:33AM (#8891593)

    Although I agree with you that we don't know if global warming is suppose to happen right now anyway, the rate of change is what's alarming the scientists. Records going back hundreds of years give us a pretty good image of the weather pattern we're suppose to receive. The amount of extreme weather occurances and unprecedented warming of land inside the arctic circle is why scientists are concerned. The rate of change is simply beyond anything nature alone could do.

    So yes I do agree with you that globam warming and ice ages are normal. Maybe we're suppose to have global warming anyway. But the rate that this is happening is alarming. And it leaves us little time to prepare ourselves to find ways to adapt to the new climate.

  • by emaveneau ( 552950 ) * on Saturday April 17, 2004 @11:49AM (#8891666)

    All iron seeding studies as of 2003 [bbm.me.uk], confirmed the consumption of CO2 but

    Other gases are produced (eg DMS), and other limiting nutrients (nitrates and phosphorous) are used up. ...

    What has *not* been found is any proof that any additional carbon sinks to the ocean floor and gets buried, thus entering long-term storage.

    Fast forward to 2004.

    There is an article in nature [nature.com], published on March 17 2004, whose abstract says iron is not a panacea

    Only a small proportion of the mixed-layer POC [particulate organic carbon] was intercepted by the traps. ... The depletion of silicic acid and the inefficient transfer of iron-increased POC below the permanent thermocline have major implications ... for proposed geo-engineering schemes to increase oceanic carbon sequestration.
    Audio interview, (8:36 ogg, 3.3Mb) [www.cbc.ca] with one of the authors. Source story [www.cbc.ca].

    Apparently the study linked to [calstate.edu] in the original post has two studies who's results will be published in April 2004

    ... in the same issue of Science ... [which] indicate
    that much of the carbon sank to hundreds of meters below the surface.

    So what do we know for sure? Adding iron does cause a bloom, and does drawdown CO2 but other nutrients are used up and the CO2's ultimate fate is debatable.

    The conflicting results could be regional variation in ocean conditions, but IANAO.

    Either way global warming is real, and the film may bring to light the severity of future changes.

  • by provolt ( 54870 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @11:56AM (#8891690)
    However, if such events have even an above negligible probability of occuring I think we must take steps in order to avoid them.

    I will generally agree with this, however the conclusion you draw from it is incorrect.

    1. There is a small chance that if we do nothing catastrophic damage will be done. Therefore, we must take action.

    2. Doing "X" will probably fix the problem predicted by the model. However, we do not have a good model to evaluate all of the outcomes from taking action "X", so we must evaluate the probablities. Because the model isn't good enough, the probablity that "X" will cause different but equally catastrophic damage, is the same as the original problem. Therefore we cannot take action "X". We must take other action.

    3. Repeat step two until you've exhausted all possiblities and realize that, without a good model, taking drastic action is not a good idea.

    The lack of a valid climate model is the reason that it's irresponsible to take drastic action that will harm people today. Because the model is bad, taking action doesn't remove the chance of catastrophic damage and it creates certain short and medium term damage.

    It is not on the naysayers to prove that nothing needs to be done. The burden is on those pushing for change to make a valid case for change and show that the immediate downside is out-weighed by the potential gain. Current climate models do not do this.
  • by anakin876 ( 612770 ) <anakin876@hotmai l . c om> on Saturday April 17, 2004 @12:30PM (#8891882)
    Do you know how much CO2 levels have fluctuated in the past BEFORE men came around? How about the ice ages and the warming in the time of the dinosaurs? What about the 15,000 scientists who have signed a petition against the Kyoto Accord because they believe the science predicting global warming is flawed? I am not against the preservation of the environment, but when you use scare tactics on par with the US during the Cold War (We're all going to die TOMORROW unless you do something about it right now!) I refuse to listen to you. Before you ask, I acquired my information by reading the news and searching out information for myself, so find something else to use against me. Maybe the fact I am not as big a linux nerd as you? That should get you points here on Slashdot
  • Re:No it's not. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @12:38PM (#8891928) Journal
    We mine, worldwide, billions of tonnes of coal every year (the US alone produces just under a billion). How much sulfur dioxide do you think all that lot produces?

    Consider that China produces almost a billion-and-a-half tons, and that India is third in world production after China and the US. In China, nearly 60% of that coal is used as a cooking fuel and to heat buildings -- applications that are not particularly amenable to clean burning techniques. Because of the expense, little of China's coal is "washed" to reduce sulphur emissions. Japan has a growing acid rain problem that can be traced directly to coal use in China. India's position is similar to China's. Before too many more years, effective limits on nasty emissions MUST consider the developing as well as developed economies of the world.

    I have long maintained that one of the things that makes "developed" countries developed is that they produce and apply large amounts of energy per person. The developing countries cannot catch up with the developed ones simply because there is not sufficient energy available worldwide. From the Economist's 2003 World In Figures, per-capita energy consumption measured in kilograms of coal equivalent:

    Canada 11,114
    United States 10,900
    Germany 5,626
    Japan 5,224
    China 907
    India 430
    Nigeria 178
    Using Japan or Germany as the benchmark, China would need to increase its per-capita energy consumption by over five times, India increase by over ten times, and Nigeria by almost 30 times. There's not that much clean energy available in the world (certainly not at today's prices), and very probably not that much energy of any sort. What aspects of being "developed" must those other countries give up: mechanized production, large-scale transportation, climate control, sophisticated construction materials?
  • by pfdietz ( 33112 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @12:48PM (#8892003)
    There's an unfortunate side effect of fertilizing the ocean with iron: the increased microbial activity will cause more N2O (nitrous oxide) to be released from the oceans. N2O is a much more effective greenhouse gas than CO2, and it stays in the atmosphere for centuries.
  • Goodbye Science (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Henry V .009 ( 518000 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @12:49PM (#8892005) Journal
    What this prediction does is to make Global Warming completely unfalsifiable. If things get a little warmer, it proves that Global Warming is imminent. If things get a little colder, it's because Global Warming is imminent. If things stay the same (which they generally never do) then that just proves that we are at an unstable tipping point. Goodbye science, hello politics.
  • by cruachan ( 113813 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @12:50PM (#8892007)
    There was an interesting article in New Scientist about 6 months back that looked at the total contribution of the North Atlantic Drift to European climate. In fact when the authors tried to trace back the assertion that 'the gulf stream keeps europe warm' to verifiable evidence it turned out that there wasn't any.

    Their subsequent calculations indicated that the NAD only contributed about 5% of the additional heat energy that Europe recieves. The majority - 60% - comes from atmospheric circulation effects most of which are contributed by the rockies. A further 35% was from general oceanic warming and other stuff that wouldn't be affected by the NAD shutting off.

  • by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @01:04PM (#8892098) Journal
    Thanks for putting words in my mouth.

    My whole point, which you seemed to have completely glanced over during your little crusade, is that scientists make statements that the public in general doesn't completely understand. This half-knowledge scientific rhetoric then becomes so widespread throughout society it "becomes fact", when in reality it's only half the story.

    Did I ever say we'd never run out of oil? No. Did I say Global Warming is a myth? No. I never used the words "it hasn't happened yet therefore it won't happen." I think we both agree that's the worst attitude you can have in any situation. My point is that, in the 1970's, we knew we would "run out of oil in about 20 years", and today we know that global warming will destroy the planet as we know it in 10 years (or whatever they're saying nowadays). When in fact what we as a society know is really only half the story. However, it's "popular" that global warming is going to destroy the planet in our lifetimes, and that somehow makes it fact when it's really just one of many, many possibilities we don't fully understand.
  • by rfovell ( 226905 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @01:05PM (#8892108)
    As soon as I can see an accurate 5 day weather forcast I'll start paying more attention.

    No, no, a thousand times no.

    Nothing personal; you're just repeating what you've been told, but you have been told wrong.

    The fact that short-range weather forecasts for individual locales lose skill at roughly 10 days does not mean that accurate 50+ year climate simulations are not possible. Why? The short answer is weather != climate.

    The climate model is not concerned with predicting the temperature and skycover at London at 3PM on April 1, 2078. It cannot do so. It is interested in the broad -- global, regional -- statistics: means, variances, seasonal/annual/decadal precip totals and averages, etc.. It is possible to get those right even though forecasts at fixed points in space in time are wrong. We're looking at the forest here, not the trees.

    If you take a short-term weather forecast model and perturb its starting conditions, even by a wee little bit, you will wind up with a very different result in short order -- in under a week. One simulation might be predicting sunny for a fixed point, the other cloudy. One cooler than normal, one warmer; one wet, one dry. Chaos theory, and all that.

    But it's still the same climate. Please understand this. Yes, the skill in assessing "weather" fluctuations about the climate mean has disappeared, but the climate remained the same.

    What climate models are trying to do is ascertain whether the climate itself is changing. Are climate models perfect, complete, 100% skillful? NO, of course not. Do they have a long way to go towards improvement? YES. Are they useless? Well, you be the judge.

    I have a very nice figure showing how well a climate model was able to reproduce climate (NOT weather) variations -- specifically, global average temperature -- over the last millennium. Model predictions are superposed on climate data reconstructed from proxies. The model was run numerous times, with perturbed starting conditions, to yield an "ensemble", helping to assess the range of uncertainty.

    I can't find this image on the web, and don't want to put it somewhere where it might be slashdotted, but if you really care enough, email me at rfovell at yahoo dot com and I will send it to you, along with an explanation of what you are looking at. It's an excellent reconstruction. So good you simply have to pay attention to what these models are saying about the future.

    Thanks for reading this far.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 17, 2004 @01:08PM (#8892121)
    "Remember that 30 years ago, we were all concerned about the next ice age."

    This was something whipped up by the media. Global warming has been under discussion in the scientific community for about 100 years. (Yes, really). On the back of work on nuclear winter scenarios in the early 1970s there was some speculation that particulate matter from coal burning might cause a local cooling in some parts of the globe that would offset it. It is no longer believed that this is the case, and was only an possible theory for a brief period. However the media really grabbed onto the theory and keep bringing up.
  • by WIAKywbfatw ( 307557 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @01:24PM (#8892206) Journal
    We humans can adapt to environmental change but what about the rest of the food chain? If you think that adaptation is the solution then you're sadly mistaken.
  • by ultrasound ( 472511 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @01:26PM (#8892212)
    If we were totally unable to predict the result of any action that we take then you are correct, maintaining the status quo is the only viable option.

    However in this particular problem there are a number of actions "X" that we can take which reduce mankinds impact on the earth. These are not drastic actions, and if the hypothesis that we in fact have negligible effect on the planet is correct, then any further actions of similar magnitude will have a similarly negligible impact. Hence I do not think that your assertion that any action X is equally likely to cause catastrophic damage.

    Interestingly many of the problems that we may be causing are due to inefficient use of resources. If energy is cheap then we squander it. If water is cheap then we squander it. One of the reasons for the different stances taken by the US and EU on CO2 emmissions stems from the oil crisis of the 1970's where it became apparent that EEC countries were much more vulnerable than the US to fuel supply problems. This lead to a greater focus in the EU on using fuel efficiently, and in applying alternatively (and perhaps coincidentaly greener) energy sources. Whereas domestic oil availability in the US has ensured that these issues have never come to the fore, and hence there has never been the same motivation to think about efficient use of resources. It was relatively easy therefore in Europe to make the leap from an economic to an environmental basis for efficiency.

    I think that this is important because the changes that we need to make are not revolutionary, they are mainly based on the sensible idea of making an effort to use our resources more carefully, and to make more effort to ensure that this has less impact on the environment. This is being achieved far more in Europe than most places, mainly because of legislation, because not many people are tree huggers at heart.

    Hence I think that your assertion that any change is is wrong. Prevarication IS wrong.

    If mankind has impact X on the world, then if we improve our efficiency so that we only have (1/2)X impact, then it will take longer for us to totally screw up our own nest. And I am sure we will.

    Regardless of the reality of global warming I think we have an obligation to improve our use of resources. The statistics for first world consumption of water, power, paper, plastics etc. are obscene. One day all of the developing countries are going to want to be first world consumers, and there aren't going to be the resources. Cue resource based conflict.

    The problem of course is that it takes more of an effort to be more parsimonious. And effort means money. It wont be done voluntarily so the only way is to legislate, in the long term interest of mankind as a whole rather than in the short term interest of a countries individuals and corporations. In corporate driven first world countries there are sufficiently powerfully corporate entieties capable of preventing this happening. So we have a problem that is not going to be resolved anytime soon.

    A few years ago people used think that mankind was so stupid that it was inevitably we would destroy ourselves in nuclear armageddon. Sadly I think we are destined to have a for more ignominious downfall, drowning in our own detritus.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 17, 2004 @01:38PM (#8892283)
    Close. The problem is Americans get a very narrow view of the world and its news. While in most countries people regularly access news from multiple cultures, the average American only looks at American news, and the American news media is mostly profit-driven. That's why the short-term forecast (for anything) is "we're gonna die!" to keep'em watching, but the long-term forecast is always "everything will be ok" to stop'em from switching channels.
  • by o1d5ch001 ( 648087 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @01:42PM (#8892321) Journal
    I used to smoke cigarettes. When someone would ask me if I worried about cancer and such, I would reply that this cigarette that I am smoking right now is not going to kill me. What will seriously impact my health is the 25 cigarettes a day over 30 years that would seriously damage my health. It wasn't until my wife was pregnant with our first child that I was forced to be serious about quiting. Now back to the subject... this tank of gas will not cause global warming.

    I love listening to armchair environmentalists that sit behind thier keyboards and preach that "we are all doomed if you don't change your ways. What?! really?! I am so glad you told me because 30 years of being aware of what is going on in science and the popular press didn't alert me that very fact. Can you tell me more about how to live my life? Its apparent by the fact that you are consuming huge amounts of fossil and nuclear fuels by using the Internet (routers need power too, lots of it!) that you are setting a fantastic example.

    As far as I am concerned there are probably only a couple of groups in North America that can say that they contribute more than they take from the earth. The first being the Amish who live close to the earth and those who are off grid and manage thier own resources. Those of not in those groups are not much more than vampires commited to global stewartship through force every time we fill up our tank or buy goods made with slave labour in a communist country. Consuming vast amounts of resources with a change in the trend. BTW I am not picking on Americans or American foreign policy.

    I expect that environmental terrorists will follow the Muslim. To show the infidels the errors of thier ways.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 17, 2004 @01:47PM (#8892345)
    There is just as much reason to believe that we are simply coming out of an ice age as there is to believe that we are causing serious harm to the ozone layer. However, the risk is so serious and it is so obvious that releasing mass amounts of pollutants is not a good thing that we should try to reduce emmissions.
    It greatly distrurbs me however that the same people who supposedly want to protect the planet are often for extremely risky measures such as dumping iron into the ocean to increase uptake of CO2 by plankton or dumping liquid CO2 into the deep ocean. How could anyone even entertain the thought of playing god like this? We don't know enough about the planet to be manipulating large scale processes!
  • by dhogaza ( 64507 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @02:17PM (#8892514) Homepage
    Personally, I don't believe in "global warming" as it's described as being something us evil humans have done to our delicate world.

    Your personal beliefs are meaningless. The overwhelming amount of data measured and interpreted by scientists is meaningful.

    ...it's the height of man's arrogance to assume that every little thing he does will derail the earth's "natural" cycle of ice ages and warm ages.

    False premise. No one argues that "every little thing man does" will "derail" the earth's climate cycle. The consensus opinion among climatologists today is that a handful of global-scale actitivites are contributing to measured global warming.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 17, 2004 @02:39PM (#8892629)
    Records going back hundreds of years give us a pretty good image of the weather pattern we're suppose to receive.

    Records going back hundreds of years give us JACK, buddy. Human beings have absolutely no idea what weather should really be like on a larger time scale. Hell we're still arguing about what forces really contribute to long-term weather patterns. Given the gravity of natural releases of atmosphere-damaging gasses, I doubt that mankind could do worse if we tried.
  • by Hentai ( 165906 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @02:47PM (#8892672) Homepage Journal
    Clearly, the entire environmental issue is full of more opinions than facts, due to potential dire consequences and a lack of proper experimental evidence.

    I propose the following solution:

    1. We need to build 100 identical Earths, all at the current tectonic and biospheric age.

    2. We need to seed each Earth with a population of between 100 million and 20 billion

    3. We need to allow each Earth a different level of industrialization.

    Until we do this, or at least do something similar, I don't see how any of us are going to be able to reasonably discuss this issue.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 17, 2004 @03:47PM (#8893160)
    You are seriously overestimating our ability to take down everything with us.

    Global warming, if real, will wipe out nice chunk of humans, but life will adapt - the fall is not not because the climate becomes untolerable to us, but because civilizations is fragile, it doesn't take a big change to shatter it.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @06:08PM (#8894003)
    Adaptation of _humans_ as a species is easy.

    Yes, this was my point. Here's the quote from the original poster:

    And it leaves us little time to prepare ourselves to find ways to adapt to the new climate.

    I read that as meaning humans were too delicate to handle a slight increase in temperature or to move out of the way of rising oceans.

    Adaptation of civilization on the other hand is NOT easy, if you think you could move billion people from india to US mideast easily with no gigantic adverse effects you're nothing short of insane.

    I didn't say it would be easy nor that there would be no lack of gigantic adverse effects, but it certainly is well within our capabilities.

    Most of countries (including US) couln't even handle a shudden shift in oil price, bringing a billion people over a course of few years would collapse US, cause starvation for whole damn continent, trigger all sorts of nasty things that would make all previous world wars look like children at sandbox. Back to stoneage.

    The US has already demonstrated that it can handle oil price shifts in the range of a factor of three. OTOH, I too have serious doubts that the US as it currently stands could handle a billion more people in the neighborhood. My point was simply that while the civilization may be quite fragile, the people who make it up are not.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Saturday April 17, 2004 @06:29PM (#8894105)
    We humans can adapt to environmental change but what about the rest of the food chain? If you think that adaptation is the solution then you're sadly mistaken.

    The original author implied that humans couldn't adapt quickly to global warming. I was merely pointing out that this wasn't a problem in itself.

    It's pretty clear that there's a vast wave of extinctions that seems primarily due to the presence and actions of humanity which could build up to the worst of the disasters of geological time. Even this extinction isn't directly threatening to human survival. Namely, humanity has a competing food chain (agriculture) to the natural one.

    If due to almost complete crop failures, we were thrust back onto a natural food chain, then there would be an incredible dieback of humanity and of any species that would make a decent food source (bye bye large mammals).

    I see a couple of big reasons to treat Earth's ecosystem more gently. First, we don't really know how much of the natural system is required to support our own food chain. But it is clear that if we let a large portion of the land lie fallow, then it'll mitigate some of the excesses of civilization.

    Second, there's the matter of throwing away hundreds of millions of years of evolution. The Earth may turn out to be by far the most diverse collection of life in the Milky Way galaxy. That's an incredible value to throw away.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 17, 2004 @07:51PM (#8894452)
    The solution to the environmental crisis is not to all ditch our cars and air conditioning and go back to living in the stone age, nor is it to kill off 2/3 of mankind, starting with the hippies. It's to expand into space.

    The purpose of an organism is to survive and reproduce. All species do it. We do it better than any other, so well that we are poisoning the planet. But we cannot change the fact that we are organisms programmed to survive and reproduce.
  • CO2 Concentrations (Score:3, Insightful)

    by foxalopex ( 522681 ) on Sunday April 18, 2004 @12:09AM (#8895461)
    I remember reading a National Geographic article nothing that CO2 concentrations have been their highest in 400,000 years thanks to ice core samples in the arctic. This was through several ice ages and the most recent dramatic spike being the start of our industrial age. Whether or not this causes global warming or climate change or it's outcome no one is really sure of. However considering earth is our life support, can you risk messing around with it? I think it's something to be concerned about rather than completely ignoring. The solution however is a difficult one. Knowing how we do things thou, we'll likely do something when it's too late sadly.
  • by willtsmith ( 466546 ) on Sunday April 18, 2004 @02:10AM (#8895816) Journal
    And wouldn't increased CO2 increase plant life (hence the term "greenhouse effect") and then in turn lower the CO2 in the

    It depends on whether there is sufficient unpaved acerage on which to grow those plants.

    People should take all these topics seriously. Paradoxically, global warming could turn Northern Europe and NE America into an iceball. Conversely, the Atlantic tropics wouldn't get cool water from the gulf stream making them MUCH, MUCH hotter.

    Better science is still needed to get very detailed temperature data all across the planet. We need the capability to meaure temperature in deep oceans and within the earth itself. We have to find out where all the heat is to be sure that observed temperature changes represent a net increase instead of redistribution.

    Finally, this isn't the first time this theory has been presented in movies. AI depicted a future inhabited solely by robots who excavated the ice incrusted ruins of manhatten where they found David, their only reliable link to their human creators.

  • by eclectro ( 227083 ) on Sunday April 18, 2004 @03:35AM (#8895990)
    Sure it takes alot of energy to melt ice. But the greenhouse effect due to increased CO2 might provide that energy.

    The Antartic is the largest body of ice on this planet. If the Antartic melts in a significant way (and there seems to be some worrisome cracks forming) this water will be added to the oceans. To say that this will not have any measurable effect is being naive.

    You are right that climate behavior seems chaotic. And there aren't computers powerful enough to give an accurate prediction of what might happen.

    But one only has to look as far as Venice, Italy to see that the ocean there is rising. One can't help but wonder if there is not a link. The same goes for the drought in the Western US that has Lake Powell at it's lowest point ever.
  • by eclectro ( 227083 ) on Sunday April 18, 2004 @04:36AM (#8896074)
    You sir no nothing about science. You CANNOT make a claim with the limited data points that humans currently have about weather patterns.

    First, I'm only repeating what the general scientific consensus is. This is nothing new or strange.

    Second, If we had limited data points, you would have a valid point. But the fact is we have very precise data points garnered from ice cores [usgs.gov] drilled in the Antartic that shows the content of CO2 in the atmosphere and the related temperature changes for the past 500,000 years.

    See this link [pbs.org]

    So I would say, it is you sir, who knows nothing about science.

  • by eclectro ( 227083 ) on Sunday April 18, 2004 @06:15AM (#8896243)
    Is 30 million years [upi.com] a big enough number for you?

    Maybe a more acceptable statement would be CO2 is at record levels [myway.com]

    Half a million years is enough for scientists to conclude that CO2 concentrations are at abnormal levels, both by the quantity and rate of increase.

    It's true. When the earth was cooling and there was nothing but volcanoes everywhere 5 billion years ago, there could have been more CO2. And when there was an "extinction event" the concentrations could have been higher. But the fact remains, we are in uncharted territory when it comes to CO2 levels.

    Saying that I was inaccurate is myopic in the extreme.
  • by artson ( 728234 ) on Sunday April 18, 2004 @10:17AM (#8896818) Homepage Journal
    "We could reduce our population by undertaking a massive space program and colonizing the galaxy. It's about time people started to go to other stars."

    Score 2, Interesting? Gee Mr Science-guy, can you count on your fingers?

    Assume each of your yet-to-be-invented galaxy colonizing ships could transport 1,000 and you could find enough colonizers and you could launch one of these ships every day, how many ice ages would come and go before the Terran population was reduced? (Lessee now, thousand a day, 365,000 a year multiplied by the number of arithmetically challenged slash/dotters, times the national debt.....)

    Sheesh! Slash/dotters. Won't read, can't write and are too busy licking off the Kentucky-fried grease to count on their fingers.

  • by provolt ( 54870 ) on Sunday April 18, 2004 @11:25AM (#8897158)
    I think that you and I agree more than you think. I am fully in favor of conservation of resources. It's not good to waste what we have. (However, I think that defining "waste" is quite hard.)

    However, the arguements you made for conservation were almost all economic. (Which is why I agree with them.) If there is a economic incentive to take the action that agrees with what the model says we should do, then it's most likely a good idea. However, we do it because of the economic impact, not the environmental.

    You mentioned European support for CO2 standards. You even mentioned that the reason that Europe has embraced fuel efficiency standards is that European nations could be economically impacted by a loss of fuel. However, this is a completely economic and strategic calculation. The fact that the fuel efficiency standards might reduce C02 is a nice side benefit because it agrees with our current models. However, because we know our models are flawed, it is possible (a small, but non-negligable probability) that putting huge amounts of C02 is in our long best interest.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.