The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Say Goodbye to Permafrost (And Civilization)?

Globe on FireSo, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are now higher than they have ever been since homo sapiens have existed.

Meanwhile, on Russia’s arctic coast, which is permafrost, the temperature is 29C, 84F.

That means the permafrost is melting.

Because we continue to pump green house gasses out, because every scenario includes more significant warning, I will state again: We are not going to avoid permafrost melting.

Permafrost holds vast amounts of methane. Methane is, short term, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

This will likely then lead to methane releases from arctic seas. It will lead to faster melting of glaciers and polar and antarctic ice. As oceans warm, they will expand further, leading to sea level rises.

Increased temperatures will lead to even more extreme weather events such as category 6 hurricanes.

We will see changes in weather patterns and so on.

But the key point is that we are about to hit the accelerator, and there is no actual possibility of avoiding it, which will almost certainly lead to exponential, uncontrolled increases in climate change.

We are, for all practical purposes, past the point of no return. We will lose our coastal cities, for example, the only question is when. The glaciers and snowcaps in most of the world will go away, leading to many rivers drying up.

Etc, etc…

Climate change is not a question, it is a certainty, and the question is not, “Will it be bad?” but “How bad?”

The answer is, almost certainly, “Very, very bad.”

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 11, 2019


The Telecom Revolution Is Mostly Authoritarian


  1. Albertde

    There is a sweet irony here. If, what you state, transpires, Canada will be spared the brunt of this, it might affect Halifax, St. John’s and Victoria while the good old climate-denying USA (they all deny it – the so-called Green leadership delights in CO2 generating jetting all over) will feel it in the many ports up and down the East, the Gulf and West coasts as well as Hawaii and Alaska.

  2. Ian Welsh

    Canada will be hit. Not as hard, but we’re going to lose a lot of our fresh water, since it comes from glaciers.

    Plus, when it gets bad for the US, if they don’t crack up, what do you think they’ll do when they look north and see we’re doing better?

  3. Herman

    I say the sooner the better. Things getting very bad in the near future is probably the only thing that will wake people up. Right now most people are happy to kick the can down the road or think that minor initiatives here and there will solve the environmental problem. Humanity needs a wake-up call.

    If people think I am cruel, ask yourself if anybody would care about inequality if it wasn’t hurting middle-class Americans as opposed to just poor or working-class people. It was easy for people to kick the economic can down the road when it was some other person losing their job, their house and their savings. Now that it is happening to more and more people there is at least some discussion about tackling inequality and other economic problems.

    Sadly, it seems like “no pain, no gain” applies to more than just sports. It seems like humans are happy to let conditions deteriorate until they or their loved ones start to feel the pain.

  4. someofparts

    I wish the rest of you on the planet could coordinate plans where you would simultaneously disable the American internet and globally dump the greenback as a reserve currency. Then just place troops on our coastlines and our borders with Mexico and Canada. It would be so good if all of you could disable us before we could bomb or invade anyone else.

  5. Mel

    I don’t see that Canada will be spared the brunt. A lot of our Arctic is permafrost. We’ll find out how deep it was when it melts. My bad dream (I have no evidence) is that the bedrock underneath is below sea level, and we wind up with a huge salt marsh in place of what, we might hope now, is warmed arable land.

  6. Hugh

    “Climate change is not a question, it is a certainty, and the question is not will it be bad, but ‘how bad?'”

    And how many of us will survive? Current world population: 7.3 billion; 9 billion by 2038; 1 billion? by 2100.

  7. ricardo2000

    I agree with your article completely.

    We should have started back in the 80s when we had a chance to change the economy for the better, over a much longer time span. Now nothing less than WWII efforts from EVERY SECTOR of the economy will do the trick. Even then all the emissions since 1980 are baked into temperature rise of more than 3 C.

    At 3 C, we can count on the loss of most forests, most insects, and most large birds, reptiles and mammals. But even here in Alberta, after the monster fire at Fort MacMurray, people do not want to listen. They would rather subsidize crappy crude than develop world-class wind power resources.

  8. bruce wilder

    those hammering on the theme that global warming is caused by human activity as if getting some “other” people to “admit” as much is politically important — as if such “admissions” are consequential — will fail to see the irony that in the meantime humans have gone so far that we are again losing control, not that we exercised any visible self-restraint when it might have made a difference, when self-restraint might have been an effective intervention. accumulated greenhouse gases plus the additions of the next couple of decades will be enough to trigger further forward forcing events like thawing the perma-frost the scale of which will be overwhelming.
    collectively, we really have been as stupid as a box of rocks.
    like some other commenters, i have found myself hoping for some catastrophe to be a wake-up call. hoping for catastrophe does not seem like my grandfather’s optimism.
    but, i have to ask myself if there is any possibility of humanity achieving collective enlightenment? by whatever trigger or means?

  9. a few points:

    1) your 2nd link refers to a tweet by @mikarantane, which describe this temperature as an anomaly
    2) is there is attempt to show, quantitatively, how anomalous this anomaly is? Lacking this, why should we care, since we have no rational basis for determining whether or not we should be alarmed?
    3) even if there was, is it possible that data exists that would show very hot transient anomalies, before the invention and adoption of thermometers? I doubt it. Hence, there’s a significant constraint in determining “how anomalous an anomaly is”.
    3a) I’ve never heard of a temperature proxy with a time resolution of a day/week/month. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but if you want to make a respectable, scientific argument, you should at least determine if there is such a thing
    4) you also can’t think rationally about heat inputs and phase changes, especially short-lived ones, unless you understand latent heat. For that matter, you should know something about thermal flux, and know what specific heat and heat capacity is.
    4a) in this vein, consider the fact that you can boil potatoes at 212 deg F in 20 minutes, but to bake them at 350 deg takes 90 minutes . You need to have some physical insight into why this is so, before you try to understand the potential effects of hot air over a land mass.

    At the end of the day, if you want to say something respectable, quantitatively, you’d have to model things on a computer (and hope for the best). And, given their track record, I wouldn’t trust the same alarmists who do the GCM climate models.

    Meanwhile, back on the ranch,

  10. Ian Welsh

    Arctic heat keeps making new highs. It will continue to do so. I am not going to waste days on proving the obvious.

    That I am correct will be proven by events.

  11. Willy

    On the bright side, before all life on Earth is driven towards unprecedented rates of extinction, civilization collapses, and our children pee on our graves, these unfrozen arctic seas will be providing some most excellent economic opportunities.

    Lord Pompeo has declared the Panama canal will become virtually obsolete with Eskimos benefiting right up until they die of thawed anthrax or some prehistoric disease. Not to be outdone, Emperor Putin called the speed of arctic Russian warming an “alarming trend”, and announced a new Arctic development strategy to increase investments there with tax breaks and subsidized icebreaker escorts. “You only live once!”, both men proclaimed in their respective tongues.

  12. jeff wegerson

    “…many rivers drying up.” Warmer air holds more moisture. Warmer oceans evaporate more water. Leading to many rivers overflowing as well as drying up.

    Being a Chicagoan, I’m curious as to what happens to the Great Lakes. In my lifetime I’ve seen both the record high, 1986, and record low, 2013, for Lake Michigan-Huron (a single basin). But neither was that much more or less than the previous records.

    Right now all the lakes are on 8ish year up trend approaching the record highs. Your Lake Ontario, Ian, has been remarkably stable since the 1960s or 1970s. I should probably do some research to see why. Niagara Falls controls? Don’t know.

    So will they overflow or will they dry up? Or neither? Just fluctuate rapidly within the two bounds?

    Here see for yourself:

  13. According to the following article in the NY Times, which is hardly a bastion of CO2 catastrophism skepticism,

    “Scientists have estimated that the process of permafrost thawing could contribute as much as 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit to global warming over the next several centuries, independent of what society does to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and other activities.”

    If you take an ice cube, and stick it in an oven at 350 degress for 10 seconds, then another oven at 400 degrees for 10 seconds, and then another oven at 450 degrees for 10 seconds, the results are very different than if you stick the ice cube in an oven at 350 degrees for 10 hours.

    Details matter.


    BTW, headlines from appear to contradict each other:

    Greenland ice melting four times faster than in 2003, study finds (January 22, 2019)


    Greenland Ice Sheet apparently gains mass for the 2nd year in a row (September 24, 2018)

    To an ideologically or career driven CO2 catastrophist, only the first article is worth mentioning. And to an ideologically or profit-driven fossil fuel fetishist, only the 2nd article is worth mentioning.

    To a scientific mind, however, resolving the (apparent) contradiction and rooting out error is what matters.

  14. Hugh

    Hannah Arendt wrote about scientificality, the dressing up of an ideological agenda with a thin veneer of scientific sounding jargon. You get this a lot from climate change deniers.

    Air temperatures are increasing the fastest in the arctic. This is due to the loss of snow and ice cover exposing the much denser land and water sinks to heating. That is the capacity of the arctic to retain heat is increasing exponentially. This in turn means that the air is being heated not just by the sun but the surrounding land and water.

    Love all the bafflegab though. I can see the captain of the Titanic using scientifical reasoning to prove that the iceberg really wasn’t a threat, indeed really wasn’t there.


    The key to reversing climate change is LGBT rights.

  16. John

    The denialists remind me of those “scientists” from the middle ages whose great concern was the ability of 10000 angels to dance on the head of a needle.

  17. S Brennan

    Not disagreeing, or saying the subject is not of the greatest importance but…

    If a candidate is not anti-war, as all, with the exception of one, are not, then you should discount anything they have to say a on other matters…including the environment. Pour quoi ? Well, as long as we continue with regime change wars/pre-wars [see Bush, Obama, Trump, 3.2 Trillion], then domestic priorities have no place in the US budget.

    Oh course they will lie but, when they don’t even bother and you vote for them anyway…

    As for fixing the global warming problem, whatever it’s cause, we have the technology to stop a significant amount of hydrocarbon pollution [CO2], however, the uppermost 1% make a shitload of money on the nexus of oil & financial interests, our “leaders” kowtow to these interests. And as always, the uppermost 1% don’t have the collective intelligence* to learn how make money differently.

    *Prep-schools and Ivy league colleges are very good at turning out the caricature of intelligence but, they will punish those who cross the line and embrace new ideas that displace capital’s large investment.

  18. RobotPliers


    Here is the link to the full 2017 and 2018 reports and summaries, so you can educate yourself beyond a few throwaway posts on the wattsupwiththat site.

  19. Steve Ruis

    The only way out for Americans is to convince the plutocrats that there is more money to be made in combating climate change as there is in creating it.

    There is no other way.

  20. Ché Pasa

    Don’t think you can make substantive progress on the problem with elections, because realistically you can’t. Baked into our political systems and thus into our politicians (of whatever stripe) is basic denialism with regard to pretty much anything that serves the interests of the masses. If it doesn’t primarily serve the elites, it doesn’t — for the most part — happen.

    With climate change, the problem has long been known, long been studied, and predictions have largely been shown to be correct. Our rulers have known the broad outlines of the effects of climate change for decades, and they have made appropriate accommodations for themselves. In the meantime, they exploit the ignorance and fear of the unwashed masses to keep them divided, questioning, and buying whatever they can be sold to supposedly protect themselves from the inevitable. Except there is no real protection for the masses. There never is.

    Part of the problem is that even though we see and experience more and more catastrophic consequences from climate change, they are relatively randomized, and even when huge numbers of people are affected simultaneously, many, many more are not. A slow-motion catastrophe isn’t felt as a catastrophe by most people, giving at least some of them time to adapt to some new situational reality.

    Adaptations are going on all the time, even if it doesn’t look like enough is being done at any one time. When you look at the global situation, there isn’t a realistic way to do enough for most people without completely changing human nature. That’s not going to happen.

    The political arguments over climate change are sterile. They’re a form of energy diversion — or entertainment for some — simply to keep the focus on the argument and away from action. That will go on until it can’t. But that time is likely well in the future.

    Short term, at least, the decisions have already been made: the least possible will be done to alleviate the problem for most people while the most possible will be done for the fewest.

    Pretty much same as it’s ever been, no?

  21. ponderer

    Water holds far more heat than air. The heat capacity of air is about 1.0 kJ/kg and for water about 4.0 kJ/kg. So it takes about 4 times as much energy to heat water than air at least for the conditions that we can survive at. So it would take about 400 kJ to heat water 100 degrees (from 0 to 100 C say). The bad news is that it takes 334 kJ/kg to turn solid water (ice) into liquid water (um water) like what we see every year when glaciers freeze and thaw.

    When we get to the point where there are no large ice flows or glaciers to absorb that extra summer heat, we are going to have lots of energy with no place to go. We’ll radiate a lot of it, but the situation seems just as dire considering the warming of the ocean versus actual air temperatures.

  22. Ian, it’s not a matter of us Murricans noticing that your climate is more pleasant.

    It’s the Arctic resources that will provoke attempts to annex Canada.

    China and Russia will have a similar dynamic, which could be very very much worse than the New World.


  23. Willy

    I’m fascinated about why people cling so tightly to beliefs which have been so clearly and obviously disproven.

    I get religions – spiritual hope is more fun than nihilistic fear. I get tea partiers going silent with Trumpian deficits – tribalism with some authoritarianism, maybe a bit of Dunning-Kruger. It seems there’s usually an emotional payoff, sometimes a financial one.

    The science behind warming seems so invariably and elegantly intertwined. It never strays course with the incoming evidence only refining the basic theory.

    But denialism cherry picks from every possible imagined denier argument as if all these unrelated disjointed ‘reasons’ will somehow together, make up some kind of magically cohesive counterpoint. Devils advocate skepticism is cool, even useful. But going up against such an overwhelming percentage of credentialed experts seems foolish.

    Was there one of those “father on the death bed” moments? My own father was screwed over by scientists who’d determined that asbestos was best left out of popcorn ceilings. And then everybody else determined that popcorn ceilings were best left out of houses. I was deeply moved by his death bed speech, especially the “Damn them. Damn them all to hell those damned dirty apes” part. But even I recognized the evidence.

    I don’t get what the denier payoff is.

  24. bruce wilder

    @ Ché Pasa

    Yes, elites think of coping with uncertainty as a matter of adaptation. That is what wealth is really, the capacity to reproduce the good life for one’s self, while putting all the bad consequences on some one else, some later time. If it comes back on you or the can cannot be kicked further down the road, then you deal with it, wielding wealth to recover your advantage.

    It is an attitude that is baked into lifestyles of the rich and not so famous. You may worry a lot about losing everything (meaning the wealth you lucked into), but your experience is of being able to buy your way out of every problem that comes along, from car repair to trouble with the law. You go ahead heedless of the consequences because you have always been able to afford the consequences.

    You do not have all that much experience with planning ahead and constraining one’s self. You are more likely to simply acquire more stuff, take another pair of shoes just in case. Design? You have people for that and chances are you are encouraging those people you have to be extravagant (even why you complain about the cost!) Houses that are made ugly by the insistence on maximising the legal square footage dot many LA neighborhoods.

    The human race is adapting itself into oblivion. All the adapting we do is the problem.

    When you are on your way up the mountain it makes a certain sense: next week, next year, you may know more, have more capability, have greater resources. Never try to solve a problem before it is time.

    We are not on the way up the growth mountain any more. There are no virgin continents to conquer, no earth-shattering discoveries to make. We are tumbling down Seneca’s Cliff. Our capabilities are in decline. The problem we postpone grows while our resources shrink.

  25. nihil obstet

    We have made a society that produces two characteristics in many, maybe most, individuals. First, there’s the cycle of feeling kind of ordinary, then feeling a desire that has been created (the production of “consumer man”), and then the effort to meet the desire. One reform we should work on is to reduce radically the amount of advertising that we see. Its purpose is to create desire for more — that fuels the constant demands on the earth.

    Second, there’s the intense individuality. It doesn’t show up as non-conformity, actually, but as the sense that we are so important that nothing really bad will happen to us, and certainly not because of us. It isn’t just elites. In the organization, managers are successful who cruise along assuming everything will work out. Line workers as well. And everything’s good until your nuclear plant does a meltdown or your new plane starts crashing. And then you’re astonished, as it turns out that other people don’t understand that it wasn’t your fault.

    The failure to address climate change isn’t just about human nature, but about the kind of society that is producing this expression of human nature.

  26. bruce wilder

    n. o. One reform we should work on is to reduce radically the amount of advertising that we see. Its purpose is to create desire for more — that fuels the constant demands on the earth.

    Advertising in the quantity we experience wears down the capacity to pay attention as well, but just as deleterious is the experience of producing advertising and all the allied arts of salesmanship, which engage so much of whats passes for work life. The sheer quantity of energy and effort adds to the waste.

  27. For anybody who wants to balance out their intake of warm/hot anomalies with cold/snow anomalies, I recommend It’s a real God-send for so-called “climate change deniers”, who want to indulge their confirmation bias. Recent headlines include “France – Lowest May temperature in two centuries”, “Historic cold hitting Europe and northern Africa” , “Italy – Snow and cold could cause 50 percent agricultural losses” and “Record May snowfall in Switzerland”. And for the deniers who want to impress their animal lover friends, I have to assume that “300 yaks trapped by snow starve to death” will eventually be followed by many other animal-related tales of woe.

    However, the same criticisms apply to cold and snow anomalies. Without reference to sufficient historical data and statistics, one can’t make rational inferences concerning trends and significance.

    And even that isn’t straightforward, were such extensive data and analyses to exist. Skeptic Bob Carter, who came out of the warmist closet after he retired, describes the difficulties in describing trends that don’t have a single natural reference period (like global temperatures). See, starting at 2:38

  28. bruce wilder

    if you want to know if a coin is fair or biased, the most straightforward approach is to examine the coin very precisely.

    you can flip the coin, but a small number of flips is not very informative. if the suspected bias is small enough, even a great number of flips may not help much to determine whether the coin is biased let alone the size of the bias. no one flip, no finite series of flips will go very far to estimate the bias. maybe it contradicts your intuition, but that is the way it is. people see patterns in randomness, patterns that are not produced by any underlying property or structure or “cause” other than the variability in the noise — we see streaks in baseball, figures in clouds, constellations in the night sky.

    climate change due to the change in atmospheric chemistry is a certainty. the change in atmospheric chemistry may be of an apparently tiny magnitude, but it is a measured magnitude, precisely measured. the direct and immediate changes in heat retention are similarly tiny in magnitude, but again quite precisely measured. as are the changes in oceanic chemistry, which have consequences of their own, quite in addition to the slowly increasing retention of heat.

    science has examined the bias of the coin, while the rest of us spectators, deniers but also many endorsing the proposition that climate change “is happening now”, are counting coin flips

    there are aspects of the climate change processes which will not be fully understood until they actually play out. although the direct and immediate effects of adding CO2 to the global carbon cycle on heat retention are tiny, those effects are expected to trigger additional forward forcing processes that will tend, on balance, to amplify the direct effects. identifying the many meteorological processes that will be altered and netting out the amplification requires sophisticated and controversial modeling.

    what has not happened to any great degree of practical or accessible sophistication is modelling the economic implications of climate change (and ecological collapse, let us not forget that on-going set of phenomena) the failure, even among academics and technocrats of policy, to up their game is condemning us to a stunted politics inadequate to the times we live in

  29. Polly Dori

    Big storms and flooded coasts really bury the lede with regard to runaway climate chaos. The real issue is looming mass starvation. This civilization depends completely upon grains (wheat, rice, corn, soy) being grown and distributed at scale. Long before New York City is underwater, global grain harvests will have failed, and this entire civilization will rapidly collapse. It\’s already begun:

    Kansas, the lead wheat producing state in the US, declares State of Emergency over flooding in 16 counties:

    Australia farmers lose 51% income in 2019 due to crippling drought:

  30. @Polli Dori

    “Long before New York City is underwater, global grain harvests will have failed,”

    Agree with this much 100%

    You don’t need global warming to lead to mass starvation. The people following the global cooling narrative are probably more aware of the danger of mass starvation than your typical CO2 catastrophist. E.g., carried an article of May 16 of this year called “Latest spring start on record in parts of US”

    Mass starvation is a trans-partisan issue, but in the US, the polarization has reached ridiculous proportions. That certainly includes the claims regarding “climate change”. In this vein, it might actually be a good thing if there are major crop failures this year, as storing many years worth of grain, etc., is something that SHOULD be desirable to both CO2 catastrophists as well as so-called “climate change deniers”.

    An optimistic scenario is that massive crop failures lead to the warnings of Valentina Zharkova becoming common knowledge, and acted upon, even if she’s ultimately proven wrong. (She predicts food shortages 2028-2032) For that matter, even if massive crop failures led to the CO2 catastrophist narrative being taken more seriously, if that also led to serious food storage, at least that much would be a good thing. People who are starving need calories to survive in the near term, not scientific explanations.

    BTW, just saw an interesting documentary on the history of Britain, going back to 1,000,000 BC. It was abandoned, then re-populated, multiple times by hominids. What forced them out was ice! If I understood correctly, the entire country was periodically submerged in ice, due to the Ice Ages, as well as unfavorable phases of the Gulf Stream.

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