Sandy and climate change: media hot air

Paul M. Barrett has made a splash (forgive the pun) on Bloomberg Businessweek with his piece (well on its way to meme-dom) "It's Global Warming, Stupid." He opens:

Yes, yes, it's unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change. Men and women in white lab coats tell us—and they're right—that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode. Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.

An unscientific survey of the social networking literature on Sandy reveals an illuminating tweet (you read that correctly) from Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. On Oct. 29, Foley thumbed thusly: "Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is storm stronger because of climate change? Yes." Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund (and former deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek), offers a baseball analogy: "We can't say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids."

A shame that Barrett lays himself vulnerable to the denialist counter-attack by citing Tweets instead of serious studies. The counter-attack comes swiftly from Eric Berger of the SciGuy blog in the Houston Chronicle, under the sanguine headline "There will probably be fewer Sandy-like storms in the future." From the start, he disavows "both climate advocacy and denialism" (as if these were equal sins), but his purpose is to tar with the alarmism epithet anyone who would link Frankenstorm Sandy to climate change. In addition to savaging Barrett, he takes on Kevin Knobloch—president of the Union of Concerned Scientists!—for daring to say of Sandy (on The Hill's E2 Wire environment blog):

We're at a place where we have to focus on both mitigation — reducing greenhouse gas emissions — and adaptation — starting to move our vital infrastructure out of harm's way. We know this is going to be our future. This is our new normal.

Berger retaliates under subhead "It's Science, Stupid" with the reassuring statement: "Science tells us this is not a new normal." He backs it up by linking to something else he wrote about an "important paper" (note how Mr. Objectivity lards his prose with manipulative adjectives) from Nature Geoscience whose authors "did not conclusively find any detectable human influence on hurricane activity." (I guess we're supposed to overlook those bet-hedging adjectives "conclusively" and "detectable.")

Berger's screed and a similar one by Andrew Revkin on the New York Times' Dot Earth blog cross-link to each other in a cozy mutual admiration society (Berger linked to Revkin first, who returned the favor with an "update" comment hailing Berger's piece as "excellent" without noting that it cites him favorably). Revkin also links to another contribution that favorably cites his own work while sneering at those who see the hand of climate change behind Sandy, by Curtis Brainard in Columbia Journalism Review. Brainard calls out Rebecca Leber of the activist Climate Progress blog for asserting a "scientifically established link that carbon pollution fuels more extreme weather," and Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker for backing up similar claims with a study about heat waves. Gripes Brainard: "It's a classic bait-and-switch and totally irresponsible since the dynamics of heat waves are very different from those of hurricanes."

Calling out sloppy reportage is all fine, but doing so in a way that abets don't-worry-be-happy denialism is definitely not. Mark Fischetti in Scientific American explains why the media bet-hedging is itself misleading:

If you’ve followed the U.S. news and weather in the past 24 hours you have no doubt run across a journalist or blogger explaining why it’s difficult to say that climate change could be causing big storms like Sandy. Well, no doubt here: it is.

The hedge expressed by journalists is that many variables go into creating a big storm, so the size of Hurricane Sandy, or any specific storm, cannot be attributed to climate change. That's true, and it’s based on good science. However, that statement does not mean that we cannot say that climate change is making storms bigger. It is doing just that—a statement also based on good science, and one that the insurance industry is embracing, by the way...

Scientists have long taken a similarly cautious stance, but more are starting to drop the caveat and link climate change directly to intense storms and other extreme weather events, such as the warm 2012 winter in the eastern U.S. and the frigid one in Europe at the same time. They are emboldened because researchers have gotten very good in the past decade at determining what affects the variables that create big storms. 


Fischetti cites a study in Oceanography journal by Cornell University scholar Charles Greene finding that receding Arctic Sea ice impacts an atmospheric pressure system called the  North Atlantic Oscillation, making it more likely to be negative, which causes the Jet Stream to deliver more cold air south, which in turn jacks up the potency of hurricanes. So—whaddaya know!—it seems that global warming does "cause" super-storms!

Teresa Welsh on US News & World Report (!) cites a recent report from the University of Copenhagen's Centre for Ice and Climate finding that hurricanes in the southeast Atlantic have become more frequent over the past 90 years, with more storms in years in which water temperature is higher.

"You can't say [global warming] caused any single event, but when we start to see a trend like this, I think it shows that there's a good chance these hurricanes wouldn't be happening without warming," said one of the report’s authors, Aslack Grinsted. "What I show is only correlation, but it's purely consistent with the hypothesis that warming goes along with more frequent, large hurricanes."

Science writer Michio Kaku on his Dr. Kaku's Universe blog is also somewhat cautious—but still acknowledges the likelihood of a link between superstorms and climate change. Of Sandy's devastation, he writes:

Is this related to global warming? First, there is no smoking gun, no conclusive evidence that points to global warming, which is an average effect, measured over many years. However, the signs are not good.

Second, global warming is heating up the Gulf waters, and warm water is the basic energy source driving a hurricane. More warm water means, in principle, more energy for a hurricane. But hurricanes also derive energy from the temperature difference between cold and warm air. The unusual collision with the jet stream from the Arctic also helped to feed the hurricane. And the fact that the north polar regions are changing (e.g. 50% decrease in thickness of north polar ice in the last 50 years, the recession of ice in Greenland and Alaska, thawing out of tundra, etc.) means possible changes in the jet stream.

So it is possible (although not 100% certain) that the warming of the earth can cause hurricanes of greater intensity.

Global warming is actually a misnomer. It should be called global swings, so that we can have droughts, flooding, forest fires, etc. happening at the same time in different points of the earth. So global warming is actually the weather on steroids. This is consistent with the 100 year floods, 100 year forest fires, 100 year droughts that we seem to have every few  years.

So is this the new normal? We cannot say with certainty, but a case can be made that this wacky weather is, in part, driven by global warming.

It seems that even the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) does not share Berger's conclusion that "There will probably be fewer hurricanes in a warmer world." An analysis by researcher Thomas R. Knutson with NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory poses a 300% increase in frequency and power of hurricanes over the next century:

Observed records of Atlantic hurricane activity...show a strong correlation, on multi-year time-scales, between local tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and the Power Dissipation Index (PDI). PDI is an aggregate measure of Atlantic hurricane activity, combining frequency, intensity, and duration of hurricanes in a single index. Both Atlantic SSTs and PDI have risen sharply since the 1970s, and there is some evidence that PDI levels in recent years are higher than in the previous active Atlantic hurricane era in the 1950s and 60s.

Model-based climate change detection/attribution studies have linked increasing tropical Atlantic SSTs to increasing greenhouse gases, but the link between increasing greenhouse gases and hurricane PDI or frequency has been based on statistical correlations. The statistical linkage of Atlantic hurricane PDI to and Atlantic SST...suggests at least the possibility of a large anthropogenic influence on Atlantic hurricanes... [T]he implications are sobering: the large increases in tropical Atlantic SSTs projected for the late 21st century would imply very substantial increases in hurricane destructive potential--roughly a 300% increase in the PDI by 2100.

So Elizabeth Kolbert needn't have resorted to a study about heat waves, and Curtis Brainard in calling her out for doing so could have pointed to the studies that do link superstorms to climate change.

Brainard himself quotes Kevin Trenberth in a paper (PDF) for the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research:

The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.

Thank you. Asking the wrong question is a form of obfuscation. As we have already noted:

We are constantly being admonished that no single weather event can be attributable to climate change. But when taken together—the superstorms, this summer's crippling droughts in the Midwest, the disappearing Andean glaciersreceding Arctic sea ice cover, the Alaskan villages disappearing beneath the waves—whether these are attributable to climate change becomes a dramatically wrong question. Together, these phenomena are climate change. Asking if they are "attributable" to climate change is a classic example of missing the forest for the trees.

This may be termed the "Reverse Reification Fallacy." If the Reification Fallacy is treating an abstraction as something concrete, these ultra-cautious quasi-denialists treat things as glaringly concrete as the withered corn crop or the flooded Lower East Side as if they were a mere abstraction. So busy covering their tracks about the "cause" of the phenomenon, they can't see the phenomenon itself.

"Not the new normal," eh? Stating this with such confidence, Berger and his ilk ironically join the cystal-ball set that they pooh-pooh. Two years of unprecedented storms in a row is not exactly comforting for New Yorkers. But asking whether superstorms are the "new normal" is also a wrong question, actually. The extreme weather of recent years has been termed "global weirding," portending actual destabilization of the biosphere—meaning that weather generally could become less predictable.

What is most appalling about this endless equivocation is the fundamental, inescapable, so-obvious-that-the-chronically-clever-can't-see-it reality that there is only one Earth. And it didn't come with a warranty. Once we've blown this one, we can't take it back to the Wal-Mart for a new one. Gambling with the future of the planet is the most reckless gamble there is. Truly responsible journalism would emphasize the criticality of the precuationary principle on these questions, rather than cheap sneering at supposed alarmism. And what is to be weighed against immediate, decisive measures to mitigate climate change? The God-given right of fat Americans to ride around in SUVs?

Both Barret and Fischetti note that the insurance industry is emphatically not among the denialist crowd (while—gee, funny—the oil industry is). Yet more evidence of the old Marxist saw: Where you stand depends on where you sit.



Wow - that was rather snarky

Wow - that was rather snarky and not very informative.  What is the point that you were trying to make, exactly?  Yes, you have an extensive vocabulary and obviously like to pontificate, but beyond that is there some message that you were trying to deliver, or were you just talking because you enjoy the sound of your own voice...?

Don't go in the water if you're afraid of snarks

Read our Posting Policy. Snark is fine as long as it isn't empty snark. If you failed to grasp the "message I was trying to deliver," I suggest you read more carefully, because I was quite explicit. If you are just trolling, take a hike.

Common Sense

The real issue in this case is irresponsible land use.  The hardest hit areas were mapped as high-risk flood zones.  There is a reason they are called flood zones.  We’ve had coastal flooding before and we will have it again.  Unfortunately, many high-risk areas are densely populated and politicians and land developers are irresponsibly encouraging further development. 

Aerial views of the barrier islands along the New Jersey coast look like a carpet of homes on sand dunes in the ocean, which is about what they were.  Barrier islands are prone to flooding and move over time.  We already spend tax money just pumping sand back onto the beaches every year.  As we increase urbanization and remove natural buffers like wetlands through development, we reduce natural barriers to flooding.  Add to that increased development of high-risk areas and we have a recipe for disaster.
 
Superstorm Sandy may or may not have been attributable to climate change.  It’s tough to pin any one storm on climate change.  Certainly, one aspect of climate change is increasing storm intensity and other unusual weather patterns.  Sea-level rise is not significant enough to blame at this point.  In any case, even if carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels ceased today (which certainly is not likely, especially on a global scale), we’d still have climate change for a long, long time.  Climate change, whether real or not is not going to be solved anytime soon and will not address our problems now.  Regardless of climate change or not, we’ll still have big storms every now and then.    

To blame climate change and not deal with the obvious issue of overdevelopment and poor planning is to skirt the issue and kick the can down the road.  The real issue is sensible land use and planning.  It might not be as sensational as the apocalyptic scenarios of climate change and may not be as warm and fuzzy as green technology, but common sense land use and planning is what is needed now. 

Common Sense and climate change...

...are not mutually exclusive. It isn't a coincidence that the traditionally working-class and immigrant Lower East Side is a low-lying area that was a pest-ridden swamp before the grid was built in the 1820s. On the other hand, it has never been flooded before like it was last week. We ourselves noted the paving-over of coastal mangroves with suburbia as a factor in the Katrina disaster seven years ago. You are really making the old adaptation-versus-mitigation argument. I have no problem with adaptation as long as it isn't a substitute for mitigation. The fact that you can say something as banal as "Superstorm Sandy may or may not have been attributable to climate change" indicates that you didn't read (or, at least, understand) the post you are responding to. So try again, and spare us the lecturing about what the "real issue" is.

It doesn't even matter if it

It doesn't even matter if it was due to climate change or not.  It flooded and it and/or similar areas will flood again.  Just like they knew New Orleans would flood.  It's great to tackle climate change, but that does nothing in the short run.  You really think the oceans will recede and everything will be hunky dory if we drive a Prius?  We have millions of people living in high-risk areas unprepared for the inevitable. Besides the obvious risk to themselves and their properties, many are uninsured and, even worse, don't even heed calls to evacuate when warned.

It's true that high-risk areas often are lands of less value precisely because of the known risks.  Just like blighted land.  With coastal flooding, it's bit different, though.  Many pay top dollar for a veiw of the sea.  Consequently, many of the homes damaged along the NJ coast were expensive vacation homes.  Hope we don't have to pay tax dollars to rebuild them or replace the gas-guzzling boats now strewn across the streets.

We seem to be almost close to agreement, except I would say I don't mind mitigation as long as it isn't a substitute for adaption.  Sadly, climate change is not going to be mitigated anytime soon.  And what do we do in the meantime?  Get real.

Drive a Prius? What are you talking about?

I call for public expropriation of the oil and automotive industries and you react as if I were an air-headed liberal who thinks the oceans will recede if I drive a Prius. When are you jokers going to learn to actually read what you are responding to? And our Posting Policy insutrcts readers to give their comments a relevant title, Mr. Sentence Fragment. 

Note your cute bait-and-switch. You lead with the assertion that "it doesn't even matter if it was due to climate change" (indicating you didn't read what I wrote; otherwise you would understand that the "due to" formulation is inherently misleading). Then you add the caveat "in the short run." What, the long run "doesn't matter"? That's the kind of thinking that got us into this fine mess. Dissing mitigation is condemning posterity to an uninhabitable planet.

You are the one who needs to get real.


Hot Air

The more you write, it seems the more confusing and hostile you get.  Forget global warming -- seems there is a lot of hot air here!

First, let me say I do not deny global warming in any way.  My bigger concern is simply that, climate change or not, we are ignoring the real problem of irresponsibly developing high-risk areas without adequate protection.  That was the problem with Katrina.  That was the problem with Sandy.  It's not even limited to flood zones.  Earthquakes, mudslides, volcanism -- these are all natural hazards that must be considered.  I think there has been so much hysteria over Sandy that people have overlooked the obvious, like buidling on barrier islands (which are essentially littel more than shifting sand dunes in the ocean).

Second, I do not disagree that we need to address global climate change.  But we need to be realistic about what we can do.  It is a GLOBAL problem that requries a global response.  Unfortunately, modest steps in the US won't do squat, though perhaps they are a step in the right direction and can help lead the way (though I think more progessive countries are leading the way).  However, it's my undderstanding that even if we have zeero emissions, we will have climate change a long time -- like centuries or millenia.  It does not go away overnight.  If you have more detailed info on that, I'd appreciate it.  

So, I feel like people are reacting to Sandy like, "Oh, my god!  It's climate change!  We need to stop climate change!"  In my mind, climate change is here.  It's been here for quite some time.  We're most likely past any sort of tipping point.  We can make steps to reduce the rate of emissions, but, really, we need to start adapting now.  To do otherwise is foolish, epsecially in cases where land use was irresponsible regardless of climate change.

You are calling for "public expropriation of the oil and automotive industries?"  What the heck are you talking about?  You really think that is going to happen?  And what would it do to stop flooding?

Temperature rises on my blog

I deny that I am "confusing" to anyone who is reading honestly. As for "hostile"—that goes both ways. You don't want "hostility," don't bait me as an air-headed Prius-driving liberal and tell me to "get real."

The US remains the largest emitter of greenhouse gases per capita by far, and the second largest in absolute terms after China, which has well over a billion people to our 300 million. Three of the world's five largest private oil companies are based here, including the biggest, ExxonMobil. The United States pioneered the development model that is fueling climate change. No matter how you slice it, the solutions have got to start here. 

I agree with you that "climate change is here." That's the point of what I wrote. Do you have a reading comprehension problem? Or do you routinely comment without bothering to read what you are replying to?

Hell yeah, I am calling for public expropriation of the oil companies. Read. Do I think it is going to happen? No. I think the planet is doomed, because there are too many people like you who refuse to get it. Do we have every responsibility to fight like hell for it? Abso-fucking-lutely.

Will it "stop the flooding" (as in tomorrow)? There you go with asking the wrong question again. No, it won't. Is it the absolutely necessary prerequisite for addressing climate change and saving something of a liveable planet for the next generation? 

Now that's the right question. Which is why nobody is asking it.


No Solution

So, you are proposing a solution which you say will fail  You say we are all doomed already.  In the meanitme, you suggest we should ignore something which is a serious problem regardless of climate change:  irresponsible development of flood zones and unstable land areas (like barrier islands).  Regarding overdevelopment, perhaps we could address both issues by requiring rebuilding to at least be greener and more ecologically sound -- kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

You never answered if you knew anything about what it actually would take to address climate change.  My understanding is that, even with zero emissions, it will persist for over 1,000 years.  I must admit I have a hard time finding info regarding this issue.  Perhaps the mainstream press is reluctant to discuss it because it is so dismal and would take the wind out of the sails of so many well-intended but uninformed environmentalists.

Clearly and sadly, no matter what we do, climate change is not going away overnight.  More likely, and as much as I hate to say it, the situation is only likely to get worse, with increased emissions in developing countries, an exploding global popluation, and a total addiction to fossil fuels.  Now is the time to begin adapting or we will witness even more disasters.

http://news.softpedia.com/news/Climate-Change-Will-Last-the-Next-Thousand-Years-177149.shtml

The problem is you.

Will you go away already? The reason the planet is (probably) doomed is because there are too many people like you in the most critical country for addressing climate change, the United States, who will go to any intellectual length to deny the need to for systemic change. There is one glimmer of hope: that you and your ilk will be swept from the stage of history in a popular upsurge as the impacts of ecological collapse become more pressing, inescapable and devastating. This is well underway in places like Bolivia, which gives me a degree of optimism. The USA is going to be a much tougher nut to crack because of the saturation propaganda that stigmatizes any recognition of social context—of which you are a fine exemplar.

I never said we should ignore "irresponsible development of flood zones." You are still refusing to read. And I never denied that we are already committed to generations and possibly centuries of climate destabilization. But it is a question of degree. The last time I had this tiresome argument with a dogmatic adaptationist, I told him: 

Yes, we are committed to climate change now. But the question remains of how much. If you have smoker's hack, you've probably already damaged your lungs, but it would be pretty absurd to use that as an excuse to keep smoking. Somehow I doubt you'd hear this kind of cynical prattle in the Maldives or Marshall Islands, which are in danger of disappearing under the waves due to sea level rise.

Get it? You know, it's pretty funny. For years those invested in protecting the system from the profound changes that will be necessary to arrest climate change simply denied that the phenomenon exists. Now that that is getting to be a tough sell, the new line is that it is inevitable and too late to do anything about it, so we just have to adapt. At least you aren't purveying hubristic geo-engineering schemes like the worst exponents of your vile tendency. Maybe I shouldn't give you any ideas.

It's Me?

So, now you want me to go away?  I'm sorry -- am I interfering with your enjoyment of hearing only your own voice?  I notice only two people beside you have commented, one being me, and you attacked us both and accused us of not rearding carefully.  Could it possible be you don't make a lot of sense but refuse to realize it?

So, now climate change is my fault?  Ot at least the fault of me and people like me?  You don't even know me or my opinions.  My initial comments were simply aimed at recognizing Sandy -- remember Sandy? - was not necessarily the result of climate change and that, regradless, indicated the need to address other environmental issues, as well.  Yes, climate change is an immense problem (unforuntately not likely to be solved soon), but there ARE other environmental issues, as well -- overdevelopment, destruction of ecosystems, etc.  Personally, I don't even think people should be living on barrier islands or areas that should be wetlands, but they are there.  Unless we build sensibly, build defenses, and/or at least begin to restore the natural systems, we will see more disaster -- climate change or not.

You are so self-righteous and narcissistic that you would even attack a climate changte ally.  Sadly, your ideas are so radical and impractical that you will find no allies, except perhaps the most exterme and unrealistic.  So, you are shouting into the wind.  Must get pretty lonely admiring yourself in the mirror all the time.

While you go on make nonsensical rants, convincing nobody and alienating everybody, the rest of us will take a sober look at reality and do our best to actually solve problems rather than whine. 

Hoope you voted green.

http://onion.com/TGpCPO

Death culture is "realistic"?

I want you to go away because you are commenting without reading. How many times are you going to accuse me of saying something I never said? Very tiresome.

This post has gotten thousands of hits and been picked up by the blogs Climate and Capitalism and Climate Connections, as well as being mentioned on KPFK's "Earth Minute" slot. It has obviously struck a chord. I am confident in my ability to write clearly.

I know all too much of your opinions. You aren't as complicit in climate change as an Exxon CEO, but you are part of the ideological superstructure of the ruling petro-oligarchy. Probably contrary to your own class interests, although I don't know this.

Overdevelopment, destruction of ecosystems, etc. are ultimately part of the same problem as climate change. I have stated over and over—from my first response to your first comment—that I oppose suburbanization of wetlands. Contrary to the mitigation-adaptation false dilemma, that is also ultimately part of the same problem. I'm all about "restoring natural systems." Why do you think I invoked destruction of the Louisiana mangroves?

It isn't my fault that we are faced with the choice of socialism (seizure of the industrial apparatus and its restructure along ecological and human-centered lines) or barbarism (ecological collapse, resource wars, fascism). The Bolivians have figured this out. Are you on their side, or that of gringo SUV culture?  

> seizure of the industrial apparatus

As long as we're talking about "seizure of the industrial apparatus and its restructure along ecological and human-centered lines" through democratic methods this is a nobel, if distant, goal. If we're talking about some sort of cartoon dressed in camo go out to do gun battles with Donald Trump and the hoards of capitalism it's funny but dangerously irrelevent.
 
The commenters point was a good one, however. If we don't have the poltical will to address flooding with infrastructure investment we're way short a movement to roll back the automobile culture currently crushing society. And anyone, scientist or not, throwing around certainties about climate is not being honest. Global warming could easily start with a new ice age. But notorious greens such as Gov Cuomo have noted that two hundred year storms in two years, with freak snow and tornados and record heat and ... means something is probably happening.

I find it consistently annoying that San Franciscos civic composting initiative, initialized by the duly elected, gets so little coverage. It's a small but much larger then usual significant step in a right direction. Maybe lay off the over heated rhetoric of doooooom and start pushing for real doable progress. We're not going to get, and I am not in favor of, violent revolution so we should start working towards evolution. And "we're all doooooomed" is funny and (not dangerously) irrelevant.

seizure or doom

Just for the record, I was emphatically not "throwing around certainties about climate." In fact, I called out those who do so on both sides of the divide.

The San Francisco civic composting initiative is great, and I will point out that it began (as such ideas always do) at the grassroots (e.g. SF's Planet Drum Foundation), and was only later adopted by officialdom. New York City's recycling program also began that way 20 years ago (the Sanitation Department launched it after the Village Green Recycling Team proved it was possible on a neighborhood basis, by the sweat of their brows). Today, I bring my organic waste (vegtable cuttings, coffee grounds, egg shells) to the Lower East Side Ecology Center, where they are eaten by worms and turned into fertilizer for community gardens. Hopefully, with enough pressure from below, the City will adopt this idea as well.

You know that I eschew the apocalyptic utopianism of the wingnut left that treats "the Revolution" the way Christian fundis treat the Rapture. However, I do absolutely believe that socialism—the concept that the Earth and its wealth belong to societymust be redeemed if there is to be any kind of dignified life for human beings on this planet. Ultimately, Rosa Luxemburg was right: the choice is socialism or barbarism.

agree with the choice - the path is democracy

Which is one of the reasons two days ago was only a relief, not in any way a victory.

Uninhabitable planet

The last time I had this tiresome argument with a reader, I was criticized for using the phrase "uninhabitable planet," and linked to the below article for back up. I think I'd better reproduce it here lest it slip into the Digital Memory Hole, as it is now more than nine years old. From the Syndey Morning Herald, June 20 2003, posted here under the Fair Use Doctrine:

Global warming 'threatens Earth with mass extinction'
Global warming over the next century could trigger a catastrophe to rival the worst mass extinction in the history of the planet, scientists have warned.

Researchers at Bristol University have discovered that a mere 6 degrees of global warming was enough to wipe out up to 95 per cent of the species which were alive on earth at the end of the Permian period, 250 million years ago.

United Nations scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict up to 6 degrees of warming for the next 100 years if nothing is done about emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, the chief cause of global warming.

The Permian mass extinction is now thought to have been caused by gigantic volcanic eruptions that triggered a runaway greenhouse effect and nearly put an end to life on Earth.

Conditions in what geologists have termed this "post apocalyptic greenhouse" were so severe that only one large land animal was left alive and it took 100 million years for species diversity to return to former levels.

This dramatic new finding is revealed in a book by Bristol University's head of earth sciences, Michael Benton, which chronicles the geological efforts leading up to the discovery and its potential implications.

Professor Benton said: "The Permian crisis nearly marked the end of life. It's estimated that fewer than one in 10 species survived.

"Geologists are only now coming to appreciate the severity of this global catastrophe and to understand how and why so many species died out so quickly."

Other climate experts say they are appalled that a disaster of such magnitude could be repeated within this century because of human activities.

Global warming author Mark Lynas, who recently travelled around the world witnessing the impact of climate change, said the findings must be a wake up call for politicians and citizens alike.

He said: "This is a global emergency.

"We are heading for disaster and yet the world is on fossil fuel autopilot.

"There needs to be an immediate phase-out of coal, oil and gas and a phase in of clean energy sources. People can no longer ignore this looming catastrophe."

And nine years later we're having the same stupid argument... The late, great Ivan Illich wrote more than 20 years ago, in reference to precisely this question: "It is now imaginable to the common mind that, as Samuel Beckett once said, 'this earth could be uninhabited.'" Evidently, he was being too optimistic...


Uninhabitable planet redux

I will also point out that in January 2010, when the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hand of the Doomsday Clock one minute back to six of midnight, they took heart that:

...for the first time ever, industrialized and developing countries alike are pledging to limit climate-changing gas emissions that could render our planet nearly uninhabitable. These unprecedented steps are signs of a growing political will to tackle the two gravest threats to civilization—the terror of nuclear weapons and runaway climate change.

Emphasis added. It should also be noted, of course, that this January, the BAS board moved the hand forward by one minute, back to five of midnight, citing inaction on climate change.

So anyone who wants to take issue with my use of the term "uninhabitable planet" can go argue with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, OK?