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Great Floods And Mental Dikes

More bad news from Antarctica today — and from the ongoing global warming crisis: [1]

Antarctica’s ice sheet is melting at a rapidly increasing rate, now pouring more than 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean annually and raising sea levels a half-millimeter every year, a team of 80 scientists reported Wednesday.

The melt rate has tripled in the past decade, the study concluded. If the acceleration continues, some of scientists’ worst fears about rising oceans could be realized, leaving low-lying cities and communities with less time to prepare than they had hoped.

The result also reinforces that nations have a short window — perhaps no more than a decade — to cut greenhouse-gas emissions if they hope to avert some of the worst consequences of climate change.

This is not going to happen. You know it, and I know it. Unless there’s some technological magic bullet, we aren’t going to grind national economies to a halt for something as abstract as preventing the deaths of billions. (I’m only being slightly sarcastic here.)

From the NYT’s report, which has a lot more detail: [2]

The continent is now melting so fast, scientists say, that it will contribute six inches (15 centimeters) to sea-level rise by 2100. That is at the upper end of what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated Antarctica alone could contribute to sea level rise this century.

“Around Brooklyn you get flooding once a year or so, but if you raise sea level by 15 centimeters then that’s going to happen 20 times a year,” said Andrew Shepherd, a professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds and the lead author of the study.


Here’s an interesting piece from the Times last year, reflecting on sea level rise in human history. [3] Excerpt:

If that ice sheet [Antarctica] were to disintegrate, it could raise the level of the sea by more than 160 feet — a potential apocalypse, depending on exactly how fast it happened. Recent research [4] suggests that if society burns all the fossil fuels known to exist, the collapse of the ice sheet will become inevitable.

Improbable as such a large rise might sound, something similar may have already happened, and recently enough that it is still lodged in collective memory.

In the 19th century, ethnographers realized that virtually every old civilization had some kind of flood myth in its literature.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, waters so overwhelm the mortals that the gods grow frightened, too. In India’s version, Lord Vishnu warns a man to take refuge in a boat, carrying seeds. In the Bible, God orders Noah to carry two of every living creature on his ark.

“I don’t think the biblical deluge is just a fairy tale,” said Terence J. Hughes, a retired University of Maine glaciologist living in South Dakota. “I think some kind of major flood happened all over the world, and it left an indelible imprint on the collective memory of mankind that got preserved in these stories.”

That flooding would have occurred at the end of the last ice age.


Beginning perhaps 25,000 years ago, after the orbit shifted again, the ice sheets began to melt and the sea level began to rise. Over several thousand years, coastlines receded inland by as much as a hundred miles.

Human civilization did not yet exist, but early societies of hunters and gatherers lived along most of the world’s shorelines, and they would have watched the inundation claim their lands.

That’s a fascinating thought: that flood myths are the ways aboriginal human communities kept alive memory of a global catastrophe.

As readers of The Benedict Option [5] know, I used the Great Flood of the Bible as a metaphor for what’s going on now in terms of religion, culture, and civilization. We are living through an inundation the likes of which the West has not seen since Rome’s collapse. The Marxist sociologist Zygmunt Bauman called it “liquid modernity.” Here’s what Wikipedia says about the concept: [6]

Zygmunt Bauman, who introduced the idea of liquid modernity, wrote that its characteristics are about the individual, namely increasing feelings of uncertainty and the privatization of ambivalence [7]. It is a kind of chaotic continuation of modernity, where a person can shift from one social position to another in a fluid manner. Nomadism becomes a general trait of the ‘liquid modern’ man as he flows through his own life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, spouses, values and sometimes more—such as political or sexual orientation—excluding himself from traditional networks of support, while also freeing himself from the restrictions or requirements those networks impose.

Bauman stressed the new burden of responsibility that fluid modernism placed on the individual—traditional patterns would be replaced by self-chosen ones.  Entry into the globalized society was open to anyone with their own stance and the ability to fund it, in a similar way as was the reception of travellers at the old-fashioned caravanserai [8].  The result is a normative mindset with emphasis on shifting rather than on staying—on provisional in lieu of permanent (or ‘solid’) commitment—which (the new style) can lead a person astray towards a prison of their own existential [9] creation. 

The rate of change in late modernity (our time) has sped up so quickly that all that is solid melts, and the water covers and obscures our familiar landscape.

It is interesting to contemplate the fact that the same thing that is causing the glaciers to melt and the inundation of low-lying areas — industrial, technological, and economic progress — is an intrinsic part of the same phenomenon that is dissolving religions, families, politics, and so forth.

And yet, there are so many people who have erected mental dikes against reality, believing somehow that by sheer power of will, they can turn back the rising tide! This, instead of learning how to adapt by building arks (I’m speaking metaphorically) capable of riding out the Great Flood — the literal one, and the symbolic one.

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86 Comments To "Great Floods And Mental Dikes"

#1 Comment By JonF On June 14, 2018 @ 1:05 pm

Joe in Maine,
Our knowledge of the physics of the greenhouse effect is on solid ground and has been confirmed by many experiments over the last century or so. It is no more uncertain than our theories of aerodynamics– and airplanes do fly.

#2 Comment By Corwin On June 14, 2018 @ 1:14 pm

Right now, there are about seven and a half billion people living on earth, and we are very carefully balanced on a razor’s edge. Even some modest changes in temperature or rainfall could leave us with catastrophic consequences on things such as our food supply, diseases, severe weather, and quite possibly wars over each of these as people try to escape their effects. Worse, there is a long enough time between cause and effect, that as these problems become more apparent, we won’t be able to fix them quickly enough. I don’t believe humanity will go extinct any time soon. But if we don’t address them, these problems will fall squarely on the next generation and the ones after.

#3 Comment By muad’dib On June 14, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

How about the hole in the ozone layer, the population bomb, or acid rain?


The program to address the growing acidity in rain falling in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s was established in the Clean Air Act amendments signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990. The relevant section, Title IV, required large cuts in the emissions of sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides from power plants “to reduce the adverse effects of acid deposition.” These emissions cuts would have the added benefit of reducing fine particle pollution and ozone, which can lead to aggravated heart and lung problems, including asthma, irregular heartbeats, and nonfatal heart attacks. The cuts would also reduce haze, which limits visibility in places where visibility is important — our national parks, for example.

Quite controversial at the time, Title IV prescribed a cap-and-trade mechanism for reaching a nationwide target for sulfur dioxide emissions — controversial for acid rain then, controversial for climate change now. Another source of controversy was the program’s supposed costs: industry projected them to go as high as $1,000-$1,500 per ton of sulfur dioxide reduced, while forecasting a hike from all the Clean Air Act amendments on many states’ electricity prices of up to 10 percent [pdf]. Other early projections, from sources ranging from industry to government, estimated that the annual cost of compliance for the sulfur dioxide portion of the program would be between $2.4 billion and $5 billion [pdf] for 1995-1999.

In the case of the acidity of rain, the results are striking. Over a period of 16 years, from 1994 to 2010, we have seen a decrease in the concentration of acid-forming compounds in rain falling on the Northeast, where ecological impacts of acid rain were most severe, and in the Southeast. Other NADP data indicate that lakes and streams in some affected areas have begun to recover. That sounds like success, but there is a caveat. The emission reductions accomplished thus far do not look to be sufficient to have restored some of our waterways to complete health. For example, while “sulfate deposited by rain in New England” has declined by about 40 percent, according to NADP data, EPA says “more time and more emissions reductions are needed before the lakes and rivers in New England will fully recover from the effects of acid rain.”

Nevertheless, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the acid rain program with its use of cap and trade was very effective in reducing emissions of acid rain-causing pollutants. Emissions of sulfur dioxide in 2009 were about one third of what they were in 1990.

Problem managed and on its way to be solved…


Measurements show that the decline in chlorine, resulting from an international ban on chlorine-containing manmade chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), has resulted in about 20 percent less ozone depletion during the Antarctic winter than there was in 2005 — the first year that measurements of chlorine and ozone during the Antarctic winter were made by NASA’s Aura satellite.

“We see very clearly that chlorine from CFCs is going down in the ozone hole, and that less ozone depletion is occurring because of it,” said lead author Susan Strahan, an atmospheric scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

CFCs are long-lived chemical compounds that eventually rise into the stratosphere, where they are broken apart by the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, releasing chlorine atoms that go on to destroy ozone molecules. Stratospheric ozone protects life on the planet by absorbing potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer and cataracts, suppress immune systems and damage plant life.

Two years after the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole in 1985, nations of the world signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which regulated ozone-depleting compounds. Later amendments to the Montreal Protocol completely phased out production of CFCs.

Past studies have used statistical analyses of changes in the ozone hole’s size to argue that ozone depletion is decreasing. This study is the first to use measurements of the chemical composition inside the ozone hole to confirm that not only is ozone depletion decreasing, but that the decrease is caused by the decline in CFCs.

The study was published Jan. 4 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Problem managed and on its way to be solved…

Amazing the problems that political will can resolve…

#4 Comment By sara On June 14, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

@ LFM says: June 14, 2018 at 8:11 am
“This is nonsense. Historically, and until the 1960s, it was “conservatives” who stood up for environmental protectionism.”

Dude, 1960 was almost 60 years ago. If you have to go back that far to call yourself something, well, you’re not that something anymore.

#5 Comment By sara On June 14, 2018 @ 1:33 pm

[NFR: Oh, please. Christians are only a part of the Republican coalition. You’re just looking for a reason to hate on Christians. Here’s a March 2018 Gallup poll on the matter. Democrats strongly believe in the reality of global warming — I think they’re correct! — but I’d love to see some poll numbers on what Democrats say if asked about policies that would hurt the economy in their state, and/or hurt them personally. — RD]

If you read that article, it shows that Republicans are becoming LESS convinced of climate change while Democrats are becoming more convinced. This is a flat-out rejection of science that many Democrats and just about everybody in Europe has a hard time understanding. You’d like to know what Democrats would be willing to sacrifice to address global climate change – well, we supported the efforts that were made in the past. Now the government doesn’t even use the words and has scrubbed government websites of data crucial to further understanding. I think Republicans DO have a lot of responsibility in this area and your arguments to the contrary don’t hold water. It is a real problem and similarly to what you said earlier – taking your stance on religious liberty and abortion does not give you a pass on climate change.

We can’t keep making excuses.

#6 Comment By Maggie On June 14, 2018 @ 1:37 pm

Have you seen First Reformed? I didn’t like it, but it’s all about this.

#7 Comment By Harve On June 14, 2018 @ 1:53 pm


“I always worry when people start invoking national “vision and will.”

“but to pretend that they’re going to turn that massive ship around midstream…”

I grew up in Los Angeles during the worst of the smog and heard the same things from corporate shills and right wing ideologues. Californians had the will to persist and innovate and the air is much improved.

Where I now live we are annually visited by tens of thousands of Aleutian Cackling geese. Back in the 1950s there were only around 700 breeding pairs. The U.S., Canada, and the Soviet Union/Russia along with conservation groups decided to do something (had the WILL) and the geese are back.

Tying “will” to ideology/theology/identity can have bad outcomes. Exercising will in the pursuit of concrete goals is sort of how things get done.

#8 Comment By Diane On June 14, 2018 @ 2:24 pm

Correction to my post: biggest carbon producers, not users …

#9 Comment By Will Harrington On June 14, 2018 @ 2:25 pm

Dale McNamee says:

“CO2 is the food that the plants that support of life, human, land animals, birds, and sea life need to survive…

I learned that in 1st. grade…”

Did you learn about the nitrogen cycle that limits the amount of plant growth? Simply counting on plants to eat all the CO2 that is being produced is not going to work, because nitrogen is not going to be fixed in the soil at a rate that can keep up.

“And there are 3 active volcanoes that are spewing tremendous amounts of CO2 into the air ( along with other gases )…

How do you control that CO2 ?”

You don’t, and extreme volcanic events have caused extinction events in the past, but…and here’s where you need to pay attention. We can track the type of CO2 that is in our atmosphere and active volcanoes are simply not the source of the particular CO2 isotopes that are accounting for the current increase. No, this CO2 is coming from the burning of plants and the only way that we can account for the amount of increase is to remember that oil and coal are both essentially plant materials. There is absolutely no question what the current increase in CO2 is caused by.

“BTW, “clean energy” is erratic & inefficient and destructive to the environment that it’s supposed to be saving…”

Depends on where you live and what the energy source is. That is an unsupportable blanket statement. But I can challenge it succinctly without talking about wind, solar, or hydro. Where are the Thorium reactors?! This is a question for the Green Left, actually.

“Maybe you should stop using what is causing you to become delusional…”

I am not Muad’dib, but if I were, I would hunt you down, slap you across the face with a leather gauntlet, and allow you the choice of pistols or swords. That was truly reprehensible.

“Your so-called “clean energy”is pretty destructive to the environment and the birds and other animals that you seek to save…”

You are wrong about this, but its a long discussion. If you are a conservative, what, exactly, are you conserving?

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 14, 2018 @ 2:30 pm

I actually feel that environmentalists hurt their cause by acting as though they “know” cause and effect.

Actually, there has been a great deal of research on causation. I don’t think you should be arrested as a denier, but you should be ignored if that’s the best argument you can make.

Also, I am just curious is the hard science on climate change anything like the speculations on peak oil? How about the hole in the ozone layer, the population bomb, or acid rain?

That’s four questions. The answer to the first is no. The hole in the ozone layer did real damage, and it took a good deal of coordinated push back to close it up some. The population bomb didn’t explode because birth levels fell over the last few decades, although I’d prefer to have kept planetary population below 6 billion. Acid rain did real damage, and the reason you don’t hear about it so much is that firm action was taken to reduce it. The main thing the U.S. did was a cap-and-trade policy, vigorously championed by the Republican Party as a much better approach than the Democrats’ “command and control” proposals. It worked so well that Democrats now want to try it for carbon, and Republicans have lost interest in their baby.

Anyway, if China’s such a renewable paradise, why exactly is it that everyone I know who’s spent time over there reports that it’s a smog-covered, polluted hellhole?

Well what do you think clued in the party leadership that they need to change course? Of course its a hellhole. But they are actually shifting course. Unlike some other countries that used to take pride in leading the way.

#11 Comment By Will Harrington On June 14, 2018 @ 2:38 pm

Maud’dib wrote “China isn’t the problem here, they are doing all they can to reduce their emissions and get off Oil, they may not succeed but it won’t be for lack of trying, the US is the problem, particularly the Republican Party which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Oil & Coal industry.”

I would ask you to consider that the Geen Left played their scripted role perfectly. They began from a radical socialist position which was guaranteed to create equally radical opposition from the right so that actual political debate about how to deal with the issue would be a non-starter. It really looks to me like the Green Left are either easily manipulated morons or also a wholly owned subsidiary of our erstwhile oligarchs. If they had portrayed this as anything other than an attack on capitalism way back when scientists first began discussing global warming, we would not be in the situation we are currently in. The first thing the Green Left should have done is start working with the truly effective right wing conservation groups, like Ducks Unlimited and similar hunting and fishing groups. It is probably not to late to start building such alliances, but I don’t see it happening.

#12 Comment By Adam Loumeau On June 14, 2018 @ 2:41 pm

“Democrats strongly believe in the reality of global warming — I think they’re correct! — but I’d love to see some poll numbers on what Democrats say if asked about policies that would hurt the economy in their state, and/or hurt them personally.”

Well said Rod

#13 Comment By Will Harrington On June 14, 2018 @ 2:46 pm

“We have the resources and technology. As the commenter pointed out all it takes is vision and will.”

This is why the senators were originally selected by state legislatures. The problem with representatives directly elected by the people is that they rarely have a vision that stretches beyond their next election cycle. Democracy is weak in long term planning because the politicians are as fickle as the electorate. Too bad we aren’t a republic anymore.

#14 Comment By Will Harrington On June 14, 2018 @ 3:04 pm


One comet, singular,(giant) over North America, that may have kicked off the Younger Dryas. This is looking ever more likely, but is not yet settled.

Gobekli Tepi. I have researched this, and it is fascinating as it demonstrates a cultural continuity with a another temple complex in the same area. It is not evidence of a lost high civilization. It is evidence that, before agriculture, this region near the Turkish, Syrian border, supported enough people with enough leisure time, that they could come together from a region that may have spanned a hundred miles or so and work on a temple complex. There is nothing there that demands anything other than stone age technology, some sort of hierarchy to co-ordinate labor, and at least a few people with enough leisure to develop stone sculpting to a fairly competent degree. It surprised archaeologists because they had assumed that social organization at this level demands agriculture, but really, it just demands abundant food, and this is the region had it. The real mystery is why this complex was buried after being built and used over maybe a thousand years. It is not the smoking gun for the hypothesized Ice Age maritime civilization that would supposedly explain Atlantis. (I prefer the city on the Western Spanish coast that could explain both Tarshish and Atlantis and that was destroyed by a tsunami. It fits Plato’s account very well.)

#15 Comment By l’autre J On June 14, 2018 @ 3:09 pm

It is interesting to contemplate the fact that the same thing that is causing the glaciers to melt and the inundation of low-lying areas — industrial, technological, and economic progress — is an intrinsic part of the same phenomenon that is dissolving religions, families, politics, and so forth.

You’ve leaving out the agency of the 7-plus billion people in this, an enormous population bloat and excess which is a legacy/artifact of trad families, proletarian narcissism, and religious or tribal natalism.

#16 Comment By Will Harrington On June 14, 2018 @ 3:22 pm

Jon in Maine

The temperature raising properties of CO2 are not a mere theory. It was first realized by the military developing guidance systems for missiles. It has been tracked across time by glacial core samples that provide a record of both the atmosphere and the general climate at the time that particular layer of gas was formed. Perhaps the scariest piece of the puzzle comes from paleontologists who have noted that a mid-Jurassic extinction event caused by very active volcanic eruptions was also accompanied by marine extinctions. The likely culprit? CO2 causing a depletion in free oxygen in the ocean. It is seriously time for conservatives to start living up to their name and start conserving something besides the profits of large corporations. Communism had more than its share of useful idiots, but so does modern American crony capitalism.

#17 Comment By TTT On June 14, 2018 @ 3:40 pm

correlation is not causation. So the idea that “greenhouse” gases cause climate change is just a theory

The heat-trapping properties of CO2 have been documented in laboratory experiments going back 150 years, to Arrhenius. Any 4th grader can demonstrate it (and they do).

You say “a little humility would go a long way” – well, show the humility necessary to admit that experts in the field know more about it than laymen. This is basic. It has been done. Might as well say it’s just a theory that atomic bombs cause radiation poisoning and the only way to test that theory is to stand next to one when it goes off.

#18 Comment By Harvey On June 14, 2018 @ 4:52 pm

Jon in Maine: The theory you’re concerned about was first proved over 100 years ago, by Svante Arrhenius. Modern refinements to the theory were recently discussed in federal district court in San Francisco before Judge Alsup. A discussion of those presentations can be found [12].

The basic idea is that molecules such as CO2 are opaque to long-wave radiation (heat). So short-wave radiation (visible light) comes through the atmosphere and strikes the earth, warming it. To stay in equilibrium, the earth emits this energy in the form of heat. This heat is trapped by the atmosphere and re-directed downward until a new atmospheric equilibrium is reached.

The capture-and-redirect idea is similar to how a blanket works. The blanket does not keep capturing your heat indefinitely (or you’d roast). It captures heat until an equilibrium is reached between heat going off the top of the blanket and heat directed back down onto you.

Rod: Your comments fail to note that 29 states (excluding all the Confederate states but Texas) impose renewable energy portfolios on their utilities. California even has a carbon market. So blue states and some red ones are, in fact, responding to their constituents and reducing the use of carbon fuels — which costs real money.

#19 Comment By Thaomas On June 14, 2018 @ 5:30 pm

“Unless there’s some technological magic bullet, we aren’t going to grind national economies to a halt for something as abstract as preventing the deaths of billions.”

There is no one technological bullet, but there are probably trillions of consumption and investment decisions that could be made to contain CO2 and reduce accumulation and these would result from a simple tax on net CO2 emissions. It would be rather (compared to the harm) painlesss and a lot less than grind national economies to a halt. That’s just propaganda of those who do not want to do anything to impinge on the capital values of fossil fuel producers.

#20 Comment By Gus Nelson On June 14, 2018 @ 10:37 pm

Are we ever going to figure out that we aren’t in control? As a Christian I believe God remains in control, despite appearances (I get that many of you will scoff, laugh, etc. for me saying this – I don’t care). Yet, regardless of your beliefs, regardless of the scientific claims, do we not recognize that we are not in control of the planet? Kilauea volcano’s recent eruptions and the volcano in Guatemala ought to prove that. Neither was caused by climate change.

I’m not arguing humans aren’t contributing to climate issues. But I remember as a young teenager in the 70’s hearing we were entering an ice age soon (among other environmental apocalyptic prophesies gone awry). Thus, I find it very hard to trust the doomsday scenarios.

I try to do what I can to help keep where I live clean, but I spend ZERO time worrying about this issue. This is a non-starter for me not because it doesn’t matter if Florida is underwater in the future (I don’t want people to be hurt, physically, emotionally, spiritually or financially) but because we are not in control of this and never will be.

#21 Comment By BadZ On June 15, 2018 @ 4:13 am

Climate & sea level changes taking place over thousands of years when there was not really many people, and they were pretty mobile anyway, was probably pretty easy to deal with (barring things like breaking ice dams).

The same change taking place over a hundred years in today’s world, not so easy. But we still hear “Oh, no worries, it’s all just natural cycles. And wind power is bad because, suddenly, we really, really, care about birds. Look! A Mexican transvestite!”

Also, LFM, despite your problematic conflation of Christianity with conservatism (and with “conservatism”), you have illustrated very well why Jen’s questions are good ones.

#22 Comment By cka2nd On June 15, 2018 @ 11:10 am

Now, when Libertarians AND Post-Modernists both take well-deserved potshots, and MikeS gives me a good belly laugh, THAT’s my idea of a Rod Dreher comments section! And, I even get a Marxist “teaching moment:”

TA says: “I don’t think this works. The factions that most embrace liquid modernity are those most concerned about global warming. The factions that most reject liquid modernity are those who reject that it is happening at all.”

Which only proves Marx’s point that the economy is the true basis of society, while culture, however important, is secondary. Whether one supports liquid modernity or not, believes in climate change or not, economics is driving both of them inexorably forward.

#23 Comment By cka2nd On June 15, 2018 @ 11:25 am

LFM says: “The old Left – whether hard-bitten Labour unionists, Stalinists in the USSR, leftist town planners, or visionary social engineers like Le Corbusier, all believed in concrete, industrial expansion, and housing the poor in large and ugly subdivisions.”

There’s a lot of truth to this, I will admit (faith in industrial agriculture, too), although to be fair, the original ideas of building towers in the middle of expanses of grass was to provide pretty views to the masses, too. I don’t know too much about the UK, but “housing projects” filled with people with stable working class and middle class incomes have been very nice places to live in the U.S., as if, shockingly enough, income means more than architecture when it comes to social stability.

I should try to find it, but I read an article on the net a year or two ago about the surprising amount of environmental conservation that the USSR actually did engage in during its existence, and how much of it was driven from the grassroots. So there might be hope even for us old leftists!

#24 Comment By cka2nd On June 15, 2018 @ 11:30 am

Logan52 says: “I beg pardon for my ignorance, but I will believe the claims for the seriousness of man caused global warning when advocates of this position shut down, or even place major restraints, on the COMMERCIAL AIRLINE INDUSTRY.” [emphasis added]

This HAS started to become at least a talking point among environmentalists, judging from an article I read in Coutnerpunch within the last year and Dave’s comment about “flying to conferences” to talk about the problem above.

#25 Comment By cka2nd On June 15, 2018 @ 11:40 am

Diane, please bring your skepticism to the discussion about solutions to this problem. We need healthy skepticism, but it is a problem.

James, no one is saying that China is going to “save the planet,” but their government IS doing a lot more than the U.S. government to mitigate the problem. Also, how much of those subsidies and billions of dollars and years of research were actually spent by Portugal, and similar years and amounts of money have been spent on far less useful things (tens of thousands of nuclear warheads when only a couple of hundred were needed at most, for instance). Also, nuclear waste, the Achilles’ Heel of nuclear energy.

Aaron, as far as I know, and I am hardly an expert, holes in the ozone layer have been harmful and dangerous (see Australia, I believe), but there have been successful initiatives to fix/reduce/close them. And what are the myths about acid rain? I’ve heard they’ve done serious damage to hundreds of lakes in the Northeast. Is that not true?

#26 Comment By cka2nd On June 15, 2018 @ 11:52 am

Jon in Maine, yes, a little humility on the environmental side would help, but to expand on what I said to Diane, your and her healthy skepticism are now doing more damage on the outside of the problem when they could be more useful on the inside, trying to find solutions. You’re both reminding me of the nice, liberal but go-slow clergy who Martin Luther King criticized in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, who were just getting in the way and holding things back, rather helping to actually change things.

By all means, keep your mind, tongue and pen sharp, keep being willing to criticize those who need to be criticized, but if you stay on the side of the road for much longer, you won’t be passed by by a bunch of activists in a bus, you’ll be swept aside by a flood of water (not my most gracefully written metaphor, I admit).

#27 Comment By cka2nd On June 15, 2018 @ 12:00 pm

Will Harrington says: “The first thing the Green Left should have done is start working with the truly effective right wing conservation groups, like Ducks Unlimited and similar hunting and fishing groups. It is probably not to late to start building such alliances, but I don’t see it happening.”

What was the name of that left-wing environmental activist who was building coalitions with loggers in the Pacific Northwest who was crippled in a car bombing? The really hardcore green leftists sometimes do try to reach out to folks on the other side with similar interests, but that can be a dangerous thing to do.

#28 Comment By cka2nd On June 15, 2018 @ 12:05 pm

Will Harrington says: “This is why the senators were originally selected by state legislatures. The problem with representatives directly elected by the people is that they rarely have a vision that stretches beyond their next election cycle. Democracy is weak in long term planning because the politicians are as fickle as the electorate. Too bad we aren’t a republic anymore.”

There has been recent research showing that we are basically living in an oligarchy, where the popular will, as expressed in poll after poll, is completely thwarted by the exercise of legalized bribery on the part of the ruling class through there army of lobbyists and (battalions of think tankers, I would argue). I don’t think less democracy will save us, nor even a benign king/dictator.

On the other hand, as has been noted in this very comments section, the Chinese Communist Party is responding to climate change and pollution with more forethought and action than our rulers, so maybe you have a point.

#29 Comment By Augustine On June 15, 2018 @ 7:44 pm

Of course, only Dr. Evil would refer to a 6in rise of the sea level as the Great Flood (cue the pinky finger to the side of the lips).

#30 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 15, 2018 @ 8:09 pm

The Achilles heel of the case for bringing atmospheric CO2 under control is the wealthy liberals in California who want all the windmills put in Kansas, where allegedly nobody cares, so that the scenic coastline will remain pristine.

We are starting to have a lot of windmills dotting the rural landscape in Wisconsin, and I find them esthetically interesting. When I was a child, every farm had a smaller windmill running the process of pumping water out of the well. And those picturesque windmills in Holland, now a gorgeous tourist attraction, were originally a matter of life and death, and nobody worried how ugly or picturesque they might be.

#31 Comment By JonF On June 16, 2018 @ 3:07 pm

Re: This is why the senators were originally selected by state legislatures.

A process highly vulnerable to corruption. Hence Sen. Clark of Montana (c. 1899) when asked about buying his Senate seat via bribes to state legislators: “I never ought a man who wasn’t foe sale.”

#32 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 16, 2018 @ 5:35 pm

CO2 is the food that the plants that support of life, human, land animals, birds, and sea life need to survive…

I learned that in 1st. grade…

A good rule of thumb is that if you learned it in first grade, it’s probably false or at least very incomplete, and this is no exception. It’s not really true, and even if it was, it’s also irrelevant.

Carbon dioxide isn’t “food”, it’s one among others of the raw materials that plants use to construct organic molecules. Plants need carbon dioxide to grow, and in most situations most plants (other things being equal) would benefit from more of it, but they need other things to grow too (nitrogen, phosphorus, micronutrients, etc.). You note that we depend on plants for food but what you fail to note is that higher carbon dioxide levels usually lead to less nutritious plants.

Anyway, the more important issue here is that while more carbon dioxide would be a good thing if everything else was equal, that’s not the case here. Higher carbon dioxide levels would probably be a net good thing by themselves, but the problem is that they’re also causing higher temperatures, and higher temperatures are in most situations going to be a really bad thing for plants and other living organisms. This is partly because all living organisms are adapted to pretty specific temperature ranges, it’s partly because photosynthesis in particular becomes less efficient at warmer temperatures, and it’s also because for most organisms, most of the time, temperatures a little higher than the optimum are a much bigger problem than temperatures a little below the optimum. As the authors of this review note pithily,

“Falls have much higher activation energies than rises, consistent with the left skew typically observed in temperature responses (3, 5, 7,26).”


This applies to humans too, by the way. People have fallen into frozen lakes and survived drops in body temperature to 85F for several hours (15 degrees below normal), whereas it would be impossible to survive a rise in body temperature of the same amount (113 F).

The problem here isn’t really the carbon dioxide by itself, it’s the rise in temperature. This is why I take what’s probably an unpopular position, and my preferred solution would be the sulfate aersosol method that MH Secular Misanthropist alluded to above: that would allow us the benefits of high CO2 and low temperature. Assuming that the sulfate solution isn’t going to happen though, I’d much prefer a low CO2 and low temperature world to a high CO2 and high temperature one.

#33 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 16, 2018 @ 5:56 pm

I’ve been told not to call it Global Warming, it’s Global Climate Change (GCC).

I’m an early career biologist (not one that works directly on global warming), and just speaking for myself, I much prefer “global warming” to “global climate change”, in colloquial and semi-colloquial speech I would always refer to global warming. I understand why people use “climate change”, but I strongly dislike the term because I prefer easily and clearly falsifiable predictions. (To state the obvious, I think global warming has not been falsified, quite the contrary).

Also, I am just curious is the hard science on climate change anything like the speculations on peak oil? How about the hole in the ozone layer, the population bomb, or acid rain?

You picked three really terrible examples here, because the science regarding acid rain, the ozone layer, and the population bomb were, and remain today, absolutely correct. The reason that we aren’t currently faced with serious threats from acid rain and ozone depletion, and the reason the population bomb is less of a threat than it was (although I’ll get to that in a second) is because we actually took steps to obviate the problem (through conscious policy in the first two cases, and through the impact of contraception and the sexual revolution in the third).

It absolutely remains the case that 1) high levels of sulfur and nitrogen oxides are going to acidify rain and damage forests and wetlands, 2) CFCs damage the ozone layer and expose us to greater UV stress, and 3) no ecosystem and no society can support a growing human population indefinitely, and human numbers are already placing heavy stress on the ability of natural resources to support those numbers, as well as on natural ecosystems.

In the case of 1) and 2), we carried out policy changes that ended up mostly phasing out production of sulfur and nitrogen oxides, and of CFCs. At least in Europe and North America, China’s a different story. That’s why we aren’t faced with the problems of acid rain and ozone depletion any more. In the case of 3), both through conscious government policy and through free choices, women ended up having many fewer children than they used to, and fertility rates in the industrial world as well as in many developing countries have converged to below-replacement levels. (In most of the developing world outside Africa and the Middle East, they’re going to hit sub-replacement levels within a couple decades at most). The reason we’re no longer faced with as serious an overpopulation threat is because we dealt with the problem, by choosing to have 1-2 children apiece instead of 3-4 or even more.

N.B.: unlike acide rain and the ozone layer, overpopulation isn’t a problem that has been solved at a global level. It’s been solved in Europe, northern Asia, and Latin America, for the most part. Until African countries have achieved replacement or sub-replacement fertility we can’t really say that the problem has been solved though. Scientists including my boss are currently very concerned about the ability of world agriculture to meet human food demands by 2050, mostly due to further population increases in Africa. And, of course, we can expect much of Africa’s charismatic megafauna to go extinct by the end of the century due to the increased population pressures and demand for agricultural land. Africa is actually a good example of overpopulation in action on a national and regional rather than global level.

In short, I’m struggling to see where scientists were wrong about any of the issues you cite. If you develop a theory that A will lead to negative outcome B, you get rid of A, and then B doesn’t happen, this is not a disproof of your theory, to put it mildly.

#34 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 16, 2018 @ 6:26 pm

Let’s look at this logically. We know the Earth is warming, the ice caps melting, etc. We also know that CO2 is increasing. However correlation is not causation. So the idea that “greenhouse” gases cause climate change is just a theory. The only way to prove it would be to make a huge reduction in these gases and see what happens.

Jon in Maine,

With due respect, while I can see you’re trying to be reasonable here, you’re making two errors, one epistemological and one historical. You appear to be arguing here that global warming was a theory conceived to explain the observed warming of the earth, and that the burden of proof lies on those who are making the case that [CO2] is the cause.

I don’t like the whole language of burden of proof in general, and I think the Bayesian approach is better. Both sides need to furnish data to support their arguments, but the side that needs to make the stronger case is the side who’s proposing a bigger change to our prior expectations. We have excellent prior reasons to believe, even before looking at any data, that higher CO2 levels should lead to warming of the climate. Global warming as a result of CO2 production was first predicted, by Arrhenius, about a hundred years before the first experimental proof that the climate was warming. He did this on purely theoretical grounds: carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation, so warming temperatures is exactly the effect we should expect from a high-CO2 atmosphere, unless there are some intervening factors we haven’t taken into account.

Really, the whole global warming story is sort of a textbook example of the scientific method in action. Most scientific theories doesn’t follow that model, global warming is one of the few that does. Someone proposed a hypothesis based on theoretical arguments, that A would lead to B. We spent a hundred years producing the stimulus A, and then a hundred years later we look at the data and see that B was the result. It’s actually an unusually appropriate textbook example. Higher CO2 leading to higher temperatures (everything else being equal) is exactly what we should expect based on basic principles of chemistry, so if you’re making a case that it’s not the cause of global warming, then I’d suggest that you need to furnish a lot of evidence to support your argument.

#35 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 18, 2018 @ 12:37 pm

Amazing how our elites, believing themselves so superior, live mostly on the coasts. Us, we moved away, after experiencing first hand what sea flooding can do in the aftermath of a hurricane. One hundred year flood plane? Century’s up.

#36 Comment By ks On June 18, 2018 @ 6:21 pm

Sometimes it seems that Rod Dreher is the only prominent conservative who will so much as look at global warming. Much less call it a “crisis” (which in fact it is). This compels me to to take the concept of liquid modernity seriously. Okay, okay, I’ll read the book!

Meanwhile, notice how few of the commentators actually engage with Rod’s argument. So much easier to try to fight the science, than face the consequences of the world we’ve made. All of us, working together, working very hard.