Wondering Willis Eschenbach has been getting annoyed at science lately. I suppose it's because it's not showing what he wants to believe.
In his latest missive he loses the plot once again (archived here). He has read, but not understood the half of, a new paper just published in the early edition of science.
The Planetary Boundaries Framework
The new paper is discussing a framework, a planetary boundaries framework, by which society can be guided about what are biophysical safe limits, beyond which we should not go. That is, we should take care if we want civilisation and humans to flourish and try to stay within the safe limits.
Yes, it is a human-centric framework, devised to help decision-makers. Yet it is not a social framework. It's not about intergovernmental relations or human indices of well-being. It's a physical sciences framework. The framework is described in terms of the biophysical boundaries that are safe. Boundaries that we humans, through our actions, are pushing up against and in some cases have well and truly crossed.
The boundaries framework builds on the one proposed in a 2009 paper on the same topic. It updates the numbers and adds some discussion of regional boundaries, among other things. The planetary boundaries are illustrated in Figure 3 of the paper:
Updated: safe operating space for humans on planet Earth
The lead author of the paper is Professor Will Steffen from ANU. This paper is an update to the 2009 paper "Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity". It is describing how we can best try to stay in a safe space on earth, given the immense changes we are bringing about. It can be viewed both as a scientific paper (which it is) and as a guide to policy makers and everyone.
The abstract sets the scene (my paras, my emphasis):
The planetary boundaries framework defines a safe operating space for humanity based on the intrinsic biophysical processes that regulate the stability of the Earth System. Here, we revise and update the planetary boundaries framework, with a focus on the underpinning biophysical science, based on targeted input from expert research communities and on more general scientific advances over the past 5 years.
Several of the boundaries now have a two-tier approach, reflecting the importance of cross-scale interactions and the regional-level heterogeneity of the processes that underpin the boundaries.
Two core boundaries—climate change and biosphere integrity—have been identified, each of which has the potential on its own to drive the Earth System into a new state should they be substantially and persistently transgressed.
Wondering Willis is a religious chap
I'd say that Willis Eschenbach has had some religious instruction at one time or another and isn't familiar with the word "transgress" in it's normal, day to day usage. - meaning to cross or go beyond limits. He seems to think of it only in terms of "sinning", which is pretty funny. Although some deniers think we were "put" on earth to rape and pillage it, there are many people who would indeed regard our destruction of earth as a sin. Willis wrote the headline and opening missive:
Forgive Us Our Transgressions
A new paper in Science magazine entitled “Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet” (paywalled here) claims that we are all potential “transgressors” … a curious term more appropriate to a religion than to science....
Incidentally, Willis' word "transgressors" doesn't appear once in the paper. Nor does the word "transgressor". The term "transgress" is used only in reference to crossing beyond safe biophysical boundaries. I expect you can liken this to a Freudian slip on the part of Willis, letting his fear of the wrath of god show through. (He has right wing authoritarian tendencies.)
Willis went on to complain about the term "transgressors" (which isn't used), writing:
But given the total lack of science in the paper, perhaps it’s appropriate.All that means is that Willis doesn't recognise science when he sees it and has a limited grasp of the English language. It's no surprise that he's stuck writing pseudo-scientific crap for a denier blog.
Logic fail: incomparable time scales
Willis protests some more, writing:
Let me start by saying that as I’ve discussed elsewhere, in the long run nothing is sustainable. Even this earth of ours will eventually be gone. So taking “global sustainability” as a goal merely reveals that the authors are not scientists, they are activists.See his "in the long run". Deniers are funny like that. Totally inconsistent. One minute they are writing that because one year's averaged global surface temperature was slightly below that of the previous year, then we are heading for an ice age. Next minute they will say that "climate is always changing" and refer to a past climate of two billion years ago as evidence. This time Willis is arguing that in a few billion years the sun will blink out, implying, illogically, that nothing we do now will make the slightest bit of difference to what happens in the next few decades or centuries.
Scientists as activists?
Willis has also decided that the authors are activists not scientists. He decided this on the grounds that their research is to assist society to continue to thrive in the medium to long term. I wonder if he despises the following activist scientists as much:
- Near earth object activists: Would Willis say the same if the scientists observed one of Anthony Watts' much feared asteroids heading to earth? If they proposed an action that would deflect it? Would he claim that we shouldn't take any notice of the science of asteroids because the scientists were just being "activists" - making a moral or religious judgement that we should avoid collisions with asteroids for the good of humankind?
- Agricultural activists: What does he think about agricultural research I wonder. I presume he thinks that plant breeders are not scientists but are activists. They have made a value judgement that higher productivity is a good thing. That less disease in plants and improved nutritional value is "good". And they've made a value judgement that producing sufficient food to sustain a growing human population is "good". Ignore these activists at your peril.
- Medical activists: Virtually all health and medical researchers are also activists, using Willis' criteria. The number who make no value judgements would be extremely small. Most would aim to do research that benefited humans and society. Might as well get your health checked by a hairdresser as by a medical activist.
On thriving societies and global sustainability
Willis continues on about some standard of scientific rigour that he decided to impose:
This lack of scientific rigor is further indicated by the fact that despite having “global sustainability” as a stated goal, they do not make the slightest effort to define what “global sustainability” might mean in the real world.
Willis just made that bit up. The paper and the supplementary material describes what striving for global sustainability means "in the real world". (It could be that Willis doesn't understand the word "global", meaning planet-wide, or the word "sustainable" meaning "durable or lasting".) Anyway, the paper discusses what this means "in the real world" in various places and ways, for example (my emphasis, my paras and punctuation):
A proposed approach for Sustainable Development Goals (85) argues that the stable functioning of the Earth System is a prerequisite for thriving societies around the world.
This approach implies that the PB [Planetary Boundaries] framework, or something like it, will need to be implemented alongside the achievement of targets aimed at more immediate human needs, such as provision of clean, affordable and accessible energy and the adequate supply of food.
World development within the biophysical limits of a stable Earth System has always been a necessity [e.g., (86, 87)]. However, only recently, for a number of reasons, has it become possible to identify, evaluate and quantify risks of abrupt planetary- and biome-level shifts due to overshoot of key Earth System parameters:
- the emergence of global change- and Earth System-thinking (88),
- the rise of ‘the Planetary’ as a relevant level of complex system understanding (89–92), and
- observable impacts of the rapid increase in human pressures on the planet (16).
Most reasoning people would understand global sustainability to mean that the earth continues in a manner that life on earth, and human society, will continue to flourish and thrive. That this will happen:
- without massive disruption of the type seen in past major extinctions (at the outside)
- without having collapses of civilisation
- with continued well-being of human and other life on earth. (For humans to flourish, all other life on earth also needs to flourish. We do not function independently of the rest of the planet and its inhabitants.)
In the conclusion the paper has the following, which is another way of referring to global sustainability in terms of the stability we have enjoyed since the beginning of human civilisation:
Our precautionary approach is based on the maintenance of a Holocene-like state of the ES [Earth system], and on an assessment of the level of human-driven change that would risk destabilizing this state.
Boundaries and safety buffers, and science useful to society
The paper includes a section on thresholds, feedbacks, resilience, uncertainties. It explains that a planetary boundary is not the same as a "global threshold or tipping point". Rather, the boundary allows for a safety margin before a tipping point is reached. It includes a buffer zone to allow for uncertainty as well as giving us a bit of time to change direction and step back from the precipice. As the authors explain:
However, for such science to be useful in a policy context, it must provide enough time for society to respond in order to steer away from an impending threshold before it is crossed (27, 28). The problem of system inertia, for example, in the climate system (18), needs to be taken into account in assessing the time needed for society to react to early warning signs.
Willis doesn't "believe" that earth systems are being destabilized
I won't cover everything that Willis protested. I'll give an example of his particular brand of idiotic denial though. He quoted the paper and wrote:
For example, they say:
“The human enterprise has grown so dramatically since the mid-20th century (15) that the relatively stable, 11,700-year long Holocene epoch, the only state of the planet that we know for certain can support contemporary human societies, is now being destabilized (figs. S1 and S2) (16–18).
And their “scientific” citation for this claim? To support it, they list a non-peer reviewed book by one of the no less than eighteen authors of the study … and the IPCC. Oh, indeed, that proves their claim beyond doubt … they say it’s true, and it must be true because one of them had said it before.
That indicates Wondering Willis is plain nuts. Cuckoo. Off his rocker. He denies the stresses to which we're subjecting the planet. He rejects the rise in global surface temperature, the rise in sea level, the increase in ocean heat, the decreasing ocean pH, deforestation, land use impacts on biodiversity, over-fishing, land clearing and deforestation, melting ice sheets and glaciers - and all the other pressures. He dismisses all the science to date on the grounds that Will Steffen wrote a book. (Willis didn't acknowledging the other ten co-authors or the fact that two of the authors of the Science paper were co-authors of the book.) And anyway the fact we're destabilising the planet permeated the IPCC reports and deniers know that means it can't be "true". True nuttery, that's what it is, (You can read the Exec Summary of the book here.)
Willis agrees that we're stretching the limits
Willis doesn't deny that humans can stretch the limits. His examples, though, are things like nuclear war. He doesn't "believe" that increasing atmospheric CO2 by 43% could have any ramifications. He also gets very confused between being able to take precise measurements and being able to derive the measures and impacts from what can be measured.
A planetary boundary of 350 ppm
Willis thinks that whatever would happen at 350 ppm CO2 should have already happened. He's wrong. He doesn't allow for the medium and long term changes, like the melting of polar ice sheets. It is quite reasonable to set as a boundary 350 ppm. Remember that the boundary allows a margin for uncertainty and is chosen to give us time to correct the situation. The authors are not claiming that disaster should have struck as soon as we hit 350 ppm. In any case, more than one scientist agrees that 350 ppm is what we should treat as a planetary boundary. It's still a lot higher than any other time since civilisation began. In this case, the scientists write:
We retain the control variables and boundaries originally proposed, i.e., an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 350 ppm and an increase in top-of-atmosphere radiative forcing of +1.0 W m–2 relative to pre-industrial (1). The radiative forcing control variable is the more inclusive and fundamental, although CO2 is important because of its long lifetime in the atmosphere and the very large human emissions.
In the 2009 paper, they explain the choice of 350 ppm as:
The boundary is based on (i) an analysis of the equilibrium sensitivity of the climate system to greenhouse gas forcing, (ii) the behavior of the large polar ice sheets under climates warmer than those of the Holocene (Hansen et al. 2008), and (iii) the observed behavior of the climate system at a current CO2 concentration of about 387 ppm and +1.6 W m-2 (+0.8/-1.0 W m-2) net radiative forcing (IPCC 2007a).
Top of Atmosphere energy balance and radiative forcing
Willis won't be satisfied until there can be precise measurements of the energy imbalance at the top of atmosphere (TOA). Willis is also confused by the concept of radiative forcing as opposed to the energy balance at the top of atmosphere. He fudges his confusion by writing:
The other proposed “planetary boundary” related to climate change is what they call the “Energy imbalance at top-of-atmosphere [TOA], W m-2”, as compared to the pre-industrial situation.
The problem there is that his quotes are not quotes. There is no phrase in Steffen15 "Energy imbalance at top-of-atmosphere [TOA], W m-2". This is where he really goes off track. He writes:
The first problem with this “boundary” is that our current measuring systems are nowhere near accurate enough to measure such a trivial imbalance. The second problem is that we have no clue whether the “pre-industrial” TOA radiation was in balance or out of balance, and if so by how much.
What the authors state is:
We retain the control variables and boundaries originally proposed, i.e., an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 350 ppm and an increase in top-of-atmosphere radiative forcing of +1.0 W m–2 relative to pre-industrial (1).
Notice that whereas Willis talks about energy imbalance, the authors are talking about radiative forcing relative to pre-industrial. (Even an increase of 1 W/m2 in radiative forcing is not trivial. It would mean that our planet was accumulating a lot of heat very quickly, relative to past history.) The increase in radiative forcing is being caused by human activity, mostly, including the added CO2. The TOA energy imbalance is the difference between the energy coming into earth and the energy being radiated back to space. This difference is being maintained because we keep adding to the radiative forcing. The system needs time to get back into equilibrium - where there would be as much energy leaving the planet as is coming in. When it does finally reach equilibrium, the globally averaged surface temperature will be higher than it is today.
Another point worth making is that scientists have stated that CERES and SORCE have allowed "the determination of the top of atmosphere (TOA) radiative flux exchanges with unprecedented accuracy" (Wild12). This "flux" relates to the TOA energy imbalance (incoming less outgoing), not the radiative (mostly anthropogenic) forcing.
As for Willis' second objection ("problem") about his lack of a clue as to whether pre-industrial TOA radiation was balanced or not, that's trivial to explain. If there had been a large imbalance of the type we have today back in pre-industrial times, there would have been signs - like a rapid rise in global surface temperature and a big increase in ocean heat content. None of this has been observed in evidence of earlier climates. (Deniers point to the Little Ice Age a lot. Is Willis suggesting the Little Ice Age was a Little Hot Age?)
He then writes:
Despite that, they are happy to give us the claimed current “TOA imbalance”, which they say is 2.3 W/m2 greater than it was in the land of Pre-Industry, which my hazy mental geography places somewhere near Pre-Columbia. And their citation for that assertion? The IPCC Summary for Policymakers (SPM) …This is where he goes way off track again. Again, he seems to be confusing radiative forcing with top of atmosphere energy imbalance. These are two separate things. I'll point you to the IPCC AR5 WG1 glossary:
Radiative forcing Radiative forcing is the change in the net, downward minus upward, irradiance (expressed in W m–2) at the tropopause or top of atmosphere due to a change in an external driver of climate change, such as, for example, a change in the concentration of carbon dioxide or the output of the Sun.
Energy balance The difference between the total incoming and total outgoing energy. If this balance is positive, warming occurs; if it is negative, cooling occurs. Averaged over the globe and over long time periods, this balance must be zero. Because the climate system derives virtually all its energy from the Sun, zero balance implies that, globally, the absorbed solar radiation, i.e., incoming solar radiation minus reflected solar radiation at the top of the atmosphere, and outgoing longwave radiation emitted by the climate system are equal. See also Energy budget.
Energy budget (of the Earth) The Earth is a physical system with an energy budget that includes all gains of incoming energy and all losses of outgoing energy. The Earth's energy budget is determined by measuring how much energy comes into the Earth system from the Sun, how much energy is lost to space, and accounting for the remainder on Earth and its atmosphere. Solar radiation is the dominant source of energy into the Earth system. Incoming solar energy may be scattered and reflected by clouds and aerosols or absorbed in the atmosphere. The transmitted radiation is then either absorbed or reflected at the Earth's surface. The average albedo of the Earth is about 0.3, which means that 30% of the incident solar energy is reflected into space, while 70% is absorbed by the Earth. Radiant solar or shortwave energy is transformed into sensible heat, latent energy (involving different water states), potential energy, and kinetic energy before being emitted as infrared radiation. With the average surface temperature of the Earth of about 15°C (288K), the main outgoing energy flux is in the infrared part of the spectrum. See also Energy balance, Latent heat flux, Sensible heat flux.
The TOA energy imbalance at the moment is estimated at around 0.6 W/m2. The total anthropogenic radiative forcing since 1750 is estimated at 2.3 W/m2 (with an uncertainty range of 1.1 to 3.3 W m− 2.)
Willis is unfamiliar with scientific papers and references. He complains, in ignorance or deception:
Now, when someone is serious about a citation, they cite the actual study. When they are less serious, they cite one of the IPCC Assessment Reports, usually with no volume or page numbers.
And when they are merely trying to spread fear and impress the rubes, they cite the Summary for Policymakers, which (as the title suggests) is the “Climate for Non-Scientists” part of the IPCC reports. But I digress. There is a more fundamental problem with their assertion—the IPCC AR5 SPM does NOT say that the TOA radiative imbalance is 2.3 W/m2. In fact, the word “imbalance” only appears once in the AR5 SPM, and in a very general sense.
Willis is wrong when he claims that scientific papers cite page numbers of particular passages. They don't. The most they'll generally do is cite the start and end page numbers in the journal. He is also wrong to imply that Steffen15 didn't cite the volume. It did. He was correct that the IPCC AR5 SPM does NOT say that the TOA radiative imbalance is 2.3 W/m2. It doesn't. Nor would it. The TOA imbalance is around 0.6 W/m2. What is stated in the Summary for Policy Makers is exactly what Steffen15 indicated it stated (in note 6 to Table SPM1):
...the assessment of total anthropogenic radiative forcing for 2011 relative to 1750 in WGI, i. e. 2.3 W m− 2, uncertainty range 1.1 to 3.3 W m− 2.
The climate disinformer
Willis waffles on about "To date, here have been approximately zero ill effects from the increase in CO2." He denies the observed increases in devastating heat waves, flash floods and intense droughts made worse by the heat. Willis Eschenbach is a first order disinformer. (No, I don't buy that he's merely a denier. He deliberately deceives. True, there are lots of signs that he's dumb ignorant as well. However there are examples, such as here, where he deliberately misrepresents science.)
Meaningless denier hyperbole and fake bravado
Willis waves his arms about and adds lots of silly hyperbole in the style of the potty peer, like:
- Dear heavens, this is what passes for IPCC science these days?
- And of course, this grade-school level IPCC regurgitated pabulum masquerading as science...
- Friends, their study goes on to spew another metric buttload of fear-inducing misrepresentations...
- I fear I can find no terms sufficient to express my immense contempt for that kind of imitation science from the IPCC...
- ...my correspondingly profound contempt for the authors of the current study who are mindlessly pimping out that same pseudoscience as though it were real ...
- It is this kind of Chicken Little alarmism...
If I were a trickcyclist, I'd be thinking that Willis Eschenbach is getting very scared about the science. He's blowing off with fake bravado, attempting to diminish good science so he doesn't get too rattled.
From the WUWT comments
This article is already a bit too long, so I'll try to keep the comments short and sweet :) There were only 25 silly thoughts at the time of archiving. I've updated the archive so you can see more here, if you're bored. The comments don't get any better. It is WUWT after all.
Bear decides, not on the substance of the paper itself, but on Willis' wonderings, that the paper is a farce.
January 15, 2015 at 7:34 pm
Given the writing in the abstract I thought you might be writing a satirical article about the replacement of science by advocacy. To my horror I realized you were referencing a real paper. Your dissection of the silly pronouncements of this paper point out the degeneration of what is considered climate science to farcical levels. They cover up their lack of competence with bombast and pseudo intellectualism. So much for Science magazine.
RACookPE1978 goes for conspiracy theories that the scientists are out to kill him. What a nutter.
January 15, 2015 at 7:47 pm
And their “solution” for this assumed future problem within the stated ” planetary boundaries framework”?
Death and harm to billions of real people living real lives in the real world.
Robin.W. is an Agenda21 conspiracy weirdo, and possibly a HAARP and chemtrails and lizard men weirdo too, who thinks that NASA faked the moon landing.
January 15, 2015 at 8:04 pm
Excellent post Willis, thank you. This paper would be funny if it were not so frightening ….see UN Agenda 21.
stan stendera reckons Willis has a future in astrology, or Hollywood, hard to tell which.
January 15, 2015 at 8:53 pm
Willis’ Eagle soars ever higher. Someday soon it will reach the stars.
Jim Clarke is the first to hit the mark, though he probably doesn't know it.
January 15, 2015 at 9:15 pm
The stupid… It HURTS!
Will Steffen, Katherine Richardson, Johan Rockström, Sarah E. Cornell, Ingo Fetzer, Elena M. Bennett, R. Biggs, Stephen R. Carpenter, Wim de Vries, Cynthia A. de Wit, Carl. Folke, Dieter Gerten, Jens Heinke, Georgina M. Mace, Linn M. Persson, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, B. Reyers, Sverker Sörlin. "Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet". DOI:10.1126/science.1259855 (subs req'd I think)
Rockström, Johan, W. L. Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin III, Eric Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton et al. "Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity." (2009). (Avail. here)
Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet Under Pressure. (2004), W. Steffen, A. Sanderson, P.D. Tyson, J. Jäger, P.A. Matson, B. Moore III, F. Oldfield, K. Richardson, H.J. Schellnhuber, B.L. Turner, R.J. Wasson, published by Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg New
York. ISBN 3-540-40800-2.. (Exec summary here.)
Wild, Martin, Doris Folini, Christoph Schär, Norman Loeb, Ellsworth G. Dutton, and Gert König-Langlo. "The global energy balance from a surface perspective." Climate Dynamics (2012): 1-28. DOI 10.1007/s00382-012-1569-8 (pdf here)
IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. (Avail. here)