Six degrees to annihilation

Below is a news feature as appears on page 14 of this weekend’s Sunday Tribune. Given that global emissions are and will continue to run at or perhaps beyond the IPCC’s ‘worst-case’ (A1F1) scenario, I felt it useful to try to translate likely real-world impacts into a language that is more widely understood. The degree-by-degree structure broadly follows the model of Mark Lynas’ excellent ‘Six Degrees’…

Climate, wrote Oscar Wilde, “is what you expect. Weather is what you get”. And weather is a chaotic beast. In the last 12 months alone, Ireland has endured some of the worst flooding in a century, followed by the hardest freeze in four decades, and, in recent months, near-drought conditions.

With both environmental activists and climate change deniers attempting to use one extreme weather event or the other to ‘prove’ their completely contradictory positions, small wonder that the public and large sections of the media do not know who or what to believe.

Amid all this apparent confusion, the underlying trends are crystal clear. The planet is running a dangerous fever. The first six months of 2010 (which includes the prolonged cold snap in Europe and parts of the US) is now officially the hottest half-year since records began. In fact, the 11 hottest years since accurate global recording began in 1880 have all been in the last 13 years.

Last month’s ‘State of the Climate’ report from the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states that global warming is, quite simply “undeniable”.

If at this stage you find yourself still doubting climate science, you may also want to re-think whether evolution, plate tectonics and atomic theory may also be elaborate hoaxes, since these too are scientific theories developed, tested, challenged and reappraised by thousands of professionals in the field over decades.

Still, what harm could a couple of degrees centigrade possibly do? To answer this question, think of your own body. No matter what the weather is like, your average internal temperature is maintained at a steady 37˚C. Were that temperature to rise by just 10 per cent – to around 41˚C – you would fall dangerously ill, and unless that fever were controlled, you would suffer organ failure and worse within hours.

The Earth’s average surface temperature is around 14.5˚C, and, despite wide variations from the poles to the tropics, this average temperature has remained virtually unchanged since the end of the last Ice Age 12,000 years or so ago. This is our planet’s “body temperature”, and it is held in constant balance by a highly sophisticated climate system, a system whose complexity – and sensitivity – we are only now beginning to fully grasp. This is why scientists have warned repeatedly about the 2˚C “red line” that we must at all costs avoid crossing.

So where are we headed? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected a range of temperature rise scenarios for the 21st Century. These run from 1.8˚ C to 6.4˚ C. The lower figures are only possible if drastic, urgent steps are taken to cut emissions worldwide by at least 80 per cent, while the higher end reflects the business-as-usual path. The latter is the path humanity, in its wisdom, has decided to follow.

Given that we now are bang on target for at least a 6˚C global average temperature increase this century, we ought to know what that actually means. Here’s a degree-by-degree guide to the decades ahead, based on a summary of the best available peer-reviewed scientific guidance. Brace yourself for a bumpy ride:

ONE DEGREE: There is little or no wiggle room here, as greenhouse gas emissions have already pushed up the dial an average of 0.8˚C since the pre-industrial era, with more already “in the pipeline” due to what’s known as climate inertia. As the world reaches the first full degree centigrade (the equivalent of pushing up global average temperatures by around 6.5 per cent) the effects are being felt most acutely at the poles. The Arctic ice pack is already under full-scale assault, and virtually every glacier on the planet is in headlong retreat. Even the mighty Greenland shelf is already feeling the heat. That one degree is destabilising natural systems in a million different ways, some obvious, many subtle, but almost none helpful. The reduction in the number of winter frost days in Canada has led to an explosive increase in pine beetle attacks. In British Colombia alone, an area larger than England is under attack from these beetles, and many of these great forests are now starting to emit, instead of absorb, carbon as a consequence.

TWO DEGREES:  According to the EU, this is the line we must, at all costs, avoid crossing. Warming is now accelerating much more quickly, especially in the high latitudes. At this temperature, the world’s great glaciers are committed to destruction and the fracturing of the edges of the Greenland ice shelf is underway in earnest. The Arctic ice pack has disappeared and the region is now open ocean for much of the year, leading to a huge increase in solar energy absorption and a further quickening of the warming trend. Globally, extreme weather events roll in with ever-increasing regularity. In a warmer world, precipitation increases, leading to more flooding. However, shifts in rainfall patterns lead to a dramatic increase in desertification, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Australia. The outlook for the world’s oceans at two degrees is ominous. Huge increases in absorbed CO2 are leading to ocean acidification, while coral bleaching and die-off from warmer water temperatures becomes widespread. Global food production is down by a quarter, as a result of severe weather events and the effects of prolonged high temperatures.

THREE DEGREES: Our fate is sealed. Global starvation from the near-collapse in agricultural production has led to widespread political instability, with many regimes collapsing as starvation and panic spreads. Globalised trade has been sharply reduced, with many of the countries we in the ‘First World’ currently import our produce from either unwilling or unable to supply us. In a three degree world, the seven million square kilometre Amazon rain forest is in flames, emitting many billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The whole Amazon region becomes a smouldering desert, with far-reaching consequences for the global climate system. Meanwhile, sea levels have begun to rise much more quickly, as a consequence both of thermal expansion (water expands as it warms) and the melting of land-based ice. Greenland is now in full collapse. It will, over time, add seven metres to global sea levels, but already the world’s great cities, almost all of which are located on the coastlines, have been abandoned. At three degrees, the vast permafrost zones in northern Canada and Siberia are breaking down, and the methane trapped for millennia in this once-frozen landscape is now pouring into the atmosphere. Methane is, molecule for molecule, over 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, so the effect of billions of tonnes of methane seeping into the atmosphere is to ratchet up the cycle of runaway heating still further.

FOUR DEGREES: The last time Earth was 4˚C warmer than today was 40 million years ago, and at that time, the planet was ice-free from pole to pole. While Antarctica is so vast that it will take time for its complete destruction, in a four degree world, western Antarctica has followed Greenland into collapse, adding another 5-7 metres to global sea levels over time. Coastal inundation and more severe storms fuelled by hotter ocean temperatures are forcing hundreds of millions of people to flee inlands. Vast amount of infrastructure is abandoned. Food production has been severely hit, and famine conditions are spreading from the poorer countries right into the heart of Europe and the US. The good news, such as it is, for Ireland, is that our maritime location and latitude will shield us from the most severe effects for longer than many other countries. However, just how Ireland will be able to prevent millions of desperate climate refugees from mainland Europe seeking sanctuary in “Lifeboat Ireland” is another matter. At four degrees, the global economy has essentially ceased to function; every country, perhaps every family, is now fending for themselves. In this new world, the IPCC projects “worldwide agricultural drought”. It’s 1845 again, but this time, there is no New World to escape to.

FIVE DEGREES: The world is by now a place barely recognisable to today’s denizens. There are no rainforests; inland temperatures have risen by perhaps 10˚C, leaving vast continental areas uninhabitable and much of what used to be the coastlines are now under several metres of water. The effect on the natural world has been apocalyptic, with species disappearing in their tens of thousands. The web of complex life on Earth is rapidly unravelling. Humanity, from its apex in the early 21st Century of just over seven billion, has plummeted, due to starvation and warfare, into just millions. Desperate governments are trying to relocate survivors to the far north. Countries with military wherewithal grab their neighbours’ territory; expect the US to invade Canada while China annexes much of Siberia. However, much of the potentially productive land is lost to forest fires, which rage in a hotter, CO2-heavy climate. “A drastic reduction in human populations is unambiguously the most likely outcome of a rise of global temperatures towards five degrees”, is how author Mark Lynas expressed it. The above scenario is bad, but unfortunately, it can get worse, much worse…

SIX DEGREES: Hell has been unleashed. The world’s oceans are lifeless and toxic, as super storms and tsunamis batter the survivors on land. Deep sea heating, most likely in the shallower Arctic ocean, destabilises billions of tonnes of once-frozen methane clathrate deposits, which rush to the surface and explode on impact with the atmosphere, triggering the equivalent of a global nuclear holocaust. This happened at least once before, around a quarter of billion years ago, when a 6˚C temperature spike led to the kill-off of well over 90 per cent of all life on the planet. An average temperature rise of this magnitude would be akin to your own body temperature hitting 50˚C – of course that could never happen, as you would be long since dead. “So far as we know, this is the only planet in the entire universe which has summoned forth life in all its brilliance and variety”, wrote Mark Lynas. “To knowingly cut this flowering short is undoubtedly a crime, one more unspeakable even than the cruellest genocide or most destructive war. If each person is uniquely valuable, each species is surely more so…and ignorance is no defence”.

This bears repeating: the scenarios above are based on science facts; the only fantasy is to believe that the world’s scientists have taken leave of their collective senses, that the laws of physics no longer apply and that we can persist in pumping out billions of tonnes of climate-altering emissions while at the same time destroying the natural world and not expect negative consequences. We are not yet helpless, and with drastic, deep and permanent cuts in emissions intensity – and a lot of luck – we may yet manage to keep the heating this century to just below 3˚C, low enough to give the next generation some chance of adjusting to life on a damaged, but still largely habitable planet. Or we can choose to ignore the evidence, sneer at the messengers – and submit meekly to our fate as Earth’s final generation.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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42 Responses to Six degrees to annihilation

  1. Eric Conroy says:


    Surely you mean keeping temperature rise to below 2 degrees and not 3 as you mention at the end? You say our fate is sealed at 3 degrees. I feel that even 2 degrees is too high and will lead to positive feedbacks and runaway climate change – it should be 1.5 as advocated by the Pacific island nations already threatened with annihilation, but this was roundly rejected at Copenhagen.

    Eric Conroy.

  2. John Gibbons says:


    I’m with you on keeping it well below 2C, problem is, that’s not going to happen. The already dangerous 2C ‘ceiling’ adopted by the EU will, based on all current assessments, be overshot by a mile. That target demanded urgent, dramatic and sustained emissions cuts in the developed world, with developing nations joining in within a decade. Copenhagen settled this issue for all intents and purposes. Politicians and policymakers had the information, but chose not to act. And we, the public, let them. So any possibility of keeping it under 2C died last December. We’re currently locked in for a lot more, and sooner than the IPCC’s conservative AR4 projections, unfortunately.

  3. Lenny B says:


    No doubt but that the heat is already well and truly on…here’s a list from the Guardian of 17 countries this year that have experienced the highest temperatures ever recorded…

    Record temperatures in 2010

    Belarus, 7 August, 38.9C (102F) at Gomel

    Ukraine, 1 August, 41.3C (106.3F), Lukhansk, Voznesensk

    Cyprus, 1 August, 46.6C (115.9F), Lefconica

    Finland, 29 July, 37.2C (99F), Joensuu

    Qatar, 14 July, 50.4C (122.7F), Doha airport

    Russia, 11 July, 44.0C (111.2F), Yashkul

    Sudan, 25 June, 49.6C (121.3F), Dongola

    Niger, 22 June, 47.1C (116.8F), Bilma

    Saudi Arabia, 22 June, 52.0C (125.6F), Jeddah

    Chad, 22 June, 47.6C (117.7F), Faya

    Kuwait, 15 June, 52.6C (126.7F), Abdaly

    Iraq, 14 June, 52.0C (125.6F), Basra

    Pakistan, 26 May, 53.5C (128.3F), Mohenjo-daro

    Burma, 12 May, 47C (116.6F), Myinmu

    Ascension Island, 25 March, 34.9C (94.8F), Georgetown

    Solomon Islands, 1 February, 36.1C (97F), Lata Nendo

    Colombia, 24 January, 42.3C (108F), Puerto Salgar

  4. Tony Smith says:

    And another interesting piece in the Guardian today about Lomborg’s new book:

  5. Ruairi says:

    I disagree with the whole thrust of your recent article in the Tribune except the reference to the ‘earth’s chilling future’.
    Yes, the earth is heading for a chilling future -about thirty years of chilling.
    Perhaps you might give us a full-page spread about the effects of solar activity on the earth’s climate.
    Looks like another Dalton type Minimum is underway,so I intend to stock up on fossil fuels and long-Johns.

  6. John Gibbons says:

    I’m still in shock, having read about Lomborg’s Pauline conversion to the fact that climate change is not some tiddler of a problem that can be “fixed” easily and cheaply by a few statisticians and economists getting together in a room in Copenhagen and dreaming up some “Smart Solutions”.

    Given his international profile, Lomborg has done more harm to public understanding of climate science than a thousand of our parochial Pat Kennys ever could. Guess it’s better late than never, though, having lied through his teeth on this topic for a decade and more, expecting Lomborg to now be a trustworthy advocate on this topic is, if you’ll pardon the grisly analogy, a bit like asking Fr Brendan Smith around to mind the kids while you and the missus head off for a long weekend…

  7. Great post… Think or Swim always Blogs above its weight. It makes me think of Lovelock’s position/wisdom, that ‘Sustainable Development’ is now completely inappropriate.. and we all need to reposition ourselves to think in terms of ‘Sustainable Retreat’

  8. Tony Smith says:

    Lomborg has always accepted anthropogenic climate change. His solutions were based on investing in R&D and taking a broader world view of all humanitarian problems rather than coming up with convoluted arrangements on carbon limits which don’t seem to be working so I am unclear about where you are getting “Pauline” conversion from.

    I’ll reserve judgement until I have read his new book as it is unclear exactly where he has changed his stance.

    One thing that is clear and which I entirely agree is this point in the article:

    “Lomborg says false views of his position are held mostly by people who have never read his work. He says: “I keep trying to fight this, mainly because people often hear what I say through others.” These intermediaries are often hostile critics, he adds.”

    Maybe we should read the book and then make judgement?

  9. Toby says:

    let’s ignore Lomborg … the hint is that he is joined the “honest broker” clique of Pielke Jnr, Tol etc., which means he can hope for funding from Big Energy AND alternative energy companies.

    Rest assured, what he is doing is in the best interests of Bjorn Lomborg.

    I thought the piece was good, except that to talk about “governments” still existing after the world average temp goes over an additional 4C is pure science fiction. The world “as we know it” would just be a totally surreal, deadly place – any “governments” would be ruling the equivalent of counties not countries.

    It would be more instructive to focus on the catastrophic economic and agricultural changes (i.e. no economy! no agriculture!) than bring in fantasy “invasions”.

  10. John Gibbons says:

    Appreciate the feedback, and agree that ‘sustainable development’ is now sounding more and more like that other great oxymoron, ‘military intelligence’!

    After the collapse of Yugoslavia, the bulk of the army and its vast arsenal fell into the hands of a criminal clique who set themselves up as the de facto “government” and then went on an ethnic rampage. I suspect this situation will be replicated in a chaotic future, with different groups and gangs grabbing control of the hardware and imposing their version of ‘government’ on the weak. In the case of the US, many observers see the Union as already fatally weakened; it is likely to fall into chaos quickly, as regional warlords assert their control. These same warlords are highly likely to storm into neighbouring areas, either for loot and pillage or to grab land for agriculture. So I wouldn’t exactly dismiss this as “fantasy invasions”!

  11. John Gibbons says:

    I have had the misfortune of reading (and writing about) BOTH of Lomborg’s tomes, ‘Skeptical Environmentalist’ and ‘Cool it’. It was with a huge sense of relief that I read and reviewed Howard Friel’s weighty deconstruction of Lomborg’s systematic dissimulation and outright academic fraud in his recently published ‘The Lomborg Deception’. Friel was able to fill a 240-page volume with chapter-and-verse on Lomborg’s extremely skilful sophistry, and his bogus analysis and perverse reasoning. The Irish Times published my piece on Lomborg on March 24th last:
    If it were untrue, Lomborg would of course have happily sued Freil, The Irish Times, me and countless other papers and reporters who have written about his falsehoods, but of course he doesn’t.

    Read Lomborg’s confections if you will, but keep a copy of ‘The Lomborg Deception’ at your elbow and you’ll understand why so many scientists and environmentalists will never, ever trust a rattlesnake like him, no matter how many times he professes to shed his skin.

  12. Toby says:


    Speculation such as you indulge in is the stuff of post-apocalyptic films and novels – like “The Road”.

    I think we leave such fantasies where they belong – in the hands of novelists and scriptwriters. It has no place in a scientific presentation of our threatened future – the picture of total economic and environmental catastrophe is quite enough. People can draw their own conclusions about the political ramifications. A violent, nightmarish world of Malthusian and Hobbsian struggle does not need to be spelled out.

    Like yourself (I guess), I like post-apocalyptic fantasy, but allying it with climate change over-eggs the cake.

  13. John Gibbons says:

    “the picture of total environmental catastrophe…” I honestly think we need to know just what that kind of widespread disaster would likely entail. The article is informed by science insofar as the degree-by-degree scenarios I’ve described are based on scientific projections of the likely impacts of cascading system failures in a rapidly warming world. I’ve also been impressed by the analysis of renowned international affairs expert, Gwynne Dyer on the likely geopolitical and military impacts accompanying climate chaos. No, it’s not pure science, scientists perform a separate function, but I think it’s legitimate, even essential, to try to conjure up what the cold science is likely to mean in the real world. I think it’s precisely our inability to imagine radically different, dystopian futures that inures us to the reality and gravity of the systemic threats we face.

  14. Tony Smith says:


    Just because something is written down and someone doesn’t sue the author doesn’t mean it’s what the author wrote is true. Look at any tabloid newspaper and look at the percentage that gets sued.

    In your article you posted you make a number of claims for example
    ” taken at face value, overturns almost everything we know about earth sciences”, I don’t think anyone who has read those books would agree with that. I certainly don’t know anyone, but I can’t see why Lomborg would sue you for making such claims. Why would you sue someone for having an opinion that looks like a misunderstanding?

    You give out about him about not even having a “undergraduate degree in a physical science”, again why would someone sue for that? You are entitled to make points about the environment coming from different angles. He is coming from cost / benefit economic analysis This is something that is important and not in the remit of any science. You (afaik) have no scientific qualifications but are also still entitled to write about it and give your opinions coming at it from your angle.

    You also say in the same article:
    “Lomborg’s actual genius lies not in science, but in theatre.”

    Again, no-one I know thinks Lomborg is a scientist. He is not making scientific points. He is making socio – economic points. But again, I don’t see why Lomborg would sue you for having such an opinion. I wouldn’t sue you if you said I wasn’t a scientist.

    I could go on, but you haven’t answered one of earlier points and I appreciated if you did.

    I said:
    “Lomborg has always accepted anthropogenic climate change. His solutions were based on investing in R&D and taking a broader world view of all humanitarian problems rather than coming up with convoluted arrangements on carbon limits which don’t seem to be working so I am unclear about where you are getting “Pauline” conversion from”

    Can you be a bit more specific on what you mean by Pauline conversion?

    Thanks again.

  15. Paddy Morris says:

    @ Tony

    Those apocalyptic scenarios seems to be spreading from scriptwriters and novelists to military planners – although for peak oil rather than climate change:,1518,715138,00.html

  16. Tony Smith says:

    I never mentioned apocalyptic scenaros so not sure what your point is.

    I’d like to know specifically what is the conversation Lomborg has had.
    1. He has always accepted anthropogenic reports. No conversion there.
    2. His arguments have always been cost / benefit best. No conversion there.
    3. His arguments have never been on the scientific validity of climate change. No conversion there.

    In addition:

    1. Bjorn Lomborg has no scientific qualification. John dismissed him on this point. But recommends people read books about climate change by people who also aren’t scientists. In addition, John doesn’t have any qualifications in science (afaik). Actually, who does on this site?
    2. Bjorn Lomborg’s point about socio, economical and political. He has a PhD in political science. Following John’s logic, none of us should be discussing climate change unless we have scientific qualifications and maybe we shouldn’t be discussing Lomborg until we get qualified in political science.

  17. John Gibbons says:


    I’ll leave Paddy address your comments to him. Regarding your comments to me on Lomborg, there are two possibilities here: (a) you genuinely don’t know or understand the game being played/war being waged by Lomborg et al. on climate science; or (b) you do, but you too are a ‘contrarian’ and think it’s great craic to ‘stir it up’ a bit. Maybe there’s an option (c), but it escapes me.

    If you are genuinely interested in establishing whether Lomborg is a credible voice on climate change (whether or not he is a scientist – yes, there is plenty of room here for honest contributions from politicians, policymakers, journalists, NGOs, etc, as long as they don’t pretend to “know better” than the folk who do the actual science) then please read ‘The Lomborg Deception’ by Howard Friel. This will help you better understand the systematic mendacity Lomborg has brought to the public debate on climate science.

    Of course, his ‘honest skeptic’ posturing has earned him millions on the lecture and book-flogging circuit. He is a skilled, even gifted, communicator, but he delivers his falsehoods in pleasant soundbites, perfect nuggets for the media to swallow.

    Lomborg has knocked a successful 10 years out of wrecking public understanding of the threats posed by climate change and pimping for Big Energy and right wing climate denialism. Now, as the physical evidence of the effects of heating on Earth systems becomes too overwhelming even for him to poo poo away, he jumps ship, performs a volte face and “suddenly” notices that runaway CO2 emissions need to be reined in.

    Compare this with his standard line: “Many other issues are more important than global warming.” He has been making the coal industry’s argument for years, ie. it would cost too much to stop burning fossil fuels, oh, and we can ‘fix’ the climate and global energy systems with some amazing new gadge that is yet to be invented. This Pollyanna rubbish has been spewing out of Big Energy for years, like their repeated promises on the now-mythical ‘Clean Coal’ by a CSS process that does not exist and most likely, will never exist.

    Enough already Tony. Get properly informed if you wish to continue your version of cross-examination of other people on this blog. I’d suggest starting with Howard Friel. You may be doing this for rhetorical effect, or you may well genuinely not understand Bjorn Lomborg’s modus operandi. Do a critique/review of ‘The Lomborg Deception’ if you wish and I’ll be happy to post it here.

  18. Tony Smith says:

    Thanks for your reply. I would be really interested if you could give a specific example of a problem with Lomborg theisis instead of speaking in general teams. I have heard mixed reports about Howard Friel and I note that Lomborg has already replied to it. I also find it odd why it require an entire book to refute Lomborg if his arguments are so obviously faulty.

    Some of your claims are just incorrect. For example, you associate lomborg with “climate denialism”. he doesn’t deny climate change why do you keep inferring he does?

    As for his argument that there are many other issues more important than climate change… well I read a lot (including nearly all your articles) and I have never seen this refuted. It could easily be refuted if someone
    could show that Lomborg is wrong about the number of people who die from diariah, malaria, AIDs or that he is wrong about the number of people who will die from anthropogenic climate change. It could also be refuted if someone could show it is cheaper to fix climate change than fix malaria, diariah etc.

    He just putting forward a simple utilitarian argument. So, you could refute by showing logically why it is not utilitarian or accepting it it utilitarian or then showing us why utilitarianism itself is wrong.

  19. Paddy Morris says:


    My last post should have read ‘@Toby’ and not ‘@Tony’. Typo, sorry about that.

  20. John Gibbons says:


    I hope this is specific enough: Lomborg has spent years arguing that it’s cheaper, more efficient, better value, etc. to ‘solve’ malaria than global warming. His (entirely false) reasoning being that you can only afford to solve one or the other, so you must choose. Why not choose to reduce military spending globally by, say, 5% – now you can tackle both.

    In short, the science is unequivocal: Earth on a business-as-usual trajectory is committed to average surface temperature rises THIS CENTURY of between 3C and 6C (newer projections place the upper range at 8-9C). Do you understand that if this is allowed to happen, there will be no civilisation, no economy, no society? There will instead be the charred remains of a wrecked and wretched biosphere.

    Riddle me this: how is it ‘smart’ to rearrange the deckchairs while running the ship onto the rocks? Aids, malaria, etc. are finite, fixable issues. Runaway climate change is infinite (at least in the span of human involvement), unfixable and terminal to 90% or more of all species now alive on Earth, including our own.

    If the above fails to ‘refute’ Lomborg’s sophistry about climate change being (in his words) “no catastrophe”, then there’s no point wasting time with you you on this.

  21. Tony Smith says:

    Thanks for coming back to me. You have misunderstood Lomborg’s argument. His argument is we should prioritise not choose one or the other. The priority should be based on saving the most lives. This seems fair enough.

    I agree with you the science is quite substantial behind anthropogenic climate change. So does Lomborg. But his argument is that the current approaches to climate change are a waste of money because they won’t achieve anything and aren’t working. For example, Kyoto even it was fully implemented would achieve very little. Do you agree with this? Or are you saying the Kyoto approach is the right way to go even though it failed?

    You may think things like AIDs, malaria, diariah are trivial in comparison to climate change, but they are not. They have ruined the lives of millions and millions people. I don’t see how you are going to persuade developing countries to consider climate change seriously if you take that approach.

    While I accept climate change is a serious problem, I think you are being a bit sensationalist saying things like:
    “there will be no civilisation, no economy, no society”. Can you provide a link in the IPCC 4th report which says such?

    I agree we need to something about Climate Chane. But why should we spend millions on things that achieve very little? Why should we only focus on climate change as if other problems don’t exist?

  22. John Gibbons says:

    Thanks for confirming that we’re not about to agree on this, so no point in us banging on about it and boring other blog visitors into the bargain. Not trying to have the last word, just pointing out my lack of interest in engaging in interminable circular discussions (curiously, this is exactly how our last exchange played out on my previous posting…don’t worry, I won’t be making a habit of it!)

  23. Coilin MacLochlainn says:


    If I could just stick in a quick comment:

    There is a useful talk (18mins) by Johan Rockstrom on, discussing the “planetary boundaries” – the main things that are setting the limits to the Earth’s ability to sustain human development (

    These are climate change, ozone depletion, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, freshwater consumption, air pollution, chemical pollution, agricultural land use and phosphorus and nitrogen flow.

    Business as usual is not an option, he says, and transformative change is necessary.

    Diarrhoea, malaria or AIDS may claim millions of lives, but crossing the boundaries will put humanity itself at risk. We’re already in the danger zone with climate change and nitrogen flow.

  24. Tony Smith says:

    It’s a shame you have a “agree with everything or say or get lost” attitude.
    What’s the purpose of this site, believe massaging?

  25. Bily says:

    John, why oh why oh why are you letting this Tony character run you down obscure rabbit holes? He’s only trying to stir up shite, he hasn’t any interest in who’s right or who’s wrong in all this. Surprised to see you continue to allow this polite version of Flaming on the usually excellent Think or swim website, do you not have an OFF switch you can throw to put Tony back in his box??

  26. Paddy Morris says:

    Here is some peer-reviewed literature which may of interest:

    ‘Untangling the Environmentalist’s Paradox: Why Is Human Well-being
    Increasing as Ecosystem Services Degrade?’

  27. John Gibbons says:

    thanks for the pointer, plan to view that clip over the weekend. As you say, BAU is simply not an option, yet it appears unthinkable to even consider alternatives to BAU.

    Within reason, I do try to post as many comments as possible, but this still leaves me wading thru the wingnuts. Tony on the other hand comes across as a reasonable guy, but the exchange on Lomborg above suggests he is more interested in stirring it up than actually exchanging ideas and developing a useful dialogue, and I just don’t have the time to play ping pong against a concrete wall.

    See above.

  28. Toby says:

    Paddy Morris,

    The military establishments of the US, Canada and Russia are very much aware of the climate change and are planning accordingly.

    Canada and Russia foresee comeptition for the natural resources of the Arctic when it becomes ice-free in summer. There is talk of an Arctic Treaty to parallel the Antarctic one, but don’t bet on it.

    The US military are particularly aware of what environmental conflict means in trouble spots like the Middle East. And this video was madebefore the Pakistan floods.

  29. Paddy Morris says:


    To quote yourself “Speculation such as you indulge in is the stuff of post-apocalyptic films and novels – like “The Road”.

    I think we leave such fantasies where they belong – in the hands of novelists and scriptwriters. It has no place in a scientific presentation of our threatened future – the picture of total economic and environmental catastrophe is quite enough. People can draw their own conclusions about the political ramifications. A violent, nightmarish world of Malthusian and Hobbsian struggle does not need to be spelled out.

    Like yourself (I guess), I like post-apocalyptic fantasy, but allying it with climate change over-eggs the cake”

    Given that military planners are planning for this, and spelling it out as a scenario, I don’t see why you have an issue with ‘spelling it out’ in a blog post… The military are doing a lot more than scenario planning, see canadas construction of warships to patrol the northwest passage, versus American insistence that the north west passage is ‘international waters’ (I.e. American) for an example.

    The largest pv array in the states is on an airforce base, there is a reason for this. It’s good forward planning.

    But anyway back to what matters… With both climate change and peak oil threatening us, we need to start planning for the future – that should involve some positive scenarios of how we can fix things, but looking at the worst case scenario is instructive, because I think it reminds us how important these issues are, and how bad the impacts (however unlikely) could be.

  30. Toby says:

    @Paddy Morris,

    It is a difference in perspective. The difference is like that between the NASA space programme as it unfolded from 1960 onwards, and the novels of Clarke, Asimov or the film 2001: Space Odyssey.

    The novelists can let their imaginations take flight. When presenting climate change, we should stay anchored firmly in the present and take our analysis from there. It is sufficient to point out that projections of current trends show growing problems. Paragraphs and chapters of lurid speculative detail are unnecessary.

  31. Bartholomew says:

    I think it’s important that people lke Tony are allowed to raise what are valid points. Isn’t science all about questioning and detail? Tony has said he accepts all the science. You are treating him like he doesn’t.

  32. Tony Smith says:

    Lomborg is in today’s Wall Street Journal talking about the confusion over his so called conversion.

    Looks like you have jumped to conclusion John Gibbons.

  33. John Gibbons says:

    Tony, how’s the reading coming along on ‘The Lomborg Deception’? Yea, didn’t think so. Lomborg and the (Murdoch mouthpiece) WSJ, quite the combination.

  34. John Gibbons says:

    (sorry for delay in responding). Lomborg also says he accepts the science, but he doesn’t mean it. There’s a guy works down the chip shop who swears he’s Elvis, but that don’t make it so either. Tony is free to raise all the valid points he wishes, and, within reason, I’m prepared to answer them. I do however reserve the right not to be dragged down endless rabbit holes of irrelevance by anyone who happens to want to unload their tuppence worth on this blog. Especially those who are convinced they already have all the answers and who appear to be mainly interested in being vexatious.

  35. Barthololmew says:

    Could you please provide some evidence to substantiate your argument that Lomborg doesn’t accept the science? The chip shop person is irrelevant.

  36. John Gibbons says:

    Life is too short, and Lomborg’s confections too many to bear listing out again here. As previously stated, ‘The Lomborg Deception’ runs to 250 pages and details, well, hundreds of falsehoods, some clearly deliberate, others could be generously interpreted as Polyanna delusional, but if you’re looking for errors, bring a shovel, not a microscope. They’re everywhere. Failing that, try this website, by a Danish scientist who painstakingly tracks and logs Lomborg’s stream of errors:


  37. Barthololmew says:

    There are other web pages which refute what you have just posted.

    Climate change is extremly complex. It seems a shame that in this “short life” you go to great efforts to put together this site but won’t put the time into the complexity of the subject.

  38. Barthololmew says:

    That website: is awful. Have they ever heard of a .css file? It doesn’t come across very well – a website claiming to be intellectual can’t even use the second simpliest web technology after html.

    Climate change is a hell of lot more complex than a simple web technology.

    Could you pick one argument from it which you think seriously refutes Lomborg? Most of them seem to be “Johny said it was page 4, but it’s really page 4.2” i.e. trivial errors.

  39. John Gibbons says:

    Sorry to hear this website didn’t meet your high standards. Suspect the person using it is more interest in content than presentation, and is probably not being funded by the Koch brothers and Exxon, folks who know all about stylish presentation. Again, and for the very, very last time, try the paper-based ‘The Lomborg Deception’ – if you are actually interested in understanding Lomborg and his modus operandi. If not, nothing I can do for you.

  40. Paddy Morris says:

    @ Barthololmew

    “There are other web pages which refute what you have just posted”
    John put in the time/effort to find you a link – care to repay the favour?

    The Skeptical Environmentalist

    From the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty:
    “Objectively speaking, the publication of the work under consideration is deemed to fall within the concept of scientific dishonesty. …In view of the subjective requirements made in terms of intent or gross negligence, however, Bjørn Lomborg’s publication cannot fall within the bounds of this characterization. Conversely, the publication is deemed clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice”

    And from Richard Tol:
    ““Bjorn Lomborg is a not a scholar. Scholars publish their research in peer-reviewed journals. Lomborg has one such paper.

    Lomborg writes books with popular science. In popular science, there is a trade-off between accuracy and sales. Lomborg sells well. In fact, his first book did so well that he can now afford to be more accurate.

    Lomborg successfully punches holes in climate hysteria. As panic is a bad adviser, Lomborg plays a useful role in the debate on climate policy. Lomborg provides counterbalance. He is therefore not balanced”

    Bearing in mind that Richard has worked to some degree with Lomborg through the ‘Copenhagen Consensus’ he probably has some degree of insight when he says Lomborg is not a scholar, not that accurate in his work and not balanced.

  41. Barthololmew says:

    You really think its that hard to use a .css file? It’s much harder to apply the scientific method. I find it hard to read that site. how about you pick one really good argument in it and we can discuss it?

    Your site is a bit easier to read. So I’ll pick an example from one of the argument on it.

    It say:
    “Biologist E.O. Wilson — two-time Pulitzer prize winner, discoverer of hundreds of new species, and one of the world’s greatest living scientists — debunks Lomborg’s analysis of extinction rates.”

    Ok so we all agree Wilson is a superb scientist. But this argument is really just: “so and so says this and so and so says that.” There’s no more substance to it beyong an ad hominen. The other arguments are similar.

    Also, in the chapter on extinction rates, Lomborg makes the point how difficult it is to estimate these accurately. That’s the central point. So if Wilson is debunking it, is he saying that “no it is possible to estimate them accurately”. That I find hard to believe. The lack of detail makes this very confusing as I doubt very much Wilson is saying this.

    Care to elaborate yourself?

    Or do I really have to go off and read an entire book? Can you not just pick one very good and specific example of where Lomborg has made a major cockup?

    If you can’t pick one argument from the Lomborg Deception and argue it yourself – have you really learnt anything from it?

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