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Never invite a palaeoclimatologist to a party…

Scientists have come up with new evidence in support of the controversial idea that humanity’s influence on climate began not during the industrial revolution, but thousands of years ago. Proposed by palaeoclimatologist William Ruddiman in 2003, the theory says that human influences offset the imminent plunge into another ice age and helped create the relatively stable climate that we are familiar with today.

Woo hoo! High five to Mr Ugg and that idea of bringing fire into the cave.

It has been repeatedly panned as implausible by palaeoclimate researchers, but eight years on, Ruddiman and others say that they have the data to support early anthropogenic climate change.

Well I dunno but it has the whiff of the fairytale to it. Paleoclimatology being an historical science – God knows! Unfortunately God ain’t answering his texts at the moment so instead we have wild speculation.

The argument centres on a curious trend in atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane levels since the last ice age ended about 11,000 years ago and the current Holocene epoch began. In previous interglacial periods, CO2 levels spiked early and then gradually declined until the globe went into another ice age. The Holocene began by following this trend, but then CO2 levels changed course and began to rise around 8,000 years ago. The same thing happened with methane levels around 5,000 years ago. These trends align with the expansion of human agriculture, and Ruddiman, of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, argues that it is no coincidence — the clearing of land and expansion of irrigation released huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

I am actually warming to this hypothesis. One of the great myths that almost everyone believes is that primitive types live(d) in harmony with nature. The poster kids for this are of course the pre-Colombian peoples of the Americas. The inconvenient truth here is that they caused vastly more extinctions of species than European settlers ever did.

Critics say that human populations were probably too small to support such a hypothesis, and recent studies have raised serious questions about early anthropogenic carbon and methane emissions. But rather than backing down, Ruddiman and several other researchers will present their supporting evidence in a series of papers scheduled for publication in a special issue of The Holocene journal later this year. Researchers presented some of the work this week at the American Geophysical Union’s Chapman Conference on Climates, Past Landscapes and Civilizations in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“I’m of course hopelessly biased, but this year is going to be a good year for the early anthropogenic influence hypothesis,” Ruddiman said as he presented his overview study.

Well, he said it. I don’t know if that is balls-to-the-wall chutzpah or refreshingly honest. I suspect I shall never know because I couldn’t really give a flying one about, “the early anthropogenic influence hypothesis”. There are fascinating fields in science and this isn’t one.

Ruddiman also took issue with a high-profile Nature study published in 2009 by a team at the University of Bern, Switzerland, led by climate modeller Thomas Stocker, who is co-chairman of Working Group I for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Climate modeller for the IPCC. I’d rather trust Nanny Ogg reading the entrails of a goat.

The study takes advantage of the fact that plants preferentially take up the isotope carbon-12, subtly altering the ratio between carbon-12 and carbon-13 in the atmosphere. Stocker and his team analysed an Antarctic ice core and found no evidence of a change in the ratio, which would have been expected if carbon from cleared vegetation were released back into the atmosphere.

Is that true? Really is it? I want to know because my understanding is that different isotopes of an element have the same chemical properties. So how does that work.

But that study underestimated the amount of carbon-12 taken up by peatlands, say Ruddiman and Kaplan. It assumed that just 40 gigatonnes of carbon were buried in peatlands during the late Holocene, whereas other estimates come in at 280 gigatonnes or more. That number would have to be offset by terrestrial emissions to maintain the atmospheric carbon isotope ratio.

They are all making this up.

In an e-mail to Nature, Stocker said that Ruddiman’s latest paper merely “reiterates in extenso all of the points made earlier”. Although Stocker acknowledges that peatland estimates need to be better quantified, he cited a recent analysis by his institute suggesting that carbon emissions from land-use change are neither sufficient nor properly timed to explain the rise in CO2 levels in the Holocene.

Yeah, whatever. I’ll go back to casting runes – it’s more honest.

The rise of rice.

Now they’re having a go at the Asians…

Kaplan says that Stocker’s land-use analysis contains some of the same problems and assumptions as others that have come before. Another study in The Holocene by Dorian Fuller, an archaeologist at University College London, explores methane emissions from livestock and the spread of rice agriculture in southeast Asia. Fuller says that the expansion of rice could account for up to 80% of the additional atmospheric methane as of 1,000 years ago, and suggests that the expansion of livestock could help to plug the gap in previous millennia.

So is livestock not as bad as rice because all the Greens rail against the evils of livestock as opposed to eating plants? I am now utterly confused. And as to why anyone feels the desperate need to plug that gap… God knows but thankfully I never felt my life’s work would be paleoclimatology. Watching paint dry would appear to be more worthwhile.

Palaeoclimatologist Eric Wolff of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK, acknowledges that whereas no one can refute the idea that humans played a significant part in influencing the Holocene climate, no one can prove that they did.

That is fucking priceless.

Wolff points out that a modelling study that appeared in Nature in February this year, led by Joy Singarayer at the University of Bristol, UK, shows that orbital variations and tropical sources can explain the Holocene methane trends. “This does not prove there was not an anthropogenic influence, but it removes the need for one,” Wolff explains.

That’s an explanation? Jesus wept. Maybe it is but exactly what it is an explanation of is beyond me. The way I look at it if Joy Singarayer’s work is true and what actually happened then not only does it mean there isn’t a need for an anthropogenic cause for Holocene methane but that didn’t happen otherwise you’d have both our distant ancestors and the orbital wiggles and whatever happened in the tropics liberating gases. The only way you can get away with saying the sort of thing Wolff does there is if the error bars are enormous enough to allow all causes. Or to put it more pungently he is talking bullshit – probably quite literally. This isn’t science – this is witchcraft.

Both Kaplan and Fuller say that their focus is not so much on Ruddiman’s specific hypothesis as on the idea that humans might have influenced climate well before the industrial revolution.

Wow! Just re-read that. It’s awesomely vague. That is not science, it’s not even witchcraft – it’s demonology.

“The human influence is there,” says Fuller. “We can see that.” Researchers have plenty of work to do in terms of quantifying early human emissions, adds Kaplan, “but it is getting hard to support the idea that anthropogenic influence was negligible before the industrial era”.

“Quantifying early human emissions”. That is what these people get out of bed in the morning to do? Dear sweet fuck! I thought solid-state physics was dull but that was enjoying an evening of cigars and witty anecdotes with Oscar Wilde and Peter Ustinov compared to this unbelievably tedious area of study. I reckon the climate alarmists get way with what they do because their field is so frigging dull almost nobody can be arsed to call ‘em on it. Anthropogenic Holocene methane emission trends… Oh do please just fuck off. I mean I studied astrophysics which people tend to find interesting at parties. Note the world is full of amateur astronomers. That’s fun science. So is say genetics or evolution or Cantorian set theory or… Anything but that. That makes the study of ditchwater seem fascinating. That’s worse than trainspotting. And it’s all models (though I bet few of ‘em get to date models) with no empirical base whatsoever. It’s therefore an eternal hell of clever guffery which gets funded because it is sufficiently dull that the Oxford PPE types that fund stuff reckon it must be like really important. Well, plugging the gap in the Holocene methane hole mattered fuck all to Mr Ugg and it matters the square root of fuck all to me.

I’d rather grunt with Mr Ugg and offer him a glass of a rather cheeky Merlot and perhaps some Pringles. Seeing as he could chuck a spear at a woolly mammoth he’d have no problems decking a paleoclimatologist. And no honest jury of his peers would regard that as other than utterly justifiable.

10 Comments

  1. PJH says:

    I want to know because my understanding is that different isotopes of an element have the same chemical properties. So how does that work.

    Via this:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinetic_isotope_effect

    If I squint hard enough at it, I think I can see where they’re trying to go with this, but I’d like to see their working out.

    Seeing a visible difference between Protium and Tritium reactions as they happen and stretching that to guestimated levels of historical C-12 and C-13 is pushing it though.

  2. View from the Solent says:

    “.. all the Greens rail against the evils of livestock as opposed to eating plants? ”

    It follows that they see (almost) wiping out the millions of North American bison as a Good Thing, then. Oh, hang on a minute, …

  3. RAB says:

    I’m off to the dentist for a filling, so I will be back later to dribble on a bit, but if you want barking mad theories, tis best they are done with a bit of wit…

  4. Lynne says:

    No doubt the eruption of Toba was down to paleo-CAGW.

    The greenies are getting very desperate now, ain’t they…

  5. Laird says:

    “They are all making this up.”

    That about sums it up.

  6. Lynne says:

    The logic doesn’t follow either. If a few tens of millions of no-tech people can alter the climate in the way claimed then how come we don’t see the exponential effect on the climate of billions of people?

    Bullshit in. Bullshit out

  7. Kevin B says:

    Look, it’s all very simple. Nothing can alter the climate except CO2 and methane, and only evil man-made CO2 and methane at that. Oh sure, before evil man came along, the temperature varied a bit – the odd twenty or thirty degrees C here and there – but that was natural change. Not the hideous unnatural evil horrible nasty man made catastrophic climate change we’ve had since man first despoiled the fragile balance of nature.

    So just eat your tofu, pay your horrendous energy bills and walk to work in your hemp clothes and straw sandals. for the children !!!! (But not your children, since the likes of you ain’t going to get a breeding licence.)

  8. Greg2213 says:

    I think Lynne’s got it right. If our climate was so unstable that small changes in CO2 resulted in large climate changes then we would have seen some real-word evidence for major change over the last 50 years, where most, not all, sources agree that CO2 has increased dramatically. As it is, there is slight evidence for warming, which stopped around 1998 or so, and zero evidence for catastrophic warming.

    Once all feedbacks are considered the climate effect of CO2 is pretty much zero. Now, clearcutting/burring large areas can probably have local effects, such as the Kilamanjaro (sp?) snow cap. Also, since the Earth is greening up, probably due to increased CO2, there may be addition local changes due to albedo changes.

    Globally, the oceans control the climate, not the other way around.

    As I understand the C12/C13 argument, living things preferentially use c12 over c13 (by a small amount) for normal bio processes. This leaves a small excess of c13 left over in the local environment which is what gets stuck into shells and structures (coral.) So if you have an excess of small life, that builds shells, etc., in an area then the structures they leave behind will have an excess of c13 compared to periods with lesser life.

    By the way, if you look at a “temperature” map of the holocene you will see that temps have been gradually decreasing since the start. Therefore those early people had a much larger climate influence than our technological civilization has. The broke us out of the ice-age with their 1 ppm increase in global co2, agriculture and burning, and the 100pm increase, more recently, has pretty much done nothing.

    Actually… the increased plant life from the agriculture would have absorbed the CO2 from the burning which would then be returned as plants and critters/people die, but which would have been absorbed as the burnings and stuff are used as fertilizer, but which is released as the number of critters and people increased, but which is reabsorbed by non-agricultural plants, too… it gets complicated. ;)

  9. John Galt says:

    Lets go back to some real science here (Journal of Human Evolution” [1998] 34, 623-651 – http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/stanley_ambrose.php).

    “The last glacial period was preceded by 1000 years of the coldest temperatures of the Late Pleistocene, apparently caused by the eruption of the Mount Toba volcano. The six year long volcanic winter and 1000-year-long instant Ice Age that followed Mount Toba’s eruption may have decimated Modern Man’s entire population. Genetic evidence suggests that Human population size fell to about 10,000 adults between 50 and 100 thousand years ago. “

    So a population smaller than a typical town in the modern world was responsible for pre-historic Warble Gloaming?

    Get the fuck out of here, you cunting moron.

  10. Raphe says:

    There is a slight difference in the chemical reactivity of isotopes of the same element, heavier isotopes forming marginally stronger bonds than lighter ones. This is most pronounced for lighter elements as there is a bigger percentage difference in the mass of their isotopes and, coupled with different diffusion rates, does lead to biological isotope selection effects, but these effects are very small. To draw sweeping, highly specific conclusions based on isotope ratios, a researcher would have to be pretty confident that their picture of the conditions at the time the carbon was laid down is a highly accurate one. Given the 700% disagreement over carbon in peat bogs, I’d suggest that perhaps this is not the case.

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