The dustbin of failed evolutionary experiments?

proceed with cautionOnce again, as I did in my previous post, I must credit xraymike79 as the source of the title for this offering, as it also featured in the quotation from his recent post. For ease of reference, however, here is the relevant part of that quotation once again:

…Know that this culture of self-worship and materialism is sending our species to the dustbin of failed evolutionary experiments, most certainly by the end of this century if not mid-century. The evidence is all around us if only we care to open our eyes.

So, then, what are these “failed evolutionary experiments”; and why might we be about to join them in the dustbin? Indeed, what does it mean to suggest there is a dustbin? I ask this latter question because, as I often seem to find myself saying, the concept of waste disposal is an illusion: Nature does not do waste disposal; it only ever does recycling. However, there is an even more fundamentally-challenging aspect to xraymike79’s turn of phrase, which is the suggestion that the emergence of complex life on Earth is the result of an unguided process. Jean-Paul Sartre’s question “Why is it that there something rather than nothing?” is answered with the following equation: Nothing + Time + Chance = Something. Some scientists, such as George Smoot (Wrinkles in Time) and Paul Davies (The Mind of God) have asserted that the Universe appears to be perfectly designed to accommodate us – effectively a statement of the Anthropic Principle. However, I find it hard to refute the argument, made by people like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, that we are here because the Universe is the way it is – effectively a statement of existential Selection Bias. For people of a theistic persuasion (like me for example), such notions are very challenging. However, I dislike the arrogance of people like Dawkins and Hawking, who – rather than just assert that they do not believe in God – appear to want to insist that they have proven that God does not exist. Although they present cogent arguments and justifications for their atheism, I prefer the position adopted by Stephen J. Gould – that science and religion represent non-overlapping magesteria. This is the proposition that science seeks to answer “how” questions, whereas religion seeks to answer “why” questions. If so, it would appear to be self-evident that trouble ensues when either party steps outside the boundaries of their legitimate enquiry. It was for this reason that Young Earth Creationism had been rejected by the vast majority of Christian theologians even before Charles Darwin was born. They had, in essence, followed the advice of St Augustine (354-430AD) in The Literal Meaning of Genesis, and Thomas Aquinas (1225-74AD) in Summa Theologica. For example:

Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, [and] one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing… (Thomas Aquinas, 1273AD)

As I said to my son recently, “just as scientific theories like evolution should not be used to reject religious beliefs; Biblical texts should not be used to reject scientific facts”. I hope you will agree that this is a nice turn of phrase too, but, it belies the fact that all knowledge in science is provisional. However, in my defence, I must protest that “should not be used to reject things most scientists consider to be beyond reasonable doubt” …does not sound quite so good. So then, back to big question: Is evolution a random process with no pre-ordained purpose; or has it been guided by someone or something? Well, I think I am going to dodge the bullet on that one; but I will say this: I was astonished recently to learn about the ‘Maximum Power Principle’ – as proposed by Howard T. Odum – that suggests that Darwinian-style natural selection tends to produce organisms “that maximize power intake, energy transformation, and those uses that reinforce production and efficiency”. For background to this, please see this comment (and those that follow it) by Paul Chefurka on Guy McPherson’s Nature Bats Last blog. If you look at Chefurka’s comments, you will see that he blames the ‘Maximum Power Principle’ for the fact that humanity seems set on a path to self-destruction (and unintended ecocide), i.e. that our consumption of resources is biologically-driven. Some may say, as I did initially, that this explains an awful lot but, upon further reflection, I am inclined to think that this could be used as an abdication of ultimate responsibility for our not leaving this Earth in as good a state as we were fortunate enough to find it. Be that as it may, the evidence from the fossil record suggests that the vast majority of species that have ever lived are probably no longer with us today. However, that does not make them “failed evolutionary experiments”. Indeed, I would argue that some species that have survived through to the present time look like failed evolutionary experiments (and I do not mean humans). What sense is there in that? Why do some species appear to have got stuck in a time-warp? Is it enough just to say they are adapted to their niche environments? I am therefore ambivalent about the question of whether evolution must be seen as purposeful or self-selecting process. However, I think xraymike79’s turn of phrase is useful because it has the potential to shake us from our anthropocentric complacency. Furthermore, I think it almost demands that – instead – we embrace the ecocentric reality around us: Apart from a few dairy cows that might experience some significant discomfort for a while – most of life on Earth would not even notice if we humans disappeared. As Edward O. Wilson observed, we may be the most intelligent life form on Earth – and we may be at the top of every conceivable food chain – but humans are not the most important life form on Earth. That honour probably goes to fungi – Nature’s most effective and efficient recyclers. Unfortunately, we humans seem determined to go down fighting and, unless we wake up to the reality that we cannot subdue and dominate Nature – we must seek to live in harmony with it – it seems increasing likely that we will cause the widespread breakdown of many essential ecosystem services upon which all life on Earth depends. This is because we are currently in the process of deconstructing the benign and stable environment that has made life possible. As such, the Hockey Stick may have now turned into a Scythe: That being the case, we must all hope this does not herald the arrival of the Grim Reaper himself. 😦 ————– See also: https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/agw-what-would-jesus-do/ https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/fables-about-biodiversity/ https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2011/12/23/sherry-christmas-and-a-schnappsy-new-year/ https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/nature-is-not-your-enemy/

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About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Consumerism, Denial, Environment, Intergenerational Injustice, Mass Extinctions, Philosophy, Religion and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to The dustbin of failed evolutionary experiments?

  1. uknowispeaksense says:

    So many things to talk about with this piece Rick but I think that rather than directly address any particular points I’m just going to put forward my personal thoughts on a few aspects. Before that though….and this is a pet peeve (one of many I have), don’t forget that natural selection is just one of a number of mechanisms that facilitate evolution. There is also biased mutation, genetic drift and a couple of others and this is a concept that creationists struggle with. They think all evolutionary Theory revolves around Darwin’s work on natural selection but the others are just as important and they happen regardlessof selection pressures or not. They can also be powerful drivers of evolution. This brings me to my next thought and this relates to a conversation I was having with a friend just last week. He suggested to me that since the agrarian revolution when the Earth’s climate stabilised enough to allow agricultural settlement, we human’s have “stepped outside of evolution” as we now have the ability to avoid selection pressures placed on us such as climate and disease to a large degree. I quickly pointed out that with disease that might be pretty much the case in the developed world only. In a sense though he is correct especially since we now have global gene flow but as I said, evolution will contnue to happen regardless. I often wonder what civilisation would look like today, had the climate since the last ice age been as erratic as it had previously. Would we be at 7 billion people and counting? I think it is highly unlikely. It was the agrarian revolution that set wheels in motion for greater division of labour and increasing specialisation which in turn lead to more rapid invention and uptake of new technologies. While physically, we haven’t evolved a great deal in 10000-20000 years, technologically and educationally, we are off the chart. But stripping it back to basic biological terms, that is evolution also. Our climate allowed us to take advantage ot the situation, just like any other animal does in filling a niche. There is no right nor wrong to it. It just happened. It was another of nature’s random experiments that produced a result. What it has done though is set us into a major boom and bust cycle. Think of mice plagues or locusts. We are feeding and consuming at an unsustainable rate and at some point, something has to give. Food and disease are more often than not the major limiting factor in natural boom and bust cycles. At the moment we are on the upward part of the curve and the height we will reach is artificially compounded by our ability to manipulate our natural world, and it is that that will make the bust more severe. Will we be wiped out as a species? No, unless of course we enter into a runaway greenhouse and kill the planet, but we will be forced ino a new era where people in the future will look a back and wonder what the hell we were thinking. Just as we look back on past civilisations and wonder why they couldn’t see the end coming. Why couldn’t they see that sacrificing more people was not bringing the rains back? Why couldn’t they see that building bigger and bigger statues was not going to solve the problems of dimishing timber resources? That’s two examples of many and they were localised events. People in the future will look back and ask the same sort of questions but it will be directed at everyone alive today. Anyway, these were just a few of my thoughts. I hope I haven’t bored anyone to tears.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Thanks Mike. Having recently posted quite a few comments on Learning from Dogs advocating rational reductionist thinking instead of irrational spirituality (for which I even won praise from Patrice Ayme), I realise I am walking a highly-strained tight-rope. Creationists and Scientists will always struggle to communicate because only one group is comfortable with the explanation “God did it”. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not comfortable with it either. With regard to your response to your friend’s remarks, I think we have a major problem developing now in the form of hospital acquired infections by bacteria that are immune to most antibiotics. With one or two notable exceptions, the human population is believed to have been remarkably stable for tens of thousands of years. It was only the advent of fossil fuel use that enabled the planet to support more than 1 billion people. Since this has only happened in the last 200 years, there has, until now, not been an opportunity to test your hypothesis. However, all the evidence suggests that an Earth with an unstable climate cannot and will not support such a large number of humans. Note to other readers: Anyone curious about Mike’s closing remarks (about sacrifices and statues, etc.) probably has not read Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. In which case, may I offer my own brief summary of it (see also the subsequent post considering what we need to learn from it).

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  2. [thanks Rick for the reason to enter into the world of blogging: intellectual stimulation and challenge] Following on from your repost I too have been stimulated by thoughts of human nature, I was reminded on the story told to me as a child- the water rat and the scorpion: both are caught on an little island surrounded by flood waters and the scorpion asks the rat that he be saved by riding on the his back to safety. The rat says he will but fears the scorpions sting- the scorpion assures him that it would be stupid as they would both drown. So the rat agrees but half way across the scorpion does sting the rat- ‘Why?’ asks the rat as they start to drown:’because it is my nature’ says the scorpion. I don’t remember if the follow up comment is from the story or something I added of the scorpion asking why the rat helped him and with rat saying ” because it is mine’. A version by Aesop has a different outcome http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0278.html. As I mentioned in previous comments I think the evolutionary qualities that make us great are also the things that cause the problem. To attack those qualities when they are destructive is to attack people, and people don’t listen when attacked. I was also reminded by Charlie Brooker’s ‘How TV ruined your life’ on fear that the ‘fear gland’ [amygdala] has such a hold on us it is used by TV to gain our attention and get viewing figures much like the Catholic Church. And rightly he point out that death and destruction are such crowd pullers they even make ‘science programs’ that imagine a world in the grip of a super nova or Yellowstone super volcano exploding; with such competition it is difficult to actually communicate the pressing an real apocalyptic issues of climate change and energy futures. The comment response to the over use of antibiotics in the newspapers offered a great insight into how people really deal with these things: it involved blaming others whether doctors or patients, personal experience [of how they never get disease!] and more blaming of either capitalists or farmers or foreign people. I may do a through review and produce a blog. THE MEASURED ALARMIST Are we doomed? and by that I mean a halving of population? The problem with the alarmist voice is it is very difficult to sustain the message, especially over decades, given the competition of other voices. Losing ones job or slowly getting older or worrying about wrinkles on your face or any host of trivial things take precedence over the big picture. I bet Rick you are still worrying about accepting that Sky renewal- and I too have worried about the stupid amount of time last night I played xbox! AGW projections are just that, they haven’t happened just yet [well they are happening but you know what I mean] The agricultural revolution 5,000 years ago was caused by climate change and it changed us for the better. We can adapt, humans have come up with pretty cool fixes like solar given the threat of peak oil. Germany has thrown its weight behind a decarbonised society. I could go on and draw attention to the adaptive and exploitative nature of humans has brought positive changes to counter the negative ones. For me religion will not be a fix, as the new pope will not try and save creation by advocating birth control. Despite this there is reason to be optimistic, food production for instance, is not a problem just yet: around 5300 calories are produced for everyone every day. Far more than the 2700 we need but the problem is that cows eat the excess, we may be forced to all become veggie which would be no bad thing. Sure, a lot of people will die in the ensuing food, water, energy shortages and the lucky 10% will need to decide how far our humanity extends. We in the west have the technology, the military and commercial might to enslave he rest of the world to ensure we have biofuels and beef on the table. Perhaps the selfish nature of the 10% will clean up the slums just so a pandemic [which we can no longer treat!] does not develop there. I don’t see a good evil aspect evil to the human condition- our selfishness may save us. But one new thing is the multinational- it is not human and thoughtless- it is like a virus- and unless we address this entity I think our future will be more similar to Terminator. The issue is a moral one as your post Rick alludes to.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Thanks Jules. Are you saying you think I am attacking anyone or anything? I certainly did not intend to attack anyone; I am merely expressing my opinions. I could not be sitting any more firmly upon the agnostic fence if I tried. I do accept that it is hard to sustain the alarmist message but, I think it was you that pointed out to me that the moral of the story about the boy who cried ‘Wolf!’ is that the wolf eventually turned up…! People keep telling me to stop obsessing about the environment and go back to hydrogeology but, I am sorry, to me, that is the equivalent of telling someone tied to a railway track looking at an approaching train to go back to reading his fantasy novel…

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      • By attacking human qualities we end up attacking people- often without intention. My adaptability may be seen as good or bad if I exploit something- it is relative morals- but attacking my human nature inadvertantly attacks me. We should not wish to emulate the paternal religious leaders who spend their time judging. I feel we should foster qualities towards the light. The problem of alarmism [and AGW is well suited to be very alarmed about] is it has a lot of competition, it is all about risk assessment. AGW in mind is no one- no point in saving the rainforest now for it to dry up in 100 years. But it rather like smoking rather than road safety – a much harder risk to point out.

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  3. oops- all those typos!- must be the excitement. However after doing the initial research of the current antibiotic issue through reading comments I now feel depressed at the stupidity of humanity. Despite the BBC article being articulate and covering the issue reasonably well people either cannot read, or understand, or are so blinded by their expertise that given a popular decision [based on comments] we woud all be doomed. The left blame evil drug companies and profits and back door privatisation of the NHS, the Greens promote saving the rainforest, natural remedies and mould, some mums are cross the GP won’t give there child antibiotics, some are cross that the GP does, then there is johnny foreigner, and China – it goes on. Do read a few it is scary. Thankfully the public aren’t allowed democracy in the UK.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      I am not sure what BBC report you are referring to – or what comments forum – but don’t bother giving me a link to it; you have told me enough to know I don’t want to read it. “Thankfully the public aren’t allowed democracy in the UK” – Is this a reference to Cameron going AWoL/MIA on implementing Leveson?

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  4. Quercetum says:

    Hi Rickus. Sorry to bother you again so soon, but it looks like your scythe graph is facing its own grim reaper, a certian Steve McIntyre. I recommend you read his accusations carefully – because they’re interesting. It will also be interesting to see if and how journal Science responds. http://climateaudit.org/2013/03/16/the-marcott-shakun-dating-service/

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    • uknowispeaksense says:

      Science will respond when McIntyre follows scientific convention for once in his life and submits a rebuttal. It might help his cause in that regard if he, rather than fumbling in the dark, takes the time to actually read the supplementary material for the paper as well as the information provided to him in good faith by the authors. There he will find, in exquisite detail, all the statistical processes undertaken. Instead though, in a very short amount of time produces nothing of any value, through dodgy analysis based on incorrect assumptions formulated from his own willful ignorance. But then, he does have a track record that speaks for itself (see http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Steve_McIntyre). You could do much better than McIntyre as someone to put your faith in. He sounds impressive to the uninitiated, but to those of us who actually know a thing or two about stats, he is a charlatan, fooling his sycophantic ignorant followers with some fancy words and dodgy graphs. Tell me, did you use your eyectrometer on the graphs too?

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    • Rick Altman says:

      As UK politicians tended to do with Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat leader) at the last General Election, I am inclined to say, “I agree with Nick Mike!” I am afraid I do not bother commenting on Climate Audit any more because my fellow geologist McIntyre, despite having no Masters degree in any subject, will not admit that he has spent the last 15 years trying to find fault with climate science because of an a priori assumption that climate science is a conspiracy (or that most climate scientists are stupid). Thus, I think you will have to admit that, although slightly more polite than Mike, I am no less unimpressed than he is by your grim reaper. Therefore, once again, I would advise you to address the flawed nature of your supposed “skepticism” here.

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      • Quercetun says:

        Well the authors have now responded to criticisms with a post at RealCimate.com. They confirm that the 20thC portion of their graph – and therefore the scythe – “cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes”. So you can feel a little relief then. “Our global paleotemperature reconstruction includes a so-called “uptick” in temperatures during the 20th-century. However, in the paper we make the point that this particular feature is of shorter duration than the inherent smoothing in our statistical averaging procedure, and that it is based on only a few available paleo-reconstructions of the type we used. Thus, the 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes, and therefore is not the basis of any of our conclusions.”

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      • Rick Altman says:

        I am sorry to have to say this, Oakwood, but, you are either being deeply-disingenuous or wilfully-blind. For those who believe in the importance of context, here is the sentence that follows the one already quoted (twice):

        Our primary conclusions are based on a comparison of the longer term paleotemperature changes from our reconstruction with the well-documented temperature changes that have occurred over the last century, as documented by the instrumental record. (Emphasis added here by me to help all those like Oakwood who use selective quotation to create their own alternative reality.)

        Given that the Arctic has not been ice-free for at least 400k years (and possibly 800k years), can you tell me why sea ice is still melting faster than anyone predicted? (If struggling, Google ‘positive feedback mechanisms’). Can you also tell me why the IMF now agrees that fossil fuels must be made more expensive? Are they just another body duped by argumentum ad verecundiam? Sadly, for you, this is last bastion of recalcitrance favoured by members of the Flat Earth Society and Young Earth Creationists. Is it just me, or are you avoiding my most recent substantive post: https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/irreversible-but-not-yet-unstoppable/

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      • Quercetum says:

        (I don’t know where this reply will land because the ‘Reply’ links are in odd places) You quote: “Our primary conclusions are based on a comparison of the longer term paleotemperature changes from our reconstruction with the well-documented temperature changes that have occurred over the last century, as documented by the instrumental record. (Emphasis added here by me to help all those like Oakwood who use selective quotation to create their own alternative reality.)” By highlighting this, it suggests you – like the authors – believe it is reasonable to compare proxy data with a resolution of about a century to instrumental data with a resolution of one year. Because their proxy data do not have a resolution of one year, there is no way of knowing whether in any individual century temperatures had the range we see for the 20th Century, and whether they went 10ths of a degree or more above or below the proxy graph. It is at best misleading to suggest this work shows the 20th C was in any way exceptional. If you believe it is ok and valid science to compare 1-year resolution data with 100-year resolution data, please confirm. Regarding your link to Joe Romm’s article, a look at his website shows he is an alarmist. For example in his look at the Marcott et al work, from which he concludes “The Rate Of Warming Since 1900 Is 50 Times Greater Than The Rate Of Cooling In Previous 5000 Years” http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/03/08/1691411/bombshell-recent-warming-is-amazing-and-atypical-and-poised-to-destroy-stable-climate-that-made-civilization-possible/?mobile=nc This conclusion is based on an extrapolation of the 20th C portion of the graph, which Marcott et al now confirm is not robust. Regarding your comment on the Arctic, we do not have the data or evidence to confirm whether or not it was ice free in the past few thousand years. There is at least anecdotal evidence of less ice during the 1930s, and its quite possible that there was less during the MWP when the Vikings settled in Greenland. But the truth is, we just don’t know.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        There is a 3-tier limit to the nesting of comments on this blog. Once you reach the third tier, you have to scroll up to find the last comment in the second tier (i.e. with a reply button). All third-tier comments will appear in chronological order unless you start a new thread. It really is not complicated. If you believe it is OK to quote-mine and deliberately take things out of context, please confirm: All Marcott et al have confirmed is that palaeoclimate reconstructions of the last century are not robust (although this does not matter because we have an instrumental record instead). Clearly, such reconstructions will always be attacked by people who don’t want to accept that humans are affecting the Earth’s climate. Sadly, we humans have been doing this ever since we started altering our environment by clearing forests and farming. Despite this, however, it only became obvious that human activity was capable of altering the climate when we started pumping fossilised carbon into the atmosphere many times faster than it can be removed by Nature. Saying this, presumes, of course, that you accept the reality that the Earth is warmer than it would be if some gasses did not prevent long-wave radiation escaping into Space… Greenland was not so named because it was covered in significantly less ice 1200 years ago. You are just making a fool of yourself by lending credence to such widely-debunked nonsense.

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      • Quercetum says:

        Analogy Regarding this issue of comparing 20thC instrumental data with the proxy data for past centuries, here’s a simple analogy. Plot a graph of daily average temperature for the past 12 months. Then for the last day, plot the temperature at 10 minute intervals. Conclude: hey today’s temperature is changing much more rapidly and over a greater range than at any time during the previous year!

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Do you or do you not accept that it is almost certainly warmer today than at any time in the last 4 to 6 thousand years?

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      • Quercetum says:

        Rick, before anything else, please could you explain this comment of yours: “Greenland was not so named because it was covered in significantly less ice 1200 years ago. You are just making a fool of yourself by lending credence to such widely-debunked nonsense.” You seem to be suggesting I am a fool for believing Greenland was much more green 1200 years ago. It seems you are trying to discredit my views by claiming I believe something ‘ridiculous’. Please show me where I made such a suggestion. It is undisputed that the Vikings settled in southern Greenland at a time when it was less cold in that particular location. There is evidence of settlement and farming. They migrated away again as the LIA began to set in. What do you think is “widely-debunked nonsense”? That the Vikings settled in Greenland? That it was warmer there then than in more recent centuries? That they left because it was getting colder?

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      • Rick Altman says:

        The Greenland ice sheet is at least 400,000 to 800,000 years old. Certainly it was alive and well when the island was named around 1000 years ago. So where did the Green in Greenland come from? According to Wikipedia, legend has it was good marketing on the part of Erik the Red who figured it would attract more settlers (if he was more vain, it may have been called Redland). Or perhaps its a derivation of Engronelant or Gruntland… http://www.skepticalscience.com/greenland-used-to-be-green.htm

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      • Quercetum says:

        Your response on Greenland. And….? That has nothing to do with my comments.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        I do not dispute any of the things you mentioned; but I do dispute that any of them are important. As I said, Greenland was not called Greenland because it was covered in significantly less ice 1200 years ago. You, on the other hand, just ignore questions you don’t want to answer (or respond with ‘red herrings’ like Greenland). For the avoidance of any doubt, here is the unanswered question: “Do you or do you not accept that it is almost certainly warmer today than at any time in the last 4 to 6 thousand years?”

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      • Quercetum says:

        As I said “before anything else” I was awaiting your response on your Greenland comment regarding me ‘making a fool of myself’ and ‘debunked nonsense’, which you now confirm was a red herring. I don’t really understand your style of discussion in which you insult and make false accusations, and then get miffed if your target doesn’t answer your questions. I will address your question provided you don’t get miffed enough to moderate me out.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        if I misconstrued your mentioning Greenland as obfuscation and tactical avoidance, then I will be happy to apologise.

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      • Quercetum says:

        Before I address your question, it would be useful to know on what basis you believe it is warmer today than in the past 4 to 6 thousand years. And perhaps you could start to consider a response to my question: is it ok and valid science to compare one-year resolution temperature data with 100-year resolution data?

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      • Rick Altman says:

        I think uknowispeaksense has given you your answer regarding flawed analogies. Therefore, given the vast array of proxy data that indicate that it is, it would be useful to know on what basis* you think it is not warmer today than in the past 4 to 6 thousand years. * Excluding reliance upon marketplace of ideas fallacies such as, ‘I trust my own non-expert judgement more than I trust that of the vast majority of relevant experts…’

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  5. jpgreenword says:

    “Is evolution a random process with no pre-ordained purpose; or has it been guided by someone or something?” I would argue that it is an random process, but that its purpose is to allow life to continue and flourish on the planet. Species that have gone extinct have done so because of changes in climate or changes in other species in their ecosystem. And as climate “deniers” love to remind us: the climate is always changing. In other words, evolution is guided by changes on our planet. As to being “guided by someone”, personally, I do not believe in God. However, if I had to offer a theory that reconciles religion and evolution, I would argue that maybe God created life on Earth. He placed the first microorganisms in the oceans. And as he is “all knowing”, he knew that eventually humans would be one of the outcomes of evolution. Unfortunately, I believe that we are no longer subject to the “natural selection” that has guided evolution over the past hundreds of millions of years. In a way, we are victims of our own intelligence. Glasses and asthma inhalers (two things that my survival depends on) are band-aids to a problem that natural selection would have eliminated. In nature, an animal that is short sighted and has difficulty breathing would quickly die and the genes that make it susceptible to those problems would die with it. Another example that I give my students is the C-section. In nature, if a female mammal’s hips are too small to allow the birth of its child, or if the child itself is too large, both mother and baby would die, again, eliminating the “bad” genes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against medicine. It’s just a fact that natural selection does not work on us.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Thanks for sharing all of that, JP. I am not against modern medicine either; and I agree that our success in preventing Nature from taking its course is now having many unintended consequences.

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      • jpgreenword says:

        When I teach evolution to my students, I always “joke” that any male (or female) human can reproduce – doesn’t matter what they look like, how intelligent, or how strong they are. They (almost) all get to mate. This is very different from how it works in the wild. I just finished watching BBC’s Frozen Planet and watching those male seals fight for the “harem” made me realize how easy us human males have it 🙂

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  6. uknowispeaksense says:

    “Regarding this issue of comparing 20thC instrumental data with the proxy data for past centuries, here’s a simple analogy. Plot a graph of daily average temperature for the past 12 months. Then for the last day, plot the temperature at 10 minute intervals.” Simple analogy for sure. Incorrect too. You’re suggesting comparing instrumental with instrumental is the same as comparing instrumental with proxy. My apples aren’t as round as my oranges.

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    • Quercetum says:

      The point of my analogy is about comparing SHORT-resolution data with LONG-resolution data. In the Marcott et al case, they compare one-year resolution with 120-year resolution. In my example, its comparing 10-minute resolution with one-day resolution. In both cases, the difference is a similar order of magnitude: 120:1 and 144:1. By stating that an instrumental/instrumental comparison is not the same as an instrumental/proxy comparison, what is your point? If anything, an instrumental/proxy comparison is even less likely to be meaningful.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        It does not matter what your point was because, for the sake of argument, I am not insisting that the current rate of change is unprecedented (although the vast majority of relevant experts think it is). Therefore, unless you are trying to argue that proxy data is 100% unreliable and inaccurate, the question remains: Do you or do you not accept that the Earth has not been this warm for about 6 thousand years? While you’re at it, you might also care to answer this unanswered question as well: Do you now consider the IMF to be an unduly alarmist organisation duped by a fake consensus into calling for an end to fossil fuels subsidies? http://news.firedoglake.com/2013/04/01/imf-fight-climate-change-by-ending-subsidies-to-fossil-fuel-industry/

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      • Quercetum says:

        My reply was to uknow…. As he was accusing me of being incorrect baed on a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of my analogy, then the point does matter. Then Rick, why do you throw in this comment “unless you are trying to argue that proxy data [are] 100% unreliable and inaccurate.”? Where does that come from, and what relevance does it have to anything I’ve said? [data are plural]. I will address your question, but believe it or not, I do have other things to do. Regarding the IMF, I have not read their 68 report, and would not rely on a short news article (which could for all I know be quote mining) and so cannot comment.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Uknowispeaksense was merely trying to help me nail down what appears to be your attempt to sow obfuscation and confusion… You have made exactly the same point to me; and I am still waiting for an answer to my refutation of it. Please dispense with the feigned incomprehension and/or inability to think laterally (it does you no credit whatsoever). If you accepted the validity of proxy data, you would have little grounds for questioning (as you have done) whether or not current warmth is unprecedented in 4 to 6 thousand years. Is it just me, or are we going round in circles here? Somehow, I am afraid that this is a deliberate ploy on your part (as is your attempts to make me seem irrational and confused myself). Sadly, for you, I am not confused, and I did not just wake up one day thinking like this; it has taken me decades to work out where modernity went wrong (more on this tomorrow). I consider your pseudo-scepticism to be completely untenable; and that no amount of circular argumentation will make it any less so. I therefore suspect that “discussion” may have outlived its usefulness.

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      • uknowispeaksense says:

        All you have done is demonstrate that you either haven’t read the Marcott paper including the supplementary material or you have but have failed to understand it. Now, I can see why that analogy would be attractive to you and I can see the point you are trying to make but your analogy is still incorrect because you ARE comparing apples and oranges. If you don’t understand why that is wrong, then you really need to go and study a basic stats course. My challenge to you is to actually read the Marcott paper and instead of trying to come up with overly simplistic analogies, point out how he is incorrect. Perhaps you might consider coming up with some numbers that demonstrate the probabilities of rapid climate change in the past that is akin to what we are currently experiencing. I’m assuming that is the point of your argument? Do that and you will have a publishable rebuttal for sure.

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      • Quercetum says:

        Thus I conclude from your comments that you believe it is scientifically valid to draw conclusions about rapid climate change in the 20th C by comparing one-year resolution data (the instrumental data) with 120-year resolution data (Marcott et al). In your own words ” If you don’t understand why that is wrong, then you really need to go and study a basic stats course. ” It is interesting how for both you and Rick, your knee-jerk response to views you don’t agree with is to insult and attempt to ridicule. I’ve seen you have a blog too, with a similar style. If you want to be respected for educated debate you need to step back from that approach. Otherwise, you will limit yourself to preaching to the converted – a bit like a lonely priest in a modern-day village church with a congregation of about three.

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      • uknowispeaksense says:

        So I was correct on the first point. You haven’t read it or didn’t understand it. Until you do this is pointless as you will continue to obfuscate by dodging your responsibilies and putting words in my mouth. You have issues with Marcott but are not prepared to put any serious effort into demonstrating perceived flaws. If you are incapable through either Altman of scientific training or laziness this is pointless.

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      • Quercetum says:

        Your approach to ‘intelligent’ presentation of your views is to continue to insult, divert and jump to assume. To paraphrase: “So I was correct on the first point. You haven’t read it or didn’t understand it. Until you do this it is pointless as you will continue to obfuscate by dodging your responsibilies and putting words in my mouth. You have complete faith in Marcott and are not prepared to acknowledge obvious flaws. If you are incapable through either Altman of scientific training or laziness this is pointless.”

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  7. Quercetum says:

    Rick, please can you explain why my stating it is scientifically invalid to compare one-year resolution data with 100-year resolution data is “an attempt to sow obfuscation and confusion”?

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    • Rick Altman says:

      I happen to think you are not stupid, Oakwood. That being the case, you appear to be blind to the circularity in your own arguments; and almost incapable of answering a simple question. Since I am not insisting that the current rate of change is unprecedented (even though there are many independent lines of evidence that suggest it is), you are left with no valid reason to dispute that global average temperatures are now warmer than they have been for about 6 thousand years. However, taking the six pillars of climate change denial (as I like to call them) to be… climate change is (1) not happening; (2) not man-made; (3) not significant; (4) not necessarily bad; (5) not a problem; and (6) not worth fixing [see page 257 of Robert Henson’s Rough Guide to Climate Change (2007)]… You seem content to argue about all but the first of these. Therefore, given that the IMF have now knocked down all six of these pillars, I think further discussion with you may not be the best use of my time. http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/new-hockey-stick-but-same-tired-old-denial/

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  8. Quercetum says:

    To address your question: Do you or do you not accept that the Earth has not been this warm for about 6 thousand years? You will see my views are based on a careful and considered review of the evidence. If you think there is anywhere I have lied, deceived, obfuscated or deliberately confused, please point it out. In fact an answer is given by Marcott et al, who state : “Our results indicate that global mean temperature for the decade 2000-2009 has not yet exceeded the warmest temperatures of the early Holocene (5000 to 10,000 yr BP).” (p. 1201). While I have some concerns about their conclusions regarding 20thC, I have no real problem with the main part of their work. Regarding more recent times, I do not support the view that any proxy studies show current temperatures to be warmer than the MWP. Temperatures now are probably similar to the MWP. They could be a more, or less. There is certainly nothing to indicate current temperatures are exceptional or changing at exceptional rates. First of all, we can be clear that Marcott el al does not show current temperatures to be warmer than MWP. They state (p. 1198): • “Without filling data gaps, our Standard 5×5 reconstruction exhibits 0.6degC greater warming over the past ~60 yr BP (1890 to 1950 CE) than our equivalent unfilled 5deg x 5deg area-weighted mean stack. However, considering the temporal resolution of our data set and the small number of records that cover this interval, this difference is probably not robust. Further, they confirm in their comments on RealClimate: “…the 20th century portion of our paleotemperature stack is not statistically robust, cannot be considered representative of global temperature changes, and therefore is not the basis of any of our conclusions.” As Marcott et al explain in their paper, their results have a resolution averaging 120 years. Thus, if temperatures fluctuated by as much as 0.8 degC in any previous century, this cannot be shown. As I explained previously – and which is agreed by anyone who understands anything about statistics – it is not valid to compare short-resolution data with long-resolution data. The next the question is whether other proxy data show it to be warmer now than during MWP. The answer is ‘no’ (at least none of which I am aware). Marcott et al make regular reference to Mann et al 2008 PNAS. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2008/09/02/0805721105.full.pdf+html This shows a spaghetti graph of proxy studies (Fig 3). Despite the fact that there is a thick red curve of instrumental data blocking out the late proxy data, it can be seen that not one of the six proxy curves show 20th C temperatures to be higher than MWP. And not one proxy study is able to reduce current instrumental data. An explanation of why proxy data do not reproduce recent true temperatures is given in the ‘divergence problem’. Mann et al 2008 claim it impacts also non-tree ring proxies as in “the divergence problem is not limited purely to tree-ring data, but instead may extend to other proxy records.” In contrast, skepticalscience thinks its only a tree ring issue. http://www.skepticalscience.com/Tree-ring-proxies-divergence-problem.htm Further, it says “The divergence problem is unprecedented, unique to the last few decades, indicating its cause may be anthropogenic.”. So, it is known it was not a problem when temperatures were previously similar as in the MWP, and for a period when we don’t have instrumental data to compare. This conclusion is not plausible. Talking about it, speculating and saying ‘we think its recent and unique’ seems more ‘convenience’ than scientific deduction. Thus, due to the divergence problem (which could equally have occurred during the MWP), we cannot conclude the proxy data provide evidence that recent temperatures are warmer than the MWP. Anther spaghetti graph of proxy studies was given in IPCC’s AR4 report Figure 6.10. This also does not show any proxy data where recent temperatures are warmer than the MWP. The ONLY way of concluding current temperatures are warmer seems to be by splicing on the instrumental data. But, as everyone knows, proxy data are only an approximation of true temperature. This fact combined with the divergence problem means such a comparison is not scientifically valid. Now, I look specifically at a single study: Mann et al 1999 NH Temperatures during the past millennium, AGU (covering the period 1000 to 1980, northern hemisphere), from which I make the following observations: – The consensus AGW view is that the CO2 warming signature did not start before the late 1970’s. It is therefore remarkable that the paper presents unprecedented NATURAL warming (since year 1000) in the first half of the 20th C. So, after 900 years of a cooling trend, we have both a natural uptick and a man-made uptick in the same century. Not impossible, but also not very likely. – The 20th C proxy data peak (to 1980) is cooler than the error limits of the past. Thus, the proxy data on their own do not demonstrate any confidence that the 20th C is warmer. – The only way to suggest the 20thC is warmer is by adding on the instrumental data – But there are three problems here: o The error limits under represent the true uncertainty. As the paper states, “two standard error limits (shaded) are also shown”. Thus the error limits are defined by data scatter, and do not take into account (i) that any tree ring proxy is itself only an approximation of real temperature, and (ii) that the data sample size may not be representative of the total average NH temperature. Thus, the error limits are conservative and do not reflect the true error limits which must be greater. o The divergence problem, as discussed above. It is misleading to assume the divergence did not occur during MWP. Consequently, proxy data for the MWP may quite possibly underestimate true temperatures. o That proxy data are an imperfect representation of true temperature. They compare tree ring thickness to temperatures. They are useful for representing general trends such as indicating the LIA and the MWP, However, when they divert from today’s temperature by several 10ths of a degree, it just implausible to rely on their accuracy for a resolution to 0.1 degC 1000 years ago. In conclusion, we have no reliable studies (of which I am aware) that demonstrate late 20th C temperatures are higher than during the MWP. We certainly have many OPINIONS that current temperatures are warmer (including from climate scientists), but opinion is not the same as scientific deduction. As has often been said, ‘everyone is entitled to their own opinion…’ In answer to your specific question: there is no evidence to support the proposition that the Earth is warmer today than in the past 6000 years, or even since the MWP. I do not expect any concession that you agree with a single thing I say. As you suggest, further discussion will probably waste time. We would more probably agree on water issues.

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    • uknowispeaksense says:

      Enough there for a formal rebuttal. I’ll watch my RSS feed.

      Like

    • Rick Altman says:

      P.S. I think that only your last paragraph is probably correct. Most of the rest is opinion stated as fact; and almost certainly wishful thinking. Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinions. However, I think one needs to be far more self-critical when those opinions appear to pre-suppose that the vast majority of recognised experts are either misguided, mistaken or mendacious. No, you have not actually said this, but, the underlying message seems very clear: It validates the central assertion of this entire blog, which is that climate change denial resolves down to marketplace of ideas fallacy and/or conspiracy theory.

      Like

      • Quercetum says:

        Rick You say my comments validate your opinion “that climate change denial resolves down to marketplace of ideas fallacy and/or conspiracy theory. Perhaps you could indicate where my comments bear any relation to this. I have taken the time to carefully address your question supporting my comments with references and explanations. I put to you a basic question for which a simple yes or no would be sufficient. Question: When drawing conclusions about whether 20th C temperature changes are unusual, is it scientifically and statistically valid to base them on a comparison of short-resolution data (one-year for 20th C) with long-resolution data (average 120 years) in the earlier centuries? I wonder if you have the courage to answer that question. Its not rocket science or brain surgery, but relevant to most scientific disciplines. If you are a scientist and hydrogeologist, you should be very capable of relying on your own judgement rather than that of ‘other experts’.

        Like

      • Rick Altman says:

        Yes. The only people who dispute the validity of this analysis (and/or repeatedly focus on one aspect of it that appears to them to invalidate the whole thing) are those that do not want to accept responsibility for what humans are doing to this planet. This induces in them an almost pathological need to discredit anyone and anything that indicates that such a position is unwise. If I showed signs of having cancer, I would not go to a vet to find out how long I had left to live… However, I am getting tired of repeating myself and, once again, you have validated my argument for me (by admitting that you dispute the motives of expertise of others and consider your opinions to be equally valid). Any further repetitious comments from you will be treated like a suspect package in a public space – and may be taken away and destroyed. I would therefore recommend that you do not waste your time.

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