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Some fundamental issues relating to the science underlying climate policy: The IPCC and COP26 couldn't help but get it wrong.

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This presentation intended for rapid circulation reviews the Kuhnian 'normal science' approach used by the IPCC and COP26 to evaluate future risks to human existence as the result of the currently changing climate driven by the apparently increasing rate of acceleration in global warming. The IPCC's goal is to “supply the best peer reviewed knowledge available to guide responses to the climate emergency” Their 3949 page Report "Climate Change 2021 - The Physical Science Basis" fails in 3 areas because the IPCC’s peer reviewed ‘normal science’ paradigm does not meet the requirement to provide the best advice to guide action: – Peer review involves a time lag between observations and conclusions. The IPCC’s process takes years and thus misses changes within the drafting period. – Its authors downplay statements/discussions of existential dangers in the climate emergency because of ‘scientific reticence’. – The apparatus of mathematized models and prognostications are inappropriate for forecasting the Climate System’s complex dynamical system of many variables because of its non-linear and sometimes chaotic interactions. It is non-3 computable. Another approach, i.e., based on engineering risk analysis, is needed to guide actions based on the scientific evidence.
Some fundamental issues relating to
the science underlying climate policy:
The IPCC and COP26 couldn’t help but get it
[working draft 20/12/2021]
William P. Hall (PhD)
Kororoit Institute Proponents and Supporters
Assoc., Inc. -
Access my research papers from
Google Citations
Blind reliance on IPCC AR6 Physical Science report
risks global mass extinction
1. Everyone from COP26 down to the Greens assumes that the IPCC
has established realistic safe limits for continued carbon emissions
a) IPCC assumed to provide solid gold peer reviewed scientific research
i. It is as far as understanding the basic physics of the Climate System is
ii. It fails where dealing with unique aspects of the rapidly changing emergency
with our Earth’s uniquely complex dynamic Climate System is concerned.
b) Dangerously IPCC science facilitates social and governmental
complacency with its concept of a ‘carbon budget’ for ‘safe emissions’ to
stay below 1.5 °C and thus downplays the absolutely existential nature
of the climate crisis.
2. The reality is that we cannot know if there are safe limits and we
must with great urgency mobilize globally to stop carbon emissions
as close to instantly as we can achieve.
3. We will also need a global emergency mobilization to geoengineer
carbon capture and sequestration to remove a significant fraction of
the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere; and/or increase Earths
reflectivity for solar energy enough so planetary heating can be turned
into planetary cooling.
IPCC’s goal is to “supply the best peer reviewed knowledge
available to guide responses to the climate emergency”
This 3949 page Report fails in 3
areas because the IPCC’s peer
reviewed ‘normal science’
paradigm does not meet the
Peer review involves a time lag between
observations and conclusions. The IPCC’s
process takes years and thus misses
changes within the drafting period.
Its authors downplay statements/
discussions of existential dangers in the
climate emergency because of ‘scientific
The apparatus of mathematized models
and prognostications are inappropriate
for forecasting the Climate System’s
complex dynamical system of many
variables because of its non-linear and
sometimes chaotic interactions. It is non-
Peer review is important but it has significant trade-
off costs that must also be considered
Qualitative issues
Independent disciplinary review (provides quality control)
Society needs to know what knowledge claims are “safe to use”
Process creates difficulties for interdisciplinary/revolutionary work
Validates contributors’ membership in the discipline
Is this the correct measure?
Quantity vs quality
Ranking authors by number of publications, citations or journal rank
without considering content devalues the most important contributions
to knowledge
Grant award
Impedes cross disciplinary unification and/or revolutionary advances
Most valuable advances to knowledge society, but….
Most difficult (and time consuming) to author
Most difficult (and time consuming) to review
Face most difficulties from reviewers’ paradigmatic (Kuhn 1970, 1983)
Epistemological roles of the theory of knowledge in
scientific peer review
Karl Popper’s (1972) Objective Knowledge An
Evolutionary Approach
Knowledge = solutions to problems of life
Three worlds:
Physical reality (W1)
Cognition and ‘living’ knowledge (W2)
Objective / explicit knowledge and other persistent artifacts of
life (W3)
Knowledge grows through speculation, trial, error elimination
Hall (2011) argues that knowledge evolves in
knowledge-based systems (organisms/organizations)
found at several hierarchical levels of complexity
Where does peer review sit in the evolutionary
growth of knowledge (Popper 1972)
Pn is a problem situation the
living entity faces in the world
TSm are tentative solutions to
solve Pn or theories (TTs).
EE are processes of criticism
and error elimination that
selectively remove those
solutions/theories that don't
work in practice.
Pn+1 represents the now
changed problem situation
remaining after applying a
Arrows represent progress in time.
Knowledge-based entities evolve and their problems living in the the
world change from the time they encounter/observe Pn to the time
when they apply solution(s)
New solutions change Pn to Pn+1
Boyd cycle (Popper’s ideas applied to military affairs/strategic mgmt.)
Observe, Orient, Decide, Act
Role of time in constructing knowledge - each step
costs time between what is observed & acting on it
Osinga, F.P.B. 2005. Science, strategy and war: the strategic theory of John Boyd. Eburon
Academic Publishers, Delft, Netherlands [also Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group (2007)].
Hall, W.P., Else, S., Martin, C., Philp, W. 2011. Time-based frameworks for valuing knowledge:
maintaining strategic knowledge. Kororoit Institute Working Papers No. 1: 1-28.
Hall et al. 2011.
Time-Based Frameworks for Valuing Knowledge:
Maintaining Strategic Knowledge
The world we act on is never the same one we perceive.
For individual humans, actions we have to think about (i.e., not reflexes)
involve seconds to minutes between observing and acting on the observation.
For understanding evolving systems (e.g., climate), it may be years
between observing the state of the system and acting on the knowledge.
The value of knowledge will be some function of (a) the claim’s
applicability to particular circumstances and (b) its accuracy in terms of
the degree to which it reflects the true state of existence at the time
it is applied (i.e., the degree to which rational actions based on the
knowledge produce predictable results).
This value depreciates strongly with the passage of timethe time
when the knowledge was created, the time when it was last
validated, and the time when it is actually applied in organizational
actions. The longer decision and action are delayed without new
observation and orientation, the more the knowledge on which they
depend will depreciate. Such depreciation is reflected in increasing
unpredictability of the results of actions based on the knowledge.
Where knowledge contained in IPCC reports is concerned the minimal
delay contributing to depreciation will be 2-4 years!
Growth and formalization of scientific, scholarly and
technical (SST) knowledge
Hall, W.P., Nousala, S. 2010. What is the value of peer review
some sociotechnical considerations
Building the Body of Formal Knowledge involves four hierarchical
cycles of knowledge growth
Personal (“I”):
(W1) observe (W2) orient TTs (W1) EE (iterate) … or …
(articulate & share) (W2 & W3)
Collaboration Group (“We”) :
assimilate (W2) articulate express (W3) EE (W1) (iterate) …
or … (submit)
SST Discipline Members (“Them” mostly in W3):
peer review (EE) (reject/revise) … or … (publish)
Knowledge Society: use … or … evolve/revolt
Maintain, extend, test society’s Body of Formal Knowledge through use
Each step imposes bureaucratic delay such that the process is
ill suited to tracking rapidly changing emergencies!
Constructing formal knowledge from observations and
prior knowledge
10 Formal knowledge is considered “safe to use”
IPCC’s scientific quality assurance process
“All [reports] go through a rigorous process of scoping, drafting and
review to ensure the highest quality.”
Scoping: outline drafted & developed by experts nominated by governments and
observer organizations
Outline approved by panel
Governments and observer organizations nominate & select expert authors
Authors prepare 1st draft that is reviewed by experts
The second draft of the report and 1st draft of the Summary for Policy-Makers is
reviewed by governments and experts
Governments review the Summary for Policy Makers in preparation for its approval (may
suggest but not require changes)
Working Group/Panel approves Summary for Policy Makers and accepts reports.
Bureaucratic process takes around 2 years or so and is unavoidably
political. This is on top of delays already inherent in the research,
writing, review, and publication of source papers considered and used
in the scoping phase (i.e., prior BoFK).
Net result is a ‘politically’ sensitive statement regarding a rapidly changing
emergency situation concerning a real risk of human extinction where the last direct
observational evidence relating to the real world that existed two to three or more
years in the past by the time the report is formalized!
To make it abundantly clear in the IPCC’s own words!
Testing the depreciating value of the report
considering the length of the delay
In the 3949 pages of the IPCC’s 2021 Climate Change The Physical
Science Basis, published 7 August 2021, computerized searches of the
entire Report revealed virtually no mentions of Australia’s 2019-20
Black Summer wildfires, or of the growing crescendo of extents and
ferocities of wildfires on the Siberian taiga and tundra beginning 2018.
Particularly relevant here is the potential for positive feedback
between carbon emissions from the fires and the increasing
emissions from warming/burning peat soils/thawing permafrost and
increasing global temperatures providing yet more positive feedback.
The extent of delay between real world observations and IPCC
publications can be further tested by skimming chapter bibliographies,
and noting publication years of referenced papers (most of which are
themselves reviews of still older papers).
The potential impact of delays involved in any statement can be
determined by tracking strings of reference dates.
Where basic physics is concerned the delay is immaterial
Where the evolution of Earth’s unique complex dynamical climate system is
concerned such delays may lead to existentially important misunderstandings of
crises that must be mitigated if we are to avoid global mass extinction
Sociological aspects of scientific publishing especially
with regard to ‘scientific reticence’ (Kuhn 1970)
Some background terms associated
with Thomas Kuhn’s key ideas on
the social structure of scientific
Paradigm: exemplar of what is
considered to be ‘good science’
Discipline: group of researchers
following a particular paradigm
Normal science: regular work of
scientists working within a settled
paradigm or explanatory framework.
Scientific Revolution: A
discontinuous change involving the
development of new paradigms of
understanding, generally because of
incommensurability between an older
and newer paradigms addressing the
same problem space.
The compartmentalized structure of academic and institutional
science is ill suited to deal with “abnormal” phenomena
The subliminal cultural traditions of ‘normal science’ as practiced in the
departmental environments of universities and research institutions (i.e.,
academia) impairs the value of formal publications in the climate sciences about
risks we and our biosphere face from global warming
Researchers are discouraged or penalized if they stray too far beyond a
department’s paradigmatic boundaries
Scientists concerned with peer recognition, departmental advancement, and funding
avoid emphasizing or even reporting novel, controversial, or sensational findings -
especially where conclusions involve crossing paradigmatic boundaries (Brainard 2021.
Funding agency’s reviewers were biased against scientists with novel ideas); Hansen
(2017 Scientific Reticence: A Draft Discussion) gives a very personal account of how
this works, that closely parallels my own experience (Hall, Nousala 2010)
Political influences from ignorant governments in denial are unavoidable (e.g.,
Trumpist’ USA, Australian COALition, Brazil, Russia?, China?)
Governments fund most scientific research.
Not only are contributors to IPCC Reports selected/appointed by sponsoring states but
draft contributions to IPCC Reports require formal approval by state sponsors that may
also suggest (but not require) changes.
Result: IPCC methodology strongly (even if subliminally) biases reports/
recommendations to fit what the sponsoring governments want to believe
Not the kind of guidance needed to mobilize for managing and mitigating
existential risks from accelerating climate emergencies!
Properly considering the risk of global mass extinction
The tabu words that dare not be mentioned
Few humans and no governments can (or will) cope with the concept
that near-term human extinction might be a realistically possible
consequence of human activities therefore it is not considered…
Extinction: 19 hits in 3949 pages
Mass extinction:
2nd last sentence of + in title of ref document (2)
Only in title of ref documents cited in Ch 2 for other reasons (3)
Ref to changes in species diversity (local extinctions): (3)
Only in title of ref document (2)
Ref to ocean anoxia: title of ref doc. (2)
Aerosol extinction (7)
The ONE mention in 3949 pages of possible global mass extinction:
The rate, scale, and magnitude of anthropogenic changes in the climate system since the mid-20th century
suggested the definition of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene (Crutzen and Stoermer, 2000; Steffen et
al., 2007), referring to an era in which human activity is altering major components of the Earth system and
leaving measurable imprints that will remain in the permanent geological record (IPCC, 2018) (Figure 1.5). These
alterations include not only climate change itself, but also chemical and biological changes in the Earth system
such as rapid ocean acidification due to uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide, massive destruction of tropical
forests, a worldwide loss of biodiversity and the sixth mass extinction of species (Hoegh-Guldberg and Bruno,
2010; Ceballos et al., 2017; IPBES, 2019). According to the key messages of the last global assessment of the
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES, 2019), climate change
is a ‘direct driver that is increasingly exacerbating the impact of other drivers on nature and human well-being’,
and ‘the adverse impacts of climate change on biodiversity are projected to increase with increasing warming’.
The search results produced by Adobe Acrobat X
Inappropriate mathematization
IPCC reports rely heavily on mathematical modelling within paradigmatic
structures from the physical sciences of universal phenomena.
Most climate scientists come from the physical sciences and mathematics. Physics is an
‘exact’ science working with fundamental laws of nature accurately described by linear
equations where predictions give highly repeatable results.
Fundamental mismatch: Earth’s climate system is a complexly dynamical system where
most critical variables are interconnected by non-linear and sometimes/often chaotic
feedback loops. Given the intrinsically chaotic non-linearity of some important
variables, realistic modelling of climate change/evolution is mathematically intractable.
For example: methane’s atmospheric concentration is particularly critical
Source of extremely chaotic non-linear behavior.
Currently the second most important greenhouse gas and could easily become dominant.
Decomposition rates of atmospheric methane depend on the limited availability of hydroxyl
radicals produced by the photonic disassociation of water vapor molecules or ionic
halocarbons in the atmosphere; etc.
See slides 43 to 47 in Hall 2021. Portents for the future 2020 wildfires on the Siberian
permafrost for some sources of this complex non-linearity that would be non-computable in
of the Earth System models.
Organic metabolism uses & produces
methane (CH₄ ) and CO₂. Respiration
produces CO₂ and H₂O. Photosynthesis
uses CO₂ and produces O₂ and sugar.
Anaerobic bacteria metabolize CO₂
and produce CH₄.
CO₂, CH, hydrogen sulfide, and some
other simple hydrocarbon gases form
hydrates. Methane hydrate looks like
ice but burns!
Gas hydrates are quasi-inert
crystalline solids [‘ices’ that form
under pressure at low temperature]
where gas molecules are encased in
cages of water molecules.
In permafrost, close to ice/gas
phase boundaries, small temp. or
pressure changes may greatly
change the gas/hydrate ratio.
On warming, one m³ of inert
hydrate expands to ~164 m³of
methane GHG at S.T.P; hydrate
may also be metastable to warming.
If biological activity doesn’t complicate things enough, methane and CO₂ emis-
sions have complex, non-linear relationships with their own hydrates determined
by temperature, pressure, and the presence of other hydrate forming gases
Inappropriate mathematization Cont.
Climate modellers try to compensate for the intractability of climate
models by running ensembles of similar models and then statistically
summarizing the behavior of the ensemble with means, modes, standard
deviations, and so on
This is as if they were reporting the behavior of a real but somewhat noisy linear system.
However, such ensemble model systems do not include some of the more chaotic and
therefore dangerous variables, and of course do not include variables that are not
yet even recognized to exist.
Particular models are often excluded from ensembles because they sometime go
exponential and ‘run away’/’blow up’ beyond the limits of the computation. Such exclusions
avoid demonstrating critical behavioral possibilities of the real climate system from any
possibility of consideration and give the impression of computable limits to uncertainty.
Most ensemble projections limited to 2050, very few extend to 2100.
These are ‘well behaved’ within the time frame and give few hints of the kinds of ‘abnormal’
behavior expected around non-linear tipping points..
Striving for mathematical repeatability conveniently hides the
possibility there may be an existential risk beyond view.
Assuming the ensembles model reality makes discussions of ‘carbon
budgets’ seem sensible.
Not surprisingly, the selected projections give little or no hint of runaway climate flips as
discussed by Steffen et al. 2018 Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,
as demonstrated in the following extracts.
Steffen et al. (PNAS) 2018. Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene
Advertized the risk of crossing tipping point to runaway global warming
Altmetric score = 7671 (In the top 5% of all research outputs)
Fig. 1. A schematic illustration of possible future pathways of the
climate against the background of the typical glacialinterglacial
cycles (Lower Left)
Fig 2. Stability landscape showing the pathway of the Earth System
out of the Holocene and thus, out of the glacialinterglacial limit
cycle to its present position in the hotter Anthropocene.
Fig 3. Tipping cascades
As shown in Fig. 3, even Steffen et al., were
reasonably complacent about how soon this
might happen
(Click each figure to enlarge it)
Only 5 citations in AR6 to Steffen et al. 2018. Trajectories of
the Earth System in the Anthropocene (“tipping points”)
All references downplay potential risks.
(p260) Such evidence has even fuelled concerns that anthropogenic GHGs could tip the
global climate into a permanent hot state (Steffen et al., 2018). However, there is no
evidence of such non-linear responses at the global scale in climate projections for the
next century, which indicate a near-linear dependence of global temperature on
cumulative GHG emissions. [Observations of current realities suggest otherwise]
(p2051) While this assessment is limited to temperature and precipitation, such a high-
warming storyline would manifest itself also in other climate variables (Sanderson et al.,
2011) assessed in this chapter such as Arctic sea ice, atmospheric circulation changes,
and sea-level rise (Ramanathan and Feng, 2008; Xu and Ramanathan, 2017b; Steffen et
al., 2018). [Refs. All too early to see recently accelerating extremes] ¶ In summary,
while high-warming storylines those associated with global warming levels above the
upper bound of the assessed very likely range are by definition extremely unlikely,
they cannot be ruled out.
(p1230) A related matter is a tipping point: a critical threshold beyond which a system
reorganizes, often abruptly and/or irreversibly. Possible abrupt changes in the Earth
system include those related to ecosystems and biogeochemistry (Lenton et al., 2008;
Steffen et al., 2018): tropical and boreal forest dieback; and release of greenhouse
gases from permafrost and methane clathrates (Table 5.6). It is not currently possible
to carry out a full assessment of proposed abrupt changes and tipping points in the
biogeochemical cycles. In this section we therefore focus instead on estimating upper
limits on the possible impact of abrupt changes on the evolution of atmospheric GHGs
out to 2100, for comparison to the impact of direct anthropogenic emissions. [in
absence of references to today’s currently observable realities]
Steffen et al. 2018. Trajectories of the Earth System in the
Anthropocene (“tipping points”) – Cont.
(p1691) The possibility of more substantial changes in climate feedbacks, sometimes
accompanied by hysteresis and/or irreversibility, has been suggested from some theoretical
and modelling studies. It has been postulated that such changes could occur on a global scale
and across relatively narrow temperature changes (Popp et al., 2016; von der Heydt and Ashwin,
2016; Steffen et al., 2018; Schneider et al., 2019; Ashwin and von der Heydt, 2020; Bjordal et
al., 2020). However, the associated mechanisms are highly uncertain, and as such there is low
confidence as to whether such behaviour exists at all, and in the temperature thresholds at
which it might occur. [no need to mitigate risks we do not understand]
(p1725-6) There has long been a consensus (Charney et al., 1979) supporting an ECS [equlibrium
climate sensitivity] estimates of 1.5 to 4°C. In this regard it is worth remembering the many
debates challenging an ECS of this magnitude. These started as early as Ångström (1900)
criticizing the results of Arrhenius (1896) arguing that the atmosphere was already saturated
in infrared absorption such that adding more CO2 would not lead to warming. The assertion of
Ångström was understood half a century later to be incorrect. History has seen a multitude of
studies (e.g., Svensmark, 1998; Lindzen et al., 2001; Schwartz, 2007) mostly implying lower ECS
than the range assessed as very likely here. However, there are also examples of the opposite
such as very large ECS estimates based on the Pleistocene records (Snyder, 2016), which has
been shown to be overestimated due to a lack of accounting for orbital forcing and long term
ice sheet feedbacks (Schmidt et al., 2017b), or suggestions that global climate instabilities may
occur in the future (Steffen et al., 2018; Schneider et al., 2019). There is, however, no
evidence for unforced instabilities of such magnitude occurring in the paleo record
temperatures of the past 65 million years (Westerhold et al., 2020), possibly short of the
PETM excursion (Chapter 5, Section that occurred at more than 10°C above present
(Anagnostou et al., 2020). Looking back, the resulting debates have led to a deeper
understanding, strengthened the consensus, and have been scientifically valuable.
Is it right/safe/justified to downplay the risk of
rapid climate change/runaway global warming?
Fig. 3 lists 15 interconnected tipping points that might begin cascading
past critical temperature thresholds over a range of 1 3, 3-5 and 5+ ºC
above the baseline global average temperature for triggering a runaway
‘flip’ to the semistable Hothouse Earth state. We are now at ~1.2 °C.
Over the last few years to the present there is already growing
evidence that some of these tipping points have been passed
Thawing of Arctic permafrost driven by rapidly rising arctic temperatures
(Arctic amplification) - Hall 2021. Portents for the future 2020 wildfires
on the Siberian permafrost. (Steffen et al. considered thawing permafrost
to be in the 5+ ºC category and not likely to be a danger before 2100)
Increasingly frequent, extensive and fiercer wildfires including peat burning
that are speeding the release of GHG emissions including methane.
The danger has been known for some time: National Research Council
2002. Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises.
Some more recent refs: Lohmann et al. 2021. Abrupt climate change as
a rate-dependent cascading tipping point; WunderlingEtAl. 2021.
Interacting tipping elements increase risk of climate domino effects
under global warming.
Jin & Ma 2021. Impacts of Permafrost Degradation on Carbon
Stocks and Emissions under a Warming Climate: A Review
[R]esults from modeling and projecting studies on the feedbacks of
[permafrost organic carbon] POC to climate warming indicate no
conclusive or substantial acceleration of climate warming from POC
emission and permafrost degradation over the 21st century. These
projections may potentially underestimate the POC feedbacks to
climate warming if abrupt POC emissions are not taken into account.
We advise that studies on permafrost carbon feedbacks to climate
warming should also focus more on the carbon feedbacks from the
rapid permafrost degradation, such as thermokarst processes, gas
hydrate destabilization, and wildfire-induced permafrost
degradation. More attention should be paid to carbon emissions from
aquatic systems because of their roles in channeling POC release and
their significant methane release potentials
Assuming that we are still close to the thresholds of these
tipping points, it may still be possible to stop the runaway
before passing a point of no return if we can intervene to
stop and reverse the present global warming.
Irrespective of the complacency, nothing humans are
doing has slowed the accelerating rise of GHGs
With minor fluctuations, year after year the rate of change in each of
the major GHGs has been increasing
No evidence here that supposed cut in anthropogenic emissions due to
Covid has had any impact on the continued rises of all measures.
Methane is particularly worrisome
Not surprisingly, global temperatures are also continuing to rise.
Total exchangeable carbon reservoir (triangular arrow symbols): Vervoort et al.
2019 - Negative carbon isotope excursions: an interpretive framework
Carbon cycle schematic indicating pre-industrial carbon reservoirs (black) and associated isotopic values (red).
Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), marine dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), marine dissolved organic carbon (DOC),
and terrestrial biomass and soil carbon make up the total exchangeable carbon reservoir (triangular arrow
symbols). Figure adapted from Andy Ridgwell, personal communication, with reservoir sizes from Sundquist and
Visser 2005 except for methane hydrates (from Archer et al 2009b).
PgC = petagrams of carbon. 1 Petagram = 109 tonnes. There is 3 x more carbon in ‘inert’ methane
hydrates in permafrost or on continental shelves than in the atmosphere as CO2. Over 20
years methane gas is ~86 x more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.
Is runaway warming a plausible cause of mass extinction?
Chemical stratigraphy of at least two of the most damaging global mass extinctions in the
paleontological record seem to be closely associated with signs of runaway global warming.
(Benton 2018, Hyperthermal-driven mass extinctions: killing models during the Permian
Triassic mass extinction; Bond & Grasby 2016, On the causes of mass extinctions; Brand et
al. 2012, The endPermian mass extinction: A rapid volcanic CO2 and CH4climatic
catastrophe; Penn et al. 2018, Temperature-dependent hypoxia explains biogeography and
severity of end-Permian marine mass extinction; + a host of more recent publications)
Evidence appears to be strongest for the end-Permian. The Siberian Traps igneous province
emitted huge volumes of lava over hundreds of thousands of years with large volumes
spreading below ground as dykes and sills. Some intrusions contacted and set afire massive
coal measures. These may have emitted greenhouse CO₂ fast enough to trigger a global
methane spike driving temperatures still higher. The heat and byproducts in turn, caused a
die-off of coastal ecosystems that also released lethal sulfides and deoxygenated neritic
zones of the world’s oceans. The end result was the extinction of more than 90% of the
planet’s living species. Today, current temperatures and CO₂ concentrations are said to
be rising faster than they did in the lead-up to the Permian Extinction.
Other hyperthermal periods are known in the geological record that were not associated with
mass extinction. Although the temperature increases were still rapid relative to geological
time is concerned, I infer that temperatures rose slowly enough that methane did not spike
and many species had enough generations of time to adapt genetically to the changing
thermal environment.
What is a ‘methane spike’
Atmospheric decays following pulses of carbon dioxide
and methane in year 0. Kleinberg 2020. The Global
Warming Potential Misrepresents the Physics of
Global Warming Thereby Misleading Policy Makers
Radiative forcing due to a methane emission from clathrates.
Top panel: pulse emission, bottom: 50 yrs long emission
(4000 Tg CH4 at 65.1N starting in March). Red: present
conditions, green: PIH, blue: LGM. Note the different
vertical scales. Bock et al. 2012. Atmospheric impacts and
ice core imprints of a methane pulse from clathrates.
As noted in slides 19 & 20 the greenhouse gas methane has a very
complex behavior in cold moist environments around 0 °C, when it
switches between forming a basically inert ice-like hydrate/
clathrate with water (below freezing) and methane gas, which has a
global warming potential measured over 20 years around 86 x as
strong as CO₂ on a molecule by molecule basis. At its present
concentration at around 1890 ppb in the atmosphere, it accounts
for around 20% of the “forcing” that is driving global
temperatures higher. Only a small fraction of the available hydrate
methane (Slide 29) needs to be turned into gas to totally
overwhelm the forcing from CO2. Given that heating causes the
hydrate to decompose, hydrate decomposition is a powerful spike
of exponentially
positive feedback
able to drive temps
higher over a period
of a few decades
before the excess
methane decomposes.
\ as discussed in the
articles referenced
here the increase
could be 10 to 15 °C.
Luke & Cox 2021. Soil carbon and climate change: from the Jenkinson
effect to the compost-bomb instability. European Journal of Soil Science doi:
Slow Heat Loss to
If free oxygen and dispersed carbon are available in porous
soil, the carbon will oxidize to CO₂, releasing heat to heat the
soil. Aerobic respiration speeds the oxidation. Anaerobic
respiration producing methane is also exothermic. The rates of all
these reactions increase with increasing temp until the rate of
heat growth in the soil equilibrates with the rate of heat loss to
the environment. If global warming heats the environment faster
than the internal heat can equilibrate with the environment the
fast positive feedback process runs away until the system
“blows up”.
because oxida-
tion slows as avail-
able soil carbon
is used up in the
Simulation of ground temperatures
in the ‘compost bomb’ model. Above
a certain rate of global warming, v,
the model predicts an explosive
increase in soil temperatures due to
heat generated from bacterial
decomposition. The higher the rate
of global warming, the sooner the
runaway process takes place.
A principal difficulty in modeling
and predicting tipping points is the
inclusion of positive feedbacks. By
their nature, they tend to “blow up”
due to exponential growths,
especially if the physics of those
processes aren’t known with great
certainty. For this reason, climate
scientists often err on the side of
caution and do not include many of
them in climate models. The IPCC
projections, for example, do not
include feedbacks from the
permafrost. As a result, climate
predictions often underestimate
future warming.
Several studies confirm the compost bomb effect
A real world example of an emission bomb crater - Bogoyavlensky Et Al. 2021.
New Catastrophic Gas Blowout and Giant Crater on the Yamal Peninsula in 2020:
Results of the Expedition and Data Processing. Geosciences 11
Pingo-like structure seen in
satellite view 21/07/2013 Topography as plotted from
digital surface model using
stereo-optical imagry
Crater at same location photographed
from helicopter 26/08/2020
Blowout clearly dated to 15 May to
9 June (possibly 28 May to 4 June).
3D model of the ground surface and underground cavity in two
orthogonal directions (A,B) according to UAV photography (field data
Chuvilin Et Al. 2020. Conceptual models of gas accumulation in the shallow
permafrost of northernwest Siberia and conditions for explosive gas emissions.
Gas accumulation and pressure buildup in a freezing talik that are maintained by the dissociation of metastable gas
hydrates: (I) metastable gas hydrates in a sublake talik begin to dissociate under the warming effect of the lake;
(II) confined freezing talik
saturates with methane;
(III) gas in a freezing talik
undergoes cryogenic concen-
tration and induces mound
formation; and (IV) gas,
water, and soil in the free-
zing talik stratify and the
mound grows.
Stability of gas hydrates in and
below permafrost under the
thermal effect of thaw lakes:
(I) no gas hydrate dissociation,
(II) dissociation of relict gas
hydrates, (III) dissociation of
intrapermafrost gas hydrates,
and (IV) dissociation of
subpermafrost gas hydrates.
Also,runaway heating
from aerobic/anaerobic
metabolism may cause
steam explosion!
Non-linear chaos in positive feedback loops can lead
to runaway global warming in Earth’s Climate System
Material presented here shows runaway could happen at any time in the next few
decades (see esp. Lifshits et al., 2018. The role of methane and methane hydrates in
the evolution of global Climate. American Journal of Climate Change 7.
The anthropogenic
trigger passing the
Existential angst:
As individuals do we accept climate science’s warnings
and act or will we complacently downplay the risk?
The IPCC warns that
Anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases cause global temperatures to
Because of time lags in the climate system temperatures will continue to rise
for a decade or more -- even if anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are
stopped immediately
Beyond the IPCC consensus, global temperatures may be forced to a
value where ecological damage and ecosystem collapses could cause the
collapse of human society and then extinction.
A number of well funded “deniers” claim
No warming is occurring
If warming is occurring, humans have nothing to do with it
The science is wrong and is refuted by ……
There is a conspiracy among scientists to scare governments into funding
research into climate science or to invest in mitigation to make special
interests wealthy
Even the IPCC’s normal science facilitates complacency by
offering a ‘carbon budget’ for ‘safe’ action.
As individuals, who do we believe and what do we do?
Assessing risks rationally using the risk assessment
matrix ignore, mitigate or remediate?
Risk analysis is a standard tool used in engineering project management
and corporate strategy development
Aims to assess potential for unplanned costs and detriments to project that
might engender organizational losses and damage
Establish contingencies for remediation, mitigation, or avoid project entirely
We need to consider an engineering risk approach to
understanding and managing Earth’s Climate System
Risk is the probability or threat of quantifiable damage, injury, liability,
loss, or any other negative occurrence that is caused by external or
internal vulnerabilities. Many risks may be avoided through preemptive
action before or remedial action after the fact.
An existential risk poses permanent large negative consequences which
can never be undone
Where climate is concerned an existential risk is one where an adverse
outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or
permanently and drastically curtail its potential into the foreseeable
The greatest existential risk to humanity is humanity itself.
~99% of climate scientists agree that anthropogenic CO2 is warming the
planet at an unprecedented and alarming rate.
A few deniers claim that it isn’t happening; or if it is, that humans have
nothing to do with it.
Special interests (e.g., fossil fuel magnates) guide their puppet governments to
broadcast complacency or work to delay any actions against global warming in
order to protect their incomes from the carbon emitting industries.
Adding the third dimension to the climate change risk
matrix clarifies the urgent need to manage it
Where the rate of change is slow
compared to generation times of
affected organisms, natural
selection will lead to genetic
adaptation and survival.
Where the generation time is
long compared to the rate of
change, organisms die when changes
exceed their physiological limits.
When keystone species in
ecosystems disappear, complete
ecosystems are likely to collapse.
Temperatures (and associated
extreme weather) are already
rapidly increasing significantly within the life-times of forest trees, reef corals,
and large mammalian keystone species.
The accelerating speed of climate change greatly increases the extremities of a
wide range of risks that our biosphere faces from global warming
Can all tipping points be foreseen? Probably not. Some will have no precursors,
or may be triggered by naturally occurring variability in the climate system.
Some will be difficult to detect, clearly visible only after they have been
crossed and an abrupt change becomes inevitable. Imagine an early European
explorer in North America, paddling a canoe on the swift river. This river
happens to be named Niagara, but the paddler does not know that. As the
paddler approaches the Falls, the roar of the water goes from faint to
alarming, and the paddler desperately tries to make for shore. But the water
is too swift, the tipping point has already been crossed, and the canoewith
the paddlergoes over the Falls. This tipping point is certainly hard to
anticipate, but is it inevitable? No. The tipping point in this case could have
been detected by an early warning system (listening for the roar of a
waterfall), but importantly, prudence was required. Sticking closer to shore, in
other words taking some prudent precautions, could have saved the paddler.
Precaution will help us today as well, as we face a changing climate, if we are
prudent enough to exercise it. Key to this is the need to be watching and
listening for the early warning signals.
Jim White, Chair, Committee on Understanding and Monitoring
Abrupt Climate Change and its Impacts, in: “Abrupt Impacts of Climate
Change Anticipating Surprises” National Research Council (2013)
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.