10 Steps to Living on Mars

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I will forego the usual discussion of why to do this.   Let’s assume you’ve read everyone’s explanations and motivations.  Whether you agree or not I hope you will agree this is the most logical, only way we can do this.  This next sentence is critically important you understand and agree:

The current NASA program is fatally flawed and should be abandoned as soon as possible.

From the NASA website it is clear they are still focused on short term wins like human transport to Mars.  As a result a lot of the NASA focus is on new very expensive rockets and spacecraft for humans.   Their program is now proposing to build the following components:

asteroid-mission-plymouth-rock-orion-100830-02_400SLSdevelopment rockets

Human transport is extremely expensive.  It is at least 10 and maybe 100 times as expensive as unmanned missions.  This is due to the much large amount of weight that has to be carried to support life.  In addition, the testing and redundancies needed introduce massive costs as well.   The focus on manned missions is WRONG.

The first most important thing to do is to reduce the cost to get a pound of mass into orbit of the earth.   This is by far the single largest cost element of any space project.  We should have attacked this decades ago and represents the short-sighted, wrong-shortsightedness of NASA.   Without reducing the cost to lift weight into orbit the entire cost of the project is multiplied by an order of magnitude.

The NASA lift vehicles like all the sexy vehicles they’ve built in the past ARE NOT REUSABLE.  We must stop them from going down this road.

There is NO reason to rush into this.  Why are we rushing to send humans?  It’s crazy.  STOP.   There is too much to do before we even think of sending humans.   Let’s look at what those things are necessary preconditions to even considering designing a human vehicle to Mars or how we are going to lift it into orbit.

The following steps can be undertaken in parallel.  The list doesn’t imply that they have to be done in a certain order one after another although we should start them in roughly this order in my opinion.


reusable rockets falcon landing

If the Falcon re-usability can be achieved even in part, i.e. some of the rockets can be recovered the cost of going into space will fall dramatically.  We must achieve this first.   Is it any surprise this is where Elon Musk and SpaceX have focused their efforts?


Wikipedia Quote:”Based on these data sources, scientists think that the most abundant chemical elements in the martian crust, besides silicon and oxygen, are iron, magnesium, aluminum, calcium, and potassium. These elements are major components of the minerals comprising igneous rocks.[6] The elementstitanium, chromium, manganese, sulfur, phosphorus, sodium, and chlorine are less abundant[7][8] but are still important components of many accessory minerals[9] in rocks and of secondary minerals (weathering products) in the dust and soils (the regolith). Hydrogen is present as water (H2O) ice and in hydrated minerals. Carbon occurs as carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and sometimes as dry ice at the poles. An unknown amount of carbon is also stored in carbonates. Molecularnitrogen (N2) makes up 2.7 percent of the atmosphere. As far as we know, organic compounds are absent[10] except for a trace of methane detected in the atmosphere.[11][12]

We know that Mars has lots of materials we need.  It was confirmed today that Mars contains water on the surface and just below but there is also a wide variety of standard building blocks for our machines and for life.  We may find everything we need there.  We likely will because almost everything we find on earth is probabilistic-ally available on mars that isn’t of organic origin.  The organic compounds can typically be manufactured in processes we can do ourselves so the possibility to get everything we need is large.

However, like on the Earth knowing that Mars probably has stuff doesn’t mean we know where it is or how to get it and how to use it.   Without this information we must bring everything ourselves and continue to bring everything ourselves for a long time.  This represents massive additional costs and limits the size of the expedition dramatically.   Such a plan of going there before we know all this assumes NO long term plan.   It is short sighted and stupid.

diggin machine

We must send robotic ships which can dig into Mars, analyze Mars soil in numerous places around the planet.  We must have a detailed understanding of where water, CO2, key minerals and materials are.   We need at least 10 industrial type robots scouring Mars examining the planet in detail to depths of hundreds of meters in many locations.   This is 100 times more than the current mars explorer.

Curiosity can dig only a couple inches into soil, it moves at a snails pace of 3mph and has very limited energy capacity.   It is designed to run for months although it will probably be in operation for 30 years the pace of operation and learning from it is vastly too slow.   We need to step up to much larger robotic and more powerful, i.e. bigger energy sources.   This will be critical for any human exploration and use of Mars anyway so it is critical we do this.   We also need them to be autonomous largely.  How convenient we are building autonomous cars now.   That technology is critically needed for these machines.

This is such a huge endeavor we cannot even think of manned missions at this time.  It’s crazy.  We need serious exploration if we are going to go there and spend many billions to do so and not waste that money completely.



There are lots of useful materials for plants to live on mars.  Of course plants need CO2 as well as minerals in the soil.  They cannot be exposed to the limited atmosphere of mars any more than humans.  After we figure out what is on Mars we can figure what we need to bring with us or have resupplied.   We need to figure out how to protect plants and potentially animals from radiation and the limited atmosphere.  We need to come up with biospheres to support and automate most of the growing process and farming and to protect plants, animals and humans.    We already do a lot of that on Earth with farming machines.   We need to adapt machines and technologies.  It’s not science fiction.  This is almost certainly doable but if it isn’t then there isn’t much point to making a tourist stop on Mars just for the heck of it.  If it’s not viable it isn’t viable and not having the ability to live off Mars for food and basics is critical.  We need to figure out how to do this BEFORE WE SEND HUMANS.



This step involves protecting humans from radiation, understanding gravity impacts on humans or animals or plants, understanding long term needs that we may not understand due to our continuous presence in a resource rich world that is designed and evolved around us.   We don’t know what things we may need so we need to study how to potentially live a long time in this difficult environment.

Underground may be the most viable possibility.    If so, we are going to need digging machines to excavate large caverns and then coat the surface with materials to prevent air escape.   The soil would protect humans during most of the time from the radiation until we devise other means.


I am not saying we need to do each of these 4 things above perfectly.  We have to be able to guarantee that no matter what: any expedition to Mars will have the resources and ability to last 20 years and support 20-100 people.   This means that we need to do a lot more work on the basics of space exploration and robotics, automation and remote manufacturing.  We need to study life in these environments.   This will take time and many more missions.   Probably 100 missions to space and many to Mars.  Many will have to occur simultaneously.

With current costs/mission, the lack of re-usability these 100 missions would be incredibly expensive.   This is why STEP ONE is SO important.

I am guessing we need 100 missions to study deploy technology discover and these missions spread over 10 – 20 years.   Sometime in this period we will decide where the first colony should be.

Let’s continue the list.



This is nontrivial.  Unlike Curiosity where we did some research to make a choice where to land we need to understand what is going to be existent where we land, what is going to be close, what is farther away and have figured out how we are going to live in that specific place.   In order to do that we need a lot more information on Mars, hence the missions before to figure out where everything is and how to use that stuff.   We will likely decide on a place and after studying it and exploring decide on a different place.

STEP 6 – PRE-PLACE enough material for multiple redundancy and extended stay

missions to mars

The human race has sent 35 missions to Mars.   We may need to send 200 UNMANNED missions to mars before we send a manned mission.   Each of these will be FAR LARGER than the missions we did before. These 200 missions to Mars may be accompanies by 1000 launches from earth.   These missions would serve many purposes outlined in this 10-step program.

We should launch possibly as many as 100 missions whose sole purpose will be to put materials in place at designated locations we need materials.   We need robots, supplies, manufacturing and processing, energy capture and generation and storage devices.  A network for power, communications and materials. Everything must be replicated at least 5 times what is needed for 10 years stay in my opinion.

NASA has traditionally done manned systems with 5 times replication.   The idea is that you need a backup, but you also need a backup of the backup and the problem is that the complexity of providing backup, the problems that sometimes crops up means you need essentially voting and the ability if the voting is a problem to use a completely separately designed and operating system.   In a similar way, all resources must have a source, a backup source, a backup to the backup and if that fails a completely different resource that can do the same thing done by a completely different team.  So, we need many different kinds of devices, multiples of those devices for backup.   We need a lot of missions to make this all happen and studying to figure out what to send.

We won’t have time to send something up in an emergency.  Transit time to Mars is 9 months ideally but that assumes certain windows when Mars and Earth are lined up.  In general it could take years from a random point in time to get to Mars.    So, the colony must have a massive backup capacity.

This means the cost will be huge unless we do STEP ONE.  Remember we must stop NASA from building non-reusable rockets or doing anything with manned vehicles anytime soon!


This is NOT it:


This is more like it:

space station

Before we go to Mars it is extremely likely it makes sense to have a space platform of some sort.  We would want this to stage missions, build larger craft or to test some of our Mars assumptions and equipment.   It would be best to build such a space station at a Lagrangian point.   This is a place where the gravity of the earth and moon balance so that a body located there will be balanced and not need additional thrust to maintain its position.  This allows much longer term missions which we have to assume with this whole effort.  For many reasons a space station makes sense.   This space station should spin to give at least roughly Mars gravity.  This would validate that Mars gravity is fine for living as well.


Whether or not we permanently stay on Mars we should not go if we aren’t going for an extended period. There is a lot to study and do.  Mars is the closest thing we will ever have to a viable second home for humans.  There is hardly any planet within light years of Earth that is more hospitable.  This is it.  There are no real alternatives so Mars is a major commitment and responsibility.    We shouldn’t go in my opinion until we are ready to make a commitment of this magnitude.   It’s a complete waste of money and time to simply go there and back in a year or two and declare success like we did for the moon.  Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past.


  1. Atmospheric Engineers
  2. Materials Engineers
  3. Physicists
  4. Pilots
  5. Programmers
  6. Mechanical Engineers
  7. Doctors, Nurses
  8. Psychologist
  9. Biologists

Studying Mars will take scientists of many types as well as practical people who can engineer and fix things, keep things working.   We need enough people so there is variety and people won’t go crazy.   If we need space for so many people we need larger habitats, possibly multiple delivery missions for the people.    We need entertainment, activities for people to live and play.   We need to assume normal relationships will develop and fights or problems between people will develop.


The efforts goal should be to determine the way to attain long term viability.   If we don’t plan to occupy the planet for the long haul I don’t see why we would go.   Therefore, we must plan that the goal of the team is to constantly work towards long term viability.  They must work to find ways to use the resources of the planet more and more and to use less and less of Earths resources.   Part of the rationale for long term habitation is as a “backup” for the human race.   While that seems ridiculous now the hope is that in 100 or 200 or more years we will be in a position to make Mars more livable.  This may involve terraforming or larger scale permanent settlements.


When you think of man’s greatest achievement in my mind it is simply obvious.  We have bootmarks on the surface of the moon.   I know I have derided our moon landings but that is because we have retreated.  We can only say that man at one time had the capacity to transport himself to another planet and step on it.   It is the culmination and proof that we are advanced able to leverage our technology for more than our daily support.   We are able to imagine a future where humans occupy more than one ball, where humans have gone to the next level.

Maybe we can’t achieve this goal.  If we don’t commit to it, then I think we shouldn’t attempt it.  Such things are giant wastes of money.   The approach I have outlined is a step by step approach and we are not committed to manned occupation until some time down the road.   We keep the costs low by developing the cheapest way to get mass in to space and then we focus on the machines and research to understand how to do it for real.

I don’t want a play effort.  I don’t want us to go there and realize we never planned on staying and wonder why we went there like with the moon missions.

Other Articles you may find interesting:

Why space travel? Why go to mars? What is US Goal for Space Exploration?

Continuing Predictions and thoughts of the future Part V Space Travel

Does extraterrestrial life exist and will humans meet them some day? Part III how rare is life?

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In this series

Part I – Goals for our desire to understand and find extraterrestrial friends

Part II – how big is our search area?

Part III – what are the problems in finding life

 Part IV the equations 

Part V  the conclusions

Now that we’ve considered the goals that are possible and how many possible places we might look let’s look at the probability of finding something.   Below are some of the variables in various equations to determine the probability we will succeed.

Let’s start with the variable Ne the first of the really unknown and highly variable quantities:

Ne = Fraction of planets that are suitable for life to develop

Ne 18.75%
50% being in galactic zones with suitably low radiation and collision with other
75% high star metallicity
50% protected from high bombardment of asteroids
50% %age of stars existence planet is viable ( or millions of years habitable)
other factors may impact this percentage including some people who believe high angular tilt of a planet is important or a moon that provides tides
2 Number of planets in a typical star system that are in Habitable zone

The values for this parameter are all over the map.  Some estimate it at close to 100% pointing out that life emerged on earth about as soon as it could and life exists in many different stressful environments but the fact is the universe is a hostile place to life.  Life needs to establish a toehold and the conditions for that are difficult no matter how you look at it.   I believe many scientists have not really considered how much may be needed to make a planet even suitable for life.   Consider that mars has the right sun, the right heat approximately, it has water and many minerals.   At one point it had lots more heat and atmosphere.  We still have found no signs of life.

We know that many parts of the galaxy are extremely high radioactivity and are much “busier” than our world.   Such things cannot be good for life.  Catastrophic events may occur far too frequently.  Colliding star systems, radiation bursts, exploding stars means that a fraction, maybe 50% of the galaxy is a decent neighborhood to evolve life.    In order for the planets of a star system to be viable they need a lot of chemicals for nature to play with.   Many stars don’t have higher proton count elements in abundance.   It seems that you need a sun with a high metallicity.  About half of suns have this from what we’ve observed.

The planetary system must evolve.  In the early parts of our solar system gases were congealing and asteroids were smashing into things constantly.  This means that during a significant part of the 5 billion years (possibly half) even the earth was not in a position to be a host planet.     One of the advantages we have is a magnetic field.   No other planet we know in the solar system has such a high magnetic field as the earth.   Our magnetic field protects us from harmful levels of solar and interstellar radiation.  We don’t know the reason for our magnetic field precisely and therefore how rare it is but I would say an optimistic assesment is that 75% of potential planets don’t have enough magnetic field.   Life has lived in hostile cosmic ray environments.   It has been shown that some forms of cells have evolved extremely powerful nucleus DNA protective measures that survived periods of extreme radiation on earth.   So, it may be irrelevant.  Maybe we simply would have evolved with thicker skin but it certainly makes life a lot harder to have lots of stuff banging into your molecules from outside with high energy.

It is also very possible that for life to evolve beyond the most primitive other conditions need to prevail that “push” evolution along.   Plate tectonics is an outlier but the movement of the plates has encouraged spreading of biology from one area of the earth to another and separated species at times to evolve differently.

Periodic catastrophic events are probably crucial to higher evolution.    As in the brain there is a 2 layer system at work here.   At first you need stable environment for plants and animals to adapt and grow.  However, things may stop evolving and settle in too stably.

It seems apparent that periodic mass extinctions or stressors are needed to mix things up, force evolution to be crafty to work its way around obstacles and invent new things.   In this way periodic stresses “filter out” possibly and force evolution to be creative.

A recent MIT article shows that after catastrophic extinction events evolution accelerates diversity.  This makes complete sense possibly for multiple reasons.  One is simply mathermatical.  Mutations that occur once a lot of competitive species have been eliminated are more likely to survive.  So, that the successful species that survive find they are able to have all kinds of successful progeny that might not have worked before.  We have also found that some animals that are stressed are able to produce offspring with more copies of DNA resulting in greater mutations and variety.  This is an environmental effect on evolution we didn’t think was possible before.  It seems the animal once it is stressed remembers this and produces the variation even a long time after the stressful event.

The last catastrophic species wipeout happened about 65 million years ago and an explosion of life that followed was very much more advanced leading to human beings.  It is quite unknown and possibly unlikely that humans would have evolved at all without that final shot.   It was important for this disaster to happen when the DNA evolution had reached the point that the jump to more advanced brainy creatures could evolve.

It is also thought that certain environments associated with the earth like tidal pools are ideal locations for chemicals to mix it up and try different combinations.  Deep undifferentiated water may not provide the varied environments needed for life to emerge beyond the most primitive.

All in all, whether or not I have picked the right conditions needed for a “successful” planet for life the fact is we have examples here locally that show that even with a lot of conditions right life doesn’t just pop out.   The counterpoint to that which a lot of scientists use is that life emerged on the earth within 50 million years of when it was remotely possible.   This says that given these “ideal” conditions life will emerge pretty reliably but I think many people have not considered how “ideal” the earths condition was compared to other planets.


Kepler was a satellite that looked for planets around other suns.   It was an incredibly successful satellite.  Kepler detected 31 planets that are earth-like.   Amazingly Kepler was able to detect these at a surprisingly far distance.    Kepler detected planets that are the right size, in the right zone of its star to be warm and similar to the earth from 12 LY (Light Years) to 1250 LY from earth.  Kepler has died but the success has spawned interest in following missions which could be vastly better and new techniques.

The Seager experiments coming up are an offshoot of this.   Seager proposes to detect not only planets but to measure the gases in the atmospheres of planets to detect those that may be suitable for life and even the possibility we will detect gases whose only possible origin we believe would be living things.   As we build the James Webb telescope and other satellites we will refine more and more our ability to peer out.   I expect that we will have at least 3 orders of magnitude and maybe much more ability to detect planets, gases and even eventually see worlds in other solar systems without having to travel there.

In addition, we must consider that the sun gets hotter every year.  Over the next 10 million years the sun will get hot enough that it will potentially trigger catastrophic global warming on the earth. We may want to consider moving the earth farther from the sun.   It would be a good idea to do this gradually.  :)   Some have speculated we should migrate to mars because it will be more suitable for life in some millions of years.   It’s not as far off as some imagine.

Other solar systems where life has not gotten to the point that it can consider moving the planets around or migrating populations will find that the window for life in that solar system has gone by.  So, again there is another condition on the planets viability.  Is it in the right time period in evolution of its star to support life.

Conclusion:  Ne = 0.00125   i.e. only 1 in a 1000 planets is truly suitable for life to evolve to beyond microbe level

Fl = Fraction of planets that develop multi-cellular life

Fl 9.75%
 50% single to multi-cellular jump
75.00% enough catastrophic events of right type
50.00% magnetic field for protection from cosmic rays
25.00% original conditions for life exist (possible panspermia)

I have slightly changed this parameters definition from simply anything that could be classified as life to a more substantial requirement that life get to multi-cellular development.   I do this because we may look for planets where there is life.  If so, we would be interested mainly in planets with something more than microbes.    Those may be common in the galaxy.  We are looking for planets where life can get beyond single cellular and eventually to megafauna.   So, I have made this parameter a little more demanding.

There is some evidence that Mars may still harbor single cellular life.  The viking orbiter detected signs that when water was placed in a sample of Mars soil an exponential production of methane and other gases known to be biologic byproducts occurred.   A recent re-analysis of that data shows even more convincingly that the reaction of Mars soil to water  does contain life.   The viking took martian soil and sterilized it by exposing it to high temperatures.   After putting water into this soil the reaction was vastly different than the un-sterilized soil.   A statistical analysis showed a very high probability that the behavior of the martian soil was consistent with biologic life.    Comparison with terrestrial soil showed a high correlation with the behaviors of the martian soil.  This is not proof but if life does exist on Mars no matter how insignificant it means a lot of these probabilities we are guessing above may be pessimistic.   The existence of life on 2 planets so close would be evidence that life is not so rare.   At least life getting to a single cellular level may be very common for planets in a suitable “habitable zone” with a suitable sun.   The parameter above may be much closer to 1 than suggested.

It is unknown how rare the initial conditions are for life to evolve.  Does there need to be a special set of chemicals in a special place?  Does there need to be a combination of events?  I have given the probability that 90% of the time whatever original conditions are needed don’t happen.   There is a theory that through the conscious effort of another intelligent species or through random luck DNA fragments or other primordial soup components are delivered to the earth from outside.   This theory is called panspermia and is a leading theory for how life emerged on the earth.   We know that something like 10lbs of rocks are exchanged with mars and vice versa annually on average.    So, there is a lot of interchange and if life exists on one planet in a solar system even for a brief time it will likely spread to other planets that are viable.  The fact that contamination of mars hasn’t resulted in life on mars to our knowledge is evidence that Ne isn’t as big as some scientists think it is.   However, if panspermia is needed it does reduce the probability of initial conditions being right because these “life bombs” probably happen rarely.  If they are indeed gifts from a far off civilization then the number would be infinitesimal because they cannot possibly populate many worlds with this seed soil.   Hopefully if it is another intelligent species they have carefully chosen the worlds they send the soup of life.  If it isn’t intelligent benefactor then the rudiments of life may evolve on interstellar objects and then fall on the earth or similar with asteroids extrasolar objects from living planets could possibly find their way to earthlike planets to fall on them.

In the Ne case I didn’t include the catastrophic events although I mention how they may be crucial.   Here I include that besides a planet needing to have a number of conditions to be viable it also needs to have the possibility of right sequence of catastrophic incidents, not too often, not too rarely.

We don’t know how long or difficult it is for single cell creatures to evolve to multi-cellular.  In principal this is a huge step.   It is not entirely obvious to me why single cellular creatures would figure out how to work together.   It may take far longer on some planets than others.  It took about a billion years here.  It could be 10 billion on other planets.   Since most suns will become inhospitable after some range of the suns existence the chance for life goes away if the evolutionary steps per chance take too long in some solar systems.

Fl  = 0.0125 only roughly one in 100 planets which are suitable for life actually evolve multi-cellular life forms or megafauna

Fi = Fraction of planets where life evolves to sentient intelligent species

Fi 4.5563%
50% sufficient resources or viability to get to agricultural
90% sufficient brain size ever obtained
90% netwon happens
50% not too violent/unstable
50% do not destroy their environment / use resources
50% no catastrophic event
90% no strong memes prevent advancement

I have changed this parameter as well.   I believe that Drake intended this to be simply species that have some level of intelligence.  That could mean anywhere from monkey or elephant level to neanderthal.   I am putting a greater requirement.   I am saying what is the chance the particular species has achieved at least say 800AD intelligence, has gotten an agricultural society.

There are many things that might stop life from evolving past multi-cellular / megafauna level to this intelligent level.  I have already mentioned there needs to be multiple catastrophic events most likely to kick start evolution but not too many or too difficult.   One thing that Jared Diamond who wrote the book Guns, Germs and Steel is that in order for humans to finally make the transition to agriculture and start to develop science and math required there be enough plants with high enough caloric content that could be easily farmed.  Also, the existence of domesticable animals that could be employed to help was critical.   This is observed by looking at the places where civilization emerged separately on the earth.   Jared points out that frequently societies don’t make it past a minimal level of intelligence before destroying their environment or using all the resources.  There has to be enough resources to allow a civilization to grow to develop the technology so that at each stage it doesn’t destroy the environment before it innovates out of the problem.  We also don’t know how special people like Newton are that may have that aha moment.  Possibly on some other planets they never emerge from primitive civilization to scientific civilization.

There is a question of does this parameter measure if a species emerges from a primitive agricultural society to a more scientific society.  If it makes it to that then presumably it will achieve creating signals to the extra solar environment so it is tricky where we draw the line from monkey level intelligence to pre-scientific to scientific civilization.

It is possible that a smart creature evolves but that its brain is 30% smaller than humans.  Would that creature ever make it to intelligence we call intelligence?  Is the size of our brain because of requirements in nature or pure luck?  Is it relevant?   Even if a species could make it to intelligent scientific culture does a catastrophic event happen that takes it out before it goes far.

Our brains are full of evolutionary memes.   These things control our behavior and make us believe in god or to belong to groups.  If the memes of the creature are too strong it may never be able to get beyond the most basic level of advancement.

I don’t know if these are all requirements or what other things might impede such development.  However, I believe there are things that would impede our development to an intelligent society.

Fi = 4.6% or 1 in 20 megafauna like planets eventually develop an agricultural semi-scientific society capable of rudimentary science.

Fc = Fraction of Civilizations that develop communication technology and actively send messages

Fc 6.25%
50% They aren’t hiding
50% They’re not communications are on frequencies we aren’t looking
50% They’re communications are likely to look like random noise
50% They use mechanisms we don’t search – quantum, highly focused light or fiber optics

Assuming a species on some planet has gotten inteligent and is at the 800AD level it needs to develop really to the 2000 level of scientific advancement at least and beyond.  It may or may not need to actually transmit signals to us.  The energy output of our radio waves we’ve been putting out would not go very far in stellar terms.   If we hope to be found we would need to make an effort to send a cohesive signal to the rest of our neighboring planets.

Lots of civilizations may decide they never want to do that.   They may decide they are scared of meeting us or not interested.  They may hide.  I am going to assume that they aren’t but I believe this parameter could be a lot worse for us than the 95% I put in.   Essentially I am saying only 1 in 20 civilizations such as ours decides NOT to broadcast itself.

More significant there are problems with communication.   Unless they are sending signals to external places specifically it is likely they will maximally encrypt and compress any communications they do.   We are getting better and better at that.   What this means is that for someone peering at our signals the signals appear more and more to be essentially random data.  It becomes harder and harder to “discover” if a signal is random or real data from someone intelligent.

Another big issue I have is that intelligent species may learn new ways to communicate which don’t use the frequency spectrum we think is useful.  For instance, future civilizations may do all their communications on fiber optics type cables.  They may choose a completely different mode of signaling possibly using gravity waves or some form of quantum teleportation that is impossible to intercept or see and is instantaneous communication (theoretically impossible to do exactly like this.)    They may be using frequencies that are beyond what we are looking for.   Altogether I believe there is much higher probability that we simply are not looking in the right places or cannot look.

Fc = 6% or 1 in 16 civilizations are communicating in a way we can discover


If you compare my numbers above to numbers used by most people who have studied this you will see my numbers are MUCH LESS than theirs.  Most people are more optimistic.   I hesitate to say that because I am not being pessimistic at all.   I am simply expounding all the possible gotcha’s in finding an intelligent species.   It’s apparent to me after doing this that the probability of finding an intelligent species communicating is less than I’d assumed it might be.

When you look at each of these parameters by themselves and don’t think about all the things that could go wrong there is a tendency to extrapolate from our experience.  So, many astronomers or scientists will conclude that the possibility of life is very high because it evolved so robustly on earth.  We tend to think if we are typical then maybe other solar systems have a similar situation.

The fact is when we look out we see there are MANY other possibilities.  There can be stars in extremely inhospitable regions of the galaxy where stupendous scale events are happening all the time.   I have documented some of the things that could go wrong.  Something as simple as having plants that are nutritious enough that an intelligent species can afford to give up hunter gathering to farming was pointed out by Jared Diamond as a precondition to agricultural society.  Barley was one of the only plants that grew that without modification produced enough caloric content for us to sit down, specialize and do more than hunt every day for the next meal.

The only thing working in our favor is the sheer numbers of stars.   They number in the billions thank god.

Does extraterrestrial life exist and will humans meet them some day? Part II the size of the galaxy

Posted on Updated on


In this series

Part I – Goals for our desire to understand and find extraterrestrial friends

Part II – how big is our search area?

Part III – what are the problems in finding life

 Part IV the equations 

Part V  the conclusions

The universe is vast beyond vast.   Even a few short years ago we thought the universe was about 13-14 billion light years across.   We thought there were maybe 100 billion galaxies with an average 100 billion stars each.    We now know the universe is at least 150 billion light years across maybe much much more, possibly infinite and that each galaxy may have closer to a trillion stars.    In a few years the size of our universe has exploded and so the possibility of life however remote it might be in the milky way galaxy we can estimate that in the universe the probability of life is virtually 1.0.

In fact, scientists postulate that if the universe is very large there are so many galaxies there is another you on some planet similar to earth composed of virtually the same characteristics.  This is a variation on the many worlds theory of quantum mechanics but different in which an infinite variety of you’s is around.  So, don’t worry about making a mistake.  Some other version of you is doing it right.     This has been called Quantum immortality for the quantum version of parallel universes.

The distance to another galaxy is so large that it is impossible using any technology we can even imagine to traverse these distances so a lot of what we see in the night sky is no different than the celestial sphere for all practical purposes that the Greeks posited.  So, because of this distance it is completely irrelevant that the probability is 1.0 of other sentient living creatures in the universe is 1.0.   For practical purposes we must limit our thinking down to the part of our galaxy we can possibly observe in detail and have any hope of communicating or traveling to.   This puts very strict limit on the number of stars and planets that is relevant from the point of view of finding life.

So, let’s confine ourselves as Drake did to the much much much smaller milky way galaxy.   Over the last 30 years or so we have gathered a lot of information on suns and what solar systems look like in general.   So, let’s look at some of the information we have on suns.

First let’s look at how far we might be able to go or see with our technology today and in the future so we know how big our universe is from a practical point of view.    Here is a rough estimate of how far and how long we could travel with different technologies.

Technology Based Capabilities Todays Tech 2100 Tech Forever
Light Years Light Years Light Years
Detectable Signals 10,000 160,000 15,000,000,000
We can Transmit to them 1,000 10,000 10,000,000
We can send an automated probe 5 17 200
We can go as humans 0 5 17


We are talking a minimum of 4+ light years to the closest star.   So, the minimum distance is 5 light years to a set of a few stars closeby.

It’s important to understand that the fastest humans have ever travelled in space is roughly 30,000 miles per hour.   This may seem like a high speed but it the speed of light is 22,000 times faster so if we could maintain our fastest speed to date it would take 100,000 years to reach the CLOSEST star system.  Fortunately, we can beat our current highest speed pretty easily if we tried.  Obviously to make travel to star systems we would need to go at least 1,000 times faster than the fastest we have ever gone before.   That may seem crazy but we have technology which theoretically could achieve speeds on that order of magnitude that we could build today.  This gives you an idea of how vast space is that if we can go 1,000 times faster than we ever have before we will get to the closest star system in 100 years.    We likely need to find a way to go 10,000 to 100,000 times faster than we have today.  That’s harder but also doable theoretically.

We may be able to send an automated probe today to the closest stars.   We can send an electromagnetic signal today to a star possibly up to 1,000 light years away if we tried really hard and we have lots more room for improvement in our telescopes as well.   We may be able to detect some form of signal potentially up to a 100,000 light years away.   These are swags with some assumptions I won’t go into detail at this time but they underlie the basic assumptions of how far out we can imagine looking and visiting or communicating with.

By the year 2100 we might improve things substantially and reach 17 light years away with automated probes.   To do so would require developing technology that could easily go a large fraction of the speed of light.  It seems very possible we could do this by the end of the century.  If we can do that we might be able to sustain travel for decades to get ourselves physically to star system 5 light years away.

After 2100 and what we ultimately might be able to do is pure speculation.  It depends on the evolution of our understanding of physics.  The good news is that this is less limiting than one might guess.   There is a lot of uncertainty about underlying basics of reality to the extent I think we can say we don’t honestly know what is possible.    The more we learn about the real world the more perplexing things we find and the more it seems as if we are only at the beginning of understanding the true possibilities.  So, we can leave that a little more flexible.  Unfortunately, there is no relevance to that for us today.  So, it makes no difference one way or another.  All we can focus on is what is possible today and soon, maybe by 2100.

There is no dramatic change in our knowledge of physics required for us to build spaceships to make the 17 light year travel.  It is simply a matter of building a number of spaceship designs that seem feasible today.   I assume over time we build amazing telescopes and other instruments in space to radically improve our ability to see and sense the stars around us.
Here is some of the technology we might use and their capabilities in terms of how many years it would take to use them to talk to stars with different distances from us.   I assume that for human travel we are only going to be motivated by travel times measured in small numbers of decades at most.  We might be willing to have a conversation with a species that was a little farther out than that.

Travel Time
Distance from Sol 5 17 50 100 250 500 160,000 Light Years
Rocket NA NA NA NA NA NA NA 1/1/1950
Ion 36 NA NA NA NA NA NA 1/1/1998
Nuclear 18 66 NA NA NA NA NA 1/1/2020
Bussard Ramjet 9 33 100 200 NA NA NA 1/1/2040
Reactionless 9 33 100 200 NA NA NA 1/1/2040
Lightspeed 5 17 50 100 250 500 160,000 1/1/2100
Space Warp/Wormholes (assume 100x speed of light) 0.045 0.165 0.5 1 2.5 5 1600 1/1/2100

Eventually in the future several technologies may make travel times better.   One way would be once we have a post out in some solar system a hundred or 200 light years away we could transmit our “selves” (a digital representation of ourselves anyway) at the speed of light to the solar system.   Once we got there we would have to be reconstituted.  This assumes this is possible   If we can’t do that then we will require development of technology that exceeds the speed of light which so far is as speculative or more than sending your consciousness over a coded signal.   So, the distance for human travel may be in the 100 light year capability frame if we can do that.

So, how many stars are within these distances from earth?

Distance from Sol 5 17 50 100 250 500 160,000 Light Years
# of visible suns 3 74 650 4,644 260,000 2,000,000 100,000,000,000
# of all suns 3 74 1,000,000,000,000
# of our type suns (F and G) 2 8 101 815 45,629 350,991 17,549,526,270
# of planets total
# of planets in habitable zone 17,000,000,000
# of planets actually discovered that are in HZ 1 5 13 14 15 16 31
# of planets discovered atmosphere
# of planets discovered bio sign gases TBD TBD TBD TBD TBD TBD TBD

This chart shows you that there are only 3 suns within 5 light years of earth.   It is unlikely we will find any more suns than we are aware of today.  We have not seen any planets other than the earth in this 5 light years that is habitable to life forms, could have life.  It is extremely unlikely that any planets in these 3 suns has intelligent life but there may be additional planets and even life.  It’s possible.

Within 17 light years there is considerably more possibilities.  We know of 74 suns in this range. At least 8 or more of those suns could be of the type that would be possible to harbor planets that are habitable.   Unfortunately so far with all our efforts looking for planets we have discovered only 5 planets in that range that are “viable” life planets that are in the right size or range to have a warm life giving environment like the earth.   Not bad for a start.  I assume when we get into Kepler Phase II we will discover more.  (More on Kepler later).

We have discovered 31 potentially livable planets but remarkably only half of them are even within 250 light years from earth.   Since there are at least 260,000 suns in this range from earth there is the possibility for many thousands of habitable planets.   This is our star trek reality.  For at least the next 100 years we are going to be limited to most likely planets within about 17 light years from earth which is the 74 stars we have seen.   We might venture to explore at least telescopically beyond that but beyond 250 light years seems pointless.  Besides the unbelievably long time period to communicate all we can hope to do with that distance is similar to what SETI is doing which is to look for long distant signs of intelligent life.  We are not limited to 250 light years for that.  We can look out thousands of light years for that but it is a fact that the farther out we look the harder and less likely we will see a signal.

Some people classify civilizations based on their total energy generation ability.   We are considered a class II civilization able to generate almost planet level energy.   Class III can generate sun level energies and Class IV can generate galaxy level energy.  Who knows if these things exist but it is useful to categorize as then we can decide if we will be able to see them with our telescopes.   If we ever get to these higher levels then we could do a lot more in terms of our ability to both transport ourselves around as well as see things.

It is clear that even talking about our galaxy is a stretch.  The galaxy is 300 times wider than we could ever ever hope to traverse.   So, when considering what percentage of the galaxy to concern ourselves with we are talking 1 : 1,000,000th of the galaxy at least as far as any useful amount of the galaxy for us to think about.

We may out of luck see things farther out than that but any communication would be a one-way essentially forever.   That may be useful from a Drake equation point of view but for any other goal it is not useful to think of anything outside this area.

Other Possibilities

It is fun to speculate on the possibilities of the far future just to orient ourselves.  It is not reasonable to expect any of these to come about any time soon.

  1. There may exist multiple worlds according to 4 different theories in 4 different ways.  It seems impossible to traverse to any of these worlds but it is theory
  2. 96% of the universe around us is invisible to us.  Could this contain life or intelligent life right here in the same room?
  3. There is a level of physics at energies far too high for us to probe that implies a universe of reality 10 to the 33 times smaller than us.   We believe the ultimate discreteness of time in the universe is 10^-43 seconds.   So, it is possible for some form of intelligence or life to exist at some ultra micro level that we can’t observe possibly operating at speeds beyond our comprehension.
  4. Ultimately, intelligence is all the same.  We may simulate it in a computer and we may find all the companionship or issues with artificial intelligence that we would ever find with regular intelligence
  5. We may accelerate the intelligence of existing living things (monkeys, dogs,…) or even create new living things eventually that are intelligent.
  6. If we learn how to copy ourselves into digital form then we may transcend the physical reality of our world and operate in a virtual world thinking, playing and possibly other civilizations have done the same thing which is why we don’t see them.

These are just some of the things that boggle the mind and give pause.

Does extraterrestrial life exist and will humans meet them some day? Part IV – The Equations

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In this series

Part I – Goals for our desire to understand and find extraterrestrial friends

Part II – how big is our search area?

Part III – what are the problems in finding life

 Part IV the equations 

Part V  the conclusions

Part IV The Equations

We have identified 6 worthwhile goals.  

1)  Find a signature signal from an intelligent species

2)  Find answers to the variables in Drakes equation

3)  Find a possible alternate home

4)  Find a place to spread our seed if not our physical bodies

5) Have a conversation with another intelligent species

6) Create alternate intelligent life on earth

I realize this blog may be more mathematical and abstract than some people want to get into.  In that case you can pass to the next and final chapter of this series.


There are 2 equations that have been introduced over the last 50 years to describe the possibilities of most of these goals.     The Drake Equation and more recently the Seager equation.

The Drake Equation

  • N is the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which we might hope to be able to communicate

drake equation

  • R* is the average rate of star formation in our galaxy
  • fp is the fraction of those stars that have planets
  • ne is the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
  • fl is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
  • fi is the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
  • fc is the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
  • L is the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space

The Seager Equation: 

  • N is the number of planets with detectable biosignature gases

seager equation


  • N* is the number of stars within the sample
  • FQ is the fraction of quiet stars
  • FHZ is the fraction with rocky planets in the habitable zone
  • FO is the fraction of observable systems
  • FL is the fraction with life
  • FS is the fraction with detectable spectroscopic signatures

Corollaries to Drake Equation:

The Drake equation is actually missing a critical parameter which is

  • D is the effectiveness of our search

I also wish to define these additional quantities:

  • Ns is the number of stars in the region we are looking

  • Ll is the number of years that living things exist on a typical planet

  • Li is the number of years sentient creatures exist on a planet

  • N is the number of advanced civilizations we will detect

N = R* x Fp x Ne x Fl x Fi x Fc x L x D

The additional variables we need to know to come up with an alternate version of Drake or Seager for a region of space and for different questions are as follows:

  • N* is the number of stars we will observe in our survey

N* = Ns x D

where Ns is the total number of stars and D is the percentage of the total we will look at comprehensively.

I assert as well:

Ns x D ~= R* x L


Ni =  Ns x D x Fp x Ne x Fl x Fi x Fc

  • Where Ni is the number of sentient species

Nl =  Ns x D x Fp x Ne x Fl

  • Where Nl is the number of planets with life

Nh =  Ns x D x Fp x Ne

  • Where Nh is the number of planets that may support life


We now have all the material we need to consider the goals and possibilities of life.


Does extraterrestrial life exist and will humans meet them some day? Part I

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In this series

Part I – Goals for our desire to understand and find extraterrestrial friends

Part II – how big is our search area?

Part III – what are the problems in finding life

 Part IV the equations 

Part V  the conclusions

This has been one of the most vexing questions for me.   We are inundated with science fiction programs, books and entertainment that show extraterrestrials as common.   On the other hand we know that scientifically there is no evidence of any life of any kind intelligent or not on any asteroid, planet or any evidence seen in our various telescopes.  There have been no landings and I doubt seriously that any government has been covering up any such meeting.  (The possible exception to this is the Viking lander on Mars may have detected evidence of microbial life on Mars.   This would be very important information in spite of the lack of evidence of multi-cellular life it changes the data about the probability of life enormously if it is true.)

The fact that virtually every science fiction and fantasy as well as even a large number of run of the mill mysteries and other genre include in their storylines “aliens” of one sort or another points to the extreme feeling of loneliness that we feel at being the only sentient creatures in existence.  So, there are a large number of us who are petrified by the concept that we are alone or at least uncomfortable with our isolation.

The scientists answer to this question is the 50 year old Drake equation.  The Drake equation lists 7 pre-conditions for us to meet extraterrestrials or communicate with them.  The basic problem has been determining what the values of the Drake equation parameters are to figure out what the probability of the event I have described.

There are some reasons to revisit this equation and think about this again.

  1. Lots of new data from Kepler and other science has made the values for some much clearer
  2. Recent advances in SETI technology presages new abilities to detect such civilizations
  3. The soon to be delivered James Webb Telescope will provide new tools
  4. General advancement in all sciences and understanding of life, genome, physics, etc…

It has been noted that recently a number of advances have constrained and improved the odds of discovering the answer to this question.  The use of much better astronomy devices has resulted in finding other planets and finding which ones are potentially life-viable.   So, we may be on the cusp of some advancements on this topic.

Goals for our searches

First, let’s look at our goal in asking these questions and what tools we might have to get answers or do any of them.

Goal 1)  Find a signature signal from an intelligent species

This has been the primary purpose and goal that SETI has been directed at and is premised on the idea that knowing there is another intelligent species changes a lot and may even teach us something.   This goal assumes we aren’t going to have a conversation with these aliens nor that we would travel there so to achieve this goal we only need to peer to see any signal no matter how distant that could give us this even if it was on the other side of the galaxy or even farther away.

Goal 2)  Find answers to the variables in Drakes equation

I will talk about Drakes equation in subsequent blogs on this topic.   If we achieve goal 1 then goal 2 may be unnecessary but knowing the parameters we will learn a lot about ourselves, life, evolution, cosmology and the universe we live in.   To determine the answers for the values we have to understand what goes into making a living planet, what is needed to get to intelligence, what are the conditions under which life may flourish on a planet.   Obviously having some examples other than our own would be very helpful as we don’t know what the range of life forms that are viable other than our own.   If we assume that it has to be like human then we may be constraining our search far too much.

Goal 3)  Find a possible alternate home

We could simply be looking for a planet to send some humans eventually as a home and second homeland for humankind.   This is a goal that has been talked about endlessly in sci-fi.  It is something many yearn for. Others could care less.   It would obviously be good for the species if we had a second home in case something happened to this home.

Goal 4)  Find a place to spread our seed if not our physical bodies

Even if we cannot find a suitable place for us to colonize we may help the future of life in the universe by distributing the basic building blocks of life.   Panspermia has been considered a very possible, maybe likely origin for life on earth.   We would simply be returning the favor by sending robotic spaceship on a oneway mission to find other planets that are friendly to life and seeding them with as many different types of starter soil as we can create.  There are many tricks nature had to learn to get to the human species.  Can we find a way to provide the building blocks to help other planets teem with life, so that even if the story of humanity or the earth ends up dying life itself may continue somewhere else.   Possibly those folks will have a better “go” at it or spread their seed farther.

Goal 5) Have a conversation with another intelligent species

Travel to almost any other solar system even the very closest is a long long way off and may be impossible. What is the possibility we could have a conversation with another species?  If this is our goal then we have to first find them as in Goal 1.

Goal 6) Create alternate intelligent life on earth

If all these turn out to be not interesting or doable then there is still the possibility that we can create alternative life on this planet. Either through enhancing existing species genetically or by creating artificial intelligence.


All the goals above have a positive purpose to extend our knowledge, to enhance the survivability of humanity or just life itself.   There is a dark side.

The fact that humans also try to elevate ourselves over everything else and each other trying to kill or crush anyone who would threaten our sense of superiority and dominance.  History is filled with our constant pathetic need to dominate everything that competes with us.  We are extremely brutal, competitive species by nature undoubtedly because of evolution.   So, if we did ever find another species that had intelligence would we do what some scientists say we did to Neanderthal and wipe them out because we can’t stand the very idea of somebody being our equal or better?  So, maybe it is better we are alone.

I will table that point and move on to talk about and analyze the other goals into their likelihood of success and what we can achieve in what time frames.   I will also address my own assessment of the likelihood of life we will find.   I think you will find my answer surprising.    In fact, I wonder why more scientists don’t state what I think is fairly obvious.

Mark Steyn’s new book on Michael Mann

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Originally posted on Climate Etc.:

by Judith Curry

A Disgrace to the Profession: The World’s Scientists – in their own words – on Michael E Mann, his Hockey Stick and their Damage to Science – Volume One

View original 2,176 more words

The Climate Debate is over. We know what’s going to happen. Why did it happen? What did we learn?

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I believe the Climate debate is over

The main debate has been over something called TCS which is the change to be expected from a doubling of CO2.   The human race is on course to double our CO2 content in the atmosphere and the question has been what will be the change in the temperature for this doubling.   This effect of doubling CO2 and its impact on temperature is given the acronym TCS.    It represents the transient (immediate) impact on climate.   It is guessed that the long term impact of some forcing will be double the transient impact although there are theories it could be zilch as the system somehow adjusts.  Either way the longer term impact is over many centuries and hasn’t been in the debate yet.

It is also to be noted that there are other effects besides higher temperature.  Many of these other effects are the worry because as temperature deviation becomes larger it is expected those other things are more important than the actual temperature but without significant temperature gain these other things also aren’t that significant it is thought at this time.  This is accepted by all.

TCS = 0.6-1.2C.  Temperatures will NOT rise 2C by end of century.  Is 1/3 what climate scientists said was best guess. 

You may wonder why I say this with such surety.   The reason is simple.   We now have enough data to make this conclusion without the complexity of climate models, without all the physics or other arguments.   This is simple unavoidable and indisputable claim I make which no scientist could argue nor do I believe could anyone else.

This is simple extrapolation that is based on the data we have which now is a major portion of the total change expected.  We are no longer at the bottom end of the curve guessing where this curve will go.   We are in the middle of the curve and we have 50% of the change we are going to get.  If we can’t figure out what will happen with the remaining 50% we would be terrible scientists.   Since we have seen such a large portion of the period and data in question it is not likely to see a significant deviation from an estimate based on this much data.

A key factor in making this statement is that CO2 acts logarithmically in the atmosphere.   This fact is accepted by all.   Each CO2 molecule has to compete with other CO2 molecules to absorb IR radiation and the more CO2 molecules the less the effect increases.   Since we have 1/3 the CO2 in that means we have seen 50% of the effect we will get from the remaining 67% of the CO2.   So, this is the simplest math you will see since grade school.   All we need to do is see how much temperature change we got since CO2 was at 310 (1945) and double that amount and we will have the total temperature change for a doubling of CO2.

This is pretty indisputable science.   We don’t need climate models.  Whatever funny effects CO2 has in the atmosphere, complex interactions with humidity and clouds, the sun and ocean we have 70 years and half the full effect in front of us and that data is right there available to us.  We don’t have to wait for it.  All of the physics that is purported to be in the computer models is in the data.   It is included in the total temperature change we have observed so the doubling of the effect includes everything in the climate models and even stuff not in the climate models.

Don’t all Scientists believe in Huge Dangerous Impact from Global Warming?

Here is a wikipedia article summarizing a number of polls of scientists on Global warming.   What’s important to understand about these “polls” and studies is that the question being asked is very vague.  Sometimes the question is “Are humans causing any temperature change?” or “Is the temperature change significant?”  It’s important to note that my article does NOT say that humans are having NO impact on climate or the environment.  Any TCS > 0.0 is by definition saying there is some effect from mankind on temperature.   What these polls are missing is the real important question.   The IPCC and most scientists agreed (which may mean nothing) that for temperature changes <2.0C the net effect on humanity was either positive or neutral.   Thus, the question is straightforward.   They should ask do you believe that humans will cause 2C change in temperature by 2100?  They never ask what significant is.  They never ask if significant also means significant damage to humanity, nature or whatever or just noticeable.  What is the definition of significant.  Nonetheless what is surprising is that 10% of climate scientists said the change wasn’t significant.  This certainly puts a nail in the head of the 97% polls that are bandied about.  Gartner did a poll of scientists in general in 1990s and they found even then that 1/3 of scientists would not state unequivocally that humans were causing any global warming.  I want to be clear.  I definitely believe humans are causing some warming.   There is a significant probability that humans (CO2) is responsible for less than the 0.6C TCS I am suggesting here is “defensible” number.

The TCS could be lower if it turns out that whatever caused the cycle that warmed the MWP 1000 years ago contributed to some of the warming we saw in the 20th century.  In this case CO2 would have made even less of a contribution than the 0.6C suggested here.  We could also already be on the downside of the 1000 year cycle of MWP and LIA meaning that if it weren’t for CO2 temperatures might have fallen quite a bit.  In this case CO2 may have added more than 0.6C and thank god we put out that CO2 because otherwise we might be heading to another LIA or even ice age.

The point is that these things are unknowable at this time so all we can say is that assuming whatever trend was in place for the last 70 years if that overall trend continues for the next 85 years we will see 0.45C more heat on average to 2100.

The point is that I am in no way denying basic physics or “denialist” if denialist means that CO2 doesn’t actually absorb IR radiation and emit heat in response.   All I am doing is saying that we can now calculate using very basic math the likely effect from CO2 in 2100 because we have enough data to make a lazy projection that must be fairly close to what we will get.  In fact it would take an awful lot of proof to suggest anything different than this and I believe any scientist would agree we don’t have the data to conclude with high probability significantly greater than this.

Still some question about the amount of heating from 1945-2015. Adjusted land records double the amount from multiple satellites. 

All we have to do is double the temperature change from 1945 to 2015.   You can imagine this can’t possibly be hard.   Isn’t there one well known answer to this?  Well, the climate community has been a little difficult on this point.  We have 2 satellites which have been in orbit and measuring hundreds of thousands of points in the atmosphere every day since 1979.  We have land records which are spotty.  It would take several books to go through all the debate on the land records and ocean records. However, the argument is constrained by the fact that no matter who you talk to or what adjustments they’ve made the total change from 1945-2015 could only be between 0.3 and 0.6C.   This is a small enough range that it really doesn’t make any difference.  This is like arguing over the number of angels on pins.

It would be awesome if all the sources added up to the same thing.  This is definitely an area to study for some group to nail down why but the satellites and the land records diverge.  The land records show a much larger gain since 1979 than the satellites.

TCS came in below the lowest guess

The whole debate has focused on whole degrees of change in temperature change,  3, 4, 5, 6 even 10 degrees TCS.   The IPCC was clear that they could constrain that the low end of TCS was 2.5 or so.  It was extremely unlikely to be this low.  The accepted value was 3 but it could also be 4,5,6 even 10.  (Please note that the actual value has turned out to be between 0.6 and 1.2 far far below what they said was the minimum value).   In the most recent IPCC report they lowered the TCS to 2.5 and said it could be as low as 2.   It’s a lot lower than 2.   What went wrong is certainly interesting but not important.  This is a matter of history.

There is still doubt there may be other things that will happen that we haven’t seen but barring some unknown incident like an asteroid strike, huge volcano eruption or massive change in the suns activity the debate is over.

What will be the effects from 0.6-1.2C. The climate community agrees it is net positive. 

The IPCC (climate community) itself has been clear that under 1.5C would be net positive for humanity in its own analysis.   There is enormous debate about the effects but at this level of climate change these can be confined to relatively insignificant.  I am sure there will be continued accusations that this is from the CO2 or that is because of man and CO2 but the fact is that at <1.2C the impacts are not going to disrupt the world.

What we learned about the process

I have followed this debate forever it seems.   Since the early days when James Hansen (from NASA) spoke to the Congress and pointed out that temperatures were rising I believed that he had a point.   Being a scientist from MIT, math, physics and computer science trained this fit right into my center of what I could understand.   I understood the use of computers and the mathematics of chaos, the physics of CO2 and so I could understand what they were doing precisely.

At that time the amount of CO2 we had put in the atmosphere was still small.  Extrapolating from that small amount to a large amount required something extraordinary.   The climate community put all its aces in “computer models.”   I knew something of this.  I had also seen the debacle of the Club of Rome who built computer models.  The more I studied this the more convinced I became that the basic science was unconvincing.  Not that there would be zero effect but that the effect could be known using the tools they were using and considering what we knew and didn’t know.    I became more and more skeptical as I saw what they actually said.

Scandal has plagued this community since the beginning.  The group which publishes the IPCC, sometimes referred to by the other side of the debate as “the team” produced in its first report on the 1st page of the report a graph which summed up their entire position succinctly.   

 They wanted a graph like this badly so there would be no doubt, there would be no questions.  They pieced together from a carefully  selected set of tree ring data going back 1000 years a temperature history which showed complete flat-line till the last 50 years where the temperature spiked.   In a nutshell they showed the problem.  1000 years of stasis and then POW we are zooming out of control up and away.  Perfect.   

However, the facts turned out to be dramatically different.   This graph was produced by selecting a few trees and ignoring a huge number of other trees.   When the full data set or even a few more trees were added to the hand selected list the graph took on a funny up and down shape that didn’t show flat.   


Even more alarming the graph didn’t end with a nice curve going up initially.  The trees themselves actually show the temperature declining in the last 50 years.   

The architects of this alarmism and new science decided it would be better to splice on some land temperature data at the very end without mentioning this.   So, this hockey stick was carefully constructed to produce the desired impact.  

Voila.  Hockey stick. 

Unfortunately, a layman who had studied tree rings a lot was confused what tree rings were being used.  When he kept asking questions he was rebuffed and rebuffed.  He kept trying to replicate the data and he personally pretty much discovered all the subterfuge made in this graph.
Soon after this we had climate-gate, in which members of “the team” emails were somehow discovered.   These emails it turns out showed “the team” conspiring to hide the decline.  It showed that the “team” disdained their opponents and were doing everything they could to discredit and hold back the people who wanted to know more about this.

This is a very sad thing for me to believe.  I personally think if we let scientists do things like this we are really in trouble.  We won’t be able to trust anything from science again.  I don’t think we will make good decisions as a society.   The “team” thinks that it knows better what we should believe about the climate.  This is really bad for science to take this position.  That’s my main worry, my main interest, my main concern in all this from the beginning.  I believe science must be held to a higher standard that is something we can’t allow to be muddled as it was during this time.

I don’t know why this debate has fascinated me more than other things I could have gotten excited about but part of me was offended by the way climate “scientists” talked about things.  They were highly certain of everything they said which is counter to the way I had been taught scientists talked.   When I listen to Physics lectures there is always an excitement about what we don’t know, about the errors that we made.  There is always an excitement about conundrums and discovering the errors in how we think about things.   There was brutal honesty.   The climate “team” didn’t operate this way.   They were sure.   It seemed their major efforts were to confirm their theory not to tear it apart as physicists are always doing.

I believe we are now to the point we can de-politicize this.   There can be little doubt about the facts of the situation and the limits to what can happen.  I believe the debate is over as far as catastrophic change.

The climate science community during this process has acted as advocates.  Recent articles describe the funk they are always in worrying that they haven’t gotten the message of destruction and doom that they saw.  They felt their models were right that showed catastrophic warming.    A recent article by Judith Curry has talked about this “funk” that the climate community has been in.   Nonetheless, these scientists had an agenda and anyone who didn’t believe them was called out as a “heretic denialist.”

Where we went wrong

One of the big problems in this whole process has been the focus on computer models.  It was clear to me from the beginning this would be hard.    Like trying to estimate where a bullet will go coming from a gun barrell knowing what the climate would do back in 1970s was hard.  A small error in the initial trajectory would result in a huge bad guess.  They could have concluded the problem was too hard to solve to make a guess where this was going to go but they felt a compelling need to make a prediction because honestly I believe they thought it could be bad.

They could have argued this on two fronts.  There was evidence from historical records from ice ages that could be constructed to show that a doubling of CO2 would cause a 3 degree increase in temperature or worse.   This was called the paleontological argument.  It suffered from the fact that there was still a lot of debate about the factor and it would be hard to really improve that without a time machine.    The other mechanism was to use computer models.   I believe like other people there is a seduction of the almighty computer and its ability in our age to change things.  The belief was that computer models could be improved and improved till they could show not only how much temperature change but other things like storm activity and rainfall.  So, a huge effort was made to produce computer models.  It would take another book or two to explain all the issues with computer models and where that has gone.  Suffice it to say the computer models have not worked out.

The biggest problem with the computer model approach is they attempted to model the physics of the world.   This is a very complex thing.   They missed some important physics.  In particular the oceans were a huge variable.  The “team” had successfully argued the oceans were mostly irrelevant.   The ocean was so dense that it was reasoned not much energy could penetrate into the ocean so almost all the energy would go into the surface and come out from the surface quickly and easily.  The “team” constructed simplified 2 layer models for the ocean that basically said anything that happened below a few feet was inconsequential.   At the time when these models were constructed we didn’t know about the El Nino and La Nina phenomenon.    These were meterological puzzles to the climate scientists so they mostly ignored them until it was shown that in fact there was a 60-70 year cycle of El Ninos to La Ninas and back that corresponded precisely with a lot of the variation seen in the climate record over the last 200 years.  It turns out that the ocean did have some really interesting things going on that could impact climate.

They didn’t know about this major cyclic effect 

In the 90s the computer models were tuned so precisely that the “team” was very happy with itself.  They proclaimed that they had understood natural variability and they had caclulated how things like pollution, volcanoes, changes in sun energy affected climate to a great degree.  They said from this analysis and the fact their models were so accurate (even more than they hoped) that they could therefore say with great precision that the heating of the world between 1975-2000 was because of CO2 and man 100%.  No other thing had contributed.  One scientist even stated 110% caused by CO2.   They were certain.   This hubris was short lived.

As you can see from the above graph co2 was NOT the only reason temps went up from 1975-2000. 

By 2000 the temperature of the world started going sideways.  Of course at first they thought it was a bunch of bad luck. However, as the years went on it became more and more apparent they had not accounted for “climate variability.”  Something else was going on.  By this time people were understanding that El Ninos and La Ninas operated in cycles and they were driven by what were called the PDO and AMO phenomenon which had to do with temperatures of ocean in the pacific and atlantic which seemed to go in cycles with some variability.   

The problem was that they did not anticipate this and they had no understanding of ocean cycles.   They denied it.  In my Stanford Global warming class the head of Lawrence livermore computer model team told me that the cycles would disappear as CO2 overwhelmed these minor fluctuations.   They had no idea why the PDO happened.  They didn’t know if it was caused by flows of “weather” in the ocean, by sun interactions, something to do with geography or even biology.    

There is no understanding even today yet how these cycles are driven.  Since there is no way to put some equations to shove into the computer models they have been slow to adapt the computer models to incorporate these phenomenon.    The problem is that it has become clear that now going onto 20 years of no significant warming that the Model Director at Lawrence Livermore was wrong about PDO going away and that these waves of PDO and AMO were in fact responsible for some of the things the models thought happened because of other effects like that we had polluted the atmosphere in the 70s.

This effect was destroying the entire logic process used earlier in concluding that CO2 would produce this or that.  It became clear that the PDO/AMO was responsible for possibly half the temperature rise from 1975-2000 not 100% CO2.   Effectively this means that they had grossly missed the trajectory of the bullet coming from the gun I mentioned in the first paragraph.

What has happened is that now we are so far into this that it is like we had a gun barrel halfway to the target.  It is possible for the bullet to be deflected by wind or something could jump in front of the bullet but barring some incredible unknown factor we can be quite certain where that bullet is going with enough precision even if there is some question about the exact location of the bullet along the path it can’t go very far from where we estimate.   That’s where we have come.  We have the barrel halfway to the target   We know the position of the bullet halfway down the course.  It really doesn’t take a lot of sophisticated physics or high precision measuring devices at this point to say we know the bullet is going to end up roughly here.

TCS = 0.6 -> 1.2C NOT 3.0C

What we learned about the science

Along this journey we have got a lot of useful knowledge.   It hasn’t been a total waste.   I think the computer models are mostly crap but the basic stuff we have learned a lot.   We have learned a lot about the atmosphere, the oceans.   This alarmism has caused us to put out the ARGO fleet of buoys which for the first time have given us some real data on the oceans.   What we have learned more than anything is how much we don’t know.   The fact we don’t know doesn’t stop me from making the statement that TCS = 0.6-1.2C.   I can measure the position of the bullet and guess accurately its final spot halfway there without having to know a lot about gun barrell chaos theory, wind variations that could affect the initial trajectory of the bullet slightly, resistance of the wind and how humidity might affect that etc.

Where do we go from here

We don’t know a lot about the climate still but whatever happened to the CO2 and the temperature we now can say that the sum of all the effects of all those things is in the number for the halfway point.  So, doubling it takes into account all these “other” things without having to know what all those things are.

This is a problem though.  It is still a mystery that is worth solving to understand our climate system.  This has uncovered to me how pitiful our knowledge of our own world is.  Until ARGO was put out to sea our records of ocean information was so spotty and so poor that we really had no idea that PDO/AMO even existed, what the temperature of the ocean was and what is going on.   This is astonishing that we know more about other galaxies than we know about our own ocean which comprises more than 70% of the surface area of the earth, has more than 50% of the biologic life on the earth and has 1000 times the heat capacity of the atmosphere and we are still clueless.   Our ARGO floats number 3,000 but the ocean is so vast and the work so strenuous that the ARGO coverage of the ocean is about as good as the 3 temperature stations we have for all of the antarctic between 75 and 90 degrees south.    The ARGO floats only see 30% of the ocean.   They miss lower depths and some places that are shallower.  They float with the current and only measure a few variables.   We need a lot more information about the ocean.

We have studied glaciers and we have come up with some interesting theories around them.  We have studied a few other things.  The problem is we have focused way too much attention on the models.  We still have only the 2 satellites to measure a few factors in the atmosphere.   We recently launched another satellite that will provide a little more data.  The 2 satellites we have are getting very old.  They will be gone before too long.  We have not engaged in experiments to validate many things that are in the models.  We need to focus on the basic science of climate and much less on trying to predict.   Now that we have shown roughly where temperature is going and that it is not a problem I am hoping we can now focus away from long term prediction and more on understanding the nuts and bolts of the climate system.

Of major importance to understand is the oceans, clouds and sun as well as the earths mantle and geography.  Finally there could be biological factors that contribute.   All of these things could be affecting the long term climate.    The reason I say this is that if you look at the overall history of the earth and the temperature and climate variations it becomes abundantly clear we have no real understanding of why all these things have happened.  In fact we still do not understand why the ice ages even happen.   Some believe they have to do with cycles of the earths orbit but the energy change from these orbital variations is extremely small and can’t account for the huge temperature swings.  Over time these swings have varied dramatically and don’t match the orbital periodicity accurately.  Something else is going on.  Clearly the sun must have impact but it seems clear that something to do with oceans and long term cycles, vents or biologic and geologic phenomenon must play a role.  We really have no clue.    Ultimately this is why our models failed.  They are missing a vast amount of the real stuff going on.  It’s a mystery of really amazing proportions and one of the last real scientific areas we know so little about.

I hope the scandal of all this climate buffoonery doesn’t derail our ability to engage in this fascinating and worthwhile pursuit of really understanding our environment better.

This is exciting science in my opinion.   It is going to be tough.   A lot harder than the self-righteous advocate scientists have stomach for.    I believe we need a reset of the science on the climate and the first step is admitting that the overall climate will not represent a catastrophic scenario we can get off the stump predicting doom and moping around predicting the end of the world and start to do the hard work of real science.