In this series
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
|50%||being in galactic zones with suitably low radiation and collision likelihood|
|50%||high star metallicity|
|50%||low enough density to avoid excessive asteroid bombardment|
|100%||planetary system with large gas giants which provide bombardment protection|
|80%||without a hot Jupiter|
|50%||planet with plate tectonics|
|50%||a large moon that creates tidal pools|
|100%||moderate axial tilt to generate seasonal variation|
|25%||Magnetic field for protection from the sun|
|20%||%age of stars existence planet is viable ( or millions of years habitable)|
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
|10%||The original conditions are suitable either from panspermia or otherwise|
|50.00%||single to multi-cellular jump|
|50.00%||enough catastrophic events of right type|
|50.00%||catastrophic events that end life don’t happen|
I have slightly changed this from simply anything that could be classified as life to a more substantial requirement that it 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.
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
|50%||sufficient resources or viability to get to agricultural|
|90%||sufficient brain size ever obtained|
|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
|95%||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|
|50%||they are actively sending signals out to be found|
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.
In this series
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 has to exist somewhere else in the universe.
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.
However, the milky way galaxy is so vast and the distance to another galaxy so large that it seems extremely unlikely to find life in another galaxy unless we develop some form of wormhole technology that allows us to truly make giant leaps. So, the size of the universe is not useful. We are also limited to seeing the 13-14 billion light years that seems to be the limit of our visibility either due to curvature of the universe precluding us seeing over the horizon or simply the big bang making our horizon limited to that time period.
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|
|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. It is remotely possible to do this today. As you can see might be able to send an automated probe today to the closest stars. We can send a signal today to a star possibly up to 1,000 light years away if we tried really hard and we can 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.
Similarly I guess that by 2100 we might improve things substantially and reach 17 light years away with automated probes. We might be able to sustain travel for decades to get ourselves to star system 5 light years away. After that is pure speculation. It depends on the evolution of physics and our understanding. 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.
|Distance from Sol||5||17||50||100||250||500||160,000||Light Years|
|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.
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.
- 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
- 96% of the universe around us is invisible to us. Could this contain life or intelligent life right here in the same room?
- 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.
- 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
- We may accelerate the intelligence of existing living things (monkeys, dogs,…) or even create new living things eventually that are intelligent.
- 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.
In this series
Part V the conclusions
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
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
- 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
- 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
REPHRASING THE GOALS
We now have all the material we need to consider the goals and possibilities of life.
In this series
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 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 it or at least uncomfortable.
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.
- Lots of new data from Kepler and other science has made the values for some much clearer
- Recent advances in SETI technology presages new abilities to detect such civilizations
- The soon to be delivered James Webb Telescope will provide new tools
- 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.
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
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
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 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. 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.
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.
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.
Judith Curry is one of my heroes in the Climate debate. She is a spark of rationality and objective reasoning that I find extremely interesting. This article of hers from a few days ago is funny and interesting in a number of dimensions:
In the article Judith talks about how some “climate scientists” for who, I have coined the term “climate sciologists” because I don’t believe climate science is being handled like other sciences. That would be a whole ‘nother blog which I covered to some extent in my blog on the amount of warming to expect for the next 85 years here.
Some people are critical of change outright
Whatever change is in the process of happening there are always people who are critical. If it was getting colder or warmer there would be people worried about it. If there is a new technology there is worry about it. Some people take it to the extreme and seem to take whatever change is their particular worry to the point that they consider the world is going to end or become hellish as a result.
The fact is that some people are skeptical of man and think that much of what man does is wrong. We have made a lot of mistakes. We did pollute the earth terribly. We are polluting the earth. We are abusing our natural environment. We are affecting the environment. So, there is some logic to being skeptical of change caused by man on the environment because that has generally been a bad thing.
Hellish scenarios have happened in history. Consider the great depression in the US where many people were out of work and living in hovels. Compared to today such a world like the 1930s would seem incomprehensible. Most of us can’t imagine life without a cell phone let alone half the US living on the streets and collecting in places to pick up food handouts. We still suffer from massive obesity problems not starvation.
Just a few short years ago (20 or 30) there were nearly a billion people starving worldwide. There are still people starving in the world but the estimates put it at 1/10th the level of before.
In the early part of the 20th century there were floods that killed millions of people in a single incident. We had numerous natural disasters each of which had fatalities over 1 million people each.
We had WWI and WWII. Millions and millions died.
However, as bad as all these things were the fact is the severity of incidents like these is decreasing. We do seem to be making progress.
I have calculated that the rate of death from natural disasters has declined 98% (Yes 98% that means 2% or 1/50th the rate) of the early part of the 20th century. That’s an amazing accomplishment. It may be worth a blog because it is so stunning.
The number of fatalities from war is declining and is at an all-time low. This is an excellent article from the Smithsonian on this. I desperately hope this trend is a trend but I do cast some doubt on that in my article on how changing political minds is hard.
I definitely don’t want to suggest that we are at the end of hell on earth. There will be more hellish things coming. There are lots of problems to deal with in the future. There is no shortage of things to worry about. In this series of articles on the future I point out the positive things that could result from technological change but each of these things has ethical and horror filled side that could represent a truly horrible future for humanity.
We are on the cusp or an inflection point where human caused horror is now potentially far more likely than natural caused horror. I will take the blogs on the future and take a negative bent and instead of looking at all the positive things that could come point out how we could go wrong and lead to horrific scenarios.
I have a whole blog on this topic here. The fact is that people have tried and failed at predicting many disasters. This is particularly common for the environmental movement I hate to say. I cannot imagine anyone more concerned about the environment than me. I really love nature and would do anything to defend plants and animals and our earth. I just don’t see it the way these people do. The facts bear me out. Since the 60s environmentalist extremists have proclaimed the death of nature, animals, called out warnings of mass extinctions, death of humans , . . Truly an armageddon of terrible things. Yet, somehow these things have been averted.
Some will say it is these extremists who provide the fodder to keep the society moving towards the “correct” decisions. If it weren’t for people proclaiming that the world will end becuase of this or that nobody would listen or do anything and some of these bad things may happen.
Possibly it is a necessity that there be such extremists to “motivate” the electorate or to change society to produce change. However, it is still hard for me to accept as a scientist statements which are clearly invalid or alarmist. I prefer an objective look and to decide objectively that this is bad and take action. I don’t need someone screaming in my face the world is going to end for me to decide something is bad. I personally need to believe it is bad and unbelievable people screaming does not convince me.
I believe society needs a diversity of viewpoints. Let me correct that. I believe we are going to get a diversity of viewpoints whether we like it or not and it is best to simply accept that there is going to be this diversity than to try to eliminate all counter arguments because I’ve found it is impossible and unproductive to do that. I do think a diversity of viewpoints leads to the ability to construct objective opinion.
Nonetheless I would suggest that extreme environmentalists don’t have an objective scientific view of the future that is based on factual evidence. I believe in some cases they have an unrealistic view of possible outcomes even in the worst case scenario.
I realize some will still say I am being pollyanna and some will still conclude I am not an environmentalist but I strongly believe I am simply independent and a touch more objective.
Climate Alarmists try to tell us that the world is going to come to an end
In the article by Judith Curry I refer to earlier she brings out all these climate sciologists who are lamenting worrying about the future. They are near depression. They are in “pre-traumatic” stress syndrome. They paint a picture of people trying to save the world and nobody listening. They describe a hellish scenario where people don’t listen to them and ideas counter to theirs are gaining ground which makes them fling into depression about the future of our world.
This is a romantic and potentially heart breaking thing to read that these people striving to save us from ourselves are struggling so hard. That they are so committed to saving us they are in a great funk over the inability to convey their worries and get us to change more rapidly. They worry for an apocalyptic future.
It is thought provoking if it were true. Imagine they are right then they are true heroes struggling to save us from ourselves. I am sure this is how they see it.
It is worth considering their point of view because their are many of them and they are educated and they may have legitimate views to worry about.
Climate Alarmism is not believable as a hellish scenario
The problem I have is that I cannot bring myself to believe in any way the scenarios they predict have any possibility of happening at all. Not even the remotest possibility. I am sorry if this seems callous but the facts are clear to me on this matter having thought about them for some time.
1) The world has been hot before and it was not hell.
2) 15% More people die in the winter than the summer
3) It takes centuries and millenia for ice to melt on a scale they worry about
4) The rate of technological progress is astonishing
5) The actual effect of CO2 is <~ 0.6C TCS is factually proven.
6) CO2 has been shown to not be the dominant factor over short and long periods of time
7) Other factors are in play that we don’t understand that need more study than CO2
8) Natural disasters are easily mitigated and we have done a tremendous amount and can do a lot more to make them irrelevant to humanity or nature
9) Nature itself is extremely resourceful and far more resilient than we give credit
10) Humans are responsive to change and have changed in many cases
These 10 things basically make the “hell” scenario of Climate Alarmists impossible to defend in my opinion.
I believe I have taken their viewpoint to the absolute limit by taking seriously every point they have raised and found them to be un-alarming. I hope you give me the benefit of the doubt as I have given the climate alarmists the benefit of the doubt over the years studiously trying to understand what they are saying and trying to see what is really going on.
The big problem with Alarmism
All the things that are projected for climate change are pretty much things we experience today already. Maybe those will appear more, maybe not. Statistics are not showing these things happening really with much more frequency and we’ve already experienced at least half the global warming we are going to get. Almost every projection of CO2 is around 600 or less for 2100 and there is a limit to carbon based fuels as well as economic argument that eventually we will switch to more renewable fuels sometime. There is little likelihood of getting past 600ppm of CO2 so going from 270 to 400 we are and considering that CO2 acts logarithmically we have already gotten more than half the total temperature rise that will happen. Check out my other blog to see. Even if you don’t believe that the statistics aren’t showing much gain in these events even with the huge amount of CO2 we’ve put in already.
Maybe we will get more of them but the fact is these things are things we already are committed to mitigating. So, consider:
1) Are we going to prepare for rising seas? Yes, we have to. The oceans have risen 7″ every century for at least 200 years. They are on track to rise again another 7-10″. There is nothing we could possibly do to change that. We have to move whatever we’ve got to move near the coasts or raise buildings, build levees anyway. The fact is there is already a big business in raising buildings. It’s not at all an impossible problem. You don’t have to imagine that rising sea levels means the end of cities.
2) Are we going to make the effects from hurricanes, tropical storms, droughts, floods, heat waves and other natural disasters less? In the 1900s we reduced the fatalities from natural disasters by 98% and we didn’t even think they were increasing. We do it because nobody likes the impact of these events even if they keep occurring at the severity and rate they occur today so we will continue to improve dramatically our mitigation of natural disasters of all types. That’s just going to happen with or without any increase in frequency.
3) Are we, the plants and animals going to take advantage of any land that is exposed by global warming? Yes, we will all do that as a matter of course. It’s advantageous.
4) Will we continue to work on vaccines and medical problems associated with warm weather or cool weather or just any old medical problems because people want to be healthy anyway? Yes we will. Every one of these diseases including malaria and these other warm climate diseases will be fought regardless of whether they will come to more northern climates or not.
5) Will we help plants, animals survive stress wether caused by global warming or human destruction of their habitat or food sources or new threats anyway? Yes we will.
For the last 100 years and more humans have spent a lot of time improving the ability to deal with diseases, rising oceans or water levels, lack of water, storms, helping plants and animals. We have been incredibly successful at this and we have responded to the challenges posed without people having to die en masse. I am quite confident that man has enormous capacity to deal with issues that come up and that this has been consistently underestimated by people making stupid predictions of doom. Our creativity is actually hitting an inflection point and our ability to respond is improving exponentially. Not counting this is absurdly stupid.
The horror picture
These scientists who are so depressed are thinking of the following horror scenario:
1) Water levels meters higher by the end of the century or earlier flooding some places out of existence, making cities unlivable.
2) Tropical Diseases proliferating due to warmer weather
3) Severe Storms pummeling communities and people relentlessly causing death and destruction
4) Animals undergoing mass extinctions
5) Human starvation, man in decline, the world rocketing out of control in a spiraling climate
6) War from conflicts over resources and climate.
First, the predictions of outcomes are not well researched and not good science
Many papers come out every day with “negative” predictions for Climate Change. It is hardly possible to pick up a science journal or newspaper and not read how it is predicted that in 2050 this bad thing or that bad thing will happen because of “climate change.”
I call this the “cancer research” paradigm. Virtually every article you read in a science journal will also mention that this or that will lead to a cancer cure or is shown to cause cancer or will help us learn about cancer. The fact is if you want to get funded, if you want to do research you have to do it about something that people care about, that strikes fear in people. Like it or not the reality is people don’t want to pay for science that says: everything is cool. This is just fun research that I find interesting. You have to tie your research to a major goal of people and to the funding agencies if you want to get funding no matter how obscure or far off the connection you have to tie it to that goal. Fear is the major way this is done. That is simply a fact that won’t go away. I would prefer that science funding was done for purely objective reasons but without infinite funds you must tie your research in some way to goals and problems that the society fears regardless whether your research is relevant or the cause is justified. I simply ask that if we recognize this that is fine but let’s make sure that all the science we do is at least “good science.”
However, with this funding proclivity as a given what disturbs me the most about much of this environmental research is that it is really bad science. In many cases it is on the margin of what could be called scientific. In some cases the work is acceptable but the assumptions are not. For instance, a lot of science today is funded on the basis the computer models predicting 2 or 3 degrees C change by 2100 are assumed and then conclusions regarding what they think will happen frequently based on very sketchy basis.
There are literally thousands of these studies done. Everything from predicting sea levels much higher if this happens or to particular plants or species of this or that will suffer. It’s so pathetic to read these things and see how bad the quality of the work is. The fact it is terrifically hard to know how nature will react to things and how humans will react. Proving something that will happen in the future is extremely problematic and difficult and none of these studies comes close to being scholarly enough to be solid. They usually look at one facet and make sweeping generalizations which are unsupportable.
1) it is not plausible that the climate models are correct or that there will be such a large movement of temperature so basing things on climate models which themselves are unproven is bad science.
2) the scientific prediction of what will happen does not consider simple mitigations of nature
3) the scientific prediction of what will happen does not consider simple mitigations of humans
4) the science itself is poor and makes conclusions that are unwarranted based on a single datum or with limited thinking about the possible alternatives.
Every article I have ever read on the terrible consequences of climate change is horribly horribly flawed on many of these points. They are frankly unbelievable and not good science. None of them I have read so far. This is really upsetting that we are funding a large number of what appears to be useless work. I am sure these people could be put to better use doing more credible work. I have written about some of these problems with this research in my blog on climate warming here.
The most important one in my opinion being the point I bring up about the prediction over food production. It is so ridiculously unbelievable that food production will decline in 2080 I find it puts the entire area of prediction in serious question.
Second, the 10 points I bring up basically neutralize all the negative outcomes
The world has been hot before and it was not hell. As recently as 5,000 years ago the world was 2C warmer than today during the Holocene (our current ice age.) During this period which lasted for a thousand years + humankind and nature did fine with much higher temperatures. There is no cataclysmic likelihood just from this reason alone. There may be uncomfortable changes but the world is NOT going to be unlivable even if we get much higher temps which seems extremely unlikely.
I have a fundamental problem with people arguing against change. The fact is change is going to happen. The only question is which direction and the magnitude. Seas have been rising for centuries. Storms will continue to happen. Temperatures will go up or may go down but they won’t stay the same. It is simply not possible for stasis so if the argument against change is I don’t like it, then the answer is too bad. There is nothing we can do to prevent change. So we have to deal with all these possibilities and all the change anyway regardless if the world does it naturally or with our help. Until we understand a million times more about the climate and have a million times better ability to modify it we are going to be facing changing climate. This is a time for study and mitigation not to try to affect something we don’t understand and for which we have precious little ability to effect at this time.
Cold is worse than warmth
15% More people die in the winter than the summer. Study after study has come out showing that more people die from cold than warm. In the study above documenting 74 million deaths cold was 20 times better at killing people than heatwaves. The inescapable conclusion is that a warming world will produce fewer human and natural fatalities. The IPCC and others try to point out how people will die for this or that reason because of warming world. The fact is that these things cannot possibly be dominant because we would see higher death rates in warmer places not lower. It’s just not possible that more people will die from warmer weather. The example frequently given of France with 15,000 dieing in a heatwave one summer is easily discredited because 3 years later a worse heat wave resulted in 10 deaths. If people know about heat there are easy measures to take to prevent death. There could have been such a heat wave with or without AGW. The fact that so many French died when 3 years later with simple things like a few fans, phone calls and drinking water would they saved 15,000 people says more about France’s disaster mitigation than heat waves. Those 15,000 people didn’t need to die and nobody is to blame for that other than the French themselves. (I’m half French myself).
It takes centuries and millennia for ice to melt on a scale they worry about. The earth will lose ice as long as the temperature of the earth is above the “stasis” point for ice. We have been above that point for a long time. Sea levels rose 7″ in 1900s and likely 7″ in 2000s. Even with larger temperatures the change in melting is not enough to create the horror scenarios of a foot per century let alone a foot per decade. It simply takes longer than that to melt these large areas of ice locked in extremely cold areas. Satellites and other data is showing that scientists mis-estimated the melting of land locked glaciers, missed the amount of melting in Antarctica and that the Arctic has actually staged a comeback. Further ocean temperatures have not warmed enough to cause the oceans to rise. Everytime we look whether it is frequency of storms, sea level or antarctic, species extinction, the coral reefs we see after looking that the impact is less than predicted even after just a few years it is evident these things won’t happen. The antarctic is -100C much of the time. A few degrees will not melt the vast majority of that ice. This is a gradual process. There are scenarios where “fast melting” could occur but these are not proven. In any case they might happen no matter what we do.
We have to rebuild our cities and protect them from rising seas no matter what we do to the climate or the climate does to us. We have to assume like with natural disasters that they will continue to happen and we must learn how to deal with these things better and better. That is simply a fact NO matter what we do otherwise or nature does.
If rising temperatures do happen vast amounts of ice covered earth will be exposed and become arable allowing more land for vegetation, food production, animals and human movement. We can’t protect people on ocean front property in the far future. Sure, there may be some islands that will suffer but any rational person will realize there is nothing to stop this, no cost or effort will. So, we have to deal with it. It’s not good but there is plenty of time. In the meantime there is amazing new stuff that can be done with the new exposed and arable land that is exciting and probably will produce more benefit than the loss of some existing waterfront.
The rate of technological progress is astonishing. In the 20th century we reduced fatalities from natural disasters by 98% with a combination of new medicines, being able to predict oncoming disasters, better building codes, improved emergency response, better mobility, more awareness and many other things. Many of these benefits were seen mostly in the first world and yet our ability to drastically reduce the death rate from natural disasters is stunning. In this century if we just continue to move much of the technology to the third world and we develop a few more things we will virtually eliminate almost all consequences from natural disasters. It is really hard for me to get worked up about storms and such knowing these facts.
Yes, storms will continue to happen. None of the things that are talked about happening with AGW are different than will happen anyway. Whether they happen because of AGW in some instances or are worse we still have to deal with them and we are dealing with them. Quite successfully. I can’t get worked up about these storms or other natural disasters. We are just too proficient at dealing with them and getting better so fast.
The actual effect of CO2 is <~ 0.6C TCS is factually proven. CO2 has been shown to not be the dominant factor over short and long periods of time. We can’t explain the temperature variations over 100 years, 1000 years, 5000 years, 50,000 years or longer. Our computer models are missing huge factors that are clearly very important. We know virtually nothing about the ocean still. Other factors are in play that we don’t understand that need more study than CO2. My blog discusses all these points in depth.
Nature and Humans are extremely resourceful
Nature itself is extremely resourceful and far more resilient than we give credit. The fact is that the ice ages happened and for millions of years most species on the earth today have been through temperatures far higher and far far lower and they survived. It is extremely unlikely that a couple degrees spells a cataclysmic end to any species or to many. It is also the case that like natural disasters species come in and go out of existence constantly. It is estimated there are many millions of species on this planet. It is not known precisely how many even to within a factor of 5. It could be 10 million or 50 million. Therefore we also have no idea of the natural rate of species extinction or creation. It is presumed to be a slow process but it is not known. We are faced with the same point I brought up initially. Some rate of change in species is normal. We are even less knowledge about this than climate. When scientists talk about all this extinction and such people need to keep in mind that many of these predictions were proven false over and over. Nature has amazing resilience.
As an example a model of species extinction exists which depends on the land available to the species. It is thought as a species is confined the rate of likelihood of extinction increases rapidly and scientists estimate a rate of extinction based on the decline in habitat for some species. The facts are that these models have proven to be off by at least an order of magnitude maybe much more. It is unfortunately so common to declare that species are going into mass extinction that it’s become like the boy crying wolf. I sympathize greatly with this movement and understand we want to be conservative on this point but in my opinion it’s simply not believable that mass extinction will occur. Vast amounts of land will become arable if temperatures rise. Warmer temperatures are generally better for life. Life == Energy. More energy equals more life. The human footprint is large on the earth but it is still a small percentage of actual land.
The genome of any plant or animal is still largely unknown. There are vast parts of the genome that are inactive. It has been shown that sometimes plants can leverage some of this historic genome to deal with issues that seemed beyond the plants abilities. There are vast unknowns in the interactions of plants and animals still. It is prudent to be conservative and not assume that plants and animals can deal with anything thrown at them but the sheer fact is that these things have survived millions of years through some really horrific and difficult times. A degree or two cannot possibly trigger a massive extinction especially a warmer temperature.
Energy == Life. More energy more life generally (within limits of course.) That has been the case so far. In order for higher temps to cause less life would mean we are at a “tipping point” of the highest temperature before life dies. There is no evidence we are at this tipping point, no theory to explain that and is frankly unbelievable as a scientist. When such things have been proposed they are almost prima facia evidence that the theory is wrong. It is simply improbable we happen at this moment to be at the exact perfect temperature for life. There is evidence that at higher temperatures for millenia life did great.
None of this is to say there are not things we should be doing to help all species regardless and things we can do overall. I am just saying that if we pin our hopes on species surviving by spending all our money on climate change prevention species will die out anyway. I’d rather see some of the money spent on animal saving efforts than doing computer models that cost billions and are no better than ax+b. I really don’t think global climate change is the big issue for animals and species.
The last point is that humans have adapted in the past remarkably. In the 70s in America pollution was enormous. Our air and waters were unbreathable and undrinkable. Scientists thought it was armageddon. We cleaned up the air and water (not finished I understand) but we did change. Our technology did meet the challenge. Our technology is growing exponentially. I strongly believe whatever issues will be solvable especially if you are talking about a 100 year horizon it is very likely we will be able to do vastly more in the future. So, our biggest goal should be science and study.
There is a bright side that is more believable than horror
Here is the horror picture again:
1) Water levels meters higher by the end of the century or earlier flooding some places out of existence, making cities unlivable. – extremely unlikely and we rebuild cities anyway over the next 100 years due to other reasons. Let’s assume some rise when we do that.
2) Tropical Diseases proliferating due to warmer weather – minimal problem and not likely either as we will have better and better medical technology. Overall it is simply unbelievable that warmer weather means more fatalities.
3) Severe Storms pummeling communities and people relentlessly causing death and destruction – no evidence of increased storm activity. Minimal if any increase and we handle storms really well. It is more likely the death rate due to natural disasters will decline to zero by 2100.
4) Animals undergoing mass extinctions -extremely unlikely. Animals need to be protected anyway. They have lived through much worse. Some may die, some may prosper. It is hard to know what would have happened naturally. We cannot guarantee every microbe, plant or animal forever against extinction. This is nature. This is the process. if some do die possibly this leads to better fit variants of the winner that is the real way evolution works.
5) Human starvation, man in decline, the world rocketing out of control, wars in a spiraling climate. extremely unlikely. The world has gotten better incrementally and while there are many reasons for concern for the future a couple degrees warmer is unlikely to cause mass riots etc since for one reason people seem to prefer warmer temperatures.
6) War from conflicts over resources and climate. extremely unlikely.
Some of these things might happen but for other reasons than climate change.
The bright picture
1) Vast new areas of land in frozen tundra now more livable and arable. Indisputable fact. This could also lead to more resources, more opportunity.
2) More fresh water available – a critical necessity in todays world – if we get increased rain which they predict and I hope happens.
3) Declining death rates – 7-15 times more die from cold than warmth.
4) Food supply explosion – CO2 is a plant food, Energy == Life
5) increased speciation and increased numbers of all species Energy == life. More E more life.
6) A more livable world with less of an ice ball … People prefer warmer world
The thing is many of the negative things are happening today and will continue to happen even if we cancel all global warming and spend trillions. For instance water levels rose 7″ in 1800s, 1900s and 2000s they will go up again no matter what we do. There is no scenario where we eliminate deadly storms anytime soon or that we stop water levels from rising. So, when I say these things won’t happen what I mean is they won’t happen at the extreme level envisioned and unproven by these morose people. We have to assume we will continue to get terrible storms, heat waves, floods as we have for all history. We will get better no matter what in dealing with these things. So, that is a given and something we must do. Therefore the only real cost is the increase over what might happen anyway. That is very unclear. On the other hand few have considered all the positive things that will happen.
This is not a crazy scenario. I believe this is the likely scenario not the horror scenario. I don’t believe the community has considered the positive aspects of a warmer world very well. They have underestimated the consequences on the positive side dramatically and overplayed the negatives to a ridiculous extent.
We aren’t seeing these negative effects they predicted. I could go through each of the things they said would happen that hasn’t. It would be very tedious. I already have tried to point out the things they were wrong about in my other blog. They are seriously provably wrong scientifically provably wrong about things they have said and continue to say. The science is weak and poor on the negative side.
There are many scenarios for a more hellish future world. I don’t believe Climate Change is even 1 in 100 chance of being a significant worry 100 years from now or 50 years from now. There are a lot of things to worry about from where to get enough water to what happens if we start cloning people? How are we going to handle lack of work in the future and robots? How are we going to handle the ability to modify genetics? To create new species or modify species? How will we handle Artificial Intelligence? How will we handle extended lifespans of 150 years? How will our society be affected if some people are engineered superior to others? How are we going to handle people addicted to new things in the future? How will we handle the haves and have nots? How will we handle nano-machines? How will we handle asteroid smashing into the earth? How will we handle nutso’s with access to advanced technology? How will we handle war in the future with advanced technologies? How will we allocate medical technology?
These are things all possible to be serious worries in the 20th century that make Climate moving a couple degrees seem ridiculous by comparison.