Friday, April 9, 2010

There is no no-risk. A view from biology.

Here is another insight into the workings of science. Biologists play an important role in climate science, of course. They closely observe changes in the flora or in migration patterns of animals, and they document how non-human beings are responsive to changes in climate. Their perception of climate change is maybe a different one from those of mathematicians or physicists; it is not only a curve on a screen. This is true for example for Dr. Parmesan, a renowned biologist and lead author of the IPCC: "I've already watched populations go extinct. A lot of people haven't seen much change within their systems. To them it's a thing that's far away, maybe 100 years from now, but I can see that it's not 100 years from now. It's right now." Read her story here.

Dr. Parmesan draws some interesting conclusions. One of them is the assisted migration of endangered species. There is no 'nature' anymore. In order to protect things natural, we have to manage their habitats.  Consider this: in order to keep the air breathable and the planet livable, we even have to manage the thin climate envelope that protects us. Except  we consider assisted migration of human beings to other planets as a viable alternative.
Anyway, I think it is interesting to see how different sciences deal with climate change. In our discussions on klimazwiebel, there are often arguments in favor of an objective and pure science. In reality, there are many different disciplines with their own traditions and approaches to the world. It is an illusion to believe that science is able to mirror the world outside. Scientists are experts in the co-construction with their objects of research of something real; this is different from purely mirroring reality.


isaacschumann said...

I thought the article was excellent, though some of the information seemed dated.(it was very interesting and relevant nonetheless)

I especially like at the end of the article she talks about harvesting prairie grasses for energy. This is my field and I dont think the idea is so crazy at all. The government pays alot of farmers that live on the prairie not to grow things anyway, this seems a better use of taxpayer money.

The varied responses of different scientific disciplines is indeed interesting, and I would love to hear more on this, maybe the topic of another survey?;)

Zajko said...

Geoengineering, apparently, used to be a bit of a dirty word. I don't think actively managing nature is as much of taboo as it used to be - after all we've been doing it for thousands of years. But the image of a pure, "unspoiled" nature dies hard.

Anonymous said...

Interesting and pragmagtic approach e.g. ex situ storage of eggs/sperm for highest risk of extinction with lowest chance of saving.

However, you might want to take a look at the hockey stick she posted in the article. It's another example of why the fear is so dangerously pervasive.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I realise that the hockey stick pics might have been grafted onto the article by Daniel Oppenheimer. But this doesn't change the simplistic QED.

I wonder what percentage of extinctions can actually be put at climate's door (during the holocene) versus due to other factors

Werner Krauss said...


That's what I thought; the author put in the hockey stick graph to illustrate his portrait; but anyway, it illustrates well the dramatic (and sometimes frustrated) quotes of the biologist.

I posted the article to show that many scientists such as this biologist take anthropogenic climate change for granted; they almost automatically present their own findings in this framework. They are emotionally close to their objects of research; they don't say 'oh, how interesting, flowers show me that spring starts earlier'; instead, they document the change in the respective habitat and the sometimes dire consequences for some species.

For a physicist, such observations might become an important proxy; for the biologist, disappearance or even extinction of a species also means loss and grief. Biologists often times become advocates. They do so in a world where space for many species indeed is highly restricted. Many species just cannot move to another ecosystem; anthropogenic climate change or anthropogenic change of environments - for the advocate, the important word is 'anthropogenic'.

This also might indicate while in the respective IPCC working reports so-called 'gray literature' from NGOs is used; in case there is no peer-reviewed documentation at hand, why not take one of the WWF? Some biologists might think, this is better than no documentation at all.

Is there a completely neutral and objective approach to climate change? I posted this portrait as a complement to Steve Easterbrook's insights; maybe science is always a social process. It would be interesting to have some more insights into other disciplines which are important for the discussion on climate change.

isaacschumann said...

Here is an ecologist's perspective on the idea of 'tipping points' in the climate system. Its a different way of looking at the issue. I especially like the analogy of 'sloshing' as a way to imagine changes in the climate.

"Tipping points don’t work for non-steady-state ecological systems, because they are always changing, kind of sloshing around from one condition to another, and they don’t really have cliffs to fall off of. Life has persisted on Earth for about 3.5 billion years, during which it has evolved, changed, and adapted to changes many times. Indeed, many of the changes life has adapted to were brought about by life itself, which has altered the environment locally and globally, adding to that sloshing among system states. Living things and their ecological systems do change a lot. We can talk about changes that we like and those we don’t like, changes we consider natural or unnatural, but speaking of these as tipping points gets us off the track, away from how these things really work, and interferes with understanding what we could do, want to do, and even should do."

I am also a huge supporter of increased inter-disciplinary dialogue in general; not only does my curiosity make me want to 'butt in' to other fields (such as here:), but I also love when others show an interest in the microbes I work with.

link to the rest of the article:

Werner Krauss said...

thanks for that, interesting view from ecology. I found this here from the Glaciers National Park perspective; again, this is not abstract climate change, but one that is indeed experienced. It is interesting to see how the respective observers frame these climate effects in terms of global warming. This one is especially interesting, because it contains a time dimension over a long period:

Anonymous said...

Parmesan also held on to some residual hope that the public would begin to take the threat of warming seriously, particularly in reaction to the increase in dramatic weather events.

"I thought that the 2003 heat wave in Europe, followed by hurricanes Rita and Katrina, would change the mind of the American public," she says. "It seemed like for a few months it did, and then that consciousness just went away again."

There are opposing viewpoints from theoretical biophysicists with regard to the meteorological community and their understanding of physics (or more properly their violation of the laws of physics )

Eg Makarieva et al


In several recent studies, a heat engine operating on the basis of the Carnot cycle is considered, where the mechanical work performed by the engine is dissipated within the engine at the temperature of the warmer isotherm and the resulting heat is added to the engine together with an external heat input. This internal dissipation is supposed to increase the total heat input to the engine and elevate the amount of mechanical work produced by the engine per cycle. Here it is argued that such a dissipative heat engine violates the laws of thermodynamics. The existing physical models employing the dissipative heat engine concept, in particular the heat engine model of hurricane development, need to be revised.

In the press release devoted to this paper we wrote:

In a quest to understand the nature of atmospheric motions, a thermodynamic view on the atmosphere as a heat engine of some kind has become quite wide-spread. In our work we show that the dissipative heat engine where mechanical work output is supposed to grow due to internal dissipation of work produced in the previous cycles, is thermodynamically inconsistent and cannot exist. Our results indicate that the models employing the dissipative heat engine, in particular, the hurricane model of K. Emanuel, are incorrect.


Werner Krauss said...

@anonymous #8
sounds interesting! We have the hockey stick; we have this heat wave / Katrina quote which is risky in many ways; we have her suggestion that an immediate (climate related) reaction of the public might have an immediate effect on the ecosystems in question: all of these statements are debatable. There is not much left of her argument except that the species migrate due to warmer temperatures, which is a fact and well researched.
So what to do with this: Correct fieldwork, wrong framework? Where does anthropogenic climate change fit in here, and how?