Moving Planet--Sept. 24, 2011

Tomorrow, around the world, in 168 countries and around the United States, myriad events will celebrate a mobilization for addressing global warming around the slogan of a moving planet. Sponsored by, the mobilization and its events call for marches, bicycle tours, green fairs, clean ups, trips to community gardens, biogas tours, environmental modeling etc. All in all, it is a call to take seriously the reality of global warming.

The clear and overwhelming consensus of earth scientists about global warming is impressive. 99% of them agree on the following conclusions: (1) Global warming is occurring; (2) Global warming is, principally, due to human interventions in creating new levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; ( 3) If we do nothing to counter-act global warming, we risk a dangerous tipping point of no easy return where its impacts on the environment ( and, consequently, on the economy) will be catastrophic. Over and over again, we are seeing massive evidence of glacier meltings, sea warming and sea rising, earlier springs, animals moving away from their normal habitats etc. Some worse case scenarios, if nothing is done to address global warming, envision hundreds of millions of environmental refugees fleeing lands being inundated by rising sea levels or loss of sources of water, as the glaciers have eroded.


Any one who regularly accesses the website,, will know that the debates among scientists about global warming are not about the above mentioned three consensus items. Debates focus on timing ( just how much time do we have before more catastrophic tipping points might occur?); parsing the precise amount of causation from human interactions with the environment versus more natural causation; just how many parts per million of carbon dioxide can the atmosphere absorb before catastrophic tipping points ? Some think we can absorb ( before hitting a no turn back tipping point) as much as 480ppm or even as many as 550ppm. Our current levels are 380ppm and rising.Others have argued that a level of 350ppm is the optimal level to avoid temperature rises of more than 2 Celsius. Hence the name of Bill McKibben's group organizing the event of moving planet, McKibben the author of The End of Nature makes his persuasive case for the 350ppm in his book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough Planet ( New York: Henry Holt, 2010). NASA's James Hansen, perhaps our best scientific observer of global warming, tends to agree with Mc Kibben's estimate and prognosis.

By googling he term, moving planet, anyone can find out and access events being held near their home. I plan to join a march from the Ferry Building to the Civic Center in San Francisco tomorrow. The march ends with speeches by Bill McKibben and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club. There will be information booths and other material to help people know how to address global warming. In New York, a march will go toward the United Nations Plaza to dramatize that it is two months before the next UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa. So little has been achieved at the U.N. to move forward any serious proposals to address climate change. Naturally enough, some cities and their suburbs ( New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, Portland etc) will have multiple events planned for tomorrow's mobilization. In Alexandria, Virginia, for example, a march will move from coal burning plants to offshore windmills.

The goals of the mobilization day are the following: (1) Achieving a science based set of policies to get us back to 350ppm. This includes calling for a UN sponsored climate regime; (2) A rapid but just transition toward renewable energy; (3) Funding for a fair transition to a new climate regime; (4) Letting the rights of people trump the rights of polluters. More specifically, the mobilization calls for stopping dirty energy projects, protecting human health and reducing corporate powers' unfair and undue influence on climate change policies.

I do not have large expectations for what tomorrow's moving planet events will, in the short run, achieve. Our own country seems far from any serious address to global warming and the United States' own disproportionate contribution to it. A number of current candidates for the Presidency of the United States are, cavalierly, denying the scientific evidence for global warming. Minimally, if enough people turn out, there might be some evidence, even for cynical politicians, that there is a critical mass of citizens who want the issue addressed forthrightly and in some genuine deliberate speed.

John A. Coleman, S.J. 

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Vince Killoran
6 years 6 months ago
We all need to be a little more consistent and forthright.  

For example, at #3 above John writes: "No name calling. No put downs. Just a link to the place where I can look at the actual raw data and verify for myself that the computer models are accurate."

I then provided him in #7 with the link to NASA's raw data ( but he went quiet on this thread. I figured he was busy crunching the numbers. . .

Today's "new" John on "The Critical Take on 'Higher Ground'" posting: "Science ought to be about evidence, not fancy computer models based on data that researchers REFUSE to share. U of East Anglia anyone?" 

Holy smokes!

Craig McKee
6 years 6 months ago
Perhaps it's just a coincidence that this day falls on the beginning of the American Library Association's BANNED BOOKS WEEK.
Considering that censorship and denial of intellectual freedom on TERRA FIRMA are alive and well in far too many places (especially in my neck of the woods!), one can only hope that this day will at least encourage people to LOOK UP and DREAM of a better world, if only for a moment.
Vince Killoran
6 years 6 months ago
John's request to 'show me the data" is exactly the demand that circulated on Fox News & conservative blogs a couple of years ago.  The hype was that the data had been destroyed and so global warming could not be proved.

In fact, the data was not destroyed.  See for details on the fake news debacle. There is a link to the relevant NYT article.  CRU's major findings were replicated by other groups, including the NOAA climatic data center, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and also in Russia. Just for fun I went to the NASA page and, indeed, they have posted their raw data ( 

I'd be interested to learn how John's review of the NASA raw data turns out. 
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 6 months ago
Good point, Bill.  The earth seems so big in volume but it is really all about the biosphere, a layer of chemistry, energy, and life, which is not so big. 
Bill Collier
6 years 6 months ago
Thanks for this excellent post. And though his address before the Bundesatg yesterday was not specifically about the environment, and though he didn't mention global warming per se, BXVI-perhaps the most outwardly pro-environment pope-did say that "[t]he importance of ecology is no longer disputed." In the past he has spoken about our need for stewardship of the environment, and I hope he continues to link respect and protection of the environment (the only known habitat we have in the universe) with a religious duty to honor and respect God's creation.  
Bill Collier
6 years 6 months ago
Oops, 4C8B1C = me, not some "Security Verification" visitor from another planet. 
6 years 6 months ago
Since we're talking about science and not faith...I suppose it would be trivially easy for anyone to provide me with a link to the raw data used by "science" to come up with their global warming models, yes?

And while we're at it, I'm sure it's probably also easy for science to tell us with the degree of accuracy needed for policy prescriptions being called for, how much energy the planet has received from the Sun and cosmic radiation over the last million years - such that a current warming trend could so obviously be spotted as an anomaly vs. simply part of the planet's cyclical glacial and inter-glacial pattern.

No name calling. No put downs. Just a link to the place where I can look at the actual raw data and verify for myself that the computer models are accurate.

I mean we'd really be silly to base this much effort on conjecture, guesses, approximations and hypotheticals - all worried sick about global warming right on the eve of a new ice age!
David Backes
6 years 6 months ago
John, I don't know if there's anyplace online where you can look at all the raw data.  And unless you're an expert in the field, it probably would not be useful to you in any case.  But there is one website that does an excellent job of clearing up misconceptions.  Many of the arguments against climate change are based on misinterpretations of what scientists actually say, and so the arguments present myths about climate change.  The site is especiallly useful for looking at the most popular media arguments against climate change, and presenting what researchers actually say, and why the popular opposing argument is based on misinterpretation or upon flawed research.
6 years 6 months ago
The problem with having an intelligent discussion about climate change is that it became so politicized so early.  This affected the actual science that was done and how it was interpreted and the remedies if needed for any changes in human behavior.  It was immediately coopted by the left and the solutions were the typical remedies proposed by the left to implement their political agenda.  

So what is usually missing is a discussion of what is feasible to correct the current situation if in fact anything is necessary.  The solutions proposed by the AGW advocates are often draconian and would have massive social impacts in terms of unemployment and prosperity.  Another author on this site at this moment posted a map of poverty.  If climate change advocates such as those of the Sierra Club got their way, we would see unbelievable poverty and I do not know how deep the color of the map could get.  So the hard line supporters of organizations such as the Sierra Club drown out reasonable discussions of the topic which is nothing new.
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 6 months ago
Personally, I am not interested in going to he said she said dot com or blah blah dot com to be convinced of the greenhouse effect.  This is how it works for me.  Here it is, spelled out.
Sit in a car on a sunny day (any season), close the windows and wait.  Is it warmer inside the car than outside the car?  Yes.  Why?
Source of input energy is our sun with a surface temperature of 6000 degrees Kelvin (room temperature is around 300 degrees Kelvin).  At this temperature, the sun radiates with the power distributed throughout the spectrum but with the peak in the wavelength region from 400 nanometers to 700 nanometers.  It is no coincidence that this is where the retinas of our eyes are sensitive.  Forget about the atmosphere for now.  This power reaches to the earth’s surface at around 1 kilowatt per square meter (around 3 by 3 feet area).  Think of the power of your electric oven, around 2 kilowatts.  OK.  The peak of this power in the visible spectrum goes right though the glass.  We can see through glass. Right.  Then it hits the interior of the car.  The interior is around room temperature, 300 degrees Kelvin.  Now the interior radiates power, too.  That power escapes and removes energy from the interior of the car.  But the energy spectrum of a 300 degree Kelvin body peak power output is at around 9000 to 14000 nanometers.  That’s why the Army uses infrared vision.  Those Taliban light up like light bulbs if you have an infrared sensor and you can pick them off.  But glass does not pass this peak power.  If you look through an Army IR sight, you can’t see through windows, your glasses look black, even if they aren’t sunglasses.  So the energy is absorbed by the glass and reradiated back toward the interior and it gets hotter.  This is the greenhouse effect.
Now for the atmosphere.   Replace glass with carbon dioxide.  Effectively the same thing. But it is a gas and unlike glass, you can vary the amount in the atmosphere and the greenhouse effect can be varied.  It is not as strong an absorption as glass, but it is there.  Also, carbon dioxide can be absorbed by the oceans.  In itself, not a good thing, think soda pop.  Atmosphere convects.  Most of the air and CO2 are near the surface, most of the heating takes place here, and hot air likes to rise.  Too much of this leads to violent weather and that is also not a good thing.  Nevertheless, the same thing you can experience in your car is happening worldwide and this is in a nonlinear system.  It gets complicated from here and I passed the word limit.  But if you want to argue with me, argue with the above.  This is correct to first order.  Your turn, denialists.
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 6 months ago
The American Institute of Physics has a good historical survey of the controversies regarding global warming from the 19th century to the present and how they played out.

Everyone should read this before going to any other website.  These scientists were trying to figure out why the ice ages occurred and ended and were disinterested in or naive with respect to any political and economic consequences.

Global warming caused by man-made activities is a fact.  All political and economic discussions must start here.  The exponential increase in fossil fuel emissions continues unabated.  It now has a future thanks to spineless Obama allowing the tar sands pipeline.  He, along with Mr. Cosgrove, apparently fears near term economic impact.  Of course, we've been playing that game since the Reagan era, neglecting development of alternate power sources, not lowering the CAFE standards for automobiles to mandate improved oil efficiency, exempting trucks from the standards.  So now, our margin for action is smaller than ever.  We have less wiggle room, if any.  This year has been an ensemble of hundred, five hundred and one thousand year weather events.  Tens of billions of dollars of worth destroyed and this may only be the beginning.  The new normal may have already begun.  The draconian measures are now being taken by nature.

Personally, I believe we are at a point where even draconian measures will only soften a hard landing.  I would like to hear from the ethicists in America how a Catholic should act in the next 50 years, as populations starve and collapse beyond the combined resources of the richer countries which will have their own problems with survival.  I think it is similar to the question, "what should a Catholic do in a lifeboat with more people in it than can stay afloat"?
Bill Collier
6 years 6 months ago
I'd add, Stanley, that the "lifeboat" in your last post is in environmental terms the thin layer of life-permitting conditions on the earth's surface that separates biological organisms from both the lifeless interior core of the planet and the lifeless vacuum of space. Our ongoing assault on earth's biolayer is analogically equivalent to the occupants in a lifeboat intentionally releasing the air that keeps the lifeboat afloat in a life-or-death situation.    


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