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New book on the physics of climate change

Monday, November 30th, 2015

A new book on the physics of climate change by the distinguished climate physicists Michael Box and Gail Box of the University of New South Wales has just been published by CRC Press: Physics of Radiation and Climate.

For details see here:

Ocean diversity and human impact: 49% decline in marine vertebrate populations between 1970 and 2012

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

According to an emergency edition of the WWF Living Blue Planet Report, there has been a 49% decline in marine vertebrate populations between 1970  and 2012. These estimates are based on tracking 5829 populations of 1234 species. For some fish species, the decline has been almost 75%. Overfishing, habitat destruction and climate change are held to be responsible.

Details here:

Concerning the importance of marine ecosystems more generally, a concise and up-to-date list of important aspects of ocean diversity and how it has been affected by human activities is given in the UNESCO  report:

Some important points from this report:

  • “By the year 2100, without significant changes, more than half of the world’s marine species may stand on the brink of extinction.
  • Today 60% of the world’s major marine ecosystems that underpin livelihoods have been degraded or are being used unsustainably.
  • If the concentration of atmospheric CO2 continues to increase at the current rate, the ocean will become corrosive to the shells of many marine organisms by the end of this century. How or if marine organisms may adapt is not known.
  • Ocean acidification may render most regions of the ocean inhospitable to coral reefs, affecting tourism, food security, shoreline protection, and biodiversity.
  • Commercial overexploitation of the world’s fish stocks is so severe that it has been estimated that up to 13 percent of global fisheries have ‘collapsed.’
  • There are now close to 500 dead zones covering more than 245,000 km² globally, equivalent to the surface of the United Kingdom.
  • Between 1980 and 2005, 35,000 square kilometers of mangroves were removed globally.
  • Between 30 and 35 percent of the global extent of critical marine habitats such as seagrasses, mangroves and coral reefs are estimated to have been destroyed.”


Causes of losses in marine biodiversity are discussed here, with some references:

Corrected sunspot history suggests climate change not due to natural solar trends

Monday, August 10th, 2015

According to the International Astronomical Union (7 August 2015), sunspot activity over the last 300 years has remained more or less stable and cannot, therefore, be responsible for global warming since the industrial revolution.


“The Sunspot Number is a crucial tool used to study the solar dynamo, space weather and climate change. It has now been recalibrated and shows a consistent history of solar activity over the past few centuries. The new record has no significant long-term upward trend in solar activity since 1700, as was previously indicated. This suggests that rising global temperatures since the industrial revolution cannot be attributed to increased solar activity.” 

“The Maunder Minimum, between 1645 and 1715, when sunspots were scarce and the winters harsh, strongly suggests a link between solar activity and climate change. Until now there was a general consensus that solar activity has been trending upwards over the past 300 years (since the end of the Maunder Minimum), peaking in the late 20th century — called the Modern Grand Maximum by some.”

“This trend has led some to conclude that the Sun has played a significant role in modern climate change.”

 “The apparent upward trend of solar activity between the 18th century and the late 20th century has now been identified as a major calibration error in the Group Sunspot Number. Now that this error has been corrected, solar activity appears to have remained relatively stable since the 1700s.”

Full article (Science Daily) here:



A new book on the history of climate change politics in Australia

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

A book on the history of climate change politics in Australia, describing the disastrous influence of the right wing media (particularly those controlled by Murdoch) and the big mining corporations has just been published. Author is Maria Taylor (“Global Warming and Climate Change. What Australia knew and buried….then framed a new reality for the public”). : A free copy can be downloaded at this address.

The book is based on Taylor’s research for a PhD at the National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science of The Australian National University. From the ANU site on her book: “Her multi-disciplinary investigation of the public record and the input of science, politics, economics, journalism and contemporary mass media has revealed for the first time how and why Australia buried a once good understanding of global warming and climate change — to arrive after 25 years at the confusion and stalemate we are still in today. “

An outline and discussion of he book is available here:


“In 1989 Hawke described a “growing consensus amongst scientists” showing there was a strong chance that major climate change was on its way, that this change was linked to human activity, and this could have “major ramifications for human survival” if nothing was done.”

‘The Howard government …….. cautious climate policy positions ……. to justify it through media articles. That modelling was supported financially by the likes of the Australian Coal Association, the oil giant Exxon Mobil and the mining majors BHP and Rio Tinto.”


” ……. by 1997, many political and economic reporters were “dutifully scribing the story established by the business and political elite”.

A point to make is the role of the media in Australia, which is so dominated by the Murdoch press. That played a key role, in a sense that as the 90s rolled on it was so much easier to get out a consistent narrative if you don’t have a really diverse press. From what I saw – and what the documentary evidence showed – the ABC did have a leadership role for a long time in informing the public about climate change, but it really drew back in the late 90s. There was no other story being told.

Free-market neoliberal thinktanks, including the Institute of Public Affairs, promoted climate science denialist views and industry talking points that were picked up by the media.”

Niall Ferguson: Civilization, und Goethes Faust

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Der britische Historiker Niall Ferguson, bekannt unter anderem durch sein Buch The Pity of War, in dem er die Ursachen des Ersten Weltkrieges untersucht, und weitere Bücher, hat in einem brilliant geschriebenen Buch einen Abrisss der geschichtlichen Entwicklung der westlichen Zivilisation gegeben und versucht, die Ursachen ihres Erfolges zu verstehen (Civilization. The Six Killer Apps of Western Power, 2011). Auf Seite 305 (der Penguin Ausgabe von 2012) zählt er diese killler applications auf. Sie sind: Wettbewerb, wissenschaftiche Revolution, Herrschaft des Gesetzes und der representativen Regierung, moderne Medizin, die Verbrauchergesellschaft, und die Arbeitsethik. In einer Fussnote auf Seite 324 (sozusagen als Abschluss des Buches) erwähnt er als ‘foundational texts of Western civilization’ (als grundlegende Texte der westlichen Zivilisation) die folgenden Werke: King James Bible, Isaac Newtons Principia, John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, und Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (und als Anhang William Shakespeare’s plays und ausgewählte Reden von Abraham Lincoln und Winston Churchill).

Diese Auswahl scheint mir etwas einseitig anglozentrisch zu sein. Wie wäre es hiermit?:

Luthers Bibel (durch Gutenbergs Erfindung des Massendruckes der direkte Anlass zur schnellen Verbreitung des Wissens und aller späteren wissenschaftlichen Fortschritte), Johannes Kepler Astronomia Nova und Harmonices Mundi, Goethe Faust I und II, Immanuel Kant Über den ewigen Frieden, Johann Sebastian Bach Matthäus Passion, Beethoven Neunte Symphonie, Alexander von Humboldt Cosmos, Gregor Mendel Vererbungsgesetze, Max Weber Die Protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus, Ludwig Boltzmann Entropie, Max Planck Quantum, Albert Einstein Allgemeine Relativität. Und ferner (keine ‘Grundlagen’ der westlichen Zivilisation aber vielleicht mehr zukunftsweisend als zum Beispiel Konsumerismus und Wettbewerb): Die Upaschinaden und Arthur Schopenhauer Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung.

Auf Seiten 65-66 zählt er die wichtigsten 29 “breakthroughs” zwischen 1530 und 1789 auf. Überraschend, Keplers Gesetze der planetarischen Bewegungen fehlen, ohne Zweifel eines der wichtigsten Entdeckungen der Renaissance und von vielen als von entscheidender Bedeutung für die wissenschaftliche Revolution im 17. Jahrhundert angesehen, eine wesentliche Vorraussetzung von Newtons Gravitationslehre. Die Entwicklung des binären Systems durch Leibniz sollte ebenfalls hier stehen.

Der bekannte schweizer Ökonom H.C. Binswanger hat in einem Buch ausführlich beschrieben, wie Goethe in seinem Faust die Entwicklung der modenen Welt dargestellt hat. Faust, der Repräsentant der modernen Welt, ist ein tatkräftiger Unternehmer, sein Erfolg möglich gemacht durch die Erfindung des Papiergeldes (das die Goldwährung erstetzt), die Äquivalenz zwischen Währung und produzierten Güter, und die Eigentumsgesetze). Historisch genau beschrieben ist im Faust die folgende Sequenz: 1. Papiergeld  (Bank of England), Dampfmaschine (James Watt) und damit Anfang der industriellen Revolution, Römisches Eigentumsgesetz des “Dominion”, d.h. das Recht zu benutzen und zu konsumieren: Code Napoleon). Goethe weist auch auf die potentiellen Gefahren hin: eine wirkliche Gefahr besteht darin, dass bei wirtschaftlicher Entwicklung die Konsequenzen für die Umwelt nicht in Rechnung gestellt werden. In anderen Worten, Faust ist der moderne Mann mit all seinen Stärken und Schwächen. In keinem der von Ferguson angeführten “foundation” – Texten wurde auf die potentiellen Gefahren durch die Zerstörung der Umwelt hingewiesen; Goethes Faust ist also zumindest in diesem Punkt viel zukunftsweisender.

Was die Bibel anbetrifft, nicht die King James Bibel sondern Luthers Bibel ins Deutsche übersetzt stand am Anfang der protestantischen Revolution und dem schnellen Anstieg der westlichen Macht, ihre Wirkung möglich gemacht durch Gutenbergs Erfindung des schnellen Massendruckes, von Ferguson als die wichtigste westliche Entwicklung vor der industriellen Revolution nur kurz früh in seinem Buch erwähnt. Was bei Ferguson ebenfalls fehlt ist die stärkere Betonung der typisch westlichen Musik die durch Bach, Mozart, Beethoven Wagner und viele andere zu einem Höhepunkt geführt wurde, und ein wesentliches Element des modernen westlichen Menschen ist.

Und was die Literatur anbetrifft, die von Ferguson erwähnten ‘plays’ von Shakespeare sind sicherlich schön und gross, doch welche Schlüsse auf die moderne Welt lassen sie zu? Grimmelshausen Der abenteuerliche Simplizissimus und Brecht Der Gute Mensch von Szechuan und Leben des Galilei scheinen mir in der Hinsicht relevanter zu sein.

Insgesamt, die erstaunlichen von Ferguson beschriebenen ‘Fortschritte’ (wenn man sie so nennen soll) der westlichen Welt in den letzten 300 Jahren sind vielleicht nicht mehr als ein Schluckauf in einer Geschichte, die kurz vor der Katastrophe steht, wenn wir die Fehlentwicklungen nicht in den Griff bekommen. Und können wir hoffen, dass die “foundations”, die von Ferguson gefundenen Grundlagen dieser Entwicklungen, ausreichen, eine bessere Zukunft zu sichern? Man muss wie Ferguson schon ein Bewunderer von Präsident Reagan, Margaret Thatcher und Churchill sein, um das zu glauben, und viele sind das nicht.

Ich schliesse mit einem Zitat von Noam Chomsky aus meinem vorhergehenden Post:

“Die menschliche Spezies gibt es schon vielleicht seit 100.000 Jahren und sie steht jetzt vor einem einzigartigen Moment in ihrer Geschichte. Diese Spezies ist jetzt an einem Punkt, an dem sich sehr bald entscheiden wird, in den kommenden Generationen, ob das Experiment des sogenannten intelligenten Lebens weitergehen wird oder wir fest entschlossen sind, es zu zerstören. Überwiegend erkennen Wissenschaftler, dass fossile Energieträger im Boden bleiben müssen, damit unsere Enkel eine Zukunft haben. Aber die institutionellen Strukturen unserer Gesellschaft versuchen, jeden Tropfen aus der Erde zu pressen. Die Folgen, die Auswirkungen der vorhergesagten Effekte des Klimawandels für die Menschheit in nicht sehr ferner Zukunft sind katastrophal und wir rasen auf diesen Abgrund zu.”


H. C. Binswanger. The Challenge of Faust. Science 281, 31 July 1998.

H. C. Binswanger. Money and Magic: a Critique of the Modern Economy in Light of Goethe’s Faust, University of Chicago Press 1994 (transl. from German).

Niall Ferguson. Civilization. The Six Killer Apps of Western Power. Penguin 2012.

Noam Chomsky über den Klimawandel und die Zukunft des intelligenten Lebens auf der Erde

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015



Noam Chomsky, der berühmte Wissenschaftler und Politik-Kommentator, in einem Interview mit dem ‘Freitag’ im MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).


“Noam Chomsky: Die USA sind ein Schurkenstaat, Europa ist extrem rassistisch”

“Hoffentlich gibt es endlich einen Volksaufstand gegen die vernichtende, zerstörerische Wirtschafts- und Sozialpolitik, die von den Bürokraten und den Banken kommt.”

“Die menschliche Spezies gibt es schon vielleicht seit 100.000 Jahren und sie steht jetzt vor einem einzigartigen Moment in ihrer Geschichte. Diese Spezies ist jetzt an einem Punkt, an dem sich sehr bald entscheiden wird, in den kommenden Generationen, ob das Experiment des sogenannten intelligenten Lebens weitergehen wird oder wir fest entschlossen sind, es zu zerstören. Überwiegend erkennen Wissenschaftler, dass fossile Energieträger im Boden bleiben müssen, damit unsere Enkel eine Zukunft haben. Aber die institutionellen Strukturen unserer Gesellschaft versuchen, jeden Tropfen aus der Erde zu pressen. Die Folgen, die Auswirkungen der vorhergesagten Effekte des Klimawandels für die Menschheit in nicht sehr ferner Zukunft sind katastrophal und wir rasen auf diesen Abgrund zu.”


Vollständiger Artikel hier:

Solar activity and new “little” ice age, and another interpretation

Monday, July 20th, 2015

The Lomonosov State University Moscow has published a press release that presents evidence for the possibility of a small “little” ice age developing in about fifteen to twenty years. The evidence is that the sun undergoes cycles in activity indicated by the number of observed sun spots (50 per year during the previous little ice age lasting from 1645 to  1700, and 40 – 50 000 during the warmer period after it), and that we are approaching a point when activity should decrease.


“In 17th century, though, there was a prolonged reduction in solar activity called the Maunder minimum, which lasted roughly from 1645 to 1700. During this period, there were only about 50 sunspots instead of the usual 40-50 thousand sunspots. Analysis of solar radiation showed that its maxima and minima almost coincide with the maxima and minima in the number of spots.”

“If the similar reduction will be observed during the upcoming Maunder minimum this can lead to the similar cooling of the Earth atmosphere. According to Dr Helen Popova, if the existing theories about the impact of solar activity on the climate are true, then this minimum will lead to a significant cooling, similar to the one occurred during the Maunder minimum.

However, only the time will show soon enough (within the next 5-15 years) if this will happen.”


Full article here:


I have asked Professor Michael Box, a renowned climate physicist from the University of NSW, Sydney, to comment on this post and he has given me permission to add his comments here.

Yes, it is causing quite a stir, isn’t it? Let me see how much light I can shed.

The analysis techniques used to underpin the prediction of very low sunspot numbers (principal component analysis) is well known and ‘valid’ as to what it does. Using it to project into the future is somewhat less valid, as other factors which have not shown up in the past data may be waiting in the wings. I guess I would rate the chances of very low sunspot numbers in the 2030s as less than 50-50, but certainly not at, or close to, zero.
So that brings us to the more important issue of the impacts. The Little Ice Age (so-called) is certainly ‘real’, although many questions remain.
When did it begin? I’ve seen dates of anywhere from 1300 to 1450 – both well before the start of the Maunder Minimum in 1645.
When did it end? Again I’ve seen dates as late as 1850 (well after the end of the MM in 1715), which might well imply that the only reason it did end is the onset of global warming!
Was it global, or regional? There is plenty of evidence from Europe and some from North America. I’ve seen a suggestion of some evidence from New Zealand. However there do seem to be many questions around the uniformity of the cooling.
So that brings us to the really key question of the causes/drivers. Solar activity is certainly one possibility, although as I’ve indicated the MM certainly couldn’t have started it. It may have made things just a little bit cooler – say 0.2 C – but it wasn’t the cause! Other suggestions have been a slowing of the Gulf Stream (it has slowed significantly in the past. ~11,000 years ago); volcanic activity (a couple of major eruptions followed by some feedbacks); and ‘orbital forcing’. We know that changes in the Earth’s orbit are the drivers of the glacial-interglacial cycle (something one of the authors of the paper in question is clearly ignorant of!), and these drivers don’t stop and start, but are on-going. We probably are heading ever so slowly for the next glacial.
Like most scientists who have made ‘meaningful’ comments, my view is that, if it does happen, it will reduce global warming by ~0.1 C – or delay it by ~10 years. And that delay would only be temporary, and temperature would zoom ahead in the years that followed.


Interesting to compare this critical account with a story published in (a Murdoch site), in which the ‘coming ice’ age is more or less presented as a fact (“Earth heading for ‘mini ice age’ within 15 years’) and rounded up with drawing attention to the present cold front affecting SE Australia:

“Tropical-style thunderstorms, accompanied by heavy snowfalls, roared through the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, and towns as far as Orange on Saturday night.”

Full story here:

Marching into the Past: Cutting down on Renewable Energies and the Freedom of the Press

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

From the Sun Herald ( a Fairfax weekend newspaper) 12.July 2015:

“Tony Abbott has been warned he is putting international investment at risk after ordering the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation not to finance new wind power projects.”

Both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have repeatedly claimed that wind farms are noisy and ugly. No such comments about a new open cut coal mine in fertile agricultural lands in NSW, just approved by the Federal government.

According to the ABC on 13.7.15, “small scale solar power” projects are also banned.


“Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been accused of unprecedented political interference in the ABC by demanding the broadcaster move panel program Q&A into its news division before he lifts a boycott of the program.

In a letter sent to ABC chairman Jim Spigelman on Friday, Mr Abbott said he would be happy to lift a ban on his frontbenchers appearing on Q&A if the ABC transferred the program from its television department to news and current affairs.”

Abbott had previously banned his ministers from appearing on the TV show, and the Minsiter for Communications Malcolm Turnbull, as well as the Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joice, who had agreed to appear on the show, complied.

Urgent action necessary: Contrasting futures for ocean and society from different anthropogenic CO2 emissions scenarios

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the Global Change Institute and Professor of Marine Science at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Deputy Director of James Cook University’s Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies, and an ARC Laureate Fellow in 2013, is one of the authors of a paper just published in Science vol. 349, 3 July 2015, no. 6243, DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4722: in which the effects of climate change on the oceans are discussed under two scenarios, one if we continue as now, the other if we reduce temperature rise to 2 degrees.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg has also published an article in Conversation accessible to the wider public, in which he emphasises the need for urgent action if we want to avoid disaster: “……..the ocean system could not be more important: it regulates the global temperature and atmosphere, feeds 3 billion people, and largely determines our weather. The ocean also has lots of “inertia” – which means that getting the ocean to change takes a lot of energy, but once it begins to change, slowing it down becomes more or less impossible…..” . Full article here:


4th book review of Klaus Rohde ed.: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press 2013

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

The fourth review of the book edited by me has just been published in Quarterly Review of Biology, University of Chicago Press 90, pp. 211-212, June 2015. Reviewer is Professor Andrew Goudie, Professor of Geography, Oxford University, well known for his work on desert geomorphology, dust storms, weathering, and climatic change in the tropics, and his books on human impacts on the environment. For copyright reasons I include only two excerpts:

“There is more than ample evidence that humans are having an increasing impact on the environment through changes in land use and land cover, climate change, and globalization of organisms. A big question, which this book aims to answer is ‘what will be the ecological responses to such changes’? Will certain tipping points be passed for certain organisms and ecosystems?

The book is composed of 27 chapters and has 30 authors from a range of countries, with a particularly strong contingent from Australia. It covers various taxonomic groups, including plants, nematodes, mammals and birds, and a range of marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. It is very strong with respect to debates about equilibrium and non-equilibrium states at a variety of scales from populations to communities and to ecosystems of varying spatial extent. ”

“………… individual chapters have great merit and the overall message is a very important one. Parts I, II and III are valuable because of the light they throw on equilibrium concepts, while Part V includes useful case studies…….”


Earlier reviews here: