Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming

How hot is the shower?

As one increases the temperature of the water, the answer to this question becomes less and less subjective and more and more objective. Eventually, it becomes conclusively too hot, where cellular damage can be measured.

I mention this because on re-entering the blogosphere lately, I have found the comment threads are still awash with the “CAGW” acronym. Prove to me, they ask, that any warming that is due to human activity could be catastrophic.

Of course it’s a sign of weakness from the committed sceptic and I flag it to my reader in the hope they spot it for what it is and save themselves the effort in confronting the fellow seriously. They are not interested in a genuine reasoned argument. It’s a sideshow; a trump card played by someone needing attention rather than seeking clarity on a subject they indeed are open-minded to.*

I don’t care who mentioned the word “catastrophic” in what publication. Yes, I have been focusing on values of late, but here we have a great example (and warning) of poor communication that just will not die. It has played into the hands of the committed sceptic and has been something I’ve run into continually for the past three years as a blogger.

In truth, you cannot say with any great certainty that any amount of warming will be catastrophic until it becomes too hot. Venus is too hot, but we’re not likely to hit such temperatures until the sun is on the way out.

Would the committed sceptic find the previous ice age to be catastrophic if it reoccurred within a century from now? That was around 5oC cooler that today.

It is entirely up to ones judgement whether or not such a significant shift could be termed “catastrophic”. A half intelligent committed sceptic is aware of this.

Hence you have a stalemate position and a smug smile returned for your attempt at reasoned debate on the subject. It’s likely most of us would find a world 6oC warmer to be “catastrophic” to how and where we live and grow food and to biodiversity richness, but you cannot expect that to be acknowledged by others.

I’ve seen enough projections from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and research currently being completed by researchers within working teams I have been associated with (currently unpublished) to be concerned by as little as 2oC  additional warmth to South Australia, however projections as much as 4oC warming in Greenland might look good. How hot is too hot?

The projections for this coming century are within the realms of a subjective answer to such questions. You cannot hope to question the validity of “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming” because the answer remains subjective. They know that. That’s why they hand it to you so easily.

The first suggestion to such a situation may be to ignore it, but this just doesn’t cut it. So what can we do to counter such a subjective question?

In my opinion, make it clear that the committed sceptic has posed a subjective question – they’ve asked you how hot is too hot. It depends on where you are and what you think would be too much stress to local systems. Ask them to dry a line in the sand; tell you what they would think is objectively too hot – what would they see as being “catastrophic”.

Either they’ll offer you something objective (ie. ice caps melted or frequency of extreme weather events) from which you can start to refer to the science literature on the subject or expose themselves to be ‘pissing in the wind’ for attention. That is to say if they refer to a “warmist” statement on what is “catastrophic” or of balmy summer holidays to the UK, they remain in the subjective. Tell them so and move on.

From my experience, such individuals that refer to “CAGW” are typically bombastic and avoid answering questions directly. They will probably cut-and-paste quotes from their favourite “sceptical” website and dart from one accusation to another.

Don’t try to keep up with them, for they are well trained to Gish Gallop and will leave you for dust. Continually press on this initial point and for their personal statement on what is too hot. You’ll probably find that, like a puppy, if you won’t chase them, they’ll grow bored of the game and either attempt a dialogue or (more likely) move on to greener pastures for attention, saving you time and effort.


*I’m aware that, at this point, it is likely many of the committed sceptic have shut off and are darting towards the comment stream to complain noisily with terms like “warmist”, conspiracy theories and self-righteous claims of awareness in the face of my apparent arrogance or ignorance. I’d hope you can take the time to read the rest of the post and hopefully provide more thoughtful reflection.


4 thoughts on “Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming

  1. My impression was that CAGW was a term that was coined in order to distinguish climate change that was tolerable, and could be adapted to successfully, from that which would have catastrophic outcomes. As such this is an important intellectual point, regardless of the attribution of the blame for climate change. No-one would be so foolish as to claim that climate change does not occur – it clearly has not only occurred but has caused the end of every know civilisation that preceded ours. Given that we have a global civilisation, the localised changes that caused “Dark Ages” in Egypt or caused the end of the Khmer civilisation, are far less likely to threaten our own civilisation. Indeed, other than a major asteroid strike, or a cataclysmic activation of one of the great calderas, it is difficult to imagine anything other than an anthropogenic event that would cause a rate of change faster than our civilisation could reasonably adapt to.

    Arguably if AGW does not cause a degree or rate of change that would qualify to be CAGW, we would be wasting our time devoting any significant resources to counter it. The question for all of us would therefore be at what point AGW becomes CAGW. I am not surprised that no-one has been able to give you an answer to this. I am not sure anyone knows, but all manner of Alarmists claim that we will imminently cross the “Catastrophic” threshold.

    BTW the first mention of CAGW appears to have been in The Guardian’s comments section, used by Arbuthnott in 2007. There was a brief flurry of its use for about 12 months but it appears to have fallen out of favour of late. My impression is that the Alarmists would prefer not to have anything as rational as a debate about what consequences are likely to occur – climate change is what they had intended to use as a tool to bring industry, capitalism, technology, and human development to their knees.


    1. Firstly, that you for your tone and thoughtful reflection. While it obvious from your reply and the context of New Anthro, we likely have difference in opinion, it is a breath of fresh air to have such a reply from a contrarian point of view. My hope is, if this spans out to an ongoing discussion, we can maintain such a high quality and respectful dialogue. I have, in the past, began down such a road only to encounter Gish gallop and circular arguments which ultimately waste time and effort.

      Fingers crossed.

      Personally, I don’t like the phrase “catastrophic” and have found the individuals whom challenge me with it, do so understanding the trap it produces. Basically, “explain to be how the shower is too hot.”

      I of course cannot do that. No-one can until very high temperature start to do physical damage. Thus, they conclude, all discussion relating to detrimental effects of climate change are alarmist in nature and reject it accordingly. I fail to see how my activities, for instance, are alarmist – I report directly from the best attempts by science to reject AGW (ie. standard scientific methodology). Thus far, it stands up to scrutiny within the expert community, regardless to popular opinion. I have suggested previously statements, such as that you have used, “climate change is what they had intended to use as a tool to bring industry, capitalism, technology, and human development to their knees” are stated, without empirical evidence (relating to genuine conspiracy behaviour against humanity) but more fear typical to any discussions which include regulation as a possibility (eg. “regulation of X will ruin the economy and lose jobs”) which, in retrospect have always been proven wrong in strong democratic countries (it is completely contrary to a resilient economy which, if it were weak, it would already need adjustment anyway to strengthen it).

      Thus unfounded claims of such a nature, designed to incite fear are, in all truth Alarmist by definition.

      I don’t use catastrophic and I doubt climate change will lead to the end of our species. I am not an alarmist by any means – for more on that, please refer to my pages beneath the heading above “Alarming Religion”.

      In reply to the points you raised; I agree, no-one can (or should) define “catastrophic” climate change. However, in a post I created around a year ago, I explained that a few degrees difference is a significant difference. Once we hit a point of 4 degrees warmer, it represents an increase by about 28.5%. Where the previous ice age was around 5 degrees cooler than the average Holocene climate, we should expect that, when we approach such a difference in the average climate in the opposite direction, the Earth is very likely to be as different again from today as the previous ice age would be. If we believe an equivalent ice age reoccurred within a century or two from now would be detrimental to human activities, we must conclude the same above similar temperature change in the opposite direction.

      That is precisely my argument. I think an ice age would do damage to human activity. I think it’s a logical conclusion equivalent climate change in the opposite direction is likely to be as detrimental. Our understanding of analytical chemistry and physics give us a good idea of the underlying principles and our continual investigations into climate simply has not been able to refute AGW.


    2. I figured as much as your silence… unfortunately. Too often bold claims are made, without significant citation and credibility only to move on and continue the irrelevant memes elsewhere.

      Incidentally, research I have been undertaking for a project I’m working on lead me to find error in your claim on where the CAGW came about.

      11 years prior to your claim, Fred Singer (notorious for being wrong not only on climate science in general, but scientific integrity, ozone depletion, acid rain, tobacco related illness – both direct and secondary – and predictive sociology – including the expectation that we would likely be using far less fossil fuels by now) had built such a straw-man as that I’m discussing above [see the closing paragraph of this article in Science].

      Claim they say it’s catastrophic and then discredit them for making value judgements outside strike science. It’s a sideshow.


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