Stephen Schneider: The Genesis Strategy

This book is occaisionally cited as, in some vague way, predicting ice ages. It does no such thing, of course, but its interesting to see what it is really about.

I haven't read the whole book, just skimmed it quickly. If you think I've misrepresented the sense, please let me know.

"Genesis Strategy", incidentally, is as in Joseph in Genesis: store up riches from good times to prepare for possible hard times ahead. Though, if it is to be believed, Joseph had a certain prediction of hard times and Schneider only had possibilities.

Quotes from the book

One may gain some understanding about why Schneider wrote the book, and his views on the role of scientists, by the quotes he leads the preface with:

In a scientifically exacting world scientists must assume responsibility for the consequences of science and technology... [cut] - quoted from J K Galbraith, the New Industrial State.

Scientists can no longer afford to be naive about the political effects of publically stated scientific opinions... [cut] Once scientific opinion enters into the public domain, the possibility of neutrality disappears, but this does not mean that objectivity should be thrown to the winds." - quoted from Harvey Brooks, 1973, Harvard University.

Well, there you go. He feels a responsibility to tell you whats going on.

Section Nature is getting competition: inadvertent climate modification. Page 9:

"One form of such pollution that affects the entire atmosphere is the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas.... Human activities have already raised the CO2 content in the atmosphere by 10 percent and are estimated to raise it some 25 percent by the year 2000. In later chapters, I will show how this increase could lead to a 1o Celsius (1.8o Fahrenheit) average warming of the earth's surface... Another form of atmospheric pollution results from... atmospheric aerosols... there is some evidence that atmospheric aerosols may have already affected the climate. A consensus among scientists today would hold that a global increase in atmospheric aerosols would probably result in a cooling of the climate; however, a smaller but growing fraction of the current evidence suggests that it may have a warming effect."

Gloss: CO2 is known to have risen, expected to rise further, and he feels confident enough about it to put a number to it. In contrast, aerosols only probably result in cooling and no number is given.

Section More Recent Climatic History. Page 77.

"The optimum (warmest) years occurred in the 1940s, and a cooling trend set in subsequently, a trend much celebrated in the media... Actually, the cooling trend has been greatest in the Atlantic Ocean region of the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere and no cooling at all has been proven for the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, I am far from certain that even the Northern Hemisphere has, on average, been experiencing a continuation of this well-known trend beyond the late 1960s..."

Gloss: so much for the assertion that people were predicting ice ages because they were panicked by the cooling trend from the 40s to the 70s.

Section What does it all mean?. Page 91.

"...dramatic examples of unusual weather reported in the press... may not necessarily be indications of an increasing trend of unusual weather variability; rather, they might simply indicate the increased vulnerability of society to weather disruption...".

Gloss: a good point in itself; implies he doesn't think much of the media coverage.

Section Actions before certainty page 94 ff.

"...I am not predicting famine (or feast) with certainty. Rather, I am warning that the worst possibility is at least as likely to happen as the best possibility, and since the worst is accompanied by well-known horrors, it seems logical to insure against its possible impact.

Gloss: he proposes actions before certainty... and is well aware that currently he cannot make certain predictions.

Chapter Weather and Climate Modification page 180.

There are various estimates of the response of globally averaged surface temperatures to a doubling of CO2 from a out 300 ppm to six hundred ppm by volume - a value projected to occur by about the years 2025 to 2040. State-of-the-art climate models unequivocally predict that such a doubling of CO2 would raise the surface temperature of the earth. Although these predictions vary considerably, probably the best order of magnitude estimate that can be made today is for a surface warming by some 1.5 to 3oK globally... [p181] But the long-term aerosol record for the globe is far from clear."

Gloss: a clear statement that CO2 will warm the earth, and an estimate of the range. Nothing like that for aerosols.

Just to warm the cockles of JMC's heart (he was always conplaining about how no-one would put forward proposals for climate modification if it turned out to be needed...) here's some more bits from Weather and Climate Modifiation

Page 206: "Why would anyone want to modify the climate?... (1) to offset an inadvertent climatic change from exponential growth... (6) to stabilize the climate..."

Page 206: "Melting the Arctic Sea Ice... suggestion - none of these should be considered as firm proposals - is to eliminate the Arctic Ocean ice pack.... An open ocean could result in much more moderate and quite possibly more snowy winters around the Arctic basin... Spreading black soot particles such as soot by aircraft... A third way might be to detonate "clean" thermonuclear devices in the Arctic Ocean [nukes too! JMC would be ecstatic...] ..."

Finally, from Control the Climate Controllers, Not the Climate page 243-4:

Inadvertent consequences unfavourable to some, or to all, might easily result from any of the modifiation schemes mentioned thus far.... But what if we become truly able to anticipate the consequences of human activities on climate?... But studying is only a first step... A meeting called to write a climate modification treaty must follow closely...".