Warming, phytoplankton, and climate denialism

Is a 40% phytoplankton dieoff over half a century enough to shake the global-warming denialists? How about a report showing that 10 out of 10 indicators are moving in the predicted direction? No.

No doubt neither the latest climate report – the past decade was the warmest on record, and every indicator is moving in the direction predicted by analysis of anthropogenic global warming – nor the really, really scary paper in Nature about diminishing phytoplankton as a result of oceanic warming will suffice to open the closed minds of the climate denialists. They’ll just keep chanting “Climategate! Climategate! Climategate!”

But we’re now at a state of knowledge where refusing to do something serious about global warming can only be called a policy of homicidal recklessness. Dying phytoplankton are a much bigger deal than the threat from a stray asteroid; too bad there’s no way to fire a nuclear missile at the problem, or the propeller-head faction among the libertarians might get interested.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

9 thoughts on “Warming, phytoplankton, and climate denialism”

  1. But some guy in Newsweek wrote an article that said the Earth is actually cooling! I don't know what to believe! Guess we better do nothing until all the facts are in!

    By the way, I'm a "moderate."

  2. Suicidal seems to be the word here. If we look at the earth as a living organism the oceans are a major organ. It is doubtful the earth will continue to support life if the oceans die.

  3. Thanks so much for this reference. After looking it up and checking some sources, I sent the following to friends. I'm posting it here, on the chance that it might be useful to others:

    I just saw a reference to this recent article from the authoritative journal, Nature, and looked it up. Pretty interesting. It is one of several articles that reference the earlier one by Brandon that describes how climate change and intense fishing combine to reduce the number of species. I can send the full articles to anyone who asks.

    Phytoplankton is basic food for fish, and it's disappearing. This is not from the East Anglia e-mails, and people who've made claims based on those mails might now turn their minds to the real problems we're facing. Among other things,

    One journalistic piece on the paper below quotes Peter Franks, a phytoplankton ecologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. "If it's true, there's a lot of bad stuff going on." (Christian Science Monitor, http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2010/0728/Vital-….

    I've added, too, the summary of Sabine et al 2004, who "use marine inorganic carbon measurements from two global ocean surveys conducted in the 1990s to estimate the size of the oceanic sink for the period from 1800 to 1994. They find that the oceans have absorbed 48% of the CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement manufacturing during that period." (Editor's note).

    Since 1800, we've lived in the carbon era. One historian mentions E.A. Wrigley, "who characterizes the Industrial Revolution as most importantly a

    switch from a self-sustaining organic economy to a mineral resource depleting inorganic economy." Wrigley's had his critics, but this quotation reflects the plight we're in: mineral depletion has helped create the modern world — but "depletion" has now damaged the food supply and has also become extremely costly (we're drilling in increasingly dangerous ways). What next?

    Corporations whose wealth is based on fossil fuel extraction seem intent on lobbying for continued depletion. It's worth asking, at what cost?




    Global phytoplankton decline over the past


    Daniel G. Boyce1, Marlon R. Lewis2 & Boris Worm1

    Nature July 21, 2010


    In the oceans, ubiquitous microscopic phototrophs (phytoplankton) account for approximately half the production of organic

    matter on Earth. Analyses of satellite-derived phytoplankton concentration (available since 1979) have suggested

    decadal-scale fluctuations linked to climate forcing, but the length of this record is insufficient to resolve longer-term trends.

    Here we combine available ocean transparency measurements and in situ chlorophyll observations to estimate the time

    dependence of phytoplankton biomass at local, regional and global scales since 1899.We observe declines in eight out of ten

    ocean regions, and estimate a global rate of decline of ,1% of the global median per year. Our analyses further reveal

    interannual to decadal phytoplankton fluctuations superimposed on long-term trends. These fluctuations are strongly

    correlated with basin-scale climate indices, whereas long-term declining trends are related to increasing sea surface

    temperatures. We conclude that global phytoplankton concentration has declined over the past century; this decline will

    need to be considered in future studies of marine ecosystems, geochemical cycling, ocean circulation and fisheries.

    Global fish production and climate change

    K. M. Brander

    Nature, Dec. 11, 2007


    Current global fisheries production of ≈160 million tons is rising as a result of increases in aquaculture production. A number of climate-related threats to both capture fisheries and aquaculture are identified, but we have low confidence in predictions of future fisheries production because of uncertainty over future global aquatic net primary production and the transfer of this production through the food chain to human consumption. Recent changes in the distribution and productivity of a number of fish species can be ascribed with high confidence to regional climate variability, such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. Future production may increase in some high-latitude regions because of warming and decreased ice cover, but the dynamics in low-latitude regions are governed by different processes, and production may decline as a result of reduced vertical mixing of the water column and, hence, reduced recycling of nutrients. There are strong interactions between the effects of fishing and the effects of climate because fishing reduces the age, size, and geographic diversity of populations and the biodiversity of marine ecosystems, making both more sensitive to additional stresses such as climate change. Inland fisheries are additionally threatened by changes in precipitation and water management. The frequency and intensity of extreme climate events is likely to have a major impact on future fisheries production in both inland and marine systems. Reducing fishing mortality in the majority of fisheries, which are currently fully exploited or overexploited, is the principal feasible means of reducing the impacts of climate change.

    Science 16 July 2004:

    Vol. 305. no. 5682, pp. 367 – 371

    The Oceanic Sink for Anthropogenic CO2

    Christopher L. Sabine,1* Richard A. Feely,1 Nicolas Gruber,2 Robert M. Key,3 Kitack Lee,4John L. Bullister,1 Rik Wanninkhof,5 C. S. Wong,6 Douglas W. R. Wallace,7 Bronte Tilbrook,8Frank J. Millero,9 Tsung-Hung Peng,5 Alexander Kozyr,10 Tsueno Ono,11 Aida F. Rios12


    Using inorganic carbon measurements from an international survey effort in the 1990s and a tracer-based separation technique, we estimate a global oceanic anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) sink for the period from 1800 to 1994 of 118 ± 19 petagrams of carbon. The oceanic sink accounts for 48% of the total fossil-fuel and cement-manufacturing emissions, implying that the terrestrial biosphere was a net source of CO2 to the atmosphere of about 39 ± 28 petagrams of carbon for this period. The current fraction of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions stored in the ocean appears to be about one-third of the long-term potential.

  4. I again ask how do they know what the levels were in 1899? Is such BS. Tere is no way this can be honest. They are just pulling shit out of their hat.

  5. In a few years, Steph Houghton (like all the other denialists) will be forced to acknowledge that scientific consensus is and has been correct, and that massive evidence for anthropogenic global warming can no longer be denied. When Steph is forced to acknowledge this, it will be with the claim "I've been saying this for years." If Steph has granchildren, they will, in spite of his claims, nevertheless suffer the very dire consequences of the period of denial that Steph and the other denialists are clinging too with increasingly shrill desperation. Their position is intellectually untenable and morally vacuous; their grandchildrens' position (and that of all of our grandchildren) will be physically precarious at best.

    It is a great grief that is unfolding, a vast unkindness, a self-imposed judgement on the poor fitness of the human species for long term survival.

    Steph: look into what "peer-reviewed" means, what the process entails. Write directly to the authors to ask them about the sources of their data. See if you can poke holes in it through actual intellectual labor. Come back and share what you find. See if you can convince us based upon reason and some understanding of research and scientific method. Until you do, you are being intellectually dishonest.

  6. Some very lame scaremongering. Phytoplankton were around when temps were considerably higher. And phytoplankton growth isn't correlated to temperature anyway.And for Gaia's sake, they're claiming the world will end and they didn't even release their data! How is anyone supposed to take this seriously? This field spews up some of the laziest, sloppiest agenda-drive science ever published. Karl Popper would slap them. If I had a dime for every phenomenon that's been "linked to global warming" I could buy Al Gore's oceanside mansion. Ah well. Someday "An Inconvenient Truth" will sit next to "Reefer Madness" on the shelf of unintentionally hilarious doom-mongering.

  7. Thank you TallDave, for the quick roundup of kooky denialist phrases and excuses.

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