December update:
2 upcoming books: Jan 2011
1) Principles of Planetary Climate (Cambridge University Press–January 31, 2011)
Book description: Provides a unified treatment of the basic physical principles of planetary climate phenomena on the present and past Earth and other planets. An invaluable textbook for advanced undergraduate and graduate students, and a reference text for researchers. Lavishly supported by hundreds of creative and stimulating exercises, software, datasets and algorithms.

2) co-edited with David Archer The Warming Papers (Wiley-Blackwell–January 25, 2011)
From the Amazon product description: “The Warming Papers is a compendium of the classic scientific papers that constitute the foundation of the global warming forecast.  The paper trail ranges from Fourier and Arrhenius in the 19th Century to Manabe and Hansen in modern times. Archer and Pierrehumbert provide introductions and commentary which places the papers in their context and provide students with tools to develop and extend their understanding of the subject.”


post 2B edited/reworked:


institutional page
re his textbook Principles of Planetary Climate, submitted to CUP
Real Climate blog

It has been a while since I enjoyed a couple of his talks as part of his full week of Noble Lectures (April 19-23, 2010), organized this year by the Program in Atmospheric Physics at the Department of Physics, UT. They are “right up the ecosonic alley”, so some thoughts below.

The main attraction for me was the opportunity to hear a recognized scientist’s take on 1) the ethics aspects of scientific endeavour, and also 2) how the habitable conditions on Earth project into the universe at large (or at least as large a chunk of it as we can currently see).
1. Climate Ethics, Climate Justice – Thursday April 22th
Lecture Slides; Nine Billion Ton Hamster
2. At the Outer Limit of the Habitable Zone – Friday April 23th
Lecture Slides
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On the subject of “fairness”: The series of graphs on pp 41-46 (slides 38-43) is the first concrete comparative mapping I’ve come across of the US – China CO2 emissions contribution. France serves as a control case of sorts. China’s (roughly current) yearly cumulative emissions exceed those of the US, and either of these countries’ output by far exceeds that of France, p 41. By contrast, the US and France (as the runner up) are both larger contributors than China w.r.t. per capita emissions, p 42. Adding to the picture the standard of living (SoL) of the three, it looks like France is doing better than the other two, its SoL approaching that of the US, but its per capita emissions closer to China’s, whose SoL is considerably lower than that of the other two. (do not look for a SoL graph – the speaker was relying on “common knowledge”)

Given its steep climb, even if much later than the head start the US and France had since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution mid-19 century, China is expected to catch up not just with France, but also with the US in CO2 Ems. Per p 46, at present China and the US diverge in CO2 usage: the pink area marks the US’s carbon “overdraft” (=pollution tonnes over and above where the output should be now), the green one China’s carbon “balance” (call it “credit”=less pollution tonnes than the projected limit). Prof Pierrehumbert pointed to the pink area, saying that “that’s where climate justice lies!”. Indeed, if international agreements were to hold legal sway. At least, it is clear that pushing for stricter measures via a vis China, as the US did at the Copenhagen COP15 in December 2009, did not have the back-up of a US clean(ed up) record.

Another comment by Prof Pierrehumbert I’d rather attribute to an attempt to lighten up the tone, or similar. Comparing China and France, he suggested that if France managed to bridle in its Ems while maintaining its higher SoL, it may – idealistically – be possible for China to raise its SoL without increasing its Ems. The industrial heritage, the work force and intellectual/cultural capital are not comparable/interchangeable. Other than that, certainly, if collective international action kicks in, then there will be less fear that whoever reduces is being taken advantage of by those who don’t.

Another point worth mentioning is albedo (solar reflectivity) engineering (e.g., spewing aerosols into the atmosphere) as a means of controlling solar radiation and, by extension, reducing temperatures (see sources in Albedo Engineering post). Prof Pierrehumbert labelled it a “moral abomination” without hesitation – and I agree with the sentiment. It is in the same “scientific” style as the use of DDT last century, and a number of other extremely harmful pesticides, whose side effects by far outweighed their presumed benefits, ditto bio-engineering, even the use of chemo and radiation therapy for cancer treatment. True, there may be more than enough cases where no (sufficiently effective) nobler approach is available, and the toss may well be between using drastic measures as a last resort and giving up altogether. However, if as Prof Pierrehumbert noted, AE and similar measures may also be misguided/miscalculated, then in the absence of a commensurate antidote, they would act as purposeful pollution. “Involuntary manslaughter” comes to mind, which may not be far behind “natureslaughter”, the roughshod approach matching in eco-dissonance the “epistemic imaginary of mastery” that generates it, and that epistemologist Lorraine Code identifies as the still-dominant imaginary in the Western world, not excluding the realm of science.

A couple of comments on the “At the Outer Limit of the Habitable Zone” lecture. It was a detailed excursus in space (our galaxy) and time (e.g., back to the time of early Mars), comparing conditions on heavenly bodies (Prof P. did not use the term) such as Venus, Mars, the (Earth’s) Moon, Titan, to try and demonstrate how close they are, or have ever been/might ever be, to what constitutes the “habitable conditions” of our planet. The most frequently considered parameters were CO2, H2O, heavenly body size, gravity; related planetary and atmospheric chemistry. All of the above in the face of missing/unavailable/inaccessible data, which unavoidably gave the exercise a romantic twist, if you like. Notwithstanding the ensuing huge number of variables, that can clearly over-generate possible hypotheses far beyond the ones discussed, the journey was quite enjoyable.

Quite delightfully, Prof P. concluded with – believe it or not – a poem featuring Sir Gawain taking his leave, the point being that the knight was rather unwilling to bid goodbye.

Discordantly, yours truly had to jump in – after a number of noble technical questions – with an admittedly general public query: Should humanity be faced with a catastrophe, what are our chances of finding a habitable host, travel challenges aside? Having grown up as a sci fi fan, what I meant was, whether to his knowledge, researchers have been able to identify, or target potential candidates, for a habitable host, irrespective of the currently insurmountable speed-of-light barrier. The answer boiled down to, “In view of yesterday’s lecture, it is unlikely that we’d wipe ourselves out”. The conditions may be very unpleasant, but a resilient/resourceful species like ours will find a way to adapt (I imagine, technologically, and brrrr even genetically?). He mentioned “bubbles” on the surface, and looking at least half a billion years ahead, when the Sun will turn into a super-hot red giant, we might use super-size mirrors to reflect/deflect its radiation away from the Earth, thus putting off the planet’s ultimate destruction as we know it by a few million (?) years.

I did not ask about planetary engineering, nor did I breach my favourite subjects

    strategic deep-space research for similar planets
    research on renewable energies

In the latter case, including anything commensurate with Nikola Tesla’s project, the surviving memory of which has it that he was working on utilizing the Earth’s own atmosphere (tapping into the ionosphere’s energy) as a source of inexhaustible, free energy for all.

Among numerous other Tesla YouTube videos – likely a school project (?) in the voices of two girls, Maia MacCarthur and Kiana Wilson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfvd1g_fcUote