People in Greenhouses Throwing Stones

We promised to provide a breakdown of the IPCC’s WGI as we did for WGII and III. So here goes:

As before, we’ve limited ourselves to those contributors based in the UK or USA. That gives us 303 authors to work with out of a total of 618. That’s nearly half the total – strange, for an institution which claims to represent scientists from all over the world.

It was very difficult to establish the discipline, background and level of expertise of scientists who work at the UK’s Hadley Centre and Meteorological Office, and NOAA and NASA in the USA, as they tend not to have personal web pages. 31 of the UK contributors work at the Hadley Centre, 43 of the US contributors work at the NOAA. Where we have been unable to locate these people properly (nearly always), we’ve given them the benefit of the doubt, and included them in the same category as scientists in climatology, meteorology, and oceanography. There were 215 scientists in this category. So there is certainly a higher proportion of people who could reasonably be called climate scientists in WGI compared with II and III. But it’s worth pointing out that this figure is also boosted by a whole bunch of people who work in climatology but who are modellers by training. That’s not to knock modelling – well, maybe a bit – but it does raise questions about what a climate scientist actually is, when you get to call yourself one even if you’ve spent most of your career modelling traffic flows or whatever. We’ll try to come up with some numbers for that at some point.

As for the other 88, 24 are atmospheric physicists, 27 are geophysicists or geologists. Arguably, these could also be lumped in with the so-called climate scientists. Ach, what the hell, let’s call it 266 climate scientists out of 303. Of the rest, we have four statisticians, eight mathematicians/physicists, eight engineers, two biologists/ecologists, and one each from history of science, computer science, and a lonely economist. There were also solos from an NGO, an agronomist, and a lawyer (who curiously seemed to double up as an oceanographer). Which leaves another eight whose expertise we can’t establish.

So, across WGI, II and III, we have a very generous 314 contributors among the 510 we sampled who can reasonably be described as scientific experts. Which scales up to 1539 out of the putative 2500. Some of our critics have argued that it was dishonest to look at WGII and III, and that the climate scientists are all in WGI. Of course WGII/III are not all climate scientists. This criticism misses the point that the IPCC is neither, as is frequently claimed, 2500 of the worlds best climate scientists, nor indeed climate scientists at all. This is precisely the misconception we have been challenging, following claims made by the likes of Andrew Dessler about the Inhofe 400 list. The composition of the IPCC, it turns out, is not so different.

Tony Gilland points out in his review of Bjørn Lomborg’s ‘Cool It’, the IPCC expertise is spread across many chapters, with the result that most of the scientists involved will have read only a minimal proportion of any report. That’s to say, a reviewer or contributing author to WGI on glacial recession has not made any statement about his or her agreement in WGIII on what is the best way to approach the problem of climate change from a policy or economic perspective – or even on chapters of WGI to which he or she did not contribute. So the idea that the IPCC represents a scientific consensus on climate change and what to do about it is a complete misconception of the functioning of the IPCC. At best, each chapter from each working group represents the work of just tens of authors, across a range of disciplines and levels of expertise. Yet activists, politicians, and journalists will claim that de facto policy recommendations from WGIII have the support of the consensus of 2500 climate scientists.

That ‘the consensus’ does not represent agreement among 2500 scientists might not be news to some people. But others are quite oblivious. We flagged up a few examples in our last post; here’s some more (courtesy of a commenter).

And here’s Robert F. Kennedy doing the same (thanks to another commenter)…


RFK: The science on global warming is settled. Twenty-five-hundred scientists in the IPPC [sic] report – the top meteorologists and climate scientists from around the world have announced the consensus that global warming exists, that we are causing it and that its impacts are going to be catastrophic. You don’t need that science though, all you need to do is walk outside. I just came back from the Ar’tic [sic]. The Ar’tic [sic] is melting. It is catastrophic. The Good news is that everything that we need to do to solve global warming are things which we ought to be doing anyway for the sake of America’s prosperity, for our national security… 

The evidence of the IPCC needs to be treated for what it is – not as the last word on the science of climate change, but as a contribution to a political process. A political process that, despite the best efforts of the global warming fraternity (including the IPCC) to nip it in the bud with their claims that ‘the science is in’, has barely even started.

Anyway, where did the whole ‘2500 climate scientists of the IPCC’ figure come from in the first place? If this flyer from the IPCC itself is anything to go by, it refers to the expert reviewers.

So having taken a look at the authors, we’ll have a go at the reviewers next. The IPCC certainly seem pretty proud of them. One wonders how many of those ‘scientific expert reviewers’ will turn out to be social scientists and economists that Andrew Dessler et al make such a fuss about when they turn up in the Inhofe 400, not to mention, Heaven forfend, web officers, administrative assistants and activists . Intriguingly, many warmers have no time for the reviewers. Stoat, Desmogblog and Tim Lambert claim that anybody can be an expert reviewer, which is a handy argument when you want to cast doubt on the credentials of any pesky ‘denialist’ who happens to be one, but kind of backfires when you’re trying to defend ‘the consensus’.

WGIII – But is it Science?

Following our breakdown of the expertise comprising the IPCC’s WGII, we’ve now done the same for WGIII, “Mitigation of Climate Change”.

First, the numbers: Of 270 contributors, 66 were from the USA and UK. We haven’t been able to establish the expertise and discipline of 12 of those – yet. 14 contributors had expertise in physics, chemistry or engineering. 4 from other engineering disciplines. 2 were bio/geochemists. 5 were from forestry ecology, or soil science. 2 had expertise in law. There were 7 social scientists, and a whopping 20 economists.

There were no obvious instances of administrative assistants or web designers being included on the list, unlike WGII. However, the 12 contributors we couldn’t locate don’t appear to possess a great deal of the academic credibility Andrew Dessler demands, and work for business or the US EPA – no surprises there. There appear to be fewer PhD candidates, and among the contributors who did not work in the private sector, most had academic positions. The best in the world though? It didn’t seem likely.

The presence of 27 economists/social scientists again gives the lie to the claim that the IPCC is an institution made up entirely of climate scientists. WGIII explains their function as follows:

In the first two volumes of the “Climate Change 2007” Assessment Report, the IPCC analyses the physical science basis of climate change and the expected consequences for natural and human systems. The third volume of the report presents an analysis of costs, policies and technologies that could be used to limit and/or prevent emissions of greenhouse gases, along with a range of activities to remove these gases from the atmosphere. It recognizes that a portfolio of adaptation and mitigation actions is required to reduce the risks of climate change. It also has broadened the assessment to include the relationship between sustainable development and climate change mitigation. 

Winston Churchill once quipped:

If you put two economists in a room, you get two opinions, unless one of then is Lord Keynes, in which case you get three. 

Somehow, the IPCC has managed to stuff more than 20 economists in a room, and achieved a “consensus”. Remarkable.

Once upon a time, economics was a matter of politics. Now, it seems, economics is as much a matter of rock-solid objective fact as physics. The problem is, though, that environmental economic orthodoxy cannot be challenged politically – especially in the UK – because all politicians hide behind the “scientific consensus”, even though it is formed by a large number of economists and social scientists.

And in case anyone is in doubt that the whole ‘2500 scientists of the IPCC’ thing isn’t common currency in political debate about the state of the planet…

Drawn up by more than 2,500 of the world’s top scientists and their governments, and agreed last week by representatives of all its national governments, the report also predicts that nearly a third of the world’s species could be driven to extinction as the world warms up, and that harvests will be cut dramatically across the world. 

writes The Independent this very month. Or

For the first time in six years, more than 2,000 of the world’s top scientists reviewed and synthesized all of the scientific knowledge about global warming. The Fourth Assessment Report makes clear that the accelerating emissions of human-generated heat-trapping gases has brought the planet close to crossing a threshold that will lead to irreversible catastrophe. Yet like Cassandra’s warning about the Trojan horse, the IPCC report has fallen on deaf ears, especially those of conservative politicians, even as its findings are the most grave to date. 

writes Salon. And then there’s Kofi Annan, no less:

We must also be ready to take decisive measures to address climate change. It is no longer so hard to imagine what might happen from the rising sea levels that the world’s top scientists are telling us will accompany global warming. Who can claim that we are doing enough? 

For any (ahem) sceptics out there, note that this is firmly within the territory of WGII and WGIII, in that it is about predictions, and not scientific evidence for climate change and its causes to date.

In November, we ran a post about Green MEP Caroline Lucas’ comments about there being just 8 years left to create policies to save the planet.

Well, when you hear scientists say that we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change, I don’t think what the public actually want is cautiousness… 

When we rang them, Lucas’s press office cited WGIII AR4 as the basis for her comments. As a result of her campaining – in part – the EU passed legislation to cap emmissions from aircraft on that same day. The same arguments, based on the same ‘consensus’ created by WGII and WGIII are being made by the major UK political parties, who, as we have also reported, are promising 60, 80 and 100% carbon reductions by 2050.

Science or politics – wodjafink?

Physician, Heal Thyself.

NOTE FROM THE EDITORS. 13 December 2008.

This post is linked to from other sites more than any other. This has lead to criticism that we have been dishonest in ignoring the scientists in IPCC WGI, which is where the bulk of the scientific analysis is done. It is true that this post does focus on the work of WGII, but it is not true that we do not look at WGI. We do it here. We also look at WGIII, here.


Back at Gristmill, Andrew Dessler stands by his cancer/doctor analogy in the in-whom-do-we-trust war, after some comments on his blog:

The complexity of climate change does not suddenly make a sociologist, economist, computer programmer, etc. a credible skeptic. In fact, the weakness of Inhofe’s list is readily apparent by the very fact that he had to include such people on his list.

The crown jewels of skeptics are Lindzen, Christy, Singer, etc., but as I’ve said before, there are only a small number of them. In order to bulk up the list, Inhofe lowered his criteria to basically include anyone who doesn’t believe in climate change — regardless of their technical background in the subject.

As far as my analogy being unsuitable, I stand by it. If your child is sick, you take him/her to the experts. Ditto if your planet is sick. You don’t take either your child or a planet to a sociologist or economist.

For the uninitiated, here is the lowdown: Andrew Dessler is a professor at the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University. He is complaining about a US senate report which listed hundreds of individuals who have been reported in the media during 2007 as speaking against the “scientific consensus” on climate change, claiming that they are scientists. The report naturally challenges the very principle of the consensus, which has given climate policies the authority they have needed to be carried forward. The global warming camp have sought to undermine the value of this new list, by claiming that the scientists lack scientific qualifications, expertise, or moral integrity.

But Dessler has made a significant concession here. He is visibly shifting from the idea that the power of the consensus comes from the weight of scientific opinion – numbers. An “overwhelming number” of scientist’s opinions might indicate that the “science” had been tested. Now, you have to be qualified to have an opinion on climate change. But Dessler doesn’t tell us exactly how we are to measure the qualifications, we just have to take his word for it that the 400 sceptics aren’t qualified, but the IPCC scientists are. So it’s not simply a consensus, it’s a qualified consensus, and he gets to call the qualification. So much for science. So, apparently, the IPCC scientists who represent the consensus are more qualified than their counterparts. They are akin to the experts you would trust your desperately ill child to, not the ragbag of mavericks you would avoid. Worse still, many of the sceptics are in fact mere computer programmers or – gasp – sociologists!

We decided to test Dessler’s claim. So we downloaded IPCC WGII’s latest report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. There were 380 contributors to the report [PDF of contributors]. A thorough and exhaustive analysis of the backgrounds of these experts (or were they?) was too ambitious (it’s Christmas, and we have wine to drink, and mince pies to eat, too). So, we focused on the contributors who operate in the UK. Of the 51 UK contributors to the report, there were 5 economists, 3 epidemiologists, 5 who were either zoologists, entomologists, or biologists. 5 worked in civil engineering or risk management / insurance. 7 had specialisms in physical geography (we gave the benefit of the doubt to some academics whose profiles weren’t clear about whether they are physical or human geographers). And just 10 have specialisms in geophysics, climate science or modelling, or hydrology. But there were 15 who could only be described as social scientists. If we take the view that economics is a social science, that makes 20 social scientists. This gives the lie to Dessler’s claim that IPCC contributors are analogous to medical doctors. There are economists working on saving that dying child!!! That’s got to be wrong, by Dessler’s own standards.

Nonetheless, were these contributors the “experts” that Dessler claims they are? There were a few professors, but few of them had the profile Dessler gives them. Many of them were in fact, hard to locate to establish just how much better than their counterparts they were. One professor (Abigail Bristow) wasn’t what you’d call a climate scientist, but a professor of Transport Studies at Newcastle University. How is she going to cure the sick child? Will she be driving the ambulance? Another Professor – Diana Liverman at Oxford University – specialises in “human dimensions of global environmental change” – Geography is a social science too. Another – John Morton of the University of Greenwich, specialises in “development Anthropology”. Professor of Geography, and Co-Chair of IPCC WGII, Martin Parry’s profile merely tells us that he is “a specialist on the effects of climate change”. But what does that actually mean?

Among the remainder – most of whom are not professors, but research associates at best, are an assorted bunch, many of whom are better known for their alarmist statements in the mainstream press than they are for their contributions to scientific knowledge – activists in other words, with their own political motivation. And in spite of being reported as “climate scientists”, involved in scientific research, also seem to be working within the social sciences, albeit for “climate research” institutions, such as Tyndall. Johanna Wolf, for example, is an IPCC contributor from the University of East Anglia, who works in the department for “development studies”. Does that make her a climate scientist? Anna Taylor, of the Stockholm Environment Institute in Oxford has no PhD at all, her research focuses on “stakeholder engagement in adapting to multiple stresses, including climate variability and change, water scarcity, food insecurity and health concerns” – not climate science, and has simply not been alive long enough to join the ranks of the specialists of specialisms that Dessler demands of sceptics. Similarly, Susanne Rupp-Armstrong, listed as a member of Southampton University only appears to have ever contributed to one academic paper. Research Associate at the University of East Anglia, Maureen Agnew does not focus her research on climate science, but on such things as “Public perceptions of unusually warm weather in the UK: impacts, responses and adaptations”, and “Potential impacts of climate change on international tourism.” Katherine Vincent specialising in “Social Capital and Climate change” at the UEA, only began her PhD thesis in October 2003. How can she be cited as a specialist in climate science?

Then there are the contributors whose involvement we cannot explain. Farhana Yamin is an international lawyer, based at the University of Sussex. Rachel Warren and Paul Watkiss are merely listed as “environmental consultants” at the latter’s consultancy firm, and clearly have a commercial interest in climate change policies being developed. Kate Studd is listed as a contributor, but she works for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, and doesn’t appear to be an academic at all. What are these people doing on this list of the most expert climate specialists in the world?

We were surprised by the results. Was the prevalence of social scientists from the UK representative of the whole group? We decided to repeat the test for the contributors based in the USA.

Of the 70 US contributors, there were 7 economists, 13 social scientists, 3 epidemiologists, 10 biologists/ecologists, 5 engineers, 2 modellers/statisticians, 1 full-time activist (and 1 part time), 5 were in public health and policy, and 4 were unknowns. 17 worked in eart
h/atmospheric sciences. Again, we gave the benefit of the doubt to geographers where it wasn’t clear whether their specialism was physical, or human geography.

In a follow-up post, Dessler has set about ‘Busting the ‘consensus busters” by ridiculing the qualifications of Inhofe’s 400 experts, starting with a certain Thomas Ring. In the comments section he justifies this approach:

I agree it would be quicker to simply note the qualified skeptics on the list (there are probably a few dozen), but, from a rhetorical point of view, I think pointing out these immensely unqualified members of the list is more effective.

Well, we can all play that game… Included as contributors to WGII are Patricia Craig, Judith Cranage, Susan Mann, and Christopher Pfeiffer, all from Pennsylvania State University. It’s not that these people aren’t experts in their field – they probably are. Our problem with their inclusion on the list of Contributors to the IPCC WGII Fourth Assessment report is that their jobs are (in order) website-designer, administrative assistant (x2), and network administrator.

Also on the list is Peter Neofotis who appears to be a 2003 graduate of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology from Columbia. Are there many experts in anything who graduated in 2003? Would Dessler take his sick child to a doctor, who, according to our understanding of medical training, would have not yet qualified? Also at Columbia is Marta Vicarelli, who is a PhD candidate in ‘sustainable development’. Can she be the amongst the world’s leading experts on sustainability? It seems hard to take the claim seriously. Or what about Gianna Palmer at Wesleyan University, who, as far as we can tell, will not graduate from university until 2010?

And yet Dessler insists that

Inhofe’s list is chock full of people without any recent, relevant research on the problem. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s why they’re skeptics: people with the relevant experience are immediately persuaded by the evidence. This should be compared to the IPCC, which includes exclusively people with recent, relevant expertise on the problem.

Anything which can be thrown at the sceptics can be thrown at IPCC contributors.

That is not to say that social scientists and computer programmers have nothing to offer the world, or the IPCC process. They are crucial in fact. What it is to say, however, is that, when social scientists, computer programmers and administrative assistants comprise a significant proportion of IPCC contributors, the global warmer mantra that the IPCC represents the world’s top 2500 climate scientists is just plain old-fashioned not true.

Dessler’s wish to maintain that the IPCC comprises unimpeachable experts in their field mirrors the common desire to create an unassailable scientific consensus that political changes in the world are a necessity. This is driven less from the data generated by these experts – they aren’t as expert as is claimed, and the consensus is not unassailable – and more to do with the desire to drive politics by creating scientific orthodoxy. This would be scientism, if there was any matter of science about it. The only claim to authority that the IPCC has is not tested, scientific expertise, but just the fact of being established as an authority. There is obviously no substantial attempt to select the best in the field to contribute, as there is no objective measure of such expertise. If we do not take the view that IPCC’s authority rests on its contributors’ expertise, then the consensus it generates is meaningless. It is merely a ‘ministry of truth‘ – the existence of which is only designed to reduce inconvenient challenges to political, not scientific, orthodoxy.

Dessler says :

The problem is not the several dozen credible skeptics on Inhofe’s list, some of whom you’ve named, it’s the 350 others. Overall, There are nowhere near 400 credible skeptics on his list, or on the planet.

Even if it were possible to draw together the best scientific minds (and perhaps even the best sociologists and programmers too), would it even be desirable? Science has never ‘worked’ by measuring opinion, but by testing hypotheses. It doesn’t work by generating orthodoxy, but by challenging it. The IPCC doesn’t represent the best available understanding, but the paucity of understanding of the factors governing climate. If the ‘truth’ really is ‘out there’ then it doesn’t need to be decided by committee.

Save the Planet or the Puppy Gets It

Over at Gristmill, Andrew Dessler complains about the list of 400 sceptical scientists who seem to challenge the “scientific consensus”:

The question is: does their opinion matter? Should you revise your views about climate change accordingly? 

The question is then, should scientific opinion matter? But in order to stop this question being turned back to the “consensus” scientists, Dessler makes an exception for them:

To understand why Inhofe’s claims are fundamentally bogus, consider the following scenario: imagine a child is diagnosed with cancer. Who are his parents going to take him to in order to determine the best course of treatment? 

Dessler goes on use the tragic image of a hypothetical child with cancer, by saying that you would not take the child to any old doctor, but a specialist of a specialism.

Expertise matters. Not everyone’s opinion is equally valid. The list of skeptics on the EPW blog contains few bona fide climate specialists. In fact, the only criteria to get on the list, as far as I can tell, is having a PhD and some credential that makes you an academic. So Freeman Dyson makes lists. While I’m certain he’s a smart guy, I would not take a sick child to him, and I won’t take a sick planet to him either. In both cases, he simply does not have the relevant specialist knowledge. That also applies the large number of social scientists, computer programmers, engineers, etc., without any specialist knowledge on this problem. The bottom line is that the opinions of most of the skeptics on the list are simply not credible.

The trouble for Dessler is that the earth is not a child. And climate scientists are neither doctors, nor pathologists, let alone pediatric oncologists. Let us use, instead of a child with cancer, a happy little puppy dog. Somebody presents themselves as an expert, and tells you that the puppy dog is terribly, terribly sick. But you look at the puppy, and to you it seems to be perfectly normal. It wags and chases its own tail. It investigates every new object and smell, runs around, eats a bit, and falls asleep. You challenge the expert. He says that unless you do as he says, according to the computer model of a puppy he has devised, the real puppy will die in a horrible, horrible way, and it will all be your fault. Do you want to be a puppy murderer?

But since climate science and medicine are not the same thing, Dressler’s analogy breaks down. Doctors and vets in the world that the poor little puppy dog and the tragic cancer child inhabit, have not done clinical medicine degrees, just some very basic biology. No therapy has ever been tested. No diagnosis has ever been proved. In fact, nobody has ever seen a sick puppy, nor a case of cancer before. It is just the untested view of the experts that the child has cancer, and the puppy will die unless you make changes to the way you live your life. Such is the state of climate science in this world. Is the Earth really “sick”? It still spins. It still rains. It still works. Perhaps the expert has confused a change in the puppy’s behaviour with there being something wrong.

So given the critical nature of the climate change problem, who should we listen to? My opinion, and the opinion of all the governments of the world, is that we should listen to people who specialize in climate science. That’s the IPCC. 

What is conspicuously absent from all of this debate about which scientists to believe?

Science. It’s the science, Stupid. Yet Dessler asks us not to consider the science, but who we would trust a dying child to. Yet it is not the case that even “most” scientists at the IPCC are climate scientists, but exactly the “large number of social scientists, computer programmers, engineers, etc., without any specialist knowledge on this problem” about whom Dressler complains. Dressler is wrong about the expertise of the IPCC. Neither is it the case that the IPCC scientists represent the “best in the field”.

For a long time, climate orthodoxy has hidden behind “the consensus”. Environmentalists have attempted to defend the idea of this consensus, because it has invested all of its currency in the fact of its existance. If the consensus doesn’t exist, how can the environmental movement proceed with legitimacy? We have already heard arguments about how this new group of scientists lacks authority, expertise, and how these scientists might be funded by Exxon Mobil. Anything but science. The consensus only exists by diminishing the moral character or professionalism of those who do not agree, not by allowing competing theories to be tested by the scientific process. If it carries on like this, the environmental movement will prevent science from being part of the process which forms the scientific consensus on the climate.

Climate science will eat itself, tail first. It is a sick puppy.

Climate Change Rhetoric Worse Than Previously Thought

In case you hadn’t noticed, the IPCC released its AR4 Synthesis Report, Summary for Policymakers on Saturday.

‘Today the world’s scientists have spoken clearly and with one voice,’ said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The BBC reported the event on Friday (R4 news 18:00), before the report was published…

HARRABIN: They’re haggard with lack of sleep, but beaming that they’ve reached an agreement on an unequivocal message to politicians that climate change is real, dangerous, but manageable if steps are taken now. The results are compromised as usual, some wanted the final wording softer, others more strident still, but I’m told the final document when it’s published tomorrow will be impossible to ignore. It’ll say that we can see climate change happening already, sometimes, like in the Arctic, much faster than scientists predicted previously. We’re likely to have more droughts, floods, oppressive heatwaves and species extinctions, it’ll say, and some changes will be irreversible. That last phrase is so strong that some countries wanted it left out, but according to Steffan Zinger of WWF, they were voted down. 

ZINGER: The word irreversible for instance was strongly debated and strongly questioned by certain governments which are on the other side of the Atlantic. But they in the end gave in and accepted that climate change will have irreversible consequences.

So that’s how the ‘science’ that is supposed to inform the political process is achieved… Everybody stays up late, and argues until somebody ‘gives in’, or is ‘voted down’. Some kind of ‘speaking clearly and with one voice’.

Despite the headlines and column inches, there is virtually nothing new in this report. It’s a rehash of the three reports published earlier this year by the IPCC. All that is new in the report itself (and which most news outlets chose to lead with) is the word ‘irreversible’. Writing on the BBC website, for example, environment correspondent Richard Black tells us that ‘The IPCC states that climate change is ‘unequivocal’ and may bring ‘abrupt and irreversible’ impacts’. But the only mention of these words in the IPCC report are in the section ‘Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible, depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change’, which reveals a far less frightening and urgent picture than such accounts suggests:

Partial loss of ice sheets on polar land could imply metres of sea level rise, major changes in coastlines and inundation of low-lying areas, with greatest effects in river deltas and low-lying islands. Such changes are projected to occur over millennial time scales, but more rapid sea level rise on century time scales cannot be excluded. {3.4} 

Does that mean immediate sea-level rise can’t be ruled in? ‘We don’t know’ would have sufficed. Similarly…

Climate change is likely to lead to some irreversible impacts. There is medium confidence that approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5-2.5oC (relative to 1980-1999). As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5oC, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that extinction is an irreversible process. The clue is in the word “extinct”. And anyway: likely… some… medium confidence… approximately… 20-30% of species assessed so far… likely… increased risk… if… Of how many ‘assessed species’, exactly?

As for the ‘abrupt’ bit (which isn’t new, in that it was in the Working Group II report published back in April), all we get is

Based on current model simulations, the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) of the Atlantic Ocean will very likely slow down during the 21st century; nevertheless temperatures over the Atlantic and Europe are projected to increase. The MOC is very unlikely to undergo a large abrupt transition during the 21st century. Longer-term MOC changes cannot be assessed with confidence. Impacts of large-scale and persistent changes in the MOC are likely to include changes in marine ecosystem productivity, fisheries, ocean CO2 uptake, oceanic oxygen concentrations and terrestrial vegetation. Changes in terrestrial and ocean CO2 uptake may feed back on the climate system. 

Contrasting the report with statements in the press reveals very different pictures. Over the weekend, BBC Radio 4 was ending its news items on the report with: ‘The mainstream message from the IPCC is that it’s not too late – if we act now.’ According to Black’s article on BBC online: ‘The panel’s scientists say the reversal needs to come within a decade or so if the worst effects of global warming are to be avoided.’ Trouble is, the report doesn’t actually say that. Anywhere. At all. Whatsoever.

So what is going on here? It is true that Dr Pachauri said in the press conference that CO2 emissions need to peak and start declining by 2015. But Pachauri is not the IPCC. And as we’ve pointed out recently, his statements on this issue do not reflect the IPCC position. Meanwhile, journalists are happy to confound ‘the consensus’ with ‘what Pachauri reckons’ because that way they can say that ‘things are worse than ever before’.

The only differences between this report (and the press coverage of it) and previous ones concern the language, not the science. That language is getting more abrupt, and the problem is becoming irreversible. And our models predict it to get worse than previously expected.

Lucas and the Majority of Some Scientists

In a conversation about EU policy on restricting CO2 emissions from aircraft, on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, this morning, Caroline Lucas, Green MEP for the Southeast region said

Well, when you hear scientists say that we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change, I don’t think what the public actually want is cautiousness, what they want is real leadership, and that is what the EU is promising to give, and yet that’s what we’re failing to do here.

More often than not, what green politicians mean by “what scientists say” is actually “what green politicians say”. So this morning, we rang Caroline Lucas’s office to ask her which scientists are telling her that we’ve only got eight years left. We’ve never heard them say it, and we listen out for them saying it. They said they’d get back to us…

Meanwhile… this is not Lucas’s first comment of this nature. Back in July, we picked up on her comments on climate change scepticism being the equivalent of holocaust denial.

What’s prompted me is real concern that a recent opinion poll showed that half the population still don’t think that there’s scientific certainty about climate change; they still think there’s a real debate to be had there. And it worries me enormously because if we don’t have a population that really understands that 99.999% of international scientists do believe that climate change is happening and do believe that it’s human caused, if people don’t understand that then they’re not going to put the pressure on the politicians that is so desperately needed and so urgently needed because we’re being told we’ve literally got between five and ten years in which to put in place a proper policy framework to address climate change. And unless people are really convinced that it’s a problem they’re not going to act to change it.

Dr Lucas’s comments this morning seem equally confused. On the one hand, she appears to be claiming that people are terrified into demanding action because they’ve heard scientists say we’ve only got eight years left to save the world. On the other, she’s demanding that air travel is restricted. But if people really are as concerned about what Lucas says scientists say as Lucas says they are, then there would be no need to respond to their fear with new EU legislation, people simply wouldn’t fly. But, as she points out, aviation is a growing industry.

So if Lucas isn’t talking on behalf of the frightened public, (the ones who manage to find their way to the airport in spite of their fear) is Lucas speaking for science at least?

It turns out not, because in answer to our question, Lucas’s press office emailed us back with a bunch of links, saying,

The quote in question – that which contains the estimated ‘deadline’ of 8 years for the world’s government to act seriously on climate change – has been used generically for some time now, and is taken from a consensus view among a number of scientists.

“The consensus of a number of scientists”. Would that be the same as “the majority of some of the population”? We read the links to find out. They consisted of:

* Guardian Environment Correspondent David Adam’s interpretation of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report – “Governments are running out of time to address climate change and to avoid the worst effects of rising temperatures, an influential UN panel warned yesterday”. (The influencial UN panel don’t actually seem to say that).

* A BBC Online article claiming that “The world may have little more than a decade to avert catastrophic climate change, politicians and scientists say“. But what they mean is a scientist, not scientists, because, all that “The taskforce’s scientific adviser is Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” says is “I think in the last few years the increase in emissions does cause concern. It gives you the feeling we might end up in the middle of that temperature range [1.5 and 5.5C], and if we do that wouldn’t make very good news.” Note that Pachauri isn’t a climate scientist, but has doctorates in industrial engineering and economics. Also note that Pachauri isn’t exactly what you’d call “balanced” about the politics of climate change, previously asking “What is the difference between Lomborg’s view of humanity and Hitler’s?… If you were to accept Lomborgs way of thinking, then maybe what Hitler did was the right thing”.

* An article from the Socialist Workers Website. Enough said.

* A link to the IPCC’s website.

We pointed out to Lucas’s press officer that these links leave a bit to be desired. We’ve been reading the IPCC website for years, and hadn’t noticed a statement about 8 year windows, and the articles she linked to were subject to the interpretations and prejudices of their authors. And asking David Adam for an objective view of climate science is like asking Bin Laden for a balanced view of the USA. Who were these scientists? Where do they say “we’ve only got 8 years left”?

The press office again pointed us to the IPCC, emphasising that Pachauri is the “highly respected chair of the IPCC and is quoted as a spokesperson on climate change across all levels of the media”. (But does he speak ‘for scientists’?) They then referred us to the IPCC’s Working Group III Fourth Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers which, according to the press offcier “focused on economic changes that need to be made, pointing out that emissions must start declining by the year 2015 to prevent the world’s temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrialized temperatures”.

So we were now faced with an economic argument, rather than a scientific one. Even so, we read it. There is indeed a reference to 2015. But only one. It is the “peaking year” for CO2 emissions in one of several categories of scenarios, where CO2 is stabilised at various concentrations or less, thereby stabilising average global temperature at an amount above the “preindustrial average”. But all that is said in the report about the six categories of 177 scenarios assessed by the 33 authors is

In order to stabilize the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere, emissions would need to peak and decline thereafter. The lower the stabilization level, the more quickly this peak and decline would need to occur. Mitigation efforts over the next two to three decades will have a large impact on opportunities to achieve lower stabilization levels (see Table SPM.5, and Figure SPM. 8)

There is no mention of impending catastrophe. There is no mention of deadlines. There is no mention of this being a consensus amongst scientists that we have to meet the 2015 deadline, nor any deadline over another. In spite of the fact that neither Lucas nor her press officer can produce anything which supports her claim that “scientists say we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change”, they continue to make it. The press officer finally told us that,

Both the UN and the IPCC subscribe to the figure of eight years, and many in the scientific community have also supported the need to drastically reduce emissions by 2015. Caroline has primarily relied upon both the UN conclusions and the IPCC report, and as a busy MEP without the scientific resources to physically perform independent large-scale research on climate change, working across a vast range of issues in her South East constituency and in the European Parliament on a daily basis, Caroline trusts that the IPCC and the UN provide accurate and well-researched reports.

Lucas’s press office don’t seem to want to continue the conversation, so we have had to look for statements by IPCC scientists for ourselves. You don’t need your own pocket-sized IPCC to evaluate claims made about climate science… We found two pertinent quotes on this very site.

Prof Mike Hulme of the UK’s Tyndall Centre tells us that

The language of catastrophe is not the language of science. It will not be visible in next year’s global assessment from the world authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[Note: AR4]. To state that climate change will be “catastrophic” hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science. Is any amount of climate change catastrophic? Catastrophic for whom, for where, and by when? What index is being used to measure the catastrophe? The language of fear and terror operates as an ever-weakening vehicle for effective communication or inducement for behavioural change.

And of the projections in WGII, which Lucas’s press office seem to think amount to a “scientific consensus”, Kevin Trenberth tells us that,

In fact there are no predictions by IPCC at all. And there never have been. The IPCC instead proffers “what if” projections of future climate that correspond to certain emissions scenarios. There are a number of assumptions that go into these emissions scenarios. They are intended to cover a range of possible self consistent “story lines” that then provide decision makers with information about which paths might be more desirable. But they do not consider many things like the recovery of the ozone layer, for instance, or observed trends in forcing agents. There is no estimate, even probabilistically, as to the likelihood of any emissions scenario and no best guess.Even if there were, the projections are based on model results that provide differences of the future climate relative to that today. None of the models used by IPCC are initialized to the observed state and none of the climate states in the models correspond even remotely to the current observed climate.

There is no escaping the fact that Caroline Lucas has made up what “the scientists” are telling us. However busy she is, given that ‘climate science’ is the basis of her entire political agenda, there is no excuse for not knowing what she’s talking about. Lucas neither accurately nor honestly reflects scientific opinion, yet attempts to use it to win moral arguments. Worse still is the fact that whilst she claims to be representing people who are frightened by scientific reports and reflecting the views of scientists, she is in fact doing the frightening by misrepresenting the scientists.

Just how deep does Lucas’s love of science really run? That depends on whether the science in question promises to make life better, or legitimises her alarmism. In the case of science making our lives better, ban it. “Nanotechnology will revolutionise our lives – it should be regulated” she writes in a 2003 Guardian article called “We must not be blinded by science”. Oh, sweet, sweet irony.

Environmental Movement Touches the Cloth

We’ve pointed out before the compatibility of environmentalism and evangelical Christianity. So no great surprise here.

Her conversion to environmentalism is the result of a years-long international campaign by British bishops and leaders of major U.S. environmental groups to bridge a long-standing divide between global-warming activists and American evangelicals. The emerging rapprochement is regarded by some as a sign of how dramatically U.S. public sentiment has shifted on global warming in recent years. It also has begun, in modest ways, to transform how the two groups define themselves. 

Neither is it surprising to see Sir John T. Houghton – ‘British atmospheric scientist and an evangelical’ (and erstwhile scientific co-chair of the IPCC) – popping up in there. After all, this is the man whose faith in the Kyoto Protocol is based on everything but scientific evidence that it might actually do any good, as he demonstrated at the 2002 Edinburgh Science Festival with his concluding slide summarising why he thought Kyoto would work:

1. The commitment of scientists.
2. The availability of the necessary technology.
3. God’s commitment to His creation. 

Or, as the article in Washington Post explains,

“The United States is absolutely key to the question of climate change,” said Sir John T. Houghton, a British atmospheric scientist and an evangelical. For nearly a decade, Houghton — who said he has long sought to “put my science alongside my faith” — worked to convince Hunter and other American evangelical leaders that their shared beliefs should compel them to focus on global warming. 

Floods, plagues, pestillence, divine vengence, judgement, guilt. It’s not a huge leap from fire and brimstone to environmentalism.

Scientific Consenseless

Writing in New Scientist this week, James Hansen tells us that the scientific community (you know, those ‘thousands’ of specialised scientists at the IPCC) are wrong, and have massively underestimated the extent of polar ice melting as a consequence of anthropogenic global warming.

I find it almost inconceivable that “business as usual” climate change will not result in a rise in sea level measured in metres within a century. Am I the only scientist who thinks so?

Apparently he is. And the reason? All the other scientists are being too cautious.

I believe there is pressure on scientists to be conservative. Caveats are essential to science. They are born in scepticism, and scepticism is at the heart of the scientific method and discovery. However, in a case such as ice sheet instability and sea level rise, excessive caution also holds dangers. “Scientific reticence” can hinder communication with the public about the dangers of global warming. We may rue reticence if it means no action is taken until it is too late to prevent future disasters.

Scientists, in other words, should adhere to the scientific method except when it’s politically inconvenient. (And only, presumably, when it’s Hansen’s politics that are inconvenienced.)

Most scientists who go against ‘the consensus’ get labelled as mavericks, sceptics or denialists. New Scientist covers their work only to show it up as scientifically flawed, politically motivated, the result of industry-funded misinformation and bad moral fibre, just as they did when they reported on Willie Soon’s paper challenging received wisdom that climate change is imperiling polar bears. Or just as Michael Le Page did in May this year when he wrote:

Indeed, those campaigning for action to prevent further warming have had to battle against huge vested interests, including the fossil-fuel industry and its many political allies. Many of the individuals and organisations challenging the idea of global warming have received funding from companies such as ExxonMobil.

Hansen, however, gets a 3000-word feature all to himself. Even though it doesn’t take much digging around to find that Hansen himself has more than his fair share of dodgy financial interests.

The consensus, it seems, may only be challenged from one direction.

Spaghetti Carbondrama

This post doesn’t deserve a title as good as that. And it’s not even a very good title. Where does carbon come into it? Maybe we’re just hungry.

Apologies. We have each been otherwise engaged to the extent that we don’t appear to have posted very much. And even now, all we have time for is an amusing pasta-related introduction to Steve McIntyre’s Swindle and the IPCC TAR Spaghetti Graph at Climate Audit. Except we can’t think of one.

“If a practising scientist selected a 1987 data set over more recent versions, failed to cite it correctly, altered the appearance of the data without a clear explanation and didn’t include the data from the last 20 years then I think we’d all be asking serious questions about their professionalism.”

This was, of course, put forward in the context of Swindle, but surely IPCC is a bigger fish to fry. Let’s apply these principles to IPCC…

And he does. Compare and contrast and enjoy.

And it would be rude not to mention that we have a piece in spiked about Nullius in Verba: The Royal Society’s ‘motto-morphosis’

Model Muddle

A new study suggesting that Arctic ice is melting faster than IPCC forecasts has been reported by the BBC as evidence that the IPCC is too conservative.

Since 1979, the Arctic has been losing summer ice at about 9% per decade, but models on average produce a melting rate less than half that figure… The scientists suggest forecasts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may be too cautious.

What the article does not consider is that this is also evidence that IPCC forecasts are not very good. It’s not as if it’s the first time that real-world data has been at odds with the computer models…

This is the third time in the last few months that studies have suggested the IPCC’s latest major global climate analysis, the Fourth Assessment Report, is too conservative.

Here’s a particularly odd section…

This is the opposite view from that put forward by many “climate sceptics”, who view the whole field of computer modelling as deeply flawed

Is the latest real world data not evidence that computer modelling is indeed flawed?

Here’s an odder one…

Because of the way it works, the IPCC is bound to be conservative, as it assesses in considerable depth research already in the public domain. This process takes time, and means the panel’s conclusions will always lag behind the latest publications.

By using ‘conservative’, Richard Black presupposes that newer research will always be painting a bleaker picture than old. Given that hi tech climate models are having such trouble predicting the future, we seriously doubt his own ability to do so.

The failure to account for observational data is not due to the mechanics of the IPCC. It is a problem with the models. To further claim, as Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (and 1/11th of does, that the problem is that the models are simply ‘insufficiently sensitive’ is also flawed thinking. If the models do not account for observations, then it could be any number of assumptions which were flawed. It does not follow that things are worse than we thought, as Black’s article implies – it merely shows that we were wrong.

Climate modelers and environmentalists want to argue that we can be certain about their predictions, yet when these predictions do not match observations, we are asked to believe that this reflects an even greater degree of certainty. For example, Schmidt says, ‘uncertainty in model projections cuts both ways… My feeling (along with the authors) is that it is likely that the models are insufficiently sensitive.’

It takes a lot of guts to claim one moment that you have the science on your side, and the next that your feelings should be enough to convince the world that you’re right. But gut instinct is no substitute for science.