Penguins Are Killing the Polar Bears

by | Jan 29, 2009

This week has been a PR disaster for the North Pole. No sooner had scientists shown that the Antarctic really had been warming up a bit, actually, probably due to climate change and everything, than it was proved that Emperor penguins are more screwed even than the polar bears:

Emperor penguins, whose long treks across Antarctic ice to mate have been immortalised by Hollywood, are heading towards extinction, scientists say.

Based on predictions of sea ice extent from climate change models, the penguins are likely to see their numbers plummet by 95% by 2100.

That wasn’t the week’s only Disney-esque polar-flip. The BBC tells us that the theory of evolution is now as robust as climate science. Enjoy the closing remarks of BBC4’s otherwise excellent What Darwin Didn’t Know:

Perhaps, then, evolution does not so much resemble the weather as it does our climate. At the grander scales of space and time, the atmosphere is not chaotic. The physics of our planet imposes order, and thus predictability upon it. So, although we can scarcely tell what the weather will be three weeks from now, we can predict, at least probablilistically, what the climate will be three centuries hence.

All of which will be news to climate modellers.

Elsewhere… it was a while ago now, but our original post about Lord Professor Sir Nicholas Stern’s potential conflict of interests regarding his writing of the influential Stern report on the economics of climate change and his executive position with IDEAglobal drew a certain amount of criticism at the time. Eg:

I hate to deprive your charming readers of any opportunity for the foam-flecked ranting they so obviously enjoy, but there is a gaping hole in your argument here.

Stern was not connected to IDEAcarbon/IDEAglobal at the time he wrote his report on climate change, or indeed when he served as chief economist at the World Bank. If he had been, or if his report had been funded in any way by companies that stood to gain from its findings, then there would have been a conflict of interest. As it stands, the comparison with Exxon’s funding of climate denialists doesn’t hold up to a moment’s scrutiny.

As smear campaigns go, this one is well below even your own usual standards.

We disagreed:

environmentalists wouldn’t be satisfied if it were a sceptical scientist (even though Stern is not a scientist) who had been instrumental in influencing anti-mitigation, anti-Kyoto policy decisions in governments throughout the world, who later landed a top job in a company selling PR, financial, and market intelligence products to the oil industry. There would be talk of ‘the tobacco strategy’. There would be talk of private and political interests ‘manufacturing uncertainty’.

However, it is a joy to be able to plug the gulf that separates those double standards with this article from 4 August 1999:

Nick Stern, who has been made chairman of London Economics, has advised the IMF and the World Bank, and of course had to be a terrible Europhile to work for the EBRD, of gold taps and Jacques Attali fame. Professor Stern will be full-time chairman until he adds a half-time Chair in Economics at the London School of Economics

The Prof also joined the advisory board of yesterday to give the web consultancy a weekly round-up on global economics. How he finds the time, goodness knows.

Soon after Stern started at IDEAglobal, he was appointed chief economist at the World Bank: announced today that professor Nicholas Stern of its Advisory Board was named Chief Economist of the World Bank. Professor Stern succeeds Joseph Stiglitz and is due to take up his new post in July.

As a member of its Advisory Board Professor, Stern contributes to’s research on international financial markets and global economic policy. Professor Stern is the former Chief Economist of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, where he played a key role in advising on the transition process in Eastern and Central Europe.

The Stern Review was published 2006. The rest is history.


  1. Bishop Hill

    It would be interesting to ask your correspondent if they now agree that Stern had a conflict of interest.

  2. geoff chambers

    Your comments on Lord Stern are arguably more important than the plight of the Emperor Penguin, since the multi-trillion pound policies of the beknighted economist will apparently still be in force long after the benighted bird is extinct. The two are no doubt inextricably linked, but let’s deal with the more photogenic Emperor Penguin first. “Their population is likely to decline by 95%”, you say, and you quote the study’s lead author Stephanie Jenouvrier as saying: “They are long-lived organisms, so they adapt slowly. This is a problem because the climate is changing very fast.”
    Not so fast, apparently. The Steig article which you refer to, and which, according to the BBC, Guardian, and Independent, deals a death blow to Global Warming Denialism by demonstrating that the Antarctic Continent has been warming along with the rest of the planet, and not cooling, as previously thought – has been the subject of detailed study at Climate Audit.
    In the last 48 hours, Steve Macintyre has discovered:
    1) That the Steig study is based on data from just six ground stations, only one of which shows a warming trend.
    2) That the latitude and longitude of this station are incorrect .
    3) That this station has incorrect data, and where data was missing it has been spliced together with data from a different station.
    4) That as soon as Climate Audit revealed this, British Antarctic Survey removed the data from their site, without explanation.

    Steve’s statistical analysis is complex and ongoing, and he refuses to allow comment on politics or motivation. A decent journalist able to render the statistics comprehensible to the layman would have the scoop of the century (The Emperor Penguin’s New Clothes?).

    Comments are closed at RealClimate, Guardian Climate Change and Christopher Booker, but I urge climate resisters to spread the word. If you’re snowed in and unable to get to work , pass the message. Every Emperor Penguin unable to lay an egg due to unreliable temperature statistics at the British Antarctic Survey means another polar bear drowning due to melting icecaps. Or something.

  3. nimbleJim

    ” “Perhaps, then, evolution does not so much resemble the weather as it does our climate. At the grander scales of space and time, the atmosphere is not chaotic. The physics of our planet imposes order, and thus predictability upon it. So, although we can scarcely tell what the weather will be three weeks from now, we can predict, at least probablilistically, what the climate will be three centuries hence.”

    All of which will be news to climate modellers.”

    Actually, no, this isn’t news to climate modellers.

    The interplay between predictability and chaos over varying timescales is nicely summed up in these posts at Real Climate:

    Over long enough timescales the initial conditions problem (i.e. one of chaos and weather) breaks down into a boundary conditions problem (i.e. governed by forcings), which can be resolved using an ENSEMBLE of models run with a variety of initial conditions. Of course, a single model run from this ensemble would have no hope of resolving the actual climate due to chaos and the initial conditions problem.


    Did you know that the Steig study actually uses satellite data to derive it’s reconstruction? How will the station data affect the satellite reconstruction? The station data are only used as a verification of the satellite data reconstruction. Also, do you have any idea as to what the impact of these errors actually is? Steig has a post on this now showing that it makes practically no difference to the general picture.

  4. geoff chambers

    to nimbleJim:

    “Over long enough timescales the initial conditions problem … etc”.

    The timescale over which the global warm-mongers are bothering us is about a century, roughly the time it took to go from horse-drawn carriages to manned space flight. By which time your “… ENSEMBLE of models run with a variety of initial conditions..” will be about as useful as a man with a red flag walking in front of a horseless carriage.
    Nobody in a hundred (or even fifty) years time will care “what the IPCC models really say” (to quote your RealClimate reference) any more than the boss of Ryanair cares about the opinion of the Village Blacksmiths’ Union.

    You ask if I know that the Steig study actually uses satellite data… Yes, I do. Several of my comments have been rendered irrelevant by fast-moving events. (The British Antarctic Survey have been extremely thorough in correcting data and acknowledging Steve McIntyre’s helpful efforts, for instance).

    “Do I have any idea as to what the impact of these errors actually is?”
    No I don’t, actually. And I’ll let you into a little secret. I don’t give a toss. In fact, I couldn’t give a monkey’s about the whole business of climate science. I’ve been commenting here and elsewhere frenetically for the past few months, in an attempt to show that the average punter / voter can express a sensible opinion on a subject on which he has no expert knowledge, given a bit of curiosity, some attention to detail, and a dose of Socratic bloody-mindedness. Alas, my curiosity does not extend to actually reading a RealClimate blog to the end. So far, my method has not (I think) led me into serious error. Prove me wrong.

  5. nimbleJim


    Indeed, the title of the RealClimate post is titled “what the IPCC models really say”, but I’m not sure you’ve convinced me as to why no one will care what they show. True, the choice of the economic scenario used to drive the model creates an implicit potential error, but that’s the reason why climate modellers develop a range of possible economic scenarios to test in the model. Can you see how a modeller thinks a bit more clearly now? They become familiar with their model, understand the sources of error in the model and account for that by testing a range of parameters designed to sample that spread in error. This is called a sensitivity analysis. So, back to your quote, only one economic scenario will be correct or near truth, the outcome of this scenario in the model will be of interest. Take Hansen’s much-talked-about-paper from, 1988 which contained 3 scenarios….we are only really interested in how model B performs because that is the economic scenario which fits reality best. Bearing in mind he couldn’t predict future volcanic eruptions or run a suitably large ensemble to account for chaos the model performs pretty well getting the actual temp. rise per decade to with 0.02 oC.


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