Stuff and nonsense (ministerial condescension and media fossil fools)

A select few politicians have the ability to make me (and others) shout at the radio. New Zealand’s minister of climate change issues Tim Groser is one such. On Radio New Zealand National’s Morning Report this morning he gave vent to his feelings on NZ’s Colossal Fossil winning performance at Doha. It was an “absurd and juvenile prank”, apparently, put together by “extreme greens and youth groups”. He definitely had it in for the youth groups, referring to them twice. His extreme condescension to young people who think that his policies are at best wrong-headed, at worst disastrous for the country they will inherit, caused me to interrupt my tea making to shout at the radio, much to the dog’s surprise. Hear the full interview here, and see if you are immune to Groser’s aggressively smug assumption that only he holds the key to climate action:

Tim Groser on Morning Report

And then, over the now brewed cup of tea, Google’s morning newspaper presented me with a news item from the Dominion Post (via Stuff) about a new paper in Nature Climate Change co-authored by Dave Frame of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute. The basic news item’s straightforward enough: Frame and co-author Daithi Stone, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have looked back to the IPCC’s 1990 projections, and found that they were remarkably close to what has actually happened over the last 20 years — bad news for climate deniers who insist that model projections have failed and that warming has stopped. (See also VUW press release,, The Conversation). Perhaps that’s why the journalist, one Tom Hunt, chose to close his piece with a quote from physics denier Bryan Leyland (cue coughing and spluttering):

But Bryan Leyland, from the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, said science had shown global temperatures had not risen in 16 years and the world was more likely to get cooler.

Leyland, as we discussed at Hot Topic recently, is now happy to align himself with the über cranks who deny the reality of the greenhouse effect. Quoting him on climate research is about as meaningful as seeking the flat earth society’s opinion on orbital mechanics.

For that stupid piece of false balance, Tom Hunt and the Dom Post win my inaugural Media Fossil Fool award. Anyone care to design a nice badge they can wear with shame?

74 thoughts on “Stuff and nonsense (ministerial condescension and media fossil fools)”

  1. I think we need an award – or, at least, an award cetegory – for the dimmest piece of Media False-Balance each year. ‘The Falsie’ has a ring! Perhaps someone should contact them to point out how Leyland and Co.s last grand cooling prediction went?

    Other categories/awards might include ‘The Nit’, for the ‘Use of the Most Ludicrously Under-Qualified ‘Expert’ ‘, or ‘The Brazen’, for the ‘Generating the Most Blatant Click-Bait Headline Claiming Controversy where there is None and Regardless of the Long-term Consequences for the Planet’. The Oz would give varios NZ outlets a run for all of these, methinks… 😉

  2. Hmmm… the thing that bothered me wasn’t that they took a quote from an engineer with zero professional climate science expertise – people quote Bill McKibben, for instance, who isn’t obviously more qualified to talk about climate science than Bryan Leyland – it was that they were so determined to tie the results of a paper about a global indicator to a local event. And today’s online version of the Nelson Mail is even worse. I tried submitting a comment on the Nelson Mail website (on stuff) and they seem to have decided not to run it, which I think is poor editorial form. [Though apparently not uncommon – a colleague from upstairs said he’s had a very similar experience.]

    I get that a story along the lines of “Vic guy, friend from Berkeley, draw straight lines; publish results” is dull, and that it is important in generalist media to tie stories to things of interest to their readerships, but still…

    1. Sorry Dave, you missed the crucial point: Bill McKibben reads his science from the publications of peer reviewed and reputable scientists and writes with the intent to foster a transition to a sustainable civilization while Leyland is desperately attempting to justify his denial of the science by reference to fringe figures, contrarians and fossil fuel lobby groups and writes with the intend to prolong our unsustainable current resource consumption and growth economics based on the dogmas of his libertarian political circles.
      The difference could not be more pronounced than McKibben versus Leyland!

  3. Well… it’s pretty common to get opinions on these sorts of papers from people whose primary thing is a political agenda rather than peer-reviewed scientific research. I don’t see why it should bother me more if Bryan Leyland is the guy they ask, rather than say Kumi Naidoo or Bill McKibben or Robyn Malcolm. Their qualifications in climate science research are pretty similar, even if their politics are different. It seems weird to people in my field that these are considered legitimate voices – no one would ever dream of asking a retired engineer or Shortland St actress about radiative transfer, lapse rate feedbacks, cross-isopycnal mixing, etc. But bundle it together and call it climate change, and apparently it’s fair game.

    Anyhow… my main point was that I felt the coverage was drifting quite a long way from what we actually said, etc.

    1. Dave: You missed the point completely, so once again: McKibben relies on and cites peer reviewed literature while Leyland regurgitates circular arguments from contrarians. Which would you rather have as a guide say in health care matters: A science writer who relies on the latest research papers coming out of the best medical research institutes or a commentator for a lobby group of snake oil merchants?

      Slate Magazine has a good summary of the matter of climate change denial.

        1. Hmmm. can’t use the comment editor. We don’t use these sorts of strongly political intermediaries in health/medicine, or in technology or other parts of science (evolutionary theory, for instance, has no shortage of perfectly eloquent experts). We don’t need them in climate science either, in my view.

          1. It is a good analogy. If I chose a medical path that is not approved by the general body of society, I don’t expect a bunch of commenters on blogs to start comparing me with a holocaust denier.

          2. ” We don’t use these sorts of strongly political intermediaries in health/medicine, or in technology or other parts of science (evolutionary theory, for instance, has no shortage of perfectly eloquent experts). We don’t need them in climate science either, in my view.”

            Regrettably there is a major difference between AGW and climate science and say health or evolutionary theory. In the case of the former, continued business as usual by humanity will result in substantial impacts on humanity; socially, environmentally, and economically, to mention just a few. These factors are of major political concern; far greater than that faced by a new development in medical treatment, or a new discovery in the g-nome – important as they may be. Whilst there are many Climate scientists already moved to activism, there is also a need for well informed lay people to also speak on the matter as well. As another commentator on this forum has just pointed out, the back sliding of the present government with regards to the Doha Negotiations, may well be explained by the lack of mandate the government feels it has to pursue a more progressive policy. When ordinary citizens grasp the import of the the impending consequences of Global Warming then Governments will be forced to action and not before.

          3. On principal we agree: The scientists should be the source. However unlike in a medical case where its about your personal health, climate change is about the survival and well being of our civilization, no less. The specter of a 4 to 6 Deg (business as usual) warmer world by 2100 is devastating. And the phlegmatic attitude of our leadership astounding. It will take activism to galvanize people and leadership into taking the danger serious. Time is running out. We do need “McKibbens” and others like him who have the time to reflect upon and the talent to popularize what the science tells us.
            Similarly advocates and writers on subjects such as healthy living styles or other health matters who are well informed by the science they cite play an important role too.

      1. I quite agree with Dave. It’s time the media stuck to talking only to scientists. This will of course give them a problem finding a real scientist to give them their “balance”, but it’s time they realised that there aren’t always two sides to a story.

        1. Exactly – there are at least a dozen scientists in NZ well-placed to provide a well-qualified, perfectly sensible foil to anything I say, eg James Renwick, the NIWA people, Adrian McDonald & Andy Sturman at Canterbury, Andy Reisinger… etc. Those folks are all well-qualified, articulate people quite capable of providing sensible, expert, accessible comments on physical climate research.

          1. A recent history lesson for you Dave Frame. We did have a well-qualified scientist whom the media in New Zealand frequently sought out to comment on climate-related matters. His name is Jim Salinger, and he used to be employed by NIWA – the government-funded agency.

            When the National government came to power, they installed a lackey to run the organization with the express intention to muzzle Jim Salinger. Jim could no longer go to the media and give an accurate science-based account of climate-related events, suddenly all his interviews had to be approved by said government lackey. When Jim contravened directions by the lackey, and commented to media without prior approval, he was sacked.

            Not exactly an environment conducive to speaking the truth.

      2. I agree with you Thomas, the equivalence of Bill McKibben with Bryan Leyland is a gross distortion of the facts. McKibben is at least informed by the scientific peer-reviewed literature, whereas Leyland is an organic myth-churning device. There is little resemblance here.

        1. The way I see it, the literature has a spread. It seems reasonable to characterize the middle of it with higher probabilities than the edges.** Now my reading of McKibben’s work – which I hasten to add is far from exhaustive, so it’s possible I’m being unfair – is that he samples heavily from the scary edge of that literature, and much less heavily from the centre of the distribution – he may be tethered to the literature, but he’s still some way from being representative of it.

          **It’s true that the scary edge has some probability of being right. But say you have ten papers by different groups saying X=5, one saying X=3 and one saying X=10, then it seems reasonable to me to assign higher weight (not necessarily in proportion to the number of papers, but higher weight) to the middle of the distribution, absent any other information.

          1. Dave Frame – the most well known metric of climate change is “global mean temperature”, the second is “climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2”.

            Would you disagree?

            We hear little of this in the media, what goes into the calculations, and the assumptions and uncertainties

            The media tends to focus on extreme weather events, melting glaciers, etc.

            Personally, I’d rather get my science from someone who can dispassionately talk about these issues without stating that “they wish to change the world”, at which point I start to question their objectivity.

            So I welcome your input here.

            1. Thanks. I don’t wish to change the world, except small corners of it – our lawn, for instance, needs work. So does science policy in New Zealand, though that might require more than a trip to Mitre 10 and a half hour in the garden.

              You’re right that climate sensitivity (which is a particular flavour of global mean surface temperature) is the usual way of characterising future change, though I think this is not a great way of doing it, since lots of sensible things can be done by understanding the rate of change, rather than the long-term asymptote. The latter is harder to quanitfy because it turns on lots of feedbacks with long timescales which are hard to quantify with existing data. See

            2. But Andy, it is fossil fuel use that is changing the world. I’m a conservative when it comes to climate, I liked the Holocene. I don’t want to change the world, I want my kids to have the same climate I grew up with.

    2. Dave Frame, you appear to be afflicted with a severe case of IvoryTower-itis. Climate change has obvious societal and environmental implications – it is not just some abstract notion for scientists to drone on about at the next AGU meeting. It has very real consequences for every person on the face of the planet, so of course we’re going to see people with no climate-related publications step up to the plate.

      Now it would be nice if many of those at the coal face of climate-related research actually filled the void and made themselves available to the press, and were also able to explain the science adequately, but that hasn’t happened much so far. And I see little reason to expect a change. In the meantime we’ll see people like Bill McKibben advocate action on climate change, even though he might get some parts of the science wrong.

      This seems to be a more logical approach, under your scenario we’d still be waiting for tobacco-cancer researchers, acid rain and ozone scientists to speak up, and the world would worse off than it is now.

      1. Completely agree. Dave Frame doesn’t even get one of the most basic rules of political campaigning in a broad alliance: ‘don’t attempt to buy respectability at the expense of your allies’.

        Or perhaps he simply doesn’t know, or doesn’t care to know, who his allies are – that would explain the equation of Bill McKibben to Bryan Leyland, which is so essentially silly it’s ‘not even wrong’. Hell, let’s insult, say, John Cook or Peter Sinclair while we’re at it, too, shall we? Is Tim Flannery properly qualified to speak?

        To date nice respectable middle class concerned scientist types and their nice respectable middle class concerned bureaucratic allies have achieved 3/5ths of bugger-all with regard to the world actually doing something about climate – though doubtlessly they’ve thrown together some nice, highly-informative leaflets – and, as the NZ Govt. just showed, even what little progress has been made can be subject to backsliding at a moments notice.

        This leads many to opt for the ‘how many angels may dance on the head of a pin’ approach, advocated here by, say, Password 1, by abandoning the process of seeing if we’re actually getting anywhere altogether – it is, after all, hard – and recasting the shuffling between measly gains and subsequent mealy-mouthed rollbacks as the process of change itself, obscuring it in a fog of high-minded verbiage and, lo, one never needs feel uncomfortable at a departmental reception again, especially if one can look forward to dying before any resultant fires, floods, civil wars etc..

        This is why scientists like Jim Hansen, Mike Mann and Jason Box are starting to learn from the activists, and acting like the world’s both actually real and actually really important, and like they really want to see it change.

        This causes much hand-wringing amongst the tea-and-biscuits ineffectuals, no doubt. Then again, they were offended by the abolitionists, suffragettes, freedom-riders, and every other group of people who’ve stopped posturing from the sidelines and actually done something to change the world. The just-world hypothesis is crap, and merely being right and having the best argument is not sufficient precondition to getting anything done. Believe otherwise and watch us all lose.

        At the very least casting the head of in with that dismal bunch of turkeys is both high-handed and politically inept.

        1. You realise that you guys have just legitimised Leyland?

          By saying that it’s all about activism, and that scientists have to be activists, you give the reality-challenged community a free pass to talk to the media.

          McKibben is an activist. Leyland is an activist. You know, and I know, that Leyland’s activism is not based on science, but to the media they are the same thing.

          But as soon as scientists are labelled as activists, this brings them down to the same level, which is why the media can then start treating Leyland as if he is somehow qualified to comment on the science.

        2. Quoting Professor Lewandowsky, reviewing Mike Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines

          This is a partisan book. It does not attempt to be “balanced” by adding a lie to the truth and dividing by two.

          And note the title of the book. Why do you suppose those on the actual frontline end up writing say, this, or ‘Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate.’?

          So, of course DW and I haven’t legitimised Leyland – unless you think he’s on a ‘beyond the partisan pale’ par with Mike Mann, Steve Schneider, Tim Flannery, and Prof Lewandowsky – because this is really a debate between people who think 2 and 2 makes 4, and those who loudly proclaim the answer is 5.

          The latter camp is simply wrong, but there’s far, far too much ‘reasonable’ thinking around, particularly in the media, that this means that the correct – ‘balanced’ – answer must be 4.5 or thereabouts… (Well, 4.4 at Fairfax, 4.9 – 5.5 across the Murdoch Empire.)

          And this ‘don’t frighten the horses’ thing, where anyone who says ‘gee, this looks, um, really bad, folks, we really need to do something, uh, about 10 years ago’ is An Extremist, A Partisan, Not Among the Objective, or whatever, is generally pernicious, leading to scientists indulging in what Naomi Oreskes refers to as ESLD – Erring on the Side of Least Drama.

          Partisan Bill McKibben’s is, after all, named after the maximum ‘safe’ bounds of CO2 concentration put forward by Hansen. Given what’s happening in a world at just under 400 (but not for long!); hell, is he wrong?

          Hansen seems to think his grandchildren matter. This means he’s prepared to fight to win. Anyone who thinks that they won’t have to sully their hands to win this one is deluding themselves; this issue goes to the very very heart of reactionary power, and they sure as hell know what they’re fighting for!

          So we either acknowledge this is a serious – in fact, a grave – problem and do something something serious about it (4), or we do not (5). Care to name an issue of greater importance to get right?

          It is a mistake to think that reason must triumph. So the partisans of 4 are ones allies; you don’t have to agree with everything they say, you may well decide that the least said is indeed the better with regard to them, but actively running them down in order to build up your ‘objective’ credibility is a tactical error of the first water. Seriously.

          The public is far, far too prone to the dopey cynical nihilism of ‘oh, yeah, they’re all as bad as each other, and they can never make up their minds, can they?’ already. Feeding this, however inadvertently, is always a recipe for allowing the most entrenched forces of the status quo to triumph by default. The other side – and yes, Virginia, there is an ‘other side’ – knows this; this is the aim of the systematic promulgation of doubt…

          1. Bill, the “objective academic” approach to climate change reminds me of a sci-fi story I once read, whereby an astrophysics research group inadvertently creates an anti-Sun which promptly merges with and annihilates our own Sun.

            As I recall, the last line of the story went:

            Whilst this unfortunately ended the experiment, it did permit some very interesting observations to be made.

            1. Sadly, Rob, in a very real sense, ‘that’s not even funny’… 😉

              The way some people carry on – or, as the case may be, don’t carry on – you’d think we had a spare Earth parked somewhere. I am truly gobsmacked.

          2. For all I know this may well characterise “climate change” as an issue in the blogosphere. It bears no resemblance to “climate change” as a field of academic study, since there is no equivalent of your “two camps” in real climate research. [There is a spectrum of opinion, but it is far from dualistic.] It also bears no resemblance to “climate change” as a policy problem in the UK or New Zealand, where there are broad agreements about problem diagnosis and (again) a spectrum of views about how to move climate policy forward.

      2. “Dave Frame, you appear to be afflicted with a severe case of IvoryTower-itis.”

        Fair call. But I’d like to note just a couple of things: (1) that’s my job, dude; (2) in an age of democratic fetishism, all-pervasive social media and a profusion of opinion at the expense of soberly factual information (eg the rise of blogs and the decline of newspapers) I think there are interesting questions regarding socially legitimate expertise: there has been a change in the way scientific (and other) expertise is perceived by citizens and how it is digested by political processes. My views on power sharing in democracies are broadly Madisonian, ie kind of pessimistic. And in that eternal tension between elites and the people I think ivory-tower folks are currently on the back foot in ways we shouldn’t necessarily be.* So I don’t think being identifiably “ivory tower” is a bad thing. But that’s a long story.

        *We are also on the back foot in ways we should be.

        1. Dave Frame – “that’s my job, dude

          It’s certainly apparent that’s the way you view your job, but I prefer that of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute – if your research has societal implications, then it would be irresponsible to not make sure society was aware of this research.

          The term Ivory Tower implies an intellectual disconnect with the concerns of the real world, which is never a good thing.

  4. Really? Accurately describing Leyland as an organic myth-churning device is legitimising him?

    Dave Frame hasn’t quite realised this CTG, but he’s going be suffering along with the rest of us.

  5. Interesting traffic, guys. My position is pretty simple. If someone writes a piece on the Southern Annular Mode, then the obvious folks to seek comment from are other people who know about the SAM. In this case, the piece was just about a global indicator of climate change, so the obvious people to ask folks like those I mentioned above.

    I appreciate that aspects of climate research has social implications, and where these are an integral part of the piece under discussion, sure, get a range of pespectives. But, personally, I wouldn’t start with activists with strong political agendas, since I think these make the subsequent conversation misleadingly dualistic.

  6. Dave, climate change issues have at least three intertwined and inescapable aspects: science, morality and justice, all of which have profound political implications.

    IMHO, climate scientists have a social responsibility that includes educating the public as to the likely risks they face and advocating for solutions.

    You may call that activism; I call it caring enough to give a damn.

    1. Conversely, we may ask ourselves how humanity will suffer under climate change mitigation policies, such as pushing more people into fuel poverty with escalating energy prices

      Unfortunately, for the activists, it is a one way street to the glorious sunlight uplands of the “low-carbon economy”

      The fact that there might be conflicting arguments never seems to come into play.

      1. See, this is the bit where you need to have some science backing you up.

        The costs of simply adapting to climate change, having done no mitigation whatsoever, are simply horrendous.

        You are claiming “fuel poverty” on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. Nor are you accepting any responsibility for your activism leading to the failure of politicians to do something meaningful about this crisis. The fact that your activism is going to lead to untold cost and suffering doesn’t seem to bother you in the slightest.

        And yet you whinge about how badly you are treated. Git.

        1. The only evidence you have on cost benefit is the Stern Report, which has received widespread criticism.

          Fuel poverty is a given. There are already thousands in fuel poverty in the UK and these numbers will skyrocket due to energy prices.

          The Hughes Report estimated the cost of wind with gas backup would cost 10 times the cost of gas alone.

          Somehow, you seem to feel it is acceptable to take the moral high ground without doing any cost benefit or risk analysis on your projections whatsoever. The hubris is staggering

          1. Furthermore, I’d like to see some evidence that my activism has led to the failure of policiucians to do something about the crisis of the mild warming we experienced at the end of the 20th century.

            Are you seriously suggesting that bupy making a few comments on blogs such as these that I have somehow changed to course of events at Doha?

            What other Activism have you evidence of? I support Thrium Energy and have donated money to the making of a documentary I am against wind farms for reasons other than. Limited change issues.

            So what evidence do you have that I am an activist of any description? I don’t go to group hugs, take my children to fossil fuel funded conferences.


          2. The only evidence you have on cost benefit is the Stern Report, which has received widespread criticism.

            Rubbish. There is an extensive literature on cost v benefit of climate action. The fact that you don’t know that (or choose to ignore it) says a great deal about your commitment to informed debate on this subject.

            1. It’s not my job to do your reading for you. Start with AR4 WG3 (large chunks thereof) then follow through by actually reading Stern and Garnaut, and then start working through the literature you’ll find they reference.

            2. “Start with AR4 WG3 (large chunks thereof) then follow through by actually reading Stern and Garnaut”

              Stern was pretty controversial among economists – see critiques by Gary Yohe & Richard Tol, for instance. If you want to see a kind of overview of the literature on the social cost of carbon, have a look at Tol’s metastudy on the social cost of carbon,which gives you an idea of the spread in the literature
              It’s fair to say that it’s a complicated issue… I’ve always thought we hugely under-invest in things like integrated assessment – the communities doing biophysical climate modelling numbers in the thousands; those actually trying to integrate all the various bits numbers in the dozens (maybe hundreds, these days).

            3. I wouldn’t take Peter Lilley’s views on anything seriously, except possibly Gilbert & Sullivan. Why are you reading him instead of the real stuff? (Don’t bother to answer, I can guess). As Dave says, you could start with Gary Yohe (try Google – you know, the internet search engine). Broadly speaking, everyone agrees it’s cheaper to act now than repent later. Except Monckton, of course.

            4. Peter liley studied economics and physics at Clare College Cambridge,

              Maybe some relevant background, perhaps?

            5. If it had been Oxford, you might have a point… 😉

              As it is, 40 years of being a tosser undermines his credibility as far as I am concerned.

            6. Yes, that would be Richard Tol, the conservative economist who conclude that the costs of adaptation vastly outweigh the costs of mitigation, and that a carbon tax is justified. I wonder why andy didn’t mention him?

            7. I didn’t mention Richard Tol because I didn’t mention him. Is it a crime to be Conservatve? Are the only valid political views a climate scientist or economist can have those of a left wing nature.?
              Is it a requirement in your views that a scientist should take a political view on everything and feed their scientific results through that lens?

              Would you be happy, for example, if this were applied to medical science or biotechnology?

            8. More puerile argument from AndyS. Why not do what you have so far conspicuously failed to do: read the bloody literature, and then come back here with an informed opinion?

            9. You said:

              The only evidence you have on cost benefit is the Stern Report

              which is flat out wrong. Does anyone spot a pattern here?

              Either you are commenting from a position of ignorance, in which case STFU, or else you are deliberately trying to mislead people, in which case STFU.

      2. Hear, hear, Andy. But let us not also forget the plight of the tobacco companies, so unjustly persecuted by “healthists” for all these years.

        Unfortunately, for these activists, it is a one-way street to the glorious sunlight uplands of the “smoke-free culture”.

        The fact that there might be conflicting arguments never seems to come into play.

        What about the freedom to choose to poison oneself and one’s family, grow old before one’s time and then die in agony?

        It’s just so unfair, and now they’re picking on the coal and oil companies as well – it’s political correctness gone mad.


    2. I agree that as a social issue climate change has several parts, some scientific, some technological, some economic, some ethical, some normative…

      My original point was just that where a paper comes out and is basically a technical piece, the obvious people from whom to seek additional comments are those who work in that technical area.

      As for the ethical and normative dimensions – those are things where there are lots of different perspectives. It’s fair to sample a range of them, though I roll my eyes when the only ones that get sampled are informed by very strong political priors, which reflect only parts of the research literature (and beyond).

        1. As you’d expect they’re usually really good on climate science. I don’t read them much, but I’ve usually found them to be great on issues of physical climate science.

    3. Rob wrote: “climate scientists have a social responsibility that includes educating the public as to the likely risks they face and advocating for solutions.”

      Sure. I agree that science funded for the public good needs to demonstrate its value to the public. And I agree that in this instance those who find risks should make them clear to the public. I do share my views on the risks posed by climate change. It’s fair to say I simply disagree with many of you about the scale of those risks – in particular I find the meme that a few researchers (Kevin Anderson, etc) know the truth while the rest of us are mere docile pawns of power to be silly. That difference in perceptions of risk matters for the problem diagnosis, obviously.

      But it’s the normative dimensions that are particularly troublesome. Most scientists have no special training in these areas, and there’s no reasons to think scientists’ interventions on economic policy or issues of justice should carry much weight. I actually have worked in policy, and I did study ethics and have read quite a lot of the climate ethics literature. And my view is that most “climate justice” stuff is daft. There is a core bit surrounding polluter pays-type arguments that is probably hard to avoid, but (to take one exaple) the idea that future emissions ought to be allocated according to per capita principle strikes me as wrong. A lot of the “climate justice” stuff just doesn’t speak to me because I think it’s wrong, ethically.

      What I’m aiming to show here is even if we agree about physical climate science, we may disagree about the risks, and we may disagree about the “solutions” (because we disagree about burden-sharing). So if activists aren’t offering either problem diagnoses or courses of treatments I find compelling, why would I feel obliged to support them? [This is what I meant when i said that I don’t recall joining any broad political alliance.]

        1. Rob wrote: “As paleoclimatic evidence suggests that we are committed to a deglaciation of Greenland and WAIS, is it the scale of the risks you dispute, or just the timeframe?”

          For a given biophysical impact there are a range of plausible socioeconomic impacts. Some studies assume that people’s ability to respond is very limited indeed, and I often find that implausible. Very often climate change is a smaller driver than other changes taking place for non-climate reasons, and frequently the scariest studies don’t capture those non-climate effects.

          (I recall a study which tried to see a climate impact on dengue fever in SE Asia, that concluded that any such signal was blown away by other drivers: urbanisation, changes in healthcare, etc etc. Given the often rapid change we see over decadal scales in many developing countries, I anticipate that they’ll be powering up in terms of their resilience to climate change. Some studies do not include dynamic demographic variables, and this is often a serious omission (I’m sometimes asked to review pieces which do this, (sometimes it matters and sometimes it doesn’t))).

          [OTOH, in the interests of balance, I’d point out that IAMs are often pretty unsophisticated in terms of the vulnerabilities they diagnose to climate, which can lead to underestimates of damages, too.]

          1. David, your comments indicate that your personal position is that risks of climate change are in fact relatively minor or at least vastly overstated. Am I correct?

            Do you dispute the assessment that on a business of usual path we will reach 4 Deg to 6 Deg average warming by 2100?

            Do you believe that in case we got to that level change, the impact on civilization would be minor?

            1. indicate that your personal position is…

              I don’t like to talk for others, but if I were a scientist by the true definition of the word, I wouldn’t have a “personal position” on anything, (other than the state of my lawns, perhaps)

            2. I think climate change is a very serious problem, and I think the biophysical impacts we would experience at (say) 4C would clearly be very disruptive to many societies. And I believe climate policy is necessary to make sure warming doesn’t get that high. I’d have thought both of these were obvious.
              It’s an obvious fact that there is a range of expert opinion on climate change – it ranges from the very alarmed to the comparatively optimistic. I think that spread has value, and I think any responsible portrayal of climate change builds that spread in (since it, too, is a component of risk).

              There are lots of examples of the spread/diversity of expert beliefs in climate change literature. Climate sensitivity is one on the physical side, but the diversity there pales when compared to the diversity in other variables, such as social cost of carbon, where the range of legitimate, informed estimates ranges from a few bucks a tonne (eg Bill Nordhaus) to arbitrarily large numbers (via the Weitzman hypothesis). This is what happens when you try and aggregate over a problem with as many relevant dimensions as this one. There are lots of ways you could go about wandering through this maze, but I submit that one of the least compelling is to allow yourself to be guided by those who insist that you always choose the high numbers (or the low numbers, or numbers ending in five, or anything else based on the numbers, rather than the processes and assumptions that produce them). I find it strange that this position seems to be considered radical – possibly counter-revolutionary – by some of you.

            3. Dave, I don’t think your position is extreme. I just like to understand it.
              I see from the evidence that the conservative positions taken by the IPCC in the past have consistently proven to be overtaken by the realities of climate change. The emissions track on the top of the IPCC suggested range and the symptoms we see track at the top of the range (towards faster than expected warming, melting, …) than the IPCC predictions. If this history is any guide to the future I would say that averaged out opinions of the scientific establishment have erred, perhaps significantly so, on the side of underestimating the impacts and the speed of climate change. Would you agree?
              Juxtaposed to this the fact that our governments have been putting lip service perhaps, actions very few, towards any true shift of paradigms towards addressing the issues of AGW and one wonders: a) who is actually advising our leadership on matters of policy going forward? And b) do people who are on in this position have failed in a very significant manner and have become personally culpable of muddying the waters with soft talk, and thereby preventing action to take place that might save the ship? To stay with the maritime equivalent: If a navigator fails to advise the captain appropriately and the ship runs aground, who should be charged with criminal neglect?

      1. Dave Frame – “in particular I find the meme that a few researchers (Kevin Anderson, etc) know the truth while the rest of us are mere docile pawns of power to be silly.

        Indeed, but who here has suggested such a thing? Our current pathway as expounded by people such as Kevin Anderson does, however, represent a plausible high risk scenario that should be avoided – because there is no way to put the climate Humpty Dumpty back together again.

  7. Dave Frame, I’m not a scientist but I’ve spent a number of years doing my best to understand the science of climate change because global warming seems to me to pose a threat of enormous proportions to the human future. I haven’t come across any body of science to suggest otherwise. Am I missing something? Am I running to extremes in taking the warnings of the likes of say James Hansen or Michael Mann seriously? Are they out of kilter with most of the science?

    You propose that a political predisposition in writers like McKibben leads them to play up the threats. But I’ve seen nothing in what McKibben writes that exaggerates what many prominent climate scientists say, though he expresses it with a writer’s flair.

    In your view the alarm I feel is undue. I would be pleased to discover you’re right. But in what you say I see a temperamental inclination to look for a middle way, and that doesn’t seem to me to carry the weight of scientific authority. I read a longish piece by John McCrone in The Press a couple of months ago which presented you as a relief from the dire warnings of scientists like Peter Wadhams and James Hansen, a relief moreover provided “from those right at the heart of the world’s climate change science and climate change policy”. I don’t hold you responsible for McCrone’s characterisation, but I fail to see where climate change science generally is seriously at odds with Wadhams or Hansen or the many other scientists who express alarm.

    1. The best overall guide to the scale and nature of climate change remains IPCC. It assembles expertise from a range of fields that contribute to a (fairly) full understanding of the problem. In my view that’s a more reliable guide than the views of any given scientist.* On specific issues, there are often review papers which are useful since they aggregate across a range of authors and set out active areas of research, etc.

      *There is additional information in the aggregation of expert views. No one is an expert in all the integrated dimensions of even physical climate science. The most reliable way to assess the field as a whole is to get experts in various parts of it together, and to get them to collaborate.

      Also, if you’re interested in the socioeconomic implications of climate change, then the people to listen to are different from those with whom you might consult regarding the best way to take an ice-core or tree-ring sample. As I said yesterday, for a given biophysical impact there might be a range of possible socioeconomic impacts, depending on other socioeconomic drivers. Physical climate scientists aren’t usually well-positioned to give expert views on these.

      1. Dave, I’ve been reading your comments and slowly becoming more and more agitated. I’m sorry but I consider that you are well out of kilter with the mainstream of scientific opinion on this matter.
        I refer you to this commentary on the recent AGU conference – in particular to the address given by Brad Werner, a geophysicist at the University of California, San Diego with the title ‘Is Earth F**ked’
        Then again there is this recent article by Jeremy Grantham in Nature ‘Be persuasive. Be brave. Be arrested (if necessary)’ the opening paragraph of which states:

        “I have yet to meet a climate scientist who does not believe that global warming is a worse problem than they thought a few years ago. The seriousness of this change is not appreciated by politicians and the public. The scientific world carefully measures the speed with which we approach the cliff and will, no doubt, carefully measure our rate of fall. But it is not doing enough to stop it. I am a specialist in investment bubbles, not climate science. But the effects of climate change can only exacerbate the ecological trouble I see reflected in the financial markets — soaring commodity prices and impending shortages.”

        note the:

        “But it is not doing enough to stop it” The “it” is the scientific community.

        You say the IPPC is the authority on Climate Science and to a major degree it is – but there is growing awareness in the scientific community that the pronouncements of the IPPC are almost without exception conservative. Naomi Oreskes et al have a recently published paper on this very topic
        I quote from the abstract:
        “Over the past two decades, skeptics of the reality and significance of anthropogenic climate change have frequently accused climate scientists of “alarmism”: of over-interpreting or overreacting to evidence of human impacts on the climate system. However, the available evidence suggests that scientists have in fact been conservative in their projections of the impacts of climate change. In particular, we discuss recent studies showing that at least some of the key attributes of global warming from increased atmospheric greenhouse gases have been under-predicted, particularly in IPCC assessments of the physical science, by Working Group I”
        In summary, we have had in recent years a warming of slightly less than 1 Degree C, and yet, the outcomes of that are becoming evident almost everyday in more frequent extreme weather events.
        Surely the most rational and prudent action is to act on the assumption that continuing with “business as usual” is playing with fire. We have seen in recent days more evidence of the continual warming of the Earth with cyclones in the Philippines and Samoa. Whilst it is still too early to assess the damage of these latest storms we know that they are causing social and economic havoc.
        ‘Fatalities from Washi surpassed the combined death toll of 929 from Ketsana and Parma storms in 2009, which damaged more than 38 billion pesos ($931 million) of homes, infrastructure and farm output. Typhoon Fengshen killed about 1,300 people in June 2008 and damaged about 7 billion pesos of crops and irrigation. The death toll from Fengshen included more than 900 people aboard a ship that capsized.

        The damage due to typhoons and other calamities in 2011 reached 59.2 billion pesos, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said in August. That month, inflation accelerated to 3.8 percent, the fastest pace in seven months, on supply disruptions that followed flooding caused by torrential rains.’

        I concur with the maxim “moderation in all things” – except if you are allergic to peanuts. In the case of the Earth – we are no longer moderate in our consumption of fossil fuels, and the earth is developing an allergic reaction to increasing GHG. It’s time we did something positive about it.

        1. Macro, it’s clear Dave Frame has a view on climate that is out of kilter with the observations, but attributing increased cyclone frequency or intensity to climate change is a bit tenuous at this stage. It could well be that they are connected, but there isn’t enough evidence to support this claim. Yet. Same for tornadoes.

          On the other hand, more frequent and severe flooding, and heat waves (both on land and in the sea) are well supported. Moving forward in time, northern New Zealand especially is very likely to experience much more extreme precipitation events associated with El Nino (drier-than-normal) and La Nina (wetter-than-normal). This is due to the atmosphere’s ability to re-distribute water vapour, increasing at a faster-than-linear rate with warming temperatures. It’s that whole wet get wetter, dry dryer thing.

          In regard to land surface temperatures, some of Dave Frame’s work shows that continental interiors are going to endure some mighty hefty increase in temperatures with 2°C of global warming. I think this is one thing that many readers fail to comprehend – 2°C is a global average, warming the poles and in continental interiors is going to be much higher. This is going to substantially increase the frequency and severity of heat waves and will make agriculture in some regions non-viable. Corn and rice crops are two staples that are particularly at risk because a great deal of research has demonstrated that they will suffer dramatic declines in yield with increases in surface air temperatures.

          And don’t get me started on ocean warming, ocean acidification, and the shoaling of highly oxygenated ocean surface waters. That there is some really worrying stuff going on right there, and at precisely the same time that humans are vacuum-cleaning (emptying) the oceans of fish.

          It very clear that on current trajectory things are going to end very badly indeed. It doesn’t have to be that way of course, but given that politicians are content to do nothing to prevent it, we have to accept climate-related disasters are inevitable. For me personally the saddest will be the loss of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Half of all coral on the reef have died in the last 27 years (mainly due to Crown-of-Thorns starfish outbreaks and cyclone damage), and further ocean warming and ocean acidification will create a background state such that they will not be able to recover. Sure there are likely to be refugia, but the reef as we know it will cease to exist unless we can turn things around.

          1. DW
            “attributing increased cyclone frequency or intensity to climate change is a bit tenuous at this stage”
            I totally agree.
            However there is every reason to hypothesize that continuing to accumulate more energy into the climate system will ultimately result in more energetic climatic events, – the results of which, will be escalating costs to humanity, and the environment.
            I hear everything else you say and totally concur. My sole point is to reiterate what many others have said, namely that adaptation to a warming world will be far more costly than mitigation.

          2. Dappledwater wrote:”Macro, it’s clear Dave Frame has a view on climate that is out of kilter with the observations, […]
            On the other hand, more frequent and severe flooding, and heat waves (both on land and in the sea) are well supported. ”

            This is where I feel you guys go out of your way to distort what I’m saying: I say things throughout the thread that make it clear I endorse IPCC on the science of climate change. You then say “I’m out of kilter with the observations”, and then cite stuff that is in accordance with IPCC.

            Just for the record I expect extremes are the shock troops of this problem (we sought Marsden funding to look at extreme events in NZ last year); and because of IAM structure they’re almost certainly underpriced in most estimates of the social cost of carbon.

            Once we get to this level of silliness, I think it’s time I left the thread. My points are actually pretty mundane: (1) that fair portrayals of climate change cite broadly from the literature, not from one edge of it and; (2) IPCC is a good guide to the literature, and is preferable to the views of any given scientist.

  8. Thomas** wrote: “I would say that averaged out opinions of the scientific establishment have erred, perhaps significantly so, on the side of underestimating the impacts and the speed of climate change. Would you agree?”

    Not really, no. You say that the warming has occurred faster than IPCC expected. But it hasn’t. The rate of global mean surface warming has actually been pretty much at the rate we expected. [This was the point of the paper with which this thread began.] Some things are undoubtedly worse than we expected. But some are better. That’s what you’d expect… and the emissions trajectory was within the envelope considered by IPCC, too. So I guess I see the problem evolving broadly in agreement with what we expected. [We’re still uncertain about lots of stuff, of course.]

    As for governments not getting the real picture… to extend your nautical analogy, they all hear from competing navigators all the time, which is part of the problem. And another problem is that lots of the would-be navigators mistakenly assume the navigator gets to set the destination… (that’s why “visionary” scientists are especially un-useful to policy makers).

    **I do appreciate the fair hearing you’ve given me, Thomas – thanks.

Leave a Reply