Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tony Gilland: “Time to move on from the IPCC?”

Tony Gilland, science and society director of the "Institute of Ideas", London, has published this piece: “Time to move on from the IPCC?” on the Times Eureka blog. He spoke at the debate "Can we trust the evidence? The IPCC - a case study" at the Battle of Ideas festival on Sunday 31 October 2011 in London, alongside Oliver Morton and Fred Pearce. With his permission, I am republishing his piece here:

Writing in the pages of The Times in October, Martin Rees and Anthony Giddens issued a stark warning that extreme weather events, such as the recent flooding in Pakistan and the heat wave in Russia, 'will grow in frequency and intensity as the world warms'. Noting the controversy that climate science has been mired in since December 2009, they strongly emphasise that 'the core scientific findings about human induced climate change and the dangers it poses remain intact' and demand a 'renewed drive' to 'wake the world from its torpor' and limit carbon emissions.

In the light of the UEA and IPCC scandals, it is a shame that their response to the climate controversies appears to be more of the same: scare and dogmatic instruction.

Whilst it may be fair to conclude that what has happened doesn't alter the fundamental understanding of climate change achieved to date, a conclusion reached by Fred Pearce in his enlightening book "The Climate Files" does at least accept that was has gone on is significant. From the prominence given to Michael Mann's infamous hockey stick graph in the IPCC's 2001 report, with the desire to give a compelling story to policymakers clearly winning out over caution regarding the treatment of the data; to the current IPCC chairman's ignorant and incorrect dismissal of those questioning the IPCC's 2007 prediction of the Himalayan Glaciers melting by 2035, one very quickly gets the impression of a febrile atmosphere surrounding the conduct of important aspects of the climate science debate.

For scientists who believe that it is important to take significant action to reduce carbon emissions now, it must be very frustrating to have witnessed so much controversy played out around a few key errors of judgement. However, there have been other instances of important institutions and eminent individuals choosing to present a one-sidedly alarmist picture of what is currently known in an attempt to close down debate and achieve political action. Take, for example, the British government organised Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change conference (2005) which promoted concerns to the world's media about extreme scenarios, like the Gulf Stream shutting down or rapid melting in Antarctica, in advance of the Gleneagles G8 summit where Tony Blair hoped to use the UK's G8 presidency to move climate change up the global agenda.

Whilst Rees, and the Royal Society of which he is president, have acknowledged that unhelpful exaggerations about climate change have been made, perhaps the more important lesson of the whole affair is the overemphasis on the role that science should play in the climate debate. Clearly we should want to know what science has to tell us, but what has been extremely unhelpful is the notion, promoted at the launch of the IPCC's 2007 report, that the time for debate is over.

A more meaningful response to the challenges presented by climate change needs to be a more political one. For there to be any chance of achieving a positive outcome, a genuine political and public debate first has to take place. Rather than kowtowing to those that demand that the time for debate is over, we need to insist that the debate has not even been had. The debate that needs to take place is not about the ins and outs of climate science, but rather how we view the scope for human ingenuity, entrepreneurship and collaboration to transform all our societies to become wealthier, more resilient and with greater access to a wider range of technologies. This is what we should be aiming for regardless. The scale of the devastation and human misery caused by the floods in Pakistan would simply not have occurred in a more developed country.

To do this not only requires a step back from incessant debates and foreboding about the latest climate science, but for us to take a long hard look at the cultural trends that have shaped our response to this issue to date. Since the fact of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere was first established in the 1960s, we have become increasingly pessimistic about the ability of humans to act purposefully and positively on the world and inclined towards seeing ourselves as primarily a source of grave danger. With this prevailing outlook, whatever the reality of climate sensitivity to green-house gases turns out to be, we can be assured of a thoroughly miserable time.

Though the reputation of the IPCC has been dented this year, the bigger problem is the authority many invested in it as the font of all knowledge and wisdom on the climate change issue. Surely it's time to move on and have a freer and wider debate for ourselves unconstrained by the diktats of 'the science' and attempts to scare us?


Anonymous said...

The great thing about climate change predictions of more heat waves, more flooding etc is that they also include predictions of long periods of cooling and dry spells. In other words all predictions will come true no matter what the climate does. Therefore, we will win against the right, we will achieve a world government of central control, and we will all be happy in one world. This is the ultimate goal after all.

Hans von Storch said...

Indeed, it is a major issue that we (climate scientists) begin to construct falsifiable hypotheses (which will be falsified, or better not, by future observations). So far, we have none. - Hans

Werner Krauss said...

I don't get it. Great attack in the beginning, excellent. But in the second last paragraph, suddenly his mood changes. Melancholy, even depression comes up. First he argues against apocalyptic science and thinking, and then, considering culture, he starts to suffer from deep pessimism. How come?
His move to culture: perfect. Why doesn't he focus on the myriads of initiatives going on? He is right that we shouldn't focus only on the IPCC, on science, on the "global"; but why not focus on the emergence of wind energy, of solar, on smart grids, on new technological innovations in production etc? This all happens without the science or politics speaking with one voice.
Thus, I wonder about this pessimistic undertone which makes him so similar to those who he is fighting against.
Or did I get something wrong?

Georg Hoffmann said...

Since the senventies there were clear and quantified predictions that the Earth will warm. I call this a falsifiable hypothesis. Equally the spatial pattern of this warming (though not an extreme surprise) was predicted.

To a lesser extent this holds as well for day-night temperature amplitudes, stratospheric temperatures and a couple of other direct greenhouse gas impacts.

Hans von Storch said...

Georg, there were also claims about sea level rise, which did not materialize. What you do, you pick those parts of the scenarios, and claims, which turned out to be right, and forget about the others.
What we need is NOW a statement, if THIS and THAT happens in the future, we are in trouble. And conversely, if THIS AND THAT does not happen, than we are NOT in trouble.

When some talk now about the stagnation in global mean temperature since 2000 (without the 1998 event), and if some claim they can not reproduce such stagnation periods neither in initialized predictions nor in forced runs using present forcings (for details, we have to wait for the publications) - then this does not qualify as a falsification, as it has not been declared as such a-priori. Instead it is a-posteriori (thus, a Mexican Hat). But your examples are also all Mexican Hats.

Gabi's bet, we have been witnesses to in this weblog a while ago, is an honest offer for falsification - and we will have to wait and see.

Same old story, the arguments somebody makes sloppily for one side, will be used by the other side equally or even more sloppily.

Hans von Storch said...

Added the image of the Mexican Hat to please our anthropologists.

Georg Hoffmann said...

I dont understand what you say.
The points I mentioned are at the heart of any prediction on the effect of greenhouse gases and warming. They have been made in the 70s.
You seem to suggest that they are worthless as long as not every single statement on whatever issue made by a climate scientists turns out to be true. Claims about future storm surges in the North sea were not at equal terms with the prediction of global warming.

The actual stagnation of temperatures remains for the moment in the described variability of the models:


"What we need is NOW a statement, if THIS and THAT happens in the future, we are in trouble. And conversely, if THIS AND THAT does not happen, than we are NOT in trouble."

Clearly, that does not exist. Not now, not in future.

Hans von Storch said...

Georg, if I read your link correctly then the analysis did end in 2005, or so? We have now more years, and it seems that the stagnation persists. Most years in 2000-2009 (2010 seemingly consistent) are well beyond a 1960-1990 reference, but they show among them no increase. If we add the 1998, then it is not only 10 years, but 13 and in one month 14 years. But all Mexican Hat ... at least until about 2005, when people began to notice.

Let's see what the submitted papers eventually will tell, and whether their analyses will survice the scrutiny of us all.

I think we will get falsifiable statements in future. The mood has definitely changed in the climate community during the last year, and many are keen of doing a better science beyond the hockeysticking of the last years.
On the other hand, my personal perception is certainly biased.

Georg Hoffmann said...

click on the link with the ppt presentation of paul knappenberger. Data are until Dec 2009 and most graphics anyhow look ony into model results (probability for x years no positive trend).

Georg Hoffmann said...

Ahh, I forgot. The corresponding paper is submitted to GRL. First author is Pat Michaels. So the results are above any suspicions.
Is this the paper you are referring to?

Hans von Storch said...

No, Georg, I was not aware of the Michaels-paper. I am travelling at this time, now in SF at the AGU meeting - on two independet occassions I was confronted with such claims. As these people will come forward, when they have completed their analasis, I leave it to them to tell their story. But it seems there are stories to be told!

I would not consider a paper of Michaeals as more suspicious than a paper by Mann. By the way, it was Mann who introduced me to Michaels, when I visited Mann in Charlottesville in 2001. Pat's office was just a little down the hallway from Mike's office; somehow they are still neighbors.

Chip Knappenberger said...

For anyone interested, the Michaels, Knappenberger, Christy, Herman, Liljegren, and Annan paper submitted to GRL was rejected, with the reviewers citing myriad reasons ranging from our failure to incorporate solar and stratospheric water vapor impacts, not including radiosonde temperature sets, not handling potential errors in the observed datasets in a suitable fashion, and not fairly qualifying our results. Of course, several papers prior to ours had compared observed trends with model distributions of the trends, without considering any of the above (all of which we actually addressed in our submission) and they were published. But then, those results were more favorable to the models. Our paper was a well thought out improvement to the earlier (published) studies, but since our results were less favorable to the models, all sorts of objections were raised. Which, to me, goes to show, that the bar is a lot lower when it comes to publishing a result in support of the consensus than it is to publish something even the least bit critical of it. (these are my opinions, of course).

And interesting article in the New Yorker explores this latter topic in detail, although it is behind a paywall.

If any one is interested in reading the failed GRL paper, let me know, it is actually a quite interesting paper.

-Chip Knappenberger

Marco said...


You should know as well as any other researcher that plenty of bad papers get published. This does not mean, unless you are a conspiracy theorist or have direct evidence, that YOUR paper was rejected because the result did not fit the 'required outcome'. It is equally well possible that your paper was sent to experts who have a bigger view on the issue, and thus raise objections you apparently do not like. I myself find it quite interesting, even telling, you do not claim the objections are irrelevant or wrong...

Anonymous said...

Besides, Chip, the paper got to be used for a presentation on the scientific conference of a libertarian American public policy think tank, so it wasn't all for nothing, eh?

Steve Koch said...

It is past time to move on from the IPCC. It is amazing that an entire scientific discipline came to be controlled by a political organization. There should be a thorough discussion of this, including why climate scientists complained so little about this politicizing of their science.