Tag Archive: climate sceptics


A Deutsche Bank report debunking out-of date climate sceptics’ science will help to lock up the centre ground and disprove ill-informed rants like that by Michael O’Leary. “Red greens” linking climate change to left-wing politics should ally with center-ground thought like this until climate change is under control.

The Deutsche Bank Logo: A valuable sign to have next to a thorough rebuttal of weak and disproven arguments

Last Wednesday saw the publication of a Deutsche Bank report systematically taking apart the main out-of-date climate sceptic arguments that still seem to get repeated at every opportunity. This is an invaluable reference point, not because the arguments are new, but because it’s published with the logo of Deutsche Bank on it. No doubt there will be a backlash, other studies cited and counter narratives drawn up by journalists in the right-wing American press. Understandably so, given that the report explicitly aims to secure investment in climate change technologies and relies on Colombia University experts: they are wide open to accusations of bias that are fairly unarguable. This blog has always been keen to point out that not all sceptics are right-wing, oil-funded sultans of spin, but such right-wing attack dogs exist, and no doubt they will make themselves heard. Watch this space.

The other benefit of this report, is that it can’t be accused of shutting down debate. Well, I’m sure someone will find a way, but come on. This is not about science, it’s about PR: the arguments the report rebuts are out of date arguments that have been widely disproven by the scientific community but continue to be widely cited. A case in point is the recent interview with Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, which one commentator described as like “inviting the audience to play ‘climate sceptic bingo’, such is the density of clichés and canards contained within each of the sentences he utters”. Several the claims regurgitated by O’Leary’s are rebutted by this report. Quotes are mostly taken from the one page summary on their website for simplicity, but the report is exhaustively researched and referenced:

O'Leary: Not convinced by climate change

O’Leary: “It used to be [called] global warming, but now, when global temperatures haven’t risen in the past 12 years, they say ‘climate change’.”

Deutsche Bank: “In fact, the decade of 2000 to 2009 is the warmest since measurements have been made. Multiple factors affect global average temperatures, including the long-term warming trend from GHGs. This time-varying interaction of climate drivers can lead to periods of relatively stable temperatures interspersed with periods of warming. The anomalously high global average temperatures in 1998 associated with the El Niño have been followed by comparably high values that reflect a combination of long-term warming and shorter-term natural variability. Periods of relatively constant temperature are not evidence against global warming.”

O’Leary: “We’ve also had a couple of very hot spells during the Middle Ages, so nobody can deny [natural] climate change.”

Deutsche Bank: “Northern hemisphere temperatures in the Medieval Warming Period (MWP) may have been comparable to today, but the estimates have high uncertainty because there are so few records and spatial coverage is spotty. However, a MWP warmer than the last decade does not challenge the case for anthropogenic warming.”

O’Leary: “Scientists argue there is global warming because they wouldn’t get half of the funding they get now if it turns out to be completely bogus”

Deutsche Bank: Page 14 of the report points out that climate change accounts for a relatively small amount of government budgets and barely filters through to individual researchers.

O’Leary: “it is absolutely bizarre that the people who can’t tell us what the fucking weather is next Tuesday can predict with absolute precision what the fucking global temperatures will be in 100 years’ time.”

Deutsche Bank: “We do not rely only on models for our understanding of the effect of greenhouse gases on climate. Theory (i.e. the physics and chemistry of the planet’s atmosphere and ocean) and observations are the foundation of our ability to understand climate and to assess and quantify forcing and impacts. Models represent the most formal way in which to project and quantify future conditions. Despite well known limitations to climate models such as the uncertainties of clouds, aerosols, and spatial resolution, climate models are increasingly able to reproduce a range of physical processes and feedbacks. They unanimously predict warming with increasing greenhouse gases of a magnitude consistent with estimates independently derived from observed climate changes and past climate reconstructions.” (Incidentally, no-one would argue that climate models show “absolute precision”, but they are considered at their most accurate between 40 and 60 years into the future. In the short term natural variability can mean temperatures don’t fit the models, but these tend to average out over time. In the longer term there are more and more incompletely understood factors playing a role).

Deutsche Bank: Not an obvious ally to left-wing agendas like climate camp (picture bottom right)

What’s important with these kinds of scientific arguments is not that they shut down debate, which they don’t, but that they contain it. One only has to look on the blogosphere, on news websites or on Amazon.com to see that there is not a lack of climate change debate, and the idea sometimes put about that the liberal intelligencia is trying to shut it down is self-evident nonsense. Scientific debates and discussions are important, but they tend to dominate discussion, including in the media. When climategate, “glaciergate” and various other more minor “gates” drag discussion back to scientific bickering over temperature records, we lose sight of managing mitigation and adaptation. If this report is widely distributed, the summary of the arguments will prove invaluable in debunking sceptic myths.

The hockey stick controversy gets significant attention in the report (indicative of its continued high profile) and recognises the role of legitimate criticism by McIntyre and McKitrick while still puncturing the over-hyped “breaking of the hockey stick”. This distinguishes effectively between real criticism and types of “attacks on science” spelled out in the introduction. The report is careful to cast its net wide, dealing with both the scientific disputes and other claims, like the argument that climate scientists spin results to secure funds.

Climate Camp: Capitalism needs to be rethought alongside climate change

This presents a problem for the “red greens” campaigning on climate change, who are probably unwilling to jump into bed with the likes of Deutsche Bank. Less than a month ago protesters at “climate camp” in Edinburgh were arguing that one can’t engage with climate change without rethinking the capitalist system . In all honesty I’m not unsympathetic – is there a link between the western world’s addiction to economic growth and various environmental problems, including declining finite resources (oil, precious metals), deforestation and climate change? No question. Unfortunately it is widely thought that the point at which catastrophic climate change becomes inevitable is about…now. Rethinking the world’s relationship with what goes into its economy (natural resources) and what comes out (pollution) is an important project, but one on a much longer timescale. It’s not going to happen overnight, while effective climate change mitigation and adaptation must. To put it another way: guys, Deutsche Bank is now your friend. Deal with.

Advertisements

A piece on the Panorama programme on climategate recently appeared on climate progress, a major climate blog, heavily criticising the programme for giving too much air time to sceptics. Having watched and reviewed it myself, I disagree strongly with much of what this post says and why is written below.

Agreement

First, however, let me lay out what I agree with, unfortunately not an awful lot. This is partly because honestly the last thing I want to do is get into a blogging dogfight, especially with blogs and readers from the climate consensus! If you’re reading this, I’m your team, guys.

The second is that I dislike the adversarial style of much of the climate change discussion that goes on in the news media, in the books and online, much of which has to do with cheap point-scoring, defending predetermined positions and ad hominem attacks (attacking people rather than arguments). The climate progress blog’s arguments are reported in italics.

“Representing the climate science camp, Panorama use a grey haired climate scientist (Dr Bob Watson) and a London climate policy academic (Bob Ward) who manage reasonably good communications but are weaker than Lomborg, a well trained and well presented media spokesperson.”

I don’t have much to add to this, except that I don’t think it’s Panorama’s fault that Watson and Ward weren’t as media savvy as Lomborg. Our lot need to get better at this. That said, I certainly don’t consider it Panorama’s job to adjudicate on how presentable their climate consensus interviewees are (or, indeed, to only interview hunch-backed, scarred and incomprehensible sceptics!)

The “balance as bias” thesis that underpins this article

This is the argument, drawing on the work on Maxwell Boykoff, that news media principles and other factors have produced a balanced portrayal of the sceptic vs. consensus debates when the science is overwhelming dominated by the “consensus” side (hence the name, “consensus”). Absolutely. I have some reservations in this context (see below) but I accept the general principle. There should, of course, be some role for minority voices in any discussion, but the proportion is often wrong in the case of climate change reporting

Disagreement

The piece complains that the BBC description of the show begins with the line “To some, it’s a massive conspiracy to con the public. To others, it’s the greatest threat to the future of our world.” Is unfair because “There is 0.00% chance hat global warming is a massive conspiracy to con the public…Nicely balanced “sides,” BBC.”

What the line says is that some people think it is. That’s not a comment on what the truth is, it’s a comment on public perceptions. This is a bit of excessive rhetorical flair, perhaps, but it’s worth noting that no one interviewed in the programme said anything of the sort.

The programme features the “thoroughly debunked Bjorn Lomborg”, and “the long wrong John Christy” and “the utterly discredited purveyor of hate speech” Lord Monckton.

1. Bjørn Lomborg has not been “thoroughly debunked” because a book of criticisms of him has been published, any more Michael Mann, also featured in the documentary can be considered “thoroughly debunked” because of Montford’s “The Hockey Stick Illusion”. Criticisms are part of an ongoing debate. (Lomborg is, as many of the comments on that post point out, can only barely be classed a sceptic – he has repeatedly stated his thinks climate change is a major problem facing the world. He mostly thinks the rhetoric is out of control and that we should favour adaptation over mitigation. In the words of one of the comments “He is hated and despised by a lot of denialists who see him as insufficiently radical for their fanatical anti-environmentalism”)

2. I have to admit I don’t have a fully formed opinion about John Christy, though was pleased to see interview footage of him so I can understand his opinions in more detail. He featured prominently in “The Great Global Warming Swindle”, but that film was so riddled with complaints of misrepresenting its interviewees views that I am suspicious of what I saw of his there. Also the man was well-respected enough to be a lead author of the IPCC 3rd Assessment Report, I think it’s fair to treat him as a serious scientist. (The linked blog post criticising Christy Should you believe anything John Christy says? I also have a fair few reservations about)

3. Lord Monckton… ok, actually, I agree here. Monckton is not a serious figure. All that was shown however, was a brief clip of him arguing with some protesters. Ideally we wouldn’t see him at all, but

“John Christy, atmospheric scientist and mild sceptic (one of the only real scientist in the world out of thousands of qualified scientists who has some skeptical views), is given equal air time than climate scientists Bob Watson and Michael Mann (who is critiqued whilst Christy is not). This is balance as bias.”

I am mostly very sympathetic to the “balance as bias” argument (as stated earlier), but this is a piece about the credibility of climate science. It is right to give sufficient air-time to the critics in this context. Furthermore the piece was excellent at allowing the interviewees to explain their positions in detail, and the fact that Christy explains that he believes in anthropogenic global warming to some extent and, to his credit, explicitly says he knows he’s in the minority of scientists. This level of explanation does us more good than harm by clarifying what is agreed on.

Mann is critiqued because he has been under huge scrutiny recently. To ignore this is to ignore accurate context.

“The introduction suggests reporter Tom Heap speaks to both sides of what is a science argument yet Bjorn Lomborg (not a climate scientist), and other non-scientists appear.”

Science is not the only aspect of the climate change debates, that’s why the IPCC has “Impacts and Adaption” and “Mitigation” reports. Both sides of the science argument are represented (John Christy on the one hand and X and Y on the other), but the programme had other interests besides the science. Lomborg’s appearance is alongside Bob Ward, both of them primarily policy rather than science expects.

“Panorama gives voice to an average UK family man whose non-scientific opinion suggests global warming ‘is natural’. Research shows that large parts of the population identify with this kind of person as they do not understand climate science and look to peers for guidance.”

This part of the programme was… well, a bit dull, but the idea that a BBC programme shouldn’t interview the public on a social issue is ridiculous. I would not expect that BBC to be slammed to interviewing someone in the street for their opinions of the coalition government, for example. Yes, climate change is more complicated, but one of the main points of the programme was to honestly report the uncertainty in the general population. He was also there next to his wife, who was equally lacking in expert knowledge and believed the opposite.

“Panorama publicize Lomborg’s upcoming sceptic film ‘Cool It’ without critique but focus on negative aspects of Al Gore’s film.”

This was part of Lomborg’s biography, and a reasonable thing to do in the context of explaining who he is. It’s difficult to critique a film that hasn’t come out yet. Conversely controversies over “An Inconvenient Truth” have been part of public discourse since it came out.

“Panorama focus on UK government climate change minister saying ‘it is up to behavior [sic] change’ when clearly national and international policy must lead mitigation not individuals”

While I completely agree that national and international policy must lead mitigation, it isn’t a fact. In an ideal world there would be a counter-argument to this, but it’s a half hour programme and clearly there are limits to which these debates can all be engaged with in detail.

Conclusion

Was there a needless anti-consensus bias in Panorama? I don’t think so. As a concerned member of the public, I want to know what the disagreements are on major policy issues, even when the disagreements come from minority perspectives. The scope and urgency of climate change is a reason for rigorous debate, not for the shutting down of opposition. I also do not what sound production decisions by a documentary, where figures and controversies are given in reasonable context, good or bad, to be compromised by needlessly exacting standards on bias.

In lots of contexts with climate change reporting there is an issue where balance is bias. In a discussion of the validity of science after climategate, however, balance is pretty key.

Panorama: Gives us an interesting discussion of climate change disagreements

This week’s BBC Panorama, (or its online summary) on climategate and disgreements on climate change was well worth a look for those following these debates.

The main appeal for me was the interviews with big names in climate change debates, who so often appear in books that push an agenda on each of them. Where divides on this issue often seem vicious and blood-spitting, this documentary took care to show everywhere people agree (on basic science, on increasing CO2 concentrations) in a powerful act of clarification. These are obvious to anyone reading the literature, but perhaps not to the general public with other priorities.

We had Michael Mann, the author of the Hockey Stick, and his view on his critics, John Christy, the leading sceptic who played a lead role in polemic film The Great Global Warming Swindle but who gives a much fuller account of his position here. Christy says, for example, that he believes man is responsible for about a quarter of current warming but that he recognsies he’s in a minority, a more nuanced opinion than the soundbyte-heavy style of The Great Global Warming Swindle. He also stresses uncertainty rather than disagreement. He’s, well, sceptical, rather than in rabid disagreement.

Bjørn Lomborg also appears prominently, though is bizarrely treated as a “sceptic” despite agreeing with the consensus position on the science. In some ways what is remarkable in this programme is how little the interviewees disagree on, important as their disagreements are, and how willing to explain their uncertainties they are.

As a half-hour programme it is clearly limited in its scope, and is full of interviews with members of the public and slightly bizarre episodes like measuring the the measuring of CO2 from things and people around a house. These distracted from the thrust of the discussion and explained very little. It would have nice to see dicussion of how much different speakers think temperatures have risen already compared to earlier periods, a source of disagreement between many, and some explanation of what the cost of mitigation means for the country. Oh well. Good effort Panorama.