Tag Archive: global warming


I write this following news of the many-layered disaster in Japan. At the point I am writing, the literal dust has settled but the metaphorical dust remains hovering in the air in the confusion. The literal fallout from the nuclear reactor has been gauged and thankfully found under control, but the metaphorical fallout is just beginning. In trying to write about the situation it is striking how many clichéd metaphors have to be avoided because of their literal relevance. It is perhaps a sign of the scale of the tragedy when what is usually the language of exaggeration (“open the floodgates”, “go nuclear”) fits the facts.

When disaster strikes there is always a pregnant pause while the world watches and the commentariat suspends their rational brains as they engage with the situation. Radical intellectual Naomi Klein is eloquent on the risks of governments using that pause of reason to push though radical agendas before the bloggers, the columnists and the public intellectuals have processed the situation. She warns us to be wary of big changes made while nations are reeling. That period is now ending and the thought process beginning. It is not known as I sit at my computer now what the big discussions will be about in the coming weeks, let alone what conclusions will be drawn, what changes made.

There are two areas to follow closely from a climate change perspective. The most obvious is the future of nuclear power. With the British government pushing the nuclear option hard in recent months, the events at Fukushima may radically shift both public and expert opinion.

Fukushima No.1 plant exploded twice more today. Radiation has risen to dangerous levels

At the point of writing there has just been a third blast at the No. 2 reactor and concerns about radiation are now at the front of everyone’s mind. Michael White on the Guardian website is arguing that if “the underlying lesson of Fukushima will turn out to be that, even after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, nuclear plants – 40-year-old nuclear plants – can be built that survive, more or less in tact. Touch wood.” One suspects this will not be the only side of the argument to emerge in the next few days. Germany is one of several countries to be already seriously rethinking its approach to nuclear power.

Perhaps the less obvious conversation this may shift is the conversation about hazard management. Let me first clarify some terms: a hazard is a potentially risky event, like an earthquake in a crowded area. A disaster is what happens if this turns into a humanitarian catastrophe. This need not be the case: where Hurricane Katrina is widely considered to have been disastrously managed, Cuba survived the onslaught of a Hurricane Ivan (which, like Katrina, reached category 5 status but struck while at category 3 size), relatively unscathed the year before. In the area of climate change adaptation, good disaster management practice is understood as key to reducing the impacts of the increased likelihood of hurricanes, floods and heatwaves that we can expect as a result.

What happened in Japan, however, was unusual: in fact Japan has often been seen as excellent at earthquake management. This BBC news story from back in 2003 praises that ability effusively. The problem here was that two disasters struck in rapid succession. A plan for one, or even both, falls apart when hit by two in combination. The best example of this is the nuclear power station’s unit 1, where disaster struck first. When the earthquake hit, the plants all shut down, leaving hot fuel (uranium) needing to be cooled. This should have been happened using an electric water pump. The power-cut, however, knocked out this option. The backup system was a diesel pump that would have taken over successfully had it not been for the Tsunami shortly afterwards, which is thought to have disabled it. The second backup system, the Reactor Core Isolation Cooling system is battery-powered, and continues to supply water for as long as its batteries last: eight hours. Normally this would be enough to get power back up. In this situation things are more complicated. (See the reports by the Union of Concerned Scientists for detail.)

It is difficult to know what kinds of multiple-layered hazards may strike as the impacts of climate change become more serious. Some, like agricultural failure, may be more gradual. Imagine, however, a scenario let’s say in the U.S.A. where heat-waves damage food supplies in the country and heat the towns, rising sea-levels drive people from coastal cities and together lead to overcrowding and civil unrest in inland cities. If a hurricane, or a non-climate related hazard like an earthquake then strikes, the potential for disaster is huge, and the need for complex, well-funded and well-integrated disaster planning becomes key.

The detailed lessons for disaster management will be one of many areas to watch as the aftermath of the crisis plays out. This combination of earthquake and tsunami was, sadly, fairly predictable: geologists know where the fault lines are and know that earthquakes cause tsunamis. If this situation was not adequately accounted for, what about stranger combinations of hazards?

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Arnold Schwarzenegger has suggested he might devote after the Governorship to climate change work. How? By focusing on the business end and never mentioning climate change by name. And presumably by being very, very quotable.

The Governator may yet lead the way in the business of climate

One of the most interesting analyses of climate change communications out there is buried in a recent Guardian article on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s future. “The Governator” has speculated he could spend his future after the governorship drumming up support and capital for climate-change friendly technology, a path not dissimilar to Tony Blair’s work on climate change since leaving office, including a recent Chinese low-carbon business initiative.

What’s interesting about this is the focus: future technology, business and big money. Hardly the hallmarks of traditional environmentalism, to be sure. What is even more interesting is that he consciously chooses his language to reflect this: he makes it clear that his strategy is to avoid referring to climate change or greenhouse gases, presumably to sidestep the entire climate change debates going on in the US. He also speaks of avoiding the polarised US politics in this issue, so perhaps by talking about “clean tech” and “future energy sources” he can avoid spooking the businessmen out there who shudder at environmentalism but smile on visions of future technology.

He’s certainly crystal clear when he says on climate change groups: “People get stuck and fall in love with their slogans and with their little agendas”. His pragmatic approach may prove just the ticket. It also chimes perfectly with the recommendations of the Hartwell Paper last May, which argues for “an indirect approach, which pulls on the twin levers of reducing the energy intensity of economies and the carbon intensity of energy” to avoid the “hyper-politicised” environment surrounding arguments over the science.

Those who have seen the film “Amazing Grace” about the life of William Wilberforce will know that the British slave trade industry was broken down through the back door by focusing on the trade with Britain’s enemies, reframing it as a patriotic issue and by the usual anti-slave-trade lobbyists keeping their head down so the bill passed unnoticed. The same slight-of-hand could come in useful here if those like Schwarzenegger are able to avoid the overblown battleground of climate science and get on with advancing the technology, in line with the Hartwell Paper’s “indirect approach” thesis.

Schwarzenegger is not the only one choosing his words carefully on this. Reading a typical article on “Renewable Energy News”, like a typically business oriented one on GE’s investment in “clean technology”, there’s a sense of a business community avoiding a guilty secret that renewable energy is associated with this hippie-Guardian-reader-sandal-wearer-tree-hugger stuff. Even after The Stern Review, a UK government cross-bench consensus, campaigning by both presidential candidates from 2008 and big reports by the likes of Deutsche Bank and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, climate change is something some of those business feel a little self-conscious about discussing too openly.

Schwarzenegger also sees himself as a communicator who communicates clearly by simplifying: “I think that I have the talent of speaking the language in such a way so that the world understands it rather than making it complicated,” he said. This was a trait notoriously ridiculed in George W. Bush, but there is little doubt his plain-speaking style won him elections (as well as praise from former sultan of spin Alastair Campbell), and Schwarzenegger shows signs of some of the same talent.

It is well worth browsing Schwarzenegger quotes online. Among my favourites are “Gray Davis can run a dirty campaign better than anyone, but he can’t run a state”  and “One of my movies was called ‘True Lies.’ It’s what the Democrats should have called their convention”. Oh, and the famous “To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: ‘Don’t be economic girlie men'”.

I’m looking forward to more of the same on renewable energy.

The new video for the 10:10 climate change campaign has attracted a lot of attacks and stirred up a lot of controversy. The film went wrong, however, because it aimed to pick up headlines rather than raise the level of public understanding or slam home a key message.

This has been an interesting discussion to watch unfold in the press. One of the supreme advantages of being a blogger is that I don’t have to jump in with an opinion early on if I don’t want to – I can wait for the dust to settle then poke about a bit more. For those who haven’t followed it, the 10:10 campaign, which seeks to persuade people/organizations/cities to cut their carbon by 10% by the end of 2010, put up a video on youtube (SPOILER ALERT) directed by Richard Curtis in that was quickly rubbished as in bad taste. The film features people who aren’t interested in contributing to reducing their carbon emissions being blown up in a cartoonishly gory manner.

The video was then retracted, but reposted by sceptic groups capitalising on the circus of debate and criticism that followed. 10:1o’s apology (admirably swift and thorough)  revealed the plan behind the video which reveals part of its reasons for failure: “With climate change becoming increasingly threatening, and decreasingly talked about in the media, we wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue back into the headlines whilst making people laugh.” It is not hard to understand where they are coming from – presumably the people at 10:10 spend a lot of time with much of the frankly depressing climate change literature out there that suggests we’re facing a tipping point after which runaway climate change will have dire consequences. Translating the urge to act into hasty strategy trying to be as hard-hitting as possible is understandable, but a mistake.

I also feel the film narrowly missed a chance to more overtly mock the earnestness of climate change activists. This can be read into the film, just, but it’s far from clear. Instead the film seems only to make the opposing case, that climate change activists are all homicidal and intolerant, more widely available. This media-stirring approach is at the heart of the problem here. Climate Change has rarely struggled to grab headlines, partly because of groups like 10:10 being supremely good at this kind of attention-grabbing. Unfortunately it’s not clear what it achieves – by and large everyone knows about climate-change these days: it’s the next bit we’re not sure of.

I referred in my last post to the “Clarkson vs. Monbiot” divide in the country, and I should add that if you put “Clarkson” and “climate change” into google, the story you get (particularly in a 2009 Telegraph piece) focuses less on “I disagree” (although he does also say that), but more “we’re bored with this”. As far as the target audience goes, this kind of stunt seems likely to overwhelmingly preach to the converted. The Clarkson mob won’t be convinced by this kind of activism – it looks too much like the usual activist suspects making noise (as Clarkson puts it “Government, Al Gore, Channel Four News and hippies everywhere”) rather than a grownup conversation. There is even some evidence that association with activism pushes scientists into a more sceptical position to avoid losing face over association with campaign groups, and this may be true of other bodies or individuals seeking to appear mainstream and hard-nosed.

There is, of course, a role for getting key messages in the media by repeating them and using stunts to drive them home.  James Hoggan, president of Hoggan & Associates and behind the influential climate change “DeSmogBlog” describes “the echo chamber” as a technique of “Darth Vader PR” – repeating something so often, at every opportunity, that people just come to accept it. (This is in his compelling book “Do the Right Thing: PR tips for a Skeptical Public”.) This has the potential to be more than a little ethically dubious in its application, but one of the key messages of climate change at the moment is “a consensus/majority of scientists believe climate change is happening and man-made”. Of course there is lots of counter-argument drifting about, with blogs and books citing study and counter-study but overwhelmingly the message gets through. 10:10’s video, however, seems to lack a clear key message beyond the slightly vague “do something”.

10:10 mostly do extremely good work pushing for action on climate change, and the film Age of Stupid by its founder Franny Armstrong is one of the cleverest approaches to explaining climate change and related issues there is out there. But they, like so many of the climate change lobby, need to remember that they’re not a minority cause fighting to be heard, they’re a mainstream cause trying to translate its high profile into concrete action and results.

(See also: Good discussion of this video on the Climate Change Denial blog which points out that the film focuses overwhelmingly on small actions rather than expanding that to political lobbying.)

The centre-left, human-rights-aware liberals do not need convincing that climate change is a big deal. Conservative (with a small ‘c’) middle England may be harder to convince, and to keep from objecting to future legislation. Here are five suggestions for reaching out to them.

This story, unusually, starts with a poster in a toilet. I was at London’s Frontline Club on Monday, at an event dealing with U.S. foreign policy (an audience with Scott Malcomson promoting Generation’s End: A Personal Memoir of American Power after 9/11 if you’re interested) and saw an out-of-date list of other events on at the venue which included “Should human rights be at the heart of climate change policy? This got me thinking, that inevitably such an event, while no doubt being informative, preaches very much to the converted, as does much of climate change thinking that focuses on human rights and the impact on the world’s poorest. The Guardian newspaper tends to be mocked as read by sandal-wearing, beardy types, so much so that I knew a temporarily unemployed (and decidedly both intelligent and liberal) middle-aged professional who ruled out reading its job section because “The Guardian is for people going nowhere”.

Reaching out to middle England – why it’s different

Sadly, talking about the world’s poorest, human rights, “the environment”, perhaps also peak oil and renewable energy seems to have no impact on a certain section of middle England. There are a number of possible barriers here

  • Belief in climate change
  • Belief that it will affect them and is not just an overhyped concern of the sandal-wearing (or perhaps closet sandal-wearing in the case of the Liberal Democrat leadership)
  • Belief that this is a policy issue worthy of wide interest and concern in the way that education or health is, not a niche concern for a minority of activists

Perhaps needless to say, concerns about fish stocks, colony collapse disorder in beekeeping and many other issues face the same kinds of barriers. The goal for communicators targeting this group should be to neutralise mainstream opposition to climate change legislation. Michael Jacobs, Gordon Brown’s advisior on climate change and energy issues while he was in power, referred in a recent talk (at the LSE hosted by the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy) to the “sphere of relative non-punishment” for government decisions. This is an area in which the public and media tacitly support a policy enough for the government to be able to follow it without any serious attacks.

Following “climategate” and other knocks to the credibility of climate change policy, there is a risk of important legislation sliding out of that category and gathering a vocal lobby of opponents capable of making it harder for the UK government to legislate. The Daily Mail presents such opposition regularly, and recent developments in the U.S. far right suggest a risk of this growing over here as well. This is also about the medium-term battle: so far climate change policy has been slight, low-profile and relatively painless. If the kind of emissions cuts envisioned by Stern and by the government’s legal obligation under the 2008 Climate Change Act (34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050) are to happen, all three of those characteristics may quickly change.

A second goal, of course, is to move the gentle believers into passionate activists, but that’s a question for another time.

FIVE WAYS TO WOO MIDDLE ENGLAND

1. – Conservation

Attenborough: Prepared to stand up for wind-farms

Conservationist feeling tends to come from a very different segment of the population to the typical liberal Guardian reader. I particularly remember this from the diaries of 1980s Conservative minister Alan Clark, who was irritated by a member of his staff talking about human rights (“his Guardianesque obsession”) rather than the British interest on a trade mission, but felt strongly about cruelty to animals and passionate enough about anti-fur legislation to consider resignation from the government when it was blocked by the Prime Minister.  Conservation groups like the RSPB tend to be singing from the same hymn sheet as Friends of the Earth (environmentalist) and Oxfam (development-focused) on this.

At present the middle England conservationist perspective risks being turned against climate change in general by windfarms. A more traditional form of environmentalism, focusing on leaving natural habits untouched and preserving landscapes is pitted against the strands of environmentalism that argue strongly for renewable energy wherever possible. As well as the RSPB’s support of windfarms, David Attenborough, as the popular face of conservation is a potentially powerful force against opposition, having spoken out in favour of a turbine in a local dispute a two years ago.

2. – Hard-nosed Economics

I have written in the past of the inportant influence of the Stern Review in presenting the economic case for climate change. Some have subsequently pointed to the differing conclusions of other economists like Tol and Nordhaus, but these criticisms are deftly dealt with in Stern’s more recent “Blueprint for a Safer Planet“, which allows Stern to demonstate the full range of his intelligence and understanding outside the confines of the more technical report. Experts disagree, of course, that is in many ways their jobs, but attempts to paint Stern as a lightweight or unduly biased by his political mandate should be dismissed as the nonsense they are, and details of argument and counter-argument can be found in this book.

Another aspect of the focus on economics is what I would describe as “industries of the future” rhetoric, drawing on the language and concerns of business and commerce.  and perhaps even fear of losing commercial ground to other countries, as in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times on on China’s growing investment in low-carbon technology. This was highly recommended by an article in The Guardian a little over a year ago, but on reflection this a good step but not the whole story – I strongly suspect that to a certain kind of worldview this kind of rhetoric is dismissed as overly-slick government (or at least “establishment”) rhetoric. Or just as “bullshit”. It tends to come out of the mouths of politicians in the Tony Blair mould (including, in this context,  Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg), all of whom risk seem a bit too polished and media savvy to be trusted when these kinds of optimistic claims are made.

3. – Steal the position of the “grumpy cynic”

Clarkson: Tells us a lot about middle England

Part of the ideological division on climate change may be categorised as the “Monbiot vs. Clarkson” problem. Guardian journalist George Monbiot can be classified as intellectual, globally engaged and interested in liberal concerns like aid, foreign policy and, of course, climate change. One of his most impressive features is his staggering grasp of detail. Jeremy Clarkson, best known as presenter of the BBC’s “Top Gear” on new cars tends to argue from the perspective of middle England, arguing for “common sense” rather than detailed grasp of the facts.

This attitude is described by two major reports on climate change communications, Warm Words and Warm Words II, by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) as “settlerdom”. To quote from their first report:

‘Settlers’ (so-called because they have sustenance driven needs associated with the home) tend to look backwards to yesterday, which was better, and tend to dislike anything new or different as they feel this threatens their identity, belonging, security and safety.

In this context, ‘settlerdom’ rejects and mocks the alarmist discourse – and with it climate change – not through any form of expert discourse or argument but through invoking ‘common sense’. This repertoire constructs itself (in other words, the speaker and implied audience) as ‘the sane majority’ in opposition to ‘the doom-mongers’ or ‘the global warming brigade’ who are ‘keeping us all awake’.

Increasingly, in my experience, that cynicism is shifting to a cynicism towards the sceptics. It is, as I have repeatedly argued, an unfair generalisation to dismiss all disagreement, however moderate and independent, as oil-company-funded lies. It may, however, be a useful generalisation to live with, if every time your grumpy cynic reads piece shedding doubt on climate change, they roll their eyes at them rather than at us. The idea that we’re all doomed due to government incompetence also seems to fit well with the traditional “settler” position. In the aftermath of Copenhagen, there seemed to be a sense of “the bloody government has let us down again”. This kind of attitude may be one that can be capitalised on.

4. – Include the moderate sceptics in the discussion

There is a tendency to vilify all climate change “sceptics” in the left-wing press. An article in The Guardian entitled “Coalition of denial” includes Bjø rn Lomborg and Nigel Lawson, even Freakonomics authors Levitt and Dubner in its list of enemies, contributing to the impression that climate change circles are intolerant and blood spitting. In reality all of the above make it clear that climate change demands government intervention and all propose different policy approaches to do this.

Lomborg: Not as sceptical as the critics claim

Despite this, Lomborg and Lawson in particular have become poster boys for climate change scepticism in the UK, much more so than hardline sceptics like  journalist Christopher Booker and Martin Durkin and the oil companies’ misinformation campaign that plays a big role in providing their information, whether they realise this or not. Lomborg has been accused of a “U-turn” on climate change in his most recent book “Smart Solutions to Climate Change” published earlier this month, arguing in it that climate change is a major problem facing the world. The idea that this is a changed position is obviously nonsense for those who have read his earlier work, which has long held that climate change is a major problem, just badly approached and less so than some claim. Both he and Nigel Lawson not only acknowledge that climate change exists (or at least probably exists in Lawson’s case) and both think it’s serious enough to merit policy action. Rather than demonising them, point out that while they disagree on the severity of climate change risks (an area in which there is wide discussion and disagreement in public and academic circles) they’re having the same conversation. The most high-profile sceptics can be treated as supporting the general conclusions of the consensus. I say “presented”, but this would not be illegitimate spin, it would be the reality of their arguments, detached from the rhetoric that typically surrounds them. Middle England is wary of a unified front of the environmentally friendly – the more we present consensus, the more it looks like there isn’t enough real debate. Such is the paradox of the modern media and its desire to present argument and debate. By acknowleding debate but pointing to areas of agreement, it establishes a baseline of shared understanding.

5. – Assume, assume, assume

This is perhaps the most successful and universally applied strategy to win over those dubious about climate change: assume the major conclusions to be certain. This is a powerful psychological tool, advocated strongly by the aforementioned Warm Words reports and practiced earlier this week when Ed Miliband told the Labour party conference of the need to act on climate change. No debate, no discussion of disagreement – it was presented, as it should be, like just one more policy issue that needs a solution.

The case could be made that this creates a dangerous orthodoxy, but this argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Experts will continue to understand the detail and hold their nuanced positions irrespective of political speeches, newspaper columns or anything else aiming for a more popular audience. Climate change has never suffered from lack of informed debate, but frequently from ill-informed squabbling.

Concluding thoughts

There is a constantly fine balance between explaining seriousness of climate change and appearing alarmist. This demands that we keep our messages serious but not over-serious, and avoid flights of rhetorical fancy that alienate where they should inform and persuade.

It is essential to convince governments to take action on climate change and to provide a show of public support for legislation, but perhaps the most important thing for influencing the public mood is to keep climate change in that “sphere of relative non-punishment” to let policymakers get on with it.

As well as the trap of believing that climate change is not certain enough to merit action, we must escape the trap of believing it is too late. The science just isn’t that certain. What, then, for those who (almost) said Copenhagen was our last hope?

Lovelock: It's already too late for mitigation

Of the big names discussing climate change, only one, to my knowledge, has announced that it is too late for mitigation, and that is James Lovelock, who’s most recent book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, argues that we must already look only to adaptation to preserve civilisation. Lovelock, the man behind Gaia theory, is smart and insightful has a good grasp of the facts but he comes from a point of view that some academics (Clapp and Dauvergne, 2005) term “bioenvironmentalist” – broadly speaking it means he puts non-interference in the planet first at all costs. Besides the bias that gives him he is also just one voice of many who put the point of no return at many different levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and we must recognise that this is an ongoing conversation. It will be a long time before despair is certain, just as it will be a long time since a safe future climate is assured.

Many others, however, have argued that the point of no return is now or very, very shortly, including NASA’s influential James Hansen, leading activist Mark Lynas and Guardian journalist George Monbiot. Monbiot led the proverbial charge at Copenhagen and all but made it clear he considered this mankind’s last stand. In one subsequent article he pondered “I wonder whether the government of Denmark, whose atrocious management of the conference contributed to its failure, would have tried harder if its people knew that in a few hundred years they won’t have a country any more” and in another concluded: “Goodbye Africa, goodbye south Asia; goodbye glaciers and sea ice, coral reefs and rainforest; it was nice knowing you, not that we really cared. The governments which moved so swiftly to save the banks have bickered and filibustered while the biosphere burns.” Moreover in a recent article reflecting on the limits of achievements so far, despair seemed to be setting in to his rhetoric.

Monbiot: Managing the rhetoric carefully but risking crying "wolf" too often

I said earlier he “all but” claims this as mankind’s last stand. He wisely avoids saying anything that nails him too strongly to such a position, I suspect partly because he understands the science too well to believe that it is certainly too late now, but let this blog make it clear that the uncertainties in climate science make it impossible to make such statements with certainty at this stage. It may even already be too late to prevent a set of planet-warming positive feedbacks, or we may have more time than we think, but these are dangerous risks to be complacent about.

This truth puts Monbiot and the others in the position of gently backtracking from an implication that any one point is now or never. It will be hard call to make for them: for those less masterful in their prose every time they say it, it may be true and they may even believe it, but if they cry “wolf” at every conference or major bill passing then their credibility will go down. Making dramatic predictions at this stage make it harder in five years time when the next battles need to be won. No doubt there will continue to be cases of extreme weather, but these are always impossible to connect absolutely to the climate change, and the scientific community are rightly reserved about doing so (see the work of Roger Pielke Jr.): such an overstatement risks being pilloried.

As a result, the commentariat need to find new ways to persuade the public that the big agreements matter, without making claims they can’t stand by. Like the proverbial poker player, they mustn’t bet their whole hand each time.It’s a hard message to sell – “we need progress because it just might be too late this time, rather than last time or next time”. It will involve the language of risk management, another tough thing to get across when news headlines lend themselves to bold statements. Those are the challenges for talking about climate change when the big steps forward are promised.

Good hunting.

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.

Sustainability: A herculean task of modern times

At a meeting at PR firm Fishburn Hedges last week on communicating sustainability, one of the discussion topics was how much sustainability should be treated as one issue and how much a multitude. According to their own write-up, a “key conclusion” was: “A variety of ‘sustainability’ messages from water to conservation can conflict and cause confusion.” My impression was that it was a more contested discussion than that. In particular, Alan Knight OBE, who has a long history of making corporate sustainability happen, argues in favour of issue-specific eco-labelling, floating the benefits of seventy separate labels for different causes and rejecting the suggestion of one sustainability brand to rule them all. I have some concerns with this, not least the lack of scrutiny eco-labels currently get and the inability of consumers to get their heads around them.

To deal with the general point, however. I square this circle by viewing sustainability as a many-headed hydra: different issues have different faces and personalities, but are fundamentally one core problem. When Hercules cut one of its heads off the Hydra of classical mythology in the second of his twelve tasks, two more heads appeared in its place. The same can be said of taking a narrow view of individual environmental issues: if CO2 or over-fishing is tackled without reference to a broader systemic shift in society’s attitude to consumption and resource management, then we get nowhere. This problem was demonstrated in practice when at the same talk Doug Johnston, director for climate change and sustainability at Ernst & Young, referred to many companies only reporting their carbon emissions with little or no reference to other areas.

Cutting off one head of the hydra: A carbon capture and storage site, one of many images of this developing technology from a feature article on the website of Scientific American

To stretch the metaphor further than is probably a good idea, that is not to say there isn’t a case for lopping off the head that’s biting you at any one time. Let’s take the example of carbon capture and storage (CCS): this technology, which captures CO2 from major sources like power plants and pumps it underground, achieves nothing except CO2 reductions, so is not ideal overall. That said, given the difficulties of reducing CO2 emissions, it is probably a good idea to have a broad portfolio of approaches. But if we can find ways to instead improve the supply of cheap renewable energy, that also solves our fossil-fuel supply problems and builds towards a future of cheap sustainable energy for the whole planet, not to mention easing the geopolitics of energy security.

Where this metaphor falls down, of course, is with the complexity of climate change outside a sustainability issue. I have previously argued that climate change should be disentangled from left-wing politics. I am increasingly of the opinion it should be disentangled from “green” issues and treated as a general policy issue (like universities policy, say, or debates on primary care trusts that appear regularly in the UK news media). Green messages engage an engaged minority, but climate change should be integrated into other areas.

It is a well-known argument in academic circles that the ultimate goal of environmental policy should be to fully integrated with all strands of policy making, but in the case of climate change an especially strong case is made by the recent Hartwell Paper, with a variety of impressive authors, on “A new direction for climate policy, after the crash of 2009”. This seeks to link climate change in with not only wider sustainability goals but also supplying low-cost energy globally for a growing world population,  equipping societies to “withstand the risks and dangers that come from all the vagaries of climate, whatever may be their cause” (p.8).

In the News: This week saw the end of funding for the Sustainable Development Commission. Hopefully this will not damage understanding of environmental sustainability as one interconnected issue in policy-making circles.

Superfreakonomics: caused a freak out in the popular discussion of climate change

Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner has stirred up more comment than many books focusing specifically on climate change. It’s semi-official, I’ve been researching the number of references to various climate-change-related books and films in broadsheet newspapers since 2008 and my figures at this stage show more mentions of Levitt and Dubner’s work than of all of James Lovelock’s put together (in the period January 2008 to June 2010) in climate-change-related contexts. Admittedly, the vast majority were in the Guardian, but still.

The section of Superfreakonomics on climate change is not bad though a little prone to stating points that are fairly well known already (e.g. methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2) as if they are EXCITING NEW DISCOVERIES FROM BRILLIANT FREAKONOMICS ANALYSIS! Apparently Al Gore exaggerates to get his message across and the media tend to report things in an overly dramatic manner. What next, evidence that environmentalists tend to worry about climate change and that endangered species of bears tend to defecate in woodlands? I’ll allow them all that, though, in the name of popularising the discussion.

It gets interesting, however, when they start talking about geoengineering, their proposals to deliberately manipulate the climate to counteract the effects of climate change. Their case is as follows

  1. Anthropogenic climate change is a very real problem, although over-hyped by the media and particularly Al Gore
  2. Tackling it by reducing CO2 and other greenhouse gases (mitigation) is very expensive, but effective geoengineering could be much cheaper. Injecting sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere could stabilise the climate at a cost of $250 million, compared to the Stern Review‘s $1.2 trillion
  3. There are uncertainties and risks of side effects, so technologies should have cautious test runs
  4. The aforementioned injecting sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere to simulate the cooling effect of volcanoes is the most promising method, but cloud seeding, spraying seawater into the atmosphere to create more, cooling clouds, should also be considered

Perhaps surprisingly, many climate change activists and writers are ardently against geoengineering. Here, for example, are the key points of a New Internationalist article on the subject, and the growing campaign against geoengineering solutions.

  1. “Unproven scientific ‘fixes’ for global warming are a major threat to the planet”
  2. Injecting sulphur into the atmosphere to mimic volcanoes is dubious: “Such volcanoes have occasionally cooled down the atmosphere before. Unfortunately, they can also cause monsoons to weaken and fail, intensifying hunger in the tropics.”
  3. The actors involved in geoengineering propositions are largely unaccountable and not subject to due process: one scientist has already started in Russia. A Friends of the Earth International spokesman argues: “The same countries and companies that have neglected climate change for decades are now proposing very risky geoengineering technologies that could further disrupt the weather, peoples and ecosystems. We simply don’t trust them to do so equitably.”

An unmanned cloud-seeding ship, floated as a possibility by Superfreakonomics and the preferred approach of Bjørn Lomborg

Myself, I am cautiously in favour of geoengineering being explored. I do accept the principle that kicking-off large-scale climatic change is a risky process full of potential unintended consequences, but given the scale of potential climate change damages, we should absolutely do our homework on this one. Perhaps the solution lies in a variety of small-scale geoengineering projects coupled with mitigation and with adaptation to some level of inevitable climate change.

A thorough and accountable process for testing and investigating geoengineering projects seems like a necessity, but a poor process does not mean a poor idea. There is a risk, admittedly, of side-lining mitigation in favour of geoengineering, when until geoengineering can be proved to work, mitigation of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions should continue at full steam. Like most people, I am not in a position to assess the viability of geoengineering technology, but we should absolutely be giving it a chance. There is no question of not saving the planet, but its better still if we can save the planet money along the way.

P.s. I’m very suspicious of cloud-seeding, also the preferred geoengineering method of Bjørn Lomborg (see his article for the New Statesman). Everything I hear about the physical science of clouds stresses uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty. The uncertainty bar in the 2007 IPCC report dealing with clouds as a cause of climate change is huge (see “cloud albedo effect” on the bar graph on the relevant page of the IPCC website). This is not a reason not to try, but bear that in mind.

…Both – needing to grasp that brevity is a virtue

Monbiot: A strong and surprisingly impartial chair considering his strong views on all things climate-change

Wednesday 16th July, 7.00 p.m. A five-person panel debate on “climategate” including some of its most active critics. The panel were far from perfect, but by-and-large spoke intelligently and with impressive grasp of the detail of the issues under discussion. Not full marks – I’ll go into detail later, but some very impressive performances. (Full marks go to Monbiot’s masterly chairmanship of a turbulent audience).

The questions from the floor, however, were decidedly mixed. While good points were made, there was excessive grandstanding from many, ardent sceptics and consensus fanatics as much as each other. There was tedious rehashing of debates that have been well thrashed out elsewhere with points and counterpoint played out all over the internet and in the books for anyone interested in doing their research. When speakers made points that came down strongly on one side or another, typically a third to half of the room clapped as, I strongly suspect, confirmed climate changed sceptics were joined by a few who were actually impressed by the point cheered on the one hand, and confirmed climate change true believers joined by the same or other floating cheers clapped the other. One man whose question (well, mini-rant) about solar influences on climate was threatened with ejection. One could not have wanted a better metaphor for the furore that surrounded “climategate” itself.

A very pleasing contrast was the amiability of the panel to each other. As we waited for everything to begin we saw George Monbiot, who is frequently unsympathetic (to say the least) to climate sceptics chatting animatedly to Steve McIntyre, the now infamous critic of the hockey stick. After the debate most of those taking part, certainly including McIntyre and the two guardian journalists involved, Monbiot and Fred Pearce, were seen going to a pub together. Ye fanatics take note.

Many congratulations to the guy at http://omniclimate.wordpress.com/ for getting his comments out before mine and providing, I believe, the first online coverage of the debate. Hats off. He does a good summary of everyone’s position too.

Detailed coverage of individual positions to follow later tonight. We are told a podcast and a video will be available online – will give details when available.

Kudos goes to the panel for a (mostly) civilised debate. It was more a question of their setting out their views than examining them in the light of opposing views, but one can't have everything

A failure of brevity throughout (miniature rant – please feel free to skip)

Striking in this debate was the unwillingness, or perhaps sheer inability of the panel AND the audience to restrict their speech to the time limits that Monbiot so rigorously (thank heavens) imposed. It would not be fair to accuse the whole panel of going on, and curiously it was the two critics, Steve McIntyre and Doug Keenan who seemed least able to recognise that such a short debate demands a certain brevity of speaking style.

As for the audience members, it baffles me why people who hold their hand up for a whole debate and then struggle to phrase a question in simple, direct terms, as if they hadn’t thought about it already and were surprised to be called on. (I apologise for being a grumpy old man before my time, but really.) Perhaps worse still there were a couple of questioners (I shall not shame them by mentioning the questions, for the podcast and video recording comes out soon) who managed the singularly annoying feat of talking in a tone of voice that asks why, why does no-one on the panel, and perhaps the world, recognise the value of the simple and yet essential point that I, your speaker, am raising in the impassioned tones of one who is the only person able to see clearly through the confused haze that has blighted you on the expert panel and your associates. I wouldn’t say for a moment that lay experts don’t have valuable contributions to make to these debates, but there is tone of voice denoting a certain arrogance of feeling the only clear-sighted one in a room of fools that is barely sufferable.

The Speakers

One would be forgiven for noting the lack of content analysis in my post so far. This is largely due to very little of any interest being said. The two critics complained that the two enquiries were whitewashed, and the other three, Trevor Davies, Bob Watson and Fred Pearce, a well-respected science journalist with a book out on climategate (The Climate Files) argued that the enquiries were more or less right and there was a need for greater transparency and more open debate, but no-one’s really sure what that means yet.

I am presenting these with plenty of detail for those who many be interested.

Trevor Davies

Trevor Davies: East Anglia’s Pro-Vice Chancellor with strong links to the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) under criticism from “climategate”

He has been criticised heavily by omniclimate: “He mouthed platitudes by the shedload” argues omniclimate “but was unfamiliar with the details of any of the subjects likely to be raised.”

I saw this rather differently: it seemed more to me that Davies had accepted the lessons of “climategate”, specifically on the need to engage with the public more effectively and to “explain the uncertainty spectrum better”. Unfortunately he clearly had no idea how to do this yet, which struck me as fair enough. It is true that on more than one occasion he showed less detailed knowledge than critics McIntyre and Keenan, but there was no reason to have expected him to have huge levels of detailed knowledge on specifics on who interviewed who in the “climategate” enquiries (McIntyre discussion) or the detail of Jones’ papers (Keenan’s bugbear).

He also criticised “the media” and “the press” for failing to read the Oxburgh review, and pointed out that none of his many interviews were broadcast. Evidence if ever there was that scientists should stop complaining about the media and start learning to manage it. I doubt very much his many interviews were recorded with the intention of non-release, most likely he simply failed to be interesting enough to merit air time.

Steve McIntyre

Steve McIntyre: retired mining engineer who took issue with the hockey stick graph and whose requests for data stirred up many of the “climategate” problems

McIntyre is a soft-spoken, unimposing speaker, who read straight off his rather stiff speech for his opening position, was vague and prone to waffling when asked direct questions (one suspects through poor public speaking skills rather than evasion) and tended to talk about rather arcane details, which he had an impressive grasp of, rather than the big picture. He didn’t especially lay out a position except to show scepticism of the two “climategate” enquiries discussed, Lord Oxburgh and Sir Muir Russell, and provided details to back that up that I suspect only the journalists in the room took in.

Perhaps surprisingly, he told the room he did not know how far the recent recorded warming is anthropogenic, strongly implying this wasn’t really his area of interest, and later said firmly that it is absolutely right for governments to act on uncertain information and to take advice from a specialist community. (The first point in response to a stroppy question from someone who managed to keep referring to his own “simple question”, when the question itself was so convoluted in how it was expressed that his first response was simply a confused “what?”)

I was able to grab him briefly on the way out to ask him why he’d been number crunching for nearly 10 years. His answer was mostly that it interested him, and now his children had grown up he was able to pursue things that interested him.

Bob Watson

Bob Watson: chief scientific advisor at Defra, visiting professor at the University of East Anglia and former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Watson Spoke glowingly on the “high integrity” panels by both Lord Oxburgh and Sir Muir Russell, and argued strongly that opposing views in the IPCC (like sceptic atmospheric scientist Richard Lindzen) were always presented when he was in charge of it. Slammed the printed press in particular for condemning “climategate” without trial, and argued that 90-95% of science overall argues for primarily human-caused global warming.

In the course of the debate he spoke calmly about the nature of uncertainty in the climate science process and the nature of policy. Came across as intelligent, moderate and reasoned, but said very little that was new or of much interest. As omniclimate puts it: “Very much the Scientific Establishment figure.”

Doug Keenan

Doug Keenan: a former financial analyst now examining statistics from various scientific sources, seeking to improve accountability

In some ways the most interesting panellist, and certainly the most controversial. He has had a series of peer reviewed articles published, listed on his website and was perhaps the best public speaker of the group. There were, however, clear signs of stirring up trouble from Keenan’s description of both enquiries as “clearly whitewashes”, his dramatic assertion that none of climate science stands up to scrutiny and his continued accusations of fraud towards Phil Jones, the climatologist at the heart of “climategate” more than any other which he said tonight he would be prepared to defend in court if challenged. It is interesting, to say the least, that he and McIntyre share a background in the use of statistics for business, McIntyre as a mining engineer and Keenan in the city. Keenan argued tonight and McIntyre has argued elsewhere that many leading climate scientists do not show the kind of rigour in their analyses that is demanded in the business world. A.W. Montford’s version of McIntyre’s story argues that McIntyre first became suspicious of the hockey stick from his experience with salesmen using hockey sticks as sales tools in business. With the detail of statistic analysis lost on many of us following these debates, this similarity lends credibility to both of them.

Fred Pearce

Fred Pearce: a long-standing and prolific environment journalist and author of The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth about Global Warming

Perhaps the most impressive member of the panel in sheer grasp of the key overall issues.

Argued:

  • There were some key areas the reviews didn’t go, mostly to do with the science
  • The reviews were done with relatively little grasp of the context
  • The scientists involved adopted a “siege mentality” against requests for information due perhaps to years of “fighting off politically- and commercially- minded critics”. The search for truth has been replaced by battle-lines being drawn, and by both sides
  • This was misplaced towards the “new generation” of climate sceptics who are more like “data libertarians”
  • There was no “grand conspiracy”, only some “grubby” behaviour
  • The IPCC has a “subliminal effect” of reducing legitimate debate

(It will be clear from this section that Pearce was both clear and highly quotable in his explanations)

Conclusion

Overall an interesting an entertaining night out, but very little new ground covered. It gives me hope to see the disagreeing panelists get on so well and manage civilised debate, and despair to see some of the audience.

There is a page on the Guardian website on this event, a page which will hopefully provide a link to the podcast and video when they come. Thanks again to omniclimate for pointing to this

I have chosen speed over proof-reading to get this out. As I write this it is the early hours of the morning and I am going to bed, but feel free to point out mistakes to me and I will correct them asap. Thanks, and apologies for any really glaring ones.

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.