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Arson Attack on Ivory Towers

June 4, 2014

Academic in-fighting is hardly the stuff of front-page news, yet the UK’s Times newspaper ran a front page story about a rejected paper. Now another journal has accepted a paper already turned down three times elsewhere…

Does the rejection of a scientist’s paper by a peer-reviewed journal constitute front page news, as featured in the UK’s Times under the splenetic title “Scientists In Cover-Up Of ‘Damaging’ Climate View”?

As the UK’s Guardian reported, the paper was turned down by prestigious journal Environmental Research Letters (ERL) not because it was part of some lurid conspiracy, but because the paper wasn’t very good. ERL were sufficiently incensed by the accusations to take an unusual step, and publish in full the peer-reviewers comments.

To his credit the author, respected meteorologist Lennart Bengtsson, also debunked the claim stating that “I do not believe there is any systematic “cover up” of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics’ work is being “deliberately suppressed”, as The Times front page suggests”.

So what’s going on here? Read more…

Climate change consensus: the percentage game

June 2, 2014

A notorious lobby group just launched another scurrilous attack on the 97% consensus on climate change. Why do they waste their time, when proving the lack of consensus should be so easy to do?

Once more, environmental scientist and risk assessor Dana Nuccitelli has been obliged to defend the paper he co-authored with John Cook, assisted by a shed-load of Skeptical Science readers: “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature”. The paper proved – once more – that the vast majority of scientific papers (and the scientists who wrote them) endorse the principle theory of anthropogenic climate change; that the climate is changing so rapidly there has to be a very un-natural cause, and humans are it.

On the off-chance that you’re unfamiliar with this issue, Cook and Nuccitelli’s peer-reviewed paper, published by respected journal Environmental Research Letters, confirmed what a number of previous studies had already found: Oreskes 2004, Doran & Zimmerman 2009, Anderegg, 2010 all discovered that around 97% of climate scientists and/or the papers they published support the basic tenets of global warming caused by human agency. In the common parlance, this 97% are said to form a consensus, which on the face of it hardly seems to merit contention. Needless to say, this consensus is in fact one of the most contentious issues in the entire climate change debate. Read more…

The clarion call to action on climate change will be made by the next generation

May 22, 2014

Closing the extreme weather generation gap brings climate change reality to the public in a way that no amount of demagoguery can defeat

When it comes to doing something about it, the most intractable climate change problem is grass-roots political support. Without a clear mandate, there can be no substantive legislative progress. It’s a brave politician indeed who supports a course of action pretty much guaranteed to terminate his career. A clear, unequivocal mandate is a must: it’s absence to date is the biggest barrier to meaningful and enduring political action.

The reasons are diverse. Foremost in the democratic nations is the divisive nature of the debate, a crucial issue when those divisions are ideological. Scientists, pundits and activists alike may desire more public support based on scientific evidence, but it seems clear that such evidence doesn’t impinge much on the broader public discourse, one way or another.

After all, as I pointed out recently, we’ve had a literal mountain of reports delivered to our doors – well, screens – all free, all staggeringly comprehensive in both scope and weight, and all from authoritative sources as diverse as the Royal Society, the IPCC, the AAAS and the Pentagon. Such diversity precludes the kind of foolish dismissal the denial community indulges in – their projection that climate change science is coloured by ideological intentions, when denial is founded on nothing else but. (They sure as hell don’t have any science, but as we shall see, they don’t appear to need any).

The mountainous reports may have some influence at institutional levels, but in the public domain I fear that they gain little lasting traction.  As the Huffington Post reported recently, “According to the National Science Foundation’s recently released Science and Engineering Indicators 2014, 80% of Americans do not understand what it means to study something scientifically”. Without an understanding of how science works, the public are unlikely to be swayed by its discoveries, beyond a mild frisson over the morning’s first cup of coffee. (Gosh! Ice in that cold place up north is melting, it says here…pass the toast…can’t believe how crap Manchester United are this season…). Read more…

GWPF and Bengtsson: Burning Ivory Towers provide convenient smoke screen for the melting ice

May 20, 2014

While the story of academic Lennart Bengtsson setting his pants on fire dominates the media, are we being distracted from the disaster of the melting ice, and the escalating war on science and fact?

For Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, Christmas came early this week. The GWPF is – notionally – an “educational charity” but in reality it’s a lobbying outfit whose purpose appears to be to dismiss or minimise the significance of climate science at the behest of its funders. Frequently accused of disinformation and gross inaccuracy, it is no surprise to find there are numerous documented links between the GWPF, right-wing political organisations, and fossil fuel interests (See Sourcewatch, DeSmogBlog and others) .

In the context of the GWPF and its machinations, it is appropriate to consider a quote from one of the ‘founding fathers’ of modern Public Relations:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda, 1928.

Read more…

Is There a Climate Crystal Ball?

May 15, 2014

When it comes to what society should do about global warming, there is quite a lot to consider. While reducing emissions is the clear end-goal, the speed at which it’s done and how much of today’s time and money is spent on mitigation or adaptation depends on how much immediate danger climate change presents during our lifetimes, or those of the next generation. It’s the near future most people are concerned with — perhaps too concerned when “near future” is a synonym for “my electoral term in office” or “my spell as CEO.”

The overall effect of manmade greenhouse gases on the climate is modeled in different ways, but only one measure is considered “policy relevant.” It’s called Transient Climate Response (TCR), defined as the global mean-temperature change on the day that carbon dioxide (CO2)has doubled over pre-industrial levels, given a rate of increase of 1 percent per year. Climate scientists believe that Earth will reach a doubling of CO2 within the lifetime of a child born this year. If TCR is high, society must act very quickly, and the amount spent must be proportional to the immediacy of the danger. If TCR is low, then temperatures won’t go up much, in which case there is more time, and people can spend less money now. Read more…

IPCC, AAS, NAS, Royal Society, Pentagon & USGCRP reports: Is it possible to have too much information about climate change?

May 9, 2014

It’s a brave and foolhardy businessman who ignores instability when it infiltrates all our planning, borrowing, growth and analysis. Equally, those who ignore the risks and costs of global warming are surely in for a shock – and sooner rather than later. It seems increasingly improbable that anyone could still be denying the gravity of our situation, given the wealth of information we now have about it.

In a raft of reports released over the last few months, there is so little room for doubt it makes climate change denial seem not just irresponsible, but plainly irrational. In February the UK’s Royal Society (RS) and the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) jointly issued a report (Climate change: Evidence & Causes) bearing messages that would be repeated weeks later in an initiative from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), aiming to ‘expand the dialogue on the risks of climate change’. The core message, covering climate change science, the effects and the risks, is summarised in the report, called “What We Know”. Read more…

Global Warming: never mind the models, just look out of the bloody window

March 28, 2014

Provincial myopia prevents us from seeing the bigger picture – and that’s what the contrarians depend on

It’s one of the staples (or perhaps clichés) of the contrarian canon; “it’s happened before”. You don’t need to look very hard to find this premise propping up arguments in the US, the UK, in Australia – pretty much anywhere there are contrarians. Bloggers use it with abandon in comments below any article about extreme weather, as if stating the bleedin’ obvious is going to change the laws of physics.

We’re on the eve of the release of Working Group 2 (WG2) – “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” – the next part of the IPCC’s AR5 report. While last year’s WG1 was about the science, this new report is the one that tells us what’s happened so far, and what’s likely to happen in the future. While WG1 alludes to risk, WG2 spells it out.

It’s not the only recent report to do so. Unusually, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has also released a report that, for them, is pretty blunt. Called ‘What we know’ (PDF), it spells out very clearly the range of risks we can now be very confident we’re going to face if we don’t do something about our greenhouse gases very soon.

Of course, the AAAS report, and that part of WG2 that address risks – threats yet to materialize – are based on models that predict what will happen. There is no other way to make such predictions, except if you think that chicken entrails or Tarot cards can do the trick. It’s very odd how certain the contrarians are we’re not going to face these problems, or that the net result of climate change will, in fact, be positive, when they have no science whatever to back up their egregiously vapid claims. Read more…


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