Thursday, July 06, 2006

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Climate panel: The verdict

There's an interesting "Climate panel verdict" on the BBC, provoked by Lovelock's book. There are some serious names in their group, let's see how they do...
1. It is likely that temperatures will rise by 3C to 5C by the year 2100 unless we act swiftly to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect natural forests. VERDICT: YES 7, NO 0
No way. >3C is possible, but likely? Seriously, I have no idea where they pulled that from. Wigley and Raper's somewhat contentious interpretation of the IPCC TAR research is a "likely" range of 1.7-4.9C, and that is predicated on no action at all in the next 100 years, not the BBC's "unless we act swiftly".
2. Temperatures might rise by as much as 8C by 2100, but this is less likely. VERDICT: YES 7, NO 0
Much much less likely, and way outside the upper range of the IPCC TAR which was 5.8C (of course, the forthcoming AR4 might bump things up a bit, I haven't checked that bit of it, but 8C is still hard to credit). In fact, I think it's virtually impossible, although it's hard to quantify these sort of extreme probabilities with much precision. "Might" is hard to exclude, but to merely say "less likely" is rather misleading IMO.
3. A temperature rise of 3C to 5C would probably bring severe changes for humans. VERDICT: YES 7, NO 0
Yup. (At least, for some humans.)
4. A temperature rise of 3C to 5C would probably bring catastrophic changes for humans. VERDICT: YES 0, NO 3, ABSTAIN 4
Nope (ie, I agree with the panel).
5. A global recession would result in rapid, dangerous climate change as a result of the diminution of aerosols in the atmosphere. VERDICT: YES 0, NO 7
Agreed.
6. Continuing to increase CO2 will have a major effect on oceans through temperature stratification and acidification. VERDICT: YES 1, NO 0, ABSTAIN 6
Oooh, I think I'd actually sway towards a "yes" here on the grounds of acidification. OTOH it is not clear how hard it will be for the ecosystems to adapt. Probably abstaining is safer.
7. We are being reckless with the planet through greenhouse gas emissions combined with broader human-driven environmental change. VERDICT: YES 7, NO 0
A no-brainer with the inclusion of "broader environmental change", but that means it is no longer really a climate change question. Of course reckless doesn't actually mean that the actions are wrong, just that they aren't adequately thought through...
8. James Lovelock's metaphor that the Earth will react against us like an irritant if we continue treating it this way is helpful in public understanding. VERDICT: YES 5, NO 2
Um...abstain. I suppose I should ask the public and see whether they have a better understanding...
9. The climate system is so complex that individual climate experts struggle to see the whole picture. VERDICT: YES 7, NO 0
Yup.
10. Politicians need to draw on intuition in formulating climate policy. VERDICT: YES 5, NO 1, ABSTAIN 1
?
11. Professor Lovelock insufficiently acknowledges in the book the uncertainty over how hot the climate will become. VERDICT: YES 5, NO 1, ABSTAIN 1
Haven't read the book, but didn't like his plug in the Indy.
12. Population growth is a major issue. VERDICT: YES 7, NO 0
Yes (although probably a little less of an issue than the SRES make it out to be).
13. Professor Lovelock is wrong to give the impression that nuclear fission is our only realistic short-term solution. VERDICT: YES 7, NO 0
Yes
14. In the UK context, nuclear fission is one of several options that merits full public and political discussion. VERDICT: YES 7, NO 0
Yes
15. In the UK context, Professor Lovelock is wrong in the book to reject wind power. VERDICT: YES 7, NO 0
Yes (not that I've read it)
16. His apocalyptic comments made around the time of the launch of the book, such as: "There will be a few breeding pairs of humans in the Arctic", are likely to lead to despair and disengagement rather than determination to act. VERDICT: YES 4, NO 3
Probably. I certainly don't think it did climate science any favours.
17. Politicians are unlikely to cut greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently until it is too late to prevent dangerous warming. VERDICT: YES 6, NO 1
"Dangerous" by UNFCCC definition, sure (+2C). We are already just about there.
18. James Lovelock is a towering figure in environment science and has been a major influence on understanding the way in which the Earth system works. VERDICT: YES 6, NO 1
Yes ("was" a towering figure? Oh, no need to be snarky)
19. The book is helpful in the climate debate. VERDICT: YES 7, NO 0
Pass.
20. Climate change is real, dangerous and significant in our own lifetimes. VERDICT: YES 7, NO 0
Dangerous to who? I don't think that a large proportion of people alive today will actually be endangered by anthropogenically-forced climate change. It's certainly real, significant (in several interpretations of the word) and will cause some problems for our descendants. I guess it would be a bit hyper-critical to actually mark that answer as wrong.

Overall, they get up to 90%, assuming I give them all my abstentions and don't knows. I suppose that's not too bad. But I'm surprised at the temperature predictions that they lead off with, and these are the only two specific quantitative questions in the list. I'd be interested to hear anyone's ideas as to where they got those from. Could they have meant those temperature rises to apply to the UK alone? Physically, that makes some sort of sense. But this interpretation is inconsistent with the later questions referring to the same 3-5C range and quite clearly implying global changes. Honestly, I'm baffled. William, your boss was on the panel - maybe you could ask him at coffee-time?

8 comments:

Belette said...

Sorry - I tend not to see CR at coffee time, and on fridays we have our own met smoko. Maybe interpreted as UK or NH land it does make sense? Who knows...

Adam said...

Could it be an overlap of ranges? The question's range starts at 3C. Are they considering 3C the top end of the "likely" range?

Unlikely (ahem), I guess, but it's another possibility. Especially considering the format of the questions and their wording.

Adam said...

There's more here in audio form. I've listened to the two main reports/interviews (not the chapters as listed at the bottom of the page, yet) and I heard no discussion of specific temperature ranges apart from a statement from Dr Vicky Pope about Lovelock being at the very top end of the temperature ranges. I did have to do other stuff while listening though so may have missed it.

James Annan said...

Adam,

Thanks for the link. I've listened to a fair bit but not waded through every last bit of it. It doesn't seem like they talk about the temperatures in any great detail though. I did note that in Roger Harrabin's spoken verdict (Ch 12), there is a subtle but important difference in the wording between what he said and what is written on the BBC web page (listen for yourself). If the panel got the spoken version, their first two answers may be just about defensible in a pedantic legalistic manner, but they are still IMO very misleading.

James Annan said...

Adam,

Thanks for the link. I've listened to a fair bit but not waded through every last bit of it. It doesn't seem like they talk about the temperatures in any great detail though. I did note that in Roger Harrabin's spoken verdict (Ch 12), there is a subtle but important difference in the wording between what he said and what is written on the BBC web page (listen for yourself). If the panel got the spoken version, their first two answers may be just about defensible in a pedantic legalistic manner, but they are still IMO very misleading.

Adam said...

I did eventually listen to that chapter, but missed the difference. It seems to give page 404 now when click on the chapter 12 link,...so I'll have to accept your word for it. :)

It would have been more useful, I think, to listen to the panel members explaining their reasons for each vote.

James Annan said...

Adam,

It works for me - I just checked again. Anyway, just for posterity, the precise wording for that contentious question 1 was read out as "unless we act to cut greenhouse gases" and not "unless we act swiftly to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect natural forests". Of course it's the "swiftly" that I'm particularly picking on here, which turns a highly dubious and misleading statement into one that is absolutely false, at least as far as I'm concerned. My guess is an over-zealous BBC journalist decided to sex things up a bit.

Of course none of the above should be taken as implying that I think we should "do nothing" for a few decades. But I do think we should present the science fairly.

Adam said...

Tried it again, and it worked. Odd. Maybe someone accidentally deleted the file.

Anyway, FWIW (very little, I should think), I'm undecided as to how bad the effects will be directly (hence why I try and read about the issue), but I do worry that even if the effects are directly, relatively less severe and wide ranging, (international) politics does seem to be able to magnify these things - e.g. any affect on the flow of a major (glacial-fed) river that crosses international boundaries could lead to a localised conflict.

Lots of "small" issues scattered over the globe could add up to the same as some major, direct effect.

But that's probably not what the panel were thinking about. :)