Sunday, February 18, 2007

SPM overload

Last week was unusually lectureful. First, Thomas Stocker - who I suppose one could call a big cheese from Switzerland (and who was a Coordinating Lead Author for Chapter 10 of the AR4) - was visiting Tokyo University to give a series of lectures on climate science (I think he was funded by this program which supports a lot of visits from abroad). He is an unusually good lecturer - this skill is rarely explicitly taken into account in terms of career development, so it is a nice bonus when a good scientist is also a good speaker. The first lecture covered oceanography and contained a very nice presentation of lots of stuff I should have known but have pretty much forgotten. My sideways path into climate science means I don't really have quite the background in geophysical fluid dynamics that most colleagues seem to.

After lunch, several researchers also had an opportunity to present some of their research in front of the assorted graduate students and researchers who attended. I gave a slightly revised version of my "Can we believe in high climate sensitivity" talk. Note that the statement I describe as "blatantly false" (p19 on that pdf) is directly lifted from Chapter 9 of the AR4 (2nd draft), but it will be another few months before I find out if it has survived into the final version. Whether or not it is edited out, the real problem is of course that it underlies so much of the research (in fact I spotted essentially the same sentence in another paper just last week, which had been co-authored by one of the Ch 9 authors).

On Friday morning Thomas gave an outline of the processes behind and science contained in the recently-released IPCC AR4 SPM. He brought up one or two interesting points that I hadn't noticed - for example, I'm surprised that the hockey stick stuff hasn't attracted more attention, as the new statement "the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1300 years" seems a weakening of what has gone before and deliberately avoids using the calibrated IPCC probabilistic language. We'd already talked enough about climate sensitivity so that didn't come up again, but it was interesting to hear about the debates that had taken place over the precise details of the wording in various other places. I do like the way the IPCC present temperature ranges for each scenario this time, rather than lumping them together into an overall range - this emphasises much more clearly the extent to which these futures are a matter of choice versus chance.

Straight after this talk, we rushed across Tokyo to another presentation, this time by Stephen Schneider. And he started from the IPCC SPM! However it wasn't just about climate science but rather a "what should/can we do" sort of thing aimed at a general audience. To be honest I thought parts of it were a bit parochial - the internal politics of California are of limited interest and relevance over here, and boasting about his "more efficient" car in front of an audience of whom probably 95% arrived by train (and many don't own a car at all) seems rather misjudged. But still, he had some nice anecdotes and his message was predominantly up-beat and enthusiastic. He also didn't dwell much at all on the "catastrophe" angle, in fact explicitly said the truth was well to the centre of what both the alarmists and sceptics were saying.

After the lecture there was very limited opportunity for audience questions, and then the remaining time was given over to a "panel discussion". This seems a rather Japanese concept, and consists of a few hand-picked invitees giving pre-prepared statements and answers to pre-prepared questions. This time they were chosen to be "young" (and repeatedly and patronisingly reminded of that fact, despite their ages ranging up to almost 40), presumably so as to represent the future. It was notable that when asked what they were doing themselves to reduce GHG emissions, only one of them actually spoke in terms of personal life (switching off lights and computers, riding a bicycle more) and the others put it all in terms of their research. These glitzy presentations in rather opulent surroundings (no fewer than 3 screens and projectors) with guests flying around the world always seem a bit hypocritical to me, but I still I go to foreign meetings - my journey matters!

1 comment:

Brian said...

At Schneider's lecture here in California, he talked a lot about his work in Australia - maybe he's trying to give people news on how different places are handling the issue.