Sunday, November 05, 2006

Stop climate chaos catastrophic tipping point of no return hype

Interesting to see Mike Hulme come out with a broadside against the apocalypse-mongers. He lays into pretty much everyone: politicians and activists, and of course newpapers such as the Indescribablyoverhyped, but there also appear to be (un-named) scientists in his sights. He has particularly harsh words for the "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change" conference as a frenzied week of "climate change is worse than we thought" news reporting and group-think. I'm not sure I would have been quite that harsh, actually.

He also comments:

The language of catastrophe is not the language of science. It will not be visible in next year's global assessment from the world authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Just attempting to join the dots here: Blair's "only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing catastrophic tipping points" was pretty much directly predicated on his upcoming Stern report, which (I think it's fair to say) has generally been praised as being in line with the IPCC consensus. Of course, we are all still waiting with bated breath for RealClimate's comments on Stern - they are usually quick to comment on newsworthy climate science stories, although I can understand this one giving them a bit of indigestion.


Mike Hulme can also be heard on the Today program here.


William M. Connolley said...

I'm surprised by your "Stern report, which (I think it's fair to say) has generally been praised as being in line with the IPCC consensus". Who has said this? I've read a lot of uncritical newspaper reporting on it; but I don't recall anyone praising the science. I didn't much like it... -W

James Annan said...

I did see your somewhat subdued comment (and am grateful for the support, I'm only so persuasive because I'm usually right, and especially so on this case!), but some guy called Stoat wrote a while back:

"Stern appears to have got one thing right that the HoS got badly wrong: rather than waste time listening to skeptics over the science, he has taken the IPCC view as standard, slightly updated."


(I didn't specifically remember this, google found it)

and I think it's fair to say that the lack of audible criticism is pretty much equivalent to widespread acceptance, but I accept that perhaps I over-sold that "praise" (could I explain it as a provocation to see who would bite?). Has anyone of note (not just people like me) actually explicitly criticised the Stern science? RC was all over the Lawson/HoL thing like a rash.

William M. Connolley said...

Ah, but back then I was quoting was Stern said he was going to do. thanks for pointing it out though - I'd forgotten. I think he got carried away in the rush.

As for the HoL: that was published 5th July and RC didn't comment until 9th Nov, so we've got a while yet (and that wasn't even really against the HoL report, but against Lawsons pieve in Prospect).

Also, note that Hulme doesn't seem to have included it in his crit.

Anonymous said...

Hulme is pretty funny considering the Tyndall Centre is (was?) the biggest alarmists. So I guess McIntyre will say he "won" now that he has plenty of right-wing buddies scaring off the climate scientists! They say "jump" and you guys will now say "how high?"

James Annan said...

More questions than answers there...

Which scientists have been scared off (from doing what) by which "right-wing buddies"? What do rather abstruse and complex arguments about the processing of proxy data have to do with exaggerated climate predictions? Who is "they" and who are "you guys"?

On the subject of TC alarmism, I did consider bringing up this again, but to be fair that was the Environment Agency abusing some Tyndall research. And it certainly hasn't been people at the TC promoting extremely high climate sensitivities and concomitant "destruction of society", which is a major component of the alarmism. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if and how Hulme's comments impact on the tenor of future TC reseach. I guess that he doesn't have any real control on what his staff say.

LuboŇ° Motl said...

James, as far as I can say, and I did watch what was going on about the Stern report, there was no identification between the Stern report and IPCC that I could see.

IPCC immediately criticized the calculation of the costs that were 5 times smaller than IPCC's own calculations of their ambitious stop-the-CO2 scenario.

Go to my blog ( and read the end of the Great October Climate Revolution to see how many scientists actually distanced themselves from the report. Virtually everyone. The positive bias is now driven purely by the media and some politicians.

Nicholas Stern is a very big guy in economics but still, his report didn't seem to survive a scientific scrutiny. It was probably not written by Stern anyway.

The next IPCC report is clearly doing the best to avoid misleading and unreliable statements and excessive emotions, there are many reasonable people - and people who suddenly got reasonable - on board and I am sure you don't want to be the guy who screws it.

Don't press on RealClimate too much. I am sure there must be internal arguments between those who want to promote the report much like many media, and those who want to follow the careful approach of many scientists and not to endorse it. The split will be about 50:50.

And I guess that William is on the side that doesn't want to support the Stern report, am I wrong, William? Or am I the outsider with the maximal understanding and empathy? ;-) Please don't view this as a real question because I guess that you can't really talk about these matters right now. My sympathy with you.

The most obvious peaceful compromise will be that RealClimate won't write about the Stern review at all, or it will write an ambiguous confusing useless comment about it. Don't make these things more complicated for these guys than they are.

More creatively, you should start to try to educate people like the anonymous poster above. I am sure that both you and William have a lot of things to say to these guys who are several levels below you. Let me say that even you, James, did always - from the first moments we wanted to make a bet - look like an internally bright guy with some particular make-up on the surface.

It's time to act reasonably. Hulme is far from being the only one who thinks that otherwise the scientific influence on the situation is gonna evaporate almost completely.

All the best

William M. Connolley said...

Bl**dy H*ll. Whats up with Lumo? He's being empathic... I find that rather disturbing, though also quite welcome.

I think I've made myself clear about the SR. The trouble with writing about it is that there isn't a great deal of science in it; and what there is isn't really wrong, just stretched.

Anonymous said...

Tony Blair declared recently that there was no bigger long-term question facing the global community than the threat of a climate change due to man-made greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, the focus is misplaced. It is not the atmosphere which determines the fate of the climate. It is the ocean which does it.

James Annan said...


TokyoTom said...

James, I have a comment on Hulme over at RP Jr's that you might enjoy.

Thoughts on how to respond to Jim Clarke's comment are welcome (other than pointing to the IPCC, AGU, etc.).

EliRabett said...

First you might point out to Tol, who DOES know better that the tail of the PDFs is considerably thicker on the hot than the cool end. The curves are NOT symmetric. You might ask him whom he was trying to mislead, and you could even point the Figure in Box 1.2 of the Stern report, which according to rumor Tol has read. Ask him if ANY of those PDFs had as thick tails on one side as the other. You might inquire if any of them had equal probability to the low as the high side of the most probable value.

Jim Clarke's question is sheer idiocy in service to mendicity. The simple answer is according to James, too many, thus the job crunch. However in the US there are 13,746 climate scientists, 11742 if you don't think volcanos are important.

James Annan said...


Yes it's a nice rant, although I think perhaps somewhat at cross purposes to Hulme's point. We all know that politicians distort and even lie, and it may even be necessary to achieve action, but I certainly expect better of scientists. It's difficult to have an honest debate and make progress on scientific matters if you don't know whether the scientists are actually telling the truth.

If you want an example of scientists exaggerating for funding purposes, try RAPID - which is basically predicated on the (nonexistent) THC shutdown and which received a timely bost when Bryden (senior scientist on the project) got his paper in Nature - a paper that literally no-one believed in at all right from the outset, but which brought plenty of publicity.

I see David Adam picked up the Tyndall Centre/UEA thing. Yes, that was certainly a bit of an embarrassment for the scientists, and I hope they learn how to control their press officers better.